A game blog for grown ups (sorta).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

MMO Rage and why Rift is ruining the world

I am getting really fed up with seeing Steam friends and ads for the MMO Rift. I am also sick of seeing rave reviews because this game's success holds back the MMO genre and here is why; it is more of the same. It plays like WoW, it's quest system is like WoW, and as long as we are happy with the same old "kill 10 wolves to save the world" quests the genre will never grow and reach any sort of other potential.

The big budget AAA MMO that is coming along to be a WoW killer is The Old Republic which is due out sometime this year. Being a huge fan of BioWare and even enjoying their rushed out, crappy cash-in sequels I will of course have to play the game. BioWare seems convinced that a personal, emotional story is what is needed to advance the genre but I am more skeptical of story improving MMO's than I am of birdseed being a good medium for statues.

In my not so humble opinion I think there are two area's that make a MMO fantastic; Mythology and Mechanics. We need a great world to explore and a great way to explore it.

What we need is innovation. We desperately need to step away from the WoW/Everquest model. We need fresh ideas that are well funded and well implemented. Here are two amazing idea's of MMO's I would like to see that would be easy to develop and have instant appeal and brand recognition.

First and foremost a Pokemon MMO would be easily like the best game ever. If you could roam around a huge, open world searching for wild Pokemon and leveling, challenging other trainers to Pokemon battles, having hourly tournaments in cities, rare Pokemon, trad-able Pokemon, a robust crafting system for Pokeballs, buffs, potions, training implements, boosters, etc it would be really amazing and have a mass appeal. You already have close to 1,000 Pokemon designs from the last 15 years so GameFreak could probably even get away with no new Pokemon designs. It would still be a hardcore grind it out RPG, but have such a new twist, great PVP and PVE elements, and such an installed base that the game would be a license to build a money vault.

Second I want to see a Mechwarrior MMO. The last we heard from the unecessarily long dormant Mechwarrior franchise was that new developer Smith and Tinker was working on a reboot of the series. They released an amazing looking video a couple years ago and that has been the last we've heard of that. Mechwarrior and the Battletech franchises not only have a strong, core following, but there is so much mythology and fantastic mechanics to build an MMO around. Imagine if you were either house Davion, House Steiner, or one of the clans. Each faction has their own technology, own mechs, and own core worlds. You would have an amazing flow of the game going from world to world, crafting cool weapons and mechs, trading resources and blueprints, going on missions for NPC's and conquering worlds for your faction. Add in great clan support and you will generate all of the paying user-base you need.

Both games would easily get an instant 500,000 plus day 1 subscribers and would have plenty of room to grow and expand the core mechanics and worlds. Hell a Pokemon game is the only franchise I think could realistically topple WoW. Bottom line though is that as long as we are gobbling up games like Rift like they are gold we will never see anything except "Kill 10 Sith troppers to save the galaxy."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A nonsensical rant about pro Starcraft 2 and eSports

I absolutely love watching pro Starcraft 2 matches online. I'm starting to become a more hardcore fan and working up to live casts of international tournaments, but right now I watch a lot of my favorite Sc2 casters on youtube. Watching a well cast, well played Sc2 match is a ton of fun and reminds me a lot of why I am a huge sports fan.

Outside of gaming I love to watch Baseball, Basketball, and Football in that order. I live in New England, so fortunately for me all of my teams generally are in their selective playoffs and I always get to catch a few live games every year. Working in downtown Boston no matter where you look there are always RedSox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots (our sports teams for my international viewers) clothes adorning every other pedestrian. Will eSports ever be a part of our national pastimes? Will we ever see pro gaming team jerseys? What would eSports need to do to really rise to prominence?

First off let's look at what makes sports fun to watch and what keeps people from getting bored. First off sports are fun for the same reason that Call of Duty or Left 4 Dead is fun; competition. Since the Greeks started the Olympics many years ago history has acknowledged it is really engaging to watch people who are the best at what they do being the best at what the do. When you watch a pitcher in a baseball match throw so many precision pitches, so many different pitches, all from 90 feet away and most landing with in a 2 squarish meter window with other athletes just getting confused at how to hit the pitches it is really exciting. It is also exciting to see one of those hitters get a good read on an amazing pitches and smash that ball so hard with a bat it flies out of the park. Superb and skilled athletic displays are brilliant to watch and translate into fun.

Watching a pro Sc2 match can have that same effect. When you watch someone who is so good at balancing micro and macro and adapting their play to get the right unit combination with the right positioning, or you watch a brilliant Protoss player hold off a zergling rush, or a Terran do a double drop at two different expansions and cut their opponents economy in half in about 20 seconds it can also get really exciting because it takes skill.

