Friday, February 26, 2010

Regarding Jesse Schell's DICE Presentation

By Annie Wright and Kirk Hamilton

Last week at the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas, Carnegie-Mellon professor, game designer, and Disney imagineer Jesse Schell gave a speech. In that speech he talked about the future of interactive entertainment, starting with Facebook games but quickly veering off into the kind of wide-eyed, enthusiastic prognosticating that the internet just loves.

About halfway in, Schell was talking about "Points for Brushing Your Teeth," going into some detail about how in a matter of years, disposable technology and digital connectivity will allow everything, from personal hygiene to public transportation, to be made into a game.

It was provocative. It was controversial.  It was... well, honestly, it was worth watching, especially the last ten or so minutes.

Annie and Kirk also watched it, and decided to put their heads together and jot down some of their thoughts. And by "jot down," I mean "go on at great length regarding." Enjoy:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When The World Changes

By Kirk Hamilton

Exploration is one of my favorite things about gaming. It's one of the main reasons I love open-world games (that is to say, nonlinear games, not just sandboxes) as much as I do. That sense of walking, driving, and flying around another world, seeing the nooks and crannies and hidden corners, enjoying the vistas, checking out the easily-overlooked details while doing sidequests and collecting collectables... very cool.

Any open-world game worth its salt is bookended by two crucial moments - the first time you are set loose to explore it, and the moment when you enter "endgame." I love that first moment more than almost anything else in a game, but that second one, the beginning of the end, is always bittersweet. And more to the point, I really don't like it when I feel it is sprung on me uninvited.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

4.2 Miles in 35 Minutes, All In The Name of Gaming

By Kirk Hamilton

"Heavy Rain came out yesterday, so I should have no trouble picking it up this afternoon," I thought. "Surely the stores nearby won't sell out by then!"

Wrong. As of this morning, every store within reach of the school where I teach (in the Haight) was sold out. Ditto every Gamestop in the SF area. The only place with a few remaining copies was the SoMa Best Buy way down on Harrison, more than two twisted, congested city-miles from school.

Rehearsal wrapped up at 11:30 and our 50-minute lunch break started. I had until 12:20 to get to the store, pick up a copy, and get back in time to sub a class. No time for second-guesing - I am playing this game today. By 11:40 I was out the door.

Downloadable Games Round-Up

 By Kirk Hamilton

Plants Vs. Zombies (iPhone)
Finally!  I've been waiting for this game to come out on the iPhone for a long time... and yep, it was worth the wait. Like Peggle before it, PvZ offers a ton of variations on a single, very well-executed gameplay mechanic (this time tower defense) and wraps it all up in a great-looking and frequently hilarious package. The music is groovy and occasionally reminds me of Shawn Lee's work on Bully, which as far as I'm concerned is some high praise. The character design on the zombies is just outstanding, too. It's actually hard not to start feeling bad for the poor bastards as they're mercilessly gunned down by my cold, unfeeling vegetation. That old-man zombie just wants to finish his Soduku puzzle!

A brilliant game, and the best three bucks you can spend at the App Store. (The best five bucks you can spend, however, can be found below the fold). Okay, Popcap, time to give us mobile users a crack at Bookworm Adventures.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Your Hands: Leona Lewis's FFXIII Theme Song

By Dan Apczynski 

Square-Enix recently destroyed the barrier separating beautiful women pop music and video games with the news that ever-bleeding UK vocalist Leona Lewis loves Final Fantasy XIII. It goes without saying, of course, that her [non-platform-specific] love of the game is the result of her fascination with “running around the land,” and in no way tied to the fact that her song “My Hands” has been tapped to be the game's theme song.

Knowing a thing or two about the addictive nature of previous Final Fantasy chapters, my initial reaction told me that the song was probably about cortisone injections to relieve game-related repetitive stress.

Needless to say, this was not the case. Let’s take a line-by-line look:

Monday, February 22, 2010

If Games Could Talk: Persian Family Reunion

By Kirk Hamilton

Gaming For Nomads Part 2: I'm Missing Hockey While Writing This...

By Annie Wright

..And it's ok. First and foremost among the reasons for the ok-ness is the fact that the regular season is on hold for the 2010 Olympics. My NHL loyalties lie firmly and staunchly with Detroit, but I am not ashamed to admit that I have a little trouble being as strict with my support of Team USA (at least for the men's team), because quite of few of my boys are Canadian, Finnish, and yes, Russian. Of course, in the time between writing this and publishing this, Team USA has done their best to make the idea of NOT supporting them while being a U.S. citizen seem like an incredibly stupid thing to do. Rafalski, you are a genius and a rock star, and I'll be happy for you if you win the gold. However, I'm having a hard time hoping for the unanimously crushing defeat of Russia.

