Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Totally Played Beyond Good & Evil HD

So by now the word is out - Ubisoft and Michel Ancel's lauded, famously overlooked cult classic Beyond Good & Evil is being re-released in HD next year. Which means that over the last month or so, we've learned that all four of the classic games on my "still-haven't-played list" have been or will be re-released in the near future.

What's particularly cool about BG&E HD is that I actually got to play it yesterday. I attended Ubisoft's Digital Day press event in SF, to which they were kind enough to invite me after I chatted with them at PAX. It was held at 111 Minna, a cool little club/art gallery that's happily located right next to where I teach my Wednesday afternoon Academy of Art class.

I attended the event unsure of what to expect - probably some corporatespeak about Facebook games and synergy, a news of an iPhone port of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood perhaps. Certainly some more about Ubi's already announced XBLA games Dust and Outland, the latter of which I got to see at PAX and thought looked cool. But then, right past the door, we got an embargo agreement, and right on that embargo agreement were the words "Beyond Good & Evil HD."

Whaaaat?? The internet has been buzzing about the Team Ico re-releases for coming up on a year now, but I hadn't heard a peep about this. I have bent over backwards in an effort to play this game - it won't play on a 360 (believe me, I've checked regularly to see if the software updates would finally make it playable), so the only option for me was to download it on Steam and try to run it via Parallels on my Mac.

Which I actually did - I may run Garry's Mod and Portal on my Mac now, but for the first six months of pre-Mac Steam membership, my sole purchase was Beyond Good & Evil. It wouldn't play correctly on my Mac (shocker), so Jade's story sat there on my hard drive, untold.

So long story short, I was pumped to hear the news. And I was even more pumped to see that it was actually playable at the event. Right by the door were three big TVs with the game running, so the very first thing I did was sit down and put the game through it's paces.

It looks amazing - bright, colorful graphics, beautiful textures; fun, fluid control. There were a handful of levels on display, from a jetpack tutorial to an open level running about the civilian district of a futuristic city. The character models were shiny and gorgeous and the sound and voice acting were top-notch.

It might be all the time I spent with Psychonauts, KOTOR, Jade Empire and the rest, but I really love the look of original Xbox games. They're chunky, the HUD is simple and large, and they tend to be more stylized than their über-realistic next-gen counterparts. Which works for BG&E - it looks like a bright, color-drenched cartoon. In fact, I'm not sure I've seen an original XBox game running in HD before - all of the Xbox classic gaming I've done has been via original game discs through the 360's emulator. I've always felt the system had broader, more colorful textures than the occasionally grainy PS2, and seeing Jade's face in HD seemed to validate that. One could almost call the game's look Disney-esque, if one were feeling prone to cliché.

So, that's what I've got to report. The game is coming out in 2011 and it's going to be downloadable, complete with achievement and trophy support via XBL and PSN. And when it comes out, it'll be one more awesome classic that I can check off of my increasingly short must-play backlog.

And don't forget - there is a subtext to the game's announcement. The fact that Ubisoft has invested the time and money in revamping the first game speaks very promisingly about the long-awaited release of the second. Which, I don't think I have to tell you, would make a lot of people very happy indeed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Valkyria Brings Me Back

New Fall titles are on the horizon and here I sit thinking about a game that’s already been out for a while and can easily be found on the cheap. I am a sucker just like everyone else when it comes to announcements of new titles and fancy sequels. At the same time, I have a lot of games that I have barely taken the shrink off of. It doesn’t help that I am also a sucker for the virtual bargain bin, downloading from Steam and PSN whenever there's a sale.

The game my brain is currently focused on is The Valkyria Chronicles. It scratches an itch for me that hasn't been scratched since X-Com. The X-Com series is, of course, the stuff of legend; some of my friends still play to this day. Aliens are attacking and your job is counter their assault on the planet. At its core, X-Com is a squad-based tactical wargame, but there is so much more: I build bases, recruit, equip, research and then am off to confront the recently arrived alien menace. Considering how dated the game looks, I am still tense when I opt to move one of my fellas down a dark hallway. With each turn I have a finite number of actions and when my turn is over, it’s Alien Time. Which is often not pretty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Metroid: Other Other M

Believe it or not, one of the coolest things that happened at PAX 2010 actually happened quietly, and over the course of the entire extended weekend. This Metroid: Other M mural gradually materialized before our very eyes like a geeky sand mandala:



Hats off to this guy. I probably would have lasted all of 20 minutes before I started throwing bits of chalk at people. To stand in one place and attempt to concentrate on anything for longer than it takes to get a free t-shirt at PAX is probably a qualifier for the ADHD olympics.

And yes, that is Doc Brown's DeLorean in the background. Fun fact: The DMC-12 was manufactured in Nothern Ireland.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another (Baby)Castle

I've been aware of Babycastles for a little while now - ever since rockstar game journo Leigh Alexander started talking about them about six or so months ago. First mention might've come on twitter, but eventually she wrote a piece for the LA Times about the space. It's a great bit of writing that gives a solid sense of the place - I recommend checking it out.

