Monday, May 29, 2006

Demo Daze - DarkSpace

has some great ideas but I didn't get a chance to see them in action.

The game: choose your side, pick a ship (as a rookie you have limited choice) and fly into massive space battles.

Actually, scratch that. Fly through empty space. Orbit around planets in silent atmospheres.

Also, this game is far too dark - that's not a riff off the name. While the darkness of space might be fairly true to reality, it doesn't work in a game. Most space games find ways to "cheat" around this issue by displaying gorgeously lit nebulae (like touched up Hubble photos) or some kind of ambient lighting.

When I played the most populated server had about 10 people on it. And for some reason I kept running into asteroids before I got to the action.

With enough people and some graphical tweaks, this could be a fun multiplayer skirmish game. The control are great, allowing you to zoom all the way out to a galaxy-wide map. You even get the opportunity to send soldiers down to planets to take them over - though this option needs more feedback.

Keep in mind this is a Beta, so that's why I'm staying positive despite my criticisms.

They do apparently have a payment option, and I'm not sure if that gets you on different servers or what exactly changes. I would guess they instituted it in order to pay for server maintenance and in an attempt to fund the game itself. That's just a guess, but it makes sense for these kinds of independent efforts.

The down side is that there's no real guarantee that they can continue to maintain support for the game, even with an income stream. So I'd say pay at your own risk.

I might keep an eye on this one.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Right, Yer Bloody Well Right

Someone had mentioned
that Right On Games was blogging again and I kind of put that info on the back burner.

I'm actually glad to see Right On again, despite my distaste for the mind-numbing amount of heavy-handed authoritarian moralizing contained in every post. Still, disparate voices can lead to some great discussions.

And, barring that, there's always glib mockery.

Like check out this, in a post about how stupid lefty gamers opposed to nuking Iran would have totally nuked Iran in Civilization by this point, so based on that rational assessment we should totally nuke Iran:

"The videogame community is one big nest of Bush-hating liberals who, in any other situation, would hand out flowers and sing "Kum Ba Yah". (Just read the off-topic section of any videogame forum and get your fill of Bush-bashing.) Yet when it comes to dealing with rogue states in a videogame like Civilization those same players would step in front of a virtual President Bush just to press the big red button first."

Awesome. Is this parody?

For the record, it's true that I can't stand Bush. He's an incurious, incompetent, inconsequential fuckface whose only contribution to history will be as the worst example possible.

But I fail to see how that connects to dealing with Iran.

I guess the notion is that if I liked Bush then I would go along with a sociopathic foreign policy toward Iran? That sounds about right.

Also, ROG totally supports a wall along our border - I'm going to assume our border with Canada, since it isn't specified in the post. Keep out, you crazy Canucks.

Anyway, Right On hasn't written anything since April 18, so I hope this isn't another long hiatus. I know how time can slip away between posts. Consider this post me reaching across the aisle, asking for a unique perspective to help counteract the commie-pinko-subversive-hippie-fact-based-lefty propaganda of the videogame industry.

Viva Revolucion, comrades.

Right on.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I am responding
to Chris' response to my response to one of his posts and I didn't want the discussion to get lost in the comments.

Chris said this: "And I do not believe we currently use our medium responsibly. Recent Grand Theft Auto games are fun, juvenile entertainment for adults - but we all know they are being played by young teenagers and children."

This, naturally, got my dander up because I am an unabashed GTA apologist and kneejerk defender of videogames. I cannot allow their honor to be besmirched.

Actually, I wondered how he could make such a broad statement.

Working in the industry and seeing the meetings, forum posts and e-mails, it's made perfectly clear that every aspect of a game gets examined over and over again, every act of violence is discussed in the context of larger concerns as well as relevance to the narrative/theme. In other words, we are responsible for our content, know it and act like it. Just because people aren't privy to what's happening behind-the-scenes doesn't mean we aren't exercising our best judgment.

And I know we aren't the only studio to do such things. Saying that studios are tossing out content without any thought for consequences, or not enough thought, is an argument from ignorance.

I then wrote: "The notion of responsibility is frequently (not necessarily in this instance) a call to not cross over a certain line. That line is typically arbitrary, restrictive and decided by the louder, more influential voices, not necessarily the most reasonable."

And that's exactly what I see happening. Developers are seen as irresponsible because they refuse to take responsibility for things which aren't their fault and are out of their control (such as the fact that children play M-rated games all the time).

