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Interview: Armor Games founder Daniel McNeely

Apr 06 // Anthony Burch
Destructoid: Could you introduce yourself, and what you do?Daniel McNeely: My name is Daniel McNeely, and I help run ArmorGames.com along with a host of talented game developers and web programmers. I'm responsible for the site’s day-to-day operations, as well as making sure it’s constantly updated with the best flash content out there.  With so many flash games being released every day and so many different portals for them, how difficult is it to excite people about individual flash games? It actually isn't as tough as it sounds. There are people all over the world looking to play free games online, and so no matter what genre of game we release, it seems to hit a certain demographic. The real excitement often comes in releasing sequels, especially after you already have a huge following for the original title, such as we had with This Is The Only Level and This Is The Only Level Too. We’ve already seeing this in effect for our latest game, 'Crush the Castle 2,' which is currently under production from Joey Betz and ConArtist. There’s already a significant buzz for the game, and people are really excited over it, kind of like you’d see in a full retail release. What sort of creative control, if any, does Armor have over the games it sponsors? We don't get much creative control over games we simply sponsor. In those cases, a developer approaches us with a game that’s already been completed, tested and is ready for launch. At times we'll ask for some UI changes, but we've never done a full overhaul. We like to let them retain their individuality and identity while still being part of Armor Games.  If the event we partner with a developer to make a game together, we get more involved in the creative process and try to offer specific feedback and testing at various stages of the development process. That way it’s very much a joint project that both sides feel happy with.How has flash game distribution changed, if at all, from the growing downloadable content market? If you've gotta choose between surfing Newgrounds for free and leaving the house to buy a $50 game, that's often an easy decision to make. With online-only alternatives like Steam and the App store offering relatively cheap games, has the market for free flash games changed at all?I don't think the market for free flash games has changed much. If I had the choice to spend $50 or surf Armor Games for free, I'd choose Armor Games more often than not. I do think flash game developers are looking for more ways to make money, which is evident by the numerous companies offering microtransactions in their titles. As a company that's probably seen and played every flash game out there, what are some common mistakes flash devs tend to make? What makes for a great browser game? One common mistake I see is in the UI design. Developers often forget to add the small things that make a game feel professional and polished and focus more on the game themselves. These things are relatively easy to add in, but forgotten easily. They be as simple as including a Mute or Pause Button, or as important as a skip button during dialog, or even a 'Retry' button for games that are level-based. Without them, the experience can become really un-fun, and players don’t have as much emotional investment in a game they’re playing for free, in a browser, versus one that they’ve paid $50 or $60 for.For me, a great browser game has the following.     1.) Great music.    2.) Intuitive and easy controls.    3.) Rewards (visual or auditory). The best example I've seen of this is in Peggle - every time you beat a level. Thanks for your time.
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I don't want to even think about the sheer number of hours I've spent playing flash games. Still, at least twenty percent of that time has been spent at Armor Games. From This is the Only Level to Infectonator World Dominator...

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Buy the Super Meat Boy Tiger Handheld Game, support irony


Apr 04
// Anthony Burch
Man rants about the App Store, complaining that iPhone versions of games like Street Fighter IV are just soulless brand-whoring like the old Tiger LCD games we played as kids. Company takes offense at Man's rant, removes his ...

Preview: Sleep is Death (Controller mode)

