Friday, April 30, 2010

Seriously, Alan. Wake UP!

 By Kirk Hamilton

Most of the time when I get home, the only mail waiting for me is a bill or two, a Chinese delivery menu rubber-banded to the door and maybe a Pottery Barn catalog addressed to a former roommate. But today I got something a little different - a FedEx package containing a shiny new copy of Alan Wake.

So here I am, a very public disliker of 95% of video game previews.... and yet I actually have this game two weeks before launch and I kind of wanna do an preview of it for you guys. So, I'm going to.

Until the press embargo lifts, I can only talk about the first "episode" of the game, which translates to about the first hour and fifteen minutes. There are plenty of perfectly sufficient breakdowns of what happens in that chapter out there already - I thought that instead of just recounting my playthrough, I'd offer some specific impressions. A subtle distinction, maybe, but it's enough for me.

So, I'll be very vague with details, especially plot-related ones and will mainly just share some impressions of how the game looks and plays. But if you're skipping previews for fear of spoilors (which I totally understand), I'll give you the short version: It's pretty damn good times.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Question Of The Week: Partners in Procrastination

By GM Staff

Wow, we are all just busy as hell this week. Annie's got a software crisis to solve, David's getting married on Saturday(!!), Dan's got his own wedding to plan and Kirk's supposed to be helping. With so many responsibilities to put off, it seems appropriate that this week's question concerns what games make the best partners in procrastination.

So, head down to the comments and let us know - what game has been your biggest procrastination aid?  Our answers, after the break...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Kick-Ass Music of "Chaos Rings"

By Kirk Hamilton

So, maybe y'all have heard of this new iPhone RPG called Chaos Rings. If you haven't, well, now you have. It's a turn-based JRPG by Square Enix, and it was actually designed specifically for the iPhone. Is it good? Yes, it is very good. I've been playing nonstop for the last few days, and it actually continues to get better and better.

The game controls really well - the nonfixed joystick interface is so good that I can't quite believe I haven't seen it in any other iPhone games. The graphics are PSP quality, if not better, and the story is really interesting, reminiscent in many ways of Square's other recent portable gem, The World Ends With You.

And without question, the best part of the game is the music. Composed by Noriyasu Agematsu, Chaos Rings's score is just hilariously awesome, an over-the-top melange of power metal riffs, jazz fusion, piano space jams, and Gregorian chant. Yeah.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Playing Too Much Splinter Cell

Above is a photo from the funeral for Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols.

An icon of punk is lost forever, and all I can think of is this:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Cause 2 in 100 Words or Less

By Kirk Hamilton

A game about combining things. Rico's grappling hook is a fun toy on its own but doesn't really sing until it's combined with his inexhaustible parachute supply. The incredible sense of freedom of motion would be wasted were it not combined with the most awesomely well-realized open world I've ever seen.

But then, questionable enemy AI is combined with floaty, unsatisfying gunplay; bad writing with worse voice-acting. Camp or no, if the writers had emulated No One Lives Forever instead of Mercenaries, JC2 might've been one for the record books. As it stands, it's just a (sometimes very) fun diversion.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Question Of The Week: Currently Casual

By GM Staff

Most everyone's got some casual title or another that fills the time between bigger games (and sometimes winds up becoming an obsession all its own). With so many to choose from, everyone's playing something different, so we thought we'd make that the subject of our first "Question of the Week."

Our own casual considerations, after the break...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Games-As-Art Flowchart

The debate over whether or not games are art (or, "ert") is a wonderful and evergreen discussion worth having over and over again, forever and ever until the end of time, amen. It is in no way tedious, boring, or completely beside the point.

After Cranky McTalkingdowntome decided to loose his most recent volley upon the world, I thought that perhaps it would be be a good idea to establish some ground rules going forward.

So I made this flowchart.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fisher-Fest 2010

By Kirk Hamilton

I like Splinter Cell: Conviction. It has a ton of really cool stuff going on, and is generally fun to play. I only offer that qualifier because between this post and the last one, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that I don't like the game even though I actually do.

But in addition to enjoyable sneaking and shooting, Splinter Cell: Conviction also features some of the most laughably bad in-game dialogue I've ever heard. From the moment enemies spot you, they just cut loose with the barks, loudly and enthusiastically sharing their battlefield positions, hatred/admiration of Sam Fisher, tactical decisions, big-picture motivations, and personal hang-ups.

These soldiers seem dedicated to really communicating with Fisher, and for some reason, they seem to particularly enjoy calling him by his last name. Their quips and taunts are so hilariously awful that I felt somehow obligated to transcribe them and record them here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My 8-bit Hypothesis

 By Annie Wright

Remember Dr. Octoroc's 8-bit Dr. Horrible from last week, and how I was all "I hope he makes Act II soon"? Well, perhaps the good doctor has heard my wistful murmurs, because today has yielded not one, but TWO horrible new 8-bit treasures.

I have this hypothesis, which will perhaps one day be a theory, after it has been independently verified by other teams of scientists, in proper accordance with the scientific method. It is a fairly simple idea: People born somewhere between 1975 and 1990 actually register a positive emotional response when listening to familiar or beloved music that is rendered in 8-bit sound. Perhaps this sounds idiotic, but consider your initial response when listening to this, particularly if you are a fan of the original:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who Does Number Two Work For?

By Kirk Hamilton

I'm a few hours into Splinter Cell: Conviction, and although I'm enjoying the gameplay quite a bit, one thing is bugging the shit out of me. It's something that I've seen mentioned only casually in the reviews I've read, but it's enough of a detractor for me that I hope to see it talked about more.

