Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift of Knowledge

Well, it's Christmas time and while I can't give you readers any actual presents I can offer you the gift of information. In this case links to some video game "youtubers" who I've grown fond of this year. Here are the names and a little background information on five in particular that I think are somewhat special.

Far Lands or Bust - (link)
Probably best know for his charity driven Minecraft videos, Kurt J. Mac also plays driving games, mixed in with the occasional online FPS or aerospace flight-sim. What really makes his channel unique though is the man's passion for astronomy and spaceflight. As far as I can tell no one else has made videos going into depth on the features of software like Celestia, Space Engine or Stellarium. If you never heard of any of those titles then you are in the same situation I was until I paid his channel a visit.

Minecraft and More - (link)
More of the same?  Well...yes, but Paul Soares Junior has a slightly different take on things.  Most of his videos are more roleplaying oriented, and his "Survive and Thrive" series serves more like a TV style tutorial for Minecraft and it's myriad of features than anything else.  I'm partial to his XCOM let's play videos, but I doubt it will continue much longer considering the relatively low number of views.  Among other things, he does a sporadic "Indie Test Drive" series and frequent zombie themed survival games.  Check his videos out if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Epic Name Bro - (link)
This guy is a Dark Souls fanatic and as such could very easily be considered the definitive source of information on the title.  When Marcus isn't doing guides, Q and A or let's play videos of his favorite game he will dig out Binding of Issac, a 1.3 version of Final Fantasy: Tactics or some other Japanese game of note (incidentally, he lives in Japan so he sometimes has access to information that other people don't).  Not much else to say...if you're a fan of Dark Souls or just want to enhance your understanding of the series by all means watch a couple of his videos and see what you think.  That's what I did and I was thoroughly impressed.

The Procrastinauts - (link)
Lead by Pleborian, this channel is mostly dedicated to Kerbal Space Program.  And while the first youtuber I mentioned in this list also plays KSP, this intrepid Brit goes above and beyond all the rest with his heavy use of mods.  Base building, planet scanning, custom parts, you name it and he's tried it.  He's also the only guy on youtube that I've seen build multiple dedicated spacecraft only to have them all fail for one reason or another.  But hey that's part of the fun, right?  He also has some videos about FTL, Sonic and a few other games, but sadly the low view count on those make this channel the underdog of this list. Still, he's definitely worth a look.

WTF is - (link)
Totalbiscuit has a number of channels on youtube, but his video game focused "WTF is ~" series is great for gamers who just want the lowdown on a particular title.  This energetic Englishman also does his homework, giving his videos a brisk informed quality to them. That's not to say he's above personal opinion,  but at same time he doesn't straight up review games either. It's a unique take on game critique which is worth checking out at least once.

So, there you have it.  Not the best gift ever, I'm sure.  But hey...If your feeling board over winter break now you got some some stuff you can check out on youtube.  Incidentally, I specifically did not mention guys like "Two Best Friends Play" because I felt that, while funny, their crass sense of humor doesn't fit well with the holiday spirit.  One of the nice things about all the above mentioned is their voices are quite pleasant to listen too, which for better or worse is an important part of being a successful youtuber.   

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mind Behind the Game

A game rumored to be so difficult it's recommended the player
don a suit of full plate armor before picking up the controller 
Diversity is the antithesis of wealth. At least that's what game publishers have decided. I mentioned ages ago that one game, or type of game, becoming wildly successful would be very bad for the industry and I still stand by that statement. At that time it was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but the truth is I'd be perfectly fine with CoD doing it's own thing and doing it well. The problem is everyone else trying to copy the magic formula. It's an un-creative naked cash grab attempting to exploit market trends. So now the market is flooded with military FPS clones, each less classy than the last.  It was bad when this kind of thing happened to survival horror franchises like Dead Space and Resident Evil.  It was even worse when it happened to strategy games such as Front Mission and Syndicate.  Now, Dark Souls II looks to be suffering a similar fate.  Granted it's far too soon to call judgment, but based on the information that's available at the moment, we're looking at a dumbed down experience aimed to appeal to the widest audience possible.  In other words, they're going to take out what makes Dark Souls unique in order to rope in people who prefer more generic fantasy/action RPGs like Elder Scrolls, Kingdoms of Amalur and Dragon's Dogma.

Indulge me while I go on tangent for a minute. Dark Souls doesn't need an easy setting. It already has one in the form of summoning other players online into your world for aid. Dark Souls' story isn't all that obtuse either when you assume that the game is designed to have communities around it. You're expected to gain information from other players via forums, chat rooms and the built-in messaging system. Could Dark Souls be better with regards to communicating the various system in-game? Sure. But its legendary difficult is a bit overrated. I personally got 100% completion and I'm not all that good at video games. The way I pulled this off is because when I got stuck, I swallowed my pride and consulted an FAQ. Be a skilled gamer or a humble gamer.  If you are neither you will rightfully suffer for it.

"What is a sword compared to the hand that wields it?"
Getting back on topic...I could be bitter about one of my most cherished IPs this console generation being sacrificed on the alter of profit, but I honestly can't get worked up about it. In part I feel this way because the games don't really matter to me as much as the people who created them. In this case Hidetaka Miyazaki is working on another project, and I find myself far more excited about that piece of news than anything having to do with Dark Souls II. After all the mood and atmosphere behind the Souls series was the direct product of Miyazaki's childhood experiences with indecipherable western fantasy gamebooks such as Fighting Fantasy.  I think that kind of creative wellspring cannot be replicated.  The same holds true for guys like Shinji "Zwei" Mikami, Ken "No-Brotastic-Boxart" Levine and Fumito "Where's-your-Game" Ueda.  So, I guess the takeaway here for me (at least) is follow lead designers who make games you like, rather than simply sequels.  They are, after all, the architects the world you inhabit every time you pick up that controller.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Memorable Quotes

Video games aren't exactly renown for their literary prowess, but every now and then a line of text or dialogue comes around that burns itself into or memories.  Tastes vary though, and oftentimes the quotes we remember say more about us than they do the games.  So, if you will indulge me, I'd like to share nine of my favorites with you.

Get thee gone darkness!
- Ashley Riot, Vagrant Story
You seem human and yet...what do you here?
- Maria, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
That's disgusting.
- Regina, Dino Crisis
You will be a god among men.
- Harlan Wade, F.E.A.R.
Chicken, fight like a robot!
- Robot, Berzerk
You really don't know what it is you have, until it's gone...gone...gone.
- Conker, Conker's Bad Fur Day
Who are you that flies so good?  Are you insane?
- Retro Pilot, Privateer 
To see a Keeper is not an easy thing, especially one that does not wish to be seen.
- Artemus, Thief: The Dark Project
I'm not letting anyone leave my town.  Everyone's going to die!
 - Brian Irons, Resident Evil 2

I know what your thinking.  No quotes from Duke Nuke'em, Zero Wing or House of the Dead?  Yup.  As far as those one liners are concerned, they've been repeated ad nauseum across the internet.  So I decided to pick some more obscure stuff.  Also, if your wondering why I only have nine picks instead of the usual ten, it's because I think double digit lists are for chumps.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Oftentimes developers are tempted to simply copy past glories, or worse still steal another's formula for success. But I feel that the study of why a  game fails to be a commercial success can be an even more useful tool for avoiding disaster.  To illustrate my point I want to examine four games that appeared in the early 1990s, all of which suffered from being of two minds when it came to development.

