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Title: White Knight Chronicles 2 #2
Posted: June 01, 2011 (09:40 AM)
The age-rating.

Apparently the PEGI rating on the first game is 16, while the second is 12. So, basically, the second game is rated 16 because it also contains WKC1.

It's getting a high rating for apparently.. encouraging tobacco and alcohol-abuse. As well as the realistic looking killing.

And no amount of ridiculous plot-exposition is going to outweigh that, apparently. We're talking more extreme than Dragon Quest IV here so far. "Oh, no, that ceiling caved in in front of us, and we have to stop and gawk at it, even though we can just run past it. Which we will do now that we've been shocked for three seconds, which was two and a half second too long". I swear, the director should be shot.

On the other hand, the animation in the individual sequences is actually really good. Not exactly polished, and with no blood-effects or sparks on the chainmail, and so on. But it's pretty good, just as in the fighting, and the transfers between the animations.

Anyway. First quest is done. Driven a cart of wine back to the castle, and sneaked into the ball with Yulie. Who may be Leonard's older sister, old girlfriend, swordmaster or mother, I'm not sure which. We defeated the first boss, which Leonard defeated by a single sword-slash to the heel. Will have to take a look at the character animation for the second campaign to see if there's any difference.

The plot took a nasty turn now, and again - this direction that somehow almost hits the mark but misses so awfully badly...

Voice-acting is annoying as hell. They basically let the characters say a word extra, or something stupid, rather than let the voice be completely out of sync.

Example: the monk from earlier is supposed to address the princess at one point. Obviously he knows she is the princess, and everything about his mannerisms say he knows how to address royalty. But he seems to pick a short command for the first words he speaks to her: "stand up". I'm guessing it's changing from an order to a question on the second word he says, or something. So in that two-part exchange, something happens that describes that character.

But the voice-acting ends up saying: "Can you.................
....... Stand?".

Annoying as heck. The fact that all the other major leaders in the nearby kingdoms have all been killed just now somehow escapes the entire performance..

We now find ourselves inexplicably forced to escape down in the castle cellars, that were just uncovered by a magical beast crashing through the castle wall. In the cellar, we completely unexpectedly discover that another much older castle was built there first, and Balandor Castle is but a small tiny blip on top of an underground tower.

Leonard apparently thinks it's a good idea to escape there, even though the Princess disagrees. She is going to be saved no matter what.
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Title: White Knight Chronicles 2 #1
Posted: June 01, 2011 (07:29 AM)
Disc arrived today. The cover is nice. The White Knight from the first game is placed further towards the back, which meshes much better with the WKCII header, as well as the incredible amount of other stuff on the box. We now have.. Two ps3 only logos. One Sony logo, a blu-ray, and two psn blurbs, as well as the PEGI/ESRB rating.

The Knight's cape has seen some wear since the last time.

Other than that, it's the normal "ps3 exclusive" method for install. It's about 5Gb, takes some 10 minutes to complete, in absolute silence.

On the title-screen, a traditional instrument of indeterminable geographical origin plays a slow tune. And that's probably the only place other than the title screen I'm going to escape the English voice-over, since it's only an instrumental.

Other than that - it's not.. entirely easy to pick out what sort of influences we really have here. The music is some sort of mish-mash between Christian chorals, medieval european music and the Japanese re-imagining of traditional folk-music with fuzz-guitar and electrical flute. They don't end up in Kitaro-land, and I can't really explain what it is. It is not "generic JRPG sound", even though it's far too cute and colourful to be anything else.

That's basically all I have to say about the art-direction and the setting as well.

When you start a new game, you're allowed through the character-customisation, where you choose between approximately 600 variants of gay wood-elves and underage anime girls. Then you can add facial moles, different angles to the eyes, different squint on each eye, etc.

I end up with a variant of the main character in Shenmue. I try again, and end up with another variant of the main character in Shenmue. Hmm.. I'm adding some hair and a beard to get closer to a Wolverine wannabe. It almost works, but when you begin the game, they've put you in some cotton coat that reach you to the knees. And you're called "the new guy". Wolverine looks pissed, which is his default expression.

The same templates and character designs are used for everyone else in the world as well, in the real-time cutscenes. But it doesn't look half bad. Hand-animation does work best for fantasy-animals and exaggerated sword-slashes, though, so we'll see.

For now, I'm starting a new game where the first game begins. Which is in Balandor, and I'm fetching something for the angry but very, very tiny Orc you work for. We're about to make our entrance in the royal court, and we are going to make a good impression when we do.

On our way out of town, a monk with a mean eye stares at our crazy outfits like it's heralding the beginning of a grand prophecy or something.
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Title: Semi-technical Tumble-supplemental.
Posted: May 27, 2011 (08:58 AM)

So I keep telling people that Tumble and the move-controller are brilliant. I start it up on the title-screen, and I turn my wrist without moving the bulb very far, and the pointer dutifully floats down in the far left corner. And people say: What's so special about that? That's what you expect, isn't it. And I say: Exactly!

What happens here, apart from my nerd-high, is that when you have the bulb in front of the camera, it can't actually guess which direction you're pointing the bulb. So even if you expect that the cursor should start to move if you point down towards the end of the screen - on the axis-reference, the bulb has only moved a small distance. So in the toolkit for the move-controller, the gyros and the occlusion indicates that you've moved the controller at an angle, so now the relative position of the cursor changes.

This means that instead of having to move the bulb around the camera-view in a box, you can treat the pointer as if you were actually pointing at the flat screen. This seems like a long trip over the river to get water, but when you start to treat the screen as a 3d box, this becomes very useful. It means that you can collapse distance, and allow you to travel into the screen at relative perspectives. Not the physical perspective, but the one you actually have in your viewport on the screen. In other words, you get to move around in the virtual perspective with less movement than the controller should need.

For example, you want to move a block behind the tower in the middle of the view-port. If the move bulb followed the perspective in the box, you would probably have to go through the screen to reach it. But because the dimensions in the view-port are longer, you can comfortably reach all the way into the screen with a small movement.

It seems likely that this is going to be used in 3d games more intricately eventually - imagine having the camera change direction depending on which direction you are pointing the controller, rather than that you hit the edge of the screen to make it turn left and right.

