Monthly Archives: February 2011

No Catherine in the US…yet

Atlus are some crafty motherfuckers, we know that now.

The internet has been raised to tizzy levels over the recent announcement that Catherine won’t be coming to the US. Well, that they have “no plans for an NA release at this time.” Which is very, very different than “won’t be coming to the US”, which is how the news is being reported. What it means is that it is not on their schedule of games to translate and, with an immediately upcoming release of Persona 2, it’s probably a good idea to get as many people in an uproar about Catherine not being released in the US as possible before it is announced.

They did this for Demon’s Souls, too, let us not forget. There were no plans to release it here, then suddenly there were huge, immediate plans, and then it became Atlus’ centerpiece at an investor’s meeting. That’s very possible here, as well. I mean, it’s not like Atlus USA is working on any big thing like the remake of Persona 2: Innocent Sin or anything, which is a much bigger “traditional” release. Additionally, Catherine would probably take a lot of time, and be very difficult to port. Probably smart to not commit to the project until you know it’s workable.

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Thoughts: Dragon Age 2 Demo

We’ve written so fucking much about Dragon Age 2 that those links? They are only some of our…ahem…extensive coverage of the game. Of course, we did all that without the game actually existing in a playable state.

Well, that was then, and now we have a demo.

I’ve mused in the past that we didn’t have to worry about the story, because Bioware always comes through, but the gameplay looked worrisome, to say the least. Turns out I was half right.
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Wacky trail of the day: Kentucky Route Zero

We missed the boat on this extremely hard, but Kentucky Route Zero is a game being made by Cardboard Computer who apparently made games I’ve either not heard of or meant to play in the past.

In any case, this is one of the better trailers I’ve seen recently (up there, but not exceeding, Dead Island), and it’s made me put an eye on the title. And play their previous titles. We’re too late to even post a link to the kickstarter page that was funding the game. Man, I’m pretty useless, aren’t I?

But whatever. It’s a cool trailer, and begs the question: why not more games with America influences? Why not?

Zip Zap, Zoobity Wap

Picking this week’s most crucial news to discuss with you, our faithful readers, is difficult. That is a blatant, outright lie. Telltale Games announced that they were going to do a number of new franchises up, including Fables and The Walking Dead, two of the best comics series of the past decade.

But that pales in comparison with annoucement number 3: a reboot of the King’s Quest franchise.

There are two groups of people in the world: people who claim that Monkey Island was the best adventure game series, and the ones who claim King’s Quest is. The first video game I remember playing was King’s Quest V; guess which group I’m in? But it even goes beyond that. I had the King’s Quest bible, a massive book with fanciful, fiction retellings of all the games, that delved into the universe’s massively weird but awesome back story, and fuck if I didn’t love it. I played King’s Quest V over and over again. It’s one of those games I have absolutely memorized, and one of the defining games of my early childhood (along with Agent and Sonic the Hedgehog and Phantasy Star IV).

Basically, I have massive opinions about this game, but they completely balance each other out. On one hand, there is no possible way that this game isn’t fucked up. It’s not a continuation, like the recently released fan series The Silver Lining, but rather a complete remake, which…well, I don’t feel good about. I realize continuing a decades old game is asking for trouble, but so much of the magic will be lost, I fear. On the other hand, *anything* is better than King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity, which torpedoed the goodwill the franchise had generated over the years.

So, tentative excitement. And you, gentle reader who is to young to remember King’s Quest, I would recommend King’s Quest V and VI, though I am, admittedly, partial to King’s Quest VII and IV. I’m not a huge fan of text parsers, so I never got much into the first four titles, but the fifth and sixth games are the cream of the crop of adventure games.

MASS EFFECT 2 – Review

MASS EFFECT 2 is a videogame developed by BioWare, published by Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by CASEY HUDSON.

Isn’t it weird? We have written 28 (TWENTY EIGHT!) articles about Mass Effect 2, but not a single tiny review? It’s time we corrected that.

So! Although I knew it from the start that liked Mass Effect 2 a lot, it took me some time to figure out exactly why I liked it. I knew what I disliked in it, though. I also knew it was a near great game; basically, for the same reasons ActRaiser was a near great game: the game’s main mechanism had to be diluted in order to hide its flaws.

I’ve only became aware of where the greatness of Mass Effect 2 laid after examining Mass Effect 1. The original Mass Effect tried to play it as much as a new IP could possibly do, for it was, at the end of the day, essentially Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or KotOR – also developed by BioWare) sans the “Star Wars” part. The plot structure, the moral choices, the items, allies and quest mechanisms surrounding the adventure of the newest Jedi of A Galaxy Far Far Away were all basically the same stuff we would relive during the tale of the first human “Spectre” agent of Mass Effect’s Citadel Council. Stuff like these usually leave me raging mad – after all, if I wanted to play that same game again I would… play the same game again! (Coming up next… our merry review for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood!)

Despite that, Mass Effect did manage to deviate from the mold, and during those times it shone – even if such deviations were eventually unpolished. Most importantly, instead of the tired old Light vs. Dark Side bickering involving lightsabers, furries and that same old desert planet that appears to be omnipresent despite being “the planet that it’s farthest the bright center to the universe”, we have a whole new – and incredibly fleshed-out – galactic lore involving xenophobia, the revolt of technology, the frustrating shackles of official regulations versus the abuse and the calamities caused by unregulated environments, all tied up in a neat bundle rich with background details.

