Monthly Archives: December 2010
Screw introductions. Let do this!
Game of the Fuckin’ Year: Alan Wake
When I first played Alan Wake, I have experienced something that has only occurred a few other times during my life as a gamer. It also happened when I first played Yoshi’s Island, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4 and Half-Life 2. I have played all these games until 3-4am, slept for 3 hours and then resumed playing before going to class, during which I fantasized about playing some more. Whenever this phenomenon occurs, I know it in my gut that I have just experienced a great game.
Alan Wake is a great game and it certainly is the best thing I’ve played in 2010.
But what truly captivates me about this game are the little touches. The radio shows; the red chair, with beer cans on the side, set in front of a dam; the tangent descriptions you read on the manuscript pages; the Night Springs TV shows; the crazy developer of the Night Springs videogame; the Alan Wake cut-out Barry steals from Rose; the countdown to Deerfest, etc. I love to find that kind of care in the smallest of details. Ultimately, it’s what makes the world of Bright Falls believable.
I also love how Alan’s internal conflicts are projected onto the gameplay. Note, for instance, the very nature of the Taken: how they dress and what they speak. These are mostly authority figures, trying to reprimand Alan (“omega 3 fatty acids are good for your health [so finish up your plate!]), debate him (“[No!] Fishing can be a hobby OR a JOB!”) and remind him of his failures (“You’ve missed your deadline!”). That these came from Wake’s mind tells you how he uses his writing as an escape valve. That he deals with all that non-constructive criticism with shotgun shells is also very telling.
Alan Wake is the closest gaming ever got to filmic masterpieces such as Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories and Fellini’s 8 ½ about artists in conflict with their own art. Who would guess we needed to inspire ourselves with Stephen King in order to achieve that?
Disappointment of the Year: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle –
It’s no secret that I love the original No More Heroes. It’s also no secret that I absolutely despised everything about No More Heroes 2. It’s a game born from an Excel analysis that desperately wants to be loved, but can’t hide the fact it has no soul.
Oh, but does it try! From the NES-like minigames to the Sylvia’s peepshow introductions, the game wants to scream “Hey! Look how I’m still hip and indie! I’m pure post-modernism!” but it still sounds insincere as it ends up trivializing everything the original game cared about. One has the impression director Ichiki tries to emulate Suda, but fails to have a vision of his own. The result is a game that always fails to answer the most basic question: why should you care?
Why should you care about Travis’ quest of revenge when the game never bothers to show how the object of Travis’ revenge was ever meaningful to him? Why should you care about the bosses when they don’t even bother to introduce themselves? Why should you care about the NES minigames, when you don’t have any real use for the reward you get by playing them? Why should you care about playing as Henry or Shinobu when they barely know the reason they are in the game themselves? Why should you care about Travis when we lost we perspective we had about his life? In fact, why should anyone care about Desperate Struggle?
Best Moment of 2010
The “Children of the Elder Gods” concert in Alan Wake.
You know this moment was coming, you read about it in a manuscript page, and yet nothing could prepare you for how exactly epic this moment is. Gone are the times you’ve spent lurking in the woods, now the game’s combat mechanics reach their climax as you must battle countless Taken in a rock show battle with hosted by The Poets of the Fall. A better description: HELL YEAH!
Looking at the broken ceiling of the original Normandy as I rushed to save Joker in Mass Effect 2.
*Sometime after dusk. We are playing Baldur’s Gate 2, a classic of video games, eating a piece of Christmas Cake*
Shadowy Figures (coming out of the shadows in the doorway): We need a game of the year choice.
Me: Oh, game of the year? What game? What year?
SF: This year. Your choice. Of game.
Me: Oh, I left it in my coat. It’s out in my car. Let me go get that.
SF (blocking the door): No! No! You’ve held off long enough. You will not make fools of us. You will tell us, and tell us now!
Me: Okay, okay, fine. Game of the year. This year. You want a choice from me.
SF: You’re stalling for time.
Me: No, you just think I’m stalling. This year is difficult. If anything, it is defined more by its disappointments than by its successes. I mean, sure, when you think about it, there’s been a lot of quality games released this year. Even more I haven’t played.
