hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Review: inFAMOUS 2

Jun 14 // Sean Carey
inFAMOUS 2 (PS3)Developer: Sucker PunchPublisher: SonyReleased: June 7th, 2011MSRP: $59.99 inFAMOUS 2 is the continuation of the story of bike courier and urban exploration enthusiast Cole McGrath. In the original, Cole unwittingly carries a device known as the Ray Sphere into the heart of Empire City, where it promptly explodes and kills thousands. The radiation turns many of the city's denizens into mutants and thugs while leaving Cole with power over electricity. As a result of the blast and its aftermath, the city is quarantined, and Cole is forced to master his new found capacities in order to restore order to the city. It turns out that the entire Empire City event was an orchestrated disaster, designed specifically to give Cole his powers and to prepare him to face an even greater threat to come: a super-powerful Conduit known as The Beast. The overarching plot of inFAMOUS 2 is archetypal comic book fare. Cole faces The Beast, The Beast kicks the crap out of Cole, and Cole flees to find a way to amplify his power and stop The Beast. Cole and his sidekick Zeke take a boat-ride to New Marais, where a scientist holds the key to taking down the big bad. While inFAMOUS 2 does briefly recap the events of its predecessor, the game by and large expects that you are familiar with the first game's plot and characters. The transition to New Marais happens very early, and before long Cole is faced with a whole new cast of villains and allies.  For those familiar with the first game, you'll notice right away that McGrath is voiced by a new actor. Gone is the 2-pack-a-day-smoker gravel, making the voice much more believable and age appropriate for an athletic young bike courier. That being said, the true strength of inFAMOUS 2's story comes not from Cole but from the development of his supporting cast. Rockabilly slacker Zeke makes his return, and while he still fills the main comic relief role, he is much more humanized and well-rounded. Joining the fold are two female leads that act as the devil and angel on Cole's shoulders. Kuo is the agent who finds Cole in Empire City and brings him to New Marais to recover and fight The Beast, and she represents his better nature. Nix is a New Marais local who is also a Conduit and is known by the locals as the "swamp witch". Her tortured past leads her to seek revenge at all costs, and her Chaotic Neutral leanings lead her to push Cole down a darker path. Despite representing the moral polarities the original was known for, both Nix and Kuo have a surprising amount of complexity to them and both make grey choices throughout the game. This gives a welcome context for the oft mocked "adopt the kittens or drown the kittens" mechanics of the karma system, making it much more palatable.  Aligning with one or the other will allow Cole access to a different set of Conduit abilities providing either ice of fire powers that both blend nicely with McGrath's bolts-o-plenty. Which leads us to the central question crucial to the enjoyment of any superhero title -- how are the powers, man? One of the greatest strengths of the first game was the fun of getting around the city, which is no surprise given the tradition of traversal that Sucker Punch brings to the table. Once Cole gained the ability to grind on power lines and fire static thrusters to prolong his jumps, the original inFAMOUS took on a Crackdown level of fun in travelling from rooftop to rooftop. The beauty of the sequel is that it doesn't make you wait to experience the joy of traversal again. Rather than force you to jump through the classic Metroid sequel hoops of losing all your toys and then slowly regaining them, inFAMOUS 2 starts you off with a respectable stable of abilities and periodically adds to them. By the end of the game, all of your standard powers will have multiple variations that each have different and useful applications. Players will likely find configurations that they like better than others, but diversity in enemy types encourages experimentation. Thankfully, Sucker Punch included an intuitive and effective user interface for managing them all. Holding to the left on the D-pad pauses the action and displays a list of buttons and the power types currently assigned to each.  Want to change from a bolt that does massive damage but has a slow rate of fire to a homing bolt that tracks the enemy? Just press the button you've been using for the bolt all along to cycle through your bolt powers, and then release the D-pad to immediately unpause and jump back into the fight. The same applies for rockets, grenades, pulse, and special powers. It's an elegant system that minimizes menu time and is simple to navigate. Those hoping for a total revamp of combat in inFAMOUS 2 will not have their prayers answered. Combat is still a tactical affair, favoring those who know when to retreat from ground level and attack from the relative safety of the rooftops. Just as with the first, players will likely either love or hate the cunning that some fights will require. I find it a refreshing change of pace to the shooting in many games. Another constant is the fact that Cole doesn't have much health and can die easily if exposed to a group of thugs. However, an abundance of power sources does give players who want to stand and fight a better chance to heal when things go south. That being said, combat does see a number of very welcome improvements over the original. Enemy accuracy is no longer at the RoboCop tier, meaning staying on the move and dodge-rolling will actually result in some misses from the AI. Another complaint addressed from the first was the enemy's penchant for spotting you from 3 blocks away even if you were out of line of sight. In many cases, it is now possible to catch bad guys unawares, and you'll even get an XP bonus for drawing first blood when their pants are down. Melee was frustrating and useless in the original due to the unholy dodging ability of the bad guys combined with a camera that just wasn't tuned to allow you to keep enemies in-frame at that distance. I'm happy to say this is no longer the case. While the enemies do stay on the move, Cole's new melee weapon, the Amp, allows him to strike from a little further out, mitigating both enemy movement and camera concerns. With some basic combos and finishers, getting up close and personal is not only viable but is in many situations ideal. The city of New Marais is superior to Empire City in every respect. The developers do a bang-up job of creating an alternate New Orleans, and the city in general has a metric butt-ton more character than the first. A cabaret section of the city features a theater of ill-repute where the marquee has porn titles made from video games. Having spent a lot of time on the Internet creating and sharing video game porn titles, I have to salute Sucker Punch solely for the inclusion of "Latch It and Skank". The city also comes with its own home-grown baddies in the form of The Militia. There to defend pure-blood humans from the "freaks" with powers, they use and abuse their power willfully. A grating Southern racist flavor to these enemies make them particularly satisfying to tear into. Their leader, Bertrand, is a manipulative Louisiana businessman who spurs them on for his own ends; he struck me as a mutant super-villain version of Tommy Lee Jones' character from JFK.  New Marais was also designed with diversity of gameplay in mind. The initial section will feel much like Empire City, but as the map opens up you'll find welcome changes that make the game feel fresh and force you to play in new ways. Flood Town elicits the devastation of Katrina, and I found it difficult to pass up healing the downtrodden denizens there. Sunken houses and makeshift buildings make traveling dangerous with the amount of water all around, and a skilled use of thrusters is needed to progress safely. A lack of cover in this exposed area adds a challenging dimension to the combat and forces you to keep on the move. Side quests remain a major component of the game, vital to reclaiming areas of the city that will reduce enemy numbers and make the story missions easier to complete. In order to max out your powers, they will provide the essential XP. They do suffer from some of the repetition present in the first game, but there is more variation in general. A high-point included a mission where 25 enemies had infiltrated a crowd dressed as street performers, and you are tasked with taking them out. As a man with a deep rooted hatred of both bigotry and mimes, unleashing Hell on them guilt-free was a delicious two-fer. inFAMOUS 2 also treads into new territory with its UGC, or User Generated Content. The game comes with a massively robust content editor, allowing for a wide spectrum of missions to be developed. The barrier of entry for learning the tools is high, however, and I suspect it will be some time before very strong player-made content bubbles to the surface.  While being impressed with the potential, the handful of missions I jumped into were mostly shallow, lukewarm affairs. Rating tools and Sucker Punch curation will likely improve the quality on offer given time, and I look forward to a new playthrough later to see what the community has wrought once they've had some time to learn the trade. The welcome absence of any Mario or Sonic missions gives me hope. While I enjoyed my entire playthrough, there's no denying that inFAMOUS 2 does repeat some of the sins of the original. The climbing is as sticky as ever, and there will be occasional frustration when Cole grabs onto the wrong surface at inopportune moments. A lightning tether that can pull you directly up to the tops of buildings like Spider-Man's web slinger does help with this later in the game.  Boss fights are more impressive from a spectacle and set-piece perspective, yet still devolve largely into shoot-the-weak-point engagements. The contentious moral choice system remains largely untouched, but does have a greater impact on the outcome of the game. Completely different endings and sets of powers do make it more attractive to jump into a second playthrough. Complaints aside, inFAMOUS 2 makes huge strides in almost every facet of development. Story and character, combat, environment, enemy AI, the powers, and visual polish all receive an upgrade in this iteration. Sucker Punch is to be commended for remaining true to the strengths of the original while giving Cole a real sense of progression through the core gameplay. While stopping just shy of being truly jaw-dropping, I was well entertained, and I am pleased to declare that this game is a worthy evolution for the franchise.
 photo

In 2009, Sucker Punch answered a few questions I had been asking myself for years. What would happen if Sly Cooper had a messenger bag and a Misfits of Science-like ability to channel lightning through his hands? What if Bent...

