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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

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5th Cell’s Hybrid is “Marketable Innovation” at Work


The makers behind the quirky title Scribblenauts have revealed their philosophy behind balancing innovation and marketability. “We call it ‘marketable innovation’ here. Commercial viability is extremely important to us. When we do something, we don’t just throw it at a wall and hope it sticks. We look at market data, what people are interested in playing, and offer our own take on that” states Jeremiah Slaczka, creative director at 5th cell.

Take, for example, how Scribblenauts came to be. “When I was designing the base concept, I looked at Nintendogs,” he explains. “I asked, ‘Why is that a market leader?’ And I broke it down scientifically, looking at things — the art style, how the input works. The core theme is puppies, and you know, nobody hates puppies.” In an earlier interview with Game Informer, 5th Cell expounded on the rationale used to design Scribblenauts. “With the DS, we said, “what is the DS and who is the market?” Thus, using the same line of inquiry he came to decide that ‘surprise’ and ‘imagination’ fit the bill and Scribblenauts was born.

Hybrid, on the other hand, markets to a totally different audience than Scribblenauts did. After all, Hybrid is as cover based post-apocalyptic shooter that will release as an XBLA title. The market for the DS and the 360 are different enough that 5th Cell didn’t feel comfortable continuing their signature quirky/cutesy games on the platform.  “Porting over Drawn to Life to the Xbox is a bad idea because no one is going to buy it. That’s fine. We’re all hardcore gamers. So Hybrid has guns and its post apocalyptic.” Unsurprisingly, 5th cell is taking cues from games like Call of Duty and Gears of War. “To try to be successful, we look at the market leaders and say, ‘What are they doing right, and what should we take from that?’ Then we ask, ‘How should we be different than that?'”

Despite going in with surgical precision, Slaczka assures that they’re not in it for making a big hit. “If we fail, we fail. If we succeed, we succeed. We actually don’t care that much [about making it a big hit], but we want to be successful.”

The Mid Level Game

Cliffy B (the immortal Cliffy B) of Epic Games made headlines yesterday by declaring the “middle class” game dead. His point was that, as the industry went forward, there would only be room for the huge budget blockbusters, of which there are more and more every year, and the niche indie titles, which appeal to gamers specifically and not to the world at large.

Mid level games, and mid level companies, though, are doomed in Cliffy B’s vision of the future. Effectively, if your game doesn’t move a million copies in a month, there’s no more space in the market. They can’t compete with the big budget games, and they cost too much to be viable alternatives to the indie titles.

Jim Sterling, in the above linked article, has written a lot about this topic. His theory, that these games would succeed if they took a lesser price point and released during the typically “dead” months of the spring and summer, is sound; inFamous and Killzone, for instance, have succeeded in large part to releasing in the spring. Mass Effect 2 became much bigger than it otherwise would have been by releasing in a month, last January, where there wasn’t much competition—Bayonetta and Darksiders, released during the same month, succeeded for exactly the same reasons. Other games, like Enslaved and Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, failed because they took the big boys on head first.

This is not my point though; that is Jim’s point. My point is that these games need to stop approaching the big boys not just in chronology and price point, but also through marketing and how the games are actually designed. What we need, I contend, are “gamer’s games”, games that are similar to films that make money, but don’t make hundreds of millions.
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Save/Kill Carmine Campaign Raises $150k for Child’s Play

Also known as the ‘Fate of Carmine’ campaign, which up until recently had been reported to lean towards saving Carmine. Via sales of avatar items and real shirts, Gears fans managed to raise a six figure check for the charity. And, because of that, Dude Huge would like to thank you:

Now, the question is: will Carmine live? Or will he die? We’ll have to wait until the release of Gears 3, it seems, to find out!

Can The Headshot Be Replaced?

