A game blog for grown ups (sorta).

Monday, February 28, 2011

Many have tried, none have succeeded

If you actually follow my blog (and you should by clicking the button to the right) you may have read that I was a part of the last Rift open beta. I spent probably close to 10 hours in the game over that week (which is more like 10 minutes to MMO players) and, despite their being hundreds if not thousand of hours of content created, I am pretty confident I got a great sense of what the game is all about.

Rift, like so many other expensive and relatively unsuccessful fantasy RPG MMO's, is a World of Warcraft clone. Let me elaborate before you start writing about how I am a jerk and I need to experience the endgame, or how the graphics are different, or how you have rift's open up and everyone goes and fights creatures that spawn (see what they did there?). The mechanics of Rift are exactly, and I mean exactly like WoW. You attack the same way, the hot keys are the same, the combat flows the same, and even the interface is almost exactly the same as WoW.

The thing that really gets me too is their big marketing tag line has been,
"You're not in Azeroth anymore....."

So you, like many others before you, create a game clearly designed to siphon off as much of WoW's business as you can, and that is your big pitch? In a world where it takes around $50 million dollars to create an MMO, a business needs to make sure they can actually make a profit on that investment. What boggles my mind is that someone would think they can steal Blizzard's golden eggs? If you were or are a WoW player ask yourself; what about that ad would compel you to leave your guild, your loot, and countless hours you put into rolling your characters? Especially seeing as though the game play is the same, even down to the "kill 10 of x to save the world."

That leads me to our my next company that worries me. As a Massachusetts guy ad a huge baseball fan I absolutely adore the Redsox. In 2004 there was a epic pwner who helped my team win the World Series for the first time in several generations and his name is Curt Schilling. Since retiring from baseball Curt, who is very likely hall of fame bound, decided to start his own nerdy RPG/MMO company called 38 Studios. He has spent a lot of money, bought up another studio, and hired some top notch talent and for what? Another game that looks completely and utterly generic.

Curt should know from playing against the Yankees that throwing money at a team doesn't guarantee victory. Did you learn nothing from your own sock in 2004? Heart is what makes a good game, not throwing millions of dollars at something because a behemoth like Blizzard did it. Now of course Kingdoms of Amalur isn't released yet, so it's not very fair of me to say that, but so far I am not hopeful.

Not that it's particularly relevant but I thought this quote from a conversation I had the other night was funny:
"Calling a WoW player a gamer is like calling a heroine addict a rock star. It may be true in some cases, but they are certainly not mutually exclusive labels."

Bring my Girl Back!

I've been trying to actualy play Dead Space 2, which I purchased a couple weeks ago on sale at Amazon and, despite being quite good, I'm only about 2.5 hours in to it. I can't really tell you why except it really just hasn't grabbed me. Don't get me wrong, it really is a well made game. The graphics are fantastic, the pacing and level design are far superior to it's predecessor, I like that Issac (the protagonist and PC)is a person who speaks and has a face, and I really jumped at the morgue thing (you know what I mean if you played the game). It's also technologically functional, which is a lot more than other games released recently can say. Problem is there are, and have been so many good shooters released in the last few years it really takes a great shooter to suck me in (here's hoping!).

With that said I have been succumbing to one-more-term-itis this weekend, but I did think of an ancient franchise that really would make a fantastic, actually mature title and would sell very well on it's own license. That game would be a new, mature "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?"

Anyone who is around my age (28) spent plenty of time with the game as a child. Developed by long defunct Broderbund Software, I spent hours playing on my Apple IIc as a child. The game was great; it was new every round which added crazy replay, had a compelling and mysterious antagonist, and actually taught me a lot about the world without me even realizing it. The game also challenged you to think; which is a lot more than can be said about most titles these days. Also if you are older that 23 you immediately heard the theme song to the crappy quiz show in your head. You know that just happend (do it Rockapella)!

