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KestrelPi's blog

5:41 AM on 10.19.2009

I can't defend what Tim Schafer said, but...

In the past I have opined that there's not really any such thing as 'playing it wrong.' If a lot of people don't like a game and people say they're just not playing it properly, that is almost always because the game did not communicate to the player well enough how it wanted to be played.

It was somewhat disheartening, then, to see Tim Schafer - one of my video gaming heroes, no less - post up what appeared to be a rather defensive guide on how to get the most out of Brutal Legend, how it isn't best played as an RTS and how it ought to be played for the best possible experience. It's something that hasn't passed unnoticed and I must concur that if you give a player a set of tools that looks a lot like an RTS, teach them to use them in the manner of an RTS then you shouldn't be surprised when people continue using them in such a way.

The problem is quite subtle, I think. The game does do a good job of introducing the various gameplay elements, the first couple of hours of the game spent in encounters that gradually uncover more and more of the strategic parts of the gameplay. There's never much doubt as to what tools are in the box, that's for sure - the game is clear at every step about what you can and can't do. Where the difficulty arrives is in the precise manner in which it teaches you to use them.

For example, the first time you set up the stage for a battle, you are on the defensive. There is another highly defensive battle in the mid-game where the aim is just to stay alive. While these missions change things up a little, they also muddy the waters because after a while it becomes apparent that the full-on stage battles reward extremely aggressive tactics which would probably be considered reckless in other strategy games. The game wants you to move in hard, fast, to cut off the enemies' supplies before they get a chance to build up a force in early, daring raids. The experience of doing so can be utterly exhilirating. If instead, however, you choose to do what the game taught you to do at first - defend your stage, keep your resources guarded you will find yourself getting into in a war of attrition which is much, much harder to win and far less fun.

In fact, it's like playing a completely different game. In one battle fairly late in the game I unwisely took the attrition approach and was beaten by an AI that was just better at being on the ball with what units to buy and when, and where to send them. It was a slow, soul destroying defeat. The next time I played I decided to be ultra-agressive, going for quick, early strikes to capture all but one of the enemy's fan geysers (basically the 'gold mines' of the game). I spent most of my time on the ground hacking at stuff and felt like I was leading from the front. As a result, it was over within ten explosive, action packed minutes that were well in keeping with the mood of the rest of the game.

Why the game doesn't do a better job of teaching you 'aggressive strategy' I've no idea. Granted, it's a hard balancing act to teach because there certainly are moments in the game where it's worth holding back and building up a force. But I can only concede that it is a problem with the game, a flaw that I believe has contributed majorly to some of the (slightly!) more negative reviews that have appeared.

BUT... (that 'but' in the title had to crop up eventually)

I can't stay mad at it. I just can't. I thought it would be a problem for me - I was nervous as I sat down to play the game. But after figuring out how the game really wanted me to play it, and a couple of hours of finger-wagging ('Bad Schafer. Naughty Schafer. You should have told me that's what you wanted from me!') I was left with classic Schafer. A brilliantly realised world that bleeds imagination, from a man who knows how to build 'em and surrounds himself with people who bring it to life wonderfully. Truly excellent writing, characters and comic timing. Finally, gameplay that is solid (above bitching aside), thematically sound and just damned good fun enough to support everything else that is good about it.

Here's the real test: Tim Schafer said that he hoped the game would make people who previously weren't into Heavy Metal like it. Well, I admit there are a couple of classic metal tunes I found myself unexpectedly enjoying but I don't think I'll be browsing the Metal section of my music shop any time soon. However, it's a testament to how well the game transports me into its world that from the moment that I press start to the moment that I quit for the evening, I can honestly say that Metal is my favourite genre of all time.


12:46 PM on 07.09.2009

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Impressions

Now that the first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island is out, it's difficult to to write about. As you may have gleaned, the series is kind of a big deal to me and so to collect my millions of feelings I have about Launch of the Screaming Narwhal and put them here takes considerable thought. Here we are, though - my impressions of the game after watching the credits roll last night.

1 - Visuals
I've lost count of the number of times I insisted that the footage shown at E3 was a work in progress; to wait for the final product to get a better idea of the presentation of this game. I am pleased to report that that wait has pulled off.

Even since the release of the gameplay trailer a mere week before the game came out I noticed a few touches added such as the monkey hands that poke out of the hold of Elaine's captured ship, bringing extra life to the scene. Backgrounds are colourful and well designed, reminding me far more of Curse of Monkey Island's distinctive art style than Escape's rather forgettable one. The whole thing is enhanced by great use of depth-of-field effects and sweeping camera angles which only work because of Telltale's switch to direct control of characters' movement (more on that later). This is the best presented Telltale game yet, make no mistake.

My only slight graphical concerns are that in some scenes, particularly around the docks, the lighting is perhaps not as polished as it could be and that sometimes characters' facial expressions come across as a little unusual (while at other times they are excellent, especially in Guybrush's case). These moments are minor, however.

