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5:44 AM on 07.16.2008

Dragon Age: Jumping to Conclusions

For years, all anyone really knew about Dragon Age was that nobody really knew much about it. Was it an MMO? Were there any dragons in it? Was it set in China? Albuquerque? The moon? This month, BioWare finally began lifting the veil of secrecy that has come to define the game, and reactions to their attempts have been interesting to observe. Information gleaned from the official BioWare forum seemed promising, but a shoddy twenty second teaser trailer set off a brief backlash against the game as soon as it finished airing at 1 AM EDT on a cable channel.

The new Origins subtitle? Obviously a sign that BioWare is presumptuous and pushing out a generic product.* A cinematic teaser trailer that shows off nothing about the game? Unheard of. It just shows that it's going to be shallow, flashy, and bereft of solid mechanics or a decent story. In fact, the teaser trailer apparently showed enough of said story for many to deem it hackneyed and cliche.

A few days later, of course, the official website launched with a more fleshed-out trailer, a few screenshots were released showing nifty isometric and third-person views, and more details about the game actually began to trickle out. This caused some of the people who had previously overreacted to realize that, hey, maybe it's NOT a lost cause just yet.

If there's one thing BioWare's enigmatic RPG has already done, it's provide yet another example of the echo chamber that can cause people to go bonkers at the tiniest tidbit of information. And while I'm not going to pull a Dyack and claim that this is a sign of the downfall of modern society or anything, it is a morbidly fascinating phenomenon.

*The game's emphasis on "origins," it turns out, has actually been traced back as far as previews from 2006. The same person who discovered this, Something Awful poster 'ST, also found a possible connection between the big, nasty spittle beast in the teaser and an interesting quote from an old preview:

"Remember the cave troll fight in The Fellowship of the Ring? That’s what our large creature combat is going to be like. You’ve got the party guys running out, one guy jumping up on the back and stabbing, the other guy ducking between the legs."

Neat.   read

11:58 AM on 07.14.2008

"Too Human: Your Forum Sucks" Demo

Denis Dyack is rather fanatical about Too Human. That's established. Lots of people have low expectations for Too Human, and this upsets Mr. Dyack. That's established. Denis Dyack likes to go on tirades conflating positions like "forum moderator" with "CEO" and speaking like a high school student who's just discovered Ayn Rand, in style if not content. That's also established.

What hasn't been established yet is how the game that's apparently sent him over the edge will actually fare in the court of public opinion.

In an unexpected twist, the demo dropped this morning. After playing for an hour myself and soaking in comments from around the information superhighway, the verdict is... uh, hung jury?

Honestly, it just feels like a total B-game. Getting loot pushes all the right buttons for me, as always (yay, pants!), and there's fun to be had in flinging enemies in the air and shooting them, but so many other problems exist that it never completely transcends its flaws to become truly engaging. The camera controls are annoying at best, and the graphics are thoroughly mediocre. The cutscenes and story on display in the demo are, um, interestink interludes (the kind you smirk at like a five year old who's trying to tell you a story). The equipment and skills, while fun to tinker around with, don't knock my socks off or anything, and the level design is bland.

Perhaps most problematic is the fact that, for such an action-oriented game, it just feels sort of slow. Here you are, killing a throng of enemies, and aside from whenever you skate over to one who's far away, it feels like you're just mucking through a swamp. The run speed is especially mind-numbing whenever you just want to move on to the next fight and you have to jog a bit to get there. Yet, despite these issues, I really did want to keep playing (must... unlock... armor) once I reached the end of the demo. I'm pretty sure I'm going to make a place for it on my Gamefly queue.

It's not bad, and it's not particularly good. It's just some game, you know?   read

10:43 AM on 05.28.2008

"The Sexiness of Text Simulations"

The common stereotype regarding sports gamers seems to be that of loud, ignorant bros who sit around a TV playing Madden, chugging beers, and hi-fiving each other whenever anything happens. While that description certainly applies to some of the people who play sports games (and other types of games that thrive in casual settings), other "sports gamers" are drawn to different aspects of these attempted recreations of reality. Operation Sports' Tim Martin has a nice article up about the engrossing -- and dare I say, enriching -- experience that is the text simulation.

While a lot of time and energy is spent focusing on their graphically-enhanced cousins, text sims have always happily done their thing in relative obscurity. As someone who enjoys playing a game of virtual soccer or football, but really enjoys the thrill of recruiting, making trades, and signing free agents, I'm grateful that a niche exists for gems like Football Manager and Out of the Park Baseball. Maybe spending countless hours staring at a bunch of words, numbers, or some dots moving around a green rectangle hasn't been the most productive use of my time, but I don't regret a moment of it.

Well, okay. There was that season with FC St. Pauli. That was pretty dreadful.
(I failed you, Freibeuters.)   read

10:23 PM on 04.21.2008

Hopes and Fears for Fake Sports Gaming

I'm torn between two schools of thought about the upcoming TNA iMPACT! (their typeset, not mine) game from Midway. On one hand, it's not Smackdown! vs. Raw, and that alone gives it a leg up over recent THQ/YUKE's efforts -- stale and slow with stupid story mode does not make for an enthralling experience. TNA's game is promising a faster experience than the SvR system, which has become so bogged down by this point that it's about as exciting as watching the Great Khali trudge his way to the ring, and the controls are apparently shaping up to be reasonably intuitive if early feedback is anything to go by. Essentially, this sounds like an experience that's at least slightly more entertaining than the usual fare that's been offered up in American wrestling games of late.

