Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008
A Flash game that educates the user about New Orleans while providing a decent platforming experience.

It’s something of a personal fantasy (and subject of a blog post meant to be posted in 2 weeks) to begin pushing video games into relevancy by having them discuss topics besides escapist fantasy. Different games have struggled with this in different ways. My now excessive knowledge about World War 2 aside, most games opt to attain relevancy by discussing emotion or philosophical debate. Braid’s sense of the futility of pursuing goals, Planescape: Torment’s questions about human nature and how our conduct reflects it. Or, as the Global Kids Media Initiative has done, you can just set the game someplace important. Like New Orleans, the day after Katrina hit.


It’s always interesting to play an educational or informative game because you immediately recognize that their goal is not necessarily having fun. Instead, it’s fun with a side of vegetables. Video games, by their nature, are more engaging than watching a film or reading a book. I actively absorb information given because there is a chance it’s relevant to play. I pay attention to what’s going on because something dangerous might hurt me. Whereas a game solely about fun or accomplishment will fine-tune that into generating a sense of reward by delivering chunks of plot or quaint jingles, an educational game is instead using all of these elements while slipping in bits of information about a topic. You learn inadvertently as you progress, although there have not been too many games that delivered a true melding of these goals.


In that regard Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City succeeds with a good mixture of dialogue in a standard platforming game. Certain people that you speak to will give a mission of delivering bottled water or first aid. Others will relate a true amazing story about the aftermath of the storm, such as Jabar Gibson’s hijacking of a school bus and shuttling survivors out of the city before F.E.M.A. arrived. Your character is a survivor herself, re-experiencing the storm through a dream as she rushes around saving the people she wishes she’d helped during the actual events. Each level is set to a timer that is gauged by the setting sun, which creates a real sense of conflict as you realize that you can only help so many people per level. Some survivors must be abandoned in order to help yourself. And as you progress to each level, the broken levies take their toll and the waters slowly rise. The final person you rescue, your mother, is revealed to have passed in the storm at the very beginning of the game. It’s a clever analogy for drawing in people who were not personally involved in Katrina themselves: our dreams of helping the survivors during the disaster carries on into today. The website provides more information and suggestions on what other can do to help after you finish the game. It takes about fifteen minutes to play through and will leave you knowing more about New Orleans and the aftermath of Katrina than before you started playing.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008
A Dramatization of the Console War of 2008.


It was only a matter of time before I took a stab at the console wars with a satire. The trick with the console wars is that it’s a bit like making fun of narcissism in Baby Boomers. The target audience inherently does not find the topic funny. Yet one of the quirkiest aspects of the console wars is how much only gamers care about it. In several surveys with Baby Boomers on video games, many did not even understand why there was a difference between consoles. Why can’t you just stick one game disc into any particular machine? It’s not like a DVD player? Which made me wonder about how to best explain the differences between the machines and their quirks. What would be the best satire of the 7th generation of consoles that a broad audience could follow? So…uh…I wrote down the script to an episode of ‘Golden Girls’ and replaced all the key words with video game terms.


 


DS knocks and Wii answers the door. DS is holding a little cartridge,


DS: Momma, I just got a new release and I need you to babysit Call of Duty 4 for me.


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Oct 19, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-10-20...
Eternal Sonata on the PS3

Eternal Sonata on the PS3


The more you look at this week’s group of releases, the more a sense of déjà vu takes over.  So many of the big new releases this week are either sequels or rehashes that you really have to look deep—no, like seriously deep—to find anything resembling a new idea.


This is not necessarily a bad thing.  PlayStation 3 owners are finally getting a chance to play a couple of games that Xbox 360 owners have been enjoying for a while, and each with some bonus stuff to make the experience unique enough to keep PS3 owners from being slighted.  Eternal Sonata has received the biggest makeover, with new characters, outfits, and events enhancing one of the best current generation RPGs out there.  Bioshock, for its part, is basically the same game as the one on the Xbox, but with interactive loading screens and a few new challenge rooms (not to mention the Bioshock 2 trailer that’s recently hit the web).  A re-release of Portal is showing up on the Xbox 360, for those who’ve been waiting for a version of the game to be released without the rest of The Orange Box (for whatever reason), and new releases in the Spyro and Spider-Man franchises are all over the various platforms.


Guitar Hero World Tour

Guitar Hero World Tour


The one retread that simply can’t be ignored or underestimated, however, is Guitar Hero World Tour.  Out on Sunday, it’s a rehash in two separate ways: one, it’s obviously a sequel to the other three Guitar Hero games out there, and two, it’s Activision’s acknowledgement of the game-changing Rock Band, in that its approach to the rhythm game genre is almost exactly that of Rock Band‘s.  Guitar, drums, bass, and vocals—they’re all here, and they’re going to present a serious challenge to Rock Band 2‘s popularity given the sheer recognizability of the name.  Despite the fact that so much of the new iteration of Guitar Hero is simply the following of Rock Band‘s lead, the mere fact that the new Guitar Hero totally revamps the franchise while the new Rock Band simply continues it may lead people in the direction of Activision/Neversoft’s version of the band setup for the holiday stretch.


Me, I’m looking forward to playing the Death Magnetic tracks I’ve been toying with on the guitar for the last two weeks on all of those other instruments.  Hetfield’s vocals on “All Nightmare Long” should be an especially good time.  I haven’t had a good grunting ‘n growling session in a while.