Apr 02 // Anthony Burch
Sleep is Death (PC previewed; also available for Mac and Linux)Developer: Jason RohrerPublisher: Jason RohrerTo be released: April 9th, 2010 (preorders only) April 16, 2010 (everyone else) I'll get into specifics in a minute. For now, let me just say: as much as I enjoyed playing Sleep is Death as a player in Jason Rohrer's story, I enjoyed it even more as a Controller. Part of that may be the weird sense of power I felt -- look, ye mortals, and despair at my ability to conjure a snack cart out of thin air -- or the fact that I was playing with people I loved. Whatever the reason, I didn't need Jason Rohrer hovering over my virtual shoulder in order for me to enjoy the stories I controlled. Well, maybe "controlled" isn't the right word. Though the Controller is in charge of all the scenery changes, object movements, and art modifications, it's not as if the Controller can (or should, at least) completely dictate a linear story that the Player dumbly suffers through. I tested the same basic starting story with both Ashly Burch and Ashley Davis (hereafter referred to as "Ash" and "Davis," for simplicity's sake), but I ended up with two completely different tales. I wanted to create a story frame that accomplished two things. Firstly, it had to be personally meaningful to myself, Ash, and Davis. Secondly, the frame had to give me an opportunity to create my own art, in order to test out SiD's sprite editor. It was for these reasons that I created a scene based entirely around Doctor Who -- specifically, the Tenth Doctor's regeneration.* I planned to trick the player into thinking I'd created a pathetic Doctor Who fanfic where they'd hang out with the Doctor and watch him regenerate, only to suddenly switch things up and reveal that they'd simply been a fangirl who had won a contest and been given the opportunity to shoot a scene with the Doctor Who production crew. As I'd imagined it, this story would have combined fantastical, nerdy silliness with a depressing, down-to-earth twist. I was totally, mindblowingly wrong about where my stories would end up. You can download both stories from here. Davis' story is entitled, "Davis vs Doctor," and Ash's is, "Guest Starring Ashly Burch." I'm not going to bother summarizing what happened in either story, so I'd highly recommend downloading and reading them for yourself before going any further. I'm not sure why the game is called Sleep is Death, but it could just as easily be called "Best Laid Plans." I tried to imagine every direction the story could possibly go, but surprisingly, wonderfully, I could have never predicted where Ash and Davis would take my relatively bare-bones plot. Before I get into the nuts-and-bolts of the Controller interface, it's just worth mentioning that all the great stuff about the Player interface -- the sense of improvisation, of give-and-take, of safety and freedom -- is all present in the Controller experience. Unless you're a dick who refuses to allow the player to do anything they want, the Controller mode still results in wonderfully unexpected little moments of intimate brilliance. I could have never expected Davis would want to jump her car over the dying Doctor, but I knew that, once she had, she absolutely needed to make that same jump over an exploding TARDIS. It simply had to happen, and we both laughed our asses off when it did. Similarly, I couldn't have planned that Ash's final words of her story would be an incomplete attempt to type "regenerate." There was something oddly poignant about the character she'd created; a girl with such an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality that in her final, dying moments, she was unable to do the very thing that her hero was known for. Of course, Ash then fucked around some more by writing her little Porky Pig-esque coda, but even that felt hilariously appropriate. So, yes: in terms of personal interaction and story creation, Sleep is Death is just as fun from the Controller interface, without Rohrer's presence. The Controller interface itself is surprisingly intuitive. Pretty much everything is mouse-based, and, after viewing a short tutorial video by Rohrer, I was ready to start making stories by adding or removing objects, switching between scenes, and quickly editing sprites. I had to spend about an hour or two preparing my story before my Player even connected. Since I knew I only had thirty seconds to react to the player's actions, I wanted to have as much stuff completed beforehand as possible. Even though I couldn't have predicted where the stories would ultimately end up, the preparation paid off: if I needed to add a regenerating Doctor or a snack cart in the middle of a story, I only needed to drag and drop them from the archive of premade objects. Simple. Every time you play Sleep is Death with anyone, all the sprites they used will go into your personal, searchable sprite database. Thanks to this automatic archiving, most of the sprites I used were actually modified versions of sprites Jason Rohrer had already created: the "Ash" sprite you see in both stories, for instance, is just a female sprite Rohrer made with the hair dyed black instead of brown. At the end of Ash's story, the cops from my and Jason's tale showed up and menaced her with guns. Even if I needed to create something I hadn't made beforehand, like the exploding TARDIS in Davis' story, I could easily form new objects thanks to the game's paper doll-esque sprite system. Basically, every object is made up of many smaller sprites. Even though the Tenth Doctor looks like a cohesive image everytime you see him, he's actually made of several smaller parts: a head, a torso, and legs. There's no way to simply create one, large sprite of his entire body. At first, this irritated me: I couldn't find an easy way to compare the different body part sizes, so I had to keep tweaking the legs and rechecking how they looked in relation to his torso, then tweaking again, and so on. Once I started to modify the object, however, I understood the need for the sprite separation. If I wanted to change something small about the Tenth Doctor's sprite -- like, say, making him stretch out his arms -- I didn't need to create an entirely new Doctor sprite from scratch. I simply grabbed a single arm object, rotated it, and copied it twice before attaching the new arms to his torso. Though it took me a good half-hour to get the first Doctor sprite just right, all further modifications took less than a minute each. This meant that when it came time to animate Ash killing herself in her story, all I had to do was flip the gun sprite 180 degrees, then copy and paste some blood splotches onto her head. Simple, quick, and satisfying. Of course, that doesn't mean I never got overwhelmed, or that I never made any mistakes. I screwed up more than a few times in the course of telling both stories, but hey -- no big deal. The stories weren't ruined. We moved on. If I end up cloning a car or two in exchange for experiencing that wonderful sense of panic that Sleep is Death induces so effectively, that's fine. I'm more than willing to make that sacrifice. In the end, the Controller interface is pretty much everything I wanted it to be, and I don't just mean from a technical standpoint. Yeah, it's intuitive, and allows for lots of creativity, and that's great, but that's not what is truly surprising about the Controller interface. The Controller interface, even more so than the player interface, highlights the collaborative and improvisational aspects of a Sleep is Death play session. While I Controlled those two stories, I was constantly making quick, profound choices about my relationship to the Player, and to my own abilities as a Controller. Davis wanted to make her car flip over -- could I do that? Should I do that? Sure, I thought. It'd be hard, but it'd be worth it. Later on, though, Davis also wanted to ram the TARDIS with her car. I decided not to let her do that, because I thought it'd be more fun to flip her car over an explosion. The Controller engages in a constant, intense back-and-forth with the player where nothing is certain and, if the Controller is willing, damn near anything can happen. In fact, I was really worried that I simply wouldn't know what to create in Sleep is Death. When it comes to user-generated content, I'm not a particularly creative guy: my Spore creatures were all boring, and I never made a full LittleBigPlanet level in the entire time I had it. Sleep is Death, however, elicits a totally different type of creativity; you don't have to be a level design genius or a creative mastermind to get something useful out of a story, because you'll always have someone else to react off. I didn't have to worry about creating an objectively awesome series of levels or situations when I had people like Ashley Davis deciding to turn my story into a stunt spectacular. Even though my "you're a guest star on a TV show" plot was kind of dull, Ashly Burch's involvement turned it into something spectacularly funny, and cool, and personal. I would have never, ever expected that Ash's playthrough of my story would end with her dying and the Tenth Doctor regenerating at the exact same time, but that's exactly what did happen. And that's fucking incredible.   *If you don't watch Doctor Who, just know that the Doctor is a character who, when dying, will completely change his appearance and personality in order to save himself. Ash and I both cried like little bitches when the most recent Doctor regenerated.
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Summary time! Jason Rohrer's Sleep is Death is a multiplayer storytelling game. A Controller creates and modifies a world that the Player interacts with. I documented the Player experience in an earlier preview. It was a grea...

