When I saw that the DS was getting a "paddle" controller -- as seen on Destructoid -- I was so excited that if I'd had the foresight to fill my pockets full of glitter, at that moment I'd have done a quick little dance and thrown two handfuls of the stuff into the sky above me. As nice as the touch screen is, it's never really impressed me all that much. I've always found the idea of the dual-screen much more important than the addition of touch. The ability to display multiple views and pass information to the player without obscuring the field of view, especially when screen real estate is so limited, is vital. Perhaps that's so because there are so few games that have really taken advantage of what can be done with the touch screen, or because the ones that do are lousy at it. Either way, for some games, it just doesn't quite compare to more traditional control interfaces. For example, although the game being featured with that new paddle controller is "Arkanoid", I've played "Breakout" on the DS before, which is fairly similar to "Arkanoid", and the touch screen makes for a pretty good interface, but it's not the most accurate way of controlling the paddle when executing quick maneuvers. Not only that, but sometimes the stylus gets in the way, making it hard to see. A paddle wouldn't just make the game more "retro" but more enjoyable, too.
Recently, Sony announced that the latest iteration of the PlayStation 3 controller, the DualShock 3, will feature built-in vibrating motors that give the player tactile feedback -- a feature more commonly known as "rumble". Rumble is hardly a new feature, having been around for more than a decade; however, Sony had to forego its inclusion in the PlayStation 3 controllers due to legal reasons. Now that it's back, though, PlayStation 3 owners couldn't be more excited. Rumble, it would seem, had been taken for granted by Sony. Rather than bite the bullet and just pay Immersion Technologies the licensing fee required to include the feature, they called it "last-gen" and sought to play it down as much as possible. It would seem that, like the new paddle controller for the DS, old school, last-generation features are new school, current-gen hotness.
Enter "Lair", an intensely hyped game for the PlayStation 3 which was widely panned by critics who claimed the motion-sensing capabilities of the Sixaxis controller were rather poor. "Rather poor" is a nice way of saying, "the reviewers hated it". Many of them actually wished they could use the analog sticks on the controller, instead. Factor 5's director, Julian Eggebrecht, appeared on an episode of EGM Live (here's the episode in question - mp3 get!) defending the motion controls and insisting that the reviewers were "too hard core" to properly play the game with a new control scheme. If a $599 console isn't meant for hard core players, then I'm not sure who it is for. Nor am I sure of whom, exactly, Eggebrecht had in mind when he said that. Perhaps the millions of casual players who already bought a Wii? Whether Factor 5 felt that motion controls were that much more important than the traditional analog sticks, or whether there was pressure from Sony to show off the Sixaxis controllers, I can only speculate. But if there is a lesson to be learned here it's that people need options and alternatives. If you can't provide that, then you really need to do your best to make sure your decision is handled properly. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a game that scores very low because the reviewers can't play it right.
The future of gaming peripherals seems mired in hypocrisy. Everyone wants to play a game the way they feel the most comfortable. PC gamers want a mouse and keyboard for every first-person shooter while some fighting game fans will prefer an arcade stick to the d-pad. I'm sure you can even find a group of people who would argue that the analog stick is better than a wheel for racing games, followed by the group who prefers a d-pad over an analog stick. Then you've got flight-sim buffs who can't seem to get enough peripherals, including multiple displays and motion activated seating that make you feel like you're actually flying -- these people will spare no expense. I'm not saying any one is better than the other, nor will I insist that any of this is wrong; I'm simply pointing out that it's hard to please everyone. I'm sure more than a few people will find objection with my thoughts on the touch screen, and that's ok. What I'm finding, however, is that we don't really appreciate something until it's long gone -- like paddles, trackballs, joysticks, analog sticks, and maybe even motion controls, someday, in the mysterious future. Years from now, will we wonder what ever happened to the good ol' days, when all we had were a pair of analog sticks to play Halo, or will we wonder how gamers of yore ever got along without motion control? It's hard to say what will emerge as the most popular way to play, but one thing is certain: there will always be some old jerk, like me, wishing he could use a paddle to play the re-remixed version of Breakout on his DS 2.
