Thursday, August 21, 2008

Left 4 Dead

So one of the games that I am most excited for is Left 4 Dead from Valve, who of course is known for excellent titles. You can check out the new trailer here from G4TV.

It will be pure awesomeness when it arrives, so prepare your wallet and your schedules for much co-op zombie-blasting mayhem.

Space Seige

Yes, it's been a while since I last posted on the blog. Let's get over that quickly and move on to more important news:

Space Siege is a decent average game. And not worth $50. Let it be said that while the game runs relatively smoothly and is low on bugs, the gameplay itself is essentially average, the environments are simple and uninteresting, and the controls are at best mediocre. I would have been better off purchasing Trackmania Forever for half price last weekend from Steam. Boooooooooo!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Space Seige vs. Too Human

Following up on my post a few weeks back about narrative in game design, I think perhaps it is a good idea to discuss something I have noticed: there are two games coming out that seem to have very similar themes and story lines. These games are Space Seige from Gas Powered Games and Sega versus Too Human from Silicon Knights. Both of these games follow a storyline in which, over the course of the game, the player must choose whether to augment his/her character with cybernetic upgrades or not in order to better battle the enemies in the respective universe. Granted, there are drastic differences such as Too Human being based loosely on Norse mythology versus Space Seige having a more contemporary story. However, the thematic underpinnings of both of these titles remains extraordinarily similar: is it better to remain completely human or to give in to temptation and 'upgrade' ourselves with technology?

While the thematic repetition between the titles may irritate some of you, I think if handled well that these titles will benefit the industry as a whole. My belief is that games are on the verge of becoming accepted by our society as an 'acceptable' entertainment medium on which people of many different backgrounds, communities, and ages can find enjoyment. Stories like this in games, structured around very solid and innovative gameplay, can lead the industry to new dramatic heights and accomplish what many of us have been hoping and/or working towards for many years: mainstream acceptance of video gaming.

Some of you may argue that this has already occurred. However, I will believe it when I stop seeing ridiculous stories on the news blaming certain games for the violent acts of those individuals looking for any excuse to partake in criminal and violent activities.

My hopes remain high for both of these games. I plan to at least demo them both and hopefully find one or the other intriguing enough to purchase for long-term enjoyment. I also hope that the narrative structures and themes presented in these titles help to progress the state of our industry to new entertainment heights.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Game Narrative

On a more serious note, here is an article on that discusses the use of narrative as an element in video games. It tackles the oft-considered but rarely tackled subject of narrative application in game. Justin Marks is right on a lot of issues here, essentially saying that there is no reason that as the primary character in the games has no real effects on the game world itself. Mentioning the narrative limitations of GTAIV, Marks states, "It's no longer acceptable that we can take our girlfriend on a date and never once have her mention the fact that we're carrying a missile launcher by our side" (a similar topic is well-mocked by Penny Arcade). I agree wholeheartedly. There is no reason with today's hardware sophistication that we cannot have our girlfriend notice the rocket launcher in the game.

I do disagree a bit with Marks when he states that "Even better story is not the answer. That's been a symptom recently too - bringing on high end screenwriters to punch up dialogue, as if that had anything to do with the game's playability. An "Oscar-caliber" plot is still going to be skipped over if it doesn't augment gameplay". It's not a matter of well-done plot-based narratives in games just cultivating the belief that games are a subset of Hollywood. For some games, an interactive story fits well into the design of the game (e.g. Bioshock or Oblivion)This is a misinterpretation of that medium that is unjust and if not fixed could lead to the downfall of the industry. The issue here is the integration of the narrative elements into the game's design. Story is often secondary to the design of a game, which makes sense from a certain standpoint. Get the game's elements down, then move forward with creating a story and a script.

For true growth, high-quality stories and scripts must be better combined with the artificial world's interactive nature, allowing the game's world to change with the player's actions through his/her avatar. I understand that this will add a lot of work on the developer's side for storyline integration, but I know that it is possible. However, it requires a different approach to the game's design from the get-go. Perhaps designers will take this concept to heart in the near future. The hardware capabilities are there, it's just a matter of time and ingenuity.

