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12:40 AM on 12.25.2010

A Very Kirby Christmas

Not long ago, on the night of Christmas Eve
Kirby was playing in the snow.
When out of nowhere an elf ran into the puffball,
Tripping and stubbing his toe.

“Ow!” cried the elf, distraught and troubled,
“I can’t afford to stop now!
The fate of Christmas lies in this message,
If only I had brought a snow plow!”

“Where are you going?” asked Kirby with a smile,
Oblivious to the elf’s distress.
“To seek help from the King of Dream Land” said the elf,
“To help Santa out of a mess.”

“A giant blue penguin has wrecked our factory,
And all of our toys are lost!
Santa is supposed to leave in a matter of hours,
But he’s crying and sick from the frost.”

Kirby suspected that King couldn’t help,
As it seemed this was all of his fault.
He transformed into a pink snow plow,
And drove to King Dedede’s vault.

Kirby and the elf found Dedede,
Unwrapping all the presents he’d stolen.
They rushed in to stop his villanious caper
When they found that their hearts had swollen.

The king was giving out presents to all,
To every Waddle Dee and each Waddle Doo.
Kirby and the elf wanted to be angry,
But the sight caused them to be moved.

“I’m glad you could make it Kirby,”
Said Dedede with a smile,
“I haven’t seen the residents of Dream Land
This happy in awhile!”

“This is very nice for us,” said Kirby,
“But think about how sad the kids will be
If they wake up with no presents
Underneath their Christmas tree?”

With a tear in his eye Dedede said,
“I need to set this right.
Let us get to work everyone,
We’re going to have a busy night.”

So the inhabitants of Dream Land
Rode stars to the North Pole
There they found Santa Clause
Preparing lumps of coal.

“Not you again!”
Cried out old Saint Nick.
“Haven’t you caused enough trouble
With your meddling and your tricks?”

“I’m sorry that I wronged you Santa,
I wasn’t trying to cause you harm.
I just wanted to reward my loyal subjects
For their hard work and for their charm.”

“I know it wasn’t fair,
So I’m here to set things straight.
I think with a little Dream Land magic,
This Christmas could still be great!”

“But the elves can’t make enough toys,
And my sleigh is broken down.”
Just then Dedede had a thought
That appeared above his crown.

“Kirby, all my Waddle Dees
Can make toys; they are the best!
If you’ll just model what they need,
They can do the rest!”

So Kirby turned into a car,
A boat, a plane, a doll.
The Waddle Dees copied everything,
And made toys enough for all.

“But what of my sleigh,” said Santa.
“And with this cough how will I ever fly?”
“I think we can help you,” said Dedede
Looking to Kirby with a wink in one of his eyes.

With that Kirby turned into a sleigh,
And sucked up all the new toys.
With Dedede guiding the way,
They found the chimney of every girl and boy.

Cookies were eaten, milk was drank,
And gifts were laid under many a tree.
Christmas was saved and Dream Land was merry.
The North Pole was filled with glee.

Kirby and Dedede and all those from Dream Land,
Waved bye to Santa and every cheery elf.
“Merry Christmas to all! And we’ll see you next year...”
Whispered Dedede all to himself.   read

1:56 PM on 12.05.2010

The Simplicity Renaissance

I like complex games.

Actually, that's not entirely accurate. I don't really get into to overly complex games, but I am glad that they exist. Gaming as a medium has burst wide open, and developers are finding niches that were previously considered risky business. Seriously, in a world of safe, rushed sequels, how does a game entitled Gratuitous Space Battles exist?

I am glad that there are developers willing to cater to all audiences and that brilliant people are pioneering in all directions, but I am even more glad that some of those brilliant minds have chosen to return to gaming's birthplace: simplicity. The earliest hardware only allowed for simple, unassuming games with basic mechanics, but this era formed the basis for some of the best-selling games of all time (Tetris anyone?).

While making a conscious effort to not degrade more complex games, I'd like to celebrate the Simplicity Renaissance and my favorite games that are leading the way.

First, let me say that "simple" does not mean "shallow". The terms are often confused. The games I'm going to talk about have a wealth of content based on simple mechanics. Truly great mechanics have near endless implementation. Just think about how many great games have come out of the simple platforming mechanics of Mario.