Preview: Civilization World

May 12 // Sean Carey
When you first begin navigating the game, the trademark density of units, buildings, techs, wonders, resources, strategies, options, and more that Civ is known for is immediately apparent. Thankfully, there's a guided set of quests that walk you through the basics of building and gathering resources, each of which gives you resources of some sort to accelerate the initial growth of your city. Those familiar with the franchise will feel right at home and set to figuring out how to optimize resource yields, worker allocation, city builds, and scientific progression. I saw three major differences between the Facebook entry and the traditional franchise during my time with the game. The first is how resources are gathered. Rather than a turn based accumulation of food, gold, research, production, and culture, Civ World adopts the social gaming convention of doling out resources on a timer. While "harvests" are accumulated that give you the option to gather resources immediately, there was a considerable amount of waiting for accumulation. The game provides a number of puzzle based mini-games that you gain access to on a timer, and these go a fair way towards alleviating the pain of waiting for resources to gather. A caravan mini-game tasks you with creating a route to a nearby city. Completing it successfully nets you bonus gold above your normal accumulation. A science-focused game has you using accumulated moves to navigate a small maze in order to unlock technologies early. The culture mini-games has you rearranging tiles to correctly recreate famous works of art. Additional bonus culture points can be amassed by getting consecutive tiles placed correctly, but the kicker here is that you are trying to match at the same time as other players. If you time it right, you can be a jerk like I was and swoop in at the last second and steal the last few matches, along with the associated culture points for completing a painting. Which leads us to difference #2 - the social aspect. You will often be in competition with other players for bonuses. The game periodically starts events that confer a reward to the first player to build a particular type of structure, accomplish a given task, etc. While it is technically possible to play as your own independent city-state, your progress will be severely hamstrung if you do so. The game urges you early on to choose a civilization to join, and much of the progress you undergo will be in tandem with the other players that are a part of your civ. Completing wonders happens when enough great people are placed on a specific project. The catch here is that each player may only contribute one great person to any given wonder, meaning that a coordinated effort of players within a civ is required to hit some of the larger milestones within the game. Scientific research is also cumulative, the more players in a civ research a tech, the faster that tech unlocks; when it unlocks, it is available for all players within the civ. Moving from one era to the next is also a group effort. The final and most pronounced difference was in combat. Barbarian attacks happen as an event, and like many other events in the game, they always effect every player within the civ. As such, it behooves all players on a given team to contribute what they can to the military efforts. Every unit deployed in combat against the barbarian horde adds to the total attack and defense strength of your civ, and there is an equal chance for each player to lose troops in a skirmish. Rather than a tactical unit moving affair, combat plays out more like a card battle where the total military strength of the enemy and your civ are displayed so that you can easily deploy more troops if you feel the battle isn't going your way. Troop types do make a difference, but generally speaking, as long as your civ's number is higher than the horde's, you're all good. Armies clash once every few minutes until one side has been reduced to 0. All in all, what I've experienced so far leads me to believe that the Civ formula has strong potential to translate well for the Facebook space. The timing based nature of resource gathering will likely be a sticking point for many, as will the microtransactions to buy Civ Bucks to accelerate the process if desired. That being said, there are many interesting twists on the Civ formula present, and it's easily the deepest experience I've had in social gaming to date. I'll be interested to see how they balance the final product.  
 photo

If game development were a tech-tree, then unlocking strategy gaming (an early tech), social media, and e-commerce would allow for the creation of 2K Games and Firaxis' most recent incarnation of the Civilization series, Civi...

Juegos Rancheros - Independiente y Sabroso!

May 09 // Sean Carey
Before it ever had a deliciously silly name and a purpose, Juegos Rancheros was a small gathering of developers like Adam Saltzman (Canabalt), Renegade Kid, Twisted Pixel, and a few others. In a similar genesis story to other gaming collectives (like Toronto's Hand Eye Society), as more and more developers such as Tiger Style and Arkane joined the mix, it became clear that there was an opportunity to not only network with one another but with the community at large. So, when the owner of the Highball and Alamo Drafthouse contacted IGF chairman Brandon Boyer to quarterback a gaming event under the Fantastic Arcade banner, it was really a no-brainer. The event began with an introduction to the Juegos group and when Brandon asked who in the crowd had games to show, hands shot up across the ballroom. When the formal part of the show was over, developers and locals interacted and demoed games on iPhones and even in a VR-configured gas mask (Robin Arnott's Deep Sea). Before that, however, Brandon continued with a short segment titled A Fistful of Indies, a list of the best indie offerings released over the past month. Unsurprisingly, Capy Games got all kinds of love, as both Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (my current obsession) topped the list. Headlining the event was Twisted Pixel showing off their latest build of The Gunstringer. After a short introduction by Jay Stuckwisch, they immediately began pulling people from the audience to play the game on a giant screen in the ballroom. Seeing the Kinect tech in successful action in such a huge open space and watching how responsive the game was at this stage of development was impressive. People continued to demo the game (including Dtoiders like djnealb pictured below who represented) for the remainder of the event as people began to mingle. Speaking to Mike Wilford and Jay of Twisted Pixel later, they cited a number of reasons the relocation to Austin was the right move for them as an independent developer. Tax incentives, the ability to lure talent to the city, the proximity of other talented developers, and the city itself all made the list. However, the primary reason for their decision quickly became clear. Mike fessed up, saying "We have the best tacos here". I have to agree with him on this important point. He even mentioned that The Gunstringer makes a reference to Torchy's Tacos, a local dive with killer food. So where does Juegos Rancheros go from here? Brandon Boyer and Adam Saltzman stressed to us that the goal wasn't necessarily to provide an event for indies in Austin to network -- that's already happening. In their minds, the end goal of the event is to raise awareness with the community at large. They're hoping to arrange for arcade cabinets to showcase a rotation of Austin indie games, in the same vein as the Torontron.  They see a great potential for game development to gain inspiration from established artists, musicians, writers, and other mediums in Austin. The success of recent games like Sword & Sworcery only reinforces the potential of this approach for them. If they can build a bridge to facilitate more collaboration between indies of all types, they'll consider Juegos Rancheros a mustachioed success of Sam Elliott proportions.
 photo

While the Lone Star State's capital continues to be a hotbed of MMO development, the games industry in Austin has grown well beyond the bounds of the house that Richard Garriott built. Independent developers have slowly been...

Review: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Mar 28 // Sean Carey
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (iPad [reviewed], iPhone version releasing later)Developer: Capybara GamesReleased: March 23, 2011MSRP: $4.99 SB: S&S EP is the story of The Scythian, a female warrior who is on a mission to retrieve The Megatome. That's all the game starts you with, and for the purposes of not spoiling the experience, I won't go much further than that. Suffice to say that a timeless evil is awakened (of course!), and The Scythian must go and solve the mystery of things in order to acquire the stuff that she must take to the place to destroy the dude. And that's really the beauty of the narrative in this game; it is intentionally a Mad Libs structure for game stories. Filling in the blanks with entirely different names of people/objects/places would evoke an almost identical experience. Like Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, SB: S&S EP reminds us that adventure gaming is just an endless retelling of the monomyth - the same hero's journey over and over, but dressed up in different clothes. Where the game's narrative excels is in making this point in a playful way; the writing is smart, snappy, and funny. A cast of interesting stock supporting characters gently support the story and provide comic relief while staying mostly out of the way. The woodsman, Logfella (voiced by the perfectly deadpan Robert Ashley), Girl, Dogfella (the dog), and The Archetype (who functions as the narrator) all add to the experience in an engrossing way. The game doles out information in Twin Peaks style, where questions are answered, but still succeed in spawning a whole new list of questions. The story is advanced by interacting with the environment and characters in it, in classic point and click adventure game fashion. Additionally, once The Scythian acquires The Megatome early on, she is able to read the inner dialogue of other characters, including herself and the narrator. Keeping up with the thoughts of each of the characters provides vital information on where to go for the narrative, tips for gameplay and combat, and just plain weird subconscious psychobabble that makes for a warped and welcome break to the rest of the experience. I quickly grew fond of checking to see if Dogfella had any new thoughts for me to read. Visually, the game is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before while still feeling instantly familiar. Craig Adams brings a unique form of pixel art to the game, evocative of the ancient gaming era of the Amiga and Commodore 64, without actually working directly in either style. I can’t say enough about what this game manages to accomplish with such a minimalistic palette. Lush, detailed backgrounds far surpass the old Sierra and LucasArts adventure games that SB: S&S EP is revering and emulating while utilizing an even cruder toolset. Simple, blocky character models impressively manage to say everything they need to with both their design and animation. Coupled with the gorgeous visual style is an equally attractive sound design. This is a game that practically demands to be played with headphones on. Effects are done extremely well; from the full, realistic sounds of weather, to the ephemeral noises of spirits and sworcery, to the arcade-like sounds of combat and other gameplay actions, everything that enters your eardrums has been meticulously planned. Especially the music. Oh, the music! SB: S&S ends in EP for a reason - the game is the music almost as much as the music is in the game. A vinyl record is the visual conceit for the game (the first thing you see when you boot the app up), and it is a structure that pervades the entire experience. Sparse fantasy instrumentation (think organs) combines with modern rock and roll sensibilities and classic 8-bit video game scores to produce a truly memorable soundtrack that I will be purchasing as soon as Guthrie gets around to releasing it. The entire game gives off the same epic vibe I used to get as a child, looking at album art for vinyl records like Yes’ Close to the Edge. The fantastical art combined with the the sweeping orchestral rock feel used to set my imagination to work, and this game produced the same emotions, buoyed by the fact this album cover has touchscreen functionality and interactivity. The integration of the music with the gameplay is another point of strength. Where other games have tracks tied to physical areas, SB: S&S EP contextually triggers music to match events and player actions. Revisiting the same areas later in the game will result in different music depending on what you have already accomplished. I found myself forgetting gameplay for long periods of time so that I could listen for just an extra bit longer, and I never once bemoaned losing a boss fight because it gave me a chance to experience the accompanying tune all over again. Reviewing a title like SB: S&S EP is difficult since the art and the musical components are just as prominent as the game itself. But believe me, there’s a game there, and an elegant one at that. Squarely falling in the adventure game genre, the majority of the action takes place with the iPad held in landscape mode; the game’s exploration and puzzle-solving are conducted this way. Simple inputs that work extremely well for the touchscreen environment get your hands out of the way as much as possible, keeping you looking for necessary details or just enjoying the scenery. Tap-and-hold moves The Scythian in the general direction of the hold, while a double tap will move her to a specific point or cause her to interact with an object in the environment. When not in combat, tilting the iPad into portrait mode allows the player to open The Megatome. Shifting to portrait mode is also how the player initiates and plays through combat sequences. Combat is a timing and rhythm based affair, which some have likened to Punch Out, since it’s a simple two button (sword and shield) input system. However, since the sequences are slower and more deliberate than Punch Out, I prefer to draw the comparison to other games in the tradition of the genre, like the original Hero’s Quest (Quest for Glory). I implore you not to confuse simple for unsatisfying; between the amazing visuals and the way in which combat meshes with the music in a very Bit Trip-like fashion, I came out of some of the battles feeling truly elated. Puzzle-solving was a fair mix of both easy and difficult, and avoiding spoilers, some of the ways in which you utilize the touchscreen and even the iPad itself are both pleasingly novel and intuitive. Many of the tasks were just as solvable using the logical, “look around and analyze the environment” approach as they were by using the “fiddle around and touch everywhere on the screen until you get results” method. A few of the puzzles did have similar solutions; with full play-time coming in at around 3 hours I would have liked just a little more variation given the length. However, that’s truly a single minuscule complaint in the context of what the game has to offer as a whole.  When all was said and done, I was both emotionally moved and intellectually stimulated, with plenty of smiles, snickers, and a few outright belly laughs along the way. Simply put, it was great fun. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a game that takes real chances to stretch the gaming medium without sacrificing the joy of play and discovery that makes the medium great. It’s a bold experiment in having the adventure game genre take a meaningful, humorous and fun look at itself. Gaming doesn’t need to find its Citizen Kane, but it may have discovered its Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
 photo

Trying to describe the experience of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a lot like the experience of playing the game itself. Depending on what angle you're looking at it from, you'll get an entirely different perspect...


 photo

Allegory of the Cave Story


Feb 09
// Sean Carey
Plato would have absolutely loathed video games. It seems crazy to one who has come to know and love the medium, but one of history's most venerated thinkers and teachers would stand proudly in the corner of Jack Thompson and...

