Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20cc reviews: V

Recently, I've decided that multiple APs, College Applications, and other school related responsibilities have failed to eat up enough of my time. To cope with this boredom, I am reviewing the pilot episode of a new show, the background of which I know little about, which is a reboot of a miniseries that I've seen part of. Obviously I should be considered an authority on the subject.

The series, for those who didn't read the title, is V, based on an 1983 miniseries. The basic premise of the series is that aliens arrive above Earth, calling themselves the Visitors and offering the secrets of their advanced technology in exchange for a particular chemical that can be easily obtained on Earth, but of which the Visitors' planet is starved. It also happens to be a giant metaphor for the resistance fighters in Nazi controlled Europe.

The remarkable thing is, in many ways, the original series was more subtle and suspenseful than the new one. I don't know why this surprises me, given the average modern American's inability to perform complicated procedures like independent thought. Perhaps I'm simply biased, based on the fact that the '80s produced something in the area of absolutely nothing of value. (This is of course hyperbole, since several noteworthy graphic novels and a few good movies are indeed from the '80s, but that decade's crimes against music significantly outweigh the positives.)

For instance, it was some time into the miniseries that we discovered that the aliens are trying to take over the world and that they are--spoilers--actually reptiles with manufactured skin to make them appear human. Granted, the discerning viewer should be able to figure this out much sooner since, obviously, the planet spanning, super advanced empire couldn't be all good.

Sadly, today's viewer is not expected to have this presence of mind, so the Visitors' great secret is revealed in the pilot episode.

That flaw aside, I honestly don't have all that much to complain about. The show falls prey to a few typical character stereotypes, but in reality, that is preferable to the '80s stereotypes we were forced to endure in the original. The main characters are, so far, a little less likable, but this could easily change. Furthermore, there are a few things that appeal to the easily pleased sci fi lover in me. A couple of instances showed some very impressive special effects--something I feel is almost pointless to complement in an age when just about any show with a decent budget can have near flawless special effects. Also, Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk (from Firefly, for you poor uninitiated) both have semi lead roles.

All things considered, it's a show I'll keep watching, if for no other reason than I'm easily attracted by portrayals of alien technology, i.e. floating spy orbs that fire volleys of crystalline spikes. Should make for good times.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just another note

So, I know it's been a while, but I was feeling bored today, waiting for the spookiness tonight, so I'm deciding to post now. The first thing I want to talk about is the DSi XL. Yes, Nintendo is a money making machine who is caring less and less about their costumers, but I never bought a DSi, so this might be a good update for me from the lite =D. I don't play the DS much these days, but maybe if I get a flash cart... well, lets just say I love me my classic GBA games, and I don't like carrying around a bunch of cartridges.
Second thing I wanted to talk about is Linux. Recently I have installed Ubuntu with the intent of dual-booting it with Vista... but Vista refuses to boot. So, for the past few weeks I've been stuck with Ubuntu exclusively, but it hasn't been too bad. There's a bunch of games which have Linux versions, like Toribash, World of Goo, Lugaru and Tee Worlds (an online 2D CTF game) as well as many which work inside Wine, such as Knytt, Runman (which you should all get!), and I'm sure there's others which I haven't tested yet. Oh, there's also flash/java games and emulators, which I would only use for the most legal of reasons, of course :). I have really been missing Steam though, I've installed it through Wine, but I don't have enough space on my Ubuntu partition to download TF2 =(.
Anyway, hopefully I'll get Vista up and working soon, or replace it with Windows 7 (which I've heard is "less bad than you expected") in time for the TF2 Halloween special (they have special maps and stuff, and they're selling the game for $2.50!). That's about all I have to say now, I hope this blog isn't totally dead, it should still be manageable as a place for the authors to share ideas with each other. So, I guess from now on I'll be the indie games and Linux guy, oh and maybe I'll throw in some classic games too (ones that were released in America). Sorry for any spelling or grammar errors, I've gotta go now, I hope you guys start posting about some stuff too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leaked Indiecade Finalists

Yesterday Edmund McMillen (creator of Aether (one of the finalists), and Time Fcuk) leaked a list of Indiecade finalists. Looks ligit to me, and I trust the guy, here they are:
Aether, Edmund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel
Akrasia, Team Aha!
Classic Night, Akarolls
Cogs, Lazy 8 Studios
Closure, Tyler Glaiel & Jon Schubbe
Dear Esther, The Chinese Room
Deep Sleep Initiative, The, ARx
Eliss, Steph Thirion
Everybody Dies, Jim Munroe
Global Conflicts: Latin America, Serious Games Interactive
Gray, Mike Boxleiter & Greg Wohlwend
Maw, Twisted Pixel Games
Mightier, Lucas Pope and Keiko Ishizaka
Minor Battle, Andre Clark
Moon Stories, Daniel Benmergui
Nanobots, Erin Robinson
Osmos, Hemisphere Games
Papermint, Avaloop
Path, The, Tale of Tales
Radio Flare, studio radiolaris
Ruben & Lullaby, Erik Loyer
Shadow Physics, Steve Swink & Scott Anderson
Sowlar, Odd Man In
Spectre, Vaguely Spectacular Team
Train, Brenda Brathwaite
Tuning, cactus / Jonatan Soderstrom
You get me, Blast Theory
Zeno Clash, ACE Team Software
Modal Kombat, David Hindman

We are also delighted to be featuring two invited social games:
Urban Bingo, David Jiminson
CBCG, The Copenhagen Game Collective

Also some of the finalists have posted videos about their games
(Aether = http://edmundmcmillen.blogspot.com/2009/09/indiecade-2009.html)
(Closure= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0k4SKEGBlw )


please post this information places so people go.

That's a direct quote from his post: http://edmundmcmillen.blogspot.com/2009/09/im-leaking-indiecade-finalist-list.html

As far as I can tell this is the only place that these have been posted so far. I also recognize most of those names (a lot from IGF), so I don't doubt this list. I might be completely wrong, but this is a small blog and I'm sure a mistake like this doesn't matter that much. Anyway, thanks Edmund! Everybody should check out those games and two vids.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Extra Life by Sarcastic Gamer

There is a wonderful cause out there to raise money for children with cancer known as Extra Life. All you have to do to raise money is complete a marathon. Sound hard? Well, it's probably the easiest marathon I can think of, and I haven't been running in a few years. All you have to do is get some people together and play video games for 24 hours. I know I'll be participating in it, and hopefully my co-writers, 20cc and 23 will join me in this. To learn more about this cause, and how to sign up, visit extralife.sarcasticgamer.com.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

GERARDAMO is writing a review?

Well... No.

I was all set to do a review of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger this week, but in a 20cc-esque turn of events, not only was that not available from my GameQ on GameFly, the first 11 games on my list weren't available. So was next? Animal Crossing: City Folk. No, I don't remember how it got there, but it was anyway. Well, GERARDAMO, why can't you just return it and get another game? I was all set to do that, but I give any game I get the benefit of the doubt and play it anyway. It has now been 5 days and I'm still playing it. How very disappointing. In fact, I would probably do a review of it if it wasn't from last year, but alas, it is. For sake of getting a review up, I'll write a quick 2 sentences.

GERARDAMO Reviews - Animal Crossing: City Folk (Nintendo Wii)

Animal Crossing: City Folk is the Wii's version of Animal Crossing for the Gamecube. Does that sound like weird wording, let me explain it better. Animal Crossing: City Folk is the exact Animal Crossing that you played on the Gamecube, and also the same exact game that you played on the DS. The furniture is the same, the neighbors are the same, everything is the same.