Interesting, isn't it. :p
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Title: White Knight Chronicles 2
Posted: May 27, 2011 (03:43 AM)
So, Nordisk Film (the distributor of all things Playstation in Norway, Sweden and Finland) promised me a promo-copy. So with any luck, I'll be playing this game on the 8th.

Seems the game is a bit too big to review in one chunk, though, so I think I'm going to write a bunch of random stuff as I play it, and jot down some details. And then write the full review later, once I think I've played the game enough.

A couple of things..

-up to 6 player co-op. No idea how this is pieced together, or if it's possible to run around recruiting people at random. Possibly non-combat areas will be visible to everyone on the server, the combat areas will be individual for the party, etc.

-EU and US players on the same servers. Japan, who have played the game for over a year, have their own servers..

-No Japanese voice-acting. They've spent over a year localising the game, and now we're going to listen to it whether you want to or not. Support the localisation business that takes a year to get voices on characters who had perfectly good ones already, while you wait a year - or else!

-The WKC2 disc contains the first and the second game on the same disc, in the new engine for WKC2. Trophies for both, allegedly a seamless transition between the two. I'm hoping the somewhat embarrassing block and strike animations from WKC1 has been improved a lot in the new engine, though I'm not banking on any miracles here. Seems we're going to have some physics going on, and some object interference that makes sense. Will see if it flows well when I get to play it.

-Due to the fantastic world of licensing, it is very likely that you won't be able to play an EU disc with a US account, and vice-versa. D3 picks it up in the US, SCEE has other partners in EU. (So much for region-free).

If you're wondering how much of an absolutely terrible pain the localisation is going to be, just take a small look at this official trailer(and remember to turn the sound down, this is not going to be pretty):


Hopefully the tone-deaf director was absent when they recorded the voices in the story. But I'm not having very high hopes for someone who promotes a game and says: "ooh, the Japanese traditional music sounds kind of atonal, doesn't it? I guess we just have to get someone tone-deaf to sing the intro music for us, then!".

It also seems way too serious to be as neatly done as, for examples Grandia 2, where they localised all the spells and special attacks. Ryudo's brother going all black and terrible during the middle of a battle, before saying: "This is my ultimate attack.. SKY DRAGON SLASH!" was definitively one way to do it.

The complete artistic rewrite of any of the concepts and references in Jade Empire would be another option.

SEGA's EFIGS text-translation for Yakuza 3-4 + Resonance of Fate or Valkyria Chronicles might be a third option.

But we'll see which ones the WKC2 translation job falls in between later on. Who knows, maybe it's so corny it's actually going to be fun.
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Title: Phantasy Star Online 2 .. official trailer
Posted: May 02, 2011 (04:14 AM)


So.. ah.. awesome. Sugoi.

Modest hardware requirements for the alpha probably means a console-port. Haven't heard anything from SEGA. PSU on the 360 had a good run. Hopefully they'll figure out something similar to the ps2/PC link for the ps3.. that would be great.

In the trailer we seem to have.. manual block, roll, jumps - and some neat character physics and animation. Hopefully that stays in the game after the alpha..

Also, cut-scenes in the middle of scenarios - seems random. Could be interesting. Chat system seems flashy. Character customisation seems better than ever - guns are a lot more complex than I remember from PSU.

Stances seem more advanced - combos possibly changed? Looks pretty good, imo. Hopefully magic is still in, and possible to chain with weapons, etc.

So -- who's up for some dress up heroism when PSO2 comes out? :D lol
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Title: Fancy Pants Adventures out tomorrow :)
Posted: April 19, 2011 (10:06 AM)


Whee!
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Title: Fallout: New Vegas - the actual Fallout 3 game
Posted: April 17, 2011 (09:14 AM)
I should have picked up on it when the reviews tended towards forced "balance" against Fallout 3, the "predecessor"..

So as you may or may not know, Fallout 3 was the biggest gaming disappointment I've had since.. The Amiga was canned. Whether it was the foot-less power-armor, generally the utterly careless use of the source-material, the endless mutants, or the writing - all sterile and skeletal as if dipped in a vat of bubbling acid. The writing only having visible teeth, because all the flesh is gone.

True, Fallout3 has promising elements - but none of the quests are written in a way that force you to think about your role in the wasteland, etc. None of what you do actually affect the world. In other words, it was just a game, and nothing else. Where the mechanics of walking around the game-world was the entire point with the title - instead of the game-world being a vehicle for telling a story. Which the game didn't have.

On top of this, the actual exploration is very simplistic. You're not rewarded with interesting locations that explain more about the world and the setting. You never discover a place that invites you back at a later time.

New Vegas changes that, and shows how it should be done. I didn't pick up this game at first because of how abysmal Fallout3 was.. That was a mistake. I should have dropped Fallout3 and just bought New Vegas. Would have saved me from having to play the console-equivalent of: "Final Fantasy point and click adventure! Explore the world with random characters from the other games put in, while using repetitive attacks that remind you of the other games in the series!".

..also - what in the world is going on with reviewing right now? How in the name of .. did New Vegas score lower than the leaking bag of offal that is Fallout 3? I don't get it.

Title: Sony has gone too far!
Posted: April 09, 2011 (02:48 PM)
So beside any of the many complaints I have had about Sony.. when it comes to everything from intellectual property protection that inconveniences the buyers rather than the pirates. To changing games after the releases with everything from patched in advertisement(that affects the performance of the game), to simply bad design-choices that ruin the game's appeal. And all the way to bad aftermarket support that does not match the amount you initially paid for the product, etc.

They then sue people at random in order to "protect their property", in much the same way they held the screenshot feature in MAG back for over a year. Before finally releasing it in the end after all - the only difference from earlier: a prompt in the bottom of the picture saying the screen belongs to Sony.

Clearly figuring this out should at least take a year. And it demonstrates the care and dilligence with which Sony always approach practical challenges.

But now my patience has come to an end. Whenever I start up a game with Move-features now, I have to watch these silly directions every time - and they cannot be skipped!

This is a MAJOR ISSUE!!!! (<-four exclamation marks). Aaargh!