There is a great sense in hometown pride rooting for your favorite sports teams. We have over 100 years of history in Boston with the RedSoxand the team here is larger than life. Games are sold out months ahead of time. On TV games get some of the highest ratings. We love our hometown team and it is always more emotional and connecting when you have a hometown team to root for.

This is a big gap that eSports would really need to step it up. It is very difficult to rally people together and build awareness enough to establish a profesional, local club. There would also have to be enough talent and money to be able to band together the necessary clubs to be able to organize a national or semi-national league. The logistics would be really tough and take a decently funded organization to put together. There won't be a lot of funding until there is awareness. There won't be awareness until there is a league or organization to be aware of. There won't be a league until there is funding. There won't be funding until.....

It is so magical to see a live sporting event. I always try and catch 5 or so RedSox games a year because, despite it being significantly more expensive than watching the game on tv, there is such an incredible energy when you enter a stadium with 40,000 fans cheering together, laughing together, drinking together, booing together, and generally sharing an emotional connection to what is happening on the field.

This is the magic I think eSports can really capture slowly but surely. If you could go to a bar on a night with 100ish other people and watch 2 or 3 great Sc2 matches with people cheering or oo-ing at baneling busts, or calling out mistakes, or cheering big skirmishes, that would be really exciting. If we could find live events that would really capture the shared emotional experience of a common interest and you could have talented players that could really put on a great show
with a charismatic caster calling the games, it could really be special.

I plan on starting to try and put together an Eastern Massachusetts Starcraft 2 league. I could definitely get nights in some bars in Boston, Worcester, and places in between, so really it would be about securing a couple sponsers, creating awareness and getting an interested crowd, and finding enough local talent to make it happen. I really love eSports and Starcraft 2 in paticular and I hope that we can start seeing it rise to fame in North America in the next 10 to 15 years.

MLG is a great start, but I really think local effort are where we will really see pro gaming and eSports grow here in North America. We all need to be able to go see a match or event after work on a Wednesday. It will take the nerdy guy dragging his girlfriend to a match, it will take fans inviting non fans, it will take patience and lots of explanations of builds and units (just like me trying to pick up rugby), but we can and will get there (I hope).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fox News attacks again... but what can WE do about it?

The only thing surprising about Fox New's most recent attack against Duke Nukem Forever and the game industry in general is that it took so long. I think the gentlemen at Penny Arcade said it best in this comic from last week. Here's the thing, as much as Fox News and people like Jack Thompson just plain don't get it or us, we, as an industry and a culture, invite this sort of contrevorsy that art(paintings and sculpture to clarify), books, music, and movies have long since shrugged off.

Why is it okay to have a naked woman or man sculpted to perfection in public viewing, or an Alien vs. Predator movie that is PG-13, or a rap beat with more racial slurs in it than otheres, but we can't have a simulated slap by an admited chauvinist by design to a submissive woman? It's because video games are afraid to tackle difficult issues in a mature fashion.

To end the Duke Nukem debate I don't think there is a single rational adult who would play through Duke Nukem Forever and not see it as an ironic commentary rather than an attitude to aspire to.South Park always manages to tackle very sensitive and difficult issues in fun and (duh) cartoon-ey ways, but video games still don't have any mature, grotesque art in our culture (that is relevant).

I have obviously bitched about it before, but we are an industry where the primary consumer base is males 25 to 40and the second largest consumer base is women similarly aged. We are mostly adults who, more often than not, have jobs, spouses, own property, pay taxes, and who are generally contributing, mature (debatably) members of society. We also read, have social groups, watch movies (it's always the comic book movies and Sci Fi that make the most money), and some of us even have children. I am 28 and the panel at PAX East 2011 that the most of my friends were most excited about was the Geek Parenting panel. So why is it all games that get the M+ or AO rating are so immature and blatantly trying to offend?

Now let me be perfectly clear; I am not saying that Duke Nukem is bad (I think the reviews will say that) or that it shouldn't exist, or that Fox News is or is ever remotely close to being correct on the issue. Hell anyone who plays the game and decides that it is then okay to objectify and/or batter women is just stupid. To think that a video game, or any other piece of art can perform inception or do anything else than inspire is just plain ignorant. With that said the video game industry is all cartoons and no Shakespeare. There needs to be, and I would argue there would be a lot of profit in finding a middle ground between ironic and mistivous comentary and "mature" drama.

There is room in my heart for the movie Dumb and Dumber, Love Actually, Gattaca, Pan's Labyrinth, and Sin City. Why can't we have a game industry that represents those same broad subject matter as fiction, art, movies, and music? When our industry is so one note, are we really suprised that's what the harpy's will dwell on?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

BioWare vs. Bethesda

I love March because it means it's time for not only PAX East, but also March Mayhem on the Escapist. We are getting to the final rounds of voting for our favorite developers and there are some really interesting matchups, the most interesting right now being BioWare vs. Bethesda (hence the name of this post). By the way you have been warned; BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!

