Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Browser Gaming: Auditorium

If you have not tried this gem of a game yet, make time soon. Auditorium is completely unlike anything I have ever played. In fact, I'm not sure 'game' is really the best description of this title. What ever it is, this is one of the most addicting and fascinating titles to appear on any platform, ever.

Auditorium is a browser based puzzle game with a fairly long free demo. The demo alone could take you an hour or two to finish. The goal is to steer streams of colored light through sound equalizers. Each equalizer produces a different phrase of music when it is lit. By using the available tools to steer the colored light through each of the puzzle levels, you are rewarded with a dazzling light show and a miniature concert as each of the individual phrases blend together into a coherent strain of music.

Cipher Prime, the Philadelphia based developers of this game, have polished every detail to perfection. Even the music, too often an afterthought in browser based games, is memorable. The game can be played in full-screen mode, defaults to full-screen actually, and I highly recommend you not only leave it on full-screen, but you turn up your sound and darken the room when you try it.

But do not visit that web site if you have anything pressing to do. This is an absolutely addicting puzzle game like nothing else on the market. The demo is free, the full version is about $11, and the experience is unforgettable. Auditorium may not be for everyone, but even if you do not get hooked you will not regret checking out a truly beautiful and inventive game.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pass the Cyanide - Top 5 Suicidal Videogame Characters

We got another one of these list things, this time about videogame characters offing themselves. Yes, as in committing suicide. The list is restricted solely to player characters; here, the very guys and gals you play the game with are afflicted with some seriously suicidal tendencies and are willing to give themselves a Game Over. Read on and keep the faith.




#5 The Salaryman from Karoshi Suicide Salaryman


Right off the bat, we begin with this online Flash game in where suicide of the player character IS the goal; every level must end with your character's gruesome (and willful) death. This list doesn't mess about.


The backdrop of the game's narrative is "karoshi", or "death by overwork", a serious social phenomena that has been affecting Japan for years. Work-related stress has long caused physical and mental illness in otherwise fit Japanese men, at times playing a role in suicides in a country already plagued with high rates. Karoshi Suicide Salaryman, the first browser-ready entry of the Karoshi series, is not here to discuss the issue in depth; the game's discourse on the issue is on par with what Postal had to say about American shooting sprees. Tacky premise aside, the game is fun if you are a puzzle fan, and boy, is it loaded with suicides.



Karoshi is an Flash action puzzler in the same vein as other classics like Portal: The Flash Version and Chronotron. The key difference is that your player character, a nameless Japanese office drone with a serious death wish, must be killed off to win the level. The twist works really well, turning the action puzzler formula on its head; you will be scratching your head wondering how to get that safe to drop onto your salaryman's head, or how to launch him into that spike bed on the ceiling. There is an oddity in your salaryman's preference in using the random loaded pistols he finds for puzzle solving rather than, you know, just shooting himself in the head with it. But then again, it's distinctly Japanese that he insists on taking himself out properly, according to the rules of the game. Gotta love that Asian work ethic!




#4 Yoshimitsu from the Tekken and Soul Calibur series


How does Tekken/Soul Calibur ninja fighter and fellow Japanese Yoshimitsu top the last fellow? Easy: his suicide attempts are a form of attack. Chuck Norris would be impressed.


Most samurais in Japanese history committed seppuku, or ritual disembowelment, when they've been dishonored, defeated in battle, sentenced by courts, or commanded to by their masters. Yoshimitsu, however, uses it to kick your ass. He has been doing so in just about everything iteration and appearance of the character within the Tekken and Soul Calibur series of games. Yes, gutting yourself is naturally dangerous and hurts a lot, and yes, he's not even samurai to begin with, but to this warrior, it's worth it to put you down (and makes for great instant replay footage!).


Still not convinced? In Tekken 3, Yoshimitsu will seppuku your face using a lightsaber. A freaking lightsaber. And then get up afterward and do a win pose while chanting "Namu Namu Namu Namu". Suicide is serious business when it comes to Yoshimitsu.




#3 The Entire Freaking Cast from Mortal Kombat: Deception


In a bit of contrast to Yoshimitsu, we have this. The Mortal Kombat series, as Ed Boon himself has always admitted, generally preferred to up the ante in the fighting genre through copious amounts of gratuitous violence. Combat was its own satisfaction in Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, and others; in Mortal Kombat, it was, well, “Kombat”, a violent spectacle of “Fatalities” with some fighting mechanics taped on to it. Kano did not have the gameplay depth of Ken; Ken in antithesis could not rip some fool’s organs out of his chest like Kano. The appeal is evident when you consider the fate of the heavily-censored SNES Mortal Kombat port and what it had cost Nintendo in the 16-bit console wars, but for better or worse, Midway has mostly stuck with the formula: take what the others are doing, and glam it up with hardcore violence.


So, that being said, our seppuku-spamming friend, Yoshimitsu? Mortal Kombat would argue that he is in fact a candy ass. Real men and women off themselves through the most ridiculously brutal and painful ways possible, like Ermac headbutting the ground repeatedly until his skull shatters, four-armed Goro savaging himself with a sai in each hand, and most disturbing of all, Tanya ripping out her own thigh bones and using them to stab her eyes out. Yes, in Mortal Kombat: Deception, the entire cast of fighters can short circuit an opponent’s Fatality attempt by applying their own self-administered gruesome death. Oh for those halcyon days when Sub-Zero’s quaint spine-rippin’ would launch a thousand ESRB ratings.



Some would say this orgy of self-inflicted carnage should automatically qualify this entry for Numero Uno. But that would too rewarding for Mortal Kombat’s cheesy violence wankery, so.no.




#2 James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2


This one, unlike the others, is intended to be a tragedy. A despondent, haunted widower, his wife having perished from a terminal disease, is lost in the brutal, unforgiving mind fuckery that is the town of Silent Hill. He survives unspeakable horrors such as relentless executioners, hellish prisons, and worst of all, an angry fat guy armed with a big-ass pistol and raging slacker monologues worthy of Eric Bogosian. What he doesn’t survive is the recollection that he himself offed his own dying wife in a sudden fit of frustration, the realization of which results in his suicide-by-vehicular drowning, also known as the “In Water” ending, and one of the most powerful endings in videogame history.


What's even more unique about this videogame character suicide is that it's actually the result of cause-and-effect and not just a symptom of the story arc. As long as you avoid giving James any bad ideas (reading books with suicidal prose, examining knives clutched by other, equally suicidal victims of Silent Hill), you have a chance of giving him a different fate. Still, "In Water" is generally regarded as the official ending of Silent Hill 2, even hinted as such by James' own pappy during Silent Hill 4: The Room. It's also the ending you'll most likely get inadvertently when playing the first time; for a lot of Silent Hill 2 players, James ended up doomed the first time through. Personally, I always liked the "Leave" ending, in where James peacefully leaves town after one last heart-to-heart with his wife. After all the torment this guy goes through, it's the happy ending that in fact is truly unexpected here.


