Author Archives: Fernando Cordeiro

So far no one is revolving in Deus Ex Hu

So far no one is revolving in Deus Ex Human Revolution

Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

RED DEAD REDEMPTION – Review

RED DEAD REDEMPTION is a videogame developed by Rockstar San Diego and Rockstar North, published by Rockstar Games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by JOSH BASS, DAREN BADER and TED CARSTON.

Before I begin, there are 3 things you should know.

The first one is that I find the GTA games to be a painful experience, consisting of controlling characters I don’t care about, doing stuff I don’t want for people I hate. The second thing is that I’m a big fan of Westerns, which must have been very annoying for my roommates as I discoursed about every single tiny movie influence I could spot in Red Dead Redemption, from John Marston’s duster outfit, straight out of Once Upon a Time in the West, to the plot itself, lifted from The Proposition. The third one is that I really like how most Rockstar games come with an actual map enclosed with the game box. Not only is it a testament for the amount of polish Rockstar adds to its games, but also helps the game be more immersive– as it begins to “embrace” my real life when, for instance, I use that map to plan my next moves instead of eating my dinner.

Moving on. Red Dead Redemption is a good game. It contains some moments that are pretty close to greatness and the amount of care put into this game is almost palpable (Well, actually, it IS palpable! There is that map after all!). Unfortunately, however, it still suffers from issues like pacing, ludonarrative dissonance, flat characters, lack of focus, clutter and noise. There are also some control issues (e.g.: occasionally, turning your horse will feel like you are back to Resident Evil‘s “tank controls” days), but who cares about those, right? However, one thing is for certain: Red Dead Redemption is certainly the best western game out there right now – though I am certain it will be later passed by better western games. Read the rest of this entry

Morality, consequences… and Heisenberg!

Well, considering everyone here is talking about it, perhaps I should jump in as well and pee inside this “moral choices and consequences in games” swimming pool.

While Patricia focuses her attention on morality and the disconnection between action and consequence and Tom rages on about the idea that there isn’t truly any real consequence, I’m still stuck with the word “choices”. When games already have a hard time delivering those, why do we even expect them to deliver anything more elaborated like “moral choices” or “real choices”?

First thing’s first: definitions. A real choice is nothing more than a decision. A decision is an irrevocable allocation of resources that may or may not involve uncertainty. There are two key words here that are systematically ignored by game developers: IRREVOCABLE and UNCERTAINTY. Irrevocable, because a revocable decision is not a decision at all! Imagine you decide to eat a banana but change your mind and decide to eat an apple. Have you really decided anything? Of course not. No resource was allocated. Now imagine you want to eat a banana and drive all the way to the supermarket to buy one, but then decides to eat an apple. Have you decided anything? Yes, you did. Two decisions, in fact. They have cost you time and, depending on how far the supermarket was, gasoline you won’t be getting back anytime soon. Right there, you see the consequence of your decisions: those resources you have allocated are gone for good.

Meanwhile, uncertainty is important because rarely we face decisions that doesn’t involve some degree of it. In fact, no deep decision is 100% certain because, if so, the decision would be reduced to simply picking the option you want more (and then the problem with would be merely not knowing what one wants). This is what justifies the disconnection between action and consequence that bothers Pat: a good decision doesn’t imply a good outcome and vice-versa. I could drive drunk (bad decision) and arrive home safely (good outcome) or I could drive sober (good decision) and get into an accident because of some other drunken driver (bad outcome).

Now, explain to me how can games feature any decisions when players can simply reload their save files and try again? In fact, this was one of my biggest dissappointments with Mass Effect 2. I first imagined the fact that actions and consequences were separated by different games (i.e. the choices I’ve took in Mass Effect 1 would only come to bite me in the ass in Mass Effect 2) would allow for real deep decisions to take place. Alas, the only consequence for not killing a given extra in the original game ended up being merely a cameo by such character in Mass Effect 2.

