Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 22, 2008
There is no better time than now for Cliff Johnson to release his long-awaited sequel to The Fool's Errand.

The time is right.  The time is now.


Please, Cliff Johnson, won’t you release A Fool and His Money?


Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.

Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.


Once upon a time, I bought an Amiga from a friend of mine for $300.  It seemed like an incredible deal at the time, given that he threw in something like 60 games for the thing, including some impressive technology show-off type games like Dragon’s Lair and Speedball.  Damn, I loved me some Speedball.  What I was coming to realize was that computers could do things that consoles at the time could only dream of, and the possibilities intrigued me.


Of course, finding out that I had to go to a specialty store to buy my Amiga games was kind of a buzzkill.


Regardless, one of the first games I ever came home with from that very store was The Fool’s Errand, which I mostly bought because its cover said it won some kind of award and my dad thought it looked good (and because it was one of the only new-ish games at the time that my Amiga, maxed out at a piddly 512K of RAM, could handle).  It turned out to be one of those games.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Apr 21, 2008
In part 3 of L.B. Jeffries' series, he takes a look at the role that plot plays in our gaming experiences.


Continuing with our outlining of the three variables of a video game (player input, plot, and game design), we next come to the question of how to assess the story in a game. Rather than indulge in the mass sea of back story and plots at surface value, let’s talk about what the story in a game actually is: stuff you have minimal control over. You can’t change the back story. You have a limited number of choices concerning the plot’s outcome. You generally don’t get to pick who you associate with. The story in a video game is where player input finds meaning, and yet it is the very thing you cannot affect.

At the 2008 Game Developer’s Conference, during Ken Levine’s lecture about plot in games, an audience member stood up and complained that they hadn’t wanted to kill Andrew Ryan in Bioshock. Disregarding the fact that killing Ryan was a brilliant commentary on extremist ideologies and questioning authority, it begs the greater question of whether or not this was even a problem. Bioshock would’ve been a much weaker game if it hadn’t been for that scene, and Ken Levine himself has admitted that after the third act the game’s story pretty much goes downhill. So given that the Andrew Ryan uncontrollable sequence was the best part of Bioshock in terms of the story, what are you supposed to say to someone who didn’t like it? At what point do you stop and say, “No, this is what you should be doing and if you don’t like it then stop playing”? What are the merits of forcing a player to do something in video games because that’s what the story says to do?


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Apr 20, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-04-21...

Oh, I liked “TWiG” so much.  The mixed capitalization, the emasculating implications…it was just simple enough to be catchy.  Of course, I can say that now that Kotaku, perhaps the most popular gaming blog out there (and the gaming representative of the Gawker empire), has gone and co-opted it.


Now, I’m sure you could go ahead and find fifty instances of other places that had used “TWiG” as an acronym meaning “The Week in Games” before I did.  That’s not the point.  The point is, that before last night, I didn’t know of any of those, and I was much happier then.  Got any ideas for new acronyms?  FTW (For the Week)?  GTFOA (Games to Find Out About)?  Drop ‘em in the comments.  Bonus points (to be redeemed later) go to something that could be a potential internet meme.


This is the Wii Wheel.  It's so…white.

This is the Wii Wheel.  It’s so…white.


As for this week’s games, well, it looks like a sparse week, but there are so many potential winners here that I hardly know where to go for something to highlight.  The elephant in the room is Mario Kart Wii; of all of the games coming out this week, that one’s bound to sell the most, and it’s surely yet another Nintendo-sponsored reason to own a Wii.  Still, it loses points for a) having been done before, and b) foisting the Wii Wheel upon the world.  I’m a Wii apologist, and I can admit that.  I’ll defend it to the death, insisting it’s “next-gen” (whatever that means) to my bloody death.  The habit that even Nintendo itself has latched onto of releasing plastic shells for their innovative control interface, thus removing the necessity of imagination to go with the waggle?  I taste bile in the back of my throat every time I read about one of these things.  Images in my mind of millions of Wii Wheels in landfills amongst 3rd party plastic bats, rackets, and fishing poles make me die a little bit inside.


As a rhythm game fiend, Battle of the Bands looks like fun (if a little confusing), and Square Enix is at it again, releasing The World Ends With You worldwide, to the rejoicing of millions (or, at least, thousands) who have salivated over the game for the nine months it’s been out in Japan.  Still, it’s impossible to overlook the PS2’s sole release this week: Persona 3: FES Edition.  Why, after two weeks of highlighting old games, would I choose to go that route one more time?  A number of reasons, actually:


1.  It might have the highest quality-to-sales ratio of any game released last year, aside from perhaps Zack & Wiki.  Seriously, almost nobody played this thing, and GameSpot, regardless of what you think of them, still saw fit to name it best RPG of ‘07.


2.  30 hours of brand new content.  Seriously—30 hours.  The “expanded” content of the FES edition is an entire new chapter for the game, along with a tweaked version of the original.  If you hadn’t played the original, there is officially no excuse to miss this unless you break out in hives at the mention of RPGs.


3.  You get this 70-hour beast for $29.99.  This is why the continued vitality of the PS2 is a great thing for gamers.


What are you looking forward to this week?  Are you saving your cash for GTA-day next week?


As always, the full release list can be found by clicking on that handy little “continue” link, right…there:


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Apr 18, 2008
When Wii Sports was released 17 months ago, it set the standard for minigames, one that countless compilations since have never even approached. Can Hudson's latest attempt stand next to greatness?

Tomorrow’s the 17-month birthday of the Wii and, in turn, Wii Sports!  Should we bake a cake?