An indie darling by virtually everyone's reckoning, Super Meat Boy is built with masterful level design and painstakingly iterated locomotion controls....and not much more. No really, think about it. Meat Boy can't hold anything, shoot anything, use items, nothing. In fact, it's even more of a Mario redux because Meat Boy can't even jump on anything. He traverses hundreds of amazingly designed levels by running and jumping.

From the amazing music to the hilarious cutscenes, Super Meat Boy is a love letter to the past 3 decades of gaming brilliance and manages to pay its greatest respect by simply improving upon the past.

Overall, this game has brutal difficulty, but an amazing learning curve that never feels unfair or stifling. The amount of amazing content that came out of such a timeless, basic mechanic is mindblowing. Add to that the interesting array of unlockable characters who can mix up mechanics in a variety of the ways, and you have a game that is infinitely replayable.

This game was not one-mechanic simple, but each world in Braid demonstrates masterful progression of a given mechanic. At first glance, each mechanic is pretty self-explanatory, but then the game turns the mechanic on its ear by forcing the player to deconstruct it and apply it in totally different ways.

Braid is notoriously difficult, but like Super Meat Boy, it is not an arbitrary difficulty. Unlike Super Meat Boy, though, Braid is not upfront about its difficulty. Braid is not really a game of skill, it is a game of puzzles with a very basic emphasis on execution. Whereas Super Meat Boy took Mario to its skill-based extreme, Braid took the ideas from Mario and pulled them in the thinking man's direction.

While I very obviously have a penchant for independent developers, I think Nintendo really earned a place on this list with this entry. As a company, they have channeled the accessibility into a roiling juggernaut of hundred dollar bills. While most of their games were developed in this spirit (for better or worse in the case of Smash Bros. fanboys), Kirby's Epic Yarn is the pinnacle of this development.

No recent Nintendo game has achieved such blissful simplicity with such optional tension. At the core of the "hardcore gamer" flareup, anyone who has actually played this game knows that simple completion of the levels is not where the real sense of accomplishment comes from. In Kirby, a single hit can be the difference between a the coveted gold medal in abject failure. The fact the abject failure is totally optional and self-imposed makes for a single game that players from any place in the gaming spectrum can enjoy.

It has been almost a year to the day that the original Angry Birds was first released on mobile platforms. Known to many as the premier toilet game of 2010, Angry birds offers a gaggle* of wickedly smart puzzles disguised as a simple physics game.

Levels in the game are numerous and super-short, making it easy to jump in for a few tries during virtually any downtime. Rooted in the touchscreen revolution, Angry Birds has been the top-selling app on both the iOS and Android platforms for what seems like forever, and with the release of a new expansion, that title doesn't seem like it is going to be going away anytime soon.

I wanted to focus on Beat and Runner individually, but for the sake of brevity I will attempt to condense my unbridled love for this series. Gaijin Games is an incredible developer that has an amazing work ethos and a very obvious passion for the great games of the past. Every Bit.Trip game wears its inspiration on its sleeve while also forging bravely into gaming's previous red-headed stepchild: audio.

While many sound engineers have done amazing work to lay the foundation for gaming's current audio landscape, no developer outside of Harmonix has integrated music with gameplay in such an effective way. Add to that a brilliant grasp of mechanics and level design, and you have the a studio that deserves to be around for a long, long time.

The darling of the Simplicity Renaissance, Splosion Man is a brilliant example of everything that a timeless, classic videogame should be. If Super Meat Boy is the heart of the last 3 decades of gaming, then Splosion Man is its soul. Aside from the technical limitations, Splosion Man is a game born out of a one-button era.

The mechanic is simple: press a button and you "splode". Exploding propels Splosion Man forward and into the air in whichever direction the joystick is currently being pressed. Then, Twisted Pixel takes this simple concept and expands it into one clever scenario after another. The entire length of the game felt fresh and new with "Wow"-inducing setpieces peppering what is a truly supreme game.

It should be noted here that this article was inspired by a recent oversight on my part. I'm not much of a multiplayer kind of guy, so I honestly never even noticed the menu option in Splosion Man. However, if you, like me, did not ever explore Splosion Man's multiplayer, please go rectify that. It gave me some of the most powerfully co-operative experiences that I've had in recent memory. You will feel awesome that you managed to pull off such complicated challenges with two fallible human beings.

