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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Game Releases for the week of 3/9/09 -RACIST ZOMBIES!-

Yes, it's late, I realize that. Nobody reads this anyway.

Monday, March 10:

Nintendo Wii:
New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis
New Play Control! Pikmin (Because remember, Nintendo, unless your new idea pertains to casual family audiences, it's a bad idea. Real gamers just want to keep playing the same old game over and over. That does seem to be the mindset of Nintendo fanboys, actually.)

Tuesday, March 11

XBOX 360:
Trivial Pursuit (Yeah, that's it.)

PlayStation 3:
Trivial Pursuit (Yeah, that's it.)

PlayStation 2:
Trivial Pursuit (Yeah, they still make games for this.)

Sony PSP:
Samurai Showdown Anthology

Nintendo Wii:
Escape the Museum
MySims Party
Trivial Pursuit
Vacation Sports

Nintendo DS:
Docomodake BOING!
Monster Band
My English Coach (Spanish Edition) (Does it teach English or Spanish)
MySims Party

Wednesday, March 11:

XBOX 360
NCAA Basketball 09: March Madness Edition

Friday, March 13:

XBOX 360:
Resident Evil 5

PlayStation 3:
Resident Evil 5

20cc reviews: Braid

Alright, so this may not be a new game, nor is it my typical area of expertise, but then it isn't often I find an indie game that I'm willing to pay money for. So yes, there's one question answered, it's not free. It's on the Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 points. I happened to get it when it was on sale for 800 points, but unless you grabbed it then and haven't played it yet, that isn't much help. Also, in response to its age, my justification is that the PC version is coming out at the end of this month. This can be an early review for those planning on gettting it then.

Braid is a difficult game to review. In fact it's difficult to wrap one's mind around, especially once finished. It's advertised a 2D platformer with gameplay focused on time control. What isn't mentioned is that, on the surface, the game is essentially Mario. Yes, there is of course the similarity in that they are both platformers, and as such share similar gameplay mechanics. However the comparison runs deeper. For one thing, the two most prevalent enemies in the game are a small brown head that waddles around on attached feet and is defeated by jumping on its head, and a fanged, Venus Flytrap-like flower that protrudes from a green pipe in the ground. Sound familiar? Furthermore, the objective of the game is to find and rescue a missing princess. Lest you think less of the game because of this, I assure you it's allowed to take ideas from Mario, because it's better.

[Collective gasp.] Did he just say that?

Yes, I did. Maybe Mario is a staple of the game industry, and a universally recognized character, and a legend in game development history but you know what, so was Pong, and that doesn't make that fun, no matter how many Flash artists try to renovate it.

Of course none of this should go unqualified, so let's get to the actual review. Braid opens without introduction, and shows the main character, Tim, in a sort of castle. Running across a drawbridge, Tim arrives in a room with five doors. Through these doors, you can find five alternate worlds (named 2-6, I won't tell you why.) that must be searched for the missing Princess. The catch is, in each of these worlds, time functions somewhat different than in ours. Some of the concepts are cumulative, like the ever present rewind function. Others are specific to a particular world. The story is told exclusively through a series of books at the beginning of each world. These books introduce the world with an anecdote from Tim's life, which also serves introduce the new time power introduced in the world. The names of the worlds each hint at the power as well (Time and Decision, Time and Place, Hesitance).

Once inside the world, gameplay is simple and addictive, but can become infuriatingly difficult in later worlds. The objective of each world is to find a number of puzzle pieces to reassemble a scene from Tim's shattered life. Each puzzle that is completed adds to the ladder that leads to the attic, where something else interesting awaits. At the end of each world, Tim finds a castle and is greeted by something like a stuffed dinosaur that tells him that the Princess is, invariably, “in another castle.”

The game's graphics are charming, with a sort of watercolor look. In some areas, there's a feel of simple beauty, while others impart a feeling of loneliness and desperation bordering on psychosis. The music fits the game perfectly, and consists mostly of calming acoustic tracks. Here's the part that made the game for me though. The music, like the world, is affected by Tim's time powers. When you rewind, the music rewinds. When you pause, the music stops. When you slow down time in world 6, the music slows to a crawl. This effect adds a higher level of immersion, and also adds to the general feel of the game, that Tim is somehow alone in these worlds that he functions mostly outside of, and that can never understand him.

