Jul 242013

James Silva, one of the biggest names that has come out of the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace, went toe to toe with sensationalist and media bully, Ben Kuchera.

The situation started by Silva stating that the Xbox One indie policy rumor isn’t a backtrack but more of a clarification. Soon after, Ben Kuchera responded to Silva to notify him that he was incorrect. As Silva stood his ground and added examples of how Microsoft’s publishing rules work, Kuchera wanted none of it and continued to try to hammer the point of Microsoft’s perceived backtrack.

Kuchera gleefully pointed out that self published games will require an approval from Microsoft, which Silva explained was to prevent Gamer Score fraud. Silva informed Kuchera that learning the facts before jumping to conclusions absolutely helps when writing about how something works. Unfortunately, Kuchera decided to point out that fraud wouldn’t hurt Sony’s trophy system. James Silva’s partner in crime responded that Microsoft’s system is more popular and an Silva finally pointed out that Sony has an approval policy as well.

Kuchera at this point wasn’t getting it. He became frustrated at the fact that devs were pointing out the flaws in a full-feature self published environment and announced that he wasn’t going to continue the conversation. This is Ben Kuchera though, he came back to try to argue that indies on Vita and PS3 were better and finally that the Xbox Live Indie Games weren’t even relevant to the discussion.

Take a look at the conversation below and tell us who you think came out on top:







May 092011

How many times have you thought about video game characters being naked? Myself, when playing through Final Fantasy VIII for the first time I wasn’t just eyeballing Rinoa because the camera paid attention to her, it was because you could see her bra strap and consider plundering her dungeon all in that fantasy you call an imagination, sexual as it were. It’s not just gamers craving the Dead or Alive girls or Lara Croft’s undressing, it’s those of us with a sexually active mind, and more to the point, those of us who are drawn to magazines such as Playboy. To promote their approaching PC RPG, publisher/developer CD Projekt have rendered the alluring game character Triss Merigold, uncovering her goodies for the world to see in a recent issue of the most popular dirty magazine.

Based in Poland, CD Projekt first sold The Witcher series in late 2007, an event that would receive a following. With swords and sorcery, there may be clothes on top of characters during gameplay, but not when you’re that someone alone in bed, at the “stroke of Midnight,” picturing just how perfect that redhead sorceress would come across without a top or any pants to block out full disclosure.

Although this is not the first time a video game character has come undone through the sticky pages of Playboy, the issue on The Witcher 2 in particular is for Poland’s eyes only. If you happen to live on European shores and are able to pick yourself up a copy, or at the very least have the power of importing on your side, then leave it to your “hard headed” sensibilities to do the thinking for you. Otherwise, you’ll just have to enjoy the pictures provided, just so long as you remember to not get any on the computer keys.

So there you go. The Witcher 2. Porn. Promotion. You want someone as attractive as Triss now, right? Legs, hair, skin, body, and most importantly BOOBS paint the portrait of an untamed wild woman. She’s attractive as she is naked, and boy is she naked! The Witcher 2 hits stores on May 17th. Be prepared to bust something out that day if you haven’t done the deed already.

The subject is receiving a ton of publicity.  Is this type of advertising going to become even more common.  Based on the pictures above, I’m not sure we would mind.

May 082011

There are sweetly adorable moms, there are fiendishly conniving moms, then there are the moms that you can’t help but keep your eyes off and want to be more than friends with their children… you want to be friends with their mother too. Going over the years of video games, we have a list here that is a shout out to some of the hotter moms on the block; ones whose numbers hopefully end in “69.” Let’s have a look now at those gaming moms, on Mother’s Day, in which I’d love to wrap up a “present” for.

Were you ever one to traverse the high seas for adventure throughout the trails of the role-playing classic known as Grandia? Had you, you would have run into Justin’s mom. Named Lilly, this young and attractive female actually has more to her than just looks. Once a pirate, now a cook, she has loads of laughs pertaining to her son and such famous comments about her and Justin’s sleeping habits that the game’s dialogue makes you think the two of them are “sleeping” with one another. Sick, but oh so sexy!

On the subject of RPGs, let’s move into more fantasized territories with Final Fantasy. More specifically, Lulu becomes a mommy in the second chapter of Final Fantasy X-2,  taking place during Yuna’s quest for Tidus. Along with her gal pals for the ride, we bump into a pregnant Lulu, who just as in the first game looks pretty even with baggage on board. You’re still the sweetness of my eye though, Paine.

Final Fantasy has done more with parenting over time, especially as of late. Final Fantasy XIII had a strong focus on the subject with Sazh and Hope both on a mission because of the issue. Hope’s mom in particular, Nora, is a hottie that was let go from the beginning, fueling Hope’s rage throughout the rest of the plot. Nora’s fate is unfortunate, as she would’ve made a good comforter in the sack.

Bet you thought that Solid Snake was a clone! Well, is he? Apparently, he does have one mother that we know about, Big Mama. This old witch is probably not who you would think to be either, as she was originally known as Eva during the 1960s era. Hot to trot, the babe that Snake originally sought, Big Mama is the kind of female who would make anyone’s Snake Solid.

Let’s not forget Ethan Mars’ wife, mother of two boys, and one very foxy lady. During Heavy Rain, a scene plays out where Ethan can hardly keep his hands off Grace as she brings in the groceries. You’re then compelled to “assist” her with anything, from fixing broken doors to setting the table. What you’d rather do is take her upstairs to get the boys another brother or sister. Ah well… there’s always Madison.

May 082011

How many dollars have you spent in the past seven years on gaming platforms alone? $200 for a Nintendo DS here, $250 on a PlayStation Portable there. Add a whopping $400 to your Xbox 360 bill, $250 on the Wii, and to top it off $600 for the PlayStation 3. You’ve just spent about the same amount you could have gotten for a college education.

Do we as gamers need to go through this procedure all over again? Aren’t you tired of upgrading to the next console just because it’s available for sale? Counting it all up, the average gamer spends about $1,000-$2,000 per year on video games. This statistic reflects the current generation itself. What will it be for the next one? The possibility to hook us all into another crazy gimmick for developers so that they may snag hold onto more of our money seems possible, if things go their way.

What would it be that could result in higher expenses? Software, for one, could increase ever larger given the nature of the $60 inflation in the current climate, not to mention boosting downloadable content. First off, the asking price for downloadable games was in the sweet spot of about $5-$10. Then more and more $15 and $20 titles started popping up over the last couple of years. Imagine finding $30 price tags on downloadable Wii games on your Project Cafe or the likelihood Nintendo would even setup their system with a premium online service. The high-end platform they’ve got in the oven is the most powerful gaming console on the planet, so it’s said. What makes you think they wouldn’t pull an Xbox Live or PlayStation Plus on us all?

Last time around every gaming company raised the roof with their price points. Nintendo’s Wii was $50 more by comparison to hardware from the company prior. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 started at the option of $300 for bare bones material while $400 went to the full arsenal, hard drive and all. Sony’s PlayStation 3 especially was out of the hands of everyone who wasn’t a high roller, with their hardware, as impressive as it is, being $500 or $600 from the starting line. Who’s to say we won’t see dollar rocket into space over these next couple of years? We’re already looking at a $250 Nintendo 3DS, $50 more than the Nintendo DS asked customers for. This only brings to mind that the next Nintendo system could cost $300 or $500 or greater from the other two. Expense isn’t always an attractive color, even for those with money to burn.

Besides, is everyone sick of the current generation already? We’ve only had what… a few “major” offerings from Nintendo, a handful of epic entries from Sony’s and Microsoft’s ends. Don’t these platforms deserve an even greater extension? You could technically say that the starting point of this generation occurred in 2004 with the Nintendo DS. If we’re talking consoles, moreover it would be with 2005′s Xbox 360 launch. Going by that, we’re sort of only six years in. If 2012 truthfully is the beginning of the end and the start of the beginning, is seven or eight years enough time to be one of this generation’s gamers? On Wii in particular, what is 2011 doing for you? Aside from a new Zelda, a number of major announcements still have not seen the light of day, from Dragon Quest X to Xenoblade. Gears of War 3 is one of the last known projects coming out of Microsoft’s studio while third parties seem to be building up the remaining portfolio. Rumor has it Microsoft’s preparing to jump ship. Should they? The PlayStation 3 end still hasn’t seen release of The Last Guardian, when beforehand the PlayStation 2 saw two classic from the ICO team. Wouldn’t you want them birthing another?