2 - Music & Speech
Michael Land, who has worked on every iteration of Monkey Island since the first returns to deliver a score which is pleasing and unobtrusive. Part of me wished to hear some more memorable tunes but everything was so suitable that I can't bring myself to complain and I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have doing the music for a game in this series.

Meanwhile, on the voices front, everything is just peachy. Dominic Armato hardly needs mentioning - Guybrush is second nature to him and there's nary a line out of place. Several other cast members return and all the new characters are voiced well. The biggest change is that Earl Boen does not reprise his role as LeChuck. While that would have been preferred, Adam Harrington is such a competent replacement that I forgot about it very quickly.

While we're on the dialogue, I just want to mention that there were a few points in the game that I got a choice of, say, three similar but slightly different pieces of dialogue which were funny to read, but what Guybrush would actually say was a more generic response that would fit all three - which felt like a bit of a let down. Luckily, while it happens repeatedly at the start, the dialogue improves considerably after that.

3 - Story
There is a distinct feeling that this is just the set up to a much grander adventure, and as such the story is only enough to whet the appetite in this first Chapter. It's rather reminiscent of the first part of Monkey Island 2 in which Guybrush is similarly trapped on an island. In that scenario, and this, the process of trying to get off the Island neatly sets things up for the rest of the game - even though the actual getting-off-the-island part is rather peripheral to the plot in the grand scheme of things.

In other words, the jury is out, but what I will say is that the story is nice and piratey so far, which is what fans were looking for, and that there is promise of even more piratey things to come.

4 - Puzzles
Telltale have done a great job of pitching the difficulty of this first chapter just right, having played with hints turned all the way off. Puzzled erred slightly on the easy side but never so much that it felt more like watching a film than playing a game. One particular puzzle involving a map made me feel slightly cheated in that the thing I had to do to make it work - while it made some sort of sense - wasn't something I would have thought of to try, and I stumbled on the solution purely by accident.

Aside from that one moment, everything seemed logical and one particular locked-room (or chair - you'll see what I mean) scenario about halfway through the game was one of the most satisfying puzzle moments ever to occur in a Monkey Island game.

5 - Controls
This is worth briefly mentioning. The game controls with WSAD/Arrow keys to move Guybrush about while the mouse handles interaction with the environment in a pretty traditional point 'n' click style.

There is an alternate control scheme which uses a mouse-only click 'n' drag in a direction to move method, but this was fiddly for my taste and apparently doesn't work to well when running the game windowed. Still it's there for those who are physically sickened by the idea of using a keyboard in a graphic adventure game. Whiners.

Speaking of whining, I've seen a lot of it about 'why can't it just be point and click to move?' Briefly, the answer is simple: direct controls allow for far more creative use of camera angles as you are not restricted to making every scene easily navigable by clicking around. Also, on a personal note, when I played Sam and Max I actually found walking around large environments like the main streets a pain. For example, I'd click to move, the screen would scroll, then I'd have to keep clicking at the edge of the screen to make Sam keep moving in the same direction. It's ineligant and a wise move on Telltale's part to start phasing it out - they just need to figure out the mouse-only stuff a bit better if they want to continue in that direction.

6 - Conclusions
I played through this game with the critical eye of someone who has been a big fan of the series since the beginning and knows what they like. After all the excitement it was almost inevitable that finally playing it was not going to be the emotional orgasm that my unrealistic expectations desired, no matter how hard I tried to resist such hopes. So I can't, in all honesty, say that this first chapter was everything I ever hoped it would be because my hopes have been irreparably warped and twisted into improbable proportions.

Dialling back my expectations to something more within the realm of human capability, then, the game merely had to pass three tests, or trials, if you will:

1) The Trial of Not-Doing-Anything-Spectatularly-Wrong
Pass with flying colours.

2) The Trial of Being-Generally-Enjoyable-To-Play

3) The Trial of Anticipation
Basically, and this is the real test for me, after finishing chapter 1, every so often I would suddenly remember that in but another month there will be a brand new episode, then three more after that. When this pops into my head I am filled with glee and positive anticipation and that, more than anything, must mean that Telltale are doing it right.

And finally, Telltale's track record for episodic releases suggest that the best is yet to come for Tales of Monkey Island.   read

5:35 AM on 07.02.2009

Tales of Monkey Island: Why It Isn't 2D

Sorry. I've talked about Tales of Monkey Island plenty and there's more to come. I admit, I love this series of games and I want to see people playing it, so I'm doing everything I can to keep people informed about it in my own small way. It's true. I'm a bit of a fanboy when it comes to these things - but things I have said before, like the fact that the visuals will be polished up quite a bit since E3 are clearly borne out in these new screenshots, so I like to think that I'm a realistic and honest fanboy, at least.

