So what exactly did we do with our bonus year? [Read more…]
So what exactly did we do with our bonus year? [Read more…]
I purchased Skyrim, the fifth game in Bethesda’s ‘The Elder Scrolls’ series. The previous game in the series was called Oblivion. After playing Oblivion all the way through, I had no hesitation dropping $60 to pick up Skyrim.
After two years of playing this game, (only interrupted by occasional bouts of Mass Effect and Dragon Age,) and 376 hours of gameplay, I can safely say that I’ve “Finished” Skyrim. I backed up the 1,195 saved games and uninstalled the game client. Done. Moving on. [Read more…]
I’ve raved about the awesome awesomeness of Mass Effect 1 and 2 before. And recently I finally finished the third and final installment in the Bioware/EA series, Mass Effect 3.
After years of gameplay, hundreds of dollars and well over a hundred hours spent on the Mass Effect series, I’ve come to the end. Via Commander Shepard, I have traveled the length and breadth of the galaxy to stop many a nefarious plan. Along the way I’ve fought, killed, helped, hindered and/or coupled with: Humans, Asari, Salarians, Quarians, Hanar, Elcor, Geth, Rachni, Collectors, Reapers, Artificial Intelligences in the most smokin-hot computer chassis you can imagine, and I even found the Illusive Man (who sounds an awful lot like Martin Sheen.)
So how did I do? [Read more…]
There’s no shortage of virtual blood being spilled over the ending of the Mass Effect series of games by Bioware/EA. Specifically the ending of the third and final game, Mass Effect 3. That uber-ending was expected to blow everyone out of the water, and it did. But not in a way that anyone expected or wanted. [Read more…]
Of all the re-imaginings
In 2011, American McGee released a followup game: Alice – Madness Returns. Either Mr. McGee has grown less conceited or more tasteful, because he left his own name out of the game title this time.
It’s a trailer for a zombie shooter video game called Dead Island, by company Deep Silver. Looks like a cross between Far Cry and Left 4 Dead.
I’ve never seen a trailer for a shoot-em-up game that made me want to cry. Don’t know if the game can live up to the trailer, but nice work.
You start Dead Space 2 wearing a straitjacket. You couldn’t wield a weapon if you had one. Wanna live? Then mash the RUN key and run for your f**ing life, while hideous monsters called necromorphs chase you down, each of them eager to take your body apart in high definition.
Dead Space 2 adds to the list of Electronic Arts (EA) Games I’ve raved about (namely Mass Effect and Dragon Age) that make EA the MGM of Video Games. These are more than just video games, they make you feel like the lead character in a movie. The level of detail in every aspect of the gameplay is sick. In a good way.
I just completed the game, and the folks at Visceral should be proud. They really did their homework. Check out this article from Wired that covers their disturbing analysis of anatomy. The writers spin an intriguing story, and the game designers know the tricks of pacing and timing. The musical score would give Howard Shore goosebumps, and I was pleased to hear Russian Circles contributing some audio kick-ass to the soundtrack. Dead Space 2 has an engaging plot, puzzles, environments, characters, conflicts and complications that distract you from the horror, and then… Well, let’s just hope you have a change of underwear handy.
Those familiar with shooters like Doom 3 are in for a surprise.
Browse through your inventory for too long, and your body parts are likely to become inventory for something else.
Ammo and weapons are scarce, so you can’t just shoot at everything that moves. You eventually inherit a plasma cutter that’s about as dangerous as large Swingline Stapler. You’ll scavenge for clips to reload it, and you better make every shot count. No spray-and-pray here, Choirboy.
No more gentle deaths, either.
No more, “Oh I’m floating up into the sky, looking down at my body! How peaceful! Is there a tunnel?”
Trust me, watching yourself get pummeled, crushed, dismembered, skewered, decapitated by necromorphs or chopped in half by an airlock is not for the squeamish. One screwup, and you’ll get a lesson in internal anatomy: yours.
And just see if you can make it through a mini-game of running a drill press into your own eye. You need a steady hand for this one. In fact, you probably won’t get it right the first time, and even if you get it right and “win” it still looks painful.
Instead of downplaying the gruesomeness of the game, EA and Visceral Games embrace the horror. Check out www.yourmomhatesthis.com to see Moms’ reactions to this game. Marketing Genius.
