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Darren Nakamura's blog
destructoid  Associate Editor

6:52 PM on 05.21.2012

A very Animal Crossing engagement story

Two years ago today, I asked a special woman to spend the rest of her life with me. This is the story of it all. I've told it before to people who have asked, but never written it down.

It started more than five years ago. I worked in a laboratory in college, and so did she. Our desks were near each other, and in between experiments, we would help each other out with online crossword puzzles, mahjongg solitaire, and ShyGypsy's Funny Farm puzzle. She was cute, and I felt comfortable talking to her.

One day I invited her over to my apartment to hang out and play videogames. My roommates and I were cheap, and we lived in an old house in upstate New York, so we kept the thermostat at a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn't the most welcoming environment, but I was able to use it as an excuse to snuggle up on the couch and play Clubhouse Games with my soon-to-be girlfriend. She seemed to enjoy it, and particularly liked my Nintendo DS.

I don't remember what exactly spurred her to get one of her own, but soon enough, she had a DS Lite, along with her own copy of Clubhouse Games and New York Times Crosswords. Meanwhile, I had taken her to see opera excerpts, taken her out to dinner for her birthday, and finally worked up the nerve to give her a kiss.

Image courtesy of Wispilia

Things went well for the next few months, but then we had to face an unfortunate truth: I was graduating and returning to the southwest; she was finished with her work and moving back to Mississippi. Our first summer apart was difficult, though we talked daily. I sent her a gift of a game I thought she may enjoy: Animal Crossing: Wild World. With each of us on our DSes, we were able to run around town together, catching fish, gifting items, and making hearts appear above our heads. It wasn't quite the same as snuggling together, but it was better than just talking on the phone.

We spent a year apart, though we saw each other about once a month. Sometimes she visited me, sometimes I visited her, and other times we both met in an entirely different location. Every time we met we talked about when we'd be together again. After that first year, she quit her job in Mississippi and moved out to California to join me.

Two years passed, and over that time, I played Animal Crossing less and less. As a hardcore gamer, I always wanted to play the latest releases, and I tried getting her into other games, but nothing ever really stuck. She was content to play Animal Crossing, visiting her town and digging up fossils on a daily basis.

It was then that I started planning how I would ask her to marry me. Being a gamer, I wanted it to be something I am passionate about, but I also wanted something she would remember. The decision was obvious: I would ask her through Animal Crossing. But I couldn't just do something small; it needed to be great.

My first idea was to bury letters, sending her on a scavenger hunt, finding each letter one by one, until the last one had the question. To my chagrin, I realized that it's impossible to bury letters, so that idea was mostly scrapped. I still wanted to do a scavenger hunt, but I had to be creative with it.

For weeks I bought red roses whenever I saw them on sale in Nookington's. They would be instrumental to the plan. I created an alternate character on my copy of Animal Crossing named Mysterio, who strangely looked a lot more like I do than my main character did. With Mysterio, I bought a bottle mail, filled it out, chucked it into the ocean, and then went to her town. While I was there, I wrote her a letter and left it with Pelly to deliver later. I had Mysterio return to my town, then go back to hers. I searched the beaches to find my bottle mail, then I got to work gardening, and posted a message on her bulletin board. Everything was set.

Oh yeah, I also bought a ring. Then everything was set.

At the time, I was working a job that let me stay up late and sleep in until noon, so we only occasionally fell asleep together. That night, after she went off to bed, I turned off the TV and followed her in. She still played every night, to the point that she has actually conditioned herself such that the 9 P.M. music causes her to fall asleep. She was facing away from me when she started playing, and I watched over her shoulder.

Immediately after she exited her house, she heard the whirr of a UFO and saw Gulliver flying overhead. She ran to try and catch him, but her aim was off and she missed her chance at knocking him out of the sky. Flustered, she saved her game and closed her DS Lite. My engagement plans were about to be ruined by an anthropomorphic seagull. "Hang on," I said, "I think you had mail to check," hoping I wasn't being completely obvious.

She seemed a little confused that I was interested in her reading her mail, but she opened her DS back up and restarted the game. She looked in her mailbox and saw a letter from Mysterio, telling her that something important had washed up on the shore of Dogtown. Intrigued, she set off south to the beach, and combed it, until she found an arrow of red roses pointing to the bottle mail. I had to cut down one of her coconut trees to plant that arrow. Inside the bottle mail, the message instructed her to go read the town's bulletin board.

She trekked back north, toward City Hall, where she found the following message on the bulletin board. Meanwhile, I had stealthily grabbed the ring from inside my nightstand and waited.

She rolled over with excitement in her eyes. Two years ago today, I asked a special woman to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes.   read

2:03 PM on 03.19.2011

Liight finally out on WiiWare

Finally, a worthwhile WiiWare game that doesn't start with the word(s) "Bit.Trip." Liight debuted way back in September of 2009 as one of the PAX 10 finalists, and it seemed interesting enough for me to call it second best among the group. After not hearing about it for a year and a half, one couldn't be blamed for assuming it had been quietly killed.

Fortunately for puzzle fans, that isn't the case. Liight tasks players with lighting up several targets, using only red, green, and blue spotlights, along with additive color theory. With hundreds of built in levels and a level editor to create your own, Liight seems like a worthwhile purchase at 500 Wii Points ($5) for most puzzle fans. Liight is out now, but no demo is currently available. Anybody else plan on picking this up?   read

10:47 PM on 03.05.2011

Gamejournos hates satire

This is the header image, because it's okay to use misogynistic images to drive hits as long as you condemn the image. Bad image! Bad!

Game journalist journalist: n - And individual who writes (professionally?) about computer and videogame journalists, although may not adhere to a professional work ethic. May hypocritically condemn hyperbole while posting an article titled "Gamer Limit hates women," after reading an article written by one person. May criticize journalists for being unprofessional and offensive while posting an article with "Herp Derp" in the title. May start calling a person "Jeff," without fact checking whether the name is actually "Jeff." May not be particularly forthcoming about his own identity, in order to avoid any reprisal for his professional writing. May be incapable of recognizing blatantly obvious satire. May be unable to handle criticism. May claim that "gamers deserve better," which is absolutely true. See also: pompous hypocrite

Some guy of Game Journos a few days ago posted a rebuttal to a list of "Top Five Female Role Models," and by "rebuttal" he presumably means "I have no idea what the hell I'm writing about" or, at least, "I can't detect satire laid on as thick as molasses."

For those following along, "as thick as molasses" is a simile. I don't actually mean that satire share characteristics with the viscous syrup. This paragraph is necessary because unless the writer tells the reader precisely what he means when he writes something, there's no possible way to divine the actual intention.

(By the way, that last sentence was an example of sarcasm.)

But I digress. Let's take a look, shall we?

"Kyle tells us exactly how he feels about Aya - she's a piece of meat, and he gets an erection. Boy, what a role model!"

Wait, being a piece of meat and giving guys erections isn't the sign of a strong female role model. Why would the author say "what a role model!"? That doesn't make any sense! Wait a minute! Sarcasm? That's STRICTLY FORBIDDEN from professional writing.

"Wow. That first sentence aside, there is not a single part of that paragraph that doesnít come across as misogynistic, demeaning, degrading, objectifying and offensive. Way to be, Kyle. Really, are you actively setting out to prove my claim that feminism is relevant to the industry and to game journalism? Because honestly, I donít know whether to thank you or to stick a grenade up your sphincter and pull the pin."

It's true, there is not a single part of that paragraph that doesn't come across as misogynistic, demeaning, degrading, objectifying, and offensive. It's almost as if the author of the original article were trying to write something so extreme that it's not even fathomable for a reasonable person to believe that the author is genuine. Of course, Kyle didn't anticipate that writing something 100% ridiculous could be taken seriously by anybody.

"Itís just occurred to me that none of the female characters in their header image... are actually featured in the article. Well-rounded, fleshed out characters such as Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, the Tetra incarnation of Princess Zelda as seen in The Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and Sarah Kerrigan as seen in StarCraft: Brood War are seemingly to be featured in this article, but arenít mentioned anywhere at all. Not only is this misleading, but the omission of Alyx from a list that is supposedly about female role models is appalling."

