Destructoid News Contributor, 2D/3D artist and all around art nerd. Avid retro game and promotional items collector, and frequent practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Disclosure: I have worked on a few iOS and PC indie games, as well as am currently employed at a major North America videogame retailer. My previous and current employment does not and has not affected any of the pieces I have written, but it is something that you, as a reader, should know.
The first-person shooter genre has always stood out as a platform to showcase the newest developments in graphical technology. From the early days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, the first-person shooter genre has cemented itself at the forefront of graphical innovation. When Epic started to develop its Unreal Engine 3, many developers knew that this would usher in a new age of high definition models and textures, realistic lighting and real-time weather effects.
As it turns out, it did!....Sort of….What came out of this “new age” was a slew of grey and muddy shooters whose focus was on trying to stick to a more “realistic” look. It’s true that in the days of Doom or Wolfenstein 3D that graphics had to take a hit due to the limitations of what the developers had to work with. But even with that taken into consideration, the developers creativity came shining through and gave their games a distinctive look and feel all their own.
So what if Nazi’s never really used crazy teal-colored doors or had random placements of food in abandoned rooms; the games never ceased to be enjoyable just because the developers took some artistic license in creating these worlds. And that long preface is what leads into my main topic; how Bulletstorm, a typical first-person shooter helped give me faith that developers can make a great playing FPS, with amazing visuals and still not have to use the color palette from a recently expunged hairball.
First let’s get some background on the developer, People Can Fly. The studio was founded in 2002 by Adrian Chimielarz, a developer who has contributed much to the Polish game development scene. Adrian has worked on a number of titles such as Secret Statue and Teen Agent (which you can download for free from GoodOldGames.com). Their first game was Painkiller released on April 12 2004, a fast paced FPS set in a place in-between Heaven and Hell. You play the protagonist Daniel. After a car accident in which both you and your wife die, she gets sent to Heaven and Daniel is stuck in purgatory. Wanting to redeem himself, Daniel is tasked to defeat Lucifers 4 Generals, each leading him deeper and deeper into the pits of Hell itself. The game is available on PC and Xbox; Painkiller: Black Edition (which contains the “Back Out of Hell” expansion) can be purchased on Steam for $9.99. Painkiller can also be found on many other digital distributors and a free demo is available online. Painkiller garnered praise from many gaming publications such as PC Gamer, GamePro and 1UP; as well as created a dedicated fan base.
After their success with Painkiller, People Can Fly went on to create the PC port of Gears of War, which impressed Epic Games so much that on August 20, 2007 they had purchased the majority share of People Can Fly. There latest project, BulletStorm, has gained a lot of attention from gamers. For some, being know as “the game that comes with the Gears 3 Beta!” But was this game just another slapped together FPS created solely to generate more attention for Gears of War 3? Or did People Can Fly create another “diamond in the rough” that shines just brightly for its’ blood-soaked, foul-mouthed, bullet-riddled gameplay as it does for its’ little extra? I decided to find out for myself and I was rather surprised with the results.
My first impression after hearing about BulletStorm was that it was going to be another long boring Man-Shoot, but after watching the first few gameplay trailers its personality started to seep through. Its smooth transitions from Gunplay to Melee combat, the variety of death-dealing options given to the player and the ridiculousness of the names and executions of Skillshots; I could tell that I needed to keep my eye on it.
When I finally got BulletStorm, I started to pay extra attention to its level design and to the amazing vistas that they created. People Can Fly utilized a technique where, after the player completes a frantic or difficult section, they enter a new location and they frame the scene using geometry that is in close proximity, such as a doorway or cave entrance. It’s a very effective way to draw in the audience’s attention to the beauty of the mountains or a crumbling cityscape in the background; and it helps to push the scale of this world. These gigantic mountains may only exist in the distance, and you may never get a chance to explore them, but by just acknowledging that these mountains are there helps make this world feel huge and believable.
The variety of locations and color choices was astounding. From a tropical canyon by a river with clear pure water at midday, to a desolate and abandoned Hotel in the coastal city during a Lightning storm; People Can Fly worked extremely hard at making sure that each levels lighting and color enhanced the atmosphere it was creating. When you fight through a plaza covered in mutated plant overgrowth and Maneaters, you get a nice blend of greens and yellows; very earthy colors that help to push home the organic and feral nature of this place. Descending into the lair of the Creeps, the reds and oranges lighting up a dark and shadow consumes basement helps to stress the danger of the situation the player is in by tapping into this Hell/Underworld imagery to invoke those feelings.