Review: Civ V DLC: Spain/Incas

Dec 20 // Sean Carey
Double Civilization and Scenario Pack (PC)Developer: FiraxisPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: December 16th, 2010MSRP: $7.49 The Double Civilization and Scenario Pack is exactly what its name implies. Two new civilizations are added to the roster of player options, with Isabella representing Spain and Pachacuti as the leader of the Incas. Both new civs are incorporated into the Conquest of the New World scenario, which we’ll get to in a bit. Spain is by far the weaker of the two additions to the civ list, with a unique ability that looks good on paper, but results in a feast-or-famine type of scenario. Isabella possesses the Seven Cities of Gold buff, which results in a gigantic gold bonus when you discover a natural wonder in addition to increased benefits for working that wonder’s tile. This bonus is even greater (to the tune of 500 gold total) when you are the first to discover one. This shows some meaningful forethought on the part of Firaxis to tie Spain’s ability into their historical role as explorers, forcing the player to seek out the natural wonders early. Unfortunately, while it was a wonderful decision thematically, in practice the ability is damaging to gameplay balance. Either you spawn near enough to discover 2-3 natural wonders and you jump out to a huge gold lead (which is overpowered), or you find one/none and are stuck out in the cold with no benefits while other civs pull ahead. Both extremes are frustrating, since they are largely out of the player’s control. The Incas, on the other hand, have quickly become my favorite civilization to play. Pachacuti’s unique ability is The Great Andean Road, which plays off of the Incas’ geographical place in history. The Incas ignore all movement penalties for hilled tiles, which is a huge boon to early exploration efforts. Additionally, improvement upkeep on hilled tiles costs nothing, while upkeep costs on all other tiles is halved. This results in a very welcome late game advantage when the cost of maintaining roads in particular is usually a huge burden on a player’s economy. The Incas can also build a Terrace Farm, a unique improvement that provides a plus one boost to the food output of a tile for every mountain tile it is adjacent to. With the right terrain and placement, you can keep your people well fed and in bed reproducing like they should be with a minimum of effort. I decided to tweak the map type setting to Highlands on one game in order to maximize the mountain and hill terrain on the map, which resulted in a very satisfying comp stomp as the AI couldn’t keep up with my movement, food, or upkeep advantages. The scenario packaged with this DLC is the Conquest of the New World, which places you in the position of one of three old world civs (Spain, England, and France) or one of three new world powers (Iroquois, Aztecs, and Incas). Beginning in 1492, the scenario gives you 100 turns to either be the first to reach 1000 points or to have the highest point total at the end of the turn limit. Points can be scored in all of the traditional ways, such as building or taking over cities, researching techs, building wonders, etc. However, successfully navigating a caravel to China (trade route to the Indies) will result in additional points, as will all new treasure units plundered from other civs’ capitals and natural wonders once they are returned to your capital. Other civs are your barrier to grabbing treasure units, while the nautical point scoring is made challenging through a unique game mechanic. All naval vessels in the scenario are afflicted with scurvy, which causes them to lose health when they end their turns outside of friendly waters. The ruleset works nicely for the scenario, and gives both old world and new world civs multiple ways to rack up points towards victory. Playing through it, one rapidly gets the impression that some real thought and care went into the creation of Conquest of the New World, as it features a totally retooled tech-tree scaled for the 100 turn timespan, new art and voice-over assets, and well balanced victory conditions. The turn limit also gives players a new reason to get lost in Civ V again without having to commit to a six hour process. The value proposition is where some gamers may find themselves on the fence with this DLC. At $7.49, some may find the quantity lacking and decide to pass over this pack until it is resold later as part of an expansion or a DLC bundle. Two new civilizations and a scenario will only provide as much replay value as your interest in the core Civ V experience will allow. That being said, Civ V fans (like myself) who are looking to extend their love affair with the hex grid here and now will find that the quality of the offering is not lacking. For me, the lure of this new pack is having yet another way to indulge in wicked revisionist history. Let’s just say that the experience of watching the Spanish conquistadors trudge their way up to Machu Picchu to destroy my Inca “savages” only to find that the terraces were lined with cannons ready to blow them back across the Atlantic was extremely cathartic.
 photo

When you’re the developer of one of the largest timesinks in gaming history, what do you do to follow up on the release of your latest and greatest? Why, make it an even bigger life-swallower, of course. Firaxis seems t...

 photo

DtoidAustin NARPing it up for Austin ComicCon


Nov 03
// Sean Carey
After the blast we had at our last big get-together, we've been looking for another good opportunity to hook up and party since PAX Prime. djnealb obliged the crew with a great idea: why not use the upcoming Austin ComicCon...
 photo

An extended interview with Monaco's Andy Schatz


Oct 08
// Sean Carey
Trying to play Monaco at PAX, let alone talk to the developer at length, was a practical impossibility if you didn't have a lot of time on your hands. The small booth housing Andy Schatz's IGF-winning title and Chris Hecker's...

Monaco dev: press gives mainstream games a pass

Oct 07 // Sean Carey
Schatz qualified his concerns by discussing the criteria he sees games media use for AAA titles, and finishes his analysis of the situation with a hilariously appropriate metaphor. "I think that generally the gaming press doesn't look at games abstractly or independently. They tend to look at games relative too much to what they're comparing them to. Rather than looking really critically at Red Dead Redemption, about whether or not it really is a good game, they're discussing whether or not it's good compared to Grand Theft Auto IV. Most mainstream games are given a pass because they're only looked at in relation to one another, partly because 99% of mainstream games are exactly like another mainstream game, so it's hard not to compare. That would be the big thing, because it pisses me off when, you know, the press is really intellectually interesting when they start covering indie games, but then they just throw all that shit out the window when they go and cover Dante's Inferno, or whatever it is. They just talk about how big this game's dick is, that's all they're interested in at that point. It's like the girl who claims she wants someone intellectual, but then ends up going home with the guy with the big dick. She seems really smart when she talks to the nerd!"
 photo

As people who cover games, it's easy to get complacent in the roles of question-asker, judgement-maker, and opinion-haver. It's nice to have the tables turned and see how the people we talk about all the time feel about the w...

Monaco dev: successful indies are "obsessive workers"

Oct 06 // Sean Carey
Andy was quick to point out that not having a steady work schedule can contribute to the failure of a project, saying that "I know a lot of indies work sporadically, and I don't think that's actually the best way to work. I think a lot of the indies that are struggling are working that way. There's a chicken or egg thing there, they might be struggling because of that, or they might be working sporadically because they're struggling." "Having a schedule, and knowing when you're typically going to start and stop -- unless you're particularly inspired and you want to keep going, which does happen quite often -- I think it's a healthy thing. You want to try and get as much work done as you can; I think the most successful indie games today are the product of obssesive workers. Basically, what I try to do is allow myself to be obssesive, but try to retain the sanity of a normal work week." It's easy to overlook the lengths that some indie game developers must travel to realize their visions, but because they work alone or in small groups, the cost in terms of work/life balance can be astronomical. Talking to Andy further, it seems that this is not an isolated phenomenon. "If you talk to Ron Carmel from World of Goo, he'll tell you that he basically destroyed his life in the second year of working. The first year was pretty normal, and then when they were closing in on releasing the game in the second year he basically destroyed his own life to get the damn game done. When he talks about it, despite the fact that he's had great success with World of Goo, you still hear a little twinge of regret in there. You talk to the Super Meat Boy guys, and they, they don't eat, they destroy themselves too. You know, they work their butts off, so that's coming out ... and hopefully that just kills." It seems that a certain masochistic streak is necessary in order to make it in the non-AAA wilderness. Having gotten my hands on both Monaco and Super Meat Boy, it sure looks like the long hours and sacrifice have resulted in some high-quality products. Here's hoping they all make enough money to take a vacation.
 photo

Maybe it's because I live in a city with a sky-high number of hippies per capita, but my default image of indie developers has always been a slackerific one. I always envision short bouts of coding casually sandwiched in-betw...

 photo

Fantastic Arcade recap: so much cool, so few people


Sep 29
// Sean Carey
For a first year event, I was truly impressed with the scope and variety of gaming goodness on tap for the Fantastic Arcade that took place in Austin, TX last weekend. Connected to the well established and widely attended Fan...

