hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


Secret Cow's blog

2:49 PM on 06.11.2009

Spore: Galactic Adventures - Teasing or Pleasing?

When Spore came out last year, I think it's fair to say the reaction to the game was pretty meh compared to the hype.

Personally, I enjoyed it as a creative sandbox for dicking around, but I can understand how some people who had been hoping for a more robust game experience may have felt cheated by the simplistic gameplay.

The first expansion pack, Cute and Creepy, was basically just a bucket of Mister Potato Head parts. There were some neat additions, but nothing that really changed the way the game played.

There was also a free patch that fixed some of the broken gameplay in the space stage, added new types of planets, and added exoskeleton limbs (yay?). Again, this was all well and good, but didn't really change the game in any significant way.

Now comes Galactic Adventures, the first true expansion. Galactic Adventures adds all new missions to the space stage. For the first time it allows you to get out of your ship by beaming down to a planet so you can actually interact with the world. It looks like your creatures gets a jetpack or jump boots to get around, and you can outfit it with weapons that have different effects on enemies.

But the coolest part of the expansion is that it includes a mission editor that allows you to create and share your own missions. Part of this is a planet editor that lets you edit entire planets and populate them with stuff from your Sporepedia. This has me pretty excited. I don't know if it will have the depth of Little Big Planet's editor (probably not), but it seems like it will be a lot of fun to play with.

Is anyone else looking forward to this add-on? Did you have strong feelings one way or another about the original? Do you feel like this expansion is going to underdeliver?

Check out the trailers below if you're curious what Galactic Adventures adds.

Oh - If you want to trade penis monsters, my Spore ID is Secretcow. What's yours?


[embed]135841:19994[/embed]   read

3:32 PM on 06.08.2009

E-Thrizzle: Pre-Natal Skepticism

Project Natal, Microsoft's motion-detecting controller-less interface, was one of the big stories coming out of this year's E3. I'm looking forward to seeing what developers can do with it, but I'm also pretty skeptical about the impact it will actually have on the Xbox 360, or gaming in general.

The E3 promo video for Project Natal reminds me of Apple's Knowledge Navigator from 1987.


In Apple's stark vision of the future, the day will come when each of us will own a "computer book" with our own tiny Bill Nye the Science Guy. Bill understands the context and nuance of casual conversation, and longs for our touch.

Like Project Natal, there's a lots about the Apple video that immediately stinks of too good to be true. For instance, in the future our appliances can be as douchey as we are.

Granted, a lot of the Knowledge Navigator functionality actually has come to pass through google, wikipedia, and newer information gizmos like Wolfram Alpha, but not in the form of a fussy little man in a bowtie who understands conversational English.

Similarly I imagine we'll see a number of ideas from the Project Natal video developed on the Xbox 360, just not in the form we see in the video.

What Didn't Wow Me

The girls shopping via video conference is strange and awkward BS. It seems to suggest that Microsoft will have partnerships with online retailers that allow you to try out 3D versions of their clothes on a realistic 3D avatar of yourself, and allow you to do so collaboratively in a video chat.

I don't see that actually happening. For one thing, I don't know what clothing retailer would want to sink time and money into an Xbox Live fashion marketplace. For another, it's a bizarre and artificial social experience. People go shopping together because it's something to do while hanging out. People don't video chat while shopping on and drop stuff into each others carts for the lulz of it.

It seems like the mandate for the E3 video was "something for the whole family" and they needed some feature to fill the teenage daughter demographic. So they manufactured this world where teenage girls like to go on Xbox LIVE (gold) and put imaginary clothes on waxy rotating mannequins of themselves. It's like a Judy Jetson concept of what girls would like to do with technology.

I don't buy it when the character speaks the player's name in the Kung Fu game or 1 vs. 100. I don't think text to speech is advanced enough yet, and there's no way you could cover every possible name with a voice actor.

In terms of actual hardware functionality, I expect that the Natal camera will be, at best, an EyeToy with depth perception and greater fidelity.

For some types of gameplay, like the Ricochet demo (basically Super Glove Ball but using the full body), an EyeToy with depth perception should be just fine.


The paint splat demo is also something you could do with an EyeToy-like interface. Nothing revolutionary, but it could be fun to dick around with.

I wonder what happens when your cat walks in front of the camera, or mom comes between you and the TV vacuuming. Does the game come to a halt and then need to re-calibrate? What if you do an unintended gesture like scratch your nose while miming the steering wheel. Does the car fly off the road and burst into flames?

Milo & Molyneuxvian Promises

In the Milo demo you can see that milo prompts the user to do a very specific gesture (putting on a mask) at a very specific time.

I'm sure the system will be able to accommodate controlled situations like this very well. In this case pretty much any movement around your face at the right time could be interpreted as putting on a mask.

But, If the player pretended to put on a mask at the wrong time, like when they're over by the tree, I doubt Milo would have interpreted it correctly. He probably would think she was being attacked by bees or may assume that she was being troubled by restless ghosts.

I don't really believe the conversation that the woman has with Milo at the beginning of the video. His use of the name Claire, his very specific reaction to "thousands of people", it all feels scripted. That's fine to communicate the vision, but I don't expect it in the final product.

Basic head tracking and facial recognition seem plausible. One of the more advanced features Milo is supposed to have is the ability to recognize the emotion in your face and reflect it back at you. I'm interested to see how accurate this ends up being in practice. What if you've just got a sour puss? Is Milo always in a bad mood?

Players will probably forgive a lot of wonkiness in these interactions since they don't know what to expect. I suspect a lot of Milo's reactions to facial expression and tone of voice are just going to be wild guesses that are generic enough to cover just about any scenario.

Notice how after the (scripted) conversation Milo changes the subject to catching fish and drawing in his journal. Nothing that he says after changing the subject is at all dependent on the first part of the demo.

Later, the player shows Milo a drawing of fish. Milo's reaction to the drawing is to comment on the fact that it's orange - not the fact that it's a fish. If the user had drawn a smiling orange penis, I bet they would have gotten the same reaction.

I don't think these limited interactions are necessarily a fault of the hardware. Rather I think its a credit to the designers' ability to maintain the illusion in spite of technical limitations.

Ultimately I expect a lot of the the Natal experiences will come down to designing an experience that maintains the illusion of control without actually providing much.

Rambles and Mutters

When it comes to Natal design I imagine that coming up with systems to disregard unintended or confusing input will be just as important, if not more so, than coming up with systems to interpret what you're doing.

If you're sitting on the couch with friends, the system needs to know how to disregard the non-player hands or to ignore someone reaching out in front of the player really quickly to grab the remote.

