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Hecatonchira's blog

10:53 AM on 10.27.2011

Game of Phones

The Videogame Industry is steeped in more than 60 years of nerdy history, but is still flighty and needful of constant reassurance. Yes, like your girlfriend with perilously low self esteem, each new device that even pretends to play games seems to pose a pervasive threat to your relationship with your dedicated gaming console.

First, it was your phone, then tablet and even your japanese toilet (because we know that device has had more hands on it than a JC Penny dressing room). For a while, even Facebook seemed to pose a threat, until everyone realized that people just wanted to annoy someone into watering their crops while abusing their friendships with a constant stream of advertising. Though, I have to admit that those games did grasp their intended market of bored housewives, baby-shakers and people who wanted to drain their bank account one dollar at a time. The rise of multi-function devices like smarphones and tablets showed the convenience of having access to multiple applications in a convenient portable package, even if it only excelled at a few of them.

For a few brief moments, Apple iOS and the Google Android development platforms seemed imminently poised to rape and pillage, stringing the likes of Sonic and Mario up by the heels.

Only, it didn't happen. Not really.

These mobile devices double in power each year, but the quality of games offered on the platforms only seems get worse as time goes on. If you want another Bust-A-Move knock off, or an App to track your cheating spouse, a phone is your oyster, but there are no Call of Duty, Battlefield or Dead Island. This isn't a problem with the power of the platform, but access to it's development. The easier it is to bring games to market, the more games there are from independent developers and shameless charlatans, meaning that quality control doesn't actually exist. For every Brothers Sword and Sworcery EP or Angry Birds, there are dozens more less-than-mediocre attempts to rob you of $2.

In fact, the 'casual games' market was probably one of the most unexpected for conventional game developers, mostly because of it's pervasive social pressure to participate. After all, traditional console developers have been stuggling to insert advertising into their games without having their corporate offices burned to the ground in neckbeard riots. Yet, it's viral growth showed that plenty of people are willing to shell out exorbitant sums for pixelated goods and to play social games less; time and money that could have been better spent improving scapbooking skills, raising children or learning to use contraceptives.

This is where console games come in, for now. As gaming markets become more diverse we see just how many ways they can be enjoyed, from old formats, now considered 'indie', like Pac-Man or Asteroids, to highly-competitive eSports like Call of Duty or Defense of the Ancients. Open platforms like Android and iOS show us that the steady march of games created by everyone often shows us more about shameless greed than innovative or compelling experiences.

But, that can change.

While mobile devices grow more powerful, even exceeding that of a console (assuming we don't all shift to cloud computing), we may see a strong shift in development or even the rise of something completely new, like a melding of augmented reality and gamification. After all, i would be more excited about paying bills or buying coffee if it unlocked wardrobe choices or a free burrito from Chipotle.

Hey, it could happen.

The problem is that smartphones, tablets and SmartTVs, which are yet another growing facet of iOS and Android development are still considered throwaway technology in it's infancy. As they get faster and adopt more formats, they become more viable for games development, but lack the stability of a dedicated platform, which means only early-adopters truly need apply to stay on the cutting edge. After all, most of my friends have had 3 to 5 phones in the years since the release of the Xbox360 just so they can play Angry Birds without slow-down.

With game development often measured in years, and the rise of a culture more concerned about sustainability, we may be more concerned with the ability of our devices to project into the future instead of the padding the junk heap.   read

9:09 AM on 10.04.2011

Dark Souls: Night 1

Left to rot in a forgotten cell, with the dessicated husks of the undead to keep me company. Like them, I wavered between life and death; the boundaries of my prison were well-known to me.

I waited for the End. My illness was stark proof that time was guttering out, like a flame fitfully sizzling before drowning in wax at the dawn.

Then, an agonized scream of metal and stone and a face hidden behind armor dispelled my melancholy.

Furtively, he beckoned, So, up I climbed.

I picked my way among the heedless madmen, languishing in halls and damp sewers. They ranted, gnawed ceaselessly on their own flesh, or simply stared, heedless to everything around them.

Though branded by the Darkness, I was not like them; not yet. I hurried through the crumbling halls, hoping for a glimpse of the benefactor who sought to free this Damned soul. Instead, I came face-to-knee with one of my demonic goalers.