Likewise, there is a tendency to downplay the role of parents. It's too hard to keep up or kids are targeted with advertising, which may be true, but hardly excuse the obligations of parents.

Responsibility, to me, is something a person takes on; Obligation, on the other hand, is something expected of you by others (the different types of social controls, which are identifiable because most of them can result in criminal action).

So what, exactly, should game developers be doing differently? What are the obligations?

More on this later, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Been busy and I turn around and a bunch of days have slipped away from me.

The Liberty City Stories multiplayer modes give me a serious hankering for a PSP to call my own. Add to that Daxter and the promise of a future Ratchet & Clank and I'm, well, desperately searching my couch for change. At the moment the price tag is just a little bit steep - a few more months and I can drop the same amount of bones to purchase a Wii.

The PSP seriously needs to expand its game library. Browsing the E3 Previews, there's nary an RPG to be found.

In the spare moments I've been playing Rise of Legends. Might give a review soon.

That's about it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Round Table in a Square Hole

I'm going to discuss
a fine piece of wankery which I developed in a hi-tech Wanktheon Lab.

I call it Philosopop. It's a portmanteau of philosophy and pop.

I developed the idea after going on a Nietzsche kick. I read Thus Spake Zarathustra a few times and had a minipiphany. Thus Spake, or Also Sprach if you're hip to the lingo, can be a daunting book to get through to the end. The parables can be confusing because of the language and the layers of symbols.

Except I don't feel it should be difficult. The stories, when simplified, are familiar. You might encounter them in Saturday morning cartoons or when listening to Bad Religion or when eating really good Chinese food.


Human experience is similar through time. This idea sounds like Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, like Jung's collective unconscious, like semiotics and grifting and palm reading and the Bible and Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales. And it's all of those concepts and more, wherever human experience lurks, different answers but similar algorithms.

Philosopop fills the basest with meaning, and brings the airy down to earth.

Clytemnestra's story could be a plot on daytime television. The Simpsons explores the Eternal Recurrence. Britney Spears is just the latest incarnation of opera singers and troubadours. Medieval fiction has the same power fantasies as comicbooks, the same monstrous villains, the same showdowns, the same narrow escapes.

Always remember that Dickens got paid by the word.

I aim to topple elitism, to gnaw away the dross until I find the core ideas. There's no doubt I enjoy watching a master work more than a hack, but I have also encountered more than one hack-turned-master and vice versa.

Always remember that Orson Welles cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican.

Oh, there are plenty of things I don't enjoy, but Philosopop isn't about enjoyment. Philosopop is about the commonalities between concepts and scavenging them as connective tissue in my own personal reality tunnels. Value judgments are inevitable, but Philosopop strives to place them aside for a moment and glean the marrow of a plot.

Philosopop follows the hermetic mantra "as above, so below" and thus unites the Leprechaun movies and Warner Brothers cartoons to the Trickster myths, Gwar and the Insane Clown Posse to the eschatonic traditions of the Norse and the Mayans, Soap Operas to Louis XIV's court at Versailles and it draws all those things into a well of human experiences. It connects to Andy Warhol's art factories to industrialism and the development of mass production to the Gutenberg printing press. It's the tv show Connections crossbred with Wikipedia and Reader's Digest and town criers. It posits strong links between the violent imagery of urban rap culture and the American West and the Grand Guignols and Punch and Judy shows and Shakespearean tragedies and frat houses.


The Tree of Life is arched backward like the fossilized skeleton of an Archeopteryx, Malkuth connected to Keter, and from each sphere infinite branches extending out in a three-dimensional fractal of time and mind.


Philosopop sees videogames with new eyes, looking to the near-future and television's near-past and film's far-past and fiction's farther-past, and all the offshoot media scuffles in-between.


The idea that human beings receive information from media and then promptly provide a deterministic output based solely on that media seems an overly-simplified and naive explanation for human behavior. GIGO is fine when you're talking binary, but a bit trickier when you're talking dendrites and axons and synapses, meat and chemical soup activating and deactivating receptors, waves and pops and crackles of electricity pulsing in variable rhythms.

Different creative endeavors are given different significance depending on the date, the culture, the exposure, encounters with similar ideas, encounters with conflicting ideas, a number of factors both quantifiable and unseen. Gut, instinct, conditioning, mood, temperament, principles, morals, logic, reason, prejudice, faith, stimulus-response, rejection, combination, sublimation, revolution.