The driving game made me think that Natal is going to have to be very forgiving in its gesture recognition. Just try miming a steering wheel. Odds are with nothing to hold your hands don't rotate in a nice clean circle. They also probably don't stay evenly spaced at ten o'clock and two o'clock. Natal would need to be pretty lenient in how it interprets the virtual wheel. This makes me wonder how precise it could actually be. Games will have to give credit for being "close enough" if games are going to be any fun.

I expect Natal will be pretty good at at navigating the NXE dashboard. I wouldn't be surprised if the new dashboard was actually designed with Natal's swipe interface in mind.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the buzzer system for 1 vs. 100 already exists in some form. Still, I wonder how good it will be at distinguishing between eight hands smooshed close together.

While it's being billed as a controller-less system, I wouldn't be surprised if MS or third parties offered peripherals. Some might not have any functionality at all. For example a simple hoop of plastic you hold to make miming a steering wheel feel more natural (just like the Wii Wheel). Other's may have reflectors or color coding to help improve the fidelity of the motion detection. I doubt we'll see any Natal controllers with actual buttons or analog sticks, but I suppose it's possible.

Shake Your Baby Maker

Another minor gripe is the name. The word natal is pretty common. For me it conjures up images of floating fetuses, ultrasound jelly, outie belly buttons popping out of veiny stretched abdomens, water breaking all over the gym at the prom, and premature flipper babies baking in incubators.

I realize it is pronounced Nah-Tahll, like first part of Natalia, But unless you've heard someone explain it that way, I think alot of Americans would pronounce it Nay-Tuhl.

Yeah, I know that "Wii" had similar pronunciation confusion and associations with bodily function when it was first announced, but I think this is worse. When I hear, "Microsoft's Project Natal" I think of a clumsy robotic nursemaid who crashes to a blue screen of death or red rings as it's reaching into the soggy vulvoid chamber of secrets.

I suggest pronouncing it Project Gnat-Uhl, in honor of Natalie Portman. Here is a music video from a band called Natalie Portman's shaved head. It features Shamu, the world's deadliest friendliest sea mammal.



Ultimately I expect that Project Natal will provide fun new game experiences. It will probably extend the life cycle of the Xbox 360 a bit, which is a good thing. I expect that like the Wii there will be some very well designed games that do a great job of working with the system's limitations to deliver a great illusion of control. I also expect there will be a lot of crap that overreaches, trying to force the system to do more than it's capable of. And then there will be the Eye-Toy, In The Movies, style mini-games that lend themselves well to minimal controls.

In any event, I welcome Project Natalie Portman without expecting much more from it than some neat shit.

What do you expect from Project Natal? Have you seen anything in the previews that really gets you psyched or makes you super nervous?


10:09 AM on 06.04.2009

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years; Rydia's Tale - Review

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years - Rydia's Tale
WiiWare Add-On - 300 Wii Points

Rydia's Tale is an a DLC add on for Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. It requires The After Years main story in order to play. You can download it from within The After Years main menu.

In Final Fantasy IV Rydia was the last of the summoners of Mist, a village that was destroyed by Baron. Needless to say, she goes through a lot in that story. You can read about one of the most memorable events in FFIV in this edition of The Memory Card.

Rydia's Tale begins when Rydia returns to the Feymarch (the land of summoned monsters) to check on the King and Queen of the Eidolons. They banish her from their chamber, and and she finds all the monsters of the Feymarch have been petrified by some unknown force.

It turns out that one of the Eidolon's had a hot date lined up, so naturally it falls to Rydia to save the day and get him some hot Eidolon action.

This expansion takes place at the same time as the events in the Main Story of The After Years. The adventure takes you to the Underworld and reunites Rydia with Luca, the young Dwarven Princess from Final Fantasy IV.

Luca is all grown up now, and wants to be a master engineer like Cid. While the expansion is called Rydia's Tale, Luca is actually the more developed character. This suited me just fine, as she's a very likable character and her story fit nicely within the scope of the story.

Since she's a mechanical whiz, Luca has whipped up two automatons who join you in your quest, Brina and Claca. Neither character speaks, but like the weighted companion cube you find yourself invested in both of them as you go through the adventure.

Brina is a dancing doll. She may be the star of Joss Wheedon's latest TV show. I don't know, I haven't seen it. But, since it's a possibility, let's just say that she is.

When she dances, it confers a random benefit on the party. In many cases it's not the benefit you were hoping for. For example, she loves to resurrect the living or dispel non-existent status ailments.

In this respect she is a bit like aunt Clara. She means well, but she's a bit scatter brained. Did you know that Aunt Clara and Aunt Hagatha are different people? I didn't.

Brina has a brother, Calca. The word Calca sounds like a calcium supplement that Aunt Clara might take to repair her aging hip. Aunt Clara is almost certainly dead by now, so I feel really bad about saying that.

Let's change the subject back to Calca and his remarkable super power.

Calca has the ability to Jive! This is a lively and uninhibited variation of the jitterbug, and also a manner of speaking often employed by turkeys.

As with Brina's dance, most of the Jive effects are totally ineffective. Since he's actually a pretty good fighter, It doesn't make a lot of sense to waste his turn jiving instead of attacking.

Brina and Calca on their own are both decent characters, but it is by their power combined that you get to see their coolest ability.

Calca and Brina can band together to form a soulless killer baby doll! It does decent damage, but it's real charm comes from the fact that the two of them have to dance into one another to form the monster doll - like a Busby Berkeley Baby Voltron.

Like the main story, the bulk of Rydia's tale is a dungeon crawl. But I found the balance of characters in this expansion more interesting than in the main story. This made the the dungeon crawling feel a bit less sloggy.

Rydia and Luca's abilities are both quite different from one another, unlike Ceodore and the hooded man from the main game who were both essentially fighters. Calca and Brina fall outside of the usual FF class system, making them an interesting addition to the mix. Though Brina can restore health with her dance ability, there is no dedicated white mage in the group. This makes healing items, especially phoenix down, more valuable.

Since the party is a bit more diverse, the phases of the moon have a bit more impact here than they did in the main story. Still, it doesn't feel like this expansion fully explores this feature's potential.

Two characters can combine abilities in this expansion, just as they could in the main story. Fewer characters cycle in and out of the party in the expansion to try this with, but the roster has at least two band attacks that are useful throughout the game.

Despite this being Rydia's Tale, don't expect to do much summoning. All the main Eidolon's are petrified, and therefore unavailable.

The story in Rydia's tale is more self contained than the main story, and this is a good thing. Overall it's more coherent and diverse, and the ending feels like the legitimate end of an episode rather than a tease.