Originality: 0/50
Innovation: 0/50

Overall, Animal Crossing: City Folk scores a 0/100

Okay, joke review aside, this is indeed the same game that I saved my allowance for months for way back when I was in middle school. I'm not entirely sure why I haven't returned it yet. But if I ever do, I should have a review up for BlazBlue sometime soon. For now, I have to get back to mailing my neighbors the garbage that I found fishing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sometimes, Actual Walking Can Be A Bit Overwhelming

Have you ever had the thought, "It's a beautiful day outside! I'd love to go out walking, but that's just too gosh darn difficult!" I know I have! Lucky for you, Konami is here to save you from the trouble that is going outside and walking with their latest project, Walk It Out!

Okay, seriously, time to end the Splenda-sweet sarcasm. Walk It Out is Konami's latest adventure into "exergaming." Using a Wii Balance board, you can get all the excitement of real walking without leaving the house! You can also use the Hottest Party/Mario Mix (I mean... Mario Mix? What's that. It never happened. Continue reading.) dance pad, and if even THAT seems too daunting, you can go ahead and use your Wii-mote and nunchuk. Now, it seems to be at least PART rhythm game. You have to walk in time to what is promised to be over 100 songs. So, maybe if DDR seems too difficult as well, this two direction version might be more appealing? Still not interested? Yeah, good luck with this. Maybe Liz, the personal trainer will get you more motivated to walk in place.

If nothing else, that trailer is pretty hilarious. As far as I know, there is no release date set yet. I hope we can all manage to hold back our excitement to walk in place until this comes out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

So This One Time It Was Summer...

Yeah so it's been a month or so since anyone posted anything. But don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you. In fact, we've been working hard to revolutionize the world of aB (all five of you people out there who pretend to care). We've got some new ideas that might freshen things up a little bit, and GERARDAMO put us a website together.

That's right, we're actually moving. Remember when we first mentioned the possibility back in March or whatever? Well it should actually be up and running soon, which means I can unleash the power of my ocd on the limited-but-slightly-less-so-than-a-blog posibilities of a low budget website.

Also we have a Twitter, which none of us will ever use (except maybe GERARDAMO), but it'll keep all you posers from pretending to be us and saying things like "Today I saved three newborn infants from falling out of a tree into a hole that led into the firey pits of Hell." Who wants that kind of shit on their Twitter? Seriously.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

23 preview: No Quarter

Exclusive Preview: No Quarter

This is the title screen, sorry about the lazy crop, for some reason NQ doesn't like full screen screen captures

You may or may not have heard about Edmund McMillen and Alex Austin's newest project; No Quarter. No Quarter is going to be a game compilation that will play with 6 different games, or "tracks," much like a music CD. The game is still in fairly early beta, so I'm just telling you of what it's like so far, which may be very different than the final version. So, I managed to get my hands on a copy of the indiecade beta, with my awesome indie games press skills, and here's what I think of it so far.

Sliding on a platform while shooting zombies out from the air... yeah, this game is pretty awesome

The first track, Hitler Must Die!, is a 2D action/shooter/platformer. In this game you play as a Russian agent assigned with the awesome task of killing hundreds of invading Hitler clones. After the opening scene (done in stills) explaining this, you start right in the middle of an open, rocky terrain in the middle of the night. The art style is completely black and white, except for the blood. The moon shines in the background, occasionally getting blocked by the foreground. Light shines from the moon and from lightbulbs and windows inside, the lighting engine is as good (if not better) than that of Gish's. The game play is kind of slide-y and squishy, but that makes it perfect for sliding through halls filled with retarded Hitler clones while mowing them down with your Uzi. You get 4 guns (so far), your pistol, the Uzi, the shotgun, and grenades, all if which have infinite ammo (for now). Expect there to also be a flamethrower and to get these items randomly from enemies in the final version. One of the main features that makes this game really stand out is the physics system. When you kill an enemy, they don't just die, they fall (or if hit by a grenade, fly) backwards. This is very rewarding, especially with enemies that fall off ledges or get shot midair. So far, this is the high point of NQ, fun, addicting, and unique. Also, it has a good sound track.

GOOD COMBO!!! woohoo! ...these are common when you try to play as fast as you can...

The second track is Trivium. (20cc says: That's a band!) Trivium plays like Tetris with physics. The point is the connect 3 of the same type blocks and they will disappear, with new types of blocks appearing each level. So far it's fun, but a little slow. The bouncy physics make for a semi chaotic experience, controlling with the arrow keys gives you enough control to put the blocks where you want them, but still is inexact enough to always keep them moving. And, once again, this game also has a nice sound track, sort of a techno version of the Tetris theme. If you want to play it's already in a released beta version of NQ, and there's a very similar game Alex made a while back named Triptych. Oh, there's also a high score board to keep track of your scores.

THWOMP! The red center is a explosive, but hard to get to, also for some reason this one covered the toolbar

The third track is Epic Flail. EF is pretty early in development, but the concept is still established. You play as a small spaceship which has a huge bolder attached to it by an extending cable. You use the bolder to smash the one huge piece of space debris, eventually reaching the exploding core. The goal is to smash the falling debris into small enough pieces that it will burn up in the atmosphere, and not destroy the city below (or move the falling pieces far enough away from the city). In my opinion, this is the second best game of the track, and after it gets multiple levels, ships, and debris, it's sure to shine.

So... I filled in the outside... even playing on the small board can be tough

Track number four is Hext. Hext is very similar to Scrabble; it's a word game where you use your given letters in spaces on the board to make words. There is one very big exception though; all the pieces are 6 (hex) sided. The end objective is to fill the whole board with letters that combine to make as many words as possible and have the highest score (based on which letters you used). There is a handy in-game dictionary in case you want to check to see which words the game recognizes (almost all words are accepted), or to plug in some letters and see if it's a word. This game has a small and large board size, and also features a high score board.

My very unimpressive tree... atleast it didn't tip over

Track five is Seedling. So far Seedling is just a toy in which you build and grow a tree. It does it pretty well, although it's hard to make a sturdy tree that actually looks like a tree. The mechanics work fairly well, although you are able to make severely messed up trees. It's surprising how well a bunch of triangles can represent the growing of a tree. Anyway there isn't much else to say about this, because there isn't much there; build a tree, triangle by triangle, make it grow, and give it leaves and roots to catch sun and water. Hopefully this game will eventually emulate the life and hardships of a growing tree, full with competing wild life and environmental effects.

This is after the shuttle has split up in to three parts... believe it or not, this is what NASA uses...

The sixth, and last track of NQ is a work solely created by Alex. It is called Odyssey. Do you remember that game from way back when, the one where you had to land the spaceship on the moon? Well, this game is a lot like that, only that it feels like a bigger scale, and it's been updated with better physics and the idea isn't just to land, but to also drop off the rover and return to the base (i think). It's a lot more forgiving then the original (or the dozens of versions made with the same mechanic), and I think with the right music it could turn in to a very atmospheric, space-y, and somewhat lonely game.

So that's No Quarter. For all the beta testers, expect to see this version in about a week, and for everyone else, well, lets hope they release it by, idk, before the end of the year? Anyway, this game looks like it could be a real winner, hopefully it will get the attention it deserves when it comes out. Expect to see more footage up once all the testers get it!

P.S. Here are some more Hitler Must Die! screens for being a good reader and getting all the way to the end of the article!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Battle for Wesnoth, by BoltAction

Battle for Wesnoth
Real-Time Strategy for the Thrifty and Fun-Loving

Battle for Wesnoth is an open source strategy game available for download here. While I'm not a huge TBS fan, I was drawn to this simple and unpretentious strategy game pitting fantastic medieval armies against one another over a hex-grid. Gameplay is simple enough: you have a leader who sits in your castle, recruiting troops that hop around the board grabbing villages for income, slaying baddies for experience, and taking enemy castles in your name. As your units reach experience thresholds, they advance, becoming more specific and effective troop types, often far better at what they do and frequently just a bit worse at everything else. For example, a human spearman is a general unit, capable in melee and passable at range. Its upgrade options include javelineer (tough shooters that retain melee combat capability), swordsman (eschew first strike options for heavier damage), and pikeman (no ranged capability, but first strike and front-loaded attacks). Swordsmen upgrade further into royal guards, and pikemen into halberdiers, further specialized in their forms of attack. Units have their damage split up over multiple attacks, which they trade in the course of one combat, meaning that while the royal guard deals the most damage over his five strikes, the halberdier is much better at disposing of an enemy without being wounded himself, dealing only slightly less damage but using only two or threee attacks.

