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2:59 AM on 06.22.2011

The Devil's In The Controls: Diablo III Console Fears Illegitimate?

Since announcing plans for a console port for Diablo III, Blizzard has attracted close attention from PC and console gamers alike. The port will be the first since Diablo on the original Playstation. Buzz around the web seems mostly optimistic, with console gamers foaming at the mouth for the chance to play one of the most anticipated games of the last decade. That's not to say that there is no fear surrounding the release; a particularly venomous comment left on my original Diablo III post is a testament to the concerns felt by the PC gaming crowd, in particular.

Recent years have seen the console market eclipse the PC market in many respects, and the idea of consoles "taking" one more thing from PCs is stinging fans of the mouse and keyboard. Computer gamers should be pleased to know Blizzard has made a strict commitment to releasing the PC version according to their original schedule, whether or not a console interpretation is prepared for release. It's doubtful that a console release will outshine the PC version, as the Diablo franchise exists with PC in mind. For the sake of argument, though, what would this unlikely outcome necessitate? The short answer is strong online support and an intuitive controller scheme.

Online support for a console Diablo game is a lot easier said than done. The biggest reason for this is, Blizzard's proprietary online service package. Since online play first became mainstream for consoles, there has not been a single Blizzard game on a home console. As a result of this, gamers have never played a Diablo title online outside of the PC. On top of that, has seen a lot of changes in the last year or two, leading to the service become much more of a standalone entity. Blizzard has even openly discussed the possibility of becoming pay-to-play, a topic that has been met with nothing but disgust by consumers. Bearing in mind the state of today, I have little confidence that Blizzard would play nice with services like the PSN or Xbox Live.

In order to secure the console online community, Blizzard would need to make Diablo III multiplayer easily accessible on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. This means loosening the grip has on the player and forming a symbiotic relationship with either system's respective online service. Steam has made the first leap into this territory by featuring a specifically fitted console version with the PS3 release of Portal 2. I haven't personally tried it, so I can't speak to its functionality. Blizzard is a massive company and I know they can pull this off if they focus their resources on it. Let's just hope Activision keeps their grubby hands off.


But seriously, folks, note Bobby Kotick's cold, dead eyes. That's no accident. He can only survive by sucking the life out of beloved IPs. Just be glad he didn't get his hands on Nintendogs. Kids would shriek in terror at the sight of their once healthy digital pets, now soulless husks whose once-playful barks drift out of their gaping mouths like the sounds of a whimpering baby left at the bottom of a deep and empty well. But enough about Lucifer -- I mean Bobby Kotick -- I believe the downloadable games on the PSN and Xbox Live may have solved the problem of translating Diablo III's PC controls to a gamepad.

Namely this one.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a unique isometric-view Tomb Raider title released on the PSN and Xbox Live, and possesses a distinctive Diablo-esque feel. Players make their way through a series of tombs in pursuit of an angry Toltec demigod, fighting hordes of twisted monsters and traversing trap-filled dungeons. The only key differences with LCatGoL are that players use guns instead of magic or medieval weapons and there are significant platforming elements involved in traversing the game's locations. Since Diablo is purely a combat-oriented game, we can ignore the platforming aspects here.

Exactly like in Diablo, enemies approach the player (who occupies the center of the screen) from all directions and the player must quickly flick between targets to avoid becoming swarmed. This is intuitively accomplished by relegating movement to the left analog stick and directional aim to the right analog stick. Since all of the weapons in LCatGoL are projectile weapons, the player simply uses themselves as a point of reference and points the right stick in the direction of an enemy, relative to their character. For those who may have difficulty hitting the mark, the game also allows for varying degrees of aim-assistance. From here, firing is as simple as pulling the right trigger button. By arranging the battlefield as a circle expanding from a central point (the player), the game beautifully facilitates fighting swarms of enemies.

Not all weapons in Diablo are projectiles; in fact, a very even proportion are melee weapons. With the control scheme outlined above, this does not pose a problem. Simply get close to your enemy and replace the word "fire" with "swing." The same can be said for alternate attacks. In Diablo, the player typically has a weapon as a primary attack and an ability as a secondary attack. That's why God gave us two trigger buttons. By adopting this control layout, the meat of Diablo's gameplay is faithfully represented on a gamepad. I know what you're thinking, though, "what about selecting abilities on the fly and using potions without function or number keys?"

While I agree that those hotkeys make switching tactics on the fly a breeze, a gamepad won't be far behind. We are still left with the shoulder "bumpers," and the D-pad. The horizontal D-pad buttons could be used to switch abilities on the fly, while the vertical ones select alternate equipment sets on the fly, or vice versa. The bumpers could be used to quickly drink potions from different tiers of the player's belt. Using potions in Diablo III won't be as demanding of finger dexterity as previous installments, since enemies now drop health orbs that instantly add to the player's life. I doubt this was instituted with gamepads in mind, but for better or worse it makes for a nice handicap to console players.