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Ogmo from 'Jumper' confirmed playable in Super Meat Boy


Apr 02
// Anthony Burch
If you haven't played Jumper by Matt Thorson, I'd highly recommend it -- partially because it'll make you more excited about today's Super Meat Boy news, and partially because it's a spectacularly well-designed platformer. Og...
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Rev Rant: f*ck your story


Mar 31
// Anthony Burch
Every once in a while, Destructoid features editor Anthony Burch discusses game design and gamer culture in his "Rev Rant" video series. Firstly, this week's rant is about the arrogance of games who think their own linear, o...

Preview: Sleep is Death (Player mode)

Mar 30 // Anthony Burch
After a few technical hiccups (Rohrer deleted a resource but the game kept looking for it, which caused both of our programs to crash, or something), I connected to Rohrer through the simple process of typing in his IP address. I was greeted with the image of two policemen, standing by a squad car. "After 10 years of this," one of them said, "I still get nnnervous every tttime." I controlled the other cop, a gruff-looking sort with a handlebar mustache. In the upper left-hand corner, a bright red timer ticked down. Rohrer had set the scene. I had thirty seconds to respond. I really can't understate the suspense that characterized these opening turns. What did the Controller have planned for me, if anything? What was I about to see? With literally limitless options available to me, how should I proceed? If I wanted to, I could draw my gun and shoot my partner dead right here, right now. Should I act as I assume Rohrer wants me to act, or should I just dick around and try to break the game? Jesus, I've only got thirty seconds to act -- do something! Do anything! I grabbed a never-before-mentioned stun gun from the squad car before moving on. I wanted to experience whatever Rohrer had planned, but I didn't want to be a mindless pawn in his story. Grabbing the taser, I hoped, would introduce an element of chaos into the experience. If Rohrer tried to push me into a situation where I had to shoot someone or run away, maybe I'd just tase them. I wasn't gonna let Rohrer dictate my actions. Turns out, I needn't have worried. A lack of chaos was the absolute last thing our story would suffer from. The thirty-second timer means that you've gotta think fast, but it also, invariably, leads to both the Player and the Controller making pretty significant mistakes. But more on that in a bit. In my earlier news post about Sleep is Death, a few commenters asked how Rohrer's game was any different from pen-and-paper D&D sessions. The first and most obvious difference, the time constraint, essentially turns Sleep is Death into performance art. It's not about planning ahead, or achieving a set goal; it's about being quick, both mentally and physically. I often found myself rushing to move my character and type something clever and use an object with less than ten seconds left on the timer. It's a game of improvisation: how interesting can you be in thirty seconds? Where can you take the story? The second difference between Sleep is Death and Dungeons and Dragons is that I didn't have to look Jason Rohrer in the face as we played. The computer screens that separated us gave the experience both a sense of tangible believability -- I didn't have to feel like a dork pretending that my character is holding a gun, because I can see that he is -- and of blessed emotional distance, to some extent. A couple of years ago, I tried to play One Can Have Her with a group of friends and family. The experience was an awkward one. I had to make up stories about particular things happening to our characters while the people I cared about stared at me, trying (and failing) to take it seriously. Our proximity to one another, the immediacy of the situation, made the game embarrassing. We felt like a bunch of schmucks playing make-believe, and not in a fun way. With Sleep is Death, I felt none of that embarrassment or anxiety. I'm not even remotely comfortable around Jason Rohrer in real life, but I had no problem whatsoever role-playing a tough-talking, wise-cracking police officer so long as we had the game interface separating us. The anonymity of the screen gave me the freedom to let loose. To act without self-restraint. To use a taser on a Catholic priest. Rohrer suggests that the game is actually best when played in-person with someone close to you, but I think it works pretty damn well over the Internet, as well. The experience felt personal, without being awkward. That said, I began to fall out of love with Sleep is Death after about thirty minutes. The more I played, the less enamored I became with the story Jason and I were creating. After reading about the experiences that Brandon Boyer and Michael Thomsen had with Sleep is Death, I thought I was going to experience a story alternately touching and unusual. Something