This might not be the time to argue that there should not be another generation of consoles, as it’s already underway. And yet, you could look over the reasons as to why maybe it’s not so bad holding off another few years, if that. Truthfully, we could use more time to get our game on with what we have now instead of what’s next. With the new consoles coming out you can bet that at least some gamers will hold off on the current generation’s coming games as they all go crazy-eyed for the coming attractions of their preferred platform. Thinking about that, it would be time to get an early jump on the next big thing from Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft and prepare for a world beyond that of the ordinary, of what we know now, and of what we would want experience next. But first, let’s not say we did and stick with what we have now, for it’s just too soon to say good-bye.

Apr 292011

Think for a second about never being able to play with your friend in another state, a stranger in another country, or ever being tempted to pay for a multiplayer connection and the products that come with it. What would that be like for gamers nowadays? Probably just as it was before Internet gaming began to fully blossom during the ’90s. The stone age of gaming wasn’t so bad, was it? Particularly if you were a console gamer, you could come home to your Super Scope, your Sega Genesis, your Atari system; however the situation was on your end, just pop in a game of Kung Fu and get going. Fighters, racing games, and shooters were some of the earlier focal points for cooperative console gaming. Puzzlers even, with the likes of Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Bubble Bobble, these were first played linked up from two inches instead of two-hundred miles apart. Don’t you just miss arcades as an excuse to get out of the house, hang out, and have some fun?

Although Internet gaming has been around in the computer world since the ’70s, the question remains – would we better off if the plug was pulled before the concept even came to fruition? Before humanity’s wings let us soar into others’ homes, into their earlobes, able to cuss and cheat and even hack the accounts of players online, does such abusive behavior disrupt the network space worse than it could have if the only other hub for connecting with others was through a centralized location like the arcades? Sure, you could rile up someone in person over a loss. You could have called them names or laid a finger on them. But then, physically being present and utilizing your voice and thoughts from a greater distance normally separate peoples’ actions. Most people seem to shy away from acting like the assholes they are out in the open, while from an untouchable distance that fourteen-year-old kid will have no problem screaming “faggot” in your ear while their mommy’s downstairs doing the laundry.

People tend to act sanely human when they’re amidst others. Walk into a room 500 x 500 feet packed with 500 people. Not you, not anyone else know one another here. What’s your first reaction? You probably feel as if all eyes are on you. Maybe there are questions on your mind like what you’re doing here, who are all these people, or maybe you’re just aiming for the exit. Then again, concentration on being the social butterfly that you are, maybe you’re looking to get to know people. And if you’re of the mind that you’d rather rape, pillage, or murder all these pricks hanging around, then you’re going to have to deal with reaction to your malicious behavior. Getting to the point, people generally have two sides: the person they want to be on the outside and the person they want to let out within. When you’ve closed off the rest of the world around you, when you’re caged up like an animal, that foul-mouthed demon dog is likely to come out and piss all over someone’s flowerbed.

What’s there to say then? If we had no 32-player sessions, no downloadable content, no firmware updates or achievements/trophies to master any longer or at all, would the gaming world be a far better place than it is than its current condition? At the loss of unlimited potential in an expanding Broadband-dependent universe, we could all probably save money or rinse off the inner bad stored inside our internal hard drives before that evil originates. What was once only composed of a few remote islands, the craters in the gaming community merged into one explosively teeming landmass. We’re all together now, we’re all playing now, we’re always on, linked in, linked up, hardly ever disjointed. We’re navigating the online realm with developments that certainly enhance gaming for the better but indeed also open up doors that perhaps should have remained shut all this time.

Apr 272011

I once had someone obsessed over PC games inform me back in 2002/2003 that Duke Nukem Forever would not only be the greatest game ever, but its release was also right around the corner. HA-HA-HA! BAH-HA-HA-HA-HA! It’s been about a decade since then. What’s changed? Nothing. Well, supposedly that’s not entirely accurate as in the year 2011 the first-person shooter that every Duke Nukem fan has been waiting for… for… for… forever, is about to bloody well turn true. Duke Nukem Forever is appropriately named, having first been announced in 1997 as the sequel to the last “main” Duke Nukem entry that saw release during the ’90s, Duke Nukem 3D. Under the development of 3D Realms, Duke Nukem Forever has taken this long for several reasons. The build cycle switched out development engines over the course of history for one thing. Add on the departure of staff members who were lead by a man who never thought Duke Nukem Forever would ever be ready. Well Mr. Broussard, strap on your reading glasses: your vision is about to come to life.

A revolutionized throwback to the ’90s, the filtering of Duke Nukem Forever story-based beer will be light, as alien-crushing, kick-assing gameplay will provide the stronger elemental that will inebriate players with happiness in these particular circumstances. Speaking of the brew, those bastard aliens have drunken it all, just as they have stolen all the babes on Earth. During the hiatus between their last invasion, Duke Nukem has been franchising himself all these years, having warded off those planetary scumbags in the past. Fame and fortune must pause for a moment, ’cause the strong-jawed Duke is back to put an emphasis on what made him such a celebrity in the first place: his boot sticking far up alien behind.

Originally, a PC game in the making, Duke Nukem Forever is (or was) vaporware that constantly has been the running gag of the industry. Being called names such as “Duke Nukem Whenever,” “Duke Nukem If Ever,” and “Duke Nukem ForNever,” fourteen years is a terribly long time for a game to be delayed. Thankfully in 2009 after some discord about the overdue product (which Take-Two Interactive had paid Infogrames to publish years before hand), the small but affirmative 3D Realms staff who at this point continued to work on Duke Nukem Forever from their homes had approached Gearbox Software, having just released Borderlands. Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford, a former employee of 3D Realms, agreed that Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t deserve to never see the light of day. For as long as it’s been around, Duke Nukem Forever has been actual and whole in playable form at different stages over the years, but with Gearbox helping to put together the final cogs in the wheel, this June is when the game will at long last be rescued from the pit of despair it has unquestionably stumbled into.

After fourteen years in the oven, players are probably wondering just what Duke Nukem has to offer for a current game with traditional shooter gameplay. How about a regenerative health bar, based on a system known as Ego Boost, which will expand based on the interactions received from signing fans’ autographs. It could be the case when rescuing the women of Forever this mechanic will key into Duke’s status improvement. Driving segments and the series’ stable of famous weapons are being integrated too, including everything from the shrink ray to the Devastator. Being able to affect enemies viciously and comically sounds like fun. Outlining how all this entertainment will seep through the cracks, one mission puts Duke and a supporting squad against a two-story boss you can call the Cycloid. Based in a football stadium, Duke gets to dismantle this enemy with bullet heat and finally kicking its eyeball across the field goal. Score one for the human race!

Thinking about what Duke Nukem’s doing with the graphics, it’s surprising to see that the game isn’t looking so… 1997. Brought up to code for the present, Duke Nukem Forever will come across as offering blood splattering, urinal censored, busty beauty-surrounding, and three titty alien downsizing. Hell, I’d still hit it… with my cannon. While Forever looks nice, it also doesn’t seem to elevate itself to the standards previous high-profile games have ushered in over the years, everything from Gears of War to Heavy Rain. Crisp, clear, dazzling graphics are what instill a premium tank of gas in visual engines – not that it matters much. Duke Nukem Forever looks to be of interest even if it won’t be pushing itself over the limit.