Review: Shoot to Kill

Sep 18 // Sean Carey
  Shoot to Kill (iPhone)Developer: Vivid GamesPublisher: Tower StudiosRelease date: August 12, 2010Price: Free / $.99 Shoot to Kill is a game about a guy who has to fight his way out of Hell. Sounds familiar, no? The influence of Doom and Diablo are all over the place; demons and pentagrams are the order of the day. While the art style isn’t horribly unique, the visuals are polished and crisp looking and the presentation overall is very pleasing.  Armed with an assault rifle and (usually) an alternate weapon, the player must fight off waves of enemies and ascend through the circles of Hell to escape death and damnation. Shoot to Kill is played from an overhead viewpoint, but eschews the twin-stick gunplay that usually comes with this camera perspective. Instead, the player is rooted at the center of the screen while enemies converge from all angles; the action instantly reminded me of the arcade cabinet classic, Tempest. Instead of an virtual analog nub, you control your weapon by tapping the screen in the direction you want to fire; each tap is one squeeze of the trigger. The only other elements you have to interact with are the ammo meter (which you can tap to reload if you’re not already empty) and the weapon icon (holding it down wields your alt weapon). It’s a refreshingly simple and elegant control scheme that keeps your fingers on the move and mostly out of your field of view. The arcade experience even extends to the business model for the game. The game starts you with three lives and slowly ramps up the intensity with more and varied baddies as the the levels progress. With practice, you can make it a fair way through the game in only the three lives provided, but chances are that eventually the demons will get you. The game is free, and you can start from the beginning as many times as you like.  However, those that really enjoy the game (or just suck at it) and want to try to push through the tough later levels to see the end can purchase an additional ten lives for 99 cents. It took me back to my quarter-feeding days as a youth. Honestly, I wasn’t that interested in seeing the conclusion of the game; the challenge of getting as far as I could on three lives was engaging all by itself. However, I enjoyed the game so much more than I expected that I felt really good about coughing up a buck to support the developer. Solid presentation, an excellent control scheme, multiple game modes (story, survival, and multiplayer), achievements, and a revamped feel to a classic arcade experience all contribute to a strong iPhone offering that harnesses the strengths of the touchscreen environment. Shoot to Kill is a fun and simple game that’s a steal of a deal at free and certainly worth picking up, if only to take it out for a spin. Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, it is worth your time and cash.
 photo

I look forward to playing iPhone shooters about as much as I look forward to my first prostate exam, because I imagine they’re quite similar. There’s an awkwardly painful use of touch immediately followed by feeli...

 photo

Fantastic Arcade brings indie/XBLA showcase to Austin


Sep 18
// Sean Carey
I used to lament living in Texas as a fan of the games industry, but in recent years the gaming presence in Austin, TX has grown at a staggering pace. Long a hotbed of MMO development, the city is beginning to attract develop...

Review: Civilization V

Sep 17 // Sean Carey
Civilization V (PC)Developer: FiraxisPublisher: 2K GamesRelease Date: September 21, 2010MSRP: $49.99 For those unfamiliar with the series, Civilization V is a PC turn-based strategy game that tasks the player with growing a single group of settlers in the Stone Age into a sprawling empire that outshines all others. Victory can be accomplished through a variety of means: military conquest, diplomatic maneuvering, cultural output, winning the space race through superior technology, or simply having the best overall score when the game ends in AD 2050.  If this sounds incredibly complex and daunting, that’s because it is. There’s good news though -- Civ V does more to ease new players through the learning curve than any previous Civ game. Those that haven’t experienced the series before will likely find themselves eras deep in an engrossing strategy experience before they know it. As to the changes in Civ V from previous titles, we’ll tackle the cosmetic issues first. The most noticeable change to the presentation is the conversion from a square grid to a hexagonal one. The world takes on a much more organic appearance without having to rely on right angles to render curvy natural features like mountain ranges or coastlines. There are many more strategic implications to the hex grid as well, but we’ll come back to those a bit later.  Graphically, the game looks fabulous; smooth unit animations and lots of detail in the unit and city designs make it a delight to zoom in on the map. Sound design is also strong -- each civilization has unique music that is both pleasing and unobtrusive. The loss of Leonard Nimoy as a narrator will bum some fans out, but Morgan Sheppard fills in admirably. He’s got an Ian McKellen-like quality to his voice that’s perfect for the tone of the game. While Civilization Revolution was a divisive game for most Civ fans, it really can’t be argued that it did well in streamlining the user interface. Civ V brought back the same UI talent, and their work is immediately obvious. Where previous games were a Byzantine labyrinth of menus, sub-menus, and advisor screens, nearly every major function in Civ V can be accessed without leaving the main map view. The only time I ever left it was for talking with leaders or to view the extended tech-tree on occasion to plan long-term research strategy. Where Civ V’s user interface really shines is the notification system. Any time an important event occurs or units and cities require your attention, an icon will drift down along the right side of the screen. Where in the past a tiny text description would appear and force you to hunt around the map to find what you need, simply left-clicking on the icon will center the map over the related object.  The icons also act as a to-do list, which becomes doubly helpful in the later stages of the game when you’ll have much more to manage. I can’t overstate how much time and frustration this saves -- it lets you focus on planning rather than uninteresting minutia. Things like this are what help to make the full Civ experience more accessible to newer players. Diplomacy sees some subtle tweaks and upgrades; AI personalities for all the leaders are distinct and varied. They will have different approaches to their development, expansionist tendencies, and propensity for military aggression. These values will even shift slightly for the same leader from game to game, ensuring that you’ll always have a fresh puzzle to solve in how you plan your approach to every match. Trade is much more realistic this time around. Unless you’re greatly in or out of favor with another civ, you won’t find the other leaders to be unreasonably stingy or spineless pushovers -- all reasonable offers will be considered. It’s also smarter; when I offered an oil resource to a civ that didn’t have the technology to utilize it, they flatly refused my offer of mysterious black sludge even though it was vastly more valuable than what I was asking for in return. The introduction of city-states adds an extra layer of intrigue to Civ V. These standalone cities can be conquered or offer unique benefits like military units and culture if you befriend them. They will often request help if their safety is threatened by barbarians or other civs, which gives isolationist players (like myself) compelling reasons to get involved in world events. City-states also play into voting for diplomatic victories when the United Nations is built, so spending the time to interact with them is central to the game. On the research front, Civ V’s tech-tree is well balanced. Where many versions of Civ have allowed players to race to a key military tech like Gunpowder or Combustion and then steamroll the board, the prerequisites required to reach them in Civ V make focusing solely on those objectives a risky proposition. Some specializing can be beneficial, but a player who ignores the other branches of the tech-tree will find themselves deficient in production capacity, research or culture generation, gold output, etc., which will nullify their military edge in other ways. For a solo player who wants more of a challenge than the average comp stomp, this is a great thing. My one gripe with the tech-tree this time around is that even with all the research buffing structures built in all your cities, it can be difficult to reach the required techs to win the space race before 2050. In every match I’ve played so far, I’ve always reached the cultural victory conditions far before I could start building my spaceship. I tend to play smaller, focused empires (3-5 cities max), so this might be mitigated by pushing to expand your civ. However, that’s difficult if you play on a normal or small map size -- you’ll be forced to fight other civs early on to clear space for the needed cities to research faster. The government system of Civ IV is abandoned this time in favor of building a unique style for your empire through the adoption of social policies. Accumulating enough culture points will allow you to unlock different branches of policy and abilities within them; think of it as a sociological tech-tree. While certain branches can’t be activated simultaneously (ex. Piety and Rationalism can’t both be active), the benefits from each branch you have unlocked are cumulative. This is much less restrictive than the systems of previous games that force you to abandon all the buffs from one form of government in order to pursue another. Gone from Civ V is the religion system of the last game, and I’m happy to see it go. While it was interesting, it was also convoluted and drew too much focus away from other aspects of the game. You can still take over cities by surrounding them with your cultural influence, so there’s really nothing substantively lost by excising it. Also gone is the espionage element, which was an adequate sub-system, but I didn’t find myself missing it here. Civilization games have always excelled when played at the macro level -- managing the direction of your empire has always been interesting and fun. Where the blotches have always shown is at the micro level. Managing workers and land development has historically been a tedious and necessary evil to complete macro level goals. Additionally, combat has been less an issue of strategic usage of units and more a matter of outproducing your opponents or having superior military technology.  Two major changes to the game take Civ V to a whole new level in terms of combat depth and enjoyment. The first (the adoption of the hex grid) does many things for combat. With movement reduced to six directions from eight, the number of choke points on the map increase, along with their strategic value. If you are facing a smart opponent who protects their strongest ranged attackers with footsoldiers, it’s tougher to get around and knock out siege units by flanking with your own footsoldiers. This makes mounted units like cavalry much more useful than in past games, as the additional movement capacity is vital for breaking an enemy formation from behind. The biggest and most welcome change to combat in Civ V, though, is that military units are no longer stackable. With one unit per hex, the days of racing to Combustion and then tanking up a stack of doom to just march across the map are over. This reduces the amount of overall units on the board, and makes each unit more valuable than ever before. This gives you incentive to plan your attack strategies and army make-up much more carefully. In Civ IV, individual units could earn experience to gain promotions, but it wasn’t impactful because a stack of units would always take down even the most experienced single unit. Now, unit promotions can give you the needed edge to win a battle, by allowing you to specialize for terrain or siege bonuses. This also increases the value of military structures like barracks that provide XP for your troops. Enhancing this is the adoption of hit points for military units. When two units clash, they both do damage to one another based on their strength values. Where in the past every fight resulted in one of the units being destroyed, this rarely happens in Civ V. Clashes take multiple rounds to resolve, allowing time for retreat or reinforcement. This creates much more strategic play, in addition to eliminating the often mocked “archer beats tank” anomaly from past games. The defensive side of the equation is also dramatically altered by the exclusion of stacking. Instead of garrisoning stacks of units in your cities, you are forced to meet your enemies in the field. Cities can also defend themselves; they have a strength and hit point rating based on their population that is buffed by building walls and other defensive structures. They can also bombard incoming attackers, making for a protracted siege-style warfare that is extremely enjoyable and deep. City and resource management sees some upgrades at the micro level, too. While advanced players will still want to manually select improvements for their workers to build, the worker AI in general is much more competent and is a viable option for lower difficulty levels or players who are working their way up the learning curve and focusing on other aspects. Roads now require gold to maintain, so the willy-nilly spaghetti network of roads from Civ IV is not a viable approach, and worker AIs are smart about only connecting cities to keep costs to a minimum. This also helps on the combat end by making it more difficult for enemies to approach your cities. Where territory gained from cultural output was doled out fairly symmetrically in the past, your cities will make smarter decisions as to which specific hexes to annex next. You can accelerate the process by using gold to purchase land sooner, but left to its own devices the city AI will give priority to nabbing hexes with revealed resources and your workers will give priority to developing them. The multiplayer component plays out much as it did in Civ IV, with the simultaneous turn-based system helping to ensure that the action doesn't get too bogged down in waiting. With this system, whoever enters their commands first will get them executed first; while the core gameplay is still the same, players who are quick on the draw can eke out an advantage in certain combat and exploration scenarios. The connectivity varied in quality in the matches I played. However, switching hosts seemed to clear up any issues when they arose. Certain presentation frills were absent in some of the matches (like unit movement and combat animations), but this only served to speed up player turns and was not a drag on the enjoyment of playing. Up to 6 human players can be accommodated for any match, and turn timers can be set to keep slower players or griefers on point. Civilization V makes huge advances to the series that do nothing but enhance the essential experience. Improvements to the user interface and AI at all levels result in it being more approachable for newcomers without losing any of the strategic depth that long-time fans crave. It vastly improves combat, making the micro-level gameplay both more complex and entertaining. It trims all the fat, leaving only decision-making, strategic planning, and the sheer joy of crushing your enemies. Civ V is the pinnacle of the franchise to date. Score: 9.5 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
 photo

In any medium, it’s an almost insurmountable challenge to produce a product that stands the test of time. The majority of bands fade into obscurity, movies are forgotten in the wake of the latest pretty face, and all bu...

