Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Last Guardian: Why I worry so...

Team ICO, Oh Team ICO.

Why hasn’t this game been released yet? No, seriously. Why?

Do you hate us? Have we not used Shadow of the Colossus and Ico as glowing examples in the “videogames are art” argument? I will literally buy a PS3 to play this game – well, that and Final Fantasy versus 13 – because your pedigree means so much to me. I would buy this game before I would buy food.


Alright, how about a little back story. The Last Guardian is a game about a boy and his giant griffin released by the earthy manifestation of god Team ICO. Preceded by ICO and Shadow of the Colossus (the Nick Drake and Big Star of video gaming) Last Guardian has quite the reputation to live up to.

The Last Guardian was also announced in 2009 meaning that it’s been in the works since at least 2007. Well, after trailer after trailer and updated screenshot after updated screenshot, it’s finally going to be released in early 2012. Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

The ICO mythos has never been accused of being a story that’s over told. You could sum up the plot of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in a couple of paragraphs and I would be surprised of The Last Guardian is going to be any different. In fact, I’ll predict the entire story right now.

Boy is in trouble, probably because someone is trying to sacrifice him to something. Boy stumbles across giant bird thing and after some light tension they become friends. Bird thing saves boy from baddies. Bird thing dies.

What? They killed Argo. This doesn’t take rocket science to figure out.

What I think is happening is that The Last Guardian is being “Portal 2”ed. Portal 2 was an infinitely easier game than the first Portal. This is because they play tested the game WAY too much and it was made easier as too make sure no one’s brain hemorrhaged when challenged with a mildly difficult puzzle. This lead to a lot of really easy puzzles and a game that felt really padded out all for the sake of accessibility. On one hand this is okay – I want more people to play video games – but at the same time I feel like it took away from what, made Portal so great.

Here is a quote from Fumito Ueda, “I also want people who are not serious game players to try out this game. So I want the controls to be simpler than before.” This attitude usually leads to games being insultingly easy. In Portal 2 it was really hard to get immersed in the game world because you were being shuffled from one scene to another never really getting much of a chance to take it all in.

In Shadow of the Colossus there is a battle where you have to get a flying dragon Colossus out of the sky. As the player, you spend a lot of time staring at the sky trying to figure out how to get the big guy to come down. This is a carefully planned gameplay decision which is meant to give scale to what you are about to undertake. The Colossus seems so small in the sky and when it finally swoops down to attack you it feels much bigger than it actually is.

It feels like a Colossus.

I worry that they are in the process of trading accessibility for immersion and if that is the case then that makes me kind of apprehensive. Without immersion Shadow of the Colossus wouldn’t have been the game that it was. The same goes for Portal.

Sometimes you really need to just stare at a wall while figuring out a puzzle.

Sometimes it’s important to feel confused and lost.

My prediction is that The Last Guardian is going to good but not a successor to the games that came before. It happened to Return of the Jedi, it happened to Return of the King and it happened in other things that don’t have “return” in the title.


Silent Hill 3!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Alrighty, you’ve had enough with the philosophical waxing. Lets do a game review.

I have a special place in my heart for Turn Based Strategy (TBS) games. All the way back from Tactics Ogre to Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (essentially the same game). This probably had to do with my obsession with forcing others to blindly follow my orders. I usually pretend to be the benevolent dictator that I wish would come and fix this country. Leading us to a brighter tomorrow where all decisions are made for the collective cause of the common identity. RISE my minions and I will lead you all to Eudaimonia: the sovereign collective fatherland!


The tedium of playing stupid Ocarina of Time for the 30-bazillionth time was really starting to get my goad. I went to check the reviews for 3DS games and the superfluously named Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars: The Final Tussle: Clancy Edition 3D: Chapter One: Episode 3: These Wretched Days: and A Bag of Chips by Tom Clancy caught my attention. I was interested because to my surprise the game had gotten good reviews but also wary because of the phrase “good for a 3DS game” came up a lot.

This worried me but I gave it a whirl anyway. Well, it’s 2 weeks later and according to my activity log I’ve been playing Shadow Wars for 18 hours 45 minutes and average a 1 hour session when playing. Needless to say Shadow Wars is not only good for a 3DS game but it is good, period.

First there is the story.

I’ve never read a Tom Clancy book or even played any games that he’s had a hand in creating. However, Shadow Wars almost makes me want to change that fact (I said “ALMOST”!). One thing that I noticed about Clancy or at least this game is that it is essentially a Westernized Ghost in the Shell/Appleseed story. In fact, I would say that this plot could have been written by Masamune Shirow if he one day decided that he was terrified of Russians and their pesky ideals. The anti-Communist sentiments are a little heavy handed but you can always pretend the Russians are the Others and you’re a mercenary hired by Charles Whitmore and BOOM season 4 of Lost.

