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11:04 PM on 08.15.2010

Kinect's Potential

Kinect is doing some sort of marketing strategy aimed at small children and grandmothers, which really is a bad idea because any small children and grandmothers who play games already have a Wii. Unfortunately all this does is give the impression that Motion Sensing Technology is for casual gamers.

But Kinect has plenty of applications for interesting gameplay. Here's an idea I had:

Imagine a game where, perhaps, you're a spy, or a soldier, or maybe just Joe Average. At some point you get captured or kidnapped. The bad guy, on your TV screen, points his gun at you, and orders you to put your hands above your head. You, living breathing you, must actually kneel and put your hands up or Bad Guy blows your brains out and you lose.

If Kinect can do everything they say it can, it should be able to tell the difference between arms up and arms down. The point would be to make you feel like you are the actual person on the screen. You yourself would be put into a position of vulnerability, so it feels like there's more at stake than if you were just lying on your couch eating potato chips.

Maybe at some point you get a chance to grab his gun, or run away, or otherwise escape. Maybe it could be like a quicktime event, but instead of pushing buttons you have to jump, or mimic opening a door. What Kinect should do is make gaming less a watching experience and more a doing experience. Kinect should be doing things that buttons, even waggle wands, can't do.

There's a lot of potential for this. I just hope they don't waste it all on Kinect Circus or Bobblehead Racers.   read

9:05 PM on 11.21.2009

Walrus Thoughts on Why Games are not Movies or Books

Most people here want video games to be a super-respected medium up there with Movies and Books and Oprah, yes? Yes, so do I. We often talk of interactivity, or immersion, or atmosphere, or choice. "One day," nerds across the world whisper to each other in the dark tunnels of the Internet, "One day video games will be respected by everyone. And then we will say 'Told you so'."

Only not, because game players can't agree on anything, ever.

United we Stand, Divided we Fanboy

Video games, as far as I know, is the only medium which divides itself into multiple, completely different ways of enjoyment. The lines are so thickly drawn between the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii that the community has been plunged into a guerrilla civil war. The three main consoles (with a tip of the hat to that old veteran, the PC) are so vastly different that they might as well be separate mediums themselves.

It's a situation unique to video games. Books don't have the Book 360 or the Super Book Advance or the Book Portable. There's just... Book. People don't argue what DVD player they use to watch movies because in the end they all do the same thing: play the gosh-darn movie. You watch a movie, that's the end of it. You read a book, that's the end of it.

Comic books. Comic books are books, right? But they aren't the same as a 500-page novel. They're a different way of doing the same thing in the same medium. The same thing is true of the different consoles. They all play video games, right? But the difference between a Wii and PS3 is sort of the same between books and graphic novels.

What the Hell is a Video Game Anyway

In fact, when it comes right down to it, what is a video game anyway? There's things like Modern Warfare 2, with a sweeping storyline and 3D graphics and music and lots of buttons to push. There's things like Canabalt with only one button, 2D graphics, and no story. Do we define video games based on interactivity? If so, we'll have to include those minigames that come with movie DVD's where you push one button every two minutes.

Is it based off of the platform it comes out on? Many hardcore gamers dismiss Wii games for being "shovelware" and "carp". They aren't real video games, because there isn't ten buckets of blood and chainsaws. Others say that Metal Gear Solid 4 and Uncharted 2 aren't game-y enough because they are too much like movies and should be more interactive.

Where are the Brakes on this Rant?

I guess the moral of this story is: video games are such an evolving, changing, innovative medium that it's hard to pin it down long enough to give it any respect. It's like a small child that keeps bringing you tidbits, but runs off again before you can congratulate/berate it, and eventually brings you the Mona Lisa and a sample of Uranium-235. It's like a bird dropped out of the nest that's trying all its different muscles before it finds the ones it needs to fly.

I'm not saying video games shouldn't branch out and try new things, because innovation is great. I'm not saying we should consolidate consoles (alliteration ftw), because the industry needs competition to keep itself going. But I do think that constant bickering between ourselves over which console is better, or which games aren't really games, isn't going to bring us any closer to a world where video games are respected.   read

8:31 PM on 11.20.2009

Spike VGA is ... BIAS?

So I was voting my way through the Spike Video Game Awards, voting based on personal experience or from what I've heard (Plants vs Zombies beat out Dragon Age: Origins only because my laptop can play one and not the other).

