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

 
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Text:AAA
Friday, Feb 12, 2010
Borderlands and Dragon Age portray the player as a traveler, but the permanent storage we get in downloadable content betrays that portrayal.

Gamers are hoarders, collectors. Games have always encouraged this behavior, both inside and outside the virtual world, tempting us with “the next big gun” and “the next big game”. But sometimes this tradition is eschewed to great effect. When Resident Evil 4 got rid of the magic storage chests that had been a staple of the series, players were forced to think about their inventory in a new way. We had to strategize, we had to choose between ammo, health, grenades, or guns, we had to predict what was coming and therefore what we would need, but we never really knew what was coming. As we left the mysterious Merchant, there was always an uneasy feeling that we were unprepared. Our limited inventory made the unknown more frightening.


More recently, Dragon Age: Origins and Borderlands forced the player to accept a limited inventory, and since their release, developers of both games have caved to public pressure and given players a storage chest through downloadable content. By adding such a chest, these two games lost one of their more unique traits: their portrayal of the player as a traveler.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Clash of Heroes mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements.

I love strategy games on my Nintendo DS. They’re pretty much all I play on the thing, except maybe a little Tetris or Meteos from time to time. But for me, turn-based strategy games like Age of Empires, Advanced Wars: Dual Strike, and yes, oh yes, oh yes, Civilization: Revolutions are why I bought a new DS the day my old one broke. The purer the strategy, the better as far as I’m concerned, and random elements in these games just drive me nuts. Any time the digital dice contravene the odds, I’m a little peeved. I love to plan many moves ahead, make the right moves, and see my strategies give birth to victories. I guess I’m mostly just looking for really complicated versions of chess. With tanks.


So I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game that mixes equal parts match-three puzzle gaming and strategy with some light RPG elements. Battles are very abstract, sort of like playing versus Bejeweled, but with dragons and vampires and demons. The two armies line up and each round you have three moves to maneuver troops so that three units of the same color line up to form either a wall or an attack formation. Bigger units like knights or those dragons requite multiple units of the same color stacked up behind them to activate. It’s a simple game with layers of interesting strategy and complications that make it a lot of fun. I recommend it, despite the trite, overwrought (but thankfully irrelevant) story.


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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010
“I wouldn't say that games are the ideal way to experience literature. I think literature has done that quite well. That being said, games offer the opportunity to ask interesting questions and allow the player to answer them in a way that transcends previous mediums.” -- Jordan Thomas, Creative Director, Bioshock 2

On February 5th, 2010, some of the development team responsible for Bioshock 2 took part in a conference call with the gaming press.  Questions were asked in a moderated forum to a group that included creative director Jordan Thomas, lead designer Zak McClendon, and lead environment artist Hogarth de la Plante.


Most of my own interests in taking part in the forum regarded how the philosophical concerns and ethical choices that made the first Bioshock so compelling might or might not be continued to be explored in the sequel.  Interestingly, while the first game grappled with the notion of how creating a society on the libertarian and individualistic principles of Ayn Rand’s objectivism might look in the aftermath of its dissolution, the second game seems to change direction with an eye to considering utopianism of another sort, that of the utilitarianism of collectivist thinkers like John Stuart Mill.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010
A game where conformity should probably not be considered a positive for once. Mild Spoilers in the next to last paragraph.

Any review of No More Heroes 2 is probably best started with the caveat that if you didn’t play the first one, the sequel is a solid investment. To a person unfamiliar with Grasshopper Manufacture or Suda 51 games, the game will be an explosion of new ideas in an accessible design that’s engaging all the way to the end. The problem with No More Heroes 2 is that for all the fans who plowed through Killer 7 and No More Heroes for the sake of insane cutscenes, bizarre game design, and dark humor you’re going to find a lot of those things missing. If No More Heroes was the equivalent of a live punk concert, No More Heroes 2 is the I-pod friendly studio album.


Everything that was supposedly broken about the old game has been removed and everything that was praised has been enhanced. The wonky physics and tedious driving in the first game have been replaced with a handy menu system that lets you travel to all relevant destinations instantly. Travis now has access to four different beam weapons that offer different fighting styles along with sections where you play as two other characters with their own unique moves. No more just bashing A and wildly swinging the remote while heads explode. The generic repetitive bad guys of the first game have been replaced with a diversity of fighters who make the much shorter levels quick and always a reasonable length. The awkward side jobs have been replaced with well designed 8-bit mini-games. The assassination missions that would challenge you to kill a hundred people in a minute are gone. No more chopping off 8 people’s heads at once, no more running over every single street light in Santa Destroy, or trying to to do donuts on your enormous motorcycle.


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Text:AAA
Saturday, Feb 6, 2010
There's a new emergent music game being sold for charity with tracks by a wide variety of musicians.

There’s an excellent emergent music game that has just gone up on Xbox Live that you should check out if you can spare 400 Microsoft dollars. It’s called Chimes, and the company is donating a large portion of its profits to the Save the Children and Starlight charities. An emergent music games basically work like this: a steady background beat is mixed with feedback, which blends together to create a kind of robust song space. Examples of this notion of emergent music can be found in a game like Lumines, in which a sound is created when a square is completed or the cube is rotated, Everyday Shooter tightly organizes guitar riffs with abstract enemies that all give off different sounds when shot or killed, and Rez HD does the same thing but with a techno theme.


Chimes is an interesting take on the block matching formula by focusing the gameplay on a race against the clock. There’s no worrying about overfill to interrupt your play. The game is simply about making big block clusters that you can build on in order to try to fill the map with these same clusters. As the mass gets bigger, a background sound plays and the feedback noises change, depending on the blocks. Once enough collected blocks get big enough, the sounds change to match the new background. Borrowing an idea from Lumines, the music is a lot more coherent because a beat bar will slide over the level and strike the notes in sequence. The more blocks and clusters that you have organized, the more notes that the game plays back at you. It was a pretty unique experience, sort of like building a sand castle where you just pile things up and play around with the different noises. It mimics Rez HD in the sense that it’s very accessible to play and also to unlock levels for those just interested in the music. Nevertheless, it offers a lot of challenge for people who want to make high scores.


 


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