If what I've said so far hasn't made you want to play the game, then I offer this: The ending will drive you insane. I can't say why, because that would spoil it, but the ending alone makes the game worth the... however the hell much 1,200 points is. There's much more to be said about it, but I really can't without giving it away. Maybe the suspense will make you buy it. Trust me, you want to.

I hate to put a walkthrough up, but really that's the only kind of video there is for Braid, unless it's just a video of someone walking back and worth in the same level. This is from world 4, Time and Place, in which time only goes when Tim moves, and flows in the direction he moves.

I noticed that GERARDAMO tried out a numerical grading system on his Onechanbara review. I find them to be rather simplistic, but they're also fun, so I thought I'd give it a try. I can't promise I'll stick with it, but here's my attempt at a per cent grade.

Gameplay: 70 (Simple, but bolstered by complex time powers)

Graphics: 65 (Not impressive, but they serve the purpose and fit the mood)

Sound: 95 (Music is relaxing, mood fitting, and reacts to time control)

Story: 85 (It's Mario with a twist. A really huge twist.)

Overall: 78.75

Monday, March 9, 2009

23 on: Augmented Reality

So, today the VR geek blog (that's Virtual Reality) posted this great video made by Bruce Branit about a guy who makes a virtual world for his lover... in 60 minutes. I've embedded the video bellow, and you should watch the whole thing (all 9 minutes worth) because it's really amazing. Branit uses some great CGI to produce a scenario that demonstrates the application of advanced virtual/augmented reality. Not only is it visually spectacular, but the video its self tells a very compelling story and arouses some deep emotions with absolutely no dialog. So, seriously, watch it.

World Builder from Bruce Branit on Vimeo.

Now, you might be saying to yourself "that's all fine and dandy 23, but isn't this a gaming blog, and aren't you the indie guy?" Well... yes and no. We blog about whatever we want (see past posts about music etc), and I do more than just play indie games (although, that does happen to take up a lot of my time). Anyway, don't worry, I'm gonna tie all this back to video games.

Today The Escapist also happened to blog about new Augmented Reality baseball cards that are in the works. There's a video to show you how it could be applied, on the French VR company (Total Immersion), who are making them, so just clicky that linky for the vid.

Now, the Augmented Reality we have now is no where near what you just saw in Branit's video. In fact, it's in it's infancy. If you have a webcam you can check out some of today's top Augmented Reality programs at: washington edu and one last thing before we get into talking about the video game applications, a definition of Augmented Reality. By my understanding Augmented Reality is exactly what it sounds like, some how augmenting (changing, usually for the better) reality, which usually means replacing a real life object with a virtual one on screen.

Ok, now, to the application in video games (I'll have more of the non game related stuff posted on bluGrey later). So far, I've seen some games for camera phones in the works where you put down a marker (usually some sort of black and white symbol on a piece of paper) and on your phone's screen you see a monster or pet where the marker is. This is kinda neat, especially when you are able to tell your critter to do stuff or more around, but it isn't very exciting. What will be exciting is when we use virtual glasses and 3D tracking to fully immerse the player in a virtual world. I admit, this is a while away, the closest we have so far is AR pac man, but hopefully, soon, we can implement all these technologies to make something spectacular. If we use 3D body/head tracking we can immerse a player totally in an environment, have them walk around fluidly with a moving floor, and even have them fell pain. (I would post links to all these technologies, but seeing how you probably won't click them, I decided not to waste my time, but if you do want them, just say so in the comments.) Anyway, we have all the technologies to create a full environment for a person (without plugging them full of wires like in the Matrix), and even technologies featured in Branit's video could be achieved with some fantastic intuitive AR creation tools and nanobots (maybe). All these technologies (I hope) will be developed, or at least be in the works, in about 10 years (that might be a bit ambitious). Anyway, look out for more AR tech, it's neat stuff!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

GERARDAMO Reviews: Onechanbara Bikini Samurai Squad

First, I apologize for taking this week off (again) and writing my review right after 20cc. I suppose I could have written it earlier this week, but this week hasn't exactly been sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. So, in an attempt to make it seem like I'm not trying to steal 20cc's thunder, I'm going to wait until Sunday to post this up, sometime after the release schedule.