As I narrowly avoided it's terrible and destructive attacks, an open door caught my eye. The rusted and broken nub of sword in my hands barely seemed to phase the towering juggernaut, so I swallowed my disgust and ran, the Goddess must have heard my prayers.

A terrible bellow echoed the halls, pursuing me to the balcony stairwell.

It was there, in a murky alcove, where he lay amongst the muddy remains of a collapsed archway. His pilgrimage was long and he was dying with small hope that my debt to him would be paid in souls and deed.

Wait to Time's End, or fight?

His gifts filled me with a strange vitality. My black skin, dry and broken softened and I felt renewed. Like a slow trickle, life filled me but humanity was fleeting...   read

5:52 PM on 09.29.2011

Fans May Cry, but should you? (Fan Rage Analysis)

If you are late to the party, you may not realize that there is a new Devil May Cry game on the horizon. You may also be unaware, that fans are pissed.

The original DmC series was developed by Capcom to much critical success, spawning a fanbase as rabid as any of their other insanely popular series, like Megaman. Unfortunately, this also means that any misstep, however minor, sends fans into a steroid-like rage and no one is safe from their insane detractions from a game that hasn't even been played by them, yet.

angry yet?

The shortlist of 'bad' things about the game reboot seem to amount to:

1. Gameplay 'looks' slow.

A sober judgement based on a pre-alpha gameplay build. This does not stop fans who are desperately looking for reasons to hate to obsessively pore over 15 seconds of gameplay, making assumptions based on every frame of animation, no matter what stage of completion the game is at. This is as ridiculous as telling a 3 year old they will never be able to draw because they drew a stick figure with four fingers.

2. Dante has black hair, isn't cheeky enough (read as: spewing childish one-liners, carelessly upbeat about being impaled on sharp objects).

The Japanese habit of giving character outlandishly colored hair has always been popular in the west. I do tend to gravitate towards girls with purple hair, but that usually comes with an interesting set of piercings. In America, at least. Since the new Devil May Cry is a reboot, that means things will change. Since the original was thrown together from a scrapped Resident Evil project, I would say the original story came together nicely, but it certainly didn't give Dante any real depth aside from an asshole brother (as stoic as Dante is irreverent), and strong mommy / daddy issues.

In that instance, I would imagine a troubled and hilariously overpowered youth, smoking like he's been to war and being a general delinquent. Comparisons have been made to Twilight, but I he would have to be an abusive boyfriend to a literary every-woman that your bored girlfriend can relate to. Whoops.

3. 30 fps gameplay.

Now, this would be a serious problem if Devil May Cry was a fighting game, but it's not. It has some fighting game conventions, but let's try to break this accusation down a little further:

A change from 60 to 30 sounds terrible on paper, but what gameplay truly depends on is how responsive those frames are. The average response time for someone from visual stimuli to input is a 215ms. That is when people are primed to react. So, assuming that the game runs at 60FPS, that gives you roughly 14 (instead of 7, of course) windows of opportunity to react, assuming that you aren't in a move you cannot cancel into a counter, block, evasion, etc. Even with that said, that doesn't mean there are 60 individual frames of animation being rendered for Dante. Since he has a sword and guns, Ebony and Ivory would probably be his jab and it is much faster than a jab would be in a fighter. I will just assume since not too many people have the frame data for DmC (after all, it's not a 'true' fighting game; I can find plenty of combo information, but not much comprehensive for i10 or frame counts, so I can't really take this indictment seriously.

Now, assuming that the game is slowed down to compensate...DmC 3 was my absolute favorite. The action was fast and satisfying but a lot of the games most powerful and stylish combos were repetitive combos, cancel-swaps and so on, but per second, there were probably 3-5 max. If they can bring the action back while delivering more crisp visuals and less particle shit on screen, i don't see myself missing out on much.

Takahashi Meijin can tap a button 16x per second. that's just barely over half and without any enemies to fell. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the transition from 60 to 30 for the franchise isn't negligible, but not crucial, either   read

5:53 PM on 09.28.2011

Halo Anniversary 343 Industries Interview

Hello, Destructoid readers! I know i've been away a while, but I brought you a treat. With all the new releases getting a lot of press this holiday season, it's easy to forget the remakes and other releases falling between the cracks.

Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend of mine who is currently working on Halo: Anniversary at 343 industries.

Me: For the people that don't know you, can you introduce yourself?

Shishka: Sure!

My name is Chad Armstrong, but I'm usually better known as "Shishka" by the Halo community, and I'm a designer for 343's publishing team

Me: Sounds like a tough and rewarding job. The Halo community is known for being very devoted to the lore and multiplayer aspects of the game. Halo: Anniversary will be released in stores this Nov. 15th. For those that do not know, it's a remake of the original Halo campaign and multiplayer, adding online play through LIVE. What can you tell us about the additions that we may not already know?

Shishka: I tend to like to think of it as a "remaster" than a remake proper, and that has to do with the way we've implemented the new visuals. Specifically, our partner Saber Interactive has set up their own rendering engine on top of the Halo engine to render what we call "Remastered Mode," in which they've updated the art of the game to current generation standards

This allows us to have impressive visuals while not touching the original gameplay, including things like AI or the weapons and vehicle sandbox. There's also the added benefit of being able to switch between the remastered visuals and the "legacy" visuals of the original game, which you can do at any time in gameplay just by pressing the back button.

That said, there are a couple additions to the game that add flavor as well. "Terminals" have been hidden about every level of the game that, when interacted with, give some important background about the Halo installation as well as its curator, 343 Guilty Spark. It also seeds some of our plans for Halo 4.

The other more gameplay-affecting feature are skulls. Skulls are a feature that have been part of the franchise since Halo 2, so we went back and added them to the remastered visuals of Halo 1. Skulls are gameplay modifiers that have to be discovered first. Once you've found one, you can "activate" it and gameplay will change. For example, the "Grunt Birthday" skull causes Grunts to explode with confetti and the cheers of children when you take them down with head shots, and the "Malfunction" skull causes random elements of your HUD to be disabled when you respawn.

Me: How about some of the more notorious single-player glitches, like going through a level with no enemies or allies, did you keep some of those or will a few make a reappearance as skulls?

Shishka: Some of the skulls and the Achievements reflect on that explorer spirit that fans developed when they ran out of campaign to play. =)

Me: Speaking of exploding grunts, Are they keeping the multi-coloured blood-splashes that were in the original? I've noticed in later games, that alien blood-spatter all but disappeared, will this make a reappearance in the remastered visuals? For the overall look and feel of the game, how do you think the 'Remastered Mode' compares to the cleaned-up visuals in the original PC release?

Shishka: Because the particle effects are driven by the original Halo 1 engine, the remastered visuals emulate how the original behaved. Saber did their best to match the effect and feel at a modern standard, including the glowing blood of Grunts and Hunters.

As far as comparing to Halo PC, the legacy mode looks similar given that less compression was necessary for the 360 hardware, so in some ways the "Legacy" visuals look similar to PC. Remastered, on the other hand, has an entirely new take on the render geometry, so there's a considerable different in volumetric fidelity. One of the things you realize when switching between legacy and remastered is just how flat the original game was. =)

Me: I like the new visuals, but some purists are worried that the 'Remastered' game isn't quite guided by Bungie's original vision. Was there a consultant on hand, or did you consider the whole of the original artistic work that went into Halo: Combat Evolved and work from there?

For example, environments look more lush and sometimes a bit saturated with color, do you know how some of these visual changes were informed by the original?

Shishka: There wasn't a consultant in the form of a Bungie artist that worked on Halo 1, or anything like that, but our art director Ben worked closely with Saber to improve on visual fidelity. The "Visual Switch" feature that's now a shipping feature of the game started as an internal tool used to compare changes. Progress is still ongoing, but the Halo lineage was closely observed by our art director as the project progressed.

The art continues to progress as we speak. Master Chief's armor is one example. There was notable concern about the form factor of his helmet when we announced at E3, but truth be told the helmet was already going under revision at that point, but we didn't have time to integrate the changes before the trailer was made.

