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10:41 PM on 01.02.2012

I Played Your Guy or You are not Cole Phelps



NOTE! I get a little spoilery, though I showed some restraint. Read at your own risky. Game has great performances regardless of knowing the plot points anyway...

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One of my favorite games from last year was L.A. Noire. While the gameplay had its problems with jank and excessive handholding, the narrative flow and character performances made the experience something special. Having a big appreciation of police procedurals TV shows and films, I was drawn into this thick series of crime vignettes and period specific spacial and character settings. What really struck a chord with me, though, was how dedicated L.A. Noire is to keeping the player from identifying and connecting with the main protagonist of the game.

At the start of L.A. Noire, we find Cole Phelps at the bottom rung of the LAPD career ladder, with a wartime past that seems to hang on him in this not-so-proud way. As the start to a narrative, it seems well enough that we're in for a hero's story, as Cole ascends the ranks as a detective and eventually rules the roost, presumably, toward the greatest victory. We expect to find Cole vindicated and victorious by the end, but the Detective Phelps we have at the end of L.A. Noire's narrative is less than a white knight. Only the most forgiving or open minded player will easily accept the character as he's presented by the final act.



And that in particular is what makes the whole trip especially captivating. What Team Bondi gave the player is not the begrudging yet strangely willing hero of John Marston or the sad but morally malleable Niko Bellic. Nor is it the nihilistic via aggressive apathy tough of Johnny Kibitz from GTAIV Lost and Damned. With paper thin regard for who the player would want Phelps to be, the Cole that you have to play is a character that takes none of his overall disposition or destiny from the player's decisions. By the time the user hits that last act and the gameplay twist runs its course, it feels that you haven't even been playing Cole himself. Its more like you've been playing Cole's will to redeem his arrogant and regretted past.

What drove this home for me was the level of interaction with Cole that the player has. Very specifically, you don't control his home life. You don't control what he eats, and you barely control what he wears. But in the context of your protagonist's profession in police work, you are the driving catalyst for the ascension and motiviation of this crappy sap to which you're given the reigns. It not that you're pushing Cole to respond to suspects aggressively: you're indicating when Cole's professional line should be agreeable or distrustingly pressing. You never manage Cole's personal life or his relationship to his family, but you are the intangible dedication to job and duty that keeps him working well into the evening. In an era where the open world has presented players with the customizable, lived-in character, here's this guy. While the world around him appears to be this fully functioning world, the only context we can even begin to touch him in is professional.


Image found here

In this way, the turn in characterization that the game takes for the final act makes a lot of sense. What can a player do with Phelps when he is completely neutered in terms of his career and skill? Nothing. As our crushed protagonist passes his work onto the avatar of the final act, we're presented a certain scenario. The first mission of that final stretch is one all about sparking interest and getting our last man to care about continuing Cole Phelp's work. When the final splashes of the game's narrative plays out, the content is all about the will to set things right, from Cole's outro to the wrap-around flashback stinger, its undeniable, to me, that we've run a full tragic arc through this rollercoaster ride.

Its unfortunate that several people gave up on L.A. Noire about half way through. The gameplay and the intentional samey-ness of the homicide worked in active deterrent to players that had not been successfully hooked by the story content. What the game lacks in character movement in the first half, it makes up for in the back 9 with, in my opinion, one of the best falls a video game character has ever been allowed to have.   read


1:41 AM on 10.20.2011

From a Bowl of Rice: Assassin's Creed and its Brotherhood


"I'm prepared to scour the Earth for that motherf*ck*r. If Butch goes to Indochina, I want a (dude) waiting in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his *ss."
-Marcellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction

Looking past the way he says it, Marcellus Wallace expresses a poignant value of being the big man in charge. As a person in a position of power and leadership, Mr. Wallace can both request and expect the near impossible to happen at his very whim. While the concept of a man popping out of a rice bowl to exact revenge is farfetched and comical, the intent is serious and clear. By his command, Butch is not intended to get far, and Marcellus has the network and resources in place to facilitate the end of Butch, without laying a hand on him.

At the beginning of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, we find Ezio Auditore on the cusp of knowing this same level of power and control. After spending much of his life fighting his own battles and gaining the respect of several certain powerful people in his world, the older and wiser Auditore sets about to execute both a personal and honor bound plan against the controlling faction in the city of Rome. To this end, Ezio revives the Assassin's Order, with himself as the leader. As he recruits and fills in the Order, we the players come to experience the fruit that preparedness and organization can bring, without ever having to consider the logistics of food based stakeouts.