Consider Herodotus' The Histories and the books of the Holy Bible. Depending on your familiarity with the texts, on your upbringing, on your current mental and emotional state, your skepticism, the influence of friends and family, those books may change wildly in significance. To some they could have equal weight. To others one might be considered more accurate than the other, one less believable, one evoking nostalgia, one providing comfort.


There also seems to be a neverending supply of projection when it comes to awareness of the message that a medium conveys. Beneath these pleas or finger-waggings or outright ravings are mandates to convey the messages I want you to convey.

Media doesn't have to be for you, it doesn't have to tell you anything, or please you, or shock you.

Maybe it was made for the creator, to fulfill a need or scratch an itch or to let off steam or just because.

Just because you want something to be personal, doesn't mean it is.


Corvus wonders where is the public discussion, the crossover between gamers, the general public and the politicians? I wish I could tell him, and I wish I could tell him that I'm with him on this one. But I'm not.

Politicians will remain generally uninterested except where videogames can be used in fearmongering campaigns, at least until we get to the point where the gamer generation starts taking public office. The general public will get there, eventually, but there's no reason to assume they will throw in with any gusto.

I'm not sure there can be a resolution of matters like these, fuzzy artistic notions and questions of taste and ethics and transmitting cultural or moral values.

Perhaps there's just the fight, the back and forth, forever.


If common threads run through the narratives we generate through different media interactions, then are we not reacting to simple inputs? Cannot those inputs be engineered to elicit responses? Is that not what artists and advertisers and politicians and comedians all do, to one degree or another?

Most likely yes, to all three.

But reception of information and the formulation of a reaction is not a wholly deterministic process. Like chaotic equations, cognition shows sensitivity to initial conditions and topological mixing (I have seen this formulated as recursiveness, though the two concepts may be dissimilar). In instances where a person demonstrates a remarkable predictive capacity, such a feat is typically a matter of knowing the mores of a culture, the fads and fashions of the age, basic behavioralism and the proper selection of words.

Media can influence and guide and hint and demand and plead and use cultural triggers, but it cannot command. It is the internal medium, that suspension of gooey matter floating in juices, locked up tight within your skull that gives the go-ahead.


Media has always had interactive components. Tribal dances around campfires were participatory narratives, ways of joining in on past hunts or journeying great distances or communing with the gods. Dramas had to follow the ebb and flow of the crowd, the playwrights waiting in the wings to punch up a scene with more violence or write out dull portions, a conversation between actors, the story, the author and the audience. Movie scripts are read by editors and loved ones, advice given, new ideas snatched from conversations on the subway, themes plucked from well-remembered novels.


Chris Bateman discusses using our judgment to develop games responsibly.

Yes. No.

Who gets to decide when a developer is being responsible? Will a developer be able to sue a parent whose child plays an M-rated game, marked and marketed solely to adults, for undermining their responsible behavior?

The notion of responsibility is frequently (not necessarily in this instance) a call to not cross over a certain line. That line is typically arbitrary, restrictive and decided by the louder, more influential voices, not necessarily the most reasonable.

And, to be frank, the legitimacy of games-as-artwork depends, in my opinion, on finding that arbitrary line, dousing it with gasoline, torching it, rubbing out the ashes and then razing whatever's on the other side.

Such games have already been made, are already being made, the digital incarnation of Poetic Terrorism.

"The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by PT ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror-- powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst--no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is "signed" or anonymous, if it does not change someone's life (aside from the artist) it fails."
-Hakim Bey


"It disgusts me. You trivialize the actions of two murderers and the lives of the innocent."
-Brian Rohrbough whose son, Daniel, was killed during the attacks

Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

"It probably sounds a bit odd for someone like me to say, but I appreciate the fact, at least to some degree, that something like this was made. I think that at least it gets people talking about Columbine in a unique perspective, which is probably a good thing. I'm not sure the ultimate intention was to trivialize it. It seemed like the purpose was to expose people to what happened in a unique perspective. There are probably a lot of people that would find it and play it out of curiosity, and find out more about Columbine than they usually would have were it not in game form."
-Richard Castaldo, paralyzed from the chest down after being shot in the arm, back, chest and abdomen during the shooting


Q: What was your thinking on the night shown in the film, at the Hugh Hefner Friar'’s Club Roast, when you made the 9/11 joke and people were calling out "Too soon?"