The most memorable level for myself was traversing the Hotel during the Gamma Storm. With the scene that occurs prior to this, I feel this level truly mirrors what the player’s character is feeling. The character is stuck placing his faith into the hands of a man he knows he shouldn’t trust. He let down another by not acting quickly enough and now his only chance to redeem himself and save his friend is to partner with a devil. The character is conflicted, like a storm going through his mind; clouding his thoughts and making him indecisive. The use of a cooler blue/purple color palette and the sparse patches of light strung out in a few corners give this level a deep, cold and introspective atmosphere; to help the player reflect on the previous event.
These color palettes were specifically chosen to help enhance the atmosphere and mood for the player; to help the player care and grow attached to these places, to make them memorable and to be able to easily tell others about it. But more importantly, they didn’t stick to the old grey and brown palettes that have become the norm for many FPSs. Since this planet was a tropical resort at one time, they really pushed the over-commercialization in the cities. You saw the gently glowing neon purple and blue signs in front of stores; you had the ATMs with their scan-lined screens glowing back at you, waiting for who knows how long for a response from some life-form. The constant barrage of News being spewed from the less-than-informative Newsbots, until a well-placed kick or shot from your handy Screamer would release it from its task.
BulletStorm does not have had a deep and compelling narrative, nor does it have genre innovating mechanics. But what it does have is a well paced narrative, a solid Ranged/Melee combat system built around however you want to play, and some truly hilarious and odd-ball character dialogue and scripted event. Plus you get to control a giant mechanical dinosaur and crush your enemies. Who honestly hasn’t wanted to do that?! People Can Fly did a fantastic job on BulletStorm, from toe to dismembered and bullet-soaked head and I hope whatever title they work on next, they can make it stranger and more unique then BulletStorm.
If you’re on the fence about BulletStorm, I don’t blame you because I was there not too long ago. But, if you give it a shot, you’ll find a beautifully created world made just for you to stain and scar with the blood and bones of your enemies…just watch out for those Hekatons…
Dragon Age: Origins has been one of the most highly awarded western RPGs in recent years, and after you play through its main campaign it’s very easy to see why.
I hopped on the Dragon Age: Origins band wagon a little late, about 9 Months if you want to be technical about it. I picked it up around December 2009 and started to play it…then got side tracked with other work…and other games. I’ve left it on the backburner for a few months now, not really having any motivation to finish off the campaign. This past August I caught a bad cold and was stuck at home for a few days with nothing to do other then watch movies (I watched Hot Fuzz around 10 times in 3 days, that movie’s great!) With this new impetus I thought that I should play some more Dragon Age to see what everyone talked about.
I’ve just completed the game and…only now, with a good nights’ sleep to ponder on it, do I really understand the underling consequences to my actions. This post will have some spoilers in it, so I’d just like to get that out of the way.
WARNING!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!
Alright, so what I’m talking about is the last BIG decision of the game. The ultimate goal of Dragon Age: Origins is to unite the separate races Ferelden and cleanse the land of this Darkspawn Blight, and to do that you must defeat the Arch Demon (aka that huge spiky, Dragon-Demon) As you make your way through Ferelden, you’ll learn more and more about the Grey Wardens from other NPC’s as well as from your codex. Everything that you learn about this order of Warriors is that they give their all to protect the land from the crushing hands of the Darkspawn.
On one of your first missions against the Darkspawn, you see wave after wave of Wardens charge heroically into battle, each knowing full well that they most likely will not make it out alive from the battle of Ostagar. Never the less, they continue to press on; your recruiter Duncan at its helm. After that battle you and Alistair are the last 2 Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden. The task ahead is a difficult one with many difficult choices, but the one that made me question every other choice I made and everything I came to learn about the Grey Wardens came 1 night before the Battle of Denerim.
We were in Denerim, at the estate of Arl Eamon, a man whom you saved from a vicious poisoning attempt. Alistair and I were asked to come to the room of the Grey Warden who travelled to Ferelden from the neighbouring country of Orlais, Riordan. Since I’ve only had a few conversations with Riordan, I was very interested to learn more about the Wardens from a more experienced Warden, and how to take down this Arch Demon.
Riordan then explains the second purpose of the Wardens’, it was then that I was felt conflicted. Inside each Warden is the blood of a Darkspawn; through the Joining ritual, Warriors whom survive the test become full Grey Wardens with the new ability to sense when the Darkspawn are near. Thus they are tasked with hunting them and the Arch Demon down to ensure the safety of their lands. The second task is much more difficult. Each time the Arch Demon is slain, its old soul is transferred the closest Darkspawn; and since Darkspawn are just hapless puppets, the Arch Demon is born anew. However, since the Wardens carry the blood of a Darkspawn in them, the soul can be transferred to the closet Warden, most likely to the Warden who landed the killing blow. But because the Wardens still have their souls, the Arch Demon cannot be reborn and the Warden perishes after completing this final trial.