Rydia's Tale also includes at least one side quest (of sorts) and one optional dungeon. Most importantly, it lets you fly an airship. These things add up to a much greater sense of freedom than you get from the main story.

Don't expect any of your characters or items from the main story to carry over into Rydia's Tale. They don't. But it does seem like the save you create at the end of each story will eventually be used for... something.

In total, Rydia's Tale is about three hours long. Your mileage may vary, but expect to pay about $1 per hour for this expansion.

I know paid DLC rubs a lot of people the wrong way. If you want to make a value for money case, you could argue that a new 12 hour retail game costing $60 comes to $5 per hour, so Rydia's Tale is actually a pretty good deal for your entertainment dollar.

The same caveats from the main story apply to Rydia's tale. If you have a problem with old-school J-RPG design, grinding, linearity, etc. Then this probably isn't the game for you.

If you've played through The After Years and enjoyed it, I'd say that Rydia's tale is more satisfying than the main story in many respects and well worth your three hours and three dollars.   read

9:33 AM on 06.02.2009

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years - Review

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years - Main Story
WiiWare - 800 Wii Points

This review is pretty much spoiler-free as far as story content goes, but there is some discussion of characters and how the game ends. Not what happens at the end, rather how it fits into the game's DLC structure.

Square Enix gets back to basics with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, a direct sequel to 1991's Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo. (For the white devils, this was game was known as Final Fantasy II on the SNES.)

Unlike the recent sequel Final Fantasy X-2 which continued the story of Final Fantasy X but took the characters, the story, and the combat in a new direction, The After Years is about as pure as sequels get. Like Mega Man 9, it is faithful not only to the gameplay of the original but to the audio/visual style as well. The sprites, the world, the music, the interface, all of it will be like coming home for long-time Final Fantasy fans.

There are a few new faces in the cast, some minor rearrangement of the dungeons, but from the opening theme until the final credits the whole experience feels totally grounded in the world of Final Fantasy IV.

This familiarity provides a great rush of nostalgia, but at times it feels like you're backtracking through environments and scenarios you already played 18 years ago.

Odds are if you remember a secret treasure chest from the original, it's unmoved in The After Years. If you remember an enemy's weakness from the original it's the same in The After Years. If you remember endlessly grinding in the original... well, you'll be doing that in The After Years too.

Regarding grinding, you don't need to power level to make progress through The After Years. But, you will find that random encounters are extremely frequent. Sometimes it feels like you have to fight a hedgehog every few steps. This was frustrating in 1991, and even more so now that many games - Square Enix games included - have moved beyond this mechanic.

Making the frequent random encounters even more frustrating is the fact that few, if any, require any real strategy. For most fights just press the "A" button about 20 times and wait for the victory fanfare, heal up after the battle, and repeat.

For the majority of The After Years you'll be playing as a party of two characters, Ceodore - a Palaidn type - and "The Hooded Man" - a straight fighter. Ceodore has some white magic for healing, and an ability similar to Terra's "Morph" from Final Fatnasy VI which gives him a decent stat boost though eventually costing HP.

But this is a class based game, and for all intents and purposes both Ceodore and The Hooded Man are fighters. That means you'll be pressing the Attack button... a lot.

The After Years introduces two new systems to Final Fantasy IV, the Band system and the phases of the moon.

Both are very cool in theory, but never really live up to their potential in the main story.

The Band system allows two characters to combine attacks, similar to Chrono Trigger. The catch is that the two characters have to share a bond, and most band attacks have to be discovered through trial and error.

The band attacks are neat, but since you spend most of the game as Ceodore and the Hooded man, you don't have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the system.

The phases of the moon adds a time-based element to the game. The moon has four phases, waxing, full, waning, and new. The phase of the moon modifies character abilities. For example, during a full moon weapons are half as effective, but black magic is twice as effective.

The phases of the moon shift over time, or whenever you use a tent or stay at an inn.

This does add an interesting choice when you're exploring a dungeon. When you reach a save point you need to choose whether to use a tent and change the phase of the moon, or save and move on without the HP & MP boost from the tent to keep the moon as is.

The phase system seems like an interesting way to complement the class system, since you can't customize character abilities If you had a diverse party of characters, it would shift the emphasis to different classes at different times. But as I mentioned earlier, for most of the game you only have two fighters. So ultimately the phases don't affect your strategy very much.

The main story isn't very long by final fantasy standards. Probably between 4 - 6 hours, depending on how you much grinding you do. It is also extremely linear. Don't expect to find side quests or much exploration off the beaten path.

For fans familiar with Final Fantasy IV this linearity will feel pretty familiar. The original didn't open up until after you got the airship. Just be aware that in The After Years the main story never opens up to allow for exploration.

The quality of the story and its presentation isn't quite up to the standard set by the original. In general the pacing feels off and the scenes can be confusing and disjointed.

The emotional impact of the story relies heavily on your familiarity with FFIV. If you haven't played the original or the DS remake, I would expect The After Years' story to be somewhat confusing, if not outright frustrating.

Unlike FFIV, you aren't immediately pulled into the characters and the crisis. Ceodore and Biggs just don't compare to Cecil and Kain.

In some ways the story feels like fan fiction. All the elements of Final Fantasy IV are there, but they're missing the artistry that brought the source material to life in a compelling way.

That's not to say it's all bad. There is a fantastic set-piece near the beginning that reunites several familiar characters and promises a better story than the one it ultimately delivers.

The climax is fantastic for a FFIV fan, but unfortunately the story ends on a cliffhanger right right when it's about to get interesting.

To me the ending felt abrupt, and cheap. I felt like I had been primed for a more robust experience, and it cut out just when I was starting to feel hooked.

Obviously this is by design. The story continues through various DLC "stories" that you can download. As of today one is available, "Rydia's Tale" for 300 Wii Points.

At the end of the Main Story you are able to make a save file that will carry your levels, items, etc. over into the DLC stories.

So effectively what we have here is an episodic Final Fantasy game.

Personally I'm not opposed to DLC or episodic content, but I'm not sure that it's the format I want to play a Final Fantasy game in. It makes me wonder if the game will ever open up and provide side quests and optional character development, or if instead each pay-to-download Tale is essentially a side quest.

It makes reviewing the main story difficult. As a stand-alone experience, it's ripe with potential but skimpy on payoff. It promises a very cool story, some innovative combat mechanics, and a robust full featured sequel in the style of Final Fantasy IV. But it doesn't fully deliver on any of that.

If you are a fan of the original and you're willing to stick with The After Years for the long haul, I would recommend downloading the main story and sticking with tales to see how the story develops. The main story is 800 Wii Points.