There are plenty of other concerns to be addressed before a console adaptation of Diablo III will see the market, such as "will PC and console gamers play in the same servers?" I don't have the answers to those kinds of questions, and only time will tell for sure. However, in the meantime, don't worry about a console Diablo title stealing the PC's thunder, and try not to sweat the control questions too much. If they're smart, Blizzard will adopt a clever control layout like that of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Speaking of which, if you haven't played it yet, I highly recommend it. At $14.99 it's a very reasonable and very fun download. Pick it up and see what I mean.   read

5:28 PM on 06.06.2011

L.A. Noire And The Art Of Roommate Irritation

Sometime during the first few hours of L.A. Noire, I decided that I wasn't going to play the game like a Rockstar game. Before you say it, I know it's a very different Rockstar game and it is not meant to be played like Grand Theft Auto. That makes perfect sense, but what I am referring to goes much deeper than refraining from running people over or shooting bystanders in the face. What am I talking about? I'm talking about playing Cole Phelps, the main character of the game. Cole Phelps, for those of you who have not played the game, is the definition of a hero cop. He follows the rules to the letter, and is an overall good guy.

Cole's character is placed in stark relief against the corruption surrounding him, making his adherence to the law stand out all the more. It therefore seemed only logical for my actions as the player to reflect those which I imagined would be Cole's. Immediately this meant not charging a suspect, no matter how sleazy, until I had all the facts and aiming below the waste during shootouts. Whenever possible, Cole would avoid killing a suspect. Unfortunately, this behavior only mattered when responding to street crime. Cole could shoot criminals in the legs to avoid needless death, or could even shoot a warning shot into the air during an on-foot chase to stop the suspect. These decisions meant the difference between calling a squad car, ambulance, or the coroner. None of these situations were game changing, but they were a nice touch.

If a suspect initiated a shootout during one of the main story missions, however, even a shot to the foot would kill them. Successfully cornering a suspect and shooting their gun hand immediately lost all reward when the following cutscene showed the suspect being taken away in a body bag. The writers wanted that character to die, and there was nothing Cole could do about it. My role playing was not restricted only to combat, however; there was something more in the city of Los Angeles that caught my attention. The Traffic.

Before L.A. traffic looked like this.

When I first got behind the wheel, I threw on the siren and weaved in and out of traffic at 80 miles an hour, doing my best to avoid hitting people. After all, I was playing a cop, right? This was particularly rewarding when responding to one of the aforementioned street crimes. Not long after being promoted to traffic detective, though, I decided to ease up on the accelerator. Seeing first hand the type of gruesome results that could come from driving irresponsibly struck a nerve in the part of my brain straining to be Cole Phelps. From that point on, the siren was for emergencies only. Besides, I was a detective now, and one doesn't usually see detectives tearing through suburban streets with their lights flashing just to stop and ask someone a few questions.

Going the speed limit wasn't enough, though; I would need to stop at red lights, wait for the right-of-way when turning and use turn signals! The rest of the traffic in L.A. Noire followed those rules, for the most part. Unfortunately for me, the game did not allow for the use of turn signals. It was at about this time when I started voicing these concerns to my roommate, Pat, who could not roll his eyes emphatically enough. "Seriously, though, they could use the right and left d-pad buttons, those don't do anything!" Pat just looked at me with confusion and asked why I didn't just drive like I was in a video game.

He's on to me...

Much to Pat's chagrin, I drove like that for the entire game. I like to think it was a positive and rewarding experience. I got to really take my time and see the meticulously recreated post WWII L.A. and the game lasted a lot longer than it would normally. To me, driving like a maniac around town causing tons of property damage and acting like a public menace would have cheapened Cole's character. Sure, it wouldn't have affected the plot, but the believability of Cole's by-the-book approach would have been contradicted by my Wacky Races-style driving. Damn, now there was a good show...

Now that's more like it...   read

3:34 PM on 05.15.2011

Backseat Gaming and Getting Too Attached

It's been over a year since I last played Mass Effect 2, but I remember the experience clearly. I imported my Shepard from the first game, a classy lady named Meghan. She was an angel that didn't take shit from anyone; saving everyone she could, while punishing jerks with satisfying punches to the face. Recently I watched my flatmate, Pat, play through the game for the first time, and his style of play was consistently divergent from my own. My experience of taking the backseat was a difficult one, full of careful restraint. He wasn't just playing the game differently, he was taking liberties with my beloved characters.