dark, and sad, and cool, and unclassifiable. The more I played, the more my story felt like a bad episode of NYPD Blue. I got to use my taser late in the game, but even this sadistic aside couldn't quell my ambivalence. I was in the moment, trying to keep the altar boy from dying and my partner from going insane, but I kept making dramatic mistakes. I forgot to lock the door to the police cruiser after shoving the priest into it, so he momentarily escaped and engaged in some awkward dialogue with me and my partner (whom I'd spontaneously named Frank). I accidentally hit the "end turn" button a few times when I wanted to drive off, leading to about ninety seconds where literally nothing happened onscreen. I felt dumb. Like either I'd ruined the story by not being interesting enough, or Jason had ruined it by not giving me enough opportunities to be interesting. Or, maybe, the thirty-second time limit just didn't lead to interesting drama, after all. My sense of wonder and curiosity slowly diminished, turn-by-turn, as I realized I was never going to get a Thomsen-quality story out of this playthrough. But. After we finished playing and had a short chat on the phone, I looked over the story we'd created. After every play-through, Sleep is Death automatically creates a flip book chronicling every single turn of the story from the Player's point of view. Still trying to assemble my thoughts and calm my nerves after a solid hour of time-constrained improvisation, I read through the story Jason and I had just made. And it was fucking great. I hadn't known it at the time, but we were making a comedy. A comedy where an altar boy gets shot and a priest admits to strangling a dozen people. My little rebellions against Jason's control, like when I made my character walk away from a Mexican standoff, became surprisingly funny and poignant once I examined them in hindsight. Even the mistakes I'd made no longer felt like mistakes. Not really. At the time, I regretted not locking the priest in the cop car. If hadn't made that mistake, however, then I wouldn't have had the opportunity to use my taser on the priest, which wouldn't have given Jason the opportunity to make Frank crack wise less than a dozen turns after shooting an altar boy in the face. All the little unexpected complications and fuckups that so tormented me during the act of play became downright profound, in hindsight. Hell, that moment where I totally, completely fucked up the pacing by hitting "end turn" too early, leaving everyone immobile for about three screens? In hindsight, that became my favorite part of the entire story. What felt awkward and stress-inducing during the actual play session transformed into this weird, Ricky Gervais-esque comic pause in the story. I actually laughed out loud when I re-read the scene. I don't necessarily think it's a flaw that I didn't enjoy the game while I was playing it quite as much as I did afterward. Had I known we were making a dark comedy while we were creating it, I may very well have behaved differently, and removed some of the magic from the experience. My mistakes weren't unfortunate digressions from some ideal version of the story; the mistakes, and complications, and weird little quirks and rebellions were the story. Maybe it's harder to appreciate the relevance of those moments while you're trying to suss things out from within the story itself, but that doesn't make those moments any less meaningful. It doesn't diminish the odd sense of pride and contentment that I feel when I look at the things Rohrer and I did. It's not that Sleep is Death is only entertaining in an unintentional, so-bad-it's-good sort of way. Not at all. Whether knowingly or not, Rohrer played off my own dark sense of humor, and I -- even if only subconsciously -- off his. Maybe you'll flip through the gallery below and find the story boring, or unfunny, and that's okay. I'm not sure that matters. It is, after all, my story. I helped create it. I helped perform it. It's tangible, and unique, and mine. No other videogame has offered me so much. Also, I got to zap a Catholic priest with a stun gun. That said, I've only experienced half of the game. Anyone can have a good time playing a game if they're playing it with its creator: the true test for Sleep is Death will be whether or not it can effect that same weird, improvisational, surprisingly personal magic without Rohrer's direct involvement. Consider this the first half of a preview, then: tomorrow, I will try to learn the Sleep is Death Controller interface. I will try to tell a story to one or two of my friends and family members sometime before SiD's slated April 9th release date, and I'll report my findings here.
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Jason Rohrer and I created a story together. Sleep is Death is a game in certain senses, and a tool in others. One one hand, the act of playing is fraught with suspense and discovery, forcing a level of quick thinking and qui...