Honorable Mentions: NHL Arcade, World of Goo, Katamari Series, Pixeljunk Shooter

*I didn't even notice the pun at first, but it's too good (see:bad) to delete now.   read

5:10 PM on 09.27.2010

Loosening the Leash: Thoughts on User-Driven Narrative

When one thinks of a videogame story, the mind typically wanders to sprawling epics like those set forth in the Final Fantasy series or harrowing tales of one super soldier conquering all odds to find the girl that he loves and save all of humanity. If that's not your bag, maybe you tend to like the whimsical tales about a plumber rescuing a princess or a psychological thriller about dead spouses. In the wide world of games, there is assuredly something for everyone.

I really respect this form of creating narrative. There are some guys doing interesting things with pre-formed stories, and to be fair, writing a compelling interesting story is difficult in any medium. However, one thing that games excel at, far above every other medium is the ability to create individualized, dynamic stories. For me, that is the greatest element of gaming.

For an example of what I'm really getting at, look no farther than your closest 6 year old. If you don't have a 6 year old handy, try to remember what you were like when you were a 6 year old. Children excel at drawing epic tales of adventure out of nothingness. A child can relate to you a tale of epic adventure after a trip to the grocery store.

Gaming is a portal back to this childlike sense of imagination. As an example of what I'm getting at, I will relate a tale from my most recent addiction: Minecraft.

I started my first real Minecraft game to find myself on a beach. In one direction, a giant ocean spanned forever, as far as the draw distance could see. Turning around, I saw nothing but two large hills made into near perfect ziggurats. I set off to find coal, my most pressing need. I wandered around for a bit desperately searching for odd-colored rocks to set up camp near when I finally came upon a coal deposit in a mountainside.

I set to forging rudimentary tools to carve out the precious fuel and dug a small room out of the side of the mountain with a pickaxe made out of wood. I created some torches and spent my first night looking over my shoulder as I dug further and further into the mountain. When daylight came again, I had entirely upgraded my tool collection steel instruments and set out with bare rations and building materials to find a proper homesite. I searched until the sun began to sink in the sky and, having lost all sense of direction decided to settle on the nearest high ground I could find.

Miraculously, I came upon a broad mountaintop with a view in every direction. In one valley there were trees, in another a natural quarry. Here I would build my first true settlement. Even as I laid my first foundation, I could hear the sounds of shambling creatures of the night. I saw their glowing eyes as I finished my third layer of bricks. I was safe in the skeleton of my home for the night. I set up my chests, my bench and my precious forge and I prepared for the morning's toils.

Time passed quickly after this point. By morning I had a competent structure with light decorations. After a few days, I had depleted the area of resources and expanded underground. Not content with the meager surroundings I returned to on trips back to the surface, I decided to expand my glorious empire to the next beautiful mountainside. I remember thinking that building a bridge that crossed a valley was a little excessive. I told myself that I should work on finding precious resources before really digging in to building my empire. However, my quest for glory could not be sidetracked. I begin building the bridge with utmost confidence. In my foolish pride, I began to take unnecessary risks in engineering. I focused on creating a strange, haunting structure with meandering, non-Euclidean geometry. I felt like M.C. Escher on acid.

Then, like any good addict, I royally screwed up. I was backing up over the void when God smote me with a sneeze. The loss of precision for a single second sent me hurtling to my death in the rocky valley below. My heart stopped and panic broke over me in waves. I took off my headphones and let my head drop to the desk.

I died. What now? Did I lose everything? Do I restart in the beginning. Is my kingdom still there or has every trace of my grandeur been erased?

To be honest, I almost quit playing. Hours had passed and dawn was threatening to break through my window. I had to know though. I set out in search for my first camp. Was it east or west? Over the tall hill or around the quarry? Nothing seemed familiar. I had spent so little time here that I began to question where here was? Maybe I had been thrown to a random spawn point. I was seriously freaking out when I tripped and fell into moving water. I was desperately trying to escape, but the currents carried me around a few bends before I escaped.