Ezio can call in death on any target he chooses with just the bare minimum of preparation, simply by raising his fist. Wether near a river dock, the congested city, or the open fields, Ezio's assassin recruits will appear as if the strike had been planned for days. His agents of death will jump in over fences, ride in on horseback, or even emerge from blind corners that the couldn't have possibly know to hide in on such short notice. By whatever means available, the order will get it done. The sensation of it is pure satisfaction, and no less a power trip than stabbing the group of targets on your own.

What cements the feeling is the investment that the player puts into this team of death artisans. The game has you recruiting each member individually, saving them from the ruling Borgia family's aggression. From there, the player decides how each assassin improves, and even picks their initiate costume color. This is your team you're calling in, and they're as effective as you train them to be.



Mr. Wallace would approve of the training regimen here. The focus in the meta game of assassin order management is on sending out disciples to various locations around Europe and Western Asia to complete contract work, ranging from infiltrating Lavish parties to extracting friends of the order in dire need. Large missions describe far less covert battles against the Templar threat. You never see these events play out, but you're given Marcellus Wallace's point of view on the matter: I want this done, tell me you've done it. As each mission succeeds or fails, your charges earn the valuable XP needed to rise in rank, all the way up to a full fledged Leap of Faith taking induction ceremony as a capital "A" Assassino.

And with that full corp of deadly, trusted Assassins, your rule as "The Man" in Rome becomes absolute. From a gameplay perspective, there were few things that I enjoyed more last year than making the call and having a righteous "plan" come together. I'm hoping there's more of this in Assassin's Creed Revelations, but if not, I highly recommend giving Brotherhood a run to experience this unique gaming sensation.   read


11:23 PM on 08.11.2011

Digital Depth: Jim Sterling is onto Something



For the past few weeks, Jim Sterling has taken on the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade entry for the week, and each has come in disappointing in his opinion. This has come as a surprise, as many of the games show an overwhelming amount of promise and skill in some area. Bastion with its unique approach to narrative, From Dust with it's manipulation of physical elements and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet with it's gorgeous artstyle: these little download games are presenting players with some of the absolutely highest quality components that are sorely lacking in some games that are made by teams of people for many hundreds of thousands of dollars. At any sectional slice, you would be forgiven for thinking you're having a go at a highly crafted work of AAA gamecraft.

But as Jim sums up, something has mackered the final project into palpable dissatisfaction. For all of Bastion's narrative prowess, a shallowness was evident and unpalatable for Sterling. As deft and lush as the element manipulation and physics may be, the game turns out to have little in the way of god-game depth. Even the down right beautiful ITSP tops off as a merely adequate rum through a not very developed tunnel of straight forward adventure gameplay. All amazing and promising games, all suffering from a similar malady: a general lack of full-on depth and substance. It's to be expected that not every game will be awesome. But, how is it that these three games in particular are weighing in as ornate jugs half full of delicious libation?



An easy solution would be to blame Jim Sterling for being tired of his work or some other ridiculous accusation. He's an easy target, because he's so fat. Fat with the presence he maintains on Destructoid, not only as a reviewer, but as a regular news and feature writer on the site. Couple that with the love these games are getting from several other outlets, and one might think he's just having a sad faced go at Microsoft's summer push. However, a look at those other outlets will reveal that the flaws Jim points out are echoed, but overall downplayed. They are there, but discounted in favor of praise and the will to endure the faults to enjoy these games.

So look then to the developers. What's creating this viscious strain of substandard games wrapped in wondrous coating? Theories are numerous, but I think the realities of these games' creation and existence are the ultimate culprit: a small scope game can excel in brilliant ideas, but its in danger of simply not having the key resources (time, people, money to sustain the project) to create the well tempered game that satisfies that deep gamer-thirst for long-lasting game sustenance. This is going to be the defining trait of this era of indie gamecraft at the dawn of digital distribution platforms and services: great ideas, truncated scope.



