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7:19 AM on 07.04.2012

Finesse: A short look at videogames as an artform

Videogames are an artform. For me, that is an indisputable statement. It is not a half-statement or a statement full of those nasty little "exceptions". All videogames are art. Every single one of them. Yes, even that cutesy but extremely stupid and riddled with bugs "My Little Petz Shop" DS game your little sister has. Some, however, are better art than the rest. Here's why:

First, let's take a look at what videogames have that is unique over all other kinds of arts. That is, of course, interaction. Now, while videogames themselves integrated most others forms of art (think; how many videogames feature paintings made by the videogame artists themselves?; or have amazing sculptures in their environment? (think Bioshock) and we all know just how similar cutscenes can be to movies...), that in itself does not a new artform make. Making a painting out of macarroni does not suddenly turn it into a "new artform". It is the fact that we can interact with videogames that makes them so incredibly fresh.

Now, you could question wether something like Dear Esther is even a videogame then, considering how little interaction it provides. But it does provide a lot of interaction, if you think about it. It's just that it is more of a contemplative kind of interaction. You wouldn't say a movie doesn't tell a story because it is slow, or because it doesn't have a conclusive end. You would think of it as a different kind of movie. And that's a key word: different.

As such, every kind of videogame can be art, it's just that it is art fine tuned to a very specific kind of people, sometimes bigger or smaller in number. La Mona Lisa wouldn't be considered such an incredible piece of art if the elite art-lovers were all into football instead of painting. In the same way, "art games" are considered such because the elite of videogame-lovers, the people who are the most knowledgeable about them, think they are good pieces of art. If it turned that all of us "hardcore gamers" adored FIFA, FIFA would be considered an art.

So then, let's not go saying anymore that a game isn't art because it belongs to a specific category of gaming. Let's, instead, start saying that said category of gaming is BAD art, or a specific game is STUPID art. But art nonetheless.

Having taken that out of the way, I would like to consider what makes a videogame a GOOD example of art. Take the aforementioned FIFA. Most of you probably consider it the antithesis of the artistic videogame. Yey for me, it is a perfectly good example of videogames as an art. As much as "art games" exceed at making you feel like a desperate man on an island, or a filthy little shit because that old woman is dying in a cemetery, FIFA exceeds at making the player feel like an over-arching entity controling the footballers. It is, you see, a videogame created with finesse.

Finesse in that it knows perfectly well what it needs to become a great example of a football sim. Year by year, it's developers perfect every aspect of the game, everything gets updated as much as it needs to be. And people love it. 9 million people buy this game every year. It is critically acclaimed. And yet only because it resembles a sport instead of a philosophical journey through the mind and body it isn't artfully made?

I would consider, for instance, that taken solely by their quality as videogames, Alpha Protocol is a worse videogame than FIFA. Yes, Alpha has an interesting story and premise, but when you have on the one hand a game that does every little thing that it sets out to do so close to perfection, as opposed to one that fails miserably in two thirds of its intent, you have a clear winner.

That does not mean, however that bugs equal an inferior game. Fallout New Vegas is, in my opinion and that of many other fans, better than Fallout 3 despite being a way more broken experience. Both being so similar (same series and engine), the art and story of New Vegas definitely overcomes it's general bugginess. Is it a better game than FIFA? Objectively, it is. For me, it isn't. But that is solely because I am a story guy more than a sports guy.

All these comparisons are, however, basically useless. Because every single player will love different games and be attracted to different genres. Game development is a multi-faceted enterprise, with thousands of different variables and dozens of different kind of artists needed. It is in the combination of all this areas of game design that a game is defined as art. Some games will have better UIs, others dreadful stories, some may be gorgeous but a drag to actually play and some may have incredible gameplay but lack a story of any sorts.

Let's not judge a game's artistic merits simply because it doesn't have a story or it didn't make you cry. Let's start judging games simply because of how good they actually are at what they are trying to do. Do not say that Modern Warfare 3 is a bad game simply because you dislike it's community or business model. Think of Modern Warfare 3 as the game that bests provides addictive unlocking in a multiplayer FPS with explosions and bros. As that is what it is trying to be, what it should be, and even what it is marketing itself to be. CoD is a fine example of art. It just may be that it's not a great example for YOU.   read

8:09 AM on 02.01.2012

Josmeister VS The Formidable Backlog

And so it came to be that Josmeister, son of Joshua, decideth to take on the Formidable Backlog, for so it had been written, and so it shall be done

As, I suppose, most of you, over the past few years I have been amassing an incredible backlog (about 50 games on Steam, 20 from GOG, many free indie games, 8 Wii titles, and over 10 Xbox games). As opposed to most, who are simply happy to keep on spending without regret, I look over my backlog with a mix of resentment and disgust, wondering at the wonders that lay hidden amidst this awful mass of games.