So that was it, a life of sacrifice and of limitless danger; of dealing with tyrants, maleficarum and creatures from a realm beyond that of understanding…only to have it end by the twisted hand of fate. When the conversation was over, I was feeling uneasy about all of this. Of making the decision to…sacrifice my character, my Warrior, my Warden….to sacrifice my virtual-self. There had to be another way…There was.
As I enter my quarters to sleep for the last time, Morrigan was there to greet me. She then offered me a chance, an opportunity to save Ferelden and to not have to sacrifice myself in the process. All I had to do was sire a child with her and I could live; but I could never see my first born, never ask where they were going or what she wanted him for. At this point I know Morrigan’s past, I know that she was created to become the next body to house her mother’s soul; and I also know through many quests, Morrigan has shown a lack of compassion for others and a general disregard for the value of human life, no matter the person.
The choice was simple: life or death. I could give up my life to defeat this Arch Demon or I could give up this child, my child, to fate and save myself from the final duty of the Wardens’.
I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my character to die! I thought it was unfair that a man who has experienced so much pain and tragedy had to simply die because someone told him so. I don’t blame the Grey Warden’s for their secrecy, but to find out after all I’ve done that Alistair or I would have to sacrifice ourselves…it just seemed unfair.
But that was what Dragon Age based its entire story on; the fact life isn’t meant to be fair. That no matter how good the intentions are behind your actions that some situations just don’t work out. Like in real life, you have to make compromises and weigh out the risk and reward of each action. Decisions aren’t just black or white, good or evil; they are all shades of grey. That even the most noble of warriors can succumb to corruption and be led down a dark path. So by now, you know the choice I made.
I chose to give up my child to fate, to save myself. I made the coward’s choice; and in doing so turned my back on all of the principal’s and virtues set out by Duncan, Alistair and all of the Grey Warden’s before me. Still at this point, the full repercussions of my actions were still not evident to me. There was still a Blight to end and an Arch Demon to slay.
I had made my choice, and my party and I charged through Denerim. Pillars of fire and smoke cover the city streets; Darkspawn creeping out of every crack. I decided that my 3 most reliable fighters would accompany me to the Arch Demon. Alistair; my trusted Grey Warden brother and now King of Ferelden; Wynn the experienced and battle-tested mage who held our party together with her healing abilities; and Morrigan, a fearsome and talented Apostate and the mother of my child. As I was about to land the killing blow on the Arch Demon, that was when it hit me. I betrayed Duncan, Alistair and all of the Grey Wardens…
The Warden’s were made for 2 reasons: to protect Ferelden from Darkspawn and to sacrifice themselves to seal away the Arch Demon. This was the way it has been since before Duncan’s time, and rather than honour the traditions of the Grey Warden’s I decided to save myself, and to trust my child to a women whose intentions have never been clear, even from the beginning. I spat in the face of Warden’s and gave up my child to a woman who was raised to be the next vessel of her mother’s undying soul. It surprised me how quickly I turned my back on my beliefs and on those who trusted me. In a moment, I went from a Grey Warden who rebuilt the alliances that helped defeat the Darkspawn years ago, to another cowardly simpleton with a sword without the fortitude to do what needs to be done and make the ultimate sacrifice. For Ferelden, for my people, for my compatriots…
Afterwards, at a celebration in Denerim, all of my companions were congratulating me on a job well done. None of them really knew the truth of the dark deal that I made to save my own life, except Alistair. And I chose to keep it that way.
In the closing moments of the game, it described how my actions affected Ferelden. Most of them were in a positive, more beneficial manner; Teagen was named the new ruler of Redcliffe, the Circle of Magi was returned to power and the Sacred Ashes of Andraste are now well protected against any other potential scavengers. The Dwarves however…let’s just say that I probably don’t have many friends left in Orzammar. But the rest of the Wardens look at me with suspicion, because I was able to defeat the Arch Demon and survive. It bothered me to know that I’m respected and admired as a hero to Ferelden but that in the eyes of the people I look up to the most, I am a fraud.
After this playthrough of Dragon Age, it made me start to wonder about how I deal with difficult choices on a daily basis. Like most people, I weigh out the pros and cons of decisions and choose the one that gives me the least risk with the greatest reward. In games I tend to stick by this method, but every now and again I take a leap of faith and make a different choice. In reality, I just stick to the sensible and least difficult choice; and this has let me miss out on some very interesting opportunities.