It’s expected that Duke Nukem Forever is landing in stores on June 14th. After the delay from May, and even before then the early 2011 estimate, this “final” date right now is all we have for a guarantee. With Duke Nukem Forever, it’s been fourteen years in the making. What’s a couple of more months? Could it be true, however? Is Duke Nukem Forever finally going to ship as a product, or might its destiny take another turn for the worse? With multiplayer in the planning stages, with its release on the horizon, the King looks to be coming home. Come get some!

Apr 222011

If there’s one truth we can rely on it’s that rumors have a 50/50 chance of coming true. They won’t admit to it, they won’t deny it, but why should they? Nintendo has been centered in the media most recently when talk of their successor to the Wii came to light. Nicknamed ‘Project Cafe’ with the possibly that ‘Stream’ will end up as its final brandishing, this “Wii 2″ as it’s also been suggested can only be real, because if nothing else it’s inevitable.

Nintendo launched the Wii on November 19, 2006 in North America. This was a bold move at the time, considering that the platform’s sales for all the remaining territories (including Japan) did not engage action for another two weeks. It was madness since then; the Wii was a console unlike any before it, and more than before every person in the world mortgaged their homes just had to have one. Fast forward nearly five years ahead, where the present certainly is in a different state of mind. Now that Nintendo’s noticed the trend on how fewer Wiis they’re selling per year with everyone and their mother already with Wii lodged in their homes, it’s time for Nintendo to start thinking ahead again and planning for a reality that can’t be too far off from now.

As we all know by now, 2010 is the year when Sony and Microsoft both launched their initiatives to play catch-up with Nintendo, who has sold more systems due to the Wii’s gimmicky setup – a console with games tracking individual’s gestures instead of plainly button inputs. Sony’s PlayStation Move came in with a more Wii-like approach, handing gamers a freshly ball-topped remote tracking accessory that progresses through its capability to capture its user base with camera and controller interface over the limitations a sensor bar by itself. Kinect, meanwhile, eschews the controller and taps into a universe where you are the controller. Via a merging of camera and microphone, your hands, bodily interactions, and voice can all provide for a revolutionary step above the standard. With the competition swiping sales from Nintendo by utilizing these enhancements that bring their systems full circle, and all the while doing so with enriched high-definition support, what more could Nintendo do at this juncture other than attempt to get a jump on sales by proclaiming… “Forget the past: we’re the future!”

Just look at the amount of high profile Wii games that have already been confirmed for 2011. Aside from Zelda, how many can you possibly point out? With the year ahead seemingly barren for the Wii audience, it was in recent months when President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, revealed to the press how Nintendo does have some biggies on the way. Sticking to standard protocol, however, he couldn’t yet divulge details beyond their launch of Pokemon Black and White, the 3DS, and whatever mystery project(s) were on the road ahead. Referring to the company’s juggling act, how enormous can it really be that you can’t deal with more than that? Well, considering that E3 2011 is right around the corner, what better time than now to tell the world that Nintendo’s next system is on its way? With seldom a morsel to chew on for 2011 gamers, the barely visible hereafter for Nintendo’s platform concerns those of us still asking what’s next for the Wii. What is next? It would seem an opportune time for Nintendo to give away its secret soon enough.

Could this mean if Nintendo is printing out plane tickets for another prized keep that Microsoft and Sony won’t be too far behind? It very well could. With the Move and Kinect having launched last year, it was thought by gamers that these devices would only help extend the duration of the current lifecycle. It seemed everyone was happy about this but Nintendo, who from their perspective has often stuck by a system or portable as long as their top franchises run the gamut. A couple of Marios, a couple of Zeldas, and a couple of Metroids have certainly all (or soon will) fall into place for the Wii. With the 3DS already acting as the first “next-generation” platform, and with Sony’s NGP handheld expected by 2011′s end, this only points to signs that the coming console cycle is about underway.

Microsoft in particular has noted contentment with Xbox 360 figures. They might just be the least likely to be the first to make another leap into ulterior territories given how they’ve just poured money into the Xbox 360′s smaller, slimmer redesign. Out of the three, Sony also doesn’t seem quite ready for the next step. Their sales for the PlayStation 3 these past years did not take off in a big blast as they might’ve anticipated. It wasn’t until 2009 when PlayStation 3′s first major redesign and price drop saw an enormous push for the platform. Sony, having only just caught up in sales, most likely would hesitate to drop another arranged new-console-bomb on an unsuspecting public. Not just yet.

In the foreseeable scenario, Fall 2012 appears as if it would be the target year for that next bahama mama console to pop up. In this case, Nintendo definitely seems to have the advantage for making the first move this coming round. Fall 2013 is when projections for the other two companies would presumably follow. Sony wouldn’t want to make the same mistake and not sell sooner but Microsoft would also not want to bide their time while everyone else is swimming in green. Is the next-generation happening soon? Can it? Should it? Will it? Certainly, the possibility that it shall is right there in front of us. All we need now is for someone to make it official.

Apr 212011

Mario’s Moustache

Between a rotund Italian plumber and a slipstreaming hedgehog, this battle in iconic favorites has lasted over the ages. To start with the analysis, why does Mario stand tall as the other curls into a shrunken hairball? The moustache! Look at that thing! Any man worth his salt has had whiskers at some point in his life. Wouldn’t you too feel safer taking a present from a bearded Santa than one without the extra fuzz?

Photo source: Sarcastic Gamer

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Sure, Sonic could run circles around Mario. Still, speed isn’t everything. Remember how the tortoise beat the hare? Remember how Kratos creamed Hermes? No matter how many hits Mario’s taken over the years, he’s remained ever vigilant and pure while against Sonic, he doesn’t have the cocky attitude that disrupts Sonic from ever being full.

Photo source: Deviant Art

A Moving Picture’s Worth $20,915,465 Bucks

Going to the movies is a pretty big deal, especially for video game characters. Agent 47, Chris Redfield, Lara Croft, and even Dr. Sid (or Cid) all spent time at the theaters entertaining audiences, along with Mario. Where’s Sonic the Hedgehog been? Certainly, he didn’t get up there on the big screen to either share popcorn with or have popcorn thrown at in disgust. Mario has though, and there you have another excuse saying even Hollywood wanted Mario more than they did the blue blur.

Photo source: X-Entertainment

Unflattering Imitation

Imitation is another leading factor why Mario leads the pack. Before 1994′s Sonic Drift, there was 1992′s Super Mario Kart. Before 2008′s Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Mario has been hitting the role-playing gym since the mid ’90s, after Seven Stars and in the end slimming down Paper-thin. Naturally, they’re two gaming series apart, but what Sonic has done at times, Mario was the one to conceptualize.

Photo source: Super Mario Wallpapers

Mario Does the Long Jump

Lastly and most importantly, it’s all about presence. Mario and Sonic have had their good days and bad days. When stacking up both franchises over the years, the stats on Sonic’s end have diminished over time. Critics and fans generally have seen more rocky landslides for Sonic, where Mario to this day still outshines his longtime rival. Although Sonic has strived to differentiate himself as well as return to what made him a sensation in the first place, Mario has always stood by quietly unflinching, unchanged, always the better.

Photo source: Sonic Wrecks

Mar 212011

Final Day

I tried, folks. I really tried. But in the end, I just cannot do it.

I have given up on Dragon Age 2. I was thinking about all the ups and downs I was having with it — more downs than ups — every time I played, and I realized that even for the things I wanted to see to the end (the stories involving Sebastian, Fenris, and Merrill, as well as to see if my predictions regarding taking on the Qunari would end up true) I was hemorrhaging enthusiasm every moment I carried on.

And a very wise man once said that “All the time you spend trying to get back what’s been taken from you, and all the while more is going out the door. After a while you just have to put a tourniquet on it.”

There came a point when I thought, “This is just not worth it. If I finish for the sake of finishing, I’m just going to end up more disappointed than I am now, and for what? No gain is to be had here.” DA2 could offer me nothing, and all it had done up to that point was make me regret playing, was make me wish I was playing something else. I had to just cut my losses and give it up. More worth it to not know what happens next than to waste my time finding out that I didn’t care.