But then again, maybe this dissappointment was caused exaclttly because I was absolutely certain my actions would have consequences. But why should they? Or perhaps it was because the decision points were so insultingly apparent? I mean, really, when was the last time everything stopped until you decided which wire to cut: the red or the blue one? When was the last time you were asked whether or not to save a Little Sister and you couldn’t even move until such decision was taken? Most decisions we take in real life, even the important ones, are usually done in trivial circumstances – and sometimes people choose without being even aware that a decision had just taken place.

Only games create such drama around decision points. Read the rest of this entry

GHOST TRICK: PHANTOM DETECTIVE – Review

GHOST TRICK: PHANTOM DETECTIVE is a videogame developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo DS. It was directed by SHU TAKUMI.

Ghost Trick was a game I purchased mainly because of its cover. It is pleasantly odd and unique. Instead of your average collage of floating heads or the game’s protagonist posing menacingly just to show you how much of a badass he or she is, the focal point of Ghost Trick’s cover is a lifeless body in a flaming red suit, with his body slumped over at the shoulders and his buttocks facing the Almighty. This dead body, posed in a comical and somewhat pathetic fashion, is the central point of interest of the picture, his red figure greatly opposing with the generic shadowy town and debris at the background. For the Japanese cover, this is made even more obvious by removing all but the dead body – and, while at it, adding a spotlight illuminating it. The cover I’ve purchased shows the phantom of this dead body rising from this miserable body. With more sober colors, it stands so proud, cool and confident we barely notice his bizarre hairstyle. The contrast is glaring and incredibly effective in conveying the game’s premise: death is too trite an obstacle to stop you.

Shu Takumi certainly seems to think this way. His most famous creation, Phoenix Wright from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, often had to deal with the interferences of the deceased in order to find the truth. Here, however, it is the deceased who has to deal with the shenanigans of the living, who still keep that annoying habit of dying, in order to uncover that “truth”. Read the rest of this entry

About Game Reviewing

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Escapist Magazine. That link on our blogroll? My fault. I visit it practically every day to watch their videos (and by the Love of Kefka, those videos can load FAST!). Some of them even excite my mind to the point of warranting a reply in here.

The exception is Lisa Foiles’ Top 5 videos. Until now.

While I enjoy her videos, Lisa hardly ever bring something insightful to the table. Usually, her videos are pure escapism (I SWEAR I looked up at Thesaurus for a synonym, but couldn’t find anything that conveys quite the same meaning!). Lisa is pleasant to look at (although I preferred when she was a brunette), her antics are (very) cute and I am always ready to hear other people’s top 5s just so that I can compare them with my own. But today, I watched Lisa Foiles’s Top 5 Best Celebrity Voiceovers and it irked me in a way akin to the response I have when Extra Credits say something I strongly disagree with.

Obviously, as in any Top Insert-number-here list, Lisa ranks the voice-overs according to her likes. But the thing is that the criterion was not the quality of the voice-over itself, but who the celebrity was. What Lisa did was a “Top 5 Celebrities I Like the Most Who Happens to do Voice-overs for Games”, where she goes on and on about that time she met Andy Serkins rather than explaining what made his voice-over in the game so great.

This got me thinking about one of the biggest issues I have with game critique today and the reason why sometimes I can go out of my way to quote other reviews in my own reviews, so I can explain why something that reviewer said is either right or wrong.

Now, I know I may get a very negative response out of this, but here it is: there is a difference between liking something and that something being great by some artistic merit. That difference can sometimes be hard to spot, but it is there. It is ALWAYS there. Any critic, including game critics, of any worth should know this – and yet so few of them actually do! I can count on my fingers the ones I think they do: Yahtzee, Tim Rogers (if you can ignore his frequent logorrhea, where he tries to pass banalities as if they were thoughtful comments), Thierry Nguyen, Michael Abbott, Jeremy Parish, Samuel Kite are the first ones that pop up in my mind.

