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Leigh Alexander

Destructoid review: Ontamarama

Dec 07 // Leigh Alexander
Ontamarama (DS)Developed by Noise FactoryPublished by AtlusRelease Date: November 6, 2007Did you watch the commercial? Do as I say, damn it! That odd, quirky vibe, that catchy tune, those floating... things. I don't know exactly what those things -- the Ontama -- actually are, but a good ol' google search reveals pictures of things that look like poached eggs floating in soup. Fluffy, sweet and nutritous, but Ontamarama's cuties are not edible. They're musical, in fact, and the game's themes remind you of this at every turn. You can play as either a boy named Beat or a girl named Rest, your teacher's a pretty green-haired geek called Coda, and you fight enemies with names like Alto, Aria and Elegy. You know, in case you ever forget it's a music game.If you did as I said and watched the commercial, you probably couldn't make hide nor hair of the brief gameplay clips that are shown. And Ontamarama is deceptively complex. Colorful Ontama will begin to appear on the touch screen, and you need to clear them away. Single Ontama can be tapped to make them disappear, and if Ontama of the same color appear in a group, you can draw a circle around them with the stylus to clear them all at once. Sometimes, big fat Ontama will pop up, and you can either tap them twice or draw a circle around them to send them on their way. So what happens to Ontama when they're cleared? While you're poking them in their fluffy little faces, color-coded notes will be scrolling across the bar at the top of the screen. Each color corresponds to a direction you must press on the D-pad, and you need to time that press for when the scrolling note is directly inside its spot at the left end of the notes bar. But the note won't play unless it's filled -- and you fill notes with Ontama. Following me?So in other words, you have an orange and a green Ontama floating on the screen, and an empty orange note and an empty green note scrolling across the top of the screen. Tap the orange Ontama to clear it from the screen and fill the orange note, tap the green Ontama to clear it from the screen and clear the green note, and then push each note's corresponding direction on the D-pad as the note arrives in the correct spot. By so doing, you "play" the music currently going on in the level. Some notes are "long" -- they require several Ontama of the same color to fill, and you must hold down the appropriate D-pad button until the note passes by. In easier stages and modes, sometimes only a few Ontama will appear on the screen at a time; the more notes a song has, though, the more Ontama will crowd the screen. It's best to clear the colors of the notes coming next, but sometimes it's all you can do to keep filling those notes. In a neat twist, you have a "breath weapon" -- up to three times per stage, you can puff into the microphone to blow away all of the Ontama on the screen. You'll earn points the more Ontama you can clear in one go. You rack up your Performance gauge for hitting notes well, and lose Performance for missing them. When your Performance gauge reaches zero, it's game over. Sometimes, white Ontama will appear; tap them and get a Performance boost. There are also black Ontama -- if they get snagged in a circle or tapped by mistake, they cause your Performance to drop. If it sounds complicated, it is, a bit -- there is definitely a steep learning curve to this game. You've got to watch the notes for timing, keep an eye on the many different colored Ontama and clear them, keep straight the color and directional coordination of the D-pad with each note, and you've got to listen to the music to determine the appropriate timing. Fans of brain training games will love this, as Ontamarama requires you to coordinate so many reflexive and attentive elements at once it feels like your hemispheres are being wedged open. Once again, I'm not allowed to practice neurology, and if my parole officer reads this, it won't be pretty. The sort of busy, brightly-colored backdrops of Ontamarama don't