Battle Bugs is one of Sierra's more obscure titles and a strategy game no less. It has real time game play similar to a traditional RTS, but allows the player to pause at anytime to issue orders to individual units. In this case cartoon looking bugs ranging from ants, cockroaches, rhino beetles and even spiders (which incidentally aren't actually bugs). There are flying units too such as mosquitoes and wasps. All battles are pre-set engagements and usually have objectives involving capturing food or exterminating enemy forces. Despite the lighthearted presentation and lack of base building the game was really hard. Usually there is only one way to win a battle, making the game more akin to the puzzle genre than strategy. I'm not sure who the target audience was for this game, considering that it presents itself like a children's game, yet is far too difficult for anyone but the most skilled and determined tactician.

Robinson's Requiem is open world sandbox set in a sci-fi backdrop. You play the role of "Trepliev 1," a stranded survivor of a crashed spaceship on the planet Zarathrustra. Starting off with nothing but the clothes on your back you are forced to eek out an existence on an alien world. The game tracks your character's vitals and has some curious effects such as a jiggling mouse pointer should your character become ill from harsh elements or food poisoning. It's possible to loose eyes and limbs in this game and you could even be forced to amputate body parts should wounds become gangrenous. Sounds like a hardcore simulation, right? Well, once you get into the story a bit the game takes a turn for the goofy. Amazonian women who speak in broken English want you to fight a T-Rex, and another companion you come across turns out to be a lycanthrope. Did I mention that the acting is incredibly hammy? So in the end your left with a game that feels like it was made by someone with a split personality.

XF5700 Mantis: Experimental Fighter is a space flight simulator with realistic Newtonian physics. That's right, no air drag here and even firing the fighter's nose mounted slug thrower at a dead stop will create a slight backward motion. As you can probably imagine dog fighting the hostile bug-like enemies of F.O.E. (Fists of Earth) was really tricky. For the most part missiles are needed to have any chance of success. Regardless, it could have been uniquely engaging if the game didn't piss all over it's own attempts at realism. For one thing the XF5700 has wings (why do you need airfoils in space?) and a FTL drive. There's also sound in space. Nearly 100 missions in length it occasionally throws in a cut-scene now and then to given a sense of story. Unfortunately, it's so random with dead end plot threads and characters coming and going out of nowhere the entire game ends up feeling like a poor man's Wing Commander.

Amazon: Guardians of Eden is love letter to 1950's pulp serials complete with cliff hangers at the end of each chapter.  The story centers around finding a brother who disappeared while on expedition in the Amazon jungle.  Betrayal, mystery, a robot security guard and lots of attractive women are just some of the highlights.  It also has a cool little program which hits the player with a number of anecdotes and trivia while the game installs off a large number of disks.  This was in part because it used limited digitized speech and FMVs (I should note that playing the game in its high-res setting only results in the screen being reduced in size with inventory and other windows filling in all the empty space).  A built in hint system is included which is a nice feature, but also brings us to the game's greatest flaw.  Its B-movie charm is tarnished by the fact that it's a point-and-click adventure game at heart.  Complicating things further is the possibility to miss key items, and timed action sequences that can (and often do) result in gory deaths. I'm not sure why exactly, but I got to play a preview build of this game in a software store and for some reason it featured even more grotesque death screens than what was featured in the final product.

While it doesn't hold true for all situations, when it comes to video game development it's better to do one thing well than do two things poorly, wallowing in mediocrity is the worst possible result.  Sticking to a vision though (regardless of the results) will at least earn you fame/infamy.  Don't believe me?  Two words for you - Tim Schafer.  He still has a job as a creative director despite making far more commercial failures than successes.  And the reason for that is he chose a creative direction and went as far as he could with it.

Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Year in Games

Another year has come and gone, so that means it's time for this blog's annual game of the year awards.  True to tradition the categories aren't your standard best by genre or platform.  Rather, I'm continuing to use the same unique list I created here.  You can also see last year's award winners here.  Now on with the proceedings!

Avantgarde Award Winner:
Proof that design and gameplay trump graphics and marketing, this little indie gem represents far more than an evolutionary step of the roguelike genre.  If anything, this title serves as concrete proof that Kickstarter projects can be a valid and economically feasible method of game development.  Light speed ahead to every developer who is following in this games footsteps.

Backlash Award Winner:
Where to begin?  The Retake Mass Effect Movement?  EA being rated worst company in America?  Red, blue and green cupcakes?  Needless to say Bioware has always had a mildly toxic fan base even before tings boiled over.  The final sequence was patched eventually, but it still took a ton of flack for not allowing players to circumvent the Des Ex Machina at the end.    

Brutality Award Winner:
This top down shooter plays like a psychedelically fulled fever dream, complete with sudden explosive acts of violence and mayhem. It only takes a split second to kill or be killed in this game. Personally, I recommend taking a deep breath and enjoying the tunes because your going to need some serious determination to finish this one.

Canvas Award Winner:
While it doesn't quite have the rainbow pallet this award originally supposed to highlight, the use of color to covey moods and emotions goes well beyond the the craft found in most triple-A titles. Kudos to That Game Company for making something in which every second of every image onscreen is worthy of a picture frame.  Truly, if any game could be called a work of art it would be this one.

Ecology Award Winner:
When you consider this first entry in this series was basically Rogue with a major graphics upgrade, it's hard to justify two more sequels with only minor improvements to the fundamental gameplay.  For what it's worth Blizzard polished this one to a fine sheen, but unlike the first category winner, there is little here that doesn't scream "been there, done that."

"Engrish" Award Winner:
This series has had a long history of questionable use of the English language.  However, Capcom has upped their game by going from poorly delivered, cheesy one liners to creative word spelling on their box covers.  Didn't anyone think to use a spell checker before they began printing labels by the thousands?  Also, is it just me or does "Revelaitons" sound like a type of B.O.W.?

Esoteric Award Winner:
This rather bizarre semi-3D side scrolling platformer takes a turn for the mind bending after the first playthrough   Puzzles requiring an understanding of Morse code to solve are just the tip of the iceberg.  The outspoken developer of this low budget title spent nearly five years working on the game.  It is an intense labor of love that virtually no one could hope to unravel without the help of the internet.