When I found her she was quite sick, scared, and alone. I stood over the body of her protector -- my most recent kill. She scurried across the floor, terrified. As I approached I could see the fear flashing in her eyes. Then I reached out and picked her up. She resisted, crying out and futilely batting my hand away. This poor, young creature was in need of help, and though I was warned not to, I took the chance to save her. I didn't do it for the prestige; I didn't do it for the ADAM. I did it because it felt good. Although, I certainly didn't have to....
The idea that good and evil are as simple as black and white is a myth. In reality, the "bad guy" is often so ambiguous that, depending on your perspective, he could easily be the "good guy"; and vice versa. In a game like BioShock, doing the right thing often comes down to where your conscience lies. ADAM is the substance that allows your character to upgrade his body, allowing him to add more powers and abilities. The more you harvest, the more you can do with it; so, it behooves you to harvest as much as possible when the opportunity arises. However, had I chosen to harvest all the ADAM from the Little Sister the process would have killed her. By saving her, I received less ADAM but cured her of her illness and allowed her to live freely. Of course, there's a lot more to it.... Without giving away too much of the game, I'll simply state that it becomes a morally ambiguous decision that can be summed up by stating, simply, that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.
While hardly the first to do so, games like BioShock offer players a series of choices and ways to play that largely depend on the person playing them. There's no "right" or "wrong" choice; it simply comes down to what you want versus what you are willing to do. This gives players the ability to be themselves and still achieve the end goal of the game. Thus, the rise of the anti-hero -- the bad guy who saves the day.
The anti-hero plays by his own rules -- he's a rebel with a cause. He's a loose canon and smells like trouble from a mile away. He's going to get the job done -- whatever it takes -- and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. He's the guy your mamma warned you about. He's the best and the worst in all of us, and that's what makes the anti-hero so compelling. He does what you wish you could do, and video games are all about doing what you wish you could do.
Look, I tried skateboarding on a half-pipe once -- I nearly broke my neck! In a video game, though, you don't need skill, you don't need years of training, you don't even need to own a skateboard! Video games are best when they are fun. Playing the hero, beating up the bad guys -- that's fun. But that doesn't mean games can't also be challenging, nor does it mean games can't be smart about giving you choices that make you think about what you are doing. When you stop and think about it, it only makes perfect sense to harvest every last Little Sister you come across, but you've got to consider the alternatives. The other in-game characters offer you some compelling reasons to do one or the other and it's not hard to see where they are coming from, but the game does well to stay out of it and allow you to make your own decision. There's no right or wrong, no punishment, no benefit. One way or the other, you get what you need to get the job done.
The fact that more games are coming out that offer this kind of immersion is only proof that the formula works. Players like being the anti-hero -- or, at least, they like having that choice. After all, saving the princess is good but looking like a total bad-ass while doing it is better.
After playing the ever-loving shit out of the demo for Flatout Ultimate Carnage, available on the Xbox Live network, I can determine two important things:
1) this game is a ton of fun
2) the graphics look pretty
I just wish they could have come up with a "K" word for the title to make the acronym complete....
When it comes to destruction derby games, they're pretty much a dime a dozen, these days. The thing is, I don't think there are too many other games of this type on the Xbox 360, which is a damn shame. Between the uber-sim FORZA 2 and the more "arcade" style racers, there just aren't that many racers for a gamer like me. In other words, I fail at racing, but I love driving courses backwards and causing head-on (apply directly to the forehead) collisions. This game, from what I've played of it, offers me that exact amount of joy.
The demo offers three main game modes: Carnage Race, Deathmatch Derby, and Race.