One of the most common negative things I hear about the game around the internet is people saying how it should be in 2D. There are reasons for this: the first three games were 2D and 1997's Curse of Monkey Island was beautiful for it. By contrast, the 3D (with pre-rendered backgrounds) Escape from Monkey Island was ugly as sin, and people don't want to be reminded of that (even though this new 3D style is actually closer to the art direction of Curse than Escape).

Curse of Monkey Island

I understand the desire for a 2D game - really, I do. But let's look at the practicalities involved. For cinematic moments each frame of animation would need to be individually drawn, a time consuming process. Even if this would be possible for Telltale to do under their business/production model of ~6 months initial development time followed by monthly releases while working on three episodes at a time, it would be limiting.

With 3D, if they want to create a cinematic moment, they can do so just by placing a camera and getting their animator to move the characters around, enabling them to create very dynamic scenes at any point in the gameplay. With 2D the best they would be able to muster is a few bespoke animations here and there when particular situations demand it, and some pre-animated cutscenes - but I have my doubts that even this is practical under their working schedule.

Escape from Monkey Island

So, the choice is: cheaper, faster to produce graphics that are arguably much more flexible and versatile to work with OR more expensive, time consuming graphics which arguably might look prettier. It's easy to see why they went with the first option, particularly since they already have a 3D engine and artists/animators geared up to work in 3D.

In conclusion, sure, it would be nice to see a brand new 2D Monkey Island game from Telltale. In the same way, it'd be nice if everything I touched turned into money, too - but a) it's not something I can reasonably expect to happen and b) even if it did, there are plenty of disadvantages, too, so why waste time thinking about it? To my eyes, Telltale are doing a fantastic job with what they've got.

Tales of Monkey Island   read

7:17 AM on 06.30.2009

Gaming at 27

I thought I'd put together a disjointed and scatterbrained c-blog post as I surely must be entitled to do at least once a year, on my birthday (which is at least once a year). Happy birthday to me.

So, 27 is here. I'm not one to get particularly worried about numbers. I still do all the things I did years ago. I sing to myself in silly voices when nobody is around to hear, I jump on the bed, I eat cereal in the middle of the day (if I'm not at work) and I pull faces in the mirror. I have absolutely no idea how to be a 'proper' adult - I just bumble my way through it much like, I suspect, almost everyone else in the world does, if only they would admit it.

At my age, the only thing mentally different to me, at least, is a slightly increased tendency to say things like 'at my age.'

There are other things worth noting, though. It has been said in jest that 'nostalgia isn't what it used to be' but in a way that's true. Take someone born in 1991. They weren't even born when The Secret of Monkey Island came out but now they are 18, grown up memers of society with their own things to remember fondly. When people talked about youthful nostalgia, say, five or ten years ago they were talking about stuff that belonged to me but at my age I start to hear people remembering things from their youth which came out when I was already all grow'd up.

Now we're really getting into old-man sentimentality, which is ridiculous when you consider that 27 is really no great age. But it does make me sad when I think of things which people may never have got to enjoy growing up and just don't care about now. For example, I seem to live under the delusion that the rest of the gaming community is excited as me at playing the new episodic Monkey Island series. I was very pleased when my Q&A with designer Mike Stemmle made it to the front page but then saddened to see that only 10 people commented on it. And two of them were me.

Okay, so Michael Jackson inconveniently dying about ten seconds after the post went up might have had something to do with it passing unnoticed. But if, fifteen years ago, even a single screenshot for a new Monkey Island game had been released it would immediately become the subject of tremendous speculation amongst mainstream gamers.

If I seem to be measuring how things have changed solely in terms of Monkey Island, then it's for a good reason. After all, that's the game which made me realise, at the age of no more than ten, that these game things were not just toys for kids and I would be playing them for the rest of my life.

Is the entire gaming world waiting with tremendous excitement for Monkey 15, as I expected they would be by now? No. Is gaming anything like what I thought it would be back then? No. Is there any real point to this c-blog? I'm starting to suspect not, though I did warn you. But I was right back then, in thinking that I'd still be playing all these years later, and I'm sure that's meaningful in some respect.

Ah, shaddup. Whippersnappers.


4:14 AM on 06.22.2009

Rocket Riot XBLA Quick Impressions

Yes. It's this game again. But I'm glad it's getting a lot of word-of-mouth buzz and feel the need to contribute to that, because, well...

When I first saw Rocket Riot on XBLA I was greeted with the above image. I didn't give it a second glance. I mean, look at it - kind of a cheap looking logo, a fairly generic sounding name and a tacky Flash-style design, the whole thing just screams 'filler.' Which is an incredible shame because when I tried it following Topher's recommendation on Retroforce GO! the story in game couldn't be more different.

I'm not sure whose idea it was to let this game slip in quietly, without fanfare, among two other fairly high profile releases, Magic: The Gathering and Sam & Max when in fact it's one of the best games released on the platform so far but it seems to me that they just didn't have the deserved confidence in this game.