Me: There are always small differences as the series progresses, which brings us to the weapons themselves. I know the team has already done a lot in service to the multiplayer community, especially for controversial multiplayer elements like reticle bloom (which were addressed recently in a title update for Halo:Reach). In terms of gameplay, has anything else changed, like weapon damage?

With such a devoted community, what changes are you implementing before release? Are there any changes you can tell me about that are in the not-so-distant future?

Shishka: Nope! At the heart of this project, we felt that the remake is a gift to the fans that made the franchise possible. As such, it was very important to us to preserve the gameplay. Halo 1 had a unique following not just because the core gameplay is special to people, but the oddities of gameplay as well. Things like Warthog jumping, or finding your way to the outer edge of 343 Guilty Spark, those kinds of things are almost absurdly important to people. So it was critical to us to preserve all aspects of that gameplay, and that's what we've done.

Nothing changed about the weapons, move speed, jump height, or AI. There's no melee lunge, no sprint, and if a moving warthog so much as blinks at you, you get splattered. Just like how it was 10 years ago.We knew better than to think we could perfectly remake the core and the quirks of the game.

Close? Possibly. But close makes people think "This isn't quite what it was like" and the Halo fanbase is an excitable bunch. We want people to be able to launch a warthog exactly as they did back in the day, and the best way to do that is to use Halo 1's own (proprietary!) physics engine. 'Close' just wouldn't be close enough.

The biggest "changes" you'll find for campaign gameplay are the skulls, which are optional modifiers. Elsewise (and whenever you're in Legacy), the game plays as it did 10 years ago. The change for multiplayer is obviously more dramatic, given the decision to use Halo: Reach's multiplayer and create a map pack for Reach rather than attempt to remake Halo 1's MP.

Me: I couldn't interview you without asking a time-honored question: What does Master Chief look like under his helmet?

Shishka: Bungie has concept art of the Chief's face. I doubt it will ever see the light of day

But I have seen it. =)

Me: Oh, you tease. Thank you very much for allowing me to interview you. Talking to you is always very enlightening. Shiska(bob), i'll leave you with this final question: What is your favorite biscuit or cake?

Shishka: More of a cheesecake guy, myself, which is technically a pie, isn't it?

Me: Oh, be still my beating heart.

Shishka: hahaha   read

11:29 AM on 09.01.2011

Videogame Violins

Controversy is nothing new to videogames; 1976 brought the game Death Race to arcades, horrifying parents and programmers alike. As people realized the potential of virtual worlds to sublimate our desire for entertaining violence, the media exulted in it's new scapegoat and put us front-and-center as politicians built their careers on the backs of visionary industry talent. A few decades later, gaming is as ubiquitous as our social interactions. We encounter so many tales of tragedy touched by this seemless blend of say and play, that we have much more potential to create controversy where there is none and end up diverting a true discussion about the perpetrators of heinous acts.

In Oslo, the media gave us front row seats in the drama of a xenophobic fundamentalist using World of Warcraft as a cover, and Call of Duty to reinforce a violent Us vs. Them mentality. Gaming press quickly latched on to the mentions of these popular titles, only to find that the problem was socially endemic and that videogames were merely one lens to view the real tragedy of indiscriminate religious terrorism once again boiling over. However, on a much smaller scale, we hear of children wasting away as parents diligently tend to virtual pastures in a desperate escape from the pressing responsibilities of parenthood. If anything, it seems that the growing diversity in gaming styles and audiences has also given us a glimpse into a grander social malaise; one we cannot simply dispel with a tired thesis that violent videogames begets aggressive behaviour.

After the disturbing events in Norway, I was hard pressed to find a podcast, publication or post that didn't feature someone from the industry apologizing on behalf of virtual violence. While I was pleased by the show of support, I couldn't help but see game journalists as traumatized themselves. Games have been implicated and demonized on such a wide scale (joining Rock & Roll, Comic books and more), it's understandable that we might start looking inward as soon as someone even mentions the possibility. We seem eager to diffuse the blame, even if it means confusing the overall discussion. Unfortunately, this is bullshit.