The mix of terrain and time-of-day options adds more interesting ways to play than just overwhelming an opponant. Chaotic units, such as undead, are more effective at night, while lawful ones, such as humans, are better during the day. Needless to say, elves are better at fighting in forests, and so on. Some units, such as the undead shadow and elven ranger, gain additional options depending on terrain and time of day, which encourages flexibility of play style and awareness of positioning based on the battle conditions. Of course, all too often the campaign simply ends up as "I've got a ton of experienced troops from previous scenarios - let's roll over the enemy like a steamroller over a turkey!" One quip: why is a side dependant on its leader's hanging back in the base recruiting units when logically he should be mopping the floor with the blood-soaked corpses of his enemies? Especially for orcs, the idea of an administrator-lord seemed inappropriate.

The game's graphics are a little bit cartoonish, and the plotlines of its many campaigns are fun, if not very original. Though these slight faults can diminish enjoyment for the connoisseur, the multitude of campaigns, sheer number of online scenarios, and variety of units and factions combine to give Battle for Wesnoth excellent replay value. The game's simple play style makes it fun, accessible, and, unlike many of the strategy games out there, transparent. On the whole, well worth the brief download and install time.

Gameplay: 18/20
Storyline: 16/25
Graphics: 1/5
Streamlined: 10/10
Innovation: 7/15
Fun: 18/25

Overall: 70/100

For the Optimists:
-Fun, comprehensible strategy game
-Cute + free + simple = kid-friendly
-High replayability

For the Pessimists:
-Graphics unimpressive
-Story uninventive
-Not very exciting

I, BoltAction, recommend Battle for Wesnoth if you're into open source games, like turn-based strategy fantasy, or are just looking for a simple, free game to suck up some time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

20cc's New Policy

I know I have yet to deliver that promised Prince of Persia review (that no one cares about 'cause the game's already been out half a year) but I've been very busy lately. Because I have basic pattern recognition abilities, I recognize that this isn't likely to change in the near future, so here's the deal:

In the coming month and a half or so, I have the SAT, NYSSMA, AP exam, finals, SAT IIs, and ACT. At some point in there, I have to open my summer house, and somehow avoid failing my classes in the mean time. What this means is that I hardly have time to hunt down every game on my list when Gamefly (unavoidably) fails to ship the right one. (Their latest feat has been to send me Fable 2, from LA, (the other side of the country) because they don't even have that in at my distribution center. It should be obvious that Fable 2 was not high on my list, but apparently they can't get a hold of anything from later than last October.) What this means to you, is that you're going to start seeing some holes in my publication schedule. I will try to keep getting games, and reviewing the ones I can, (and want to) but I can't promise they will be anything you'll give a shit about.

I will try hard to get back into a constant schedule as soon as possible, but that may not be until mid to late June, and even then it may be a bit off, since I'll be away from my video games and Internet almost every weekend, and some weeks. I assure you, however, I will be back.

Also, if any of you follow Abnormality, it will likely suffer even more, because I sure as hell won't have time to come up with good ideas for it. i don't feel quite as bad about that, however, because I never pretended to keep a schedule for it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

23 preview: Spewer

Spewer: puke, eat, puke some more
Today, Edmund McMillen was kind enough to let me try the Spewer beta. Now, Spewer hasn't had a lot of attention, but I think that will change once it gets released. Spewer was made by Eli Piilonen, the programmer, Edmund McMillen, the artists, and Danny B. for music, and Jordan Fehr for sound effects. Right now it's only in beta, but it should be released in about a week (4/28/09).

Spewer is about a cute little...animal(?) that, well, spews. It regurgitates and consumes his own vomit to solve puzzles on a course laid out for him by The Doctor. Puke, eat it, swim in it, use it to boost jumps, it's all about the spew; he pukes more than a frat boy at his first frat party. You only have a limited amount stuff at the beginning of each level (represented by the puke bar at the bottom of the screen), but you can re-consume it throughout the level to use it elsewhere (in the same level). That about covers it for game concept, eventually it gets a little more involved (after chapter 1).

As for the art, it's similar to a lot of other of Edmund's games, which personally, is a style I really like. Edmund himself says it's a mix between Triachnid and Aether. To me, the basic premise of Edmund's style is this; cute, yet utterly disgusting (to most people). The game makes me a little bit nauseous when I play, I mean the whole idea of this cute little organism recycling his own vomit is a little unsettling, but it looks very cute. The background consists of The Doctor, a comparatively large figure who looks like a mad scientist. He seems to be the one who has made you and is creating the challenges, but seeing how there isn't much of an intro, and there's no ending so it's hard to tell the storyline (which there will be, along with cut scenes, in the finished version).

The game play is fun and original, providing the player with challenges that show them new skills and test those skills. To be good at the game you have to learn fast and be kinda lucky. Sometimes game play is inexact, which can get frustrating. Then again I kind of suck at these kind of games, and there's still a week until the release, so a lot can change. So, with a little polish, which it's getting, this game could really turn in to a stellar little game. For me the game lasted about 2 and a half hours, but I take long on beating games, so more realistically you can probably finish it in under 2 hours, which is a good size for a flash game, and they might add more before release. I played the game all at once, there wasn't any save feature yet, which there will be in the final.

When this game is finally released try it out, you'll have fun and there might be an interesting story. The art style and physics are very enjoyable, and you'll probably be compelled to play the whole thing. Besides the main campaign there's also the level editor, with all the pieces in game (there's a lot of different tiles) to add some game play, and I think there are some unlockable levels for once you beat the game.

Friday, April 10, 2009

23 reviews: Spelunky

Name: Spelunky
Author: Derek Yu
Version: 0.99.8 (oh so close to final)
Platform: Windows
Price: Free!
Players: 1
Website(s): Official topic thread, Direct Download(8mb), Spelunky Wiki
Video: Featured

So, it might have seemed like I ran away forever, like a drunken and abusive father who you barely know, but no, I just drank myself in to a stupor while wasting my money on strippers, only to eventually remember my bastard child and decide to visit again, just to ask for more money... metaphorically of course. In reality, between school work, games, and just being lazy, I haven't posted, but now, after months of waiting, here is my almost decent review of Derek Yu's highly addictive and exceptionally fun game Spelunky. Oh, and before you continue, if you decide not to read my rambling and seemingly intoxicated opinions you might just want to skip to Rock Paper Shotgun's great article on this little gem. Anyway, if you're still reading, I have no idea why you would, here's the review:

Title screen, and I'm on top!

Spelunky is what might happen if you squished Mario, Indiana Jones, and Awesomeness into 8mb of pixels and chiptunes. Take the dungeon exploring, cult killing, gem stealing ruggedness of the Indiana Jones series (the earlier ones, that is) and mix it with the frenzied risk taking, goomba jumping, coin collecting cuteness of Mario and you've got the basis of a Spelunky. In Spelunky you are a small spelunker (explorer of caves) spelunking (exploring caves). Why is not completely clear, but what you do know is that there is gold and gems for collecting, traps and creatures for avoiding/killing, maidens for rescuing and a door at the end of the level. Now Spelunky is slightly deeper than this, but as far as story line goes this is about it.