Despite being a huge fan of both developers, I opted to vote for BioWare mostly because Dragon Age 2 is out right now this very moment and I have been having a blast with it. A very good friend of mine decided to troll me for my public display of favoritism which really got me thinking about both developers. In my opinion Bethesda and BioWare are the two best Western RPG houses the world has ever seen and for two very different reasons.

Bethesda creates the best worlds, period. Despite spending easily 200+ hours with Morrowind I never actually finished the game because I didn't need to. I had more fun exploring Vvarfendel, reading all the amazing books, drinking in the different architecture of Vivec, the Telvani towns, the ashlands, etc. Granted the magic system was pretty useless endgame, the alchemy system was broken, and the hit detection was incredibly questionable; didn't matter. The game was magic with a V8 engine, 12 gig of ram, wrapped in bacon, and pure awesome sauce spread all over. I spent easily as much time with Oblivion and the continent of Cyrodil. The cool, weird architecture was replaced with more familiar high fantasy archetypes, but the game world was so meticulously well crafted that I had an amazing time closing gates, exploring towns, and (like any great open world game) picking flowers. The gameplay trailer for Skyriim looks nergasmically fantastic!!

BioWare games are really fantastic because no one tells a story quite as well as BioWare. From KOTOR to Mass Effect to Dragon Age, no developer has ever written characters that are as vivid and that suck you in. The quests and decisions in BioWare games are also so incredibly well thought out it actually gives one time to pause and really take into account the weight of one's decision and how it will affect the story and the world. When we had to decide between Kaiden and Ashley staying to set off the bomb in Mass Effect, or whether to spare, kill, or enslave Loghain, I never really cared about the characters in any other game like I do in BioWare games.

BioWare have made it pretty difficult to really support their studio as a fan lately. Despite having an amazing time with Dragon Age 2 right now, I am certainly not the first to report the game was obviously rushed. From the same subpar graphics to the environments that are used over and over again, the game certainly would have benefited from another 6 months to a year of development time. The flood of premium DLC as well has been down right disrepctful to fans and consumers willing to spend $60 hard earned USD's (or the local equivilent if you live elsewhere) to play a complete release. Dragon Age Legends on Facebook can cost up to $99.99 (as much as both Dragon Age's 1 and 2 combined on Steam right now) to play consistantly without waiting for energy to refil. Hell, Dragon Age 2's presence in the marketplace this soon really only leads me to think that the game exists soley to fund the upcomming MMO "The Old Republic" (which does have one of my favorite game trailers ever).

One advantage for Bethesda is that they certainly do not have the aggressive release schedule BioWare does. The last full priced entry in their catalogue was Fallout 3, which came out in 2008. Their next release will be Skyriim, which is due to release November 11th this year, approximately 3 years later. Figure the game began development in 2007 I would estimate.
I absolutely love this philosophy. Every game Bethesda releases is always of such high caliber and concept, and despite being hardcore action RPG's always are a commercial success. I would rather wait 5 years for an amazing game then 3 for good enough.

Despite the clear lack of development time for DA2, BioWare still has a huge hit and an amazingly fun, tactical, and deep RPG that has characters that are written incredibly well. The game is certainly compelling despite itself. If both studios ever could join hands and come together to create a game, it would absolutely epic.

Bottom line is there is certainly room in my heart for both. Only thing is Hawke is here now FTW! I mean, that is certainly points for BioWare; their lead character's name is Hawke.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dead on Arival Island?

How do you get one of the most amazing game trailers (or trailers in general) ever produced to be bad for your product? Just ask Techland with their amazing piece of film that, evidently, doesn't represent their game in anything except in setting.

Like just about every nerd ever I had an amazing nerdgasm over the Dead Island cinematic released a month and a half ago and was really eager to see the Walking Dead of video games. It really looked that instead of being a bland, Left 4 Dead knockoff it would be a drama with the setting being zombie apocalypse. Report after report is telling us that isn't the case at all. Even the producer of the game is likening it to Borderlands in the way it keeps players hooked.

It makes me sad that I really feel that our hearts have been broken already. Maybe my hopes were naive, but I really felt we may be seeing a second fiddle studio really come in to it's own with a tour de force pet project. Then again that's not always a guaranteed success either.

If Techland actually made the game they represented in the trailer I would pre-order 2 copies (because your diety of choice knows I would need it for PC and Xbox). Unfortunately, it is being now represented as a second rate L4D. Dead Island, in my not so humble opinion, has been downgraded to the "must be crap until proven otherwise" catagory.

All I can say is the game better be pretty friggin' awesome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why the Dragon Rage???

Dragon Age 2, the anticipated sequel to BioWare's 2009 surprise hit Dragon Age Origins, released a couple weeks ago to a firestorm of mixed reviews and fan rage. The major complaints seem kind of silly to me because they all boil down to one real complaint:

It's different.

