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Tuesday, May 18, 2010
You can have all the intrigue and plot twists you want, it’s not going to amount to anything without genuine characters and interaction.

There has been a rash of FPS titles with horrendous plots lately, so it might be helpful to talk about an FPS that had a pretty simple but fun story that actually worked with its game design. As a genre, the FPS has never really required much thought in terms of writing. It can certainly feature it, but technically even Doom explained itself pretty well in just one paragraph. The concept of “demons, gun, get to it” does not really need a lot of explaining. Yet today something like Modern Warfare 2 comes out, and it’s an incoherent mess. Every mission is pulling some James Bond crap or taking place as a part of the world’s most unlikely invasion, which is a shame because the best parts of Modern Warfare and the other Call of Duty games were the moments that just felt like being a soldier. Star Wars: Republic Commando dodges these narrative pitfalls despite the fact that it even takes place in a science fiction setting. A squad-based FPS relying on a fairly nuts & bolts design, it is a great example of a game that won’t make you roll your eyes while playing.


The setup is pretty simple. You’re the leader of Delta Squad, and you have three other clone commandos working closely with you. There are four general commands (follow me, attack, go here, secure area) and hotspots scattered around the map where you can order a commando to snipe, grenade, or plant bombs. You have four basic weapon types and a fifth slot for whatever alien weapon you pick up. Most maps will feature a couple of different hotspots to drop a squadmate, and you can always leave them to their own devices. You can also set up ambushes by getting aliens to follow you or take a more aggressive approach. It’s all very simple and fluid, which means that complex maneuvers aren’t exactly an option because of gameplay that is always fast and easy. Writer Gatmog points out in his review, “I liked the way squad commands felt intuitive, but I wouldn’t call it tactics. It doesn’t require any real problem solving by the player: simply mousing over points on the map will show “hot” areas, or actions a squad member can complete. Clicking on these points will issue the associated command, but it’s not like you get the option of storming a room with thermal detonators or sneaking in quietly. The objectives and their solutions are completely transparent” (“Attack of the Commando Clones”, Tales of a Schorched Earth, 2 Feb 2005).


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Monday, May 17, 2010
Rapture is almost less a city than it is a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.

After last week’s look at the vast reaches of outer space, we decided to change the focus of our discussion from the heavens to the depths of the ocean.  Arguably one of the most fully realized spaces in contemporary gaming, Rapture is almost less a city than it is a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.


Our crew discusses our responses to the latest iteration of the terrifying but often sublime undersea city as it appears in Bioshock 2.


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Friday, May 14, 2010
Certain combinations of these two different media benefit from the experience of each other.

Games make good companions to other media and vice versa because games present an entirely different way of experiencing a story. The first hand experience that we get from games can make us more easily relate to the hardships of a character or expand on the world of a movie in unintentional ways. Or, after watching a movie with a similar story, we might find ourselves sympathizing with the enemies that we so carelessly dispatch in droves in games. In either case, certain combinations of these two different media benefit from the experience of each other and here are a few examples that I’ve collected.


As a general rule, I didn’t want to promote a movie and game combination that developers themselves used to promote their game. So no Heavy Rain and Seven, or Kane and Lynch and Heat, or Borderlands and The Road Warrior, etc.


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Thursday, May 13, 2010
The end of the battle leaves Kratos covered in the blood of a character whose perspective you, the player, have been seeing from. In a sense, he has murdered how you perceive him from now on.

This discussion of God of War 3 contains spoilers.



Unlike the previous two games in the series, God of War 3 finally confronts Kratos in a more substantial way, especially the result of living a life filtered through the eye of revenge.  Cover art can sometimes give an insight into a developer’s artistic intentions and Sony Santa Monica decided to make a statement by dismissing Kratos’s backside (as seen on the boxes of the previous two games) and decided to concentrate solely on representing his eye.  It is said that the eye is seen as the entrance to the soul, and that through this window, we can see what kind of person someone is.  This emphasis on the eye foreshadows a difference in the way that we will feel about and perceive Kratos once his saga comes to an end.


At the start of the game, there is an emphasis on perspective and scale as Kratos is climbing up the back of a Titan on his path to Mount Olympus.  The way that the camera pulls in and out to showcase the sense of scale is nothing new, but the fight that comes shortly after with Poseidon introduces a new perspective on this protagonist.  After completing a familiar series of quick-time events, we eventually come face to face with Poseidon. Only this time, we see the world through Poseidon’s eyes.  From this perspective, we see the brutality that Kratos inflicts on others with no remorse or sense of morality.  At the climax of this encounter, we are instructed to poke out our (Poseidon’s) own eyes.  If you thought that Kratos was on your side, then you should rethink your position.  Kratos doesn’t care who he has to kill, even the one responsible for his success thus far (the player).  The end of the battle leaves Kratos covered in the blood of a character whose perspective you, the player, have been seeing from. In a sense, he has murdered how you perceive him from now on.


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Thursday, May 13, 2010
I'm not going to buy any more games for my sleek slate that weren't designed to take advantage of the touch screen, instead of trying to force alien control schemes where they don't belong or work.

There haven’t been a lot of console games in the past month that I’ve wanted to play or PC games really. But, hey, I bought a new iPad on release day, and it’s a gaming platform too! So, drawn by both the comfort of my couch and the shiny excitement of a new toy, I’ve been doing most of my gaming on the iPad.


I’ve had an iPod Touch for a year or so, but I never gamed on it much. The screen’s too small, and I generally preferred my DS for mobile and couch gaming. However, the big screen iPad promised better graphics and a more expansive experience all around, and it delivers. I don’t think that I’ve turned on my DS since I stood in line at Best Buy all those weeks ago. As with the DS, I play mostly strategy and puzzle games on the slate. Indeed, addict that I am, I’ve bought Civilization: Revolution for both devices now. Well, all three if you include the Xbox 360 version. I do love that game on any platform.


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