Speaking of suicide-by-drowning, James has competition, and it's from none other than this fellow.





#1 Pac-Man from Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures


Let’s put this in perspective. We’re talking about a videogame character who is not only one of the most famous stars in all videogame history, but is arguably their entire forbearer. A corporate mascot-level character whose greatest title has by his 25th birthday alone generated $100 million in revenue and has been played more than ten billion times. Whom, at the height of his popularity, had then-unprecedented merchandise saturation, a song in the Billboard Top Ten, and most infamously, spurred a coin shortage in Japan. And who continues to inspire a cult following, from life-sized models of a theoretical Pac-Man skull to city-scale reenactments in New York City. So it maybe a surprise to know that his handlers didn’t see anything wrong with their corporate mascot pulling a Sunderland himself in one of his own games.



This is from Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, a title change from the Japanese version that seems to imply this to be the true sequel to the original Pac-Man game. If so, then it was, uh, quite a departure (though still fun). Instead of a maze game, you basically play as both an omniscient protector and tormentor to Pac-Man as he blithely wanders about the world. Your slingshot can affect Pac-Man’s environment and experiences in an amazing amount of creative ways, from provoking a bloody battle between him and an alley cat to helping a friend move a couch. Complicating matters is the fact that Pac-Man is now apparently afflicted with both attention deficit and bipolar disorder; his mood swings are in constant flux, further skewing his reaction to various elements in the game. In a neutral mood he’ll usually run away from that swarm of strange fat green insect grubs, but if angry enough, he might opt to just march through them, or if he’s really depressed, he won’t resist when they figure him for an easy emo-meal and decide to (gulp) eat him alive. Speaking of the latter, the various results you can eke from Pac-Man, his moods, and the environment make for some truly bizarre, memorable game overs: getting him stoned on mind-altering substances and leading him off cliffs, killed by falling skateboards in a Three Stooges-style pratfall, and provoking hot dog vendors into squirting an apparently fatal dose of ketchup into Pac-Man’s face.


But suicide? Over eating a strange fruit that resembles a group of gonads fused together? Eating the fruit normally makes Pac-Man just hyper for a bit, however, having him eat it while he’s in a mood that can only be described as “Shit-Eating Grin” apparently sends him spiraling into a depression so deep he’ll drown himself in the nearby water fountain if you lead him over to it. Technically, Pac-Man needn't even eat the fruit; he merely needs to be at that "level" of depression when he reaches the fountain. Talk about impulsive. James Sunderland needs to have the full bore mental assault of Silent Hill and the complete breaking of his spirit before he’ll even consider it; Pac-Man needs only to get bummed out after eating some buzz-killing fruit. James Sunderland needs a sedan and the cursed waters of Toluca Lake to pull it off; Pac-Man just needs the nearest chintzy park fountain. James Sunderland’s life is tragedy; Pac-Man is just a tripper.


It bears repeating that we’re not exactly talking about Bubsy or some other unimportant videogame hero. This is Pac-Man, Namco’s mascot and the Godfather to all other mascots and marquee stars. That’s like Disney releasing media of Mickey Mouse trying to kill himself. Which, uh, actually did happen, but I digress. Pac-Man, you’re number one again, this time, though, for less than noble reasons. Next time, call a hotline.

Classic Arcade Game of the Week (6/29/09) - Double Dragon

It's hard to fathom now, but there was a time when the "beat-em-up" gaming genre simply did not exist. Players didn't do much more than blasting aliens in epic space shooters, or running and gunning in one-man-army games. In 1987, the gaming world was literally turned upside down with the release of Technos' Double Dragon, the first game to give players an epic, martial arts experience. What's more, it allowed gamers to partner up for simultaneous play. Technos Japan had dabbled in the street brawling genre a year earlier with Renegade, but Renegade's complex controls and clunky interface made it a bit of an obscure title. With Double Dragon, Technos took the best parts of Renegade and merged them with even better graphics and play mechanics. The rest was history.
The story of Double Dragon is simply that of a rescue mission. A group of street thugs led by a machine-gun toting goon makes the mistake of kidnapping the girlfriend of martial arts expert Spike, who happens to have an ass-kicking partner named Hammer. On the way to rescuing the damsel in distress, the two brawlers have to punch and kick their way through a legion of street toughs. Besides the common street fighters, the pair encounter whip-wielding women in tight leather and giant bruisers who mysteriously resemble Mr. T. The ending involved a face-off with the machine-gunner, who could instantly kill you with a burst of automatic fire. If both players survived the encounter, they had to duel to the death to see who won the heart of the heroine, which made for humorous endings and lots of smack talk. What made Double Dragon so revolutionary for its time was the use of a three-button system that gave players a multitude of fighting moves to unleash. Just pushing the buttons themselves would allow a player to simply punch or kick, but combining them with joystick pushes would unleash powerful attacks such as a butterfly kick, elbow smash or head butt. The gameplay showed clever depth as well, as punching or kicking an assailant once would allow players to run in and grab the enemy's hair. From this point they could either knee the helpless foe in the head repeatedly or flip them over the shoulder. This latter move proved excellent, especially when positioned near cliffs or spiked pits.
If all this gameplay wasn't enough to amaze people, the game got even more brutal with the addition of knives, baseball bats, crates and rocks. Disarming opponents and then using their own weapons against them was simply too cool for school.

In the United States, the game was put out by Taito, who licensed the rights from Technos Japan. Upon its release in the arcades, the line that was waiting to play was literally five to six people deep. Most people would keep continuing until the game was complete, making waiting in line to play even more of an ordeal. The impact the game had on arcades in the years to follow was enormous. There were literally Double Dragon clones coming out every couple of months.
There's an interesting cheat that exposes a flaw in the programming of Double Dragon's enemy AI. It's basically this - the enemies don't know how to defend the elbow smash attack. When players punch or kick, the enemies are programmed to back away and dodge. However, some Japanese programmer was asleep at the wheel when it came to teaching the enemies how to avoid getting nailed with an elbow to the jaw. All you have to do is attack with the elbow smash the entire game, and all enemies - no matter how tough or big they are - will go down without so much as landing a blow on the player! Playing utilizing this cheat gets you all the way to the end of the game on $.25, but it makes for a boring experience.
Home consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System tried to port Double Dragon for play at home. The graphics were highly inferior, as was the gameplay. Tradewest, who licensed the game for rights to produce the home version, made a fortune despite the notable decrease in graphics, sound and fun. One problem with the home version was the lack of two-player simultaneous play. Even worse, the limitations of the NES technology could only allow two enemies to attack the player at once. Even worse, the game would force the player to drop any weapons held before the next encounter. Perhaps the greatest sin of all was that the NES version didn't provide players with access to all the moves in the game, forcing them to "unlock" new moves by "leveling up."
That concludes this week's look back at classic arcade games! Be sure to check out the blog for next week's installment. In the meantime, get kung fu fighting with Double Dragon!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Battlefield for Free

Been wanting to sample one of the free-to-play online titles, but suffer from an allergic reaction to all things anime-ish, including the anime-inspired MMOs? EA has come to your rescue.