Lemon Award Winner:
Konami has been in a long downward slide for awhile now, but they really dropped the ball on this one.  You know their handling of the Silent Hill franchise has reached new lows when they are retroactively screwing up the better games in the series with shoddy bug ridden remakes.  Tangentially, since when does the second and third titles in a series constitute a collection?  If anything it was the PS1 original that need the graphical update.

Testosterone Award Winner:
I think the image alone explains why this game won this particular award category.  But for the sake of consistency I'll say this; Successfully finishing the quick time events from even just the first chapter will make you feel like you just got back from a roid rage induced weight lifting binge at your local gym.  Yes, that includes sweat and sore muscles.   

Underdog Award Winner:
World War 2 themed shooters suffered from such a deluge last console generation that even now many gamers are reluctant to return to the time period.  It's a pity in this case because I believe feelings of over saturation have caused this unique experience to end up largely ignored.  Timing, traps and trick shots are the tools of the trade.  I should also mention that this game requires zen-like patience as well as lightning reflexes.

Well, that's my picks for 2012.  If you don't agree with them no need to get upset.  The true purpose of this ceremony is to touch on games that might have been lost in the shuffle.  Hope you enjoyed reminiscing with me.  Until next year!

Friday, November 23, 2012

"D" for Destiny

Hey!  I got five aces!!
You are the chosen one. You have a prototype suit of power armor. You are gifted with super-human abilities. Divine or mundane, games are very fond of these classic wish fulfillment scenarios. From a gameplay standpoint I can see why, but as of late I think it's rapidly becoming an overused theme. Dragon's Dogma, Dishonored and Assassin's Creed 3 are just a few recent titles I can name off the top of my head that make heavy use of this storytelling device. Not a problem for me except that this cliche has begun to infest IPs it has no business being in.

I liked Issac Clark a lot better before he became the James Bond of space engineers. I also preferred it when there was some in game justification for rebounding life bars. It made sense for Halo because your character had a rechargeable energy shield. But in the Killzone sequels? Or any military FPS really, it seems that your character is just assumed to be Wolverine without the retractable claws. More oddly still, nobody in the game seems to ever notice your character's unique ability to sponge up bullets. "It's not fun to play unless your a total badass!" is probably the must common counter point, but I have to ask; Is it really?

If you ever played poker (digitally) you might notice that good cards aren't dealt to ever round. That's not a bug, it's a feature. If you got good cards all the time it wouldn't require much skill to win. A talented player can win the pot with a crap hand through bluffing. Alternatively, the player can fold and save their chips for the next deal. That's a big part of what makes poker interesting. Sadly, in the video game industry, their is a school of thought that assumes players should be given a royal flush every time.  And in that case I think the "D" is really for Dumb.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Feed the Dog that Bites You

Non-Disclosure Agreements (or NDAs for short) are a common form of contract used in the video game industry today. Originally the purpose of these things was to prevent bug testers from giving out inaccurate, misleading or spoiler filled information about a game still under development. However, in recent years NDAs have been playing a larger and larger role in marketing. I would say it's no big deal except that some of these publisher/journalist deals are allowing unlawful websites to get the scoop.

Compounding this problem is the tendency for there to be a big buildup to launch. Followed by an intense rush of attention which rapidly declines over the next several days. So, why does it matter?   Well...I'm not a fan of most big gaming websites, but I do feel it's generally unfair when respectful outlets are forced to wait on fully covering major releases while at the same time hackers and pirates get free reign over the flow of information.  It's not good for the reviewers and it doesn't do developers any favors either.  Then again maybe PR firms are more interested in keeping the media providers on a tight leash regardless of the actual benefits (or lack there of).

"Control over Reason," has long been the unsung creed of DRM, so it saddens me to see that NDAs are taking up a similar slogan. I think that publishers and marketing departments need to seriously reconsider the strategies they are employing here. What's the point of having these kind of legal agreements when they really only punish the just?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just Say No to Swag

With the advent of "Dorito-gate" gaming journalism has come under even more scrutiny and criticism than usual. One of the key points being distribution of promotional materials often referred to as "swag." Basically the way it works is some marketing department will send all kinds of stuff to review outlets in order to promote an upcoming game. A recent article on Kotaku paints an interesting picture of this practice and the shear variety of enticements that are offered:

Its been so common for so long that even when the game company has nothing good to send, they'll send something (how else to explain Nintendo once sending me screws and bolts to hype… was it… Custom Robo?). Somewhere beneath my desk is the mini surround sound system Capcom sent with my review copy of Resident Evil 6, the better I could hear the game, I guess. (I will never unbox it and it will be given away quietly, rest assured.) Did I really need to be sent a crazy clock to cover Dishonored? Disney wants to know if I'd like to go to Disneyland to review Epic Mickey 2. EA wanted to know if I'd like to go to Germany to play Need for Speed and, oh yeah, learn to drive a Porsche. Last spring, Ubisoft sent me and other reporters a now-notorious modified American flag to "thank" me for my efforts building awareness of the game. 

The first thought that popped into my head after reading the above paragraph was "Why would anyone in their right mind want to wear a T-shirt with a game or company logo printed across it?" Maybe some tool will think it looks cool, but as far as I can tell swag exists primarily to reduce people to the level of walking advertisements. Usually you get paid to wave signs that are trying to sell something. I guess marketing departments are hoping they can find some suckers to do it for free.

Luckily for me this blog doesn't do enough traffic to draw the attention of...well...anyone. But I consider myself fortunate in that regard since it means I don't have to call up any publishers and ask them to quit sending me useless junk. As for big sites like Kotaku, I suggest doing likewise. I doubt they'll listen to my advice though because they still want to have free press copies of games delivered to their office days (or even weeks) before the release date. Again, in my case I don't really want or need free press copies of games. That might sound crazy, but honestly I have enough money to buy the games I'm interested in. Plus, I'd much rather play the finished (and preferably patched) consumer product rather than a buggy pre-release build.

A little bit to the left please.
Depending on your world view "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" may not be the same as bribery, but as far as I'm concerned that's enough to get tangled up in some company's PR spiderweb.  And once your caught up in those sticky threads called "swag," "exclusives" or "event invitations" then you're never getting back out with your integrity completely intact.  A lot of journalists may not care, but at the very least if they get companies to stop spending money on this kind of stuff, that means more funds for actual game development.  And at the end of the day all everyone really wants is better games, right?  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Searching for New in the Old

I should start this off by saying I'm not very good at chess, but I enjoy it all the same.  I got into playing it in earnest when my grandfather bought me a nice board and pieces as a souvenir.  My first digital experience with the game was Battle Chess and though that might sound like ancient history to you, the reader, the truth is chess has been around for a very long time.  So long in fact there are a mind boggling number of variations.  What surprises me though is that you rarely see anything other than vanilla chess when it comes to video game adaptations.  I imagine the reason is probably tied to difficulties in programming the A.I., but I don't see why that should stop developers from trying.  After all there's a reason why chess has been around for as long as it has.  Wouldn't it be great to capitalize on the game beyond adding some flashy combat animations and introductory tutorials?