Sadly, the "Shoot Eric Young in the Face" minigame didn't make the cut.

So, where do these aforementioned fears come into play?

The problem with being optimistic about TNA's foray into video games is that, well, it's TNA. Having hope for something TNA is involved with (and this is without taking Midway's, um, dry spell into account) is practically asking the company to hit you in the crotch with a sledgehammer. Even when they do deliver something that blows away your expectations, like their phenomenal Bound for Glory pay-per-view last year, they tend to instantly undo everything that made their triumphs great in the first place.

I could list example after example and it wouldn't even begin to cover TNA's issues. The company's foremost problem, however, is that their TV show has become completely unwatchable over the course of the past 18 months. Undercard matches are compressed into three-minute spotfests, big moments never have any meaning because the show always has to move on to the next ridiculously stupid storyline as soon as possible (To the back with JB Jeremy Borash!), everything is played for (poor) comedy to the point where everyone in the company is booked like an imbecile, the production values are godawful (not to mention gimmicky), and to top it all off, Mike Tenay and Don West NEVER EVER NEVEREVER SHUT THE FUCK UP. The cognitive dissonance required to run the company and pretend everything is going well must be mind-numbing.

This is the face of genius.

Rant notwithstanding, a lot of these problems can be solved by the simple conversion to the video game format. The most satisfying experience of the entire game may very well be turning the commentary off, and the Russo/Jarrett/Mantell/et al. moronics will hopefully be kept to a minimum in lieu of open-ended fun when it comes to the story/career mode. The roster has some notable exceptions, but that says as much about the company's (wasted) depth as it does the game; promises of DLC are also intriguing, though price is always a concern when companies (other than Rockstar, whose sheer excellence has earned my neverending trust) mention DLC.

Even in the absolute worst-case scenario where it turns out to be spastic, gimmicky, ridonkulous garbage, the game will have the Motor City Machine Guns. The MCMGs have been scientifically proven to make everything better, and in the wonderful world of video games, they won't be buried despite their overness just because they don't want to blade.   read

2:33 PM on 04.19.2008

Some interesting facts about the number TEN

Some critics say that Rockstar's excessive filters detract from the series' impressive visuals. I say that these peeps is crayzay.

Unless you're stupid or have a life (which is stupid), you'll realize that today marked an incredibly exciting milestone. In less than ten days, the universe as we know it will cease to exist and the streets will run red with the blood of the innocent. Unfortunately, it's just going to be digital streets, digital blood, and digital innocents, but I'm sure some of this generation's finest minds are hard at work trying to find a way to create an even more immersive experience for us next time around.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I've always been far more entranced by a video game series about killing people, penis jokes, and stealing stuff than should be humanly possible. There's just something about GTA that hooks me; it's not the best at everything it attempts, but there's so much love and effort put into its creation that it just sweeps me away unlike anything else that's out there. And Rockstar's taste in music is always kickin' rad.

I've also kept a completely superfluous manual countdown on a whiteboard for each new Grand Theft Auto game since GTA III. On one infamous occasion, I felt the pain of actually adding days to the countdown, just because some jerks decided that New York had too many skyscrapers. But gaming history finally arrived, and it was well worth the wait. Vice City's process was similar, with a less tragic delay factored in that time around, and for San Andreas, I actually began the countdown about five months before it was released. Even I recognized that this was overkill, so I showed tremendous restraint with GTA IV, only starting with twenty-two days to go. But even though I should be more mature now, I'm not, and I still can't avoid jumping up and down in glee upon the realization that ten days have passed and the game that I've waited years to get my hands on is finally moving into the single digits on my crude but love-filled ritual.

So, with GTA IV on the verge of mainlining pure, distilled joy directly into the pleasure centers of my brain, I've decided to share some interesting facts about the number that has given us (me) cause to celebrate.

Ten facts about the number 10

Dutch coaches, Eastern European criminals, rocks, French kids and pets, and dead Americans are but a small sampling of those who eagerly anticipate the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, which has been hailed as a turning point in real-time strategy

1. There are ten days in a week.
2. There are ten weeks in a year.
3. The loneliest number? Ten.
4. Ten individuals could actually band together to invade Centralia, Pennsylvania, if it weren't such a creepy, uninhabitable hellhole.
5. The number ten starts with the letter T,
6. Or the number One (1).
7. The number 10 represents a totally perfect score and anyone who gives any currently-existing game a ten is evil.
8. Speaking of evil, ten murders were committed by carnival people last year. This is down from the record of 2,700, which was set in the halcyon days of 1936.
9. Forbes Magazine's "Ten People Who Could Change the World" are an almost uniformly unattractive bunch.
10. Ten is a very interesting number, don't you think?   read

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