Well regarded shooter / role playing hybrid Battlefield Heroes no longer requires a beta key. This game is free to play, albeit with some ad support and with some micro-transaction action on the side. While the artwork may not be what you expect from a title called Battlefield, reviews so far are looking pretty good.

The price is right and it is said to be fun, so check it out. The more high quality non-subscription online games there are floating around, the better.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson: A gaming retrospective

In light of the King of Pop's tragic passing, (and to help me digest watching the wretched Main$tream Media falling over themselves trying to psycho-analyze the poor man's entire life) a list of games starring the one and only Michael Jackson, who, apparently, was quite a gamer himself.



Mystery game that, perhaps, is not to be

This Dutch gaming website had rumored as recently as last weekend that Jackson was working on a game to help propel his comeback. Game development sometimes has a habit of persisting despite the odds, and if demand from Jackson's fans is high enough...well, let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if it did see the light of day (or perhaps a special Guitar Hero/Rock Band Michael Jackson tribute). What will most likely occur for now, if anything else, before anything else, is a fracas over the estate of the deceased musician, who was deep in debt.


Suddenly not so funny

This recent online Flash game has you trying to prevent an exhausted Jackson from, literally, falling apart on stage in the middle of what promising to be a grueling comeback concert tour. The news media is currently speculating that, tragically, Jackson's fatal cardiac arrest came about from the training he was undertaking to build his physical endurance for this tour. Time to retire this one, perhaps.


Moonwalker

Here we have Jackson merging with clothed chimps and transforming into cyborgs at 0:30, later into a Decepticon-ish jet at 24:44. In addition, we have Jackson battling shrieking, shrinking zombie chicks at 15:30, crazed phallic mecha at 19:15, and a hentai-worthy machine at 17:10. Later, the brutal, violent death of Joe Pesci at 25:00, and before, the truly chilling voice that warbles "I LOVE YOU MICHAEL" at 16:55 (Pesci, that you?). This is, of course, in is companion to the legion of children in bondage, the sight of armies of villains dancing themselves to death at Jacko's command, and Michael Jackson's pre-level shrieks, such as at 12:03. We can only be speaking of one game:




This is not the mediocre Genesis/Mega Drive version, rightly one of the Angry Video Game Nerd's victims. This is also not the non-Sega-affiliated drek that appeared on home computers, such as the ZX Spectrum 128. This is the raucous, at-times viciously surreal arcade cult classic Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, proving that, unlike the movie, games can actually make even intolerable celebrity fever dreams entertaining. Supporting up to three players, three Michael Jacksons (!!) can partake in this fast and fluid beat-em-up, fighting evil and make the world safer for those aforementioned kids. Sega's fun gameplay would ultimately triumph with gamers over what was, we assume, was supposed to be the draw: the license of Michael Jackson. An arcade classic anyone should play once.


Cameos

Jackson had a couple videogame cameos, including a sequence where "Space Michael" is rescued by heroine Ulala from the classic Sega Dreamcast series Space Channel 5, herself no stranger to heroics-by-dance. Then there's his completely unexpected appearance in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2; you've not yet seen it all until you see Jackson pulverize fat chicks and Canadian punk rockers with his fists and no mercy.


Michael Jackson Dance


Finally, we have here, in tribute to the musician, and not whatever scandal magnet he may have become in the end, this little online Flash game. Also available for Facebook and Bebo, it's basically Dance Dance Revolution: Michael Jackson via keyboard; time your keypresses to classic Jackson music in order to build them combos up. A fun distraction and a nice way to commemorate the passing of this unique musician. Rest in peace, Michael Jackson.

Sacred 2: Hack 'n' Slash Heaven

I picked up a copy of Ascaron's SACRED 2: Fallen Angel for the Xbox 360 on Monday and have been hard pressed to tear myself away.


If you are a fan of hack 'n' slash RPG titles like TITAN QUEST, DUNGEON SIEGE or the venerable DIABLO series, there's a good chance you'll fall for SACRED 2.

To be certain, the game is not without its quirks. On a standard definition television the in-game text is too small and difficult to make out. Enemies collapse rather unrealistically in a heap of sprawling limbs. The inventory and spell system is fussier and more buried in menus than it should be. Strangest of all - the game has no PAUSE function. What the heck? What century is this?

Despite all of these negatives, I have fallen in love with the game. I wish to do nothing else but immerse myself in SACRED 2's huge and attractive fantasy world where the enemies are abundant, loot is plentiful, and there's always a new cave, ruin or town to discover.

I'm 10 hours into the game and apparently I've only uncovered around 5% of the map. By my reckoning, that means there's around 190 hours of discovery still to come. Oh, and QUESTS! Don't get me started on the absolutely massive amount of quests available or we'll be here all day discussing it.

Pick this one up if you've been hankerin' for some old fashioned hacking and slashing. I've been enjoying the 360 version, but you can also grab SACRED 2 for the PS3 and PC. Alright, I'm outta here. Those kobolds aren't going to kill themsleves!

Game on, good people!
-David 'Two Hammers' Moore

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ghostbusters

I enjoyed it quite a bit. Unlike too many games these days, it succeeds precisely in what it wanted to do, to say the least what I had wanted it to do. In this case, it's to smartly tickle the tits of fans of the Ghostbusters franchise.

The major details are rendered exceedingly well; right off the bat, you are greeted with the pitch-perfect Ghostbusters score and a jaunt around their firehouse, depicted in loving detail. Easter Eggs, minutiae, hat tips, references, just about everything you can think of, is in. The achievement titles are 90% movie quotes, meanwhile, see this classic Rick Moranis-as-Louis Tulley-as-Vinz Clortho rant? The part where he mentions a "slor"? You get to fight one. Nice.

Even elements of the series originally underwhelming are in regardless, often improved or lovingly mocked. One of my only fond memories of the tepid second film is my best friend, Derek, lamenting of the accursed, credibility-sapping "cum cannons": "You see? I HATE this shit. The Proton Packs have always worked JUST. FINE. But now? Now we need those 'cum cannons', for no real reason, other than 'buy those action figures, kids,'". D, if you're reading this, still makes me laugh, man. :D Anyway, yeah, the cum cannons are back, but this time as a more logical, specialized weapon (it counteracts a sinister new form of ectoplasm called "Black Slime") , and best of all, it no longer shoots flaming pink. Speaking of Ghostbusters II, its meager villain, Vigo the Carpathian, still voiced by Max von Sydow, makes a deserved return...as a sad sack haunted painting you can kick around in the Ghostbuster's firehouse. "Stop burning the popcorn!" he futilely commands. Oh Vigo! Still sucking after all these years, I see. Appreciate those prophecies about Dubya and rising gas prices, though.