Civ V multiplayer makes turn-based pick up the pace

Sep 15 // Sean Carey
Players will have the option to choose between solo style turn-based and simultaneous turn-based play for multiplayer, with timer settings just like in Civ IV. Also returning from the last game is the ability to set whether you want the game to freeze when a player drops or to hand control over to the AI until the player reconnects. When this happened to an opponent once during the match I played in, the game popped a notification and immediately transitioned to an AI player. Other than the notification, there was no interruption in my gameplay at all. Once you begin to encounter other players during exploration, the free-for-all aspects of the simultaneous turn-based model really start to come into play. Getting your scout or unit to move first in a given round can make a real difference, allowing you to gain the one-time benefits of discovering a natural wonder or claiming an ancient ruin before your opponents. The game gives priority to commands in the order it receives them from all players. Unfortunately, the two hours we had allotted for play didn’t allow us to experience the full impact of this set-up when it came to combat; the only time another player took a military unit near one of my cities I quickly and politely dissuaded him by positioning an archer and my baller-ass catapult nearby. He beat a hasty retreat and went to pick on a smaller city-state while I went back to cranking out wonders. The implications for combat, however, are many. Acting faster and smarter than your opponents should allow you to grab advantageous terrain or choke points more often. Giving priority to moving units that are stronger on offense than defense will probably become standard strategy to maximize combat effectiveness. There may even be occasions where you will want to intentionally act slowly as a lure to draw units within striking distance of your cities or ranged units. Two hours is far too brief a time to make a definitive statement on the final outcome of Civ V’s multiplayer component, but it was more than enough of a taste to get me all juiced up for a full go at the game with some living imperialistic war-mongers for me to culture bomb. Civilization V releases on Sept. 21st in NA, so keep your eyes peeled here for the full review soon.
 photo

I’ve always enjoyed the leisurely pace of turn-based strategy games like the Civilization series. Being an enthusiastic (if not overly competent) chess player for most of my life, I like being able to deliberate and mul...

PAX 10: Force Unleashed 2 now with 33% less leash

Sep 12 // Sean Carey
While both the original and the sequel have a wide variety of powers to play with, the developers were very candid about some of the feedback they received. For one, the fact that many gamers often found a power or combo that worked for them and then rolled with it for the entire game defeated the purpose of providing so much gameplay variety. This time around, certain enemies will have resistance or weakness to certain powers, forcing the player to work with all the tools at their disposal in order to be successful. In the short time I had with the game, I definitely noticed that my button-mashing approach from the last game was much less effective. Lightsaber combat functioned mostly as it did in the first game, but the level of feedback the sequel offers is much improved. Certain strikes will result in decapitations and limb dismemberment, rather than stormtroopers just yelling and dropping after the saber passes through them. It’s a nice touch that gave me the sense that my lightsaber was truly a deadly weapon instead of a glowing stun baton -- a pleasing Mos Eisley tavern moment. Yes, the quick-time events are back in this installment, but they are there this time more to add finishing flair than anything else. The representative stated that the vast majority of the fights that give you QTE prompts will not require you to initiate the sequences in order to finish off your opponent. If you’re in the middle of a saber-swinging frenzy, you can run with it and continue to do damage and even kill enemies. This seems to me like a decent compromise; the QTE animations always look slicker, but it’s nice to have the option to mix it up and choose how I finish an enemy off. My favorite new addition to the series, however, is the inclusion of the Mind Trick power. With it, you can induce a single enemy to jump to his death, or single out a trooper and force him to turn on his comrades and wreak havoc while you close the gap to mop up the mess. While I didn’t get to play with the upgraded version of this power, the rep explained that it would eventually give you the ability to influence whole groups. That alone is enough for me to keep my eyes on Force Unleashed 2; I’m excited for the chance to convince whole mobs of the dire wrongness of their droid selection.  
 photo

Poor Starkiller -- he’s got serious issues. First, he’s dead. Second, he’s now a clone. Third, he’s the latest in a long line of clones who have gone insane as the memories of the original Starkiller b...

PAX 10: LOTRO/DDO make free-to-play actually work

Sep 11 // Sean Carey
In terms of a business model, Turbine recognizes that "free" often translates to "bad" in many gamers’ eyes. So they were quick to state that the point of their model is not to make the game free, but to offer players more choice in how they invest in their games. If someone wants to play through either game without paying a dime, they can, but microtransactions or subscriptions are also available for those who want to accelerate parts of the process. Aside from lack of flexibility in the payment model, Turbine determined that another one of the big turn-offs for potential players is the inclusion of artificial gates. When players are forced to pay to access an area or advance past a level cap, they’re much more likely to rage-quit. No one likes being treated like the Balrog (i.e. “You shall not pass!”). As such, LOTRO and DDO both remove all of these barriers, and new players are responding very favorably. You can reach any level or area from the get-go. There is unique content that can be unlocked in each of these areas, but it is easily accessed no matter what payment approach you’re taking. Subscribers get it from the get go, whereas microtransactors or totally free players must use Turbine points. Unlocking all the content in a new area runs in the area of 500 to 1000 points on average. This would cost roughly $5 to $10 to purchase the requisite points, but a totally free player could still acquire the needed points by completing between 80-100 quests. The final ingredient that makes this model work for Turbine is the make-up of their community. While there is still a vocal minority of players who have been opposed to the changes, the vast majority of current subscribers have been welcoming to newer players, choosing to view them as a positive influx that keeps their game alive rather than as a bunch of carpetbaggers. The developers credit the source material here -- long time fans of D&D and LOTR tend to be older and more mature, and as such more welcoming both in and out of the games. It’s easy to turn a skeptical eye towards all of this, but the proof is in the porridge you eat at elevensies. DDO has not only jumped from the 7th to 3rd most played MMO since their conversion to this model, but more impressively, they have also doubled their number of paying subscribers despite making all the content in the game free to access. That speaks volumes to me, and I’m very curious to see if LOTRO can duplicate that success and join the fellowship of the cha-ching.  
 photo

When talking about MMOs in the US, free has become a dirty word. Despite the fact that microtransaction driven business models have achieved a large degree of success in Korea and other Asian markets, the “F” word...

PAX 10: FireFall looks fab, frenzied, free-to-play

Sep 10 // Sean Carey
The game takes place on Earth 200 years in the future, and humans have discovered a massive untapped energy source known as Crystite. Unfortunately, mining this stuff eventually results in a massive energy surge known as The Melding. This destructive pulse wants to stop the world and meld with you, and so humanity is forced to survive in small shielded pockets. Eventually, they emerge to rebuild and fight with other humans and The Chosen (a race created by the release of The Melding) over the resources that remain. FireFall is an interesting hybrid of a game. On the one hand, it’s a twitch shooter with a colorful visual style that may draw some comparisons to Borderlands, despite the fact that the land mass available here for gameplay seriously dwarfs Pandora in size. Mark emphasized several times that the goal of the core shooting mechanics is to make the game as skill-based an experience as possible. As such, there are no dice rolls. On the other hand, it’s also a MMO with a wide variety of missions to offer. There are story based solo missions, clan/team based missions, dynamic server-wide missions, even content dependent on day/night cycles or seasons. One event that was demoed involved the siege of a mining hub town called Dredge; if the players present in the event fail to protect the town, then that hub becomes unavailable to all players on the server until a new mission to retake the town is successfully completed. While you can focus on soloing your character, it’s clear that the design places a large emphasis on the clan system. Completing missions with your team gives you individual resources, but also adds resources to a team pool that can be drawn upon to summon transports or the like. The game implements class-based mechanics through the use of the battle frame, which acts as a swapable load-out system. A single character can level up multiple classes within their battle  frame, allowing a smaller team to tackle a wide variety of missions without having to level up alternate characters. Some odds & ends: The Tribes influence of lead designer Scott Youngblood is heavy here; yummy jetpack action was on display in spades. Mission difficulty will scale via a background AI director that will gauge team strength and adjust accordingly. The game also transitions beautifully from 1st to 3rd person perspectives to suit player preference. Sign-up for the beta has already begun, and most importantly, FireFall will be free-to-play from launch when it releases on PC in 2011.  
 photo

If you’re not familiar with Red 5 Studios, I can’t say that I blame you. FireFall is the first major project they’ve announced since they formed. That’s not to say that they’ve been idle -- the g...