Then I came upon this:

I know Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, but really? Did anyone else see this? I'm sure it's just a mistake on the website's part, but it's still funny. So without further adieu


6:00 PM on 11.15.2009

Aquaria Soundtrack release

I don't know about you guys, but I really liked Aquaria. It had a really great atmosphere, and also some pretty great music.

The official soundtrack has been officially released. It's official. It's sleek. It looks awesome, and will probably sounds awesome too.

Anyone planning on picking this up?

Check out this remix from OverClocked Remix. Link also has a short interview with Alec Holowka, the composer for the soundtrack.   read

1:42 AM on 11.06.2009

The Wrong Thing: The Slow, Steady Decline to the Dark Side

This blog features SPOILERZ for Dark Forces II. Don’t read if you haven’t played. Use the time to play the game instead.

Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first “big-kid” game my parents ever let me play. Before that it was Croc: Legend of the Gobbos and The Incredible Toon Machine. Screw Gobbos! I wanted to shoot aliens!

The Falling Ship is one of the greatest levels in a game, ever

The game was great. For those unfamiliar, here’s some background. Rebel agent Kyle Katarn intercepts a coded message from his father, which gives him a map to the lost Valley of the Jedi and a lightsaber. The game follows Kyle as he attempts to track down and stop the Dark Jedi Jerec from using the power of the valley for Unspeakable Evil.

As the game progresses, Kyle learns to use the Force. At first your powers are basic: running faster, jumping higher, and seeing in the dark. Eventually the skill tree branches out into the standard Light Side and Dark Side powers. Curiously enough, you can pick from both sides. If the goody-goody powers are a bit too wimpy (seriously, what does Blind even do?) then just come back to them later, after you’ve mastered Lightning and Choke. They’re not going anywhere.

Lightsabers and Force Powers. What more do you need?

The other thing about Jedi Knight is that there are usually civilians scattered throughout the levels. Depressed citizens of Nar Shadaa and Baron’s Hed will mutter things like “Mind your own business” and “Leave us in peace” if you bump into them. Ugnaughts at the refueling station will ignore you in favor of wrenches and pipes.

Many of these civilians happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and will find themselves inadvertently blasted or lightsabered during Kyle’s fight with the Empire. Occasionally one will be standing next to a grate that needs slashing, or an exploding barrel that needs… exploding. It’s great fun to push them off of endless cliffs or punch them to death with your bare hands or trap them under an elevator.

Pictured: A Civilian

So! You’ve got your awesome Lightning and Choke powers, and enough Force Stars to put towards Heal and Cloak which will undoubtedly help during the final boss fight. You’ve taken out garrisons of stormtroopers, and if a few innocent souls were killed, hey, it’s for the good of universe. Time to go stop Jerec!

One elevator ride later, and Kyle meets an unpleasant fellow named Maw. Maw taunts him, describing how Kyle’s father died. “I had the honor of taking his head and thrusting it on a spike for everyone to see!” he says. Kyle does the manly thing and kills Maw in cold blood.

He's actually collecting money for the Disabled Persons Foundation

Suddenly, Jerec arrives with Kyle’s love interest Jan. He says something to the effect of “You’ve taken your first step towards the Dark Side! Strike her down and your transformation will be complete!” The Force Power screen pops up, Light Side glowing green and Dark Side burning red.

“Well!” thinks you, so comfy behind the computer screen. “I’ll choose the Light Side this time around, and maybe later I’ll see how the evil decision goes.” But you realize something horrible, something terrible. You can’t select any of the Light powers. Your only option is to put more points into your evil side. You click OK. The cutscene resumes, Kyle cuts off Jan’s head, and the quest changes from Stopping Jerec and Saving the World to Killing Jerec and Taking the Power for Yourself.

At that point, there was no choice. By killing enough civilians, by putting enough points into the Dark Side, you had already made the decision to do The Wrong Thing.   read

3:16 PM on 09.04.2009

The completely real* Metal Gear Solid Rising preview

Just like Solid Snake, this past week I managed to infiltrate Koj*ma Headquarters to get a look at the next installment of the Metal Gear Solid series. Let's take a look:

Remember Sons of Liberty? Remember how you were excited to play as Solid Snake again, and all the trailers and screens implied that you would? And then Koj*ma put in some new effeminate character named Raiden instead? Well, he's done it again. But in reverse.