Looking at alternatives to the bog standard starting layout we have Horde Chess, Pawns Game and Peasant's Revolt.  Then moving beyond the traditional eight by eight grid of squares we have stuff like Hexagonal, Masonic, Circular or even the Tri-D boards as seen on Star Trek.  As for rule variations there's stuff like Ability Absorption, Kamikaze Pieces, Three-Check and my personal favorite Take-all in which the king has no special rules associated with him and the game doesn't end until all pieces on one side are captured.

Moving on, one of the greatest criticisms of chess is its dry analytic nature.  For some that's the whole point, but I've always enjoyed games more when there are some random elements thrown in.  In the context of chess there's Dice Chess and No Stress Chess, where pieces get to move based on the results of dice and cards respectively.  Then there are also interesting ways to randomize things with Synchronous Chess (in which moves are recorded, shown, then made simultaneously) and Viennese Chess (in which a partitioning screen is used during setup while each player arranges the desired location of their pieces in secret on respective sides of the board).

The number of players can also vary beyond the standard one on one matches normally associated with chess.  Three player or even four players are possible using unconventional board layouts.  Fortress Chess was popular in pre-soviet Russia and has an interesting optional rule in which it is possible to revive a check matted ally.  Meanwhile three player chess games usually have rules in which the first to checkmate another wins, thus discouraging alliances almost entirely.

Lastly, things get really weird when you consider some of the chess derived games out there such as Dragonchess, Jetan, Shogi  or Antichess (a game in which capture moves are mandatory and the winner is the first to loose all their pieces).  Super King, Scottish Chess and Kung-fu chess are just a few of other more crazy versions of this game people have come up with over the years.  The most extreme of these has to be boxing chess, but I'm getting too far off topic.

When video games like Check vs Mate come out I have to wonder why they didn't include more new features than rhythm based combat mechanics.  Especially when nearly three decade old games like Archon: The Light and the Dark took the same basic concept and did a lot more with it.  Chessmaster has been around for nearly as long as the PC, but is often accused of not bringing enough new features to the table to justify new entries in the series.  So, assuming your not National Lapoon and making a joke, chess video games in the future should seriously including some of the features I mentioned above, otherwise what's point of treading over the same old ground yet again?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Back for a Rematch

A little over three years ago I made a post on this blog about the decline of PC gaming.  You can read about it here.  I still stand by the six reasons I gave as major hindrances which keep the PC from dominating the video game industry.  That said a lot has happened, and as the current generation of home consoles grow older the PC is starting to make a comeback in a big way.  Why?  Well, here's six reasons:

1# Scale-ability.  One of the nice things about PC games is the ability to adjust the visual performance to suit your own preferences.  This can mean better than current console graphics, but on the flip side I tend to think of it as stuff like toning down resolution to get the most out of particle and shadow effects when trying to play Doom 3 on old hardware.  Consoles on the other had give you no such option.  Whatever the settings are your stuck with regardless of your priorities, which brings me to my next point.

2# Mod-ability.  Ever heard of Black Mesa Source?  DayZ?  Europa Barbarorum?  How about Day of Defeat?  These are just a few mods to come out for the PC over the years.  They're free, and many are practically complete games in their own right.  Best of all I've just barely scratched the surface of what's out there.  Not all mods are overhauls either you got everything from a duck tape mod that lets you attach that trust flashlight to your gun to improved UI.  Integrated support for modding is also becoming increasingly common which is great for less tech savvy PC users.

3# Freedom of Distribution.  You make a game for Xbox360 and your looking at licencing fees, Microsoft's tedious certification process and only one digital means of distribution.  Go with PC on the other hand and you got none of the corporate imposed hurdles, plus options like Steam, GOG and even self-publishing.  Not to mention non-standard means of funding such as community supported in-development financing like what we've seen for games such as Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program.

4# HDTV and Controller Support.  One of the costly bits of buying a PC was the need for a monitor.  Thanks to recent improvements to TV and video card support it's fairly easy to connect your PC to that big screen TV you got and while the display tends to not be quite as sharp, there are a number of benefits to this arrangement when it comes to watching video streaming.  Most new games to come out also support your standard Xbox style controller which is a huge help for certain titles which brings us to... 

5# A Mouse and Keyboard.  I don't care what anyone else says.  If your going to play an RTS, FPS or pretty much anything other than a flight-sim, mouse and keyboard is an equal or superior control scheme.  The joke is there's no reason why Sony or Microsoft can make their consoles support these input devices.  They simply refuse to do so for business reasons (In other words people who don't play video games making decisions for us gamers).

6# Bibliotheca Optimum.  I decided to give this one a Latin title in the same vein as Lingua franca.  Pretentiousness aside my point is whenever discussions come up about what is the ideal gaming platform, it always boils down to game libraries.  Well, guess what?  In terms of back catalog, free stuff, and shear variety noting surpasses the PC.  This is especially true when you consider free emulators for everything from arcade titles to obscure 16-bit Japanese imports, not to mention DOS Box.  

So, there you have it.  Of course this list makes some assumptions about proper porting and DRM (or lack there of), but when you consider that the next generation of consoles (aside from the Ouya) will probably have a high entry cost a few launch titles there becomes more and more reasons to go with a PC; better graphics, greater flexibility, more methods interfacing, less publisher bullshit, and the list goes on.  Will the PC  crush the opposition?  If Google OS gets an upgrade and Valve releases a Steam Box then absolutely.  But since neither of those things are guaranteed to happen we'll just have to wait and see.     

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Promo

When I started this blog it was my earnest intent to discuss two things; video games and internet piracy. With a particularly emphasis on topics that are a combination of the two. For better or worse though I've often drifted off the mark during the several years this webpage has been up and running. Well, I'm about to make my biggest divergence yet so bear with me. I want to take a moment of your time (yes, you the reader) to promote a book I wrote.

It's called Alien Dynasty, as you probably gathered when you looked at the cover art.  I'm hesitant to give it a label beyond "Genre Fiction," but if you like the kind of video games I've been talking about in many of the 75+ posts made to this blog then you might also enjoy this novel.  I'm distributing it digitally via Amazon.com so if you have a Kindle or a device with a Kindle reader app then you should be all set.  There's also a free preview, product description and author bio of yours truly to check out.

I hope that sparks your interest, regardless if it does or not though I will be returning to a regularly weekly posting schedule pertaining to video games and internet piracy.  So, think of this as an intermission of sorts which I'll conclude with a short excerpt from my debut novel.  Here you go:

The uncultivated gully was well away from any homesteads or places of gathering, and as such rarely had any visitors, least of all, a pair of knights mounted on serrator maws and dressed in full battle harness. They were an impressive pair with sabers at their hips, bucklers at the wrist and demilances in hand. Their armor glinted in the waxing light of the rising sun. Aside from some differences in the dye of cloth they wore, the pair looked nearly identical. From the perspective of colorblind spine scroungers which foraged amongst the small tufts of grass the two appeared to be mirror images of one another as they simultaneously entered at opposite ends of the gully. The location had been selected for this meeting because of its seclusion and the long flat patch of even earth which lay between the riders. 