I love(ed) DA:O. I played it through soup to nuts 3 times. I am 100+ hours in to the game through all my experiences with the game. I am certainly an old school RPG guy, hence my nerd-affair with a high quality AAA western RPG that is difficult, unforgiving, and decidedly unwelcoming to newbs. I liked the fact that the world, although kind of generic high fantasy, still had more than enough personality to keep me engaged and interested and that the voice acting was above average (not that it is difficult). The writing of course was top notch cause' it's BioWare. That's what they do. Of course the game had a lot of shortcomings, but us hardcore RPG nerds tend to see those as necessary as we are crumudeonly stuck in our hater-like ways.

Dragon Age 2 is a very different game from Dragon Age Origins. The combat is much faster paced, the interface looks a lot more minimalist, the art styhas chaged (although both games look like ass), and the story structure is a lot less "epic hero makes epic, heroic journey with his friends to save the world from an ancient evil because he is the one and ONLY one who can" and more struggle to survive. The game breaks a lot more old school tropes in favor of a more Grand Theft Fereldan (or Kirkwall) type feel which I for one also really like. There is still a lot of depth, resource management, tactical options, and fantastic writing, but is very decidedly different. On normal dificulty it also is not so punishingly arduous a task to get through basic encounters.

I really like that BioWare didn't push out another overpriced expansion pack. I like the differences in gameplay, the new art style, the minimal interface, and the REALLY intesne and fast-paced combat. It's a welcome change for the IP. If I wanted to play more DA:O I would play through it again. Now for full disclosure I haven't finished DA2 yet, but I am over 10 hours in, playing through my first playthrough on hard, and am having a lot of fun with the game.

We live in an industry now where the status quo is beaten in to us. People pay $60 like clockwork every year for a roster update in Madden, or a couple new maps in Call of Duty. Rift, despite being EXACTLY like WoW but not as good, is off to a strong start. Homefront sold incredibly well despite mediocre reviews and cloned game play. Hell, even my darling Starcraft 2 is very identical to it's 11 year old predecessor. It's not just that publishers and developers fear risk and change, but us as consumers are starting to fear it as well. The only place we are really seeing any innovation is in the indie and mobile gaming scenes and even there I feel like we are drowning in cartooney 2D platformers.

Fact is BioWare has done a lot to draw nerd-ire and flame recently, but releasing a poor followup to Dragon Age Origins is not one of them.

Fact: 4 out of 5 people get crushed by giant diamonds every day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Silent Hill MP? Just the thought is fail

There have been a few different websites reporting over the weekend that Konami, despite rulling out for the soon to be released next installment of the Silent Hill franchise, has discussed making a multi-player Silent Hill "chapter" be it part of another game or an XBLA or PSN title. Most people who actually follow and enjoy games, be them core or casual, can figure out this is a bad idea, but why is it terrible and why would Konami even think about it?

Silent Hill 2 is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the greatest games of all time because it is the zenith of how to use the medium for greatest effect. The game is great because of the way it uses the environment as the main means of communicating the story, uses the technology appropriately, and really uses the interactivity of the medium to create a feeling of loneliness and isolation without making it boring. Granted the game had some issues (terrible control scheme), but in all it was an incredible journey with great replay value that has aged well.

Multi-player mechanics would really go against everything that made this franchise great; the isolation and environmental story telling. The only real way I could envision it would be Left 4 Dead with monsters in leiu of zombies.

Konami see's Silent Hill as a franchise more than a tangible universe with a cohesive storyline. That is why we saw a mediocre at best movie, several sequels that received modest at best critical success, and the original developers jumping ship years ago. We've all seen the game jump around to multiple platforms. The game has changed from lonely and isolated horror game to a hollywood blockbuster Michael Bay mentality. The property has been streamlined.

The Call of Duty, Halo, and Madden franchises do incredibly well with multi-player console communities. We have seen a lot of different developers sacrifice quality, or shoehorn multi-player in to games because publishers seem to think robust multi-player equates fiscal success, but of course that isn't necessarily the case in reality. In the last 3 years Mass Effect 1 and 2, Dragon Age 1 and 2, Dead Space 1, Batman Arkham Asylum, Assasin's Creed 1 and 2(not brotherhood), and many other titles have achieved critical and financial success without multi-player, but the industry higher-ups don't seem to want to listen because all they see is the money CODBlops has made.

Of course it would probably cost little in comparison for Konami to develop and publish the title and there are enough people who would play it for the brand name alone, so I wouldn't be suprised if it does become a reality, but it makes me wish for a 5th Element mentality; if you make a work of art that stands alone on it's own very well, it doesn't really need a sequel (Bioshock comes to mind as well).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Facebook Games: Bright new Direction or Evil Abyss?