help things, either. During play, your character can be seen grooving merrily alongside her opponent against a detailed scenery background behind the Ontama, and flashes of your or your opponent's image, either cheering or struggling, will streak across the top screen from time to time. Simply put, it's information overload -- but as you become more practiced, you'll associate colors with D-pad directions more readily and will tune out all that visual static necessary for play.Fortunately, the more you play, the easier you can make things for yourself, oddly --  you can earn Ontama Points, or OP, for completing levels successfully, and you can spend them in the main menu's shop to gain little boosts, like starting levels with an elevated Performance, being able to draw longer lines (and therefore, bigger circles), or getting to use the Breath weapon an extra time each level. There's an unlockable Free Play mode, during which you can practice (and rack up OP) at levels you've already completed, and in Story Mode, the character of your choice is aiming to thwart a demon attempting to co-opt all of the Ontama to some dark purpose, and you fight musical battles against his henchmen along the way. Finally, there's an enormously challenging Hard Mode, for experts.The art style and animation is somewhat odd, vaguely juvenile and stilted, but the whole package is so cute that it all begins to grow on you. It's a likeable sort of weirdness, like that kid in high school who was always nice to everyone even though he had no friends. You just kind of want to invite Ontamarama to your birthday party. But it's all about the music, though, so how is it? Well, it's strange to say the least, and doesn't really fall into one particular genre or another. Some are jazzy, others are synth-poppy, and there's one song, Club House Gig, that I've become bizarrely addicted to, and I have to say I dig it. The thing about rhythm-action games in general is eventually the songs lose all their original meaning -- you develop associations with them related to your enjoyment (or not) of a particular game, and you come to enjoy them as the soundtrack of levels you like. I swear to god, that's why La-La is on my iPod: Because I love Elite Beat Agents.Overall, Ontamarama is a very puzzling package to digest. It looks weird, it sounds funny, and the gameplay has several things going on at once. Perhaps too many things. Unlike the DS rhythm games from whose book Ontamarama takes a page, there's no multiplayer mode, either -- which seems odd, because the levels are structured as head-to-head fights. And yet, it's most definitely adorable, vaguely addictive, and with a little dedication, that steep learning curve can be enormously rewarding. You really note that the more you play, the more your reflexes and ability to synthesize that information overload improve.If you've never played EBA or Ouendan, I'd be cautious to recommend Ontamarama as an entree into the genre. Unless you're a DDR fan, because what with the colored directions and offbeat Japanese vibe, there's definitely some paralells. The big get for a game like this is finally pulling it all together and getting it right, and feeling that little shiver of glee when you hit a note precisely. Rhythm-action veterans know that they'll stumble at first, and take joy in surmounting that clumsiness and replacing it with mastery, but those less practiced in the genre might be more confused and frustrated. Ontamarama is definitely unwieldy and a bit overcomplicated, but it's still engaging, time-sucking and solidly fun. And the oddball factor actually works in its favor -- after all, how many games out this season look just like everything you've seen a million times before? Different is great in this case, and patient types should snag this nice, albeit bewildering, surprise. Score: 7.0
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You don't need me to tell you that music-based rhythm action titles are hot shiz these days. Is it because the combination of music with skill-based activity triggers endorphins? Stimulates the brain's reward center? I'm n...