I also appreciated that they chose to further flesh out its rich mythology for this one, rather than opt for something more cynical. Instead of predictably "modernizing" the series (the Ghostbusters deal with the ghost of reality TV show stars and haunted iPhones! Ho ho!), or worse, reboot it (a mythology-killing device all too cynically knee-jerk, as James Bond can ascertain), the setting is instead sensibly rooted in the year 1991, when the Ghostbusters would logically still be in their ghoul-catching prime. The opportunity is seized to answer, expand on, and resolve just about every loose end and riddle from the past films, from characters previously handled in aside, to why Slimer's preferred hotel is such a ghostly tourist spot, to why the fuck was there a random river of "mood slime" underneath First Avenue. It also doesn't waste time with explanations and who's whos to the n00bs , instead challenging them to keep up. It all works to make the Ghostbusters mythos more rich and enjoyable, which is actually kind of rare in this day and age of, say, Spider-Man making deals with the devil to take that stifling marriage off of his hands.

Best of all, the cast does their job really well. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are spot on in both in writing and character; the intellectual geek regality of Ramis' Egon Spengler is better than ever, while only Aykroyd's Ray Stantz could make exposition, whether it's "What Are We Supposed To Be Doing Now?" or "Whut Button Does Whut?", that much more fun. Ernie Hudson, one of my all-time favorite character actors, actually has more fun with Winston Zeddemore here than in the films. In the films, Hudson spent too much of his talent tempering Winston's regrettable Token Blackness with a refreshing common sense that the rest of the Ghostbusters tended to lack. Here, though, the character has much more to say, do, and contribute, and so Hudson takes opportunity to have delightful fun with it. The one I was worried about was Bill Murray, notorious for turning in feckless performances when he finds the project wanting, whether it's Charlie's Angels or even Ghostbusters II. Thankfully, he delivers quality comedy that frankly hasn't been this good since, depending on your taste in Bill Murray movies, either The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or Lost in Translation. He not only makes for plenty of LOL-moments, but even gives a few of his lines some of same caliber of quotability as he did in the original Ghostbusters (my favorite is his off-hand summation of architects during the final boss battle, a dig that caused Melissa, herself a former architect, to laugh and fume simultaneously).

As a game? I've enjoyed it as well. While the ground is perhaps shakier with the apparently graphically-weaker PS3 version (this after it was explained that the Xbox 360 was holding back the PS3 version) and the expected forced-cartoon-graphics-to-compensate-for-the-hardware-limits Wii/PS2 version (speaking of art, the latter of which has not been without controversy regarding proper credit thereof), the Xbox 360 sees itself with a fine action romp for 2009, a sort of "Gears of Ghostbusters" with some enjoyable set pieces and gameplay (aside from a slow first level). In modern games, trapping ghosts with the Proton Pack's beams could've easily been a, sigh, Quick Time Event. Here, thankfully, it's a (gasp?) actual gameplay mechanic, in where pros will soon find themselves satisfyingly wrangling and slamming offending ghosts into environments and traps (unless you are playing the Wii version, in which case it's unfortunately a Quick Waggle Event). Another example is the Knee-Jerk Collectibles, which are usually time-wasting "find the random tiny cogs/pigeons/intel/whatever" chores that ultimately are their own "enjoyment". In Ghostbusters: The Video Game, the "Cursed Artifacts" you find and collect (gasp again?) involve a gameplay mechanic. in this case tracking them using the Ghostbuster's famous PKE Meter, and are fun in their own right. They add color to the Ghostbuster's firehouse (love the possessed bell bottom jeans that wander about the station), have funny backstories (a haunted traffic cone that causes accidents? Here in LA, they must be legion), and some are yet more Easter Eggs (The "hot beverage thermal mug and free balloon for the kids" that Egon is holding here is a Cursed Artifact in the game. As shameless merch often is.)

Its drawbacks, as most know by now, is a short game length that clashes a bit with the $60 price tag. The multiplayer is interesting, but perhaps not enough for some; it would've been nice if they had included some sort of extra, more gameplay-intensive singleplayer mode a la Resident Evil 4's "Mercenaries" mode. But for this fan, after years of some truly hideous Ghostbuster games, $60 is worth it to, at long last, enjoy a good one.

Games That Never Made It: Spend the Night

Game development, particularly in recent years, is a costly and risky investment. While anyone can build low-end titles with a little time and effort, the type of game that sells enough copies to fund a studio of artists and programmers is an entirely different proposition. For a new studio, this challenge is magnified tenfold. Programmers and artists do need to eat and make house payments during the development of a new game, and that means the studio has to secure investment funding up front, while the game is little more than a concept. If a new studio loses the funding for their flagship title, it could well mean the end of the studio.

Such appears to be the fate of Republik Games, a Hollywood studio that all but shut down in 2006 when investors failed to appear. Their flagship title, Spend the Night, may have doomed itself before it ever had a chance.

At its core, Spend the Night appeared to be a cooperative multi-player dating game. The idea was that in-game avatars would find dates, and then play out those dates with another player controlled avatar. On the downside, this sounds sort of like an RPG without any character development. Alternatively, it could be seen as the logical extension of The Sims, albeit narrower in focus. Was there a market? Republik thought so.

In 2005, Glennis McClellan who left Buena Vista games to join Republik, said the primary audience for Spend the Night numbered about half the world's population. In her own words:
"There's a myth that women aren't interested in erotic content, which is totally untrue. Women are just as interested in sex as men are but there is little in the way of online content for this vast market. We plan to get women involved, put in features they care about, and make our game both entertaining and accessible."

A social game with potentially endless replay value and immense expansion and marketing potential targeted at a demographic that had largely been ignored by the gaming industry to that time... what's not to love? Done correctly, a title such as this could have been as big as, well, as The Sims. They could have been selling expansion that included digital version of real world popular date locations... restaurants, theaters, theme parks, sporting events, gaming trade shows, etc. This title could have been a gold mine.

So what went wrong? Hard to say, exactly. We do know that in 2006, Republik announced they could not secure funding and were halting development. Today, the Republik website still features Spend the Night, but there is little information, no updates, and not much reason to think this title will ever see the light of day.

As I mentioned earlier, I personally suspect that potential investors looked at the coverage portraying this game as little more than a sex simulator, imagined trying to get it past the ESRB with a rating other than Adult, and decided it was not worth the risk. For Spend the Night to succeed, it absolutely had to have a rating no higher than Mature, else stores such as Wal-Mart would never have displayed it and the target demographic would never have seen it. With much of the conversation on Spend the Night portraying it as something more suited to an adult book store than a standard department store, the game was doomed.

This is not an unusual sage. Games die before they are born more often than we think. Spend the Night, or something very similar, may yet make it to the shelves of your friendly neighborhood gaming store, but for now the idea lays forgotten on the trash heap of abandoned games.