At this point, over 18 million people have plugged in their new little white box and taken their little brightly-colored no-armed sphere-handed people for a test drive in the five arenas offered by Wii Sports, and by most accounts, its popularity remains rampant.  To date, no collection of minigames has been received nearly as well by both the critical community and the general public, and though its presence is quieter now than it was a year ago (we haven’t seen it on any late-night talk shows recently), its impact looms large over the release of any collection of minigames, particularly sports-related ones, that dare to stake a claim to its legion of fans.


This is motocross, which is fun, but…

This is motocross, which is fun, but…


The latest group of developers to attempt to stake a claim to the Wii Sports constituency is over at Hudson, where they’re putting something together called Deca Sports.


Hudson was nice enough to send a preview of Deca Sports with four of the ten games playable.  Regrettably, they did not include the curling (because, hey, who doesn’t love curling?), but we did get to try out beach volleyball, figure skating, motocross, and badminton.


For the most part, Hudson is sticking to the formula that made Wii Sports so popular, in that playing the games is generally a piece of cake.  Of the four games included in the demo, three are played using only the Wiimote, with the only exception being figure skating.  Figure skating is probably the most difficult of the games for the non-gamer to master, simply because it requires agile manipulation of the thumbstick on the nunchuck, combined with flicks of the Wiimote to perform jumps, which isn’t hard in theory, but comes off a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.  Badminton and volleyball follow the Wii Tennis formula of not actually moving your players to the ball/birdie; you just hit it the way you want when you have a clear shot at it.  Finally, there’s motocross, which was actually really fun, mostly because it’s like playing Excitebike in rudimentary 3D.  Think Wii Play‘s cow racing with more hills and less cows and you’re most of the way to Deca Sports’ motocross.


...this is what I\'m waiting for.

...this is what I\‘m waiting for.


Playing these games with family and friends around is fun, but a couple of things are off when the inevitable comparisons start happening.  For one, the mechanics of the “hit the thing over the net” games seem a little off, because now you can wave the remote in the direction that you want things to go, which makes the games an awful lot less twitchy than they could be.  This is actually to their disadvantage, as the primary audience for these games is simply going to want to pick them up and play them the way they could when they first unpacked their Wii.  Depth of gameplay should not come from more advanced game mechanics, it should be found in difficulty scaling based on some very, very simple mechanics.  The lack of Mii integration is also unfortunate, as is the lack of online multiplayer, though limitations on these things have come to be expected of Nintendo, which seems to dole out its technology on a case-by-case basis.


What we also didn’t get a sense of was the way in which these games were going to be packaged and supplemented.  What are the single-player modes like?  Are they going to give out medals or implement some sort of achievement system for high scores?  Are there going to be fun little training games?  All of these things were an important part of Wii Sports’ success, and without some incentive to play beyond picking up a couple of controllers and competing with buddies, these kinds of games can get old, and fast.


What do you think?  Can any minigame compilation ever truly live up to Wii Sports?  I don’t think so, as it’s a perfect case of right-place-right-time combined with some of the most well-implemented waggle yet seen on the Wii, even a year and a half after its release.  Maybe you think differently—give us the what-for in the comments.  We like that sort of thing.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 16, 2008
Jason Rohrer's at it again, with a fascinating little game that has a lot more to say than its primitive layout would imply.

What can we learn from Idealism?  For one, there’s more to Jason Rohrer than Passage, and there’s more to The Escapist than Zero Punctuation.


Of course, a lot of folks already know this; The Escapist has quickly become a hotspot for intelligent commentary on the gaming medium, and this is actually Rohrer’s second project for the magazine after the mindbuster that was Perfectionism.  Rohrer has taken up residence at The Escapist, it seems, and both Perfectionism and Idealism can be found there.


Idealism is a fascinating little game, especially when put next to Perfectionism.  For one, both were created in Game Maker, a framework and scripting language for game creation (to seriously oversimplify its capabilities), which may partially account for the similarities in presentation.  Both games are presented on a solid black background, using simple shapes and sprites evoking the graphics of the Atari 2600, and both games start out as incredibly simple exercises in button-pushing and turn into head-scratching mindbenders as they progress.  They are both decidedly brief experiences, but both can be returned to and approached in a variety of ways.


What Rohrer likes to do, however, is infuse his games with some sort of symbolic value, and this is where the contrast between Perfectionism and Idealism starts to take shape.  Where Perfectionism was largely motivated by introspection—namely, Rohrer’s need to go over and over and over his work until it’s exactly the way he wants it—Idealism seems motivated by an observation on the industry.  As Rohrer himself puts it in his own explanation of the game, “What happens when your ideals, be they socially-induced or true, stand in the way of one of your goals?”  It’s the classic design conundrum, and it happens in games, in music, in art, and in literature, popularly known as the sell out.  How far can an idealistic worldview take you in your outlet of choice, and what would it take for you to compromise those ideals?


The way that Rohrer goes about exploring these ideals is fascinating.  The primitive means used to force the player into making these decisions is perfect, as the presentation never distracts from the issues at hand.  Without wanting to give too much away, Rohrer has encapsulated his moral quandary in a shooter that can move as quickly or as slowly as the user wants.  The decision to “sell out” can be a quick, split-second decision, or it can be a calculated, strategic move. 


What I wonder, however, is what point Rohrer is trying to make when he ramps up the difficulty so far at one point as to make the game nearly unplayable.  Perhaps he’s making the point of how meaningless the choice ultimately is; perhaps he just likes the number 23.  If anyone out there in game land can get through the point I’m talking about here (and you will know it when you see it), I hope you leave a comment and tell me what happens.


So?  What are you waiting for?  It’s free!  And it’ll probably run on your old 486 (don’t quote me on that).  Go and give it a look.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
PopMatters' LUCY Giveaway! in PopMatters's Hangs on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.