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Text:AAA
Monday, May 19, 2008
In part 7 of L.B. Jeffries' series, the previously-defined classification system is applied to a few well-known games


So with all these definitions, variables, and conflicting goals for what games should be, what is the role of the Zarathustran process? How does it work? Essentially, you’re analyzing the experience of the game itself. The important shift that critics must be aware of is that they are no longer judging the game by just one single element. How do the plot, player input, and game design work together to make the experience? Although a game may be extremely cutscene heavy, should this plot device work well to create a powerful experience then that isn’t a flaw. If a game has strange controls, do those ultimately improve the game or make the player feel like they have less input? The application is to see these things as means rather than ends in video games.

With that in mind, we’ll go through the process a few times. One of the more interesting examples of a player’s input facilitating an experience is Gunstar Heroes. The game’s a first person experience, despite the heavy elements of third person setting. It makes this shift by putting the emphasis on the game design of power-ups. You have two power-up slots and one of them is set for the duration of playtime. The second can be picked up during a level and will change the way your gun works. There’s a pretty impressive array of strategies as a result of this that lets the player truly individualize his own approach to the game. Whereas one may prefer the weak but auto-targeting attack, another might opt for the light saber combination. What it adds to the experience itself is that the player-input gives two kinds of positive feedback because you’re relying on strategy and reflexes. You don’t beat Gunstar Heroes, you figure it out. And as a result, the game design features a remarkable shift in connection that improves it.


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Text:AAA
Monday, May 19, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-19...
Image courtesy of engadget.com

Image courtesy of engadget.com


I never thought I’d see the day.


When is the last time this happened?


Somehow, some way, the Nintendo DS is without a single release this week.  Keep in mind, there were over 50 things released for the DS last November.  50, in a single month, and even since then, the DS has always been a reliable source of new releases; in weeks where it seems as though nothing worthwhile is coming out for the consoles, we always had the DS to look to for a new IP, or at least some imaginative use of the stylus.  As recently as last week, the DS has saved us from the banal, so to look at it, so lonely, with nothing new to offer for the week, well…it’s a little bit sad is all.  (sniff.)


(give me a moment to compose myself.)


The Japanese box art for Wii Fit

The Japanese box art for Wii Fit


(deep breath.) Okay.  So who’s to blame for the orphaning of the little portable that could?  Likely, none other than the parents of that portable themselves, those unfeeling, heartless vessels at Nintendo.  Why would they do such a thing to their adorable little two-screen?  Well, Wii Fit is coming this week.  Wii Fit is, of course, poised to be the biggest thing out there since, well, since GTA IV, though I imagine that for most of the people who would actually be interested in Wii Fit, it will be the biggest thing since Wii Sports.  You can’t fake-bowl forever, I suppose.


In any case, Wii Fit looks to be the piece of software (one hesitates to even call it a “game”, really) that will allow the success that the DS has had in the self-help arena (see: Brain Age, Flash Focus, Let’s Yoga!) to be transferred to the console.  Its success will hinge entirely on how willing people will be to shell out $90 for a “balance board” and the software for that balance board, but despite some of the bad press that’s been thrown its way in pre-release, early indications lean toward the Wii-buying population being very willing.


UEFA EURO 2008

UEFA EURO 2008


Other than Wii Fit, UEFA EURO 2008 is dominating the release list, with versions coming out for pretty much every platform that’s not the DS.  Soccer/football fans will undoubtedly be delighted.  The oft-delayed Haze, Ubisoft’s yellow-tinted shooter with the awesome website and the silly Korn tie-in, is out tomorrow as well, just in case the FPS crowd is out of things to do.  And then, on wednesday, the increasingly reliable Xbox Live Arcade will see the release of the first episode in the Penny Arcade Adventures series, with the unwieldy and vaguely hilarious subtitle of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.  Fans of Gabe and Tycho had best have their download fingers ready.


The rest of the releases (and really, there aren’t very many) and a trailer for Wii Fit are after the jump:


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Text:AAA
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Clover Studio has returned as PlatinumGames, complete with a publishing deal with Sega. It's time to celebrate, people.