Yet another red flag that should have tipped off anybody with an iota of reading comprehension, the "misleading" header image clearly lets (most) readers know that the characters in the header are actually strong female role models, and their absence from the text in the article illustrates that the women featured in the countdown are truly the opposite. So, rather than being "misleading," the header exists as even more evidence that the article is satire.

Kyle later issued a statement, spelling it out for the slow people in the audience. "If you didn't understand the article was satire, for that I am sorry." Others have pointed out that the statement "isn't an apology."

Damn right it isn't! He doesn't have to apologize to you, because he did nothing wrong. If I were required to issue a statement, I wouldn't have even been as accommodating. Mine would have gone something like, "I am sorry that you are actually so stupid that you couldn't recognize the article as satire."

And that's what it comes down to. If you got offended by Kyle's article, then you are one of two types of people. You either are scouring the Internet looking for reasons to be artificially offended, or you are just plain dumb. And I honestly couldn't tell you which is the better of the two.   read

4:11 PM on 09.10.2010

The top ten PAX 10 for 2010

I mentioned in my PAX blog that a post on the PAX 10 would be coming. Here it is. In its third year now, the PAX 10 is a tradition at the Penny Arcade Expo, in which ten independently developed games are showcased as some of the best examples of low budget videogame titles. They are typically released as downloadable games on a variety of platforms. However, not all of the PAX 10 games were created equally, and like I did last year, this countdown list intends to zero in on the indie games to look out for.

10. Plane Weaver
Platform: PC
Release date: available now
Price: free

Plane Weaver is a 3D puzzle-platformer developed by a team of students out of Denmark. As a result, the game is free to download from the link above. It details the journal of a girl named Silke who is trying to return her brother's soul from a race of machines who feed on human energy. She has the ability to assume three different forms: an agile human form that lets her run and jump, a massive demon form that allows her to push items and destroy machinery, and an ethereal soul form that can pass through certain objects, but restricts movement from player control to only being able to ride on steam jets.

The idea is an interesting one, but there are a couple of hangups in the control department. As a PC game, movement is controlled with the mouse, but with no means of camera control, some of the platform locations are difficult to judge. The checkpoints are relatively frequent, but there is still a pretty substantial amount of frustration involved in missing a jump and having to redo an entire difficult section. Another issue with control is that the three forms are mapped to the same button. Pressing the C key toggles between Silke's human and demon forms, and holding it puts her into soul form. The problem is that after holding C, the game interprets it as a long button press, so going into soul form from human form returns the player into demon form, and another quick button press is required to revert to human form.

Aside from the missteps with the controls, the game itself is impressive in that it was built from the ground up by a relatively small team in only a single month. It also pushes into relatively uncharted territory, as puzzle platformers are typically relegated to two dimensions, so many of the issues the game has are probably a result of being pioneers of sorts.

9. Hegemony: Philip of Macedon
Platform: PC
Release date: available now
Price: $29.99

Hegemony: Philip of Macedon is probably the one game in the PAX 10 that seemed most out of place. Despite being independently developed, it initially appears to be a big budget release, with impressive 3D graphics, and extremely deep real-time strategy gameplay. It follows the real historical events around Philip II of Macedon's life, and it covers the entire area of ancient Greece.

One cool bit in Hegemony is that the map has several levels of zoom, each with different representations of the occurrences in a particular area, and transition between the levels is smooth. The really interesting part of the game is that it is not focused entirely on combat, but puts an emphasis on managing supply lines; the player can cut an enemy's supply chain and starve out a defending force, or raze his own farms to avoid their capture.

The irony of the situation is that the real downfall of Hegemony in comparison to its peers among the PAX 10 finalists is that it is so deep and complex, that a significant amount of time would have to be spent with it to really get a feel for the game. Whereas other titles on this list could be picked up and played immediately, many seemed daunted by the sheer amount of information involved in this one.

8. Fowl Space
Platform: PC and Mac
Release date: holiday 2010
Price: unannounced

Fowl Space is a run 'n' gun shooter starring a spacefaring rooster. Developed by Pixelante, who have several free Flash-based games playable on their site, it began as a joke that the creators came up with in order to deal with boredom. It has a stark silhouetted art style, but its main selling point is in its juvenile humor and not-so-vague sexual innuendo.

For example, the protagonist, being a rooster astronaut, goes by the title of Astrocock, and he rides in a phallic rocket ship called the Thruster. His main weapon for fighting the lingerie-wearing Viking enemies is a caulking gun that fires out unspecified sticky white goo, and it requires time to recharge to full power.

Past the humor, there appeared to be very little to make Fowl Space stand out. The gameplay is pretty standard fare; navigate levels, jump from platform to platform, shoot enemies. It's solid, but it's not groundbreaking by any means. If Pixelante keeps up with its tradition of providing free online Flash games, then this may be worth checking out, but if the company decides to start charging, then only a person who has significant appreciation for low-brow humor should look into it.

7. Solace
Platform: PC
Release date: available now
Price: free

Solace joins Plane Weaver as the other student project among the PAX 10 finalists. It is a shmup with five levels, representing the five stages of grief. Along with the beautiful minimalistic visuals, audio plays a significant role in the game. Each shot fired contributes to the game's soundtrack, and depending on the level, it can encourage or deter the player.

Really, the element of Solace that makes it stand out from other shmups is that each of the different levels plays significantly differently from one another. In the Anger stage, enemies fill the screen and litter it with bullets, but pacifism is rewarded as enemy deaths spill even more bullets onto the stage. In the Depression stage, the player's shots are rendered useless, so he must focus more on dodging than attacking. Finally, in the Acceptance stage, the game turns the player into a total powerhouse, blanketing the entire playing field with bullets the way a boss in a shmup typically would.

The only negative point about Solace--and some may view this as a positive--is that it is very short in length. The entire game can be completed in about fifteen minutes, but for a free game developed by students, it tells a strong story of grief in those fifteen minutes.

6. Puzzle Bots
Platform: PC
Release date: available now
Price: $10

Puzzle Bots is a cute point and click adventure game, starring five tiny robots who go on adventures to help the engineers who created them. Each has a different ability and personality, and the player must switch between them in order to solve the environmental puzzles. It almost has a Lost Vikings vibe in that each character has a special ability, but it focuses more on puzzle solving than action.

One of the real treats in Puzzle Bots isn't in the gameplay, but rather in the presentation. The humor in it is great, ranging from silly puns to snarky one-liners, and it never seems particularly forced. Each robot does have a distinct personality, and the player can pick up on that after only a few minutes with them. An unfortunate byproduct of indie development does rear its head in the presentation, and it has to do with the lack of animation for the characters. It's an understandable omission, but it really gives the game an unpolished feel.

Another minor complaint is that while most of the puzzles are clever and intuitive, there are a few pixel hunting puzzles where the player may know what he has to do, but still has to find exactly where the developer wanted him to click in order to effect his plan. Still, even with these faults, the charm of Puzzle Bots really stood out among the PAX 10 finalists.

5. Altitude
Platform: PC
Release date: available now
Price: $10

Altitude is a 2D team-based flight combat game that is primarily played online. It has some relatively simple controls to pick up on, with buttons for turning, thrusting, primary and secondary weapons, and not much else. Despite the ease for a new player to begin playing immediately, it has such a huge breadth of game types that it could easily keep a gamer occupied for a period of time much longer than $10 normally would, provided that said gamer enjoys competition.

There is a healthy selection of different planes to choose from, though many of the choices result from having a particular body with different weapon loadouts. Still, there are at least five different bodies to choose from, ranging from the quick and nimble to the slow but heavily armored. Like many team-based games with different classes to play as, a strong team will have representatives from each class, and the members of the team should coordinate with each other in accordance to their strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most popular (and most fun) gametypes on display was the soccer mode. Much like real soccer, it involves getting a ball into the enemy team's goal. However, it plays out with much more action, given that the players are constantly blowing each other up, and since they are planes, everybody is constantly in motion. All in all, Altitude is a solid game, and it would be great for a PC gamer looking for something he can pick up, play for a bit, and put down for later.

4. Shibuya
Platform: iPhone and iPad
Release date: available now
Price: $1.99

Shibuya is a simple touch-based puzzle game that tasks the player with matching colored blocks in order to clear them from the field. It sounds like something that has been done a thousand times before, but strangely, it is set up in such a way that it makes the player think in a manner completely backwards from normal. It takes a few games to un-learn strategies from other puzzle games, but once it clicks, it becomes supremely addictive.

Unlike most other puzzle games that involve falling blocks, there is only a single lane into which the blocks can fall in Shibuya. The game provides information on the colors of the five upcoming blocks, and it is the player's job to arrange them in such a way that combos are formed and the playing field never fills up entirely.

Shibuya is by far the simplest of the PAX 10 finalists, taking a single game mechanic and running with it alone, but luckily, it is a solid mechanic that makes for a particularly addictive game. Achievements and Leaderboards are present, but only the most hardcore puzzle fans will ever finish all of the Achievements or post a score near the top of the Leaderboards. Even so, at only two dollars, Shibuya seems like a great value for something that could potentially provide hundreds of hours of time wasting gameplay.

3. Super Meat Boy
Platform: XBLA, WiiWare, PC
Release date: October 20th on XBLA, unannounced on other platforms
Price: $15

Super Meat Boy is a 2D precision platformer starring an anthropomorphic cube of meat, who is tasked with saving his girlfriend (an anthropomorphic cube of bandages) from an evil fetus in a jar. Meat Boy is a free online Flash game that gained popularity and inspired the creation of a bigger, more heavily featured downloadable release.

Super Meat Boy showed off the first three world at PAX, which included several warp zones that either transported Meat Boy back into a older, lower resolution console world, or allowed the player to use a character other than Meat Boy, taken from one of many other indie games. Gish, from the game of the same name, the ninja from N+, and Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series all make an appearance, each with his own special abilities.

Super Meat Boy was poised to take the number one spot in this countdown, and indeed it has won the title of Best in Show from Destructoid, but there were certain issues with the demo at PAX that keep it from top honors here. Some sort of lag between pressing buttons and having the actions show up on screen was present, and in a precision platformer, it's nearly gamebreaking. While it was likely an issue with the hardware present (as the Flash game controls perfectly), it was frustrating to fail a level at the fault of the game rather than the fault of the player. Still, with instant respawns and bite-sized levels, one could only be frustrated for a few moments before getting right back into it and trying to compensate for the lag.

2. Retro City Rampage
Platform: WiiWare
Release date: unannounced
Price: unannounced

Retro City Rampage is an open-world sandbox action game, with a graphical style that hearkens back to the 8-bit era. It follows the misadventures of a generic thug through a story so ridiculous it could only have been thought up during the 1980s, or in a game that so expertly lampoons the decade.

In addition to the graphics and gameplay ripped from the early days of gaming, Retro City Rampage is chock full of gaming and pop culture references. Within the first few minutes of the campaign, the player can spot not-so-subtle allusions to Mega Man, Duck Hunt, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the A-Team, Frogger, and several others. Retro City Rampage is the 1980s distilled, bottled, and then spilled all over the TV. Half of the fun comes in spotting references and feeling nostalgic for the old days.

The other half of the fun is in the solid arcade style gameplay, and sheer vastness of the game. More than simply having a large world map, the number of options given to the player is staggering. There are standard guns, a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, a bionic arm, and vehicles to use in order to maim enemies and random pedestrians, but if all else fails, the player can always just jump on people's heads to kill them. Retro City Rampage is pure fun, with a whacked out sense of humor and more variety than some current open-world games.

1. Bastion
Platform: consoles first, PC afterward
Release date: summer 2011
Price: unannounced

Bastion is an action-RPG starring a white-haired kid known only as "The Kid." It follows his journey to the Bastion, in order to rebuild the world that has been mysteriously torn asunder. The narrator specifically details that what precisely happened is muddled, with the line, "Proper story's supposed to start at the beginning. Ain't so simple with this one."

Speaking of the narrator, he plays a significant role in the game. He details what The Kid is doing, as the player is going through the actions. It gives Bastion a unique feel, as if it were a novel that has been brought to life with lush visuals and music.

As far as the visuals go, Bastion contains some of the most beautiful graphics ever seen in gaming. The environments are hand drawn and reminiscent of those seen in Vanillaware titles such as Odin Sphere or Muramasa: the Demon Blade. Elements of the world are constantly rebuilding themselves around The Kid, which puts an emphasis on exploration, as certain destinations are unclear until the player nears them. The Kid himself is cel-shaded, but done so well that it's initially difficult to differentiate his polygonal body from a set of well done sprites. It seems an exaggeration to say it, but Bastion may very well be the best looking videogame ever.

The gameplay itself is solid, with the player finding melee weapons, ranged weapons, and defensive items pretty early into the demo. Combat is smooth, and requires a bit more patience and skill than simple button mashing. The build shown at PAX hinted at more gameplay than combat and fetch quests, with a range of possibilities open for areas further into the game. More details are bound to emerge as Bastion's release nears, but there is unfortunately still about a year until the full game sees the light of day. Until then, all there is to do is wait.

So what do you think? Did you get to play the PAX 10 games? Is my ranking totally wrong? Do I just suck at platformers, which is why Super Meat Boy ended up in third? Sound off in the comments!   read

11:38 PM on 09.07.2010

PAX memories and pictures from Dexter345

PAX Prime 2010 has come and gone, far too quickly, as usual. Everybody has slightly different memories of the extravaganza; indulge me for a moment to hear about mine.

I got in on Thursday evening, and called up Wedge, because I was staying in his hotel room the first night. I knew the Sixth Avenue Inn was on Sixth Avenue, but I didn't know if it was north or south of the convention center. Apparently Wedge didn't either, and he told me I had to go away from the convention center. I assumed I knew what that meant, and went off south. After walking about twelve blocks, I realized that if a person is at the convention center, literally every direction is "away" from the convention center. Oops.

After finding the Sixth Avenue Inn (PROTIP: It's north of the convention center), and dropping my stuff off, it was time to head to GameWorks. We had a pretty large group there, and I'm pretty sure we pissed off this one dude who just wanted to watch the Seahawks lose to the Raiders, because we kept standing in front of the TV. I got to glimpse the Brournal, which is every bit as ridiculous as you could hope.

On Friday morning, I woke up on my own before my alarm went off, because I was so excited for the day. I spent all of Friday at panels. bluexy and I started with the keynote, given by Warren Spector. He made a point that I have to consider from here on out: gaming is mainstream now, and we don't have to be ashamed of it in public any more.

After the keynote, bluexy left, but I stuck around for the Penny Arcade Q&A panel. As usual, those guys are funny, and it was a good time. After that, the Rooster Teeth guys had their panel, where they did Q&A, but more importantly, showed the last two episodes of the current Red vs. Blue season. The second to last one is effing amazing, and you can watch it now here.

After Rooster Teeth, I had to head back up the hill and get in line for LoadingReadyRun's panel. If you're not familiar, LoadingReadyRun is a sketch comedy troupe that puts out some pretty good stuff. The highlight of the panel was an advance showing of this week's Unskippable, which you should totally watch if you haven't already. After LoadingReadyRun, I was off to the GameTrailers panel, where we got to see an advance showing of the current Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin' episode, which you should totally watch if you haven't already.

After that, I ended up at the Friday night concerts. I had never heard any of the stuff by the Protomen before, and it is incredibly ridiculous. I'm not entirely sure how they relate to video game culture, aside from their name, but the lead singer has a really powerful and impressive voice. However, I was mainly there to see Anamanaguchi, so it was lucky that they were up next in the lineup. Unforunately, they suffered from a couple of technical issues, where the chiptunes were almost inaudible during the first song, and one of the monitors wasn't working later on, causing one of the guitarists a significant amount of stress. Still, it sounded fine to me, and I couldn't help but rock out to "Dawn Metropolis."

I took off after Anamanaguchi so I could meet up at the Elephant and Castle with the rest of the Dtoiders, and luckily I ran into Hamza on the way saying that the party had moved elsewhere due to staff douchebaggery, so we headed back to GameWorks. I was starving at this point, having not eaten since that morning before the keynote (roughly fifteen hours before), and I was devastated when I got to GameWorks just after the kitchen had closed. I could watch other people eat, but couldn't order anything myself. I tried to buy Samit's half-eaten sandwich from him, but he wouldn't let me for fear of spreading conSARS. Dejected, I decided to go back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, and find food elsewhere.

I texted Polo Guy, one of my temporary roommates to see if he wanted to head to the Whiskey Bar to meet up with some people, and he told me that they were eating at the Elephant & Castle. I had him order up the most delicious hamburger ever for me, but in hindsight, it probably only tasted so good because I was about to die from starvation. It was funny that we were back at the E&C with Hamza, since just an hour earlier he said, "Never go here again, these people are dicks to us." The tune changed when it turned out it was the only place still serving food that late into the night. Polo Guy is an awesome dude, by the way. he bought my hamburger for me, despite my offers to pay him back. I got him a beer at the Whiskey Bar later, but it didn't cover what he paid for me at the E&C.I didn't spend too much time at the Whiskey Bar on Friday. The Destructoid LIVE! panel was early the next day, so I wanted to make sure I could wake up the next morning. I got back to the room and into my sleeping bag at two in the morning. I woke up on Saturday at around eight on the floor with my legs propped up on the loveseat, ready to start off the day.

I got myself a burrito at the convention center, then headed up to the sixth floor to wait in line for Destructoid LIVE! I was the first in line, but the Enforcers kicked me back down to the fourth floor, saying that the sixth floor wouldn't be open until ten o'clock. When I was finally let back upstairs, I was still near the front of the line, but not first. While in line, throughout PAX, I canvassed for Dragon Quest IX travelers, and was able to upgrade my Quester's Rest to what I think is completion.

Destructoid LIVE! was just what you'd expect. Niero came on with the serious business stuff (N33T sounds pretty cool), and then Jim, Chad, and Jonathan brought the irreverence. The entire panel is going up soon, so keep an eye out for that. Everybody saw the Bit.Trip FATE reveal coming once Jim posted the obvious teaser, but it was cool nonetheless. And of course, it's always a pleasure to see Lost Crichton in tiny shorts; that he also devoured a sinner's sandwich was icing on the cake.

I will say though, to the guy who got up and asked, "When I come to Destructoid, should I leave my brain at the door?" Screw you, pal. Jonathan Holmes had a very graceful answer to the question, "You should bring your heart to the door," but if I were up there, I would have just said, "Eff off if you think you're so much better than us." If you can't find the intelligent discussion on Destructoid, then you're not looking, and if you can't stand the less-than-intelligent discussion that much, then get out. I'm all for promoting pertinent discourse, but there's a line you cross when you get up in front of a bunch of editors and hundreds of community members and insult us all right there.

After Destructoid LIVE!, I had what might have been my memory of PAX 2010. As lame as it sounds, it doesn't involve any unreleased game, but rather a game that has been out for nearly a year, that I play almost nightly. One of DJDuffy's PC gamer friends challenged us to settle a debate once and for all: who is more skilled, PC FPS players or console FPS players? So DJDuffy, Mid3vol, Kryptinite, Knivy, BigPopaGamer, Storytime, and I assembled our team and headed to the console freeplay area for some Modern Warfare 2. Due to unfortunate limitations, the best we could do was 2v2, but we played about five matches and won every single one of them.

"It's okay," we said to them, "You're going to school us on the PC." When we first started up the game in the PC freeplay area, it seemed that would be the case. However, we played their preferred gametype (Team Deathmatch) on the console, and played OUR preferred gametype (Domination) on the PC. So even though we kept hitting the wrong buttons (I could never find the melee button when I needed it), and most of us ended up with a negative kill/death spread, we finished the first game (Domination on Afghan) with just a few points ahead. The second game was Domination on Sub Base, and we really got more into the groove of it. Despite still being underskilled in terms of pure shooting, our teamwork got us through to a pretty commanding win.

At this point, we maybe started to feel bad that we were beating these PC gamers on their own platform, so we decided to play some Team Deathmatch on it. The PC gamers got their first win of the day, but their victories wouldn't last long. On the last match of five, on Favela, we started with a deficit. I still needed to get my bearings on how to effectively play without being quick with all of the buttons, so I took on the Overwatch class (default classes only) so I could shoot down UAVs. After awhile, we made up our deficit and took a pretty commanding lead. I managed to accumulate a 5-kill streak, and I tucked the Predator missile away for later. Near the end, I saw the scores at 47 to 30-something, and announced, "All right, let's end this." I called in my Predator missile, and once I saw the screen, a flurry of unusual trash talk came out of my mouth. "Oh man, here it is, triple kill, suck it!" Boom. Three kills with a Predator near the soccer field. I stood up and shouted out an uncharacteristic "Fuck yeah!" and high fived Storytime and Duffy. It was probably one of the greatest gaming achievements I have ever accomplished.

The PC gamer guys were pleasantly good sports about losing to a group of ragtag console gamers, but I'm pretty sure this settles the debate; console gamers are better than PC gamers, fact.

After the Modern Warfare 2 games, I made my way off to one of the more professionally important panels I've been to, about studying games academically. At my core, I am an academic, and it would be a dream for me to do scientific research on games. It was enlightening, for sure, and I will definitely follow up with some of the panelists soon. Fingers crossed that it will lead to something good in my future. After that panel, I was tasked with babysitting Storyr while he gallivanted with the robot helmet. We got some pictures with a Katamari cousin, headless Zero Suit Samus, and some completely lame Kinect action. It was good times, but when it was over, I really wanted to finally hit the show floor for myself and check out some games. Of course, I only had about an hour to do that, so I didn't get more than a few hands-off glimpses of the PAX 10 indie stuff.

When the show floor closed, I decided that I'd call up my first night roommates Wedge and bluexy for some board games. They brought everybody from the room, including GrumpyTurtle, to my surprise (I thought I was the only person who was nerdy enough to enjoy strategy board games but also like Call of Duty). We all played a game of Shadows Over Camelot, which is a fantastic cooperative board game based on the Knights of the Round Table, but it was unfortunately the least perilous instance of the game I have played. Not once throughout the game did I think we were going to lose, and we beat the game pretty handily 10 to 2. It probably has to do with the fact that I've gotten more experienced with it (everybody else was playing it for the first time), and we lucked into having no traitor among us. I apologized that the game wasn't as fun as it usually is, but my fellow knights seemed to enjoy it just fine.

Once we packed up and turned in Shadows Over Camelot, I figured it was time for me to hit up the meetup at the Chapel. At this point, my phone was dying, so I was avoiding talking on it, but rather just texting people for directions. For the second time this trip, I was given poor directions (Polo Guy meant turn right but he said turn left), and I ended up going about three miles out of the way in total. After some lifesaving help from J-Ro, I got there, and got to enjoy some of the most delicious-yet-strong beverages I've had.

The venue itself was kind of a bust in my mind, because I'm not really into music so loud that you can't talk to each other, or bartenders so busy that it takes twenty minutes to get a drink, or transsexuals. Still, there were other Dtoiders there, and there was plenty of drunk to go around, so it wasn't all bad. I spent the majority of my night outside, as far from the oontz as possible, chatting it up with one of my former citymates, Zero Atma. When it was time to leave the Chapel, I was instructed on just how easy it was to get there, and I cursed my lack of a smart phone.

Back in the hotel room, Stella, Mikey, and Trevkor just stayed up chatting about random things while sobering up. It sounds like a minor event, and I don't even remember anything in particular, but after an exhausting day, it was just what I needed to get geared up for Sunday.

I was woken up on Sunday morning at around eight by Polo Guy coming back to the room finally (that man can party). I got myself all cleaned up for the day, and set out to enjoy the final day of PAX. The only panel I had on my schedule was for Gearbox, but I wrote that down when I was expecting something about the future of the Borderlands franchise, and after hearing the buzz on Friday, I was pretty sure it'd be all about Duke Nukem Forever, a game that I care nothing about.

So I started the day off completing my PAX XP quests. It was a neat little thing they put together for people new to PAX to get a feel for the layout, but it was still helpful for me now that there were so many areas offsite from the actual convention center. I also sort of did it just out of curiosity; the loot promised was a "PAX XP Zipper Pull," and I had no idea what that was. So I went around the convention center, performing random tasks (like rolling a 20-sided die or escaping from a Sumo bean bag) and gaining XP for it. It turns out that a zipper pull is a little button with a clip on it so it can attach to zippers. I was a little disappointed, but hey, free stuff, right? I clipped it on my hoodie and made my way to the show floor.

Almost all of my time on Sunday was spent at the PAX 10 booth, but my experience with those games will be saved for a future blog, so keep an eye here in case you're interested in cool indie games. Other than those, I also played some Monaco, and I watched several rounds of SpyParty. Monaco seemed very interesting, but I think I would have to have a set group of people with specific types of personalities to really enjoy it. As a cooperative game, it was really frantic when played on the PAX show floor, but I would have much preferred a slower paced, more methodical approach to the game. From what I could tell, the game is completely playable that way, but it requires the players to want to do it. I can't say much about SpyParty that hasn't already been said by people who have actually played it, but suffice it to say that I've always been really interested in asymmetric multiplayer, and Spy Party really looks like an interesting take on stealth and subterfuge.

Another indie game I played was the much-buzzed-about Slam Bolt Scrappers. I only got one game with it, and it was against more experienced players, so I might be wrong about it, but it just didn't click with me. When I wanted to play it like a thoughtful puzzle game, Alex Barbatsis would come over to my side of the screen and kick the crap out of me, and when I switched to playing it like a fighter, my tower got destroyed. It was altogether too frantic for me; I couldn't tell what was going on a lot of the time, and I couldn't place pieces where I wanted to with the speed an precision I would have liked. Perhaps it just takes some getting used to, but it's certainly not a game that I could immediately pick up and play.

Outside of the indie area, I spent a bit of time in the Nintendo booth. I watched somebody else play a cool looking platformer called Fluidity. It looks like a cross between LocoRoco and PixelJunk Shooter,
in that movement is controlled by tilting the world from side to side, but what the player is moving is an ever-growing mass of liquid. It looks cool, and I wish I could have tried it out. But alas, I spent my time at the Nintendo booth standing in line to play Kirby's Epic Yarn.

Let me just say that Kirby's Epic Yarn looks beautiful. It might be the best looking Wii game I've ever seen, and if I hadn't known any better, I would have said it was running at 720p. Of course, it's on the Wii, so it's doing 480p at best, but you wouldn't know it by looking at it. Secondly, I don't think the smile left my face during the entire demo. I played cooperatively with LK4O4, and while he was collecting gems and other knickknacks, I just kept double tapping left or right so Kirby would turn into a car and drive around. Also, when one of the characters swims in the water, he turns into a submarine, complete with propeller and periscope. It's not a very difficult game, but it is by far one of the cutest games I've seen.


The last thing I did at PAX proper was to attend the final round of the Omegathon. Not many Dtoiders care about going to it, but I always enjoy it for two reasons. One, it is sort of like the PAX closing ceremony, and two, there is nowhere else in the world that you will be in a room with thousands of other like-minded individuals, cheering on two guys playing the claw-grabber crane game. Of course, the game changes every year, but this year we were treated to the Omegaclaw. Watch the video above, and tell me you wouldn't like to have been there to see that.

After PAX, I met up with Polo Guy (have I mentioned how cool he is?) to get some Thai food at one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle, but it was closed, so we ended up just walking aimlessly until we found something. We smelled something good, and popped into a slightly overpriced Japanese place, only to see Tactix and company. We sat down and had some delicious katsu curry, before heading out to the final Destructoid meetup at Rock Bottom.

I was impressed when we got to the Rock Bottom; we actually had an entire huge section cordoned off just for us. And doubly surprising, there were several people there on time. I mostly stayed in my booth, but I got to talk to the ridiculous Jon Carnage, and I spent time with the talented and insightful Sean Carey. Also, I ate some bacon brownies, which were probably the best idea somebody has ever had. Afterward, I was awarded with a coveted Destructoid bobblehead, just for volunteering to chaperone Storyr with the helmet, something I had done simply to be helpful.

Unfortunately, I had to turn in early, so I left long before all of the shenanigans were over. I got back to the room and got a good five hours of sleep before waking up to catch a cab with Knives up to the airport. My last memory of PAX 2010 was drinking a Frosty milkshake with my Mexican friend before hopping on a plane and sleeping forever. Looking back at this blog, I really did quite a bit, and still, I wish I had more time to spend with you all. This was the best weekend of the year. PAX is better than the last day of school. PAX is better than Christmas. And so long as my finances allow it, I will see you people at PAX every year from now on until I get too old to fly my ass up there. I miss you guys already, and I'm looking forward to PAX 2011!   read

6:44 PM on 08.25.2010

Aero Racer review (PSN)

With little fanfare, Aero Racer was released last week as a PS3 Mini. Indeed, so little effort is being put into marketing this bite-sized gem that developer Halfbrick Studios makes no mention of it on its website. This may have to do with its status as a free downloadable for PlayStation Plus members, however for the rest of us, the going price is a paltry $2.99.

The idea behind PlayStation Minis is a noble one: offer small, simple titles at budget prices. Aero Racer takes that idea and runs with it. On its surface, it's a simple racing game, with one button for thrust, two directions to turn, and not much else. Despite its initial appearance of simplicity, Aero Racer ramps up in challenge pretty quickly. A lot can be said about making a compelling, deep game with controls that could have worked on the NES.

The racers drift a substantial amount, which is frustrating at first, until the player gets to understand why. The main conceit behind Aero Racer is that while thrusting against open air can get you where you want to go, thrusting against a wall will get you there faster. The introduces the idea of "grinding," where racers want to get as close to walls as possible, without hitting them.

It introduces an interesting risk/reward scenario, where skilled racers can speed around corners, assuming they can keep their vehicles right on the edge of disaster. Aero Racer capitalizes on this idea with tracks that have multiple paths; yet unlike any other racing game before it, the shortest route is typically not the fastest.

In addition to its minimalistic control scheme, the game also has an old school feel in terms of difficulty. It starts off easily enough, with tutorial levels allowing the player to get a feel for the floaty racers, but pretty quickly ramps up to asking the player to achieve a certain number of grind points and complete the track in a particular amount of time, which can be extremely taxing. However, many of the tracks last only ten to fifteen seconds each, so retrying one multiple times to get a perfect run isn't unreasonable.

Still, it takes a particular kind of person to enjoy a game like Aero Racer. It's fast, it's exhilarating, but more than anything else, it is challenging. If you miss the days of twitch action that requires precise player input for success, then you'll probably love it. If you prefer your downloadable games to be relaxing, mindless fun, you may want to look elsewhere.   read

7:12 PM on 06.24.2010

On 'Splosion Man and great game design

In case you don't know, 'Splosion Man is an XBLA platform game that was released last year. Even if you don't have firsthand experience with it, you ought to know a bit about it, as it got a nine out of ten in the official Destructoid review.

And indeed, much else has been said about the game's style and charm, including Ashley Davis's piece on 'Splosion Man's idle animations.

However, Team Meat's Edmund McMillen's recent blog posts on fundamental game design principles has gotten me thinking less about the style 'Splosion Man exudes, and more about all of the other design choices that Twisted Pixel put into the game. Specifically, how everything comes together to make 'Splosion Man a nearly perfect game.

The first thing anybody notices about 'Splosion Man's design is the simplicity of the controls. The titular character moves with the left stick and has but one action, assigned to all four face buttons; pressing any of them makes him 'splode. The beauty of 'Splosion Man as a character is that 'sploding may be all he can do, but it serves several purposes. 'Sploding lets the player jump, attack, defend, and interact with the environment. As far as controls are concerned, 'Splosion Man is a game whose mechanics could have been on the NES, and held its own against the myriad of 2D platformers of the time.

The single player campaign is fast-paced endeavor, but it adheres closely to McMillen's ideas on his upcoming 2D platformer. The risk/reward is present in 'Splosion Man's cakes, which are typically either out of the way or in plain sight but visibly difficult to reach. The reward is largely intrinsic, though the cakes do contribute to Achievements and higher Leaderboard scores, if those hold any extrinsic value for the player. And much like Super Meat Boy, the behaviors that 'Splosion Man rewards are exploration and raw platforming skill.


One of the elements of 'Splosion Man that really shines is its difficulty curve. The above video shows one of the more exhilirating later levels, and it demonstrates something that appears impossible to a 'sploding novice. But with frequent checkpoints and unlimited lives, the player can work his way up to completing each of the games 50 levels. When he does get to the end, conquers the final boss, and watches the ridiculous closing credits, 'Splosion Man informs the player about Hardcore Mode, which removes checkpoints and adds one-hit kills. And after struggling through the last few levels, even an experienced 'sploder will deem the task impossible.

Ingeniously, the Achievements actually provide a road map for how to play through and completely finish 'Splosion Man. Beat the single player campaign? Good, now get all of the cakes. Did that? Try the multiplayer campaign. Done with that? Go for all of the multiplayer cakes. Even the seemingly inconsequential Achievements, like "get through an entire level without killing any scientists" teach the player about 'Splosion Man's attack range, jump distance, and the game's general physical mechanics. Got all of the other Achievements done? Now you are ready to take on Hardcore Mode. The task is certainly daunting, but not nearly the impossibility it appears to be upon beginning the game.

I implied earlier that the cooperative multiplayer in 'Splosion Man is a different experience than the single player campaign. To be more explicit, if you have only played 'Splosion Man's single player, then you have not nearly experienced everything the game has to offer. The recent trend in game design is to craft compelling multiplayer experiences beyond simply allowing more than one person to simultaneously play through the regular campaign, and Twisted Pixel delivered on this front better than anybody could have expected.


Whereas the single player experience is one focused on speed, precision, reaction, and memorization, the multiplayer campaign features an entirely different set of levels, focused on planning, communication, and coordination. While this slows the game down considerably, Twisted Pixel did some subtle, brilliant stuff with the level design to alleviate that. In the cooperative campaign there are the main puzzle rooms, and the intercalary corridors. While the main rooms will test your party's abilities to the extreme, the hallways in between the main rooms are easily navigable and filled with breakables. These serve as mini rewards for finishing the main sections. After what could potentially be several minutes required to coordinate a team through a main room, the players are all gifted the ability to just run amok and take in 'Splosion Man's other virtue: its aforementioned charm.

All of these design decisions come together, along with the expert creation of a character who is inherently entertaining to play as, to create a nearly perfect experience. If I were ever asked to lecture on great game design, my PowerPoint would be filled with slides from 'Splosion Man.   read

9:56 PM on 06.14.2010

Something about E3: I'm sick of game journalists complaining about their jobs

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is upon us, and that means several things. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony will all be vying for your attention, some unexpected announcements will be made, and videogame writers from sites across the Internet will complain because for one week out of the year they actually have to work hard. So for those of you out there looking for sympathy because you have to wake up at eight in the morning to make it to Nintendo's press conference, I bear a message from the rest of us: SHUT. UP.

Let's face it. If you are doing what you're doing, and you're able to pay your bills by writing about games alone, you have a dream job. Now, when people say that, Douchebag McGee (fictional game journalist) may retort with something like, "I don't really understand why people covet games journalism jobs. You don't actually get to just sit and play games all day. It's the same as any job with the same amount of drudgery." But if you even get to play for only an hour a day to do your job, then that's an hour more than most people with any other job get to play while at work.

To step back a bit, let's take a look at the six major factors that contribute to job satisfaction, according to a 1998 study. They are:

- Pay
- Hours
- Future Prospects
- Difficulty
- Interest, prestige, and independence
- Interpersonal relationships

Starting from the top, I'll concede that the pay in game journalism is certainly less than ideal, especially among enthusiast bloggers as opposed to corporate journalists. Very few can make a living off of writing about games alone, but those who do are very fortunate, and some even realize it.

Skipping hours of work (we'll come back to that), the next item on the list is future prospects. At first, it seems that videogame journalism scores pretty poorly here as well. What does a game writer become when he is promoted? Super game writer? It appears to be an end of the road kind of deal. However, there is anecdotal evidence of a man going from writing simple blogs to now working at Microsoft, or another guy starting in the same place but ending up as a star in a popular webseries and a writer for Gearbox. Simply put, if you're good, you've got places you can go.

Difficulty is an interesting topic, as it's not necessarily true that easier is better. One of my previous jobs was in data entry; sitting at a computer copying information into a form is about as mindlessly easy as it gets, and as such, it is terribly boring. For a job to be satisfying, it needs to be difficult enough for the worker to feel like he is actually necessary, but not so difficult that he can't reasonably complete his tasks. Game journalism scores well in this category, as it's clear that not everybody can be an effective writer, but for those who are, the opinion pieces, news items, and reviews flow onto the page pretty naturally.

In the interest, prestige, and independence section is truly the reason to be a videogame journalist. Admittedly, there is little mainstream prestige in writing about games, but among the game community, who hasn't heard of Adam Sessler, Brian Crescente, or Nick Chester? As far as independence goes, a more valuable job lets the worker feel like he controls what he does on a day-to-day basis. While a writer may be given the task of "review Game X before Time Y on Date Z," he still has control over exactly how he tackles the assignment. He is at liberty to decide how much of the game requires playing before an accurate review can be written, and he chooses what kind of tone to use in his writing.

Still, prestige and independence are nothing compared to what ought to be the main reason anybody becomes a videogame journalist: interest. Are you passionate about games? Do you love writing about your hobby? Do you enjoy your time working, or do you view it as "drudgery" and you look forward to the end of the day when you can go home and forget about games until tomorrow? Simply put, if you're interested in videogames, then spending your day writing about them should be a pleasure, not a chore.

There is a stigma among gamers, one that is waning more and more as time goes on, and has been outright disproven by this very community, and that is the idea that we are lonely and friendless. Interpersonal relationships are something that game writers very certainly build up while doing what they do. A wise man once said that the secret to his success was in the idea of buena gente. By surrounding yourself with good people, good things will come. And the interpersonal relationships one can build while working with buena gente are fantastic.

So far, game journalism looks to score pretty highly as far as the six factors go. While the pay could be better, the rest make the job seem ideal to anybody passionate about games. But we skipped over the topic of hours, as that is what specifically relates to E3. During any time of year outside of major events like E3, Gamescom, or TGS, the hours seem pretty sweet to an outsider. Some work a standard eight hours a day, some work fewer, and some work more, all depending on how much time a person can commit to the job. The nice part is that a game writer can choose specifically which hours he works, in addition to how many. Night owls can put up posts at three in the morning if they so choose.

During events like E3, however, the industry goes into overdrive. Now, I am not trying to discount just how much work is done during a week like this one. Sixteen hours days for a week straight is not easy, and the work ethic necessary to keep that up is commendable. However, there are people who work twelve to sixteen hour days on a regular basis -- not just for a couple weeks out of the year. Tactix is a graduate student in Organic Chemistry, which is known for having consistently brutal hours. He still does it because getting a Ph.D is worth all of the work for him. Ark is an animator at Dreamworks, and he regularly works insane hours as well. Again, the job is inherently rewarding enough that it is worthwhile in his mind.

And that's what it all comes down to. Game journalists: do you love your job enough that you can endure a week of long hours and come out of it exhausted, but with a smile on your face? If not, then I'm sorry to say, but you're in the wrong business. If you want to gain sympathy from us regular people because you had to stay up late to finish writing about the game that you got to play a year before its release, then please do the following: shut up, quit your job, and make room for somebody who would appreciate it, "drudgery" and all.   read

2:00 AM on 02.05.2010

Valkyria Chronicles separates the generals from the armchair generals

If I could toot my own horn for just a bit, I'd say that I think I'm pretty good at turn-based strategy games. I spent countless hours playing Civilization III, I recently extolled the virtues of Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, and if one were to take a look at my save file on Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, he'd see a totally golden menu, signifying complete domination over the game.

In Advance Wars 2, I S-ranked every mission in the hard campaign, and made that game beg for mercy. So naturally, going into the critically acclaimed PS3 strategy-shooter, I felt pretty confident in my abilities.

But then the skill ratings started coming in. B-rank on the tutorial mission. C-rank on the next. D-rank, D-rank, D-rank. "What am I doing wrong?" I thought. But after some more consideration, I think the real question is, "What is this game doing right?"

What Valkyria Chronicles does that contrasts it with Advance Wars is so simple, it's impressive how much it changes the game. Rather than the nameless, faceless forces that each AW commanding officer has in tow, all of the soldiers fighting under Lieutenant Welkin have unique names, faces, voices, and personalities.

It originally appears as a throwaway feature in a game about war. The player can set up his squad from a long list of recruits, and he can view short bios on each unit. From there, the brilliance really begins to show. As Welkin fights more battles with a particular soldier, that character's bio page gets updated with more and more information. It implies that while this team is fighting together, they are also talking to one another, sharing with each other their lives, hobbies, dream, and fears. Giving a name to each soldier makes the player feel as though he has not only handpicked this team, but that he needs to take care of them as well.

Gameplay-wise, there is little penalty for losing a soldier in battle. They can be replaced with others of the same class after a battle, with nearly identical combat ability. The only real penalty of losing a nonessential character to the enemy's fire is the weight of guilt on the player's conscience.

After coming upon this revelation, I realize now some things about other games I've played in the past. A more apt comparison to the Advance Wars games is the Fire Emblem series, and yet, the one key difference of permanent character death in Fire Emblem has kept me from finishing the game on two separate playthroughs, while I have beaten three of the Advance Wars games, each two times over.

It has been said that a great military leader is not only one who can win a battle and bring back all of his men, but one who knows when to sacrifice his team to win the war. But if my soldiers have names, I cannot be that man. I am no general; I cannot lead my men to death.

But as I continue through the game, earning my C-ranks and D-ranks, I will take solace in knowing that although I am a poor military leader, not a single member of Squad 7 will be left behind.   read

12:20 AM on 01.26.2010

Buy this game: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

So, an RPG, a turn-based strategy, and a puzzle game walk into a bar. There they meet some spiffy, yet slightly generic manga-lookin' characters. Everybody has a grand old boozy good time, they go home together, and the result of a night's worth of debauchery is this game. Now, it could have turned into a royal mess, but by some stroke of luck (or more likely, due to Capybara Games's development prowess), Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes got all of the best traits from each of its parents.

Seriously, if you own a DS and like puzzle games and/or turn-based strategy and/or RPGs, then you want to go and buy this game right now. But I suppose I should elaborate.

Hamza's preview of the game, while informative, doesn't really do it justice. (Plus, that's from six months ago, and there hasn't been any mention of it on Destructoid since.) While everything he mentions is true, he was not able to spend enough time with the game to really understand its intricacies. What initially appears to be a simple match-three puzzler very quickly becomes an extremely satisfying battle of wits.

The overworld exploration is kept to a minimum, with the player traveling between nodes, a bit akin to the travel in fellow puzzle-RPG Puzzle Quest. Hamza dumps on this in the preview, but it feels perfect for the game because despite how our hairy friend feels, this game is not about exploration, it is about battles.

The battles occur with the player's army on the bottom screen and the opposing force on the top screen. Each army has "Core" units that take up a 1x1 square, "Elite" units that require a 1x2 area on the battlefield, and "Champion" units that fill up a huge 2x2 portion of the screen. Most of the battle involves matching up three Core units in either a column for attacking, or a row for defense. The actual unit movement occurs in a Critter Crunch-esque manner of moving the bottom-most unit in a column to the bottom of any other column. And of course, pulling off moves that create several rows or columns at once reward the player--in M&M:CoH, the reward is more moves per turn to set up attacks.

The different types of units introduce an interesting dynamic, in that Elite and Champion units do more damage than Core units, but they take more time to charge their attacks and are more difficult to maneuver due to their size. I personally found myself avoiding the Champion units in favor of Elite units because although a fully charged Champion unit typically spelled defeat for the enemy once launched, the five or six turns required to charge was frequently enough time to win without them anyway, so at that point, they were just taking up space on the battlefield.

All in all, the battles in Clash of Heroes are superbly satisfying. Combining more advanced techniques like linking attacks (launching two or more of the same color units at once) or fusing units (stacking identical attacks to double power while retaining the shortest countdown) can sometimes lead to a blitzkrieg assault that feels like a symphony of destruction. There were times when I couldn't help but show my friends. "Look at this work of art I just created," I'd say, just before I was about to completely obliterate the CPU with an expertly planned offensive. Sadly, without much experience with they game, they could not truly appreciate it.

With a DS collection pushing 60 titles at this point (legit boxed cartridges, not R4), I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the platform. And it is without hyperbole that I can say that Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is one of the best--if not the best--DS game I played in 2009. I bought it on the same day as Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and despite the typical quality we have all come to expect from the Zelda pedigree, I have already put at least four times as many hours into Clash of Heroes than Spirit Tracks. You owe it to yourself to try this game out.   read

1:25 AM on 11.10.2009

Defense Force: moral choice in games

Whenever a new game comes out that purports to offer the player moral choice, the comments blow up with one of two types of comments. People either come in with the hope that this new game will actually offer the interesting choices they crave, or they cynically have resigned to the idea that moral choice in games will never be a worthwhile endeavor.

One has to ask. What does everybody want from their games with moral choice? Is it presenting choices within a moral grey area? Is it causing deep introspection in the player? Is it forcing consequences for the player's actions? I'm here to say that all of these exist today, and moral choice in games gets an undeserved bad rap.

Defense Force mobilize!

[It should be noted that this blog contains spoilers for 2006's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, 2007's BioShock, and 2008's Fable II. Read at your own risk.]

Several games have come out this generation with interesting takes on moral choice. The recently released Dragon Age: Origins is said to exist largely in the morally grey area, but not too long ago I played a three year old game that featured a single choice in the morally grey that made me really think, and actually made me feel regret. That game is Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

SC:DA puts the player in the shoes of Sam Fisher, but unlike previous games, has him working as a double agent in a terrorist cell called John Brown's Army (JBA) in addition to his normal position with the NSA. For most of the game, the player is given a set of objectives from both organizations, and a limited amount of time so he has to choose which ones to complete and which to ignore.

These choices aren't particularly thought provoking, but they lead up to a doozy. If Sam is diligent with his secondary NSA objectives, he learns a fair amount of background information on the key players in the JBA. If the player pays attention, he learns that one of members, Enrica Villablanca, is in her position because she fell in with the wrong crowd, but she seemingly stays there for fear of the JBA's leader, Emile Dufraisne.

Sam is later given a mission to blow up a cruise ship. After completing the mission to arm the bomb, he is given three choices: either let the bomb explode, causing hundreds of Mexican police officers to die and the NSA to lose trust in Sam; jam the signal to stop the bomb, causing Dufraisne to murder Villablanca in a fit of rage, and the JBA to lose trust in him; or stop the launch with Enrica's access codes, framing her for it, causing no loss in trust from either organization, but again, the death of a kind-of-sort-of innocent woman.

When I first made the decision, I didn't know Emile would kill Enrica for the second choice (though I was pretty certain he would for the third). So I went with that one, in an attempt to preserve as much life as possible. In the following scene, with Emile shooting Enrica in the face, I experienced something that I can't remember ever having felt before or since in a videogame: regret. I immediately reloaded my save and went with the choice to destroy an entire cruise ship and hundreds of faceless law enforcement officers, in order to save a woman working for a terrorist organization.

It almost seems like a simple formula for introspection. By presenting no clearly "good" choice, I am forced to decide which of the three is the lesser evil. After consorting with my fellow pretentious jerk Anthony Burch, I learned that he would have chosen one of the other options, highlighting that there is indeed no correct choice.

What is perhaps even more interesting about this sequence is that a less diligent player might not take the time to snoop through Enrica's stuff to learn enough about her, and he may see framing her as the obvious best option, as it doesn't negatively affect his standing with either organization, saves hundreds of lives, all at the cost of a terrorist. On the other hand, I was rewarded for my completion OCD with a real moral quandary, one that I still think about to this day.

Moving forward, to another old game by Internet standards: BioShock. One of the most prominent complaints levied against the moral choice in BioShock is that it does not have an ounce of grey in it. Protagonist Jack either does good by saving the Little Sisters, or does evil by harvesting them.

The game itself tells the player that harvesting the Little Sisters results in more ADAM for Jack, and thus more cool Plasmids to splice, making him more effective in battle. But as the game moves on, it becomes clear that the delayed bonuses in ADAM given by Dr. Tenenbaum at least offset that which is lost in choosing to save the girls rather than harvest them.

Some cried foul upon learning this fact. "Why would we ever do the evil thing if it benefits us more to do good?" And to that I say, "Indeed."

As a man who likes the idea of karma, I don't quite get the notion that being a good person should make life difficult, and being evil should make it easier. Why not teach a valuable life lesson in your game? Doing the right thing should be rewarded in the end, not punished.

Or, in the (paraphrased) words of Aaron Linde, BioShock asks the question, "Is it okay for you to sacrifice the lives of these children in order for your own personal gain?" and then it quickly answers for you, "No, you stupid idiot, of course it's not okay. Why would you even think that for a second?"

And finally, a game that as released just last year: Fable II. Say what you will about Molyneux's overhype and the many black-and-white choices that exist in the game, but I personally think that Fable II presents multiple choices that not only cause one to pause and reflect, but possibly to agonize over a decision.

The most famous of these decisions comes at the end of the main story arc, after defeating Lucien. The Hero is granted a single wish, with the choice between one of three options. The first is resurrect the thousands of people who died at the hand of Lucien, the second is to resurrect the ones the Hero loves, including any family he has and his dog, and the third is unimaginable wealth.

Truly, there are only two viable choices here, as the Hero ought to have more gold than he can possibly spend at this point in the game, and has no need to choose the third option other than to net the Achievement for it.

But the remaining two options are difficult to pick from. The first is obviously the more virtuous of the two, but the second might hold more weight. I personally had three wives (though only one I cared about) and one daughter, and while the news of the murder of my families was a bit saddening, the real draw of the second choice is to bring back the Hero's best friend: his beloved dog.

The dog is there throughout the game with the Hero, and unlike husbands and wives in Albion, the dog will never leave the Hero, no matter how fat, corrupt, or evil the Hero becomes. But if the sentimental attachment isn't enough for you, the dog also acts as an irreplaceable asset with actual gameplay advantages.

Unlike the wish for unimaginable sums of gold, the wish to return the Hero's family provides something that the player cannot acquire by any other means. And because of that, I chose it, despite playing through the game making all of the obvious "good" choices.

And it got me thinking. Did I actually make the most selfish choice of them all? Was I playing a good character throughout the entire game, only to sacrifice the lives of thousands for something that truly benefits me and only me? Is it evil for me to have done that?

Another choice that had me contemplating it for days afterward appears much earlier in the game, but is interesting to me for largely the same reason. It sounds unlikely at first, but this came with the option to sacrifice people to the Temple of Shadows.

Now, I won't argue for a second that the whole Temple of Light/Temple of Shadows dichotomy in Fable II is particularly interesting in itself. Donations to the Temple of Light do nothing but augment the Hero's virtuous standing in the world, while sacrifices to the Temple of Shadows don't benefit the player enough monetarily to make them a logical thing to do for any reason other than to become more evil in the game.

But then, that isn't entirely true. I really can't commend Lionhead enough on the decision, but they also included an Achievement in the game for sacrificing ten villagers to the Temple of Shadows. There is no corresponding Achievement for donations to the Temple of Light.

Think about that for a moment. Fable II is offering real world rewards (insofar as Achievements are real world rewards) for evil deeds in game. By going for this Achievement, I get to permanently add a nice little 10 Gamerscore to my total, but at what cost? A little bit of my soul?

I like to think that in general, I am a good person, but with these two examples, Fable II has shown me that I am not as altruistic as I once thought. Twice in the game I chose to do something self-serving, at the cost of many virtual lives. And if this blog is any indication, I agonize over that fact.

So if you say we have no interesting moral choices in games, then I must disagree. If none of these (or any of the many other examples out there) give you any pause, then you are either not thinking about them enough, or you have no interest in moral choice to begin with.

And I'm not saying that there aren't examples of uninteresting moral choices in games. When you're given the choice to murder a little boy's puppy or cure his leukemia, it's easy to write off moral choice as an unworthy endeavor. But even in this case, on the most superficial level, it gives the player two ways to play through the game, where a game lacking moral choice only has one. Sure, you might only play good or evil, but it's not like options are taken away from you with respect to games with more traditional narratives. In other words, adding elements of moral choice to a game can't possibly subtract content that would be present otherwise, it can only add.

So to complain about the state of moral choice in games seems silly to me. At best, it shows ignorance of some great examples of thought-provoking gameplay. At worst, it shows that some people want less interaction with a medium whose major defining characteristic is interactivity.

Your thoughts?   read

1:10 AM on 11.04.2009

Five things I'm pretty sure I can do, learned from games

Like most everybody else here on Destructoid, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about video games. However, a good amount of that time is spent thinking specifically about how games can be powerful tools for education. And yet, despite their pervasiveness, few educators are capitalizing on the attention-holding capability of video games.

But that's a discussion for another time. For now, it got me thinking about what video games have taught me personally. Certainly, I've learned a lot of complex systems, I've gained a sense of rhythm, and I've even taken in a bit of history. But right now I'm interested in things that I'm pretty sure I can do, that video games have supposedly taught me, but that in reality, I probably can't.

Fire a weapon
I have never in my life shot anything more powerful than an airsoft pistol or a paintball gun. And yet, I am unreasonably confident that because of my experience with first person shooters (Modern Warfare, specifically), you could hand me a real firearm, and I would be able to load it, steady it, aim, and fire at a target with reasonable accuracy.

But when I think about it, there have got to be guns out there whose models I've never even seen, and even on the ones whose virtual representations I am intimately familiar, I don't even know where to find the safety, or anything else aside from the trigger.

Fly/land a plane
Remember back in 2006, when Snakes on a Plane came out, and Kenan Thompson's character attempted to land the plane having experience only with some made up PSP flight simulator? Everybody laughed and laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. But me? I was thinking, "That's not so far fetched."

Now, I have seen the dashboard of a small plane, and I know for a fact that I wouldn't be able to figure out what each and every dial, button, knob, and lever does. But a part of me (the part that played a ton of Crimson Skies, both Pilotwings games, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) wants to believe that if I were stuck in a life or death situation that had me navigating an aircraft through a canyon (or perhaps a series of gigantic inexplicably floating rings), I know enough about pitch, roll, and yaw to manage it.

This is a unique entry on the list so far in that it is something I have actually done. (Ask my girlfriend about the time she got a text message saying, "I'm about to jump out of a plane. I'll call you later.") But it was just the one time, and as it was my first jump, I was strapped to the chest of a man who (hopefully) had hundreds of hours of training to get where he was.

Still, much like flying an aircraft, I feel like my HALO jump experience from Pilotwings and the Ratchet & Clank games have taught me enough to be able to freely perform my own stunts during freefall, and to reliably control my parachute-aided descent and landing. Heck, I'm pretty sure I could land on a standard skydive target, given a few tries to do so.

Survive the zombie apocalypse
Of all the entries on this list, this is probably the most unrealistic. Not because it's unrealistic that the zombie apocalypse will come in my lifetime (it's only a matter of time before they get out there), but because I've never been much of a dog-eat-dog survival-of-the-fittest kind of guy.

When push comes to shove though, I'd like to think that I possess the necessary knowledge to live through the apocalypse. Left 4 Dead has taught me not only about zombie physiology (dismemberment is key) and ammunition conservation (automatic weapons burn through rounds), but about teamwork, communication, and even leadership. It has even taught me enough about situational assessment and heroism to know when to risk it all to save a friend, and when to cut our losses and let him die for the good of everybody else. When the apocalypse comes, I'll be mentally prepared, I'm sure of it.

Lastly, something I was never good at growing up. Even today, my singing is typically described as "entertaining" or "comical," but never specifically "good."

The blame lies entirely on Rock Band. I've known for years that I'm a terrible vocalist. But Rock Band makes it very clear when I'm too sharp or too flat, and it even provides concrete overall feedback with which to compare my progress. Recently, I played through the entire Endless Setlist 2 on Expert Vocals. Could it be that I have actually gotten better? That I can actually sing now? Or is it just another of the things I'm pretty sure I can do because video games taught me, but in reality I probably still can't?   read

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