Gottfried: When they said "“Too soon,"” I thought they meant I should have taken a longer pause between the set up and the punchline. I said, Damn, I knew I should have taken one extra beat!

But yeah, it was right after September 11th,– and this was September 11th 1999, which was years before it actually happened, which is how sensitive a topic this actually is. People don'’t realize! Just that date, years before, people used to be sensitive and upset. The Marx Brothers did a joke about September 11th and it pretty much ended their career.

I just wanted to be the first one to come out with the really bad taste joke for the current tragic event. It was a weird time because people were like, "Ooh show business is over, nobody can sing or tell jokes." It was around that time it was the Emmy Awards, and they had this thing like, Maybe we won'’t hold the Emmy Awards or maybe we will hold it but we'’ll dress down.

So basically in honor of the thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center, women weren't showing any cleavage on the Emmys, which meant a lot to the families who lost someone. They said, "Oh, Pam Anderson is wearing a turtleneck! I feel so much better about my husband dying." So I told that and that shocked the audience because everyone was treading lightly on it. But actually I had been doing dirty jokes before, and that was a break from the regular dirty jokes to other forms of bad taste. So then I just went right back to the dirty jokes and I followed it with the Aristocrats and the audience exploded.


Idealized heroes and villains are dull. The Greeks realized this and made sure that even the good guys were wrecked and conflicted and emotionally unstable.

Some parts of the story of Heracles would be at home in a bondage video. Other parts, a summer blockbuster. Still other parts, yaoi. And even other parts, a slasher film.

Videogames let us become heroes and villains, with all their ferocity or innocence or brutality or joy or turmoil or levelheadedness. Within them we can explore the ramifications of certain behaviors in spaces made safe by their context. We are offered choices, sometimes narrow, sometimes broad, but we have extra dimensionality with our choices - we can retry actions, be reborn or, ultimately, walk away from the game.


Videogames, too, have permeated into our cultural, linguistic and emotional lexicons.

There is a rundown shop in Ali Al Salem where you can buy a Gamestation for almost nothing and knockoff games for even less.

Okinawa City hums and buzzes all day and night, Galaga shoved into alley corners still bleeping, Sega World sucking in the young, old and business-suited, pachinko parlors with big screen Street Fighter platforms, eight-year-olds who serve you in DDR.

My father owns an Xbox. My sister watches my nephew play Ultimate Spider-Man, watching as he chases down the bad guys or successfully completes a checkpoint race. I see people who have probably never heard the word 'console' playing furious games of Bejeweled on their cellphones.

The greater significance of videogames is that they have greater significance. We just have to know what we're looking for, then look for it.

So decrees Philosopop.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Downloading is Just Like Slitting Throats

Cue Rant

Does anybody remember when VHS came out, and it turned out that people could record all their favorite shows, watch them at their leisure and even fastforward through commercials?

Remember how those dastardly VHS tapes completely destroyed the TV and movie industries?

Remember how recordable audio tapes made it unnecessary to purchase music from a label?

Media companies are trying more and more desperate tactics every week to try and fight piracy. Their efforts are counterproductive.

They want to use the EU's new automated data-archiving system (itself a troubling development) to try and catch illegal downloaders.

Stories like that make me, in the spirit of Mencken, hoist the black flag.

When I hear how the telcos want to kill net neutrality I strap on a cutlass. When I hear about the latest malware DRM I raise the mizzenmast. When I hear about the drive to force DVR users to watch commercials I pack my pistol full of powder.

Every time the music industry whines about decreasing sales as they ripoff both artists and consumers and push pap through radio and MTV I look around for free, underground musicians. When I cruise through Best Buy and see that CDs are selling for the same price, or more, than they were six years ago, I grow ever closer to downloading, illegally or on iTunes. At least online I can go song-by-song instead of making a fifteen dollar bet that a band has more than one decent song.

Seven dollars for a matinee show at a movie theater. Double that and I can own the DVD. Sure, I don't get the "experience," but being crammed into a rickety seat while the jackass behind me kicks every two minutes isn't impressing me anymore.

The fact is, media companies no longer have any imaginations when it comes to business models. They rely on sure things and ad blitzes and bullshit marketing execs. The more they push to regulate, the more they cozy up to politicians, the more they treat consumers like criminals, hell, the more consumers they actually prosecute for piracy, the more I want to see them fall.

