Thursday, December 22, 2011

Surviving the Horror

At first glance you might think the title of this post is a reference to the holiday season, but don't forget that this is a video game blog page. That said I will admit that the inspiration for this comes from the newly released Prometheus movie trailer. So what am I getting on about? see...after seeing a preview of Ridley Scott's return to the sci-fi/horror genre I got to thinking about horror video games and how they've kind of faded into the background recently. Jim Sterling over on The Escapist did an excellent little piece on what's need for games to be scary, and while I more or less agree with his points I think that there's something else to it. In order for horror games to work they need to have an element of unpredictability to them.

Take Doom 3 or even Dead Space for example, both are a blending of sci-fi and horror which put the player in a survival situation. Both revolve around a series of jump scares and set piece moments designed to fill the player with dread. The problem is the pattern becomes predictable at some point and players quickly find themselves getting immunized, or worse yet annoyed, by each new "gotcha" surprise. Don't get me wrong especially when it comes to atmosphere these games are oozing with it, foreboding architecture mixed with ominously lit environments and an eerie sound score make for a great setting to cause some player anxiety. The problem is said players know where all the monsters are hiding. Couple that with lots of guns and it's not really scary, rather it's simply a dark action game. So, how to solve this problem? I think the best solution would be to take some advice from one of the masters, H.P. Lovecraft. In effect he's famous said that it's fear of the unknown that really gets under people's skin. To apply this to video games two things need to be done.

First, don't let players know the full extent of what their getting into. Doom 3 failed to frighten many players simply because the story and enemies were a rehash of the first game. Dead Space sufferes from a slightly different problem in that the main threat "Necromorphs" are exactly what they sound like. No twists like they are the byproduct of nanobots gone wrong or some kind alien collective of micro-organisms...sorry turns out they're just a bunch of mutant space zombies. If you watched the high production value trailer then you pretty much already know everything about your foe which kills a lot of the suspense.

Second, there has to be a kind of randomization to the scares. Not knowing where and when the monsters will appear increases the dread quite a bit. Condemned: Criminal Origins succeeded to some degree with this by using non-scripted AI routines. But to be honest dragon attacks in Skyrim are probably some of the best examples of how to keep players on their toes. Plus it avoids the monster closet or worse yet the teleporting behind you trick which gets especially irritating in subsequent playthroughs. Utilizing such a system also plays to the strengths of video games since other forms of horror media can really only get you the first time you experience it.

I should conclude by saying that I'm a big survival horror fan, and have played everything from Resident Evil and Silent Hill to Fatal Frame and Clock Tower. But I have to say I have never played a horror title that keeps the player in the dark knowledge-wise while fully embracing emergent gameplay. What would such a game be like? I don't know for sure, but I bet it would be pretty damn freaky.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Remetal Gearance

I'm not opposed to new terminology in the game industry. In particular I really like the recently introduced term DLG (Down-Loadable Game) to help distinguish between DLC, which implies that the download is simply adding additional material to an already existing game. Especially since "Inide Game" is a somewhat overused term often referring to any game with a low budget and small team of developers. Rather than its originally intended meaning of an independent group working outside the influence of big game publishers.

That said terms like "transfarring" seem completely unnecessary and Kojima Productions latest attempt at wordsmithing has spawned the word "revengance" which comes across as bad grammar...or at the very least a typo. But this isn't the worst nomenclature to come out this console generation. The Nintendo Wii for example was originally supposed to be called the Nintendo Revolution, a far more suitable name when you consider that its motion control system was attempting to be a major departure from other gaming input methods at the time. While we're talking about motion controls I can't help but briefly touch on the fact that the Sony Move and Sub-Controller have to be some of the most uninspired names for such devices. It doesn't help Sony's cause that the PS VITA has a lackluster name combined with two equally valid ways of pronouncing it. But it's not just Japanese game companies that struggle with the English language.

Microsoft had their motion sensor peripheral codenamed "Natal" before it eventually became "Kinect" which in my opinion wasn't much of an improvement. Especially since the "K" in the beginning stinks of Midway Games' inability to use the letter "c" whenever it happened to come up in the beginning of a word. Did I mention people get paid to workshop this stuff? Considering how many game titles have the word "requiem" or "rising" in them I can't help but think there is a lot of no-talent copy-cats when it comes time to choose names. Then again you'll also get very bizarre cases of Bethesda suing the creator of Minecraft for using the word "scrolls" in their upcoming title while Nintendo goes and releases Skyward Sword just over a week after Skyrim unmolested. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I heard someone say Elder Scrolls: Skyward Sword either intentionally or by accident in the bottom half of November, 2011.

Regardless, the day is done and who know what tomorrow will bring. XBox720 seems unlikely and PS4 will definitely not happen considering the number 4 is unlucky in Japanese culture, sounds too much like the word for death in their language. Then again "PlayStation Death" complete with jet black casing and screaming skull logo sounds a lot better than some of the focus group tested crap the game industry has been puking out lately.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Game of the Year Awards

The end of the year is fast approaching and in the video game industry that means it's time to hand out awards. Since everyone and their pet has a "best of" list picked out this year I thought I would join in to with my own choices. The twist is I'm going to use a special set of categories I created back in 2009. So with out further ado here are my winners of the year:

Avantgarde Award Winner:
While some my draw comparisons to Populous or Black and White this game is really only related to those games in that they are the next closest thing even if it might still be very distant. To put it in a nutshell From Dust is a game in which nature is both your ally and enemy. I can't think of another game that came out over the last decade where that is the case.

Backlash Award Winner:
After fourteen years in development I think fan expectations had exceeded what any game company could hope to achieve. Let that be a lesson to developers not to take too long after announcing a game they are working on. I've talked about The Duke before so I wont rehash the same stuff over, but I will say this; you can't thrive on nostalgia and one-liners alone.

Brutality Award Winner:
In truth the hardest game released this year is the aptly titled The Worlds Hardest Game, but since it isn't that difficult for some indie developer to turn out something that will make a Buddhist monk curse in frustration I decided to give this dubious award to Dark Souls, by far the most challenging non-indie game to be released this year. You have been warned.

Canvas Award Winner:
I actually don't mind grey and brown as much as some people who hang out on gaming forums. In fact making things too colorful can result in a very garish look which is, in my opinion, worse than an overly subdued color pallet. Fortunately, Link's final outing on the Nintendo Wii manages maintain that difficult balance between bright tones and consistent patterns better than most titles to come out this year. Now if only it could be in HD....