So how on Earth would a kids game, over 20 years old, be revived as a "mature" title? Well journey with me here. You have a concept based around chasing an arch criminal around the world and dismantling her international crime syndicate. You have just about any exotic setting you could want. You work for Interpol. The main demo for games (males and females 24 to 38) already know and probably have a favorable view of the franchise. There are also so many ways you can go plot wise.

Rat in Interpol? Foiling heists? Tracking associates around the world of course. Crazy action sequences and interrogation sequences, puzzle solving, etc.

There are also a couple different ways you could go gameplay mechanic wise too. I see it mostly as Elder Scrolls meets Uncharted. Definitely a lot of exploration and NPC interaction, but you definitely need the scripted action sequences. You can't have THAT open a world in the traditional GTA/TES tradition, but you have a lot of smaller levels based in 20 or 30 cities around the world.

Would you buy that? I definitely would!

Friday, February 25, 2011

My unabashed love for The Elder Scrolls

Yesterday Bethesda unleashed the first gameplay trailer for TES5 and, like most of geek culture, I had such a nerdgasm that resulted in the necessity for a fresh change of pants. Let's all enjoy the trailer again, shall we?

In case you couldn't tell by my verbal toungbath above I love the Elder Scrolls series. Why you may ask? They have all been really buggy, have had throw away stories, and mediocre mechanics. What is so exciting about them? What really makes them as epic and successful as they have been? I will tell you exactly what; because the games would not work as movies or books.

TES is all about exploration and interaction. Like most people, I was 60 hours deep into gameplay in Oblivion before I even really paid any attention to the main quest. I had more fun with the dark brotherhood, getting enveloped by paintings, venturing into caves to find old akaviri artifacts, and just getting lost in a wonderful fantasy world. I have spent 100 hours or more in Morrowind and never finished the story. Didn't need too. Too much fun to just explore and be a part of the world. You can't get that experience with a movie or book. You are always an outsider looking in. You are always a slave to the artist's story and not free to really create your own.

Anyways, SQUEE!!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dragon Age 2 Grift and Demo

I played the Dragon Age 2 demo on Steam last night (no XBLA gold anymore so they shut me right down) and I have to say I was relieved. Not only did the combat flow a bit better, but it definitely felt more natural and faster paced. I don't think I really had enough time to say for certain, but it didn't seem streamlined like ME2.

My biggest beef so far is the graphics. Seriously! How can you give us this and then not even give us jiggle physics? The graphics aren't quite as bad as the first, but they still look like complete ass compared to other AAA titles; hell compared to BioWare's other AAA title. If I am paying $59.99 for a game, I want it to at least look better than a game that came out almost 7 years ago!

That brings me to the next major issue that is really facing the industry right now. There was a post from BioWare on Facebook last night that really sums it up. Between the pre-order bonus's, day 1 DLC, and everything else it really feels like we can't get a full game for our sixty bucks anymore. I know games are expensive to make, but seriously?! I understand giving codes out for day 1 DLC with new purchases to give incentive to people not to buy your game used, but I just want all the necessary, balanced tools to play the game when I buy it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time for our industry to grow up

The buzz right now is all about Bulletstorm and it has really got me thinking. You may or may not have noticed that I have written a lot of thoughts about it in the last week. The game is getting pretty strong reviews and rightly so in my opinion, but still; is it really something to be proud of? Isn't it maybe time to start going out in new directions? Stay with me on this and brace for the epic wall of text!

Videogames, as an artistic medium (yes this again and by me), are still in their infancy. Very smart and creative people are really pushing the boundaries of what a videogame is, how it can be used, how to tell a story, how to get people involved, and how to illicit a reaction. The big thing is though is that no one really has been able to really tackle a hard, sensitive issue or really push the bounds of relationships or human emotion. We have come really close and made strides, but in all, games are still seen as toys for children and ways to enact adolescent fantasies. PG-13 movies constantly feature sexual acts, but Mass Effect adds in a tasteful and mature sex scene and there is a ridiculous outcry. Videogames are and can be very violent, but they always are seen as more psychologically damaging than movies. Hell, film can get away with a lot more than games can, but why is that? Because film, during it's development as an artistic media, had the balls to expand their subject matter and continually push the envelope.

