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Not Without My Brain (or Body)!

by on Jul.01, 2010, under games

Historically, Sam and Max has never been as funny as Monkey Island, but “They Stole Max’s Brain!” has plenty of moments. The episode opens with a delightful Film Noir in which Sam somehow spawns a five o’clock shadow and starts beating clues out of rats and foreigners, which is probably a good idea in situations where your rabbity partner has had his brain obsconded. Their episodic adventure games occasionally feel like they end abrubtly, Telltale absolutely nailed the pacing.

The writing “hit” a lot more than had the last few outings. There were literal lulz emanating at several points in the adventure, something which didn’t show up in the first two episodes of this “season.” Is that what we’re calling them? Absent are Sam’s signature exclamations, which tend to be over-long and over-written (the punchier of the lot work, the rest sound like they’re trying to hard). And the back and forth between Sam and Max is psychic comedy balm.

Puzzle solutions (particularly later on) were satisfyingly obfuscated, requiring gentle proding and exploration to unravel. All in all imminently satisfying.

Feast on this wonderful Jedi Knight Easter egg!

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Kinect Not Courting Core Gamers Yet

by on Jun.18, 2010, under games


After quite the lull, Microsoft has resumed their Natal Kinect proselytization. They seem laser focused on marketing it to the casual and non-gamer markets. Adding ESPN content isn’t but certainly not directly related to gaming, but some overlap exists. The launch lineup contains nothing for the “core” audience, otherwise known as “us.”

Supressing the initial urge to scoff creatively, there really is no surprise here. Regardless of how MS may strain to differentiate its product from the Wiimote, the fact remains that a major source of user input is given by moving. Therefore, control schemes that work for “motion gaming” should translate. So we get a bandwagon full of fitness games, “$console_name sports” games, (shudder) party games, with a few kart racers thrown in. What may be more interesting to some are the dance titles that determine how well you execute your gyrations. But that’s not what gamers are looking for. The voice- and motion-activated interfaces are undeniably futuristic and enhance the doodad’s sex appeal, but won’t sell many units. They need to be a pleasant side effect of a must have game peripheral.

Perhaps this is another instance of not being in the target audience. Maybe Microsoft doesn’t want gamer support for Kinect. They certainly aren’t catering to us. Seeing that almost everyone is pegging the stand-alone price at $150, they may well need us on this one. That’s $150 if you’ve already got a 360 on the premises. The potential casual gamer that has yet to purchase a Wii or might be lured by a machine with prettier games, more internets, and fancier controllerless gadgestration is looking at a likely $400 price tag (there seems to be no new Arcade model (good riddance), so it may become unavailable eventually). If MS wants Kinect to achieve ubiquity, and they are so, so jealous of the Wii’s, they’ll need a decent adoption rate by their install base.

The crowd at Sony’s press briefing cheered when at the price announcement for the Move controller. It will only set you back $50. The cheering stopped abrubtly a moment later with the follow up that the PlayStation Eye (required for Move) at another $50. Throw in a navigation controller for $30 and you’re most of the way to Microsoft’s “exorbitant” price. Take the time to notice that a lot of demos use two Moves and think about multiplayer games and $150 starts to smell a lot better.

Notably absent from this year’s E3 was the most compelling Natal demo from last year, Milo. I’ve been having fever dreams in which I interact with NPCs this way, where a shooter villain reacts to my facial expressions or verbal outbursts. The most powerful application of this technology could be its use in conjunction with existing controls. Of course the launch titles aren’t exploring this, but developers will. Unless there is some technical imposition which makes the two control schemes mutually exclusive. The most compelling utilizations of this tech may be invisible ones, but the opening act needs to be flashy.

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Console Software Emulation Could Be So Much More

by on Jun.09, 2010, under games

Backwards compatibility can be a sore subject for fans of the PlayStation 3. What was initially a shining promise of lasting support for the gamers’ libraries of aging titles evaporated as Sony culled the legacy hardware from their consoles. And emulation is often considered an illicit topic, dripping with forbidden nectar. What rarely comes up is that the PS3 has always utilized software emulation to support original PlayStation titles. While backwards compatibility for the PS2 was cast out, PSOne was retained.