Ecology Award Winner:
If your not sure why I picked this game I highly suggest you visit it's Metacritic webpage and read a sampling of the negative user reviews. Virtually every single one mentions a recycling of themes from the previous title in the series aggravated by the fact that they turn one of these out every year in addition to a pile of other modern military themed FPS games that are churned out all year long.

“Engrish” Award Winner:

"You Defeated!" is now officially part of the gaming lexicon thanks to Dark Souls. Aside from the smattering of typos and incorrect item descriptions the reason this title stands out again is the pre-patch gift description for Black Firebombs which contains the phrase "more powerful than a STD bomb." After reading this I had a metal image of my character slogging through Blightown with a life draining status indicator flashing the word "SYPHILIS!" over and over. Alas, it did not come to pass.

Esoteric Award Winner:
While not a proper game (rather it's a Half-Life 2 mod) I chose it anyway because this game has got to be one of the most bizarre releases this year with its forth-wall-breaking commentary on linearity and game design. To call the game difficult in the you-die-a-lot sense would be a gross misrepresentation. Needless to say I found this a hard game to digest and process all the way up to the finish and beyond.

Lemon Award Winner:
Visit the Bethesda forums if you want to know the full extent of the glitches and bugs to be found in the land of the Nords. What truly blows my mind though is the fact that millions of people keep rushing out to buy every new release even though all previous installments have been rife with issues. To be fair its partly because of the expansive and emergent gameplay, but seriously, wait until they patch it if it bothers you so much. A little patience will save you a lot of heartache and more importantly it will send a message to Bethesda to clean up their games better before plopping them on store shelves.

Testosterone Award Winner:
Full frontal nudity, blood, gore and some rather stomach turning acts of violence against a sorceresses make this one of the most painstakingly detail examples of brutality in a fantasy setting. You might argue there are far more grotesque sights in a variety of other titles such as Gears of War 3 or Dead Space 2, but what makes this Polish game stand out is the fact that it is presented in such a matter-of-fact fashion.

Underdog Award Winner:
More open-ended than the over-rated Final Fantasy series, but less tedious than the Harvest Moon series this particular jRPG sequel looks like it will become the best game of 2011 that no one played. That's not to say the game is issue free, but if your looking for a lighthearted fantasy life simulator your in luck because this is the game for you.

So there you have it. My choices of the year. Some of the awards are dubious at best and I chose Dark Souls for two categories, but hey at least I didn't charge any of them entries a fee like they do at the Spike TV Video Game Awards, BAFTA or certain other award shows which will remain nameless simple because I don't want to give them the publicity even from a low traffic blog page such as this.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Odds and Ends

Here's the deal. I don't have enough material for a single topic so I decided to make a post that includes several subjects that have been on my mind recently that I'd like to touch on briefly in turn. I might expand on the three following points at a later date, but for now this is all I got.

First, why am I seeing so many comparisons between Dark Souls and Skyrim recently? Not only did the games come out a full month apart (more than that if you count the Japanese release date), but they're not even in the same league. Yes, you can say they’re both fantasy/action RPGs, but beyond that design philosophy they couldn’t be further apart and more importantly there is a huge difference in resource allocation. Dark Souls was made by a team of 40 people in a period of two years. Skyrim was made by 90+ individuals over a five year development cycle. I might be tempted to say "apples and oranges" but I think a more fitting analogy would be "wine vineyard and cattle ranch."

Second, why are there so many games coming out now that have to be online all the time in order to be played? I can understand MMORPGs, but Diablo III? Or how about pretty much every game sold on EA's new Origin online store. Banning issues aside, the Internet and it's library of websites aren't all that reliable when it comes to access. Just last night I tried to log into PSN and found that I couldn't because of the reoccurring "80710B23" error having to do with Sony servers. Luckily for me I can play offline, but I would have been pretty pissed had that not been the case. Seriously fellow gamers…don't buy games that require you to always be online unless you like being aggravated.

Third, why aren't motion controls going anywhere? By that I mean they are neither becoming a prominent feature in the case of Sony Move, nor are they going away when it comes to Kinect or Wii Motion Plus. If they pushed it into the background I can understand such as making it optional, but Zelda: Skyward Sword has made the Wii remote mandatory and it looks like Wii-U will have similar requirements. Alternatively Kinect could be used in a supporting role, but as of this moment I've only heard of one game, the sequel to Steel Battalion, that is capitalizing on this idea. Maybe the reason is developers have yet to hammer out the kinks...then again half a decade seems like enough time to start producing some quality titles other than in-house Nintendo productions and dance/rhythm games. Needless to say if 3D integration is going to be the same deal then I'm not looking forward to it very much either.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Under the Hood

In the relatively brief history of video games new generations of hardware have been introduced every five years or so. These cycles have persisted until now. The seventh generations of consoles (Wii, Xbox360 and PS3) are now in their sixth year of life yet successors for the latter two have yet to be announced and even the first, Wii-U, lacks a firm launch date. Sony has gone on record saying that they intend to give their PlayStation 3 a full ten years before releasing their eight generation home entertainment system. Microsoft has dropped hints that they are considering introducing a new box in 2013. Regardless, all good things come to an end and baring a global catastrophe I'm fairly sure the eighth generation of gaming systems will arrive with powerful hardware. For me though the million dollar question is what are they going to do with it?

Shiny graphics? I'm sure. Crystal clear sound? No doubt. Fully integrated motion support? Probably. Online store? They would be stupid not to. The thing is I don't really care about any of those things. If we're going to have a new generation of powerful and expensive hardware then let’s use it to deepen gaming experiences in lieu of spastic arm flaying, connectivity up the ying-yang and yet another coat of costly polish. Because this generation has gone on for so long developers definately have a good handle on how to make stuff look good in High-Def, but what is still lacking is everything beneath the sparkle.

From Dust may not have the best graphics but the water in the game moves more realistically than in any game I've ever played before. Better yet it's not just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. You can manipulate it, channel it, watch it flow and make gullies...sandbars...even river deltas. "It's a geologists dream come true, but what about gameplay?" you might ask. Well, ever played a FPS with beautiful environments which are completely unaffected by...well...anything. It's non-interactive and to me that is the antithesis of video games. Granted hardware limitations often make things like this a necessity, but with the coming of the next-gen consoles perhaps this limitation can be negated.