When I finally swam away from the rapids and regained my bearings, I saw the entrance to my makeshift shelter. I rejoiced silently and reached the safety of the small room and just stood there for a moment. It was still bright daylight outside, but I wanted to at least start here next time I played.

Actually, I want to start back at the castle. I'll just get back there. I opened my inventory to get out my workbench to prepare for my journey when I realized two impossibly terrifying things. First, all of my everything had been lost in the accident. Gold, steel, red gems, my steel sword and armor. I was naked and defenseless. The second thing I realized is that I had taken off my headphones. I knew before I actually heard it that the zombies had spawned behind me. I was so greedy I had taken all of the torches from this meager house, and in the dark corner of the room hell had opened a trap door.

My character and my spirit died deaths worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. I closed the game, uncertain if I'd ever return. I went to bed that night thinking about the small world that I had lost. I told my friend the next day about my lost kingdom. In return, he told me tales of his fertile, vibrant lands. It is moments like this that validate gaming for me: the ability to share unique, dynamic tales that come from the gameplay. None of what happened to me in Minecraft was scripted, and because every world is randomly generated, it cannot be replicated for me or anyone else. Whether I like it or not, this story is a memory now, but what is great gaming if not memorable?

There is an fascinating phenomenon when thousands of people share the same experience. Every person that has played through Final Fantasy 7 can commiserate on the finer points of Cloud's pointy hair or debate whether Tifa or Aeris was more boneable, but there is something entirely special about sharing a dynamic, personal experience. It is tougher to create an interesting narrative in a user-driven game like Minecraft. The player is given a sprawling set of mechanics and total freedom. Like tabletop RPGs, you only get out of the game what you put into it. However, with a small suspension of disbelief and a bit of imagination, you too can escape the drudgery of your everyday life and feel like a kid again.

There is room for this in all sorts of genres. Not every game has to be Minecraft to produce stories. Think about your favorite play from Madden (triple fumble for a touchdown) or the time that you killed the entire enemy team and recovered the flag. There is room for narrative in every gaming context, and it's important to capture these moments and savor them. I've played thousands upon thousands of hours of gaming, but all I have now are my memories. I could tell you all about the plot from the Metal Gear Solid series, but to be honest, I'd rather tell you about the time that I beat Metal Slug 2 with just one quarter.   read

3:03 AM on 09.26.2010

Sex and Violence Across the Sea

When I was 10 years old, I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the first time. I found the humor to be strange and some of the words very foreign. To this day, I struggle to recall the definition of the word "pram" (which, as I understand it is the essential Britishness of a person). However, amidst all the strange and seemingly random jokes, two important things happened.

First, my sense of humor was totally transformed. That movie is singlehandedly responsible for changing me from a dumb kid who laughed at dick and fart jokes to a dumb kid who laughed at British dick and fart jokes. Second, I saw bare breasts for the first time with an adult in the room. I realize now that the boobs in that movie were not particularly scandalous, but I was raised in a very religious family from Southern Georgia.

What I've discovered since is that American and European cultures tend to have very opposing viewpoints on sex and violence. In the United States, sex sells, but it's certainly not allowed on network television. The most scandalous thing we've ever seen was Janet Jackson's not-entirely-exposed breast for 2 seconds and jiggly old man butt [Both links unfortunately SFW].

However, the other side of that coin is that American culture tends to promote violence. Immediately after 9/11, a show called 24 became an overnight sensation as it explored America's fascination with the violence caused by terrorism on American soil. In the show, main character Jack Bauer is tasked with stopping a large, complex terrorist plot in a mere 24 hours. The show's narrative always include Jack shooting lots and lots of bad guys as well as graphic scenes of torture. 24 received critical acclaim and the viewers to match.

From my limited understanding, European culture tends to have the exact opposite view. Violence is always contextualized, whereas sexuality is watered down by ubiquity. This is not to say that violence does not exist, but it is not always instantly justified by the common culture.

My view became solidified because of two British games: Fable 2 and Enslaved.

