Monday, September 27, 2010

LBP2 - Holy freakin' crud, it's versatile!

LBP was a pretty standard platformer with a totally awesome create mode.  LBP2 is going to completely blow the original out of the water with its create mode.  Seriously.  Check it out - the below video was made with in-game tools by one of the beta users.  Kudos to you, friend.

As you can see, this is NOT a platform level - or so it seems, at least.  Levels are designed similarly to how they were in the first game, but there are a veritable crapload of new tools and functionality added that totally changes the game for the awesome.  If you liked the first one, pick it up.  If you're on the fence, do yourself a favor and pick it up...  if you don't have a PS3, well... pick one up, because the old 'the PS3 has no games' argument is not true any more.  Then pick LBP2 up...

At least, when January rolls around.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fear THIS cuteness...

Dead Space was a frightening game..
This makes it ALL better.  Now we really know what the Necromorphs wanted, right?
Thanks to various news sites for posting it - as you see, the Destructoid logo is embedded in it  :D


Little Big Planet 2 has been delayed until next year.  Rahhh!

For those of you who don't have a PS3... or if you don't but haven't looked into the original game... Little Big Planet was part solid platformer, part level-creator, all parts awesome.  If you think it's too 'young' for you, you're most likely wrong as some real talent has gone into a lot of levels.

My brother, Lil' N, created a fully-featured object selector.  It works really well, it's a lot of fun...  and the amount of both logic-based thinking AND mathematical prowess required to build some of the things that you can build is downright astounding.  If I sit and think about it for a while I start to understand.  My brain doesn't seem to work that way  :D

If you haven't seen it yet, go check out LittleBigPlanet Central's "Logic Pack" levels.  They're instructional AND funny, as they teach you basic logic gates and how to use AND craft them in LBP.

LBP 2 looks to seriously ramp everything up a TON, so while I'm a little RAHHH-ish about the delay I don't mind too much as long as the end product is more stable and better for it.

To any Molecules out there - I know you won't read this, but I'd LOVE an invite to the LBP2 beta.  (Makes that really REAAAAALY effective 'pretty please' face.  You know the one.)

In closing, grappling hooks are awesome.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ico, Shadow of the Colossus - Games as Art

Mister Roger Ebert - acclaimed media critic - is a man whose opinion is respected.  He's well educated and generally considers the implications of his statements in broad fashion before he makes them.  He stated at one point that Video Games will never be considered art; he later partly recanted with the following statement:

Having once made the statement above [Video games can never be art,] I have declined all opportunities to enlarge upon it or defend it. That seemed to be a fool's errand, especially given the volume of messages I receive urging me to play this game or that and recant the error of my ways. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say "never," because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form. 

 Ebert is no fool.  He understands a basic distinction between entertainment and what many artists consider 'ART' - Art is a form of self expression, an extension of ones' self.  Art is a tale craftily woven and presented in a guided form.  Entertainment is many of these things presented in a more.... chaotic fashion, if you will.

The form of art that video games presents is more that latter, but I submit that in their own way they ARE an art form.  My primary examples are Ico - a visually stunning, light-action game where you as a young boy must guide a mysterious girl out of a seemingly abandoned castle while protecting her from the shadows that dwell within - and Shadow of the Colossus, a game where a young man enters a forbidden land and makes a deal with the ruler apparent of the land to restore his love's life to her.  A game that is not only about conquering the demons without, but also the demons within.

In many ways playing these games and going from objective to objective leaves little time to appreciate the subtle beauty of these two games.  They are stunningly beautiful, especially for the PS2 days.  Their beauty, their visual aesthetic, is not what I wish to focus on at the moment.  Consider the short descriptions I presented above.  While the logic of Mr. Ebert's argument is sound, and while I agree - at least in part - that nearly all of the games that come to market today are not Art in the traditional definition... those descriptions are no less than you might hear a good friend describing vaguely their favorite stories from an author.

Games are little more than collaborative, interactive stories.  Mister Ebert is a film critic, and throwing these interactive segments that give the player a voice on how the story plays must make him a bit uncomfortable and if it does it REALLY should not.  The overall story of most games - provided they are presented in a linear fashion - does not change.  This is less true for games like Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, whose narratives change depending on players' choices.