Artificial intelligence is another weak area in desperate need of improvement. Games like Uncharted may deliver a white knuckle experience the first time, but it's impossible to deviate from the path laid out for the player resulting in everyone having the more or less exact same experience. Part of the success of games like the Half-life, Halo and F.E.A.R. are the fact that a well-developed A.I. mixes things up. Doom 3 suffered for it but ID Software learned their lesson and Rage is significantly better.

So, what will the future bring? Will we get slightly more photo realistic graphics with gimmicky control schemes and bloated developmental budgets or will there be substance, a value to bring the players in and keep them from wandering off once the bells, whistles and fancy lights cease to impress? While I loath to compare games to cars, flashy lines and a nice paint job aren't going to win me over if there's a rusty old engine under the hood so gutless that it's not classic simply obsolete.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Words and Metrics Don't Mix

Ever read a review where the author goes on and on about the stuff they hate in a particular game only to then give it a near perfect score. Alternatively, have you ever watched a video review in which it's nothing but praise yet the game still gets less than a perfect score? This is because of a fundamental problem with the way gaming review outlets operate.

If you live in San Francisco and pick up a free copy of their local news publication, SF Weekly, I highly recommend reading their movie reviews for one reason in particular. The editors refuse to have any kind of numerical rating system for the films they critique. This has the highly beneficial effect of forcing the reader to actually scan the words as printed and learn about films and the reviewers' opinions in detail.

Now, some of you might say "What's wrong with metrics? They're quick and easy. Consumer Reports uses numbers and it's a great review magazine!" Well, yes that's true but the reviews you find in that particular publication are different in nature. They are evaluating technical aspects of products not artistic ones. If reviewers of video games were to truly adopt this policy they would have to base their review scores on factors like stability, graphic/sound fidelity, control response and code optimization. Obviously, those are things reviewers usually consider, but I can't remember ever reading a review that exclusively limited itself to considering those rather objective points. Instead reviewers inevitably tend to stray into the realm of artistic critique.

The fact is video games have artistic merit (sorry Ebert) so I can see why reviewers would want to discuss more abstract factors such visual styles, music composition, moods, themes and overall impressions. The catch is these points are extremely subjective and can vary greatly from individual to individual. How then do reviewers expect to justify their review with abstract numbers like "7/10" and "3/5 stars"? It makes absolutely no sense if you think about it deeply. And here in lies the problem with video game reviews. They want to have the name of their magazine or website to appear on box covers and Metacritic so they feel the need to push out a score even if it (in itself) has no meaning, while at the same time tossing out unsupportable opinions in the hopes of getting quoted (with citations of course).

So, in the end it's all about grabbing as many pairs of eyes as possible consequences be damned. No wonder gaming journalism has a very hard time maintaining any integrity. After all you can have your cake and eat it too, but sooner or later pretty much everyone is going to end up thinking your a selfish, greedy pig.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Beggars CAN be Choosers

For the average gamer money is in short supply, and given the choice between a full priced title or several indie games it's not surprising a lot of people on a limited budget choose to go with the latter. I'm here to tell you that downloadable games can sometimes be had for free. No, I'm not talking about piracy (despite that word appearing in the title of this blogging webpage). Rather, certain genres of games have a large number of free high quality flash equivalents.

I'll keep this limit to two genres in particular. First is tower defense. There are great titles to be had on Xbox Live like Trenched and Toy Soldiers, but the catch is they cost money. Don't be disheartened though, you can play some excellent tower defense titles such as GemCraft, Kingdom Rush and The Space Game. All feature deep gameplay and while I wouldn't say the graphics are impressive they run the gamut from functional to stylish.

The second is a genre that is harder to classify, but I'll boil it down to a single title going for $10 on PSN versus a number of flash titles floating around on the net for free. The PS3 game is called Eufloria has alternatives called Phage Wars, a sequel and a competitive online version. Star Baron, another great choice, just make sure to play the full version and not the beta. Then you got Solarmax which is probably the most polished of the three, but also the shortest.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though. There's a vast number of great games I haven't mentioned (or in some cases even played). So go check out some websites like Armor Games, Kongregate and New Grounds if haven't recently already. Maybe you wont like all the games you try, but hey they're free of charge and it's pretty hard to beat that price on PSN, Xbox Live or Steam.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Rise of the Let's Plays

With the advent of inexpensive easy to use video capture software and technology mixed with websites like YouTube it's increasingly easy to find someone’s playthrough of an entire video game floating around on the internet. I suspect that these clips severed as a kind of visual FAQ at first to help other gamers defeat a particularly difficulty boss or overcome a vexing puzzle, but now they have become a form of entertainment in unto themselves.

In some cases the player is content to remain silent and simply let the viewer watch the game play out as intended. I actually enjoy watching these kinds of "Let's Play" videos since I spent a lot of time growing up passing the controller around with friends and family. Hence, the idea of watching someone else play is second nature to me. I've heard some voices on message boards complain that they don't see the appeal, they want to play the game not watch it being played. I can see where they're coming from, but then again playing costs money while watching is free.

Adding to the easy of accessibility and lack of cost is the type of "Let's Play-er" who injects their own personality into the gaming experience. Mangaminx, Nanosuit Ninja and DSP Gaming are just a few YouTube channels were viewers can get an often times extremely amusing commentary in conjunction with video game footage. Some of these "Let's Play" personalities come off more garish than fun to listen to, but for the gamer on a budget and plenty of time to spare I suspect these videos hold a lot of appeal.

There's also the simple fact that there are a huge number of titles coming out on a weekly basis which many gamers cannot realistically hope to play. However, harkening back to my previous blog post there is still that strong social pressure to be in the know, so for those individuals who can’t stand being left out of the conversion I think "Let's Play" videos allow them to absorb a kind of abridged version of the titles they can't take on first hand.

Even now we're seeing major gaming media websites more and more embrace the idea of a spoiler free “Let's Play” sessions that serves as a short glimpse of how the minute-by-minute gameplay works.  In the years to come I suspect that these videos will increasingly overshadow more traditional systems of influencing gamer purchasing decisions such as screenshots, trailers, reviews and even the highly overrated Metacritic score.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

From Dawn till Dust

I've noticed that when it comes to DLC of late Xbox Live has based their marketing strategy more and more around exploitation of people who must have their "Shiny" now. What I mean here is people who can't resist purchasing the newest releases being strategically targeted by Microsoft. I could complain about how patience is virtue, but rather than pick on individuals I'd rather talk about a common social attitude people have when it comes to new media.