What makes Spelunky special is how it handles gameplay. Spelunky is a very challenging game. This isn't necessarily a negative. Unlike newer games which handle difficulty by kicking you back a few minutes or even hours of gameplay, or by not punishing you at all, (20cc says: I'll have a lot of this is talk about if I ever get around to reviewing Prince of Persia) or like back in the NES days, when challenging meant memorizing levels so you wouldn't get caught by unexpected surprises, and if you died too many times then oh well, back to the beginning for you. You could say Spelunky is more like older games in that when you die you go back to the beginning, the very beginning, but it isn't really the same beginning as before.

Instead of making you memorize each level, Spelunky forces you to actually become good at the game. How do they do this? Randomly generated levels. And it does it pretty damn well. Every level is unique. Unlike some platformers that tell you to jump there, avoid this, kill that, Spelunky makes you figure it out. You have to decide for yourself, "How am I going to get to the exit." Now this may sound simple enough. Plan out an escape route and go with it. But you can't see the whole stage, only a certain section where you are, and while you're exploring there's tons of baddies and traps to take away your 4 points of life. To add to the mayhem, you only have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete each level before an invincible ghost comes out and kills you. Yeah, did I mention that Spelunky was tough? (You do get items and weapons to help you on your journey though, I'll let you find out what and how).

Me getting hit with an arrow trap as i fall to my death on some spikes... yeah, you'll see this screen a lot
(btw, that's the damsel in the upper right corner, and that red stuff is blood)

*minor spoiler alert* Every time you die you lose everything, except for your highscore, your death/win count, and your shortcuts. Oh, what's this? Shortcuts? Yes, well, instead of rewarding you for exploiting cheats to find shortcuts (like Super Mario) Spelunky makes you earn them. See, Spelunky is split up into 4 areas, each with 4 levels. The shortcuts, which cost lots of money (probably at least 4 playthroughs worth), will give you special doors to the beginning of each area. Now for the other part of what carries over: Your highscores are made up of your amount of money, kills, and maidens at time of death (not necessarily all in the same session). I'll post a picture below for the highscore room. You might notice the doors, those are minigames (supposedly) that open when you achieve a certain level of awesomeness, (time game is completed in, kills in single session, and highest amount of money at any given point) and yes, the game can actually be won. You might also notice that I have died over 400 times and have not won a single game, but that's okay, because Spelunky is so fun, and every time I die it's either because of recklessness, a mistake, or a new enemy in a new area that I didn't know was deadly, but I get a little better and (hopefully) get a chance to give more money to the shortcut guy, and maybe ever get a new high score!
408... 409...410...When will it stop?!?!

I'm sure you'll have a great time with this game. It's challenging, but rewarding, and every time you play it's a new experience, you're exploring an endless chain of caves, and slowly getting better at it. This game has a strange addictive quality. It never gets boring, and there's always something new, so you won't mind wasting large quantities of time on it. This game isn't perfect, some of the random level generation is strange (such as the damsel being created in a contained square around a spike trap, making it impossible to save her) but mostly it works pretty well. In most of the levels you can reach the exit without using a single bomb or rope. And the traps are comparatively fair, because the enemies can be killed by them too.

Bottom Line: download this game, it is well worth it, before you know it you'll be hitting 100 deaths and might even still be stuck on the first area. Don't be discouraged though, like any good skill, you just need to practice. I'm highly looking forward to the final version of this game and maybe being able to talk to the creator; Derek Yu (I have yet to contact him), who has also made Aquaria; a completely different, but yet good, game.

Alright, I guess that about does it for my rant/review. Hope your eyes didn't burst in to flame, and if they did, you can't sue me. Next up: Finally getting around to compiling the Venbrux interview, and maybe a review of Gish, once I beat it. Keep on gamin'!

P.S. I finally beat Spelunky!!!!! The ending was kinda neat, I won't ruin it for you, but after viewing the credits it kind of gives you an accomplished feeling, as well as being impressed by how few people made it (there's about 5 people total in the credits, excluding the beta testers). I shall post my new stats here: Me: 1 Spelunky: 719

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

20cc reviews: Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

With Gamefly's inability to deliver Weapons of Fate in time for this week's review, and the fact that I'll no doubt have to take next week off for travel, it seems I'm looking at another month or so without a break in the release schedule. WoF and The Godfather 2 are already out, and before I've finished them I'll have Velvet Assassin to contend with. I may end up cutting a couple games out of my schedule, depending on their continuing interest level.

In WoF's absence, I had planned on writing a completely irrelevant Prince of Persia review for this week, but Gamefly couldn't get that in time either, so I was left to find something at Blockbuster for my review. (It goes without saying that they didn't have WoF in stock either.) I settled on H.A.W.X.

For a little background, I've had a rather sporadic relationship with Tom Clancy games, and flying games in general. Every so often, one catches my interest, but only for a little while, and I've never been particularly good at either. It may in part be that I played most of these games when I was younger and sucked at games, and over time came to ignore Tom Clancy games because they're pretty much all the same. And yet here we have a Tom Clancy flying game. How refreshing. My aversion to this genre would have kept me from playing the game, but a friend suggested it to me, and I ended up getting the demo on XBL, figuring I had nothing to lose. (And nothing else to play, since Gamefly fails at shipping.)

It turns out, the game is fun. I would go so far as to say addictive. They accomplish this, first of all, by making it ridiculously easy. I say ridiculously because I finished the game in a day, and as I said before I'm pretty terrible at flying games. Combat, realistically, consists less of pulse pounding dogfights with opponents firing their cannons blindly, hoping to wing their enemy and maybe chip off a little health, and more of blowing the shit out of helpless ground targets. Less realistically, while most fighters might carry two to four missiles, H.A.W.X.'s fighters regularly came equipped with 200 Joint Strike missiles, 40 multi targeting air to air missiles, and rocket pods (just to give a possible weapon load). In addition to the typical flight mode, H.A.W.X. adds an alternate “assistance off” mode (referred to as OFF, in capitals, for no apparent reason) that makes for easier dogfighting. What it does, essentially, is removes most of the HUD, such as the altimeter and speedometer, disables the ERS, (the “enhanced reality system,” basically an advanced targeting system) changes to a camera angle that makes targeting a pain in the ass, and disables the failsafe that prevents the plane from slowing too much and stalling out. While that seems to be mostly negative, it really is worth it to be able to cut the plane's engine, spin around 180 degrees and fire a couple of missiles into the face of that enemy jet that thought it was going to get away. Also, admittedly, it's pretty fun to stall the plane and then pull out a second or two before hitting the ground. (Tangentially, the game would have been better if the player could use a Mechwarrior-style customization system, perhaps selecting weapons that fit into a weight limit, instead of choosing from preset options.)

As far as missions go, the gameplay consists of a combination of area defense (boring), escorts (frustrating), ground support (the closest to realistic of all the mission types), and infiltration (rare but fun). Like GTA4, the game really doesn't stray from its model, except in a couple minor cases, for instance an escort mission in which the player's targeting and ERS only works while near the escort target, (an AWACS) or a defense mission that ends with the player having to intercept cruise missiles before they reach the target. Despite maintaining a strict model, the gameplay remains fun because of the graphics, and the feeling of power that comes as a result of watching a multi targeting air to ground missile wipe out a tank platoon.