It was a sad, sad day when Clover Studio was unceremoniously disbanded.  Honestly, when you look at Clover’s body of work, there’s not much to it: a pile of Viewtiful Joe games, Okami, God Hand, and…well, that’s pretty much it.  Still, when Capcom decided that Clover’s time had come and gone (probably due to the fact that God Hand sold something like 53 copies, total), it was like a punch to the gut for gamers who had already come to look forward to the development studio’s unique, wonderfully independent approach to making games.


Clover's Okami

Clover’s Okami


Okami, of course, is the big name in Clover’s history.  Okami actually managed to take some of the wind out of the sails of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess upon that game’s release, offering a play dynamic that was quite similar to that of Zelda, but with a thumbstick painting dynamic combined with an art style which together created an experience that felt unique and utterly unprecedented.  The game sold pretty well, but was of course ultimately overshadowed by the impressive pedigree of its Triforce-adorned counterpart (of course, the ultimate slap in regard to Okami was the removal of the Clover team’s names from the newly-released Wii port).


God Hand, for its part, was a unique take on the God of War-meets-Double Dragon genre, focusing on combos and an ultra-violent (thought bloodless) style that was utterly unique in its style (again) and its execution (again).  Indeed, Clover to this point had been masters of taking established genres and twisting them in completely unexpected ways.


Clover's God Hand

Clover’s God Hand


It’s been just over a year since Clover went the way of Moonlight, but those of us who mourned Clover’s departure now have reason to celebrate.


Hot on the heels of the announcement of an exclusive publishing deal with Sega (Sega!), the ashes of Clover have made themselves known as PlatinumGames, which could logically be called the evolution of Clover (it’s basically Clover with a few extra developers added on for good measure).  We haven’t seen much of PlatinumGames to date, and it’s going to be a while before we actually get to play any of their games, but given what they have allowed us to see so far, they’re picking up right where Clover left off.


There’s Bayonetta, which is being described loosely as a Devil May Cry-like game, and at the very least, it features a character who uses a pistol as a stiletto heel.  It’s not exactly a chainsaw gun, I suppose, but it’s pretty freakin’ cool nonetheless, and the nigh-unintelligible action style hinted at in the short trailer (which I have helpfully appended to this post) looks like an utter trip.  That one’s for the Xbox and the PS3, but to these eyes, it’s the PlatinumGames Wii offering that looks like the true winner.  Think Sin City meets The Evil Dead, in video game form.  MADWORLD features a protagonist with a chainsaw for a right hand, and an art style that features only three colors: black, white, and red.  You see, red only appears when someone is bleeding, which happens, apparently, a lot.


PlatinumGames' MadWorld

PlatinumGames’ MADWORLD


Again, on the surface, it’s not really a unique idea for a game, in that you’re basically going to be walking around ripping baddies open with your chainsaw hand.  Still, style counts for a lot, and MADWORLD looks to have style bleeding out its ears.


There’s even a DS RPG called Infinite Line that’s going to be showing up along the way as well.  They certainly seem to have the platforms covered, anyway.


In any case, the rebirth of Clover as PlatinumGames is an excellent thing on so many levels.  For one, and perhaps most importantly, it’s excellent for the developers themselves, as it seems that they have not had to sacrifice their vision of what makes a great game.  It’s a great thing for Sega, as a publisher whose name has suffered under the weight of countless subpar Sonic franchise offerings and a lack of other universally-known IPs gets to bask in the credibility that comes with the admiration of hardcore gamers for whom the PlatinumGames/Sega deal means something.  Finally, of course, this is great news for us, the gamers, the ones who died a little when Clover disbanded, the ones who believe that games can be art and appreciate the developers who make a concerted effort to make sure it is seen as such.  We won’t get to see the fruits of PlatinumGames’ labor until next year, but for this, I’ll wait.


I’ll wait patiently, and try to not let the anticipation kill me.


UPDATE: The MADWORLD trailer is out.  Hide the kids:




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Text:AAA
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
by Darwin Hang
Darwin Hang takes on the PlayStation 2's latest Sonic the Hedgehog-based racing game...