So, the game then. It's a bit like if you took Worms, made it real time and then made it so everyone had jetpacks all the time and could only use the bazooka. And made the arenas much bigger. With different play styles like a capture-the-flag style rugby game and the occasional boss battle. And added Bomberman style powerups. And made it a sort of retro-styled 2.5D.

Yeah. A bit like that.

More than anything it gave me the feeling of playing a re-make of an long-forgotten-but-awesome Amiga game. I thought perhaps I was alone in this until I listened to them talking about it on Giant Bomb and they said exactly the same thing. I've played about 55 out of 80 single player levels so far and dabbled in the multiplayer (which is sure to be incredible) and there are really few bad things I have to say about this game. Perhaps there are too many deathmatch-y levels compared to the equally fun other styles of play. Maybe it takes a few too many easy levels before the difficulty starts to feel right - but by halfway through the challenge is significant. Apart from those fairly minor nitpicks, though, I can't imagine what Codeglue could have done to make the game they made better.

Except perhaps change the name and make the cover art better so people wouldn't pass it by, like I did at first. Get it. Now. The game deserves to be played.


11:25 AM on 06.16.2009

Bit.Trip Beat, Difficulty and Me.

Oh, how some people endlessly and boringly lament the decline of difficult games. There are plenty to be found, though, for those who would like to look. Mega Man 9, for example, is there for those looking for a more retro-styled experience but even more modern stuff such as Left 4 Dead on higher difficulties could hardly be described as 'easygoing.'

Then there's Bit.Trip Beat, a WiiWare release that has got me thinking about this whole issue of difficulty and forced me off the fence about it.

As an game, Bit.Trip Beat is admirably pared down. A Pong paddle which you move up and down by tilting the 'mote is all you need to play. The game sends a series of objects your way in very cleverly designed and rhythmic patterns for you to bat away. It's difficult not to marvel at the way the stages are put together and the whole thing is packaged in a delightfully retro feel.

The problem is, it's difficult in the wrong way.

Okay, let me explain this a bit. In each of the three long stages of the game, when you miss too many hits, it sends you into a black and white mode which is basically warning you 'stop making mistakes or you're out.' It's a cool effect and panic inducing in the good sense. If you continue to make too many mistakes and not enough successes, it's game over.

All of this is fine but the problem arises when the part I am having trouble with is, say, eight minutes into the stage. The way that you get better at a game, especially one like this, is by practice and that happens through repetition. So let's say I need to practice this section ten times to get it down. Well, that's going to take me eighty minutes to do and about seventy five of those will be spent just getting to the part I need to work on.

Not only that but the sooner people retry after failing (as long as it isn't in anger), the more likely they are to learn from their mistake, as they remember more clearly what went wrong. So that eight minute gap not only wastes my time directly but also indirectly - it makes it less likely that each attempt will teach me anything.

So I came to realise: it's not so much the difficulty of the gameplay - it really doesn't matter to me if an individual jump/rhythm/enemy/puzzle/whatever in a game is extremely hard. When it starts to get on my nerves is when the game takes away opportunities to improve.

Bit.Trip Beat's levels are ingenious indeed but even they are boring after too many replays in a row to get to the bit I am stuck at - and they are time-consuming too. These things are a barrier to improvement - I would like to get better and if the game gave me a better chance to do so I would still be playing it instead of on here writing about it. Even Mega Man 9 checkpointed once per level and before the boss so that I could at least give it a few quick-fire tries before being shown the door; in comparison this is just brutal.

So, games. Challenge me all you want. Bring it on. Do your worst. But when you do, you'd better make sure that my journey from pwnee to pwner is a pleasure and not a chore.


3:26 PM on 06.02.2009

Regarding E3: Welcome Back, Lucasarts

A short while ago, on Pondercast, I described LucasArts as "A hulking zombie of a company which I wish someone would just shoot in the head so it could die." Those who didn't grow up with LucasArts games - perhaps console gamers or the younger among you - might not understand this response to the company but I haven't been alone in sharing it.

The short version of the story goes like this: From the early to mid-late nineties LucasArts were kings of the graphic adventure (and had a fair few great games in other genres, too), story based games which would involve a cast of characters, puzzles ranging from ingenious to irritating and boasting writing, stories and a level of artistic polish that few other games have managed to match. But slowly the talent that had fostered that golden age began to leave and start their own projects and the popularity of the adventure fell. The day that the excellent looking sequel to Sam and Max Hit the Road was cancelled was, for many, the final nail in the coffin. The LucasArts we knew and loved was dead. Even the leaked rumour of Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition provoked few expectations before details emerged, merely a few disgruntled murmurs of 'oh well, it's something, I suppose...'

And then came E3...