Title: Tired of gaming? Don't be.
Posted: March 22, 2011 (06:43 AM)
Since I talk to people in real life once in a while - about games, I mean - I get to hear things like this pretty often: "you know... I'm kind of losing interest. It's not fun to me any more. I think I'm going to sell my collection and do something else". "I'm gonna buy a DS.. you hear me, Jostein! A DS!!! I NEED HELP!!".

How could this happen? For different reasons, the most profiled games lately have been first person murder simulations with bad story-telling, single-player games where you achieve status as king by farting impressively in public, sequels to games that once were fairly successful. And not to forget - not that you could, thanks to the advertisement - tremendously overhyped action-games with no soul and recycled dialogue.

There's also the problem that good developers who actually make good games end up simply not selling, either discs or reputation - and are forced through the fire at games-magazines for not having online fans to generate hits on their front-pages. And therefore also remain on the publisher's short list for cutting when there's time for that.

And if they want to avoid this list, then that developer will change significantly, and start to create what the publisher believes is more popular games. Based, very often, on internet hits and buzz (this sounds crazy, but I can name a major developer who has had people crawl forums and "sum up" the opinion - which then is used as cheap focus-group feedback - no joke. This helped scuttle an entire product-line of very good phones, along with an "Apple Store" three years early).

In other words, when DICE has their concept for Mirror's Edge 2 rejected by EA - while they are ordered to spend all their resources on making Medal of Honor and yet another first person shooter, on top of yet another first person shooter set in a modern warfare setting.. then that's just business as usual. In fact, we may very well never see a Mirror's Edge sequel even if the developer would like to make one. And if we do, the game would very likely look and feel nothing like Mirror's Edge 1. So no sequel, in this case, will mean a good thing.

And yet - how many half-finished new IPs are we going to suffer through? Great concepts, that just didn't receive the polish required to be sold as a AAA title?

Bioware had a similar process. Dragon Age, like Mass Effect, was bad enough from a rpg-perspective - it had no real town-areas or history hubs. There were no real choices to make, very little role-playing. Lots and lots of action-effects, and not enough spell and ability interference. And when there were role-playing, it tended to be extremely black and white. In my Dragon Age review, I go through a couple of examples that explain pretty obviously that the game had more branching separate story-lines at some point, but that some of it was cut - or just not fleshed out in time for the release of the game. What happens here is evidently that individually, writers are pouring in content - but the directors and lead writers can't fit the writing into the main buffet, or structure it to let the content interfere with each other.

In the same way, Mass Effect 1 had tremendous writing - occasionally. While most of the time, it really is extremely trite. And the best writing - the Canderous/HK47 type of writing - is literally hidden on an ice-planet, or on a side-mission that isn't necessary to complete. The tendency continued in Mass Effect 2 - the main storyline is even worse. The narrative isn't very good, it's increasingly just tropes pulled in to make the game be associated with other sci-fi series - and that this is used exclusively as a means to make the segments move on.

No more do we have that extreme amount of random stuff that made Bioware's games enjoyable. Instead, we're getting the action-game with excessive amounts of talking. Talking that, obviously, is completely linear. And where the choices have absolutely no bearing on the events that follow - as well as break immersion by it's absolute woodenness. Dragon Age 2 embodies all of this, and stands out as the best example of a developer going under over publisher pressure yet.

It means that perhaps it's good that no sequels are made. As well as that new games that turn up tend to be really, really bad popcorn fluff that's marketed to the point where it feels insulting to even the most unashamed hit-list music-lover. And this sense of finality is what makes gaming lose it's appeal.

---

Of course, some of us always liked quirky entertainment that don't appeal to the "mass market". Some of us like nice things. We like Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis wrote that - he was also the concept writer on Dead Space), Discworld, Kurozuka, Gintama. It's never going to be something a publisher will "believe" has mass market appeal. But it's nevertheless entertainment that without a doubt has quality as well as drives a profit. And even that it has literary value that isn't geared towards a specific and existing niche - it means the product may very well expand appeal in the future.

And it used to be that these types of entertainment products were fairly frequent in gaming. Now they're not any more.

So - here comes the point, dear reader - this will be a short list of upcoming titles that - in spite of all kinds of reasons such as new publishers, sequels, prequels and tie-ins - may end up being good games. And perhaps it will explain why I'm still playing games rather than do something else for entertainment - even as Nintendo launches Dogs in 3d, and the best selling applet on the Apple store is a game for squeezing virtual pimples.

1. Infamous 2. Sucker Punch made the Sly Cooper series - a strangely charming experience of the kind that fits for children of all ages. It's a game that isn't particularly difficult, but still is a challenge to complete. And the plot achieves the standard of a good animated series, as does the visuals. Meanwhile the story-telling has that raw quality that engages you rather than make you uncomfortable. Just like the Ratchet and Clank games, it has politically incorrect content that isn't boring - but at the same time it's not grating or alienating, or.. you know.. some cerebral journey or other.. So it's a series of games that you can easily play with your niece or your kid (or they can play it with you).

The next gen Sucker Punch ended up with a more adult version of a comic book serial. Though the "adult theming" is more in line with how modern comics have evolved. And it's still done with the care that makes the game still appropriate for children. In fact, inFamous is one of those games that have the "darker tone" that Batman managed to achieve back when the first animated series turned up (with Mark Hamill as The Joker). Meaning it's not actually more adult, even though it does feature more adult world themes.

There's a commentary on people's conduct in open-world games in inFamous - ever since GTA dropped making the swat-teams move in on you if you shot people down randomly, and blew up buses, etc - open world games have been sandbox games where you kill people indiscriminately. I know "allowing you to go ballistic" sounds cool to impressionable young mid 30 somethings who enjoy fucking hookers, then beating them to death with a pink dildo. But it's just bullshit. It drops the immersion that Vice City for example would give you. Or what was in the original GTA - where you know that if you run people over and blow shit up, then the police is going to turn up and arrest, or kill you. It makes sense - as well as increase the tension and emotion involved when actually pulling the trigger on a random pedestrian. It means something when you do something wrong.

Without the emotional suspense - then what's the point? You just shoot, and you feel nothing. No regret, no remorse.. [sidebar: those were good games :D Crusader - anyone remember those?].