TBSs are kind of like chess. Certain fighters have specific way that they can attack and you build strategies based around what you’re given. Shadow Wars can boast one of the most well-balanced and thought out approaches to TBSs that I’ve seen. Generally when playing a TBS it starts off simple enough but by the 10th mission your options get so out of hand you feel like you’re trying to order off the Cheesecake Factory menu.

In R-Type Command you start off with a easily understood fleet of a few ships. By the time your fighting the Bydos in a black hole you are inundated with so many options of fighting tactics that it’s nearly impossible to choose between the long range fighter that can cloak itself within 3 moves and not use it’s secondary weapon or the long range fighter that can cloak itself within 2 moves but you can use the plasma cannon. Does it really make that much of a difference?!?!

What I like about Shadow Wars is that you are given a core group of 6 soldiers who have specific jobs. They can be tweaked a little but not enough to feel overwhelmed with the “spice of life”. What happens a lot in TBSs is that you pick a team based on some light intel. Whether or not that team bodes well depends on your ability to pick a team that will strategically give you the upper hand with info like: “there will be a battle, it happens in space”.

I hate this approach.

What this boils down to is that there is no strategy involved. You play a battle, figure out what you’re fighting, typically lose and restart the battle with a reformed party that is based around the weaknesses of the baddies you just fought. You basically use your first battle as a cheat sheet for the second go around. Shadow Wars builds maps based around the party that it already knows you are working with. This translates to maps are created with an answer built into them. Essentially, the problem has a solution.

This is what makes for a great TBS game. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics or Advanced Wars but hated playing the same level 50 times because you didn’t have the clairvoyance to know exactly what you where up against. Well, my friends, Shadow Wars will quell that nagging irritation and also hold you over till Nintendo starts throwing free games at you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Casual or Business/Hardcore?

Lately I’ve been struggling with the concept of what exactly constitutes a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer. I started at the Mecca of legit info (Wikipedia) and found myself even more lost. Yeah, I know this is Wikipedia but where else am I going to find a definition? Hardcore gamer was described as people who “prefer to take significant time and practice on games.” And generally I thing this is a pretty accurate description.

This foil conjures up images dead eyed 30-something males who invent things like the Totino’s Taco. Or of Code Red guzzling, gold farmers, slowly supernovaing into fits of nerd rage and hypertension when some n00b snatches up all the loot. Refusing to LARP because that would require too much physical activity. RED, RED, WHITE, BLOCK! For Darkon!


However, while thinking about this subject I watched a Zero Punctuation episode that described FPSs by saying, “you point at things you don’t like and they go away. They’re not exactly the 12 Task of Hercules”. Fair enough however this got me to thinking (now that I’m done with school I can do as much of that as I need). This made me think of another game rarely associated with hardcore gaming: Angry Birds.

You point (birds) at things you don’t like (pigs) until they go away.

Quick disclaimer: I’m going to keep this discussion about FPSs to the online multiplayer and kind of ignore the campaign.

What? You did.

In most FPSs the main attraction is playing multiplayer online. A general simulation of this activity can be summed up by point, shoot, point, shoot, kneel, teabag, scream, repeat. Or if you’re feeling a bit more multicultural you can play in the middle of the night and have a fat, lazy Limey man-child expound on how fat, lazy and man-childish YOU are. POINT BEING that it’s a bit repetitive and though strategic variation comes into play it’s no different than Salmon is to Nantucket Red.

Angry Birds has a similar sort of repetition to it as well, which usually is categorized by the term “casual gamer”. You have birds, you fling them at a perplexing combo of basswood and reinforced concrete magic, and pigs go away. I get the appeal to this kind of simplicity, I being someone who can boast total kick assery at Super Bust-A-Move.

Yeah, there’s a storyline in Angry Birds but for this discussion it will be ignored.

What? You did.

Wait a minute! There seem to be a lot of similarities here. There is monotonous gameplay with varying levels of difficulty, questionable addiction to said gameplay and a distaste for narrative that would make Joseph Campbell roll in his grave.

You all are the same people!

Replace the Spetsnaz with pigs, the SPAS-12 with a slingshot and aforementioned British mutant hate speech with weird Sims 3esque jabbering and you’re essentially playing the same game. Granted, I’m making some rather broad generalizations but there’s a bigger point to be made. Not just about gamers but gaming as a whole. Just stick with me.