No matter the news story, there is no shortage of 'experts' who will gleefully implicate the pernicious influence of gaming. Yet, the sad fact is that common threads of emotional and mental instability will cause people to seek most anything to validate their waxing psychosis. A person seeking to reinforce their worldview will find self-gratifying imagery anywhere and none of that really matters. Is it really okay to divert attention by absolving someone's guilt by proxy? The diversion of videogames in these instances disingenuously avoids a very real discussion about the dispositions and motivations that cut so many lives short.   read

10:00 AM on 08.21.2011

Bring back cheating - IDKFA

Cheating used to be a part of gaming culture. No matter what gaming rag you chose, you could be sure that there would be cheats or walkthroughs. Plus, some cheats were as iconic as they were viral; even though most people didn't have the internet, there was no escaping the codes and cheats for Doom, Quake, Starcraft, Contra, Mario and a ton of others.

Justin Bailey. IDDQD. These are some of the nonsensical phrases that we could hear in a crowded room and know instantly that we are among our kind.

I'm a philosophical cheater. I will never cheat on the first playthrough, nor use walkthroughs or item FAQs (unless I judge the way to get them to be completely nonsensical; i'm looking at YOU FFXII). I will NEVER EVER EVER cheat in a multiplayer game, especially a first person shooter. If you are cheating and I kill you, I feel like i'm better than you. Don't worry, I really am.

That said, I never hate cheaters for cheating; being godlike for a few moments helps relieve stress and extend the life of the game. Since gaming is all about 'ACHIEVEMENTS' and developers want to keep their precious digital dong bragging-rights structures intact, we get fewer cheats. I mean, why not reward people for using cheat codes, too?

Instead, we get developer demos where they get to play with invincibility and skip levels, but we get left out in the cold more often than not.


10:00 AM on 08.09.2011

Call of Single Player - Worst of the Best

I was excited when I bought the Hardened Edition of Call of Duty Black Ops for PS3. My friends had been bothering me for years to pick up at least on of the games, so I made a compromise and went all in.

I explored all the easter eggs, played the zombie maps and spent quite a few hours online in many of the different game modes; classic and other styles. It goes without saying that the online modes were solid, offering plenty of variety and fast-paced gunplay and implacable enemies always willing to come back for more.

When my conceit led me to start the campaign on Veteran, any excitement I retained for the title curdled. Calling it difficult is a gross understatement; there are so many things wrong with the single-player balancing that it doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you scale difficulty. Each of the 3 major enemy types (rush/die, Stand/die, Rush to cover/die) are turned to turrets of death with pinpoint accuracy and a high probability of shooting you in the eyesocket. Combine this with a bodycount that even the governator would be proud of, and you have an excruciatingly slow crawl through a bland and repetitive narrative.

Call of Duty is so concerned with shepherding you from one explosion to the next, that the lack of real cosmetic change in difficulty is only mediated by your regenerating overshield. You will find yourself examining the textures of most waist-high walls and sandbags instead of spending time shooting at anything.

The worst offenders are the on-rails shooting segments where a stray bullet will end your life even if you shoot everything as fast as possible. Somtimes an enemy just out of your range will prolong your stay in videogame purgatory. Suddenly, that cool segment you breezed through before fails to hold up under scrutiny and all you want to do is push someone down the stairs.

After this herculean task of memorization, you may get a trophy or achievement, but no one wins.   read

11:04 AM on 07.31.2011

Downloadables: Rising Up from Hard Corps Contra roots.

Among all of the games I grew up with, Contra is one of the most memorable. Amidst the hail of 8-bit bullets, my friends and I would weave elaborate curses as each stray bullet whittled our lives to nothing. It wasnít until a few months later, when I picked up a back-issue of Nintendo Power at my cousinís house, that the wondrous Konami Code was revealed to me. Suddenly, a person who sucks at platformers(like me) could finally conquer it once and for all.

Contra has seen its share of console reincarnations and Hard Corps: Uprising, developerd by Arc System Works, is the newest entry in the esteemed franchise. Taking its name from ĎContra: Hard Corpsí on the Sega Genesis, which featured multiple characters, endings and even choices which could affect stage progression, Uprising attempts to fill some very big shoes.