One of my favorite movies both recently and all time would be District 9. The movie works very well because it hits on a lot of fantastic levels. It has some amazing super weapons, some fantastic and suspenseful fights, and great use of limited special effects that really provide a visual spectacle. It also is an allegory for Apartheid South Africa and has a huge focus on racism, oppression, and justification of dehumanization (or desalinization?). The abuse in the film can be very difficult to watch and it touches on a lot of very sensitive subjects. Would this ever be allowed to work as a game?

The last time really edgy, and I mean a relative, sensitive, provocative topic tried to be handled by a videogame people folded to pressure and things feel apart. Extra Credits said it better than I could.

I really would love to see some brave developer really tackle a complex issue or emotion in a videogame. I'm talking racism, relationships, the human condition, difficult decisions, something other than shooting Nazi's, aliens, zombies, or all of the above. I want to see a brilliant story that doesn't have shoehorned adolescent sex appeal. I want to see a mature, sophisticated story written and told in a way where it works best as an interactive medium, and not a book, movie, or serial television show. I really want an experience that causes us to really think and be uncomfortable in a way that only mature and difficult subject matter can.

I have a feeling its an Indie developer who will have the chutzpah to do it because the major publishers just don't want to risk a little PR to advance our medium forward (and prolly make a ton of cash). We need the Pan's Labyrinth's and Up's to balance out the Kill Bill's and Die Hards.

Now I would never say there isn't room for games like Bulletstorm and Duke Nukem. I'm playing through Dead Space 2 right and thoroughly enjoying using future mining equipment to dismember creepy alien, zombie things. Granted it is a ton of fun, and isn't that the point after all? My only problem is I also want more! There is so much more possibility with videogames that hasn't been tapped into yet out of fear of controversy and fear of the unknown.

We need someone to bet on other than Duke. We need to listen and think with skill, not just kill with it. It's time to grow up a little.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Videogames don't NEED to be violent

As much as I enjoyed the Bulletstorm demo last week, I really have been thinking about violence in videogames lately. As much as I love over the top weapons and the option to "kill with skill", right now I am casually playing two very fun games that either have no violence, or have violence as an auxiliary mechanic. You don't always need to bet on Duke.

The first is a game for Android and iPhone's called A Game Developer story. Developed by a small Japanese studio called Kairosoft, the game is skinner box gameplay to the core. You play the role of a small game developer trying to hire the right staff, develop games and consoles, and make as much money as you can in 20 years. The game is way too much fun and for roughly $4 USD you can't get much better. Between commutes and just being bored I am easily 30 hours in. It's a fun mechanic, could be a lot deeper if it wasn't a game for phones, and even as a shallow waste of time is very good at what it does.

The other game I picked up on Impulse for $9.99 USD is Caesar 4. The game is a city builder based on the Roman Empire (as the name may suggest) and the main gameplay element is juggling. It's about expanding your resources, providing food and amenities for your populace, growing your economy, defending yourself from invaders, and keeping Rome happy all at the same time. There is combat in the game, but it is a secondary mechanic; it is not the reason you boot up the game. It is just another aspect to juggle along with making pots and making sure the middle class has enough booze.

Granted there are probably better, contemporary examples of compelling non combat gameplay....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I played the Bulletstorm Demo and I still haven't Sexually Assulted anyone....

There has been a lot of buzz about Epic Game's shooter title Bulletstorm developed by People Can Fly, so I figured I would lower myself to the disgusting prospect of playing through the demo recently released. Despite the assertion by experts that violent videogames such as bullet storm turn seemingly normal people in to deranged rapists, I have not committed any sexual assaults as of yet. Granted the demo was only approximately 10 minutes of game play and I have no hard scientific data to back up the fact that playing the full retail release won't turn me in to such a deviant sociopath, but so far so good.

Now I'm not usually one who enjoys such games. By my disdain for the way shooter and action titles tend to be marketed to us, video game's core demographic, you would probably assume I would loathe and abhor the mere fact this game has been generating the excitement it has, but you know what; the demo was really fun.