No words were spoken for none were needed. A brief raising of demilances was all that was required to signal that the duel should begin. Not a single person was present to watch, the knights nudged their serrator maws into a full charge. The beasts and their riders bore down upon each other with ever more frightening speed. Demilances slowly lowered as the two approached the moment of their collision. Despite their battle inexperience the skill of each was impeccable. It was regrettable that when the two demilances struck their opposing targets not a spectator was present to witness the event. It had all been kept a secret, for if the purpose of the duel had been made public it would have brought shame upon both knight’s families. Neither demilance broke, but both penetrated with incredible force. One through a gap in the armor around the neck, and the other straight through the breastplate. The one whose armor had failed him entirely was thrown from the saddle and crashed to the ground, broken and lifeless. 

 His opponent fared little better. During the exchange he had lost the grip on his demilance and by trained instinct reached for his saber. Before this action could be completed though, a wash of dizzying nausea overtook the rider. Only half comprehending, he groped with a free hand at the slippery plate of armor just below his throat. Just before passing out he managed to lift a gloved hand to his visor and saw that it had become covered with fresh blood, his blood. Slumped in the saddle the victor soon listed to one side and fell to the earth. Now riderless the serrator maws drifted off. Eventually they were found and returned to their proper stables. The fallen knights fared worse though. When the bodies were finally discovered in that lonely gully the carrion eaters had been feasting for much of the day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After Action Report

I'm going to start this off by saying two things.  First, in light of the release XCOM: Enemy Unknown I'd like reminisce over my experiences with the series.  I'm going to avoid discussing the space flight sim, third person shooter and canceled FPS (this one not the other one) that hang like a dark shadow over the IP and instead focus on my experiences with the original game and its two direct sequels. Second, my most memorable squad based strategy game involving guns and an isometric perspective is, in fact, Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games if only because of the fun I had with the mission and campaign editor.  So, I can't say I'm a rabid fan of the series although I really enjoy what it has to offer.

The original was known by two names X-COM: UFO Defense and UFO: Enemy Unknown.  I reluctantly played this game at the behest of a friend who was way into it. Thanks to his enthusiasm I got hooked. My friend was extremely focused on minimizing losses and would lament the death of even one of his agents. I, on the other hand, treated my brave soldiers like cannon fodder (with predictably disastrous results on night terror missions involving the dreaded chryssalids). I still have bad memories of missions ending with only one survivor out four. I was also fond of taking low stat rookies and turning them into "Stun Troopers," agents armed with shock sticks, stun bombs and laser pistols. Typically they'd be charged with storming the interior of downed UFOs or dealing with mind frazzled agents. When to my horror I discovered not one, but three alien bases in the Antarctic they also made for expendable point men.

I was a little disappointing with this one in that it felt more like an re-skinned expansion pack rather than a proper sequel.  The feeling of being underwater was great though and some of the monsters were truly terrifying (the Tentaculat and Lobstermen in particular). Unlike the first one, where I'd often wait until the sun was up before starting a mission, water depth often forced me to fight in the dark, crushing abyss. I was also able to finish this game without hacking the research tree. Although I had a lot of fun using a mod that let the AI and player swap sides. Needless to say the entire squad of X-COM aquanauts perished on that seaside terror mission. That said, I think they stole a bit too much from H.P. Lovecraft and the increased level size exacerbated some of the problems with the combat. On a side note am I the only one that thinks flying submarines are a bit too much?

This third chapter in the X-COM story could have been the greatest. They wanted to have a game that not only involved aliens, but also rival organizations. The Cult of Sirius always took a beating in my games, and occasionally they'd get revenge by attacking me side by side with aliens on base defense missions (I always wanted to do more defense and as a bonus security stations are actually useful this time around). Because of problems during development a lot of things didn't really pan out, but there were also some neat bits that did make it into game too like me selling alien tech for cash only to realize later that it ended up in the hands of street gangs and rival organizations. I also thought the alien dimension was way cooler than Cydonia or T'Leth. And unlike my aforementioned friend, I really enjoyed being able to take the gloves off and bring out all those heavy explosives  without fear of repercussions when sweeping allied buildings. The battles also felt more decisive to me than the cat and mouse of the previous two titles. I can vividly remember making firing lines as hordes of aliens poured out of downed saucers. At first I tried playing turn based but eventually gave up when I found out how much faster and smoother the real-time system worked. Air battles over the dystopian cityscape were also a lot more evocative than a simple tactical display. The retro-future look and setting were aesthetically pleasing, but I'm not sure if it was better than the comic book style of the first two games. During the final raid into the alien dimension the leader of my forty man team, Captain Wulfe, killed three megaspawn single handed and a wounded private, who was knocked out early in the battle and left for dead, woke up and escaped after the smashed alien facility had been completely vacated.

Ah memories.... Incidentally, if you not familiar with the XCOM series or have become fuzzy on the details here's an excellent video to bring you up to speed:

Friday, October 5, 2012

For Gamers, By Gamers

Something I've recently seen being brought up a lot on video game websites and forums is all the people in this industry that don't actually have any real interest in the art or craft beyond the cash which can be made from it.  The most obvious example of this is Xbox Live which has become more and more like an advertisement ridden entertainment hub rather than a dedicated video game platform.  But it goes well beyond that.  Guys like Riccitiello and Kotick have increasingly demonstrated that they really want to reduce game development down to its most addictive aspects.  To give a pair of analogies it's like coffee that has everything taken out but the caffeine, or if you prefer beer that with every brewing is pushed nearer and nearer to the 100 percent alcohol mark.  It's not healthy, enriching or good for the hobby and industry as a whole. 

So what's the cause of this?  Well, it really comes down to people running the game industry who don't play games.  CEO's and their lackeys aside, marketing departments blow tons of cash on events that are ostensibly meant to promote new games, but in reality expend a lot of budget resources on B-list Hollywood talent, flavor of the month musicians and circus performers.  Make a good game and it will speak for itself!  If anything all this sloppy advertising takes away from the games since it's money that doesn't go toward actual development.

It gets worse when you consider that this money obsessed mindset leads to games that are meant to maximize short term gains rather than cultivate the medium. To paraphrase what one successively Kickstarter funded developer said in promo video; the problem with producers is they're really just looking for the next Angry Birds.  In other words time waster games with simple mechanics and low budgets, but high potential for quick profits.  The ugly twin of this philosophy is stuff like Call of Duty which is more akin to a military themed roller coaster ride than a video game with its flashy spectacle but shallow game play (even by FPS standards).

