I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
Halloween is just about upon us and so are the results of my SPOOOKY STEAM GIVE AWAY! But much like the psycho killer in a slasher flick, just when you thought it was over, the undead corpse of my contest has sprung to life with one final murderous offering!
I'm adding one of my very favourite spooky games of all time to the list. A title so near and dear to my unbeating heart that I have no idea how I thought I could have a Halloween give away without it Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines!
Set in Whitewolf's grim World of Darkness universe, you take on the role of a fledgling vampire trying to survive not only the horrible hunger that now consumes you, but the deadly decedent court of vampire politics, merciless hunters, an ancient curse, and even stranger things that lurk in the night.
It combines the best elements of a Deus Ex style hub-world and a deeply customizable RPG. Every problem has more than one solution, and every play through is different from the next. It might look laughably rough by today's standards, but in terms of game design, its still leading the pack.
Vampire: Bloodlines has one of the most surreal and fascinating development histories I know of. Pushed out the door by a money-bleeding Troika Games and an almost hostile Activision in a rushed and unfinished state, Bloodlines was panned in reviews and left to die an ignominious death on the clearance rack.
But some fans saw through the (many) imperfections and did what they could to help the game live up to it's astounding potential. Data mining out cut content, working with former devs, squashing bugs and even adding new characters and storylines, Bloodlines was resurrected by it's passionate (some might say obsessive) fans. And much like the undead protagonists of its story, it doesn't show any sign of stopping. Nearly a decade later and Bloodlines is still seeing the occasional patch or mod. Its just that good.
The games up for grabs again are -
The Alan Wake Franchise (includes DLC and American Nightmare)
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
The Binding of Isaac (includes Wrath of the Lamb)
Fallout 3: GOTY Edition (includes the spooktacular Point Lookout along with all the other DLC packs)
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
But wait, there's more!
Our friend OpiumHerz has kicked in a few games to add to up the spooky factor!
Now the package also includes -
Nation Red and
Pathologic (on GoG)
Thanks again amigo!
Again, all you need to do to enter is tell us your favourite game to play during the Halloween season in the comments of either blog. As ever, the games are yours to do with as you want, play them, re-gift them, trade them so don't worry if you already have a few of these titles, everyone is free to enter!
I'll pull a random name on Halloween night and post the lucky winner. Have a happy Halloween everyone!
Halloween is just about my favourite time of the year. Talk about the perfect holiday, you get dressed up in whatever you want, eat a shit ton of candy, and maybe go to a party and get drunk with the Wolfman and his Vampire bride. If I had my druthers I'd do the same thing on every other major holiday.
So to celebrate, I'm giving away a smattering of some of my favourite vaguely SPPOOooOOOooOOKY games on steam!
To enter, all you have to do is: Tell us your favourite game to play during the Halloween season in the comments below! That's it! Oh, and you should probably have a Steam account or be willing to make one.
Do you break out the Silent Hill collection around this time of year? Maybe spend a night back in Raccoon City? Your favourite Halloween title doesn't have to necessarily be a horror game or even all that spooky. If you like to hide away from a chilly Autumn evening with Skyrim or enjoy the annual TF2 item drop madness, it still counts!
Just tell us what game and why in the comments to enter. On Halloween day I'll put all the names in a big old witches hat and draw out a winner. The only thing better than a sack full of candy on Halloween is a sack full of games!
The Games -
Alan Wake Franchise Like playing through a Stephen King novel, and perfect for the seaon. Alan Wake is a series I seem to keep coming back to. This package includes the DLC (The Writer is a personal favourite!) and American Nightmare, so you can spook it up Twilight Zone style.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition There is no better time than the gloomy twilight of a Fall season to "enjoy" Dark Souls. It might not be billed as one, but to me, DkS is one of the best survival horror experiences ever released. This bundle also includes the Artorias DLC featuring a fallen knight and the spooky land of Oolacile, a once great kingdom now blighted with darkness.
Oh, and tree monsters. It's weird.
The Binding of Isaac A perfect Halloween fix if you like gross monsters and a good shot of black comedy. I'm also throwing in the Wrath of the Lamb DLC, but be warned if this is your first time playing Isaac, you might want to play a few games before activating it, the Lamb doesn't pull any punches.
Then again, being chased by moving spider hives and making bargains with the Devil seems like a good fit for Halloween.
Fallout 3: GOTY Edition Fallout 3 takes you to the desolated wreckage of the Capital Wasteland, the once great seat of power for the nation, now reduced to Super Mutant Infested ash. The main game provides plenty of spooky scenes, but it's the DLC expansion area Point Lookout that really steals the show. Nothing like exploring a toxic swamp, fending off murderous mutant hillbillies, walking through graveyards rife with radioactive zombies, and exploring a haunted mansion to ring in All Hallow's Eve.
Enter for your chance to win all these games to do with as you please. Keep em, trade em, gift em, it's up to you!
Videogames were an alien concept to me until the Christmas of 1989. Actually, to be completely honest, it was the Boxing Day of 1989. The traditional tag-along commercial holiday honouring the return of unwanted gifts and day-after-Christmas-sale extravaganzas across Canada. And in our family, it was also the traditional day when me and my brother would be loaded into the car and shuttled off to visit our dad in grandpa's smoke filled apartment for an afternoon of awkward "also-ran" Christmas.
Now normally, Christmas with my dad and grandpa was not exactly up to Hallmark standards. Even at the young age of six, I was prepared for a handful of bargain basement off-brand G.I Joe's with the price tags still attached and a dinner of KFC take-out. For some reason Santa never seemed to try as hard with the gifts he left with my dad.