From the beginning of the short tutorial video until the demo is over the game is driping with a campy, over the top gratuitous bravado that is very reminecent of Serious Sam. There was some plot about space pirates flying around but I didn't pay much attention and I really didn't need to. What's important is that this game has a brutal and childish flair for just running around murdering aliens.

This game seems to be going for what I call the "Die Hard Effect." You can do the same thing that has been done a million times as long as you do it better and with more style than everyone else. I didn't see anything new here, but what I did see was a fast paced, immature guilty pleasure shooter that looks amazing and seems to be fun where it counts. Let's see how this game does when it releases on February 22nd.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh Telltale, where art thou?

Telltale has been getting a lot of press lately by announcing and releasing classic adventure games based around licensed properties. Just in the last day there have been reports of games based on Jurassic Park, the comic Fables, and AMC hit show and graphic novel The Walking Dead. Are Telltale games really the smartest PC developer in existence?

It doesn't take a marketing or business genius to see what they are doing. License some mid to high level IP, churn out as many games with their existing technology as they can with an episodic model, then sell exclusively digitally on platforms like Steam and their own digital store to make an absolute killing with the only overhead going to writing and production. I suppose you can create a lot of content while recycling the same adventure game mechanics that really haven't changed at all in 24 years.

Their most recent release of Back to the Future episodic games has garnered them moderate critical success, but is it for the IP or the game itself? I have doubt this business model will be very successful, but is it really any better than Facebook and social games? At least there you can find thought and innovation, even if the gameplay is shallow and minimal.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dead Island's Trailer is Amazing for a Few Reasons

Last night (EST) the Dead Island trailer was released to the world and has blown up like Hindenburg. This trailer is absolutely amazing (not perfect but I'm not here to bitch this post) and is the newest of very high quality dramatic videos with the setting as zombie apocalypse. The team at Polish developer Techland clearly understand what takes a campy subject like zombies and makes it real and human. This short isn't about the end of the world, it's about the end of a family.

It reminds me very much in tone to AMC's brilliant television show Walking Dead, based on the comic of the same name. Once again it is not a zombie show, it is a drama where the setting is zombie apocalypse.

With that said we can only speculate about the gameplay. IGN's announcement article describes the game as a first person melee game with RPG elements. You can have up to 4 friends playing together and coming in and droping out seamlessly. Not like L4D at all. This makes me really nervous about the game living up to the awesomeness of the announcement trailer as do we really need another L4D with little to no guns and RPG elements? Forget the zombie game part, don't we have enough FPS's with RPG elements?

Here would be GooseyB's Dead Island. Take the journey with me on this one. Survival Horror 4X RTS. Think Civilization meets RE4. You heard me. Early game you are tasked with exploring a giant, randomly generated map rounding up survivors and evading, not fighting the zombie hordes as they are sensitive to sound and would overwhelm you. Next it would be about establishing a basic society. Get a camp together, scavenge resources, keep everyone fed and safe. Do you make one big camp and pool resources at the risk of having a zombie outbreak wipe out all of humanity, or do you make smaller camps and spread your resources thinner? Once you get that handled it's on to starting up production and research to fight/end the zombie infection and then using developed soldiers to fight back. There would be so many tough decisions and emotion to the whole thing. Think World War Z the game!

That concept is already copyrighted guys; no stealin'! Bottom line lets hope Dead Island is as awesome as the trailer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

RustBot and Other Projects

So another part of my life besides video games is music. I am right now a part time musician with a budding production company. We already have contracts and money from some local Boston acts and I will be spending a lot of time in SpeakEZStudios making some extra coin. Of all the pop and hip-hop projects we have lined up the project I am most excited about is working on the sound for an independent game my friend is working on called RustBot.

The game will be about scavenging materials and mechanical pieces and assembling them into machines, structures, robots, and whatever else you need to achieve your goals. I have volunteered (hopefully there will be a little scratch in there for me eventually) to write music and make sound effects. I am really psyched to get started as soon as I can.