But if you're turned off by retro J-RPG sensibilities and you don't have a lot of affection for the original story, I suspect this game is not for you. I'd suggest picking up the FFIV remake for the DS and giving it a whirl. If you like it, then by all means download The After Years.

A score? Hmmm....

Main Story Stand Alone Experience: 6 - A few moments of greatness bookend a lot of old-school grinding. Neat systems are introduced, but don't really deliver. Story ends just as it gets started.

Main Story + Tales (Potentially): 7 - 8 - Tales could flesh out a more complete sequel and build on the new mechanics in interesting ways.

Final Fantasy IV Fan Spin: +1 - If you love Final Fantasy IV this is a homecoming that will warm your cold dead heart. You'll overlook a lot of the flaws for a chance to spend time with old friends.   read

12:34 PM on 05.30.2009

EA Sports Active: Uses for the Resistance Band

The Resistance Band

When you open the box for EA Sports Active, there is a package containing a long thin strip of rubber that smells sort of like After Eight dinner mints and also kind of like a trip to the dentist.

You would not be wrong to attach this thing to the end of a stick and spin it around. Doing so would surely look pretty and might make you feel better about life.

This curious red visitor from Redwood Shores is known as the Resistance Band. It may look like a simple fruit roll-up, but in truth it is the killer at the heart of the app.

Let's face it, even with the best intentions one will eventually give up on EA Sports Active. When that day comes you've still got this... thing in your life. So I was wondering if there may be any other uses for the resistance band.

As it turns out, it can be used to fashion a number of useful disguises. Please join in me in examining just some of the possibilities:

Job Interview Necktie

Oh crap, the President has just appointed you to the Supreme Court totally out of nowhere. Awesome, right? Not so fast. You don't have a necktie for the confirmation hearing. Bummer, I guess that means no Supreme Court for you.

But wait! You own a Nintendo Wii! And you are self-concious enough about your body to have purchased EA Sports Active! You are good to go my friend.

A simple windsor knot and you're all set for a date with Dick Durbin. You can leave the altoids at home. You'll already smell strangely minty.

When the committee asks you about your stance on the evils of the video game industry you can point to your rippling abs and your handsome necktie as examples of the good that video games can do! Way to go.

Solid Snake Headband

Oh crap, Colonel Campbell is on the codec and he wants you to take on one last mission to rid the world of giant nuclear robots.

Never mind that you're old and cranky and you'd rather be watching Matlock, you don't have anything to wear!

But wait, the center recently bought a Wii for its bowling tournaments and they've also got a copy of EA Sports Active.

After slipping Agnes a mickey you're able to abscond with the resistance band. It not only makes you look awesome during your mission, it also gives you infinite ammo somehow! Way to go.

Biplane Pilot Scarf

Oh crap, it's a telegram from Amelia Earhart. She wants to rendezvous Paris so you can eat some smooshy cheese with her and the martians.

That's would be so great. But you lost your lucky piloting scarf in a game of strip poker with the ghost of Howard Hughes.

It's been a weird week. But lucky for you, you won a gold Nintendo Wii and a copy of EA Sports Active from Queen Elizabeth. The resistance band makes a jaunty scarf, and you're able to embark on your transatlantic journey! Way to go. Say hi to the martian for me.

Beauty Pageant Sash

Oh crap, it's a carrier pigeon from Donald Trump. He wants you to represent tambourines in an upcoming beauty pageant at Flynt Publications.

This is your chance to make some tambourines very proud. But you haven't got a sash, and The Donald isn't about to provide you with one. He's keeping all of his sashes in his secret sash stash.

Have no fear. Your beauty regime consists of daily workouts on the Nintendo Wii with EA Sports Active. The resistance band makes a perfect sash. Just keep it away from Mr. Trump, as he is liable to burgle it. Way to go.

Kindly Babooshka Head Thing

Oh crap, it is Aleksandr Soljenitsin with a message from Mother Russia. They are running dangerously low on babooshkas, and they need you to help!

You'd love to get on a steamship bound for Siberia and start pickling things, but there's just one problem... you are missing an authentic babooshka head thing. Without one, you will not be permitted into the secret lair.

Fortunately your colorful cousin Roman has stolen for you a Nintendo Wii entertainment machine and the EA Sports Active. This game includes a big American head thing, which you can put to good use on your melon. Way to go.

Great Tiger Turban

Ouch! You've just been hit by a spinning newspaper from Doc Lewis. It turns out that India has lost its Great Tiger to feline leukemia. I hate Mondays.

You'd love to replace him, but you don't have a stylin' turban. Give Up? Retire?

Not on your life buster brown. You've been training with EA Sports Active hoping to be less of a pussycat and more of tiger. You'll find that resistance band makes a mighty fine turban. Now you're playing with power! Way to go.

(Note: Turban style may be more Miss Cleo than Great Tiger. Your results may vary.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Mask

Oh crap, the turtle communicator is beeping. It's April O'Neil of Channel Six news! She's been kidnapped by a creep known as "The Shredder".

No doubt horrible things are being done to her body that will soon end up illustrated in the more prominent Furry communities. You wish you could help, but alas you're not a turtle.

Or are you? You've been practicing the Ninja Arts (along with alternating side lunges) with EA Sports Active. By tying the resistance band across your eyes you undergo a remarkable transformation, becoming a mutant turtle!

This is certainly more than enough to qualify you to battle the forces of evil. You storm the technodrome in hopes of recovering the intrepid reporter before her virtue is irreparably tarnished by Krang's tuning fork! Way to go.

Dental Dam

Oh crap, you've got a hot date with a discount courtesan and you are uncertain as to how many sexually transmitted infections are bubbling around in her rickety frame.

You desperately want to subject her to the five forbidden linguses (lingui?), but you left your dental dam in your other pair of capri pants.

You are unable to find a midnight dentist to help you out. But you are able to find EA Sports Active for the Nintendo Wii Entertainment system. After playing a rousing Carnival Game with your would-be paramour, you find that the resistance band is the perfect Prophylaxis.

You engage in an evening of unholy congress, safe in the knowledge that your mouth is free from new diseases. And it even tastes kind of minty too. What a bonus. Way to go.

That's the Resistance Band!

As you can see the resistance band provides endless fun. None of which are even video game related. And this is only scratching the surface of possibilities such as disguises and marital aids.

What would you use the resistance band for? Any suggestions? Can you think of a funny pun for "Resistance Band" and "Resistance Fall of Man"? I sure couldn't. I thought maybe the Chimera playing Rock Band would be cute. But it's kind of not.   read

8:03 AM on 03.01.2009

Rememberies of Zelda - Stay Gold Ponyboy

It took a lot of begging and stretching the truth to get my dad to buy a copy of The Legend of Zelda. I was finally able to convince him by claiming that it was an educational game. I said that you had to do math to progress through it.