I had the sex with Merrill, which had to be the most wooden, emotionless interaction ever, and it only reinforced my earlier sentiments that because Hawke can pork anybody on his team there wouldn’t be a single encounter with any real substance. They would all be equally as hollow.

Similarly, the plot itself rang hollow. I cared about nothing in the story, cared for nobody. The plot is absent, and what is there is so weak and pathetic that it makes videogames look bad. I felt guilty for engaging in it, as though I was doing something I’d be ashamed of being seen doing. Like watching Twilight or something.

I no longer gave any kind of a damn about the gameplay. It was uninspired and uninteresting. It was glitchy and unpolished. It was bland and boring. It was repetitive and slow and inelegant and poorly crafted. It simply was not fun.

And worst of all was that it shouldn’t have been! Dragon Age 2 isn’t a bad game! It’s got potential to be really great, and it should be really great! But it… isn’t. It’s not some undeveloped piece of indie crap, and it’s not some terrible movie tie-in D-level cash-in game. The lore surrounding it is great, and the people making it are skilled and should know what they’re doing. But what they gave us was a far cry from what I know I’d be proud to say I had a hand in creating. If I worked for Bioware I wouldn’t be able to look my children in the eye after having put my seal of approval on this game. I’d have begged the producers for more time and money to do what we needed to do to make it better.

Perhaps that was my biggest disappointment. I’m disappointed that I’m so disappointed. That I could even be so disappointed in what should be a Triple A title.

The one thing that kept me from quitting was some old-school adherence to hardcore gamer ideals, that I could never leave a game unfinished. But suddenly I find myself able to do exactly that, a thing which for years I’d been unable to bring myself to do. Maybe it’s because I have less time these days. Maybe I’ve got bigger things to worry about. Maybe I’m just not a hardcore gamer anymore. I don’t know. But I can quit a game if it’s not good enough.

And Dragon Age 2 is just not good enough.

I’m going to go replay some Shadow of the Colossus and Red Dead Redemption. Tom is Hanks and I are going to team up and defeat terrorism by ourselves. There are other games to be played. Games worth our time.

Games worth playing.

Mar 162011

Monsters did it.

I’m doing a lot of sidequests right now, and in so doing I am noticing a commonality, a bit of a pattern.

It seems like no matter what the quest is – where it starts, who needs help, or why – some foul demon is behind the curtain pulling the strings. Mages have power, so demons take them over. Blood mages that turn into demons, demons with tits? They’re in there, causing trouble, running amok. They trick normal people into behaving oddly or they become manifest themselves and wreak havoc.

From a rival royal house under attack to a lowly kidnapping, it’s generally the case that some desire demon was at play. Even the raping and pillaging raiders often have blood mages on their side, the demons possessing whom will show up to remark about how foolish the humans were and how demons rule, and they play the best football.

This lends credence to the belief supported by many of the game’s characters, that mages should be kept under harsh control. But it hearkens more deeply to the older, real-world ideals of demons being responsible for the terrible things people did. Or, in many cases, the not-so-terrible. Homosexuality, leprosy, warts, dementia, runny nose, bad eyesight: any malaise was pretty much the work of demons.

But the thing is, there weren’t actually demons doing all that stuff. In the game, there actually are demons, so when they’re really the ones behind everything, it gets to be pretty stale.

Can’t there be greedy people for greed’s sake? Can’t there be political motivations and nothing else? Can’t we occasionally have to take on unarmored civilians – bad people who deserve to die, of course – who are trying to kill us, or somebody else?

We can’t, and I know why: the gameplay isn’t built for it. Instead of learning, Scooby Gang style, that, “Oh, man, it was the besmirched heir who kidnapped and murdered those girls and he’s just making it look demonic!” and then going into combat while the crazed blighter charges and is swiftly cut down in a single blow, we have to fight monsters or at least a swarm of raiders.

This is another in a long line of reasons why the game isn’t as strong as it could be. Why it feels like it was rushed and watered down. Why the whole experience feels unpolished. There is a decided lack of immersion in the game, and a lack of any attempts to be immersive.

In my head I see a Kirkwall-version of any of the cities in Assassin’s Creed, with its steep hills and myriad pathways all flooded with citizens, every one of them a real part of the gameworld with a path and a random routine (shopping in the markets, traveling location to location, doing chores or work). All of them able to be interacted with. Day breaks and passes in real-time, cycling between day and night and providing gorgeous sunsets on the Wounded Coast, breathtaking sunrises on Sundermount.

I picture the Hanged Man growing crowded in the evening, dynamically, in real-time. I imagine Darktown filling up at night and becoming a bustle of activity that never goes to sleep. I envision the streets and alleys all but empty at night, lamp- and moonlit but still foreboding and dangerous nonetheless. Criminals and thugs attack and can be chased or harried or lost to if one plays foolishly and is overwhelmed. The Guard approaches when civilians are threatened, and clearing out an area of random spawns realistically reduces the chances of enemy encounter there, at least for a while. Monies could be paid to provide better Guard watches to permanently reduce enemy activity in oft-frequented regions.

Meeting a contact in the morning and scheduling a nighttime rendezvous means being there at that time of night, having to travel there across the city. Message runners would catch you as you ply the streets requesting you to meet with their senders at a specific time and place.

Change the general dynamic and suddenly the whole world becomes alive. I’m not suggesting a full-sized giant world, here – just Kirkwall, just one large city, with a few small paths branching out of its walls toward different environments, like in Fable.

And while I’m on the subject of sidequests, and immersion for that matter, GOD WHY DO THE DUNGEONS REPEAT. There are three environments in the game. If I have to go through the same cave one more time I think a blood vessel is going to burst.

In other news, I still only care about a few core characters, Hawke is still not among them, and there has yet to be a call to arms of real worth. I suspect that ultimately we’ll be taking on the Qunari, but that’s about it.

Oh, Legacy of Kain, where are you when I need you? Give me Nosgoth, with cities like the magical one I above described, and give me Lieutenant Raziel during Kain’s empire, or give me elder Kain vamping around the lands in search of his army to defeat the elder god…

Vae Victis!

Mar 142011

So, busy weekend, but I’ve put in some good hours with DA2, and I’m happy to report that I’m FINALLY getting into it. It has taken me until Act 2 to do so, but I actually do care. And only about three things, but progress, people, progress!

The first is Merrill. She is my girlfriend, plain and simple: she’s cute, naive, smart, honest, and just so darn fun! She’s one of my favorite party members, and I generally shy away from mages, so to actually have one I enjoy in a game is quite pleasing. I’m working toward romancing her later, and although her accent isn’t as melt-your-heart cute as Lexine’s (from Dead Space), the Welsh (Right? Sounds Welsh to me) is doing its number on me anyway. And in a game with generic visuals and generic voice acting (not nearly as bad as Fable’s “how many ridiculous English accents can we mash in here” thing, I’ll admit) that’s certainly a plus. She’s one of the few characters I’ll actually listen to instead of skipping their dialogue (and that includes Hawke himself, who is boring and still manages to sound like an overbearing jerk or a total sand-vagina).

Parentheses, bitches.

So, I like Merrill, and I want to see what happens with her next. I think it’s the paternal thing; I want to protect her. I don’t know. Thing Two that I like (and I knew I would) is Sebastian. He’s a rogue who I don’t hate, unlike Isabela who’s been discussed (and yeah, she’s still a whore, and I still hate her, and it’s less her fault than the fault of those who made her but what are you gonna do, you know?), and Varric who is funny but I just don’t like dwarves, never have, never will. Randy Newman was right; short people have really got nothing to live for. So since you need a rogue, he’d be my natural choice: the archery thing is cool, his armor is THE coolest armor in a game full of silly armors (to the point that I want to try my hand at making a set of my own, you know, in the real world), and his accent is pimp. The whole Exiled Prince, fallen nobility thing is pretty cool, too. He has a very Balthier thing going on, and I played FFXII as Balthier (he was, after all, the leading man).