You control Colonel Bahamut and Krystal, two skilled fighters working for Resistance Forces, itís up to you to execute a desperate plan to stop the Commonwealth Empire. Most of the classic arsenal returns, with the machinegun, flamethrower (Heat Gun), Guided Laser, Spread Gun, Ripple gun and Grenade Launcher (Crash Gun) rounding out the powerups. Bahamut and Krystal also have two weapon slots, so you can switch between powerups or leave one in reserve so you donít lose it if you die or take a hit.

Both characters are gorgeously animated by Arc System Works, which puts their comparatively bland 3D rendered backgrounds to shame when under scrutiny. Unfortunately, some of the bosses are intimidating for their inventiveness but have disappointingly bland textures and modeling, while the simple designs make them fit into the overall world created, it makes even the business of mass side-scrolling murder seem a little bland.

In Arcade and Rising mode you get the choice between the protagonists Krystal and Bahamut through its eight levels of wanton violence, with more characters available through Downloadable Content. Arcade mode offers what we have come to expect from a Contra game, levels featuring multiple bosses, turreted gates and waves of enemies, with perilously few continues and lives to sustain you. Anyone who is looking for a speedy playthrough will find themselves frustrated often as there are many hidden dangers to catch you unaware. Since Bahamut and Krystal start with 3 health bars and two weapon slots, you can expect to die often as you learn boss patterns and how to most effectively use your skills.

The Rising game mode allows you to start from these humble beginnings to tackle each stage for CP, points that are gained by completing each level , and spending them on character upgrades for health, weapon pick-ups and skills. This expanded mode is where I spent the bulk of my time, as I built my characters up from their weakest state and into nearly indestructible war machines. In this mode, persistence pays off as you use hard-won points to ensure that every weapon drop is as fully upgraded, or that you sport the maximum possible health bar.

As you grind for points and purchase upgrades, the less you need them, until you make your way to the final levels and their unyielding boss battles. There is enough to buy to keep you busy for quite some time and even grinding can be fun as you refine your technique and challenge yourself to see how quickly you can complete a level or take down a boss. The more you push yourself to perfection, the more points you receive as a payout.

Unfortunately, such ambition is not without its own problems. Though grinding can be a lot of fun, the co-operative nature of the game rears its ugly head. Instead of the ugrades being shared among all characters, points have to be earned for each, which means you will have a lot of gaming to do if you intend to max everyone out. Though the hand-drawn visuals are gorgeous, the backgrounds often add little to the experience by comparison. Bosses are often impressive, but generally lack the visual bite of their player-controlled counterparts.

Though it uses the Hard Corps name from subtitled ĎContra: Hard Corpsí on Sega Genesis, Uprising is sadly without the branching storylines and multiple endings of its original, but still has a lot to offer. Arc System Works expertly blends the retro-arcade style platforming action with a little bit of new-school sensibility and does the series a great service. While it may not be perfect, it does offer classic co-op online and offline with a pick-and-choose approach to upgrades that allows you to make the game as easy or difficult as you wish, easily placing it near the top of my list for downloadable excellence.   read

11:42 AM on 07.22.2011

After the Hype: LA Noire

I like LA Noire.

Whew, feels good to get that out of the way.

You are Cole Phelps, a Detective with a dark military past who has sworn to uphold justice and the law in postwar Los Angeles. With cases ranging from homicide to arson, it earns it's name and things get dark quickly, with the Coroner being a frequent contact at the scene of a crime.

The limited open-world gameplay handles a lot like Grand Theft Auto since it features a great deal of driving, but the cars all handle like freight trucks and traffic is designed to frustrate you. Anyone who is looking for cars that handle any better than the ones featured in Grand Theft Auto IV will be sorely disappointed. Luckily, you can have your partner drive you to different crime scenes, but any action sequences, like chasing a suspect and ramming their car, or tailing them to a location requires you to be at the mercy of the frustrating handling and awkward camera controls.

In fact, LA Noire feels best when you are focusing on the cases themselves and piecing together evidence to solve the case; there's not much more satisfying than nailing a line of questioning perfectly based on collected evidence and, sometimes, a little bit of Intuition. The rapid pace of cases (21 regular desk cases and 40 street crimes to solve), you will have plenty of time to perfect your technique and recognizing guilty looks. With it's lifelike face technology and engaging script, even the tedium of scouring a crime scene doesn't seem so bad when faced with the prospect of ferreting out LA's dark secrets.