But this year was different. Even looking back I can never figure out my dad's moods or motives. Most of the time he was neglectful, surly, even angry, but there were occasions when he'd break out his "#1 Dad" T-shirt and try to impress us. This was one of those times. In an act of true "weekend dad" overcompensation, he proudly presented me and my brother with a Nintendo Entertainment System - and in that moment forever altered the course of my young life.
Our confused glances must have disappointed him.
Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely gesture. I'll take uncomfortably overcompensating dad over surly deadbeat dad any day of the week. And it was certainly an extravagant gift; I would have been happy with the $20 Cobra H.I.S.S Tank I circled out in the Sears Catalogue. But unlike, I assume, other children of the era, me and my brother didn't really get videogames. We didn't know what Nintendo was. So the dramatic impact of the unwrapping was kind of wasted on us. Sorry dad.
Remember, this was back in the late-80's when having a home VHS was a symbol of wealth and luxury, and the internet didn't exist to inform kids about all the cool new toys they were missing. Not only did we not know what a Nintendo was, I'm not even sure if we knew what videogames were. We must have seen or played a few arcade games before plugging in the grey plastic box that would shape the rest of my childhood that day, but I can't remember with any certainty. All I remember is having it explained to me that the Nintendo was a sort of toy you played with on the TV. Kind of like my brother's Captain Power Jet.
Captain Power, some children of the 80's might remember, was a live action TV show about a cyberpunk dystopia where machines ruled a wracked and ruined earth, and the hopes of humanity rested with a handful of rebel soldiers in cheap futuristic armour. Think The Matrix by way of Power Rangers. The big ticket jets from the accompanying toy line could interact with the show, either by shooting the robot's glowing chest panels in any random episode, or with separately sold training tapes. Miss too many robots or obstacles, and the pilot would be violently ejected from the toy jet/light-gun
So it was a toy line designed to train a generation of would be freedom fighters how to fight back against the robot scourge. The 80's were a pretty cool time to be a kid.
My father had purchased the 1988 Action Set which included the NES, two controllers, the beloved Zapper Lightgun, and the classic dual game cartridge Super Mario Bros/Duckhunt. The Zappers inclusion in the bundle was a lucky turn of events, it allowed us a smooth transition from the post-apocalyptic robot warriors and glowing I-beams of Captain Power, to the tall grass and wild geese of Duckhunt. The Zapper was pure and simple. Unlike the abstract idea of a control pad, with it's alien cross-shaped directional and inscrutable buttons, we knew the general gist of a ray-gun. Point at the robot, Cobra soldier, or in this case, duck, you wanted to die and pull the trigger.
Putting it like that seems slightly sad now. That as kids we would know how to work a gun before we knew how to play a videogame - and we're Canadian for Christ's sake. But regardless of the troublesome social and moral implications, the Zapper would become our gentle introduction into the world of Nintendo. We booted up a game of Duckhunt and got comfortable with the strange new device, trading the Zapper around the room. It was an atypically fun and communal family moment at our Grandpa's apartment.
Of course, dad turned it off after missing a few times and suffering the jeering laughter of the pixilated hunting dog. This was a sadly typical display of poor sportsmanship on his part.
Without Duckhunt to crutch on, it was time to tackle the strange business of the control pad. And we sucked. I mean, we bombed. I don't know what it's like these days when you hand a kid a control pad, maybe the cultural familiarity helps ease them into it. Maybe we were just some dumb, dumb kids, but back then, in 1989, you might as well have sat me down in front of a pipe organ and demanded I play Beethoven's 5th.
Fortunately, we had several options to hone our technique with.
In an uncharacteristic display of foresight, Dad had rented a few extra titles for the occasion. Another lovely gesture that resulted in confused reactions, and another concept that had to be explained to me multiple times why couldn't we just keep all of the games again? So, we own the system, we own the Mario game (which we determined was WAY too hard after being defeated by the first Goomba 6 times in a row), but we have to give back Boxing (actually Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!) and Mad Scientist (Gyromite)? Ridiculous.
Gyromite was the game we played the most that day by virtue of it's sheer harmlessness. Unlike the unstoppable forward march of the Goombas that populated the Mushroom Kingdom, or the merciless fists of the infamous bully Glass Joe, Gyromite was a more sedate affair. Literally.
Game mode B, which we eventually stumbled upon, featured poor Professor Hector sleepwalking towards his doom. Only the player, armed with the ability to manipulate the colour coded pistons of his nightmarish lab, could prevent him from falling to his death or running afoul of the monstrous green bird creatures and terrifying walls by altering his painstakingly slow path.
Actually, this isn't entirely true. Gyromite was one of the few games designed to work with Nintendo's R.O.B, a physical robot sidekick who moved at an equally painstakingly slow pace as the Professor. This was entirely unknown to us at the time, we assumed the second player controller worked in this mode simply because the NES liked me - the younger brother and therefore automatic-forever-and-all time second player - better.
This ignorance was probably a blessing. Had I known the game was designed to function with a robotic buddy instead of the weak soft flesh of a human, my 6 year old heart would have exploded in my chest right then and there. Another Christmas ruined.
Gyromite is probably one of the worst retail games to ever made it to market that actually functions. Sure, you can point to games like E.T or Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing as even more grim displays of incompetence, but they're broken. They suck because of an complete lack of product testing, morally bankrupt business practices, and an enthusiastic disrespect for the consumer. Gyromite works absolutely as intended.
Which I guess makes it kind of worse in a way.
In any case, the combination of the haltingly slow sleepwalking Professor, and the total lack of depth to the gameplay (one button raises and lowers the blue pistons, the other does the same for the red ones) allowed our freshly birthed gamer legs to take their first shambling steps towards success. When the Professor made it all the way through to the other side of the level for the first time - an act that now seems all but impossible to fail we nearly broke the coffee table in our celebrations. We were really good at Gyromite.