Speaking of Balthier, the Third Thing I’m liking is Fenris (that’s Balthier’s voice actor, not Wesker). He’s brooding and he hits hard, he’s got a cool story, and he’s great in battle. The voice acting for him has only gotten better, and during his questline in Act 2 it really showed off the actor’s chops. He demonstrated a rage that I genuinely felt, and for the very first time both the friend/rivalry system made sense, thanks to him, and I had what felt like a real, dynamic conversation (instead of the easily decipherable and predictable format it normally takes, where all but one answer seems patently ridiculous for a human being to even say to somebody).

With Fenris especially the friendship and conversation system manages to shine, which is ultimately a shame when compared to the rest of the game where it falls flat. Or maybe I’m not giving the game enough credit; maybe it is a truly dynamic experience and in my game it just so happens that Fenris and I have a complicated rivalry going on which leads to cool moments, and perhaps in your game it’ll be somebody else.

It actually seems pretty layered with him, which is great. We were having a discussion about slavers where he was unloading, emotionally, and near the end he realized he was being open and decided to clam up, citing that I needn’t be burdened. So I took the positive option to let him know that I was his buddy, and he could vent or ask for aid if he needed to. Except Hawke said something dumb, like “I’m here to help, friend,” and Fenris got pissed and said, “I don’t NEED your help!” and I got rivalry points after the conversation ended.

At first I was miffed, because up until that point I’d gotten nowhere with him. I’m trying to romance Merrill, and having the two of them in the party means that one of them is going to get pissed at my decisions. Since I naturally side with Merrill (and I would be mage-friendly anyway, since Bethany is a mage and that makes sense, character-wise), I’ve got a rivalry with Fenris. Until this point I was unhappy about that but I was just living with it, so when I tried to be kind and positive with him but I still got rivalry points, I was a little ticked.

But then it hit me: that was a totally natural response for somebody with this kind of rivalry to have. It was entirely in keeping with his character. The offer of a mage-sympathizer to help with a personal problem caused by mages came across as insulting to him. Later, in his quest, I allowed him to decide whether to kill somebody he hated and had wanted to kill for a long time or to just let her go. He extracted the info he wanted and then like a badass punched that bitch in the stomach like she had the devil’s fetus growing in there. Killed her, then got angry with me. We had an actual argument, because he started going off about mages, and where I normally would just choose the positive option because option two generally is some grossly insensitive non-sequitur and option three is a dick move, this time I went with, “Watch your mouth about mages!” to defend Merrill. And he snapped, and the genuine hatred in his voice was real, palpable, and it all just felt so awesome! The system was working, and I was reveling in it.

And then, in that moment, Dragon Age 2 became fun.

Still a shadow of what it could be. I still want a fully fledged, detailed gameworld. Why couldn’t Kirkwall look as cool as Assassin’s Creed’s Rome? Why couldn’t I navigate it similarly (minus climbing)? Why couldn’t there just be a real day/night cycle, and thousands of NPC’s going about actual business, and guards and raiders and all sorts of random activity?

I want better, tighter combat. I want a better story, because so far all I care about are individual things, and even by Act 2 there’s still no call-to-arms, no inciting incident bridging me toward this ultimate champion backstory. Which could work, if they did it right, but doesn’t work here.

But despite the bad, the good is finally beginning to show, and this makes me very happy. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Mar 112011

Day 2

First off, Tits McGee!

I just met Isabela, and holy crap. This woman could win wars with those bazookas. Her crew carked it when their ship went down but she survived, and her natural (or not so natural – should we assume some kind of magickal implant is out of the question?) floatation devices make it obvious why. Isabela screams SEX from moment one, and after two minutes of knowing her she’s already letting me know that she is ready to let me defeat her blight with my porksword.

But here’s the problem, and it’s not just with this game: WHY do we have to have so much sex? Yes, sex does sell, and I understand where it comes from, but can the game not rest on its laurels without needing to blatantly design characters for the sake of ridiculous sex appeal? Instead of making me attracted to her character I’m not interested in anything she has to say. She is an object. Great going, Bioware, you have objectified women. She may be a super interesting character but I am completely disinterested in getting to know her because I suspect her entire character was added purely for boobage.

That’s not right, guys! What’s the point? How does it further the plot? I’m not saying you can’t have sex in games, or stories, but in any good story everything must advance the plot. So why does Isabela need to be this bimbo? Couldn’t she have been a lithe, sleek character who uses her sex appeal to beguile men and get what she wants while guarding a broken inner psyche that in a vicious cycle only makes her feel worse and worse the more she does it? For all I know they’ll try to do that, but I’m not going to find out.

The blatant and forced sexuality extends to many characters: most of the women in the plot are dealing with lower back problems. Even Witch of the Wilds Flemeth is showing off some really nice GILF power. I LIKE her new character design, but it feels like it’s only there to add to the sexometer they must have had looming over them during development. It’s especially noticeable because the character models really aren’t that great: the faces are samey, the hair is bleh, and a lot of the costumes are repetitive – to say nothing of the wooden animations. These characters don’t feel alive, so it’s like the only way they could drum up interest was to go for our genitalia.

Another part of the problem I discussed yesterday: choices. If Isabela’s story was an integral and immutable plot function then maybe it would work, but I just know it’s not going to be. Because that same overt sexuality she displays is possible with every other character. In service of “choice,” they made every character romanceable (except your sibling, but fuck it, Bioware, might as well go all the way for the WINcest, right?), but change romanceable to sexable, because I kinda feel dirty trying to have a discussion with my party. And I do mean every character, too, no matter your gender. So I can’t have a friendship with the other males in the party without turning it into a rivalry where I’m a total ass, because good buddies (apparently) have to have this really homoerotic undertone with lots of long, passionate looks into eachother’s eyes.

Note: I have NO problem with gay or bisexual people or characters. None whatsoever. Put a gay character in a game and do it well, and shit, I’ll be first in line to play. But that you can romance these characters flies in the face of the strong personalities some of them could, but don’t, have. Half the resources in character development went to these superfluous opportunities that are so sporadic and all over the personality map that you end up with folks who don’t make any sense and can’t hold your interest, Hawke included.

So far my favorite character is Merrill, because besides looking normal she has a defined personality that doesn’t waver. But I will happily report that I’m getting into it a little more, because Fenris is a pretty cool guy too, and so now my party is starting to flesh out nicely. Bethany (since you can’t sex her up) is actually not bad; it’s cool to have that sibling dynamic, and using two mages with the mage-hating Fenris leads to interesting conversations. Also, is Fenris voiced by Wesker?

So, it’s getting better? I guess? Hawke is still flat as a board, and Sebastian (I’ve unhappily discovered) won’t be available until later, but at least a couple of the characters are giving me something to keep playing for. When they’re not trying to eye fuck me. With the still-unimpressive voice acting I’m never quite sure of their intentions. Whatever happened to Leliana and Morrigan and Alistair? Now THAT was good voicework.

But that’s all an aside. I wanted to talk about gameplay, and I’m going to. A little.

The game is mostly in the city of Kirkwall so far, and I get the feeling it’s going to be that way for a while. So it’s a shame that the city is so bland and uninteresting and lifeless and empty and really not even all that big. The Hanged Man is the coolest thing I’ve seen yet, with the Tarot card reference and the creepy visual.

The combat, as well, lacks the requisite spark. It just feels bland and phoned in, and I can’t tell yet if it’s a result of streamlining it or just a flaw with the system in general, because it just imposes this layer between me and the characters, a distance. I feel an extra step removed than I need to be because navigating the bland environments is clunky and uninvolved and fighting the one-note enemies is uninspired and sour.

This double whammy does the worst thing you can do in an RPG, which is to harm immersion. We’re playing a role, and so we need to feel like we’re there, in the game, and that we are the characters we see. But I don’t feel any kinship here. I don’t feel like Hawke, and I’ve not been taken to a dreamworld of magic.