I won’t lie, Dead Space 2 is simply an extended version of the original Dead Space with a multiplayer option and some general improvements.
You play the same character, Issac Clarke, and your story picks up several months after the end of events in Dead Space 1. I recognized plenty of graphics textures and sounds from the original game, as well as many of the monsters and weapons. Health monitor, stasis, suits, stores, benches, power nodes, upgrades and more are all straight out of the first game.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The original game was top-notch, and 2 is as good if not better. It’s safe to say that if Dead Space didn’t put you in the loony bin, you need Dead Space 2.
Dead Space 2 adds in the ability to play with/against others online. I dig the occasional multi-player mayhem, but I certainly did not buy Dead Space 2 to play with/against others. The multiplayer option of Dead Space 2 seems like an afterthought to compete with L4D2 or cave in to fanboy demands, very similar to the way F.E.A.R. handled it.
I’d gladly trade in the multiplayer component of Dead Space 2 for pretty much anything else. More content in the single-player version, or a reduced price. Maybe they could sell the multiplayer component as a separate add-on for people who actually want it?
Dead Space 1 had a short section of Zero Gravity, but all you could do was jump straight across the room. In Dead Space 2, you have micro-thrusters built into your suit, so you can maneuver around in zero gravity. The controls are intuitive and you can press “Z” to reorient yourself to the floor.
Zero G is unsettling all by its self, but when you add in 3-D 0-G puzzles, traps, necromorphs and a fricking countdown timer that shows how much air you have left before you DIE… well, the results are uberharrowing.
The story from Dead Space 1 continues in the single-player version of Dead Space 2. You wake up in an insane asylum long after the events on board the USG Ishimura, and you have no memory what’s happened since then.
The military wants you dead for reasons unknown. Religious zealots want you alive for reasons to horrible to mention.
There really isn’t anyone to trust, not even yourself, since your exposure to the artifact has left you with hallucination scenes of your dead girlfriend that are possibly the most frightening part of the game.
Oh, and let’s not forget the necromorphs. Lots and lots of necromorphs, who want everything dead. Including you.
There’s your old friends the line gun and plasma cutter, the assault rifle (my primary weapon), and the force rifle and flamethrower which are perfect for swarms of necromorphettes.
But one of the new kids on the block is the Javelin gun, which pins bad guys right to the wall. Gotta love that rag-doll physics engine.
Use the line gun to sever creatures legs to slow them down, or their arms to limit their attacks, or their heads to limit their lifespan.
Ah yes, and you stomp on corpses to loot them, crushing them into bloody bits. Genius. And the sound is spot on. [Editor’s Note: How do you know this?]
In fact, anything you can pick up is a weapon: chairs, magazines, plants, debris… What the hell are all these long, metal spikes laying around for? Heh. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more disgusting, use your telekinesis power to pick up and hurl body parts as weapons.
Never thought I’d be comfortable playing an RPG without a map, but the stellar ‘breadcrumbs’ feature from Dead Space made me a believer. Just press a button, and a line on the floor shows you which way to go. No more getting lost or turned around. No more pulling up maps that take you out of the game.
In Dead Space 2, the breadcrumbs feature gets an upgrade. Now you can also use it to find the nearest store, game save location or upgrades bench.
I like the idea of using power nodes to upgrade your equipment, but whoever thought up the weapons improvement matrix should be shot with their own line gun.
Power nodes aren’t handed out like Pez, you gotta work for them. Plugging power nodes into a matrix where they don’t actually increase weapon stats is a poor return-on-investment.
While you can reallocate your power nodes, it’s still frustrating to have to pick some arbitrary upgrade path just to improve the features you want. Please. Either one upgrade per power node, or make them cheaper/more available.
Dead Space 2 comes bundled with an optional utility called “EA Download Manager”. Beware. This is simply a poor knockoff of Steam, a utility created by Valve that was released over a year ago and is Far Far Superior:
Business 101 – if you want people to switch to your product, you have to offer something the existing competition DOES NOT OFFER. No one wants to run two gaming clients in the background, and no one’s going to ditch all their existing Steam friends, achievements, and purchased games just so they can run your limited knockoff.