I know what you're thinking, "She's a communist". Yeah, I get that a lot, but it's not true. I'll have you all know that I complain about taxes, spend my paycheck on stuff I don't need, love shareware AND I eat Rice Krispies for breakfast because, like Douglas Coupland, I believe that Snap, Krackle, and Pop are a thinly-veiled reference to the Trilateral Commission, but UNLIKE Coupland, I think that's just dandy.

Also, I test drove this game, Red Remover, just because of its name. So there. Not a commie. However, during my title-driven quest to quench my red-blooded, American Lust for Free Things That Take Up Time (because of, you know, taxes and stuff) , I DID actually discover the most satisfying chunk of puzzle-game crack since Bejeweled. And don't act like you haven't lost a few hours of your lives here and there to Bejeweled, dear readers, because YOU KNOW YOU HAVE.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bioshock 2 in 100 Words or Less

By Kirk Hamilton

Borrowed atmosphere, but a rhythm all its own. The first couple of hours adhere quite closely to those of the original, but then the focus shifts to emergent sieges that are often exciting as hell. The return of the deep colors and lo-fi audio cues from the first game is welcome, and the subtle interface and gameplay improvements add up.

Themes of control and free will are replaced with themes of family and fatherhood, and the story is more powerful for it, if less subversive. Subversiveness is overrated anyway. Kudos to 2K Marin for achieving what seemed impossible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Heavy Rain, Heavy Demo, Heavy Expectations

By David Tracy and Kirk Hamilton

Last week, the demo for Quantic Dream's upcoming, highly-anticipated (especially around these parts) dramatic adventure Heavy Rain dropped. The game has gotten much pre-release attention for its branching narratives, nontraditional gameplay and control, and general terrifying differentness.  Like QD's previous release, Indigo Prophecy, or, as it should heretofore just be re-dubbed on the internet, "Indigo Prophecy a.k.a. Farenheit," Heavy Rain should prove to be a really compelling, highly divisive title. Interactive Movie? Revolution in storytelling? Long, drawn-out Quick-Time Event? Doesn't matter, we're stoked as hell to play the final version.

David and Kirk played through the demo and thought they'd reflect on their adventures in pollen-wrangling, groovy high-tech sunglass wearing, and prostitute-protecting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Albionest With You - Fable 2 Was A Disappointment

By Dan Apczynski and Kirk Hamilton

Here we fricking go again. Lionhead's Peter Molyneux has come out of his hobbit-hole once more to tell us all about how Fable 3 is going to be so amazing, how it will feature ten more bodily functions, eight new kinds of pie, and the ability to marry an acorn and have little acorn children. (Acorn Child: "Kill.... me....")

Well hoo-frickin-ray, but here at GM, Dan and Kirk are still smarting from the crushing disappointment they felt after playing through the first game. It had been hyped beyond belief, given a 9 by the hard-to-please Edge Magazine, and described by Eurogamer as a game that "will charm you, thrill you, and leave you very, very happy."

With apologies to Eurogamer, we beg to disagree.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gaming for Nomads Part 1: How Do You Do?

By Annie Wright

Ah, the daunting task of the first post. Not THE first post, of course, but MINE. So, hello. I do not doubt that astute readers have probably gleaned by now that the majority of the Gamer Melodico crew is based out of San Francisco. Now, I adore the Bay Area, and it is home to many fine development houses and events. The weather is awfully close to perfect and the architecture is glorious. However, I happen to live elsewhere.

More specifically, I currently reside in Seattle, which is ALSO a phenomenal place to be for gaming. We have PAX, Valve, Pink Gorilla (even though we all know it's really Godzilla), and you know, certain multinational computer technology corporations which shall not, at this point, be mentioned in specific. Game developers and startups are a dime a dozen, and every other barista is an armchair programmer. In short, it is an exceptional location for recreational technology enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, I am not there right now. I'm temporarily visiting family in fabulous Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University, "Breaking Away", and John "Cougar" Mellencamp. And though I intend to write about all of the superb Seattle-related things I mentioned a few sentences ago, I cannot do them justice without being present. Instead of these things (about which I solemnly promise to write at a later time), I bring you "Gaming For Nomads", a comprehensive guide to travel-friendly gaming and portability in a series of installments. For those times when we are away from home and can't have our favorite chair, headset, giant flatscreen and those spork-glove thingies that make it so you don't have to put down the controller to eat, but we also can't be content just sitting around watching Lifetime TV in a hotel room, or watching grandma play video bridge.

"Would you kindly... help me with the dishes?"