I discussed in a previous article the series Assassin’s Creed and how it simultaneously creates this huge level of immersion while doing everything it can to shatter it in the same breath. What that series does right is the same thing a game like Dragon Age could learn from. Give us these realistic, dynamic environments, make Kirkwall a real, storied city full of people who move fluidly and dynamically throughout. Bring the city to life. It’s got an interesting history if you could only give us the ability to walk through it, on it, over it, around it. Explore its depths.

And in that same move, make combat more tangible, more real. Make it a considerable effort to maneuver to an enemy’s flank and then reward us greatly for doing so. Let us set up ambushes and place our characters tactically for the best advantage, in an environment that actually seems affected by our presence.

Day two has me wanting to continue, but with no real call to action yet that desire is tenuous at best. I don’t know what’s in store for me, but right now I’m not even sure I’ll complete the game, let alone replay it.

All I want to do today is play more Vagrant Story. That game was like playing Shakespeare, and every one of the misgivings I’m having with Dragon Age was executed flawlessly then. Over a decade ago.

Mar 092011

Dragon Age 2 is here, but rather than waiting until I beat it to give you my review, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to be keeping track of my play experience each day, expressing my most immediate thoughts and observations as I have them. In this way, you’ll get an immediate look at the game, as well as a raw, unfiltered look into how I play, and how the game has made me feel up to that point.

This is going to be flawed and dirty and close to the chest. I’m going to say things that aren’t accurate or that I’ll later no longer agree with. I’m going to pour out everything I feel, forget everything I know, and just run with it. And it’s going to be pretty harsh, actually, because this is far from a perfect game. So I hope you enjoy this dynamic look into Dragon Age 2. Let’s get right to it.

Day 1:

I’m going with a male warrior, because that’s the fellow from the trailer, and I feel like his story will get me the most fulfilling plot. In a game with multiple paths like this, I’m torn between wanting to live by the consequences of my actions and wanting to get the “best” result (or, at least, the one that flows most naturally and tells the most interesting story). Though I prefer the former, the trouble there is that you have to make sure each branching path is just as good as every other. They can’t be tacked on and superfluous, and that’s the first thing I’m noticing. So far, the clear differences in the story don’t feel vastly important or grandly interesting.

This makes sense; the major choices aren’t going to come so early, but it manifests in more than just plot trees. DA2 uses a conversation system similar to Mass Effect, where instead of picking what you want to say you pick the mood or the gist of what you want to say. Heroic good guy stuff is up top, neutral the middle, bad the bottom. Except it’s not exactly that: instead of heroic good guy stuff, Hawke’s positive dialogue options often feel weak. Dude comes off like a whiny twerp. Instead of neutral options, they’re snarky, sarcastic, mischievous quips. Instead of stern or terse, the negative responses make Hawke sound like a jerk.

The biggest problem I’m having so far is figuring out what kind of character to play. I want to strive for consistency, but so far nothing I do feels very stalwart or concrete. The wishy-washy responses don’t make me feel like I’ll ever be this champion, and as I think that I wonder if maybe that’s intentional? Maybe they want me to feel tiny and unheroic until something cool happens? And then I look at the rest of the game, at the lackluster voice acting, at the unimpressive character models (at least as far as hair and faces are concerned), at the limited customization, and I think, no, probably not.

Now, I’m only a couple hours in. All I’ve done is one main plot quest and some side stuff, only just gaining full control in Kirkwall. Things will change, and an RPG tends to take a long time to get the ball rolling.

But is it even an RPG? I doesn’t really feel like I have control over what I say, how I act. Each possible conversational choice is not as strong as regular, decisive, definitive dialogue in most games. If the game has three main paths, each path by itself feels like only a third of a story, or a third as good as it could be. As it should be.

Choices in games are great, but they’re like time travel stories: they have to be done really, really well, or they fall flat. The choices make the plot weak, and the lack of choices makes this RPG… not an RPG. I want to change what my companions are wearing, I want to have real control over what I say (if you’re going to give me options), and I want to have a dynamic, interesting plot that engages me.

In these first few hours, all DA2 is doing so far – or all I can focus on, at any rate – is making me lament the loss of those really good old-school RPG’s that had great, complex stories with fantastic dialogue and gripping, breathtaking visuals.

Lost Odyssey springs immediately to mind and while its later half ran out of steam its set-up was orgasmically good, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t cry at some of Kaim’s stories. Or, hey, what about Vagrant Story?

You know what? Yeah, so far I really just want to play a remake of Vagrant Story. Or screw that. I want to play Vagrant Story. (Which was just re-released on PSN)

Tomorrow I’ll see if the game picks up any, and I’ll discuss my feelings on the gameplay and combat.

Mar 032011

Gabe Weller, looking sassy

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Dead Space 2

Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

This week saw the release of “Severed,” a DLC pack for Visceral’s Dead Space 2. This downloadable content features two chapters of the same gameplay featured in the main campaign and stars Gabe Weller, one of the characters from the Wii’s Dead Space: Extraction (which you may have also experienced on the PS3 alongside the release of Dead Space 2) as a security officer on the Sprawl, and it follows his escape from the same outbreak that afflicts the Titan mining station in Isaac Clarke’s adventure.

Gabe starts out in the mine at the beginning of the outbreak. His wife, Lexine (another character from Extraction), is in the Sprawl’s hospital, and his sole goal is to get back to her so they can escape. He’s seen this all before, and he’s taking no chances. From the very first moment you take control of Gabe, as he hears the not-distant-enough sounds of necromorphs howling for blood, Severed bleeds tension. As you first stand up following the initial cutscene, an exasperated Gabe quietly says, “Oh, God…” marking the beginning of his perilous journey and return to insanity.

Because your goal is to get from the mine to the hospital, you see the Sprawl in the reverse order than Isaac saw it in the campaign. Like when Isaac revisits the Ishimura in the main game, this lends Severed a sort of familiarity. “I know these halls, these corridors.” It puts you in Gabe’s shoes, who is terrified at reliving this nightmare from which he thought he had escaped. Almost all of the environments are recycled, so while at first you’re seeing areas before Isaac arrives, the latter half of the DLC has you following up behind the main game’s hero to find once-familiar areas even bloodier and more dangerous.

Gabe plays exactly like Isaac, and can even wear the same suits (if you have unlocked special suits or DLC suits, they’ll show up for Weller in the store), although the game is short and the new suit (vaguely cyborg ninja in appearance, with red and gunmetal coloring and one orange eye) looks cool enough to keep on. Gabe can also use the same weaponry, and although his gear has its own stat bonuses his special patrol weapons, like all the DLC equipment, are really just reskinned versions of the normal stuff. You’ll have to start pretty much from scratch on powering up your equipment, too, which on Zealot difficulty (the game’s toughest setting) makes for a significant challenge in the short romp.

You know what to expect: the voice acting is top-notch and evokes tension and fear (except for the main antagonist who falls flat, sadly); the gameplay here leans toward combat which frequently pits you against endgame-level enemies in unforgiving waves; the environments are frightening, tense, and well-designed; the story promises intrigue with two of Dead Space’s more interesting characters.

However, despite the great set-up, Severed doesn’t quite deliver. Its two chapters can be completed in an hour on the highest difficulty with starting-level equipment, and while that’s definitely challenging (and recommended), without the New Game+ featured in the main game it means a singular, one-time experience with no replay value to extend its life.

Lexine Murdoch (now Weller), in need of rescue

The two chapters also hurt what should be a great story. Dead Space 2 is well-written and well-told, but in the two short chapters not enough can be done to explore the characters. You’re not given enough time to care about them, because you’re not given enough to care about, which is even more disappointing because of how much you already do care thanks to Extraction. Severed needed at least one more chapter, one more act, to flesh out the story in interesting ways.

Because of its quick ride, the gameplay doesn’t get many opportunities for the amazingly cinematic sequences experienced in the main campaign. There are no real boss fights to speak of, nor any epic standoffs (well, maybe one) or chase scenes. And while it’s cool to experience the aftermath of Isaac’s presence (corpses and blood everywhere), it would have been interesting and added more flair to see a little more of what he was doing. For example, why couldn’t we have watched the Tormentor get flung into space and then exploded on the side of a gunship? If you’re going to recycle environments, why not do it in the way everybody wants to see?