The carnage race consists of a looped course where the goal is to rack up as many points as possible by catching air, smashing scenery, and destroying your opponents. Coming in first means nothing but extra points, but the points are central to your success, overall.
Deathmatch Derby is a timed deathmatch. Kill or be killed. Again, you're trying accumulate as many points as possible, but you have a limited number of "lives", so you need to survive for as long as possible while dishing out a lot of pain.
Race is self-explanatory. You race. There's no penalty for wrecking your opponents but you need to come in first to win.
The cars handle pretty well -- depending on what you're driving. I don't know how much they'll be offering in terms of customizability, upgrades, or that sort of thing, but SUVs and larger vehicles handle about as well as you'd expect while smaller, faster vehicles offer better handling but are easy to destroy. Having said that, yeah... it's pretty much an arcade racer when you get right down to it. Don't worry about over steer, anti-lock brakes, or any of that crap -- just stand on the accellerator and make some cars explode.
Speaking of exploding cars, I don't think I've ever gotten so much satisfaction from a car explosion before. Each car, when it ignites, goes up like a tiny nuke. The sky flashes a blinding white for a moment and a blaze erupts around the doomed vehicle. In the Destruction Derby game type, you can tell a car just went to hot hell no matter where you are on the map. It's quite visceral.
The graphics are sweet, each bumpmapped crack in the pavement is a wonder to behold. Concrete walls are pock-marked and textured, wooden fences have age rings in the planks, metal pipes and beams look solid and heavy, it just all looks really nice. This game is a treat to show off in HD. FORZA 2 went for photorealism, even if it meant having environments that look plain and dull, whereas Flatout UC has a very stylish look. Every scene is gritty, painted with rust in a dirt-bath solution to give it that harsh, underground feel -- it really works well.
Also in the graphics department are the cars themselves, with slight details to make them stand out. Some of the cars look nice, almost show-worthy while other cars look like they're done before they've even started -- scrap heaps, sporting a half-hazardly tacked on quarter-panel and painted in a lovely shade of bondo. Everything about the way these cars look is a reminder that your goal is to smash them all to hell. Every crunched bumper, popped hood, ripped off side-panel is another score for you. Smashing into cars is a joy, in and of itself, far beyond merely winning the race.
Where the game starts losing points is in the music. The only I really like is the tite track, "Nothing Can Wait" by Opshop. I'm listening to it right now; it's not bad. The rest of the music, however, is fail... EPIC fail. The best thing I can say about the music in this game is that you can turn it off. It's really just God-awful and the less said about it, the better.
The next issue I'd like to raise is the damage your vehicle takes. I'm not saying this is a positive or a negative, but damage doesn't degrade performance. Your vehicle performs as well immediately prior to explosion as it does at the very begining of the race. Now, I'm of two minds about this; on one hand, I feel that if your car gets gimped, it should act like it. On the other hand, trying to limp towards the finish line which to broken axels and a missing wheel isn't a lot of fun. Of course, I've played games where you're left with a car that is inexorably broken after a hard run, and it is kinda fun to try driving a car that desperately needs to be put out of its misery. So, as I've said, I could really take this or leave it. Hopefully, in the full-version of the game there will be an option to degrade performance based on damage, but that's just speculation on my part. I'm just saying, it would be nice to have.
All in all, I'm definitely looking forward to picking up this game when it comes out this Fall. If you think this might be a game you're into and you have an Xbox 360, look for the free demo on Xbox Live; it's been available for about a week, now.
When it comes to the future of gaming there can be little doubt that it will be a socially engaging activity that blends fantasy and reality in unprecedented ways. One of these ways, however, will be the amount of development that will be in the hands of the fans themselves. Giving the users the tools they need to create their own content will change the very meaning of gameplay and what it means to be a gamer. This exciting, new approach to games stands poised to bring about a new era in gaming, but it also brings with it the potential of a veritable nightmare for developers, publishers, and content producers, alike.