And inFamous had that emotional suspense. Just as Sly Cooper. You don't have particularly many choices to make, but the ones you do make are meaningful, and stay with you as you run through the game-world outside the story-events and missions.

Infamous 2 (inFamouser? ..more inFamous?...) is perhaps going to follow this overall direction (although they will keep this hidden from their "fans" in the gaming media, who will happily write about "cool ice-powers").

2. Dungeon Siege III. Obsidian, after Troika (which is no more), is without a doubt my favourite developer. And it's also the most unfortunate developer in the business. Alpha Protocol was marred by publisher "concerns" about the game not having enough Mass Effect. NWN2 had publisher problems for not having appeal, and was not advertised for. It actually had a better and deeper toolset compared to Bioware's NWN, and improved upon it in thousands of different and important ways. The game itself also was great. The graphics were fantastic compared to NWN. Even the add-ons were unbelievably good. But it failed to sell, since "the business" had basically moved away to consoles and more streamlined titles. The PC it required at the time was expensive. Toolset builders - which were extremely active with the original NWN - had moved on. And the "hadcore rpg-er giant" Bioware was no longer - so suddenly no one else should make good games either. Now it was only streamlined console-titles.

KOTOR 2 was even worse - it was a tremendously good and deep game. But was destroyed by the early Christmas release (thanks a lot, LucasArts), and came with so many console shortcuts and design problems that the game almost became unplayable. With Team Gizka's patching/restoration, it did become a good game.

But it was too late, and 1up and Gamespot had already declared, forever, that Obsidian would always make games with too many bugs in them. (... then they would go ahead and ignore bugs in Fallout3, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, Modern Warfare, Black Ops, etc). It's one of those things, I guess. Where reviewers who treat their job as just a job feel they are excused when creating their opinion out of chat-threads on Neogaf. "Fans say it, so therefore it can't be wrong!".

If we go further back, Troika's Bloodlines was a similar affair - a very good game with an extremely compelling story, and unbelievably high level of writing. Not just as set pieces, but integrated into the game. If you compare this to "story telling genius" like what you see in Half Life 2, you can't hold back the scoffing even if you try. It's just not comparable - Bloodlines has writing that brings the game in line with other good entertainment, and should be rewarded for that. Of course - no such thing happened. And Troika ended as a developer. No publisher could defend hiring them.

Obsidian has now ended up with Square Enix as a publisher for their latest game, Dungeon Siege III. That license is - apart from being one of those early failed "action-rpg" attempts, from back when turn-based was raving genius - not a real presence. In truth there's absolutely no expectations for a sequel. And while I'm sure gaming media folks are going to dredge up their expertise in Dungeon Siege, along with proclaiming how there's some inherent flaw with Obsidian's approach here - it's all going to be complete bullshit. Because this is a standalone title, and it's made on a new ruleset, along with a new in-house built engine (which is a first for Obsidian). The writing as well, while set in a known universe, has no ties to anything, and it will be interesting to see what Obsidian can do with this.

The graphics - while casting certain shadows from earlier titles such as Icewind Dale in terms of overlay effects coupled with game-world animation - also seems interesting.

Obviously, the game will be compared to Dragon Age 2 - and I think it's safe to say that it will win out. If it's depth, role playing aspects, ease of control, or gameplay complexity. Which isn't saying much, compared to DA2's "hit X for anything, except when traversing infinitely cumbersome menus that never will give you the options you want". But I think it's time now that Obsidian stops being on the game-magazines' shit-list.

3. The Last Guardian. Ok, so I admit it. I've never played ICO. I've played parts of Shadow of The Colossus. Basically, it was a game that I couldn't finish. I knew that what I was doing.. destroying the Colossi.. was wrong. And I couldn't do it. I couldn't continue. I knew that if I managed to revive my girlfriend, it would be wrong. I decided this even as I felt the resolve of the main character. This game made me boil on the inside when I played it. I almost despaired and cried. When I show this game to someone else, I dread what's going to happen. Either because they will go "hur-hur, kill beast, stupid horse run faster". Or because they too will be struck with a tremendous sense of guilt, and we will go and kill ourselves or something. This isn't a good "game". But it is a digital experience that no other medium can hope to accomplish.

The Last Guardian will be Team ICO and Ueda's third game. And it will very likely be a game that happens once. Nothing like it is ever going to be made again. Technologically and in terms of narrative, it's going to be unique. The question is how obvious this will be made to "everyone", and to what degree it's going to be possible to ignore the "game-like" features such as edge-detection, ledges to climb on, health-bars, etc. And if it's going to be possible to simply play it, and experience what's going on, without making an effort.

Ueda apparently had made a "special" presentation for the gaming press at GDC where they had put a grating coloured overlay on top of your toon that said "health bar". Obviously - just a complete demonstration of how stupid it would be. Which then everyone apparently was embarassed enough about to not write about. Wimps.

The truth is that Team ICO knows what they're doing. And they're not going to take cues from an internet forum when deciding on last minute additions - if any.

4. Deus Ex Ultimate Nanite super-sequel-prequel thing. So, for some reason the original Deus Ex (Deus Ex Machina - God (made) out of (a) Machine) has gained notoriety in even the normal gaming press. It's in spite of using the Unreal Engine at the time (over Id's Quake engine, which was sexier and .. stuff.. at least back then. Now, Epic is made of Win, apparently, so now Deus Ex is AWESOME!). Of course - what made it a good game was that it had branching story-lines and narrative that provided fantastic context - and then let you continue the story as you progressed yourself. In other words, you made your own story. Valve could certainly learn from this.

But.. anyway.. so we have had a couple of good first-person action-rpg games like this. The severely underrated "Dark Messiah", Deus Ex, System Shock 2, and.. Deus Ex. Let's not mention abominations coming from Bethesda. Where you can, if you're lucky, manage to find a good game underneath the tons of murdered random enemies. And abortions such as Fallout 3 - the successful action-rpg/adventure games that rest on immersion and framing story-telling like these are few and far between. (Attempts to tell me differently will fall on deaf ears).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is Eidos' - now Square Enix - attempt at reinventing this genre a little bit. Anything Eidos is of course always going to have an interesting plus for me because of Soul Reaver and Commandos. But a prequel to Deus Ex - where all the tech involved is the old and clunky prothesis and implant stick. And where we begin to discover the beginning of the use of nanotech to enhance human beings - for good or bad.

