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2:34 PM on 06.29.2010

The Great Escape: Unfamiliar Territory

In elementary school, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Most of you are aware of ADHD. Hyperactivity and difficulty focusing were my primary symtoms. I was nuts as a kid, bouncing off walls and going crazy were common feats for me. But I was also diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's is a form of autism. It is a somewhat minor form of it though. While many well-known forms of autism affects people physically, Asperger's focuses primarily on social interaction.

ADHD and Asperger's alone were bad enough, but when combined they became a massive hurdle in my learning process. I had to go to a private school in the 5th grade, and stayed in private schooling for almost 5 years. During that time the only social interaction with my local peers became Boy Scouts, a hobby I excelled in (I ended up earning the Eagle Rank) but that was a minor part of my social life. I had made new friends at my private schools, but midway through my freshman high school year, I returned to the public schools. But those five years had taken their toll.

Asperger's makes me have trouble interacting. I had trouble maturing mentally. Even at the age of 14 or 15, I had maturity of a pre-teen. Of course, this had its advantages. I had a better appreciation for the downsides of things like drugs and alcohol. I did a better job of staying out of serious trouble. It gave me greater resolve for my goals. It also ended up being the base for my love of Nintendo, almost to a worrying degree. I was a hardcore Nintendo fanboy. I grew up gaining a greater appreciation for the wholesomeness of Nintendo games, while others wouldn't go near them ("THOSE GAMES ARE GAY", etc.) Games practically became a second religion; Mario, Zelda and Metroid were the holy trinity.

But after all that, eventually my ability to do school work had become satisfactory, and I was deemed prepared to return to my local schools. Friends I knew from Boy Scouts were still there; I don't know how I'd get by without Bufar being the nerd I could lean on. But even though I made new friends, I quickly realized the gap that formed while I was away. Oh sure, I could do my schoolwork fine, (I only once failed a class, but it wasn't even enough to fail me for the year.) but I was totally out of place everywhere else. This was a world unknown. It was a world of danger, of mischief and debauchery. Oh I tried to join in, but every time I did, I stuck out like Gordon Freeman on a radio talk show. I misunderstood what went on. I felt uncomfortable.

Going out and partying doesn't make me happy. I tried sports, the root of all evil. Gave track and field a shot, but I was horrible. While the rest of them learned better physical habits like exercise, I had learned new, less body-reliant activities. I couldn't even get into school functions, the pep rallies, the school dances, the football games. This wasn't fun to me. Even with the friends I did have, things rarely got far. I'd go over to their houses to play Rock Band every once in a while; we'd talk on the internet about things. That was as far as things went however. I just went in different directions than everyone else.

Unfortunately, part of this was the Asperger's Syndrome. I have trouble with things like tone of voice. I get excited and interested in a conversation and the tone of my voice gets louder without me even noticing it. I have trouble telling sarcasm from normal conversation. In the end, outside of the few friends I have, I'm something of a social outcast.

I ended up returning to my games. This was one constant I was familiar with. After a day slowly stumbling through school. I would sit down, pop in Mario, and all of a sudden, everything disappeared. My work was no longer an issue. My hometown became Hyrule. The adventures in the park became adventures in Zebes. I didn't need to go to the movies, I could play Viewtiful Joe and be IN the movie. This was familiar. This was something I understood. Yeah I wasn't very good with real life, but I didn't need it. Sean Corey wrote an editorial on the very subject, and at this point I realized why I love games so much. Because even though I can't go out and be social like everyone else, I still have one place that I can call home.

Is this a crutch? Maybe. Maybe I'm not very competent. Maybe I'm doomed to live like this. Or maybe not. Now in between my freshman year of college and my sophmore year, I'm trying to improve. I'm trying to learn golf. I've got a job that provides me with decent money. I'm trying to broaden my horizons. And if it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have found Destructoid. I wouldn't have become very good friends with those who like to use the Steam group chat, I wouldn't have found about all the awesome things that gaming can provide. And I learned that gaming isn't a lifestyle. Its a hobby. Its a place where I can sit back after a hard day's work and relax. I can find my little bit of nirvana. But its a place I can't stay forever.

