Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wired on Duke Nukem Forever

As one patient fan pointed out, when development on Duke Nukem Forever started, most computers were still using Windows 95, Pixar had made only one movie — Toy Story — and Xbox did not yet exist.
At some point, coverage of Duke Nukem Forever hit a wall. Blame the tight-lipped developers or a lack of creativity on the part of games journalists; either way, most articles that showed up amounted to some variation on "Duke Nukem Forever is coming soon" with a snide editorial comment about how it probably won't be coming soon. The true story behind the game's twelve-year life and recent death, however, has continued to be the cover story that every game magazine editor wishes they could write. It was only a matter of time before someone did. While Clive Thompson's Wired article isn't quite comprehensive --most of the contributors are anonymous, and co-founders George Broussard and Scott Miller declined to be interviewed-- it's the best stab anyone's taken at the story of Duke Nukem Forever's production. Also, check out the fantastic illustrations by A Life Well Wasted poster designer Olly Moss.

Wired: Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem

Thursday, May 14, 2009


When Naked City's self-titled LP debuted in February of 1989, it brought with it a whole new way of looking at music. Inspired by everything from Napalm Death to John Coltrane with cartoon composer Carl Stalling as the great unifier, what John Zorn and crew brought to the musical table was genre hopping; often, within the same song. Naked City was one minute Ornette Coleman, the next Brutal Truth, and then whatever the hell they felt like. The sound has aptly been compared to a radio on seek; that is, if each station you came upon featured the same band playing something different. It went on to inspire avant rock for years to come; indeed, where would Mike Patton and his associates be without Naked City?

Refrencing Naked City seems like the best way to lead in to ROM CHECK FAIL, a quirky freeware game born out of Tigsource's Video Game Name Generator competition. RCF is almost the literal video game equivalent to Naked City; imagine if someone wrote a program for the Wii that randomly and dynamically switched virtual console games on the fly. One minute you're Link facing off against a horde of Ghombas; the next, you're the ship from Defender versus the Space Invaders in a Pac-Manified version of the first stage from Donkey Kong to the tune of Stage 1 Double Dragon.

Despite the absurd mess that the above makes ROM CHECK FAIL sound like- and in some ways it is- it is a real game with a set, achievable goal. A few things stay the same despite the random changes: each stage has a set geometry that doesn't really change (though its textures do); your goal, whatever you are at any given point, is to destroy all enemies onscreen, whatever they are at any given point. Kill them all, you move on to the next stage (twenty stages in all).

In reality, the game itself is about as simplistic as most of the games that its emulating. The real fun comes from the absurd clash of game mechanics that come from the switches. It's not just sprite changes; both you and the enemies play like they would in their respective games, and that means everything. It adds a whole new layer as far as attention goes: since each "phase" of the game lasts for something like ten seconds, your position becomes a thing to look after. For example, if you have a line of floating asteroids right above you that suddenly become solid, gravity bound Ghombas and drop, you're screwed. And then you have Pac-Man, a character that starts running in whatever direction you were previously pointed towards as soon as the switch occurs, which gave me more than a few instant deaths. Luckily, that's not impossible to master. As you play, you pretty quickly get a feel for how long each segment lasts, and the game does give you fair warning in that the screen and sound glitch a few seconds before.

And then there's the game's replay factor. I'm honestly hyper-skeptical of most claims that "no two play-throughs in X game (*COUGHLEFT4DEADCOUGH*) are the same!", but this game is the most literal interpretation of that idea that I have ever seen. When I say that no two games are the same, I mean the appearance of the stages, the music, the enemies, and hell, even the character you control. ROM CHECK FAIL embraces randomness in almost every aspect of the game, and it's kept me playing through multiple times. Luck plays an important part, too. A stage that might take me several minutes could also be completed in less than a few seconds; it's all based on the luck of the player character/enemy combo draw. Of course, therein lies the games biggest flaw (if you want to call it that): it doesn't even pretend to be a balanced game. Several of the player characters, such as the Spy Hunter car and the Defender ship have ranges limited to 1-2 directions. In the case of the near-useless Space Invaders tank, not only do you get one firing direction, you lose y-axis movement. When your enemies are bubbles or ghosts, you're pretty much finished. It's frustrating, sure. But the game, in general, is definitely on the easy side. You gain extra lives at the drop of a hat, and it's pretty well guaranteed that you'll at least make it to the last few stages on your first try.