It may very well end up being a good cover-based shooter with good interplay between abilities and skills. And on top of that, it will look good as well. It's a license rob, and so on - but like said.. it explores a part of that game that actually was interesting, and a part of the universe that you will think many thoughts about when playing the game. The concept clearly comes from another gamer, is what I'm saying here. Not a hired in Hollywood writer, handily assisted by a producer indulging himself with company money (hi, Guerrilla Games).

5. Socom: Special Olympics. If you read my earlier blogs, you can see the reason why none of the games on this list feature online multiplayer (though Dungeon Siege 3 may have online multiplayer co-op - it's unknown as of yet if it will be or has been implmented, or in what form.. curious, since the game comes out in May). SOCOM 4 nevertheless looks interesting. For four reasons:

-Co-op and random map-generation. Online co-op on randomly generated maps. Now that's genius. I mean, really, where did random level-generation disappear to after Diablo I&II? The code for slotting environments together over various path-finding tresholds is the kind of code you would write to test the maps for consistency anyway - why not make a map with it, and make the game look good (and framerate smooth) by mechanically forcing geometric density at the right angles? With the kind of horsepower the ps3 has (as well as the limited ram) this is a brilliant fit.

-Move-support. So.. I want to throw a grenade by chucking my sub-controller over the shoulder. Ok, look.. shut up. Your mother.

-It has private games, and possibility for setting up competitive clan-games. It's unknown as of yet what sort of clan and matching functions the game will have at launch. And whether Zipper is going to just skewer themselves on the "casual gamer" misnomer. But it's going to have private and custom protected games. Also with the "one life" modes known from the SOCOM games - that of course helped make that game tactical and slow.

-People on the official playstation boards hate it already. This is a great sign. It means the game is tactical, requires thought, and actively punish you for running back and forth while spraying your gun. With the move very likely being the primary way to play the game, and the cover and command-system being prominent in both single and multiplayer - this game will very likely be that sleeper hit that -- yes, I'll even go this far, Zipper -- will one day ascend from the bargain bin to a cult hit. :p

Seriously, though - it looks polished, has a story-line, and solid game-mechanics. It doesn't even seem like it's Zipper that made it. I mean, like... wow, and exclamations and stuff. I still hate you, Zipper, after you crippled MAG. But what the hell - this looks good.

6. Dark Souls. Demon's Souls was - at least to Sony and their favourite gaming blogs - an unexpected hit. From Software, however, succeeded with this game for reasons having to do with "emergent gameplay and story-telling". Such as that you really do role-play your character, and experience something unique to you when walk through the levels. They also integrated well-known gameplay mechanics into the game-world, rather than just add them as mechanical necessities. From also made the most gloriously awesome hand-made animation I have ever seen. The flesh-eating dragon, the Tower Knight, the legs of your character, the Fool's Idol, etc - From Software has a seriously talented team of animation artists on their payroll, and we are no doubt going to see more of this in the second "Souls" game.

Of course - it's not a sequel, and the designers want that to be clear. But no, you're not going to escape that the first game was pure genius, even with it's weaknesses. The second game is also said to improve on particular aspects of magic use, item use, etc. It will give you more opportunities to customize and personalise your equipment. There will be "progression" through the levels with movable camp-fires (spawn-points).

But most of all, the integration between narrative and gameplay will be kept as a focus.

On top of this, the multiplayer experience - the completely unique experience that no one really wrote anything about. The "echoes" of other souls also led through the mist into Boletaria. Some of which may be invited - or simply intrude in your own realm, more or less forcefully. This will also be kept, though in a different form.

I'm looking forward to it, as they say.

--

By the way - if you want to run this on gameroni, Jason, feel free :)
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Title: Fancy Pants Adventures go to town
Posted: March 03, 2011 (03:36 PM)
So, ah, one of my favourite "sub-Hollywood budget" games of all time is Fancy Pants Adventure. Brad Borne made this excellent physics-based 2d platformer in a hand-drawn style that debuted on Newgrounds, I think, back in 2006. It's technically and aesthetically brilliant - and you just run around jumping back and forth, kicking snail-shells, collecting scribbles. And chasing an ice-cream cone a mean rabbit steals from you (for the sake of a game-plot). You also have neatly animated hair and fancy pants.

The physics are definitively the best thing about the game - the way the character has momentum, and how the moves are based on the speed and direction you're moving.

Bourne is apparently now showcasing a console-version of Fancy Pants Adventure at GDC, developed with EA 2D studios. This version features textured pants and four-player same-screen. It will be released on psn and xbl this spring.

Lisa Foiles at GDC:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/gdc-2011/2823-Fancy-Pants-Adventures-at-GDC

For proper amounts of Nostalgia, play the flash-game on Newgrounds (or on Armorgames). And don't miss Part 2/FPA2 on the same link. :)
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Title: "For use with the hands only".
Posted: March 02, 2011 (12:56 PM)
So I finally caved, and bought a Move-controller. Of course, it's one thing to test it on a calibrated demo-setup, while standing in a lit room, and another thing to set it up for yourself. So let's see what we have here.

The package (the starter kit) contains:
A bunch of manuals. A disc with some demos. One bulb-controller. And a PSEye.

The controller is pretty light, lighter than a wii-mote with the bluetooth module - even though it's about 20cm long or so. It's thinner on the middle, and heavier towards the point right before the bulb - so it rests nicely in differently shaped hands. Or, said differently, your hand slips forward until your fingers rest on the buttons. Underneath the controller is an analogue trigger - very soft and comfortable. Lighter than on the sixaxis, in other words.

The square/triangle/circle/x buttons are placed around the middle of the soft "move-button". Unlike the sixaxis controller, the face-buttons are state-switched, and are shrinked down a bit. So you need to push a bit harder before they click down. It seems to me that this is a good idea over using soft buttons for all of them, since you don't rest the bulb-controller against your other hand for support. So the soft "move-button" in the middle is easy to push with the thumb without accidentally hitting anything else. As long as you don't use the smaller buttons for aiming switches, this should work well. There's a start and a select-button on the sides as well.