So, what does this mean? Are hardcore gamers actually casual gamers? Or vice versa? Can the Financial Auditor with a wife, kids and house who spends 4 hours a day carefully grooming their FarmVille crop into the Dharma Initiative symbol be lumped with the Cheeto munching, profanity spewing Data Analyst who just got a chopper gunner and is going to ensure total PWNage in your mom’s face?

Absolutely. You say tomato, I say ketchup.

It seems to me that these labels don’t really bring anything to the table when it comes to explanatory power. They do not define any sort of character trait that is intrinsic to casual or hardcore gamers. We all love playing games (well, at least most of us do) and all in all these labels are essentially meaningless in their current iteration. The demographic of gamer has broadened so far that using them almost sets us back.

It may be better to actually drop these terms completely and lean toward labels that encompass us all as gamers rather than create rift between us. Many a time I have heard the “casual gamer” get the short end of the stick because they are “ruining the industry” by not knowing that Angry Birds is just a copy of Crush the Castle and thus snuffing out all innovation. Or conversely, the “hardcore gamer” demanding that games like Silent Hill 2, ICO, Out of this World and Killer 7 be considered legitimate forms of art and are met with eye rolling only paralleled by a Williamsburgian plastered on Four Loko.

It’s all just kind of silly.

In the end it seems these terms are used in the same way that a Philosophy major would call a neophyte a "sofa philosopher" or how Joe Lunch Pail would call the academic an "egghead". At the end of the day all these labels really do is generalize and create rifts. This alienation is rather disheartening especially when you consider how much gamers are alike.

It is important to find your identity in gaming as to help others understand your point of view as well as help define this amazing new medium in the art community. There is a cavalcade of possibilities out there in terms of knowing what we like in a game and what games are.

I think it’s about time to throw out the old filing system.

HOORAH for games!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How the "Nerds" Ruin Everything

So, Nintendo is in dire straits reporting losses for the first time in over a decade. They dropped the price of the 3DS a dramatic 33% to $170, they’re giving us fan boys 20 free games to keep us from sending them mail bombs and Saturo Iwata (Big N’s President and CEO) is taking a 50% pay cut taking full responsibility in a way that you would never see the US financial industry stoop to. Nintendo has debased themselves and lie prostrate at the their consumer base begging for forgiveness.

But you know what, I don’t blame you, Nintendo. Get up off the floor. This is not (entirely) your fault. But who’s to blame? Yamauchi couldn’t have lost $300 million with nary a sea of rolling heads.

Who do I blame?

YOU! Yeah that’s right, you (no, not you Nintendo, get off the ground, geez) or more specifically what passes for a “nerd” these days. You people who buy Donkey Kong wall stickers, who shop at, who listen to Anamanaguchi, who though that Tron: Legacy and Transformers was AMAZING, who’s “best of” consists of Megaman 2, Final Fantasy 3, and Ocarina of Time, those who show a sliver of excitement in another Bill and Ted movie, who bake Portal cakes and make DNF jokes about Duke Nukem’. I’m talking about all of those dinks out there that cannot be satisfied with anything that has come out in the past 2 decades. I hate all of you.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

See, wut had happen’d is that Nintendo (and 3rd party supporters) have spent all their time working and releasing games that appeal to those who fall under the above categorization. All these people are contrarian nostalgiaphyles and wouldn’t be caught dead playing a game that they hadn’t researched to death, torrented and condemned because it didn't emulate the innovative gameplay of Pong.

This new breed of gamer is terrified of any sort of change. If a Mario game comes out it better emulate Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World. If not it will be eternally damned by those who are fairly sure that those where the best games ever and all new ideas should be stifled like one that argues that 2+2=4 (oh, literary reference).

I’ve heard the launch of the3DS being compared to the Virtual Boy a lot. Well, I guess they where both 3D and Nintendo released them and that’s about where the comparisons end. This is the complaint that only a self-satisfied nostalgiaphyle-nerd would make showing off their ability to constantly check Boing Boing, Topless Robot and i09 (generally, I like these sites they're just patronized by the "nerd" equivalent of hipsters).

I like Nintendo and specifically I like the 3DS. We wanted a handheld system with better screen resolution. We got it. We wanted retro games available on online shops. We go it. We didn’t want to be told about it 4 years before it actually came out (yeah, I’m looking at you Team ICO). We got it.

We’ve looked this gift horse in the mouth so hard that we’re falling out the horse’s anus.