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Podtoid 144: Lil' Scarface


Mar 30
// Anthony Burch
This is the Scarface video we're talking about: It's pretty awesome. This week, the regular cast minus Brad discussed PAX East, the 3DS, and a bunch of listener questions. Hope you dig it.
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Postpartum Impressions: BioShock 2


Mar 29
// Anthony Burch
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or ho...
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This dude wants funding for an indie game documentary


Mar 29
// Anthony Burch
Well, not this dude, in the picture. That's Gregory Weir, creator of Babies Dream of Dead Worlds and I Fell In Love With the Majesty of Colors. He'll be in the documentary, as will Amon26 and Auntie Pixelante. Basically: this...
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Podtoid 144 has no method to its madness


Mar 29
// Anthony Burch
Podtoid records tonight, and the PAX East-attending members of the cast (Topher, Samit) will hopefully be joining us. I don't really know what we'll talk about. Maybe Cave Story, and how people who have finished the Hell level are cooler than people who haven't? Maybe we'll talk about our favorite Shakespeare plays. No we won't.
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Watch some GDC sessions online, for free


Mar 27
// Anthony Burch
At this year's GDC, I had the opportunity to give a brief talk at the Artgame Sessions, organized by John Sharp and Daniel Benmergui. That session, along with many others, can now be streamed for free at the GDC Vault. I have...
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Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin: 1 vs 100


Mar 26
// Anthony Burch
This week's Hey Ash Whatcha Playin' is more of a "hmm" episode than a "haha" episode. So long as you go into it knowing that (and also that our Dad isn't in it, because I was afraid of overexposing him) you may enjoy it. Than...
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Rev Rant: the freedom to be boring


Mar 24
// Anthony Burch
Every once in a while, Destructoid features editor Anthony Burch discusses game design and gamer culture in his "Rev Rant" video series. Are players inherently boring? I'm really not sure. On the one hand, you've got people ...
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Podtoid 143: anal tax bracket


Mar 23
// Anthony Burch
I (Anthony) don't show up until after the break, but I'm pretty sure that this week's episode is primarily about random news nonsense and an extended Games of the Week segment dealing with Metro 2033 and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Linde and Brad aren't around for this one, but Leray showed up. Enjoy.
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Podtoid 143 records tonight, likely about God of War III


Mar 22
// Anthony Burch
We're gonna try to talk about God of War III tonight without going heavily into spoiler territory. Shouldn't be hard given the fact that so very little of the game can actually be spoiled, but hey -- if things get rough, we'll do a special spoilertoid episode later this week. No matter what happens, though, we'll still need listener questions. Hit the jump and supply them, if you would.

