Preserving the Experience

Monday, September 28, 2009
In an interview with Kotaku, Fumito Ueda spoke briefly about the Shadow of the Colossus film. Ueda mentioned that he will be involved in the film to some degree. While some may take this as good news, it got me thinking about video game movies in general, especially if anyone can really do a game like Shadow of the Colossus justice.

I've said before that film and games are very similar mediums. I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify that statement. While I have seen plenty of crap-pile movies based on video games, there remains the potential for decent cinema from the stories within.

You see, I believe there's a fine line that Hollywood should not cross when considering video game based films. There are certain games like Shadow of the Colossus that rely so much on the exploration and discovery. It's not something film can really capture.

Let me give you an example. When I played Shadow of the Colossus I spent a great deal of time wandering the world, exploring every little nook and cranny. When I discovered the secrets of the fruit and the white tailed lizards, I felt a little more connected to the game world. I don't imagine any filmmaker could recreate that feeling.

Other games rely on having open ended gameplay and encourage the player to find their own path through the story. Mass Effect has several possible outcomes depending on how the player decides to go about the various missions in the greater story. How can you preserve that core gameplay element in a film?

Some games, particularly those with linear story lines (Halo, God of War, etc) whose relatively formulaic construction that lend them well to film. That is not to say that they should all be made into movies (Prince of Persia).

I can't stop Hollywood the from making horrible movies based on the games I love. As long as there is money to be made by making films based on popular games, there will be bad movies based on games. Until they find a way to recreate the feeling of playing the game within the film, I'm afraid Shadow of the Colossus and a great deal of our other favorite titles are doomed to mediocre results.

Less Stuff, More Game

Friday, September 18, 2009
There was a question floating around in my head during PAX that I wasn't able to ask. I had intended to direct it to the good folks at Infinity Labs but they never showed. That's fine guys, I don't need you to answer the question anyway. Honestly, I don't think anyone would give me a straight answer anyway.

The question is this. Should game developers, in light of the economic state and lack of quality content in games be investing so much time and resources into over-priced, over-stuffed uber-editions of their games? Would it be more responsible for them to put that time and money into extra content for the game? Does an established franchise really need these marketing ploys to sell more copies?

There have been special editions for a long long time but it wasn't until the Halo 3 Legendary Edition that the stops were pulled out, tied to a tree and shot in the head. Now we have helmets, Batarangs and night vision goggle galore taking up serious shelf and pocketbook space. I really don't understand the need for this sort of thing anymore.

I'll admit, I bought the Legendary Edition of Halo 3. I knew I couldn't wear the helmet, I knew I wouldn't really watch the special features disc more than a couple times but still the money changed hands.

Maybe it's that I've gained a family since then or generally bemoaned the lack of depth in many newer titles, but I don't see night vision goggles and chintzy Batarangs as money well spent. I think that money is far better spent building the player a larger world to explore, smarter enemies to fight or more maps for our insatiable multiplayer appetites.

Give any player a choice between night vision goggles with game or same game with loads more content at smaller price and I'd bet my life almost all would choose the latter. Or try this, the money spent on the preposterous accessories of marketing could be the difference between releasing the game you managed to finish or the the game you wanted to make. Good and great are measured in tiny increments in this world. Wake up and make your games great.

PAX 09: There is no place like home...

Monday, September 14, 2009
Sorry to have taken so long to post, Post-PAX. I came down with what has been dubbed the PAX Pox and I blame a Mr. Wheaton for infecting me. Watch out for hugs.

Looking back on PAX I feel sad, the weekend went by in such a flash and I miss it. It was a relief to be among my geek, gamer, and nerd peers. As a poster on the Penny Arcade forums so aptly put it, "
PAX isn't a gaming convention, it's a god damn family reunion." Anyone who has ever been to PAX knows how true that statement really is.

As a community and a culture, geeks, gamers, and nerds are very isolated from the rest of society. For years we have been called antisocial, believed to prefer solitude with our offbeat interests than commune with the rest of the world. I have never believed this to be true.

When geek/nerd culture really began to form there wasn't a convenient series of tubes hooked to your home to connect you with your fellow (fill in the blank). Isolation from the rest of the populace was developed as a form of self preservation. How long can someone be the brunt of jokes or mocked for their passions before they retreat? We were taught by society at large that we were small and alone. Now that is changing and people are coming out of the geek/nerd closet in droves. And they are going to PAX.

There is such a sense of peace and community at PAX. There is no need to be on guard, ready to defend you interests to the world, you are among friends. I had such fun during the whole convention and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. However, something had been burning within me and it wasn't until the Wil Wheaton Awesome Hour!!1 that I really found the ability to say it aloud. Everyone at PAX had allowed me to really be myself without fear and I had to thank them. I did during the Q&A and I wish I could say that I didn't cry. It was such a relief to know that other people felt the same sense of home at PAX.