Classic Arcade Game of the Week (6/24/09) - BurgerTime

Starting this week, I'm kicking off a column devoted to the classic arcade games of yesteryear. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in the 80s, when arcades were extremely popular and where there was always something new to discover with each successive visit.



I'm hoping you readers out there will enjoy these trips down memory lane, perhaps even taking the time out to rediscover them yourselves. Even better, I'm hoping that younger readers will discover them for the very first time! Today's PC and console games make these titles look primitive, but believe it or not, there was a time when arcade graphics crushed anything that was possible for the home market, such as the Atari 2600, Intellivision or Colecovision.



This week's inagural entry is devoted to BurgerTime, developed by the Japanese company Data East back in 1982. The game was licensed by Bally/Midway for American audiences. At the time, Midway had been riding a wave of Japanese hits such as Namco's Pac-Man, and BurgerTime proved to be no less lucrative a money maker at $.25 per play!





The premise of BurgerTime is simple. Players take on the role of Peter Pepper, chef extraordinare, who is charged with creating hamburgers while avoiding the deadly clutches of Mr.Egg, Mr. Hotdog and Mr. Pickle. Each burger's ingredients are draped over each level's multiple floors, and Peter must walk over them in order to make them drop down onto plates below. The ingredients will ultimately stack on top of each other to form complete hamburgers, and only after all burgers on a level have been completed, will the player progress to the next stage. For example, walking over a patty will cause it to droop, until the player has completely walked over it, causing it to plummet to the next level below. Dropping an ingredient while one enemy food is trapped on it will cause it to fall multiple levels. The more enemies trapped on a falling ingredient, the farther down it will drop.




The game cabinet was equipped with a standard joystick and one button, which when pressed allowed Peter to perform a pepper attack. Unlike other games of the time, such as Space Invaders, BurgerTime was unique in that pepper attacks were limited to five. Once you were out of pepper, that was it - unless you picked up an ice cream cone, coffee cup or french fries, all of which added one additional pepper attack to your arsenal. These goodies all resembled the bonus fruits in Pac-Man, and behaved similarly in that they would remain in a stationary position in each level. Players had to act fast to pick them up, as they would vanish quickly after appearing.





What made BurgerTime extremely challenging was how the enemy foods were programmed to seek out and attack the player. I hesitate to use the term "enemy AI" here, as that's giving Mr. Egg, Mr. Hotdog and Mr. Pickle too much credit, but they were insidious nonetheless. Instead of taking a direct line to the player, they would take right-angle routes, making planning attacks difficult. Also adding to the game's difficulty was the fact that there was little room for error when maneuvering around each level. If Peter isn't directly lined up with a floor or staircase, he won't go anywhere, allowing enemies in hot pursuit to catch him easily.





Twin Galaxies, which tracks gaming world records, maintains that the highest score ever earned in BurgerTime is more than 11,000,000 points! I can't even come close to matching that, but I do know that in order to progress deeply into the game, being able to memorize and process enemy movement patters on the fly is a MUST. A top player must also know when to use peppers and when to use restraint. While I don't have any proof to back this statement up, I believe professional players must even have the timing down as to when each pepper-awarding bonus item will appear and where they will appear.





Most old arcade games can be described as being easy to play, but difficult to master. This is especially true for BurgerTime. To get far, I encourage players to use the first stage as a place to stock up on peppers, while using none of them. The art of dropping ingredients while enemies are trapped on them is essential to success, and using peppers to waylay multiple enemies before sending them falling is literally the only way to clear later stages. Beginning with stage 6, Peter Pepper must venture into areas to drop ingredients from which there are no exits - he must go out the same way he went in, and without peppers to subdue his pursuers, he's as good as dead. Levels get progressively harder and movement becomes more constrained, and if that isn't enough, the burgers you are required to make become towering behemoths of cholesterol - quadruple and quintuple deckers!





The game ultimately went on to become a smash arcade hit, and was ultimately ported to the home consoles and computers of the day. The Apple II, Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Intellivision and Commodore 64 all saw home versions, but in most cases, they were graphically inferior to the official arcade release.



I hope you've enjoyed this look back at BurgerTime, and be sure to come back next week for another in-depth look at another arcade classic.



Monday, June 22, 2009

June 23: The Wii Grows Up

Ah, the Nintendo Wii. It changed the gaming industry forever by bringing motion controllers to the masses, and changed it again with the Wii Balance Board. It said No to large hard drives and high definition video, and yet has so throughly dominated current generation console sales many don't even include it in the discussion. It is just taken for granted that Sony and Microsoft are fighting it out for second place.

Despite that, the Wii has been scorned by many gamers. The graphics aren't good enough, they say. Or maybe they claim its only good for kiddy games. Or they say they motion control schemes are dopey (unless its Microsoft's Natal I suppose). For all its critical acclaim and market success, the Wii is too often looked down on as a second class console that is only good for non-gamers, grandmothers, and children too young to appreciate 'real' gaming.

Enjoy that mindset. Tomorrow, it becomes extinct.

On June 23, The Conduit will be released. While it is hard to say how good a game will be until it has been played a few times, this title looks impressive. It is a sci-fi shooter that features massive conspiracies, blown up national landmarks, and the likely end of the world. It also happens to be a Wii exclusive.

Granted, the graphics are nothing compared to what the PS3 can churn out, but they are good enough. It seems someone else has learned the lesson Blizzard's 11 million subscriber juggernaut tried to teach the industry: you don't need bleeding edge graphics if you will just use an art style designed with your graphic in mind. A game needs to look good. It does not need to look like Planet Earth. Photorealism is not the goal of all gaming. Great gameplay is. If the artwork is done in a consistent style and the graphics show that artwork off, then you're in good shape.

And The Conduit is in good shape. Sure, we could dismiss this as simply another sci-fi shooter that wouldn't draw any coverage if it were coming out on a 'real' console. But looking at the trailers and the press coverage, I think someone would have to be nuts to write it off that casually. The Conduit looks good.

And yet, The Conduit itself isn't even the biggest story. It is simply the harbinger of a trend. Beginning with that release tomorrow, there is a decent line up of definitely non-kiddy titles on the way. Two horror titles in particular are looking pretty good. Dead Space Extraction goes were many games would fear to go... on rails. If this one turns out as good as it is anticipated to be, we may well see more rail games in the future. Cursed Mountain looks to be more a conventional horror title, but if the game is a good as the website, this one is a can't miss.

Will either of these games be as big as Silent Hill? Doubtful. Similarly, I doubt The Conduit will make anyone forget about Half Life anytime soon. That isn't the point. These titles would look at home the shelf of even the most hard-core gamer, and they are being built for the Wii. They are not ports. This is not a case of dumbing down an established franchise for an inferior system. These are Wii titles that no gamer, even the graphics snobs, should ignore.