“Headshots are ruining games. Think about the arsenal they give you in Splinter Cell. Think about the remote camera, the sticky mines, the grenades, and EMPs, and all this other stuff, shotguns and assault rifles…and you went through the entire game using the default pistol and then the upgraded version of the default pistol, ’cause it’s silenced and you can shoot guys in the head with it really well…all of the spots where you are not being seen by anyone the right answer every single time is shoot that guy in the head…it is ruining games.” – Jeff Gerstmann

Quote taken from Jon Porter’s post over at Bitmob.

I have a confession. I have a confession, and I’m not sure I can explain it, but here it is: I have an addiction to crunch. That visceral feeling, a shot of adrenaline, that rush of blood. I can’t get enough of it. The rasp of your feet when Limbo’s protagonist slides over a mound of earth, Nathan Drake jumping over an impossible abyss only to land in a perfect grapple…there’s a thousand small moments that exist so vividly in my mind, that I can feel in my bones, that I can swear last a lifetime. None of these moments, however, can match the perfection of a single moment: and that’s getting a headshot in Gears.

It’s not a crunch like any other, because it exists on every possible plane. You see it, the skull pops off in this perfect arc: gruesome, but poetic, in this macabre sort of way. You feel it, that perfect surge of rumble, of feedback. And the soundbite! It should be a requirement for any game with a headshot to implement the same soundbite: there’s nothing else out there that gives you the same satisfaction as hearing a Gears 2 headshot.

And the thing is, it’s not like popping bubblewrap or smashing a watermelon with a baseball bat: you’ve got to earn the high. You’ve got to fight for it. In all the FPS games I’ve played, Gears has to be the hardest game to land a headshot in if only because of craptastic connections, and Marcus’ pin-size head doesn’t help the fact that the hitbox for the headshot is questionable. Couple this with the competition of multiplayer and a Gears player’s penchant for masochism, and you’ve got yourself a reward of the highest order.

Of course, this can be said of any game: try searching for Modern Warfare or Battlefield footage on YouTube, and try to find a video that’s not a montage of headshots. Truth is, nearly everyone who plays FPS games are addicted to headshots. Sure, it’s an efficient way of taking an opponent out: most shots to the head do more damage than bodyshots. I’m convinced it has less to do with a player’s desire to get rid of enemies as fast as possible as it does with a semblance of the headshot high.

Think about it. Sure, you can kill a guy. You can do this in a variety of ways, pinpointing a wide array of locations on the body. But there’s a tinge of humiliation that occurs when you best your opponent via headshot. You’re not just killing them, depriving them of bodily function: you’re taking them out completely, their mind is yours to claim as well. You’re turning off the lights, laying claim to body and soul. You have absolute power over them, and all because you managed to dispatch one or two well-placed shots. Power negotiations between players of opposite teams are never more apparent than that search for the infamous BOOM HEADSHOT.

In this way, I can see Jeff’s criticisms clearly: players can become obsessed with the headshot, but it’s because it’s efficient and it feels great, a testament of prowess. No one wants to just “win” when they’re playing against other people (or enemy AI), they want to prove they’re better, they’re faster, they’re stronger. The headshot embodies all those things simply and as elegantly as designers have managed to implement so far. The fact that some games, like Battlefield, give you bonus points for achieving a headshot, isn’t helping, either.

So then the question would be, can you replace the headshot? Is there a way to one-up it, as it were?

Read the rest of this entry

Do You Know How To Play Torque Bow Tag?

No? Shit, son, you’re gonna have to learn on your feet then, because Labor Day weekend’s Gears 2 XP event is incidentally torque bow tag day, too. Proving to us that he’s mentally insane via a 25x XP event isn’t enough for Rod Fergusson, executive producer of the Gears franchise. Nope. “Labor Day Horde = Torque Bow Tag. All Drone and Grenadier weapons replaced with Torque Bows. Chaos ensues… :)” he recently stated on his twitter account.

For reference on that:

It doesn’t stop there, though. Gears players will also have temporary access to golden lancer and hammerburst weapons  during the event, according to Rod’s twitter: meaning you can two-piece or chainsaw in gloriously douchy style. Well, if you’re two-piecing you’re really killing in a hilariously dickish style and you will probably never hear the end of it post-match. But it’s okay baby, you’ve got bling and you’re having fun and that’s all that matters. Just don’t try to buy life insurance if you’re going to partake on the festivities on Labor Day weekend as the blue power ranger, okay?

