Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 2: Meet the Producers

Editors note: It's now 11:56 p.m., on the night before this post goes up on tumblr and I realized something funny - I almost forgot to write up tomorrow's this entry. So far, getting by on this little month of blogging just means staying ahead.

Another Editors note: You're reading a cross-post from a separate tumblr blog I started over the summer. I'm just trying to keep the two intertwined for now because this blog started in NYC and I have trouble just moving on.

I had an opportunity to attend the New Producers Orientation event hosted at a local Public Access television station (channel 29 on your local SF Comcast or Astound). The building was called SF Commons, but the stuff we heard at the start of the presentation seemed awfully grim.

It turns out the core funding that helped maintain and run the staff of 11 at SF Commons, and helped keep the resource open to the local community, was gutted this past year. My figures might be off because I can barely find the energy to reach over and check my reporters notebook (something I carry everyday since a journalism class I took almost two years ago), but a figure of close to 900,000 was used to keep the site open was cut. It resulted in a staff of 11 people getting downsized to a paltry three.

Clearly, this wasn't the way I pictured something titled a new producers orientation to be.

After the sad stuff we moved on to future. The facility is being closed and the operation will be absorbed into another site because they can't afford the rent. The moving process starts on December 18th, and none of their regular classes or services will be restored until sometime mid-January (all tentative).

Still, the crew at SF commons then moved on to the nitty gritty. They outlined all the policies and procedures to sign up and grab a weekly or bi-monthly time slot. They answered any questions regarding equipment loans and required courses/knowledge. This was the only part of the evening that felt like business as usual. Things seemed to pick up and flow naturally, as if al the bad stuff at the start of the presentation vanished.

I don't regret going to this event tonight because two things simultaneously dawned on me. The first was that the non-profit public access/media scene is getting hit just as hard as the rest of the US right now, with plenty of people getting dragged into the unemployment line (and it sucks). The second is that for some of our video projects at Beacon to really shine, we have to push our way into using these spaces and equipment while their still available to the community. Through organizations like this we could use professional grade equipment and make something special that won't cost nearly as much as acquiring the stuff ourselves.

In the end, I walked out of there with a bunch of ideas and a lot of hope. Maybe that's all I ever needed in the first place.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Free Writing: New Glasses, Grade-a-geddon, and the Big Choice


It's been a while since I used anything to actually write down what I'm thinking, which really sucks. It's like a zillion ideas go through my head from morning to night (unless I'm playing a game) and I never write any of them down. Some of things I think up are pretty interesting ideas for work, or some bizarre way to really make sense of projects I'm working on, or just weighty, personal stuff that needs to be decided and soon.

So in no particular order (other than the one at the top of this post), I'll run down what's on my mind right now (or at least recently).

One Vision

One Pair of Glasses

First, new glasses. That's right, guess what happened to the old ones? So, i should say a mistake led to this one. It all started last week when I accidentally fell asleep on my old glasses. I woke up and found them a mangled mess, completely unfit for wearing. Ever.

So that led to a surprisingly painless procedure at the local optometrist. I'd tell you his name, but i really can't remember it well. A co-worker convinced me to say no to an appointment at Lens Crafters, and yes to supporting locally owned businesses. I took him up on the offer only because I didn't want buying new glasses turning into buying new glasses (as in expensive and bothersome). Luckily, it seems to have worked out and I'm wearing a borrowed pair until the real ones come in on Wednesday.

Holiday Grade-a-geddon Returns

As with any teaching job, report card deadlines are far and away the worst shit to ever happen in life. Ever.

As un-eloquently put as that is, and it's pretty bad, I have to say its captures the essence of why grading sucks. I think students forget that teachers have just as much homework as their professors because, ethically speaking, you can't just wave a wand over the old grade book and PRESTO!, instant letter grades. it takes time, patience and some old fashioned hard work.

I guess this should be easier given its my fifth year teaching (and to some extent it is), but I despise the amount of time it takes to getting this task done. It's my one real complaint about the profession in general.

So, I spent Sunday grading, grading, and grading. And with all ths grading, I still managed to think up some ways to cut down other periods of downtime in my day just to get stuff done earlier than the night before.

Woefully, i think what bugs me most is that i still have to do this stuff after moving out here from NY. I don't hate my job, and I won't say anything to endanger it here because part of me still believes in this profession, but I would love to end this teaching career before its all I'll ever know.

Big Choices

Now that heading is a tad misleading, but I guess i have a choice to make as whether or not to visit back home this holiday. Okay, so its New York, right? It's big and beautiful and full of people I know and adore, but truthfully its also the same old stuff and, unfortunately, the same old drama.

I hate to sound cliche and its probably not something I will ever do on this blog again, but some shit stuff never changes. I can see that part of life is that adjustment, and I guess I get that part of it to an extent.

Oh, who am I kidding. I'll probably go just to see the amazing people I know there. It'll be great to have fun and relax, but only for a week. Last year I did two weeks and almost went nuts!


Thanksgiving was awesome! I had a great time with new friends, and I had an opportunity to see what an impact my choices have on people. If that sounds strange then the moment it happens, it is.

I'm grateful for great SF peeps and good Spanish food.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bealtes Abbey Road DLC Impressions

The Abbey Road downloadable album for The Beatles Rock Band hits PSN, XBL and the Wii Marketplace today, and may contain some of the priciest music content yet made.

Still, for true Beatles fans who have some coin to spare, its also some of the best music from the fab four's catalogue, culminating in a full on 16-minute rendition of the Abbey Road medley - a collection of shorter b-side songs included in the album. The medley includes: “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “The End” and "Her Majesty."

The songs included as part of the Abbey Road medley are also playable in 1-to-3 song groups depending on how they were recorded. The playable song bundles are as follows:

"You Never Give Me Your Money”
“Sun King”/ “Mean Mr. Mustard”
“Polythene Pam”/ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
“Golden Slumbers”/ “Carry That Weight”/ “The End”*
“Her Majesty”

Consider these playable song packs as a great midterm, with the full 16-minute medley representing a stirring final exam. Also available as part of this playable DLC album are the following singles: “Maxwell's Silver Hammer,” “Oh! Darling,” and “Because.” These three are the only songs that can be purchased separately, so if you want the full medley or the ability to play the smaller song packs, be prepared to pay the full asking price of $16.99 or 1360 Microsoft Points. The singles mentioned above are $1.99 or 160 Microsoft Points per track, respectively. Wii owners will pay $2.00 for the single tracks, and $3.50 for the multi-track sets mentioned above. Editor's Note: The Wii does not support the full album downloads, so its the only place where Abbey Road will be available in parts.

If you're keeping count, remember that the retail version of Beatles Rock Band shipped with six songs from the original Abbey Road album, reminding us all of the high price tag involved in licensing the Beatles music for this game. Alternatively, consider the Queen 10 Pack that was also released for Rock Band/Rock Band 2 on the same day as this album. It costs $15.99 or 1280 Microsoft Points for ten full length songs.

The psychedelic visual styling used for the Abbey Road DLC album is beautiful. As a representation of the Beatles music it a strong visual package, yet none of the dreamscapes in this DLC feel as creative or timeless as the stuff included on the Sgt. Pepper's songs included in Beatles Rock Band (truthfully, one of the bands' most inspired albums). Ironically, Peppers is the next downloadable album set to grace the Beatles Rock Band Music Store, so we'll be eagerly anticipating its' arrival next month.

Remember folks, any Beatles Rock Band DLC is exclusive to Beatles Rock Band, and only functions as part of the games walled garden. None of these songs can be played in Rock Band or Rock Band 2.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Weekend Visit to the Curious Village

There are many mysteries to solve in the curious village

I've owned "Professor Layton and the Curious Village," a point and puzzle-filled adventure for Nintendo DS, for well over a year. In preparation for the sequel, I finally decided to come back and finish what I started after a sizable hiatus.