Take time today to enjoy the mythology of the Wii not being a system for 'real' gamers. Enjoy the idea that it is a kiddy-game only console with nothing but bad graphics and a gimmick of a controller. After tomorrow, that line of thinking becomes obsolete. The Wii is growing up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Demo Play

In an interview with USA Today, Shigeru Miyamoto of Mario fame briefly described an interesting feature coming to New Super Mario Bros. and future Wii titles. The feature, currently called Demo Play, allows the gamer to let the game play itself. Just imagine...

So its Christmas Day, and you're kicked back in your favorite easy chair playing your brand new copy of New Super Mario Bros. And you get get stuck. You can see the next platform, way up on the edge of your screen, but you just can't quite reach it. Normally, you'd have two choices.
A. Grab your laptop and scour the internet for a solution.
B. Throw your controller through a window while inventing half a dozen new words.

Naturally, most game companies love B. They sell a pile of new controllers that way. Sometimes new TVs and consoles too. But, with children in the house, your etymological inclinations should probably be curtailed, and besides, with the recession and all, no one wants to buy more controllers.

But with the game being so new, there probably won't be a solution on the internet yet. At least, not one that you'll be able to find within a few minutes. Is this the end of your Mario for the time being?

No! You just kick the game into Demo Play mode and wander in to the kitchen for a fresh beverage while the game figures out how to get onto that platform all by itself. Your gaming continues uninterrupted, your control doesn't get flung into the raging snowstorm, and your kids think you're an absolute genius for beating the game so easily.

Meet the future of gaming. As the industry pushes harder to make all kinds of games more accessible to all kinds of people, this sort of feature should become the norm in the coming years. It is optional, so it won't affect any of us who like throwing controllers through windows. But it should greatly reduce the frustration factor of just never quite making the absolutely perfect jump.

On the other hand, this creates a whole new set of problems for developers. If they can't rely on gimmicky puzzles or shoddy geometry to keep you playing their newest sequel for hours, they might actually have to resort to good story telling and new, interesting ideas to keep your time and your gaming dollar. Wouldn't that be a shame.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mini-reviews (of games past [of this year])

Just got a hold of the (hopefully-good) new Ghostbusters game. I'll be playing and talking about soon (they even got Walter Peck, the Big Government-humping, Environmental Protection Agent From Hell to return!), but for now, I'll be blogging a little bit of a few titles that I've played during this year, before joining the chasethechuckwagon.com team (much love, homies).


Saints Row 2
Volition | THQ

I never got to check out Volition's title until very early this year, and one thing's for sure, it was five times the game the odious Grand Theft Auto IV ever was. In fact, not only was Volition's"pompous" Would you rather? ad actually quite prescient, it's not hyperbole to say that literally everything was better, right down to the in-game shopping; whereas in GTAIV I was deciding what one of four or five chintzy hats to place on Niko's head, in SR2 I weighed with heavier decisions: ninja, or pirate? Or naked with a flasher's trenchcoat?

Even the storytelling was superior, compared to GTAIV's of which we were all assured as "groundbreaking" by the mainstream gaming press; the reality I was instead struck with is that Niko is whiny, wishy-washy, and ultimately nothing special, especially compared to the outrageous Cockney sociopath I had constructed in SR2. Niko moans on about a violent past when he's not, paradoxically, semi-reluctantly shooting thugs in the face. The lengths my vicious Cockney friend goes for twisted vengeance, however, is already the stuff of videogame legend. Would you rather indeed.

Speaking of main$tream videogame reviewers, the disconnect between them and the gamers over GTAIV was suspect enough, but worse starts to occur when you compare the cudgels they brought out for SR2 to the loofahs they apparently used for GTAIV. But that's another blog post.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Uncaged Edition)
Raven Software | Activision

This game kicked ass. Fun, fast, stylish, rewarding action, feeling very much in the vein of old NES actioneers. Most of all, I'm amazed to see not just a movie-license game find success with me, a group of games otherwise notoriously shabby (hell, even the PS2/Wii version of this very title WAS in fact shabby), but that this is in fact a movie game about Wolverine. And I still like it.

You see, all this praise is coming from someone who believes Wolverine, with all due respect to his fans, is kinda...closet stupid. In my opinion, he never quite seemed that bad-ass for a guy who makes that his bread-and-butter; in cartoons he was too often laughably tackling and "hugging" his opponents rather than actually using the claws, and even in the comics his bad-ass-ness seemed more like pro wresting-style canned heat that promptly wilted whenever he ran into an actual bad-ass. Further complicating matters is his powers which, aside from excelling at raping common sense (well, moreso than even your average superhero's), is essentially just the ability to recover after a serious ass-whupping. Compare this to Batman, who'd rather just whip your ass instead. Right.

That's not the case in this game. Here he's a skillfully vicious monster that rightly causes the enemies to crap their pants in terror. Add to that some very high quality action direction from Raven and, well, they pull it off; I leave the game at least no longer a strident skeptic of the ol' Canucklehead. Other skeptics shouldn't take my word for it; they should watch the video below documenting the best of my first playthrough.




F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
Monolith | WB Interactive

Yet another McShooter, of which this industry still has a glut going even years into it now, despite any past intra-industry grousing and finger-pointing; ("Too many shooters", hissed Microsoft of the PS3, a couple years ago. Et tu, Microsoft?). Real unfortunate, as the original F.E.A.R. was decidedly not shooter-routine, for most part; containing innovation ranging from its villains and horror setting to some fun mechanics such as its scripting tricks and slo-mo. This title, however, while still not technically bad, is regrettably McShooter vanilla, right down to, sigh, Quick Time Events and Knee-Jerk Collectibles, two of the Four Horsemen of the Mediocre Game Pile-up (alongside Tacked-On Multiplayer and Cynical DLC Schemes). Note to Monolith, although I understand it's far too late: I'd rather look for good scares and gameplay opportunities than "Intel Items" and button-mashing prompts.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

XBox Next

Rumors, rumors everywhere, and not a word of fact.

With Natal in theory coming sometime soon as an XBox accessory, the time would appear to be right for a brand new XBox version, complete with upgraded hardware to ensure that your XBox can handle the complex algorithms of tracking potentially dozens of motion points in all dimensions and manipulating that into visually impressive gameplay, all in real time with no noticeable input lag or loss of game quality or performance. 1UP thinks so, stating conclusively "Yes, there will be a new XBox console next fall." While the guts of the potential XBox Natal might be only minor upgrades, 1UP says one is coming.

Time to plan your next vacation? Not so fast!

Team XBox comes back and refutes the 1UP report categorically. There will NOT be a new XBox next fall. Now, there may well be a new repackaging of the XBox with the Natal system (XBox: Natal Edition?), but that will be as far as it goes. But thats not all. Team XBox goes on with tantalizing hints about what the next XBox will include. But they won't tell us directly. Nope. Stay tuned!