PAX 10: Comic Jumper Impressions

Sep 05 // Sean Carey
Captain Smiley is a comic-book hero without a home. People hate his comic so much that it gets cancelled (and used as toilet paper). So, the once proud do-gooder is forced to moonlight by jumping into other comics (in multiple styles like modern, fantasy, silver age, and manga) to earn money to bring his franchise back. It's an inventive premise that walks the talk by backing up the great art direction with solid gameplay mechanics and a healthy dose of humor. Comic Jumper uses the comic panel conceit to dabble in both 2D side-scrolling twin stick gunplay/brawling and reticle based 3D shoot 'em up. Wilford wasn't shy about sharing that the team was influenced by games like Gunstar Heroes and Sin & Punishment in the design process, and trust me, that's a good thing. The controls are responsive, the animations are slick, and shooting up the different comic book worlds is a great deal of fun. What put this game over the top for me, however, was the humor and the way the game is constantly playing with the fourth wall. The Twisted Pixel guys themselves are actually a part of the game, but they exist outside of the comics. They show up in a live-action video to fund Captain Smiley's operation and get him back on his feet, for one. This even bleeds into the gameplay; you can earn tokens that allow you to call for help from Twisted Pixel, and when you trigger them the developers unleash a flurry of actual punches and kicks on the screen, culminating in one of them headbutting the comic panel and destroying all the enemies. The game is chock full of goodies, including the ability to play both 'Splosion Man and The Maw directly from the HQ in-game if you have them or buy them if you don't. The game will offer challenge missions in addition to the story content, so you can grind those for cash to get upgrades if you have trouble beating a section. There's even two new 'Splosion Man levels you can unlock as you earn cash, giving fans of previous titles even more reason to pick this one up. Comic Jumper will release on Oct. 6th in a line up with Hydrophobia and Super Meat Boy as part of Microsoft's recently announced Game Feast. Based on my time with the game, I think gamers are going to find it both challenging and genuinely funny. Did I mention that there's a massive nod to Jean Claude Van Damme's Timecop in Captain Smiley's HQ? I rest my case. Gimme, gimme, gimme.  
 photo

Twisted Pixel is a development studio on the move. Less than two years ago, no-one knew who the hell they were. Then came The Maw in January of '09, and many people immediately took notice of the charm and clever design at pl...

 photo

DtoidAustin NARP: game on at Game Over


Sep 01
// Sean Carey
The Lone Star state can be a big lonely place without good people, good food, and good games to get you by. Thankfully, all of those things came together in August as Dtoiders from San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin made a Scott...
 photo

You keep using that word: "trial and error"


Aug 30
// Sean Carey
Words. They're like tiny nuggets of enriched uranium. They hold great power and potential energy, but they're also extremely fragile and unstable. When harnessed correctly, they can galvanize people behind a concept; when han...

Review: Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth

Aug 14 // Sean Carey
Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth (iPhone) Developer: Fluffy Logic Publisher: THQReleased: July 15, 2010 MSRP: $2.99 Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth pits you as the commander of the Rebel forces in 15 levels of tower defense action against waves of increasingly stronger Imperial forces. For you Star Wars fans, you’ll be pleased to know that the game is a solid use of the license. All the Rebel and Imperial units are immediately recognizable to lovers of the franchise; everything from Viper probe droids and AT-ATs to snow speeders and ion cannons are present. Music and sound effects from the movies set the tone well, although the blaster noises can get a bit repetitive after 20 waves. While the graphics are rudimentary compared to other iPhone offering in the genre, completing a level results in a video clip from The Empire Strikes Back as a reward, so those making their annual pilgrimage to Skywalker Ranch will be sure to get their full dose of sweet Vitamin L while on the road. The game is fairly fast-paced, with an eye to keeping the player engaged. Your troops will get over-run early and often once you pass the first few levels, so you will have to balance building out new defenses with checking in on your existing ones to ensure that destroyed units are replaced and upgraded before the next wave arrives. Also, Fluffy Logic takes a page from the Plants vs. Zombies design book by making resource gathering a manual process. Destroying certain troops and waves will result in an wrench icon that must be tapped or swiped in order to acquire essential command points to build new units. Ignore them for long enough, and they’ll disappear for good. The upside of all these elements is that they fight off lulls in the action; there’s always something for you to be doing. The downside is that what the game gains in action, it gives up in strategy. Hardcore tower defense players will find some fuel for criticism here. Once the game picks up, you will many times be forced into a sub-optimal placement for your units due to all the action you’ll need to manage. The end result of all this is that quite often you’ll find yourself just spamming units on the screen and relying on strength of numbers to hold off the Empire instead of really thinking out the best way to arrange and upgrade your troops. Ultimately, your enjoyment or frustration with this will hinge on where you fall in the action vs. strategy continuum. The game allows you to dig trenches by spending command points, with a defensive bonus for units stationed in them. While these bonuses are negligible against some of the tougher enemy types, the trenches will force ground troops to move around them, allowing you to catch troopers and droids in a carefully orchestrated crossfire or (most likely) a scattershot of fire from hastily dropped units. It’s a nice touch that adds a little spice to the strategy side of things, but is somewhat hamstrung by a few control issues. The grid is tight with smaller squares, so precision placement is more difficult to achieve. The dragging is extremely responsive, but with the squares and icons so small, your fingers will be obscuring the screen. You’ll be forced to choose between selling the unit at a loss to try again, or just dealing with the botched placement. This issue is particularly frustrating when building trench formations. I recognize that you have to keep the squares small to ensure there’s enough grid room for decent gameplay, but a simple solution would have been to offset the dragged icons and placement cursor to the side of where you make contact with the screen so that you know exactly where you’ll be placing something. None of these flaws are dealbreakers, however. The game does a great job of capturing the hopeless, fatalistic feelings from the Battle of Hoth in the movie, despite the unimpressive graphics. After the first few levels, boss units and other troops will regularly wreak havoc on your formations; there is no skating through any of the later levels. The first time an AT-AT easily lays waste to multiple layers of your thick defensive formations and you’re forced to scramble to build a few meagre units at the last second to finish it off, you’ll be reminded of the Rebels giving their lives to buy those few extra minutes for their ships to escape. Even taking into account some control issues and a lack of strategic depth compared to other games in the genre, Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth succeeds in being both a good tower defense game and a great licensed Star Wars game. For non-hardcore TD aficionados or long time Star Wars fans I can easily recommend a purchase at $2.99. My one true disappointment? There are no tilt controls anywhere in the game, which prevents me from making a horrible/awesome joke about Fluffy Logic bringing balance to the Force. Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
 photo

It’s a documented scientific fact that the fastest way to send a Star Wars fanboy into anaphylactic shock is to casually insinuate that The Empire Strikes Back is somehow not the best movie of the series. This is why it...

Diving deeper into Sid Meier's Civilization V

Aug 12 // Sean Carey
I personally enjoyed the change of pace that Civ Rev brought with it, while fully recognizing that it lacked the same depth and strategy of its PC lineage. It’s also one of the best games out there for the iPhone. But let me put your “dumbed-down” fears to rest. All the tech-tree planning, space racing, unit building, treaty signing, and city micromanaging that you’ve come to know and geek over is back in full effect in Civ V.  While Civ IV lovers should be right at home with this return to PC form, some big changes make this game a slightly different beast - the first and most noticeable of these is the move to the hex grid. For starters, the hex grid is a major contributor to how truly sharp the game looks. With a square grid, natural features like coastlines and mountain ranges can only be placed in straight lines that turn at awkward-looking right angles. The switch to hexagonal plotting is worth it alone for the organic and attractive look it lends the geography. It’s true what they say -- real men love curves. If you’re going for a cultural, diplomatic, or technological victory, you may not experience the strategic implications of the hex grid right away. Those who are going for a domination victory or find themselves staring down the barrel of an aggressive AI civilization, however, will discover that combat is subtly but substantively changed. When movement is reduced to six directions from eight, the ability to flank a unit is greatly reduced. In one round where I played as the Iroquois, the American AI naturally tried to get all Manifest Destiny on me and wipe me out. I was aiming for a cultural victory, so my military was tiny at the time, but using the new grid to my advantage proved to be my savior. I placed my lone ranged unit behind my two ground units, which I used as blockers in an area of the map where there was only one hex of free space on either side of the formation. Despite the fact that I was grossly out-manned, my placement allowed me to shell their expansionist pants off with my strong ranged unit while the Americans either threw cannon fodder uselessly at my front or got whittled down trying to work their way around the sides. Eventually, the AI got wise and sent naval units to drop troops behind my formation, but by then it was too late. I had bought myself just enough time to build a force to repel them with. The other change that makes such tactical encounters possible is that Firaxis has removed the ability to stack units. This small adjustment makes for a very different combat experience. Gone are the days of the infamous stack of doom, when you could just generate a ridiculous number of units and roll them all towards a city at once. This tweak feels just right, as it increases the difficulty of capturing cities, who can now act in their own defense without units by bombarding incoming troops. It takes coordination and planning to successfully lay siege to a city in Civ V, which only increases the sense of satisfaction you get when you finally pull it off. As a defender, your strategy must change as well. One of my favorite tactics in previous Civ titles was the ivory tower strategy. This is like the stack of doom, but with defensive units. Once you have a massive defense force built in a city, you just shut down military production and focus on cultural or technological or economic output while invaders line up to get shot down at the gates. The removal of stacked units kept me from cheaply turtling up, and forced me to be proactive about defending my territory.  This is one of the big reasons I’m excited about what I’ve experienced in this game so far; it has forced me to abandon strategies that I’ve been able to blindly employ throughout the entire series to date. I didn’t get to use the preview build for any multiplayer, but it doesn’t take a lot of wild extrapolation to see that competitive Civ players are going to have to look at combat differently. With fewer total units on the grid, the value of buildings, civics, and technologies which buff your troops becomes much more important, and experienced units are a precious commodity. Civ V appears to cater much more to the chess players than the Zerg rushers. Pursuing cultural advancement is more rewarding in Civ V than in IV, as generating culture allows you to adopt social policies such as Freedom, Tradition, Order, etc. As you open and explore each of these civics, you’ll gain different permanent benefits for your civilization. Having tangible benefits gives you more incentive to develop culturally; it basically turns social progress into a tech tree, and allows you to more fully customize your strengths to meet the victory conditions you’re pursuing. The act of playing Civ V is more streamlined and efficient than ever before, based on the the time I’ve spent with the game. The user interface designer from Civilization Revolution was made the lead UI designer for Civ V, and his work really shows. My favorite part of the new controls are the way it makes handling necessary tasks quick and easy, without removing the complexity; my average game time clocked in at around 5 hours. When an event takes place, such as a tech unlocking, a unit advancing, or even a barbarian camp spawning, an icon is generated on the right side of the screen. These icons act as a to-do list for the turn, but are easily ignored or dismissed. Clicking on the task icon will automatically take you to the unit, city, or menu relevant to the messaging. When in past games you would get a notification from the game and then have to hunt down the right thing on the map, now the icon zips you straight there, saving you lots of time that you can use to play more delicious Civ, or even save your social/romantic lives. I’m of course reserving judgement until the final product is released, as strategy games like this often undergo last minute developer tweaks for balancing. However, if this preview build remains indicative of the Civ V that ships in late September, don’t be surprised if turn-based addicts are falling off the wagon in droves to hook up with a fresh new batch of the good stuff. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some car stereos to burgle.  
 photo

True hardcore devotees of the Civilization franchise are like long-time heroin addicts. They’ve got a need for a specific kind of fix, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. They also accept no substitutes; when ...