Sadly, things this happens to gamers a lot. We start a game. We get excited for the game. And then we trail off, our attention yanked in another direction by something else. Sometimes it's life that pulls us away from the games we crave to play, or often times it's another game (or even a bad game - but who buys those and is genuinely surprised). This is all part of a strange cycle that even the most devout and dedicated gamers can fall into, and it's gems like "Curious Village" that suffer.

I didn't stop playing Professor Layton's first adventure released in America (Japan already has three, I think) because it was boring. Absolutely not. In Layton's case, the opposite is true; I couldn't put it down because of how polished it all was. The puzzles, the presentation, the mystery are all well conceived and executed. And the addictive nature of solving puzzles completely reeled me in. The story seemed childish (as in Saturday morning cartoon) in tone, but it's a much deeper experience than I first thought.

The bigger reason why Layton got the boot from the game slot of my DS was... because another game came out that I wanted to play as well.

I dropped Layton for "The World Ends With You," another handheld gem from 2008 that held my interest for a few months before I moved on to something else.

It's so schizophrenic isn't it? Move from game to game and never finish what you started, never experience the ending or full charm of a game. In some ways never discovering the conclusion is like nibbling a corner of a fresh bag of Doritos and then promptly closing the bag, then putting it away.

Well, I'm done with this buy, try, and then shelve routine. It's absurd, and the wrong way to really do anything. This weekend I started by resuming my file in the "Curious Village" and I was done by Sunday afternoon. The game was amazing, and seeing (and guessing) how it all came together was a blast.

It felt so good to finish a game for change, and it's inspired me to on to more. I'll finally restart and conquer "The World Ends With You," I'll restart my adventure in Hyrule and then save it in "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," and I'll find some other great games I tossed aside over the past two to five years.

Maybe I'm making my New Year's Resolution too early, but I'll try my best to finish everything I start from this moment on.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Podcastin' It Up!

Not pictured: Matt Chandronait

Okay, it's a lame title for a post, but hopefully the content herein is not so lame. I got lucky (hooray) and was invited back on Rebel FM for Game Club, a podcast dedicated to playing an already released game as a community and discussing its' highs and lows with the each other and the fine folks who visit eat-sleep-game.com. I still remeber the last time I was on; I got to see off my good friend Sterling McGarvey.

It was such a priviledge to be a part of the discussion with such a great group of guys, epecially considering the game they picked for this Game Club - "Heavenly Sword" for the PS3 .

Nariko, the ill-fated wielder of the Hevenly Sword

See, the thing is Heavenly Sword was a game I had zero interest in. As in at all. It was the subject of many arguments between a good friend and I back in then. I wasn't convinced it would deliver the cinematic goods that both Sony and Ninja Theory said it would. I could have been wrong, but at $60 in a crammed holiday release period? I couldn't justify it.

I felt the need to choose between it and "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune", a game I was much more interested in. I chose to believe in Naughty Dog's game instead.

I should make clear that I love action games. "God of War" and "The Mark of Kri" were two of my favorite games from the last console generation, and the final decision regarding a purchase between the two basically boiled down to gut reaction.

In the end, my gut chose Uncharted and I have no regrets.

Feel free to check out this week's episode and see what we thought of Heavenly Sword. And if you have feedback, leave a comment at their club site located here.

Image Courtesy of: johnsof.nl

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two Days Off, A DSi, and a Whole Lot of Clean Up

It's been a very relaxing few days since the end of the Beacon summer session, and I've made it a priority to take advantage of the downtime, finally enjoying my vacation. Then again, vacation is a pretty relative term here coonsidering the amount of leisurly stuff I did while I was "working". The Beacon Summer Program went to the movies, visited the Academy of Science, walked the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and went on a pretty kick ass camping trip.

In fact, I really can't follow up that kind of experience with much of anything so far. The last few days have been alright but today was especially boring (filled with dastardly chores; the kind that haven't been done in weeks).

Not the Best Buy we went to, but a Best Buy nonethelessStill, I'll admit that the downtime was needed. No one likes to work year round, least of all me. Thursday we had an impromptu reunion of volunteer Beacon Staff at the Best Buy over on Harrison. A bunch of the cool kids (ATF!) invited me to go with them as they eagerly scouted the electronics giant for a worthwhile item to spend their prized $100 gift cards.

And I walked into Best Buy with my a mission of my own - to not buy a Nintendo DSi. And I failed miserably.

So, why wouldn't I want a Nintendo DSi, you ask? This is especially puzzling if you actually know me in real life, and know what a champion for the games industry I tend to be. The truth is, I wasn't interested in any of the little things: the smoother matte finish on the device, the smarter menu design, the bigger screens, and the (low quality) cameras were all wasted on me.

Nintendo DSi

Instead, the purchase of my DSi came down to the potential of Nintendo's downloadable games. Say what you like about the format, but downloadable games are the future of the industry. Yes, they're smaller budget, and these games are no where as visually polished as currnet gen console stuff, but the focus in developing downloadable games tends to shift to just being fun and entertaining.

I did take pictures with the camera though, and there is something oddly fun to be said about manipulating photos on the device. I'd proabably have to pay to do this on my iPhone 3G, or try a series of different apps before settling on the right one.

What will I do with my DS lite?

So the greater question is, what will I do with my DS Lite? It still has a GBA slot for the old school great games of Gameboy's past. Someone I know even mentioned getting an R4 for it, but I haven't decided if I really want to take that route yet.

Besides becoming the proud owner of a DSi, nothing else really happened on my vacation so far besides a lot of cleaning. Oh, and I started re-playing a Japanese RPG called "The World Ends With You" on my new DSi; that and a downloadable Brain Age Math game have been keeping me pretty busy.

I can only hope the rest of my vacation turns out to be more interesting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Splosion Saturday

Splosion Man, Splosion Man, Splodes Like No Other Splosion Can

In case you haven't read it on other tumblr blogs's, the OMIE Beacon Summer Program (a.k.a. the people that I worked for) took it's staff and students on a camping trip over in Livermore, CA. Those adventures can be read right here, here, here, and here. I had a great time despite my clashes with the ATF, but you can read about what happened somewhere else (and you really should).

The only unfortunate thing from the trip was the apparent pandemic I brought back with me ( I suspect it came from the shitty pool lake). So, I've spent the past three days pretty much as sick as, well .... just really frigging sick. And since in my book sick comes under the heading bed rest, and luckily the bed is right next to some game systems, I spent the majority of Saturday catching up with video games.

The first game I tried I'd heard about a few weeks ago, called "Splosion Man."

Splodin' Like No Other Brother

In Spolsion Man, you play the role of the title character trying to escape the platforms and pitfalls of a twisted laboratory. As the name suggests, you only have one major ability - to explode. Sploding is the only way to jump, and the Splosion Man can jump up to three times before he needs to hit the ground again and recharge.

I think the thing that surprised me the most about "Splosion Man" was the consistent level of humor found in this game. Spolsion Man, himself, is a very animated character. He runs through the hallways of the lab swinging his arms like a plane and making noises, quoting the occasional Arnold film as he goes. Every once in a while you'll hear something like, "get to the chopper," "No way, Jose," or some other famous movie one-liner. And in the end, making Splosion Man such a fanboy is a brilliant way to add character depth to a platformer - even in the light hearted tone of this game.

As cool as the "Splosion Man" concept is, it's not a game for everyone. This is a really difficult game. It's so mind numbingly tough at times that you'll frequently question if some of the move combinations needed to escape a particular section are even possible. More challenging is the fact that most of the game revoles around a trial-and-error style of game, making deadly mistakes feel more like user error than anything else. As negative as this all might sound, I never really got stuck in the same space for very long. Most of the time, it just came down to being observant and hitting the jumps as best as possible.