I don't want to go into the details of the news because it's all over the place and available in a more coherent manner than I would ever be able to manage to process through my hysteria-soaked brain. Here are the headlines though: the first Monkey Island game remade for XBLA and PC complete with voice actors from previous games, updated 2D graphics and re-recorded music, and an option to switch back to 'classic' mode a la R-Type Dimensions. On top of that, a brand new episodic series, Tales of Monkey Island developed by Telltale Games (and many of the team were part of that LucasArts golden age I mentioned) for Wiiware and PC with the first episode out in a little over a month.

Apart from the fact that all of this sounds great and that I have been extremely encouraged by some of the conversations I've had with a few the Telltale Games staff (many are long time fans and have frequented the #monkey-island IRC channel on Gamesurge for years), it marks a promising change in attitude from LucasArts itself. The last word we had from them about adventure games was back in those dark days of the Sam and Max cancellation. Then, we were told that the 'marketplace realities' meant they just couldn't release an almost-finished and great looking adventure game. Us fans got the message. They were no longer interested in adventures, and so all of this great intellectual property they had built up over more than ten years was just sat on, unlikely to see the day any time soon.

That was the worst part - not only did they neither have the talent nor the desire to make adventure games but as years went on they seemed completely oblivious to the growing market for this stuff and all the people who would simply love to make these games given the opportunity.

These latest announcements show that, at long last, LucasArts get it. Concentrating on a remake in-house, it's difficult to go wrong. A fully voiced Secret of Monkey Island has long been the dream of many a fan and people are genuinely excited to see the level of work that seems to have gone into this. Meanwhile, outsourcing the new Monkey Island to Telltale Games is a great move. It's a company which is comprised of old hands at LucasArts (including one of the holy trinity of Gilbert, Grossman, and Schafer that created the original) and genuine fans, and so just about the only developer in existence today that has a chance of doing the series justice.

Yes - finally someone up there in LucasArts is making some smart decisions: finding ways to get the old games out to an old audience while at the same time satisfying the fans, then allowing the old IP to be licensed out to those who genuinely want and are able to make the games.

LucasArts may not be the developer that I knew and loved but these announcements herald a marked change in attitude - if someone had predicted this a month ago I would simply have laughed. So, hulking zombie LucasArts, you've given me reason to stay my trigger finger - long may it continue.


4:19 PM on 04.22.2009

My The Beatles: Rock Band

I'm sure that many a Beatles fan has an idea of some of the songs that they want to feature in the 45-song strong Beatles: Rock Band. Here I present my personal list. This isn't necessarily the list I think the game ought to use and I very much doubt it's very close to what they will actually use. It's simply the songs which I'd love it to feature if the game was personally made for my enjoyment.

There are three rules, I've decided.

1) There must be at least one song from each of the main studio albums (going by UK releases)
2) There must be 15 songs from the period 1962 - 1964, 15 from 1965 - 1967, and 15 from 1968 on.
3) The songs must actually be ones written by the Beatles.

1. I Saw Her Standing There
Why: First song on their first album, and a classic rocker at that.

2. Please Please Me
Why: How could I leave out the first number 1 single?

3. All My Loving
Why: Fun to play, fun to sing, it's an all-out fun song.

4. A Hard Day's Night
Why: I want to play that opening chord, and that final arpeggio.

5. If I Fell
Why: If the rumoured harmony support is true, this is the perfect song for that. Bagsy John's part!

6. Can't Buy Me Love
Why: Because... um... it's a good, catchy pop tune. Get off my case!

7. I'll Cry Instead
Why: Classic early Lennon, I'd sing the hell out of this one.

8. Things We Said Today
Why: One of my favourite early-Beatles tunes, and another great candidate for harmony support.

9. You Can't Do That
Why: If I could sing this with backing singers, uh, backing me up, I'd be a happy, happy man.

10. I'll Be Back
Why: Another of my favourites, no particular reason other than I love it.

11. No Reply
Why: When I was a kid and the only one my age who thought the Beatles were cool, I used to play this song all the time, so I'll take it for pure nostalgia.

12. I'm a Loser
Why: Lennon wrote more great songs during this period than he's given credit for. This is one of them.

13. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
Why: Harmonies, man. Harmonies. I know I'm putting a lot of faith in the harmony rumour, but with good reason!

14. She Loves You
Why: It's just one of those songs that is so representative of that whole Beatlemania period, it's difficult to hear this song and not imagine the screaming girls to go with it.

15. I Feel Fine
Why: Fun instrumental parts are why I really want to see this one. It ought to be very fun to play as a band.

16. Help
Why: Did I mention I really want harmony support?

17. The Night Before
Why: Another tune I feel a great deal of nostalgia for, to me this song marks the point where the band really started tightening their pop skills.

18. Ticket to Ride
Why: I think the stumbling rhythm featured in this song would make for an interesting full-band session.

19. I've Just Seen a Face
Why: Usually I prefer to sing Lennon parts, but in this case I'm all over this Paul song. It also sounds fun to play on guitar.

