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Tuesday, Apr 29, 2008
The Zarathustruan Analytics series continues with L.B. Jeffries' thoughts on player input.


Part of the reason this analytical method is named after Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is to do justice to the individualized nature of player input, to put aside judging a game purely by the game play or plot and go beyond that to analyzing the actual experience of a game itself. The problem is…although critics are quite capable of analyzing their own experience from playing a game, it is not quite so easy to apply that analysis to others. Indeed, this critical method is more an approach to assessing the experience creating methods in a game rather than the individual experience itself. The player input, then, is literally your connection to the game because it keeps you interested and playing. To that end, when critically judging player input, you are looking at how the game and story react to your input and the impact this has on the overall experience. Rather than go into the huge variety of ways games do this, we’ll do an analysis of one of the more controversial player input methods that’s prevalent in games today and use it to highlight the requirements of player input itself.

There has been a great deal of criticism over the silent protagonist in video games recently and for good reason: they’re suddenly everywhere. Out of the top ranking games of 2007, almost all of them involve playing characters who don’t speak. Gordon Freeman from Half-Life never utters a word. Master Chief hardly speaks, and Link does little more than grunt. It’s tempting to dismiss the feature as simply a cop-out on the part of the creators, and yet there are certainly games that have used the device effectively. Why does the connection of not letting a player’s character speak work in some games and in others supposedly break-down?


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Monday, Apr 28, 2008
Kotaku's gone back to the WiG, so we're keeping the TWiG...Here are the new releases for the week of 2008-04-28.

You know, you have to give Iron Man some credit.  Not only is Sega’s adaptation of the soon-to-be blockbuster film being released on every single major console and portable system this week, but it single-handedly ensured that every single system had at least one game to show off this week (thus avoiding the fate of withstanding a surely snarky synonym for “zero” in its release column).  The demo that Sega released on Xbox Live isn’t even all that bad, even if its all-too-short play time does cut out right when it seems as though the game might just get exciting.


No matter—if you’ve been at all privy to the world of gaming journalism in the past week, you know that anything on this list that isn’t Grand Theft Auto IV is being seriously, seriously overshadowed by Grand Theft Auto IV.  You’ve seen the exclusive review (and while I won’t begrudge them for it, I hope IGN thought long and hard about dishing out that 10 when they knew they’d be under scrutiny for being the only outlet allowed to break the dated review embargo that the rest of the media has had to follow), and heck, you’ve probably seen the rest of the reviews so far as well.  That Metacritic wall o’ 100s is awfully impressive, if not altogether unexpected.


The sheer magnitude of Grand Theft Auto IV‘s release is enough to make one wonder: why in the world would Nintendo choose to release Mario Kart Wii a mere two days before perhaps the most highly-anticipated release of 2008?  One could make the argument that the audience for the two games is different, but it intersects in enough places that the buying public for Mario Kart can’t help but be affected, at least a little bit.  One could also say that Mario Kart is a strong enough franchise that it’ll get its sales over the long-term, and it will be fine.  This is probably true—and I do expect that Mario Kart will sell gobs of product and little plastic wheels regardless of what other releases happen to coincide with its own—but still.  Mario Kart Wii got one, maybe two days of serious publicity when the journalists got their copies, only to be swallowed almost immediately by the Grand Theft Auto behemoth.  Pushing off the release (or moving it up, even) by a week or two might have been able to ensure a solid stream of publicity surrounding its release.  As it is, it’s going to have to rely on an admittedly sizable established fanbase.


Of course, one could also argue that that fanbase has been what has been sustaining Nintendo all along, but it wouldn’t hurt to try like hell to expand that fanbase, especially when there is such a sizable new install base just sitting there, waiting to be taken advantage of.  Nintendo apparently sees Mario Kart as a “bridge game”—that is, a game that could help casual players transition to more involved gaming experiences—and having had a day or two to play the game, this makes sense, given that it had the four game-playing members (that is, myself, my wife, and my kids) playing a game together for the first time since Wii Sports first invaded our home and free time.  Still, it’s not going to be a bridge for anyone who doesn’t notice its release.


Other releases this week include the happily budget-priced SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 (a much cheaper way to get your Neo Geo fix than the Virtual Console, as it turns out), and Konami’s contributions to the Nintendo DS’s continued dominance as a lifestyle machine (as opposed to a simple game machine), called Let’s Yoga! and Let’s Pilates!.  I would be sarcastic about these things, but I may buy them.  Somehow, these activities seem more palatable when you plug them into a DS and pretend they’re games.