Greg Kasavin of Bastion's SuperGiantGames, has said that his studio simply wouldn't exist if not for digital distribution slashing the cost of delivering a game to the masses. They can't afford to put Bastion in a box and put it on store shelves. However, Bastion exists in a world where the game can be downloaded to a gameplayer. Similarly, I'm sure, From Dust as it exists today would never be a big enough idea or experience for Ubisoft to greenlight mass production, let alone greenlight the resources for developing the idea from the basic game it is now into a boxed product. These ideas and games thrive off of their smaller scope and are meeting with success and life outside of their creator's minds. This is great.

What isn't great is the loss of well developed, deeply explored games. The digital indie space thrives on the short experience. Indie game ideas bloom at the lower $0.99 to $15.99 price range, but you're not going to find the exhaustive and awe inspiring depth of SimCity, The Sims or Civ. A proper edition of those franchises, mind you: their iOS counterparts lack the depth and gusto of their originals without much room for argument.



Not to say depth can't be achieved in the indie space. Super Meat Boy is a thorough and shining study in pure run and jump. And even now, Jim is working on a review for E.Y.E, an apparently super detailed mash of an indie title built on top of the Source Engine. Hack anything, play how you want, and experience a world of details. Glaring issues aside, it sounds like its providing him with some level of real joy and contentment. But this depth is the exception in the digital indie space.

I've gone on about this whole thing about depth before, but its an item that rarely comes up as a solid point in the "Casual/Hardcore" or "Indie/Corporate" argument space. What do you think Destructoid? Are we losing depth in our games in this digital indie age? What sort of deep and detailed experiences are you finding on digital platforms? Or am I just barking up a dead horse? What's your take on this?   read


12:26 AM on 08.07.2011

Play My Game! Rubber Duck Zerocraft sees the light of day


Hello Destructoid, it feels like we haven't hung out in forever. You look well. Have you lost weight?

Part of the reason I haven't been musing out like a bandit on the c-blogs lately is that I've been tinkering with the idea of maybe designing and making my own games for the past few months. I don't actually have much to show for it, except this game right here!

Rubber Duck Zerocraft, First Version for Other People!

Fair Warning: It *should* be just as easy as unzipping the .exe and running the .exe. It shouldn't cause any problems. If it does, I'm sorry: I've no idea where to even begin troubleshooting it, and honestly, it may not be worth the effort to. You probably have much better games to get running on PC than this prototype.

I highly recommend playing this with a controller. Grab JoyToKey (its free) and give yourself a button for Shift and a button for Space.



There isn't too much to it, really. I wanted to get a good grip on how GameMaker works, so I more or less built this game out of the tutorial for 2D shmups on the GameMaker Tutorial page. I mainly wanted to try creating a shmup without projectile attacks. The focus is on defense and avoidance. My main concession is that I can't do art especially well. If you pretend, in that regard, that I am 5 years old, this may be acceptable. I'll eventually pick up the full version of GameMaker and add some sweet particle effects, but for now, that's what's up.

It doesn't necessarily need more priming than that, so I'd love for you to give it a shot and give me your opinions on it Any of it. I want to call my self effectively done with this incarnation of the game, so any feedback will help me improve my gamecraft and possibly make a better, more involved version 2/ sequel in the future. I've got a few other neat ideas I want to scratch out, which I hope to produce much more efficiently than this one!

Have fun and let me know what you think!   read


9:00 PM on 07.04.2011

Spew out of 10: Score Scroller Serenity and a Strange Love of Words



As someone that dabbles in writing about games, I have a great respect for reviewers and feature writers. Further still, as someone that dabbles as an artist, I would want nothing more than for every piece of work ever, to get its full scrutiny and appreciation as something that's been crafted for perusal. Even further under that, I'm an aspiring game maker and I hope that what ever work I do that merits a review will get its fair shake from what ever reviewing entity decides to stamp their opinion onto my wares.

Even with all that under consideration, the first thing I look for in a review is a score. Plain and simple.

I could blame Game Spot for being so about the score, at least 10 years ago when I was really into them for reviews. Maybe even blame GamePro and EGM, for assigning scores to game reviews in the first place. But for whatever reason, honestly and truthfully, the score is the first and biggest indicator of what a publication or writer thinks about a game, and its a value that I allow to have a lot of sway on how I perceive a game and its place in the social mindscape.