Honestly I wish there didn't have to be a PAX to feel so accepted
but since there is little else I will retreat back to the Internets and wait until next year. I hope to see you all there.

Why not Tabletop?

Saturday, September 12, 2009
I've been playing tabletop games for a long time. Even now I play Champions with a small group every other weekend. During those off weekends I DM Line's D&D group. I've been plugged in to the world of Tabletop Games since my neighbor introduced me to D&D in 7th grade. I've already covered my D&D history before. What I haven't talked about is why you should play D&D if not some other tabletop game.

Tabletop games offer the player a range of freedom no console or PC can touch. With the right DM, there is no limit to the things you can do (or at least try to do) during a campaign. Take Line's D&D group. They were stuck in a bad place with a ton of baddies to deal with. Line, being the quick-thinking woman she is used Ghost Sound to crate the sound of Kruthiks (nasty little reptile-insect thingies they encountered earlier) tunneling through the walls. This actually scared off the majority of the enemies leaving just a handful of nasties for the party to contend with.

The player needn't rely on scripted events or cutscenes to tell the story, the player IS the story. The events that unfold in the course of a campaign rely heavily on the player's decisions. So much so that no single campaign plays out exactly the same way each time. The way a campaign ends is more a reflection of the players in the game than a glimpse into the mind of the creators.

I don't mind if you'd rather play an MMO but know this, most MMO's in the market right now borrow quite a bit form old tabletop games. The chance to hit, chance for an item drop etc are all worked out via complex algorithms which is a fancy way of saying you roll some dice.

The character you play in any tabletop game is completely your own from the beginning. You should feel free to include as much or as little detail a you like. I've seen players with entire notebooks full of character notes with every little detail from birthplace and food allergies to family history and phobias. It's all about how into the character you prefer to be.

There's plenty of variety in Tabletop games too. Not every one is a D&D clone. There are futuristic Tabletops games for about as long as D&D and many are very good. I remember Cyberpunk very fondly.

I could yammer on about Tabletop games until I'm blue in the face, The short of all this talk is to find someone that plays and sit down with them for a session or two. You may be surprised at how easily you slip into your character's boots. Try it out with friends if at all possible. Tabletop games are made to be played together and who better to share it with than your raid buddies?

I play tabletop games because I love to have complete control over my character's looks, background and personality. There are a myriad other reasons to try tabletop games, all I ask is that you find one.

PAX 09: Sunday Recap (finally)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Here we are folks. Terribly late and cold to the touch, it's the last day of PAX in a nutshell. Let's get things rolling with the Saboteur. I snuck over to the EA Booth late in the day to take a look at this game. I knew a little about it from what I'd read in the handful of captioned sreenshots and capsule articles I'd discovered over the past year.

You'll probably remember it for it's stark black and white look and splintery cellish gameplay. What you might know is that the game actually starts in full color. You play as Sean Devlin, an Irish race driver who's hired by Morini Racing to drive one of their cars in France.

I shouldn't spoil it for everyone, so I'll just say that something happens during a race that leads to tragedy and an event that drains all the color out of the world. From there it's your work for the resistance that slowly lets the color creep back in.

The basic tenet of the game is to get in quietly and out fast as your carefully placed explosives don't really come with a silencer. The game was actually pretty hard. Sneaking may seem like the more difficult route, but rushing headlong into an artillery base isn't exactly a walk in the park.

Right around the corner was Uncharted 2.It played much as I hoped expected it to. The gunplay is essentially the same though the enemies don't seem like the bullet sponges they were in the first. Thank God for that.

Other than those two, most of the games we looked at on Sunday were members of the PAX 10. I'm looking to have a larger piece dedicated to them but here are a few snippets about them.

Osmos is sort of a Flow meets Solar kind of feel. You are a blob called a mote. You float about the arena eating other motes. You can propel yourself in specific directions by ejecting some of your mass. This is where the challenge lies. It's a relaxing and beautiful game.

Then there was a game called What is Bothering Carl. This game is actually an interactive storybook, telling the story of Carl, a Cyclops with something troubling his giant mind. It features a full story, memory game and even a couple music videos using the incredibly catchy music from the game.

Also on offer was Carnyvale, the Xbox live game where you play as a circus performer called Slinky. You crave fame and notoriety and long to become known as the world's greatest acrobat. To that end you fling Slinky across each level, using new skills as you move on. It's an addictive game, I almost think they should keep the time limit they have for the demo.

Finally, Machinarium. I didn't get a chance to play this adventure title because there were so many people there at the booth. From what I've seen though I'm very impressed by the art and the classic adventure game look and feel.

The puzzles look difficult (= good stuff) and the character is certainly endearing.

While the big titles I mentioned early on aren't out yet, you can pick Carnyvale and Osmos right now for less than $15 each. I really encourage you to check out the indie games out there, it's hard to make it in the games industry these days and the people behind these games made them because they wanted to, not just because it was their next project in the lineup.

It's people like them that make PAX great.