Was it rushed out? Yes, that’s why there aren’t many games. However, the fact that the first major title to be released is a port of Ocarina of Time only supports my position that Nintendo has jumped through rings of fire to satisfy these contrarian nostalgia-holic faux-nerds. Well, congratulation you’re ruining Nintendo, gagging the game industry and built Sauron’s Tower with Legos.

Iwata, I accept your apology and I will happily take your 20 free games. And I will happily spit in the face of everyone who already played them on an emulator.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cave Story

I’ve been away from writing for a bit because I’ve been completely enamored with 2 games: Cave Story and Nier. Strangely enough I’ve been suspect of both of these games because of fan boy reviews of the former and critical revulsion of the latter. Either way what I’ve learned is that reviews on GameFAQs should never be read.

Cave Story is a 2D platformer where you play an amnesiac robot that finds himself in a self-referential cave. In this cave (which is actually a floating island) there are creatures that are being used as weapons against their will. Your job is to change their grammatical modifier from “oppressed” to “liberated”.

I like this game for several reasons. First and for most, it has a pseudo-8-bit stylization and game play. I love when things are pixelated on purpose. Your control options are move, jump and shoot which is kind of nice considering how every game I play now has to have some cryptic Gordian set of controls. It's hard to remember which random shoulder button reloads your gun on a controller with 16 buttons when someone is filling your torso with daylight.

One thing I do hate about Cave Story is the fact that Nintendo has this insufferable habit of pretending that everyone on the planet has enough disposable income to buy a DSi and a Wii and a Xbox and a PS3 and a PSP and every other iteration of everything ever made… Ever. Yeah, it’s only $10 but I’ve never paid that much for a DSiware game. Even still, Cave Story isn’t even that long and a high ticket price wont attract the casual gamer who is usually looking for the biggest bang for the buck. And the casual gamer is who spends the most on the gaming industry (either them or the obnoxiously frugal parents of bleary-eyes troll spawn).

This is espically annoying when you realize that Cave Story was originally released as freeware for the PC.

Cave Story will be released on 3d format for the 3DS.

Probably for a lot of money...

Stay tuned of my review of Nier.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pixels on the Silver Screen – Laura Croft: Tomb Raider

The first thing worth noting about Tomb Raider is that I fell asleep watching it 3 times before I actually completed it. Yeah, I know. How could I ever get bored of watching Angelina Jolie’s audition tape for Cirque du Soleil? She runs up pyramids, flips around on bungies in a mansion and does everything in her power to destroy some ancient science project.

The only thing more impressive than Jolie’s Indiana Jones impression is Daniel Craig’s not James Bond impression. That’s right ladies Craig makes his appearance known by being naked and grinning like a hipster at an Arcade Fire show.

Actually, now that I think about it both Jolie and Craig appear naked (with strategically placed tables, hand guns and tombs to preserve feigned modesty). This came across as really weird to me mainly because I think Craig looks like a slightly downsy tree and Jolie has the face of Mother Brain from Captian N. However, Tomb Raider relentlessly throws their sexuality in your face.

It’s like, “ Look how sexy archeology can be. LOOK, DAMNIT!”

As I trudge through the notes I took while watching the movie I come to the conclusion that I have no idea exactly what this movie is about. I do not blame my note taking. There are clocks,the Illuminati and some mild time travel. Which, for the record, if I was going to go back in time I don’t think I’d waste it on turning a knife around (and cutting myself in the process(yeah, that happened)).

The best way to describe this movie is aggressively forgettable. I realized towards the end that I had actually seen this movie before. And like the first time, Tomb Raider slips from my memory. I’m just happy that I have the movie on DVD to remind myself not to watch it.

Seriously, I put a Post-It on the DVD to remind myself.

But like Yoda’s death rattle that expounded on Luke’s family tree, there is another…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tomes: I Don't Care About Your Band

I just finished the Julie Klausner book I Don’t Care About Your Band. How was it, one may ask? Well, hold on to your britches because I’ll let you know! But first, I shall explain the format of this review.

Like most books I Don’t Care About Your Band has a beginning, a middle and lastly, an end. Many books follow this sort of format so I will waste no time explaining these elementary aspects. I shall begin, as it is chronologically intuitive, with the beginning.

Many of us know Julie Klausner (and if you don’t go here) as a comedian and writer for shows and shorts such as the now defunct Best Week Ever, Fat Guy Stuck in Internet or the recent Tom Schaprling directed music video, “Moves: The Rise and Rise of the New Pornographers”. So, as I sat down to read this book I expected to have gut-busting bursts of laughter. What I got was somewhat unexpected.