With ROM CHECK FAIL, developer Farbs has created a rapid fire nostalgia-fest viewed through the lense of a trigger-happy radio selector. It's equal parts classic arcade, WarioWare, and Naked City. RCF is a game that does John Zorn and Yamatsuka Eye damn proud.


Free download from the offical website
Some Naked City for your listening pleasure:
Speed Freak
Jazz-Snob, Eat Shit!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What I Want from Special Editions

The Criterion Collection is one of best things to come out of the home video industry. Releasing high priced DVDs that often contain veritable gold mines of information about important films (as well as "definitive" versions of the films themselves), Criterion in many ways forms the basis of what I want to see from game publishers in the future. Now that the Special Edition SKU is in full swing (name a big name title coming soon; it has a special edition), I would like to see special editions that are more than just a tin box with a game disc and an action figure inside. I'd like to see a Criterion Collection of gaming.

It's a bit much to ask this of the special edition of, say, Resident Evil 5. The video game industry is tight-lipped, and you wouldn't expect the level of honesty of a Criterion Collection even from a newly-released film. You have to give it some time, of course. Or, in this case, you could just go back in time and, with the unlikely permission of the original publisher, give us the special edition of an important game of the past?

What would you pay for Super Mario Bros. - Criterion Collection? It's easy to imagine the very basic idea of what that could be. A nice package; the original manual; a disc containing the original game and an in-depth documentary on the making of the game. Don't get me wrong; the documentary could be awesome. Video game development was still an untamed land in the early 1980's, and an in-depth story on how one would make a game back then-especially when that game is Super Mario Bros.- would be fascinating.

What I'd really want out of a video game Criteron Collection is something that would work a bit like the albums of unreleased demo's some bands release. Let's take Rhino's colossal 7-disc release of The Stooge's Fun House album. 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions documents every take from the Fun House recording sessions. And they aren't all pretty; there are plenty of false starts and studio dialog in the 142 tracks provided. But the real joy is seeing how one of the most important albums of the 1970's came together. Some songs never made it to the final album (Lost in the Future, Slide). Freak became L.A. Blues, while Loose was originally titled I'm Loose. We get a sense of the atmosphere of the studio through the tracks of studio dialog and get a glimpse at what could have been; a radically slower version of Down on the Street, an obscure single mix of the same track with Don Gallucci pretending to be Ray Manzarek of The Doors. We get to see Iggy Pop slowly putting together the final lyrics with each take.

Perhaps game publishers could take a similar approach with versions of games. Game making is, from my limited knowledge, an iterative process. Ideas are tossed around. Things change. The product that is set out to be made is often times not the product we recieve. Just try searching for beta versions of classic games on Youtube, and you'll find such gems as this SNES Wolfenstein 3D video with it's gore still intact. Or try this Super Mario Bros 2 prototype video. And those are pretty mild examples. What if Super Mario Bros. Criterion Edition contained every playable version of the game? What could we learn about how the game was made, or even video game design as a whole from playing these unreleased versions of one of the most revered titles ever released? I think being told about it could be fascinating, but being shown, or even better, playing these versions would be far more rewarding.