Let's take a step back for moment. Pat has been one of the best friends that I've made in years, and the fact that we've lived together several times speaks to that. He doesn't play games nearly as often as I do, and I often enjoy watching his reactions as he charts unfamiliar territory. More importantly, I try my best to avoid remarking on his every action and thus ruining his fun. As I learned while watching him play ME2, this is sometimes easier said than done.

My brief descent into relative madness began innocuously enough; Pat simply had a different style of play and I caught myself thinking, Silly Pat, you should take cover or you're going to get picked apart. You should have played a Vanguard if you wanted to fight like a commando. Then I remembered, Oh right, I'm the one who convinced him to play a flexible Sentinel in the first place. Already, I was catching myself backseat gaming. I kept this in mind to strengthen my resolve. It soon became clear, though, that being critical of Pat's strategy was only the beginning of my neuroses.

Pat progressed more and more, and I enjoyed watching him carve out his own Shepard. Since he was playing the PS3 version, he got the chance to play through several DLC missions that I never purchased on 360. Now we were both charting new territory and our reactions were shared. Eventually, he ran out of DLC missions and returned to the main quest. It didn't take long for him to reach the 'loyalty' missions, during which a personal errand was run for each of the party members to develop a stronger bond. Many of these quests involved a search for catharsis through revenge or otherwise violent retribution. Now, since the Mass Effect series is one of many that uses an unfortunately binary choice system, the scope of Pat's options was limited from the beginning. He could convince the party member that revenge is wrong and won't fix anything, or he could be a dick and encourage it.


The above video is silly, for sure, but it illustrates the point I'm trying to make. There were, more or less, two very different ways that Pat could approach these situations and he had to pick one. Then something happened that sent shockwaves of confusion and disappointment through me. He didn't make the same decisions I made. Suddenly, these weren't the characters that I had remembered. These were self-indulgent monsters with no concept of forgiveness. Wait, wait... holy crap, I am getting worked up over a bunch of fictional characters set in a game where the main game mechanic involves shooting lots people in the face. It was clearly time to chill out and let it go.

After a while, Pat finished the game and I got over my irrational anxiety. Looking back on things, my rational mind was trapped in a haze of moral 'superiority.' I am a Paragon snob. I am a Paragon hipster, and that's something I need to work on.


9:21 PM on 05.10.2011

Portal 2: This Is Not A Test

Portal was gaming's undisputed surprise hit of 2007 and the brainchild of a student group recruited by Valve from The DigiPen Institute. Recruited for their imaginative work on a game called Narbacular Drop, the design team was granted the opportunity to build a small game using Valve's copious resources and test the market's waters by having it featured in a then-upcoming bundle pack, The Orange Box. The product was an atmospheric and dark comedy forcing players through a series of egregious scientific experiments, where the only way to survive was by punching holes in space and turning physics into a plaything. Featured along such gaming giants as Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, few expected the attention Portal quickly garnered. It was widely praised as a favorite on The Orange Box and won several game-of-the-year titles. The only complaint, it seemed, was that the game was too short. Now, nearly four years later, the test is over and the Portal franchise has graduated from the science fair.

From the moment the main menu fills the screen, it is clear that Portal 2 is to be something different, something greater. An undetermined amount of time has passed since the ending of Portal and you awaken in a deteriorated bedroom, and a sense of colossal scale quickly permeates the experience as you make your escape through the vast network of Aperture Laboratories. Guided by an awkward little robot, Wheatley, with the temperament of a nervous Ricky Gervais, the comedy is in full swing from the first line of spoken dialogue. It doesn't take long for the infamous GLaDOS to be thrown into the mix, creating a wonderful comedic dynamic with Wheatley that persists through the game's fantastic and silly finale. In every respect, it's immediately clear that Valve has upped the ante.

The Aperture facilities stretch on for miles both downward and outward.

For many of us, myself included, a longer Portal game was all we asked for, but Portal 2 offers much more than just that. A slew of new features has been added, each creating an entirely new element within the central puzzle-solving dynamic of the game. These new tasks include, but are not limited to, laser refraction and the manipulation of several gels, each with their own physical properties. These new puzzle pieces compliment the environmental puzzles perfectly and allow the player to enjoy playing with physics even more. If you loved vaulting yourself through multiple portals via conserved momentum, then you'll love the new tricks you can play when dealing with the blue gel that behaves like Flubber.

Pictured: Puzzle-solving in Portal 2

As I mentioned before, the scale of Portal 2 is leaps and bounds above that of the original. But what of the presentation as a whole? I would be lying if I said that I didn't notice some added sharpness in Portal 2's graphics, but, for a series that already looked great, this is hardly a selling point. Things really stand out when you notice the attention given to fluid dynamics. The effect of liquids flying out of pipes and splattering on surfaces is captivating; watching them fly out of portals that you've strategically placed is even better. Without a doubt, though, Portal 2 looks its best when the pace turns frantic and you're not focusing on the graphics. Catwalk railings whiz by, machinery whirs as it works diligently all around you, structures collapse and rebuild themselves in the distance, and your peripheral vision goes hazy from the speeds you reach. Your main motivation in the Portal series is escape and these sequences really capture that feeling.