But who really cares about all that? Apparently a bunch of people, considering how much of a funk was mustered up about not only Jim Sterling's reviews in general, but about reviewer responsibility. Maybe its my old manitude coming through, but seeing so much time spent on the rhetoric of reviews, from ethics to fairness to how many negative descriptors per paragraph Jim Sterling used in a string of tweets about a review he was thinking about writing after a bad breakfast... Are we really spending so much time worrying about how video games reviews are affecting the world of a righteously diggable hobby like video games? What is going on?!

In caution of becoming hypocritical, I think there isn't much more I can reasonably write on the topic that hasn't been said. Find your preferred voice and method, whether as a writer or consumer of that writing, and apply your own filters. History will sort out a thing's place in history. If not, then it probably wasn't worthy of history. But consumers or games writers calling for official and non-official opinions, or watchdogging a writer for questionable content: Well as ManaSteel88 has writ well Its ridiculous for you to do so. As evidenced by the low accuracy of even the most celebrated of games industry analysts, nobody really knows anything about how the games industry works.

Make your mark, and let that be the thing.   read


11:12 PM on 06.05.2011

E3 Approaches: Hoping for a Way of the Samurai 4 Announcement



E3 means a lot of things to a lot of people. For most people its the announcements of new games, confirmation of rumors and reveal of details on games sure to arrive in the next two years. And for some, its a chance to wade chest deep into the stuff game fandom and fanaticism is made of. Days of sizzle reels, hands on demos and behind closed door exhibitions. For fewer still, it's a time to show off your wares and seed the hype that could make or break a company's financial and qualitative future.

But for fewer still, E3 is the time of year to scour the conduits of gaming news for a modest piece of data. It could be as short as a headline, or perhaps part of a greater wall of text. You may even catch it these days as a tweet or scribbled digitally across a chat window. One simple company line, without pretense or poetry, can bring fiero undulation to those fevered few that seek it. Or, in it's absence, lead that small cult of quirk to question the soul of the industry, as if they were children that had found irrefutable proof that Santa Claus is not real.

E3 approaches, and I'm looking for confirmation that Way of the Samurai 4 is being localized.


Seriously, Google Images can barely find images for the first game...

My excitement, fandom and general support for this series started when the original title was showcased around or during E3 at least ten years ago. I remember seeing the game pop up during GameSpot and IGN's coverage, which back then consisted mostly of screenshots and articles dropping a few details about nearly every game that got some floor space. At that point, all I could gather was that the game would have a branching narrative which, for the early 2000's, was pretty unique. The samurai action base of the game, which I hadn't really had a taste of since Bushido Blade 2 a few years prior, was also a major selling point.

Samurai was interesting, but ultimately wasn't a big deal in the landscape of E3 coverage. Getting games localized from Japan was still a very common arrangement, and I feel most gamers were pretty used to hearing about a game once and not getting much else about it until years later. Looking now, I can't even confirm the original IGN or GameSpot articles. I filed it away on my personal list of games to keep an eye out for, and managed not to hear much more about it until March 2002, where it was set for a June-ish release by BAM! Entertainment.

I picked up Way of the Samurai during the summer of 2002 while working as a conference assistant on campus. After only a few days, I had completed the game once, and immediately began again to try out the other narrative choices and endings. A fan and evangelist was forged. By that time, though, there weren't many game playing friends left around after graduation to wax philosophical about the game. GameFAQs become my hub for Samurai hype and by the time Way of the Samurai 2 was released by Capcom in 2004, a modest but healthy number of forumites were already abuzz with hype and interest in the series.



Unfortunately, the series fell fairly quickly into gamer obscurity. Way of the Samurai 2 managed a pure “Average” on Metacritic with a score of 59, which for many gamers is a “No Deal” on score alone. Common criticism found a distaste for the game's lack of open world in a post-GTA gaming landscape, while others took fair objection to the game's arcadey and old world take on game flow, combat and mission based gameplay. The next five years of the series' history are typified by a handful of screenshots for Way of the Samurai 3, tucked away in a few IGN articles about the game's Japanese development. This was literally the only bit of coverage the series was afforded for much of the time between 2005's Samurai Western (an off-shoot of Way-proper, published by Atlus) and May of 2009.