Rupees are subtracted when you burn down people's doors. Subtraction is a math. So in the end, I told no lies.

We picked up Zelda at a K-Mart. On the way home we had to stop off at my dad's office. This was torture. I needed to experience the game immediately, even if I couldn't actually play it.

I stayed in the car while he went into the office so I could root around in the K-Mart bag. I found Zelda, tore open the box, savored the new game pak smell and beheld a thing of beauty!

A golden cartridge.

I had caught a glimpse of it through the crotchless peek-a-boo hole in the box. But here it was, naked and yielding in my sweaty hands.

I was really very sweaty. It was hot outside, and I was in the car with the windows rolled up. It was hot enough to fry an egg. Hot enough to fry a dog's brain! But I couldn't risk rolling down the window lest anyone snatch away my precious.

I read the instruction manual several dozen times and inserted the golden cartridge anywhere and everywhere it would fit. This left me sore and whimpering, but it took the edge off.

When my father came back to the car I was drenched in sweat, covered in cartridge shaped indentations, and deep in a Zelda frenzy. I had to stick my golden treasure into an NES as soon as possible. I didn't even notice the heat anymore. Like Scrooge McDuck, I was in the final stages of Gold Fever.


To commemorate the glorious golden game pak, I've taken the liberty of gathering some other golden goodies below. May they please the eye and the ear of your face.

Golden Crisp

Sugar Bear is a pimp. If you need evidence of this, you can watch the video below. Witness how he handles a swamp monster by turning his embarrassingly false teeth against him. This is similar to how George Washington was assassinated by the Cookie Crook.


Solid Gold

It's hard to find a show that can contain the talents of Hall & Oates, Culture Club, Wayland Flowers & Madame, The Pretenders, and Tracy Ullman without collapsing in on itself and killing everyone involved. But somehow Solid Gold was able to do it! This opening sequence feels like it's made out of the Trapper Keeper folders that they gave out in heaven to the children fortunate enough to die in 1984. (Is that an N64 model of David Byrne?)



Skanks like to drink it. It doesn't taste very good. But it makes your poo valuable. In the current economy, this may be a sound investment strategy.


The Golden Girls

I would like to play a point and click adventure game based on the Golden Girls. It could be like Maniac Mansion. Each girl would have her own power. Blanche wields weird sex appeal. Rose charms the animals. Dorothy carries a club. And Sophia fits inside air ducts or suitcases. By combining their powers to solve puzzles they eventually defeat Stan Zbornack and Mel Bushman all while staying cuter than intrauterine.


Goldie Hawn

Why hasn't there been a video game adaptation of Private Benjamin? Did you know that in Sweden all of the Goldie Hawn movies are part of "The Girl Who..." series? It's true! For instance Overboard is called: "The Girl Who Fell Overboard" and Private Benjamin is: "The Girl Who Joined the Military".

I don't know if they called Bird On A Wire "The Girl Who Made a Bad Career Decision", or Death Becomes Her "The Girl Who Survived Losing Most of her Torso due to a Shotgun Injury Inflicted by Meryl Streep." I hope they didn't, because neither title is very good. Goldie deserves better.



Goldilocks is a story so timeless and well constructed that you can tell it with felt. I would like to see this lady tell Anna Karenina on her felt board. Put on your good looking eyes before viewing the video below.



This movie includes Pussy Galore and a deadly bowler hat. On their own these two facts would cement it in film history. But perhaps its greatest accomplishment is the unforgettable theme song sung by Shirley Bassey. If you enjoy women made out of gold who have spinning license plates in the place where their mouths should be, this video is for you!


Little Golden Books

Much of my youth was spent gnawing on Little Golden Books. Bugs Bunny's Carrot Machine was my personal favorite. The golden binding conceals many mysteries, including: bunnies, bees, chickens, and gummi bears. If you stare at it long enough you may see your own future.


Tracey Gold

Tracey Gold played bookish fussbudget Carol Seaver on Growing Pains. It must have been cold there in Mike's shadow. She was Lisa Simpson before there was a Lisa Simpson. Or perhaps less charitably, Meg before there was Meg. Unrelated fun-fact: Growing Pains also featured a character named Boner.


The Gold Standard

At one point in time paper money represented an actual lump of gold kept in a box somewhere in the world. You could take your paper money to a gnome and demand your gold. He would refuse to give it to you. This arrangement suited both parties until the gnomish wars of ought nine. You can see it all explained below. If you stick with the video, there is a cartoon!


The Golden Gate Bridge

The most destroyed bridge in movie history is actually pretty pretty in real life (IRL!). Pretty pretty is what the black queen calls Barbarella upon their first meeting. Watch the Golden Gate Bridge wiggle and dance below.


In Conclusion!

We have reached the end of our voyage of all things Gold. Or have we? What is your favorite golden thing? Do you have any golden video game memories? If there is anything I left out? Please, shower me in gold!   read

8:26 AM on 01.31.2009

Rememberies of Zelda - What's in a Name?

The instruction manual for The Legend of Zelda says, "Link, the hero of The Legend of Zelda, does not yet exist. You create Link by first registering your player name".

I remember thinking this was some powerful juju indeed. By speaking his name, I would somehow pull Link into existence from out the dark of nothingness.

Similar to the Childlike Empress's power to crap out a universe if you scream "Moon Child' at her, I had been granted the power to create one of the greatest video game heroes ever... if only I could give him a name.

That's a lot of responsibility for a 10 year old.

I was desperate to begin the game. But first I needed to make Link exist. The burden of choosing a name that he would be stuck with for the duration of this epic adventure was just too much for me to deal with.

Finally I copped out and just called him "ZELDA" since it seemed like a path of least resistance.

Little did I realize... it was not. As some of you may know, if you name your character "ZELDA" you start on the game on the extremely difficult Second Quest rather than the moderately difficult first quest.

And so it was unwittingly that I embarked on the second quest only to have my impish ass handed to me repeatedly in the first dungeon.

I was really dismayed to find that none of the tips for the first part of the game that I'd seen in Nintendo Power seemed to be accurate. And the map that came with the game seemed to be totally incorrect as well. It was like I wasn't playing the same game as everyone else.

After stressing about it for awhile, I decided to start over from the beginning. With time to decompress and deliberate I came up with an appropriately epic name. Calling the character "SNARF", a new Link was born into the world - one that, strangely, wasn't holding a sword on the character selection screen, as he had been before.