What of the true meat and potatoes of Portal, the puzzles? I'm happy to say that they are better than before, with all the added complexity from the new features, and there are plenty more of them. For the sake of avoiding any spoilers, I've chosen not to give any specific examples. Throughout your journey inside the depths of Aperture Laboratories you won't just be running a gauntlet put in front of you by GLaDOS. Your journey will take you behind the scenes, where the solution doesn't always involve placing a companion cube on a giant button. Indeed, some puzzles don't even involve the placement of portals, so you'll need your wits about you at all times.

All this and you're only halfway through! Portal 2 also features co-op with its own plot and unique areas to explore. You even get to play as two adorable little robots! Since I only have one functioning controller at the moment and the PSN is down, I haven't even been able to try the co-op campaign. If it's anywhere near as good as the main campaign, though, then you're in for a treat. I look forward to playing it with you when the PSN comes back.

The Portal team has done it again, proving that Portal can be a full-sized game. The wait is over, <subject name not found>, and it's time to resume testing. So put on your shock absorbing leg braces, pull that portal gun out of your sock drawer and get moving, those experiments aren't going to conduct themselves. Yet.

Get the researchers working on a self-solving test. For science.   read

3:48 PM on 05.03.2011

Let's Go Digital For A Better World

This morning, Destructoid's front page featured an article in which Jim Sterling commented on the announcement by Remedy's CEO, Matias Myllyrinne, that games should go all-digital as quickly as possible. Myllyrinne cited incredibly vague reasoning for this claim, "I donít think the big, huge experiences are going anywhere, but the sooner we go digital as an industry, the better for everybody." This isn't necessarily true, of course, as Jim pointed out; many people simply can't afford to consistently buy new games (myself included) and used sales would suffer a fatal blow should games go completely digital. Clearly not considering this point from the view of his own customers, Myllyrinne went on to show zero sympathy for retailers that sell used games, "...if youíre selling our games as used copies and incentivising people to do that, then I donít really feel sorry for you." This has already sparked some serious verbal backlash, for proof just take a look at the comments section in Jim's original post. I'm not here to tell you what you already know, though; I want to discuss the major problems facing all-digital gaming and to take the controversial stance that we should do it anyway.

I'll begin with a few confessions. I love the feeling of tearing the shrink wrap from the packaging of a new game and opening it for the first time. The slight resistance of an unworn case spine, the vibrant art looking up at me from the game manual and the disc face, the smell of a new game. This whole process has become something of a ritual to me and I treasure every moment of it. I stand in long lines for it. I pay for it. This experience has not lost any appeal as I have gotten older, and if games became 100% digital I would never be able to have it again.

Next, I love my game collection. I proudly display it, separated by system, with each subdivision in alphabetical order (most of the time, anyway). Each game is a memory, for better or for worse, and each deserves remembering as a brick in the edifice of my love for video games. If games ceased to be stored on physical media, my collection would seemingly stop growing. Again, the collector in me weeps.

Lastly, I enjoy sharing my games with my friends and neighbors. If I have a great experience with a game I want others to have it, too, whether that means letting them borrow the game or inviting them over to play. Digital games in their current state are not known for accommodating such social endeavors. You download the game and it becomes locked to your account. Sure, you could log in from someone else's computer, but then you would have to download and install the game, which takes a while. If it's a long game, then your friend will need your account to access it. I don't know about you, but I don't like to give out information that can potentially link other people to my credit cards. Yet another area where digital media falls short.

Personal reasons aside, there are greater pitfalls to a fully-digital conversion of the gaming market. Not the least of which is that not everyone in the market has access to the internet, a critical tool for the procurement of digital media. What's more, many of those that do have consistent internet access are now facing monthly bandwidth caps from their ISPs. Downloading full-sized games adds up quickly, and it's only going to add up faster as games get bigger. As an example, Crysis 2 is approximately 9 gigs. To many of us that doesn't sound like too much, but consider a scenario in which your ISP limits your monthly bandwidth to 100 gigs a month. This is a generous example, since Canada's Bell Internet recently announced it would be throttling back its bandwidth caps to as low as 25 GB/month. Regulations such as these pose real problems for any aspiring digital media consumer unfortunate enough to be affected by them.