I don't mean to sound like I'm the most miserable person on the planet right now. I know that the last eight paragraphs make me sound like the stereotypical nerd that you see on television when the writers are to lazy to realize that we're not all people living in our parents' basement shunning all other forms of life, but I've accomplished a lot in the 19 years I've been on this planet so far, and I have every intention to keep going. But I probably wouldn't have reached this point if it weren't for games. They helped me get through the hard times and I'm glad they existed.   read

6:45 PM on 06.17.2010

Something about E3: The Key To Victory

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is one massive advertisement. That's not an insult, its an aspect of business. The games "journalists" go there to gain info on all the latest games, which they then show to their readers. Then they get excited, and now potential consumers become more attached to the products shown off. Then investors who have their precious money riding on the success of these games gain more confident in their decisions. The fact is, this is how the industry has always worked.

This year, the majority opinion is that Nintendo is considered the company that "won" E3. They were the company everyone was talking about. They showed off the most exclusives. They drove the fanboys crazy with their lineup. They all but proved that they are the leaders when it comes to handhelds from what we've seen of the 3DS. Kirby is made out of yarn. As a whole, Nintendo dropped more bombs than Bomberman in an Avro Lancaster. But it wasn't a simple matter of showing off enough games to make the fanbase happy. Almost everything that happened at their conference was carefully calculated to make sure they came out on top, to the point where it almost seems devious.

They knew it was time to go, and let the rest take their place.

First of all, we need to look at Nintendo's "hardcore" lineup. Out of their entire conference, only Wii Party and Just Dance 2 could be considered games that are "casual". The rest seemed to be games aimed at their traditional audience. This is in stark contrast to the last few years. (You all remember the Wii Music fiasco from 2008) Meanwhile, look at Microsoft's and Sony's conference. Kinect and Move took up huge portions of their shows.

The fact is, interest in the casual market is starting to wane. There is a very good possibility that "casual" gaming is just a fad, and eventually it will lose relevance. Nintendo has realized that it's losing that market, and now they're in the middle of leaving it. But before then, they managed to gain a massive monopoly on the market, and its one that Microsoft and Sony are walking right into. The slight "improvements" that their controllers have over the Wii Remote when it comes to motion controls aren't simply going to allow them to take a piece of the casual pie. Nintendo has a firm grasp on it, but they're slowly moving their eggs into the mainstream basket, and now Microsoft and Sony's time in the casual market is limited. Heck, they're even taking some of their newfound fans with them.

They know when to leak

Then we come to the leaks. This is also something Nintendo has carefully monitored. What games did we know about? Donkey Kong, Goldeneye, heck we even saw some Kid Icarus concept art from time to time. This was all done to keep interest in the franchises so that we'd get even more excited. Nintendo is king at fanservice. They know how to string along fans providing them with the info on their franchises they desire. They give them juuust enough info to keep them excited until the official announcement.

Seriously, just look at Kid Icarus. How many of you guys squealed like a little girl when Kid Icarus: Uprising was announced? Probably a lot of you. I did too. Now how many of you have actually played Kid Icarus? I certainly haven't. Would you consider the franchise as being high profile? Does the quality hold up? Now we get a brand new game and its like it's a long running franchise that we devoted hours of our time to, and yet all we've seen is a trailer. (A really good trailer mind you, but we know borderline-nothing about the gameplay.) This was all planned. Of course, the concept art was always present, but think about Pit's appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They took time to establish Pit as a character, gave him some time in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the very same development studio that made SSBB is now hard at work giving him a proper next-gen sequel. They've been secretly gathering interest in the game, even to those that haven't even played the previous games.