I think that what made Dragon Age: Origins stand out as such a unique and interesting experience was because of the choices it asks you to make. It tells you that “Life is difficult and full of difficult choices, some of which you won’t like but that must be done”. It forces you to question how much you value your life, as well as the lives of others. It asks you if you’re willing to let these innocents die so that many more can live.
To me, these feelings and the thought process that I had to go through to get through some the decisions, it really re-enforces my belief that videogames can be a great storytelling medium and that it can illicit emotions in you that you cannot get from simply reading a book or watching a movie. By travelling all over Ferelden, making new allies and enemies, making these difficult decisions, by putting in all of this effort for one ultimate goal it forms a bond between the player and the characters, the land and the story. You want to see what happens next in the game, of course, but more importantly you want to see if Ferelden thrives because of your actions or if falls apart.
Dragon Age: Origins has to be one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Its’ story drew me in and showed me a world that was harsh and cruel at times, but that still had a lot of history and wonder to it. It helped me see that I may need to take a few more leaps of faith in my own life, and to have the fortitude to make the difficult choice, whether it is in my career, finances or relationships. If you haven’t checked out Dragon Age: Origins, I highly recommend it. It’s a great experience from start to finish, and maybe it can help you figure out something about yourself too.
In recent years, we have seen a slew of old franchises resurrect themselves in this new era of High Definition graphics. We saw the return of one of the greatest fighting franchises ever in Street Fighter IV. We took part in a heartwarming tale about a young lad and his gelatinous companion fighting for the fate of two worlds in A Boy and His Blob. We also saw the re-beginnings of Guybrush Treepwood in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.
Not all of the reboots shined as brightly as these few gems, and this is where Bionic Commando fits in.
Developed and Published in 2009 by Capcom, in conjunction with GRIN Studios, Bionic Commando is a sequel to the 1988 NES classic under the same name. You play as Nathan “RAD” Spencer, a Bionic that was sent to prison after letting 2 Rogue Bionics escape. Sentenced to death for treason, Spencer was given 2 options; stay and die in prison or infiltrate the bombed out Ascension City, eliminate the Terrorist threat and maybe get some answers to the whereabouts of his missing wife. That’s about as much of the story as you need to know; because if you really try and dig much more into it, you’ll just find more and more convoluted answers that push your suspension of disbelief so far that I’m pretty sure that Ed D. Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” would start making perfect sense to you.
But I’m not going to bother with the story, what I want to focus in on is the art of Bionic Commando. GRIN Studios was known for its high level of quality in its work, even if all of its titles haven’t been a smash hit. In its previous titles Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 1, GRAW 2 and Wanted: Weapons of Fate it tried to capture a sense of realism and uniqueness in its designs, even if its story borders on the ridiculous (looking at you “Wanted”, bending bullets? Really?!) The overall atmosphere and scale of the world that they created is something to behold. If you really take your time and look around, you can take in the beauty that is buried under all of this devastation.
This sense of awe is really felt the first time that the player get to use the Bionic Arm to swing in Ascension City. There you are: standing at the edge of building nearly destroyed by the shockwave and radiation from the Terrorist blast, somewhere between the 20th and 30th floor. Your trusted right arm, the only thing you can count on, returned to your side. You look up to see this:
A city in ruins, streets destroyed, buildings collapsed, enemy choppers entering the area and the sun slowly fading on this once great city; it is here then where the player must put all their trust into the machine, you jump out of the building. Falling faster and faster, not thinking that you’ll be able to grapple onto anything, as the reticule hasn’t turned blue yet, when at the last moment you find a grapple point and swing across your first set of streets. Congratulations! You didn’t fall! Take that Gravity!
GRIN always reminds you of your place in the world of Bionic Commando; everything on the map looms over you, shadows being cast down from gigantic buildings across and into the radiation filled chasms. It truly makes you feel like you’re alone in this world of theirs. This sense of scale felt very prevalent on your mission to hack the first Relay Point. You’ve made your way across the broken streets and shambling tunnels to get to this point, Downtown Ascension.
While on your way to the Relay, your Superior tries to contact you but there’s too much interference. All of a sudden there’s an earthquake, your character stops and your eyes re-focus to see another building falling down into oblivion. This moment is compounded by the response of your character, granted its nothing more than a Keanu Reeves’ style “Whoa!” but it pushes the point home that this place is falling apart. Making your way closer to get a better view of what happened only nets you a face full of soot, another small added touch that makes this world seem huge in comparison to your character.