Perhaps I’ve said too much.  Go take a look at this week’s release list, after the jump…


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Thursday, Apr 24, 2008
A month in advance of Ubisoft's long awaited and hotly anticipated yellow-tinted shooter, Korn has released a song apparently "inspired by" the not-yet-out game.

What we have before us today is the official video for Korn’s “Haze”, which was apparently inspired by the upcoming Ubisoft/Free Radical first-person shooter.  This is what it looks like:


Alright, now, who’s benefiting here?  I know that the point is that both parties benefit, as Haze gets, oh, “hardcore cred” or something, and Korn gets gamer cred.  The thing is, the people out there who (still) like Korn happen to be pretty much the same audience that will be buying up Haze when it comes out.  This isn’t to speak of the quality of either piece of the equation; rather, I just don’t see the point of marrying the two, especially in what seems like an especially forced way.


Occasionally there’s a merger of game and licensed music that just seems as though it was meant to be.  Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames”, a two-year-old song, has taken on new life on the radio thanks to the infamy it has taken on as the most difficult track on Guitar Hero 3.  And I’ll never forget the rush of “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” showing up in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (though I realize I may be alone in that particular way). 


But Korn?  Haze?  If the above Korn vid makes you more excited for Haze, please leave a comment, because I want to know why.


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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2008
Oh, speed run culture, what hath ye wrought?
Current Guinness record holder iamchris4life missed onlyten notes in \

Current Guinness record holder iamchris4life missed only
ten notes in “Through the Fire and Flames”.  That’s just sick.


Have you ever gone to YouTube to watch other people play video games?  I do this every once in a while, whether it be to watch people far better than me at Guitar Hero do things with their fingers that make me feel a little funny inside, or to watch kids on Xbox Live screaming obscenities at his mother.  Pure entertainment, or signs of the decline of civilization?  It’s a toss-up, but the mere suggestion that we’re doomed isn’t enough to keep me away.


Every once in a while, I get sucked in by speed runs.  Speed runs are fascinating things, because they’re the epitome of somebody finding something that they’re good at and trying to be the absolute best at it.  It’s The King of Kong, playing out in parallel over hundreds of games.  There’s something almost poetic about watching someone finish Super Mario Bros. in five minutes or Metal Gear Solid 2 on extreme (extreme!) difficulty in a little more than an hour and a half.  This is especially true for games that the viewer is familiar with—it’s like reliving your past experiences, except much, much faster.


That said, it takes a special breed of player to play an awful game to perfection, especially when the player acknowledges just how awful the game is.  Enter Pit Fighter, for the SNES.


This is Pit Fighter.  Greeeeeat.

This is Pit Fighter.  Greeeeeat.


What’s wrong with this game?  Well…


The Gimp periodically taunts you.


You have to fight a huge guy in tighty whitys who enjoys bull-rushing you.


Copious forklifts!


And then there’s the matter of the ending, which I won’t spoil for you.  It’s actually the perfect ending for what precedes it.


What motivates someone to do this?  Is it pure masochism?  Is it the knowledge that you’re not going to have a hell of a lot of competition?  Whatever it is, it’s both revolting to watch and fascinating to ponder, which can mean only one thing:  Time to look for a speed run of Superman 64...


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Tuesday, Apr 22, 2008
There is no better time than now for Cliff Johnson to release his long-awaited sequel to The Fool's Errand.

The time is right.  The time is now.


Please, Cliff Johnson, won’t you release A Fool and His Money?


Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.

Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.


Once upon a time, I bought an Amiga from a friend of mine for $300.  It seemed like an incredible deal at the time, given that he threw in something like 60 games for the thing, including some impressive technology show-off type games like Dragon’s Lair and Speedball.  Damn, I loved me some Speedball.  What I was coming to realize was that computers could do things that consoles at the time could only dream of, and the possibilities intrigued me.


Of course, finding out that I had to go to a specialty store to buy my Amiga games was kind of a buzzkill.


Regardless, one of the first games I ever came home with from that very store was The Fool’s Errand, which I mostly bought because its cover said it won some kind of award and my dad thought it looked good (and because it was one of the only new-ish games at the time that my Amiga, maxed out at a piddly 512K of RAM, could handle).  It turned out to be one of those games.


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