I can't speak for you, the readers, but I tend to visit a variety of message boards, forums as well as do a bit of chatting with fellow gamers. A none-to-uncommon occurrence I see is the insatiable need to devour new games, novels, movies, ect. as soon as humanly possible. Then, following said orgy, start posting about it all over the net. For those who are slow to pick up new media they feel left in the dust, unable to participate in threads or or even read posts for fear of spoiling things. The most extreme example of this I can think of is A Dance with Dragons, a 1000+ page tome which a lot of people read through in a day just so they could chat it up 24 hours after the book hit the shelves. Granted that example comes from literature, but the same holds true for video games. It's a kind of societal pressure intentionally or unintentionally created by a media hungry crowd.

I don't know where this phenomenon started, but I became aware of it back when the first of the Star Wars prequels was announced. Looking on TV I could see hundreds of people lined up weeks in advance to see George Lucas' return to that galaxy far far away....need I mention that I walked into the theater they morning after midnight release and sat through the film along with only a dozen or so others hassle free? Granted for those who waited it was a social event and getting to hang out with people with like interests is enjoyable more often that not. That said there are some major pitfalls for doing this kind of thing in the world of video games. Look no farther than those who bought the 3DS for an excellent example. If that's not enough for you consider titles such as Dead Island, From Dust, Call of Duty and an unfortunately large number of Bethesda games. Early adopters have a tendency to get burned by launch prices, buggy gameplay, online issues and surprise DRM.

So, for those who post "Late to the Party" in forums don't feel ashamed or worried. There is still plenty of enjoyment to be had and in fact it might be better for you than it did for those who rushed to get it first.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

John Marston of Mars

Ninety-nine years ago a man named Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a story entitled Under the Moons of Mars. In the prologue Mr. Burroughs states that the contents of the novel are derived from the diary of his deceased uncle, John Carter. The contents of Mr. Carter's notes were fantastical to say the least. In his life tale he claimed to have made a journey, by undisclosed methods, to Mars where he encountered two tusked, four armed 10 foot tall martians with a unique biology and culture described in surprising detail. He also claims to have run into a race of red martians who were more human in nature, though their technology was much different. The flora and fauna were also elaborated on. On Mars he claimed there were no clothes, no diseases and no death from old age. Yet the red planet was dying and the martians had at one point mastered their environment, but had since slipped in to decline followed by decadence and barbarism.

To say the story is influential would be an understatement. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, He-man, Star Wars and most recently Avatar all draw a great deal of inspiration from Under the Moons of Mars, along with it's sequels which are derived from more manuscripts published later by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Know collectively as the Barsoom Series (Barsoom being the name of Mars given to it by the martians), the books also gave birth the the science fiction sub-genre of Planetary Romance.

So what does this have to do with video games, you might ask? Nothing...yet. However, for the one-hundredth anniversary a movie simply called John Carter is scheduled to be released by Disney and Pixar. It's also a mix of live action and CGI rather than relying purely on animation. As I'm sure you know whenever a major movie comes out a lackluster game is usually trailing on its heels. Well, I have an idea...maybe a brilliant idea or possibly an insanely stupid one, but regardless here it is:

Base the next Red Dead Redemption on the Barsoom Series!

I'm serious. Think about it for a minute. Jack Marston transports to Mars finds himself a stranger in a strange land complete with an amazing open world to explore, martians to meet, Women to woo (particularly the beautiful red martian princess Dejah Thoris), wars to fight, airship piracy, daring rescues, political intrigue, gladiatorial combat and creatures to hunt. Oh yes...all manner of exotic beasts; Thoats, Banths, Calots, White Apes and the massive Zitidar! I could go on but why spoil it? Given Rockstar Games' fetish for nudity and excessive intellectualism I think this is a match made in heaven...or should I say under the moons of Mars?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Vehicular Sims

Flight simulators, tank simulators, even ant colony simulators have been made in the form of video games. For a while they were all the rage, but the number of such titles has dwindled until now we see very few. In fact this generation of gaming consoles has almost no simulation titles outside of driving. Either that or they've been relegated to a supporting role in the form of special sequences or levels designed to break up the action, such seems to be the case with Battlefield 3:

But take a look. Notice the attention to detail, the plausibility of the entire scenario. There's something to be said for games that capture the essence of verisimilitude. It gives them a value, a gravitas that so many games lack these days. In part this is because so many titles released this generation of consoles are influenced by other video games rather than reality. Hence, you end up with a copy of a copy of a copy (and so on). Until the original flavor is lost and the player is nothing more than a play toy at the mercy of the game creators whims. So bring back the simulation genre in a big way I say!

It need not be solely taken from that which we live and breath right here and now though. The space sim genre could easily be revitalized (something we got the tiniest of glimpses of in Halo: Reach). Especially on this generation of hardware the possibilities are quite expansive. Even something as simple as jet dogfighting in a fictional conflict set in the near future has never looked this good:

I remember the first game I purchased for PC was a title called Mechwarrior, and while a number of squeals have come out over the years I yearn for one this generation that could make me feel like I am truly piloting a 50 foot tall war machine - shaking the earth with every step, sending people fleeing in terror from my crushing stride, dealing forth destructive volleys capable of leveling cities while leaving only death in my wake. Will Armored Core 5 (or Mechwarrior 5 come to think of it) be that game? Possibly, but even if it isn't such a game could be made, and it would be glorious.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Different Diffculties

When game reviewers talk about how hard a game is they're more often than not talking about Nintendo Hard. For you young readers not familiar with the 8-bit era of gaming overcoming challenges back then meant having incredible hand-eye coordination mixed with superb timing and a sizable helping of luck. Didn't really matter if it was Bullet Hell, Platform Hell or something else these kind of games usually had players frantically gripping their controllers with sweaty palms in a desperate attempt to keep their onscreen character alive. It was a theme for the times and worked well with arcade games where they needed to have a way to keep those quarters coming. On home systems, as well, it helped pad out games that had short play times. But what about games in the age we live in now?

There's definitely been a easing of difficulty. Partly it's because we can choose how hard we want it to be (A.K.A. easy-normal-hard). Sometimes this can fundamentally alter how the game presents itself. The Thief series changes mission objectives, Mickey Mouse's Castle of Illusion significantly alters level layout. A lot of Halo fans swear that playing Combat Evolved on the "legendary" setting requires a radical shift in how you take on enemies. In particular survival becomes dependent on a mastery of tactics and an understanding of how to make the most out of every available weapon. Some even argue that it's the only way the game should be played. I'm inclined to agree. Demon's Souls and Witcher 2 are much the same except they pretty much require the player to learn the in's and out's of gameplay.