Once I got to the first dungeon I found it was completely different, and a lot easier. This led to my long held and mistaken belief that Hyrule was random every time you played.

SNARF ultimately defeated Ganon, got the Triforce of Power, made out with Zelda, and earned a sword on the character selection screen.

By that time I had forgotten all about the other, harder, world that I had accidentally discovered the first time I played. It wasn't until years later that I learned about the ZELDA cheat to jump straight to the second quest.

This experience just reinforced my idea that The Legend of Zelda was the biggest, most mysterious, and completely unknowable game ever.   read

12:56 PM on 09.11.2008

Spore: Dumbed Down or Smartened Up?

The consensus on Spore seems to be that it's an interesting - if imperfect - novelty, a collection of relatively simple editors and game play mechanics that ultimately adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

One of the consistent criticisms is aimed at the complexity of the game's various stages. Until you get into space the player's goals are straightforward and the game mechanics for accomplishing them are simple and fairly repetitive.

Based on statements from Will Wright regarding the vision for the game, I believe this was a deliberate choice rather than an oversight or flaw in the design. And while it may disappoint gamers expecting a deep and complex challenge, I think it was the right decision for the game.

Yesterday I was talking to my sister, who is definitely not a gamer. She mentioned the "cute spore game on the iPhone". I told her about the full game on the computer, and how I had recently gotten into the space space.

She said, "Oh, you mean the little spore goes into space? That's so cool."

So I explained to her how you get to evolve the creature from a cell, to a tribe, to a city, and all the different things that you can build and do along the way.

"That sounds great!" She said. "Could I get it for my computer?"

If she does go out and picks up Spore, I have a feeling she'll enjoy it. Like I said, she's no gamer, but certain types of game experiences like The Oregon Trail really appeal to her. I think Spore taps into a similar groove.

I think she will enjoy the fact that each phase of the game is comprised of a handful of relatively simple things to do and once you understand them you can be "good at the game" and move on relatively quickly. And if you make a mistake or die, that's okay.

If the game were extremely deep or complex in its early phases, it would turn her away. If the game had hard long-lasting consequences that made her feel apprehensive about her choices, it would turn her away. If the game focused strongly on reflexes or timing - in an RTS'y or arcadey way - it would turn her away.

Spore's gameplay won't turn her away. It will welcome her in.

Personally, I think a lot of great things are defined by what they choose to leave rather than what they choose to put in. The Wii and the iPod are great examples of this. Neither has the features of its competitors, but both provide such a pleasing experience that they welcome lots of people in and keep them coming back.

Similarly I think Spore is a very welcoming game. It's one that offers lots of opportunities to noodle around with your creatures and your universe and just have fun seeing what happens as a result. I feel the decision to scale back on complexity in the game mechanics in favor of creativity complexity in the editors was a good choice, and the right choice for the game.

Spore could have been more complex to satisfy core gamers' desire for that kind of challenge, but the cost would have been a less welcoming experience, one where non-gamers may often feel like they're "doing it wrong".

Perhaps sequels or expansions will introduce more depth without sacrificing the superficial simplicity of the experience - "easy to learn, hard to master" - that sort of thing. But for its initial outing Spore had to err on the side of being too inclusive or too exclusive, and considering the overwhelming number of moving parts in the universe, the fact that it's accessible at all is a triumph of good design.

I read the Destructoid review and I agree that if you were to review Spore as a game, it deserves something in the middle of the scale. Not especially great on any gameplay level, but there's fun to be had.

However I don't know if a game review is really the right format to evaluate Spore. I think it's less of a game and more of a toy, or an "entertainment" to put a broader label on it.

While I don't think the term "video game" fairly captures what Spore is, it wouldn't have been possible without the 30 years of video gaming that went before it. Yet as much as it owes a debt to that legacy, I think it's a branch off of gaming tradition rather than a continuation of it - more mutation than descendant.

In many ways Spore is simply raw simulation - a box of "what if" - which is a pretty compelling proposition even if there were no game mechanics at all. I find it interesting that the gist of many of the reviews boils down to: "a lot of little unremarkable systems that add up to an experience greater than the sum of its parts." It's almost as though they're describing emergence, but in terms of experience rather than behavior.

Anyway, in my opinion as that taken as a video game Spore is mediocre to good. As a piece of inclusive creative entertainment, a platform for experimentation and imagination with a low barrier to entry, it's not dumbed down at all - it's brilliant.


1:56 PM on 09.05.2008

Let Us Install It

Ran into this offer today at Best Buy:

Do you think that they're offering to install the game or the T-shirt?

If you were to take them up on the offer, would you have to bring your Wii into the store so that they can insert the disc for you? Or does the geek squad come over to your place and install it there? If so, would they play ring toss with you after the installation is complete?

If it's the T-shirt that they're installing, I feel as though that might be hot. I might buy Carnival Games just to get felt up by the Geek Squad. I imagine that their palms sweat mayonnaise, and they smell like rising bread.

If you are a geek squad geek, could you confirm or deny? What is your degree of deliciousness?   read

11:23 PM on 09.04.2008

Epic Marketing of Wit and Skill

There's a new quasi-lifestreaming site targeting gamers called Raptr. I don't know whether or not the site is useful, but I do know that the explanatory comic strip on the main page is kind of embarrassing.

This strikes me as the sort of ad you'd see at the back of Archie comics during the Genesis era rather than some sort of gamer 2.0 site for the web-savvy at-risk youth of today.

+1 for including girls.
- 1 for not including any minorities.

What do you think this epic game of wit and skill could be? Is it on Wii Ware? Should we all play a team game together? Is the Raptr raptor more appealing than the strung out Goozex dinosaur?


11:05 PM on 06.29.2008

MGS Future: Show don't tell PLZ

<<Spoilers below. Don't read on if you haven't finished MGS:4, or are worried about spoiling any of the other MGS games>>

One of the major criticisms leveled against the Metal Gear Solid series is its over-reliance on long cutscenes. In some cases, really long cutscenes.

Personally, I like cutscenes. I see them as a reward in many games. And if they move the story forward and deepen my understanding of the characters in an entertaining way, I'll not only sit through a long cutscene, I'll often go back and watch it again and again.

My problem with the cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid is that they fall squarely into two camps.

1.) Scenes - These are about characters. They play out in front of you, and by the end something has changed in the characters, or your understanding of them. In many cases they are balls-to-the-wall action set pieces that do character work while kicking ass.

2.) PowerPoint Presentations - These are summaries. They are about events or facts. They are almost always concerned with things that happened in the past, or off-screen. These are used to provide players with the exposition and context necessary to feel grounded in the story.