20. Drive My Car
Why: See above!

21. You Won't See Me
Why: Another pop masterpiece from the middle-Beatles, I've lost count of the number of times I've heard shades of this song in other songs from other bands.

22. Nowhere Man
Why: A very fun bassline and another opportunity for harmonies.

23. Girl
Why: I like the song, but honesty? I just want to see if they chart the weird inward breath noise John makes in the chorus.

24. In My Life
Why: Even though it's not particularly drum heavy, there's one fill that repeats throughout the song and I always remember air drumming to it. Now I want to do it on a Rock Band kit.

25. Taxman
Why: I feel like so far I've underrepresented Harrison, and by this point he was getting really good. Great bass line, great solo, this one has potential.

26. She Said She Said
Why: Dig those changing time signatures.

27. And You Bird Can Sing
Why: Fun to play on guitar, and an all round great, underrated song!

28. Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds
Why: Despite being critically acclaimed, I don't see much on Pepper that'd suit Rock Band really well. This was about the closest I got, given that I'm not especially fond of some of the more guitar based Paul numbers on this album.

29. I am The Walrus
Why: Perhaps it's not the most obvious Rock Band choice but I know I'd love to see it there anyway. And they better write the lyrics as 'GOO GOO GOO JOOB,' or I'll cry.

30. Strawberry Fields Forever
Why: They used editing magic to flip back and forth between two different recordings of this song, one recorded as a straight band song and the other with an orchestra. I'd like to see how they deal with that.

31. Back in The USSR
Why: I believe this song speaks for itself as to why it should be included on Rock Band.

32. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Why: The lead guitar on this song was actually Eric Clapton, and I want a piece of that action.

33. Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Why: Because this would just be a fun, fun song to play as a full band. And the lovely innuendo.

34. I'm So Tired
Why: Because I think it's an oft-forgotten but excellent song.

35. Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
Why: Honestly I think the chances of this song appearing are virtually nil. But I want to be on those vocals.

36. Sexy Sadie
Why: One of my favourites from the White Album, I'd love Harmonix forever if they chose it.

37. Cry Baby Cry
Why: See above!

38. Come Together
Why: I really want to do that gutteral growl noise John does towards the end of the song. I always thought that sounded cool.

39. Something
Why: Because it's time for Harrison to shine.

40. Oh! Darling
Why: Another Paul song where I want to take the vocals.

41. I Want You
Why: I'd like to see how they handle the abrupt tape cut-off, and also this song sounds fun to play on all instruments. It's one of my all time favourites.

42. Here Comes The Sun
Why: I still don't think Harrison has shone enough.

43. Dig a Pony
Why: Yeaaaah, you can syndicate every boat you row. Whatever that means.

44. I've Got A Feeling
Why: Probably the last great Beatles song that was truly a Lennon/McCartney collaboration.

45. Revolution
Why: Why not? Are you saying this song shouldn't be in? Only an ass would say that.   read

6:49 AM on 04.06.2009

Stop Trying To Control My Life!

It's been a little while since I've had a rant... so let's rant. I've finally gotten around to playing Persona 4 and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. As of now it has taken over my life. It isn't without its difficult and frustrating moments and that's okay. What's less okay, though, is what happens when I talk about this with other people.

The conversation tends to go something like this:

"Man, that boss just kicked my arse."
"Oh, he's not so bad, see what you gotta do is make sure you fuse X with Y and also always do it on Tuesday because that means you get Z and did you remember to by some A, B and C from the store?"
"Well, I didn't really--"
"Wait. Please tell me you've maxed out your social links with Q already..."
"Well, no, I--"
"Dude, you're playing it all wrong. It's like ten shitloads harder if you don't have P and Q equipped and you should definitely be blahblahblahblahblah."

This is the point when I stop listening (or offer a critical hit to the nads). I don't know what it is about Persona and maybe JRPGs in general but you only have to read the comments in Giant Bomb's excellent Endurance Run series to realise that there are a lot of people out there all too ready to say 'you're playing it wrong.' If you recognise yourself in the above, then listen carefully:

1) It is okay to make mistakes, even if it makes things a little harder. Most games are built with a little wiggle room and in particular Persona would be no fun at all if you had to do everything one way.

2) You might like to plan every second of your roleplaying time to perfection. That's okay. That's your style. This game is great for people who want to look at every angle and go into fine detail to figure out how to completely optimize their strategy. That's not everyone's style, though! Some people just want to try things, see what happens, take each day as it comes. That approach can work too and for a lot of people it's more fun that way. Please, please accept this, already.

3) I understand, particularly those watching the Giant Bomb videos. It's painful to watch someone doing something badly when you know a much better way to do it. Also, it's okay to offer helpful hints. You know, stuff like 'Sometimes enemies are weak to those instant death spells, so don't dismiss them completely.' That's a nice, constructive tip that someone can take or leave. Why not do more of that, instead of trying to play the game for them?