The bulb, as has been pointed out, is soft and won't break very easily. Which is a good thing, as the calibration cycling that goes on between starting up a move compatible game, and until you actually get to the calibration screen may very well induce mind-burn and mild insanity. The blue power-indicator on the PSEye is also impossible to turn off - though I could cover it with electric tape and have fewer side-effects.

The PSEye is basically a usb-camera with a microphone. It's not as light as the typical stick-cameras, and comes with a tiny stand you can rotate around. It's easy to place this on a desk, or on top of the tv. But you can get away with resting it below or on top of a flat monitor as well. It has a 2.5m long usb-cable. And the contact has a cap you can put on. Nice touch, since most ps3s only have two usb-ports, and you're bound to switch the cables in and out a bit.

Installing it is basically just finding a spot for the pseye in front of you, and plugging the bulb-controller to charge on a the other usb-port. Once you do, you can switch around on some settings for the pseye for noise-reduction, or calibrate the bulb-controller. But it's not necessary. The move-controller also uses bluetooth, like the other controllers, and receives an ID at the end of the ID list - there's no conflicts going on by connecting a move, and then timing out a pad, before connecting it again, etc.

At this point, the xmb should automatically remind you that it's possible to navigate it by holding in the trigger-button, and flipping back and forth.

This is fairly good, actually. You hold the trigger-button down to catch a reference point, and then you flip up and down. Slow movements cause accurate movements, fast movement zaps past the items, before you can slow down and pick the item you want. It will take your average 12 year old about three seconds to pick up on (though please don't tell her I said she's average. Obviously, she's not, just so we're clear on that. But she lets me know that it's really easy, even for dumb people).

I'm not that impressed either - so let's move on to (ohh, hahaha).. something else. In the starter pack, there's a disc with a bunch of demos. Using the move, we navigate to the box with Tumble, and do the install. Then.. the patch-install.. and two minutes later, we're greeted with full localisation and voice-overs for the game. This is definitively designed for kids, and my heart sinks. I'm noting a couple of spelling errors, but I'm defeated, and I will renege the ownership over the bulb-controller for the rest of the evening.

"Point the move-controller towards the pseye and hold down the move-button". That's all there is to the calibration in this game. A green hook, and we're on a screen with a hand hovering across the menu. Now this is extremely smooth. If we compare to the wii, it would have this jitter, even if you put the wii-mote down on the table. The bulb-controller is perfectly accurate and utterly smooth. You also don't lose sync just because something is stupidly waving in front of you. It's also smooth and accurate if you move further back (blehh..). No wonder, really, since the eye is just picking up the coloured ball, and not a beam. The controller is also ambiguous.

Once we go into the game, in the 3d context, the pointer receives a small trailing, though. Obviously, the design chooses a different sync once it needs to update the 3d scene, and calibrates it to lower than the screen's refresh. It's not enough to upset your aim in any way, but you notice that it's not entirely 1:1 any more. ..by a small sliver of a fraction of a second, basically.

Tumble is a block-building game, just without the mess. Accordingly, the entire game is pristine and clean, with white and bright colours, calm music, and clean UI.

And it's a good demo of what the bulb-controller is all about. You can move the controller back and forth in the scene. Reach into it, etc. Then pick up a block, flip it around, rotate it in all directions, etc. It doesn't particularly mind if you hold the controller at an angle either - or shift the position of the "center" during gameplay. Very slick, in fact.

The first time I saw something like this was several years ago on a tech-demo with infrared sensors around a glove. Basically, it had limited movement around the axes, as well as some rotation detection. There was talk about using this for precision incisions during operations, and so on. But it didn't really take off. The 3d imagining software was rescued for some other project later, I believe.

With this solution instead of an infrared detector array - to use a coloured ball in front of a camera, along with a few gyroscopes inside the controller - it has perfect mapping of movement in all the axes, as well as shifts in depth and direction following your movement. The smaller the ball, the further away, etc.

It's a technically well made product, no doubt. And it's also mature when it comes to the presentation. Not often Sony pulls off both of those at the same time. So full props to Anton and Richard at the development labs. This is a really neat gizmo.
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Title: Time to eat crow.
Posted: December 25, 2010 (06:24 AM)
So, to survive Christmas, I went looking for something I haven't played, that would also work on the laptop. And after I was surprised very positively after playing the Mass Effect 2 demo, I picked up Mass Effect 1.

How to put this.. I've read a few reviews about the game. I've played parts of the Citadel myself. Watched parts of other gameplays. People wax poetically about the shallow, shallow and extremely superficial nonsense. And then there are these gems of writing and gameplay hidden down under the pole of a solid ice-planet.

I mean, why didn't anyone write about this?

Sorry. Point was - I haven't played Mass Effect until now because it was a 360 exclusive. I thought it was only a bastard simulation for kids, with shooting instead of rpg-elements, and then it goes ahead and surprises me with more of that extremely good writing hidden away on the sidequests..
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Title: Least Embarrassing Game of 2010
Posted: December 21, 2010 (02:48 PM)
This isn't just because I'm getting older - I've always thought about games as eminent time-wasting, and nothing else. But the reason why it's nothing else, is that game-developers rarely try. And games are generally thought of as impossible to shape into something in the high art range of for example a tv-serial. Or a bubble-gum commercial.

It's not really a very strange view - after all, the most popular games are published with a very conscious budget and target audience. Where niche-audiences have proven to be too small to justify the larger development cycles.. comparative to, say, a tv-serial or a bubble-gum commercial.

Therefore I've always rated games in terms of exceptions to the rule, and how well or bad they turn out in spite of inevitable problems having to do with budgets and so on.

So here's the list of games from 2010 that were the least embarrassing for everyone.


8. Bayonetta.

SEGA made Sonic for adults, and no one noticed how laughably shameless this game really was. Bayonetta is a witch. She doesn't wear clothes, but is covered by her magical hair. The hair can be made into demons, who eat more or less angelic beasts for lunch. At some point in the game, you will torture a Seraphim with very female appearance - by strapping it to wooden horse until it orgasms into a burst of blood and golden rings.

And the way it's done effectively hides any sort of lewd appearance of it all. Well done, SEGA.