Big Daddy's House
By David Tracy

Game characters, just like soap stars, are subject to serious type-casting. I can only imagine the frustration that Mario feels when he is asked to audition for yet another part as a plumber-in-over-his-head. This is my take on Big Daddy's less-than-successful attempt to break into film. Maybe his upcoming pop album will do better.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mass Effect 2: The Love Of An Old Friend

By Kirk Hamilton

And so as the Illusive Man sat and smoked, the screen faded to black, and my playthough of Mass Effect 2 came to a close. Considering how I've been writing about almost nothing but this game for the past week and a half, I thought it would only be proper to put together a quick wrap-up. Plot discussion abounds, me hearties, so consider yerselves forewarned: Here there be spoilers.

It took about 30 hours for renegade Blade Shepard to fully assemble his team of intergalactic badasses. Along the way, he helped a lot of them with their various familial issues, engaged in fisticuffs with the press, learned enough about the hugely varied cultures of the galaxy to fill a giant, incredibly-detailed codex, and even fell in love with an old friend. Actually, that last thing is something I'd like to talk about a bit more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Video Game Relationships: A Trail of Broken Hearts

 By Dan Apczynski

After many hours of frantic shoulder-button mashing, inventory management, and lengthy encounters with compelling (if glassy-eyed) characters, I wrapped up a bender tour through Dragon Age: Origins (incidentally, my favorite game of 2009). Among the many things that impressed me about the game was the opportunity to embark on a romance with one of the game’s peripheral characters, especially since each romantic engagement led to a unique set of endgame consequences.

Alas, my romantic track record in video games has already shown me plenty about the likelihood of “happily ever after.” Simply put, video game romances are doomed. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve cobbled together a few of my personal favorite closed-ended romances from games past.

Video: Commander Shepard Goes Björk On An Unarmed Reporter

By Kirk Hamilton

Ask anyone who played through the original Mass Effect as a renegade what was the most surprising, memorable, and horrifying dialogue option in the game and there's a fair chance that they'll bring up their encounter with reporter Khalisah Al-Jilani.

I know it stuck with me. As Badass Ginger Grenadier Blade Shepard, I returned to the Citadel, fresh off my first successful mission as a Spectre. After getting off the elevator (though heh, I'd imagine most events in the original Mass Effect could be prefaced thusly), I was accosted by Al-Jilani, a reporter for Westerlund News.

After a dodging and parrying with her a bit, doing my best to ignore the way she super-irritatingly distorted my responses, she finally pushed my man Blade too far. I selected the renegade dialogue option "Time to shut you up!" thinking it would, you know, make him insult her and storm off, or maybe break her floaty little camera.

What happened instead? Well, let's just say Shepard let his fists do the talking. More specifically, his right hook.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Want to Talk About Israfil

By Kirk Hamilton

Almost to the end of Mass Effect 2 now - I'll have some final thoughts on the game when I finish, and then it'll be time for a much-needed break from dialogue wheels and shallow-but-enjoyable morality systems. Oh, wait, I'm actually going to check out Bioshock 2 next, so never mind on that second one. Sigh.

As the holy-wow factor of firing up the game for the first time wears off, I'm finding myself surprised at how much I miss certain elements of the first game. The borderline-psychotic amount of streamlining BioWare has done makes for a compelling-as-hell game experience, but also jettisons a lot of things that I really enjoyed in the first game. Maybe those features weren't implemented so well, but BioWare's "If it moves, kill it" approach seems extreme.

Monday, February 8, 2010

LA Noire: Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush

By Kirk Hamilton

We've been hearing about Rockstar's upcoming open-world detective game LA Noire for a long time. It was announced almost 2 years ago as a PS3 exclusive, and in the time that's passed, at least according to the twitter feed of "someone close" to developer Team Bondi, the game has gone through a tortured hell of a development cycle that was almost Duke Nukem-Forever-esque in its boondoggleness and clusterfuckery.  Whether or not that will impact the final product remains to be seen - in the meantime, Rockstar and development studio Team Bondi have started to unveil bits about the game, and it sounds quite interesting.