This is how I found out that Way of the Samurai 3 was coming to The States in Fall of 2009. I had joked somewhere earlier that week that several other games were seeing localization confirmations around E3, and that Way of the Samurai 3 was sure to be next. I had no idea that just a few days later official word of Agetec and UFO Interactive bringing the series in localized format would be a reality! What followed was an epic, frightening and perhaps sad campaign in the c-blogs of Destructoid to garner attention for this long forgotten franchise. Upon release, I marathoned through the game over a weekend and spouted a punch drunk review that only a fan could write with a straight face. As much as I love the game, you'll find my Trophy collection on PSN wanting for several achievements, including the multiple ending ones.

Its admittedly hard to blame publishers for not jumping at the chance to bring the series back to the states. Way of the Samurai 3 clocked in at a Metacritic of 58, as reasonable people have little patience for early console life jank coupled with good old fashioned Japanese quirk. If the sales stats from vgchartz.com are to be believed, sales were modest, to put it politely. While there's no doubt some profit to be made in this localization, its not a sure fire hit by any stretch of the imagination.

***Warning: Attached Trailer Gets a Little Too Kinky for Work for a Couple Seconds!***
[embed]202907:39054[/embed]

That said, consider this my formal pledge: If Way of the Samurai 4 gets localized in the North America, I'll be the first in line! This release is currently PS3 exclusive with no word of even a Japanese 360 port in sight. But surely some company out there is willing to take the plunge on this niche legacy. The gaming landscape may be less keen on the localization of Japan's games, but I've still got room in my gaming wishlist for a little E3 miracle.

Do let me know if you hear anything!   read


12:05 AM on 01.25.2011

GameFlown: A Brief Review of Singularity (Single Player Campaign)



Money's tight, GameFly queues are long, and you don't have alot of time for games. Seriously. So this is GameFlown: Brief reviews / recommendations for the renting/used gaming enthusiast. So, lets take this format for a test drive.

Singularity (360 Reviewed)
Raven Software
GameFly Status: Available Now

The "Art" Score - 4/5 "Really fun, easy to like"

Singularity centers around a mysterious island ravaged by soviet energy and weapon research gone horribly wrong. The game follows a really nice pace, basically starting you off in an orientation center to give you the lay of the land, and proceeds from there fly through a timebending storyline that ranks right up there with choice episodes of TV Shows Sliders and Dr.Who. As with any good time travel fiction, the idea of bad things resulting from messing with the timeline holds true to satisfying results.

The pace of the game is pretty textbook, which by no means should be considered a knock against it. You start out weak enough to feel threatened and end the game feeling adequately equipped to show some finesse with the battle system as you bring the story to a close. Fans and students of Half Life 2 will see the influence all through out as the game deals out escalating threats with new powers and well placed item and weapon pickups. While some parts can bring on a bit of frustration, the intensity breaks to reveal fun, less demanding events and story drops. You'll come to hate those pesky little exploding "ticks", but passing them pretty much frees you up for a great ending third of the game.



At first glance, fans of thick time travel fiction may be off put by how shallow the time manipulation play actually is. The elevator pitch power, to rewind or fast forward the time of a thing or enemy, seems to play out as just problem solving mechanism and a missed opportunity to push time travel gameplay. But, as of fan of that sort of fiction, the story telling doesn't disappoint. Any good time-travel story gets a little tricky to follow at some points, but the game does a skilled job of not overwhelming you with backstory and timetwists. By the end of the game, you're presented with a closing sequence the should be able to satisfy most sci-fi fans.

Technical Score - 5/5 "Excellence in execution!"

Viewing the credits roll of the game one finds at least half a dozen different teams contributing QA hours to the production of this game, and the polish is evident. Not as immediately flashy as a 60 fps juggernaut like the Call of Duty games, Singularity presents a solidly stitched together world to play through. Each environment works both as a back drop to the story and the action. Environments are setup well for their intended mobs and little details support the narrative delivered through audio logs and text notes.

Through out the entire single player campaign, the world held together and did its part to maintain the fiction. Even situations that surely could have glitched, like decomposing a bridge I was standing on, held stable and found a way to resolve. It admittedly feels a bit silly to commend a game for holding together and presenting clean code, but the level to which this game overcomes expectations as a sub AAA shooter is a welcome surprise.



There were just a few times where the good design practices managed to elude me. There was at least one instance where I just didn't see the much needed pickup in the area to defeat the next set piece. Chalk that up, though, to my overall inexperience with first person shooters. For your time, Singularity manages not to waste it on unmanaged difficulty and design.