There has been a lot of talk recently by both developers and consumers about Facebook games an their viability as a new direction for legitimate PC gaming. Many long time developers have been gravitating towards Facebook games in order to expand revenue and their audience. We all know about the millions of players and dollars Zygna has with their "ville" games, and all of the moms who are now being called the new "hardcore" gamers.

The question I have been struggling with is "Is this really a bad thing?" My jury is still out on that because I really don't think anyone has really tapped in on what would make a good Facebook game.

I recently started playing 5 Facebook games to really give them a shot; Oregon Trail, Cityville, Evil Genius, Pawn Stars, and Dragon Age Legends. I have, in the past, also played Mafia Wars (like many, many people). Mafia Wars I really grew to loathe because every single game play mechanic was designed with a skinner box mentality even more than say World of Warcraft, but I really wanted to see inventiveness, creativity, and really the extents developers could really push the freemium model (also they are mostly free).

The real common theme in every single game is waiting. You need to wait for energy to recharge, or crops to grow, or stamina to refill before you can continue. This can take hours through days. Want to skip it? Spend some in game currency that costs real life cash. You can spend as much as $99.99 in most of these games simply for the ability to play them unhampered for a little while (GASP! That would buy you both Fallout 3 and New Vegas on Steam and a heck of a lot more quality game play hours)!

We all (well most of us) knew that though. I think my biggest beef with Facebook games in general is the same beef I have with MMO's; everyone is trying to out Zygna Zygna the same way everyone is trying to out WoW Wow and you can't do it. Zygna started with Mafia Wars and since has just dominated to casual social scene with no one ever really able to do anything but copy their models. Every single game on Facebook has copied their payment and microtransaction model. There is no single Facebook game you can really get lost in without forking over $99.99.

What would really bring this genre forward is a standard profitability model that aped what most developers do for iOs and Android games. Release a "light" version that has tons of adds and a few missing features and also have a premium version for $5. Let gamers, be them house wives or "core" gamers like me have the opportunity to really get lost in a vision, not jump through hoops and pay $99 for the privilege of mechanics that, in my opinion just don't have the value.

Long story short I like the idea of Facebook games. Facebook has allowed millions upon millions of people to introduce themselves to the idea of gaming as part of your lifestyle in a safe and fun atmosphere. You can't take someone who has never really played games and let them play Portal, but they can figure out Farmville. That is really great, but many of them aren't really figuring out what true immersion is in a game, and that is really what we are missing.

The last thing I want to touch on is this rant posted from GDC this year. All I can say to the ranters is prove it. So far Facebook gaming is devoid of any real innovation outside of profitability models (well the one evil one). There is no one trying to earn our money, but rather trying to enslave us and our friends. Show us how it can be done, or become another Zygna wannabe.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hooray for Owlchemy and the Boston Indie Scene!

One of the many marvelous things about PAX East is the Boston Indie Showcase. It was really nice to see my perennial favorite Cambridge's own Fire Hose Games with a release build of Slam Bolt Scrappers out today on PSN), but the highlight for me (besides getting a picture with Tim Schafer SQUEE!) was getting to watch the game Smuggle Truck by small indie developer Owlchemy Labs.

I have talked a lot recently about wanting to see games tackle mature, adult subject matter and I would definitively say that this is a major first step. I would call this game way more "mature" than Duke Nukem any day of the week because it's not afraid to tackle a tough subject matter, and not just boobs and guns (not that theres anything wrong with that).

The game reminds me of a Southpark episode. It is cartoony and melodramatic, yet it tackles the difficult issue of immigration policy in the US to aplomb. The game is definitely an inexperienced effort and very simple, yet it is a great way for a budding developer to get some income and make a statement and a name for themselves.

The game play revolves around tilting your iPod or iPad to guide a truck filled with illegal immigrants as fast as you can through hilly terrain without losing any out the back. Sounds simple right? Sure is, but also is a ton of simple, portable, nonviolent fun. It is whimsical yet poignant and everything that I would want in a videogame.

I really hope this game does amazingly well (and we all know that simple iOs games can) and that we see and hear a lot from Owlchemy in the future. Cheers guys and nice to see your booth at PAX East!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Homefront and the questions it raises

The launch trailer for Homefront was released at PAX East over the weekend and I have to say that it looks pretty damn awesome. I love the classic rock!

Now you will notice in the trailer it advertises "violent, shocking and brutal" as a quote from GamesRadar, and that is a whole other beef of mine to begin with, but I honestly could have high hopes for this game because it set itself up to be mentally challenging and thought provoking (something I think would be great for our industry). A game about North Korea invading America, with themes of culture clash, xenophobia, and in general not just another Tom Clancy-ish war thriller would be a fabulous break from the Call of Duty franchise.