Of course, I wouldn't expect something like this anytime soon. The video game industry is far too tight-lipped for the kind of honesty I'd want out of this; and I don't at all begrudge them for it. But give it a couple decades-and video game's eventual wide recognition as an art form-I think we'll be seeing something very much like this.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It finally happened

As of Saturday, May 2, 2009, the red ringed tragedy has finally hit home. The three-red-ringed tragedy, specifically. As it turns out, Microsoft's official 360 support page lists four possible combinations of red rings, which in turn point to four separate issues (I guess?) My Xbox fell victim to the big one; the reason for the supposed 30% failure rate among first-gen 360 hardware.

A warning to future red-ring victims: the crash will scare the shit out of you. Mine came as a frozen screeching screen of fucked-up colors while playing Bully. I took it as a sign to quit playing Bully; to be honest, I wasn't complaining. So I gave it twenty minutes, booted the system back up, and went upstairs for a drink. About halfway up the stairs, I hear a sound emanating from my TV that I can only imagine approximates what hell must sound like. The damn thing froze mid boot. I tried it a few more times before getting that final conformation, the red rings of death. Saturday pretty much sucked.

But hey, repairs are free.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Game Log #11

  • Burnout Paradise is a racer with the OCD gamer in mind; or, rather, the Crackdown fan. The idea is thus: combine the basic tenants of the Burnout series with over the top violence (strictly car-on-car in Paradise City) and widespread quick events, which kept Crackdown interesting for a few hours. It's also got the same eaisly-accessed collect-o-mania that kept Crackdown interesting long after that. Paradise succeeds where Crackdown fails in the variety and depth of it's various events. Whereas Crackdown's events where largely beat-the-clock affairs that felt like afterthoughts, Burnout manages to keep throwing in new and exciting things to do, while spacing them out enough so that you never feel you're doing the same thing too much.
  • Dark Sector is the kind of game that I like but know that I'm not going to actually finish within the first hour. It's mechanically sound; in most ways, that is. If you think Gears of War moves and shoots well, you'll agree that Dark Sector does the same. The game's most marketable feature, a remote controllable triple-bladed boomerang called the glaive, has some issues. So far, the unique aspects of the game (some of which are very noteworthy) are often drowned out by paint-by-numbers level design and hideous character designs. I'll try and stick with it as much as I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reductionisim in Discussions of Games (The Bad Kind)

Reductionism as a method of critical attack is highly popular among message board users, bloggers, and podcasters alike. One common argument I've seen is the use of comparison to an older game as a means to demean the game in question. In other words "your game from 2007 is no different than this game from 1987. And that's bad."

We saw it pretty strong around the release of Call of Duty 4 and it's single-player component. The endless spawn closets, enemies with set positions, and linearity drew claims that the game was no better or different than Hogan's Alley or Point Blank. This, of course, is a valid claim. Much like Call of Duty 4, Point Blank was a game with near-realistic graphics, a diverse arsenel of weapons, vehicle missions, and a fantastic, well acted-storyline that plays on modern issues. Oh, and don't forget the ability to move and take cover. All of these were ripped straight from Point Blank. Right.

Sarcasm aside, I feel like that's where this argument breaks down. The level of reductionism required to say "X game is basically Y game" to the level people have with Call of Duty 4 is not only absurd and a disservice to the game as a whole, it also feels disingenuous. It seems to me that when you go into a game with the mindset of ignoring everything about the game in favor of a straw man comparison, you've gone into it with a vendetta.

Depending on what theory you subscribe to, there are one to thirty-six plots in literature. I think it would be interesting to ask how many and what are the basic game types (plots?), perferably outside the review or discussion of one particular game. Despite all the video game industry has innovated over its many years of existence, it falls to reason that game mechanics are no more complex than literature, and can probably be boiled down in the same way.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Can't Play Evil in Fallout 3 (and Why I Can in Fable 2)

Having completed Fallout 3, and currently playing through Fable 2, memories of the comparisons of the two around their release dates are all coming back to me. With two sandbox, time intensive RPGs being released within the same month, comparisons were bound to be made. Sides were chosen. Months later, now that the dust has settled with neither game a slouch in sales, the similarity that has been sticking out in my mind is the element of moral choice, an element both games were promoted highly for. In particular, I was struck by my own moral choices in both games.