Why, then, should games make the segue to digital distribution? After all, it's clear that there are plenty of reasons not to. The answer to me is simple: the current distribution model for games is incredibly wasteful. The factories produce the physical product, using tons of energy and expelling heavy amounts of particulates into the air. The shipping materials and vehicles necessary to transport the product to its destination. The packaging for the game itself. Plastic, paper, oil, electricity, all of it detracting from the planet's already failing health. Rafts of plastic and miscellaneous junk are floating along our oceans. Estimates place the size of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" at over twice the landmass of Texas. The degradation of the ozone layer by carbon waste products in the air has already led to a change in our global climate and is causing radical changes in our environment. Don't believe me? Ask the families of the 190+ people recently killed in Alabama by one of the worst tornadoes on record. Reports indicated that is was over half a mile wide. Our actions have consequences, and we're finally starting to see those consequences.

I'm not trying to imply that modern game consumer culture is somehow going to be responsible for the destruction of the planet. What I am saying is that we can really make a difference by cutting out the physical materials that go into the distribution and consumption of video games. This is not about cutting out the retailers selling used games or shafting the consumers who can't afford new games; it is about taking a new approach to the way we consume electronic media. For those of you still concerned with the affordability of digital media, consider the following. The cost of distributing and packaging games is steep. Hell, just look at the price of gas!

Without the need to manufacture and distribute games, their prices could realistically drop by a sizable amount. Would the companies charge less at first? Probably not, but that's where you come in. You are the consumer; you're the reason they exist. Raise enough of a stink and you'll get your way. I guarantee it. I'm not finished yet, though; I've planted the idea, now I'm going to run with it.

What of the collector's personal taste that I mentioned I'm afflicted with? If you're a collector, chances are that you buy collector's edition games now and again. Game companies could continue to distribute collector's editions, complete with boxes and any extras that get thrown in. In fact, with their decreased expenditures on physical distribution, they might even be able to include better bonuses. You know what I mean; you pay $10 extra for a limited edition game and it only comes with a 16-page art book. What a letdown.

Next we have to consider the problem of sharing games. As I mentioned earlier, there is always the possibility of sharing an account with someone. For sharing with people less 'familiar,' however, there should be alternatives. Perhaps each purchase of a digital game could come with a handful of codes to give someone a free trial of the game. If the company is feeling particularly generous, the code could even be redeemable for a full copy of the game (I'm thinking promotional sales on that one). I like to think of it as akin to the "digital copy" that so often comes with Blurays these days. I pretty much always give that code to a friend. Moreover, it's a bit more effort, but with the Xbox360 the option is always there to pop the hard drive off and bring it to a friend's house.

Alternatively, for those of you who don't like to feel obligated, consider new services like OnLive. They are 100% digital and allow for free demos of any game in their library and the option to rent a full game for a number of days. The rates for services such as these are well within the realm of affordability. Even better is eliminating the need for hard drives at all; OnLive saves your game data in the cloud. I know there are those of you out there who will ask, "but what if someone hacks their servers and steals or otherwise eliminates my game data?" My answer is one of harsh reality. Sometimes people are pricks and do things like that. What if someone broke into your house and stole your games and your console? It is undeniably unpleasant, but I would argue that the likelihood of your physical media being stolen is higher than that of your digital media. There is still the problem of bandwidth throttling, or, worse still, a total lack of internet access.

These problems are a lot more difficult to solve, and I won't pretend to have all the answers. Internet service providers do not appear to be wavering in their vision for the future of internet service. The recession is hitting them hard, like everyone else, and they are determined to recoup costs by charging us out the nose for less actual service. It all reminds me of the days when unlimited text messages plans were unheard of and companies made a mint on the instantaneous messaging between two people. The answer, I believe, lies with the game companies and unaffiliated retailers.

Having worked for Gamestop for years, I can assure you that they and other retailers are no strangers to figuring out better ways of making money. Let's imagine for a moment that digital transactions actually become the predominant method of video game distribution. Not to be cut out of the loop, companies that previously depended upon used games as a primary source of profit would be forced to adapt or die. Such is the law of both business and nature. A decent example comes to me from a small game retailer near my parents' house in Pennsylvania. Here, paying members to the store's loyalty program may play any game in the store on a large TV and decide whether or not to purchase the game.

With all-digital games, these retailers could effectively segue to established game lounges/distributors. Buying a game from these locations may cost a few dollars more, but that extra cost would go to the installation of a digital game to a relevant storage device that you already own. As an alternative, game companies could arrange deals with ISPs to cover the cost of added bandwidth usage when downloading their products. Perhaps the customer selects their ISP upon purchasing a product, and the file downloaded carries with it a marker that alerts the ISP to its existence as a 'sponsored' download. With the decreased expenditures outlined earlier, the cost for companies to execute a deal like this would be marginal at worst.