Basically, Splinter Cell: Conviction features a bunch of intensely violent, unskippable interactive torture sequences. It's far and away the most torturing I've ever seen in a game, let alone performed myself. Good Lord! I know that Ubisoft wanted to change things up, but when the hell did we ask for this?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Fantastic Mr. Drake

By Kirk Hamilton

This weekend, I finally watched Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. If you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it enough. It's brilliant. The film has (rightly) earned accolades for its intricate, beautiful set- and character-design, as well as its equally impressive writing and animation. It certainly didn't hurt to have George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murry bringing their A-game to the voice-acting, either, and it helped that they had such killer material to work with. Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach really outdid themselves, as did animation director Mark Gustafson and production designer Nelson Lowry.

I've also been replaying Uncharted 2 over the past week, and I'm struck by some similarities between the two works, particularly in their approaches to voice-acting and characterization.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

5 Real-World Oddities That Should Be Games

By Annie Wright

Since we humans have a relatively short lifespan, it is pretty impossible to expect people to know about ALL the weird shit that the world has to offer. That fact may have something to do with why any concept that gets made into a book, movie or video game usually falls into one of two categories: Either it's a well known thing (See: War, Rescue or Stealing Cars), or something completely, fantastically made-up (see: rolling up a bunch of crap on Earth into a ball, starting with a thumbtack and packet of soy sauce right up to entire land masses, and having it turned into a star.) (Also, this is where I insert my Psychonauts link. -Kirk)

But, as Buddha teaches us, there is a middle way. Between the mundane and the imaginary, there are plenty of bizarre things that actually exist on this earth. And some of them REALLY need to be made into video games, so I made a list. Here are five of my favorites, in no particular order:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

8-bit Project of the Day

By Annie Wright

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. The idea of "nostalgia" as the third leg in combination with "engineering" and "design" of a triumvirate bar stool has supported many fine and prestigious asses through the generations of humanity. For example, this is how we got the PT Cruiser, and why a lot of our parents describe said car as "fun".

But what of the so-called "Nintendo Generation"? If you are of an age where you recall begging for any Mario-related game console as a birthday present, this is you. And while our parents chided us for spending too much time with Yoshi and Link, many of us later in life have found inspiration, success, and even entire careers that have been fueled by our early childhood 8-bit addictions. The desire to know how the things we love are put together and to improve upon them is arguably what propels us forward as a species (well, that and humping), and it is a testament to the staying power of gaming as a learning tool and part of our rich cultural heritage.

Which is why it is so kick-ass when someone like Doctor Octoroc does something like "8-bit Dr. Horrible" just for the hell of it. And does it so WELL:

For anyone living in a cave, the original Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a musical tragicomedy originally released via the Interweb starring Doogie Howser, Captain Mal, and That Girl From The Guild. Which means that it was written by Joss Whedon. And his brothers. And another actress. I'm not doing the whole thing justice in this meager summarization, of course, but if you do not already know this part, I will assume that you either have no interest to begin with, or there is something prohibitively wrong with your fingers so as to prevent you from googling this stuff like a normal person.

ANYWAY. No word yet as to whether there will be a playable demo, but Doctor Octoroc assures us that the final two acts are forthcoming. There's also a high-quality Flash version of what I am optimistically calling a walkthrough available here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Again?

By Kirk Hamilton

Last week, CNN ran a piece by Kyung Lah about the four-year old Japanese hentai game RapeLay. There was no apparent impetus for the story - no kid who recently got caught with the game, or school where it got sent around, not even a politician bringing it up as a talking point. Apparently CNN just decided what the hell, let's stir up some action by talking about a horrible, offensive rape video game from 2006 that hasn't been in the news for over a year.

It's just such a shoddy piece of journalism. It features minimal cultural context, maximum provocative screenshots, a weird Skype conversation with two random British gamers, and copy that's loaded with stinkers like:

"Hentai games are not new for Japan. This country has long produced products the rest of the world would call pornographic. But before the internet shrunk the world, it stayed here."


"What follows is a series of graphic interactive scenes that we can't show you. Players can corner the women to rape then again and again, and it goes on from there."

Look. If you want to know about this game, you should read Leigh Alexander's Slate article from 2009. It's both well-researched and well-written, and it provides cultural context. I've long since given up on berating the mainstream media for doing crappy work, but I at least wanted to point to some proper journalism to mitigate CNN's willful ineptitude.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Defining Grind

By Kirk Hamilton

On his blog Chungking Espresso, Simon Ferrari wrote a post about Final Fantasy XIII's design titled "Hills and Lines." In it, he provides a fascinating, incredibly detailed breakdown of the linear and multilinear structure of the game's design. Check it out - it's very cool.

Simon and I also had an interesting back-and-forth in the comments. As I was figuring out whether or not I considered FFXIII to be a grind-y game (all things considered, I do), it became clear that an important first step was to come up with a working definition of the word "grind".

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dragon Age: Awakening in 100 Words or Less

By Kirk Hamilton

Short Version: Rejoice! It's more Dragon Age!

Slightly Longer Version: The story does suffer from "Expansion Pack Syndrome," since it's tacked on by definition, and some characters are carbon copies of characters from Origins. But the writing is still strong, the choices still agonizing. The graphics still fairly jank.

It's easier than Origins, too; combat difficulty has significantly fewer spikes, and you'll lay waste to most enemies on normal difficulty. Myriad other issues have been addressed - hooray for stamina potions, runecrafting, sweet new gear, and badass new rogue abilities.

Here's hoping BioWare's planning something similar for Mass Effect 2.