Well, I've gone on long enough and now it's Sunday morning and I'm still sick (hooray). So, besides getting some much needed breakfast, I'll probably be home again playing more games again. Sigh.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Solid Advice: The Elements of a Good Demo

It isn't the first mutiplayer beta to ever hit Xbox Live, but the "Bionic Commando Multiplayer Demo" is live, and the initial public response is mixed so far (Recently a patch went out to address some issues) . But the ongoing debate here got me thinking about multiplayer betas/demos in general, and how they can undermine the reputation developers of a soon-to-be-released game. Clearly, a well made multiplayer demo creates product evangelists, a poorly made one does not.

But what happens when a beta or demo gets the opposite attention than it was created for? How can developers temper the experience into something better? What could they have done differently and what are some of the key elements to a successful beta is the console space? Systemic examines this issue a little closer (using the Bionic Commando Beta as a guide) to give you our take.

Take the Time and Teach
A public domain beta, i.e. one that's free of exclusive access or registration, and forgoes any user buy in for the experience, still needs to be accessible. Why? Because anyone can download it for free to try it out. More importantly, if its multiplayer game that uses new mechanics to traverse a space, It needs to teach you how to play the game. The concept of teaching is fundamental because it helps users understand how they can traverse within the space. And for a lot of folks, this beta is their first exposure with the game, so why frustrate them from the start? There simply is no benefit here.

Yes, the concept behind the word 'beta' (or even demo) immediately reminds people that the game their playing isn't a final build, but there should still be a standard of what to expect if the controls deviate from traditional standards set in said game's genre. Correct manipulation if the controls is a pivotal factor to enjoyment here.

Multiplayer games are supposed to be fun, but if the player has no idea what's going on or how the game works, the experience degrades from something fresh to more of a mixed bag. Bionic Commando is a game where swinging, quick movement, and decent shooting skills are all essential skills for success, yet teaching players those skills is ignored completely.

A big reason why the Halo and Call of Duty betas were successful was
because of how synonymous the vocabulary for First Person shooters
controls are among most gamers (aside from also being pretty well
balanced games in general). The average console user is pretty well
versed in these types of controls, so they don't need hand holding to
grasp general mechanics.

The Bionic Commando Demo heaves players into a match made free-for-alls, but ignores building player skills through a short tutorial. They toss you into the wild against random opponents. And the fact is not knowing how to play makes the game that much more inaccessible.

It's Fun to Play Together
Allowing users to play together seems like simple rule, and it can lead to the most potential fun in multiplayer games. Let's face facts: after playing so many games online we know that playing with strangers isn't always fun.

Of course the natural counter argument here is that the deathmatch mode included in BC: Multiplayer beta is designed for a free-for-all play, and gamers can't be trusted to play fair if they played with friends. To counter, I'd say then why only include that mode?

One Map Just Isn't Enough
In multiplayer beta-land, most good experiences come in packs of three. Let's look at the console version of the competition for Bionic Commando Multiplayer. "Call of Duty 4: Moder Warfare" - three maps. "Halo 3" - three maps. "Call of Duty: World at War" - three maps, again.

The pattern here is obvious, and if there's any lesson to be derived it's that the more maps mean better. In Bionic Commando, a game that's clearly more geared as a single player experience than a multiplayer one, even two maps would have been fine. Ultimately, don't give gamers a single vertical slice of your game in multiplayer. Consider opening up the experience a little, instead.

One Mode Isn't Enough, Either
Yes, one mode isn't enough, but in reality this is a two-fold issue. On one had, players really throw away too many multiplayer man-hours in Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, and that's okay to an extent. Deathmatch is a great place to start, but adding 5 minute games of CTF could help expose more of what the product can potentially be to the intended audience, especially when the mechanics are so different. This gives players a better, a more well
rounded playground where they can test strategies and share their
experiences, ultimately becoming product evangelists for the game.
After all, who can deny the undying power of word of mouth.

In a beta the graphics don't have to be polished or the features set super robust, but the experience still needs to be tight. As a beta, you're vying for people to pay attention to your game and it pays to make a good first impression.

A first impression is hard to make, doubly so when that its supposed to inspire users to spend $60 on a future purchase. And we're just offering our advice and hopefully you'll acknowledge our points. Otherwise don't complain when we play your game and say that you're 'doing it wrong'.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tekken 6 Hands-On

The King of Iron Fist Tournament is back... again.

"Tekken" is now up to its sixth sequel. That's right, it's sixth. The series in general has been one of the universally adored fighting franchises in recent history, moving 33 million units across multiple platform generations according to publisher Namco Bandai. At a recent Namco Bandai Editor's day event in San Francisco, we had a chance to go hands on with the new game to bring you our impressions of "Tekken 6".

The goal of the development team for "Tekken 6" is simple, yet grandiose at the same time. The mission: Make "Tekken 6" the greatest "Tekken" ever. Staring at the character select screen, you start getting the immediate feeling they're serious in that credo. A whopping 40 characters are available in the new Tekken, with 6 of them bringing fresh faces to the series. As exciting as that news is, our demo only allowed us to use 4 of them, instantly dashing our hopes of revisiting all of our favorite characters in one sitting.

The four characters included in our demo build are a mix of old school and new: Zelfina and Bob (new school) are paired with nefarious series badboy Kazuya and his son Jin (old school). Oddly enough, the best way to describe either of the new characters for us was by comparing them to characters from other fighting games, some published by Namco and some surprisingly not.

Zelfina is a sultry new female addition to the roster, a gal whose fighting style is best described as the female Voldo of the "Soulcalibur" series, another Namco Bandai game. Her fighting style is very tricky, (think deceptive) without wielding the huge claw like blades Voldo is known to carry from game to game. Zelfina's moves come at you from odd angles which makes playing against her a slightly confusing affair, a seeming advantage for players eager to bemuse their opponents with her awkward attacks.

The heavy yet bouncy Bob is more easily compared to another fighting great: Rufus of "Street Fighter IV" fame. Bob moves quick for a heavy looking guy. According to representatives for the game on hand at the event, Bob's a tough fighter that doesn't let his size discourage him from competition. To us, his moves are way less confusing than Zelfina's, but despite the immediate comparison to Rufus, he feels more like a Paul Phoenix - agile yet powerful, despite his large waistline.

It's easy to see "Tekken 6" living up to being 'the best the franchise has to offer' after our hands on time. Kazuya and Jin both feel familiar and true to their previous "Tekken 5" versions. Visually, we're impressed as the characters move at a rock-solid 60 frames a second in gorgeous fully animated 3D backdrops. One set took place in what resembled a destroyed highway tunnel where explosions bounced cars around in the distance behind the two battling contestants. A trailer they showed at the event showed that players can also knock opponents into certain sections of the ground enough times to shatter it, sending both opponents falling into a second stage beneath the arena mid-fight, but we weren't able to do so during our demo time.

Representatives of Namco Bandai said there will be features included in "Tekken 6" that are on par with prior games of the franchise, but they're not talking about any of it until E3 2009 in June. That means if you want to know about adventure mode or "Tekken" bowling (maybe even a fantasy cooking mini-game starring "Tekken" characters - I kid) you'll have to wait. Still, our impressions of the game so far are solid based on the information they've shared, and online multiplayer is confirmed so far. The biggest surprise had to be the PSP version that will ship close to the console release, but aside from those announcements the Japanese publisher is tight-lipped.

They did share that there won't be any Star Wars characters appearing in "Tekken 6", so that's a considered a plus. Look for more news regarding modes and mayhem in "Tekken 6", this June.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Revisiting the Metal Gear Solid Saga

Call it foolish or some version of vain anticipation for the Hideo Kojima announcement at this year's E3, but I've made a lofty decision that might be too big for me.


If you’re a gamer that wasn’t excited for June 12, 2008, then you weren’t a devoted fan of "Metal Gear". It can easily be said that for those who moved on from the series this day in video game history was of little significance, but for the rest of us it was special. This was the day, where everything, in the sometimes loopy fiction of Metal Gear to finally be answered. After all the teasers, the promotional materials, and the great Kojima Productions podcast series that the fans were finally ready for a grand opus.