I'm well aware of commercial concerns and people wanting to get paid for their work. Then I read about Sony wasting both time and money trying to get PS3 Blu-Ray DRM, and I'm inclined to tell them to go fuck themselves.

End Rant.

PS - Blogger has flagged my blog as a spam blog. Maybe it's trying to tell me something?

Demo Daze - The Index

Below you will find
an index of my demo reviews, the good, bad and ugly of them, arranged in no particular order. Look for a concise review after each link expressing my general sentiment for that entry.

This post will be updated and will get a permalink in the index.



Shadowgrounds. Simple, twitchy and fun.


-Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War. RTS/Beat-em-up, if that's your cup of tea.

-Darkspace. Multiplayer space skirmishes that shows lots of promise but not enough delivery. Yet.

-Ship Simulator 2006. Try this if you like driving ships around the water. More a meditation aid than a game.


-Heroes of Annihilated Empires. Unremarkable - probably not worth your time.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Demo Daze - Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War

Kingdoms Under Fire mixed with Dynasty Warriors mixed with Generic RTS.

You would get something very much like Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War. Try out the demo. You might enjoy it.

In the demo, you command the Egyptians against the Romans, I think.

During the game, you can take third-person control of Cleopatra who, being wise and powerful, decided that wearing armor in battle, or even clothing, was for squares. She wields a hand scythe and slices and dices enemies with ease. In fact, it's so easy, it's kind of boring. There's no real visceral feeling to the combat. Just *slice* and the enemy falls down.

You also have a bow to take out enemies from a distance. Trying to hit soldiers on watchtowers was an annoyance, since the hit box on the railing was difficult to judge. I'd line up a perfect shot and see my arrow disappear and produce a brief spurt of woody particles.

Controlling your troops gives you only a mild feeling of power. Tell them to follow or charge, or hold position. They don't always respond well, especially in the thick of battle, but that's understandable. The graphics seem a little too crisp; There's no sense of grit, no dirt or sand kicked up, no rusty armor.

The other part of the game is based around a typical RTS model. You hit a button and can select your owned units and manipulate them around the map. This works exactly the way you would expect. Sadly, there's nothing notable at all about this facet.

I'm on the fence with this game. I didn't see anything innovative at all. The sheer scope of the game, however, might make it worthwhile. Also, there could be a longer-term strategic aspect.

If they can integrate the three levels of action together, it could make for an interesting single-player and a tricky multiplayer.

Demo Daze - Heroes of Annihilated Empires

Heroes of Annihilated Empires
is a pretty stupid name.

You can try out the demo. At your own risk. To be fair to the developers, they do call it an open Beta. It plays like a Beta version.

I don't really know this game's backstory. I do know it shamelessly rips off The Lord of the Rings.

I started up the demo and was given control of an Elf. Little guy. And I mean little. RTS-style. I'm thinking the Commando from C&C, but probably not that small.

There was a wizard or necromancer or something shooting at me. I'm gonna say necromancer, because it appeared as if he were sending wave after wave of zombies at me.

The framerate was atrocious. Decent graphics, they look hand-painted. Animations are so-so, but the characters are, again, so small that there's no detail.

I have no idea what I'm doing with my Elf or why. There's a path, so I click my guy on down the path.

I run into a few more creatures and nearly get killed. There are RPG elements - special moves, skills, inventory - but the interface is ambiguous and crowded. Couple that with the framerate and my little Elf has a tough time surviving.

Eventually I run across friendly NPCs, a whole group of them. They're . . . kobolds . . . or something. I can select them as in a traditional RTS and issue them orders. They will then move to attack the giant ogre-things. The ogre-things will wipe out 90% of my units before we manage to drop them.

There are buildings. You select them and earn bonuses.

That's as far as I got.

The framerate was too atrocious. The setting was too bland. The interface was too unwieldy. The story was too nonexistent.

Not worth your time.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

SiN: Episodic Content Strikes Out

I was pretty excited about the Sin release. I was hoping they would veer away from the outright run-and-gun of HL2 and add in more walking around, interacting with characters and exploring the environment.


Anyway, this review right here is quite possibly the perfect review.

Whatever algorithm they use to determine the difficulty is a piece of shit. You'd think it would take note of a player dying fifteen times in a row at the same exact spot and 1) crank down the enemies' damage and 2) not spawn twenty of them. There is absolutely no way someone played this game and felt it had any kind of balance.