Alright, Onechanbara Bikini Samurai Squad seems like it should be a good game. I mean, seriously, look at the name, look at the idea behind it. It has everything:

1. Hot Japanese girls in bikinis with giant samurai swords and guns
2 Violence
3. Zombies
4. Violence
5. Unbelievable amounts of blood
6. Lots of violence

So, Onechanbara SHOULD be a good game, right? Well, it seemed like it at first. In fact, the first hour I played it was a total blast. You run through the streets slashing up zombies, splattering blood everywhere, giggling at the laughably bad breast physics (Apparently, dual-booby bouncing means that one bounces up while the other flops down. This is very hard to describe, and I'd say you're better off playing it to see them, but...). However, the second hour was like the first, and the third hour was like the first, and the fourth hour was like the first, and so on. I'd actually have to say that each consecutive hour was actually a little first, as you start realizing the game's many flaws, like: These graphics are slightly sub-par compared to most games today. This combat is just as dull as any other hack-and-slasher. Those zombies walked up to a fence and got stuck AGAIN, and so did I.

There are 3 characters to play as, Aya, Saki, and Annna (Yeah, 3 n's.), along with some downloadable characters (Well, pay-to-unlock characters. One of them is free, and she's pretty badass. Definitely my favorite out of the four characters I had, but I could only use her in free-play and not story.) Even Aya and Saki, who both fought with just swords had very different feeling moves. However, they could all be done by mashing the X button, but at least they tried. There's a tag team feature that allows you to switch between two characters, which is fun. 

It would be nice if you could use it strategically and switch characters when your health was low, but the zombies never seem to attack you. Instead of zombies that move towards you (I'm not saying run at you. I still don't like Left 4 Dead.) and demand "BRAAAAINS!" these ones just kinda... Stand at you, and ask, "Brains? Please? Maybe just your arm? Actually, I'm not even hungry. I'll have a salad." This is one of the main reasons Onechanbara falls flat. Zombies don't seem to be very aggressive at all. In fact, they seem quite civil. They just walk around the city and go about their business, and for some reason you walk up to them and kill them, just because they're zombies. There's a strong political message there.

I give the game props for sticking true to it's Japanese roots, but I realize I'm a small audience when it comes to this. The game is only lightly translated. The text is in English, but all of the voice-acting remains in Japanese. This lack of English, however, leaves out some much needed explaining in things. How come once you kill so many enemies, you get angry and your life starts depleting and then you die? Who knows? The game never tells you why. But, it's quite frustrating when you're fighting off hoards of lazy zombies and all of a sudden, one of the game's few meters fills up and your bikini-clad samurai gets angry and eventually kills herself. It's like that was placed there so you had SOME way to die, since the zombies certainly won't kill you.

The game has split-screen co-op, and it's hard for me to find bad co-op mostly because I never play co-op with anyone who takes games seriously. I played the first few missions with my younger sister who never plays games, and we had a good laugh at just how... Well... Bad the game was. However, I guess there is such a thing as bad co-op, because the split-screen co-op had an AWFUL frame rate, and it's not like there was too much for the game to process because the graphics certainly couldn't have been too hard to render, and there never were that many zombies.

Onechanbara is filled with glitches, and they aren't even entertaining glitches, they're just annoying. You'll have to clear a certain area of zombies, and fences will pop-up around the perimeter. This is already frustrating enough, being limited to a very small area to slash out of. It's more frustrating when zombies will wander into the fence and get stuck and become invincible to attack, making it near impossible to get out of the area. Sometimes, you might even get stuck in the fence yourself, and you're left to sit and wait to be devoured by the only slightly irritated zombies.

Alright, time to finish this up. Onechanbara was a game that had promise, everything was going for it. However, it's lack of explanation and depth and overload of glitches makes it fall flat on it's bouncing breasts. It holds SOME simple, guilty pleasure, but after about 2 hours, you're bound to grow tired of the X-button, and there are better boobs in better games. Rent it if you're really desperate for a game, but otherwise, you're better off with just about anything else.