When I'm watching a scene in Metal Gear Solid I'm often impressed by Kojima Productions' inventiveness, technical skill, and great stroytelling devices. When I'm watching one of the PowerPoint presentations I want to strangle myself with the controller - but there is no cord.

It's not that I don't think that exposition is important, but it's the ham-fisted way that it's delivered that gets to me. Sometimes in chunks that feel like they're somewhere between 15 minutes and 39 hours long, when the important information could be summed up in a sentence or two.

What's frustrating during these presentations is knowing from the past MGS games that a lot of the information you internalize during these epic expository excretions is going to turn out to be a lie. Many of the facts will turn out to be intentionally misleading. While you could look at that as a puzzle to solve, I just see it as getting hit over the head with 30 minutes of misinformation about a make-believe history that I don't find that interesting to begin with.

What I do find interesting are the characters, their relationships, and how they change over the course of the game, and the course of the series. For instance, the first scene with Meryl where she calls her father a "womanizing pice of shit" tells us a lot about her character. But what tells us even more about her is the finale where she asks him to walk her down the aisle. After everything she's been through she's changed, and that's really interesting to me.

One of the reasons I resent the PowerPoint presentations is because they ruin what could be brilliant scenes about the characters. For example, when Snake meets Big Mamma and discovers that not only is she Eva from MGS3, but that she's his goddamn mother, my jaw hit the floor. I was expecting a great scene from these two strong characters. But instead I got a long diatribe about make-believe history and a camera spinning idly around a Church looking for symbolism.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that the MGS universe is so deep and well thought out. But here's how I would have preferred - just when it's about to go into the PowerPoint presentation, Eva could have said,

"Snake, you need to know the history of the Patriots. It's all here on this Nano-Film. You can view it at any time on your codec. Would you like to watch it now?"


If the PowerPoint presentations were optional, I wouldn't have any problem with them. In fact, I'm sure I'd still watch them. But then they wouldn't interrupt the flow of the more interesting scenes.

The worst offender for me was the epilogue. Big Boss telling Snake, "I've never thought of you as a son. But I've always respected you as a soldier, and a man." That was good shit bringing closure to pretty much the whole series. The "Back to Zero" PowerPoint presentation that you have to sit through to get there; that can die in a fire.

Anyway, I loved the game and look forward to playing it again. But I hope that future installments make unnecessary exposition optional and focus on what the Kojima team excels at, things like action, romance, and complex characters.

Does anyone actually like the "talky" cutscenes? Am I just overly critical?   read

3:58 AM on 06.28.2008

The Start of the Affair: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

TLDR Version - Zak McKracken totally changed my perspective about what games could be by telling a great story with interesting characters and clever (if obtuse) puzzles.

TL Version:

When I was a kid, about ten, after enough begging, crying, and lite-extortion, my mother would eventually break down and let me buy a video game.

The opportunity to buy a game was a really big deal because it didn't come around very often, and when it did I had to make absolutely certain I was getting the most out of it. The decision would often take the better part of a day. I'd wander up and down the aisle at Toys 'R Us or KB reading the back of every box flap (they didn't have the actual boxes on display, just laminated cards) carefully scrutinizing the box art and tiny screenshots to figure out what the game might be like.

At the time my only windows into larger gaming culture was the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter (later Nintendo Power) and whatever information filtered through my small group of gamer friends. With no internet to guide me, a lot was left to chance.

Sometimes, I took a gamble and was pleasantly surprised. For instance, Ice Climbers kept me thoroughly entertained despite the fact that it was a, "Pick something or I'll pick it for you" spur of the moment decision. Other times, I wasn't so lucky.

Shortly after I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, I decided I was done with the console racket and ready to move on to the more sophisticated offerings that only a legitimate computing machine could provide. Little did I realize what cesspool of crapulence I was wading into. I picked a box flap with an awesome laser blasting spaceship flying over a Death Star looking thing and headed home confident that I was about to enter the next generation.

PC games came in big boxes at the time. When I opened this one up a stained floppy disc fell out and a napkin with instructions scrawled in Korean. It emitted a foul vapor and a moan, as though an unholy seal had been broken.

I can't really describe the ancient evil that I experienced. It consisted of a slow moving box on-screen that occasionally emitted other slow moving boxes. The music was a single bass note that seemed to start and stop at irregular intervals. You did not appear to have any direct control over your "ship". It would arbitrarily explode in a seizure-inducing light show. This abortion wasn't so much a game as a cruel experiment dreamed up by B.F. Skinner and Josef Mengele. It was crime and I was its victim.

I was heartbroken. I had no idea when my next opportunity to buy a game would be, and I couldn't bring myself to blow into an NES game pak and return to that comfortable world, defeated.

So I decided to do the only thing a kid in my situation could do -- Lie. I told my mother that the game was broken, and we needed to go back to the store IMMEDIATELY and exchange it. I could be persuasive (intolerable) at that age, and so we were back in the car on the way to Toys 'R Us.

I tentatively approached the man in the cage - he was the one who controlled all the video games - and handed him the vile box. Apparently Geoffrey the Giraffe is a cruel task master.

"It's broken." I told him.

"Yeah, you have the receipt?"

What? I hadn't brought a receipt. He'd out-foxed me. I needed time to think. In lieu of a more clever diversionary tactic, I prepared to wet my pants.

"Here it is." My mother handed him the receipt and then lit up a Newport 100. Triumph!

"Alright, I'll go get you another one. It'll be awhile."

Another one?... There was more than one?? Oh no. I imagined the entire litter would have been incinerated.

"Wait," I said, "That kind of game doesn't work with my computer."

"Ugh," the cage-master sighed, "You need to read the label on these. I'll get the IBM one."

The IBM one!? I'd painted myself into a corner. Now I would be going home with the same game, but a version that I couldn't even use. The box would just sit on a shelf, laughing at me and inciting me to deaden my feelings and betray my friends and family just like that creepy book in the Care Bears Movie. Fuck that book.

"No, I think I need to pick a different game," I said.

"A different game? No no no, you can only exchange an opened game for the same game."

At that point my mother stamped her cigarette out on the side of her purse, flicked the butt onto the ground and stamped it out. She scratched the side of her face with her middle finger, "I don't have time for this. You're going to refund me the money for the DEFECTIVE game now. My son is going to pick out a new one. And then I am going to use the money that you're about to refund me to buy it." Her penciled-in eyebrow was cocked in its cuntiest position, the one that implied - "I will end you. Then eat you. Then shit you." The eyebrow had superpowers, and I was glad it wasn't aimed at me.

Cage-master withered under its rays and without further discussion he refunded the money.

"You have five minutes." My mother said as she lit up her next cigarette.