Here's my ideal version of the above conversation:
"Man, that boss just kicked my arse."
"Want a hint?"
"Sure, if it's not too involved."
"Well, the trick with him is to keep his little helper busy so that he doesn't have a chance to do his powerful attack."
"I'll keep that in mind!"

In summary, gameplay dictators suck and I'm best of friends with a fox.


3:31 AM on 03.15.2009

Rental Roundup: Two Months On

One or two people expressed an interest in me carrying this on from last time as they wanted to see how Boomerang was shaping up for me as a rental service, so here it is - my second month of rentals.

Boomerang was certainly in my good books at the start of the month. I had read in their FAQ that sometimes they sell games if they have ex-rental copies available. I looked into this and not only did they sell me Shadow of the Colossus for 12, a full 3 lower than CEX's going rate, but that's with a pristine condition box/manual, and reconditioned disc ensuring that I'll get it scratch-free. That's fine by me but it didn't quite work since it seemed to get accidentally scratched in the descratchifying process, rendering it unplayable. Whoops. To their credit, though, they are being very helpful in sorting it all out. More on that next month.

Onto the games! It's a short one this week, because I've had too many other gaming distractions to rent as many games as last month. Between getting games through Goozex and receiving all that free swag I haven't had much time to rent.

1) Mirror's Edge

This game was wallowing in the middle of my priority list and is a bit of an interesting choice for me. I've taken it upon myself to pass comment on the game in the past based mainly on what I found in the demo and confirmed by a lot of other people I've spoken. I do feel, however, that I shouldn't really feel qualified to talk about a game that I haven't at least given a good, proper go of and so this was my chance.

My problem with this game is that I'm supposed to feel like this skilled runner, leaping across ledges and rooftops with ease, intuitively bounding from one place to the next but the game doesn't let me do that very often. Whether it's interrupting me with combat, providing a frustrating series of jumps that I fail repeatedly or simply not providing enough clues about where to go, often when there are enemies on my tail and I don't have time to take in the surroundings, it's always stopping me. I feel like the worst runner in the group who they only keep around out of sympathy. By the incredible anticlimax of the game's end, I felt that I had rarely managed to get that feeling of 'flow' that the game needs. If I got into the time trial mode then maybe, just maybe I could learn the levels well enough to get it but that makes me think it should have been a less story-based game. Instead, my first playthrough rarely rose above mediocrity.

Rental Experience-O-Meter:
Glad I Didn't Buy : 5/5
Service : 4/5
Enjoyment Factor : 3/5

Final Score : 4/5

2) Super Paper Mario

Ah, good, another game high up on my list. I think this game found its way creeping up in my priorities because at the time I was after something light-hearted and fun and I had heard this game delivers that, while not necessarily being one to treasure - in other words, a perfect candidate for rental. I was very pleased with the turnaround with these last two games. Having mailed the last two back late afternoon Monday, they were on my doormat by the time I got home from work on Wednesday.

As for the game itself, it started out really fun! I was enjoying it crazy amounts, then it went on... and on... and, well, what can I say? Its charm started to wane. I was still enjoying bits and pieces of it but it seemed like there was a lot of filler towards the end. Then in the last couple of levels, the difficulty suddenly jacked itself right up, along with the maze-like find-the-secret-hidden-thing-to-proceed mechanics. In a moment of frustration, I ejected the disc and sent the game back on stage 8-3 of 8-4. I thought: what else do I have to look forward to? A probably-annoying final boss, Mario will defeat the Count and something will happen with Tippi the Pixl and all will be saved, etc. I didn't feel like I needed to see it through. I don't want to put people off playing the game, though, because the first two-thirds or so of the game were non-stop fun.

Rental Experience-O-Meter:
Glad I Didn't Buy : 4/5
Service : 5/5
Enjoyment Factor : 4/5

Final Score : 5/5


On Wednesday I received both MGS4 and God of War, both titles being very high on my priority list , so that was pleasing. Once I finish them I'll likely suspend my subscription to Boomerang for a month to give myself time to catch up with my backlog. I haven't played enough of them yet to say what I think in detail and I don't want to change the subject by talking about why I don't think the MGS games are the best things since Sliced Bread: The Game.

So instead I'll change the subject by embedding this NES Chiptune I made yesterday afternoon. Enjoy!

[embed]124915:18008[/embed]   read

10:27 AM on 03.09.2009

Childish Things: Retro Rediscovered

There's a passage in the Bible from Corinthians that people quote now and again that goes:

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Well, it's exactly that attitude which is why so many adults find it difficult just to let go and have simple fun. Here's a quote I enjoy much more; it's from Keith Johnstone, one of the trailblazers of modern improvised theater:

"I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children."

I started thinking about this again when upon getting hold of a Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis, depending). It wasn't a system I ever owned before but playing it was instantly familiar, bringing back memories of the way I used to play before I, and gaming, grew up.