7. Alpha Protocol.

Alpha Protocol was Obsidian Entertainment's attempt at translating a spy-film into a video-game. (Vaguely reminiscent of how Bioware would translate a science fiction novel to a video-game with Mass Effect - and again building on Obsidian's earlier attempt with The Sith Lords). And it succeeds quite far along thanks to the writing, and the pacing of the game in the story-sequences. Unfortunately, the game relies heavily on mechanics that are quite difficult to pick up on for non-gamers, and even difficult enough for very experienced gamers - and this makes the dominant part of the game very often chore to play. The ceiling is simply too high for casual gamers to climb past. While the presentation with hobbling crouch-animations, and strangely unintuitive hotspots make the game problematic.

Going back to the writing, this is the game's high point. And the choice-system is created in such a way that you do not need background with Zork to understand it. Nor do you need prescient abilities to guess the game-designers' intentions.

The system is, however, made slightly unwelcome for new players in that there's a time-limit on your choices that is too quick in the beginning. A great story-telling device in itself, of course - that you might make a genuine choice in a pressured situation, rather than the real choice you were going to make, had you had the time to think. But if you are not familiar with the controls, you are going to struggle. And the impression we are left with would typically be that you need to invest time in this game, and decide to do so yourself on beforehand. It's not something you, say, might pick up and try for a while, and see if you fancy it. Gamers of that sort are going to be trounced.

It is, on the other hand, no more embarrassing to watch than a normal James Bond movie, or an episode of 24.


6. MAG.

Simple name, simple objectives - complex context, and complex rules. This was a game that was easy to show others - it was not typically video-game, with powerups and boosts. It wasn't a typical shooter either - having focus on functionality and battle-field control rather than shooting mechanics, or individual heroics. In fact, the game was created out of the fact that 256 human players were taking part in the game, creating their own impact on the game world.

This is instantly a win in my book, because it means the game itself isn't the point - it's just a medium for creating a context where people can interact. And humlemj°d, it becomes something more than "just a game" very, very quickly.

In fact, if you did show this game to someone who were not into a game, they would only comment on how the controls seemed a bit light, and laugh at the instantly healing blue "pixie dust". For a shooter, this is quite high praise.

Not in the least because the game didn't actually achieve this high accolade by accident, but because it was designed this way from the bottom up.

Unfortunately, Zipper and Sony decided to make the game appeal more to their hardcore video-game crowd, and ruined the class balance system, lessened the opportunities for outsider tactics, and started to reward grinding along with run&gun "tactics".

Ironically, Sony feared the game would be too niche if it was not changed this way. But no fear - the game is, through the wonder of forced patching on consoles, now eminently embarrassing to play again.


5. Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

DICE, or Digital Illusions CE is a legendary developer who is now a subsidiary of Electronic Arts. This means certain things for the development of their titles, and it means adopting a style that cannot be thought offensive to anyone if seen at a glance.

Bad Company 2 is such a game. The game's setting is ultimately generic - Russia vs. the United States. The characters in the game are, from start to finish: the older sergeant who will never retire (and is too old for this shit), the mostly speechless (but supernaturally deadly) protagonist, the comic relief, and the dependable sidekick. The game also features the eastern European war-criminal, the 100% predictable traitor, the stuttering Japanese scientist - and yes, the barking commander of a super-secret organisation within the military's super-secret groups.

It's what you might find in the dictionary if you flipped open the page where you could read the definition for: "least offensive to the Northern American audience".

Meanwhile, the game is actually a quality production - the sounds are well placed and defined, while still being smooth to the ear. The graphics are possible to look at without instantly seeing something unnatural. And the way the game advances is logical and obvious to anyone, with appropriate amounts of chaos put into the pauses between the firefights. Rarely are you actually going to do something in this game that appears completely out of whack. The game even hides the fact that you cannot walk past a foot-high obstacle, or walk through a passageway smaller than the length from your left elbow to the right - strangely often.

Meaning that if someone watched you play, they would actually not have their attention drawn to something silly with the game that your gamer brain decides to disappear - but is instead drawn to the action in the game itself.


4. Resonance of Fate.

While still being an archtypical video-game - with typical yes/no dialogues, and rapid numbers flashing around on the screen. And while still being throughly a Japanese Role-playing Game, in terms of obscure plot and an esoteric opening sequence so embarrassing that it can not be watched in company with anyone - the actual game is different. Specially when you turn off the - in terms of games and low-production entertainment - tremendously well done dub.

Whether it is the moody but beautiful world, or simply Leanne's physics based skirt - the eye is drawn to the battles in a way that Final Fantasy titles cannot accomplish.

Lack of emphasis on embroidery, lace, belts with chains, and androgynous heroes certainly also help.


3. Vanquish.

All right. So it is an unashamedly ridiculous action-game with burly males on steroids shooting big guns. But on the other hand, it doesn't try to be something else at all. It has a core gameplay mechanic - and that is all. Everything else is just frills on the sleeves. It also looks incredibly good while in motion. The action has suspense and friction. In much the same way as Resident Evil 4. Except now you don't have the thoroughly embarrassing dialogues, the very obvious video-game mechanics - and in addition the graphics are as pretty as the explosions are large.

It seems this game is so unashamedly video-game, that it takes everyone by surprise and just goes with it till the end. This is less embarrassing to watch with friends than, ..oh, I don't know.., an episode of Sex in the City.


2. Heavy Rain.

Heavy Rain is an interactive novel - or so it's creators dub it. In a very similar way to other Ps3 exclusives, this game has been called a failure, and everything negative in the thesaurus worse than that. But then suddenly it sells 1.5million discs, which is quite high for a console-exclusive title in general - and certainly more than anyone, including Quantic Dream and Sony, expected.

There are probably two reasons for that:
1. It's not really a video-game at all.
2. The production value of this game is laughably high.

In other words, the appeal of this game is lack of arcade controls, while plugging into the wave of popularity associated with what we experts like to call "things with stories in them". Being one not entirely too complicated story, while also being something fairly interesting and new - this title became a relatively easy sell for an adventure video-game.

So it is, strangely enough, possible to get people to play parts of this game without having laughter-fits while taking a stroll in uncanny valley. Certainly, the ambition of the game's director might not be reached - few will delve so deeply into the game as to start filling in the thoughts of the character while playing. And yet, the game's direction is set up in such a way that you do, to an extent, partake interactively in a scene with movie-quality writing.