But you knew I would have to talk about the story, didn't you? I can't say I know exactly what role Mr. Clancy took in the writing of this game's plot. However, I was under the impression that his stories were popular because of their realistic, near future disaster scenarios that incite the public's fears because of the possibility that it could actually happen. In H.A.W.X. (According to Wikipedia, this stands for High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron, a typically contrived acronym that is also inaccurate, since, as a support unit, the H.A.W.X. squad spends most of its time at a rather low altitude. I don't think the acronym is ever explained in game, but then I did stop listening to the dialogue about halfway through.) the protagonist is a decommissioned Air Force pilot who is hired by the upstart PMC Artemis Global Security. The early part of the game sends the H.A.W.X. to put down rebellions and such, and ends with Artemis signing a contract with Brazil and supporting them in a war against an alliance of South American states called Las Trinidad. The flaws in the writing are minor at first, like the fact that Artemis is not only angry but for some reason surprised that the U.S. tries to intervene in a full scale war between a friendly nation and a vocally anti-American alliance. My personal favorite quote comes up during the defense of Brazil's capital, when a fellow pilot remarks, “Las Trinidad is going for the throat. This is a coup d'état!” A coup d'état is a military revolution, and requires someone inside the country to be rebelling. A war between nations is something very different. However, I became convinced that this character was simply mentally challenged, since he also has a tendency to repeat the same line every goddamn minute.

About halfway through the game, however, in a fit of terrible predictability, Artemis gets a better deal from Las Trinidad, defects, and declares war against the U.S. Somewhere along the line, Artemis apparently confused the definitions for “company” and “terrorist,” because I really don't see how such a plan would be profitable. Whatever Wall Street's current condition, America remains a major economic and military power. A war with the U.S. would first cause Artemis's stock to crash, and then cause all of their soldiers to die. However, because we've long abandoned any sense of realism, this six year old private company manages to actually stage a surprise attack that disables America's defense network, takes several military bases, and sets up a jamming system that disables electronic targeting systems nationwide. There isn't much of a change in gameplay however, since with the protagonist's defection, Artemis's previously advanced forces are replaced with the same tanks and dated fighters that the rebels were previously using.

(Here's a video of someone who apparently doesn't know how to dodge missiles.)

I couldn't honestly say that I didn't enjoy my day with H.A.W.X. Unfortunately, it seems that all of the games I've played of late have been fun without any real valuable content. About a year ago I read an article about the improving condition of video game writers. Why haven't I seen any indication of this? The last game I played with a convincing plot was Silent Hill 2, which is now going on a decade old. Before that was Kane & Lynch, which has been overwhelmingly criticized for its graphics and the fact that the characters “swear too much.” (Whoever wrote those reviews have apparently never been in the real world. The characters in K&L swear less than my friends or my parents.)

What I'm saying is that I like games to be enjoyable, but I would also like to feel that I'm doing less to contribute to America's deteriorating intellect. It's really not that hard to write a convincing plot. All that's required is that the writer asks himself three questions: “Are my characters realistic? Is my plot fresh and plausible? Am I not a flaming idiot?” If the answer to any of those questions is no, it's time to get outside help. Please people, have some standards. There's a difference between games like Saints Row that are cleverly written and lack plot only because it's meant to be a parody, and games whose writers assume that we can't tell the difference between characterization and bullshit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

20cc reviews: Resident Evil 5

I have never played any of the old Resident Evil games. As such, I won't be able to judge the new game's plot in the context of its predecessors. My experience with the series is as follows: I saw part of the movie on TV once, played Resident Evil 4 at a friend's, rented (or something) the first and second movies, watched them, watched them again with Biscuits, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing. I took two main things away from my experience. First, if the older games are like 4, they would probably be pretty fun, but I'm too lazy to find out. Second, Albert Wesker is a very cool villain.

Then the new game came out, and I thought it would be a fun way to get some cooperative play in. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to try the coop, because it took about two days for me to figure out how to work the split screen. (Here's a hint. You start a single player game, and then press start on the second controller. Unfortunately, like CoD5, the two screens are letterboxed, which wastes a lot of space. I've heard it said that this has something to do with the resolution setting of the TV, but I'm not about to mess with that, because I would then have to recalibrate the screen and I don't really know how to do that.)

So now that I've finished the game, I've got to think that someone meant to get a hold of the unused ideas folder from RE4, but it turned out that they accidentally used the ideas that had been used already. For one thing, the two games play exactly the same. I won't complain about that so much, because I liked RE4, but the similarity persists. Not only are almost the same breeds of Plagas present, but several enemies return that would not be expected to, realistically. The chainsaw-wielding Dr. Salvador makes an appearance, though slightly reskinned, and JJ the Gatling-gunner returns, red beret and all. There are more subtle similarities as well, such as the Reapers (very much like a more dangerous version of RE4's Novistadors) and the test subjects discovered at one point in the game (which have a lanky appearance somewhat similar to the Regeneradors). El Gigante even returns in the form of a disgustingly easy boss creature named Ndesu. At first, the only apparent change is that Leon Kennedy has been replaced with another returning RE character, Chris Redfield. He's a lot like Leon, except less attractive, less intelligent, and ripped like a fucking tank. (They did that so that they could include a ridiculous scene at the end in which Chris knocks over a boulder... somehow.)

Unfortunately, good enough can never be left alone. It would have been acceptable to just make a direct sequel to RE4 and call it a day. But Capcom wanted to add a partner for Chris to talk to, and Sheva Alomar was born. And as no one apparently tried to come up with new enemies, no one bothered either to try and program an acceptable AI. It wasn't so much an issue with the enemies, who were expected to be not particularly smart. However, when Sheva decided to stand behind me and try to shoot through me to hit the enemies, a problem manifested. It didn't hurt me, but when Sheva has 12 shots left, and I'm expected to resupply her once she's out, I found myself wishing she would wade into the water and get eaten by a crocodile rather than waste any more of my ammunition. However, there is then the issue of the inventory. If it were possible to kill off my dead weight partner without failing the game, I would have half the space to carry my stuff. Unlike the relatively intuitive space based system of its predecessor, RE5 uses a slot system, where each partner has nine slots, and each item takes up one slot, be it an egg or an RPG-7. Furthermore, armor—of which there are two kinds—take up a slot in the inventory. Therefore, if you want both characters to be protected as thoroughly as possible, you'll have bought both Chris and Sheva the melee vest and the bulletproof vest, be out 40,000 dollars or so, and have only seven slots left in either inventory. Wouldn't you think the characters might be wearing their armor, rather than carrying it?

And then there's the racism issue. RE5 always bothered me because of all the people who complained that it was racist to be kill black people in a video game. I can't understand that. If a black person plays a game that involves killing Caucasians, is that racist? The game takes place in Africa. The people there are African, meaning, unless we're in South Africa—which I doubt—they will be black. If all of the enemies were white, it would be not only racist, but stupid. No, my problem with the game was Sheva. Apparently, since the sole reason for a female partner is the sex appeal, and since Americans don't find Africans attractive, Sheva had to be not quite African. So instead she has Caucasian features, a complexion about as dark as an Arab watered down by a generation or so of white parents, and a voice that fluctuates between British and “spoiled American bitch.” This falls into the racist and stupid category I mentioned before. Early in the game, a guard stops the pair and tries to search them. Not only does Sheva not respond in Swahili, which you'd think would be her native language, but she gives him her best pampered American princess, “Get your hands off of me!” Wouldn't a trained soldier understand that a guard would have to search them for weapons before they enter a sensitive area? I suppose this scene was included so that we would understand early on that Sheva is a bitch, so we wouldn't develop any emotional connection with her. So many problems would have been solved if the guard had done his job and shot Sheva just then. Alas he failed, and left Sheva to torment me throughout the game by, for instance, walking out into the open as Wesker is preparing his one hit kill attack.

As I suggested before, Capcom's ineptitude was not limited to programming AI. They also managed to hire some of the worst voice actors available. Sheva is a perfect example, though not the only one. I accept that a lot of the blame rests with the writers, for expecting the actors to deliver such juvenile lines. However, there are a few characters that couldn't make Whitman sound convincing. Excella Gionne, one of the main villains, (It's really not a spoiler, because if you couldn't tell she was evil from the first or second time she was mentioned, you probably need to be told.) is another graduate from the failed African impersonators' school, and goes through the game with a Latina accent. Only one character in the game pulls off an African accent and I can't remember his name, because he has about fifteen minutes of screen time in the whole game.