And you know what? That might not be the only game Nintendo has planned with that strategy. We already know that Dr. Andonuts had his own door at E3. Why would he get his own door at E3? They could be screwing with us, but you know who else was in Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Ness and Lucas. Nintendo keeps hinting at a new Mother game every once in a while, they could be ready to reveal it. TGS is just around the corner, guys.

Then, just after the conference, this list of games was leaked onto the net. Every game under the sun was there. And in the middle of Sony's conference, Nintendo leaked screenshots for a remake of arguably the greatest game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo had enough of a list to keep people talking about it, maybe even believe it was too big to mention during the conference, (which it was) make it seem bigger than it was.

All of this, combined with the amazing hardware and software lineup of the 3DS, and Nintendo seems just about ready to return to their fans. The amazed everyone because they understood how to market everything properly. They took what they could from their casual market, and they came back in a huge way to their traditional audience, while Microsoft and Sony are fumbling with their motion controllers, Nintendo seems convinced what their plan is from here on out, and they made that very clear at their conference. Again, I'm not saying that we should be calling them out for what they've done. They're simply doing their jobs. And we as the consumers now get almost exactly what we wanted to show up at E3. That's why they "won" E3.

That, and the fact that KIRBY IS MADE OUT OF FREAKIN' YARN.   read

4:42 PM on 04.27.2010

An open letter to Reverend Anthony Burch

In 2006, a good friend of mine showed me the Destructoid review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Some douche-nozzle gave it a 4.0. Twilight Princess was my game of the year. This man is obviously insane. To give some context, 2006 was one of my last remaining years as a die-hard Nintendo fanboy. That included disregarding the opinions of those who disagreed with me. This "Reverend Anthony" shouldn't be working for a game site, let alone as a reviewer.

The next year, I had started to leave that fanboy mindset, and around October, I was looking for a new site to visit. Dtoid fit the bill. By that point I had started to pay more attention to Anthony, and over the course of the next few years, realized how outstanding he was. The thought-provoking Rev Rants, legitimately funny HAWP videos, his insight into the indie scene, and how much he managed make himself known on the site. This was not a man who simply liked games. This was a man who understood their advantages, knew how they worked, what made them great, and how they could be better. This was a man who knew games inside and out. He could speak to the masses about thought-provoking design, and they would listen, because he was usually right. A man deserving of the term Reverend if I ever saw it.

To be honest, Anthony, you've had more influence on this site and its people than any other editor, and you're quite possibly the greatest game critic I've ever known. I am more than happy to have had a respect for you on the same level as a new Mario or Zelda, and coming from a former Nintendo Fanboy, that means a lot. I think I speak for all of us when I say that you're not just an editor, you're a goddamn hero. This site will not be the same without you and I don't think I'd trade the time I've known you for anything in the world right now.

So, I guess there isn't much left for me to say, except for, "Best regards for your new job and congratulations on your engagement. And if you ever need somewhere else to go, we'll always have a place for you here."


12:51 PM on 04.26.2010

E for Effort: Dead Space

Dead Space was a survival-horror game released in 2008. It received critical acclaim for its utilization of different aspects of a wide variety of previous horror games to create an experience unlike any other game.

Unfortunately, despite using all those ideas, it fails to use any of them to become truly outstanding.

The fact is that while the game has everything in place for a fantastic, albeit familiar experience, it doesn't manage to truly understand how they all work and are effective.

We can start with the story. This is easily the most common complaint against the game. The primary focus of the game is that it starts with you knowing nothing about what happened on the ship you're on. This is still one of the most common traits of a horror game. Start it with a mystery that the player knows nothing about so that the enemy seems more mysterious and the player does not understand him. As we've seen in real life most commonly by some of the more aggressive supporters of wars overseas, people fear that which they don't understand. This is more or less done to a satisfactory degree, but at the exact same time, it isn't supported by the poorly written and uninteresting script. There are moments where it just seems like a joke more than anything else.