As the day passed we eventually went back to the other games. Our confidence bolstered, our familiarity with the controller growing, we were ready to take on the all virtual contenders.
While the finer nuances of timing, blocking, dodging, or using any technique other than the high right handed punch might have eluded us, we eventually took down Glass Joe in a stunning 3 round victory. A pair of virtual boxing champions who insisted on trading the controller between rounds to keep a real fight from breaking out.
So maybe the next boxer proved a little tougher, what did it matter? Once we took down Glass Joe we knew we could win. We knew that the buttons we hit on the pad made the little man (Little Mac) on the screen do things. The better the way we pressed those buttons, the better the way he did those things. All we had to do was find the better way and sooner or later we'd take down however many fighters there were in Boxing. Like, all 4 or 5 of them.
It might have been a rudimentary understanding of how games worked, but it was basically correct. It was an understanding that took us back into the world of Mario, back to conquer the Goomba.
It was tough going. After sacrificing a few more lives, we eventually figured out the timing to stomp on the first Goomba. Capturing the mushroom was a dicey affair and took a few tries to nail down, but becoming "Super Mario" and hearing that sweet sound effect was worth it. Jumps proved even more difficult, the wiring in our brain that would sync the complicated act of holding forward and jump at the same time not quite online yet. Sometimes Mario would ineffectually hop up and down at the edge of a pit, seemingly terrified to go any further. Sometimes he'd heedlessly charge directly to his doom like a lemming. I was six years old, dumb as hell, and determined to make it work.
Ignorance comes with a wonderful sort of enthusiasm. We didn't know jack shit about games at that point, we had no knowledge of conventions or typical game structure. To us, anything was possible. I expected to see the Princess after every jump. We had no clue about how long a game should be or what to expect. Days later, when we would beat the first world, it was a genuine shock to discover that our Princess was in another castle, not a familiar trope.
But that would be another day. I don't remember getting any further that night than the mushroom tree-tops of World 1-3. It was late, little boys were tired, and Boxing Day was drawing to a close. Mario's adventure came to an end after several "one last tries" and I whined like a baby when the NES was shut off and packed away.
Coincidentally, it's the only time I can remember where I actually wanted to spend more time with my dad.
It was a Christmas that would change my life. They say there is no one more zealous than a convert, and that day I became a born again gamer. Videogames would become my primary hobby, interest, and avenue for examining the world from that point on and through my entire childhood. A rabbit hole I would only sink deeper into over the years until the harsh rays of puberty would compel me to broaden my horizons.
But that would be years later. My gamer story is about how a stout little Italian, a wimp with a glass jaw, and an ageing scientist would doom the formative years of my life to the dark corners of our basement den, and the warm glow of the 8 and 16-bit era.
The glossy 22 page brochure reads more like a testament of faith than a sales pitch. The evangelical copy boasts the vehicle's impressive performance benchmarks and gushes over the many luxury features a potential buyer can expect. Reading it you can almost feel the smooth Corinthian leather seats at your back, the low hum of the engine, what it would be like to have that power at your command. The photography is immaculate, shot after shot of the sleek aerodynamic body. Action shots that capture a miracle of precision engineering in motion. The level of detail, the specificity, of the technical specs borders on the pornographic. An accompanying video spot sells not just the ride, but a lifestyle. An aspirational appeal of freedom, exploration, of never settling for second best.
I find my mouse hand hovering perilously over the purchase button, I actually want to spend $50 on a make believe spaceship for a game that won't come out for at least two more years.
And I suddenly realize why everyone on this crazy site thinks Chris Roberts is a genius. He is.
Roberts Space Industries is the home site and launchpad of Star Citizen, the crowd funded giant spearheaded by the titular Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame. Billed as a true triple A experience, the scope of the project is nothing short of staggering. Promising next-generation cutting edge graphics, Oculus Rift support, a full single player campaign experience reminiscent of Robert's classic works, and an expansive laissez faire multiplayer world similar to EVE Online and his original aspirations for Freelancer. A cutthroat simulation universe where players can be anything they want to be, from trader, to merc, to pirate, and all the shades of grey in between (smuggler on contract to defend a civilian merchant fleet, ect.)
The site isn't just a place to get the latest info about the game, it's practically a shrine to Roberts.
Featuring a museum section celebrating past games (and films) Roberts has been involved with, along with missives and communiques straight from the man himself, it's clear that Star Citizen is selling itself as much on Roberts reputation in the genre he helped create as it is on the game's feature set. Taking a page from Tim Schafer's book, Roberts is using his celebrity within his narrow band of interest, the space-combat sim, to resurrect a genre traditional publishers have all but abandoned. Servicing a small, but devoted, audience that craves a return to the games they grew up with.
The appeal of Robert's rock star like fame in this deeply niche genre is only one prong of Cloud Imperium Games marketing strategy. While the Roberts name draws potential customers to the site, it's the content they find there that hooks them in.
Those lovingly crafted glossy ads worked disgustingly well on me. I always snickered at "lifestyle" car ads before, now I'm not sure I can; I've bought in myself. But I don't want to be Ford Tough, I want to be Han Solo. I couldn't care less about cruising the Autobahn in a BMW. But tell me about mapping a deserted solar system in a well armed scout ship, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I got snagged into pledging back during the Aurora sale. I'd like to say it was just the temporary bargain price point that drew me in, but damn if that ad didn't help.