It’s doubtful that the above elicited anything so dramatic as shocked gasps. The only reason I noticed was a recent Metal Gear Solid 4 play through caused a craving for MGS. Having never owned a PlayStation prior to its third iteration, and with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance not compatible with the Xbox 360, I was jonesing.

Then, this article accidentally saved me from scrounging through used games shops. The original Metal Gear Solid, amongst nearly fifty other titles, can be purchased from the PlayStation Store. Sweet relief, thy name is digital distribution! After forking over $9.99 (!) for a twelve year old game, I got my fix.

MGS holds up surprisingly well graphically. It shows its age, but the quality is apparent. The emulation plays the title just as it was in 1998. But if you’ve been following emulation recently, you’ve probably seen that not only can software replicate older game hardware, it can improve upon it. Particularly, the fantastic, open source Dolphin emulator can run GameCube and Wii titles at custom resolutions with anisotropic filtering and antialiasing. Given a beefy enough machine, one can play Wii games in HD.

What we can hope for in future console generations is greater utilization of hardware virtualization technology to allow more extensive software emulation of older consoles. Nintendo is already behind this move with their virtual console, although titles must be repurchased. Combined with games on easily supported optical media, current generation games need never be unsupported. Perhaps the NeXbox and PlayStation 4 will run full fledged virtual devices to play your games of yesteryear with improved graphics.

No, I will not try to guess what Nintendo will call their next console.

Republished with permission from Console Software Emulation Could Be So Much More on Blogcritics.

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Redemption is a Dish Best Served Red and Dead

by on Jun.03, 2010, under games

I have to admit that I’ve been sitting on my thoughts regarding Read Dead Redemption for some time. Not because I don’t adore the game, but because everyone is raving and I fear I would add nothing to the conversation.

Brevity then: Most of the characters are realistic and interesting. Your protagonist in particular is fascinating and likeable. I was sympathetic to Nico Bellic; I was desparate that John Marston prosper. The lengthy denouement was a particularly fine touch on Rockstar’s part.

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Please Step Away from the Star Wars

by on May.07, 2010, under games

So this is happening. Sigh. If you like SW:FU, you should just skip to flaming the comments.

The timing of the announcment is interesting as I only recently tried to make myself play it. Steam tarted it about on their front page for fifteen of my dollars, and my resolve lapsed.

The main problem with this game is that it isn’t Jedi Knight 3, or Jedi Academy 2, or whatever Raven’s next entry in that treasured series might have been. It’s just not fair to either of us to keep playing SW:FU like I wish it were something else.

‘FU’ is certainly an appropriate appelation for this game. Every time I load is a new way for the game to screw me. A giant stormtrooper has a tiny lightsaber and lightsaber-blocking shield on his arm, and that affront to the Star Wars fiction isn’t even the bullcrap. When he rears back his arm to swing, I figure cutting his legs off with my lightsaber should be an effective strategy. Not only do his legs not come off, his attack continues uninterrupted. Is the player granted the same courtesy? Of course not. There must have been a transitional period between episodes 3 and 4 where an uncommonly lightsaber proof grade of stormtrooper armor was being produced. Perhaps they were changing vendors or trying to get the costs under control.

And how is the force being unleashed, exactly? Can’t we agree that putting “unleashed” at the end of your title doesn’t create automatic, vague awesome? In fact, I posit that the opposite is true. Someone must have leashed the force again in the intervening time, to require a second unleashing. I wish they’d quit it.

I wonder who likes quick time events? A lazier game mechanic is hard to imagine. Rather than allowing the player to continue to interact during crucial moments, the game turns into a movie propelled by arbitrary button presses giving the illusion that the player is still involved somehow. I suppose I’m supposed to be on awe of just how much Force is being unleashed at those moments.

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