My character in Fallout 3 is basically John Wayne of the American Wasteland. The fearless avenger; always looking out for the little guy. Rather than bother with diplomacy, I killed the entire slaver camp on sight. By the end of the game, my Karma was about as high as it could go. Fable 2, on the other hand, has pretty much been the polar opposite. My "hero"-in the loosest sense of the word-is a dirty rotten bastard decked out with horns, glowing eyes, and whatever having your corruption-purity slider all the way to the left side does to you. I've taken almost any opportunity to be Albion's biggest asshole; from gleefully murdering the entire city of Oakfield (which, much to my chagrin, didn't seem all that affected by it upon my return ten years later) to sacrificing my husband for points at the Temple of Shadows. And don't get me started on monogamy and extra-marital group sex.

Several hours into Fable 2, I realized that I was playing these two games as polar opposites. It confused me at first. They're both games with good-and-evil moral choices. I should be consistent on both, right? Now that I'm close to the end of the game, I think I have a few theories as to why not.

First, and what I first thought of, was the tonal differences between both games. Fallout 3, for all it's satire, black humor, and science fiction underpinnings, is fairly realistic and, in comparison to Fable (or anything Molyneux), tonally consistent. It picks a mood-the bleak, mutually oppressive environment commonly associated with post-apocalyptic fiction-and sticks with it 'till the bitter end. Everyone, from the defenseless NPC to the bandit oppressor, is having a shitty time. The depressing, poverty-stricken imagery of Fallout serves to add more weight to the "good" side of moral choices; do you really want to screw this guy's life up more than it's already been?

Meanwhile, Fable 2, true to Lionhead fashion, is a cartoon. While it's story goes serious and interesting places, the game's self-aware humor, colorful visuals, and Nick Park-esque character designs give the world of Albion a far less depressing outlook than the Wastelands. Moreover, it's a world where both good and evil seem to coexist in equal portions. The mechanics of the game play into this as well. It is a game where you can slaughter an entire village of innocents, true; it's also a game where the rite of passage to join the quest-giver is eating "10 baby chicks". It's a game where you can cheat on your spouse, and then pose for a couple minutes to make it all better. It almost feels like I'm slighting Fable 2 when I say that the game's tone and style give the moral choices in the game a lot less weight than Fallout 3, but it rings true. Unlike Fallout 3, playing the evil guy in Fable 2 has been a no-brainer from the get-go.

My other theory, the one I've found most revealing of myself as a player, is the sense of empowerment these choices give. As stated, Fallout 3 is a world where even the most well-off inhabitant isn't doing well for himself by our standards. When given the choice between doing good or evil, leaving my mark on this world factored into my thought process. Certain moments in the game aside (big changes can be made to the world by playing the bad guy), I found that playing the good guy many times held a rebellious quality to it. When I'm giving random guy outside of Megaton a glass of purified water, I'm going against the grain; sticking it to the man, whatever that might be in this game. In a world where the bad is turned up to "11", I've found the way to leave my mark was to play the good guy.

My play style in Fable 2 is largely a reaction to how different the environment is than in Fallout 3. In Fable 2, a game with less emotional baggage and a goofier atmosphere, playing the bad guy feels empowering. The game's renown system and the fearful dialog your actions can inspire from NPCs certainly adds to that (despite some weird inconsistencies I'll highlight on in an upcoming review.) It's the guilty pleasure that many gamers still feel uncomfortable acknowledging: in the right game, it's fun to be the villain. The sales of the Grand Theft Auto series confirm this, while much of the critical reaction to Grand Theft Auto IV confirm my point about Fallout 3. The fourth canon edition in the GTA series stripped away much of the goofy playground aspects of the old games in favor of realism, and in response, many critics and players approach GTA IV in a different way. While some claim that the ability to go on a killing spree breaks the overall narrative, I've seen many who reacted to the game by not even wanting to go on a mindless killing spree in the first place. The strength of the story was probably a factor for some people, as was the more difficult police chases and realistic car handling. But I think some of this reaction must have been from the overall realistic approach. Killing an innocent person in Grand Theft Auto IV feels less like killing a doll like the previous games, and more like killing an innocent person.