It’s from this new, fresh universe that the greatness of the Mass Effect franchise emanates. It’s that mythos that elevated what would otherwise be a trite conflict involving Commander Shepard, the new sheriff in town, and Saren Arterius, a veteran Spectre agent from an alien race whose role is pretty much to serve as proxy Klingons, into something whose meaning and consequences we cared about. Read the rest of this entry

For Immediate Release

If you tend to follow the pretentious British music scene, you would be aware that, for the second time in as many albums, Radiohead have released their newest album digital only, with absolutely no pre-release hype. The first thing we heard about it was two days ago, and now it’s on my hot little computer, coming from the speakers.

Whether or not you care about music, a question is there, waiting: why don’t more games do this? Not even this, release 2 days after announcement, but why do they insist on massive hype waves, years and years of anticipation building up to flawed, nowhere near monumental games?
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SPENT a different kind of game

Games like SPENT are interesting studies in potential. I’ve long contended that the proper avenue for edutainment is documentary and not dumbed down children’s games full of math problems. What a video game, as interactive fiction, can do is let you live the life of someone else, and that is a very valuable tool.

SPENT takes that idea and runs with it, though it doesn’t make it exceptionally far. A docugame about living below the poverty line, it crams in a terribly unrealistic amount of crap to try to drive its point home, that poverty is difficult, except…an unrealistic amount of stuff happens, and the game is, on the whole, too easy. It’s an interesting thought experiment, though, and for that it deserves to be looked at. We have never objected to documentary on account of a lack of facts, so I don’t see the reason to tar and feather a game that does a lot of interesting things because its facts are designed to promote a (pretty good) cause.

Give it a go, in any event.

The Art of Storytelling

Roger Ebert said, loosely, that no one has ever written a video game narrative that anyone will remember in fifty years. And I get the feeling he’s right.

Narrative in video games has had a long, curious history; I’m not here to tell it to you. There’s videos, like the one above, which will tell you all you need to know about the topic. No, the question is where narrative in this medium is going, and it doesn’t seem to be going to a happy place, if the people above are correct.

Composing a good narrative is like sticking your hand into a cave full of asps and hoping to pluck out a ruby. Sometimes they’ll bite your hand off, and you get nothing. Other times, you get something, but you’re bleeding all over the ruby. Sometimes, there is no ruby, just asp eggs. And we don’t need to tell you how that works out.

What I’m saying is, narratives are hard. Not Herculean hard, but difficult. And while a lot of video game developers are getting better at it, there’s still a few crucial problems. When there are problems, it is of utmost importance to look at their root causes, and not just say, “Interactive cutscenes! Done and done!” as it seems a majority of the developers in above video seem to believe.
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Totally Rhombus: Awakened

This week’s big new is the return of the high concept.

Destructoid got a big scoop of knowledge on Awakened, previously titled Hero and murdered along with Midway, and this is the news that made me happiest for the world.

Let’s face it: a lot of new games nowadays don’t try to hit new territory. Of our big releases for the first half of 2011, really only L.A. Noire cannot be described in a “Game X meets Game Y” fashion accurately (L.A. Noire *could* be described as Grand Theft Auto meets film noir, but film noir is not a game). The riskiest titles, Dragon Age 2 chief among them, aren’t particularly novel, they’re just risky. Even if they are great, what newness is there? Not that newness is the sole font of good video games, but it is definitely an important one.

And along comes Awakened, a game which is basically selling itself as an open world, customizable inFamous: a super hero game where you build a character western RPG style, developing powers and fighting in a post apocalyptic setting. This game not only pushes most of my buttons (my buttons are character building, post apocalypse, super heroes, and difficulty), but it’s honestly something I can look at and say, “This has never been done before.” It’s the kind of game next gen promised, but still hasn’t delivered. Sure, we’ve gotten things in this ballpark, but the strong focus on linear narrative has put a stop to these more free form experiences, which Oblivion promised to make mainstream. So instead of a game where you make your own X-Man, you get to pick one of three. Instead of getting some super badass alien symbiote power, you get Prototype. Et cetera.

So, I’m glad someone, out there, is giving the promised “next gen” a go. Someone had to do it. Even more important, I think, is that that trailer up there, while super rough, is *exactly* how you should sell your game. If you don’t have game mechanics that give the audience chills, then…what the hell is the point? Seriously. I know people and developers love their mediocre little stories, but…games are about games. Games are about those moments where you feel like you’ve beaten the system by using the system properly. Why not isolate and promote those, like the trailer above does?

A New Trend in Pre-order Incentives

EA has been an interesting case when it comes to game marketing over the past year or so. Both of the BioWare games, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, completed under EA ownership, have come with the incentive to buy the game new with day one DLC in the case of DA and the ‘Cerberus Network’ updates in the case of ME2. EA has also been doing something similar with its numerous sports properties with its one-time activation code to use online multi-player features. These experiments have clearly been about mitigated used game sales, but what about pre-order strategy? Read the rest of this entry