SF: So what is your choice?
Read the rest of this entry
I was planning to start it by telling what my first impressions of the game were, but because they were too much focused on the face generator aspect of it, I’ve decided to make a dedicated blog post about it.
In short, I despise the face generator in Mass Effect 2. I don’t have the patience Bioware’s dull and minimalistic face modeling parlor. Besides, it took out the only two features I liked about Mass Effect 1’s face creator: the scar gauge and the ability to make your avatar oddly similar to my Jedi from Knights of the Old Republic.
Other than that, the game still asks you to determine stuff like “cheek gaunt” and “eye depth”, which only ever works for making a character uglier. Never prettier.
On the other hand, they are Bioware’s efforts are still years ahead of Bethesda. The more I toy with the faces of my Elder Scrolls guy and Fallout 3’s Lone Wanderer, the more they look the same: generic. At least Fallout 3 offers me a nice selection of facial hair to choose from. Remember kids, facial hair can make one’s face epic no matter how bland you actually look like.
Oh, but if you don’t like generic or Commander Shepard’s–whose eye sockets are so protuberant you might think they were modeled after a Marty Feldman on a caffeine high–Mass Effect still has , distinctive standard faces. Well, while I’m fine with Female Shepard’s (FemShep) face (though I like the idea of giving her a ridiculous tan even though she practically lives inside a spaceship with no natural sun light), MaShep’s face still leaves me unsettled. Those dead blue eyes of his are buried deeper in the uncanny valley than a teen Haley Joel Osment!
But you know what grinds my gears? Is that, theoretically, this was a problem was already solved back in 2000. Back when Perfect Dark was released for the Nintendo 64. During its many previews, Rare kept talking about a feature called “Perfect Head”, which allowed a played to take a photo of his face with the Game Boy Camera, use the Nintendo 64’s Transfer Pak to upload the photo to the game and then “glue” it on the face of a multiplayer character. Then, after a little manipulation like changing the skin color and adding hair (the Game Boy Camera only took black and white pictures after all), you could start playing as yourself
This feature was unfortunately ditched. Allegedly by technical reasons, but many people wondered if that wasn’t only to avoid any kind of political controversy (the Columbine High School Massacre had just happened the previous year, after all).
Now, when Perfect Dark was about to be released for the XBLA this year, lots of site started to post rumors (without any kind of research, obviously) about a possible return of Perfect Head’s mapping feature. Meanwhile, nobody wondered why were we waiting only for Perfect Dark to do this. I mean, with the EyeToy and the Kinect, this feature is finally feasible. Consoles are already bugging us to create console versions of ourselves only to sell us cheap Tennis games where an avatar that looks like me can mercilessly defeat an avatar that looks like my girlfriend (chivalry? what’s that?), so why not a Mass Effect where Shepard actually looks like me, instead of a scary albino? Or perhaps a drag queen version of me…
Besides, where is the controversy when we limit face mapping to the main protagonist only? I mean, any kind of complaint would be redundantly meaningless considering the very definition of an avatar is to be a digital surrogate of oneself: any act of violence made by an avatar wearing your face isn’t any different than any other avatar’s act of violence.
It took me 1:30 hours before I finally settled down with a face I was comfortable with and started, you know, actually playing Mass Effect 2. I welcome any solution that will solve my problem more quickly and effectively. And hey, if this solution grants me at least one good reason for buying a Kinect, the better for Microsoft, eh? So what are you waiting for, Don Mattrick? Make it happen!
Update: my buddy just told me soccer games like EA’s FIFA series and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer games are already venturing in the face mapping business – which a quick Google search later confirmed it. Considering EA also owns Bioware, I’m wagging my finger at them! It’s high time those features showed up in real games! “Real games”, of course, meaning “games I like to play”.