Now the first thing that really concerns me about this game is that it is reportedly very short (thanks Escapist). Now to claim, "well a person of average skill will take 3 hours longer to play it" is saying that you count difficulty curve as a way to pad out game length which is unacceptable. If you have such an amazing story because you hired famed writer and director John Milius to do your game, I would think you would want to make the most of your investment. Of course there is a separate question of the differences of writing for a videogame over a book or movie, but that is another topic for a future post!

A prevailing argument is that a large bulk of their resources went into developing the multiplayer experience. I am sure they are out there, but the only AAA strictly single player FPS to come out in the last 4 years without mp I can think of would be Bio Shock, and that game did just A-okay monetizing (as of March 2010 the game was reported to have sold 4 million copies on the XBox alone). Despite their success it seems that developers feel compelled to add a multiplayer in their game to compete with COD, but it brings up the same concerns that I raised for competing with WoW.

Despite pretty damn good reviews so far, Homefront will make me sad for what it could have been and represented. I suppose it is the same argument that has been presented time and time again; that in this console generation with the graphics and development costs it is just way too expensive to take a risk, so publishers demand that developers put out cookie cutter games to guarantee a return on investment rather than take the high risk-high reward route, but there are so many recent and amazing examples that buck this trend. I just wish that I could stand behind Homefront as one of them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

PAX East 2011 Day 1

Well day one was quite amazing as to be expected. I did skip the keynote speech for reasons I already went over (and will prolly do a follow up to that soon anyways). Let's start with a few highlights for me.

[Quick side note, the pictures look like ass because they were taken with my phone camera. Taking a real camera today to get some MUCH better pics]

First off, I am happy to report that I am starting to think I was wrong about 38 Studios and Kingdoms of Amalur. Now full disclosure; I did get the shake Curt Schilling's hand, and as a huge RedSox fan, that is kind of awe inspiring. I didn't get any pictures though much to my chagrin. Anyways, the game looked reasonably solid, considering the gameplay demo we got was a pre-alpha build. One thing that really impressed me about Curt's attitude is that he is fully aware that KoA is not breaking any new ground as a fantasy RPG, but he wants it to be the absolute best. He is going for the Die-Hard effect (topic of a future post). The game right now looks an awful lot like Fable to me with more of a focus on fast paced, combo driven combat. To be honest the demo looked like a hell of a lot of fun, with really fast paced and visceral combat, beautiful visuals, and an interface that seemed very streamlined and functional, yet potentially as deep as many hardcore RPG nerds demand. Of course he is going to have some stiff competition in 2011.

I did spend some time in the expo hall as well checking out all the booths and what some AAA and indie developers had to offer and I am sorry to say there is really nothing new to report. Gears of War 3 looks an awful lot like GOW2, Battlefield 3 looks an awful like like BF2BC, COD, and all the rest of the military shooters to the point I couldn't discern (and I am sure it will sell accordingly), BioWare had a short playable version of TOR that looked exactly like it does in all the videos, and Bethesda had a multiplayer build of Brink for people to play that, once again, looks an awful lot like other online shooters on the market. Lots of fun to check everything out, but no new revelations.

On the floor I really enjoyed the Kingston booth, where they had EGiNcontroL playing Starcraft 2 against challengers from the crowd while being cast live by professional shoutcaster Day[9]. I have to say it is really exciting to be there, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, watching high(er) level live matches. There was one game when the challenger got almost all of his army blown up by blings and just hearing the crowd holler and jeer was almost reminiscent of any professional sporting event I have been to. It really makes me want to pursue my thought of getting a small, local tournament up and running (more to come on that).

Regardless there was a lot of gaming, a lot of Magic the Gathering, a lot of great booths and great sights, and I got to meet a lot of amazing people already. Day 2, here we come!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quick note for all of you who will not be at PAX East

I will be there all 3 days and blogging throughout to let you know the awesomeness that transpires. Stay tuned!!! Btw that's me front right from last year's Pax East!

Can I actually ditch my Consoles?

I would definitely consider myself a member of the PC master race. I started playing games on a computer when I was 6 and it has always been my prefered method of experiencing our exhalted hobby. Despite my preferance I have always had at least one current gen console set up and I think I may be ready to buck that trend.

My house right now is an XBOX 360 household. My old, white, non-HDMI console sits there, usually gathering dust, occasionally seeing a AAA title enter it's oft-neglected DVD drive and I think to myself; why not just move my PC downstairs? I have an HDMI out on my videocard. Most AAA titles come out on Steam. I can get a blu-ray drive for my compy as well as use an XBOX 360 controller. Can I make the jump?

The decision isn't just one of practicality either. It would be a major life decision to rid myself of the white behemoth. I have had that ugly machine for quite a few years and have racked myself up a decent gamerscore. It's also fun to pop on to XBLA and download some indie or small titles and kill some time. I have definitely, and I think most of us have, built up an emotional connection with our consoles.