Is all of this idealistic? Sure. Nevertheless, I believe radical change like what I have outlined here is not only plausible, it would go a long way toward making the world a better place. Apocalyptic wastelands with scorching suns and scarce resources are fun in movies and games, but I, for one, don't want to see the Earth become one. We are all capable of instituting wonderful change upon this planet, but we need to put our selfish consumerist tendencies aside, myself included. Converting to all-digital media is not an easy idea to swallow, but neither was the idea that cigarettes cause cancer. Times change, we need to change with them.   read

4:33 PM on 05.02.2011

On Strategy, 'Griefing' and the Appeal of Player Autonomy

Original Post at Experience Points

One of the basic tenets of game theory states that games are, by definition, strategic situations in which the success of any player's choices is directly affected by the choices of other players in the game. This player interaction, in turn, is the catalyst for strategy of any kind. As a player, you need to anticipate the actions of the other players and act accordingly in order to achieve your desired goal. Typically, games present pre-established rules or goals to their players, but people are resourceful, creative and sometimes selfish. A human player can visualize his or her own rules and objectives, effectively changing the game. Among many online gaming communities, the intentional deviation from the game's established goals by players has come to be known as "griefing."

So named for the behavior's tendency to cause frustration in those players who adhere to the traditional goals of the game, griefing most often involves the deliberate undermining of teammates' designs, sometimes extending to the outright killing of team members. Thusly, griefing has become a dirty word for many gamers. It would seem, however, that griefing is a practice limited to games with multiple human participants. After all, it is hard to imagine a player griefing themselves or NPCs. In fact, when applied to many single player games, deviating from the objectives presented by the game is either deliberately made impossible by the developers or simply results in game over. These games usher the player along a certain fixed number of paths, to a minimum of one. Sometimes these limitations are fun in and of themselves; the player gladly runs the gauntlet set before them, considering it a challenge. But as games get bigger, more realistic and more complex, we as players find ourselves increasingly noticing games' limitations.

Obstacles like invisible walls are notorious sources of frustration for players and serve only to break any sense of immersion that the game had previously elicited. Worse still are insubstantial physical obstacles that are inexplicably insurmountable. These situations are as ludicrous as a single dumpster blocking the entrance of an alley from your 6'4", 250 lb. special forces character, or a plywood door preventing that same character (who is carrying an assault rifle and several types of explosives) from entering a room simply because "it is locked." We as players roll our eyes at these blatant ploys to force us along a particular progression of events, but there is often nothing we can do about them. Creative level designers disguise these barriers more convincingly, such as by blocking the alley with a pile of flaming cars or replacing the wooden door with a steel vault door. It's simply more believable.

The presence of setbacks like those outlined above does not necessarily destroy a game's fun factor, but it certainly breaks immersion and undermines the believability of any situation. Offering the player realistic choices based on the abilities of their character opens up an assortment of gameplay options for the developers and those tenable alternatives add tremendously to a game's potential enjoyability. This is because, as gameplay is diversified, the boundaries of genre become less defined and the game gains depth.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (pictured above) blurs the lines between FPS, RPG, and Stealth Action

This added range of playability also brings the added bonus of reaching a wider audience. Where previously certain facets of players' tastes were sated by a single game, now more than ever games can offer multi-dimensional enjoyment. What's more, games have reached a point where the measurable effects of increases in their graphical power and scale are minuscule compared to their possible upgrades in functionality and depth. From a development point of view, this means that all the time spent making a game beautiful and vast can now be spent improving the experience. Thankfully, there are a lot of promising experiences releasing this year. What say you, players? Are you ready for the next great adventure, or the next innovative way to grief?

Original Post at Experience Points   read

3:40 PM on 05.02.2011

Adventures You Should Go On in 2011

As I sat on my couch during the wee hours of the morning on this fine May day, watching old episodes of Scrubs, I found my mind wandering to a handful of promising titles coming out this year. These projects each carry a unique appeal, and I am looking forward to indulging myself in each of them over the course of the year. L.A. Noire is due out early summer, Deus Ex: Human Revolution in August. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are slated for November, while Dark Souls and Silent Hill 8 continue to maintain ambiguous "sometime in 2011" release dates. Let's take a look at each, and I'll explain why you should care.