(And for those who only like numbers:
Fun: 15/40 (Shallow, nothing to comeback to.)
Graphics: 5/15 (They look VERY dated)
Controls: 5/15 (MASH X! I forgot to mention that the camera moves unplayably slowly. You'll need to find a spot to stop and rest in order to just see anything.)
Story: 10/20 (It TRIES to make a decent story, and it almost is. Maybe it could have been interesting if I could have brought myself to finish it.)
Sound/Music: 0/10 (The music sounds like something from a gay night club. I had a much more enjoyable time playing it with the accompaniment of bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Heads Will Roll even fit more than the in-game soundtrack did) that actually had the energy to make this game feel somewhat exciting, and the voice-acting just seemed lazy.)
Final Score: 35/100

Saturday, March 7, 2009

20cc reviews: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

I was discouraged when I saw that Yahtzee reviewed F.E.A.R. 2 before I did, and no doubt did a better job of it. However, he reviewed Web of Shadows this week, even later than I did. I suppose we all fall behind at some point.

So here we are. Monolith has finally undone all of the evil that Sierra wrought on the F.E.A.R. series with the release of Project Origin. We can finally forget the horrible incongruities and plot holes, and the terrible abomination that was Perseus Mandate. Unfortunately, nothing ever seems to be quite as good as hoped.

The game began promisingly enough, and I was happy to see that the controls had been translated properly to the Xbox. The graphics have of course improved significantly since the original. The combat system remains fast paced and fun, the environments were often creepy, and I was happy to see many of the old Replica skins return from the first game. However, none of the old weapons return, which seems an interesting choice, since the two games take place at the same time, in the same city. Apparently the ATC troops and Replicas sent after Becket and his team were issued different weapons than those hunting the Point Man, and yet the weapons all work like those in the first game. It may seem minor, but these are the design choices that can ruin the immersion of a series. Similarly, there was one problem that I hoped we had seen the end of with Perseus Mandate. In the Sierra expansions, there were a number of weapons (the laser, minigun, grenade launcher and perhaps lightning cannon, though I don't remember) with no aiming animation. When the aim button was pressed, the screen simply zoomed in a little, and the weapon stayed in the same place. This raises the question of what exactly the Point Man is doing to aim. Unfortunately, the new (again reskinned) laser in Project Origin suffers from the same graphical oversight. On the other hand, it's a terrible weapon overall, so there isn't much lost. The old game's fast paced combat is complimented by a new cover system that allows the character to flip over tables, desks, filing cabinets, and other objects to use as cover, much like the Replicas did in the first game. While it adds to the look of the fight scenes, it's next to useless tactically. Several objects can only be interacted with from a certain side, which isn't necessarily the side on which you want to take cover, and most of the time the toppled objects are too short to provide cover for much more than your knees. Even crouching, your head is clearly exposed to fire.

I noticed that the game remained consistently both easier and less frightening than the original. Combat is much easier without reflex time, but this is balanced by the fact that you don't have as much reflex time as in the original. The game keeps the difficulty fairly consistent throughout the game until one level, which is both very difficult and rather terrifying. (Spoiler alert: it's the schoolhouse. Doesn't it seem like the scary parts in games and movies are always in either schoolhouses or hospitals?) After that, the rest of the game is not very frightening, and only slightly harder. The difficulty did increase steeply right at the end of the game, with an actual boss fight. Such things are rare in shooting games these days, and while it was a gimmicky fight, it was less so than is often the case.

The main talking point is of course, the plot. The first game was rather hit or miss. I personally liked the story a lot, but I understand that it could come off as convoluted to someone who doesn't want to like it. Games like F.E.A.R. often have problems with plot, because of the terribly fine line between surrealism and nonsense. I spent most of the time with Project Origin feeling a little unsure of the plot. Without going into too much detail, it has a much different feel from the original. In turns, I felt that it was more logical than the first game's, or that they were really reaching for something new. Of course I was elated to see that Monolith found a new excuse for the Replicas reawakening that didn't involve Paxton Fettel arbitrarily being ressurecting.