Destructoid review: Fire Emblem - Radiant Dawn

Nov 26 // Leigh Alexander
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Wii)Developed by Intelligent SystemsPublished by Nintendo of AmericaRelease Date: November 5, 2007In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, you control the members of the Dawn Brigade, a team of revolutionaries fighting back against unjust occupation forces in their homeland. And these guys are cartoonishly, insanely unjust – you know, the type of guys who run their own soldiers through for incompetence and then retreat to their own private shadow patch to cackle ominously to themselves. The lead character for the Good Guys is the rather pretty magic user Micaiah, also known as “the silver-haired maiden. Some fresh-faced and strapping young upstarts join the party, and your band hits the streets to deal with the invaders, and the occasional ruffian bandit that the occupation party tends to overlook. And you know, the plot doesn’t get too much deeper than that. The story takes place across four different sections, and each section of the main plot is divided into a series of goals. Your dudes enter a new area, converse blandly with each other about the objective, and then the battlefield’s yours. Their abilities are all pretty standard fare – elemental and healing spells or archery from range, and then there are the sword dudes who have to be in adjacent squares. Happily, you can move and attack on the same turn, but if your opponent is directly adjacent to you, they will counterattack. When hovering over an enemy, you can see right away whether it’s a fair match or not, as an opponent’s basic stats are displayed alongside yours. Additionally, objectives will vary on different battlefields – sometimes you will need to defeat all the foes on the field, and at other times, you need bring down only a key enemy. Some missions require you to move your entire party to a certain exit point intact, and others merely require you to survive for a set number of turns. To say the plot is derivative and the characters are two-dimensional is an understatement. This is not the kind of game you play for the riveting story experience. Since Radiant Dawn is actually a sequel to a previous GameCube title, I asked a pal who was into the series and learned that the heroes of Radiant Dawn, the Daein people, were actually the bad guys in the previous game. Now, their country crushed by the last war, the spirited folks of the Dawn Brigade are standing up to their unfair overlords – which might be an interesting turnabout for fans of the series, but to a newcomer, it feels precisely like every other “young anime revolutionaries take on cruel government master” game you’ve ever played. Except you’d better not get attached to the characters, because they can die, permanently. You can get a game over if you lose Micaiah or one of the other characters key to a particular mission, but your dutiful troops are as good as dust in the wind. This would be quite an interesting opportunity to philosophically explore our relationships with our player characters, to raise our stakes and intensify the game experience. But at times certain missions are so difficult as to feel like sheer brutality, and losing your new favorite front-line superstar who you’ve been grooming and leveling meticulously for ages in one cheap coup de grace is about as philosophically inspiring as a stick in the eye. You always read those silly blog stories about some idiot who flung his Wii remote at the TV or dashed it against the wall, and you laughed at the need for those snug little Wii remote jackets. That idiot was playing this game, and if you plan to play it, you might want to get a cozy little snuggler for your Wii remote, too. Look. I write navel-gazing philosophical bull on emotional connection and and character personalization in games all the time. But a super hardcore tactical game, which requires that you make your characters into statistical assets is not the place to try and tug heartstrings on the fragile nature of life and death. It’s nothing short of infuriating here, and once you start viewing your characters as disposable target marionettes, you can’t even be bothered to invest the time in them it would require to create a useful fighting force. There are no lessons on character value to be found here – each section of the game unfolds from a different character’s point of view, and even your disposable folks have established identities. So all it really means is get ready to reset, reset, and reset. This is, of course, a tactical game, and let me stress again that I hate the genre. And yet I ground and grueled my way through as many painful, throbbing inches of this insanely dull, totally hardcore title that I could stand. Though there are helpful tutorials along the way, this definitely seems like the thick of the tactical RPG genre – I don’t think I’m a dull crayon, but this game seems to me to be punitively difficult, the territory of the stat-obsessed, the battlefield veteran, the experienced and detail-oriented resource manager. I went into it with an open mind and a persistent attitude, and I think it’s safe to conclude that if you’ve never tried a strictly tactical game before, this isn’t one to start with. And you might be tempted to pick it up, because it looks RPG-beautiful, with tons of good looking characters with weird hair colors and intense expression, and lots of swirling full-motion cutscenes. In fact, I’d hazard that they’re some of the nicest FMVs I’ve yet seen on the Wii. Almost PlayStation 2 quality. –I kid, I kid. The game is pretty, the music is listenable, and all the girls are hot. If you are into tactical games, all of these elements provide a nice backdrop. If you’re not, don’t let them fool you. But here’s the thing I don’t get – and this is the reason why even those master strategists who love a hardcore tactical challenge might want to avoid this title. It’s, like… barely even a Wii title. It doesn’t make use of any Wii functionality at all, except for the fact that you can point at menus – and that’s kind of annoying in this context, just pointing away, stabbing at menus all day. It doesn’t use the nunchuk, there are no motion controls, no voice dialogue, and the battlefields themselves seriously look about identical to the Path of Radiance screenshots I looked at. We’re talking about a GameCube title here. Normally one would expect a next-gen sequel to have some next-gen features, but Radiant Dawn has next to none. All in all, it’s kind of a crummy package, I think – but I’ve the sneaking suspicion fans of the Fire Emblem series, or those who love a real tactical challenge, might adore it. The plot’s weak, the characters blab on too much, and the whole deal’s very last-gen, but for the truly dedicated, it’s playable, I guess. Rent it if you're a tactical geek -- everyone else should forget it. Score: 5.0
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I hate tactical games. I hate strategy games, real-time strategy games, and tactical RPGs. I would rather drive screws into my nostrils with the business end of a power drill and, of course, apply a nail gun to my eyes than p...