Indeed, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" was glorious (depending on your perspective) and then it ended up stuffed in the game corner of my shelf with the rest of my personal collection.

This was my experience almost immediately after conquering the army of Outer Haven, after thwarting Liquid Ocelot’s nefarious plan, and after finally bearing witness to love blooming on a battlefield. The finale to MGS4 was so big that after it all settled I immediately sought a ‘much needed’ retirement from the world of tactical stealth espionage. The ending to MGS4 brought a satisfying conclusion to all the unanswered questions that the series had conjured, even if the long-form self-indulgent cut scenes were a bit pretentious. But immediately placing this game back on the shelf did something major for me. It broke an unspoken (and somewhat sacred) tradition I had with the franchise - much like movies, this is a game series that just gets better the second time through.

Only after a second play-through could I really see the wind from the trees and offer a clearer take on what MGS4 is. And rightly so. Your perspective is clearer tackling a game like this much later. The hype machine has past, and coming back to a Metal Gear the second time is a great opportunity to hunt for easter eggs, a notable series tradition that traces back to the original Metal Gear Solid.

Aside from the usual second-time-through-for-the-story approach, a greater appreciation sets in for me this time: this one focusing on advancements over the prior games in this stealth series. This is when the bigger picture comes to play (at least, for people like me it does). This playthrough becomes the a pivotal moment for feature sets, trying additional controls, or just trying the wacky shit you were too scared to try the first time through.

In this regard, MGS4 truly holds ups as the most replayable Metal Gear - the biggest proponent for this argument being the reworked control scheme. After all, there was enough evidence in MGS3: Snake Eater that the complex web of added functions and improvements to the controls needed some rethinking, a fact made evident by revisiting the older games. Only then can you witness the seemingly ridiculous system of old. Take, for example, the separate attack functions - physical attacks and CQC mapped to circle while all weapon attacks mapped to square. It’s only by looking back at a series a a whole that we can appreciate these things. It's then a wonder how we ever finished the prior Metal Gear games, or how miraculously carpal-tunnel syndrome never set in. But I've decided to use this second play through as something more than typical comparisons.

So for the past few weeks (thanks, in part because of the awesome Kojima keynote at GDC 2009), I've been replaying all the Metal Gear Solid games for the purpose of just admiring the series as a whole. Hell, I’m even considering going back even further to the original MSX "<b>Metal Gear</b>" and "<i>Metal Gear: Solid Snake</i>", simply to have a better perspective of the entire saga. The amount of discoveries factored in with the huge amount of in-game man-hours interspersed within these games should make this series replay totally worth it, right?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Resident Evil Versus Conundrum

(A while back, I promised more posts on Resident Evil 5 and then life happened. I'm happy to say I've finished the game three time and I'm currently working on the fourth. But there's always more to coverage than you expected. Below you'll find my take on the Versus multiplayer mode that hit XBL and PSN last week. The original post appeared over on Systemic.)

We sat down this weekend to spend some time with the new versus mode in Resident Evil 5 and present you with our take.


It's a bit of an overstatement at this point but prior to the release of a new Versus mode for "Resident Evil 5", there has already been plenty of talk regarding Capcom's first RE DLC. Anger was the initial response from the fans, but then controversy transitioned to outrage over the possibility of that this content already existed on the retail disc. At this point its feels like, regardless of Capcom's intentions, its all spun utterly out of control (and this time race has nothing to do with matter), with most people having already chosen sides.

But one fundamental question remains: is the mode worth it?

"Resident Evil 5" did ship with one mode we've sunk a bunch of time into as of this writing: Co-op. Working with our partner we panicked, nefariously planned, and executed the destruction of countless enemy Majini's and other freakishly contorted creatures. The move to co-op in "Resident Evil" made sense overall, even if it slightly subtracted from the traditional atmosphere of the series, known more for it's tension filled environments and lonely corridors. But part of that very tension was produced because you played the game alone. No AI partner or human buddy could jump in to save you. Yet, it seems Capcom is looking for more ways to extend that buddy experience.

So versus is a new thing for the series. One that veterans, like me, seem to smirk at, ultimately unsure if it makes any sense. Sure, we've spent countless hours fragging Spartans and Elites, or blew away plenty of other iconic heroes and villains in competitive online multiplayer, but how does this mode work in "Resident Evil"? And, more importantly, should we care?

Playing it made slightly more sense of the new versus mode, and its really keen for people looking to get more playtime out of "Resident Evil 5". Or at least, more game for $5. Think of it as an extension of Mercenaries, except now you can shoot other humans, too. In Slayers, player's build a high score by defeating the most enemies possible within an allotted time frame. Chaining Majini and other boss kills for higher combos is the best way to get the highest score, but you can also defeat rival players as well to slow down their score. Survivors is more slayers, but this time dropping rival players is the only way to score. And each time a player is beaten in Survivors they drop a random item from their inventory, so don't get too attached to that machine gun. Every player begins survivor mode with a pistol and then finds upgrades as they play through each level - all of them based on locations from the main game.

As with any standard multiplayer these days, the matches in RE5 Versus come in two varieties: ranked and player matches, team based or free-for all, and almost obligatory leaderboard support.

The one bonus of this versus mode that seems designed to entice players to keep playing is that they use their points earned in the this mode and main campaign to unlock other playable RE5 characters. Players can unlock multiple versions of Chris, Sheva, Jill, or Albert Wesker - complete with a very deadly Magnum and triple barreled Hydra shotgun combo. Wesker sports an almost unfair combination that slightly detracts from the competitive experience found in Slayers. His powerful arsenal makes him a mainstay for any Slayer match (we've seen at least two of him in every game of versus we've played) and this seems like a foolish design choice if the designers intended to balance the game.

In fact, the balancing here in versus mode feels partly neglected. For example, the default versions of Chris and Sheva have weapons ill suited to taking out Wesker up close. He's not unbeatable, it just means that to take him down you have to use a different set of tactics. It's possibly more frustrating than the developer's may have predicted. The game does grant you other weapon drops (like the occasional magnum drop) immediately after defeating a boss character, so you have a fighting chance but the situation seems unbalanced to begin with. Basically if you're not picking Wesker and someone else did, prepare for an uphill battle since his weapons will kill Majini's (and you) a lot faster than yours.

Tactics are still present here in RE5 Versus. Plant a mine before you're retired in Team Surviors and leave a nasty surprise for careless opponents, or lead other characters into a nasty partner ambush. Better still, sneak up carefully to rivals and flank them while they're distracted by Majini's. Anyway you look at it, it can still be sort of fun in it's own I-can't-shoot-and-move-at-the-same-time sort of way, but if you're considering this DLC as a purchase that's probably a non-issue.

We'll never know what directly lead to this mode's existence, if it's already on the disc, or what Capcom's intentions were, but we do know this: You're basically looking on a tacked on mode built competitive types that enjoyed mercenaries and don't feel shackled by RE5's control set up. The focus here is on teamwork using tried-and-true RE 5 cooperative gameplay mechanics. Overall, it's a take it or leave it thing where the barrier to entry is $5.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum Hands-On Preview

Originally featured on systemic.gamehelper.com

The one thing every comic book fan I've ever met can agree on is the villainous rogue gallery of the Batman comics contains some of the darkest, most sinister enemies of any comic universe. These are mad men with hidden and not-so-hidden agendas, each one a twisted souls looking for more than wealth as they inflict pain and suffering on the citizens of Gotham. If there is one thing that Batman games have taught me, its that gamers can completely identify with Gothamites. We've been put through the wringer by the last trio of Batman games, each one under-delivering on the promise of playing a game featuring the Dark Knight Detective. And it's hard to undo the collective amnesia that we all seem to undergo the second a new game set in the franchise is announced.

It's with this mindset that I walked over to a demo session of "Batman: Arkham Asylum", and got a closer look at the game during the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco.