Update 2 (Christmas Update!): As HotChops says below, another game with face mapping Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIR8HOvXjrU&feature=related. If anyone else knows of any other game with face mapping, please tell me so I can add them to article too! Thanks! 🙂
Developers: Feel-Good and Hal Laboratories
Director: Kentaro Sei
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Perhaps “epic” is not the adjective I would use to describe Kirby’s new patchwork tale. “Clever” is the first thing that comes to mind, though I suppose “Kirby’s Clever Yarn” does not quite have the same impact. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is, despite being another puzzley side-scrolling platformer starring our inflatable pink friend, is innovative enough to avoid being just another Kirby game.
Epic Yarn‘s textile aesthetic is the first thing anyone will notice. It is, frankly beautiful, with anything and everything being made of stitched-down cloth, loose thread, yarn, buttons, zippers, anything one might find on their clothes. It is colorful and bright and does it without being gaudy, which is a nice break from all the brown and grey “realism” so popular these days. Of course, the idea of a textile-themed platformer brings Little Big Planet to mind, but playing the game I never once found myself comparing the two. Kirby is much brighter and more animated looking. Instead of having the world look like an actual construction of random objects and cloth, Kirby does not try to look at all realistic. It looks more like, well, a game. Also unlike Little Big Planet, Kirby’‘s textile look is not just a look—it is the whole game. Instead of Kirby’s trademark inhale-eat-transform trick, he tosses out a loose piece of his own yarn body and winds his yarn foes up with it. Instead of transforming for powers he can transform at will by warping his outline into things like a small car, a parachute, and submarine, among other things. He can even unwind himself to fit through narrow crevasses.
It’s not just Kirby, either—the levels also embrace the cloth theme. Instead of filling levels with swarms of enemies to avoid, the world is filled with little platforming puzzles based around unwinding things, swinging from buttons, undoing zippers, pulling loose thread, you get the picture. Of course, being a Kirby game there are still transformation puzzles like drifting on air currents as a parachute, but they are the clear minority and even they rely on yarn transformations. As mentioned before, the fabric visual style is more than just the graphics and visuals, they are the entire game. It is great integration of graphics and gameplay, which is for some reason absent in too many titles. There is not much in the way of plot, but even that is all about the game’s theme. An evil yarn-made wizard is turning everything into yarn and cloth, and at the end of each level Kirby is awarded a piece of magic yarn that is literally the thread that holds the fabric of the world together. The cinematics are little more than an excuse to make sewing puns, though Kirby games have never exactly been plot-heavy, so we can excuse that. It does not really even need it to push you along—I was interested enough in just seeing what the next level would look like, for throughout the game there is not a single stage theme that gets repeated. Every level is noticeably unique, which another thing done right on the design front.
Though the sewing motif lends the game its unique feel, the lack of real challenge strips the mechanics of their depth. There is literally nothing standing between the player and success. You cannot lose in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Once you start a level, the only way to fail is to give up, and this is unlikely considering they are not all that difficult to get through. The only penalty for “taking damage” or falling in a hole is loss of beads, which are collected throughout the level for a grade of either nothing, bronze, silver, or gold. It is almost instinctive to aim for a gold even knowing there is no punishment for not getting it, but even that is not too difficult, for whenever beads are lost they can be reclaimed again unless they fall into a hole or disappear after about thirty seconds. The removal of lives is interesting and a little appreciated, but without a way to fail they might as well stay. If levels could be failed based on score, so only gold or silver medals would advance, Yarn would be a much better game—still pretty easy, but at least there would be incentive beyond that which the player creates. Kirby has always been aimed at younger audiences, who I am sure find no objection to an easier difficulty, but it will ruin the game for most players.
The no-fail aspect of Kirby’s Epic Yarn is reminiscent of many art games, actually, where players are practically carted through to see everything in between. It makes me think a little of Limbo, since in both Kirby and Limbo the player is pushed to the right, stopped almost exclusively by puzzles (seeing as you have no health to lose in Kirby, enemies are usually little more than puzzles or the answers to puzzles themselves) and advancing by solving them.