The game isn't all bad, however. I was actually surprised by how well the game used its graphics. While most new games showcase their graphics by demonstrating their ability to make everything as dark and unintelligible as possible, RE5 actually uses lighting effectively. There were a couple parts in the earlier levels that actually looked downright pretty. Unfortunately, since there is so much more sunlight than in RE4, the creators had to justify Las Plagas being in sunlight. Supposedly, the researchers found a way to increase Las Plagas' resistance to sunlight, which leads me to wonder why flash grenades still kill them.

And then there's Wesker.

What really made the game for me was that Wesker was actually involved in the plot. I've decided that he's the only character in the game worth caring about, despite having a voice actor who, while not exactly bad, sounded so stereotypical it hurt my head. The rational part of me wanted to hate him, for his silly voice, for looking like the character designer used exactly the same outfit as J.C. Denton from Deus Ex, and for being everything typical of a Japanese series archvillain, but the rest of me couldn't quite do it, because he's just so cool. However, a lot of the coolness wore off during the second stage of the boss fight, partly because he looked a little overdone, and partly because it took some running, a single bullet, and a button mashing sequence (not quite a quick time event, since I believe it was only one button) to defeat him.

Also, they insist on continuing to say the Las Plagas. This translates to the The Plague. I don't even speak Spanish, and you're telling me not a single person at Capcom can figure that out?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

20cc reviews: Eagle Eye

I know I had planned to review Resident Evil 5 for this week, but I would like to get the rest of the way through, to try out the cooperative mode, and to see if the story is somehow salvaged at the end.

However, my conscience won't suffer me to take the week off, so I'm throwing together an Eagle Eye review. I know it's not exactly new, and I wasn't actually watching it with the intent of writing a review, but it did raise some interesting talking points.

As an overview, Eagle Eye is about an uninspired loser (Shia LaBeouf (I still can't get over how similar his name is to “the beef” in French)) and an overworked single mother (Michelle Monaghan) who are contacted by a mysterious woman and forced into working for her to an unknown end. The woman seems to know everything about them, and manipulates their surroundings to assist them, by opening train doors, changing traffic lights, etc. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Billy Bob Thornton) is hunting LaBeouf, unaware of his situation, and an Air Force investigator (Rosario Dawson) is looking into the accidental death of LaBeouf's brother, a lieutenant in the force.

As expected, the movie showcases the often absurd feats of technology the mysterious woman utilizes to aid her pawns. In some cases, it makes for an interesting commentary on the dangers of our culture's technology. Others were a little too far toward the unrealistic side. For instance, everyone's favorite image enhancement trick, whereby an investigator zooms in several hundred times on a sector of an image, and then commands the techie to “enhance the image.” You can't create pixels from nothing. Someday I want to see the computer operator attempt to photoshop the image.

As far as the writing went, it was nothing terribly spectacular. Occasionally, I got the feeling that the characters were too clichéd, but it wasn't a huge issue. Unfortunately, most of the bigger issues I have with the film involve the ending. That being said:




To catch you up, it is revealed that the mysterious woman is in fact an advanced reconnaissance computer called ARIIA. Because of a poor decision made by the president at the opening of the film, ARIIA decided that the executive branch is a threat to the good of the American people, and devises a plan to destroy it. This plan involves smuggling a military-developed crystalline explosive into a concert attended by most of the chain of succession for the presidency. The crystal is shaped into a necklace and given to Monaghan to wear to a concert, and then triggered by a certain note at the end of the song. (Yes, that is how Get Smart ended, except it's even less logical, because instead of using the ending cadence as a trigger, it's only a single note, forcing us to conclude that there is only a single high F in The Star-Spangled Banner.) This ending works very well for a comedy, but fails a little when it tries to be taken seriously.

In the end, the plot is undone when LaBeouf sneaks into the concert, disguised as a security guard, climbs onto a table and fires into the air, disrupting the concert. The security detail, having failed at keeping LaBeouf from mugging one of their own to sneak in, shoot him several times. I thought this salvaged the rather silly plot. Although clichéd, I thought it worked well to see LaBeouf, a deadbeat who never accomplished anything, sacrifice himself to save not only the president, but Monaghan, with whom he had become close.

Unfortunately, there was another scene afterwards. Apparently LaBeouf actually survived the shooting, (and the legal and political feeding frenzy that would have followed) and is shown attending Monaghan's son's birthday party, where the two have a touching heart to heart and kiss. (Monaghan, that is, not her son.) The movie had managed to pull a satisfying ending out of a juvenile premise and then somehow throw away any credibility it had. My theory is that the last scene was attached because it was decided that the American public was too simpleminded to accept the first ending. While that may be true, it is no less unfortunate.

And so what we have here is a movie that is undoubtedly fun to watch, but only if you're willing to suspend a whole lot of disbelief. There are fun fight scenes, fun special effects, but little in the way of artistic value. Also, at the risk of sounding simpleminded, I would like to suggest that ARIIA seems very similar to GlaDOS, from Portal. It's just a suggestion.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

23 preview: Indie week on Steam?

So, I've noticed that Steam has been adding a bunch of indie games lately, as in within the past few days. Now, I also happened to notice that all these indies happen to be IGF finalists... (except for The Path, but that just got released.) Now, I'm not saying that I have any sort of inside info that hasn't really been reported yet... *winkwink* but it' definitely looking like Steam is getting friendly with the indies.

Now some of you probably haven't heard of IGF, so, I'll explain that now. IGF stands for the Independent Games Festival. IGF is an event where hundreds of indie games are submitted and only a few of them get picked out by some judges to get nominated for certain awards and then they announce the winners at the event which is held from March 23-27 in San Fransisco California (damn i really wish I could go). The judging has been criticized by many, so not everyone is happy, but the awards have some big fame and money attached to them, so this is a pretty big event. It's happened once a year and this is the 11th year. More info about the IGF here.

Ok, now for the real news. Steam is having a 50% off sale on Zeno Clash for 24 hours, so if you like first person hand-to-hand combat games go pre-order it now while it's $10, it looks great! Also expect some more IGF nominees to be posted soon, I sure do! Maybe Steam will officially announce this soon instead of being so subtle...

Oh, also, it's my birthday 3/23 and expect Coil to be on Steam within an hour or two...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

20cc reviews: Killzone 2

When I was younger, I never used to finish video games. For some reason, I never really saw games as something to be beaten, just played for a year or so and eventually abandoned. Those were the days when I bought games for no reason other than that they were on the system I had (a Nintendo 64), or because the box art was pretty. I didn't follow gaming news, and I had no concept of what made a good game. I believe the first game I ever finished was Metroid Prime. After that may have been Gauntlet Dark Legacy. I don't actually remember, but I didn't really think of games as something to be played all the way through until around the time I got my Xbox.

As sad as that sounds, I do have a point. I was realizing this earlier today as I was considering the fact that I spent four hours of last Thursday, and maybe three more on Sunday, finishing Killzone 2. My eleven-year-old self would be shocked that I finished a game in fewer than twelve hours. Suddenly I find myself playing through one game each week, whether or not I like it.

With Killzone 2, I didn't want to finish the game. I would have rather read a book, or listened to music, or possibly played music, but I felt my journalistic integrity would have been compromised if I didn't make every effort to finish the game before I reviewed it. Ultimately, I finished it, at the cost of my health and my weekend, and really I'm not sure it was worth it.