Then there's the subplot between the protagonist, Issac, and his girlfriend. Obviously we do not care about her, we don't know her. Therefore, the writers should have been attempting to evoke some sympathy from the players. They should feel bad about Issac losing his girlfriend, and want to meet her, if only to see him satisfied from her rescue. The problem is, we cannot feel sympathy for Issac. He has no personality, he never speaks, we never see him. He is a blank slate who has no connection to the player other than acting as their avatar as they progress. There are games where silent protagonists can be useful, but if the other characters are not being met at the same time as the player, or the player feels sympathy and appreciation of those characters, the whole concept falls a bit flat in terms of forming relationships.

Next, the gameplay. This was considered one of the more highlighted aspects of Dead Space. While most horror games focus on shooting anywhere on the body, specifically the head, Dead Space utilizes weaponry that are designed to shoot limbs. This brings up a refreshing change of pace. Instead of shooting wildly, players were encouraged to shoot the parts of the body that would be most likely wailing about as they rush towards you in anticipation of tearing you apart. Unfortunately, they rely on this concept a bit too much. It gets repetitive far too quickly, and they don't do a very good job of introducing new enemies on a regular basis. This isn't helped by stasis being easy to use and feeling overpowered. Enemies that were normally hard and challenging to take down, felt like a cakewalk with it. Also, the game doesn't do a good job of making the player feel rewarded for succeeding in doing damage. While Resident Evil 4 might still have a sketchy status in terms of being a quality horror game in hindsight, it managed to stay fresh throughout its long playtime thanks to its wide variety of set pieces, and satisfying combat. There was a satisfying mix of both horror and bloody satisfactory feedback. And they still managed to come up with new and interesting ways of changing the enemies in presentation, defense, and weapons.

Now comes the most problematic part of the game: the atmosphere. Ironically, the thing that most reviews seemed to appreciate about the game falls a bit flat. Simply put, the game is all conflict, but no buildup. If you want to scare players with monsters, but only have 2 or 3 of them at once, you can't simply have them show up and even let the players see them before said monsters start attacking them. You need to allude to their existence and build up what they do and are capable of first. Furthermore, don't always use screeching and bellowing music all the time. Using genuinely creepy music that feels sad and mournful can have just as much as an effect. The problem was that the game felt like it was all action and thriller, but tried to present itself as a true-form chilling horror game, and to that extent, it fell flat.

The sad thing is, after all that there was still some potential for a great horror game. The main control scheme was more or less solid, and the new ideas, including the zero-gravity effect and timed vacuum sequences, had some genuinely memorable moments of scary thrills and creativity. For all intents and purposes, had the fundamentals been better, Dead Space could have been able to stand with the likes of Resident Evil 4, Left 4 Dead, or Silent Hill. But as is, its a rent-worthy experience that only stands to sadden that it could have been truly great.   read

2:31 PM on 04.06.2010

E for Effort: Sonic Adventure

I like the music in the 3D Sonic games. There, I said it. For ages while playing Sonic Adventure for the first time, I found myself singing Open Your Heart constantly. At least until Sonic and the Secret Rings, they endeared themselves to me. Yeah, I know they're the exact opposite of what Sonic music should be, they're cheesy and they are for all intents and purposes, horrible. I accept that, but for me, they're a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, the term guilty pleasure could probably be used to summarize Sonic Adventure as a whole. Arguably the most polarizing of the 3D Sonic games, to many Sonic Adventure was a good first attempt at a 3D formula for a true Sonic game. To others, its the beginning of the series' downfall. Sonic ran through levels that were constantly pulling him to a stop, running turned into giant fetch-quests, shooting galleries, and lame fishing areas and with Big the Cat, Sonic started to become overflowing with lame sidekicks that no one cared about and wanted out of the picture. Its not very refined, has plenty of moments where the camera gets in the way, and most of the voice acting is a bit questionable. And yet, I still enjoyed it.