“Liking” a game is the emotional connection you have with the artwork. That emotional connection may not involve said artwork’s artistic value – which is something that can be explained, argued and defended. Critiquing something is nothing more than the analysis in order to determinate such value. This is something IGN and Gamespot have never understood, and that Kotaku now has fully eliminated in their new aseptic “reviews” that could very well be written by machines. IGN has a deep problem with being influenced by hype and how big they expect a game is going to be versus how big the game actually is, but much more worrying is how they rate games based only on what they’ve liked. Some of their complaints (and they are complaints, not critiques) are so uniquely theirs, that they have already become perfect excuses for drinking games: one shot whenever IGN complained that Game X lacks voice acting (Does it even need voice acting? Who cares!); two shots when IGN complains Game Y is “wordy” (What does IGN has against reading anyways?). The result is that IGN likes practically everything and then, at the end of the year, it launches a “Disappointments of the Year” list filled with games they have already said they liked – meanwhile the rest of the internet does a collective facepalm. Gamespot, however, is worse. Gamespot doesn’t review games, it just describes them!

People like stuff they know are not great all the time, but they usually think this only happens when they like something that is really, really bad. Superman 64 kind of bad (and in this case they tend to fall into a ‘so bad it’s good’ fallacy, like Jim Sterling did when he reviewed Deadly Premonition (but I forgave him as soon as I’ve read his awesome Final Fantasy XIII mock-review)). However, this is a much more common occurrence than people realize. Take, for instance, Assassin’s Creed II. This is a game I like. In fact, most people do too. However, artistically, Assassin’s Creed II is broken. It’s filled with nonsense idiosyncrasies, a broken plot with missing parts, an ineptitude to understand the theme it tries to carry (brought over by the original game), many superficial and superfluous characters, etc – even though its technical package is sound! The other side of the coin is Metal Gear Solid 2: a game I really dislike – and most people do too! – but is, nevertheless, filled with artistic merit as, in it, Hideo Kojima wove the most cynical commentary on the nature of sequels I have ever seen in any kind of medium.

This, however, is beyond outlets like IGN and whoever believes that “critiquing a game” is just explaining what they like or dislike about it. They will be limiting themselves, saying that Assassin’s Creed II is a greater game than the original (it’s not) because it has a new monetary system or because the player can now swim.

There is more than that, of course. Being able to write a compelling prose will add a lot to your piece. But because  I can’t I have to be content in ending this post like this.

PS.: Hey, Lisa, is it normal to feel creepy when visiting your website? Because, you know… I kinda did.  (Not even your trusted “Import a Russian Wife” website of choice has that many pictures of a woman posing)
PPS.: Also, how tall are you? Just asking…
PPPS.: Nevermind. My wife say I should not ask that. My wife, she very good wife, bakes good goulash for Fernando to eat.

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

ALAN WAKE: THE SIGNAL & THE WRITER – Review

ALAN WAKE: THE SIGNAL & THE WRITER are expansions developed by Remedy Entertainment to be downloaded at Xbox Live Arcade for the game ALAN WAKE for the Xbox 360. It was directed by MIKKO RAUTALAHTI and MARKUS MÄKI.

Alan Wake is lost again. This time, he’s gone deeper than ever before: inside his own mind. But luckily for him, his mind is inhabited by a terrain he is certainly familiar with: a surreal version of Bright Falls. Both expansions, The Signal and The Writer, are about the same story and one will be incomplete without the other. That being said, they are still distinctively different gameplay-wise. While The Signal has some more interesting combat mechanics, The Writer is focused, has a clearer objective and cooler scenarios. If I were to rate them separately (although that doesn’t make much sense (more on that later)), I would say The Signal is schlock but The Writer is good.

The main problem with The Signal is its general lack of direction. Read the rest of this entry

Awards Are Awesome: Here are some more!

Screw introductions. Let do this!

Game of the Fuckin’ Year: Alan Wake

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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!

 

Runner-up:

Looking at the broken ceiling of the original Normandy as I rushed to save Joker in Mass Effect 2.

For the Ugliest Bastard Alive

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.

Time to save the galaxy, Quasimodo!

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! 🙂