Fable 2 explores sexuality in a rather simplistic, but interesting way. Whereas God of War and Grand Theft Auto seem to promote objectification in their casual, masculine-focused sex romps, Fable 2 imposes consequences for your actions. There are pragmatic and economic concerns for having unprotected sex (STD's and Babies respectively). However, the game also goes on to explore the societal implications for being a total whorebag. I wish they had explored these social consequences a bit more (having citizens and specifically questgivers treat you differently), I applaud the game for trying to explore sexuality without really exploiting a simple masculine power fantasy.

Enslaved breaches the other area: violence. While I obviously haven't played the whole game, one observation I made is that the character never fought any of the human slavers during the entire course of the demo. The game really went out of its way to allow the player to experience the joy of beating the hell out of things with a big staff without the moral implications of murdering hundreds and hundreds of people. In fact, throughout the entire demo and following trailer, there was no instance of a human being harmed.

I know that these two games don't represent every European developer (Obviously DICE has no trouble piling up the bodies in Battlefield). I'm also not interesting in condemning any one culture. I do think it's important to know that there are alternative ways of thinking around the world, which means that there can be an alternative form of thinking right where you live. Not everyone in the world is the same, so if you are a pacifist in Texas or a Gearhead in Britain, remember that you're not alone.   read

10:10 PM on 04.11.2010

Fake Game Monday: C4 Edition

So, this year's edition of Fake Game ___day isn't really a game as much as a gametype. If I had any proficiency with modding, I'd be tempted to make the game myself, but for now I must settle for crudely drawn MS Paint diagrams.

The basic premise of this is that there are 4 players a on a small, equilateral map. The map has four quadrants that are the same basic size, but feature slightly altered interiors.

Each player is given 5-10 blocks of C4. For a setup round of 90 seconds, each player is trapped in their section and can set up the C4 as they see fit. As soon as the C4 is placed, a 180-second timer begins. Once the setup round is expired, all the gates are lifted, and any unused C4 taken away.

At this point, 3 of the players have basic unarmed melee. I'm envisioning "slaps" from Goldeneye so that it's not an insta-kill or anything, but fill in whatever you like. The lucky player though, is given a peashooter. The pistol should take around 7-10 shots to kill, and the shooter's power is tempered by half-speed.

The goal then is simple: survival. Killing others is simply a bonus. If an unarmed kills another unarmed opponent, they receive 50 points. If they kill the shooter with their melee, they receive an additional 100 points. The shooter receives 25 points for each kill and 100 total if all other opponents are killed by them.

The strategy lies in 2 areas: the bombs and the fleeing. With 90 seconds of setup and a 180 second timer (which isn't visible to anyone) many patterns could emerge. You could set all the bombs early in the 90 second cycle, causing them to go off early. Same thing with setting them late. Do you set them all on top of each other causing a massive explosion or do you set them up strategically all across your area?

Then, once that is done, do you lure the shooter to your area or do you try your luck in another quadrant? This gets interesting when other players get involved. As the shooter, you could stay where you are as a sniper of sorts, or you could give chase. Likewise, as an unarmed combatant, you could chase down others and they would be forced to retreat or fight. Since there will be a minimum of 3 minutes before explosions start, chances are, no one is staying still. In the heat of the chase, people will lose track of time and in the word of Brad Nicholson: BOOOOOOOOM.

The random element of the gun is my favorite part, since all players are setting up their bombs with the statistical probability that they won't have the gun. It would be hard to perfect strategy that would make you a powerhouse as the shooter.

So what do you think? Anyone interested in working on this or is it total trash? Let us perfect through collaboration!   read

11:06 PM on 03.11.2010

The Truth Will Set You Free

Please, please go buy Just Cause 2 early on. I fear it's going to hit the same sales mark its predecessor did, despite the fact that it has improved in almost every way. The mind-twizzling stuff you can do is more entertainment than should be legal, and out of 5 sessions of the 30 minute demo, I have not bothered to start a mission.

Furthermore, the demo showcases a relatively small part of the map and only a sliver of the weapons and vehicles. Red Faction: Guerilla was my favorite purchase of last year, and only ceased to be fun when I realized how little there was to do. The over-the-top nature of Just Cause 2 and the Lego box feel of building stunts and action sequences makes this game worth keeping an eye on at least.