There is also the question of fighting the wife for our nice, sexy 42" LED LCD with the well positioned surround sound system. God forbid she doesn't watch all the fat fly in Biggest loser in full HD.

Also PAX East 2011 is less than 24 hours away! w00t!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I'm skipping the Keynote at PAX East and why Art can't cure Cancer

Jane McGonigal is slated to be the keynote speaker this year and I think I would actually rather see the Kingdom's of Amalur live demo. Granted last year Wil Wheaton was absolutely amazing and his speech definitely was tear jerking-ly amazing to listen to live, but Jane is crazy and not all that smart (and also wasn't on Star Trek TNG, the best iteration of the show by far). For full disclosure I have not followed her career very closely and my opinion is solely based on her performance on Colbert not too long ago, but still she definitely seems to paint a picture of her views and her mission. It seems to me that she see's videogames as some sort of super-media capable of solving world hunger and curing cancer at which I have to laugh. Her goal is to get more people playing videogames because it would better society. I definitely think she is denser then a steel cheesecake encased in Paris Hilton for one reason; games are art.

Art, in any form, is at it's core entertainment; but art is also much more than that. Art is designed to evoke an emotion, any emotion in us for better or for worse. For example I would argue that the jackass movies are art. At their core they are just a bunch of very stupid dudes hurting themselves and each other, but ultimately I believe it is more than the sum of it's parts. Watching a dude get his junk bitten by a snake conjures up feelings of whimsy and escapism; surely I don't envy the poor sod but it makes me feel something I wouldn't normally feel. It pushes my comfort zone and personal boundaries. That is, by my own personal definition, art.

As I have mentioned in almost every post since I started this blog a monthish ago I believe that videogames are an interactive form of art. I think of the feeling when I **spoiler alert** first interacted with Sovereign in Mass Effect or when I beat my freind's high score in Tetris; it evokes an emotional response. When I am beating a hooker to death in GTA it also evokes an emotional response, albeit a completely different one. Bottom line is that is what art in general does; whether it be a book, movie, painting, ballet, or just a really hot chick in a slinky dress.

Not everyone is privy to the immersiveness of good videogames as artistic experiences. Not everyone will be able to play through Portal and enjoy what I consider to be the best artistic acheivement an artist can hope to strive for; leaving the consumer of their art in such a state where they don't know whether to laugh or cry. We as gamers know what is possible and, like religious zealots, some like Ms. McGonigal believe that everyone can and should be privy to the same experiences we are.

Another very important thing about art is that art is subjective. I believe that everyone ever born appreciates art in some form, but for everyone it is different. I loved the movie Fight Club. I made my mom watch it and she hated it. Does that make it bad art? No of course not; it makes our tastes different. Just because I love videogames and I firmly believe they have made a profoundly large and positive impact in my life doesn't mean videogames, in any form, will have the same impact for everyone. Not everyone wants to play games and not everyone should.

Back to my original point; spreading videogames as a way to cure society's woes is really akin to spreading religion to cure society's woes and if it were going to work it would have by now. Ultimately playing games isn't going to change any society, a general desire to change will (see Egypt, Lybia, or Tunisia). Now Ms. McGonigal may mean very well with her crusade, but to me she may as well have a Bible or Koran under her arm instead of a controler. I'm surely a believer, but not everyone will be or should be.

Regardless God of War meets Oblivion sounds way more awesome! Here's hoping I'm wrong about Schil and 38 Studios. Now if only Charlie Sheen were giving the keynote this would be a much different post!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Does Pokemon ever need to Evolve?

The new Pokemon black and white games release today, and they are really tempting me to actually purchase a Nintendo console (I loathe the company but more on that later. that's boring) so I can actually play the newest iteration. As a taxpaying, home owning, "mature" (fingerquotes) adult in society I have no reservations saying that I love Pokemon. The franchise is fun. The games are fun and introduce new generations of gamers to surprisingly deep amounts of RPG elements and great strategy. It's a very popular game that's not all about killing Nazi's or space Marines (not that there's anything wrong with that) and a game that takes more thought than twitch.

My only real problem with Pokemon is that since Pokemon Red and Blue all those years ago the game really hasn't changed at all. You wander through tall grass finding Pokemon, going on the internet to figure out which ones are best, and waste tons of time making sure you can get 6 that will PWN the Elite 4. You go through the bug forest pretty early on, then the cave with ZuBats and GeoDudes, etc. They have added a lot of great multiplayer and new Pokemon to capture over the years, but the core gameplay is pretty much intact. Will this ever change?

Well no, not really.