To GameSpy! Who today breaks the story the Team XBox sort-of but not-quite broke earlier. According to GameSpy (citing Team XBox, though the portion they quote is not at the link they give), the Heir to the XBox is aways off yet because Microsoft just won't ship it until TVs capable of stereoscopic 3d are commonplace. Stereoscopic 3d has become popular in the movie industry for some 3d movies. It isn't a bad setup and results in a decent looking visuals through the obligatory glasses, on a large screen anyway.

How will stereoscopic 3d translate to a small screen and how long will it be until stereoscopic-capable TVs are generally affordable and widely adopted? Good questions.

From were I sit, however, this all sounds wrong. Natal looks to be a somewhat pricey addition to the XBox. There is no way Microsoft gives away their price advantage by only selling +Natal editions of the XBox. The day after they announced such a move, Sony would slash prices on the PS3 and likely even up sales between the two units in a hurry. Microsoft isn't that careless with their market advantages, nor do I see them selling the Natal systems for far below cost. In this economy, I'm not sure how well the stockholders would tolerate eating that sort of a loss.

Nor can I see Microsoft banking their future on stereoscopic televisions. A Google search on the subject yields phrases such as "will be shown", "coming soon", "future products", and worst of all for a next-gen game market perspective, "eye strain."

Yeah... Microsoft is going to bank their future on a product that can be uncomfortable or painful to use? Ok ok... the original XBox controller aside, why would invest their resources on the assumption of an unproven technology that may never achieve market penetration?

Here's what we know for sure: there will be a successor to the XBox. Right now, I have to think anything beyond that is just wishful thinking.

WHOAMG

One advantage I felt the videogame always had over film is the degre of expressiveness it can give its characters while still staying palatable and grounded. Whereas film always, to me, looked more and more ridiculous the more it tries to buck what it really has and lather special effects for its actors, videogames on the other hand challenge its artists to personally craft their characters to express and convey with any look they choose, a sort of ace middle ground between film and animation. Quentin Tarantino once dimissed of movie CGI's specialty to allow actors to seemingly exist and express in ways they can't as "stick[ing] my dick in my Nintendo"; a problem videogames naturally don't have as they ARE the Nintendo. And since this medium has been fortunate enough to have many legions of talented artists past and present to have worked in it, the result are scores of scenes, sequences, cinemas, you-name-it in games with characters and their faces contorted in some unforgettable expressions. I plan on doing more of the these such lists latter on, but for now, let's celebrate the Top 5 Most Memorable Shocked Expressions in Videogaming.



#5: The Trade Advisor from
Civilization III





The vaguely-MILFish Trade Advisor from Civilization III was always a nutty broad. When she's not maniac depressive over your society's only one source of Silks, she's having full-on sweet orgasms over news of successful trade routes. But her wildest mood swings come over some seemingly mild setbacks, like losing your resource of Rubbers for example, and the result is this Shocked Expression. When you think of an advisor lecturing a ruler to "Make more trade routes!", you probably tend not to picture the advisor saying this with an expression as if warlord Abe Lincoln, ruler of the primeval Americans, just whipped out his honest dong from his tunic and starting swinging it in circles. But there you have it.

The best is that the Trade Advisor's ribald panic over trade matters are truly timeless, lasting across periods of history from the 30th Century BC to the New Millenium, as seen below.





Check out her overwhelming fear circa Modern Era. Two words: CHILL BITCH! So what if we lost our supply of uranium, we're communist Romans. Let's have some decorum.



#4: Doomguy from DOOM




On the surface of it, this one doesn't seem very fair. Sure, he looks ridiculous here, as in "wang-got-stuck-in-the-jacuzzi-jet-OMG" ridiculous. But "Doomguy", the nameless yet nonetheless highly expressive player character from the PC series classic DOOM, is in fact sporting his infamous "Ouch Face". This is the face he's supposed to make when he's getting hit hard by enemy attacks, enough to lop off large swathes of his health. Since his enemies are demons from Hell, it's forgivable; we'd all look a little gobsmacked if we were to be pwnt so hard by Hell's unholy homies. What makes this Shocked Expression so humorous though, is that thanks to a bug in the PC original, to the player, he instead seemingly makes the face for no particular reason, as if, in the middle of demon slaughter, he just suddenly remembered he left his car keys back at E1M1.

There are guaranteed ways to get Doomguy to make the Ouch Face in the original. In later ports the ouch face bug is fixed or even altered, for example in the Playstation port of Ultimate Doom, so that Doomguy makes the expression when he's hit very hard from behind. Yes, in the Playstation port, "Ouch Face" essentially becomes "Prison Sex Face". There goes another reason for the PC snobs to really hate the criminally-underrated PSX release, an unfair assessment given its AWESOME SILENT HILL-WORTHY SOUNDTRACK and a cool head-asplode effect for the Doomguy's face portrait should he get gibbed.






#3: Henry Townshend from Silent Hill 4: The Room



Speaking of Silent Hill, here's this dude. Already there are those asking "Whuh? It's just some, I dunno, dickhead from a trendy Santa Monica club, and he's in the middle of explaining how Brad Pitt is really underrated as an actor. That's not a Shocked Expression." And that's why he's on this list, for this is actually Henry Townshend of Silent Hill 4: The Room, and this IS his Shocked Expression. Let's examine what actually caused it (fast forward to 2:30 of the video).



So yeah. That's his facial reaction to moldy canine beasts howling like cougars jumping out of a bathroom and cannibalizing one of their own with proboscis-like tongues. And that's Henry throughout the whole game, occasionally with in addition of the phrase "What the hell...?" should the situation warrant it (apparently this one didn't). At least most of the other mains of this series freak their shit when Silent Hill first truly de-virginizies their sensibilities. Henry just looks like someone stole his parking space at South Ashfield Heights Apartments, and thus he would wind up becoming part of the mass negative critique against this title. Silent Hill 4's ardent supporters claim that Henry's mannerisms are of nuance, not your usual cartoonish videogame stock behavior, as well as the result of a self-inflicted dream-like suspension of disbelief. Skeptics would say: Christ, the dogs ARE doing some strange shit, dreaming or not, the guy is braindead. Regardless, all that being said, it's only fitting to add such a controversial (and perhaps nuanced) Shocked Expression to the list.



#2: Shirley from Pilotwings



You're perhaps expecting more Henry Townshend-esq nuance. On the contrary, the money shot is in fact coming, and part of what Pilotwings, one of the three exquisite launch titles for the Super Nintendo, had quite a bit going for it. It was a great demo for Mode 7, the then state-of-the-art console feature for the SNES that allowed one of the background modes to be scaled or rotated. In grand Nintendoian tradition, it was a great, laid-back game for both casuals and hardcores; most hardcores, if they're like me, first checked this out when a casual gaming buddy brought this over to play. And, of course, it had these goofy "pilot instructors" unafraid to trounce your meagre biplane flying technique or skills with "rocket belts" with either uncompromising criticism or damning faint praise such as "Not that bad!". Poker-faced Shirley's comment above came right after the player character skydived 3800 ft. to earth without opening the parachute. Yes Shirley, I'm fine, thank you.