And if they released a Crackdown-esque God mode tool where you can mess around and spawn items at will, this should be a Day 1 purchase for everyone.   read

11:38 PM on 03.07.2010

PAX East Contest: Here Comes a New Challenger!

Hey guys, I know the video quality is less than stellar, but I just got a digital camera, and I would love to take a photojournal of the PAX East sexiness.


Also, here is the pic from the Miami NARP where Colette signed my EDF:


4:16 PM on 01.24.2010

I Got a New Tattoo!

It's a little blotchy, but I like it.


11:18 PM on 01.03.2010

Repeating History: Lessons Learned from the Comic Book

Attention citizens of Destructoid!

I think it's about time that we had a town meeting. The topic of tonight's meeting is legitimizing our medium. Now, before you all run away screaming because you think I'm slinging pretentious Reverend Anthony jibber jabber your way, just hear me out.

I saw this video recently, and though it is a couple of months old, I think it does a good job summarizing the crossroads at which the gaming industry finds itself. I ask that you watch it, as it will give the basis for the rest of the article. Go ahead, I will wait.



Are you done yet?


Moving on. The whole video is very well done, but I think the fascinating part comes in Mr. Floyd's thought that perhaps the gaming industry should rebrand itself. His primary example was the comics industry and their move to the term "graphic novels". I've never really thought about it before, because by the time I was old enough to read comics, "legitimate" comics had fought their way into the mainstream. Alan Moore was in full production mode and I was not subject to the social awkwardness that a comics fan in the '70's would've endured. Yet, unfortunately, there is still a difference in my mind between a "comic" and a "graphic novel". A comic can be ridiculous in its plot points, and dance in and out of light social activism whenever it fancies. A graphic novel seems to be a more focused affair that sets out to say something meaningful.

It seems that the games industry could take a few lessons from the history of the comic book medium:

1. We must shed the misconception that videogames are for _______. Games started off as a distraction for kids and a tech demo for old computers. The industry, however, is now in a position to expand. Some games are great for children and some games are great for adults. There is certainly enough room (and money!) floating around in the industry to suit the needs of every niche. However, first we must:

2. Establish that we want something new. By reading this blog, I can assume that you are a) interested enough in gaming to take it beyond a passing interest and b) give thought to what media you consume. The unfortunate reality is that mass media has a proven pattern, and we have done nothing to break it. Movies publish sequels until they stop making money, Madden will sell a billion copies annually, and for some reason, Britney Spears is considered relevant. My intention though is not to make Modern Warfare 2 less popular. I am much more interested in showing publishers that there are developers out there who have artistic potential, can create a faithful following, and, logically, earn them money and respect. In the same vein, developers who have creative ideas that rely on minimalistic production values must be supported, both by large publishers and by grassroots efforts.

3. The barrier between "artgame" and "mainstream game" needs to be dissolved. The idea that a game needs to be shallow or simple to appeal to the populous at large is perhaps our greatest challenge as a culture and as an industry. Also, the concept that a game has to sacrifice fun, entertainment, or the ability to engage to be meaningful is inane. I am aware that many AAA games are multimillion dollar gambles, and the inefficiency of bloated companies is to blame for that. But there is a middle ground that has only recently begun to come into focus (World of Goo and Portal being prime examples) that allows for games to be fresh while also maintaining a high level of polish.

I enjoy games. I love games. I love playing games and thinking about games and reading about games and writing about games. Gaming has been a part of my life since I can remember, and they have remained as my only constant. I am not wont to argue about whether we should call them "videogames" or "interactive experiences" or something else. I simply hope that by banding together, we can take control of our medium and experience something incredible because of it. But you, as a reader of Destructoid, as a consumer of games, must fight to close the gap between the indie and the mainstream. It is up to you to invest in the future of gaming, both financially and otherwise. Our medium's expansion depends on the work that we support today.   read

11:51 PM on 12.01.2009

Love/Hate: JRPGs or An Open Letter to Level Grinding or Effeminate Manboy Heroes

There are 3 facts about me that make me a miserable person.