Three Pillars of Game Design

The developers of "Batman: Dark Asylum" were quick to inform me of the game's three pillars design philosophy (think concentration areas). These three areas of focus were: Investigation, Free Flow Combat, and Predatory Combat (think stealth). Interestingly, my reaction to this design credo was surprise because I'd never actually thought deeply on what the core essences of the character were. But when I did, I saw a lot of value to this list - they're the most important elements of his masked persona distilled to it's purest and basic idea. To showcase the three pillars concepts in action, I was given a demonstration in the Riddler's Challenge rooms.

The Riddler Challenges

The Riddler challenges are a set of rooms that are designed as an incentive for players to unlock bonus art and character profile info (the game will ship with over 200 of these). The first challenge room I'm shown showcases the game's Free Flow Combat System. Controlling Batman, I'm able to ping-pong around the room engaging different opponents quickly using strikes and kicks. Of course, combat in real-life (or comics for that matter) is rarely ever focused between two people trading blows in gentlemanly fashion and a third person enters the fray. As said goon makes his move I get a moment to try a cool feature that the developers call, a re-direct.

Re-directs in "Batman: Arkham Asylum" are used as a way to redirect Batman's attention to a separate incoming attack. Whenever the Caped Crusader's attention is diverted and an opponent is attacking from his blind side, a lighting bolt appears over the incoming attackers head. This is your prompt as the player to hit the re-direct button to intercept the attack (and look super cool) and then counter the move. Players can either redirect or dodge which leaves the system open and not feel too automatic, and if a prompt makes you feel like the sequence is too quick-time-ish, it shouldn't. Ultimately, it contributes to keeping Batman aggressive in these one-versus-many brawls, and it's satisfying when you nail them into consecutive combos (which for challenge rooms, can be recorded and then uploaded to online leaderboards).

Predatory Instincts
The second series of challenge rooms show off the predatory combat pillar of the game's design. As Batman, players are tossed into a much larger room with the goal of taking out all the goons, only now they are encouraged to use more stealthy means. Batman can crouch walk to silence his steps to sneak up behind foes, or use his grappling hook to observe his prey from above and put together a rough combat plan.

I scale to the top of the room using my grappling hook and check out the Caped Crusaders wonderful toys in "Batman: Arkham Asylum". My first assessment tool is called investigation, and by tapping a button I get a wire-frame looking heads up display that informs me of enemy positions. Using the right trigger, I can crouch walk and sneak up behind someone for a stealth take-down, one of the best ways to dispatch an opponent silently, or I can look for marked surfaces to use my explosive gel. Tagging a marked surface, you can remote detonate the get and take out an enemy using the opposite of a stealth take-down, but its still very satisfying. Two more great tools for the Dark Knight are the Bat Claw and fan favorite Batarangs. The Bat Claw pulls enemies across the room over to Batman (think Scorpion's claw from Moral Kombat), or over rails, taking them out in the process. And Batarangs are like ninja stars except shaped like .... bats.

As I systematically took out each goon in the challenge room one by one, I had another epiphany - this could be the best Batman game so far. The predatory combat felt right for the license, but the thing that sealed the deal were the enemy A.I. and there reactions. If I was too loud, all the thugs would come running to see what happened - a plus in my book. One of my favorite moments played out when I used one of the game's vertical take-downs - If an enemy passes under Batman's perch in a level, he can grapple down, scoop up the enemy, and tie him to the post while he screams for help. After I hog-tied my prey, he scream out and all the goons leveled their machine guns to fire at me. Using the grapple I was able to evade the bullets and seek a better spot while the enemies bickered amongst each other wondering where I went. This was a Batman moment and it convinced me that the game is on the right track.

There's still much to discuss when it comes to "Batman: Arkham Asylum". The game takes place over the course of one night, and with a pretty familiar comic book plot: Batman apprehends the Joker. Joker escapes and then sets all the lunatics of Arkham loose on everyone's favorite Dark Knight (all according to plan, I might add). So, while the outcome to the story could feel obvious, we're fairly excited to see how it all plays out for Batman this time. Clearly the three pillars philosophy as a key design decision means that Rocksteady Studios understands the Dark Knight, better than the developers that came before. Yet its to early to tell if this is the game that vindicates the Batman license and lifts it out of the dredge of 'bad licensed games'.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Solid Advice: Shut Off Your Phone

Please shut off your cell phone before the show begins.”

This was the robotic message that blared through the South Hall of the Moscone Center just moments before Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo Japan, took the stage for his keynote session on developing games for an emerging market. This was just one of two big headline keynotes taking place this week during the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.

I probably had the same dismissive reaction to this announcement as the countless others that were filing into the large hall for Iwata’s session.

“Shut off my phone?” I thought to myself. “Yeah, right.”

But midway through the keynote, I would come to regret this decision, after all the unthinkable always happens. In fact, this accident was something that I programmed to happen every day at 9:30 a.m.

It was my alarm clock. And at 9:30 a.m., it sounded off in the middle of Iwata’s session programmed with the same high pitched sound as the Codec noise used in the Metal Gear Solid games.

See, this alarm is usually important because it signals the end of my first period class. But today wasn’t one of those regular days.

And as I sat in the press section surrounded by high profile members of the gaming press - Stephen Totilo and Tracey John of MTV Multiplayer to my right, Seth Schiesel of the New York Times sitting in front of Stephen, and Brian Crecente and Mark McWhertor of Kotaku both sitting side-by-side in front of me, I reached into my pocket and silenced my cellphone, feeling very foolish the entire time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kellee Santiago Speaks on Managing Creative Talent Within Indie Studios

Kellee Santiago, of thatgamecompany, hosted a lecture today emphasizing the importance of managing creative talent within Indie studios at the Independent Games Festival, part of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The core team of her studio started with 3 people and steadily grew to 7 over the last three years. But despite constantly dealing with contract workers during her studio's game projects, the important piece of her discussion today was aimed towards managing full-timecreatives of an Indie studio instead.

"The focus here will be on your full-time employees, who are probably slash some of your best friends right now," Santiago said, a nudge of sorts toward a key issue for Indie teams, as they transition from creative relationships based off of their early friendships to a more organized format required for business.

Santiago went into specifics by sharing the personal growth and experience at thatgamecompany, and pointed to the creative arguments that began occurring regularly within the group at a very critical moment for the studio last year.

Following the fantastic response from critics to the first showing of their last game, "Flower" at E3 2008, and an offer from Sony aimed at giving them more time and money towards the development of the game, the team was suffering from an all-time low morale within the company and some severe growing pains.

To help the attendees understand her company's situation, Santiago gave a pop quiz to the audience with questions that switched between topics of trust, to then conflict, commitment, and lack of accountability; a laundry list of problems that were contributing to issues at her studio. As one of the the co-founders of her company, Santiago admitted to struggling with knowing when to get involved in the arguments, knowing that on many times when she did it was from being over protective of her staff.

With the help of consultants, the collective of thatgamecompany were able to sort out their issues by identifying the key problems, and then enabling solid management techniques within the company to help address them. They found that there was a growing fear of conflict or the avoidance of conflict between team members, hidden under the guise of thinking that "the game just needed to get done", Santiago said.

For any Indie studio today, Santiago's lecture could hopefully be viewed as solid advice, and she touched on a very human part of the game development process that is never talked about in the daily public relations cycles or information that is passed on to the gaming press.

Santiago closed her lecture by comparing her company's situation to a bad early relationship. "It took (us) a while to learn that its not going to get any better, and that we had to change something here," Santiago said. "But now that we are more mature agency, we can see the signs much more clearer. You can see them a mile away."


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Night Before GDC 09'

So, how did I spend the day before the Game Developers Conference in San Francsico?

I spent the night before GDC playing (and finishing) Resident Evil 5 on my Xbox 360, and then grabbing a quick nap afterward because my eyes were almost bloodshot from playing most of the day.