The RSI site updates multiple times a week with little tidbits for the faithful. Messages from the devs, the occasional piece of concept art, or a feature on a planet or character class are offered to whet the fans collective appetite. CIS is already hard at work creating a lore and universe for Star Citizen, publishing short stories, in-universe news clippings, and even an extensive Writer's Guide for fans that want to get a head start developing their characters and elaborate head-canon. An online streaming show, Wingman's Hanger, is produced each week. Its painfully cheesy, with guests more accustomed to spending their time under the glow of a computer monitor organizing lines of code than in the spotlight trying to put on a camera friendly smile. But the show has a certain low-rent, public access charm to it.
They even have a monthly digital magazine, Jump Point, which spoons out even larger helpings of fanservice. Each issue includes an extensive breakdown and making-of special on a specific ship. While the ads for the Aurora and 300i are like something you'd find in a dealership's showroom, Jump Point's features are like a nerdy alternate-reality version of Top Gear, a deep nitty-gritty look at the technology and construction of each ride for true hardcore motorheads.
For all the work CIS has put into building the world of Star Citizen and the obvious passion of the development team, it might be easy to forget in the midst of all those feelgood vibes that Star Citizen is still a for-profit business. But don't worry, it won't take long to be reminded of that fact if you spend some time perusing the site.
They certainly aren't shy about asking for money. Jump Point might be cool, but it's only available to subscribers, backers who pay into the game's development on a monthly basis. Each new glossy ship advertisement is designed not only to rope in new players, but with options for current subscribers to upgrade their package to get in on the new hotness. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't feel the pull to kick in a few more dollars to upgrade the comparatively humble Aurora LX I previously pledged for to the shinny new 300i. The game isn't even out and they've done a great job of making me jealous of other player's hypothetical rides.
There were packages introduced to entice early backers with promises of lifetime insurance on their ships, packages that have been offered again and again months since in a "last-last chance!" firesale fashion. There are hull upgrades already available at a modest fee for the ships you can't fly yet. And of course it wouldn't be a microtransaction supported game without all the cosmic fluff and trimmings like paint jobs and custom insignias - all up for grabs if you just pay in a few dollars more.
The 15 year old anti-capitalist radical in me wants to sneer at them, to call them out for being slick phonies, ad men looking for a quick buck. But I can't muster up the indignation.
Yes, when you step back and look at what CIS is doing it can seem a bit unsavoury. But they're just so damn sincere about it. Sure, Roberts and his team have figured out exactly how to wring money out of ageing sci-fi fans, but that's probably because they know what appeals to themselves.
And damn if I don't love his moxy. Make no mistake, Robert's vision for Star Citizen is incredibly ambitious, maybe too ambitious. It would be a tall order to make the game he describes even with full publisher backing, doing it purely through crowd funding is nothing short of a herculean task. But I want to see it happen there might be more riding on Star Citizen's back than a cool space game.
When the project was first announced, Roberts was looking for somewhere between 2-4 million to "seed" the funding. The original intention was to take a sizable chunk of crowd funded money and wave it at a publisher to show there was still interest in a game like Star Citzen and they already had a down payment secured.
But as the crowd money poured in and the Roberts team got better and better at drawing in more backers (or at least more money from their current backers), the notion of any publisher investment grew increasingly dim. Now, with a war chest of over $10,600,000, Roberts is poised to develop the whole ambitious shebang solely on the fans support.
If he can make the game he says he'll make on the crowd funded dollar, it will be a watershed moment. Proof positive that crowd funding is a viable platform to make games with. And not just the "Block Puzzles About Hating your Dad" kind of indie-kitch we've seen successfully come out of Kickstarter, but big triple A games of scope and magnitude.
At the same time, if Star Citizen flops, if the game is just too damn big and expensive and either collapses or comes out with a gutted feature list, then it might be the nail in the coffin for big budget crowd funding. Crowd funding already faces lots of (legitimate) skepticism, and Star Citizen could be the flaming wreck everyone points to as an example of why you don't plop down $60 on make believe star-ships and wishes.
And that would be a tragedy for every kind of gamer, not just space sim fans.
In this rocky climate of major studio closures, of games pumping in DLC and Online Passes to try and make a return on their bloated budgets, of 3 million plus sale "flops" like Tomb Raider, developers like Roberts are trying to find a way around the system, to make the games they want to make for the audience who wants them. If it's true that the industry can't sustain the current course of super high-budget games, and the only solution is incredibly tight DRM and even more price gouging, we all should be looking for another way.
Just like the slick dealership ads he's taken inspiration from, Christ Roberts isn't just selling a game, he's selling dreams.
The dream to fly through space. The promise of returning to the age of deep simulation, more immersive than ever before. Of finally living out that geeky sci-fi fantasy of being a Malcolm Reynolds-like smuggler, or a hotshot rebel ace, in meticulous detail in a living persistent world.
But he's also selling another dream, the dream of a new age in game development. A world where ambitious games can be made without groveling and begging to a big publisher. A democratic utopia where gamers vote with their dollar to see what games get made.
I want to live in the worlds Chris Roberts is trying to make.
Seriously, I can't remember the last time I was this engaged and excited by an E3 conference. The last few years on the tail-end of our current generation, E3 has felt compulsory, predictable even. Sure there were some surprises and big game announcements, but there was a cloud of cynicism and exhaustion that hung over the proceedings. The fire was burning low.
This year? Ohhh baby. This year was a kicker.
The headline story of this E3 is always going to be the divide between Sony and Microsoft's vision of an online future. The battle-lines have been drawn, villains and heroes identified, camps decided. It's impossible to really talk about this E3 without talking about the controversy, and I think that's a shame. For one, I'm not sure the Xbox One is as much of a non-starter as everyone else seems to think it is (I'm waiting to see how publishers react to Sony's stance and what kind of sideways bullshit they come up with to compensate), and secondly, I think that's a truly boring story compared to everything else that was shown!
