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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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Friday, Feb 5, 2010
Prototype and inFamous are like twins separated at birth and raised by different developers, one that values ambition and one that values excellence.

Even before their release, Prototype and inFamous were being compared to each other. After finally having played both, I can finally see just how different they are, but their similarities shouldn’t be ignored. Prototype and inFamous are like twins separated at birth and raised by different developers. Both are open world games with an angry main character who suddenly finds himself with superpowers and must find out why while the city goes to hell around him. What separates these games is how they expand upon that premise with gameplay. Prototype attempts to be something grander and more unique than its developers can ultimately handle while Infamous is content to be a more typical action game, though one polished to perfection.


The best example of polish in inFamous is Empire City itself and how we traverse it. Cole, the protagonist in inFamous, moves much slower than Alex, the protagonist in Prototype, but Empire City is designed around this limitation. Since the city is a fictional place, developer Sucker Punch isn’t constrained by realism, so they’re free to design it however they wish. The city is broken up into three islands with electric train tracks circling each island. Since Cole can control electricity, he’s able to “surf” on these rails at incredible speeds. The city layout is more impressive as we move inwards where we find a comprehensive network of cables connecting each building. Cole can surf these cables as well, and once he learns how to hover, he can hop from cable to cable, moving through the city like Tarzan through the jungle. He may move slower than Alex, but the environment complements his powers. This city was built with Cole in mind.


Tagged as: infamous, prototype
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Thursday, Feb 4, 2010
It's the perfect example of casting to type for great effect, and it's why you pay extra for star power.

Yes, I’m blogging about Mass Effect 2 again. And I probably will next week too. I played through the whole game in four days, mostly in one very long Friday session of about 12 hours. I love this game, and I think it does a lot of interesting things, some of them maybe even ground breaking. Casting famous actors in lead roles is not by any means ground breaking and, indeed, might in some cases be seen as more of a publicity stunt than an artistic choice. Or maybe just a way for game developers to hang out with their favorite sci-fi celebs (I’m looking at you, Halo ODST using the cast of Firefly). Of course I have no idea how much publicity-minded planning played into casting Mass Effect 2, but I do know that some of those decisions had strong effects on how I experienced and even played the game.


There are a ton of sci-fi film and TV stars in Mass Effect 2, and I think they all do fine work. I’m concentrating here on those performances that made a difference for me in how I played the game or at least how I perceived it’s story. I know that one should take each performance on its own merits and not let past, unrelated efforts influence my impression of the piece at hand, but come on, that’s not how people work for the most part. Many stars are stars precisely because they bring along some good will and associations with them from role to role. Daniel Day Lewis manages to disappear completely into his characters, but he’s a rare talent. George Clooney, on the other hand (who I like a lot), knows how to expertly exploit his own range and tweak the overall feeling of a cool, confident, leading man to match the needs of his current film. When you cast him in a movie, you do so knowing that he brings a lot of presence to the characters that a director then doesn’t have to work quite so hard to establish.


Tagged as: mass effect 2
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Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010
How does effort fit into the romance equation?

It was 1984, and I was one of those kids whose mother worked at my school (she was the school secretary).  What that essentially meant was that I had to be at school earlier than anyone else (other than my fellows in suffering, the teachers’ kids), and I would never be able to see anything but the first 10 minutes of an episode of Inspector Gadget before me and my piece of toast would have to be out in the car and off to school.  Luckily, there was the Apple II and Karateka.  God bless you, Jordan Mechner.


Much like other games of that decade, for me Karateka was largely a study in gaming as trial and error.  Featuring a robust combat system (within the context of the mid-‘80s), Karateka offered the opportunity to step into the shoes of a martial artist with six distinct attacks: low, medium, and high punches and low, medium, and high kicks.  The protagonist of Karateka also had two stances, a combat or defensive stance, which allowed the player to punch and kick along with a highly vulnerable running stance, which allowed the player to stand erect and then advance rapidly within the game world but had the disadvantage of the threat of a one shot death if the character should be hit while running.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 2, 2010
Between the success of the Wii, Rock Band, and cross-over titles like Puzzle Quest, two once distinct genres and communities are now beginning to find commonality.

Easily the biggest revolution in video games this past decade was the explosion of casual games. Between the success of the Wii, Rock Band, and cross-over titles like Puzzle Quest, two once distinct genres and communities are now beginning to find commonality. Jesper Juul’s latest book, The Casual Revolution, outlines the basic design principles of these games, corrects misconceptions about how they work, and makes the argument for designers to break out of their own perspectives. The last third of the book features interviews with casual game fans and the creative directors of some of the most successful games in the field.


Juul outlines two basic categories for a casual game: mimetic interfaces and downloadable casual games. In a mimetic interface, “the physical activity that the player performs mimics the game activity on the screen.” Bowling on the Wii or using a Guitar Hero controller are the prime example because the average person can look at the game and immediately grasp what they’re supposed to do. The other category is a “downloadable casual game”, which “are purchased online, can be played in short time bursts, and generally do not require an intimate knowledge of video game history in order to play” (5). A game like Bejeweled or Zuma can be understood quickly, unlike a lot of console titles which consistently presume that the player understands tenets of video game logic like “Go towards the shiny object” or “All bad guys drop ammo.” Common assumptions about the casual genre such as all gameplay must be short or that casual players don’t like challenge are untrue. Rather, it’s just that a casual game is very flexible about time commitments and difficulty. Juul writes, “a casual game is sufficiently flexible to be played with a hardcore time commitment, but a hardcore game is too inflexible to be played with a casual time commitment” (10). He uses the example of a game like Scramble, a coin-op game from the 80s. It’s an old game, but the simplicity of the design makes illustrating his point easier. You fly a ship around while bombing enemies, collecting fuel tanks, and seeing how far you can progress. The goals are explicit and only a narrow range of play styles (blow crap up, dodge bullets) will allow you to continue playing. Juul explains, “The problem with goals is that they may force us to optimize our strategy in order to win rather than do something else that we would prefer . . . games without goals or with optional goals are more flexible: they accommodate more playing styles and player types, in effect letting you choose what kind of game you want to play” (138). Examples of this principle in casual games would be Rock Band’s no-fail mode or Bejeweled’s untimed mode for those who just like to play without feeling pressured.


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