L.A. Noire - Circumventing the Uncanny Valley


At first glance L.A. Noire might resemble another Grand Theft Auto clone, but Rockstar has really broken from tradition with this interactive circa 1940's police drama. The design team has worked meticulously to produce a living, breathing recreation of post WWII Los Angeles and the result is truly impressive to behold. The gameplay strays from the traditional back-and-forth mission based formula in lieu of a more player-dependent participatory approach. Players will be given cases, which are solved through step-by-step police work. Crime scenes need to be diligently searched for evidence, witnesses are questioned through dynamic interrogation sequences, and suspects are arrested based on the player's discretion. Interactions with the 100+ characters are complimented beautifully by the game's unprecedented use of facial motion capture. The effect affords interactive characters an expressiveness unseen in any game before now.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - A Swiss Army Knife of Playability


The Canadian development branch at Eidos Montreal have been hard at work finishing this versatile game in time for its August release date. Set in the not-too-distant future, this Blade Runner-inspired world is host to the controversy of "human augmentation," the practice of replacing body parts with cybernetic enhancements. This dark, cold and wonderfully stylized world is only a framework, however. The real magic comes from the developers' determination to eliminate any feeling that the game is holding the player's hand. As the above trailer shows, Deus Ex: Human Revolution allows the player to approach any situation in the manner they deem appropriate.

Want to go in like Rambo and make a mess of the place? By all means, go ahead. Maybe instead you (like me) feel a little bad for that poor security guard who's only doing his job and want to sneak past him, sparing him a grisly beat-down. Add to that the option to take down any human opponent non-lethally and your potentially overactive conscience can rest easy knowing that the security guard need not die even if you're discovered and backed into a corner. All the Metal Gear Solid fans out there know that it's no easy feat to get through an entire game without killing a single person, and is likely worth a nice little achievement or two.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - An Interactive Blockbuster


In an industry where innovation and originality is king, Naughty Dog has remarkably formed a successful round table of borrowed mechanics and ideas with its Uncharted series. Seamlessly blending the duck-and-cover shooting style of Gears of War and the run-jump-and-climb level navigation of Tomb Raider, in a gorgeously rendered world full of rich characters and brilliant writing, Uncharted has proven itself to be a brilliant example of how games can be more about the experience than the button pressing. The series sports some

of the best graphics in the industry, and the level designers wield them to great effect in a series beloved for its hectic and imaginative action sequences. If ever you wanted to step into the shoes of an action movie hero, look no further. Uncharted 3 promises to up the ante, leaving us with pounding pulses and astonished expressions on our faces once again.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - A Brave New World Map


I have never been a fan of the Elder Scrolls games, and I'll be honest when I say I initially avoided reading any of the news concerning Bethesda's latest foray into the world of The Elder Scrolls. Then I read an article on Rock, Paper Shotgun outlining the many reasons why I should give it a closer look. I highly recommend that you give it a look, as I will be summarizing.

Elder Scrolls has been known for, among other things, having large open worlds to explore and manipulate. This time, the developers are using their resources to build a more immersive world, not a bigger one. You won't be the only one interacting with the world; it will be interacting with itself. You might come across a pack of wolves attempting to bring down a wooly mammoth, or you might be passed by a giant who ignores you to conduct whatever his own business might be.

What's more, the game randomly presents quests and objectives according to what's contextually relevant. This means that many quests will occur at randomized locations throughout the world and involve completely different circumstances for each different player. For example, someone asks you to find out who's been stealing his or her livestock at night. Depending on where the player encounters that person, the thieves may be raiders from a nearby encampment, werewolves from the forest, or even that giant you came across earlier. No two players will play the same game.

Dark Souls - A Virtual Gauntlet


The spiritual successor to 2009's Demon's Souls, developed by From Software, Dark Souls continues along a tradition of brutal difficulty combined with inexplicable addictiveness. Truly a game for the purists, Dark Souls features minimal plot and enough hack 'n' slash action to make Diablo jealous. Once again, players will be placed in the shoes of a stoic male or female adventurer and release them into a land of...what else? Demons. Lots of them. Unlike the separate levels of its predecessor, the world of Dark Souls is open and unified. You're going to appreciate all that added space, it opens up more places to run away screaming.

From the moment your boots touch soil, your goal will be to slay demons and harness their souls, adding to your own abilities. You will find, purchase and create wickedly cool new equipement, then use it to kill more demons. The game's elegance comes from its simplicity, and from the moments when you deftly outmaneuver your opponents to deliver a swift killing blow with your trusted weapon or a well-placed spell. Add to this the ability to better utilize your environment against your foes and you will be dropping down from castle walls onto your enemies, impaling them against walls, and triggering falling boulder traps until your fingers bleed. That is, unless they do it to you first. Welcome to Hell, you're gonna like it here.

Silent Hill "Downpour" - Cloudy With a Chance of Mental Anguish


What did I say about Hell? Scratch that; Hell is too rainy this time of year. At least it will be when Silent Hill Downpour comes out at the end of this year. This latest iteration of the macabre series, developed by newcomer company Vatra, plans to expand the small town and take us places we have never been before. Scrapping the familiar school and hospital locations, the navigable area will be large enough to warrant traveling on the town's never-before-seen subway system and is rumored to be open for exploration.