Games are a form of art that we all experience together.  Some are short stories, some are epic space operas.  Some, like Ico and SotC, are quick at times and deceptively slow at others.  I don't expect Mr. Ebert will change his mind, but I would hope he sees the obvious [to me] example of games as another form of storytelling.

Sports Champions | The Non-Demo Events | VERDICT

Aside from table tennis and disc golf - the two demo events I touched on before - there are 4 other events.

Gladiator, Archery, Bocce Ball and Volley Ball

In case you haven't played or seen much on these I'll touch on them briefly.

The gladiator arena mode is a straightforward brawler where you use one or two motion controllers to block with your shield and attack with your weapon.  It's engaging and enjoyable, and it's surprisingly satisfying to pound your enemy into the dust.

Archery is very much what one would expect.  This and the gladiator modes are better used with two controllers, it feels far more authentic that way.  On the Bronze difficulty level - which I played on to experience the gameplay first.  I'll move to more difficult levels as time progresses - there is a small guideline that shows how the arrow will drop.  Physics and gravity matter in this game, and you have to account for how the arrow will drop over time.  It's fun, plain and simple.

Bocce Ball was a pleasant surprise.  I played it years ago [IRL] and haven't for a long time since, but it was nice to recall how fun it was in many ways.  If you're not familiar with it, the game is pretty simple.  One player throws a small, light-colored ball (white or yellow, usually) from a defined starting line and both players take turns throwing larger, heavier balls to get them as close as possible to the small ball.  The closest player wins points, and additional points are granted for additional winning-players' balls within a certain radius of the small ball.

Volley Ball... heck, it works pretty well.  It's basically the game we all know and love/hate.  It's also one I need more practice with as I KNOW I was playing badly because I wasn't understanding something in the control scheme.  User error if you will.  I'll come back to this event at some point.

The other two events
Table Tennis and disc golf are both pretty fun.  Adding a good bit of spin on the ball in table tennis is fun and works pretty well, and between bocce and this my arm is sore.  Ow.

Pre-VERDICT Thoughts:  If you're not picking it up as part of the Move/Camera/Game bundle I'd say give it a little time before you do.  It's a good title, really... but I really wanted to be able to make my own participant and as far as I've seen and read elsewhere you're stuck using one of the stock characters.  A nice, simple character creator would have gone a LONG way to customizing and personalizing the first-impression experience for me.  Any other nitpicks about controller weirdness is really due to my being in a too-low-light-without-enough-room-to-Move [see what I did there?  Oh, hush!  No groaning!] setting.

VERDICT:  BUY as part of the bundle as it offsets the cost considerably.  Otherwise RENT or borrow from a friend if you want the full experience of the 4 non-demo games.  It's worth owning, but I'm not sure if it's worth the $40 price tag for something that does a good job at showing off some of the Move's capabilities but is essentially what Wii Sports was for the Wii... but without the captivating bowling game.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Silver Lining... NOW!

Just in case you have not yet, go to and download it!

The team - which I'm part of as a Q.A. Tester - is very proud and excited for
everyone to try it out and hear what people have to say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Silver Lining

Okay, if you know me personally you know that I enjoy adventure games... by that I don't mean the adventure/action/platforming goodness that exists in games like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Kingdom Hearts, Super Mario Bros. and a whole bunch of others that fall under that kind of broad general label...

I mean games like King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory.... um, SBCGFAP...
They made you think abstractly, they made you ponder and consider possibilities.  They told a story.

Those point-and-click games of yore are holding on tight in this era of instant-action and immediate gratification.
As of September 18th, The Silver Lining - an unofficial-but-IP-Holder-approved fan sequel to the King's Quest franchise - will see the release of Episode 2, Two Households.  It's totally FREE - won't cost you anything!

Do yourself a favor and download it when it's released.  The original games were all fun romps through the
Kingdom of Daventry and the lands beyond its borders... they are worth playing.  If you're concerned solely with graphics, please try your best to get over that... I'll say it again.  They are worth playing.