Yes, everything about Rising makes you think it's going to be about Raiden, but that's just what Hideo Koj*ma wants you to think. The story begins immediately after the events of Sons of Liberty, as Raiden is left standing in a ruined Manhattan, having just killed his adoptive father in a sword fight or something. Raiden goes to the apartment he shares with his pregnant robot girlfriend Rose, and finds out that she was Laughing Octopus disguised as Decoy Octopus disguised as Rose the entire time, and that she's here to kill him to hide any evidence that the US was involved with the Big Shell/Arsenal Gear incident.

Raiden escapes the apartment complex and goes into hiding with Otacon, who wets himself. Raiden and Otacon have a conversation and decide that the only survivors of the Big Shell incident are themselves, Snake, and Olga's daughter. Raiden decides to go after Sunny while Otacon goes to warn Snake about the danger.

The cutscene ends, and then I got to see some of the gameplay.

Meanwhile, Snake is infiltrating a grocery store to get some food, because he gets tired of eating nothing but rations all the time. This serves as the tutorial stage, where Snake must avoid security cameras and sneak past the checkout aisle with some macaroni, because he never actually got paid for that Shadow Moses gig.

Snake is back to the PS2 control scheme, because of course in terms of story continuity he hasn't learned how to aim and move at the same time yet. This is in order to increase the "challenge". Higher difficulties will change the control interface rather than enemy count or damage taken: for example, "Big Boss Extreme" will remove analog stick functionality, as well as forcing the player to hold down the start button before inputting any commands.

Snake is attacked by a new Metal Gear as he leaves the grocery store: Metal Gear Diet. Otacon appears and helps Snake escape in an armored motorcycle, and then follows the standard Metal Gear Motorcycle Rail Shooting Scene (MGMRSS). Otacon explains that Ocelot is sending Octopus after them in order to cover up the existence of the Patriots.

Meanwhile, Raiden finds Sunny in the care of the real Rose, who has never seen him before in her life. Raiden becomes depressed and jumps off the balcony of the building, shattering his body. He is recovered by Patriot agents and given his new robotic body, but he needs special fluid to survive.

The Patriots contact Snake through Campbell, telling him that they have his friend and that he must collect the fluid from a heavily guarded remote South African camp. The fluid will be used both to power Raiden's new body and to power the new Gecco the Patriots are working on. Snake agrees on the condition that they release Raiden, Rose, and Sunny if he does.

Here's where things fall apart a bit. As we all know, Rising is going to be a multiplatform game, on the 360 as well as the PS3. Unfortunately, the two consoles are not the same, and Koj*ma had to make some concessions to fit his huge game onto the weaker 360. Take a look at these screens, both of the same part of the game, on the 360 and the PS3:

I guess it's only to be expected, but I really was hoping for more on the Xbox 360 end, even if Koj*ima has to put the game on two or three cartridges to get the same experience. As it is, I overheard Koj*ma say that the 360 version will be the same price as the PS3 version, which to me seems a bit unfair as the Xbox version won't be getting the multiplayer.

Anyway, that's all I was able to see and hear before I was caught and removed by the guards. I was threatened with court martial if I ever spoke a word of what I had seen to anybody, but screw it.

*Well, it could be real. We never know with Koj*ma.   read

9:20 PM on 08.26.2009

Video Game Healthcare - What We Could Learn

My brother is a medical mystery. Between the ages of 0 and 6, he managed to fracture his skull a total of three (3) times. Last year he had surgery for scoliosis, a condition where the spine bends sideways into an S shape. Just today he was in the hospital for something called "spontaneous pneumothorax". I don't even know what half of those words mean. The point is, though, that doctors need to get their rears in gear and start thinking of ways to prevent the horrible things that can happen to people, instead of acting afterwards. And they can do this by learning from video games.

President Obomber says "More Healthcare Now!"

Video games come in a variety of flavors, but one thing most of them have in common is their great healthcare. The doctors in video games must be amazing. How else could you tell the vitality of someone, their healthiness, how close or far away from death, based off of a single number? Imagine what we could do with such technology in the real world: "Oh dear, I've been hit by a car! I'd better check my health. 67%? Why, I'll be up and running in no time!"

Life would be great. Small children would no longer cry from little scrapes and bruises, because they would notice that it only caused them 1 loss of health. Sick people could tell exactly when they are getting better, or if they're getting worse. Doctors, too, would benefit. They could check the condition of their patients with the push of a button.

Soldiers could see exactly how they're doing, and know when to retreat. In fact, some video games have advanced so much that their residents regenerate their health. Even if you took a sledehammer to the face, rest up for about thirty seconds and you'll be better than ever. Why don't researchers focus more on that, instead of making my cell phone so small that I lose it in my pocket?