Not-Review: Metro 2033

Mar 21 // Anthony Burch
Metro 2033 (PC, Xbox 360 reviewed)Developer: 4A GamesPublisher: THQReleased: March 16, 2010MSRP: $59.99 First of all, Metro 2033 is damned immersive. Every section of the game that doesn't involve blasting mutants or bandits is filled with life and detail. Each of the non-combat segments that occasionally break up the action take place in believable, meticulously designed shantytowns full of surprisingly talkative survivors. You could easily spend an hour just sitting around, listening to the survivors talking about their lives (or what's left of them), without even worrying about the main plot or the missions. STALKER tried to draw players into its world with its nonlinear gameplay and huge world map. Metro 2033, conversely, tries to pack as many varied and scripted bits of story and dialogue into its linear campaign as humanly possible. Then again, I have to apologize for comparing STALKER and Metro 2033. Yeah, both games are about Russian dudes surviving after a nuclear meltdown, but mechanically they couldn't be more dissimilar. Where STALKER was a nonlinear sandbox shooter, Metro 2033 is a linear FPS with some very, very light RPG elements.  Still, both games touch on a much beloved theme of postapocalyptic fiction: the hero's need to survive on disturbingly limited resources. In Metro 2033, you've only got one form of currency: bullets. You can trade high-quality ammo for items and upgraded weapons, which, in theory, could lead to some really interesting dilemmas. Given how rare these bullets are, should I hang onto them and keep my shitty starting weapons, or just splurge now and pray that I'll find more later on? Since these high-quality bullets do way more damage than normal ones, should I consider actually firing them at some of the tougher enemies, even if it means I'll basically be firing away all of my cash reserves? Maybe the currency system results in some really difficult, tense, game-changing decisions later on. I don't know, and I never will. I loved the atmopshere and the currency system but, as I mentioned before the jump, there was one moment in the game when I realized that I would never, ever be able to bring myself to play it for another second. Let me set the scene. It's dark, and my flashlight is off. The game has told me that enemies can't see me in the dark so long as they're not looking at me, so I decide to sneak up on a bandit. He's a scout, and I can see his bandit friends behind him. I'm gonna shoot him in the back of the head with a shotgun, which will alert his friends, but hey -- at least he'll be dead, and then I can think about flanking them and opening up with my inaccurate SMG from close-range. I sneaked up. Pointed my gun at his head. Fired four times, from point-blank range. He turned around and killed me in three shots. I have no essential problem with really difficult games. Really, I don't. So long as the game is giving me something compelling in exchange for my trouble, so long as I'm gaining a greater understanding of a game's mechanics through my constant failure and loss, then I'll do whatever it takes to rise to the challenge. I can't, however, abide a combat system that not only gives you really inaccurate, guns with very little ammo (seemingly encouraging you to focus on flanking maneuvers and close-range combat), then makes those guns so weak that four point-blank shotgun shells to the face won't bring down a random grunt. Really, what does Metro 2033 want me to do? I honestly don't know. Was I meant to use my knife on a bad guy and treat the entire rest of the game as if it were Splinter Cell? Was I supposed to get into cover, and then shoot him in the head five times, and then try to whittle away his opponents? How would I even do that, with such limited ammo and such inaccurate guns? Was I supposed to blast away at my enemies from a distance, simply praying that I might score a headshot or two? Was I supposed to try and sneak up and take the bad guys out from close range, even though every individual enemy takes and deals more damage than I do? Seriously, what the fuck was I supposed to do? There's a right way to play Metro 2033, presumably, but I honestly have no idea what it is. Other reviewers seem to have found a way to enjoy the game, but I'm at a loss. I want to like Metro 2033, and I want to understand how I'm supposed to play it, but I can't. I just can't.  
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I'm not going to review Metro 2033. I haven't made it past the third chapter of the game, and I doubt I'll ever make it any further. It's not that Metro 2033 is irredeemably awful, or anything. It's got some good points, whic...

Why you need to be excited about SpyParty

Mar 19 // Anthony Burch
SpyParty isn't just a game about shooting people and completing objectives. If you want to look at it in the kookiest way possible, it's actually a game based around the Turing test. The game takes place in a party, full of about a dozen AI guests. As the spy, your job is to not only complete a bunch of arbitrary objectives (bug the ambassador, meet with a double agent, move a book from one bookcase to another), but to do so while appearing to be an AI guest yourself. If you do anything a bit too human -- if you start walking around in circles or choose a weird path to one of your objectives -- you run the risk of getting identified by the sniper. Thus, the experience of controlling a spy is very much like that of being an actor: you try to suss out exactly how an AI character would behave, while also trying to find the right moment to complete your objectives. You'll find yourself doing totally mission-unrelated things like staring out of windows or talking to other guests solely to keep your cover intact. Every moment of the spy experience drips with tension: did he notice that little stutter in my walk animation as I turned around? Am I standing too close to this bookcase? Oh god, his laser sight is pointed right at my head -- does that mean I'm about to die, or is he just testing to see if I flake out and walk away? Conversely, the sniper experience is much more about perception and deduction; if playing the spy is like being an actor, then playing the sniper is like being a detective. As the spy can choose as many or as few missions as he wants, the sniper has to be careful with where he focuses his attention. You can spend the entire round focusing on the ambassador so you can watch for someone to bug him, but what if the spy didn't choose the ambassador mission? What if you try to focus on the entire crowd at once, at the risk of missing the incredibly subtle physical tells that every spy makes when completing a mission? Do you focus on only one or two people, possibly letting the actual spy get away with whatever he wants just outside your field of view? As the sniper, you have to read the movements and actions of the entire party, narrowing down the number of possible spies until finally firing your sole bullet. If you hit the spy, you win the round. If you waste your bullet, the spy gets away. The sniper experience is one of constant uncertainty, making it that much more satisfying when you win. SpyParty is as cerebral and personal experience as I've ever had with a multiplayer game. The mechanics are so straightforward that, after only a few rounds of play, I was already beginning to metagame. As the sniper, I'd aim my gun at the outside wall of the party, so the spy wouldn't be able to tell where I was looking and adjust their behavior accordingly. As the spy, I'd constantly try to use other members of the party as cover so that even if I blew my cover, the sniper would still run the risk of shooting the wrong person and losing the round. Between rounds, Hecker told me that one sniper he'd playtested with actually started listening for the clicking of his opponent's joystick, at which point he'd focus on any of the partygoers who started moving. Noticing this, the spy waited for an AI partygoer to start walking, then flicked the right joystick -- the one controlling the camera. Hearing the flick of a joystick and seeing a partygoer suddenly start moving, the sniper aimed, shot, and lost. Even in the early build I played with just one map and only four possible spy objectives, no two rounds ever played out the same way. Far as I can tell, SpyParty isn't a game about memorizing map layouts or nailing an optimum strategy. It's about improvisation, and reaction, and reading your opponent, and behaving unpredictably. Despite being two years away from completion, the early version I saw still remains one of the most subtle, enjoyable, and surprisingly playful multiplayer games I've yet played. You can follow its development here.
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There has never been a videogame like SpyParty. Most videogames deal in the epic, the explosive, and the impersonal. SpyParty deals in subtlety, misdirection, and observation. Many multiplayer games ask the player to expend t...