I did not have a whole lot of personal interest in Killzone 2. I rented it because it new and relevant. My experience with the game beforehand was limited to an interview I had read, and the only thing I remembered from it was that Guerrilla Games was “putting a lot of work into the guns.” That is not a direct quote, but the closest I can remember. This intrigued me, because I always enjoy when a game works hard to look good, not just in the graphics, but in the overall presentation. As time went on though, I forgot that original interest, and began to feel the same thing I feel whenever a game I know little about gets a lot of hype. We'll say that I had mixed feelings going into the game. Similarly, it gave me mixed results, with parts of the game meeting my expectations, parts exceeding them, and parts failing.

The good:

Starting the first level, one thing immediately struck me about the game. The graphics were superb. It's hard to get me to say that about a game, because so often people say a game has broken into the next generation of graphics, and so often the games look just like every other one. Killzone 2 is something new though. Maybe it's just the PS3's superior hardware, but I'm still in awe. As a result, however, the characters suffered from exposure to the uncanny valley. Every imperfect movement was amplified, so cutscenes often looked somewhat unrealistic, near perfect graphics or not. Also, I eventually noticed that it doesn't really matter how good the graphics are, eventually they become normal. By the end of the game, I was no longer noticing the graphics, especially since I had been looking at the same things for hours. But that is a point best left for the next section.

The bad:

When I heard that Guerrilla was focusing specifically on the guns, being the things you look at through the whole game, I may have had too high expectations. Killzone 2 failed here not because of any technological limitation, but because game designers still disagree with me about which details are important. One thing that I know I've said before, and will no doubt say again, is that shooting games need to have more than one reload animation. It's not difficult. I don't insist on anything fancy. When you empty half a magazine and reload, that character takes the magazine out of the rifle, and inserts a new one. When the whole magazine is empty, he would have to pull back the bolt. That's all it would take. There were other problems too, about which I may find more sympathy. The weapons were all very much the same things we've seen before. As I'm actually discussing with 23 at the time of this writing, game companies make money by selling a product, and exploring new territory isn't a safe bet, financially speaking. Also, as I began to discuss earlier, the game isn't very creative with its level design. For the most part, every level looked the same, and even toward the end, when they started to change, they had the same feel. The complexity of the graphics may have something to do with that, since it somehow drained the character from the levels. Another cause may have been the fact that each level has the same objectives, specifically, kill the Helghast and avoid their bullets.

The ugly:

In one aspect, the game exactly met my expectations. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a game, the creative aspect. There was no plot of any value, as I expected, every twist was forecast an hour ahead, as excepted, and every character was a walking cliché with no depth, and generally only one real purpose in the story. While this was exactly what I expected, it didn't make the clichés any less painful, or the story any less dreary. I suspect that Guerrilla set out with the objective of making a pure shooter, and they came very close to that. While this is admirable in its own way, it does not excuse them from making something of value.

So what we have here is a game that does everything that it tries to do. Unfortunately, it doesn't try for the right things. As beautiful as the graphics may be, a game needs substance to be worth the money, and Killzone 2 falls short there. Overused weapons, a juvenile plot and unoriginal level design make for an overall unremarkable package. If bland shooters are your kind of thing, or if you just desperately need something to play on your PS3, then rent it. Don't pay full price until you're sure you like it. But then that's my philosophy for all games. Let me also say that Biscuits finally contributed to anyButton by rubbing the game on his balls before I played it. Whether that speaks positively or at all about the game, I leave to you to decide.

I've included the game's intro video. If you watch it in high definition, it should give you a sense of its graphics, and also of the quality of its plot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

23 news: 3.17.09

So, I haven't done one of these in a while, so obviously there's some news, but most of the stuff I'm going to talk about probably took place within the past week (if not day). So, if you follow any other blog you've probably heard half of this but, don't leave yet, the other half should all be NEW STUFF you probably haven't heard (cause they're by smaller developers :P).

Behemoth releases trailer for new game: Behemoth, the developer of Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid (both very good games) has released a trailer (posted here) of a new, unnamed game they are in the very early stages of working. It kind of looks like a 2D platform/adventure version of Castle Crashes (with the same art style and hectic atmosphere). So check it out, looks pretty neat.

Flashbang starts work on their new game: Flashbang Studios, the developer of all things Blurst (many fun physics based games, including raptor safari, and their newest game Blush) has released a video of them talking about and demonstrating a prototype for their new game entitled "Crane Wars" (possibly a temporary title). So far this game is very early in the prototype phase and they're still working out the basics, but it sounds (and looks) like it's gonna be fun!

Steam now has DLC: Vavle's famous video game distribution program, Steam, officially announced and released Dowloadable Content (DLC) (and yes the L is just part of downloadable i guess). This isn't anything new to most console gamers (especially 360 and PS3), but for PC games this has yet to be implemented very well. Steam started it's DLC service with 2 extra levels for the new PC game The Maw. Hooray, now they can sell us games bit by bit!

Minor stuff:

Alex Austin posts a new video of No Quarter. Edmund McMillen posts some of the charecter design of the hero for Super Meat Boy, he also shows us a vid of his awesome birthday party and talks about some of the games which are degrading video games as an art (I'll probably talk about this later). Indiebird releases Pandora's Gear Box. The Escapist, GameSetWatch, and Braid Blog post some good interviews with developers. I find out about AWOMO, a game download service that lets you start playing before the game is folly downloaded, is still in beta (free tomb raider!). GameSetWatch does a cool opinion piece about the personalities in TF2. Jesse Venbrux (expect that interview up some time) goes to Japan, also, I hear he's working on a new Karoshi game...but don't expect it very soon, I think he doesn't have access to the internet for a while. 2D Boy posts a multi-part post production developer journal about World of Goo, check it out for a cool aspect of how it was built including downloadable prototypes!

Ok, that's it for 23 news this time. I'll post more if I find any, but meanwhile, check out that stuff!

P.S. Nameless mod for Dues Ex finally got released after 7 years, so if you have Dues Ex, get this mod!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Game Releases for the Week of 3/15/2009 -Nope, nothing this week either-

Late again! There's still nobody reading this. Who cares? There's NOTHING coming out this week!

Monday, March 16:

Nintendo Wii:
MotoGP 08 (Wait... We're in 2009 now.)

Tuesday, March 17:

XBOX 360:
Heroes Over Europe

PlayStation 3:
Heroes Over Europe

PlayStation 2:
Naruto Ultimate Ninja 4: Shippuden

Sony PSP:
Air Conflicts: Aces of World War II
Resistance: Retribution

Nintendo Wii:
Marble Saga: Kororinpa
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
Ready 2 Rumble Revolution
Rune Factory: Frontier

Nintendo DS:
Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
I Heart Geeks!
Suikoden: Tierkeis
TrackMania DS
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Stardust Accelerator (You know, in case you haven't played any of the other 76539 releases. SPOILERS! The cards are alive, and the interface hasn't changed since the first game!)

Runes of Magic
Spore Galactic Adventures

Friday, March 20:
XBOX 360:

PlayStation 3:


Well folks, it would seem that we are now beginning the long drought season of gaming. Don't worry, come November, your wallets will be empty yet again.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

20cc reviews: Watchmen

Once upon a time, a company called Remedy Entertainment made a game called Max Payne. This 2001 third person shooter was a revolution. It was one of the first (if not the first) games to use the bullet-time effect popularized by The Matrix. Since then, countless games have used a slow motion combat system, including one I just reviewed, and occasionally it is even referred to in game as “Max Payne style.” The game's plot was an intentionally over the top, film noir style story of policeman Max Payne, whose family is murdered by junkies, and whose search for revenge leads him into the darkest criminal underworld and up a ladder of conspiracy far beyond any he imagined.