So, come 2012 I decided I would get rid of the Backlog once and for all. That means not buying any new games until the november season (which I might not pull off,what with Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock right around the bloody corner). I will document my war against the Backlog in this blog post, which I'll update every time I beat a new game (if that is even possible, I don't know).

With all that said, let's begin:

METRO 2033

Platform: PC

Approximate completion time: 10 hours

Difficulty played: Easy

I begun to confront the Backlog with this one, and it turned out to be a huge surprise. On the PC, the graphics simply looked INCREDIBLE (everything maxed out), the attention to detail is immaculate and the lighting might just be the best I've ever seen. The story was pretty good, and most of the characters were pretty likable. The game would have been perfect were it not for the stupid, stupid, stupid AI. Seriously, whoever designed it should be fired and forced to consume Krokodil until all his flesh was gone. Or something like that. The game can be played as a standard FPS though, and is quite a lot of fun as such. For 2,50 on Steam, I feel quite proud of having bought this one.


Platform: 3DS
Approximate completion time: 10 hours
Difficulty played: Standard

I always wanted to play this game as a kid. I remember going to a friend's house and playing the GBA version a lot, but I never got to complete it, so I was overjoyed when I learnt that it would be coming to the 3DS as part of the Ambassador program. Unfortunately, I didn't like it as much as I thought I would, which is a pity. The game itself plays excellently, with almost perfect controls and gorgeous hand drawn graphics. This may seriously be one of the best looking 2D games ever made. The enemies and environments are extremely varied, and it's clear that Miyamoto spilt his brains on this one. However, I felt like the levels themselves were a mixed bag, with the game containing some of the best levels in Mario history, whilst some others were simply a pain in the ass and I would get stuck without knowing where to go. So, basically, this game is, for me, simultaneously the best and the worst of the Mario series.   read

9:24 AM on 07.07.2011

Review: Beat Hazard Complete

Beat Hazard was released on September 2009 on XBLA. When I tried the game, I truly wasn't impressed. Having been playing a lot of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, I was used to some extremely tight twin stick shooter gameplay, and Beat Hazard certainly didn't deliver on that front.
Two days ago, however, the game was on sale for the ridiculous price of 2.50 on Steam. I bought it just to see how it had changed during these two years. Oh boy, what a nice surprise that was.

Apparently, a whole lot has changed. To begin with, the Beat Hazard Ultra DLC was released. It was a massive update tha made the game at least three times more fun. If you are planning on picking up the game, this update is definately of obligatory purchase. There's also an 80 cent add-on that adds support for itunes and m4a files, so that's handy if you have those files I guess.

But Jos, how does the game work? What does it do? Well, for starters it's a twin-stick shooter. A very good one, for that. What made the original Beat Hazard not feel as tight as other shooters was the fact that your ship slipped a bit in the direction you were moving when you stopped moving it. This meant you really never knew where your ship was going to go. The Ultra DLC changed this, and when you stop moving the ship stops. As it should.

What makes this shooter unique is not the shooter gameplay though. The game lets you choose any song from your whole library of music and creates a level around it. I've always loved the concept in theory, but while games like Audiosurf or 1...2...3... Kick it! Drop that beat like an ugly baby aspired to do this, it never felt quite right to me. In those games, if you pick a slow song the gameplay becomes boring, and they seemed to mainly recognize bass beats, so guitar centered songs didn't really work.

Beat Hazard Ultra, on the other hand, makes perfect use of this feature. If you throw a slow song at it, instead of making the gameplay dull it will just make the enemies move slower, but throw more of them at you. Your laser increases or decreases its firepower to the beat of the music, and this finally includes guitars. Enemies appear to dance to the rythm of the song you're playing and bosses appear during the most exciting parts of the songs.

All of this is coupled by some of the most impressive visuals I have seen in an indie game (and this game is very indie, it was created by a single guy). The beautiful backgrounds sway with the music and beautiful firework like explosions appear when beats and snares do. On a song by The Doors, for instance, which started quiet and slow with only bass and drums, the screen exploded with colour and brightness when Jim Morrison's voice came on. It was one of the best gaming moments I have experienced this year. Be advised, however, that this game is definately not for people prone to have seizures. You will have them. Lots. Specially if you turn the visual flare to 200% (all of the screenshots have it at 100%)

Also new to the Ultra edition of the game are perks. The game does indeed feature a leveling system similar to Call of Duty, wherein every time you level up you get a new perk. Those perks can then be unlocked with cash you get in-game and they grant some very cool advantages. Ultra lasers, mini missiles or reflective shield power-ups are some of them. You could also choose to get more multipliers, start the game with some power-ups and some of them unlock new difficulties. Only 5 of them can be chosen at a time, which makes for a very balanced game.