I could go on talking about its interesting character designs, detailed textures and its catchy heroic theme music; and I haven’t even got to the Jungle or Sky Fortress levels yet, but these are things better left for you to find on your own. Besides some things that I really enjoyed may look very mediocre in your eyes. But it’s like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I recommend you try Bionic Commando, if you’re like me, a game art nerd and artist, and enjoy roaming large levels to find these little details everywhere then I suggest you pick it. I found a copy in a bargain bin at $10 new for the 360, still sealed. To warn you, let me say that Bionic Commando isn’t great game, in fact it’s a very mediocre game with a storyline that makes no sense. Its controls can be sluggish, the shooting is imprecise and the voice acting can get really bad at times.
But for all those rough edges, you do have a game with that creates a unique and huge world, with atmosphere and more character then the one you play as. For this, I think that GRIN should be commended; they did do a great job on Bionic Commando. Sadly, on August 12th 2009 they closed down there studios, but with great artists of that caliber, I’m sure that they’re working on better titles that will be coming out in the near future.
I've been a watcher of Destructoid for a while now, and I wanted to try to get involved with the community. So this is my first piece and I'll be updating this blog with more artwork and written pieces...as they get done =P
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A Fool's Comparison: Mr. Higgins (Adventure Island Series) and Chev Chelios (Crank Series)
I recently watched the cinematic masterpiece that is "Crack: High Voltage" and came to a very surprising realization...'Hmm...has to keep moving or he'll die....uses different items to get more energy....I've seen this story before...I've PLAYED this story before..." That's when it hit me.
MR. HIGGINS'!! Chev Chelios is a modern day Mr. Higgins!! Just replace the cromagnum-cap and tomahawks with an English scowl and pistols and the transformation is complete.
I know what you may be thinking to yourself...but it's not as crazy as it sounds. Here, let me break it down for you.
Both of these men are just trying to live there lives as normally as they can...it just so happens that everyone and there grandma is trying to kill them! When their loved ones are threatened...then its up to Mr. Higgins/Chev to save them. Their constant struggle to power forward in any situation is a testament to the will power of these characters. They don't believe in the old theory that a square peg won't fit into a round hole. They would rather break the peg into a thousand pieces, and take each piece and cram it down that hole...It is an interesting philosophy, to say the least.
They health is also under constant attack. They can't keep going forward in their mission without a little boost, be it from a juicy piece of rare tropical island fruit or a dangerous mix of drugs, sex and adrenaline. The constant worry of the player, the nagging thought in the back of your head, is where you'll find your next revitalizing piece of food. What keeps the viewer interested in the (minimal...) story of Crank is the thought of what other crazy stuff Chev will have to do in order to keep moving forward.
Transportation is a necessity...whether you are a Hitman based out of Los Angeles or a Semi-Prehistoric Native with a baseball cap. That's why both Higgins and Chev know how to ride around in style. Chev needs a car, he takes the car. He need the cops bike, he takes the cops bike. Higgins tends to be a little more selective about what he uses. He prefers the ancient method of 'tearing up the asphalt'! But one of the things that separates these to unrelenting heroes is their stance on vehicle safety. While Mr. Chelios himself may find the idea of buckling himself into the driver's seat unappealing, their were instances in both films where a little time taken to follow the rules of the road would have benefited him...particular by NOT having to pick himself up after flying through the windshield...It was pretty cool though! Higgins prefers to adorn the safety gear of the pre-form and plastic era, wearing a helmet, elbows pads and knee pads made of stone...I assume...or bone...This moves me into my final point: Their Allies!
In both series, the characters rely heavily on their friends to help them move forward on their respective journeys. Chev is a simple man, he knows who to go to if he needs help. As soon as he finds out he's been poisoned, he calls his shady, back-ally doctor. If he needs some info on the seedy underbelly of crime, he relies on his snitch/cross-dresser buddy. The allies found in the Adventure Island series are few and far between, but when acquired can change the pace of the journey in an instant. The dinosaurs all have their own unique skills and abilities but, by far, I find that the most useful (and coolest!!) would be the Pterodactyl. With this allie, Higgins can traverse the level in instant, avoiding all the traps and enemies strung along the way.
In conclusion, the Higgins/Chelios comparison may not be very unique in terms of games or movies. While you may be able to find similar characteristics in other characters from other series in their own respective genres, I doubt that you'll find one that maintains so clear the message that Adventure Island and Crank are trying to share. Now while I may be looking perhaps a bit too much into this, the message that these works are trying to deliver is simple: Keep Moving Forward! Don't bother looking back, just keep moving forward to your goals and do what you need to do to reach your goal! If you stay in one place long enough...you'll die.