In terms of gameplay, side-quests will be making their first appearance in the series' tenure. The developers have expressed their desire to bring the series back to its gnarled and terrifying roots by disempowering the player as much as possible. You will only be able to hold one weapon at a time, and that weapon can break if abused. This time, when faced with a hideous demon resembling an armless burn victim, you're probably better off running. Once again, you will be faced with frequent puzzles and the ability to ramp up their difficulty will be returning.

More good news, presentation will be at its best. The game boasts the skewed, creepy camera angles and hellish landscape transformations that made the series stand out in its infancy, now rendered more stylishly than ever before. Expect to see water running upward along fleshy walls, peeling away to reveal those iconic metal skeletons characteristic of Silent Hill's deranged dark side. Unfortunately, the score will not be arranged by series veteran Akira Yamaoka. All is not lost, though; the game's soundtrack sounds promising, composed by Daniel Licht of TV's Dexter fame.

Overall, it looks like 2011 is going to be a good year for gamers. I, for one, have a full year ahead of me. Expect full reviews for each of these titles in the coming year. In the meantime, drop us a comment below. What are you most looking forward to?   read

3:22 PM on 05.02.2011

Brushing the Dust Off of Old Adventures

Original Post at Experience Points

There just isn't anything quite like pulling an old game out from your collection and loading it up for the first time in years. The familiar sights and sounds from yesteryear tickle your senses and half-forgotten logos flash on the screen, reigniting memories of firing up the game for the first time. The intro movie comes on, bringing the nostalgia up to full speed. It hints at events throughout the game, moments you now remember vividly. Most of all, though, you remember how they made you feel. Remnants of the excitement, dread and awe float to the surface and they only make you more eager to experience them all over again. Finally, the main menu shows itself and beckons you.

New Game <
Load Game

The wardrobe has reappeared. Open the doors and step back into Narnia...

[embed]200215:38131[/embed]   read

3:03 PM on 05.02.2011

The Good, The Bad and The Glitchy - Fallout: New Vegas, an Exercise in Patience

Itís been a while since a game has engaged me on a level beyond that of its mechanics and managed to challenge me emotionally. My hours spent with Fallout: New Vegas were filled with mixed emotions, not the least of which were due to the constant need for a hard reset of the console after the game had frozen or a glitch had made progress impossible. Despite the frustration over these bugs, it was the moments in between, when I noticed that I genuinely cared about the world I was in and the consequences of my actions, that made the experience an unforgettable one.

I felt so immersed in the game that Iíve since written a lengthy narrative recounting my play-through from my characterís perspective. Using an excerpt from the narrative, Iíll illustrate the conflict I consistently faced while playing F:NV:

ďOne notable quandary I faced concerned the ĎBoomers,í a xenophobic group of refugees formerly from one of the many secure fallout shelters, or vaults. They had taken up residence at an abandoned Air Force base, using howitzers to fend off any and all outsiders, whom they referred to as savages. The Boomers believed that, during their time spent living in the underground vault, the world had been overrun by savages devoid of any humanity and that it was their destiny to one day salvage a B-25 bomber resting at the bottom of Lake Mead, then use it to bomb all of the wastelandís savages into oblivion. According to them, I was the prophetic savage who would one day successfully cross their defenses and lead them to their destiny. This presented a problem to me, as it implied that I was to be an accessory to genocide.

For a moment, I considered the possibility that I shouldnít help these dangerous people, worse still that perhaps I should eliminate them and the threat that they posed. My mind raced to justify this course of action; it was safer this way, easier. As I drew my rifle and prepared to become the monster, I was approached by the only thing that could have stayed my hand... a small child. She approached me with the unabashed innocence that only a little girl can manifest...Ē

...and time stopped. Not because of some magical moment, but because the game had frozen. Suddenly I wasnít Stella, Guardian of the Wastes, anymore; I was in my living room, my sense of immersion evaporated.

My experience with F:NV was riddled with moments like this. In fact, the more I played and accomplished, the more often the game would lock up. It got so bad one day that the game froze and needed restarting three times in ten minutes. If not for the autosave feature, I probably would have ended up throwing my PS3 out the window. I got tired of watching the game load back up every hour or so (the load times were often painfully long), so I eventually decided to do sets of pushups, sit-ups and pullups every time the game froze. Let me tell you, I felt the burn the day after I decided to start that.

That I actually continued to play F:NV until the very end is a testament to its narrative and immersive quality. I wanted to keep getting lost in those engaging situations; so I pushed on and saw my quest through to the end. I wonít be playing F:NV again anytime soon (my patience for glitches has been thoroughly exhausted), but Iím glad I stuck with it. It truly was a fun game and a great story to be a part of for a while, but Bethesda, please donít release another product if you know itís going to have that many issues. Do it for me?   read

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