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Counterpoint: God of War III is too long, boring


Mar 18
// Anthony Burch
Thought our discussion of God of War III ended with our official review? Think again: our "Counterpoint" series allows editors to share drastically different opinions on games we've already reviewed. It's rare that anyone com...
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Demo impressions: Splinter Cell: Conviction


Mar 18
// Anthony Burch
Splinter Cell: Conviction is my most anticipated game of 2010. I've always loved ste alth games in theory, but even the genre's best entries like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory fall too heavily on one side o...
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Saira is on sale for $8.99, Metroidvania fans rejoice


Mar 17
// Anthony Burch
If you like Metroidvanias, you'll love Saira. If you hate Metroidvanias, you'll love that Saira doesn't actually feel like a Metroidvania. You'll love Saira if you have a pulse, basically. And $8.99 to spare. And Steam. I bri...
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Hands-on with Silent Skies, by Spyeart


Mar 17
// Anthony Burch
Each year, Gamma entrants are asked to make games under certain constraints. This year, all Gamma4 entries must be controlled with a single button. I plan to write up my impressions of all six Gamma4 games. Michael Todd's Sil...

A mindbending hands-on with Poto & Cabenga

Mar 17 // Anthony Burch
I'm gonna take this step-by-step. 1. There are two characters: Poto, a rider who is swallowed by a dragon and must navigate his way through the dragon's intestinal tract, and Cabenga, his faithful horse who is pursuing the dragon. Poto takes up the top half of the screen, Cabenga the bottom half. A single player simultaneously controls both characters. 2. By holding the button, Cabenga will dash forward and Poto will fall back. By not holding the button, Poto will dash forward and Cabenga will fall back.  3. Pressing the button also makes Cabenga jump. Letting go of the button makes Poto jump. I may have screwed up exactly who jumps and who dashes when the button is pressed or released, but if you're totally confused -- good. I've done my job. Poto and Cabenga was, at least initially, a really goddamn difficult game to wrap my head around. Honeyslug managed to map four different actions to the same button, often requiring the player to do two drastically different things at the same time. Imagine having to get one guy to jump while the other dashes, then immediately switch it around so that they both jump, then slow one down and speed the other up so they can both dodge enemies coming at them from different sections of the screen. If that hurts your head, or sounds impossible, then you might be surprised to find that after a few minutes of play, Poto and Cabenga becomes surprisingly clear. It is, to rip off Michael Todd again, almost exactly like rubbing your stomach and patting your head: when you initially attempt it it seems downright impossible, but after a bit of concentration and some mental reconfiguring, it becomes second nature. Granted, Poto and Cabenga never actually gets easy -- I finished the game with only one hit point left -- but it always plays fair. Enemies move very slowly and always appear far in advance of when you actually need to react to them, giving the player the necessary amount of time to get past the initial "oh fuck oh fuck wait how do I get that one to go back okay so now he's back wait no the other one is rushing forward oh fuck how do I make them both jump just tap it really quick I guess okay wait go back" reaction that will characterize literally every enemy encounter over the first half of the game. You'll get hurt a lot, but thankfully both Poto and Cabenga have to take something like fifteen hits each before the game ends. Once you get a hold on the basic controls, you'll feel like a genius. What was once totally incomprehensible suddenly becomes possible, and it feels great. Speaking of great: the final victory cut scene. Poto and Cabenga isn't out yet, but Honeyslug recommends you keep an eye out on their official blog.
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Each year, Gamma entrants are asked to make games under certain constraints. This year, all Gamma4 entries must be controlled with a single button. I plan to write up my impressions of all six Gamma4 games. Not to be confuse...

