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by G. Christopher Williams

10 Feb 2010


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.

by L.B. Jeffries

9 Feb 2010


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.

by L.B. Jeffries

6 Feb 2010


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.

 

by Nick Dinicola

5 Feb 2010


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.

by Rick Dakan

4 Feb 2010


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.

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