A few games have already applied some of this into their design successfully. The RPG genre tends to show the most promise in this arena. Star Wars: KOTOR II, for example.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dark Void video

Courtesy of, here is a video preview of Dark Void from Capcom. The video gives a great inside look into the gameplay elements of this upcoming third-person action game. One of the things that really stick out here compared to a lot of modern 3D titles is the fluid animation. While you will always find that the main character in any third-person perspective game has more animations of higher quality than the NPCs, this game really seems to focus a lot on the fluid nature of the avatar.

I am very excited to play this game once it comes out.

Sony's HOME coming to PS3 users in 08!

Great news, all of you PS3 owners! Wired Magazine is reporting that Sony's public beta of their Home service is coming in 2008! This is great news for PS3 owners who have been looking for a coherent online experience more akin to XBL.

In related news, Sony has teamed up with Future US to bring a new series to the PSN, the Qore series. It will contain news, previews, reviews, etc. Up side is that a lot of it will be interactive via the SixAxis DualShock3 controllers, with a variety of options for interaction. Down side, though, is the episodes will not be free and will cost either $2.99 per episode or $24.99 for a year's subscription. Could this be the future of magazine delivery? I have a feeling that if this series is successful, we will start to see a variety of other periodical publishers moving to this type of content delivery. A lot of it depends on the success of this series, though. If viewers pick it up, then the advertisers will come, and so then more content will become available soon thereafter.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prince of Persia Classic Review

Instead of recapping the same old news that probably bombards all of you gamers out there as it is, today I will be reviewing a game that I recently had the time to complete. That game is Prince of Persia Classic from XBOX Live Arcade, by Gameloft. When comparing the XBLA version of the game against the classic PC version, there has been some obvious improvements in terms of graphics, sound, animation, and even the physics of the gameplay.

The top image is from POP the original PC version, and the screenshot below is from POP Classic on XBLA.

Graphically, the new version of the game is intense. The backgrounds are well-designed and balanced throughout the game. The color palette chosen for the game varies just enough to keep the scenery interesting throughout the whole game.

The animations throughout the game are smooth and consistently accurate to the physics of the game's world. The Prince transitions well from walking to running to jumping to rolling. Swordplay is varied as the Prince attacks with a variety of different moves despite being a single attack button.

Speaking of the controls, the control design for this game is redundant but efficient. After playing a couple of levels in the game, I began entrusting my jumping and rolling to the same left analog stick that I was using to move the Prince left and right across the levels. This provided much better control and transitions than using the A button for jumping and the B button for diving rolls or descending platforms. While platforming, I tended to use R as a brake for the Prince, as it works well to stop him almost immediately from a full run to a dead stop. Holding R will allow him to creep along, offering more control for those right-next-to-the-deadly-drop moments common in this game. During combat, the L- and R-triggers gave me finer control over the Prince's blocks and attacks, respectively, than the X- and A-buttons. I could react faster with the triggers than with the buttons.

The sound, while not of Hollywood blockbuster quality, suffices and even excels for an XBLA title. The surround sound provides subtle and ominous undertones throughout the game. Details are there, including the sound of the waterfalls on certain levels and the subtle tapping of the Prince's footsteps as you race through the levels.

The addition of the Time Attack and Survival modes add replayability to a game that seems so one-off-ish. POP Classic sets a time goal of one hour to save the princess. It is possible to do so beyond the hour time limit, as I have yet to beat the game in one hour, although I foresee it in the near future.

Overall, I suggest this game to any fan of action/adventure games. The production quality is excellent, especially for a $10 game (excuse me, 800 MS-point game) off of XBLA. It is on par with the quality of Assault Heroes, of which I have yet to play the sequel. It is far beyond many of the other rehashes of classic games available on XBLA.