Imagine how amazing a "mature" (fingerquotes) Pokemon game would be. Despite being marketed as a kids game there would certainly be an audience for a more adult game based on the concept. The games have been popular in North America since Red and Blue's release in 1998 and a generation of gamers have grown up playing them. Image a (dare I say it) Wii open world game based on the Pokemon franchise where you have more battle options, more world to explore, online tournaments, dlc, etc. It would not only be widely popular but VERY profitable. Why will we never see it?

Because Gamefreak and Nintendo are making too much money with the same formula. It is the exact same reason that we don't drill for oil in deep water or develop alternative energy sources; there isn't enough demand for change. As long as the same game with different colors keeps selling tens of millions worldwide, there will be no Pokemon MMO (how AWESOME would that be, way more exciting then the WoW clones we keep getting) or a console RPG.

Regardless of all that Garydos FTW!!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A School Shooter Sim, Grotesque Art, and Gaming

Yesterday I read a very disturbing interview on The Escapist about a small independant team making a mod of Half Life 2. The game will simulate a school shooting ala the horrible Colombine massacre and the VT massacre as well. It really got me thinking about Grotesque works; most specifically what constitutes Grotesque art and what is just plain disgusting. Take a journey with me if you will.

Dictionary.com offers some definitions for the word Grotesque:

1. Odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; Bizare
2. Fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms, as in decorative work combining incongruous human and animal figures with scrolls, foliage, etc.

In any sort of media there exists Grotesque art that moves to make us uncomfortable and attempts to push us to think about the societal norms and taboos we have adopted as our nature. Some of my favorite movies, tv shows, and especially musical theater (yeah I love it, whatever) I would definitely classify as Grotesque. Sin City and Pulp Fiction, Dexter, Sweeny Todd, all some of my favorite artistic works on a screen or a stage that are bizarre distortions of every day existence.

Can a potential school shooting game be considered as Grotesque art?

It's a really tough position to consider.
As much as I would never ever download a mod like this it does beg the question about it's merits. As much as I abhor the attitude of the studio and the direction of the game, did I not just post last week about wanting video games to take on tougher and more mature subject matter above the war shooter? This is certainly a mature and difficult subject.

When I first read the interview last night I was pretty horrified that anyone could take the attitude that the developer has adopted. That any interactive media we consume should not provoke, but rather allow our reflexes to take over our minds. I think that attitude with anything is pretty sick. The creator of this mod's objective clearly isn't to create art in the noblest sense. He isn't out to make a point out of any irony, or send a clear message. He is out for laughs and specifically mindless fun. Does this disqualify him as an artist or his work as art?

I think it is his attitude that I find most offensive. To be honest I would really enjoy a thoughtful, mature artist to tackle the idea of a school shooter game. If someone wanted to communicate a message of desperation and isolation so severe that it would cause the protagonist (antagonist) to lash out violently, or to create a social commentary of some sort I would probably support that. I really am a fan of truly Grotesque that serves to push us out of our comfort zones and challenge us. I really wish this was along those lines, but I definitely believe any art is a reflection of the artist's soul and artistic vision (not to be too cheesy, crunchy) and there is clearly no vision behind this work aside from for shits and giggles by the developers own admission. That, I would argue, is the difference between Grotesque and just plain gross.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Crysis 2 Demo Kicked my Ass (but not my Compy's)

I noticed on Steam last night that the Crysis 2 demo was available so I made the rookie mistake of taking that out for a spin. Before I get in to had badly I got pwned I have to say the game ran really well. Despite my compy being middle of the road at best the game had no graphical hiccups running at full 1920 by 1080 with medium settings. The graphics did look spectacular.

The mp itself plays very much like COD to me. You run around shooting people, raising your sights with the right mouse, getting knifed every 2 seconds. I suppose I can't blame my lack of skill on the developers, but I can say the game (and mp FPS's in general) are very forgiving to new players. I don't think I have, or will have the mental and testicular fortitude to really become average at the genre in general. It really makes me pine for the good ol' days of 1995 playing Quake on the WPI computer labs in my hometown of Worcester. I was actually competitive back then!

Also I am a reasonably strong L4D and TF2 player. I always tend to hold my own and be at least average (spy FTW), but those skills just seem lost in Crysis or COD.

Anyways the game did add the spin of both stealth and armor mode (pretty self explanatory). I can envision a leveled up player jumping around, raining death Crackdown style which would pretty pretty awesome actually. I just don't think I can develop the skills to get there. I'm sick enough as it is consistantly getting rocked in Starcraft 2 these days as it is.

On another note I was staring at my crappy, old XBOX 360, wondering why I could not get any adapter for HDMI for it when a thought came to me; why doesn't Microsoft and Sony sell XBOX and PS emulators? It seems like it would be easy money and a much higher profit margin for us PC master race. You can already use a 360 controller with a PC, why not take control of the market and let people play XBOX or PS discs too? I would definitely prefer that and it seems like it would be easy money.