Ever played Alone in the Dark? No, I don't mean by yourself with the lights off...I'm talking about the game where you start off in the attic of a haunted house. Chances are you'll die there the first time you play since a vicious dog monster breaks through the window minutes after you start. Followed up in short order with a zombie rising out of a hatch in the floor. Now if your clever you get a gun stashed in an old trunk which is a lot better than using punches and kicks, or better still block off the window and hatch by pushing furniture in the way. I fully endorse this kind of gameplay since it reward careful observation, common sense and most importantly creativity. Gamers who complain about these kind of titles being too hard are either mentally lazy or simply don't like the concept of multiple paths to victory. Either way I recommend they stick to press "x" to win stuff since all they're really looking for is an ego massage, I think.

On the flip side Cheating A.I. is part of the reason I never liked playing a Total War game above normal difficulty. Vita Chambers are also the reason I never played much Bioshock. In case you don't know what the hell I'm talking about Vita Chambers made it so anyone could simply button-mash their way to the end without learning how to play (regardless of the difficulty setting) simply because player death would result in an instant re-spawn from a nearby location at no penalty. I've heard that they patched it though so you can turn those things off. I guess I should consider revisiting Rapture. Items that you need to win, but can accidentally skip or render usless is another kick in the nuts challenge that I dislike. Then there are games like Dwarf Fortress that have no way to win really, but I could write a whole blog post on that one design concept alone.

I should mention the difficult that I like the most is the self-imposed kind. Just check out this "iron man" playthorugh of Crysis to see how cool this idea can be.

After all what better way customize the game to your own liking than with rules of your own design?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All Duke'd Out?

A common problem with Japanese games (particularly jRPGs) is domination of the design process by big wigs who insist it being their way or the highway. Hence basic innovations often get left by the wayside in lieu of the director's singular vision resulting in a title that has badly outdated gameplay filled with self-indulgent story elements. But the truth is the opposite extreme, design by committee, has it's own share of pitfalls. No more apparent than in Duke Nuke'em: Forever.

The Duke has always been a womanizing, narcissistic, dick waver so I will ignore all the criticisms labeled against him with regards to misogynistic undertones and cheesy referential humor. People who criticize those aspects of Duke either grew up (good for them) or failed to take off their nostalgia goggles (not so good). Those points aside Duke Nuke'em: Forever has problems. Most notably the game play is lackluster, and not simply because it's dated. Rather the odd mix of new and old is what makes the big blonde's return mediocre.

Circle strafing, non-linear level design, and platforming bits are hallmarks of old-school shooters which is okay. But then we have these newer design elements mixed in like the limitation of only being able to carry two weapons at a time. Why? It not like they were going for realism here. Then there's the "Ego" life bar which has a surprisingly bland presentation. Couldn't they have made a nuclear symbol graphic or something more thematic than a simple green bar in the upper corner of the screen? Also, what's with the recharging mechanic? Duke running and hiding so his ego can recover doesn't really jive with the character. On the other hand lifting weights, drinking beer, admiring himself in the mirror, and collecting Duke memorabilia is. Why not take the concept a bit further and have Duke's Ego bar go up every time he wastes a bad guy? After all what could be a bigger ego boost than crushing your enemies?

Ken Levine (the director of Bioshock) once said that he hated focus groups because the end result of trying to please everyone is you end up pleasing no one and sadly Duke got himself trapped in this pothole. Will he get a chance to try and drive himself out? That depends on Gearbox software. I for one hope that if they bet on Duke again though they decide on a vision and go all in on the concept rather than watering down the experience with a "neither here nor there" design philosophy.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gun Fatigue

Robot Jox is one film that really needs a kinect game adaptation

Indie Guy: Too many shooters this year at E3.
FPS Guy: Well...that's what sells so that's the kind of games that get made.
Indie Guy: Sure, but why does it always have to be guns?
FPS Guy: No guns....? Ah! I got'cha swords, right?
Indie Guy: Nope, no stabbing and hacking dues either.
FPS Guy: you mean sword-guns like Final Fantasy X? 'cause that would be cool.
Indie Guy: Grrrr....

At this point in time a lot of developers are suffering from a serious case of "Me Too" syndrome. So much so all the Call of Duty clones coming out are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from one another. Producers are thinking block bluster formula; grey/brown environments, near future/past setting, lots of guns (knives too), throw in some heavily meta game influenced online multiplayer and Boom Headshot! instant cash cow, right? I'll answer that question later.

You'd think that Kinect at least would bring some much needed variety. Nope even Kinect has shooter support, get ready to hold out a clenched fist and making jazz hands. Sure kid's games are machine-gun-less, unsurprisingly. Teens and up titles though inevitably fall back on shooting and stabbing. Seems like a waste of Kinect potential. You ever seen an obscure sci-fi movie called Robot Jox? Why not go with this kind of concept in a Kinect game? The sluggish gigantic robots would ironically reflect accurately considering lag issues that some times occur with the Kinect camera reading movement. Plus you got lasers, missiles, a variety of hand-to-hand weapons and best of all no guns. Actually, Steel Battalion 2 might be doing something like what I've mentioned, but until more details are released it's any one's guess.

Napoleon once said "Men are lead by trifles" and while pinning medals on his soldiers he mentioned "with such baubles, men are led." Well it's Bobby Kotick in this day and age and instead of conquering counties it's selling games. Call them achievements, trophies, or a high score on a leader board it's the same pieces of brass with a different name. By the way if you have no idea what I'm talking about go read an excellent book called Sneetches on Beaches by Dr. Seus.

Going back to the question I asked in the first paragraph - Yes, the block buster formula makes money...for a few. However the vast majority flop simply because there are way too many military themed shooters. So to all game developers out there please go make something other than a generic FPS. It might sound risky, but trust me the danger is no greater carving your own path than it is being a copy-cat. Or if you have be a follower then walk in the path of true masters like the guys who made Portal or Ken Levine and his excellent Bioshock series.