It is worth noting that, at least as far as I've gotten, Fable 2 hasn't tried it's hand at a choice as big as the Megaton bomb. In fact, some of the choices feel forced to the point of self-parody; in The Spire, you're forced to listen to prisoners begging for you to feed them. It isn't trying in the same way as Fallout 3 but, as Peter Molyneux has been adamant about since the original Fable, it is trying, and it's interesting to see my own reactions to the moral choices in both games.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I could never be a thug, they don't dress this well.

Kotaku posted a link to this gem of a nerd rap mashup today. It's Team Teamwork's Ocarina of Rhyme, a grab bag collection of rappers set to Koji Kondo's Ocarina of Time soundtrack. Video game hip hop mashes are nothing new (for some good ones, check out Chrono Khalid's amazing American Cyborg or the infamous Snoop Dog V.S. Kirby mix from YTMND), but Team Teamwork has preformed quite a feat here: namely, limiting themselves to samples from a soundtrack that even diehard fans tend to forget and creating a highly listenable mixtape. Best moment? The use of the treasure find theme in creating a highly kickass beat. I'm definitely more partial to the indie rappers on this mixtape, though things like this tend to address one of my biggest problems with mainstream rappers: often times highly talented artists rapping over near unlistenable Casio keyboard riffs. Whatever your opinion, if you like hip hop at all, you'll like this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mobile Game Review: Wolfenstein RPG

Someone at Id Software must really like Chunsoft. I like to think that that someone is John Carmack; a man trapped into his own niche of creating first person shooters, when really all he wanted to do was make his own Shiren the Wanderer sequel. Perhaps in his current situation, the only he could pull this off is by shoehorning the genre concepts into one of Id's well known properties. This is the only way I can internally rationalize Wolfenstein RPG, Id Software's attempt at turning the original first person shooter into a psuedo-rougelike RPG.

Released for various mobile platforms, Wolfenstein RPG is a halfway sequel to the just as outlandish Doom RPG. In both cases, the rougelike comparison is apt. Despite being in first person, you have four possible movement directions. Moving, using an item, or attacking uses a turn. Once you take a turn, each person in the game (mainly enemies. This game has little in the way of NPCs) take their turn as well. Unfortunately, this comparison breaks down when you note the lack of random items, randomly generated dungeons, and the rougelike genre's emphasis on changing it's world rather than character persistence. Right off the bat, that's where we get to the root of Wolfenstein RPG's biggest problem: despite it's RPG trappings, the game feels like more of a gimped, nonsensical first person shooter.

The Wolfenstein part of the title is certainly there. Despite the weird controls, it plays just like Wolfenstein 3D (and Wolfenstein 3D had pretty bad controls to begin with.) The enemies are an outlandish mix of awkward Germans and even more akward supernatural monsters (some of which look like they were ripped straight from Doom.) The story is more linear than something like the original Wolfenstein 3D, but it's still incoherent and nonsensical. And, of course, there's the basic weapon progression that shows up in any generic first person shooter: start with a pistol and work your way up until you have the best weapon in the game. Where the RPG in the combat comes in is that many of these weapons, especially the machine guns, allow you to attack more times per turn. The pistol gets one shot, the chaingun gets four. Despite some extra weapons found throughout the game (a sniper rifle that can shoot outside of the four cardinal directions at the price of putting the game in semi-real time), it is a definite progression. Eventually you get to the point where you have the "best weapon in the game." There's almost no reason to use an old weapon once you've found a better one. It's one of the problems in the game that prevent any sense of reward from the various loot drops in the game (the other problem being that most of what else you'll find are health packs.) When you take this into account with the high level of linearity in the game, lack of any real NPC interaction, and it's almost single-minded focus on combat, there's little in this game other than it's interface to distinguish it from a plain old first person shooter.