Videogame conventions III: All work and no play

Nov 21 // Leigh Alexander
I have only to collect a few more rare artifacts to trade to an old fisherman in exchange for a magic feather that will summon a bird that will carry me to a great sage's mountain hut, and there, if I solve his obstacle course in time, will I be granted the key to unlock this power. Strangely, my ability to manipulate gravity, fire, wind and mythical beasts cannot avail me now. My magic cannot elevate me over prohibitive fences, cannot wash away the poisoned waters of a dangerous swampland, and although it can teleport me to any village I desire, it cannot materialize me alongside my mortal enemy, the dark wizard who threatens humanity, that we may do battle. And although I can raise the dead, magic will not avail me in solving the mysteries of love, in which I've found myself embroiled ever since my companion, a tender healer from a wise tribe, asked, "Do you like me? Y/N." There is no time. The state of the world becomes ever more perilous as the dark lord gains power. He has leveled entire villages for his own amusement. My sweet love flung herself upon her knees, wailing "Nooooooooo!" And I was powerless to console her, merely rearranging the belongings in my rucksack to pass the time. Alas, the grievous scene was a trap! The minions of the dark lord swept in, stole my beloved from my eyes. And though they were but lowly demons, felled by the thousands at my sword's edge, I, with the power to open the earth and swallow hostile caterpillars whole, stood rooted to the spot. She was gone. The world is ending, the dark lord is encroaching, and now my innocent darling is a prisoner in his clutches. The time has come. I must journey to the foul stronghold of the dark lord and end this, once and for all. But first, I did what any man in my shoes would have done, what countless heroes who preceded me have done for centuries. I went to that gilded plaza that stood in the center of a flowered meadow, surrounded by bright pennants. I entered that festive space, and there, I played casino minigames for days. I raised my ranking in the battle arena; proudly I strapped my prize, the Power Belt, around my waist. I garnered the Hero's Glove, the Princess Tiara. It's for her, I told myself insistently, cultivating with as much sincerity as I could muster the burning desire for revenge that roiled in my gut. I played the slots, and I showcased the card collection I had been quietly accumulating throughout my journey so far. Even as everywhere we turned had showed us vistas of death, destruction and our ultimate end, I had gathered rare playing pieces -- the world may be ending, but I have gained a badge that will allow me to play cards against the casino owner himself! Days passed in that endless playland, as I frolicked in a bacchanal of victory, and as I slept the sound of my clinking coins lulled me to sleep. My arcane gifts -- the power to curse, to charm, to poison -- might have allowed me to assume the assets of that entire establishment, but no! Oh, to play, ha ha ha-HA! Those neon-kissed vistas, those blessed puzzle rooms, those forbidden treasure chests! With the new, rare and precious armaments I'd gained at the casino, I sought to uncover more of the world's secrets. I traveled back to those places I'd been before, finally able to open that closet in the mayor's mansion that had heretofore been forbidden me. I roil in shame to think of it -- while my love languished in that land of decay, I sought to leave no stone unturned, no tree unshaken, no treasure unmolested, in the map of my journey. Wealthy and powerful as a baron, I came to my senses. All I could recall was something about an ancient prophecy, some crazy demon man, and, oh yeah, that chick's still kidnapped. What was I doing, again?
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I am the Hero of Legend. The planet's fate rests in my hands. I will not be stopped.My travels have spanned the world, and my prowess as a hero has steadily grown. With each stroke of my weapon I grow stronger; with each tick...

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Videogame conventions II: Hand-me-down


Nov 16
// Leigh Alexander
I am the Hero of Legend.Long have been my travails in a vast and mysterious world, an environment largely hostile to me. When I departed the tiny, peaceable village where I spent the whole of my childhood as a mere farming bo...
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Videogame Conventions I: Indefatigable Capitalism


Nov 12
// Leigh Alexander
After 1,000 years, the Dark Lord has, against all odds, re-emerged into the world.We hadn't thought it possible. Our people had, through a use of time- and space-rending magical power, with the aid of a great celestial coinci...
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Difficult games: The real brain training


Nov 07
// Leigh Alexander
I beat that damn werewolf.I complained recently that the current era's intuitive, "easy" games might have blunted my legendary, meticulously-honed gamer skillz of old, like a one-time champ who's over the hill. A li...
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Difficult games: My miserable little pile of failure


Nov 05
// Leigh Alexander
So, extending my... extended Castlevania kick recently, I started playing Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP over the weekend. Firstly, it's a toe-curlingly good remake -- when Richter first crosses the bridge and it begins to r...