A least this shooter is trying something new

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3 for short) is the single largest event in the video game industry and as such is also the battleground for big dogs like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. As one prominent video game journalist put it “[E3] is a giant machine run by crazy people.” Journalists get their scoops and coverage while the PR guys get to promote and generate buzz, but generally speaking it’s a huge pain for everyone involved. Not to mention that a hot, crowded, noisy and sometimes smelly convention hall isn’t exactly an ideal environment to experience a new game. Because of this and a variety of other factors small titles often get lost in the shuffle or simply buried under they hype of far bigger (but not necessarily better) announcements.

I also find myself wondering what E3 is really supposed to be all about. Unlike say GDC which serves as a chance for developers and enthusiasts from all over the world to meet face-to-face, hang out and tell stories E3 is a lot of flash-and-trash advertising mixed with shady backroom business deals. There’s also a fair amount of politicking and favoritism which can lead to a lot of bad blood and prissiness all around. I’m not even sure if it’s so beneficial for your average gamer either considering the costs involved to attend the event mixed with the fact that anything of even remote interest is going to have massive crowd or long line to contend with unless you’re an insider.

Sufficed to say I think you can see a lot more of E3 from the convenience of your home than the people who go through all the effort to be there in person, which finally brings me to the main point of this particular blog post. We live in an age where digit conferencing is common place and the transmission of large amounts of detailed information can be done with the simple push of a button. So, do we really need this antiquated E3 anymore? And if so then why?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reputation for Violence

I’ve never understood why people find the need to complain about violence in video games. Especially when other forms of media hardly shy away from the subject of physical conflict. That said I do get board with the lack of variety when it comes to the primary form of gameplay most big budget titles offer. Don’t get me wrong, if killing dudes and blowing stuff up pushes your buttons then power to you. The “fight or flight” instinct is one of the most basic and intense of human impulses after all….but it need not be the predominate experience in video games. This is why I’m glad to see triple “A” titles such as L.A. Noir showcasing detective work over gunplay. It’s nice to see an open world game that has missions that can’t be boiled down to kill “X” number of enemies at location “Y”.

I’m not calling for the pacification of vide games here so much as asking gamers to push developers to keep stretching their creativity out beyond the countless variations on destruction and slaughter already widely available. “But games without violence are boring!” you might say. “All that other stuff I can do in real life. It’s my insatiable bloodlust that can only be (lawfully) satisfied in video games” you might also say. Well, yes…but variety is the spice of life and the reason digital carnage is such a refined art in video games is because a lot of very talented people have been making violent video games for a very long time. Besides you can have your cake of death and eat other things too.

Speaking of death, Demon’s Souls has a great deal of it, particularly when it comes to the player’s on screen character, but rather than simply giving out more of the same the development team has opted to place more emphasis on exploration in their spiritual sequel. Another good place to look is Bioware games which contain lots of fantasy and sci-fi action while still making a concerted effort to spend time on conversation and character relationships. Granted lots of games have done this kind of thing in the past, the point I’m trying to stress is that the nonviolent stuff is often times what I enjoy most. So, why bother padding a game out with pointless, unnecessary and in some cases downright dull bloodletting?

Next time you walk into your local game store check out the variety of titles on the shelves. Yes, most of the big titles in gaming revolve around guns, swords and super powers, but why not try something a little different for a change? Whether it be wanderlust in Dark Souls or wenching in the Witcher 2 there’s a lot of impulses in that brain of yours that lie untapped in the world of video games.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Innovation

Costly, time consuming and risky are just some of the words one could assign to attempts at innovation in the game industry. Unsurprisingly most publisher would rather focus on remakes or sequels instead of rolling the dice on a new IP. and while games these days are far more refined than any other period in video game history stagnation is also at an all time high.

How many titles in the Resident Evil series now? Call of Duty? How about Final Fantasy? Don’t get me wrong I’ve enjoyed all three of these long running franchises, but familiarity breeds contempt eventually and fields no matter how fertile sometimes need to lie fallow.

There’s more to it than that though. Truly innovate games create something that can never be re-experienced. In fact just trying to recreate the key ingredients can prove to be fiendishly difficult. Take for example a video game horse. How many games have successfully captured the essence of the most noble of beasts? I guarantee the number of titles that come to mind are so few that you could count them on one hand. The reason being, as any professional game developer can probably tell you, making a four legged creature move realistically in a 3D environment isn’t easy. It takes a lot of man hours mixed with a humbling dose of trial and error plus that word that makes publishers uneasy – money.

On the plus side games that see the necessary investment in terms of time, talent and energy can boast features not soon to be repeated. I have seen many attempts to capture the thrill of climbing up the massive frame of a boss monster in titles such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and God of War 3, but these pale in comparison to the original PS2 game to bring forth this particular gameplay element over half a decade ago.

However not all innovation needs to be big and bold. It can happen in small almost magical ways too. Just as an experiment next time your playing a video game try running your character into a wall at full speed. Only in a small minority of titles does your character throw out a hand to stop his forward momentum. It sounds trivial, I know, but little details like innate reflexes can make a fantasy world seem real to the player. And that special somewhere is a place that few games reach without innovation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sony's War

There are many kinds of wars; set piece battles where armies face off against one another, cold wars where two sides are on constant alert but neither attack out of fear of repercussions, drug wars, the war on terror, and most importantly (for the purposes if this blog post) guerrilla wars. Those costly conflicts in which a much more powerful force is slowly worn down by attrition caused by a much smaller and weaker but more cunning and determined foe. I think it's safe to say Sony is in just such a conflict. Not in the literal sense of course. Nobody is dying as the result of violence at Sony (I hope), but nevertheless the economic and ideological aspects of "Sony's War" are all too real.

So what was the spark that started this conflict? Well it's been smoldering on for a long time. A conflict of interest in which the guerrillas are the hacker community, an extremely loosely allied group of individuals who pride themselves on freedom of information backed by a talent for computer science. And Sony, a massive corporate conglomerate dominated by a long tradition of business culture. I could go into the history of how these two have been skirmishing for years. Usually it comes down to Sony wanting more money and the hackers wanting more freedom. Regardless I've never really sided with either group. Or rather I am sympathetic to both sides. After all Sony employees need to eat, but when their execs are writing themselves fat year end bonuses while at the same time complaining that they don't make enough money...well let's just say it's hard to feel sorry for rich people. Meanwhile one could think of hackers as being Robin Hood figures looking out for the poor and powerless. Then again it's also easy to find hackers who engage in activities that are nothing more than mean spirited thievery and vandalism. I think it's generally safe to say that there are moderates and extremists on both sides of this conflict with a mild tug-o-war over the boarder line of what's fair ideally based on common sense...until now.