Beyond the internet debate and posturing, there was stuff shown at this years E3 that made me grin like an idiot in front of my monitor, that made my pulse race. Crazy games, remarkable tech, new trends, new ways of making and thinking about games. It was astounding. It's finally here! The next real leap in gaming is happening right in front of our eyes! Do we really want to waste our time making jokes about "MicroShit" and how much they suck? Not me.
So in no particular order, here is my personal list of awesomeness. The games, tech, and trends we saw this E3 that I think are exciting and cool.
Titanfall, better known around my home as "the reason I'll probably still get an Xbox One at some point," looks incredibly dope. Super pretty, super fast, combining the best elements of games like CoD, Tribes, and even a dash of Battlefield. All lovingly wrapped up with robots that fall from the sky and personal jetpacks, how couldn't I immediately fall in love with it?
Developed by Respawn, a studio founded by ex-Infinity Ward heads, it's not hard to see the legacy of CoD at work. The game moves fast and smooth, guns have that spritzy quality and, lets call it generous, accuracy that makes CoD a terrible simulation of combat, but a lot of fun to play.
I don't actually play the CoD games, but I understand the appeal. What drives me away the most isn't the gameplay, but the aesthetic surrounding the game. Big macho military dudes, a weird strain of American jingoism running through the series narrative, lots of usage of phrases like "solid copy" and "danger close." Ewww. It just rubs me the wrong way. But big stompy sci-fi robots? Spaceship orbital drops and jetpack toting future-rebels? That's the kind of stupidity I can get down with.
Respawn isn't just changing up the setting, they're also going back to the drawing board and re-thinking their game design. From what I understand, there is either no singleplayer campaign, or a very small one (perhaps some veiled language for what amounts to glorified bot matches). In any case, Titanfall has a laser-beam focus on its multiplayer game, a move I couldn't support more. If Respawn wants to drop the pretence and not waste any time, budget, or effort making up yet another overwrought silly space-marine romp, so much the better.
I just like watching the game in action. The way it moves, the freedom individual infantry players have to jetpack-parkour around the world, the threatening scale of the Titans, the way the robots scoop players up and shove them in the cockpit, or slap would-be hijackers out of the air. It's all beautifully animated and you can tell in an instant how the gameplay mechanics will work.
Elegant robot murder. Who could ask for more?
The Phantom Pain
I'm excited to see Snake again, but let's get one thing out of the way that extended trailer is a massive bummer. A crippled and scarred "Punished" Snake, child soldiers, torture, and Kojima going around talking about how the game will delve into themes of race and revenge. Dark stuff, but also exhilarating.
Snake Eater is one of my favourite games, I loved nearly everything about it. The tone, the story (less confusing gibberish, more Japanese melodrama than Sons of Liberty), the hundreds if not thousands of little details that offered something new every time I played through it. Snake Eater captured my attention and kept my PS2 plugged into the TV long after the generation was over. Given that, I'm super excited to go back to Naked Snake and his era of pre-nanomachine, Majestic 12, sentient-A.I nonsense.
It does my heart good to see the MGS series return to a multiplatform affair. I kept waiting and waiting for the "inevitable" 360 version of MGS:4 that refused to materialize. It's nice to know that whatever console I end up getting this November (if any), I'll have a chance to play The Phantom Pain.
I'm not sure how all the free roaming open world stuff will work out in a stealth game, but it's great to see the MGS series experiment again. Kojima is always complaining that he's been making the same game for the last decade and change, maybe The Phantom Pain's open world concept and more aggressively surreal/horror elements will let him stretch his creative legs a bit more.
If nothing else, The Phantom Pain's open world travel gave us the single greatest moment of E3. STEALTH HORSE.
Dark Souls 2
Obviously, I'm going to want to see ANYTHING about Dark Souls 2. But the question is, did I like what I saw?
The entire development cycle and story of Dark Souls 2 has been one of excitement mixed with trepidation. On one hand, fans of the series (myself included) are glad to see more Dark Souls action, but the loss of the series visionary lead designer Miyazaki and some of the early statements about the direction of the sequel put the fan base on edge. There was some worry that maybe the new developers didn't quite get what made the original Souls games so good. Or worse yet, they were willing to abandon those elements to chase a wider audience.
It's still unclear if From Software can capture lighting in a bottle the third time out, but after this E3 I'm MUCH more confident in their chances.
The game looks great. The visuals got a smooth graphical bump while still retaining the gritty dark fantasy look of the originals. I'm a big grumpy pants overly-demanding fanboy, so I have a few quibbles I worry that the new magic effects are too sparkly and distracting for such a technically demanding game. But if that isn't the most precious damn whining you've ever heard, I don't know what is.
It sounds like the infamous difficulty level of the game is intact, so we can finally get over some of our worries. If anything the demo boss Mirror Knight, a colossal statue warrior that will summon hostile players to gang up on you, sounds almost TOO hard! I'm trying to imagine how much worse Smough and Ornstein would have been if one of them was random every time, had access to every power and ability you did, and was a huge cock knob jerkface (as all Dark Souls players are when you get down to their blackened core.)
If "accessibility" means less pure backtracking through areas just to move around (hearing that players were able to warp back to the boss gate after dying put my teeth on edge, but it's likely that was just a luxury to speed up the demo) and a clearer description of stat mechanics, while still retaining the cryptic story and ball busting difficulty of the other Souls games, sign me up.
By the end of the main console conferences and EA and Ubisoft's pressers, it was almost a cliche to cap off a game demo by zooming out to reveal *gasp* that there were scores of other people playing simultaneously in the same world!