In 2008, 20th Century Fox released a Max Payne movie, starring Mark Wahlberg. I had high hopes, Wahlberg being one of my favorite actors, and the game being such a perfect candidate for film. Unfortunately, the movie was terrible. So terrible, in fact, that I immediately went home and played several hours of Far Cry 2, a game I don't even particularly like, just to make myself stop thinking about it. I couldn't imagine how the movie could have been so remarkably bad. The answer? Director John Moore changed almost every aspect of the plot. Aside from a character named Max Payne, a drug called Valkyr, a single slow motion fight scene, and a dark filming style, the movie was completely unrecognizable.

My point here is that interpretation is a dangerous thing. Of course, I count myself as an artist of sorts, and am in no way opposed to artistic license. I certainly don't expect a book or game made into a film to be the same as the original. Things must be changed, for clarity and conciseness as well as to express the director's personal style. When I saw the “Valkyries” in the trailer for the Max Payne movie, I accepted it as a reasonable interpretation of the story, and a pretty cool one at that. However, it's necessary to take care when negotiating the territory between “interpreting” something and “fucking it up.” Clearly John Moore came too far toward the latter in this case.

Enter Watchmen, a 1986-1987 graphic novel series that tells a chilling, alternate history in which costumed vigilantes are the main deterrent to crime, and the U.S. are on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The story begins with the murder of a government employed vigilante known as the Comedian, and follows a number of characters as they try to negotiate a world weeks away from self destruction. The story was written beautifully, and the characters were astounding in their psychological complexity and depth of character. Furthermore, I was already a fan of writer Alan Moore for another of his works, V for Vendetta, which was made into a movie in 2005.

Last week, the film of Watchmen was released under direction of Zack Snyder, the director of 300. Let me expound. I didn't like 300 at all. The story was juvenile and historically inaccurate, and the whole thing came off as an excuse to show a lot of slow motion violence and sex scenes. (Yes, I did mean to say slow motion sex scenes.) However, my problems with the film had more to do with the original story, and I admit it was well directed. What I really admire about Mr. Snyder in this case, was that he was able to recognize that he didn't need to change the story. Alan Moore (Perhaps somewhat like Julian Casablancas: A very talented artist, whether or not he's a good person. Yes, I recognize that comparing the man who wrote Watchmen to the lead singer of The Strokes is a fairly weak analogy. However, I'm tired, I was just listening to The Strokes, it's late on Saturday and I'm trying very hard to get this finished while it's still “this week.”) had already crafted a near perfect story, and Mr. Snyder had only to guide it onto the screen and reap the undoubtedly massive financial boon.

As I am supposedly a layman's critic, I'll have to assume that my audience has neither read the book, nor seen the movie, so I'll avoid anything that would spoil the plot. I'll focus my review instead on the artistic aspects of the film, and what was changed from the book. It seems to me that the movie would be more enjoyable for those who have read the book. While both of my co-authors at aB liked the movie without having done so, I've heard many complaints that the movie is difficult to understand without previous exposure to the story. After seeing it a second time, I am coming to agree more with that viewpoint. I admired the movie for staying so faithful to the original, with entire conversations copied word for word, and yet I'm beginning to see how my experience with the book may have caused me to imagine context that wasn't necessarily given in the film.

What was changed from the book can be fairly easily divided into two categories: stylistic changes, and necessary changes. The former were mostly minor details, like the slight changes in quotes or the alterations in a character's costume. For instance, my personal favorite line from the book, in which Rorschach writes, “The accumulated filth of all their sex and violence will foam up about their waists, and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'save us!' And I'll look down and whisper 'no.'” was changed in the movie by omitting the words “look down and.” I don't really understand what would prompt such a change, whether to achieve a more desirable sound in the director's opinion, or to try to make it seem as if the movie wasn't directly copied from the book, but either way it doesn't much effect the final result. As for the costumes, I mostly agree with the changes that were made. The exception is Ozymandias. In the book, he wore gold and purple, symbolizing his relationship with his namesake. In the film, the purple—traditionally a color for emperors—was removed, and the gold is largely replaced by black. I'm not entirely sure why this change was made, but I feel it was a bad one.

The parts of the film that I had more problems with were the changes made from necessity, and I can hardly blame those on anything but the constraints of the film medium. After rereading the book and watching the movie again, I noticed many more changes, but I consider it a positive that I didn't notice them the first time through. The film did a very good job of altering small details without damaging the film as a whole. A lot of the back story that was given in the book through conversations, or through Hollis Mason's fictional autobiography (excerpted at the end of a few of the volumes) is compressed into a montage sequence of the rise and fall of the Minutemen, put to the tune of a fitting Bob Dylan song that I don't know the name of because I don't listen to Bob Dylan. Several other sequences were condensed, and suffer slightly from it, but it couldn't have been done otherwise.

The biggest change, and the only one that actually diverged from the original plot, was the ending. Most of you will have already heard complaints about the change, and most other sources would have likely gone on to spoil one ending or the other. I will say only that it was a big change. Biscuits said that he liked the movie ending better than the original. Personally, I wouldn't go that far, but I do understand why the change was made. It would have taken probably another hour of development to make the original ending seem plausible to a film audience, and that couldn't be done with an already 163 minute run time. The new ending is a lot easier to understand, more modern, and slightly more realistic, but I still hold to the original ending.

Aside from the already amazing story, the thing that struck me the most about the film was the maturity with which it approached the violence and nudity. At no point in the movie did I feel that it was violence for the sake of violence, or nudity for the sake of nudity. It all served the story in some respect. The two really gruesome scenes in the movie (the alley fight and the kidnapping case, for those who know the story) were both included for the sake of characterization, to explore the vigilantes' motivations. As far as nudity goes, there is one moderately graphic sex scene, hardly unusual by today's standards, and it was at an important turning point in the story (though it was less obvious in the film than in the book). Also, the movie stayed true to the fact that Dr. Manhattan was naked for the greater part of the story. Frankly, I was surprised and pleased that Mr. Snyder didn't shy away from it. After all, the classical artists understood that there is nothing shameful in the human form, and it would have been a slight to change that aspect of Dr. Manhattan's character. I suppose it would have been possible to avoid showing anything through clever use of camera, but that would have been limiting, and I'm glad to see someone challenge America's gymnophobia.

My responses to some of the biggest criticisms I've heard are as follows:

1. How can Zack Snyder call himself an artist, when he practically copied the book in its entirety?

-It wasn't copied in its entirety, but in answer to the spirit of the question, I didn't expect Mr. Snyder to be an artist, I expected him to make Watchmen into a movie, and he did that well and with minimal interference.

2. It looked old.

-I'm not entirely sure what is meant by this. If you mean that the film was grainy and occasionally sepia toned, that's because it takes place during the 1980s, and at times during the 1930s. It was a stylistic choice that I though fit pretty well. If you mean that the special effects were sub par, I don't think we watched the same movie.

3. Dr. Manhattan was nude throughout the whole film. Was such gross pornography really necessary?

-Grow up.

And finally a few more trivial notes.

There's a funny little 300 reference at the beginning of the film. The Comedian is living in room 3001, and a coffee mug thrown during the fight knocks down the 1.

Snyder's 300-style use of completely unecessary slow motion appears once, during the burning building scene (once again, for those who know the story).

There's an interesting example of circular storytelling in both the book and film. Twice, Rorschach speaks the line “Fine like this.” The first time, he is rejecting Daniel's offer to heat some food. The last time, he is rejecting Daniel's offer of warmer clothing. The connection is more significant after you read or see it.

If my review seems awfully similar to Tim Buckley's (I won't link to it, because he has spoilers. If you want to read it, you can look it up.) it's only because we apparently noticed similar things about the film. I'm less ashamed of that now that CAD has started to improve again. There was a while when he tried to introduce “plot” to his comics, and it failed terribly. I seriously considered giving them up. Hopefully, he has since realized that his gift is in making clever jokes about video games, and not in constructing a compelling story.

Rorschach is awesome.

All of the characters are awesome, but Rorschach is the best.