Destructoid Review: Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

Oct 16 // Leigh Alexander
Donkey Kong Barrel Blast (Wii)Developed by PaonReleased on October 8th, 2007 Let me preface this review by making a bold statement: I don’t like racing games in general, and that includes Mario Kart. At first, this was just because I never got into it; now, it’s because I’m sick to death of hearing about Mario-anything. I mean, to be sure, one can expect many a Mario title to crank out on the Wii. But when will the madness end? Mario Shuffleboard? Mario Blood Drive? Mario Car Wash?  And yeah, you don’t need to tell me there are other things to play on the Wii, like Mario – I mean, Metroid and Zelda. But it’s like, picture this: Samus asks you out on a date. You’re like, “yes,” right? The first five minutes you’re in her presence, it’s just totally rad, and then she’s like, “what do you wanna do?” And you’re like, “why don’t we play a game, baby,” and she’s like, “alright! I brought Mario!” Come on! Don’t be like that, baby. Come back here. I’m still talking to you. Don’t you dare walk away from me, Samus Aran. --Anyway. Racing game fan or not, Metroid rapist or otherwise, when Linde dragged me out of my wicker cage to review DK Barrel Blast – and here I was thinking I’d get a new ration of zwieback, perhaps a new canister of lye to wash my face with – I was heartily eager, because if I have to look at one more Mario game I’m going to apply a nail gun to my eyes. I love the old Rare fashion of simian rendering, and it’s been pretty faithfully reproduced here – you’ll even recognize the familiar theme song of one of my old favorites, Donkey Kong Country, in the tutorial screen. At first, you’ve only got Rookie Mode, a few of the Kong family, and a couple of the crocodile Kremlings, to play with, but as you win more races, you’ll unlock more modes and more racers. Unlockables, yes! Gameplay’s pretty simple; think of how it might have coordinated if you had bongo drums. Rapidly alternate the Wii remote and the Nunchuk up and down – like drumming, duh – to accelerate, and give ‘em a jerk in tandem to jump. Shake either the Wii remote or the Nunchuk by themselves to move right or left. It’s simple, and it’s pretty damn aerobic. As a result of playing this game for only a few days, I am proud to report I have developed swollen, fearsome guns capable of crushing tons of barbed wire and aluminum – unfortunately, Linde renovated my holding pen to compensate, and I am now coming to you from an adamantium chamber in the Earth’s mantle. I have a phone, but Nex is the only person who calls me, so it’s like a new kind of illegal torture. Oh, right, the game. Okay. It’s pretty fun, actually. You can play in the “Jungle Grand Prix,” which features several different competition cups and one build-your-own, and you unlock additional stuff by coming in first overall in the average score from the three races. You can also do single races or time attacks, and there are, of course, single and two-player modes. The stages have themes like jungle, ocean, volcano and temple – but other than that, there isn’t much variation. You can hop up into blasting barrels (it’s a Barrel Blast! Get it?) for shortcuts, and even pull off style moves by shaking the Wii remote in the indicated direction to get a bigger boost. You might also land a speedy mine cart ride, and you can also hop on top of your familiar animal buddies, like Rambi the rhinoceros, or Enguarde the swordfish, to zoom through obstacles and get a little speed burst.  The core of the gameplay, though, revolves around collecting bananas as you go – save up enough and you can pull off a “wild move,” which means you pull back on the Nunchuk’s stick to charge a burst of speed. You can chain the speed bursts by smashing into barrels – though, it’s unclear why smashing into barrels would make one go faster – and you can also knock down your competitors by charging into them, or by hitting A when you’re near them. Any SUPER WACKY racing game would be incomplete without power ups, and DK Barrel Blast has a few. I must confess, I have yet to really figure out the functionality of them in practice, because it isn’t eminently clear. I think the fairy helps you get bananas, and the tiny monkey enters monkey-on-monkey slavery to steal bananas from the other monkeys. Monkeys! Oh, yeah, and there’s a coconut which makes you invincible, but it looks a lot like a grenade to me. Y’know, stuff like that. I have been told that DK Barrel Blast is getting what Jim Sterling might call a right proper trouncing in the press, and while I won’t read their reviews until I’m done with mine, I have to hypothesize that it isn’t because the game sucks per se, but because they had expectations carefully nurtured by waiting for this title since the GameCube era. I, on the other hand, was expecting it to be utter garbage, and was pleasantly surprised to have a lot of fun playing it. I might have even more fun if I had someone to play against, but then I’d have to thaw the ice around my heart and splinter my glassy veneer of misanthropy and learn to love again. Pfft. The levels are not that great; in terms of look, style and course pattern, they get really repetitive – it’s the kind of lack of variety I’d expect from the 16-bit era, and back then it was due to technology limitations. And the controls are a little touchy. They’re simple enough that you can compensate, but sometimes the difference between a quick left-right alternation and a left-right simultaneous smackdown seems a little hard for the game to understand, and you might end up jumping when you mean to accelerate. Not that big a deal, though. And, I confess, the overall experience feels as if it’s just missing something; it’s a little hollow. But, you know, this is a problem I’ve had with Nintendo games in general lately – including DS titles – where they’ve got this great idea, and great technology that has tons of potential, and it just seems they settled for simplicity, didn’t go all the way. You get the idea that DK Barrel Blast  was kinda going somewhere, but didn’t quite make it. But it doesn’t suck. It ain’t complicated, you’re not gonna cry at the end or cosplay it at some anime convention or cut yourself to the soundtrack (which is kinda insipid, but works) – but it is a lot of fun, and again, probably even better with a friend – and this coming from someone who doesn’t enjoy racing titles, and who hates games that are intended for co-op play (Mario Strikers Charged bores the eff out of me). To be fair, if it is the most fun I’ve had on the Wii for a while, that probably has less to do with the game and more to do with the Wii’s selection – but yeah, I like it, OK? And anyone who hates it probably just sucks at it, and when I get out of here I’m going to play them at it and beat everyone and unlock all the monkeys and be really really proud of myself and then shake the president’s hand and become Queen. Got nothing to do? Want to max out your pump and shore up your biceps and stare at monkey butts for a while? Score: 6.5Verdict: Buy it!
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Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is the latest racer for the Wii. If you’re unfamiliar with the backstory, we’ve been promised the game for quite some time – it was actually supposed to be a GameCube title, using ...