At first I rebelled against it. It was quite shocking when it dawned on me that the games couldn't be saved. But then the next day I put the game on again, starting from the very beginning. It didn't matter. I had the same fun, got a little further, had to stop or failed again and repeated the process the next day - or even straight away.

It was back to the days where when I played games I would actually play. I may as well have been eight years old. At no time did it feel like work. Never did I wonder if I would make it to the next level, I was just fooling around and having a good time. It never seemed to matter whether the session lasted two minutes or two hours. Playing it on the original console meant I couldn't just create a save image or leave the Wii to remember where I left off last time. Instead of the frustration I expected, however I was simply freed from the relentless need to win, making it all the more delightful when victory came. For me, retro isn't just what I play but also my whole approach to playing it.

Of course, modern games are often able to give us experiences much deeper and more artful than were possible (or, more accurately, deeper than were attempted) back then and I wouldn't miss those for the world. That games are growing up is something that is surely both necessary and mostly good for the artform. The past week has just been a stern reminder that depth isn't automatically a virtue and that winning isn't necessary to having a good time. Most importantly, though, I was reminded that childishness is not something to be avoided or grown out of but something to constantly rediscover and delight in.

If you've put away childish things, do yourself a favour and get them out again once in a while. It'll do you good.


2:05 PM on 03.03.2009

Expanded Universes: Games That Expand Themselves

It's easy to read 'expanded universe' and only see 'marketing opportunity.' The perfectly decent non-cynical reason for an expanded universe, though, is simply that it provides extra material for fans of a game to absorb if and when they want to. On that basis it seems like it's a good idea. If you're a big fan of, say, Halo indeed why wouldn't you want to read novels delving into the back-story? Why wouldn't you like to see a TV spinoff series as long as it's done right?

There are certainly good reasons to want expanded universe stuff and it would be silly to suggest that it can only ever be harmful. However, I'm going to argue that if there's any medium that can get along just fine without such products, it's games.

With a film or television series, the director is always trying to catch the viewer's attention in a specific way. That's not to say that there isn't any subtelty in the design or any subtext or background - but by their nature, films only have a set amount of time to tell their story. In other words, they can't afford to spend too much of it on peripheral matters. On the other hand, games can take as long as they want and the player gets handed at least some of the editorial control. This means that you can have an expanded universe living right within the background of the game without ever needing to create spinoffs or side-projects. There are a good few ways this can be and indeed has been accomplished.

1) Optional Reading Material

One of the best examples of this in recent memory is Mass Effect which provides a huge database of information about everything and anything to do with the game in quite some detail. If it's in the game, you can probably find out more about it by bringing up the menu and reading at any time. I hardly looked at any of the database but I'm glad that it's there if people wanted it. If Mass Effect were a film or TV series then someone probably would have brought out a book like the Star Trek ones going into technical detail, but this renders that sort of thing unnecessary.

2) Letting the environment tell the back-story

In a modern game, the player can generally wander around the environment at will and so why not use that to the game's advantage and provide more information about what is happening to those who want to look for it? One excellent recent example of this is Left 4 Dead's wall writing. Sure, Valve could have gone the Dead Space route and made Anime films, comics and Wii-based prequels but they understood that it is just as (if not more) effective simply to have a number of confused and sometimes contradictory scratchings on the wall to hint at the world beyond the game. It is a decidedly mature approach that pays full respect to the imagination of the gamer.

3) Bonus Content

Often, as a reward for performing certain tasks, bonus content will be unlocked which goes into greater but optional detail about certain aspects of the game. For example, in Valkyria Chronicles, you have an opportunity to fund a reporter's stories, which then gives you more cutscenes and deeper insight into what is happening. Other games handle it differently, but the premise is the same - provide more content by simply making it optional and unlockable. Of course DVD special editions and such mean that film has the opportunity to have similar content nowadays but nowhere does it seem more fitting than in games.

4) Downloadable content

Why release a book or TV series, when you can just make more game and either give it away or sell it as an expansion? That seems to be the philosophy behind GTA IV's The Lost and the Damned and the Fallout 3 expansions. While downloadable content is of variable quality, remember that it is still in its infancy. As it becomes more and more sophisticated in the future I think we can expect to see a lot more interesting things in our DLC, and it is yet another way that a game can expand its own universe.

So there you have it, just four ways that games don't need accompanying books, animated TV series and all that other crap and that's hardly an exhaustive list.

Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not trying to argue against that stuff existing and I'm aware that some of the games I listed above have expanded universe content in addition to the things I mentioned. After all, gamers aren't just gamers - many of us read books, watch TV and indulge in all sorts of other things. It can be nice to see a game universe cross over successfully from one medium to the other.

My point is merely that game developers now have a unique opportunity to build a far more detail-rich world than is possible in other media. That is a gift and should not be squandered as often as it is by offering an expanded universe as compensation for a lack of in-game attention to detail.   read

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