And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. My Chunsoft joke aside, Id were smart for understanding that the fast-pace action in games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D don't translate all that well to a Cell Phone keypad. The RPG part was more than likely an attempt at adapting Id shooters into a phone-friendly game, and that's already worlds better than my excruciating experiences with Contra and Megaman 3 on phones. But as I alluded to, it's not a particularly good shooter, and the interface downright clashes with it. In the game, the amount of actions you can do per turn is figured-as best I can tell-decided by your agility. The problem is that as the game progresses, enemies get higher agility. It eventually gets to the point where almost every enemy in the game can attack and move in the same turn, while you... can't. Sometimes, pumping yourself with syringes (stat altering items found throughout the game) can make you fast enough to keep up. Sometimes, not so much. What this mechanic amounts to is that almost every firefight is a boring, repetitive activity as you get shot, shoot, get shot again, wait for the enemy to move back in the same spot, and so on. What's worse (or better, given the combat) is the games total lack of difficulty. Despite the aforementioned movement issues, health pack placement is highly liberal. The damage you take isn't all that significant. The two boss fights in the game are easily won by binging on syringes.

At the end of the game, I was surprised to find John Carmack and a good portion of Id software worked on the game. It just feels like something that was farmed out to some random Asian country. The dialog could not have been written by a native English speaker, or at least a sane English speaker. My thoughts about the dialog are summed up by the final line from the game's last boss:
NO! *GRRRR* I will find your blood! your descendants will pay! I-WILL-BE-BACK! NOOO!!

Wolfenstein RPG is a cool idea. Rougelikes aren't exactly common nowadays, and it's almost unheard of for American developers to take stabs at the genre. But unfortunately, the game falls short in many respects. Maybe I'm just expecting too much out of a cell phone game, but I know a flawed product when I see it. Be that as it may, I'd like to see Id take another stab at RPGs. Despite how the game turned out, a sequel could improve on the problems I've outlined. It'd take a hell of a lot of work, though.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rez HD

Even for when it was released, Rez feels uniquely old-school. One only has to look as far as the "Story" page in the Options. That's right: rather than convey the story through the game itself, Rez explains the relevant background information through a page of text that you'd really only find if you just happened to stumble upon it. That's not all that far from the days of the NES, where the most likely place you'd find story to put the game in some context would be the accompanying instruction manual. Aside from some extras (of which there are a surprising amount), the game is comprised of five relatively short stages and, on top of that, the gameplay is, despite all it's fancy trappings, a rail shooter.

The core gameplay feels like StarFox without direct control; the game takes your constantly morphing avatar on a scripted trip while you move and fire with a targeting reticule. It's fairly simple and not all that original, but the presentation is where the game really hits off. The first comparison that comes to mind is the Disney film, Fantasia. Rez portrays a world where music exists not only as accompaniment, but also takes the place of incidental sounds and finds its way into the player's interaction with the game. There are no explosions or laser noises to be heard. Each shot fired has a corresponding musical result, usually adding to the overall song in the background. Single shots result in single staccato notes, while targeting multiple enemies, fire multiple shots, creating 8-note sequences.

The game is at it's best when the main track and the music created by the player's actions sync up well. One great example is the boss fight from the first stage, a floating machine encased in a disco ball shield. Chipping away at the shield produces a thumping sawtooth rhythm (I found myself naturally hitting the fire button to the rhythm); taking down the swarms of missiles fired your way produces a hail of snare hits; after taking down the shield, the song triumphantly shifts gears with a synth flourish while the boss morphs into another form. The psychedelic visuals, the music, the games fantastic trance vibration system, and the naturally emerging rhythm from your own hands comes together to produce this sense of interaction with the soundtrack that I've rarely seen in other games, no matter how obviously scripted these interactions are.