There is also a two-player mode, much like a few older Kirby titles, wherein player two plays as the scowling, blue, crowned Prince Fluff, who shares Kirby’s shape and yarn powers. There were segments within the game that I was glad to have a partner to get or give a boost to where I could not easily find a way onto a platform with some beads or a collectible on it. On the other hand, there were some parts, usually more platform-ey bits, where we would find ourselves trying to be in the same place at the same time so as not to drag the camera behind and make advancing difficult for whoever decided to go first, which almost always ended with both players falling to their doom. It is much better than, say,New Super Mario Bros. Wii where you can footstool each other and have no real way of aiding one another at all. Players can pick each other up, but it is easy to escape and this mechanic proved to be quite helpful after we had beaten all of the enemies in an area and only after the fact found that we needed a projectile to break a certain type of block. The players can also stand on each other without interfering with each other, allowing two players to double their total jump distance. Players can also teleport to their partner at will, which allows for some useful cooperation.
Overall, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a charming game. It is not great—it leaves no lasting impression, it does not take much effort to get through it, and it won’t last all that long, but it is cute and pretty and I would not go so far as to call it a bad game. It is a game for Kirby fans, or a nice pick-me-up, or an easy transition for new gamers, but not something I would recommend to most players.
[I realize this came out last year, but this is the game that dominated my gaming experience in 2010]
Awarding something ‘Game of the Year’ can be done under a number of different criteria, but one that works for me is this: “what game really drew me in, and had me spending hour after hour with it?” That game, despite some very real flaws, was BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins.
For me, what really sold the game was the character Morrighan. From an artistic perspective, BioWare did a good job of developing a character with some sex appeal that wasn’t overtly sexy. Courting her meant being judicious about helping that defenseless villager, but she is not a character I would describe as evil–let alone a ‘bad’ girl.
In fact, despite all her idiosyncrasies, her behavior is actually quite logical based on her upbringing. Learning the truth about her ‘mother’ Flemeth, exacting revenge, and earning her final amorous approval is something I enjoyed quite a bit. I’m not sure how I would have reacted to the ‘God baby’ endgame without having courted her first, but that’s a twist I certainly didn’t see coming.
Add this defining character into a world that feels lived in. Sure, Orlais and Ferelden bear more than a passing resemblance (with fates reversed) to England and France post-Hundred Years’ War. The prophet Andraste is clearly modeled after Joan of Arc. But look what designers did with high-fantasy regulars: dwarves and elves. The political system of the former and the political status of the latter was something I found incredibly refreshing. Elves as once-immortal beings now typically found enslaved or in refugee camps. . . that lends a darkness to the fantasy setting a thousand Drows could not.
Origins has been let down by its mediocre and poorly balanced DLC packages as well as the largely forgettable Awakening expansion but the core game that shipped in November 2009 got more love from me in 2010 than any other title in my library.
My runner-up is a game that actually came out in 2010, and sucked my time away more than anything that didn’t have Morrighan in it. This was my first experience with a DICE game and the franchises represented in it (both Battlefield and the Bad Company sub-brand), and I’ve been totally blown away by the experience.
Multi-player in BC2 is an addictive, well-balanced affair that brings tactical gameplay to the fast-paced environment of the console in a way that Call of Duty probably never will. Though the game’s success owes much to the Frostbite engine, especially the way destructible environments make each match feel like an organic battle, the real key is something more subtle. The two dominant multi-player modes (Rush and Conquest) hybridize objective and deathmatch play in a way that no other FPS does: objectives are given–and are key to each mode–but unlike other objective games, kills and kill/death ration still matters for the team. For those who care to read more, I wrote about this on Gamasutra a while back.
The reason Bad Company 2 doesn’t get the nod from me, despite being my favorite game actually released in 2010, is that the campaign is pretty forgettable. In fact, the final level has been so maddening to me I still haven’t finished it.
Disappointment of the Year
Perhaps I came into Halo: Reach with excessively high expectations. It’s a good game, but I expected greatness. On the single-player front, gameplay is solid, but two key enemies are drastically over-powered to the degree they are simply not fun to fight, despite the challenge: Zealot elites, and especially Hunters. Even worse, the story–its characters in particular–fall flat in a way that leaves ODST as the most engaging Halo story to date.
Nor, unlike Bad Company 2, does the multi-player redeem the campaign’s flaws. True, I had some pretty glowing things to say about it back in October, but the more I play the more I get tired of the Halo formula. It’s subjective, I know, but I have to bring it up. Objectively, the game is impeccably balanced, but the majority of levels fail to impress–and they’re certainly not memorable. Not in the long run.