1. I love stories

2. Reading for long periods of time frustrates me, because I am very slow

3. I have very little leisure time

While I should probably rethink my choice to pursue writing as a career, I am nonetheless drawn to a good story. Or an average, clichéd story. Or even a bad story. I love to tear into any story, guilty pleasure or not, if it is engaging. Stories can come in many wonderful forms: prose, poems, music, art, and even videogames. Especially videogames. For me, gaming is probably the most significant, most consistent portion of my life. I picked up a controller 19 years ago, and I have never stopped playing.

Gaming and solid narrative have always had a sordid affair, especially with the evolution of graphical prowess. Narrative in games can be expressed linearly or non-linearly, realistically or fancifully, interactively or non-interactively. I am not the man to argue about the nature of the medium or the inherent conflict of interactivity and narrative. I am only a lowly gamer that has a love/hate relationship with the premier king of engaging narrative: the JRPG.

The Japanese game market is a funny thing. Unlike the American side which constantly thirsts for new and different experiences (well, in some cases at least), the Japanese seem to be perfectly content releasing endless iterations of popular franchises once a winning formula has been found. That is not to say that innovation is not fostered as well, but more times than not, the safe horse wins the bets.

The most enduring crown jewel of Japanese gaming is the Japanese Role Playing Game. Whether turn-based or dynamic, the concept is simple. You battle to upgrade some sort of statistic or trait in order to level up from a lowly boy in a small village to become the ultimate savior of the world.

Oftentimes you and multiple characters are androgynous and your quest is always the same: save the world from some ancient, unimaginable evil. There are games that diverge from that motif a little, but not with great financial success (I’m looking at you Earthbound).

However clichéd, the epic scale of a good JRPG story cannot be denied. A good Final Fantasy game may be a carbon copy of the versions before it, but by the end of the hours-long campaign, you feel as if you have legitimately changed the face of the world. The boss battles in these games are grand, and require a decent knowledge and comfort with the game itself. Most of the time, you feel as if you are working towards a clear objective, and that everything you do is related to your quest, whether minor or major. Also, the many hours that you spend with the characters allow you to form a real bond to them, and give them a chance to become fleshed out and authentic.

Or, the characters can be totally 2-dimensional, the story predictable and the boss battles tedious. There is no worse feeling in the world than being invested deeply into a boss battle or dungeon and suddenly have the experience despite your best input. It has been 20 minutes since the last save point and the boss that you spent 15 minutes chipping away at suddenly released energy and killed your whole party all at once. Now you lost the gold that you gained, you have another 35 minutes before the boss will rip you a new one again, and worst of all, you know you have dozens of random encounters to sit through.

Grinding and random encounters are the true bane of the JRPG. This devious duo is why the game is artificially lengthened, and why developers justify cheap tactics on bosses. If you are truly the hero of the ages, what are you doing roaming the forest killing wolves and bats? Shouldn’t you be chasing down the head of Evil MegaCorporation or looking for the sword of the Dragon Gods or something? The feeling of working through a long, trying dungeon and running out of potions only to realize that you would have to fight 100 battles to retreat and that you will lose to the overpowered boss ahead of you is the single most harrowing experience that a gamer can experience. The helplessness is overwhelming, and there is nothing but shame and anger when you load up that save from an hour ago.

And you thought you didn’t need that goddamned tent.   read

11:41 PM on 11.17.2009

The wrong thing: Morbid Curiosity

You’re walking along the crowded city streets of ancient Jerusalem or Liberty City, the specifics aren’t important. You’ve been exploring these same streets for years, in a different context every time, but the faces never change. All of a sudden, boredom overcomes you and you wonder what would happen if you trick that generic looking citizen into walking into your cleverly placed rat trap. You’ve set up a Rube Goldberg machine of landmines, falling debris, and perhaps, if you’re feeling very devious, chainsaws. The naïve fool is left in a bloody, poorly rendered mess, and in all likelihood, you return to the “normal game” that the developers intended.

These little diversions are fun, but there is always a tinge of guilt, or excitement, the first time that you perform a nasty little experiment. It is the taboo, unnatural element that makes breaking the rules so entertaining. Sure, Rockstar knows that gamers are going to go on a rampage to see how much destruction they can cause, but it is because the game seems to punish this activity that it seems so exciting. If “Press the X button to cap a pedestrian in the face” was in the tutorial, the pastime would offer little more than a few shallow chuckles.

Many ancient games did not allow for exploration in the same freeform fashion that the open-world era offers, but even developers then acknowledged and rewarded illicit behavior. Do you remember the first time you chose to pummel the chickens in A Link to the Past? Nintendo knew that gamers were naturally curious, and decided to grace us with perhaps the most entertaining punishment ever.

But it is that unexplored, virgin territory that makes interactive experimentation so thrilling. A rational person would never devote time to thinking of how many people they could run over before their car inexplicably set on fire, or how many town guards they could fend off before being overrun, but in the context of a game, these are reasonable questions with interesting answers.

Yet, in gaming, the concept of evil is totally lost on the curious. Surely a person can’t be judged for running over a guy in a game. A real body would not have flown 30 feet in the air and glitched into a stray polygon! It is this separation of the real and the unreal that is integral to the healthy development of any gamer.

The illusion of evil in games has little to do with the actual content of the games, and more on the media circus surrounding the games themselves. During the infamous Columbine shootings, the police discovered that one of the shooters had used the Doom Map Editor to plot out his school, complete with unarmed enemy models and ran through the course daily to memorize the layout of the school. The obsessive, twisted nature of that one individual has haunted the medium of gaming ever since.

Developers have begun to combat this by removing the possibility for many of the more politically incorrect scenarios. Most modern games do not feature children or elderly that can be harmed. Nudity and true gore are not available to prevent rape and torture scenarios. The use of zombies and terrorists as generic enemies offer a disassociation from the reality that you, as a player, are simulating murder. You are the hero, justified in all that you do, because most games cannot be bothered to be bogged down by actual moral quandaries. Moral choices in most games include the evil option simply out of curiosity.

No, true evil in games comes in the curiosity of every day people exploring questions and scenarios that they don’t typically think about on a day-to-day basis. A good book or movie or even linear game narrative can prod you to think about subjects that are typically deemed to be evil, but only the medium of interactivity can allow you to create a barrier whereby you commit the evil yourself, of your own free will.

Modern Warfare 2 or Edmund can force you to do evil things, but the justification on the part of the player is that you are following a scripted story by the developer. When you kill a child in Fallout 1 and 2, it was just because you could. When you put your Sim into a pool and take out the ladders, it was to watch them die like an ant below a magnifying glass. When you are left to guard the hostages in Counter-Strike and you kill them all, losing the whole team money, you are doing so out of morbid curiosity   read

4:50 PM on 11.17.2009

Left 4 Dead Reborn in 8-Bit Glory

Jonesing for some Left 4 Dead 2, but can't afford it in the holiday rush? Fret not! A dedicated L4D fan named Eric Ruth is recreating the entirety of the first Left 4 Dead game in 8-bit top down shooter form. He has supposedly completed the entire No Mercy campaign (video posted below) and is planning to release the game on January 4th totally completed.

"Valve doesn't know about it yet, but I'm sure (with their love of community creations) that they will find this mildly amusing at worst, and hilarious at best," says Ruth.

Considering the fact that this is a solo project, any of it being released ever will be pretty impressive. If he makes good on the whole product in January, Valve should hire him to head up a brand new retro division.


Here is a full FAQ:

Q: Is this just an animation or an actual game?
A: An actual game. It will be available for free download on PC around January 4th, 2010.

Q: I only see one "special infected." Will there be more?
A: Yes. All 5 special infected appear in this game regularly.

Q: How far along are you currently?
A: As of November 15th, I am completed with the first "mission: No Mercy" as well as most of the core game play mechanics.

Q: Does Valve know about this? And would they approve?
A: No, Valve doesn't know about it yet, but I'm sure (with their love of community creations) that they will find this mildly amusing at worst, and hilarious at best.

Q: Will this version have all of the campaigns from the original game?
A: Yes. All 5 maps of all 4 campaigns will be present in the final product.

Q: Like your other games, did you make this one all by yourself?
A: With the exception of a few friends backing me up in the QA area, yes, the coding, debugging, sound effects, music and pixel art are all original work of Eric Ruth.

Q: Will there be more videos that show off more of the game?
A: Maybe 1 or 2, but that's about it. If you want to see every campaign and fight every zombie, then you will have to download and play it.

Source: G4   read

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