Rez is a product of a fantastic, unified vision, where the music is complemented heavily by the visual design. Each stage is a highly scripted track that pulsates and changes with the music. Produced by then-SEGA employee Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the world of Rez (a computer simulation) shares much in common with the visuals of Mizuguchi's other games: neon-bright, polygonal shapes that are low on detail by high in polish and, most importantly, sit well with the electronic soundtrack (a recurring theme in Mizuguchi's work.) The game plays up it's raver visuals with various references to enlightenment and eastern philosophy (one of the player character's forms appears to be a man floating around in a state of meditation.) One of the best examples of the developers tailoring the visuals to the music occurs in the game's third stage. As the player approaches the Sphinx-like gateway to the stage's boss fight, the screen's bright colors suddenly go negative and washed out just as the usual techno fair ceases behind a slow, distorted bass drum beat.

While I've never played any of the previous versions (I didn't own a Dreamcast back in the day, nor a modded PS2), the claims I've heard of Rez HD's triumph over them holds true: mainly, there is almost no slowdown. This keeps the game as fast and fluid as possible. Not much can be said about the HD component other than that it looks great. Rez is a game that wanted to be HD when it came out, and now it really has it's chance. With, the caveat of not having previously played the other versions of Rez, this one feels like a special edition Criterion Collection-esque release. There are a surprising number of extras to be had: visual and sound filters (if you ever wanted to play Rez in Sepia with your ears underwater), an option to play through through the entire game in one run (which I feel should have been an option from the beginning, but whatever), a "lost" level, a score attack mode, and multiple play modifiers unlocked throughout the game.

Perhaps the game's most annoying attribute (to once again bring up the game's archaic nature) is the esoteric manner in which these things are unlocked. The optional things i.e. using First Person Mode are strange enough: Rank 1st in Area 5 on Score attack mode. Who would just know that right off the bat? But things like that are forgivable due to their optional nature. The game's final stage must be unlocked in a similar manner. Each stage has a number of cubes that must be shot to gain 100% analysis rating, but these cubes are easily missed in the hail of shots and colors the game is constantly throwing at you. Without 100% analysis on the first four stages, the player cannot progress to the fifth and final stage. The final stage of a game is most certainly not "optional", and I found it frustrating that I had to replay two of the stages just to unlock the final one. As I said before, archaic is the right word; I wouldn't have thought twice about something like this in the 90's, but doing this in modern day feels strange and out of place.

Rez HD feels like a labor of love. It's a classic, unappreciated title who's extras feel like the man behind it loved it too much to simply give the game a cursory 720p face lift and throw it out on the market. Rez HD is a unique audio-visual experience; an interactive visualizer that should be played by anyone with a love of video games and music.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Resident Evil 5: Demo Impressions

I am one of the few. Is Resident Evil 5 really Resident Evil 4.5? Possibly. Does that diminish from my experience? Not really. True to form, Capcom's demo (released several days early for Xbox Live Gold users. Sorry, have-nots) is short and to-the-point, showing off two fairly intense scenes from the game. The unfortunate thing about the Resident Evil 4 style is that it's not very conducive to being cut into a demo. What made the game great was it's unparalleled sense of pacing; the player was constantly put into different situations with a solid sense of when to play it slow and when to ramp up the action. In that sense, I think the more frantic moments in Resident Evil 4 were best taken as part of the whole. That's what this demo is: two scenes, both of which are essentially kill-rooms (or, in the first one's case, a timed kill-room). While I think both are well done, I feel Capcom could have done a little more to show of the variety that I'm sure will be in the game. Sure, they probably don't want to spoil much, but we've already seen videos of Chris and Sheva fighting off zombies on a truck; couldn't we have played some of that?