This doesn't happen, and as such the game is a thorough success in all kinds of ways. I still remember scenes from this game - obviously because I felt something very strongly when playing them. Like I would a good film, or a good book. And I know people who never play games that were successfully tricked into playing scenes in this game - without laughing at the game itself, or what it tries so very hard to accomplish.


1 . Gran Turismo 5.

The winner this year is without a doubt GT5. Obviously the presentation is horrible, the spectacular effects are nowhere to be seen, and there is no money-shot during the introduction. In fact, the game comes off as such a pretentious mess that it's hard to believe anyone watched this and said: "Yeah, this is kinda good". I'm just going to point out the highlights: Earth seen from space. Iron in an ironworks. Metal being made. Cars being assembled in fast film. This is obviously a tribute to cars, and probably also a pointer to Polyphony Digital and their approach to the game..

And then you get to the menu-screens.. good grief. It's a complete, complete mess.

The mess continues to the beginning of the first race, where you're treated to a stressful camera bouncing back and forth across different views, apparently in an attempt to get your attention away from the road and the race.

The game is also littered with "imperfect" angles, due to the dynamic lighting model and how no "perfect" view-distance was chosen.

But then you start to drive, and it simply is a pleasure. There's no need for explanations, there's no need for spectacular effects. It's just driving, and it's all very pretty. A slow sunday drive on the Nurnburgring in a classic car - sure thing. It's all so cleverly made that you will quickly forget about how terrifyingly bad the interface and the game progression is.

Meanwhile, this is the first car-game - and probably game in general - that has a fully dynamic lighting model. Where shadows fall naturally on the scenery, and light-sources illuminate your dashboard believably. Again, something that simply appears very natural to anyone who isn't a hardcore gamer.

Sadly, none of the time-step aware game-modes unlock during the entire course of the single-player game unless you happen to pick some particular special events, and clear them with nigh on impossible lap-times.

Nevertheless - when seen in action.. By Freya's sharp fingernails, this is great. This is what games dream they can become one day. The physics model, and the lighting model - all captures "realism" so neatly that games can easily be given a unique place in entertainment media afterwards.
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Title: 1up's feature interview with Yu Suzuki
Posted: December 07, 2010 (09:44 AM)
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Title: The uncreative process (Warioware edition)
Posted: December 04, 2010 (07:11 PM)
This was a terrible review to write. I had a few things that I wanted to have in there, such as:
1. the game is unplayable if I'm sober. The game isn't any less silly, it's just not fun any more. Or.. it's a game that actually is possible to play when hysterically bombed, so it's comparatively not so fun when you're sober.
2. The graphics are simplistic. And they're simplistic for a reason. It's an interesting thing - the wii-mote actually does allow you to map motions that are fairly complex. You don't have all the axes, or the twists and turns in all directions. The depth-focus is working only when facing directly at the sensor (it's the dual infra-red thing), and the rotation only works together with the sensors. But on the other hand, the gyro actually works, and can pick up on movement up and down, etc. It's not accurate, but it's useful enough that it's possible to not have to focus completely on the mechanical control to solve the games. You can.. at times, when you're not just blinking in and out because the mote doesn't have focus... just do the actual movement, and things happen believably on the screen. This isn't very good - it's "visual science", coupled with fraud. But it's effective to some extent.
3. The game's plot and events can tend to be, in Nintendo world terms, pretty edgy.

I'm not really sure if any of that came off. I had to avoid writing "only play this game if you're drunk". But some of the animation is so silly and bad that you start to imagine it's made by people who do drugs, for people who do drugs. It's the kind of sensory backlash, with the exaggerated emotion in the simplistic animation, that doesn't make sense to a reasonably present brain.

On the other hand, it is true that the game is hilariously fun. And several parts of it really is extremely well put together. The nonsensical mini-games, with the positively crazy animation...

Let me give you an example: you're told to hold the "form baton" in the "The Dumbbell" position. There's a slightly big boned school-girl with weights in her arms. And you're told to "Lift!" for the weights in her arms. You do a pulling motion - and the animation mis-matches completely, does a pull-up some time after yours. And if you complete the mini-game, the school-girl's biceps and torso explode through the shirt. In a completely non-erotic manner whatsoever.

Ok. So is that fun? No. It's shocking, and hilarious at the same time. So it's something that you will laugh crazily at if you don't actually think too deeply of - because it's that unexpected shock-effect of something that is at once remarkably laughable and exaggerated - but also exceptionally silly.

And yet - to get away with these things, and actually make the animation and the mini-games as crazy as they are - that takes talent. It's as if they tweaked it to be short, precisely because if it did last longer, it would only be embarrassing.

There's another mini-game that starts out with "Insert!". You are supposed to insert some old lady's teeth. And you do that by aiming in the general direction and pushing the wii-mote forward.

Another has you pull a gigantic nose-hair out of a huge snout. If you succeed you're treated to an exaggerated animation of a bugger falling out of the nose along with the nose-hair.

The game is just full of these things. And they always manage to do it in a way that is almost too embarrassing, constantly.

But then, strangely enough, that doesn't last, and the game just has a lot of pointless and genuinely not very shocking things at all.

Worst is when it switches to 3d. This is 3d that would have looked good in 1988. But it's also where the most brilliant use of the wii-mote is hidden. Drink a glass of swill - "Finish!" is about quaffing down a glass, but without spilling too much. This game uses the gyro all the way from down to up - and it actually could work if you find the sweet-spots the gyro kicks in. And then the animation actually follows your movement in real time. That is brilliant. But it really takes a while to figure this out, whether you're sober or not, so it's actually not a good design-choice - but something that is a technically brilliant, but mechanically difficult, part that no programmer wouldn't fall in love with.

In any case - so bottom line: the fun of the game is not immersing yourself into the game. But in acting out something outside it. To be tricked by the visuals on the screen to do something extravagant.

I don't like the concept - unless I'm drunk. I mean, it's... like a japanese game-show, isn't it. That's all the explanation you need here, really.

Review here:
http://www.honestgamers.com/reviews/9177/WarioWare-Smooth-Moves.html
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