Of course, an open-world noir detective game set in 1947 Los Angeles immediately captures my attention and imagination - not only is it set in a real place, if it's done properly, the atmospheric and cinematic tricks of noir could really work in a game. It's something I have only seen done right once, and that was in Grim Fandango, which is one of my favorite games in the history of ever.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Call and Response - Exclusive Reviews, Family in Mass Effect, Racism in Left 4 Dead 2

 By Kirk Hamilton

We're working out a few regular features to do 'round these parts - an easy one is some sort of weekly-ish link round-up of some games writing we've been enjoying around the web. The outstanding Critical Distance has pretty much got that covered, however, so instead, we thought we'd frame our link collection in more musical terms - a "call" from the linked post's author and a "response" from us. It's like we're in a blues band with our favorite games writers! So, if you know what that picture's a reference to, then sing it with me: 


Call: On his (fantastic) blog The Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott discussed the rising trend of early exclusive reviews and the ethical questions they raise. Pointing to a few early reviews of Mass Effect 2, particularly one in Nowgamer in which the reviewer signed an agreement with the publisher not to release specific facts about the game, Abbott asks:

I can't help questioning why a review outlet claiming to be 'reliable and impartial' should express pride at being first? Are we to assume striking a deal with a publisher - compromised by restrictions imposed by that publisher - is a praiseworthy act?
Response: I concur, but with a few extra caveats. At the end of the post, Michael says that "it seems to me there's a significant difference between an exclusive interview or preview and a final review," I really don't want to jump to conclusions or put words in his mouth, but that sentence reads like a suggestion that reviews should be held to a different journalistic standard than interviews or previews.

That, I do not agree with. News is news, and previews are news, and all news needs to be held to the same journalistic standard, regardless of its classification. Especially because gamers spend so much time pouring over screenshots and twiddling our thumbs in anticipation of games that by the time they finally release, many games are as good as already purchased.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Games About Real People

By Kirk Hamilton

So, Monday's post about "Mass Affect," a joke game based on the real lives of SF Hipsters has really struck a chord with the internet. Somewhat incredibly, it got picked up and syndicated on Kotaku.  Wow! Glad to see the folks over there enjoying it. I do feel I should point out that the whole thing was meant in good fun, and I believe that most of those Hipster-clichés are old enough hat that that they shouldn't truly ruffle any feathers.

I sent it around to a couple of bloggers I know/enjoy, and Mitch Krpata, who writes the always-enjoyable Insult Swordfighting, pointed out that in truth, it would be nice to see a game about ordinary people in the real world. I had had the same thought - after finishing the post, I realized that, hipster-mocking aside, "Mass Affect" could be a compelling, original game.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Welcome to Gamer Melodico!

By Kirk Hamilton

Well, then. Thanks to BoingBoing, the über-cool Leigh Alexander, and anyone else out there who's linking, we've gotten a serious uptick in hits today. Actually, "serious" doesn't do it justice - we unveiled the blog yesterday, and today, Statcounter thinks the site might be broken.

So, welcome one and all!  We're a brand-new blog, though we've been working on the framework and concept for the past month or so. We're really looking forward to sharing whatever randommania may come into our heads over the months to come.

In addition to our regular posting, David, our rockin in-house illustrator, and I are working on getting some cool(er) original art up, and Dan and I will be writing and recording some songs in the near future. So, should be pretty good times to come at Gamer Melodico.

In the meantime, please do subscribe to our RSS feed (options are over there on your right, we recommend feedburner), and follow our shiny new twitter feed.  And no need to be shy in the comments... we'd love to hear what you've got to say.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Mass Affect" - BioWare's Upcoming Hipster RPG

By Kirk Hamilton

By now, we all know how I feel about BioWare's incredible new role-playing game Mass Effect 2. But even with two massive RPG launches under their belt in just the last four months, BioWare hasn't rested on their laurels. I recently found the pitch for an upcoming spin-off, a modern-day RPG based on the dramatic, emotionally engaging lives of hipsters in San Francisco's Mission District.  Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present this exclusive preview of BioWare's next role-playing epic, Mass Affect.

Create And Personalize Your Avatar

In Mass Affect, players will assume the role of a part-time photography studio receptionist named Shepard. After choosing Shepard's age, sex, tattoo placement, sexual preference, and slightly-edgier stated sexual preference, players will be able to customize their character's appearance through an innovative, intuitive "blind dressing" interface that simulates the act of putting on clothes while standing in a lightless room.  Also, players can invest in vintage sewing machines, re-purposed fabric, and online make-it-yourself clothing guides, resulting in over one million possible character outfits that, while composed of entirely different materials, all manage to look like ill-fitting ass.

Darksiders in 100 Words or Less

By Kirk Hamilton

Like a tribute to every great game you ever played, but sorely lacking the magic of any of them. A groovy art style undone by lack of focus; fun combat undone by overlapping input-combinations and a rubbish dodge mechanic; interesting story undone by a very boring protagonist. The game also somewhat perplexingly never explains what a "Darksider" is.

The PS3 version has next to no screen-tearing, which is nice. Cliché time: If you like Zelda games... then go play a Zelda game. Not bad, really, but unless you're unemployed or really worship Joe Mad, you can safely skip it.