Pick it up at when the time comes!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The ESRB and its Ratings

For those of you out there who don't know what it is, ESRB stands for Entertainment Software Rating Board. They're an organization whose purpose is to review the games coming out under strict procedures. The determine which age range a game is best targeted for.

They're the ones who decide if a game is "E for Everyone" or not.

ESRB enforcement at a retailer level is currently voluntary... but if I sell an M rated game to a kid under 17 I'll be fired on the spot. I had to turn away a kid whose birthday wasn't for 2 days. It sucked for him, and it sucked for me because I couldn't [and wouldn't] just bend the rules my workplace runs under.

The thing is, I believe in the ESRB ratings... generally. I think they're more accurately placed on the games than the MPAA to Movies. I do my best to make certain parents who come in and are buying games are aware of the content in the games they buy. I've lost a lot of sales that way, but I'd rather not have a 8 year old kid play games that aren't targeted to him. Developers create games with a target audience in mind, and an 8 year old doesn't fall in the 28-34 year demographic... his/her parents do.

To the parents out there who don't care: Please, PLEASE DO care just a little more than you do... parents I've dealt with seem constantly surprised when I describe the sorts of things you can do in games like Grand Theft Auto. Don't give in to a pouting, self-entitled child. You're the parent, so BE the parent and be involved in your child's life. To all you parents who watch what their kids play then set and enforce restrictions, thank you for monitoring your kids and giving a crud about what they play. You make my job easier, because I don't have to bear scornful glares from kids who try their best to convince me they can handle the M rated games like an adult and I have to turn them away. Games are a form of entertainment and distraction but they're no substitute for real interaction.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Playstation Move (Round 2)

This morning we held a Move event at the store where I work - this time the Sony representative had 2 Move controllers, and that was a nice change as we were able to demo all the 2-Player action.

Start The Party CAN be played solo, but it's a LOT more enjoyable with two or more people.  The demo we tried had a fairly decent set of minigames, quickfire challenges, etc. that are really very fun.  They remind of of WarioWare in some ways, just with a far more precise control scheme.

Tumble is a bit like Jenga meets Boom Blox.  It's a take on the stack-stuff-until-it-collapses thing, where you and your opponent get three blocks of various shapes and sizes that you must stack on top of one another, building for both a bit of stability but also to make it difficult for your opponent to build on your play.

Sports Champions was fun like before, but now I was able to experience the two player table tennis.  It's just as accurate in lots of ways, but unfortunately the sun was directly behind us and was interfering with the camera and the Move controller's lighted orb so it sometimes wouldn't recognize motions properly.  This really won't be an issue in pretty much any home out there, as most of you will likely have blinds in your room to shield your television sets from the sun's glare.

So... my biggest point to make.  Be sure you have enough room between you and the camera/tv area.  5-6 feet at minimum, generally, is a safe bet.  Most living rooms should have sufficient space.

Another thing Move begs for?  Lightsabers.

Check out a video previewing the Move demo disc.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Metroid: Other M and Beyond.

So, a word of warning and caution - this post MAY contain minor spoilers.  To best explain and review the game itself I have to be able to talk about plot points to a small degree.  I'll keep it very vague and non-spoilery if I can.

For several years I've played the Metroid games.  They've always been interesting and fun for their gameplay and atmospheric immersion, but you had to turn to various manga sources to find out a little bit about Samus' past.  Her motivations, her reasons for being a bounty hunter --- some of these are explained to a degree, some of these are implied.

Spoiler time, but not really dealing with the most recent game - Other M - itself.  In the official Metroid manga we learn about Samus' past, youth and time under the Chozo elders, time with the Federation and a CRUD load more.  It's licensed, so I can't provide a link, but if you're interested in learning more it's not too hard to find.  Suffice to say, it has a LOT of back-story that helps in understanding some bits about Samus' character.

That's not to say her characterization is exactly consistent.  Her manga persona is almost care-free at times, whereas Samus-in-game(s) is mostly serious about the work she's doing.  This slight disconnect isn't a big deal when you consider that a good portion of the first volume takes place prior to the original Metroid game and the manga as a whole becomes a sort of coming of age tale for her as she learns, grows and fights towards the events of that game.