This DLC is made well, there just isn’t enough of it to go around. It’s just bones, and everybody suffers for it: badass, no-nonsense Gabe doesn’t get a chance to shine, the bad guy comes off as one note, Lexine (sweet, beautiful Lexine, with her dulcet Northern Irish accent) is hardly present at all, and the gameplay itself, which we know from Isaac’s experience is capable of plenty, has no room to stretch.

Severed is really a missed opportunity. I would have loved to see some co-op between Lexine and Gabe, and maybe four or five chapters (for which I’d gladly have paid double), and some new weapons, like Gabe’s security pistol from Extraction. The chance was here to tell a riveting story with fan-favorite characters, and the game loads itself into a slingshot and then misfires, dumping everything ungracefully over the side of the cliff and out of sight before you know it.

Infamous Booty

If you’re a fan of Dead Space, it’s an inexpensive but ultimately hollow addition to your collection. It, like so many of the other Dead Space properties, doesn’t shine like the main games, but it does link some of the extended media together. Although it ties off a couple things, it’s too short to really answer major questions (like what happened to Nate, also from Extraction? Yeah, we can guess, but not a word one is mentioned about him) and only ends up asking more. If you’re a fan, you probably already were going to buy it, and I would definitely recommend it for any real Dead Space aficionado (although she doesn’t get much airtime, the chance to hear more of Lexine is always a plus, even if her infamous booty is sadly absent).

But for everybody else, I wouldn’t really invest yourselves. It’s not much time or money wasted, but that’s exactly what it is: wasted. Visceral should take note: the Sprawl is a big place, and the chance to explore it during the story of this outbreak should not be left untapped. I can only hope that we see some more DLC, hopefully this time bigger and more extensive. Co-op is really what they should focus on, and it’s something I would love to see.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to the main game and keep playing that, because it’s freaking awesome to the max.

Mar 012011

We play a lot of games, and we play many of them online, either cooperatively or competitively. Sometimes we’re carrying out objectives, sometimes we’re defending against hordes of AI, and sometimes it’s good old-fashioned deathmatch, but the salient point here is that we play with others. And since we were kids, what was the one thing we heard the most regarding playing with others, the one word we ought to associate with that phrase?

Play nice.

It should be obvious why one would want to play nice: because nice is better than not nice. But what exactly do I mean? I feel like I have to definitively state it, because for whatever reasons so many people aren’t playing nice. On the internet, and in internet gaming especially, you run into so many people who just plain aren’t being nice that it’s ridiculous, it’s downright epidemic. People are, more often than not, total jerkwad douchebags online.

Why is that? The answer is actually pretty simple and I think summed up best by John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, found here. But while that explains the process, I think we need to go deeper (which, I am told, is what she said).

Gamers are almost universally nerds. Not all gamers are nerds, this is true, but I am willing to posit that all douchenozzles are either nerds or macho hyper-aggressive idiot sportsfans, and the end result is the same. And nerds tend to be smart, academically, which means they do or did well in school, which goes hand-in-hand with not being the aforementioned jocks, which means they weren’t popular and led socially awkward, numb existences but were left academically unchallenged most of their young lives.

This manifests in two problems: first, you’ve got people who aren’t used to losing, and so aren’t very good at it. They’re graceless and tactless when it comes to losing, and they blame failure or inadequacy on anything but themselves, and fuck you if you think you don’t do it because we all do to some extent (FUCKing lag, FUCKing shotgun bitch, FUCKing controls, FUCKing two percent health… There’s a bandit in Fort Mercer in Red Dead Redemption who almost always spawns as a black character and has a shotgun, and he kills more people than car crashes, wars, and zombie attacks combined. I started calling him Leeroy the Shotgun Negro, partly because it was a western and it seemed thematically apropos, partly to be funny because I am an insensitive hellbound prick, but mostly because I was pissed and needed to vent and demean even a lowly AI).

The second problem is that these people are socially awkward and don’t know how to compose themselves in such situations (losing), or around other people in general. While this translates into shyness and fear of social situations bordering on pathological in real life, online, where anonymity is the key and consequences are nowhere to be found, it results in them expressing all the things they kept bottled up for so many years.

Metaphorically, your average deathmatch is basically a digital Columbine shooting where beleaguered nerds unload their frustrations and exercise their Nietzschean will-to-power on other human beings in the most sadistic fashion possible. Raw, guttural hatred spews forth in ways you couldn’t even imagine, in ways you could never fathom a human being acting with another human being, not even the most feral, crazed beasts of the wild.

I’ve heard people raging so hard on LIVE that I swear if I was looking into their eyes I would see a serial killer and not one scrap of soul or compassion other.

This dynamic runs even more deeply than anonymity plus audience plus no consequences, extending to our monkeysphere and the broken societal system in which we live, but as everything can be traced back through such vagaries I’ll reel back toward the point.

So, these people, and you know who they are, and you even act like them every once in a while even when you don’t want to and even when you’re not really like that – these people are either nerds or jocks, and either way they cannot lose. It’s just not an option for them. They have to win, to subvert, to dominate, to be superior.

And this, inexorably, results in general douchebaggery. Since their fragile egos demand ultimate victory, the highest KDR, and the top score, these players will use any means at their disposal to do so. Since there are no consequences they will cheat and steal and break every rule possible; they will turn the game from something fun to a grind of technicality, and they will stand on that technicality without fail.

These are the players who spawn camp, and then have the audacity to think they’re more skilled. These are the players who do absolutely nothing to support the team and brag about that one awesome kill they got on you even though you’ve been crushing their allies left and right all match. These are the Casual Aim Mode players with lock-on-targeting. These are the grinders, the cheaters, the liars, the creepers, the haters, the deniers. These are they, and they, folks, are the enemy, especially when they occur within ourselves.

See, the thing is, you can’t stop this type of playing by any means. Like the Terminator these people can’t be bargained or reasoned with. They won’t listen to logic, so communicating with them about their behavior will do no good. If you kill one of them with an RPG a handful of times, he will send you a message that says you should join the Iraqi Army (since they rely solely on the RPG? I guess?).

I googled it, they have these too.

If you catch him trying to sneak up on your teammate and fairly headshot him (because welcome to Hardcore aim mode, you loser, which I’ve been using since day one, so yes, I can get a headshot without cheating even though you can’t) he will insult the Jewish people and then whine like a bitch when you and seven friends show up and quietly request an apology – which he will refuse to give, and so you’ll kill him extra hard, because antisemitism is not cool, guys. No form of discourse, polite or not, will work on them.

Nor will beating them at their own game curb their behavior: you can pull out the same tricks and they will only respond in kind. And if you can overcome their douchy ways legitimately and beat them through pure skill, they’ll keep doing it out of spite. There’s just nothing to be done about these people.

Not by you, anyway.

But the thing is, all these people are individuals, and if every individual would pay attention to only their own behavior, then suddenly a huge epidemic can be instantly cured. Like defensive driving wherein one assumes responsibility only for oneself, this undesirable behavior can be eliminated if only we all just stop fucking doing it.

You can’t stop another player from acting like a chode, but you can keep from being one yourself, and if everybody just handled their shit then this wouldn’t be a problem. Games would be playable, and they’d be played in the spirit they were meant to be played. They would be fun, and everybody could have a good time.

So the next time you get all pissed and catch yourself starting to demonstrate douchy behavior, take a deep breath, cut it out, and realize that you don’t need to act that way. The people on the other end are people, like you, and they want to have fun. You’re not meant to take your frustrations out on other humans like this; that’s what animals and redheads are for. Put yourself in their shoes and think, “Is this really the impression I want to give? Is this really the gamer I want to be? Do I want to be ‘that guy?’ Do I want to strip away any fun any of us might be having?”