An object’s velocity is equal to its displacement divided by the time of travel.  This means that an object which starts and ends its voyage at the same position has a velocity equal to zero.  Now, let’s say that that object A is Sonic the Hedgehog riding a hoverboard.  Object B is a robot chasing object A in the story mode of Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  Both objects start at position X and end at position X, giving both of them a velocity of zero miles per hour.  The story mode, like Sonic on his intergalactic hoverboard, goes nowhere.


Sonic’s distinguishing trait has always been his speed.  He was fast without any technological aid.  That was the point.  He was able to use his natural skills to defeat Mr. Robotnik, or Eggman, who was obsessed with technology.  This racing-obsessed version of Sonic does not appear to be made within the same continuity as the original Sega titles.  It fails in its inability to retain the spirit of the Sonic franchise.  Sonic doesn’t need a vehicle, he needs to run and jump and spin fast.  Eggman has become comic relief.  Because the story mode has to be played through to unlock features of the game, there should have been some course alterations so that the races would feel like a natural progression of the story.


When the game sticks to racing, it’s tolerable.  The courses play differently for different characters, and a slow motion “drift” function is well designed.  Sometimes gameplay is exciting.  The courses play differently for different characters as long as you stick to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles.  The “Rogues” are feathered mirror images of the mammalian main characters.  The racing is fast and there are many gimmicks which work well and many gimmicks that don’t.  Because of the gimmickry, there is not an even playing field, meaning that this does not make for a good party game.  Once a course is played through with each character, it loses its charm.


Like its intended tween audience, the Sonic franchise is going through an identity crisis.  Does Sega keep churning out Sonic titles that no one cares about until people just start ignoring him and pretending he doesn’t exist?  Will Sonic someday have MTV Made help get his singing career started?  Too bad these questions could not have been addressed earlier, before Sonic reached his mid twenties.


As someone who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog (yes, I was that kid who had a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo), it was hard for me to play Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  I am going to keep typing that name, because it is part of the problem.  My generation grew up on side scrollers and 2D first person shooters.  Most of the time we had no idea what the plots of the Sonic games were or if they even existed.  Then, it didn’t matter.  Now it does.


Art builds upon its predecessors.  It doesn’t rely on nostalgia to retain an aging audience.  It connects generations while creating gaps between them.  Art causes friction.  Art makes us question our limits as a human race, our future, and our past.  With all the mediocre, thoughtless, effortless, useless titles I play, such as Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, the more I wonder if I was wrong about stating that video games are art.  Maybe, like Van Gogh, this game won’t be appreciated until the Sonic franchise is finally dead.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Video game trailers are becoming more and more important to the success of the games they depict. What are the best ones you've seen this year?

Having been the one to plaster the trailers at the bottom of the game reviews you’ve been reading on PopMatters for the last year and a half or so, I’ve had the privilege to watch hundreds of these game trailers over that time.  Given the increasing prevalence of YouTube, Google Video, and more specialized spots like the aptly named GameTrailers, the videogame trailer has become as important as the movie trailer in their respective media arenas.


As it turns out, they have awards (“Golden Trailers”) for game trailers!  This is a fact of the industry that I had no idea existed until I got an e-mail announcing the winner of this year’s award:


Yes, “Medal of Homer” actually beat out the Halo 3 “Believe” ads, which is actually pretty incredible for the folks at Hammer Creative, who made the thing. 


The leading contender so far this year?  I’ve seen some excellent trailers for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, GTA IV, and even Persona 3, but the leader in this particular race right now has to be Metal Gear Solid 4, for a trailer that’s less than 48 hours old.  The reason?  The mere presence of Don LaFontaine, a.k.a. “The Movie Voiceover Guy”, elevates pretty much any trailer to must-watch status (a fact not lost on Sega, who actually hired him for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games), and the sheer drama of Metal Gear Solid 4 only adds to the weight.  Here it is:


 


Hell yes!  Whoo!  When the end of it—that “...but Courage is SOLID” part—happens, I want to get up and cheer like a 14-year-old who just watched Saw.  It’s so, so cheesy, but it’s so earnest about it as to actually be kind of endearing.  And AWESOME.  Have you seen anything better?  Pop it in the comments.  I wanna see.


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