If you want to see how a Sonic game can work in 3D, go play Sonic Unleashed, (preferably the Wii version; Dimps did a much better job on the level design) because that's where you'll find Sonic's true potential. Despite the fact that the game was pretty poor overall, there was a shred of brilliance in the levels where you get to play as the blue blur running through loops and speeding across courses. While they might still have been closer to the Sonic Rush philosophy of gameplay, (you spend a bit more time "pushing right to win" so to speak) they're a much better representation of what Sonic should be.

Now go back to Sonic Adventure. Disregarding the levels other than Sonic, the game plays out like a traditional platformer that tries to go really fast at specific points. To an extent, that's kind of what the older 2D games were. Precision platforming with speed acting as more of a reward; not quite identical, but it was on the right track. Of course, that track was riddled with glitches, wonky camera angles, and it wasn't quite as fluent as the 2D Sonic games. But despite all that, it was a good first start, and still enjoyable.

Even some of other characters, managed to find a certain niche they could exist in that used that formula in new ways. Tails had even more of an emphasis on speed, since he had to race another character to his destination, and Amy was constantly chased by one of Robotnik's robots, so she had to be constantly reacting to his movements, and quickly looking for methods of escape. While each of the modes was brought down by other problems, the basis for something potentially great was always there.

Because of that basis, I can still enjoy Sonic Adventure even after all these years. It may not have aged very well, but its still fun to play. Most importantly, combined with the Daytime levels in Sonic Unleashed, it can give me that one shred of (maybe foolish) hope that we'll see a truly great Sonic 3D game one day.   read

11:21 PM on 03.16.2010

Four years of STFUAJPG

Late 2007, I was starting in a new mechanical drawing class. Being the lazy jerk that I am, I needed websites that were not subject to my school's IP blocker. I checked out some blogs to find one that would work. Joystiq, Kombo, TheWiire, all opportunities to pass the time between projects. Then I remembered a blog that was referenced on Attack of the Show; "Destructoid" they called it I think. Wasn't that the site that allowed some douche to give Twilight Princess a 4? Wait, positive thinking. You're a converted Nintendo fanboy Peter, don't let one person's opinion get you in a twist. You loved it, that's all that matters.

I followed it for a while, leaving the occasional comments under the most generic username in existence. Tried to write a few blogs only to realize that they were total crap and hid them immediately. Went back to my comments, learned about how awesome Dtoid podcasts were and tried to get back into the community; try and find the community of gamers I so longingly wanted that my regular social life couldn't provide. I floundered in regular social situations that weren't focused on video games. Its as awkward as watching Gordon Freemon guest star on an episode of Gilmore Girls; I stick out like a sore thumb.

Anyway, I went back into blogs late last year and got one of them promoted. How exactly? I don't know. It wasn't very good, and I didn't even properly keep it after that. Made the stupid mistake of trying to edit it afterward, and it was completely ruined.

Then we played games for 24 hours to earn money for the destruction of cancer. I got to talk to the staff for what seemed like the first time. Welcome to Erf happened. I almost got to see Colette face her nightmares with Soda Popinski, a rivalry that has become Dtoid legend. I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl to communicate with these people in psudo-real life, when in reality, it was no big deal. All the members of the staff were real gamers just like me. They had their quirks, and they had their own personalities. I'd never seen that in any other gaming site ever.

The site was down for a few days in December, and in desperation of finding someone to listen to on the internet I found the Steamtoid group chat. The regulars there were all people who I could relate too. People who play the same games as me, and could relate. I was finally starting to feel at home.