Maybe it got a little silly after the third or fourth time, but dangit, I liked it.
One of the things I loved about Dark Souls was the blurring between the single player and multiplayer experience. The immersion and pacing of a single player game mixed with the thrill of the occasional visitor from another game. It's an idea that has interested me since I was little and read some shitty book written by someone who obviously didn't know how arcades worked. I don't remember the specifics, but I always loved the idea of characters from one cabinet drifting into the other and so on, like every game was connected and players could interfere with each other.
Now that idea isn't just a reality, it's far cooler than my 10 year old mind ever could have imagined.
I'm sure for some games like The Crew, it's just going to amount to a lobby system or the kind of chaotic zaniness of something like playing GTA4's freeplay mode online, but with even more players and batshit insanity. I'm more interested in some of the more subtle uses of this tech. What exactly are they doing with Watch_Dog's multiplayer? I've heard rumours of players hijacking security cameras to capture footage of you committing crimes, of tracking you and listening in on your conversations or jumping you. I don't know if any of that is true, but the idea of having to keep your head on a swivel watching for real spies watching you in the middle of a police state gives me chills. The huge raid-boss like encounter at the end of the Destiny demo was thrilling. All of a sudden your small co-op game becomes a massive warzone where everyone has to band together to take on a massive challenge. Super cool.
I know there will be a glut of games using the new networks like this, and not all of them are going to be awesome, or even feel necessary. But man, the potential for some great moments is there.
This is another one of those "futuristic" things. When people sneer and ask why we need new consoles (a question I've asked too), this kind of experience is the answer.
I would never have thought that out of all the E3 coverage, one of the most interesting things would be descriptions of the new controllers. But by the end of the conference, I was itching to get one in my hands. As soon as kiosk units hit the shelves, I'm gonna bum-rush the stores.
I heard nothing but glowing praise for both the new PS4's new Dualshock and the Xbox One's redesign. Click-ier, more satisfying buttons, fantastic new D-pads, comfortable ergonomics, everything you love about the current controllers with all the rough edges smoothed off. Even little touches like the Xbox pad's new impulse triggers, that add a little bit of kick to every pull and press, seem really cool. People might be quick to write this off as a gimmick, but we all used to say the same thing about rumble. Sure it might not be the most important part of any game, but it's hard to imagine going without it now.
I already like the controllers for the current generation, I can't wait to love the next ones.
Oculus Rift HD
OK, I am a HUGE nerd for the Oculus Rift, so I might be a little bit biased, but to me, seeing the Oculus Rift HD getting attention was a highlight of E3. I feel like a lot of people are sleeping on just how incredibly cool this thing really is. To me, watching the Oculus Rift develop is like watching the future take shape.
E3 was the first time game journalists got their hands on the HD version, and across the board I've seen nothing but drooling praise for it. I mean literally drooling in a few cases. You can watch footage of game journo after game journo craning their necks around, their slack jawed mouths frozen open in a goofy smile as they lose themselves in, at long last, great VR.
If the consumer version of the Rift comes out as good as they are saying they want it to be and at a reasonable price, I can see it ushering in a new generation of PC gamers. Who needs the new consoles when you can finally live out the cyberpunk fantasy?
Indie Devs in the Spotlight
I'm not a evangelist for the indie crowd, but I can't help but recognize that in the past two years, some of my favourite games have been indie titles. Binding of Isaac. FTL, Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami, I arguably spent more time playing indies last year than I did on the big triple A titles I paid $60 a pop for.
I'm not convinced that indie support will make or break either console, but I'm certainly excited to see them play more of a prominent role going into the next generation. Sony has clearly done the better job of wooing the indie camp. It's hard not to get a little excited when indie games like Octodad get real screen time and prestige right alongside multi-million dollar games like Infamous: Second Son durring Sony's press conference. It seemed like a real sincere sea-change in the way Sony perceives the indie scene and their potential for the industry.
Comparatively, Microsoft's indie presence seemed a little more compulsory, like an afterthought that barely made the cut. It's hard to get jazzed over Minecraft on the Xbox One. Still, Capybara and their new title Below, a multiplayer roguelike dungeon crawler, looks phenomenal.
There was a lot more to love this E3, but I could go on for days about all the games and news that has me pumped so I better stop while I can. No matter what happens with the Xbox One's DRM, or what publishers will do to undermine Sony's stance on the issue, there is a lot to be excited for in the near-future of videogames.
It's been a bummer lately hasn't it? The Wii U was a bit of a disappointment, the internet has been on fire over the Xbox One's inscrutable DRM schemes, and it seems like there's been a different controversy, closure, or blow-up every week to get upset about. Where did all the fun go?
But just on the next horizon is E3 2013, the proverbial city on the hill. The big damn trade show where secrets are revealed, hype is generated by the second, and maybe, just maybe, where we can recapture a bit of our gamer zeal. This is the first E3 where the next generation of consoles will make a real appearance, and no matter how you feel about all the noise surrounding their respective launches, that has to touch some corner of your crusty gamer heart.
I want to be excited this E3, I want to LOVE videogames this year. But the big three need to come correct. Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo have all dropped the ball to varying extents this year, but they can still bring it around.
I have a wish-list for every console this year at E3. A handful of hopes and desires that, if delivered on, would make me a happy camper for the rest of the year.
Xbox One -
Make me want the Kinect -
I've never hated the idea of the Kinect, I just never liked what it offered. While the notion of jumping up and down and swooshing my hands side to side to play a game never held any water for me, I've always believed there had to be SOMETHING a smart developer could do with a powerful motion control device, something that could improve our gaming experience.
Sadly, that device was not the Kinect for the 360.