However, this strength is also one of the game's greatest weaknesses. Forgetting where you acquired a piece of evidence and under what circumstances is common. It is never noted in Cole's notebook and rarely spoken during dialog so even checking the script log while the game is paused can leave you frustrated or considering a reset instead of missing out of crucial evidence.

Even cruisng through the game's main storyline missions, I would regularly miss the mark because I had forgotten the circumstances I collected evidence when it was being lied about specifically. The game attempts to correct this by giving precious intuition points that can eliminate a line of questioning, leaving you a 50/50 split or asking the community that gives you the percentage of the community that picked a particular answer (it also includes the percentage of people that got the question right using each method), but those are best spent during one of the games occasional frustrating witness moments since the game gives you so few unless you take the time to explore.

Despite it's huge flaws, the game manages to entertain with a story that mostly sets the tone for Cole's story as his dark past slowly begins to catch up to him behind the scenes of every case. Before too long, it consumes him, even as he moves forward in his career; he finds himself haunted by ghosts of war.

If you are a fan of adventure style detective noire action, LA Noire is a treat in a genre that hasn't had much competition since Adventure games held sway. The occasional frustration is soothed away by the game's slick presentation and voice acting; while you may groan at often having to chase down someone or beat them into submission, this is a definite case where the sum of it's parts makes it something truly great.

While it may not be the best detective game on the block; it's lack of competition leaves it king of the console heap, offering much more than games like CSI.   read

11:13 AM on 07.22.2011

Guilty Gunplay

With few exceptions, there are never civilians in first person shooters. We are used to them in arcade games like Time Crisis, Virtua Cop or Silent Scope; daunting machines designed to eat your quarters by challenging you to test your physical reflexes, which will never be quite fast enough (it is okay to blame the hardware). Yet, first person shooters rarely fill their corridors with scurrying secretaries, and boring cubicles. Instead, every industrial complex is a burntout warehouse, or improbably configured war-machine.

All conveniently stuffed with unfailingly dedicated bullet sponges.

It would take just one. One enemy dropping his weapon and diving for cover amid all the explosions to break my concentration. The other guys would call out from behind their improvised cover, dropping their guns and raising their arms.

They had decided to surrender.

Stuff that will never happen in an FPS.   read

12:48 PM on 06.21.2011

Trophies, Coins, Achievements - OH MY!

Once upon a time, great feats of gaming had no Achievements, Trophies, or Coins to rub in people's faces. What's the point, without them, right? Nintendo calls them 'Mythical Rewards', despite introducing them with the 3DS, and making it necessary to get so many to unlock applications on the new handheld. At their best, they are a point of pride; at worst, a mind-numbing tedium to shepherd you to gaming purgatory. In the old days, before fall of 2005, skillful gamers could only commit their accomplishments to video as proof, or make wild claims to whomever would believe them.

The list of achievements one could squeeze out of a game have ranged from epic to ridiculous for as long as games have been around. Passing that ridiculous kill-screen or claiming to resurrect Aeris (spoiler?) with a fabled Materia, has long been the stuff of myth and legend. There is no doubt that the rise of digitally tracked gaming accomplishments has changed the face of gaming, allowing you and your friends to compare their skills with yours in realtime; making it much easier to ferret out lies from the truth.

Even though they are tracked online by Microsoft and Sony, showing off is all they are good for; Nintendo is right in one respect -- they are only good in the social arena, there are no redemptive prizes like the ticket-spewing arcades of old. The main reason for this is most likely because it is up to the developer to set the conditions for unlocking a trophy or achievement - a process which can range from frustratingly difficult to mind-numbingly simple; some games only require that you complete every level to unlock them all, while others make you collect frustratingly obscure items. Many people are of the opinion, like Nintendo, that achievements are runing games as we know it, even though they have found other ways to shoehorn them in under a different name or condition to unlock.