So what are the last five paragraphs of composed warbling supposed to say? I guess that for the last 2 and a half years, Destructoid has become like family to me. Even though I've never seen any of you in person, and I probably won't for a while, I still find myself checking this site more often than I do going outside. You could take that as you guys being amazing, or me having no life whatsoever. Either way, you're probably right, which is what makes me so happy to be writing this blog right now. I've grown up since that day in class, I've matured, and you guys have been there with me. I feel like I won't make much of an impact on this site, or its readers, but I'm more than happy to have been along for the ride.

Outside of this site, I'm a 19 year old diagnosed with ADD and Asperger's Syndrome living in New Jersey who's still having trouble keeping up in school, has never been to PAX, E3, or even a proper organized NARP, and hasn't even written who he is in his blog page. But inside the site, I'm home. As ridiculously sappy as it is to say this, you guys are some of the most important people in the world to me right now, and I wouldn't have you any other way.

So at the risk of being redundant, I'm leaving a repeat of my comment on this year's anniversary post: Here's to 4 years of STFUAJGP and here's to 4 more! I said it at last year's anniversary, and I'll say it again: Niero, may those big red glowing lights of death you call eyes never burn out.


9:18 PM on 02.23.2010

Survival-horror: A precursor to my rant

A while back I stated that I was doing a survival-horror rant. I said that I was going to be primarily focusing on the zombie area of the genre. Now the whole reason that I decided to write this rant, is because I had received a slight backlash every time I bring this up in the community. I mention games like Resident Evil 4 and Left 4 Dead, at which point, the majority of the people in the conversation state, "Those aren't survival horror games."

"But just the other night, I played through Blood Harvest on Expert. I was genuinely shaking in my chair. I was freakin' scared"

"Left 4 Dead isn't horror. Silent Hill is horror. Fatal Frame is horror. Left 4 Dead isn't scary, its tense."

This is where the most aggravating part of my attempted rant comes in. It would seem that the most common problem with today's ideals for the genre that people are comparing American-style tension based horror to psychological horror. The thing is, I don't understand why we need to pidgin hole the genre into one specific emotion.

–verb (used with object)
to fill, esp. suddenly, with fear or terror; frighten; alarm.

It would seem to me that the objective of all horror games is to instill fear in the player. Psychological horror games do this by attempting to screw with the player. They do things like force the player to encounter environments and enemies that are outside of the norm. They may try to instill emotions like loneliness, disgust, and just generally try to screw with the players mind.

Games like Left 4 Dead don't really follow that approach, but the don't need too. They let the zombies loose to to destroy the players. They have no objectives other than destroy the player. That night I finished Blood Harvest, I felt tense. Tension can be felt in many genres sure, but here the tension comes from the fact that you're constantly one wrong movement away from being ripped apart by monstrosities. At any moment in the climax, running from the tank as he chases after the survivors, I was afraid for my life, albeit virtual. And it would seem to me that fear is the whole point of horror, whether it be due to an old fashioned mindfuck unsettling you for ages before you run into a real moral conflict, or threatening your life and going all out.

This isn't the final rant, its just something that I wanted to get out there. Yeah, RE4 and L4D may not try to pull any punches when it comes to atmosphere, but it doesn't need to to be psychological. There are more than one way to scare the player, and it would seem to me that horror shouldn't be relegated to just one of them.   read

1:29 AM on 01.26.2010

I'm writing a survival-horror game rant. But first, preparation.

After having an extensive debate with some opinionated minds over in the Steamtoid Group chat about survival-horror games, I have decided to put my (sometimes controversial-Dead Space is mediocre IMHO) thoughts about said genre, primarily the zombie sub-genre, into an extensive rant. But before I do so, I am going to prepare my thoughts by replaying several horror games that I have had the opportunity of experiencing over the past few years. Right now, my tentative list consists of the following:

Resident Evil GCN Remake (Both Chris and Jill in regular mode and Real Survivor)
Resident Evil Zero (expert)
Resident Evil 4 (normal & professional)
Dead Space (normal & hard)
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead 2
Dementium: The Ward
Dementium II
Dead Rising

Bear in mind, this is a tentative list; games may be added or removed, depending on the circumstances. Also, due to recent living conditions, I may not be able to play my console games except over the weekends; don't expect my rant for a while, it may very well take several months. Anyway, if you have any reccomendations, please leave them in the comments.