But napping at 6 p.m. on the night before a big industry shindig like GDC can be a bad thing. Let me explain. First, i missed a huge kick-off party at a local bar downtown. Second, I woke up restless at 12 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. So I spent the early part of this morning browsing more panel sessions and discussions and hoping that I'd make a breakthrough in cloning before 7 a.m.

Sadly, that breakthrough didn't happen, but GDC is still going on and I'll be there on Wednesday.

Maybe I'll get some sleep before then...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fast Forward: Resident Evil 4 is Keeping Me Busier Than I Thought

If there's only one thing that's difficult about being a fan of gaming, its that keeping up with the annual release schedule is tough business. Or, at least playing through each game can be.

A friend of a friend of mine said it best one day. Well, both he and his wife did; They agreed that the initial investment a person puts into a game can quickly feel like more of a burden than a benefit. Especially with the longer games that dominate our playtime.

Consider what reviewers go through. These folk are paid to play as much as possible (given embargo and other circumstances) and then write a quick yet detailed review chronicling the experience. Of course, average Joe is blind to this part of the experience since no one is making him write a detailed analysis of the game, but he/she would agree that playing game after game and investing 10, 20, or even 50 hours of anyone's time in an experience is daunting all of the time. After all, we all have lives to consider.

Except if you're one of the lucky ones and the terms rent, mortgage, jobs and or social-life are devoid human abstracts of little value to you (very lucky for you indeed).

So, back in 2005 something came up that kept me from playing the somewhat-ubiquitous Game of that Year, "Resident Evil 4". Actually, I think I remember now - that was my first year teaching high school.

A January release was radically different for consumers then given the franchise's pedigree - a bold set of survival horror games set in plague filled middle-American town of Racoon City, but we all were prepared for the revolution that RE4 promised. The new camera, great precision and aiming controls were only some of the benefits, but the game also delieverd what many considered a deep and engrossing action adventure through the spanish part of Europe.

Come to think of it. Now, I really remember what took up most of my time that year: preparing for first batch of mid-term exams. It was a really difficult task, I can assure you.

Well, a little game called "Resident Evil 5" just came out last Friday and as excited as I am for it, I can't justify jumping into the zombie filled plague lands of Africa for a reunion with Chris Redfield just yet. At least, not until I complete the last game in the series that I severly neglected despite the hype. So then I've decided to jump back in and complete RE4 on the Wii.

So far playing RE4: Wii Edition has been great, even if the visual style of the game hasn't aged well. It just doesn't look so hot on an HDTV with VGA cables. But you can blame the manufacturer LG, who only put one set of component cables on the back of the unit. Also, feel free to blame the cost of said component cables for the Wii while you're at it.

I should be done with the game this week, and as of right now I'm on chapter 5-3. Hopefully, my commentary on RE4 for the next few days won't put any of you to sleep. And if so, that's fine. I'll just drone on anyway until I start RE5 right after.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Opinion: The Negative Effects of Exclusivity

The sports genre used to be my favorite genre in video games, but now this simply isn't the case.


In 1998, I was quite different: I loved sports games (mostly baseball and football games). My friends and I would spend countless hours playing the latest "MLB" or "Triple Play Baseball" game. We'd switch between the latest "Madden NFL" title and "NFL Gameday" or play "NFL2K" on my Sega Dreamcast. Maybe we just had more time to play back then than we do now, but ever since the early sports game era of the PS One the genre was loaded with promise. Sure, most baseball games were way too homerun friendly, and a Hail Mary pass play might work one time too many, but the level of competition between all the popular franchises was inspiring new ideas and each publisher did there best to capitalize on it and cultivate innovation. New ideas were formed, titles each had a strength, and everything was right with the world.

Fast forward to December 14, 2004. This was the day that Electronic Arts announced it's five year exclusivity agreement with the NFL, giving EA the leverage in an ongoing sports-game-brawl with 2K Games and their NFL2K series.

Even back then gamers had their issues with the EA deal, but nothing could change the mark that this move made on the industry, or the subsequent moves right after: Take Two Interactive entered a similar agreement with Major League Baseball giving their 2K baseball series a jolt, but failing to secure full console exclusivity in the process (first-party published games were allowed, potentially leaving the door open for Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft to develop their own fledgling sports games).

Fast forward, again, to 2009. After dabbling in the Madden series three times and purchasing two of the 2K titled sports baseball games onXbox 360, I've decided that I'm done with the genre (mostly). Granted, my opinion is probably a minority in the realm of sports gamers, but neither series has managed to excite me about playing a virtual sport the way they used to. And blame, what I call, the roster update theory for that - the idea that year-over-year features aren't changed or lightly modified, with only the player roster being the most significant change from sequel to sequel (something that DLC might solve someday).

Sadly, my stance is ironic considering the level of graphical fidelity that this console era and the improvements to the genre it's providing. Today, we're part of an era where high-definition visuals can paint an amazingly realistic representation of a stadium, and sometimes (if we're lucky) a sportscast. Today, we truly see something remarkable during a pitcher's wind-up and delivery. These little things are becoming more and more a true to life representation, and this will only continue to improve with time. But at the end of the day, no matter how visually splendid the product has become, the name of the game isgameplay. Well, that and presentation. And that's my beef with the sports genre, today: the lack of choice.

Call me biased, but I'm tired of the loose feeling my controller gives me as I try to judge a baseball grounded up through the middle of the field. It stymies me that I never know what fielder I'm controlling on a quick play. The blatant notion of involving the right analog stick as 'do everything' feature is dizzying. The fact that no game (in any sport) is really teaching me anything for fear of being too casual is sickening. Why not offer a mode to teach people not just the controls, but what to do here and why? Clearly this is something that a competing sports title can one-day offer, but in the current state of the industry there is no room for that competition. And now there is only one multiplatform baseball game and one NFL football game released every year.

The lack of clear choices, that's my gripe. It's the reason that I've sworn off most of the sports genre, with the exception of "Fight Night: Round 2". Players knew that the running game in NFL2K was great, probably better than the Madden equivalent. But Madden had it's own strengths. Both games did.

I'll admit that some of this post is a bit of an overstatement, but I yearn for the day when the exclusive publishing agreements are over and that day might be coming according to GamePolitics (via GameSpy ). Maybe then I'll be more apt to want to try a baseball game or a football game, again. Until then, I'll hang on to my fond memories of "MVP Baseball" and my younger years playing football games. Those were the best days of the genre because of how much choice we had, and in the end having choices is what makes games great.

Required Listening

(Another cross-post from systemic)

If you're the type of person that loves deep, informative podcast discussions playing in your ear during a morning commute, here's a quick list of some of the best audio on the internet.


A Life Well Wasted - Hosted by former EGM'er Robert Ashley, this show is anything but a waste of time, and its shows plenty of potential for the future. "A Life Well Wasted" focuses on video games and the people who love them. After only two released episodes, this show has managed to infuse a strong video game soundtrack with an interesting and often unique social commentary on video games culture. Think of it as a gamers version of "This American Life".

Idle Thumbs - The perennial multiplatform video game discussion podcast hosted by Chris Remo of Gamasutra.com, Nick Brekon of Shacknews.com, and Jake Rodkin of Telltale Games.

The GameSpy Debriefings - the rag tag bunch of editors over at GameSpy.com weigh in on the weeks news, previews and reviews for console and PC. Each week, listeners are treated to the awesome personalities of Sterling McGarvey, Miguel Lopez, Will Tuttle, and others as they discuss the latest topics in the video game industry.

The Player One Podcast - Hosted weekly by former EGM writers Chris Johnston, Phil Theobauld, and guests, The Player One Podcast offers fun, detailed discussions on the hottest topics in the games industry.

The Geekbox - A podcast hosted by some of the best personalities in the business, "The Geekbox" covers a multitude of media for geeks everywhere. Each week, listen to the Geekbox team sound off on games, comics, television, movies and more.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wanted: Weapons of Fate Hands On

the following was posted on systemic.gamehelper.com after a recent demo of "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" in San Francisco.

