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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

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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.

Alan Wake Writer Blames Ludonarrative Dissonance on Game Expectations

Ah, ludonarrative dissonance: we’re all familiar with it. It’s the disconnect between the narrative and ‘play’ aspects of a game. Think, for example, how Nathan Drake is characterized as a likeable good guy and yet we spend all game killing dozens upon dozens of people: the narrative would suggest Nathan is not capable of that.

Anyway, in an interview with Game Sugar, Remedy studios writer Mikko Rautalahti has the following to say about storytelling in video games:

“I think it can be difficult to tell stories in video games. There are all these conventions – you are expected to have a certain amount of combat, a certain minimum number of gameplay hours, etc. These conventions aren’t really engineered with storytelling in mind. So a lot of the time, you end up kind of glossing over some of the details in your head – I mean, if you’re playing the lone hero, in terms of the story, does that guy really rack up a four-digit body count? Does he really get repeatedly shot with high-caliber weapons and mysteriously heal himself? And if you really get stuck at a difficult part, does that really mean that the hero also spent an hour just running around in frustration and then quit. Probably not, you know?”

Perhaps it is time that game developers start breaking convention for the sake of the medium, then, no? We know we can achieve technical/mechanical decency, now it’s time to take that one step further and achieve ludonarrative harmony. And it’s time we stop being appeasers about this all, too, stop giving game developers reasons to skimp out on the narrative. They have no reason to take narrative a step further if we’re happy with experiencing the same shoddy conventions over and over again.

Not-So Weekend Note: It’s Persona 3’s Fault

Yup. That’s why there was no weekend note last week, and there almost wasn’t one this week! Last week, there was only a month or less left in my game, and I figured that I could burn through it and move on to P4. How wrong I was…there’s still 10 days left and they’re taking forever to go through. Today, however, I am confident that I will finish the game. Nyx is gonna taste my shiny metal ass in just a few hours. It’s funny how the end of the world can be stopped by a bunch of high schoolers…

Seriously, playing P3 is just about the only thing I’ve been doing for a while. I don’t even know why, I just can’t stop playing it. I did, however, manage to beat Uncharted 2 during my downtime. I still haven’t gotten to the Indiana Jones movies, so that review won’t be coming for a while. One of the best games I’ve played in a long while was followed by just about the worst final boss fight…but I’m not sure that could have been helped. Actually, it’s better than the final “boss” on Alan Wake, so I guess I can’t say it’s the worst final boss fight. Still, the villain was pretty terrible to begin with, and so the final battle couldn’t have been much better. After finishing U2, I realized that I would probably enjoy a game that allows me to climb up stuff…and so I bought Assassin’s Creed 2. SO MANY GAMES….but, I have confidence that I will be able to get through my backlog.

With that out-of-the-way, I’ve started on Heavy Rain. Man…I can already tell I’m going to play this game a couple of times. Sure, it has a much slower start to Indigo Prophecy, but I can tell it’s going to be a fantastic title nonetheless. On that same note, research on the likelihood of the ARI tech existing in reality is starting tomorrow…hopefully that article can see the light of day this week. Aside from this, I will start playing Eternal Sonata concurrently with Heavy Rain…and I very much look forward to the famed flashback of the earlier part of a certain cutscene. Many lols will be had.

In other news, the Alan Wake book–along with a few others I mentioned in an earlier blog post–will be arriving sometime tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned as I bring you my impressions on that…I figure it can’t be worse than this excerpt of ‘Departure’ from Alan Wake. Seriously…I think that’s almost Twilight level. Without any sparklies or vampires. Hopefully Rick Burroughs brings something good to the table.

Aside from that, I’m sure I could keep babbling on about nothing but you should probably go watch some fireworks or something. It’s a holiday weekend, people!

In Praise of Being Praised

It all began in the confessionary. Graham was telling us how he almost stopped playing videogames forever (I don’t think he would though) when we started debating about how to algebraically measure a game. It eventually came down to issues related to in-game grinding, which led to issues related to grinding for achievement points. I love to make fun of Graham’s inexplicable (well, to me (and everybody else) at least) gaming tastes. With this debate I might just have just given him the ammo he so longed for to fight back.

I’m an Achievement Whore.

Pretty obvious, right? After all, I am the guy who posts fictional achievement messages into his own stuff. Coincidentally, I am also the leading writer in terms of Nightmare Mode’s “writerscore”. Also important: who cares? Well, I do. That’s more than enough for me to keep posting these things. And….. ooooops! I did it again!

I don’t have a Gold membership for Xbox Live. I tried playing Gears of War online only once and discovered that I suck at it. Nevertheless, I have finished both games at the “Insane” difficulty. Why? Because of the “Suicide Missionary” 150 G Achievement, that’s why. It is a pretty sweet felling to receive that little badge after all that work I’ve had defeating the lambent Brumak (well, the Brumak itself was pretty easy, but who cares? I’m trying to make a point here!). That little badge is now added to my gamer profile. By comparing my profile with Patricia’s, I can see that – despite being able to kick my ass online – she hasn’t finished the game on Insane yet. I feel a bit of pride because of that.