Do You Have Your Gears 2 Wings Yet?

If not, you may want to get on that–Rod Fergusson, Gears of War executive producer, is teasing some sort of prize in Gears 3 for players who have attained the 100th level on Gears 2 multiplayer. “Trust me. Having your wings in Gears 2 will mean something to you in Gears 3. Nuff said,” notes Fergusson. What that prize could be is still a mystery, but golden weapons are always a nice touch.

Getting to level 100, of course, is no easy feat: take this from someone who has invested months’ worth of time (no joke) into the Gears multiplayer and barely has an upper 60th level. Fortunately for you, not only is Gears 3 still a ways away, but there’s also an upcoming XP event on Labor Day. The XP multiplayer is not set in stone yet, since Rod is taking all the Gears of War Facebook fans and dividing by 1k to dictate what the XP multiplier will be–right now there are 21,544 fans, so that means we’re sitting on x21 XP. The counter stops at midnight tonight, so if you’re interested in getting your wings come this Labor Day weekend, make sure to “like” the Gears Facebook page–the more people who like it, the more ridiculous the XP multiplier can be.

In the meantime, make sure to check out the newly released Gears 3 wallpapers–one of which is pictured above–over at the media section of the Gears webpage.

Gears 3 Looks GOOD In Action

Normally, footage gamers see is not reflective of what we actually get to play: we’re plagued with an abundance of misleading CGI animation. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule: Gears 3 is an example of a game that looks nearly as good in-play as it does in CGI. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at these four animated gifs depicting the multiplayer portion of the game in action.

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Carmine Might Be Saved! ‘Save Carmine’ Shirts Outselling ‘Kill Carmine’ Shirts on XBL

Look at this badass. Look at this fucking badass. That is NOT a guy you want to kill. That’s a guy you want on your team, a guy you’d probably stop to watch every time he decides to curbstomp someone. He carries a grinder with a single hand and he’s taking a chokeslam to an entirely different level with the other hand.

And, the internet agrees with me, so clearly I am right. Y’see, the ‘Save Carmine’ shirts are currently outselling the ‘Kill Carmine’ shirts. I, for one, did my part in purchasing a digital version of the shirts–though I intend on purchasing the physical threads online, too. Yes. Carmine will be saved, and the blue power ranger will deliver us against all evil.

Of course, those sales don’t account for the shirts that were sold at Comic-Con or online. In fact, including those votes might paint a different picture altogether–but I will have faith that the magic of the blue power ranger will prevail. It will be divine intervention by the COG gods.

Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of Gears Of War’s Horde Mode

    I had sworn to keep away from Gears after playing Battlefield, but the 20x experience event this weekend sucked me back in. Gears has a handful of map-packs, and some of my friends hadn’t gotten the respective achievements for them–the insane experience gain this weekend rekindled interest in attaining them. With the Horde overload from this weekend in mind, I present to you this Horde Mode guide, whose purpose is to help you get to level 50 on any map.

    – ALWAYS get a five man team. I realize this may be difficult, but if you’re serious about getting through the levels, then a five man team is a must. Only with a five man team can you attempt to take horde mode on anything above casual. Communication and teamwork will be key, and so playing with people you know is always better than playing with randoms. This is especially true when you consider that having the most points/kills means nothing in a particular round, because scores for maps will be the same for everyone–most randoms do not know this, and tend to play selfishly.

    – Don’t overdo the difficulty setting. A dozen or two waves into casual, things may start getting too hard to handle. Playing on insane may be a blood rush, but don’t count on getting too many levels done in only one sitting. Plus, when the waves start adding extra health and accuracy, you may find yourself doing great…until all of a sudden, you get sniped from across the map by a bot that spawned a second ago. Gears loves aimbots, after all. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, is that you’ll use up an entire clip of something just to kill a normal enemy.

    Read the rest of this entry