Major things about Samus that you should understand:

Samus' birth parents died, killed in a raid on a research outpost conducted by Ridley.  She met Ridley when she was a child, about 3 or 4 years old, and he spared her life at that point.  She was taken in and raised by the Chozo as one of their own, underwent a bit of adaptive genetic manipulation to make it possible to live long-term on Zebes, grew up and learned to fight.  She left after that point, went to the academy, faced her tenure under Adam Malkovich, and left there after a time to become a lone bounty hunter.

Other M does this established past both justice and adds a decent amount of useful exposition, providing deeper connections between Samus and other characters.  The story itself is passable, if a little hard to swallow at times...  I found one of the most interesting facets of how the story plays out to be the little white fluffball creature and what happens to it.

That definitely doesn't mean the story in uninteresting, but... well, just play the game and you'll likely see WHY I like the creature's subplot so much.

The rest of the story is interesting in its own ways - Samus is far less clinical in her interactions with others, showing genuine emotion when those around her are facing danger.  Unfortunately, this means she faces the occasional freeze-because-some-past-traumatic-event-is-causing-me-to-be-terrified thing.  Samus HAS a past... she has a history with the GF soldiers she meets right at the beginning of the game (minor spoiler al--- aw, whatever) and most importantly that history involves Adam Malkovich.  In the games themselves, Adam was introduced as an A.I. character that guided Samus through the research facility where the X were running rampant... the events of Metroid 4  (Fusion)

Other M steps back to a time when Adam was still alive.

I personally feel that Other M does the series as a whole a great amount of justice.  So many reviews complain about how it's not a Metroid game because of one thing or another.  Nonsense.  It's faithful to the character of Samus, and says a whole lot more about her than a simple cookie-cutter sequel to the original 2D games would.  It shows that - despite what she has faced and no matter how hard things have been - she is still human underneath her armor.  If you don't like that Nintendo has tried to take steps to make her easier to relate to, then I say 'get over it!  Seriously!' because if any character needs a solid voice, it's Samus.

She's the center of a very large science fiction based universe, and there are still a lot of questions left to be answered... let's let Nintendo decide how they want things to play out and just enjoy the ride.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Favorite Game Franchise

This singular honor goes to Kingdom Hearts; I stared at the case of the original before
I put the game into my sister's Playstation 2 and wondered 'how is this going to work?'

I swiftly got my answer when, in a brilliant stroke of genius, the game not only worked
well enough for my liking but actually excelled at stoking my emotion, imagination and
desire for an overarching storyline.  I'm one of THOSE kinds of fans... you know, the
kind that dares to import things for the name of the game, the kind that collects lots of
varied paraphernalia related to something they absolutely love.

That kind.

Suffice to say, I own all of the Kingdom Hearts games available for stateside release,
and one that never came here wholly.  Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix - sure, we got the
PS2 remake of Chain of Memories in the form of RE:CoM, but we didn't get the
tweaked and more importantly EXPANDED first game.  Extra scenes that I had to
resort to watching on YouTube, a whole boss battle fight that looked to be very
difficult but rewarding with - at the time - an Enigmatic Man, who we'd learn the
identity of later in Kingdom Hearts II.

The game itself caught my attention with its solid play style, and built on that with
its story.  Now, in a few weeks comes the latest in the franchise - Birth By Sleep,
a PSP entry, steps back before the original KH game to give a prequel of sorts to
the franchise at it stands today.  I've intentionally avoided news, spoilers, etc. on the
game because of my long LONG standing as a fan of the games.

Honorable mentions go to the following franchises, which are some of my other
favorites but don't hold the same generally ingrained place in my heart:
Final Fantasy, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Wild Arms, Valkyria Chronicles
(Which is absolutely beautiful and amazing, if you haven't played it please give it a
shot - download the PSN demo today!), and Dark Cloud (Which definitely deserves
more games - come on Level 5!  Get with it!)

What are YOUR favorite games?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Playstation Move and Microsoft's Kinect

Yesterday I traveled to a GameStop store about 30 miles away from where I live because our Sony representative was demoing Move for us.  Please understand, I don't like highways... they cause anxiety and stress.  For the opportunity to learn more about the Move itself, I was willing to face a bit of anxiety.  Not TOO many people attended the event, and the relatively small group allowed everyone ample opportunity to jump in and play around.