The Noble Map Pack is well-done, and I’ll stick come back from time to time, but Reach is not addictive in the way Halo 3 was and has not superseded Bad Company 2 as my “go to” multi-player game of choice.
Moment of the Year
The last hours of Red Dead Redemption. Especially what happens after the credits roll. . . wow. I left the game there, because that’s the ending I wanted to remember.
The game as a whole is pretty flawed, but it will be interesting to see what Rockstar does with the Wild West setting down the road.
Honorable Mention: the debut of space combat in Reach at E3. I only wonder what would have happened, though, if Bungie and Microsoft had kept that under wraps and let gamers be blown away as they played the game. That surprise alone might have been enough to sway my opinion of the game.
So, do you remember this?
Well, according to VGChartz, Microsoft’s Kinect did in fact eventually reach the milestone of 4 million units sold worldwide (2.6 million units in the Americas) in the week that ended on Dec. 11. Of units sold, 40% of them bundled with a Xbox 360 console, which indicates that there actually was an expansion of the console’s user base. The PlayStation Move, which didn’t get all the marketing support the Kinect did, has sold just over 900 thousand units so far.
So yeah, I was wrong. Colin Sebastian was right.
Shit. I hate being wrong.
However, I still don’t believe Kinect’s success has enough legs for the long run, since the arguments presented in that article (you know, the 5 reasons why once up, you can’t come back down) are all still valid.
Now leave me alone while I enjoy my grudge for not having my MBA funded by Lazard Capital Markets.
But hey! On the other hand, I’m not unemployed anymore. I got an actual paid job! But what a beautiful coincidence!
News just broke today how BioWare will solve the problem of ‘importing’ the experience of Mass Effect for those who want to play Mass Effect 2 on the Playstation 3.
I wrote about the news here (shameless plug)–and I think the solution is a rather elegant one, considering the impossibility of bringing the full Mass Effect game over, but here’s the takeaway:
Retailers such as Amazon have the ‘original’ Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect 2 listed for $20. All of the current paid DLC that adds content to the game comes out to 1920 Microsoft Points, or roughly $30, so PS3 owners are actually being overcharged by $10 for the privilege of getting a year-old port.
Good in the long run for people who only own a PS3, or who can’t download DLC because of various circumstances, and certainly great for the commercial success of Mass Effect 3 but I think effectively charging $10 for a digital comic seems kind of steep. At the same time, while I liked Mass Effect 2, I’m certainly not as big a fan as Patricia–so maybe she’ll chime in here.
The art is by Dark Horse, and here’s a sample courtesy of Kotaku:
Game characters are terrible conversationalists. I came to this conclusion after the last three games I’ve played: Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2 and Metroid: Other M.
First, we have Fallout 3’s Lone Wanderer of the Capital Wasteland. This is a guy whose dad probably was a big fan of the sentences “Don’t you interrupt me while I’m talking!” and “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”. Years of scolding in an isolated confinement left a mark on the boy, who is now traumatized beyond belief: when talking to the Lone Wanderer, he will never interrupt you or look away. Like a robot, he will wait until the final period before starting his response.
Then we have Samus. Samus was raised a bird-like alien race that must have been similar to Mass Effect’s Elcor race. Like the Elcor, Samus mechanically speaks irrelevances in a vapid monotone. She makes an effort to state her emotions as she probably thinks a kickass Power Suit won’t fully transmit the message of love, imaturity and brattiness she wants to spread across the galaxy.
Finally, we have Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. Dialogs in Mass Effect closely follows the standard perfected by Alfred Hitchcock: show your protagonist doing something, cut to the other person’s reaction and cut back to the protagonist’s own reaction. It is very rare to see two people talking while dividing the same frame in Mass Effect. The game’s cinematic presentation goes a long way in trying to convey am almost realistic conversation – and Mass Effect 2’s ability to interrupt some dialogues by performing a Paragon/Renegade action only adds to that.