It's just my opinion but I strongly believe that Sony really set things off in earnest when they decided to pull the other OS option retroactively from their PS3 systems (not a good idea when your slogan is "It Does Everything!"). Let me ask you this; Would you grab a green beret's hat off his head and throw it in his face? Because metaphorically speaking that's exactly what Sony did. They insulted one of the most elite group of tech-savvy people simply so they could make a little more profit...or so they though. As it turns out they might as well have dumped a bucket of gasoline on the sputtering flames of the conflict. Since then there's been a lot of back and forth with the hackers hacking and Sony going sue happy with it's small army of lawyers. For a while it looked like Sony was beating everyone into submission through shear ferocity. But then came the counter-attack. PSN, over 70 million user accounts world wide, had it's security compromised forcing Sony to shut it down. Needless to say this is going to cost the company a lot of money. One can't help but wonder if it would have been less costly to just leave the PS3 other OS option alone.

Sadly, it's too late now. Sony might as well be the USA in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan, or the Roman Empire in Gaul. But wait those of you who know your history might say "Hey didn't the Romans eventually pacify Gaul?" to which I would answer "Yes...yes they did." However it wasn't done by dragging people out into the street for public execution (although they tried that) rather the way the Romans eventually achieved a degree of success was by winning the people over. And therein lies Sony's way out of this mess. Gamers are a fickle bunch but they've been burned enough times to appreciate it when someone gives them a fair shake. Maybe for the execs at Sony that sounds like the road to the defeat of lower revenue, but that would be a shortsighted view dominated by an obsession with quarterly profits. No, what is need is a sustainable situation - an arrangement where honest consumers of games don't suffer. Because let's face it the real losers in this conflict isn't really Sony or hackers, it's everyone who can't log in to PSN and play the games they paid for.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Old School Box Art

Too bad the game itself wasn't very good...

Thief not to scale. Hero count may vary. Some settling may occur. 

Doom guy is so screwed.

Ummm...Arthur quit posing for the camera and look over your shoulder. 

"I'm getting to old for this shit."

Yeah...I've been a few video arcades that felt about like this. 

McDonalds in SPAAAAAACE....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And Now for a Review...

For the record this is my first review ever so if you post something in the comments section go easy on me. I also should mention that I’ve played all the Heroes of Might and Magic games with the exception of the fourth entry in the series. Although word is it has excellent game play I could never get past the lackluster graphics and sound. But I digress….on to Clash of Heroes!

Breaking somewhat from its tactical roots this latest entry in the Heroes series’ biggest feature is a strong puzzle element which drastically alters the battle strategy. Originally Clash of Heroes was released on the Nintendo DS, but the version I’m reviewing here is the up-res rebalanced PSN version.

Let’s start with graphics since that’s what everyone tends to notice first. Despite being made for the handheld market the backgrounds look vibrant and free of pixilization. The 2-D sprite character and battlefield unit animations are smooth with portraits during dialogue sequences having a definite anime vibe to them. Personally I don’t mind this since it feels like a natural progression from Heroes V. Don’t forget that the original Heroes of Might and Magic had a very cartoon look albeit more western in flavor.

Sound effects are crisp and clear with various chimes and jingles conveying important cues during play. The music sets the mood quite well and feels very reminiscent of previous Heroes titles. Voice acting is sub-par, but thankfully only occurs during short inter-chapter cut scenes. The rest of the game, for better or worse, utilizes the classic RPG text scrawl.

The story is a mix of J.R.R. Tolkien and G.R.R. Martin. Five kingdoms are wracked by conflict and it’s up to a small group of youngsters to save the world. The narrative is split into chapters with each taking place in a different location. At times character arcs intertwine, but for the most part each is doing their own thing. If you have a soft spot for fantasy you might enjoy it. If not it’s easy to skim or skip your way to the action.

Of course the real draw of Clash of Heroes is its puzzle style battle system. By matching like units on the battlefield in rows or columns the player and his or her opponent can create offensive and defensive maneuvers. There are also a number of systems in place to encourage combinations as well as special units which bring their own unique abilities to the battle. Overall it’s a rich and deep set of mechanics that in order to master requires careful observation and planning. There are a number of in game tutorials to help ease you into the game though so don’t feel discouraged if puzzle games aren’t your forte. Additionally, some encounters feature brain game challenges that not only offer in game rewards, but also illustrate strategies which can be used in regular battles, something which can come in handy especially in later chapters. Rounding this out is the Hero himself (or herself), who has a unique magic power and possibly an equipped artifact that can influence the battle in various ways.

Outside of combat players can explore areas and interact with characters via a simple waypoint system. Gold and resources can also be acquired in order to purchase special units. Numerous aforementioned artifacts can also be found, although the hero may only use one at a time during battle.

Total playtime varies depending on whether or not you speed through the story bits and skip passed option side quests. However I think it’s safe to say it will take 20+ hours to finish the single player campaign. In addition to that you can go online and test you puzzle skills against real people if you have a strong competitive streak.

Overall I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys turn based strategy or puzzle games. At $15 it’s a bit pricy but one of the best entertainment to dollar value downloadable games to come out in recent memory. In truth my only strong criticism of Clash of Heroes is the frequent load screens. Considering that it isn’t a particularly graphics intensive game I felt mildly annoyed with how much time I spent staring at that rotating “Now Loading” wheel in the center of the screen.

Editor’s Note: I’ve heard that the Xbox360 version has shorter load times, but since I’ve only played the PS3 version I can neither confirm nor deny this statement.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Ever noticed that the concession stands at movie theaters charge exorbitant prices for popcorn, candy and drinks? While I’m not an expert on the economics of running a movie theater I do know that this is a major source of revenue. So much so that many poorly run theaters could not stay in business if they did not sell a lot of overpriced junk food. So what does this have to do with video games? Well, it might surprise you but DLC very much fits into the same paradigm.

Probably the most obvious examples are things like theme packs, wallpapers and digital avatar accessories. You know…all that stuff that can only be enjoyed outside the game by the purchaser. It should be free, or at the very least come free with the purchase of the game it’s based on. Honestly, I can’t understand why people fork over hard earned cash for theme packs on PSN when a wide variety of totally free high quality themes are available for download off the internet.