Review: Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night

Jul 30 // Sean Carey
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night (iPhone) Developer: KonamiPublisher: Konami Released: July 22, 2010 MSRP: $4.99  Despite the wild departure from the platforming and combat elements of other games in the series, Konami definitely nailed the vibe for this title; Castlevania Puzzle feels very much like a Castlevania game should. Most character and enemy sprites were pulled as-is from Symphony of the Night, although it does look like a few were touched up. Much of the excellent music also makes the transition to this game, and even though it sounds like it is cut and looped at times, I’m more than willing to overlook that given the short length of most battles. The map is nearly a one to one replica, with all the major landmarks there; the Clock Tower, Alchemy Lab, and the Long Library are all waiting to be explored again. The seminal item-procurement and subsequent backtracking elements are in full force as well, although an added handy-dandy fast travel function between discovered safe rooms removes much of the tedium of getting around. As you travel between frames in the castle, you will trigger battles with recognizable SOTN enemies; there will almost always be an enemy in a frame the first time you enter, but it reverts to a random encounter design when backtracking. When a battle is initiated, you are taken to a new screen where you will engage in deadly puzzle combat with your foes. The core gameplay is distinctly akin to Columns; blocks will fall into your play area, and matching 3 of the same color clear them from your board. Certain blocks will be unclearable until you form a match-3 adjacent to them, which will allow you to plan ahead and set up cascades of match-3 chains as you get the hang of the game. Chaining your matches are the key to victory, as successful chains drop a shower of blocks onto your enemy’s play area, which increases the amount of HP they lose. There’s nothing revolutionary about the base puzzle mechanics, but when you add the RPG elements on top the result is very satisfying. As you level up, you can allocate points to stats such as attack, defense, or different magic schools. All of these options for your character build can radically alter your play experience, as different spells can change the complexion of a battle a great deal. Levelling up can become a bit grindy if you’re just wandering around the castle, but taking note of which areas have enemies that offer the right amount of XP without overpowering you can offset this if you’re attentive. As much as I want to gush over how well Konami has merged the SOTN experience with a genre that seems wholly unsuited for it, I would be remiss not to point out a gargantuan flaw in this title. On the battle screen, the portion of the iPhone screen devoted to your play area is woefully inadequate. With the character/enemy sprites covering the center, and your opponent’s play area on the right, you’re left with a paltry one-third of an already tiny screen with which to maneuver your blocks while puzzling. Unless you’re sporting petite elvish Orlando Bloom-like fingers, you will encounter a healthy heaping of frustration when you can’t get a crucial block to drop how you need it to. To the developer’s credit, they do include the ability to adjust the touch sensitivity which helps to mitigate this problem to an extent. Regardless, even with the responsiveness just the way you like, there’s just no way to avoid the many frustrating errant rotations, missed placements, and premature block drops you will experience while playing. Without the issues surrounding the use of screen space and controls, Castlevania Puzzle would have been a phenomenal title. They really nailed the presentation, and I have no doubt that this game plays like a dream on the iPad where there is ample real estate for proper puzzling. I would snatch this game up in a heartbeat for XBLA or PSN if it were released there as well. However, issues and all, Encore of the Night is still a good game with a lot to offer SOTN fans looking to get their Alucard fix on a elbatrop. Score: 7.0 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
 photo

I clearly remember the sense of fascination and wonder I experienced the first time I scored a strategy guide for Metroid back in the late 80’s. Seeing all of Zebes laid out on the pages at once was a joy for me, and I ...

Review: The Red Star (iPhone)

Jul 08 // Sean Carey
The Red Star (iPhone) Developer: Acclaim Publisher: XS Games Released: June 22, 2010 MSRP: $4.99 The Red Star offers the ability to control movement from wherever you make contact with the screen, which is a design decision I’ve been delighted to see slowly becoming the standard in recent iPhone development. Espgaluda II is a great example of how this control scheme can improve bullet hell gameplay on the iPhone, and it could have greatly enhanced The Red Star if it weren’t for other poor decisions. The largest issue the game faces is that there’s simply no room on the screen to execute attacks properly. Between health/magic meters, cooldown meters, 4 action buttons, and more, the user interface is more crowded than Felicia Day at a LAN party. This basically gimps ranged attacks right out of the picture when the game is in side-scrolling mode, as by the time you can even see and lock onto an enemy they’re nearly in melee range. The choice to include UI elements on the bottom-left of the screen was mind-boggling to me, since this is where one’s thumb naturally goes to control movement. Combine this with the general lack of free on-screen real estate and you have an extremely awkward decision to make. You can leave your thumb where it rests comfortably, but then you will be obscuring the cooldown meter for your gun. When you are in the middle of a hectic boss battle in The Red Star you will be relying mainly on ranged combat, so not knowing when your gun is overheating is a serious issue. The alternative is to use the left or center of the screen for movement, which will force you to periodically obscure your character or enemies on the screen with your thumb. Either way, it is a ridiculous impediment to playing the game. The ranged combat takes another hit with the game’s lock-on mechanic. In order to lock on to an enemy, you must first be facing them. When bullets and enemies are filling your screen it can be very difficult to tell which way you’re oriented - you’ll frequently end up targeting the wrong thing as a result. You’ll also find yourself locking onto a target when you didn’t mean to because you were adjusting where your thumb was for movement. In addition, the lock-on is activated by inputting a double-tap-and-hold. If you want to change targets, you’ll have to release the screen, make contact again to reorient yourself to the new target, then release and double-tap-and-hold again to acquire the new lock-on. That is, of course, if you haven’t been thoroughly riddled with bullets or melee spammed in the interim. The screen layout issues make it hard to enjoy the excellent visuals, and the already steep skill requirement is made nearly intolerable by the unwieldy UI and control scheme. Movement is a bit sluggish in general, and while the quality of the graphics is high, the frame rate takes frequent hits both before and during boss battles. The lack of checkpoints in the game makes all these issues even worse; this version simply does not take into account how the iPhone control scheme impacts the challenge, which was perfectly balanced for hardcore players in the original. Even setting the difficulty concerns aside, having to replay an entire 20-30 minute level due to getting a phone call is a massive porting oversight. With no story to speak of, a shoehorned console experience, and a sizable price tag for the App Store, I am forced to assume that the end-goal of this communist propaganda is simply redistribution of wealth. As much as I wanted to rave about this one, I must begrudgingly admit that those who love freedom would probably be better served hunting down a copy of the PS2 version or downloading it for PSP. Score: 4 -- Below Average (4s have some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst games, but are difficult to recommend.)
 photo

Proof that Obama’s socialist agenda is progressing unchecked, a port of 2007’s under-exposed hardcore PS2 title The Red Star made its debut in the App Store this past month. Sourced from the graphic novel of th...

Pipe dreams: Real choice and consequences

Jul 06 // Sean Carey
We're barely a decade removed from when choice really became a staple concern of game design. In 2001, Peter Molyneux was building his post-Bullfrog reputation by championing games like Black and White at Lionhead Games. Despite a later turn of affection from critics, B&W was certainly the first fully realized game of its kind: a title where moral choice had a wide influence over multiple gameplay systems and ultimately the outcome of the game itself. From there, it became more common for choices in games to have fleshed-out consequences that manifested in both the game world and in-game mechanics. Meanwhile, as causality and morality were being explored in the god game genre, choice and consequence in both story and character interaction became the primary design concern of developers like Bioware. In 1998, Baldur's Gate provided choice and variance in character interaction in the form of an adapted D&D alignment system, while KOTOR in 2003 offered the classic Jedi/Sith polarities which form the basis of most moral choice systems in games today. inFamous, Overlord, Bioshock, Fable, and dozens of other modern titles cling to the same basic design methods of story and gameplay systems from these earlier examples, and subsequently they have reaped the benefits in terms of both monetary and critical success. The only problem is that we gamers are a fickle and restless bunch. What once was hailed as unique and a sign of a developer's mastery of craft is now a source of complaint. Now, I'm not saying that we should be complacent with cookie-cutter, bi-polar choices, because the medium should always be evolving and providing improved experiences to players. However, most of us probably don't realize what it is we're really asking for from our developers when we bitch about only being able to choose good or evil. Every time I hear another played out "rescue the kittens or make jelly out of the kittens" joke, my right index finger twitches as if it's trying to hit the Renegade trigger on its own. While my annoyance is an irrelevant matter in the scheme of things, I'm sure this development is exponentially more concerning to game makers. While we as players only evaluate choice in the context of our game experience, game studios are faced with a paralyzing conundrum - generating more choice means generating more content. That content might be writing, dialog, voice-over work, gameplay systems programmed to react to a wider array of variables, and much more. Implementing this expanded content has its cost on many levels. It takes time and money to put these additional branches in place, and while some elements of a game engine are re-usable for multiple story paths, every branch weighs heavily on the trunk of the tree. Most developers simply don't have the resources to put multiple branches in place, and even the ones with deep pockets and leeway for extended development cycles are making a sacrifice by taking this route. Every new choice means energy diverted from graphics, art direction, and most importantly, gameplay. Alpha Protocol is a perfect example of this devil's bargain in action. The game basically offers a triple branching choice in both dialogue and story -- do you go suave, professional, or aggressive? The game implements these elements in a truly effective and engaging way. Everyone I've spoken with has had both a different story and even gameplay experience based on the wide spectrum of well implemented choices available, and that is to be applauded. I was able to enjoy the game despite its litany of flaws for these elements alone. It was a ballsy but ultimately failed experiment that bore much fruit for further exploration. In true min/maxing RPG fashion, what Alpha Protocol gains in story and choice, it surrenders in grand fashion on the visual, gameplay, and level design fronts. Many facets of the game were simply broken. More choice will almost always enhance our enjoyment of a good game, but once this element begins to encroach on gameplay's turf, that's when bad things will always happen. I've always been one in the past to look down my nose at graphics whores. I did, and still do, believe that the time, money, and system resources that are allocated toward the pursuit of flashier and more realistic visuals would almost always be better spent improving gameplay or story. However, my experience with Alpha Protocol really got me contemplating my own hypocrisy. Any element taken to extremes will crowd out the core gameplay that makes a game worth playing, my beloved choice and story included. The truth of the matter is, we will achieve visual realism in games long before we achieve true fidelity of choice and character interaction in games. There are far fewer variables involved in recreating a perfect image than there are in recreating a human relationship or life path; our technology will likely catapult us over the uncanny valley many decades before we meet an NPC who can pass the Turing Test. There are hundreds of games out there illustrating the point that graphics don't have to be perfect to be effective. Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Psychonauts... the list goes on forever. Art direction and stylized presentation can often have a much greater impact than photo-realism. Is it really any different for choice and story? Sure, the Alpha Protocol experiment shows us that three choices are for many players far better than two. Where does that line of reasoning end, though? Is the next logical step 4 choices? 5? 10? I personally don't feel that choice in games needs to follow the path of shaving technology; after three blades, the shave doesn't get that much smoother for the inclusion of additional blades on the razor. It just makes the razor look ridiculous and handle more awkwardly. Choice in games is no different; the enjoyment of the experience is not directly proportional to the number of options. We don't need developers trying to add more blades, although in the short term that is one way to keeping pushing storytelling forward. For example, SW: The Old Republic looks to have about 20 blades, but the MMO structure, longer development cycle, and story-branching expertise of Bioware is what makes that possible. In general, that game will probably be the exception that proves the rule. What we need are developers that are looking to make the 2 or 3 blades they can afford to manufacture as sharp and effective as possible. The Witcher was a sleeper RPG favorite from a few years ago that was widely praised for the use of choice and consequence in the game. The game, however, didn't rely on quantity of branches to drive player engagement. Every major choice in that game was 2 sided: either help one faction or the other, save this person or kill them, etc. What made The Witcher's story unique was two things -- 1. The results of your choices were never clearly bad or good; there was always a sacrifice or a compromise to be made, and everyone didn't always walk away happy (or alive, for that matter). 2. The results of your choices on later gameplay or story were NEVER telegraphed. As a result, players were forced to make choices based on how they actually felt about the situation and characters, rather than on what items or bonuses (or even ending) they might get. As gamers, I think we can get smarter about vocalizing what we want to see in our games while still being realistic about what limitations exist. Simply demanding more choices probably isn't going to get the job done, unless we're willing to pay a lot more for the branches that would need to be built for that kind of product. A much more reasonable request is to demand more impactful and surprising choice/consequence in our games; it's achievable, it's realistic, and it can happen easily within a standard development cycle if you have a little talent and forethought. I'll always have that one perfect game in the back of my head, where the possibilities fan out endlessly to the horizon in a glorious fractal of branching player destinies. It's a shame I'll never get to play it -- this fanciful digital cornucopia of roads less traveled by. No matter; it will always be my internal gaming happy place. And that's enough for me as I continue to watch games evolve and grow before my eyes.
 photo

