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Friday, May 21, 2010
Choice is meaningless unless we’re weak enough to be affected by it.

Choice is clichéd. We’ve been presented with so many different kinds choices so many times that the average gamer can look past the immediate conflict, whatever it may be, and see the machinations going on behind the scenes. From what suit we wear, to the survival of townships, to the outcome of wars, our choices change the world. All that power seems necessary. If the world doesn’t change, then our choices are meaningless, but that power also dilutes the consequences because nothing ever (or rarely) happens to us, the player. It’s the world that changes, and we feel the consequences indirectly.


In Fallout 3 we can save or destroy Megaton, and no matter what we do, we come out the other side pretty much unchanged; it’s everyone else whose life is at stake. Even in Mass Effect 2, in which our choices from the first game carry over into the sequel, only those directly involved with the original choice cause us to face any kind of consequence in the future. There’s a very linear progression of consequences. Nothing ever spirals out of our control.


Tagged as: bioshock 2
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Thursday, May 20, 2010
Fake gamer tags. How does this do anything other than rip away at my already fraying suspension of disbelief?

I want games to be imaginative and creative, to show me something that I haven’t seen before, or a to present a new perspective on something that I thought I was familiar with. Part of that can come from the game’s look and setting but only part of it. To really succeed, a game has to not only contain imaginative elements, it has to inspire the imaginations of those of us holding the controller. Lost Planet 2 has some striking creative pieces: giant monsters, exciting exoskeletons, and a few inspired settings. But these are mere window dressing for a core gameplay experience that not only doesn’t inspire my imagination, it actively mounts an all-out offensive against it.


Lost Planet 2 wants you to play co-op. That’s great, co-op games are fun, and I like it when developers really support it. It does cause some initial confusion that the only way to start the single player campaign is to create what looks like an online game, even if you’re not connected to the internet. But that’s just a user interface issue. Then the game begins, and you’re teamed up with three AI controlled comrades, who have their names floating above their heads. Names like, Redx4, Death Summer, and Mr baykal, that are meant to sound like fake gamer tags. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Because it’s really not. Seeing your friends’ gamer tag when playing co-op is okay because you know he’s there, you have a whole host of associations with that person, and you can hear their voice. Who are these AI goobers with lame gamer tags? How does this do anything other than rip away at my already fraying suspension of disbelief?


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Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Let's face it, we kind of love the switch, and by “we,” I don't just mean gamers. I mean everybody.

Like most gamers, I have been thinking an awful lot about the switch. I think that usually such thoughts are characterized by questions like, “How do I get to the switch?” or more irritatingly, “Where’s the damn switch?” However, what I have been pondering is a more fundamental (and maybe less obvious) question, “Why do I always want to flip the switch?”


A lot of gamers complain about the overuse of the switch in games. It is a kind of cheap way of turning an action game into an adventure game. Finding the switch, figuring out what it does, and using it effectively is a way of adding a puzzle-like element to games that otherwise seem to merely be celebrations of violence and combat. Tomb Raider, in particular, seems to have made the switch a central element of gameplay, at least as important to that game as the combat, if not more.


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010
You can have all the intrigue and plot twists you want, it’s not going to amount to anything without genuine characters and interaction.

There has been a rash of FPS titles with horrendous plots lately, so it might be helpful to talk about an FPS that had a pretty simple but fun story that actually worked with its game design. As a genre, the FPS has never really required much thought in terms of writing. It can certainly feature it, but technically even Doom explained itself pretty well in just one paragraph. The concept of “demons, gun, get to it” does not really need a lot of explaining. Yet today something like Modern Warfare 2 comes out, and it’s an incoherent mess. Every mission is pulling some James Bond crap or taking place as a part of the world’s most unlikely invasion, which is a shame because the best parts of Modern Warfare and the other Call of Duty games were the moments that just felt like being a soldier. Star Wars: Republic Commando dodges these narrative pitfalls despite the fact that it even takes place in a science fiction setting. A squad-based FPS relying on a fairly nuts & bolts design, it is a great example of a game that won’t make you roll your eyes while playing.


The setup is pretty simple. You’re the leader of Delta Squad, and you have three other clone commandos working closely with you. There are four general commands (follow me, attack, go here, secure area) and hotspots scattered around the map where you can order a commando to snipe, grenade, or plant bombs. You have four basic weapon types and a fifth slot for whatever alien weapon you pick up. Most maps will feature a couple of different hotspots to drop a squadmate, and you can always leave them to their own devices. You can also set up ambushes by getting aliens to follow you or take a more aggressive approach. It’s all very simple and fluid, which means that complex maneuvers aren’t exactly an option because of gameplay that is always fast and easy. Writer Gatmog points out in his review, “I liked the way squad commands felt intuitive, but I wouldn’t call it tactics. It doesn’t require any real problem solving by the player: simply mousing over points on the map will show “hot” areas, or actions a squad member can complete. Clicking on these points will issue the associated command, but it’s not like you get the option of storming a room with thermal detonators or sneaking in quietly. The objectives and their solutions are completely transparent” (“Attack of the Commando Clones”, Tales of a Schorched Earth, 2 Feb 2005).


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Monday, May 17, 2010
Rapture is almost less a city than it is a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.

After last week’s look at the vast reaches of outer space, we decided to change the focus of our discussion from the heavens to the depths of the ocean.  Arguably one of the most fully realized spaces in contemporary gaming, Rapture is almost less a city than it is a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.


Our crew discusses our responses to the latest iteration of the terrifying but often sublime undersea city as it appears in Bioshock 2.


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