Aside from the obviously new story, there are a number of stylistic differences. After the Origin Facility meltdown, the young, red clad Alma that appeared throughout the first game is replaced almost entirely by the older, emaciated Alma that appeared at the end of F.E.A.R. While I understand the symbolism, I rather miss the younger Alma, because, well, little kids are creepy, and her appearance underscored the influence of Japanese horror films on the game. There was also a thematic shift when it came to the protagonist's Alma-induced hallucinations. In the first game, the visions were of bloodstained hallways and hospital rooms, but in the sequel the material involves more natural imagery. There is one repeated image of a tree on a hill with a swing, and on several occasions, black roots spring from the ground to drag away Becket's unfortunate allies. It seems to me that, now that Alma has escaped Origin, her attention has turned to something more than simply freedom. She finds herself drawn to memories of her life before her imprisonment, and the hallucinations reflect this shift in focus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the earlier stages of the game. Unfortunately, as is so often the case (Condemned 2, for instance), the plot started to become unbelievable and the levels began to repeat. There were quite a few beautiful vistas of post-meltdown Auburn, but I started to get bored of them after I had spent an hour or so driving exo-suits through the streets and chasing a certain wayward teammate for three or four levels. I would have forgiven this slight staleness if the ending had been something really remarkable, but it wasn't. At some point before the climax, Project Origin crossed that line I mentioned earlier, and the ending was entirely nonsensical. I'll refrain from spoiling it, as I'm sure there are still some who would take offense, and I can't stand people who spoil stories. However, it seemed to me that Monolith was really being unnecessarily cryptic. The ending offered no closure, and it isn't even clear if Becket's objective was accomplished. It really isn't even clear how much of the ending actually happened, and how much was a hallucination, or rather there is really a distinction to be made between the two. Maybe they're trying to leave their options open for a sequel, but I personally believe there is no good way to end this story. This is probably as good as it will get.

I am again reminded of Youtube's failings. This is about the best video I could find for F.E.A.R. 2's psychological and combat aspects. Unfortunately, the resolution is too bad to make sense of the horror scenes, and the person playing is too bad at it to give a real feel for combat.

For my next horror experience, I'm considering the Penumbra series, a first person survival horror game available on Steam. It would be nice if those games could deliver a gem in modern day survival horror, but I remain skeptical. Of course I can still return to Silent Hill 2 every once in a while. I'll beat it some day.

Next week I should have a review of the Watchmen movie for you, and maybe also of the indie game Braid.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Game Releases for the Week of 3/1/2009 -TV In My Video Games-

Monday, March 2:

XBOX 360:
Brave: A Warrior's Tale
Don King Presents: Prizefighter (Hasn't this already been released a year ago?)
Major League Baseball 2K9

PlayStation 3:

PlayStation 2:
Samurai Showdown Anthology

Sony PSP:
Brave: A Warrior's Tale

Nintendo Wii:
Brave: A Warrior's Tale
Don King Presents: Prizefighter

Nintendo DS:
Don King Presents: Prizefighter
Gardening Mama (Yes, as in, Cooking Mama in a garden)

Tom Clancy's EndWar

Tuesday, March 3:

XBOX 360:
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard
Halo Wars
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

PlayStation 3:
Brain Challenge Deluxe
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard
MLB 09 The Show
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

PlayStation 2:
MLB 09 The Show
SpongeBob SquarePants: Happy Squared Pack
The King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match

Sony PSP:
MLB 09 The Show
Phantasy Star Portable (I would be excited for this if I had a PSP.)

Nintendo Wii:
Grey's Anatomy: The Video Game (Now you too can have sex in a hospital, all in the comfort of your own living room!) (And apparently, yes. You can be in two places at once.)
Sonic and the Black Knight (Because Sonic REALLY needed a sword.)
We Ski and Snowboard

Nintendo DS:
Grey's Anatomy: The Video Game
Littlest Pet Shop Spring
MLB 2K9 Fantasy All-Stars
SpongeBob vs. The Big One: Beach Party Cook Off

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

That apparently seems to be it for this week. I'd offer a game reccomendation for this week, but there's really nothing that I'm personally excited for. Plus, we all know everyone's going to be buying Halo Wars or one of them thar Tom Clancy games that make me dizzy (Though I suppose EndWar would be fun if I had a computer that could run it.) Oh well, I'll be too busy singing that one No Doubt song they forgot to put in Rock Band as DLC before this week. What was it again? Oh yeah, New.