Because of the kind of steampunk, patchwork robot theme I am definitely feeling a lot of noise beats, synthy and distorted bass lines and arps, and definitely some cool ambient pads and sweeping effects. Doing beeps and boops for the robotic creations will also be really exciting. Seeing as though I have no coding ability it will be a great experience for me to be part of at least some process.

The goal is to have a rough, pre-alpha build put together by PAX so we can start showing it off and getting feedback. Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Love Felicia Day BUT......

The nerd net is abuzz this morning that geek heroine Felicia Day’s mystery project will be a 6 part live action webisode based on BioWare’s fantasy universe Dragon Age. I feel so alone as I seem to be the only one who is a little bit wary of this decision and her ability to produce a quality product here. Before you label me as a troll or set my house on fire let me elaborate.

I love The Guild. I have seen every episode multiple times and new seasons are always very exciting. The last episode of season 3 was definitely the highlight for me. I think Felicia day is a very talented comedy writer and also very good at playing her role. She did such a fantastic job with The Guild that even my wife, who’s gaming taste doesn’t go beyond You Don’t Know Jack, Worms, and Rock Band, absolutely loves the show as well. To sum it up; I am a huge fan.

With that said I wouldn’t hire Jerry Seinfeld to write for Dexter, I wouldn’t hire Notch to write the story for Mass Effect 3, and I wouldn’t hire Felicia day to write a “dark fantasy narrative” because it is not in her resume or demonstrated skill set.

To quote Felicia herself, “I wanted to bring a modern sensibility to a fantasy character in a fantasy world.” This is what really makes me nervous. An aspect I really enjoyed about DA:O is that Ferelden felt very authentic. There weren’t any elves saying “that’s wack” or any hip hop dwarves. There was no lute hero. All there was just a different (sorta but that’s another post) twist on fantasy fare that had a unique and immersive feel. Dragon Age isn’t really about humor. That’s not to say there isn’t any room for it, but I don’t think it should ever be shoehorned in for its own sake. I love humor like I love violence like I enjoy anything; when it’s appropriate.

Felicia is also quoted as saying “I put every bit of effort into making this something that gamers should be proud of.” This also rubs me the wrong way for a few reasons. Why not make this something everything can be proud of? We gamers are often a fickle bunch who have been trained and conditioned for years to accept subpar writing, acting, and plot development as gold. I would like to see the team produce something that anyone who isn’t a gamer can appreciate. I have a lot of friends who love fantasy writing but can’t stand video games, or don’t have the patience to put in the requisite 30+ hours to play through DAO plus another 25 for the DLC.

Now I hope to be proven wrong. I hope this series is amazing and I am reduced to just a pessimist who doubts everything that is right in this world. I love Felicia Day and think it’s amazing that she exists as a celebrity (famous for being a home grown nerd). I will just wait to get excited about this one. Now if they hired this guy we would be cooking with gas!

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Valentine's day talk about a game you love

Happy Valentine's day everyone! Before I get into it I am just psyched to have had the foresight to make reservations at one of the fanciest North End restaurants here in Boston for me and the loml (love of my life) at Bricco. Epic noms tonight!

So it being Valentine's day I figured I would extol a game that has always had a very warm space in my heart. That game would be the 1994 cyberpunk cult classic Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis (not the junk shovelware game for the SNES). This game was so far ahead of it's time and if any mechanics, formula, and setting deserved an update for the AAA market today it would certainly be Shadowrun. 17 years ago it featured a rather large open world, second gameplay mechanics with hacking "the matrix" (interwebs), a flawed but very unique leveling system, and many mechanics that flowed very well into each other and have warranted many playthroughs throughout the years.

The plot is serviceable, but not the highlight. You hear of your brother's death and rush to Seattle in a post modern time where corporations have more power than the government; ie every cyberpunk story ever. You meet various people, kill a lot of random mythical creatures, and perform a lot of nefarious jobs called "Shadowruns" (I see what they did there) to unravel the mystery of your brother's killer and foil the plot of some ancient demon to eat a lot of old stuff. The story always feels as a vehicle to guide the player through exploring the world and the different mechanics.