It’s a game, and at the end of the day your status in it means little. Winning is great, but not at the cost of common decency. Play fair, play well, and immerse yourself in the game itself, not the idea of the game. Let it be about being part of a squad of highly trained military pros defending a position against terrorists, instead of about getting the most kills. Let it be about being in a posse of old west cowboys riding into the sunset, and not about killing the same group of people over and over purely to prove you have bigger wangs (trust me, guys, your average wang is plenty to satisfy your lady; just learn to use it right – and also, no, you do not have a bigger wang than me so don’t bother). Let it be about fostering a good time, instead of ruining others’.

Look at yourself in the mirror every once in a while. Who is that dude? Did you really just say that? Did you really just act that way? Be honest with yourself. Is this why you play games?

Just, come on, guys. Come on.

Feb 272011

It is difficult to describe exactly what Assassin’s Creed is at its core. This is a symptom of a lot of sandbox games, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody describing Assassin’s Creed as a sandbox game. Where such Jacks-of-all-trades, Masters-of-none games have trouble committing to one really good idea and fall short on every individual level, Assassin’s Creed does not. Rather, the game is executed with care and it achieves most of its goals with ease. It creates an amazing, realistic world and breaks previous boundaries of interactivity, integrates fluid and dynamic combat with gameworld navigation, and dresses it all in a unique and vastly deep historical setting which immerses the player to a degree other games do not.

In most videogames we’re used to playing, the environment is an obstacle to our advancement. The walls (invisible, many of them) that encase the world in which we play are static, unmoving, and annoying. They are the boundaries meant to direct our play experiences toward what the game has to offer instead of toward the irrelevant asides our curiosity jumps at. Many of them are pretty, to be sure – breathtaking vistas, grand sunsets, and beautifully and exhiliaratingly scripted set-pieces — but we see them for what they really are: programmed bumpers designed to keep us on the shiny lane and out of the gutter.

Assassin’s Creed, though, allows us to shatter the boundary of the environment by doing something few games have before accomplished: letting us reach out and touch it. In the game, Altair can take hold of the physical world itself and climb all over it, up and over the paths set by the games we used to play. It’s this freedom of movement and exploration that makes this game shine, where it transcends what we used to think about what it meant to play a game. Add to this incredibly liberating feeling a nifty combat system and a good control scheme, and we’ve got ourselves a game which does what all the fancy special effects, sounds, and stories of scores of other games couldn’t: it immerses us in what’s been created. We feel like we’re actually there because (and looking back now doesn’t it seem so devilishly simple?) we can reach out and touch what we’re looking at.

Other games lend the idea credence, Shadow of the Colossus being the best example (and executed so much better than even Assassin’s Creed, but that’s another article for another day). In that game our ability to climb is relegated not by tapping a button but by having to hold it, emphasizing the sense of grip. When the controller begins to vibrate as our avatar’s strength wanes, our thumbs press down that button ever the harder, our hands ache, and we are pivoted to the edge of our seats, believing with every mesmerized ounce that if we could only hold on for just a little longer!

There aren’t many games that immerse the player as well as Assassin’s Creed should, and this concept is the reason why. In other games we feel detached, but here we believe. Or, at least, we could, if the game didn’t try to unravel our belief at every turn. For some reason I’m having trouble conjuring, Assassin’s Creed developers Ubisoft took a very interesting and innovative concept and jumped off the deep end of the pool. Because the game isn’t actually set in a well-chosen slice of human history to tell a compelling story with deeply impactful moral undertones and told using a series of new and groundbreaking gameplay features. No, no, that would have been boring, run-of-the-mill. They went the bad horror fiction route of it all being a dream, only it’s a sci-fi dream, which means that it’s not a dream but a simulation, but since the Matrix already did it it comes across as stale and uninspired. Or perhaps it’s because it wasn’t in any way necessary that it feels stale and uninspired, I’m not sure which.

What exactly is the point of bothering with immersing players in a rich and detailed world if the whole point of the game is that it’s not real? We already have to contend with the spatial wall of experiencing the game through a television via a handheld controller; now we experience it as a game within a game. And it’s not as though that’s even the point: Assassin’s Creed makes no effort at social commentary with this setup (the whole “we control puppets that bend to our will but really we’re the puppets bending to the will of the in-game AI or to the will of consumerism” thing, ala Metal Gear) and so the extra narrative feels tacked on, like this great core game underneath was buffeted during development by producers who demanded this paltry, cliché, pointless aspect be brought in just to sell seats, spice it up, and make it palatable for the masses. Thing is, if they had released the game it should have been, they might have learned that gamers actually have a pretty big appetite for this stuff. The sci-fi is less a clever twist and more an overused crutch the developers used to excuse their inability to find more creative ways to integrate necessary functions like health-bars, loading-screens, and navigational beacons.

I’ll throw out some examples and a few ideas alongside and let them make my point. In-game you’ve got a lot of messy HUD elements like a boorish sci-fi radar which tells you exactly where to go. You’ve also got in-world cues to help out, too, like hawks that fly around the targets already represented on your radar (and your pause-screen map, for that matter). So what did the guy who programmed those hawks have to say when they tacked on the all-seeing radar? The immersive, unobtrusive, subtle in-game cue is made useless by the radar that didn’t need to be there (by virtue of the fact that twelfth-century assassins didn’t know what in the blazes a radar was). The map you have access to shows clear-cut lines on a fancy digital interface, but why not have a paper map with handwritten notations and markers appearing as you discover them? Each mission (to assassinate a target) is divided into two parts: information gathering and the assassination itself. Suffice it to say you spend a lot of time gathering information, but you don’t have to listen to a word of it, because the map tells you exactly where to go and what to do at all times. Why even bother recording the dialogue of the fellow who tells you where to begin your investigations if the radar leads you to each and every one anyway? Not for storytelling, not as part of the narrative, that’s for sure.

A lot of people complain that the information-gathering missions grow quickly repetitive, and they’re right, they do, but that’s because the game undermines the point of gathering information by doing it for you. The radar leads you to each point, handy prompts tell you what to do every time (even when it’s something simple, like “sit on a bench and listen”), and they tell you where to go next. You don’t gather information, the radar does, and when it’s decided it’s finished it tells you where to go to find your target, nullifying the whole purpose of all that information you allegedly gathered by leading you there by the hand. You don’t get to plan and attack, you don’t get to analyze and decide, and aren’t those some of the best parts about being an assassin? Agent 47 seems to think so. What if on this paper map I have suggested we even got to write our own markers with a pencil, make our own notations based on the information we had ascertained? What if we had to find these missions ourselves, find the targets ourselves?

It’s as if every time the developers hit a wall they couldn’t hurdle they just turned to the sci-fi pool and drew up a good enough excuse. How to transition from “being chased by guards very aware of your presence” to “hidden and safe and able to resume exploring” was literally given a function referred to as “hiding mode.” Instead of something fluid and intuitive, like hide (a really quite simple instruction) and blend in with a crowd, we must endure this blatant, unapologetic setting for a few moments before the screen wipes and beeps at us the all clear. There are other examples, but I think you get the point. It’s a shame, too, because the engine subverts one of gaming’s oldest banes – the invisible wall – by letting the character simply interact with it in a realistic fashion. It’s too bad the game’s creators couldn’t find ways to subvert the bane of development walls in a unique and creative way, too.

Perhaps worst of all is that the sci-fi element becomes a vehicle for the game as a series. Meant as a trilogy, Assassin’s Creed carries to the next episode via the thin outer layer created by the poor excuse for a narrative. So now instead of one game’s potential being ruined, we’ve got a whole series’s potential being ruined. The inner game works so hard to make us believe in it, but in the end any belief it’s built is shattered by the outer part when it reminds us that the invisible walls are still there. That we have not escaped them. Greedy publishers, shortsighted developers, or maybe it was our fault because we let them get away with it. I don’t know who to blame, or if it would matter if I did. Assassin’s Creed casts off any hope of being the work of art (like, I again mention, Shadow of the Colossus) it should have been because it buys into the idea that gamers can’t appreciate works of art.

But that, too, is another article for another day.