One of the guys played a demo of The Shoot, an on-the-rails shooter, and we were all pleasantly surprised by how responsive the controller really was in that setting.  Plus, it was funny to see one of the attendees nearly knock over a display stand as he spun around to activate the bullet-time-esque slow motion power.  Sure, you've seen the videos and heard the hype about how really accurate it is but there's nothing quite like having it in your hands and experiencing it.

The same held true for the Wii, I feared for Nintendo before the Wii came out because I honestly thought they were dead in the water after Gamecube.  It was a great system, but the introduction of the original Xbox, and the hands-down success of the Playstation 2 left it in a fairly solid third place that generation.  Awesome first party titles sold me on the Gamecube-era titles, and they continue to keep me interested in the Wii-era titles.

That aside, I want to focus briefly on the feeling of holding the Wii Remote in my hands for the first time.

I recall how it felt driving home after I first purchased it, giddy with excitement and trying to ignore that my wallet had just taken a $250 hit (and it would take more later in the day when I grabbed Twilight Princess from another store) and put in the Wii Sports disc.  I immediately launched into playing a tennis match, and it felt good and reasonably responsive, then moved on to bowling.  It remains one of my very favorite events, hands down, on the original disc.  I STILL want them to make a proper singles- and doubles-styled tennis match.

Take all that excitement and nostalgia, and multiply it several times over, and you'll get an idea of how I felt with the Move.  Other games that we touched on were Kung-fu Rider, EyePet, Echochrome II, Time Crisis: Razing Storm, Sports Champions, Start the Party and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11.

Kung-fu Rider is just as quirky and weird as you've read about.  If you're unfamiliar with it, here's the rundown.  You play as either a man or woman (I believe office worker and secretary respectively) and control the ride by moving the Move controller with various motions.  Nothing too big, or special.  It's pretty entertaining though... one phrase.  Office Chair Rail Grinding.  Don't try it at home kids, my character face-planted into the tail pipe of a parked car.  Imagine what might happen to you.

EyePet is just darn cute, and it was funny to watch one of the guys play with the pet.  There was a drawing mechanism shown, and it used the Move controller instead of a bit of paper and a pen or crayon to do the create-a-plane-and-fly-around thing.  Here's hoping the paper-scanning stuff will be in the actual game itself.

Echochrome II is a very cool twist on the formula of the original.  The physical world stays stationary, but you move the global light around and the shadows that are cast are where the character walks and moves towards the exit.  It was very intuitive, fun and left me with a 'Whoa-hooa!  That's really cool!' feeling.  It's puzzle solving, but it's done in a slightly new way.

Time Crisis: Razing Storm I didn't see much of, but it looked very pretty.  Explosions, car crashes, and lots of enemies to shoot.  Apply my earlier comments about The Shoot here, as they're very similar games from a play-style perspective.  Minus the motion-activated powerups...

Sports Champions was pretty much what I expected.  The demo itself only featured Frisbee Golf and Table Tennis, of the two I played a couple rounds of the latter against the AI.  I was surprised at how good and natural it felt.  Speed, angle and actual position relative to the table actually matters and you can put spin, backspin and I'm sure a bunch of other things I don't know how to do on the ball itself simply by turning the controller slightly as you would a real paddle.

I really wish I'd been able to try the archery, as that's the one I was excited for most... oh well, when Sports Champions hits I'm sure I'll get a chance to play it.  We never really loaded up Start the Party or Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, so I can't really say much about those unfortunately.

This is one to prepare for, because along with the titles I mentioned about the Move has a bunch of First- and Third- person shooters coming, along with a lot of games in the pipeline for both casual and hardcore gamers.  The Fight: Lights Out, Sorcery, SOCOM 4, LittleBigPlanet 2... they're all titles that are anticipated eagerly, and will go a long way to proving how viable and versatile the Playstation 3 with Move is.