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Halo 3: Chiefly Underwhelming?


Sep 25
// Leigh Alexander
So have you got Teh Haloes? Yes, no? I haven't. Even though I've yet to hear a recommendation against it; even though it is, by all accounts a solid game, and by some accounts, a revolutionary game. Most of all, I've yet to see a heavily critical rating.So why aren't I interested? Hit the jump; maybe you can tell me. 
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Destructoid Review: Rune Factory -- A Fantasy Harvest Moon


Sep 24
// Leigh Alexander
Thinking of the Harvest Moon series, it’s rather amazing that it’s as compelling as it is, considering the entire gameplay revolves around the repetition of simple, mundane behaviors. But add in gentle townsfolk, ...
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Chewy, chocolate-coated gummy proposal: Viva Pinata love


Sep 13
// Leigh Alexander
So we know that wedding proposals take place in MMOs all the time, sweet touching moments of deep connection that occur when real people start to forget that Azeroth is not a real place, as their concept of reality becomes ev...

Ian Bogost wants to trouble you: The Destructoid interview

Sep 10 // Leigh Alexander
 What's the aim of Persuasive Games, and how are the games you design different from consumer games? Persuasive Games makes games meant to influence people's opinions. Usually that means games about social and political issues, but we've also done work in advertising, learning, and corporate training, among others. The primary difference between our games and traditional consumer games is that our work might be encountered in different situations from those games. For example, you might play a game about an organization's public policy positions when you're thinking about how to vote, or a game about workplace behavior in the context of a job. That said, not all our games are solely about work or learning ... there's a great deal of blurred boundaries. A lot of our games are snide and satirical rather than overt and pedagotical. You might think of our work as bearing some resemblance to non-fiction books or cartoons or documentary films.  What do you think makes gaming an ideal vehicle for this kind of work?Games are an excellent medium for modeling and experiencing complexity. Most social and political dynamics are complicated, interrelated mangles of different influences, conditions, motivations, and institutional constraints. Videogames are a useful medium for creating experiences of complex situations and subjects.   You've said that games don't necessarily need to be fun -- isn't fun part of the definition of a game? If not, how do you quantify its efficacy?The first thing that's fundamental to a videogame is modeling -- creating a set of rules that represent some aspect of human life. The second thing that's fundamental to videogames is a first-hand experience of that model, stepping into the shoes of someone who is subject to the rules of the model. For example, what's it like to live the life of a single mother below the poverty line, or a refugee, or a slaughterhouse worker? Most videogames, which rely on fantasies of power as their primary draw, but experiences of all kinds can be compelling and revealing.  As far as efficacy goes, I'm not into quantifying anything. Remember that scene in Dead Poets' Society when Robin Williams has his students tear the page out of their poetry book, the one that tries to graph human expression? The same is true for games. I want to see players talking about the questions I raise in games. but I don't need -- nor do I want -- scores on scales of ten or ratings on MetaCritic.  Consumer designers obviously want the number one takeaway for gamers to be fun. What's the most important thing you want players of your games to get out of the experience?Perspective. Specifically a different perspective than they might have coming in. And, if I'm lucky, empathy for the situations the games model. And if I'm really lucky, one or more bothersome questions that dig into the player's skull, either right away or sometime in the future. I want to trouble players, not amuse them.  