Health packs are the other major advancement we need to make in medical technology. Surgery is a messy business, and doctoring is hard work. Instead of training doctors, we should instead be focused on finding a miraculous box-sized cure for everything from sprained ankles to swine flu. "First-Aid" kits would become "Only-Aid" kits, because there would be no need for second aid, ever. Hell, the boxes are automatic - just step on the thing and it does the work for you. Dog feeling ill? Sit it on a medkit! Baby coughing up purple fluid? Just touch a medkit to her forehead, and presto! it's all better.

In fact, we don't need to start with medkits. Baby steps, right? What we could focus on first is finding the secret ingredient that make video game food so damn healthy. I know people are now very conscious about what gets put into their food, but this could save millions of lives. If I got +25 health points every time I ate a piece of chicken, I would never leave KFC.

The first step to a new, healthier world   read

5:05 PM on 07.30.2009

The Five Senses

Immersion is something everyone strives for. It's the reason why graphics have moved from Pac-Man to Crysis, why there's the whole 3D movement. It's why games support surround sound and subwoofers. The visual and audio senses are pretty much accounted for in video games, but that still leaves three more for future games to take advantage of.

We've got this one started already. Plastic guitars add "realism" to music games. Various peripherals for the Wii help give that feeling that you really are fishing/boxing/flipping pancakes (probably. I don't actually own a Wii, so I don't know if these actually help with immersion).

This is a big one. Smell, apparently, is a major factor for things like memories. California Adventures had the whole giant screen/moving chair thing down, but they also added different scents that would appear at various stages, like the smell of oranges. Imagine playing Wii Sports Resort and being able to actually smell the ocean. Or Metal Gear Solid 4 and being able to smell the jungles of South America. Or Gears of War and smell the blood... eh, maybe not. But you get the idea.

Um. Possible application for Cooking Mama games, where a pie you make in the game comes out of the screen. And then you eat it.

My dream is that someday there will be a room where you play video games and all your senses are used. I'm not talking some magical brain scanning thing where you go into the video game. I'm talking, say, Call of Duty: Moderner Warfare 7 and you know there's a giant robot nearby because THE WHOLE ROOM IS SHAKING and you can smell the dust and feel the heat from nearby fires. And then you can pause and a pie comes out of the screen and you eat it.

What are your thoughts? How can game makers increase immersion without sacrificing practicality? Anything from more realistic plastic instruments to a gas mask you wear to smell your opponents' fear in multiplayer games.   read

6:31 PM on 07.28.2009

I, the Author: A sense of impending doom

"Shh, did you hear something?"

Smacky the Terrorist was jumpy. He had been smuggled across the border of the United Statesby a bunch of Mexican Coyotes, had helped terrorize Las Vegas, and was now holed up in a lounge somewhere in the Vertigo Spire. News had just arrived that the infamous Anti-Terrorist team Rainbow Six was somewhere in the building. The others had laughed it off, but Smacky was nervous.

He leaned against the door, fumbling for a cigarette to calm himself down. He lit up, closed his eyes, and then heard through the door:

"Go silent."
"You go silent."
"No really, I want to do this stealthily this time."
"Like the guys up here didn't hear all the shooting going on downstairs."
"Terrorists are like goldfish. They won't know we're coming."

Smacky's eyes shot open. He motioned frantically at his fellow terrorists, hoping to gain their attention without making noise. Sadly, everyone else was enraptured by a game of poker. Something poked up against his foot, and Smacky looked down with horror. A fiber optic cable. They were watching him.

"Hey! There's a guy right here," said a voice on the other side of the door.
"Moron. When are they going to learn not to stand next to doors?"
"Breaching charge going up. So much for going silent."
"Shut up."

The fiber optic cable retracted. Smacky bent down to peer under the door. Maybe he could see what they were up to--

"On three, ok? One, two -"

The door exploded inwards, wooden shards impaling Smacky where he stood. He collapsed onto the ground, bleeding profusely, his weakening eyes watching as two operatives darted into the room.

"On three! Three! Not two!"
"Be more specific next time."
"Whatever. Let's just get this over with."

Smacky's eyes glazed over. Everything sounded muffled, as if his ears were full of cotton.

"You took my cover! I was going to go there!"
"Wah wah wah! Find your own cover!"
"One on the left! No, but I have a better shot with my sniper rifle if I'm where you are."
"I was here first. Throwing frag."

The last thing Smacky thought was: How the hell did this beat us?   read

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