Now, the Move=WiimoteHD thing that people have bandied about is not unfounded.  A lot of what has been shown so far is very reminiscent of Wii titles on the market now, but the main difference I see - attempting to put myself in a Developer's shoes - is the true positional sensing along with the motion sensing.  Moving on to the next part of this wayyyy too long ramble - if Move is akin to Wii then I find that Kinect is akin to PS2's EyeToy.  This is also NOT a new comparison, but let me explain a little bit further.  What I was able to see of Kinect - more on that in a moment - was that it was a significantly upgraded EyeToy... an EyeToy with depth sensing and structural recognition.  Really cool technology, but I'd seen most of it before in various forms.

After I left the Move demo and we went on our way, I realized I was really close to the Microsoft store and knew that Kinect had been demoed in the recent past so I stopped in to ask about it.  The helpful store employee - who I'm sure was humoring me half the time - walked me through some of the basics of the unit itself.  Despite games like Kinectimals and Dance Central being ON the system we used, he could not show them to me for licensing reasons.  Bummer, as I really wanted to see firsthand how well Dance Central picked up my not-so-smooth moves.

Instead, we jumped into Kinect Sports and I bowled 12 frames in total (The demo only went to 6 frames per game) - Bowling itself was fairly responsive and felt good for the most part, but I was surprised at how much having something in my hands helps when gauging power.  My arm was sore after those frames, but that's likely just user error on my part.  We hopped into a competitive hurdle race, and here is where I ran into a few... problems.  Partly user error, partly weird game design, the track in the hurdle race curve out in front of you... you are running with your arms and legs flailing about, and the hurdle flashes yellow, then green.  During the green interval, which lasts about 2 seconds or so you're supposed to jump or else you slam into the hurdle.  I often found myself jumping and continuing to run, and I was physically back on the ground for nearly 2 seconds before my character jumped over the hurdle itself.  When I tried to adjust to eliminate that seemingly long lag time, or that's what it seemed like to me, I found myself plowing through 3 or 4 hurdles.

Needless to say I lost the race thoroughly.

We then moved on to Kinect Adventures, and the demo was set up on an event rotation to give players a taste of several different game modes.  Aside from the boat and the ball bouncing demo, both of which were not too weird, there was a conveyor track that you had to duck, sidestep, or jump  to go under, around or over obstacles.  To run forward you had to jump in place, which seemed a little weird to me.

The boat steering game was actually more fun than I thought it would be... but it's more fun with two people, because when I went through the entire Adventures demo alone it was not only harder, but a lot more frustrating when the slight lag I felt didn't translate my movements quickly enough or it didn't translate my movements at all.  Playing alone, the flaws in the system were far more apparent.

Let me qualify that statement, though, before I dissuade you.  The unit I demoed with was an older demo model with the Natal name still attached inside the system and was NOT the final production hardware, which should have a higher latency overall and should knock out some of those small bugs.  The system itself was a developer's console which ran code directly from the internal hard drive, and there was a security guy 5-6 feet away at all times.  Considering the entrance to the store was 6 feet in the other direction, I don't blame them for the caution.  A dev console in the hands of the wrong people would be very bad for MS,

I was instructed not to step in front of a certain point, indicated by a lighter strip of wood flooring than most of the rest surrounding it which was about 5 or 6 feet away from the screen we were playing with.  If your couch is that far away from your TV, you may want to back it up some.  If that's all the room you have, well... this may not work as well as it should.  The representative told me that stepping too close makes it so the camera can't see your feet, and that apparently requires a lot of room.

Before yesterday I figured Kinect wouldn't go too well... I still feel that to a degree.  I liken it to the Wii Balance Board in this respect.  It was BIG... WAAAAY BIG.... for a year, and then it stopped being a big deal.  I think Kinect has a lot of promise and potential, but if it doesn't REAAAALY step it up with the software offerings and appeal to not only casual but hardcore gamers, the adoption rate will start strong but will drop significantly when nothing comes that appeals to one group or another.  This same thing applies to Move, but I personally feel that the move already has a strong upcoming catalog and a strong back-catalog of games that will be patched with Move support.   Toy Story 3, Heavy Rain, and Resident Evil 5, just to name a few.

You know what Move begs for, in my opinion?  An Okami remake.