I never played the first SiN and this game is so uninteresting that I probably won't. I was excited to get any little scrap of story but nothing ever coalesced. Who am I? Someone referred to me as "the cops," so am I some kind of law enforcement officer? Why is the city cordoned off? What does SinTek ostensibly do? Maybe they wanted to keep the first episode hazy to keep you going. The developers leapt right over the line separating hazy from incomprehensible.

Also, how could Ritual think that giving a major character giant breasts and drawing attention to them every time she appears is in any way interesting? Is it 1997 again? I'm juvenile, but not that juvenile. Maybe they were envious of DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball.

I knew I should've gone for Space Empires Deluxe IV.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Double Your Pleasure?

The THQ game
Saint's Row looks so much like Grand Theft Auto, that, if I were shown game footage without being told it was a completely different game, I would assume it was, in fact, the next GTA.

We're used to GTA clones at this point, but the game screams "blatant rip-off" in a very loud voice to everyone in its vicinity. Everything is stolen directly from GTA, and I don't just mean conceptually.

I mean artistically. The look of the minimap and the larger pause menu map. The glowy circles that signal available missions or objectives. The cars look the same. Even the fucking font looks exactly like the one from GTA.

This game might be a lot of fun. Based upon their description, though, it sounds like the entire game centers around the San Andreas turf war aspect, which was but a sliver of SA. And intense focus on one theme didn't help True Crime.

There are plenty of interesting skins one could throw over the GTA play specification. Why not attempt to design a brand new world? Steampunk? Post-apocalyptic? Anything but another cash-in of urban thug culture -- Ugh.

With Saint's Row I can't tell if the developers are lazy, or simply lack imagination.


Demo Daze - Shadowgrounds

With E3 in full swing
this week, there are plenty of other blogs out there fulfilling these vital functions:

1. Rampant fanboyism for a console, genre or beloved character.
You might see statements such as "OMG PS3 can simulate anguish to twenty decimal places!" or "This will be a good year for games based upon hitting moving targets with firearms," or even "It's nice to see Donkey Kong return to his roots in a BDSM rhythm game."

2. Completely unfounded speculation.
"During the presentation I noticed a gleam in the Microsoft rep's eye that clearly said 'Halo 4 will take place on Earth, as in, the actual, physical Earth. Bungie is already genetically engineering aliens and creating personal shield technology."

3. Hard-biting cynicism toward anything and everything.
"Sure, the Wii controller might look and play well, but it's made of fucking plastic."
"I saw the new Pokemon game running on an LCD watch and let me tell you right up front: it kills children. Without mercy."
"Last year was the last time this show will be relevant, and even then it was shit."
"I was so wasted this morning that I almost enjoyed Microsoft's latest attempt to cash in on their videogame production. It's like they want money in exchange for a product. Sellouts."

This deluge will continue, and at some point I may jump in the fray. But for now I have detached -- somewhat. Over the weekend I trolled for various demos and pulled down anything that looked even mildly amusing.

The first demo is Shadowgrounds. You can go for the boxed version or snag it from Steam.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this game. It has a 3-d look but a fixed topdown perspective. The controls are standard WASD with the mouse spinning your character in a circle (one-dimensional mouselook) -- took me maybe five minutes to really get used to the control.

If I wanted to boil it down to a formula, I'd say it's Aliens mixed with Smash TV, and that's a very good thing.

You play a mechanic in a base on Ganymede. While going out during a storm to repair the power station, two of your fellow workers disappear. Naturally, you go after them and bad things happen.

The use of light in this game is striking. Dark areas obscure creepy crawlies, while turning on your flashlight makes them flee. Shadows stretch across the ground as you pan your light through shelves and fences.

You pick up weapons quickly, and that's good. The focus is on managing your ammo and choosing the right weapon at the right time. There is also a simple weapon upgrade system that extends ammo clips or give you alt-fire options.

Objectives are clearly spelled out and easy to follow, especially with the use of a map and waypoints. You get a certain number of respawns during a level - there's no in-level save, but I didn't have too much trouble. There are plenty of tense moments, running for health packs or searching for just a little more ammo, but the mobs never felt impossible, even if they seemed overwhelming at times (in a good, heart-racing way).

The AI is a bit sluggish at times and creatures can get hung up on geometry. This was the most noticeable flaw. Don't go in expecting the graphics to astound you. Also, don't go in expecting something innovative. Still, it's moody without being melodramatic.