It feels weird to say, but this demo combined with the previous trailers have really made the quality of the game a foregone conclusion to me. It's roughly the same team working on a similar game to one of my all-time favorites, and if the videos are any indication, the sense of variety and pacing, what made the game truly great will certainly be there. The menu's are refined, and now support in-game weapon selection (a feature the series has needed since it started.) The enemies, while not all that different from Los Ganados, are still every bit as good at creating that sense of a mob bearing down on you. The numerous message board complaints of the game feeling outdated by it's "walk or shoot" controls worried me. Then I played it and remembered that the limited controls were one of the best parts. Having to pay attention to when to stop, fire, reload, and get out of the way added to effectiveness of the mobs of enemies who weren't all that fast. People seem weirded out by the idea that controls they consider "bad" were made that way for a reason.

It also feels weird to admit that, honestly, the only true innovation we've seen (and now played) so far is co-op. I have to admit that without the addition of multiplayer in the demo, I probably would have been more soured by the same-ish content. The old adage of "games are always more fun when you're playing them with other people" holds here. Not to say that Resident Evil 5 isn't fun on it's own; it's just that the cooperative play fits so well with the Resident Evil formula. I've played through the demo's two stages with multiple people, and already the moments of shared panic and elation rival some of my favorite Left 4 Dead stories. The second stage (Shantytown) involves taking down a tenacious, chainsaw-wielding psychopath amidst a mob of zombies. The level design deserves praise; we were able to find multiple strategic points within the area and, after dying several times, we actually took the time to plan out the attack. After multiple close-calls (the chainsaw is a one-hit-kill) we managed to take him down with my last pistol shot. It was epic; a fantastic moment made far better with a friend playing and shouting out internet high-fives.

When it comes down to it, I'm more excited about Resident Evil 5 than I was when I saw the first trailer. I was expecting"more of the same", however fantastic that "same" is; what I got was "more of the same that I can share with a friend". And that makes a difference. Co-op made Too Human bearable for me. For a most-likely great game like Resident Evil 5, it'll make it that much better.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Game Log #10

  • Perhaps against my better judgment (and the judgment of most of my 360 owning friends), I've been playing Call of Duty: World At War. "Against my better judgment" because, despite the insane amount of time I've put into the multiplayer, none of my friends are really playing it all that much. If they're playing a Call of Duty, it's Modern Warfare (I was told as much by most of them; I ignored them based on the fact that WaW was 20$ off at Target.) The latest of my long list of weird perspectives on games is that I have yet to play Modern Warfare. In fact, other than playing a lot of CoD 2 at a LAN Center, this is my first Call of Duty in a long while.
  • I was pretty steadfast in my personal decision that Fallout 3 was my game of the year. And then I played Left 4 Dead. We all knew Valve had a winner on their hands over the game's long PR cycle, and finally playing it confirms that. My review is in progress, but I'll give a couple thoughts here. I really believe that more than any other co-op game I've ever played, Left 4 Dead succeeds at it's team dynamic. The usual subversive magic of Valve's games are present, this time in gameplay mechanics designed to encourage staying together. The AI director is every bit as effective as you could hope. The 360 controls are some of the best console shooter controls I've ever used. It doesn't match the speed or precision of a mouse, but with it's subtle auto-aim tweaks and quick but manageable turning speeds, it definitely approaches it more than anything I've ever played. More to come.
  • Mortal Kombat V.S. DC Universe has been my big in-person multiplayer game. Not sure what my thoughts are about this game other than "hilariously unbalanced." I'm sure that's what they were going for, though.
  • Fable 2's been played a lot as of late. I'd have to say that of any game I've played with a customizable character, Fable 2 has possibly created (somewhat without my help) the most accurate portrayal of myself in a video game. And by that, I mean a great big fatty with sideburns and a pirate hat. The horns and the three consecutive divorces are creative license.