While, getting excited about this book I decided to ignore the fact that it’s a memoire. Though this lead to a bit of confusion about the tone, I found the writing quippy and smart, using references that any somewhat socially aware individual could process. Though I find that I’m pretty well versed in pop culture I feel like she tried to keep it as accessible as possible.

The middle of the book goes into a long inventory of her sexual escapades and wacky adventures with boys. Some are interesting others I could do without. Generally, I’m not a fan of people talking in depth about what they do between the sheets. However, it’s worth reading for the sake of putting the end into context.

The book takes an amazing turn towards the final chapters. Mrs. Klausner does an amazing job of saying something that is both insightful and profound. I just turned 30 and I’ve been trying to find a voice for how being 30 feels. This book does exactly that. The final chapters of the book are so good that I actually posted a quote from it on my Facebook, which is not something I do.

I think that some people may find it a little risqué. Others may find her to be a pretentious Manhattanite. The truth is that there is something I found both inspiring and validating about her point of view. I like it and I think most of you will as well.

Unless you’re grossed out about a lot of sex talk which there is a lot of.

Rating using before mentioned divisions:

Beginning 4/5
Middle 3/5
End 5/5

Monday, February 28, 2011

Rubrics: Columns

When I got a Gameboy, it didn’t come with any games (Thanks a bunch, Nintendo. I love that you’ve kept doing that for the past 2 decades.). This meant that I had to choose which game I wanted. In reality the main reason I wanted a Gameboy was that I wanted to play the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Needless to say, I kind of jumped on the Gameboy boat a little late being that the Gameboy came out in ’89 and Link’s Awakening came out in ‘94.

The point of me telling you this is that I never really played Tetris on the Gameboy like most people my age. Yes, I know! How could I have missed out on the video game equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall (I like to keep my references current)? In fact the first puzzle game that I played religiously was on the antithesis of the Gameboy: the Sega Game Gear.

My brother had somehow obtained a Game Gear and a small handful of games. Probably through necromancy and dumpster diving. Honestly, I probably played it more than he did. I remember playing Tail’s Adventure and Batman at night thanks to the absence of a need for lighting and a surplus of time to waste. However, the game that I played ad nauseam was Columns.

As I was saying before, I was never a child of the Tetris age. My first foray into the puzzle videogame universe was Columns and let me tell you, I played the hell out of that game. This was the first game where I played in a dark room until I realized that dawn was breaking.

I was obsessed.

If you have ever played Bejeweled or Dr. Mario you’ll probably be able to figure out Columns pretty quickly. Essentially, a line of 3 blocks fall from the top of the screen and you can change the alignment in an attempt to make lines of the same types of block. Just like Tetris or any other puzzle game where blocks fall from the ether, you play till you lose.

There is also a mode where you can play against the computer. In a nutshell, the better you do the less space the opponent has to work with. Each time you beat the computer the difficulty raises. There are ten levels in all, like bowling pins or lords a leaping or Things I Hate About You.

This is what started it all for me. Columns was the game that made me fall in love with the puzzle game genre. It wasn’t the infamous Tetris or her counterpart, Nintendo themed Dr. Robotnitc’s Mean Bean Machine, Dr. Mario. Columns is a game that was horribly overlooked because it simply wasn’t Tetris and that always kind of made me sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Tetris but I feel like Columns was a highly underrated game at it’s time. It always sat in the shadow of the Behemoth and never got the reception it deserved. *

If you’re interested there is an iPhone app that includes both Columns and Puyo Pop. However, in the zeitgeist of Columns history, there is little care in the translation of the game. The controls are rigid, the graphics are dated, and the music is a facsimile of the Gamegear chip set. The fact that Columns is packaged with Puyo Pop shows how little that the company that birthed its existence gives credence to this gem.

It’s a sad ending to a banal campaign.

Long live the Tetrimino?

Bah, I’ll knock it’s block off (So topical)!

Colored Columns falling down!

* I only add this paragraph as not to be yelled at.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pixels on the Silver Screen

So, today I ordered five movies: Wing Commander, Super Mario Brothers, House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider, the Cradle of Life. Just in case you haven’t figured it out they’re all movies based on video games. The only movies I’ve seen in this list is the Tomb Raider movies (and quite frankly I don’t really remember them).

I’m gonna watch 'em then review 'em.

If you’re interested in watching them with me, let me know before this weekend. I’ll probably start with Wing Commander and end with my first full viewing of the Super Mario Brothers movie. They all should be really bad.

So get excited!