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GDC 10: 4Fourths, by Mikengreg


Mar 16
// Anthony Burch
Each year, Gamma entrants are asked to make games under certain constraints. This year, all Gamma4 entries must be controlled with a single button. I plan to write up my impressions of all six Gamma4 games. I'm going to try t...
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GDC 10: Faraway, by Steph Thirion


Mar 16
// Anthony Burch
Each year, Gamma entrants are asked to make games under certain constraints. This year, all Gamma4 entries must be controlled with a single button. I plan to write up my impressions of all six Gamma4 games. If you own an iPho...
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Podtoid 142: 15 Minutes to Midnight


Mar 16
// Anthony Burch
I'd be lying if I said this week's Podtoid wasn't a little on the calm side, but our two loudest cast members are missing, and Leray and I were tired from our respective trips back from GDC. Such is life. Either way, the Podtoid crew discussed Brenda Brathwaite's Train, Portal 2, and our least favorite videogame bosses. And other stuff. Listen to the podcast here.
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GDC 10: Civilization V's revamped combat hands-off


Mar 16
// Anthony Burch
I'm a big "fan" of the Civilization series. I can't use the word "fan" without massive quotation marks because while I absolutely love playing it and can fall prey to that wonderful "just one more turn" addiction that plagues...
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GDC 10: B.U.T.T.O.N., by Copenhagen Game Collective


Mar 13
// Anthony Burch
Each year, Gamma entrants are asked to make games under certain constraints. This year, all Gamma4 entries must be controlled with a single button. I plan to write up my impressions of all six Gamma4 games. "Think of a color,...
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GDC 10: the Holocaust board game


Mar 13
// Anthony Burch
I'd read about Brenda Brathwaite's Train before but, in honesty, I'd never bought any of the hype. A board game about trains with a twist ending that reveals you're actually sending your pieces to Auschwitz? Please. You're te...

GDC 10: a second opinion on Mafia II

Mar 12 // Anthony Burch
The first Mafia emphasized atmosphere, realism and story over arcade-y gameplay or freedom of play, and Mafia II looks to do the same. If you're coming at Mafia II with the same expectations you might harbor for a Red Faction Guerilla or a Just Cause, you'll likely be disappointed: this isn't an open world bristling with crazy sidequests and fun combinations of mechanics. The world of Mafia II is meant to contextualize the story, to give the player a concrete sense of place and environment. If you're cool with that, great -- if you're looking for the freedom to jerk around and do a bunch of different things beyond upgrading cars or buying weapons, you simply may not like what Mafia II has to offer. As an old Mafia fan, however, the focus on atmosphere over playfulness didn't really bother me as much as it did Brad. Yeah, you could fairly argue that modern sandbox games should have cars that control perfectly, but the same driving controls Brad found sluggish struck me as more genuinely immersive: I was driving 1950's cars that felt like 1950's cars, rather than the super-intuitive but fourth-wall-breaking driving controls found in GTAIII.  Same deal with the gunplay. Brad didn't really dig the fact that most of the guns were hellishly inaccurate, I did. And not just because the guns felt like I imagined 1950's tommyguns and colts would feel. The inaccuracy of the guns is balanced out by their intense lethality: unlike the first Mafia, most enemies go down after one or two torso shots. I feel awesome in Uncharted 2 when I pull off three headshots in a row while sitting fifty feet away from my enemies. In Mafia II, I feel awesome when after finally wasting four or five shots on some jerkbag, I slow down, aim, and watch the last bullet in my clip send the baddy tumbling to the ground. The guns are inaccurate, yes, but I wouldn't say that that's necessarily bad. Still, I do agree with Brad that the checkpoint system was needlessly unforgiving. There was a mission earlier in the demo where the main character joined a bunch of his mafia goons in trashing a diner owned by a rival gang. The diner was closed -- nobody to shoot back at us. Me and the rest of the gangsters lined up in front of the diner, tommy guns in hand, before spraying the bullets. Our line of fire shattered the diner's windows. I shot the individual letters off the diner's sign. Even though the scene was scripted and linear (I could choose where to shoot, and not much else), and even without any enemies to fight, I thought: this is what Mafia II is about. A bunch of cool-looking guys wielding period-faithful weaponry, blowing the hell out of some rival gang's turf. It was an immersive, narratively-driven moment that may completely fail to impress anyone looking for a true sandbox experience, but might very well satisfy anyone looking for an immersive, interactive gangster story.
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As a huge fan of the first Mafia game, I was more than a little jealous when Brad Nicholson got a chance to play Mafia II earlier this week. I played through the same demo as Brad Friday afternoon, and I have to say: I came away with a much different impression of Mafia II. Hit the jump for my thoughts.

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GDC 10: GDC Microtalks


Mar 12
// Anthony Burch
Organized by Naughty Dog co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand, "GDC Microtalks 2010: Ten Speakers, 200 Slides, Limitless Ideas) accomplished pretty much what it said on the tin. Ten different game designers from drastically di...

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