P.S. I am in need of other Left 4 Dead PC (1&2) players to assist me. They must have extensive skill in the Expert difficulty. A working microphone will also be appreciated. If you wish to participate, please PM me through my Dtoid account. I will make sure to mention all those who help me in the final draft of my rant. Thank you.   read

9:03 PM on 01.18.2010

Gunstar Super Heroes and Storyline progression through difficulty

Okay, this is less of a rant and more along the lines of me looking for second opinions about a particular method of extending replay value and lasting appeal.

The storyline in Gunstar Super Heroes is not particularly unique; its decent overall but not going to win any awards for creativity. The thing that really makes it stand out is how it is developed. Each difficulty level provides a different amount of story revealed as you progress. Easy tells the basics of the story, Normal reveals more detail of the story elements, and Hard provides enough back story to give you the best possible ending. Each story progresses through the same basic series of setpieces, however the higher difficulties can change the cruial story elements significanly. Combined with the slightly different story elements that come from playing the two different characters, and that brings us to a total of six possble storylines.

Playing through the game, I started finding that the story was what was keeping me coming back to the higher difficulty levels, depite the fact that the only change gameplay-wise was a decrease in health. While I don't think that its advisable for all games (bear in mind you can complete Gunstar Super Heroes in less than an hour.), I do think that it could be a good method to increase replay value.

What do you guys think?   read

8:56 PM on 01.09.2010

Steamtoid has an official podcast! Kinda.

If you were on the Dtoid Steam chat tonight, you might have noticed a few people mentioning a podcast. Well thanks to the very professional SPNKr, Doomsday Forte, Zeta Crossfire, Ckarasu, l0cke and my horrible, horrible voice, I am proud to present STEAMTOID PODCAST EPISODE 0! We are complete n00bs and are willing to accept any and all feedback towards our future attempts at relevance. You can download it here in all it's unedited purity. Also, send listener questions to: [email protected]   read

9:19 PM on 01.02.2010

How Mario can teach a lesson in Characterization.

Gaming has become varied to the point where almost any kind of experience can be replicated or adapted to interactive entertainment. We have reached the point where the medium includes space operas, war stories, and even satires involving gamers themselves. Along with those new forms of gaming come new characters, but it seems like for every character that we, as gamers, can relate to, there are just as many that end up not quite hitting the mark. Developers always want the player to like and relate to the characters, and all too often they end up failing because the player just can't relate to them since our objectives and reasons for continuing the quest aren't the same as the protagonist's.

Which is ironic considering that an italian plumber pretty much nailed it all so long ago, and still does today.

As far back as the original Super Mario Bros, Mario has been chasing after Princess Peach and her kidnapper. The simplistic concept has remained more or less unchanged over the course of the entire franchise and nearly every Mario platformer has kept the same core storyline SMB2 notwithstanding. Peach is kidnapped, Mario saves her. By this point it would be easy to poke fun at it and call it lazy and almost pointless.

Now this doesn't sound like something that the player can relate to, and it really isn't. But in the end, the storyline itself isn't as important so much as what it enables. In reality, Peach getting kidnapped is an excuse to explore the Mushroom Kingdom, allowing Mario to see the various locales and do all the platforming that Nintendo creates so well. But most importantly, he does it for the same reason the player does it: its pure, unbridled, uncomplicated fun.

When Alex Mercer in Prototype does his thing, the player is more often then not enjoying the chaos that he leaves in his wake, tearing limbs off and killing enemies in brutal fashion. But in the meantime, the game tries to convince you that its all for the greater good. Alex is doing all these horrible, monsterous things out of being the hero. Its all more than a little ironic.