I'm seriously considering throwing this one some dough. Bursts of shoot-em-up gaming goodness with old-school flavor along with an impressive lighting model and all the sci-fi horror staples.

I'd recommend this game when you have an itch for twitch.

Sometimes you just need to fry some arachnoids.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Seeking Strategy

I tried Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday, and I just have to face the fact that I'm not cut out to be a world leader.

The tutorial was pretty spot on, so I thought that, finally, I might be able to handle a complex wargame. I was very wrong.

I was hoping there might be a kind of sandbox-mode, where you could run a country at your leisure and things aren't immediately SNAFU.

Instead, there are a bunch of scenarios, all of them chockful of military-occupied fronts just waiting for orders. It was a bit much for me.

The capstone, the doomsday scenario, was impressive, at first. All those nuclear strikes wiping out cities across Russia and the United States. After a few minutes of that, however, I realized that I wasn't fit to be the ruler of an industrialized nation during a worldwide nuclear holocaust. I was paralyzed with fear, completely incapable of making a rational decision.

Send tanks toward Stalingrad in the winter? No problem!

Airstrikes against Australia for no good reason? Done!

Researching Mechanized Doctrine with no intent to build mechanized infantry? True leadership!

So I gave up all hope of stomping the Soviets in an alternate timeline. It's probably for the best.

I guess I'll work on my Russian, Comrades.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Your Liberal Media?

I know I must sound
like a broken record at this point when discussing videogames and violence.

But the alarmism is pretty high in this article from Reuters entitled "Islamists using US video games in youth appeal. " It also repeats the falsehood (or, at best, unproven claim) that videogames are somehow used to train people to kill, which, as I've explored, hasn't been supported by any studies.

It discusses the not at all new phenomenon of using popular media to propagandize to children. In this case it happens to be branches of radical Islam. In my post from last Wednesday it was White Supremacists and Anti-Immigrant Extremists. You might even find games espousing the theories of a radical religious faction's eschatology.

One excerpt seemed particularly ridiculous:

" 'Battlefield 2' ordinarily shows U.S. troops engaging forces from China or a united Middle East coalition. But in a modified video trailer posted on Islamic Web sites and shown to lawmakers, the game depicts a man in Arab headdress carrying an automatic weapon into combat with U.S. invaders."

Uh, guys. I hate to tell you this, but Battlefield 2 allows you to play as the Middle Eastern Coalition, where you can kill American troops. The actual game! Americans are playing it. A lot. The Islamism is going to leak out of our graphics cards and get under our skin! Shriek, aiee. All the usual kerfuffle.

At this point, the media does such a good job with scare tactics that it seems like they don't use much else.

Recent Advances

There have been
at least four developments in the past week that any connoisseur of ludicity* should take the time to consider.

Most of my readers probably either know about these developments, or were instrumental in carrying them out. Nevertheless, I trek ever forward.

First, the release of Inform 7, an editor for interactive fiction that utilizes a fairly basic Plain-English system of programming. I've checked it out for you, good people, and let me tell you, it's completely on the level. And by that I mean it's significantly less confusing than programming in Basic, but still manages to frustrate me to no end. This system is capable of a LOT more than just choose-your-own-adventure jaunts.

FUN FACT: Story files are called Blorbs. You'll need an interpreter to run them.

Then you can marvel at Swat, Chris Crawford's verb editor for his Storytron. Utilizing the tutorial, I was able to accomplish nothing at all. Well, I clicked some menu items. I read a bunch of the Erasmatron Design Documents and I have to admit, this stuff makes sense from a linguistic point of view -- but I can't imagine how an interactive experience might look.

Also, Chris Crawford has been known to have ideas which, how do I say this, don't hold up well under a thorough fisking.

Then we got a whole series of posts from Corvus concerning the Honeycomb engine. An intro about Game Narrative, a crazy diagramming of Radial Plots and a third on Plots and Characters. I haven't digested it all, so I can't give too much feedback at this time. It does make for a fascinating journey. Reminds me of the Tree of Life and how each aspect can contain their own trees, leading to convolutions like the crown of the severe nature of beauty - or something.

And in reaction to Corvus' revelations, we got Chris Bateman to tease us with a system for dynamic narratives known as FreeSpeak. A canceled project. Dammit!

*I was going to claim this word, but, unsurprisingly, someone else beat me to it.