Overall - 9/10 "Easily Recommended!"

For sci-fi fans and anyone with at least a passing interest in First Person Shooters, I've got to recommend checking out Singularity and its single player campaign. As a rental, it'll take you roughly a weekend and the pacing really lets you run it straight through without much shooter fatigue. Also, as gamecraft goes, there's nothing to worry about here. Rock solid execution backs up a really enjoyable play experience.   read


1:55 PM on 12.05.2010

Tubativision: Video Bloggin' about Video Games

I heard this is what's hot on the streets. I refuse to be left behind on the latest gaming or blogging trends, for fear of being considered a dinosaur. If I'm ever going to over come this debilitating case of being "Older Than Most Of Yall" (We can call it OTMOY. To name it is to face it), I need to keep step with you young cats.

So here it is, in blazing 240p. I hope you rike it.

[embed]189010:34588[/embed]

Punch the keys!   read


11:38 PM on 10.25.2010

Read Quickly About Why Super Meat Boy is a Triumph


Super Meat Boy is out now for the Xbox360, and it is glorious.

Never before have I played a game that does so many things right, purely, as a game.  I was considering a heady piece on how Super Meat Boy is the true Citizen Kane of gaming, but forget that.  Meat Boy wouldn't want it that way.  Instead, let me rattle on real quick about what makes the game stand out as just a really fine piece of work.

Easy to Learn, Hard to Master

Its key to any great game, and bam, there it is.  Super Meat Boy explains itself in a few quick, textless signs that give you the very essence of what the next bunch of hours of your life in play are going to be about.  In short, things kill Meat Boy, Meat Boy wins when you get to Bandage Girl (his Girl) and you can jump a variable heights. Go.

Those basic truths  are all you need, all you get, and doesn't need to be labored upon to comprehend.  Basics over, you go play now.  Bu   read


8:17 AM on 10.13.2010

What's this Button Do? Reblogging and Button Mashing


In a more thoughtful and wordy state of mind, this is where I would blog a scathing retort to Jim Sterling's reviews, which are just dreadful right?  Amirite?!

Because, as you didn't notice, Jim Sterling said


Herp Derp Derp, people that disagree with me are liars.


Which, in this case, is completely untrue.  But wouldn't it be nice if you could take what he said, put it in nice quotes like that, write a nifty rebuttal, and call that a blog?  Well, allegedly, YOU CAN!

If this feature works as advertised, the legions of dissenters to the king of Destructoid reviews will now have a much more legitimate and high profile outlet of calling Mr. Sterling out on his business!  Rally nerds!  There is RAGE to be had this NIGHT!!!



!!!!

To add just a little bit of substance to this experiemnt in blog-o-tude, I think the combat system in Lords of S   read


12:13 AM on 10.05.2010

Keep it Complicated, Stupid



Back in my day, games were hard. Jumps would kill you. Potions would kill you. Restarts would be back at the beginning of a level. Moves were only explained in the manual and rally special moves were only available by word of mouth. And you know what? We liked it. For every reason a game was hard, we simply didn't care and played our thumbs raw just to get our gaming kicks.

Then designers realized that some of that stuff was bad design, that they didn't have to suck quarters out of kids and that people generally want to understand how their games worked. So ended an era of ridiculous difficulty. In the modern gaming world, contrary to recent outcry, its fairly difficult to play a game wrong. The industry has matured a bit. There's a general thread of goodwill between game makers and their recognized customers.

But somewhere in there, we've lost something. Its not unusual now to see revivals and canonical sequels to decade(s) old games. Fallout, Civilization, X-Com and Starcraft are all seeing the light of day with fresh new SKU's hitting retail and digital shelves. Each of them finding their own way to keep their franchises relevant. And almost every one of those game makers are meeting with opposition from franchise devotees. Where is the line between gaming blasphemy and making a worthy successor to games gone by?



Consider Starcraft, which maintained a presence in competitive LAN party play for years after its initial release. Games inspired by the franchise went on to expand on the tropes of the genre while playing with new idea in presentation and gameflow. RTS games have toyed with removing resources, hero characters, time travel and even building around the concept of reducing stationary base building. Do you make a Starcraft II with even more bells and whistles, or do you make a prettier version of what you've already done? As I understand it, Blizzard made a "better' Starcraft, and so far, they're not mucking with the formula too much. in result, the new game is generally considered a faithful new addition to the franchise. No immediate awards for innovation, but the product is solid. To say its "money in the bank" doesn't give due credit to the hard work of shipping a solid game, but it accurately pegs the design approach. Low risk, high reward.