What designers have you learned the most from? Is there any designer/game that you think is a good model for the kind of work you do, and what elements make this so?Chris Crawford's early work, for its unapologetic political positions. Sid Meier and Will Wright, for their focus on sandboxy simulation and the creation of emergent systems. Tim Schafer, whose quirky humor is too rare in games. Warren Spector and Peter Molyneux, for attempting to make moral choices an integral part of gameplay, and for revealing the limits of such an idea in the process. Allan Calhamer and Alexey Pajitnov for their reminder that simplicity and elegance will always remain strong design values. Noah Falstein for sticking with the medium since coin-op and advocating its potential to change and expand in form. Don Daglow for Utopia. Warren Robinett and David Crane for drawing attention to the hardware platform as a constraint and an opportunity. Yasuhiro Wada for proving that mundane everyday life is a viable subject for games. And ... as much as I enjoy his games, Shigero Miyamoto for helping me see what I don't want to emulate, namely a focus on empty leisure at all costs (the exception is Animal Crossing, which I admire in the same way as Wada's Harvest Moon series).As far as a model, I admire designers who dig deeply into problems and topics and then try to figure out how to represent them in games to explain their operation in detail. One of the things you'll notice about, say, Will Wright's work, is that all of his games were inspired by reading books by smart thinkers in different disciplines.  What's your future prediction as far as the increasing permeability of the market for serious games in general?I think serious games have the potential to expand the possibility space of games. Serious games won't just look to expand the market for commercial games, but also they will find new markets that currently don't exist. Some of these are obvious and are already happening. Brain Age and related products for mental acuity -- whether or not they really help your brain, people feel good about the idea. Dance Dance Revolution and other physical interface games for exercise and the like. But some are much less obvious. I've been talking and writing for a while about the possibility space of games. I don't mean the design space -- new game designs or mechanics -- I mean the places and contexts in which games are used. One of the reasons I resist the name "serious games" is because its a phrase that has become associated with very specific contexts -- in my book, Persuasive Games, I argue that serious games are primarily games by and for institutions, like governments, corporations, and schools. Often serious games are opposed to entertainment games for this reason. I'd much rather think of videogames as one flexible medium that has a wide variety of possible uses and contexts, not just two opposing ones.
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Anytime someone says that games aren't art, we're up in arms burning straw effigies of Ebert. Any time someone says games are destructive, we want blood. Half of us want to pretend that games are only toys, and the other half...

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Become a Rock Band rockstar -- like, right now


Sep 05
// Leigh Alexander
So yeah, obviously we're all excited about Rock Band, duh. Are you really excited? Wanna get your hands on it now, before anyone else -- and be on national television?The tender dreams of hilariously ironic rock superstardom ...
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Samus: I don't need no plasmids, bitch


Sep 04
// Leigh Alexander
Samus likes it on top, boys. Gamasutra and CVG are both reporting that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is in the top spot on the all-format sales charts, possibly outdoing BioShock in its first week of sales.Actually, it looks pr...
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Delicious BioShock easter egg (you must not eat it)


Aug 29
// Leigh Alexander
Image quality is poor because I snapped it with my cell phone, but I found this on the floor of Arcadia Winery (upper portion). One of those musty old cheese wheels and what looks like floor dirt forms a cute and not-so-subtle little nod from the cutting edge of gaming to the old, old school. Rock on.
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A World of Our Own: Online games and community