The short version is that Babycastles is a NY-based, wholly independent creative space/arcade for game designers and indie game fans. It lives in Queens beneath Silent Barn (an indie music hub) and is more or less a basement arcade - sort of a combination of Seattle's Jigsaw, an old-school video arcade and a hipster-ish rock club. Lots of really creative people bringing in games and leaving them for people to play, all with a sort of anything-goes punk vibe.

Impromptu shows from all manner of Brooklyn musicians go down upstairs while the basement is filled with games by folks like Cactus and Messhof, as well as a game by Babycastles co-founder Kunal Gupta called "Meowtron." Which is about "the inner life of a cat." Basically, it sounds like a trip.

It's a creative space that centers around freely made independent games, a place that gives people the room to experiment with what videogames are capable of, as well as to get instant feedback. So much of game design takes place behind closed doors that the idea of a wide-open space for indie designers to take out their work... it seems like something we need more of.

Leigh sent out the word yesterday that Babycastles is in need - they're raising money via Kickstarter and haven't yet met their goal. As those who are familiar with Kickstarter know, they won't get any money from their pledge drive if they don't hit their goal.

Rather than spreading the gospel from any sort of professional or journalistic place, Leigh made it clear that in researching her LA Times article she discovered that she really liked what they were doing there and wanted to do whatever she could to help them continue. Although I haven't been to the place myself, that says a lot - I know that feeling, the feeling of discovering something that you dearly want to exist and wishing you could do something to help it continue to do so.

I gave them some money, and I hope you will, too. $25 will get you a pretty sweet Babycastles T-Shirt, which seems about right in terms of bang-for-buck. And hell, if they work out a way to make the idea financially viable, maybe we can set up something like it here in SF! I know Jigsaw already has a sister space here, and while it'd be tricky to find a venue that can be both a music club and a creative gaming zone, it's not out of the question. We've got enough musicians, and enough geeks.

So, should you so desire, please support Babycastles! Not only are they doing something different, they've made a space that allows differentness to thrive. For that, they've certainly got my support. Next time I make it out to NY, I hope they'll still be there for me to visit, because I plan to.

Mainly to play "Meowtron," because it it's anything like this, it might just wind up being my favorite game ever.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Center Stage

In addition to visiting PAX to hang with Dan, Annie and Gretsch and write random, awesomely rambling posts for Melodico, I was also there on assignment for Paste. The feature I wrote for them, a lengthy exploration of what I felt the event had to say about the current state of gaming culture, is now online.

My initial plan was to write three short pieces, one for each day of the event. I'd talk about what I'd seen, what games I'd played, and maybe find a separate theme for each day of the convention. However, pretty early on it became clear that a larger narrative was emerging.

From Warren Spector's surprising keynote to the Sunday morning Q&A with Mike and Jerry (a personal highlight for me), it was impossible to ignore the question looming over the massively attended, unprecedentedly popular event. Ready or not, gaming is being thrust to the center of the cultural stage: are we ready to own the spotlight?

And perhaps more importantly, are we ready to share it?

I'm happy with how the piece came together, particularly in that it offers a more fleshed-out counterpart to some of the things I was talking about during my recent appearance on the Brainy Gamer Podcast. Thanks as always to Jason for the great editation, and to Annie for letting me use some of the rockin' pictures she took.

So yeah, give it a read and let me know what you think. And if ya like it, spread it around!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Super Massive Awesome Stupid PAX Round-Up

Aah, PAX. The Penny Arcade Expo. We came, we saw, we... got a bit overwhelmed by it all. After talking a good game about how much we'd be writing and posting about the event, we wound up spending the weekend in a state of excited, exhausted, occasionally inebriated geek overload.

Annie spent the weekend taking pictures, so do check those out. Kirk talked a bit about his own take on PAX during Michael Abbot's recent Brainy Gamer podcast, which you should check out, as well as in a lengthy piece for Paste that should be online soon.

We learned so many things - that Annie is better than Kirk at Street Fighter IV but Kirk is way better than both Annie and Dan at Halo. Also, that victory in Halo kind of requires being a dick to your friends. We learned that Annie's dog Gretsch is both a samurai master and can probably read. We learned that despite all of the music that was playing that weekend, Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" was still earwiggy enough to get stuck in all of our heads for three days straight.

But beyond that, we learned that PAX is an event too large to be summarized in a single post, no matter the number of contributors. But we figured we'd give it our best shot, even if it meant leaving out a ton of things we saw and did. So without further ado: Gamer Melodico's Super Massive Awesome Stupid PAX Round-Up.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Cosplayers of PAX 2010

Here are some (but certainly not all) of the fabulous cosplayers of PAX 2010.
The attention to detail and general effort that must have gone into these is phenomenal:




Also good to know: There have apparently been remarkable improvements to the hypoallergenic manufacturing process of body paint, because no one appeared to break out in hives. Yay!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Brainy Gamer Podcast

Anyone who reads this site undoubtedly knows about Michael Abbott's fabulous blog The Brainy Gamer. I can't say enough good things about him, his writing, and the community that has formed around his site. (must... never... say... "Brainysphere" aloud... again...) If for some crazy reason you read Gamer Melodico but don't read Michael, well... go and rectify that situation asap!