The real fun about Pilotwings, aside from the rockin' surprise heli assault mission where you have to rescue those flinty instructors, is when you score perfects on your tests, after which the instructor is left stunned with an apropos facial reaction; here, the Shocked Expression is actually a sort-of reward and incentive to get better. And what Shocked Expressions they are: Lance's eyeballs roll about in his skull like a cartoon character. Tony looks as if to faint. Big Al is, well, Big Al. And Shirley...well, let's talk about Shirley.



shirley.gif Shirley is squirrelly picture by viciousmaniac

What the hell is going on here? This Shocked Expression looks like it caused actual physical damage. It's nuts even for anime; I get it when there's giant sweat drops on people's heads or when they suddenly fall down with one foot in the air. I've no idea what this is; apparently your Pilotwinging was so incredible her mortal eyes vaporized with joy, reduced to feeble blinking slits. THAT is a Shocked Expression, indeed. Although...hold it a second. "I never expected you to do so well."? Even now, faint praise; surely there no end to your snark, Shirley? Pray I don't err my aim during that helicopter mission.




#1: The Chancellor from Chrono Trigger


before WHOAMG

after WHOAMG

Now this is a man who has clearly lost his shit.

As players of Squaresoft's (now Squeenix) JRPG SNES classics know, they used to get loads of storytelling mileage from simple sprites. The scheming Chancellor here is one of Chrono Trigger's most memorable characters, and being so with roughly only sixteen 16-bit 64x64 sprite images to work with. And the best of those images? This expression, first fully seen when the goodies complete a highly unlikely escape from his clutches by casually hopping into a random hole in time. The already-beleaguered Chancellor could only respond with this reaction, a testament to the spectacular 2D art of the classics and the ultimate in Shocked Expressionism. While we'd all freak our shit if some one just up and jumped into a time portal after giving us a particularly bad day, would we look as awesome as this guy? Probably not.

Monday, June 15, 2009

So You Want to Make a Game?

I can only think of two things that could be better than gaming. Nice fresh chocolate chip cookies would the first one. And playing a game that you made yourself would be the second. Well, assuming the game is good, of course.

And since I appear to all out of cookies... and the chocolate chips with which to make them... lets look at making games. Or, more specifically, how any of us can dive in and start making our own game very soon.

First, let me be clear. You're game will not be pretty. Modern top selling titles look amazing because they are the work of dozens of artists who spend 40-70 hour a week for months making them look amazing. Anything you make on your own will not look that amazing. Or close to that amazing. Or even remotely close to that amazing. One person cannot replicate the efforts of dozens.

That's ok, though. Good games are not built by graphics alone, but by gameplay. Even good graphics can't rescue a title with poor gameplay. Gameplay then, should be your primary concern. As anyone who has sat down in front of original Zelda for ten minutes of nostalgia only to find themselves still playing five hours later can tell you, even the ugliest games be awesome if the gameplay is great. Pick a style of game to make, whether it be point-and-click adventure, or puzzle, or catapulting pies at parachuting puppies, just keep the idea fairly simple in the beginning. Complexity is not your friend when you're still learning the ropes.

With that in mind, there is a surprisingly wide array of software packages available, often for free, that are designed for people who can't even program their VCR, let alone write legit computer code. Some are more complex, some less so. The only way to know is dive in and try them out. Many of them have a fair sized community that can provide help getting started and learning the software. I will not attempt to mention all the possibilities here, but Ambrosine's Games Page has a tremendous list of programs and toolkits you can use.

However, in the category of simple game makers, I will introduce Game Maker 7. Featuring easy installation, plenty of community support, and a fair amount of flexibility, Game Maker 7 might be a decent place to start. If nothing else, there is quite a library of titles made with this program available to give you an idea what is possible.

So go get started. Try out a dozen or so programs and packages until you find one that fits you and your ideas, and get making games. There has never been a better time to be a hobby game maker, and there will never be anyone who will make the games that live only in your head if you don't go do it yourself. So, grab a plate of cookies and get busy. If you do make something worth sharing with the world, let me know. You just might find it being reviewed in this space one day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Damn you Red Faction: Guerrilla

You're too addicting, and it's fugging with my blogging. :( Seriously, Volition's latest game is great. Maybe it'll be a sleeper hit, or perhaps a full-on hit, but one thing's for sure, it's the most fun I've had with a title this year.

As you've probably heard, just about everything in this game is destructible, naturally since the Red Faction series has always been about destructible environments within their GeoMod engines; in 2001, most were going ga-ga over the original McShooter, Halo (when they weren't bored of their minds wandering through the copy pasta rooms of the Library level), and among those somewhat lost in the shuffle was the at least unique pleasure of Red Faction and its gambit: wrecking the crap out of the environment. It was a feature unfortunately limited to gimmickry by the game's bad singleplayer design, but at least an innovative feat and all sorts of fun in the multiplayer. Think mining tunnels to the enemy's base using rockets. As opposed to spawning with the best weapon in the game, a pistol, in Halo.

Years since, however, have brought us "GeoMod2" and Red Faction: Guerrilla, a departure for the series from the FPS shooter into the sandbox action genre. The laborious physics of GeoMod have been upgraded to provide for some really elaborate demolition effects, such as unstable buildings eventually collapsing under their own weight, or explosions flinging debris that impact other structures and objects. All this spread across a huge open-world map that actually remembers just what the hell you blew up no matter where in the game you are, which means satisfying moments like driving past the ruined penthouse I drove an APC through missions ago, causing the roof to fall on top of the heads of a mob of enemy forces. Add to that the variety of weapons you can use, sticky explosives, blockbuster warheads, a bomb that makes literal black holes with apropos effects, and my fav, the molecular-disintegrating "Nano Rifle" (best moment: disintegrating the floor around a poor sniper and watching him panick aloud "What the fuck is THAT?!" before suddenly tumbling several floors down along with the furniture), and the result is loads of creativity and possibility involved in beating the missions, let alone enjoying them, not seen since the OG sandbox champ Grand Theft Auto 3 (and light years ahead from the cynical, disappointing Grand Theft Auto 4).

One other thing that's appreciable about Guerrilla is the content, and what Volition's priorities were with it. On the face of it, the limited vehicle variety and lack of character customization makes this game seem about as spartan as its Martian miner setting. But that's not really what the game is about, and instead, Volition concentrated on improving the core gameplay with a massive weapons set and a variety of structures to boom, which is preferable to a slew of tack-ons, or worse, DLC. In fact, a few within the large weapon set, the Red Faction staple "Rail Driver" for example, could've easily been DLC'd. Instead, the Rail Driver is a sort-of secret weapon you can swipe from rare elite foes at the endgame and add it to your inventory. In this day and age of Horse Armors, it's kind of a relief to get the good stuff the old fashioned way.