I've painted a rather grim picture here, but there is still hope.  FTL is selling well and one reason is it's made for gamers by gamers.  The basic modus operandi being "make the game you want to play."  So, the fact that this crowd funded game is both a finical and critical success makes me very happy because it's a sure indicator that there are a lot of gamers out there that want more than the "junk food" of the video game industry. Perhaps this new form of gaming philanthropy will be the saving grace of the industry? Regardless it's nice to have some kind of counterweight for the shortsighted corporate greed that plagues this generation of entertainment software.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hidden Gems of Genesis (Part 2 of 2)

In terms of pure fun on the Genesis, titles like Strider, Quackshot or Rocket Knight Adventures really bring the goods.  But oddly enough these titles don't stick with me as much as some of the harder darker themed games that seeped their way into the 16-bit market.  I'd like to take a moment to examine three of those in particular.

Often mistaken for a successor to Another World (or Out of this World if your American) this game has nothing to do with Eric Chahi although the french publisher, Delphine, is the same. It basically plays like the original Prince of Persia except sci-fi instead of fantasy. The game has a plot revolving around amnesia, shape shifting reptilian aliens and a lot of small caliber guns. Like the two titles mentioned above it uses rotoscoping to generate especially fluid animation. I really enjoyed this game, particularly the atmosphere of paranoia, confusion, corruption and greed which make an excellent backdrop for the distopian future represented. The story slumps a bit during the mid game Death Tower segment, and ends on a cliffhanger which was very poorly handed in the proper sequel Fade into Black. Nitpicks aside though this game made a lasting impression on me much more than movies like Bladerunner or Total Recall. Blasphemy, I know, but it just goes to show you how much more engrossing an interactive experience can be than a passive one.

 I have no idea who Will Harvey is or why he though The Immortal would be a good title for a game, but I have to say as far as non-random isometric dungeon crawlers go this has got to be one of the hardest.  I could not beat this game even with a proper strategy guide and only finished the game by virtue of using a password system to skip passed the most difficult sections.  This game is also really gloomy and grotesque.  I have seen some 2D sprites go out in a bad way, but watching the player's character (an old wizard) get killed or take down goblins and trolls has to be the upper limit on the levels of gore Sega would allow in their games.  The plot is pretty straight forward; look for your mentor while avoiding traps and killing foes.  *spoliers* You end up fighting said mentor at the end and get rescued by the 'princess' rather than vice-versa. There's also a dragon who looks a lot like Vermithrax Pejorative, a spider that could be a close relative of Shelob and smaller versions of the desert worms from Arrakis.  The Watcher in the Water also makes a guest appearance.

At first glance you might disregard this game as yet another side scrolling shooter, but that would be doing Target Earth a great disservice.  Aside from varying mission objectives, and a reward system that allows for custom armament layouts, this is another game which I could not win without cheating.  In my defense I managed to make it halfway.  Most people dismissed this game for its brutal difficulty and I can remember seeing it heavily discounted not long after release.  At the time I played it I was familiar with Robotech, but not Gundam so I found this game with its 'assault suits' and the fighting-a-loosing-battle sci-fi military plot/gameplay to be engrossing. Mission briefings and mid mission dialogues help add weight to what you are doing.  It also had an excellent sound track for the time (here's a sample for your listening enjoyment). Target Earth got a sequel on the SNES entitled Cybernator and then a third entry which only came out in Japan. So, I guess this is the first in a trilogy though I must confess I only ever played the original.

There are a number of other titles I could talk about such as Shining Force, the one and only fantasy series to feature Tactical RPG game play on the Genesis.  Or Shadow Dancer, a highly underrated sequel to the somewhat lackluster Shinobi.  But truth be told, I think I've said enough about the Sega and their 16-bit system for now.  For those of you who have missed out on some of these titles though I hope this has been an interesting read.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hidden Gems of Genesis (Part 1 of 2)

Growing up in the 80s I never actually owned an NES.  I played a bunch Nintendo games at friends' houses, but truth be told I went directly from an Atari 2600 to a Sega Genesis (although I also had an Apple IIc).  Because of that I think my experience, compared to other millennials, is a bit different than the norm.  So getting to the point here, I want to talk a bit about Genesis games.  But rather than talk about well known entries such as Sonic or Streets of Rage, I want to focus on some of the more unusual unique titles that did not get as much attention as I though they deserved, hidden gems if you will.

German for "Duke Two" this obscure early release title for the Sega Genesis was essentially a console exclusive RTS (CE-RTS?  Sound like a chemistry term...) with a lot of the basic elements that would become prominent in titles like Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander.  I actually never owned this game, but I had a friend who did.  He never learned how to prononce the title though.  It wasn't much of a financial success despite having a split screen versus mode and cool box cover art.  Perhaps it was ahead of it's time or maybe the console crowd was more interested in platformers which were in vogue at the time.  Then again it could simply be the odd title choice.  Regardless, it has just recently gotten a remake of sorts in the form of a micro-transaction driven "free-to-pay"...Ahem...I mean "free-to-play" game called Aeromech.  So if your curious to try this game out I highly recommend checking that title out provided you have a PC that has enough processing power to handle it.

A title commonly bundled with the Genesis was a bizarre side scrolling title by the name of Altered Beast.  Following that was Golden Axe which was what my friends always wanted to play whenever they came over to my house.  Then finally came Alien Storm.  Thus making a trio of games from the mind of Makoto Uchida, who has since faded into obscurity despite releasing seven other titles on various platforms. Oddly enough this last entry was probably better than the more famous Golden Axe in a number of respects. The gameplay is more varied, animations smoother and environments more interactive. Sadly, few people remember this title. Yeah, I know there's at least one person who's reading this and thinking "I played that game to death! What are you talking about, dude!?!" I should also mention that this and its two predecessors were also arcade titles among other things. Although the Genesis version tended to have more content in the form of additional levels, modes, or even enemy variants and boss presentation.

Out of the 915+ titles to be released on the Genesis my favorite by far was a self explanatory title called Gain Ground.  It was essentially a top down shooter but featured a number of unique gameplay aspects.  For one, the area of each stage was fixed to one visible location enabling two players to work together to a much greater degree than in other similarly themed games.  Another interesting feature was the types of units available.  Twenty in total each had their own unique strengths and weaknesses which made them more or less useful depending on the current situation.  Setting the game on easy or normal difficulty would allow for the rescue of new units on the battlefield, as well as the recovery of units who had been downed in action via towing their diminished forms safely to the exit.  This sometimes created a crazy dynamic in which players had to find ways to recover units without killing all the enemies, since that would end the stage prematurely.  Alternatively it was also possible to simply lead all your units one at a time to the exit, thus clearing the stage with minimal bloodshed.  However if time ran out for the stage only units which had made it to the exit would then advance.  On hard this could be problematic since players would start with a full set of units but would receive no additional reinforcements which altered the dynamics considerably. After clearing ten stages the theme would also alter from the Stone Age to the Iron Age then to the Industrial age followed by a post-modern era and finally a futuristic sci-fi setting. On a side note the arcade version allowed for three players though it lacked one of the level themes and its corresponding stages. A remake was also released on the PS2 in Japan.