[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 w...

The HR Helper: How to fire a gamer

Jun 07 // Sean Carey
MEMORANDUM Re: Weeding out undesirable gamers from the workforce To: All_Management From: Human Resources In the current state of the economy, the talent acquisition arena continues to be an employer's market. This presents a golden opportunity for the company to upgrade human capital when positions open up due to attrition. Ideally, this attrition would be comprised of the employees who represent the greatest drag on daily productivity and morale -- gamers. The attitude and effort with which they approach their work is hardly representative of the caliber of employee we wish to cultivate at WWW, so we see a chance in the present conditions to manage as many of these individuals out of the business as possible. Every gamer removed from the rank and file is a space that we can fill with a more dedicated and qualified candidate, or (better still) another friend/family member of someone in upper management with even less experience. We would be remiss not to act on this in a timely fashion. However, due to their strange obsession with games such as Phoenix Wright, gamers are a highly litigious cultural group, and so we must be prepared to defend our hiring/firing decisions in court. To counter the inevitable objections, we must be prepared to produce documentation which demonstrates the negative impacts of the gamer's proclivities on the success of the business as a whole. Below, you will find a series of corrective action forms which were created during the termination process of our most recent gamer firing, S*** ****y. Let this documentation serve as a case study for managers and supervisors company-wide to use as a model when driving the culling of unproductive and disloyal gaming types from our workforce. Please contact your HR Generalist if further clarification or assistance is needed. Go get 'em! -- Human Resources This document is to certify that the employee, S*** ****y, has been presented with a Verbal Warning for behavioral issues and/or poor performance. Reciept of this document implies the employee's understanding that if these concerns are not resolved prior to the next evaluation period, additional corrective action may ensue, up to and including termination. This Verbal Warning is being issued for the following infraction(s): Jan. 5th: Absence without medical documentation, coinciding with the release date of Darksiders. Employee stated to supervisor that he felt like "Hell on Earth". Jan. 8th: Verbal altercation during team strategy meeting, where the employee became irate when others challenged his view that the current issues with growth logistics could only be resolved by "mining more vespene gas". Jan. 13th: After repeatedly being asked to complete his TPS report, the employee eventually produced a document titled "A Comparative Analysis of TPS Cover Mechanics from Gears of War 2 to Uncharted 2". Jan. 26th: Absence without medical documentation, coinciding with the release date of Mass Effect 2. Employee informed supervisor upon return to work that he was "back from the dead, and ready to shepherd his workload to completion". Jan. 27th: When confronted by his supervisor regarding his lack of commitment to meeting deadlines, the employee suggested that "perhaps you should have completed my loyalty mission". Jan. 29th: Employee attempted to manipulate company PTO Policy by claiming bereavement time due to the death of a home console. This document is to certify that the employee, S*** ****y, has been presented with a Written Warning for behavioral issues and/or poor performance. Reciept of this document implies the employee's understanding that if these concerns are not resolved prior to the next evaluation period, additional corrective action may ensue, up to and including termination. This Written Warning is being issued for the following infraction(s): Feb. 3rd: Among peers, was heard undermining managerial authority by referring to annual performance appraisals as "lame boss fights". Feb. 9th: Absence taken for "religious purposes", coinciding with the release date for Bioshock 2. Co-workers were confused when employee mentioned that he couldn't wait to "get swept up by the Rapture a second time". Feb. 15th: Employee was discovered by the facilities crew wandering around the warehouse after-hours destroying wooden crates and then cursing loudly about there being no gold or cooked chickens inside. Feb. 23rd: Absence without medical documentation, coinciding with the release date for Heavy Rain. Multiple calls were received by IT Manager Jason Whitlock and Marketing Director Adrienne Shaun from an unlisted number where a male voice screamed over and over. Feb. 25th: Employee was disruptive during the unveiling of the new company logo, complaining that "the graphics are totally last-gen". Feb. 26th: Employee engaged in direct insubordination; reported by supervisor as refusing to take on an important assignment on the grounds that his "quest log" was full. This document is to certify that the employee, S*** ****y, has been presented with a Final Written Warning for behavioral issues and/or poor performance. Reciept of this document implies the employee's understanding that if these concerns are not resolved prior to the next evaluation period, additional corrective action may ensue, up to and including termination. This Final Written Warning is being issued for the following infraction(s): Mar. 2nd: Employee incurred $279.00 in expenses when ruining a company-issued Blackberry by attempting to force UMDs into the charger slot. Mar 9th: Unannounced personal day coinciding with the release date for FFXIII; employee stated that the CEO's speech about WWW needing a paradigm shift inspired him to make some changes to his own plan of attack. Mar 16th: Absence without medical documentation coinciding with the release date for God of War 3. Employee stated that he was "staying home to play God of War 3". Mar. 24th: OSHA Inspector forced to audit the entire warehouse for safety compliance after employee reported hazardous conditions for loading dock staff. When pressed for specifics, employee screamed "ARE YOU BLIND? THERE ARE RED BARRELS EVERYWHERE!" Employee was only calmed after being shown that the red barrels were used to store completed widgets. Apr. 15th: Employee unsuccessfully attempted to assault a competitor's employee by climbing the sprinkler pipe in the parking garage and then dropping on them as they passed. Employee missed by a wide margin. Apr. 16th: Employee submitted a fraudulent worker's comp claim for injuries sustained after falling from sprinkler pipe in parking garage. Apr. 21st: Employee was admonished for continuously sending out interns on non-business related errands in order to "max out the Watts" on his Pokewalker. This document is to certify that the employee, S*** ****y, has been released from service to World Wide Widgets, Inc. for behavioral issues and/or poor performance. This Termination of Employment is being enacted for the following infraction(s): May 7th: Unauthorized Sephiroth cosplay on Casual Friday. May 7th: Unauthorized Sephiroth cosplay during company sponsored Happy Hour Morale Mixer. May 18th: Employee No Call, No Show, coinciding with the release of Red Dead Redemption. Upon returning to work, employee demonstrated remorse and promised to put his "checkered past behind him"; was later seen straddling the copier and throwing looped extension cords at interns. May 25th: Unauthorized Sephiroth cosplay when presenting fiscal Q3&Q4 outlook numbers to the public during the quarterly shareholder earnings meeting. May 27th: After being moved to Accounts Receivable, employee was seen repeatedly slapping and striking a client who was late in remitting payment. After being removed from the premises by security, the employee assured his supervisor that he was acting in the best interests of the company, and that he was merely choosing the Renegade option. The HR Archives -- Somebody's Got a Case of the Mondays
 photo

[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 ...

 photo

Competitive online gaming still hasn't crawled out of the MUD


May 19
// Sean Carey
Modern competitive online multiplayer gaming is in many significant ways unrecognizable, when compared to its ancestors. In the 30+ years since the pre-internet days of its infancy, it has changed so dramatically that it a...
 photo

A little love for baby steps


May 03
// Sean Carey
Humans tend to perceive progression mostly in terms of notable milestones. As we age, we don't register the minute changes in our skin, our muscles, or our metabolism even though we see ourselves in great detail on a const...
 photo

All the world's a bonus stage


Apr 14
// Sean Carey
[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 who...

Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...