Receiving virtual Achievement Points for virtual accomplishments is probably one of the biggest innovations of this generation. It’s even bigger than motion sensing and 3D graphics, because the concept of granting achievements can be applied to the real-world accomplishments as well (they ARE an incentive system, after all). They are more than a mere incentive system though. Read the rest of this entry

Alan Wake Sells Under 200k In US

Ruh-Roh, Shaggy. This can’t be good for the folks over at Remedy, who have said they are “betting the farm on [Alan Wake] and if this isn’t a success we’ll be selling hotdogs in Helsinki. Really.” Of course, Alan Wake isn’t the only title cowering in fear behind the shadows of Red Dead Redemption and Super Mario Galaxy 2–reportedly, Prince of Persia, Blur, Shrek, Lost Planet and Skate all failed to hit the 200k mark. Patcher speculates that these underwhelming performances by big-name titles are  “beginning to reinforce the notion that the video game industry is in a state of persistent secular decline.”

“Everything’s gone into this project so this will ultimately set us up for how we continue and how many video games we can make in the future,” Remedy has stated in the past. And yet, they are apparently hiring someone for a “key position in a AAA console project.” I mean, we all know that they’re itching to make Alan Wake 2 a reality. In fact, that’s probably exactly what they’re hiring for. Is that endeavor really a good idea with such sale figures flying around?

I may have disliked Alan Wake, but I really dislike hot-dogs!

If You Own Alan Wake, You Can Enter This Contest

Remedy is holding a contest which can net two lucky winners an Alan Wake poster signed by the entire development team, an Alan Wake 360 faceplate and mini-flashlight. Actually, I’m surprised one of the prizes isn’t a pack of Energizer batteries, a Thermos and/or a Verizon cellphone…I mean, they’re giving us a flashlight, why not give us batteries to go with that? The advertising would make the most sense here, in real life!

Anyway, entering the contest is simple. All you’ve got to do is take a picture of yourself holding a copy of the game, which you have to post on the Alan Wake Facebook Page. This also means that you have to become a fan of Alan Wake on Facebook, because otherwise you can’t write on its wall. There will be two drawings, one randomized, I assume, that will be awarded to any old picture that features someone holding a copy of the game. The other one will be awarded to the most creative entry…for those of you that are stumped, Remedy has the following suggestions, “Dress up like Alan or a character from the game, make the photo spooky with lighting or anything really.” I, however,  suggest you make your way to your local scary, scary forest and go from there.

To read the full rules and details, head on over to the official Alan Wake Forums.

The Page Turner

Well, after finally finishing Mark Danielewski’s ‘Only Revolutions’–an eternal, idyllic and American love story/maze which took me a few years to get through–I knew that I could begin tackling my goal for the summer: to read more. And so Graham and I set out last night with two objectives: to browse, if not buy, a book or two to read, as well as to find the original Indiana Jones movies.  As I near the end of Uncharted 2, and I begin thinking about my hypothetical review, it seems neccesary to have seen the movies which so many compare the game to.

Anyway, we ended up at Chapters and started combing through the entire store, trying to find something that would pique our interest. As I looked through the fantasy section, I noticed something strange. Isn’t that the cover of Alan Wake, I thought to myself? I doubled back, and sure enough, there it was: Alan Wake, by Rick Burroughs.

Interested, I turned to the back and read the following:

Welcome to Bright Falls-a seemingly idyllic small town in the Pacific Northwest. The perfect place for Alan Wake, a bestselling crime novelist, and his wife, Alice, to relax for a few weeks. Maybe a second honeymoon and the fresh air will cure Wake of his writer’s block. But when Alice goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Wake’s desperate search for her leads him into a hell only he could imagine. In the depths of nearby Cauldron Lake, a dark and malevolent presence has awakened from a long slumber. It’s reaching out now, turning the townsfolk into mindless killers. Sheathed in shadows, vulnerable only to light, they are Taken. Wake’s journey will lead him to the very edge of madness, and deep within the dark woods, he will come face-to-face with a story he has no recollection of ever writing.

I was intrigued–Alan Wake, a book? Hell, I was excited, even–what if the book was better than the game? What if I thought it was just as bad, considering that I might be subjected to more of Alan’s terrible “literature”? Who’s Rick Burroughs?

Read the rest of this entry

4 New Alan Wake ‘The Signal’ DLC Gameplay Videos

Things! We learn them from these videos showcasing gameplay/minor plot elements in Alan Wake’s upcoming DLC ‘The Signal.’ So, to list what I learned from the videos:

  • Thomas Zane is indeed involved. In the first video, Alan mentions that “Zane left me a page, he was trying to help me”
  • The DLC takes on the idea that the game took–that your creations are turning against you–and this time applies it to your imagination in general. Barry says that ‘random stuff in your head, imagination can be your enemy…’ Lame.
  • The birds make a return, but this time they’ve been reskinned as Alan’s novels. Is this Remedy’s idea of changing things up? Also…lame. Then again, I just hate bird enemies in general when it comes to video games.
  • ‘The Signal’ refers to, at least in part, your HUD radar. It also seems to refer to something else which is unnamed and unseen in the videos, but when Alan says that ‘the signal is going haywire,’ its your radar that’s going crazy.

Anyway, view the aforementioned videos below:

Hit the jump to see the other two videos.

Read the rest of this entry

Blog: Movies and Novels

Allow me to be philosophical for a moment (and yes, kids, you’re riding with me today! Patricia’s off doing important, Patricia-y things. It’s kind of like having your crazy ex-hippie uncle pick you up for the weekend, the one whose first question is, “Have any of you kids ever tried hashish? It’s magical!”).

I was thinking this morning about films, because a friend of mine was having a discussion with me through facebook, the medium of kings, about movies. Specifically, action movies and comedy movies. How no one cares about direction in those movies, and how the directors are often seen as “juvenile”.

And this, for some weird reason, got me to think about video game pacing.
Read the rest of this entry