A perfect example of developers changing the way we play a game is the first Assassin's Creed game. It exists on both platforms, but only the Xbox 360 version had achievements, at first. A great game in it's own right, it has a series of titles on every contemporary platform except for the Nintendo Wii, with it's fourth main installment coming out this holiday season. Yet, the series was not without it's missteps, especially when it came to these glorious dangling carrots. In the first game you are side-tasked with finding a ridiculous 420 flags and 60 armored Templar enemies 'hidden' in the game's hub world and thickly populated cities. While this kind diversionary tedium has often made appearance in videogames, this incredible use of achievements made a thin world traversal mechanic into an unbearable one -- but only if you care about your gamerscore enough to indulge it.

Mercifully, the PS3 version of the game lacked trophies, but even with trophy support, I would never have tried. Giving incentives for collections that add absolutely nothing to gameplay, storyline or mechanics is just a way for the developer to force you to play their game longer while adding nothing but meaningless fluff; fortunately, there are just as many devs that avoid this pitfall by allowing you to get every achievement with 5 minutes of button-mashing gameplay.

Since most games still require completing all trophies and gamerscore points to truly cash in, it's usually a mixed bag of nausea-inducing tedium punctuated by premature elation. Factor in online-only trophies and achievements that are unavailable to all of our offline brethren and you have an easy recipe for frustration and schadenfreude.


On the other hand, even the 'mythical' have ways of making us puff our chests out with pride, or smashing a controller on the Anvil of Frustration(tm) like the unapologetically challenging games of old; titles that rely on their mechanics, like Demon's Souls, are a perfect example of rewarding persistence with a medal that feels truly earned. Some are mimetic, cashing in on pop culture by awarding us just for pressing the start button, like Crysis 2's 'Can it Run Crysis?' award. Others are like scavenger hunts, the names hinting at what conditions need to be fulfilled; inspiring us to explore the game in interesting ways, like hog-tying a woman and placing her on train tracks to earn the 'Dastardly' achievement in Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption.

These are the silver-lining to the gloomy raincloud, but developers have truly started going beyond their humble beginnings.


Like it or not, Achievements, Trophies and Coins are probably here to stay. While Nintendo claims they will abstain from them even with their next generation of hardware, earning Coins on the Nintendo 3DS handheld is a similar enough approach that there is no doubt they will join the fight, even if some of the tasks are physical instead of purely digital.

Giving developers the tools to add extra incentive to gameplay, even if they don't always translate into tangible goods or novel experiences, only ensures that even the worst aspects of gameplay may be rewarded with a shiny gold star or scratch-and-sniff sticker; as long as there are weak mechanics and gameplay to exploit, don't expect some of the most glaring offenses to ever disappear.   read

8:04 PM on 06.17.2011

E3, Boring?

I think a lot of the people who said E3 was boring were only interested in the first-party titles. There were a serious lack of console exclusives this year, but we were still up to our necks in all kinds of titles that most people did not and probably NEVER will see.

If you judge each of the console makers by their exclusive titles alone, you will come away wanting, but if you dig a little bit deeper for some of the games that didn't see a lot of press coverage from larger media outlets the impression could be much different.

Since most people have finally settled into their comfort zone with their hardware purchases, the new hardware seemed a bit underwhelming despite it's overall potential.

The Vita has to contend with other devices like the iPad and Android platforms which offer more than just gaming as a utility. That it's priced competitively with the 3DS is a great thing, but it has to bring much more to the table to compete in the portability market. Granted, that's a moot point since people are always looking for different experiences than others might. It's just figuring out how to secure a market share, even if it means doing something different.

Probably the most interesting footnote is Sony value-pricing a line of 3D televisions. It's not much for big media who may already own a TV set, but for everyone finally considering the adoption of a HD set, it could be a godsend.

The Wii U comes at an odd time, with Wii price drops finally allowing many people to see it as a viable option, only to have Nintendo try to hit them in the pocketbook again. Nintendo have always led people around by the nose in innovative uses of inexpensive tech, but they have been lacking in software presence for quite some time. They showed reels of games coming to the console, but not any of those games running in realtime aside from Wii-quality games and a few tech demos. Not bad, but definitely not endearing to anyone who plans to support the platform (did you see the godawful developer testimony reel?).

There was a lot to get excited about, but most of it seemed to get buried.

Even Microsoft led the show with a multiplatform title, which just so happened to be the Eighth title in the franchise's history! It was hard for people to recover from skepticism after that, I think.   read

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