I ran back to the flap aisle looking for something - anything - that might not be a total abomination.

And then, across the crowded aisles, our eyes met and it was love at first sight.

Let's take a look at this picture at some of the things that tickled my young fancy:

1.) The hero is armed not with a machine gun, or a laser cannon, a +2 vorpal sword of wolvesbane, but instead with a loaf of bread. How badass is that?

2.) He's carrying a fucking fish.

3.) I hoped the game would be almost entirely about this broom. It appears to be checking out Zak's ass. Turns out the game wasn't about the broom so much, but his role is satisfying indeed.

4.) A cowboy hat paired with Groucho glasses. Not since Steve Martin stuck the arrow through his head has there been a better recipe for instant prop comedy.

5.) A two-headed squirrel guards an oversized peanut. Are you going to fuck with that squirrel? I don't think so.

6.) WHAT IS THAT? It's like an octopus shit out an entire human body. Amazing!

7.) This is Janeane Garofalo. She really wants to eat that bread. She's too ironic to be amused by the Groucho glasses, but she's being paid to hold them up and shill them.

8.) This statue is exhibiting what we on the school yard referred to as "blow cramps". This suggested that the ancient culture depicted here were masters of fellatio and perhaps this game would provide me with mouth sex.

Upon seeing all these wonders crammed into one image I had my first non-penetrative orgasm and grabbed its box-flap immediately.

We didn't get any guff from the man in the cage as he dutifully got the game for us. He may have wiped his ass on it for all I know, but at that point I would gladly have taken an ass-box if it meant getting a crack at the promised treasures inside.

On the ride home I got nervous. What if I had blundered again? It was an impulse buy. What if I'd been duped by the fancy packaging and all that was inside was broken dreams and the sound of a cat suffocating a baby?

So I started opening the game in the car against my mother's wishes, "For Christ's sake, you're going to lose all the pieces".

Inside there was not a waft of sadness, but instead a genuine manual, a secret decoder, official looking red documents, and an entire newspaper.

The newspaper, The National Inquisitor, was almost worth the price of admission alone. It was funny in a grown up way, but still silly. It was brilliantly illustrated. And when I later discovered that it was brimming with hints I would stay up late into the night poring over it to try and find hidden meanings in its fake news stories.

Check out the full scanned version of it here.

Before playing Zak McKracken there were a lot of games I had liked at the arcade, on the Atari 2600, the NES, and the Sega Master System. But even the games I truly loved like Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and Phantasy Star, always felt "different" from other entertainment. They had basic plots and characters, but they didn't really have stories. Your interaction with the world was often limited to a handful of mechanics.

Not to knock the other games at the time, there were a lot of great ones. But what Zak did was open my eyes to the possibilities of what games could be.

When I started playing it I was first struck by the fact that you could interact with pretty much everything on screen. And not just by jumping on it or stabbing it, you could look, talk, touch, open, fix, pick up, and much more. Combined with your ever-growing inventory the possibilities seemed endless.

And while many of the interactions would trigger a canned response, quite a few of them had surprising or funny things to say even if you were doing the wrong thing. In fact, it seemed like the game wanted you to try the wrong thing, to mess around with the world just to see what would happen.

Nowadays sandbox gaming is commonplace so this might not seem like such a big idea. But at the time it was amazing that the game wanted you to play with it like a toy as much as it encouraged you to move the story along.

I think that attitude is summed up nicely in the game design philosophy from the manual:

Our Game Design Philosophy

We believe that you buy games to be entertained, not to be whacked over the head every time you make a mistake. So we don't bring the game to a screeching halt when you poke you nose into a place you haven't visited before. In fact, we make it downright difficult to get a character "Killed."

We think you'd prefer to solve the games mysteries by exploring and discovering. Not by dying a thousand deaths. We also think you like to spend your time involved in the story. Not typing in synonyms until you stumble upon the computer's word for a certain object.

Unlike conventional computer adventures,Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders doesn't force you to save you progress every few minutes. Instead, you're free to concentrate on the puzzles, characters and outrageous good humor.

Keep in mind this was still in the heyday of arcades, and many games were designed so that you were killed as frequently as possible. The only way to survive was to master a single mechanic through trial and error and practice, practice, practice. Zak's philosophy, essentially - "We want you to have fun solving the puzzles, and enjoy the story," was ahead of its time.

Speaking of story, the game included many memorable characters with distinct personalities and well-written interactions. It felt like playing a movie, in a way that the FMV games that followed in the early-90's utterly failed to do. It was like you were inside an Indiana Jones world with the sensibility of Mad Magazine, and you could do anything that you wanted to. It was the first time a game felt epic to me in the sense that grand events were unfolding and that I was the one driving the action.

For its time, Zak was also a very cinematic game. It made use (for the time) elaborate cutscenes. In game many of the environments were "shot" in a cinematic way, meaning that the camera would sometimes be tight on something in the foreground and Zak would be large on the screen, and at other times Zak would be a single pixel dwarfed by these massive environments.

The meat of the game was really the puzzles. And while some were probably a bit too obtuse for their own good, and others were downright unfair (The mazes! Ugh... the mazes), most were just the right mix of lateral thinking and basic reasoning.

In one situation you need to book a biplane to the bermuda triangle and then parachute out of it before you are abducted by an alien ship helmed by an Elvis Impersonator who controls the lottery. After you splash down in the ocean you use a kazoo to summon a friendly dolphin and then take possession of his body and soul via a magical mind-melding crystal. Having hijacked the dolphin's body, you explore the ruins of Atlantis and recover a machine left behind by ancient astronauts.

In one single puzzle you have the bermuda triangle, Elvis impersonating aliens, dolphins that mistake the sound of a kazoo for a sweet sexy cetacean mating song. It's possible that wooing a dolphin into your clutches and then commandeering its body could be considered a form of date rape. But in this case the dolphin was totally asking for it.

Zak McKracken opened my eyes to what games could be. They could tell stories. They could form an emotional connection between the player and the characters. They could be cinematic. They could be open-ended. And they could be spring-loaded busy boxes full of fun and surprises just for their own sake.

To sum up, Zak McKracken made me feel like games were genuine entertainment in the same class as books, TV, and movies. From then on gaming wasn't just something something I'd do when I was bored. I threw myself into games on the computer, consoles, whatever just to see what's out there, experience it, and try to figure out what makes it tick. I've met some of my best friends through gaming, and have a ton of memories from games that I'd consider on par with any other form of entertainment.

So in the end there was no mouth sex in Zak McKracken, but maybe something just as good.

Well... maybe.

[embed]92719:12633[/embed]   read

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -