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.