But what of rebooting your fundamentals and leveling the barrier of entry for new players? Civilization V approaches the time honored gameplay of flow of Civilization while augmenting the strategy play from square grids or a series of hex cells. Further, features woven into the previous edition through expansion packs have been scaled back as this user friendly new entry re-introduces the flow of the game. Some users find the scaleback dissappointing, while other thoroughly appreciate the fundamental change in the gameboard and streamlined systems perfected in the more "casual" recent release of the franchise Civilization Revolutions

Interestingly, there's a mild rumble of disdain for the streamlined experience found in Civ Rev. The lovable team of game journo codgers at Gamer's With Jobstouch on this topic in last week's podcast. Features that would require added attention, such as army building or worker management are stripped down to facilitate quicker and less cluttered game sessions. This game that could once take 8 or 9 hours to see a single game to completion became a game that could be done and dusted in about half the time. Its certainly still "Civ", but the nuance of nation management has been shaved in the name of pick up and play game flow. You'd find that "hardcore" Civ players will look down their nose at such advancements. The game they know, the game they loved, was lovable to them because of those nuances.



And nuance is everything. Where SimCity, at the last of its numbered iterations, included the simulated effects of several cities in a region upon each other, its offshoot SimCity Societies took a heavy approach to streamlining. The game, while visually satisfying and very accessible as a city block designer, removed much of the simulation play. A player that loved SimCity for that obsessive attention to detail in systems is generally disappointed by the direction that series took. Not to note Societies as anything less than a deftly made and solidly functional release. In that, its successful. But in consideration of the more passion inducing features unique to SimCity as a franchise, it fails confidently.

And that confident failure is at the heart of some franchise fans' concerns. There are plenty of different ways to build a new entry in a series. Even the core creative team of a game has the opportunity to turn out an uninspired game. The saving grace for most franchise is the presence of fans working to keep a game faithful to the what made the original tick, in some way. The new XCOM evokes those feelings of seeing a game change in ways that don't seem to tap into the features that actually made the original games so beloved by their fans.

While I appreciate XCOM's PR team telling me that the thrilling world of the franchise is being preserved, I have my doubts that an FPS can recapture or faithfully modernize that feeling. My own personal enjoyment came from managing the drop team through the different scenarios, trying my best to minimize casualties within that turn-based paradigm. Once I made a move, my guys were committed to it. In that way, it had the feel of a board game. Strategies were put to the test against an AI with a slightly stacked deck of cards. Aside from not seeing alien movements, some of their powers were nigh unstoppable for all but a completely decked out team. The cost of team death was a loss of experience and equipment. If previews of XCOM are to be taken as and indicator of the game to come, the focus seems to be on this named protagonist leading an endless supply of red shirt agents to their inevitable death on every mission. While the concept my have its own merits, that's a missed opportunity in terms of franchise renewal.



Beyond the surface of Earth vs aliens, can the feel of that original game be translated into the game language of First Person Shooters? As a fan of X-Com's strategic gameplay, I would have loved for a big budget studio to really expand on the turnbased strategy systems of the original, much in the way that Civilization was evolved through iteration. Certainly, I can play that game again with shiny graphics already. There are countless fan/indie projects in progress, striving to recapture and improve upon what makes X-Com so passionately revered. But a real, professional method team working to expand the suspenseful flow of X-Com's battle would have been a dream come true.

But maybe that's the rub? In getting that big budget team, you start to take on all the responsibilities of that budget. Chief amongst those responsibilities being the return on investment. When these games first came out lets be clear: I have no doubt that these designers wanted to make a good deal of loot off their games at some point. However, in those formative years of the industry, maybe they had alot more room to just nerd out on the details. When there were no other strategy games as layered as the original X-Com, pounding away at creating a working system and living progression narrative made sense. What did Julian Gollop have to lose by making systems that players maybe couldn't grasp fully on their first run? Of course he player is going to fail their first run! Games are a challenge, and gamers were buying in for that challenge. Could Mr. Gollop walk in as the head of a modern game team and convince everyone from Development to Production that crafting a difficult, complex system is a sound use of resource and a reasonable path to profitability?

Not at all. He'd probably be laughed at, given a t-shirt, and thanked for making some of the best games ever created.

Regardless of anyone's reverence for the good old days, its unfortunate to have to admit that games spearheaded by a singular vision and protected as such are just a rarity now. I'd bet money that even the star executive producer/designers of the industry like Keiji Inafune, Peter Molynuex and Ken Levine don't have nearly as much authorship as anyone's romantic vision of their jobs would suggest. And with the lack of singular vision and direct conduit to the designer's passion, that's where we lose the nuance? Blame investors? Blame team sizes? Blame hardware arms races? Blame it all maybe? Whatever's the cause, its still a shame that complexity in games themselves, despite the immensity and complexity of the industry, is a part of gaming that is simply becoming ancient history.   read


2:11 AM on 09.12.2010

Tubaticisms 9-12-10: The Fall of Gaming



Sometimes I'm in a room with a tuba and a trumpet player and it feels like there's that much room in the room.

-Hype Required-- I need some serious game hype in my life! I end up saying so every fall in some way or another, either because everyone's getting so seriously down on games, or an abundance of nitpickery permeates the hobby. This year though, I think I'm way outside the hype field. I know its there, I'm just not feelin' it. Probably comes from general fiscal responsibility and spending less on games this year overall. For great financial justice.

But yes: where's the hype?! Is it just me?

Which isn't to say there aren't games I'm excited for. Here they come. Its just "The Hype" hasn't hit yet:

Fable III- because Fable
DJ Hero 2- The demo sold me. Great new features, no new hardware.
Vanquish- The demo is hot.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood- I love it when a plan/heist/assassination comes together.
Front Mission Evolved- Look, if ZoE3 isn't going to happen right now, this will just have to do!

-You still play games, right?-- Oh I do, I so do! Work stuff happens though. And I totally chained three project crunchtimes over the summer months. Less time for actual gaming and more time for coordinating testing and completion of test cycles and deliverables. But, in between the 10 hour days at work, I managed to get my game on a little this summer.



-So its Fallout with magic?-- Finally played a good chunk of Bethesda's early console cycle blockbuster Oblivion. Coming at it all backwards, the similarities to Fallout 3 are intense and tangible. They're both games about coming out of a cave, proceeding to do whatever you want, and ultimately going back into various different caves to achieve whatever goal you have in front of you. Its well realized, fun, and they really make me aware of my love/hate relationship with caves. So cozy. So deadly. I'll have to pick it up again at some point.

-The Best DLC Ever-- That's what I'm calling Lair of the Shadow Broker right now. If there was ever a piece of post release expansion content that did everything that people dream DLC can do, this was it. Story continuation, conflict resolution, introduction of new play mechanics, expansion of the current playset, deft acknowledgement of past play decisions and tingling setup for future franchise releases. This is the best of the best. Mass Effect 2 is one of the best things to happen to gaming this year.

Backing slightly away from the hyperbole cannon, Mass Effect 2 and this latest DLC episode are just greatly satisfying. Maybe there's less hype in my life because I've had such great gaming for the entire year?

-Street Fighter IV!-- Beware internets! My Chun Li is very OK! Playing a fighting game at this semi-competent level has also been one of those really satisfying game things in my life. I could liken it to being able to sight read music. One's skill at the instrument is at a level where best actions are executed on sight of a situation. I'm mostly there with Chun Li. I've got a deep bag of tricks and I'm really finding my groove competitively. I'm not the best. But I'm very OK!



-iPhone is a gaming platform-- The funny thing about the iDevice platform is that its very easy to deny it as legitimate when you don't have one, or otherwise haven't explored the depth...(how about width!?) width of experiences on the platform. In short, virtual D-Pads are a dud, direct touch makes strategy games brilliant, shmups come alive with finger control and auto run platformers are the revolution. Great things are happening there. Beyond bolstered sales numbers, units sold and attach rates, there's excellent gaming to be had.

But the rub here is, without putting your hands on the device, and having a tolerance for tinkering and exploring, getting into this brave new world of gaming has a layered barrier of entry. Big cost, "What do I need one of these for", "i Hate Apple", "I'm sure I won't use it". But, once you get past all that... Good Times!   read


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