The only thing EA Download Manager might be useful for is updating your EA game software. But shouldn’t this ability should be left built into the game? Don’t separate a necessary component from the game, connect it to your online store and call it a fucking feature.
The video game industry is still struggling to strike a balance between PC game accessibility and protection against piracy. Obviously, the game makers can’t just leave the game unlocked, but they also can’t have you calling in to their office with a note signed by your mother each time you want to play.
Dead Space 2 hits you up for e-mail, username and password each time you start up. Annoying, but you can cancel past that if you just want to play the single-player version.
Sadly, if that’s what it takes to make the game companies comfortable releasing games to the PC market, then I won’t bitch too loudly about it. Of course, these copy protection schemes doesn’t stop people from breaking the games and dropping them on torrents.
Yes, I could probably get Dead Space 2 for free, but I don’t want game companies to drop the PC market for the console market. Notice that Red Dead Redemption is NOT available for PC, which is a shame. The way I see it, my money goes to a good cause, and is also a vote to keep game companies interested in the PC market.
Dead Space 2 is a disgustingly, gruesomely horrific masterpiece sure to give you paranoia, high blood pressure, a nervous tic, seizures, a heart attack, and (if you survive all that) post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other words, bloody awesome fun, and worthy of the Conrad Zero UberCool Seal of Approval
In case you hadn’t noticed, RPG video games are evolving into movies. Check out the trailer for Blizzard’s Wrath of the Lich King – its better than most movie trailers. People look forward to the release day of “blockbuster” RPGs like Dragon Age video game just like they did for the release of The Lord of the Rings movies. The sci-fi game Mass Effect has epic intros, finales, and cutscenes that look like they were lifted out of Battlestar Galactica.People buzz on the internet about the big names being cast as the voice talent. The game credits scroll by and you wonder how it could possibly take that many people to make a video game. The video game scores and soundtracks are nearly Howard Shore Awesome. In fact, many game companies are releasing the game scores and soundtracks separately from the games themselves, just like Hollywood movies do.
With this evolution, RPG’s have become more immersive than ever before. While playing Mass Effect and Dragon Age, I didn’t feel like I was playing a video game. I felt like I was the lead character in a movie. Game designers are realizing there’s a difference between people who want the experience of being the main character in an epic saga, saving the galaxy from the forces of evil while knocking boots with hot crewmates in the cargo hold of an experimental military frigate… and those who just want to kill ten-thousand zombies with a chainsaw.
There is a difference between playing a game and playing a movie. Playing a game is measured in character metrics: levels, kills, headshots, unlocks, money. Playing a movie is measured in character experience: achievements, accomplishments, alliances, romantic encounters, trusts and betrayals, watching in awe as the climactic cutscene unfolds, but most of all DECISIONS.
All of these things are given to us with the new generation of RPGs, but something is still missing. A bit more evolution is needed.
RPGs like Doom, Quake, Half Life, F.E.A.R., Dead Space and many, many others are designed around a linear gameplay system. They lead the player through an ordered series of events from start to finish. This linear method is very efficient for game designers and programmers. It gives them control over everything including your inventory and your rate of skill/level advancement. Most importantly it gives them control over the order of events. This makes storytelling easy. The plot progresses like a book, from A to B to C to the end.
Notice the words “the plot” in that last sentence. One. Singular. This is a major limitation of linear gameplay. It can make you feel like a rat in a maze with no branches. No options. One path. One destination. Claustrophobic. Contrived. No matter what you do, the outcome will always be the same.
This might be fine for game players who just like to kill things, and they might enjoy playing the game several times, but those who want to play a story won’t have much interest in replaying the game when they already know the story and can’t do anything to change it. In the land of linear gameplay, you have no free will. Your fate is predetermined, and locked into the code of the game.
Eventually game designers realized the limitations of linear gameplay. Their attempt at a solution is called Nonlinear Gameplay, more popularly known as “Open World” and a major step in the evolution of video games. Current games like Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Red Dead Redemption have made the Open World catchphrase famous. Gone are the narrow, one-way corridors. With open worlds, exploration is encouraged. The world is wide open for you to explore, and you are not forced down any particular path.
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios) promised to raise the bar with over thirty or so different endings, depending on decisions you made in the game. I’m here to tell you, the cake is a lie. Some say there are four endings. While Fallout 3 is a fantastic game, it only has one ending in four flavors of lame, each awesomely narrated by Ron Perlman. See for yourself.