Little Big Planet, an as yet unreleased Playstation 3 game, is a game that epitomizes user-generated content. Big Giant Games, the developer working on Little Big Planet, is promising that users will be able to interact and play in an environment that is completely open. The focus of the game will be on levels that are built and designed by players as they play them. By adding and manipulating objects in the game they will be able to shape the world in any way they can imagine. The game certainly has a lot of people excited as speculation abounds on the types of levels and gameplay concepts players will come up with, but that speculation sometimes tends to focus on the negative aspects of what such an open system could allow. All manner of offensive, objectionable material has been considered -- and for good reason. Give a pair of unmoderated, idle hands some paint and an empty canvas and you might just get the next Mona Lisa -- or, you might end up with subject matter too steamy for even a men's room stall in a run-down truck stop. Give a few thousand pairs of hands the same tools and the ability to collaborate online and it's easy to see where this can go. For every level steeped in brilliance, that sets the standard for the type of gameplay a game like Little Big Planet hopes to produce, you can bet there will be at least a dozen that are completely unacceptable by anyone. There are, however, deeper concerns than crude jokes passed between friends in a video game. Consider the repercussions of intellectual property theft.
There was a group of amateur game designers that were hard at work on a modification for the PC game Quake. They wanted to completely redesign the content of the game -- maps, character models, weapons, sounds, and other effects -- to resemble the world of Aliens Vs Predator. The idea was to create a whole new game that would pit players against each other in a battle between the Aliens, Predators, and humans of the popular movie franchises. There was only one problem: what they were doing was completely illegal under copyright law. While iD Software, the developer that produced Quake, allowed for users to modify their game, the Predator and Alien properties are each owned by 20th Century Fox. This group of amateur designers were not authorized to produce a modification for Quake based on such content and were quickly issued a cease and desist order. At the time, the case was so famous that, as subsequent modification projects were shut down, it became known as being "Foxed". This same scenario has played out with other franchises and other games over the years and it's really only a matter of time before it happens again. As tools become more accessible and developers continue making games that encourage user-generated content, industrious enthusiasts will take every opportunity to recreate their favorite worlds and scenarios in such games. Imagine if someone were to recreate World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., content owned by Nintendo, in a game like Little Big Planet, a game set for release on Sony's Playstation 3. With a channel of distribution as wide and free as the Internet, such a level could easily spread to thousands of Playstation 3s as gamers download it on demand. The question is whether the rightful owner of such content, Nintendo, would demand the content pulled and if it would have any legal right to do so. As this new frontier in gaming emerges, these are questions that may soon be answered.
Thankfully, the future is not yet determined; wonderful possibilities do abound just around the corner. Just as in the past, for every copyright infringing modification that will be destroyed by a team of rabid lawyers, a handful will be produced that actually revive and prolong the lifespan of the original games they modify. Half-Life, a PC game released by Valve in 1998, is an excellent example. As the game grew in popularity more and more amateur developers looked to take advantage of the game engine's capabilities for their own modifications. One such modification was a team-based combat game that featured terrorist/counter-terrorist squads that were pitted against each other. The game's focus on realism and tight, close-quarters combat was seen as "refreshing" in contrast to the largely cartoonish "deathmatch" style gameplay championed by games like Doom and Quake. Because the modification was freely available, all you had to do to experience it for yourself was get your own copy of Half-Life. This single fact boosted sales of the award-winning game long after the initial buzz was over. In fact, the game became so popular that Valve sought to purchase the rights to the modification and turn it in a stand-alone, retail product. The game has gone through several iterations since then but is still widely played to this day. Indeed, Valve owes much of its success to the idea that embracing your fans creative desires and giving them the tools they need to create such modifications is a good idea.
Like Valve and many other savvy game developers, Big Giant Games knows the power of user-generated content. Whatever the risk may be, Big Giant Games thinks it's worth taking such risks if it means getting back vibrant, new ways to play their games. If this new level of emergent gameplay is, indeed, the future of games, then gamers and developers stand to gain a lot more than they could possibly lose due to objectionable material or litigation. Perhaps Little Big Planet won't be the industry shaking game it hopes to be, but as more games attempt to blur the line between gamer and developer, the future of gaming looks to be very exciting.
First of all, I like the initiative Microsoft is showing by putting Neo Geo games on the XBLA. They've managed to do what Nintendo won't -- at least, not in the States. Fatal Fury is a good start, now, how about some Samurai Showdown? Better yet, Metal Slug! Oh, sweet cherry poppin' christ... wouldn't that be special? Then again, that's what GameTap is for.
So, how 'bout them Cyberballers? If there's one drawback to being a guy, it's that every other guy assumes you must be into football. Just today, we had a dude looking at the house to give us a quote on winterizing our windows. He eyeballs the HDTV and turns to me, "D'you catch the Penn State game last Saturday? I bet it looked great on that!" I grinned, uncomfortably.
"Actually, no. I hate football."
He lets out a low, quiet, "Ah, I see." His disappointment is great. In his eyes, I am fail.
Even among my more nerdy friends, there are those into football. I can sort of understand why... Getting through high school can be an arduous ordeal -- sometimes, you have no choice but to understand the nature of the enemy, and this may mean going to extremes. I, on the other hand, never sold out. Football? That is the domain of jocks -- the tall, tough guys with the girls and the cars. They go to parties and proms while my friends and I hang out in basements, upgrading our RAMs and playing tabletop RPGs. I'm a walking cliche and that's just fine with me. I didn't get through all those years of high school only to turn back now and pretend some game that is only marginally more than any other video football game is good. Except, it is kinda good -- for a football game.
Here's the problem: a football game that features robots also better feature lasers, rockets, and maybe even chainsaws. Your team should be upgradeable -- better lasers, homing missiles, rocket packs. Each successful play determines what kind of weapons and upgrades you get: faster treads, smarter blockers, etc. And if I can earn the upgrades I need then I should have the ability to tear the upgrades off your players and attach them to mine. The actual game of football should be secondary to an all-out robotic brawl where my quarterback-bot can tear off your quarterback-bot's arms and beat it to death with them before grabbing the ball and flying to the end-zone, where your team has set up laser-mines that destroy my quarterback-bot before he can score. Does Cyberball 2027 feature any of this? NO! It's fucking football with robots and a ball that occasionally explodes! I am not impressed!
Although, as a football game, it is kinda ok. Considering it's the only football game on XBLA, I guess it's better than nothing while still having some small bit of originality. Can't knock it for that.
Another World is a computer game that was originally released by Delphine Software for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS PC. It also saw release on The Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. When I first played it, back in the day, I played the Sega Genesis version, and I thought it was pretty cool.
The game is described as a cinematic platformer. I guess that's close enough; it's a lot like Prince of Persia. It used vector graphics, which were revolutionary when the game came out in 1991, although today it looks rather more like a Flash game. The game does well to create a unique, cinematic experience. The atmosphere in the game environment is very domineering; you feel a sense of urgency as you play it. Relying on logic and puzzles as much as action and shooting, the game plays on several levels and requires a bit of work to figure out what to do next. Playing it again was like a brief step back in time, when games were simpler in design but still quite challenging. Eric Chahi, the original author, has released an updated version for Windows XP that features enhanced graphics and higher resolutions. The enhanced graphics raise it to another level, making it look really nice. We would describe this as "retro" today; it's stylish and detailed but nothing you'd call "next-gen". Because of this stylish, yet simplistic look, the characters are very expressive and easy to understand.
Another great game just like this one was Flashback, which I used to think was a sequel to Another World, but was, in fact, written by a completely different person. You can purchase the full version of Another World for only $8.99. It's a lot of fun; I highly recommend checking out the demo, which you can find on this page.