Any fan of the "Wanted" comic book knows that there's still a whole lot of story to tell after the movie. The film version of "Wanted" set a basic foundation that was loosely based on the comic's narrative and used explosive special effects to tell the story of young Wesley Gibson, a life-long loser turned professional killer. Now that Wesley has discovered his real purpose in life and taken control, he's left wondering what's next and if he'll be pursued by secret group of super-assassins known as The Fraternity.

"Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is an extension, a game that incorporates more of the signature comic elements like the Skull suit and other family heirlooms that Wesley inherits from his father, and blends them into a framework that picks up one hour after the events of the film.

"Step Back, I Have a Gun Sir!"

If there was one thing that the 2008 movie "Wanted" absolutely nailed, it was establishing a signature visual style for the film's gun-play. By natural extension, that same focus has shifted over to the game's developers at Grin/ Vivendi Universal, as well. Control over curved bullets, focusing on enemies in and out of cover, and slowing down the on-screen action are all extended to the players' hands with a smart control scheme.

In our demo of the PS3 version, we could fire with the R2 trigger, peek out of cover with the L2, and curve bullets with a combination of L1 and the right analog stick. The controls were both tight and responsive with only a few awkward camera moments springing up as we popped out of cover. Clear on-screen feedback is also easy to read. Whenever we lined up a shot around cover, enemies would be highlighted in white, and would only die depending on where they were hit. This is a relief after a prior build we saw in December, where enemies would fall dead immediately after being hit by a curved bullet regardless of where the bullet struck them (I'll admit that its kind of funny to watch an enemy keel over after being shot in the toe).

Blind-firing over corners turns the edges of the screen white, and enables a fast cover switching mechanic. It's a focused moment where players can jump to another section of cover quickly. So quickly in fact that enemies will lose track of your position when you do it. This sets them up, opening up a moment for a quick melee knife strike using the circle button.

Of course, the natural rules of gun-play apply here: Head shots are the most important, all others are secondary. But the payoff on curved head shots is much cooler here; a slow-motion camera closeup will follow the trail of the bullet as it travels toward the enemy's skull. You can only enable slow-motion or curved bullets when you have adrenaline, represented by a small meter of bullets at the top right of the screen. Killing enemies replenishes your adrenaline, which in turns enables you to use curved bullets. Possible upgrades to the system include Assassin Time (think slow-motion ala "Max Panye", and several arsenal upgrades). One particularly cool bullet effect was done by firing multiple bullets that crisscrossed and later collided, causing a small explosion to take out enemies.

It's All About Showpiece Moments
For the developers of "Wanted", matching certain art elements from the movie is a given, but mirroring the pacing from the film was considered just as beneficial to the project. As an homage of sorts to the train sequence from the film, they've inserted their own signature moment on a passenger filled airplane. Filed with enemies and pitfalls, we maneuvered our hero deftly in and out of cover with great ease, admiring all the little graphical touches. Each section of the plane represents a new kill-box that was both satisfying and visually distinct enough to fit in any part of the film universe.

Clearly "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" is not some art house game/cinema project. It's all about brutality, violence, and thinking fast in crazy situations. To the developer's credit, those characteristics are easily distinguishable in the game, and it all fits quite well as an extension to the film. Even the same the same dark humor of the movie is here and it's still funny (the easy difficulty setting is clearly labeled: Pussy. I know, we were just as shocked as you).

We know that gamers are always openly skeptical of any film licensed game property, but both Grin and Vivendi Universal are hip to your argument, and want to change the negative aura that surrounds licensed IP. They clearly understand that and "Wanted", too. That it isn't meant to be filtered or family friendly, but be quite visceral instead. A sort of no-holds-barred sequence of events, if you will. The build we saw showed vast improvements and polish, but for a game like this pacing is everything, and it's the thing that will separate Wanted from being too much like "Max Panye", "Stranglehold", or "Dark Sector".

Look for "Wanted: Weapons of Fate" at retail in late March 2009 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Resistance Retribution Demo Impressions

Welcome back to Europe, soldier
The Resistance Retribution demo kicks things off back in Europe 1951, shortly after the fall of local forces to the parasitic Chimeran invaders. After the initial invasion, the Chimerans are low on necessary raw materials needed to replenish their forces, namely more human bodies. A small team of soldiers are sent in to investigate the conversion facility in Bonn, Germany, and find out where the Chimerans are getting their supplies. As, Pvt. James Grayson, an angry, bullish type who's lost his brother to a Chimeran forces earlier in the war, players will explore more of the Resistance universe. Grayson knows the enemy conversion facilities well, and is brought in for his extensive field experience detonating alien facilities. Unfortunately, plans fall apart and a member of his squad, Raine Boushard, is captured at the outset of the demo. Time is running out to locate for Boushard before she is converted into a Chimeran Menial by enemy forces.

A Slightly Smaller Resistance Experience

If you've had a PSP, one thing is very clear: Shooters and PSP rarely play nice together. This is mainly because the system is missing a second analog stick (an integral part of the genre for the past 7 years), and that's sure to make anyone nervous about a new shooter on the system. Sure, it's a clear hardware restraint, but the team at Bend Studios seem to have figured it out. First, there is an auto-targeting system in the game. It's useful because the face buttons of triangle, square, circle and x control your view point, and the analog nub controls movement. Any target directly in your sights is highlighted with a single red reticule.

Pulling the R button fires the equipped weapon (or throws a grenade) while the L button is used as an alternate fire; a great part of all the weapons in the Resistance franchise is they dole out different damage or enhancements depending on which button you push. There are eight weapons featured in the demo, including the Auger-WS (my personal favorite), a weapon that fires through solid objects and generates a shield to protect players during tense firefights. Serious fans will have no problem finding their favorite weapons from Resistance and the demo showcases enough situations to put each of them to use.

Inventory control is pushed over to the PSP's directional pad. The right button cycles through the inventory and the left button reloads the current weapon. Pushing up enters a free-aim system that makes Grayson stationary, making it ideal only for certain situations (Note: This is only a description of the default controller layout and it can be altered in the options menu).

The smaller screen of the PSP means less real estate to showcase the large-scale vistas typical of the Resistance series. Naturally, everything has been scaled down for portable viewing, but there's still enough depth here to clearly interpret the Resistance art style, even down to the weapon models. The demo level of the Chimeran conversion center is pretty large visually and there is even an enemy encounter against two titans, gigantic two-story enemies that fire huge plasma cannons. The visual tone is set pretty well despite everything being a little too dark.

Since this is a third-person shooter, Grayson's player model is on-screen at all times and is slightly offset to the left from the center of the screen to make spotting enemies easier. This means you'll never really see anything below your torso and that's just fine since there isn't any platforming that we could see in the demo, so far.

NOTE: Don’t forget you can connect your Second or Third gen PSP to a television via the available connector! - ED

Calculated Retribution

From a technical standpoint, it seems that Bend Studios has figured out how to make third-person shooters work on the PSP. This is the studio that worked on the last few portable Syphon Filter games, so everything in the Resistance Retribution Demo seems to be carefully crafted to take advantage of the handheld tapping into their experience developing these previous titles. If that experience is any justification, Resistance Retribution looks like a solid effort that can only get better. Look for Resistance Retribution at retailers this March 2009.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Should I Really Play A Cooperative Game Alone?

This a cross-post from my blog over at systemic.gamehelper.com

So, I've been repeatedly playing the Resident Evil 5 demo, for the better part of last week, with a number of friends on Xbox Live (PS3 owners sit tight, this is your week). Like any critical thinker, I've got plenty of things to criticize point out (both good and bad) from the experience. But this post isn't about that at all.

I've set out to ask one question here: Should I play the retail copy of RE5 alone or with a bro' on coop?