The sheer scope of this game on an 8 meg cart 17 years ago is mind blowing. With major publishers bringing back X-Com in name only, and with open world games like Red Dead Redemption and Saint's Row 2 selling the way they do, I think that a modern reboot of this franchise would be very well met. There is so much character and richness to the setting, and with simple updates of the computer hacking, combat, and job mechanics could make a great 40+ hour single player experience that would very easily find a large audience worldwide. Even if it never does this game will always have a place in my fondest memories. (Awwwwwwww)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rift Beta

Well I got my Rift Beta key, the new MMO developed by Trion Worlds. I'm downloading the client now to make sure we're good to go for Tuesday when the event goes live.. The Beta event starts on Tuesday so we'll see if just because we're not in Azeroth anymore if we still wish we were.

I always wonder why MMO developers go after WoW. You can't do it. Blizzard have unlimited time, money, and talent. They didn't invent the modern MMO but they certain perfected it. It is pretty common knowledge that it takes a lot of resources to build an MMO from the ground up and a lot of companies who take aim at the better half of Activision/Blizzard end up folding. A lot of companies who don't take aim at them but still put out an MMO end up folding.

We'll see if Trion has the stuff to compete.

Friday, February 11, 2011

PAX East will be 28 Days Later

Today is Friday February 11th and PAX East is officially 4 weeks away. I have been trying to ignore the time between purchasing my 3 day pass and the actual convention in March, but it is hard not to focus on something that is really as incredible as PAX.

I remember quite fondly sitting in the main hall in the Hynes last year listening to Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech. By the time he was through I knew exactly how amazing PAX would be; seriously watch the youtube playlist if you have time. It’s pretty epic. Some highlights for me last year: Being stomped out by a Brotherhood of the Steel dude, getting eaten by Enforcer Zombies, and having an amazing time with some of my best friends.

This year my goals are really to be more social and get a little more involved with the community of fellow geeks, participate in a MTG tournament, play against someone other than my friends in the PC free play room, meet HuskyStarcraft and HDStarcraft who are kind enough to make my commuting into Boston everyday not only bearable, but enjoyable, and mostly I am excited to just be in that atmosphere of common interest.

I do plan on making up business cards with my contact info to not only promote this blog, but also maybe meet some people to play on Steam and Impulse with, and maybe another person or two to get involved in my TTRPG circle. I don’t know if I have time in my life or room in my heart, but I probably would be open to joining someone else’s as well or finding more people to play MTG with.

If there is a Starcraft 2 tournament I will definitely have to play a lot of games to train so I don’t get knocked out the first round. I don’t actually play much anymore but I am a high platinum Terran! (That's me front right BTW)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Violence, Gore, and everything I would want in a Video Game

I’ve been thinking a lot about my post yesterday and how gamers are seen as loving violence. I thought to myself, “is this so untrue?” Some of my favorite movies are incredibly violent and disgusting. Sin City ranks as one of my favorites as does Pulp Fiction, and District 9 which all share common themes of extreme violence and flawed heroes reaching for lofty goals. When I first started playing video games some of my favorites were Golden Axe, Altered Beast, and Mercs (can you tell ours was a Genesis household?).
This lead me to think about a violent shooter that is one of the many anticipated sequels coming out this year that (all of this is speculation based on past entries and the gorgeous trailers and marketing) does look violent, gory, disgusting, and everything I want in a video game. That game would be Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

First off this game is a shooter. You go around killing people and destroying things. It’s violent. There are guns, hand to hand combat, explosions and explosives, etc. I would also argue the trailer is very disgusting. It alludes to power struggles and abuses, human beings being so mistreated they resort to violence, chaos, and generally not just attacking the human body, but the human spirit as well. That always disturbs me more than blood and guts.

The marketing that publisher Square Enix and developer Edios Montreal have put together is absolutely spectacular and is about as fine of an example of how to target your audience (at least me being in the 24 to 38 year old male nerd category) and get them to really anticipate paying full price for your product.