However, not even Mass Effect is able to present us with a fully realistic dialogue. Actually, it’s interesting to note that, like Samus and the Lone Wanderer, Shepard also has his own unique idiosyncrasies. His idea of conversation, for example, can be summed up by him saying “Tell me about this. Tell me about that.” to any NPC he encounters.
In fact, I’m yet to see any game whose characters talk like in real life. It’s almost ironic that the game series most known for its elaborated scripts, Metal Gear Solid, follows a ludicrous conversation repertoire that consists of repeating each statement said in the form of a question. In form of a question?
How long will it take for games to grasp that this is not how real dialogs works.
Dialogs don’t actually work like this:
But more like this
Games now behave pretty much like the first talked movies did back in the 1930’s. It was a director called Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Red River, Rio Bravo) that taught movies how people actually talked, eventually influencing Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) who ended up influencing Quentin Tarantino.
What Hawks noted was that we almost never wait for people to finish talking. We talk over one another. What he did was simple: he wrote his dialog in a way that the beginning and ending of sentences are entirely unnecessary. Voices overlapped in a rapid-fire repartee… and it made sense. It sounded spontaneous, natural.
As games strive to tell better narratives, getting some ideas from Hawks makes perfect sense. Instead of allowing gamers to skip dialogs, allow them to interrupt the NPCs (which also implies interrupting the subtitles, which, in turn, implies in more dynamics subtitles that don’t uncover the character’s entire sentence before the sentence is actually spoken). Instead of just allowing gamers to choose what to speak, allow them to decide when to speak as well (and add some consequences for that too). Instead of hiring voice actors with head traumas that prevent them from expressing anything but the emotional state of an asparagus, hire some actual talents and record them together (as well as allowing them to improvise some of their lines).
The ultimate goal is to recreate the naturalness of the interrelationships between characters; something that game characters have yet to recreate. We need not only better dialogs, but better mechanisms to convey these dialogs. Mass Effect’s conversational monsters/obstacles are nice and all, but it’s high time the medium as a whole evolved from that.
The EA store has confirmed what I’m sure we all already know: ME3 exists, and we know this because they accidentally put up a listing for the game up in their store (and took it back down right away, but we have screenshots thanks to Joystiq.) Of particular note would be the description, which reads as follows:
“Earth is burning. Striking from beyond known space, a race of terrifying machines have begun their destruction of the human race. As Commander Shepard, an Alliance Marine, your only hope for saving mankind is to rally the civilizations of the galaxy and launch one final mission to take back the Earth.”
Earth is burning? Could ME3 see is finally visiting Earth? I would assume, if Earth is involved, this guarantees that the Illusive Man is involved…Earth is the keystone for humanity, no?
I will also note that it’s too bad they already used the ‘impossible mission against impossible odds’ trophe in 2, though it’s interesting that they say it’s a final mission….logistically, 3 marks the end of the series but do we have control over whether or not Shepard survives the mission?
Questions! We will probably know more once the VGAs roll around, because I’m going to bet that this is the title they unveil. This would explain why the gun held by the man in the screenshot we’ve all seen looks like a ME sniper rifle: it’s in the ME universe.
The internet is a funny place. Andriasang has reported that there is in fact gameplay in Catherine, and everyone there seems to be pretty okay about it. The rest of the internet, though, seems to be taking this as some sort of horror. Oh, no! The gameplay is pushing blocks to escape from Vincent’s nightmares? And not a JRPG? HEAVEN FUCKING HELP US.
I mean, a person with half a brain could have figured out the gameplay would be running, in some fashion. The way it seems is less scare based and more “solve this puzzle before you fucking die!” which sounds like a pretty neat mechanic. Personally, I’m still sold, because I think the guys at Atlus can pull off a puzzle based horror game much better than an actual horror game. Remember the horrible Jack Frost puzzles from Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne? Yeah. This is a game full of those, plus horrible babies with chainsaws through their eyes.
So I’m really baffled by why western audiences seem upset over this. What better gameplay could there be? Vincent collecting dream animals and using them to fight off his horrible nightmares? Oh, that was what you wanted. A video gamey video game. Right. I forgot.
Catherine’s Action Part Detailed