See, here's my dilemma: Whenever I think of my typical Resident Evil experience, its usually hunched over over in front of the TV, alone. That's always been the constant thing that makes sense to me about the series, and its the hardest thing to disassociate from it as well. It's you against the terrifying (or at least creepy looking) world, that and the incessant urge to keep your eyes alert for the nearest zombie/ dog/ spider creature, so you can get a quick shot at it with your pistol. Maybe its an exaggeration to call the Resident Evil universe scary, but the sense of tension (or terror) was always palpable, and the results were fun. You know, kind of like Dead Space.

You can run, but you can't hide from ugly monsters like this

That leads me to the crux of my dilemma: this Resident Evil is a cooperative adventure, with the emphasis specifically placed on gameplay being balanced for two. I love the idea in theory (an that's why I've played so much of the demo, lately) and I love coop experiences in games. I do. That's why Left 4 Dead is among my favorite games, alongside Gears of War 2, Crackdown, and Halo 3. I recognize the impact of a cooperative experience. They're fantastic because of the nature of working together to achieve a goal. Its a combined effort that demands teamwork. But for story driven games like RE 5, I can't help but want to play it alone. I want to absorb every bit of the game. The sights, the sounds, every line of dialogue ( a tad obsessive, I know). And the thought of relying on a partner driven A.I. makes my stomach crawl because as much as we want to believe they can, we know they cannot (Full disclosure: I haven't tried the demo with an A.I. partner yet, either).

The thought of idle chatter from my teammate slightly ruins RE 5 for me because it would pull me out the experience completely when all I want to do is absorb myself in that world. It's the same reason I'm more likely to play a game cooperatively online on my second play-through of a game (the obvious exception being "Left4Dead", a game completely devoid of any story elements whatsoever). Yet, I haven't heard enough anecdotal evidence to suggest if the partner A.I. here is up to snuff.

So, dear readers, how are you planning to play RE 5?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Top 8 of 2008: #3 WipeOut HD

Anyone who remembers the original Sony PlayStation can appreciate the revival of the WipeOut franchise in 2008. In 1995, Wipeout delivered on the promise of futuristic 3-D racing experiences and we were all sufficiently wowed by its beautiful urban landscape, and sleek twists and turns. WipeOut was quite the accomplishment then, and it seemingly grabbed our attention and never really let go.

Fast-forward and WipeOut HD represents a new promise to this generation of gaming: the delivery of high quality, high-definition full games via download. For only $20 gamers invested in a superior audio visual experience that combines the tracks of both previous PSP iterations of WipeOut. Yes, both portable games admiringly retained the classic WipeOut charm, but in HD the experience received a sizable high-resolution boost to full 1080p HD.

Although the controls here are tight and the online play is solid, it seems that any potential future for the series has been left to us, ironically. As of this writing, we here at Systemic have no idea how well the game has sold online (it didn't make the top 10 list, though) or when new tracks will be released online, but it would be a waste if Sony sits on their laurels and won't support this model since downloadable games are the future of this industry.

If you're a complete novice or a fan, give WipeOut HD a try. It's got friendly race assist options designed to help new players ease into the series (because no on likes running into walls the first time they play an unfamiliar racing game). The included tracks are some of the best of the last two games with more on the way (at least we hope), and Zone mode is a great way to help you hone your skills for online play. And the price barrier to entry here is a welcome one. At $20 bucks, there really wasn't an equal racing experience last year that could compete.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Top 8 of 2008: #2 Bionic Commando Rearmed

The idea of remakes has always had a negative effect on me. I mean, really, why bother recreating something that was good 10 or 20 years ago when more effort could be spent on making something new and, perhaps, more interesting. At least, that what I used to think as soon as my eyes finished rolling at the sound of the word "remakes". I guess it just always felt like cheating to me. A game idea that was good 20 years ago might not be so good today, and increased visual fidelity means other parts of the game need proper retuning and correction.

The fact that Grin, the developers of the next-gen "Bionic Commando" and "BC Rearmed", came along and changed everything I thought remakes could be needs to be noted. BCR was a treat on so many different levels. The graphics were stylized in a manner that still homages the original work of the 2-D game, and the music, composed by Simon Viklund, is a work of genius that modernizes classic 8-bit music in astounding ways. Rather than sit on their laurels, the development team at Grin added new bosses that all required skilled use with the bionic arm, and replaced the only real flaw of the original game. Extra modes like co-op, versus, and 50 + challenge rooms added to the overall value, and were solid inclusions for the game's solid swing-or-die framework.

A game that focuses on a grapple and swing mechanic certainly doesn't seem modern by today's standard, but the job done here by this studio is truly remarkable, and I can only hope that more "remakes" are treated the same with as much reverence to the source material. If you're looking for a downloadable treat from 2008, look no further than Bionic Commando Rearmed to enjoy vintage play mechanics spruced up to today's modern standards.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Top 8 of 2008: #1 The World Ends With You

I'm a big believer of personal preference, and since 2008 has ended, its high time to look back at the year and point out the games that grabbed my attention the most. Truthfully, I should be honest and say that I wasn't expecting much out of the games of 2008, but was I wrong or what. Sure, 2007 had "BioShock" and "Portal", heck it even had "Super Mario Galaxy" and "Halo 3", and these are all games that had incredible design, high production quality, and unique input to their respective genres, but 2008 was just as endearing in terms of quality, even if quite a few of my most anticipated were disappointing (more on that in a future blog, trust me).

So lets get this Top 8 of 2008 list started with Square Enix's "The World Ends With You".

"The World Ends With You" is a hip contemporary Japanese role playing game for the Nintendo DS that was released in the US on April 22, 2008. It follows a small group of kids (designed by "the main man" over at Square, Tetsuya Nomura) that are participating in a deadly game through the streets of a hyper stylized Shibuya shopping district in Tokyo. The group is given challenges they must complete over seven days by a mysterious group named the reapers. The story here is very well written and delivers enough surprising moments to keep you engaged, but the battle and equipment systems are where this game really shines..

In TWEWY players control two characters at once, which would seem like a small task except the developers chose to take advantage of the DS hardware by placing them on separate screens. The character on the bottom is controlled via the stylus while the character on the top is controlled using the D-pad. Two characters on different screens may seem like sheer chaos on a handheld (or a sad way to end up cross-eyed), but its actually quite manageable, and there is a setting to let the top screen be AI controlled, which helps. Equipping different pins gives your stylus character a variety of different attacks and abilities, from scorching pyro-kinetics, physical attacks, and projectile based ones as well. Each pin has its own leveling system and initial value for trade ins.

To TWEWY’s credit, the developers managed to add some unique zest to the often-rote formula of JRPs by allowing the player to up the stakes of enemy encounters. Yes, it means facing tougher enemies outside your level bracket, but the results are better items and currency, a plus given so much of this game is centered around buying decisions. This 'commerce' portion of the game is driven by brand names, just like in real life. Different neighborhoods of the Shibuya support different brands of clothes and equipment. Following the in-game neighborhood trends gives you a distinct advantage in combat with stronger resistance to attacks, or the ability to dole out more damage to enemies. If you chose to ignore the trendy consumers of Shibuya, that's fine too, and the game isn't too difficult on you if you don't. Instead, you'll influence the trend yourself by boosting the performance abilities of the brand that you're currently wearing over time, eventually making them stronger and more popular. On a whole, the entire experience in TWEWY is very user friendly and customizable.

Up until this point, I've almost given up on the JRPG genre. Clearly I haven't been interested in enough games of this type for portable systems like the DS: I tried playing the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance a while back and failed miserably to appreciate it. Crisis Core was the same problem again, only on the PSP. A great game should be driven by strong visuals, narrative, and a intricate battle system, that while nuanced, still manages to be engaging for the player and doesn't risk becoming a chore. TWEWY was an amazing experience for me in 2008 from a genre where I expected little change. Give it a go, and prepare for unique experience that manages to shake up the RPG formula in 2008.