But Mario doesn't have that problem. He laughs and smiles throughout all of his adventures. Every "Yahoo!" is a shout of joy at what is happening on-screen. In this way, he is relating to the player and he is experiencing the same emotions the player is, and the same emotions all the Mario games have been able to create: fun. Even though Mario may not have a particularly interesting backstory or a unique personality, he is the player's vessel and he knows what the player wants and what the player is supposed to feel. In this way, you could argue that Mario is a stronger character than Alex Mercer, or Marcus Fenix or any other character that whose motivations are torn in such a fashion.

I'm not suggesting every game should have the same focus as Mario, but I do think that if developers want to start creating likeable characters, they should first remember why the player is playing the game in the first place. Let them be happy, or let them want to blow stuff up or even let them accept the fact that they are a truly horrific monster. But always, always make sure the player can relate.   read

1:50 PM on 12.20.2009

Love/Hate: ARGH! A ZOMBIE...meh

I enjoy survival horror. Simply put: I enjoy the thrill of having the hordes of zombies and ghoulies running after me with their mindsets focused on my destruction with just the right creepy atmosphere to keep me on my toes, pure simple. Being alone in the dark, with my own life on the line, is a magnificient experince as I'm sure you'll all agree.

But I will be honest with you, the majority of horror games I've played haven't really done that. I haven't been playing them for a while, my first horror game being Resident Evil 4 back in 2006, but having played a few since then, most notably Dead Space, I can't hep but wonder where my enthusiasm has gone.

The majority of games that try to be scary nowadays try to do so without sacrificing the gameplay. Gameplay being subpar had been a characteristic of survival horror ever since Edward Carnby crept though the halls of Derceto back in Alone in the Dark in 1992, up until the hunting of Las Plagas in Resident Evil 4 in 2005. RE4 is considered to be the turning point of the franchise, the game that overhauled the series from being restrictive and slow paced, to a fast paced thrill-a-minute run for your life. And while RE4 was more thrilling than creepy, it still managed to keep me excited and on my toes throughout.

Then, a few weeks ago, I downloaded Dead Space to my 360. I had heard almost nothing but praise towards it, and decided I was going to give it a go. I am now in the middle of the seventh chapter, over halfway though the game, but I just haven't really been all that impressed. There have been a few brief moments of terror, the fight with the invicible necromorph was fairly exciting, but I haven't really felt genuine fear. And soon after, once I no longer felt that I was in extensive danger, the repitition of the combat system, even with the dismemberment, started to seep in.

The other horror game in recent memory that has sticked out in my mind is Left 4 Dead. L4D is widely considered as being one of the best co-op games of the last few years, but it also was genuinely thrilling as well. It had an excellent sense of pacing and when it works, it works very well. Just a few weeks ago I was playing through Swamp Fever on Expert in L4D2. We had just barely defeated two tanks at once and all four of us were making a run for Virgil's boat. All the tension of the finale had been building up over the course of the fight. My knees were starting to wobble, my arms' muscles were tightening. The excitement was incredible. I was screaming into my mic, "PIPE BOMB OUT!" as we ran to the boat. All four of us got on, and as the credits rolled, I remember shouting out loud, "THIS IS WHY I PLAY THIS GAME!" Then after I had calmed down, I thought, "That IS why I play this game." The tension building up after a heated fight with genuinely threatening monsters, and the overwhelming sense of satisfaction after it is all said and done.

That's why Dead Space doesn't appeal to me as much as L4D or RE4. There's no proper pacing, no build up of tension, I get no sense of dread. It specializes in closet scares, something that has never worked on me at all. I've played the Resident Evil remake on GameCube and was rarely scared at all even though there were plenty of moments that have surprised many. I've played RE4 twice and still manage to find that moment where those odds are against me, they're closing in on all angles, and the chance of survival is seemingly slim.

Which makes it all the more satisfiying when survival is exactly what happens.   read

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