That's all for this week, but I want to talk a bit more about the Genesis next time.  Although I'd like to shift themes a bit.  So think of this post as being divided into two parts.  Until then, check out some of the titles I've mentioned above if you haven't already.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Software ≠ Automobiles

Time and time again I keep hearing the argument that video game piracy is evil because it's stealing.  Then almost without fail the comparison to automobile theft is brought up.  Developers, producers, heck even website reviewers do this.  Not to mention there's always a few people on any given internet forum who say this whenever the topic is brought up.  Well, I'm here to tell you that, yes, stealing another person's car is wrong.  But that's not the same thing is as pirating a piece of software.

Let's break this down into three main differences:

First, an illegally downloaded copy of a game does not equate to a lost sale.  When a thief steals something off a store shelf it's commonly refereed to as "shrinkage" and it is lost revenue since the item that was taken can no longer be sold.  This applies to pretty much any form of physical goods, including video games sitting in boxes at your local gaming outlet.  But it's somewhat different with digital software.  Since, there is no way to definitively prove that the person who acquired the game via torrent would have paid money for it to begin with.  This holds especially true when you consider that many pirates don't necessarily have the funds or earnest desire to purchase what they download unlawfully.  So, when companies like Ubisoft claim that they lose more than half their game sales do to pirates I gotta to cry "bullshit!" because there is no way they can know for certain that any of those people would have purchased their game otherwise.  Sometimes this is referred to as victimless crime.

Second, a car costs a considerable amount of resources to make even once schematics have been drawn up and a prototype has been manufactured.  In contrast any piece of software can be duplicated pretty much cost free after it's written.  Yes, developers incur costs during programming because coders have to eat, and for that reason there is need of financial reimbursement for services rendered.  But let me ask you this; if I were to delete a piece of software would that constitute a loss of materials?  Obviously with cars it is, driving your automobile into an active volcano is a sure fire way to lose a big chunk of metal.  It's not easy to replace since more ore will have to mined and processed to make another one.  But with data it's no big deal because it's just a bunch of strings of 0's and 1's which can be replicated with the click of a button.  What I'm getting at here is the concept of digital verses physical.  A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their head around this idea.  Simply put we live in a post information scarcity world, and people who grew up before that time often don't really understand it.

Third, I know for a fact that there are people out there who enjoy driving.  Personally, I was more of a dirt bike kind of guy than a sports car enthusiast.  So, I never really saw the appeal while growing up, but I'll accept that there are people out there who think of cars as a form of entertainment.  For the vast majority of us though I'm pretty sure that automobiles serve primarily as tools to get us (and any stuff we throw in the back) from point A to point B.  Cars are a transportation devices, meant to make our lives easier.  When one of us is the target of automobile theft it's a big deal because that's a very important utility of our daily lives lost.  Video games on the other hand are really just entertainment.  I don't know anyone outside the industry who would get fired from their job if they could no longer play video games.  Yes, it would suck if someone stole your compete collection of Mario Party titles, but lets face it, compared to cars video games are hardly a necessity of life.

So in conclusion apples and oranges.  Anyone who gives you the whole piracy is straight up robbery doesn't really understand the issue and as such has taken an oversimplified view...possibly because they aren't comfortable with the complexities of the modern day world.  Now, let me end this by saying I'm not saying piracy is okay.  What I am saying is there are major fundamental differences between stealing software online and stealing physical products, which muddle the ethics of it all considerably.  Morality aside, people who completely take a pro or anti stance on this issue are really only saying one thing about themselves, namely "I haven't though deeply enough about this."  

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Deficiency of Ideas

"Need some help mining that?"
To start, yes, I know there's nothing new under the sun and that every new concept is build on the inventions of others.  I'm not arguing the semantics of  "originality" here.  Rather, I want to point out the lack of vision that periodically troubles the game industry.  Now for the record there's nothing wrong with a new IP that's a combination of two or more pre-existing games.  That's called hybridization in botany and it's important to the evolution of...well...pretty much anything including video games.  The issue that's bothering me is cloning.  No, not of sheep although it might be the case that the people perpetuating the production of game clones are metaphorically sheep.

I've heard it often said that developers have no shortage of ideas.  I find that hard to believe.  I suppose if your definition of "ideas" is the extremes of vague pie-in-the-sky concepts or nitty-gritty set piece action bits then, yes, I'll agree.  Developers have no shortage of those in-house workshop, design by committee, throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks "ideas."  What I mean though when I say "idea" is a much more expansive middle of the road concept.  Whether or not your a fan of Tim Schafer, Peter Molyneux or Markus "Notch" Persson it's very clear that these guys had an idea that was only the tip of iceberg for something much much more.  So, I guess what I'm saying here is there are ideas and then there are ideas.  I'm sure we can all agree that the video game industry has a lot of the former and not much of the latter.

I know this sounds like a bunch of ranting from an armchair game designer.  And, no, I don't think I am or ever could be of the same caliber as guys like Hidetaka "SWERY" Suehiro or The Two Guys from Andromeda.  But that's not really the point I'm trying to make.  An idea, as I think of it, is a seed you plant in the mind of yourself or others.  Once it takes root the concept can come to fruition through synergy.  I understand that inspiration is a fickle thing and sometimes an artist's well of creativity runs dry.  The important thing is when it has become a punch your card, by the numbers, rest on your laurels situation time to step down otherwise you risk becoming deadwood..  No shame in doing so either.  After all trying to come up with a new IP when your in a torpor is like digging for diamonds with a wooden pick, even if you find them you won't be able to capitalize them.  That is unless you have the help of someone with an explosive imagination.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dead Filler

The Dead Space franchise is steadily approaching it's third iteration provided you don't count all those spinoff games, comic tie-ins, the novel and the animated movie.  Based on what I've seen so far it doesn't look very promising.  Granted the original game was fairly derivative, borrowing concepts from a slew of horror films along with other survival horror games (namely Resident Evil 4).   I wont knock it for that though.  If your going to use other peoples' ideas it's best to steal from the masters such as Shinji Mikami, Isacc Asimov and Arthur C. Clark.  At least then the copy your making will be clean and crisp.

Looking back on Isacc Clark's first outing I can still pick up on some of the more carefully crafted bits that went into the design process.  The sci-fi Gothic architecture of the USG Ishimura gives off an aura of claustrophobia and oppressive danger adding to an already ever present need to get off the ship.  The hard metallic bone-like skeletal suit worn by the player character contrasts bizarrely well with the soft necrotic flesh bags which hunt him at every turn. Then there is the ubiquitous Church of Unitology, creating and element of paranoia on top of the madness produced by exposure to the alien Markers. So, while the game was less than original, it was a finely tuned nostalgic trip down horror lane. Unfortunately, the sequel didn't take the series anywhere new and worse yet lost some of its charm by virtue of being a copy of a copy in many respects.