With the Ultra add-on also came several new modes, which are all pretty fun. In survival you play an unlimited amount of songs against a progressively more powerful army of spaceships. Boss rush makes you play a whole album against, well, different bosses. While I'm not really one for alternate modes apart from the main one, they are very well made and add some variety to the experience.

The game also features an online mode, which you can play with a friend or a random player. Players get a prompt at the bottom of the screen whenever another player is waiting to play, which is a very clever way to make the wait times smaller. I, personally, haven't waited for more than a few seconds to get another player to join in. If you want to play your own music, you get to index your library and the game checks for matches between you and the other player. There are two modes, co-op and head to head, both of which are pretty straight-forward. And yeah, there are leaderboards.

All in all, I found this game to be an incredible experience, extremely addicting and totally worth your money. It is on sale on Steam right now and you should grab it quickly. On an animal scale, it would be a tiger, but since we have to rate videogames on a boring 1 to 10 scale, I'm giving it a
9.5   read

5:26 PM on 05.29.2011

Five tips to survive the Witcher 2

The Witcher 2 just released to some pretty incredible critical acclaim. However, if you go to its metacritics page you will find that the game is quite polarizing, with our own Jim Sterling giving it a mere 6 out of 10. The main reason for those low scores is the extremely difficult beginning of the game. Oh, and doors, but those have been fixed. To help those that haven't started with the game yet get through this sadistic start, I would like to share 5 tips to help ease that should help lubricate their start to a satisfying penetration of the game's mechanics.

1. Use your shield. Your magic one, that is.

I really can't stress how fucking important this is and I truly don't know why the developers didn't put more enfasis into it. The Quen sign basically makes you invulnerable for a few seconds, thus rendering the parry mechanic (which is extremely clunky and doesn't usually work well) useless. So basically, you should have the Quen sign on all the time. When it finishes, run a bit from the enemies and cast it again. This sign is specially effective if you upgrade it. It lasts some 4 times as long and deflects part of the damage it absorbs back to the enemies. Of all the tips, this and number 2 I find the most important, as they are the ones that make the combat easier.

2. Roll. A lot.

Though the witcher 2's combat is apparently aimed towards parrying a lot, it is the rolling that really matters here. Don't try and stop your enemies blows, either take them with Quen or simply roll out of their way. Rolling is not as easy to do as using Quen, but practice a bit and I'm sure you'll get it. Again, if you upgrade it twice you'll get a 200% increase to the rolling distance, which makes the game stop being unfair and turn into a killfest for geralt. Seriously, not even bloody donkey kong can roll so far.

3. Use a gamepad

The witcher 2 is a crappy console port. There, I said it. Why, do you ask? Switch to a gamepad and you'll see. The combat feels a lot more fluid than with a mouse and keyboard, dare I say more responsive. It is also fully integrated, and all of the boring button prompts get substituted by those multi coloured friendly buttons that we know and love. It also makes collecting stuff a lot quicker, just press X over it and you're done. Yeah, you just collected everything that dead fucker had on him. No need to hover your mouse over the "take all" text.

4. Change your mindset

Most of you will go into The Witcher 2 expecting the level of forgiveness and player introduction of games by Valve, Blizzard or Bioware. After all, it looks as good as those and has similar production values, why should it be any different? The reality, however, is that this is a game developed by a small polish developer that has only developed one other game (The Witcher). Thus, I would suggest that you think of this game as something similar to Demon's Souls. That one got massive praise for its unforgiving mechanics and extreme difficulty, why shouldn't The Witcher 2? Because it's marketing didn't prepare us for it? Just take it for what it is and learn to appreciate it. I even feel quite sad now that I can blow through ten soldiers without breaking a sweat.

5. Read the books

This might be asking too much. It was, however, what made me survive the first two hours of The Witcher 2 and get to the actual good bits of the game. Just hearing talk of the hunt for the golden dragon during the second flashback made me push through that part with the ballista and that other one with the Baron. The books are incredible too. Each book is composed of several short, self-sufficient stories with several overlapping elements that meet for the incredible endings. I usually hate those pricks that tell you to read the fiction in order to enjoy a game, but in this case the fiction is so fucking good you should read it anyways.

So that's it. I hope some of you find those useful and manage to overcome the beast of a beginning this game has. I promise to you that when you get the hang of the combat there is an incredible, deep and absolutely satisfying game waiting for you. It is like trying to have sex with a virgin. Although it takes more effort to get to the good bit, the ultimate result is all the more satisfying.

PS: speaking of virgins, this is my first c-blog, so some good criticism would be well apreciated! I am also spanish so fap this post because you'd be racist otherwise.   read

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