Moving on lets look at DLC which at least has some in-game use. Recently (at the time of  posting) Rockstar games announced the availability of preorder DLC items for Red Dead Redemption at purchase price of a dollar each. Sounds cheap, right? However, what do you really get here? In all three cases you’re receiving a combination of built in cheats and texture skins. How long did it really take to produce this content? Modifying a couple lines of code probably took a programmer less than an hour. Maybe one of the texture guys spent a day or two re-skinning a horse, making those two gold plated guns look shiny and sticking an eye patch on your player character, but that’s it. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of man hours sunk in to the main game and your looking at a price difference (assuming you bought RDR new) of well over 400 times the cost in terms of labor. Now, I know there’s more to it than that, but I don’t need to work on the game development team to tell you you’re getting ripped off.

Some of you might think the above paragraph was a bit math intensive for you tastes so I’ll give you an easier example of why DLC is all too often severely overpriced. Take for example Red Faction: Guerrilla (I’m in a “red” mood today). You can pick up this game for $20 through PSN or Xbox Live. Depending on how you play it will take you a little under 20 hours to complete the game. So, basically a dollar an hour, but wait there’s DLC! A prequel to the main game entitled Demons of the Badlands. Now, it will take at most five hours to play thought it so that should be around five bucks, right? Wrong! It’s $10, which is the same price as when it was first released unlike the main game which has been discounted over 60% since its initial release. One can’t help but think the publisher, THQ, is going for a movie matinee business strategy here. And don’t even get me started on map packs. They are the “free unlimited salty popcorn, but the drinks cost and arm and a leg” sales strategy of the video game industry.

I should end this by saying there is some excellent DLC out there, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is one example that comes to mind and even the examples I named above aren't as bad as some of the DLC out there. But until gamers learn that nickels and dimes can add up to more than the perceived value marketing types would like you to believe it’s probably best to limit your online purchases to full indie titles. At least then you can feel good about helping out the little guy instead of some hustler in a suit.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

9 Games I Would Like to See

There are a lot of video games coming out these days. Rarely more than a week or two will go by without the release of at least one triple 'A' title. Many gamers like to complain that they don't have enough money to purchase all the games they want to play. Personally, I don't have that problem. Not because I'm rich (although I wish that were the case), but rather because fewer and fewer games grab my interest each passing year.

You might be inclined to say that I've become burned out on gaming, or that games are better than ever now they just don't jive with my nostalgia coated view of what good games are. Well...maybe, but I'll try to justify my views by presenting a list of 9 games (I don't do that top 10 crap) that I think would be great:

In case you don't know A Song of Ice and Fire series is the best selling set fantasy novels since Lord of the Rings. It's also getting a TV adaptation which takes it's namesake from the first book in the series, Game of Thrones. I could write pages about the setting, but I think this summery (courtesy of Green Ronin Publishing) does a better job than I ever could:

"Song of Ice and Fire is about Machiavellian court politics, family alliances and enmities, the rise and fall of kingdoms, and the clash of armies. But it is also about honor and duty, family tensions, the responsibility of leadership, love and loss, tournaments, murders, conspiracies, prophecies, dreams, war, great victories, and terrible defeats. It’s about knights, both false and true—and it’s about dragons."

Now I know what your going to say Dwarf Fortress exists and to that I would say your right. But what this game could really use is a good UI and while the graphics have a crude charm it would be nice to be able to view things in ways other than 2D horizontal slices.  A lot of the heart and soul fans pour into this game is lost because of the technical hurtles.

Think about it. The fourth game in a 4X series of games. If your a numerologist it doesn't get any more prestigious than that! I could write a lot here, but instead check out this link. It will give you a good idea of just how awesome this game could be.  At the very least I'd like to see some talented developer pick up this franchise and try giving it new legs.  It's happening for the X-com games so why not a space themed game not so different for the oh so popular Mass Effect series?

No, none of that l33t speech 'THI4F' crap, I'm talking about a proper sequel to this dark and moody stealth game. Rather than seeing yet another Assassin's Creed why not give Garret the royal treatment he's been trying to "acquire" his whole carrier. Let's just hope the rumors of it being set in the present day are false. The single coolest thing about the Thief series was the aura of mystery a dread that it exuded. When you consider the first three games took place entirely in one city it's not hard to imagine transporting the main character to other locals.  If you ever read the novel "The Lies of Locke Lamora" by Scott Lynch you'll know this kind of game is far from worn out when it comes to potential.

Tekken, Mortal Combat and Street Fighter (versus SNK) have all gotten the HD upgrade, but I still have not seen or heard anyone talk about my personal favorite fighting series, Bushido Blade. Don't know jack about this game? Three words for you 'One-Hit-Kills'. Well that's not entirely true, getting hit in the arm or leg with a blade just renders that appendage inert. Unsurprisingly combat is fast and tense (not to mention fairly realistic).  Deadliest Warrior games could be called spiritual successors to this franchise but much like the TV show it didn't appeal to me.

RTS titles have never been my forte, but there's something about the concept of Persians in Space that is incredibly cool to me. Note that it doesn't necessarily have to be exactly like the previous two titles. Outer space is a big place. There is a lot you can do with it.

Nope, not the Xbox360 error. This is an old and very obscure title for the PS2 which thankfully got a re-release on PSN. Think Front Mission or Armored Core but with cruder technology. For example the walking tanks in this game really are like WW2 tanks in the sense that they are powered by diesel engines, must stop to fire accurately and are predominantly armed with machine guns and cannons. Plus there's a lot of in combat emphasis on the crews who man and support the individual armored fighting walkers, providing field repairs, Anti-personnel/anti-armor support in addition to custom types of ammunition (Illumination, Armor Piercing, Smoke, Gas Fragmentation etc.). If you've never heard of it, check it out. Ring of Red is one of those earlier (and overlooked) PS2 gems that deserves another shot with current generation graphics and sound.

Vagrant Story is one of those games that could never be fully realized because of limitations set by the PS1 hardware. None-the-less it was an impressive title which can't easily be placed into any particular genre due the the variety of mechanics the player is expected to perform, rhythm mini-games, exploration, platforming, puzzle solving, item crafting, as well as a number of RPG elements. It had a little bit of everything. With a few tweaks, voice acting, and hi-res texture this is one game that screams remake on the  Havok physics engine.

My final and obligatory entry on this list...come on Valve, just make the damn game already! It's not like you have to make a full game. It's just the last episode in a series. What? You want this to be the the next Duke Nukem: Forever?  No, those teaser bits in the Portal games aren't enough.  I want to know who the G-man is and the ultimate fate of humanity.  Plus, give us a real boss fight at the end.