A gutted feature list, no on-board processor, a compromised camera lens, technical limitations, and spotty at best developer support, the Kinect never came close to delivering on any of its potential promise. The fact that it refused to work in many a gamers modest living rooms (and God help you if your gaming setup is in a bedroom or den) made it a lame horse out of the gate. Add on to that the woeful accuracy issues the Kinect had at interpreting your movements, and it was a device that brought us some of the most cringe inducing moments of the last generation. Steel Battalion was effectively an epitaph for any chance the Kinect had at being relevant to the "core" gamer market.
But there were some glimmers of hope. If you were fortunate enough to play something like Dance Central in a well-lit, wide open room, if you had a group of people up for making complete asses of themselves trying to replicate the electric slide, it was actually pretty damn fun. Behind all the technical problems and shitty support, you could see this cool unproven concept crying out for a real application.
The Kinect 2 is Microsoft's chance to finally deliver on all that potential. They say they have the technical limitations figured out, that it's going to be playable in rooms that don't look like 70's sci-fi TV show sets. The camera is supposed to be some kind of crazy-go-nuts wide angle lens that can see the entire room, that's smart enough to know who's who and holding what controller. They did the smart thing if they really want to make this device take off and they packed it in with every system. Now developers don't have to play the numbers game and analyze how valuable Kinect support actually is. It's time to make good, to get some brainy devs to whip up some great uses for it in a title that doesn't involve doing squat thrusts over your coffee table.
Use the voice commands in game, find a way to make them more useful and satisfying to use than pressing a button on the controller. Use all that vaguely creepy biometric stuff to fine-tune my gaming experience. Tap into my body temperature, posture, and pulse and use it to make something like L4D 3 deeply responsive and adaptive to my mood and panic level. Use it in a next-gen Silent Hill game, adjust the music in a racing game to ramp up along with my pulse. Do SOMETHING with it to make it worth having this weird necessary device attached to my console at all times. Make me a believer.
Oculus Rift support -
I know virtual reality, as a concept, has a horrible track record. I know the legions of tech start-ups that have gone under promising a "new, better than real" experience. I know VR has always been a terrible money-pit that's never panned out.
But I'm also a huge nerd.
I grew up on cyberpunk books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I remember playing Dactyl Nightmare in a short lived VR arcade room in the basement of the CN Tower and thinking "this is the future." Even recently reading Ready Player One and the strange virtual reality world of OASIS, I can't shake the root level programing in my mind that says VR could be the coolest shit ever. If only they could do it right!
Well, Oculus Rift might finally be the ticket. It might not be the holodeck, but the idea of a commercially available high-resolution 3D headtracking unit with near perfect response time sets a flutter in my heart that I just can't squelch; Despite the years of callous cynicism build up from all those failed VR attempts. Call me a fanboy, but I believe in the Oculus Rift. I think it could be something really special for gamers.
And if Microsoft is smart, it could be something really special for them as well.
In my mind, Oculus Rift support could be the feather in the Xbox One's cap that Sony and Nintendo just can't match. The Wii U could never support the device given it's total reliance on its second screen gimmick - they can't have you wearing goggles that render the entire selling point of their console moot. Sony has done a lot of things right so far going into the new console generation. They have an easier to work with architecture and a better footing with western developers this go around, but I don't see them reaching out to a (so-far) small Western peripheral still in production. But Microsoft? I could see them going for it.
Imagine a world where Microsoft is able to say they are the only console that can provide a 3D VR experience?
And as for my previous pondering about the Kinect, imagine what could be done using the Rift and the Kinect 2 at the same time. Our living rooms could get downright sci-fi in the next few years if Microsoft put their support behind the Rift.
Win us back
While I'm not quite as upset as some people are at Microsoft (probably because I fully suspect Sony will quietly announce very similar policies and DRM schemes in the near future) it's no secret that the Xbox One is feeling some heavy backlash. Botched PR representations, a perceived culture of arrogance, snubbing indies, a console reveal more interested in getting the attention of Joe Football than servicing gamers, Microsoft couldn't have set themselves up as the bad guys any harder if they tried.
Now it's time to win us back.
Show us all the crazy exclusives that will make it worth investing in this DRM-ridden console. Tell us Xbox Live is gonna be free or a hell of a lot cheaper in the future. Reveal that you've had Twitch TV in the bag the entire time, a direct answer to Sony's Share button feature ready to go. Microsoft needs to go on full damage control mode, it needs to remind us why they were the number 1 console of the last generation.
I was as disappointed as anyone with the Xbox One's initial reveal, but since then I've tried to stay calm, to wait and see what Microsoft has planned. That reveal wasn't for us, I get that. As bewildering and alienating as it seemed that day, I understand the marketing and business reasons why that conference went down the way it did.
But E3 IS for us. This is the stage that will make or break the Xbox One. It's time for Microsoft to pull out all the stops and sell this motherfucking system. I'm expecting some killer announcements, or the Xbox One is going to be in real hot water.
Crouching Keynote, Hidden Champion -
When I heard Nintendo was opting out of a traditional keynote address, significantly curtailing their E3 presence, and instead doing a pre-recorded Nintendo direct, I was appalled. What a loss of face! Practically a surrender, waving a white flag after a shaky console launch and starring down the barrels of two powerful competitors about to take their shot.
But maybe it was a stroke of genius.
Think about it, when hasn't E3 been a total botch for Nintendo? From the memorable meltdowns like the Wii Music drum apocalypse and the condescending antics of Non-Specific Action Figure guy, to the generally awkward line-up of Japanese developers with poor English trying their best to address a crowd (in their defence, Cliffy B would probably be just as bad trying to present in Japanese). Nintendo has a history of looking a bit amateurish compared to the flashy presentations by Microsoft and Sony. A pre-taped message, edited, chopped, vetted, and well-produced with the kind of quirky magic Nintendo can still tap into might just be the way to go.