Now, having seen the E3 trailer and demo I find myself looking at a copy of a copy of a copy which is called Dead Space 3.  All horror elements are faded and washed out. Necromorphs are no longer scary since Isacc can cut through them with ease. Rolling, taking cover and shooting soldiers only muddles the experience further. The word "dismemberment" could just as easy be applied to the story as it could the gameplay. Oh and drop in drop out co-op has been added for the sake of "bro-mance" (especially so when you consider that the main character's female love interest appears to perish at the beginning).

On the artistic side of things haunting zero-G vistas have been replaced by snowy landscapes which honestly feel like a rip off of Lost Planet or The Thing (the game not the movie).  Even the engineer suit has been redesigned to look more and more like something a comic book superhero would wear.  The creeping dread of stalking the corridors of a foreboding planet cracker starship have been replaced with trivial quicktime events and tension dispelling cursing.  Worst of all though is the huge amount of wasted resources poured into this title.  So much so EA claims that Dead Space 3 needs to sell five million copies to be worth while. Maybe there's too much dead wood at the developers offices? Regardless, going for a broad dude-bro audience isn't going to save this IP. A hefty dose of fear along these lines might breath new life into it though:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hate the Game, Not the Genre

Fist, this is advice to me as much as anyone that happens to be reading.  Second, I figured I'd post it here because maybe what I've got to say will prove useful to others. Third, and finally, it's a bad habit in the gaming community to hate things they don't get. Call it "tribalism" if you want. I some psychologists might refer to it as "insecurity" steaming from low self-esteem. Personally, I don't think it matters what you call it, being a jerk just because you can isn't cool.

Hate speech, bigotry, trolling are a few names for it, but the fact is I highly doubt a lot of the people making insulting remarks on the internet are all that prejudice against blacks, women, gays, Jews, and so on. Rather it's their best attempt to get a rise out of listeners. They know deep down that they're nobodies so they vent their frustrations by trying to bring everyone else down to their level. Hence the reason we got PC elitists/haters, fan boys for Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo and a whole mess of people who praise one genre and bash another.

I'll be the first to admit that I had some pretty big biases when I was a teenager, so it's not like I'm above all this. However there is something I'd really like to stress. Even though I'm burned out on shooters I don't hate the genre. In fact I don't hate any genre. Sure I'm not so big on sports games, but there are still some I like; Blades of Steel, Pigskin, as well as a select number of racing games. Here's the thing though, when I grew up I grew out of stereotyping stuff and so should everyone else.

On the other hand it's okay not to like a game, just make sure you have real reasons for feeling so. Saying it sucks amounts to nothing, and taking such overly simplistic trash talk online will probably get you a lot of well deserved flack. If you don't like a game judge it on the merits of that particular title and criticize it based on supportable evidence. Also, keep in mind that if it's not you cup of tea don't drink it. Let other people have their fun and you likewise. Trust me you'll save yourself and everyone else a lot of misery in the long run by taking a more mature stance.

Recently companies like Google have been taking a lot of heat for allowing abusive language, but I think there is a big danger in censoring speech. It's all too easy to start shutting down people just because they have an unpopular opinion, or simply disagree with the powers that be. The only real solution is to teach manners to those who have anti-social attitudes. More often than not pushing them down only serves to re-enforce their destructive behaviors. Hard as it might be, if you want results your going to have to pull them out of their hole and up to a level of more reasonable discourse.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shoot the Mün

Kerbin's best and brightest - Bill, Jeb, and Bob
I'm not really sure what to make of Kerbal Space Program (from here on out abbreviated as KSP).  On one hand it feels like Lunar Lander (also known as Moonlander) on steroids, but on the other hand it could be the first step in a whole new kind of game genre.

On the surface KSP gives the impression of being an aerospace flight-sim with some cool customization options.  But thinking on the potential of this game, I find my mind conjuring up a number of unique possibilities.  All the cool mods people have made aside, there are a lot of ways the developers of this game could go.  Sure you could head down the well trodden path of flash game such as Toss the Turtle and Learn to Fly, in which you achieve certain milestones in exchange for additional funding.  That would be a welcome addition in that it would provide goals for gamers who like having more than a wide open sandbox.  Then you could add an obligatory tech tree to ward off the boredom that comes with familiarity.  However, lets run with the concept a little bit further.  How about some gameplay elements that lead to more than just planting a flag and bragging rights?  Say for example discovering primitive other world lifeforms, or salvaging mysterious artifacts from an extinct race of spacefarers, or even a multiplayer element complete with rival Kerbin nations engaged in a space race.

The inclusion of docking will undoubtedly be a welcome addition so that fans of KSP can finally build space stations and dedicated spacecraft.  Again though lets take the concept up a notch and including a randomized solar system for players to explore.  Balls of ice, rock and gas are great, but how about comets, or rogue planets? Asteroid mining perhaps?  If you want some action why not include an exosolar invasion similar to sieges in Dwarf Fortress complete with kinetic weapon toting xenophobic aliens?  Well...that might be taking things a bit too far from the designer's original vision, but the ideas I've suggested here are only scratching the surface of what could be.  At the very least I look forward to seeing what challenges lie ahead for our intrepid Kerbonauts.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rogues of the Deep

I can remember back in the days of the IBM 8088 personal computer, playing an incredibly simple game entitled Rogue. It was basically a dungeon crawler in which all onscreen objects were represented by ASCII graphics (much like Dwarf Fortress). Now, granted if you looked at this game today you'd probably think it was crap, but rewind three decades and your looking at an all time great and one of the first games to embrace the concept of procedurally generated levels.

So, I played the game for awhile. Had my fun, eventually got board with it and moved on. Much to my surprise I discovered many years later that this kind of "Rogue-Like" game (yes, that is a widely used term) still has a small but dedicated group of followers. Except now they're playing the aforementioned Dwarf Fortress or even titles like Brogue, which is also sometimes spelled "Brgue"...not sure why though. Anyway, the game is surprisingly addicting if you were a fan of the original Rogue. And even if your not Diablo fans might get a kick out of it. Remember that the Diablo series, particularly the first entry, was basically a rogue-like with an isometric view and beefed up graphics. Oddly enough I didn't enjoy Blizzard's attempt nearly as much as Rogue or Brogue. I'm not entirely sure of the reason, possibly because it's hard to beat free, but I think it also has to do with imagination.

You see...part of the appeal of 8-bit games and their predecessors (even in this day and age) is the open invitation to the player to fill in the gaps. Similar to when your reading a book you have to imagine the characters and places, so do you with these graphically simple games. Imagination can be (and often is) a powerful thing. It can lead to a kind of personal investment that is hard to obtain in more Hollywood style video games. Because, in a movie very little is left to the viewer to picture in his or her mind, but in a game like Rogue you are the painter and the game is just a canvas with a simple outline.