Neverwinter Nights 2 (Atari/Obsidian) proclaimed Everything you do has Meaning but that meaning is pretty limited. The Good/Evil barometer doesn’t have much impact on the game story. Primarily, it helps determine the loyalty of your party members. Make the wrong decisions and they will leave or worse, defect and side with your enemy. And if you play the game as an Evil character, you’ll have the option of joining the dark lord at the end of the game. But these supposed ‘differences’ don’t really change the story you experience, only the ending cutscenes that play out.
After completing Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fallout 3, I’ve found that games claiming to be Open World still have a problem that keeps them from being truly ‘open’. I call this problem The Inevitable Master Plotline. You can branch off from it if you like – you can save every village from every dragon, and you can kill every living creature in the cosmos, but you can’t escape fate, destiny, and the power of the game designers. The inescapable master plot awaits. Check your journal, and there it is – The Single, Solitary, OverArching Plot. That “open” world suddenly doesn’t seem quite as open anymore. The game designers have simply modularized the path between the start and finish, and you’re free to knock off the pieces of the story in any order you choose.
The problem with the Inevitable Master Plotline is that it limits the ability of the player to affect the world. The story is still unchangeable. But some games are opening up the open world and letting players have an effect.
Dragon Age is the game Neverwinter Nights was trying to be. In this game, things you do DO have meaning. Your decisions have an impact on the world around you. Do you kill off or save a main character? This decision affects who becomes king. Do you stay to defend the keep, or rush off to flank invading forces? Do you help one of your classmates escape the mages’ tower? These choices will come back to affect you later in the game. They actually change the story as it unfolds. This is the kind of interaction that makes people feel like they have an effect on the virtual world around them.
Some of the decisions in the game Mass Effect I had to pause the game and walk away from the keyboard to think about my choice. Whom will you choose to represent Humans on the Alliance Council? Which will you save from destruction, the council or the citadel? Will you kill off the last of a rogue alien species? How do you handle a fanatic fanboy? Do you fall for a hot crewmate or hold out for your true love? These decisions have major effects not just on the current game, but future game expansions.
While Bioware is clearly raising the bar for RPG interactivity, it’s just a step in the evolution. The world may be open, but we still have the Inevitable Master Plotline, which means every game will end the same way. Nonlinear gameplay hasn’t really opened up the world, it just widened it, giving players multiple paths to the same ending.
Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? “If you climb into the alien spacecraft, turn to page 17. If you run away, turn to page 43.” I loved those books, and enjoyed going back and seeing how different choices changed the story. The same is true with RPG video games. For someone playing a story, replayability requires having the power to affect the story with your actions and create a different experience. This means Multiple Story Arcs, not just different cut scenes at the end.
For example, in Mass Effect an Evil character should have the option to become a rogue pirate, steal the Normandy, destroy the Citadel, and defeat the Alliance forces. Now THAT is a completely different game.
I can imagine game designers burning me alive for even suggesting such things. But I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to point out the path. And the path leads through interactive movies – where players must ride the One And Only Master Plotline – to a virtual reality with stories and worlds that really react to the player’s choices.
No doubt it would be damned expensive to create multiple story arcs for video games. However, with the new technology of DLC (DownLoadable Content) games can already be expanded. Currently, Dragon Age and Mass Effect have modules that let you expand on the game with side missions that offer you extra experience, achievements and items. There’s no reason game companies couldn’t release game expansions that add alternate plotlines, leading to alternate endings, just like television shows offer new episodes each week.
Having multiple possible story arcs would really open up the open world. Imagine the replayability of an open world crossed with infinite story arcs! Baby steps to Virtual Reality.
Bring on the Holodeck!
After playing through the awesomely awesome Dragon
Could it be? Dragon Age… in Space? Explore strange, new worlds? Seek out new life and new civilizations?
Believe it or not, we will soon be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Disney has the combo DVD/Blu-Ray all set to launch on 11 Feb 2011.
It’s not surprising that this story manages to keep us entertained after 60 years. The dark, childish flexibility of the mythos lends itself to endless disturbing and fascinating reinterpretations. Here are several that I’ve enjoyed and highly recommend: [Read more…]