Aug 29
// Leigh Alexander
I recently interviewed Nexon's Min Kim for Worlds in Motion, where I'm editor when not here at Destructoid. I cover bizness news related to online worlds, social networking, and MMOs that work on the free-to-play, pay-for-goo...
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Crisis Core Trailer: Time to Cry Like a Girl


Aug 27
// Leigh Alexander
What is it about Final Fantasy VII? We all try to be cool. "Overrated," we scoff amongst our enclave of pals as we mock Cloud on forums and draw comical mutilation fanart of Aeris (SPOILER: SHE DIES). And yet, I de...
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The Most Rad Dorm Ever


Aug 24
// Leigh Alexander
Do you guys say "raddest" or "most rad?" Man, college was a nightmare, huh? --Oh, right, I didn't go. Boy, was I mistaken -- instead of languishing at acting school with boys taking their clothes off and c...
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Crisis Core PSP bundle will rape your wallet (and your Mom)


Aug 15
// Leigh Alexander
So it looks like the Crisis Core PSP bundle is available for preorder in a few places. That's the new PSP slim, with a Buster Sword wrist strap and some Zack-Cloud-Sephiroth art as done by Nomura, from the looks of it. They'r...
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BioShock: I think I've been here before


Aug 14
// Leigh Alexander
So, like many, I played the unbelievable BioShock demo last night, and was floored. I've never been much of an FPS fan; I've always said it would take a lot to get me really into the genre. But few could argue with me that Bi...
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Building a better RPG: Let's make babies!


Aug 09
// Leigh Alexander
Heard on Kotaku about this strategy RPG from Idea Factory/RED called Record of Agarest War. At first tender romantic blush, it's a strategy RPG -- but it turns out you can propagate your heroic DNA with the game's heroines to...
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New Famitsu Scans: Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon


Aug 08
// Leigh Alexander
For where there is Chocobo, evil dares not tread. The prophecy foretells of a time when the yellow-crested harbingers of Instrumentality will stride forth as heralds of joy across the marshes and mountains as a ray of beauty ...
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Growlanser: Heritage of War Web site launch


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
Atlus launched a Web site today for the upcoming PS2 strategy RPG Growlanser: Heritage of War. The Web site's got tons of goodies up there, wallpapers and avatars and other digital swag. Speaking of goodies, if you like them ...
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Take-Two shares take a dive


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
I'm developing this great idea for a dramatic sitcom based around the Take-Two offices. It will feature tense courtroom scenes as executives get caught backdating stock options and falsifying records against the dramatic back...
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Karma's a bitch: Jack Thompson has heart trouble


Aug 03
// Leigh Alexander
You know what karma is; it's that concept by which if you live a good life, you're reborn as a golden cow, and if you're bad, you're liable to spend your next incarnation trapped in the body of a hideous predatory mantis who ...
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Somebody loves you: New Eternal Sonata Screens


Aug 01
// Leigh Alexander
How do I love thee, Destructoid? If you count the number of images in this brand-new gallery of Eternal Sonata screens that I painstakingly converted to JPGs and uploaded just for you, you might have a fraction of an idea of ...
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Counterpoint: Why you should fear casual gaming


Jul 30
// Leigh Alexander
As you've probably seen, Lewzr's recent clogpost, much like a lucky crane game toy, was plucked from the crowd and deemed by the fickle whim of fate to be worthy of frontpage note, leaving the other two-dollar polyester toys ...
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A wild CHOCOBABY appears! What will you do?


Jul 30
// Leigh Alexander
I pretend I'm rational, pragmatic, unsentimental. I deal with the issues, man, the core of our intellectual relationship with games, the subtle layers of gamer psychology. And I feign androgyny; my gender has no place in my ...
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Let boobs flounce free!


Jul 27
// Leigh Alexander
A recent FileFront editorial treats a topic near and dear to all our hearts -- boobs in video games. However, even though the article's author identifies himself as "someone who enjoys eye candy as much as the next man,&...
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Building a better RPG: How Persona 3 will save us all


Jul 25
// Leigh Alexander
Quite often these days, we hear it said that “nobody wants to play 60-hour RPGs anymore.” Many of us even say as much ourselves, especially as an entire generation ages and finds itself with less time to pour in...

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