Wii Music

Wii Music


The running theme for the Wii and the DS is kids’ games.  All manner of branded whatnot is showing up this week, from various Nickelodeon and Disney brands to less recognizable IPs like Ener GBuild-a-Bear is here, High School Musical is here, and even Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? gets a couple of releases.  Of course, the sore thumb here is Wii Music, a release that’s had to endure some awfully loud mocking in the gaming community since its reveal at this year’s E3.  The thing is, it can hardly be evaluated as a game.  It is a toy.  Not only that, but it’s largely a toy for kids, with very loose definitions of success via gameplay.  I can also say that, having been able to share it with my family, it absolutely is one of those magical little games that can bring the family together for an hour of light entertainment, no matter the ages of those involved.  Heck, I had my 1-year-old wailing away on drums for a couple of minutes after she got a load of the rest of us.  I don’t think it’s a classic in the making, but it certainly shouldn’t be disparaged the way it has been over the last couple of months.


All right, having jumped off of my tiny little soapbox, and acknowledging that there are about a billion things being released this week, I must ask: What are you playing?  Are you going to spring for Midnight Club, or is Barbie Horse Adventures more your speed?  Pore over the list—and a Guitar Hero World Tour vid that never fails to fascinate me—after the jump.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Oct 15, 2008
One advertising company attempts to lure consumers to a new IP by faking its own popularity.

One of the interesting problems that the entertainment industry must confront in an economic downturn is finding a way to turn consumers onto new characters and games. In regards to video games, people are more inclined to spend money on sequels and games they’re already familiar with because of the supposed quality assurance. At the very least, even remaking an old classic banks on people’s nostalgia and will score a few buys. So D3 Publisher’s ad team at Maverick Public Relations had a major problem when they were handed a brand new, original Intellectual Property (IP) involving a protagonist named Matt Hazard. It involved guns, grizzled space marines, and most dangerous of all, comedy. Naturally, since they didn’t have any nostalgia or pre-existing fan base to work with, they did the next best thing and made one up.


  Starting with a satirical fan site, the ad team created a long and sordid history for the Matt Hazard franchise. What began as a successful 8-bit Arcade game led to success on the consoles, 3D shooters, and adventure games. Alas, the IP had its weak moments as well such as creating bizarre spin-offs like a go-kart game and replacing an old game with Matt Hazard images. Everything from Super Mario Brothers to Duke Nukem get a smart-ass nod in the long catalogue of games such as ‘A Fistful of Hazard’, ‘Goonzilla Versus Matt Hazard’, and ‘Choking Hazard: Candy Gramm’. The website has been followed up by a mock blog created by a developer ranting about the industry and the downfall of the Matt Hazard IP he worked so hard on. It also contains the ominous screenshots of a new game that will redeem the doomed franchise. A recent Youtube video, featuring an interview with Matt claiming he nailed Lara Croft, ditches any doubts about how far they’re willing to take the joke. As commenter Lord Andrew notes on one website, “Oh man, this **** is awesome. Bring on the Hazard!” For a good interview with the ad team, check here.


I don’t normally take much interest in games that aren’t available yet just because we all know the only true test for a video game is playing it yourself. Still, one has to pause and admire a good advertisement sometimes. Given the economy and forecasts for doom & gloom in the months ahead, perhaps the ad team realized that people could use something far more important than a fake history or familiar franchise. They could use a good laugh.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008
This seems as good a place as any to put a Gears of War 2 chainsaw battle pic.

This seems as good a place as any to put a
Gears of War 2 chainsaw battle pic.


Perhaps it seems a bit ridiculous to lament the embarrassment of riches we have in the next two months as far as video game releases go.  Looking at the release schedule right now, there are a ridiculous amount of great games that have either been released recently or will be in October and November. Here’s the murderer’s row of releases: Guitar Hero: World Tour, Rock Band 2, Fable 2, Left 4 Dead, The Last Remnant, Dead Space, Gears of War 2, LittleBigPlanet, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Resistance 2, Prince of Persia and Wii Music. I’m sure there are others I missed, but the bottom line is that this is arguably the best season ever for gaming.


Still, there are two major problems with this.
First of all, with so many triple-A titles coming out in such a short period of time, there are bound to be great titles that slip between the cracks. Last fall’s deluge of games like Mass Effect, The Orange Box, Halo 3, Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty 4 meant that titles like Conan and Kane and Lynch were overshadowed and underrated. I know personally that I didn’t even get around to playing some of these games until this spring. Sure, Hollywood has their big summer blockbuster season in which a lot of the big budget movies are sandwiched between May and August, but the difference is that you can pay $10 to watch a Batman movie and be done with it in two hours. With games, there’s much more of a time and money investment.


Could something like Mirror's Edge get left behind?

Could something like Mirror’s Edge get left behind?


The second issue is that the big game release season is coming at a time when the economy is looking a little scary. Though we don’t know all the ramifications right now of the whole mess, it’s possible that unnecessary entertainment purchases like video games will suffer (Of course, an argument could be made that escapist entertainment will actually increase in popularity because people are trying to not think about the economy). In that case, with so many titles to pick from this holiday season and less money to buy them with, we could see some big budget titles disappoint and others go by the wayside.


I predict, though, that Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Gears of War 2 and anything Wii-related will do fine. It’s some of the other, lesser known games I’d be worried about.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.