And make no mistake, Nintendo could be the surprise winners of this year's E3. They are in the perfect situation, all they have do to is go out there and say "we're not Xbox." After the past 7 years of being written off as the "kiddie system," Nintendo could suddenly flip the script and position themselves as "the gamer's console." No online DRM. No complicated account splitting. No crazy emphasis on TV, Twitter, or any other bullshit. Nintendo does what the other guys don't - games. "Wii would like to play" indeed.
Show off some of those super polished 1st party games Nintendo is so well known for. They've had an extra year to get out of the launch title doldrums. While Xbox and Sony are struggling with their weird first year of split-generation titles and the inevitable shaky launch games, Nintendo could come out from behind with a Zelda game that takes us to baller-town. Super Mario Galaxy U, a new Metroid, they could show off a legitimate console Pokemon title for the Wii U that drives everybody wild.
I want to be a Nintendo fan again. I skipped the Gamecube, I didn't bother with a Wii until this last Christmas, and I've looked at the Wii U like some sad also-ran since it's launch. But I don't want to live in a two-party console world. I don't want to just have a choice between one high-priced DRM machine and another. I am completely ready to be sold on Nintendo again, all they have to do is bring the goods.
Take more risks with your 1st party games -
You know Nintendo, I'd love a really well made Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii U, but I'd also probably love a Super Wario Galaxy. I'd love another Mario game that brought us back to the insane dream logic of Sub-Con and SMB2. I'd like to see a Zelda game that played less like the wonderfully crafted guided tour of Ocarina and more like the Dark Soul-esq danger and mystery of Zelda 2. In short, I'd like to see Nintendo take some more risks with their darlings.
We all love a solid dependable 1st party Nintendo game, but even as an outsider looking in I can't help but feel like the last few years have been a little flat. New Super Mario Bros was great the first time, seeing it repackaged two or three more times doesn't thrill me.
Nintendo is at its best when its innovating and reinventing itself. Every time they take a gamble, it's almost always rewarded. So why not take more? Nintendo is in a better position that ever to take some crazy chances and see how big of a slice of the core gamer market they could win back; I'd bet they could get a lot of us back in club N.
Stay the course and don't blow it -
In a lot of ways, Sony has already done what I wanted to see them do with the PS4. They got rid of the cell and any other goofy super-specific tech that made their system hard to develop on. They essentially apologized for the mistakes of the PS3 era and have entered this generation with more humility and tact and they've already been a lot more chummy with the West. Sony stalwart exclusives like Metal Gear have already made great first impressions. They even reached out to indies in a surprisingly inclusive way.
I wouldn't have believed it a year ago, but Sony is entering this E3 on perhaps the best footing of the big three.
Sadly, its only a matter of time before Sony has to admit to it's own scandalous anti-consumer DRM systems, so the honeymoon period it's enjoyed since the Xbox One reveal is almost at an end. I know this is a wish list for E3, but I won't waste my time hoping upon a star that somehow Sony becomes the white knight of the generation. That they offer up a console with no online checks, passes, or any other rubbish and miraculously become the ecosystem where used and loaned games can live free.
Instead, I'd like to see Sony keep doing things right. Expand on PS+, find a way to make it valuable going into the next generation. Keep up the support for Vita, a system that's performed something of a resurrection since it's shaky launch, and maybe offer up a little red meat for the Sony core audience.
Square and Sony renew their marriage vows -
It's time to rekindle the flames of a once beautiful exclusive relationship. I don't care much about Final Fantasy these days, or exclusive deals for that matter, but I know it was a real blow (for whatever reason) to the PS faithful with FFXIII made it's way to the heathen Xbox.
Given Square's recent financial woes, this might be a good time for Sony to drive a dump-truck full of money to their doorstep and secure a few exclusive Square games for the PS4. I don't think we'll ever see another fully exclusive proper Final Fantasy title (it's too expensive to make a game like that and only sell it to half the potential audience out there), but that doesn't mean they couldn't get other exclusive games from that venerable franchise.
How about a new big budget Final Fantasy Tactics? A modern update on the original super cult-hit, going back to the sad water-coloured world of Invalice. Not some small portable title, but a full on console game that makes use of everything the PS4 offers. Think of the gorgeous art style of those games done in full 3D with something like the new Guilty Gear's look. Like an anime come to life.
Given the recent success of XCOM and Fire Emblem: Awaking, I don't think you could ask for a better time to bring back FFT in a big way. Use the PS4's power to make it better than ever. Tap into that lauded network to make the game more than a single player affair. I'm thinking of ideas like the ability to call in a Mercenary General, a member of your friend list or out of match-making who could enter your game with a handful of units and help turn the tide of a pitched battle. The catch? You share the spoils with the guest player and it takes three turns for him to arrive. Use the streaming system for a type of War Council option where a player makes two or three possible moves and has the audience vote for which one occurs.
I'm just kicking out ideas and don't want to get too bogged down in my fantasy game, but the main idea is the same. Get Square back to do something big and exclusive for the PS4. It doesn't have to be a full on Final Fantasy title, but make it something exciting for the faithful and something that shows off what the PS4 can do.
I know in my heart of hearts that we won't see many, or maybe any, of the ideas I've dreamt up here over the next few days. And that's OK. This isn't a list of demands, a ransom for my console love of the next generation.
Beyond anything else, I just want to be surprised this E3. I want Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo wearing their Sunday bests and pulling out all the stops. I want us to be excited for this new generation of games. And despite all the cynicism and outrage of the last year, I think we can be.