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by Jorge Albor

7 Jun 2012

In 2002, Charlie Cleveland created Natural Selection, a Half-Life mod that combined the first-person shooter genre with a top-down real-time strategy game. Heavily inspired by the atmosphere of Aliens, Natural Selection pitted a team of regular machine-gun wielding marines against the Kharaa, a race of mutating alien species. Back in 2002, the game stood out from the pack because it offered something new: competitive but asymmetrical combat. Ten years later, the game’s forthcoming sequel, finally becoming a reality, is still a notable outlier amidst the plethora of military shooters. I talked with Charlie Cleveland and Unknown World’s Advocate Hugh Jeremy at E3 yesterday and took a look at the game’s upcoming release. Natural Selection 2 looks to carry its burden of ten years with aplomb, even while venturing into a market that has changed a great deal since its predecessor first built a group of core players.

At the turn of the millenium, the shooter genre was at a turning point. Natural Selection was released in between Halo and Halo 2, and the first-person shooter genre was moving away from the Doom era and was incorporating strong narratives, adventure-game conventions, and RPG elements in games like Metroid Prime and Deus Ex. Rainbow Six had already brought in tactical game play, but the strategy genre and the shooter genre were still relatively distant from one another. Natural Selection was unique, yes, but it also came at a time when the large studios were redefining the FPS market and were doing so with flare.

by Scott Juster

6 Jun 2012

It’s my first E3, so seeing the massive spectacle itself was strange. Almost everything about the show is loud: the colors, the music, the people. Being on the show floor, surrounded by thousands of people who are there to celebrate and profit off of the medium creates a strange manic energy. While everyone says they are there to have a great time, there is a lot of business being done.

What made the day even stranger was my relatively open schedule. Jorge and I booked most of our appointments for Wednesday and Thursday, which left us with a strange amount of unstructured time. A fair amount of this time was spent waiting in various lines, but the lack of structure also let us stumble on a few less-trafficked parts of the show and also get a sense of some of E3’s less tangible qualities. Here are some highlights as well as a podcast covering the day’s events

by Scott Juster

31 May 2012

Starhawk (Sony, 2012)

I’m a realist.  I understand why it’s so hard to craft dynamic stories and relationships in games.  With all their random behavior and nuanced feelings, people are hard to track and systematize.  I’m willing to look past the fact that Mass Effect might not allow my Shepard to live out her life as the owner of a space vineyard.  It’s fine that I can’t start a truly intimate, emotional relationship with every NPC in Dragon Age.  I accept the fact that, given enough time and experimentation, the affection that my Sims feel for one another could be expressed numerically. 

In the absence of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, an interesting plot can spice up even the most familiar gun battles and scavenger hunts.  This is one of the reasons that Red Dead Redemption is one of my favorite games.  In a ludic sense, it’s about as “video game-y” as the come, but its story content and dramatic themes convey an interesting (if dismal) message about the human condition.  The problem is that many story-driven games don’t bother to do anything interesting with the plot, which in turn does nothing to help alleviate dull or well worn game mechanics.

by Jorge Albor

24 May 2012

Janna, a support character from League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009)

The flashy menaces of multiplayer games get all the love. Their flurry of sword strikes, bestial roars, and shadowy auras give the deadliest avatars an edge in popularity contests. The damage dealers may get the looks, but the true unsung heroes of class-based games are the support champions and their designers. Creating a combat role that specifically stands back from the fray, setting aside offensive prowess for ostensibly subtle benefits, but nevertheless satisfies a sizeable player base, sounds unreasonably difficult. Yet creating a niche in multiplayer gaming for the reserved and tactical group of players who prefer supporting compatriots to devastating their foes adds an incredible level of nuance to a game experience for all players. The support class remains one of the best inventions of modern multiplayer gaming.

We have come a long way from the hectic firefights of Quake. Modern shooters lean more toward tactics than twitch gameplay and advanced rocket jumps. The run-and-gun shooter is all but dead and class-based combat has soundly taken its place. From Battlefield to Borderlands, support characters and load-outs bolster the efforts of offensive warriors. Bestowing health with spells or med kits keep the damage sponges fit and healthy, revive abilities bring back fallen comrades from death, and ammo packs keep the fight moving. Similarly, MMOs are commonly built on the “one tank, one-support, and three-dps” rule, in which heavy hitters unleash damage on foes while the tank corrals enemies and soaks up hits and the healer… Well the healer stands in the background, heals, and tries not to die.

by Scott Juster

17 May 2012

The Demon’s Souls multiplayer servers are going offline at the end of the month. Soon, the game’s unique online components (asynchronous messaging, death replays, and a mixture of competitive and cooperative multiplayer features) will disappear, leaving behind a game best known for its obscure systems and punishing difficulty. When I heard about this in April, I took it as a sign to finally embark upon my long delayed playthrough. One of the game’s major draws was its online component, so I thought that I would burn through the game and have the complete experience.

A month and half and countless deaths later, it is becoming increasingly clear that I’m not going to beat Demon’s Souls before June 1st. Even after all the hype, I underestimated how difficult and deliberately paced the game would be. I’m just glad that I’m getting a sense of the game’s full potential, as some of the most memorable moments so far have involved the online components. It’s hard to preserve a virtual world. After all, videos, walkthroughs, and written accounts can only convey so much. Still, I figure that the best way to remember Demon’s Souls multiplayer is to make sure it lives on in other media. Here are a few of my travel logs:

//Mixed media

Robert DeLong Upgraded for 'In the Cards' (Rough Trade Photos + Tour Dates)

// Notes from the Road

"Robert DeLong ups his musical game with his new album In the Cards and his live show gets a boost too.

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