A few weeks back, Michael asked me to contribute to his most recent series of podcasts, the focus of which would be a discussion of gaming conventions, or "Gatherings of the Tribe." Last week I hopped on Skype with Michael and Rob LeFebvre, a super-cool dude who runs Games are Evil and writes for 148 Apps. We talked about GDC, PAX, the highs and lows of gamer culture, the nature of anonymous communication on the internet, notions of language and privilege, and each of our favorite games of the moment.

In a bit of groovy serendipity, the day after we recorded the podcast Rob few into San Francisco to attend a SEGA event. He and I met up and grabbed a beer at Thee Parkside on Potrero Hill, which pretty much had to be the fastest podcast-to-real-life meetup of all time. I was so glad to have a chance to chat with him in person - he's a great guy and has a lot of cool thoughts on games. I really recommend checking out his site!

Michael's posted links to the podcast on TBG, but I'll post them here as well:
  • It's available on iTunes
  • Or via direct stream
  • You can also subscribe to Michael's podcast feed, which I highly suggest doing
  • Be sure to check out part one of the series, featuring Kill Screen editor Chris Dahlen and freelance badass extraordinaire Gus Mastrapa
I hope you enjoy it! I had a freakin' blast, and it was an absolute honor to contribute to my very favorite gaming podcast. Thanks, Michael!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

PAX 2010 Expo Hall Slideshow

It's hard to believe a full week has gone by since the opening day of Pax. I speak just for myself, of course, but I had the sort of time that can only be properly expressed via a Patrick Swayze dance number (except replace the dancing and swooning with cosplay and whiskey, which are better anyway).

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the first of several slideshows:


This city just isn't the same without you, Paxites. Although it is nice not to have to wait five years for the bathroom, I would happily trade for just one more day. Additional slideshows are impending, stay tuned!

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that this slideshow seems not to want to work properly in both Safari and Chrome. Firefox appears to be fine, so use that if you can. No word yet on IE. If Firefox is not an option for you, here is the original set.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I think I fixed it. Feel free to verify via comments that I am not hallucinating my own photostream. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PAX Was Fon

Hi everyone! So, remember when we said that we got all excited about PAX and said we were going to be doing a lot of posting from the event? ...Yeah. About that. I bet that all you seasoned convention veterans saw that and were like, "Girl, please."

So okay, it was crazier than we'd anticipated. We're decompressing from a pretty damn awesome weekend, and will have some more stuff up soon. I've finished my own write-up and the (much more irreverent) GM round-table is on the way as well. We'll be posting those as they're ready, but in the meantime please enjoy the above picture, which I took at the bathroom in The Night Kitchen at like 2 in the morning.

The cheese curds there were pretty great, but not as great as PAX. The games on the expo floor were fon, but not as much fon as tearing up the town with Annie and Dan. The lines were long, but not as long as... okay, you get it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

PAX Photos: Part 1 of Very Many

So, look. It's like 2:30 in the morning, and we all know that any of us who've managed to log even one sleep cycle per night over the past three or four nights are probably the same jerks who rolled up late each morning and tried to cut in line.

I shot over a thousand photos total (if you were harassed by a semi-grumpy ginger with a camera and stompy boots, there are probably shots of you. Because that ginger was me) and a huge ton of them will be organized into several concisely-themed and well-ordered galleries. Yes, I will have one entirely devoted to cosplay, there are hundreds of crowd shots, demos, and some very amusing photobombs. However, it's late, and sleep is very important. People do hallucinate after going without for too long. Either that, or my dog is ACTUALLY sending Morse Code messages with her snores. (To be honest, I don't think you're hallucinating - ed.) Man, I really ramble on a lot when I'm exhausted. I bet that was really annoying for Kirk and Dan.

Anyway. After the break, a few photos:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PAX 2010: Pregame

At the end of every summer, the gloriously geeky gaming masses descend on Seattle to partake in the Penny Arcade Expo. It's arguably the biggest, bestest most beautiful celebration of videogame fandom in the world. And this year, Gamer Melodico will be there!

Dan, Kirk and Annie are teaming up to spend the entire upcoming weekend running around from booths to panels to parties, beholding massive musical extravaganzas, taking pictures of crazy cosplay, meeting up with friends old and new, and playing a crap-ton of upcoming games. Also, probably waiting in a lot of lines and drinking too much.

In addition to all that, we'll all be writing a bunch of stuff here, posting regular updates from what we've seen and done. (Update: despite the craziness yesterday with Paste Magazine discontinuing their print edition, Kirk will also, awesomely enough, be covering the event for the Paste website.)

PAX should also prove to be a bit of a Twitter bonanza, so while the Gamer Melodico Twitter Feed will be updated with new posts, for more running commentary you'll want to follow Kirk at @kirkhamilton, Dan at @DanApczynski and Annie at @Chernobylheart.

In the meantime, we thought we'd talk a bit about what we're each looking forward to most. And by all means, if there's anything in particular among the announced attractions that you'd like us to check out and write about, let us know!

Overbites, flask-smuggling, couch-surfing, cosplaying, furries and more, after the break...