PAX 09: Saturday Recap

Sunday, September 6, 2009
We saw some of the best and worst of PAX today. It's late here and I really need some damn sleep so this one will be brief. Read on for more snippets from today.

The lack of organization at this years PAX is astounding. Close to 10 different staff members (thats enforcers and convention center staff) told us, nay assured us that as press we got in early every day. Only after we got there this morning we were told we had to wait with everyone else. I don't have a problem waiting in the general queue...normally. When I have an interview scheduled at the same time the floor officially opens, that wait becomes an issue.

After a lot of wrangling and talking to people we did manage to get our interviews on time and you can expect to see those before long. That isn't really really the point though. I was surprised at the lack of support and courtesy towards press by many of the Enforcers and convention center staff this year. I understand that some members of the press can be real dicks. I know it's annoying to have people cutting in your line, but you have to understand that most of us are just trying to do our job.

On a similar note, this years PAX seemed incredibly disorganized. I encountered more Enforcers this year with bad or no information about things ranging from what time the press was allowed in to the Exhibition hall to whether or not there was a media entrance for the Keynote. A good deal of the Enforcers were less than helpful and even seemed pissed off that we were asking them questions. There are a few notable exceptions. Jules was the one that really helped us out to make our scheduled interviews. The gal who grabbed my media badge when I accidentally dropped it. Thank you and all the other Enforcers who treated everyone with the same courtesy no matter the color of their badge.

In other news, I did get some time with Star Trek Online today. While my biggest questions (how the economy is being handled, racial benefits) are still being worked out by the design team, I did learn a lot about the game in the short time I played it.

The space combat reminds me a little of Star Trek Legacy. Before you gasp, let me explain. It's a little like Legacy in that it's 3d. Overall, it plays more like Starfleet Command. You have shields distributed in sections around your front back and sides. After they are depleted, you have your ships armor to rely on before you are destroyed. The weapons almost always hit and the three dimensional space allows or some interesting strategies to evolve.

I fought three Klingon Birds of Prey in orbit above a planet. I them beamed down to the planet to assault their base and find whatever intelligence I could to determine what they were doing there.

The game takes place in the original universe about 35 years after Nemesis. The Khitomer Accord has broken down completely, resulting in all out war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. I'll have more on it later.

Champions Online has a very in depth character creator. My character, Batboy, had multi-jointed legs and long arms ending in claws. He shot bolts if kinetic energy from his eyes and a magical chain from his hand.

Champions is set in the world of the Tabletop game of the same name, but the points system from the old game has been done away with in favor of a more balanced City of Heroes-ish template.

Finally, Beatles Rock Band. I finally got a little more info on the "Story Mode" for the game. It follows the band through their career to various venues around the world. Doing well on a song will unlock special content like audio clips, photos and videos. The venues include the old English clubs they got their start in, the Ed Sullivan Show set and even a strange psychedelic garden.

That's all she wrote folks. Tune in later for the Sunday Recap!

*Sorry for the late post on this one guys, we were out at parties EVE Online and Magic: The Gathering without the lappie until midnight. By the time we got back, I had about as much energy as a dead sloth.

PAX 09: Friday Recap

Saturday, September 5, 2009
Okay folks, here are a few tidbits for you to enjoy. First up, our footage of me playing God of War III. It doesn't show the 192 hit streak I got but it does showcase the Cyclops controls and the somehow still surprising brutality of the game. Enjoy.

It's the same bit of the game from E3 but all the same, we got this for you and you'll like it dammit!

Next up, a few thoughts on the keynote.

As many of you know, Ron Gilbert was this years speaker. His keynote began as many others have, a biographical walk through the early years of Video Games. The anecdotes were entertaining and his asides were funny, but it was his closing statements that really hit home for me.

A brief discourse on games as art and more specifically a talk about the importance of video games to the world in general. The things he said echoed many of the things we've tried to get across here. It was nice to hear someone out there shares those same views.

We can't put up the whole video here but here's a link to the speech.

In other news, I got a chance to sit down with Heavy Rain for a little while. I played a scene as a private detective searching for clues to the identity of the Origami Killer. I was tasked with trying to get information out of the father of one of the victims. The dialogue options floated around my head like stars in a Looney Tunes short. I thought I knew how the guy would react, but he blew me off and angrily told me to leve the store.

I decided to pick up an Asthma inhaler (this character apparently has Asthma). Grabbing it off the shelf, I heard a man enter and demand the money from the register. The screen split to show me the medicine rack I was standing at, both security cameras and a shot of the hold up in progress.

When I approached, the guy spotted me. Pointing the gun at me, I put up my hands with L1 and R1. Again, the dialogue options floated around my head though this time they spun and shook wildly, often blurring and blinking out. This of course reflects the character's emotional state and in turn effected my mood while playing.

I tried to talk him down and almost got him to walk out but in the end I had to wrestle the gun away from him and knock him out. At least I tried. (I'll see if I can get some video for tomorrow)

There's more out there for tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Pax 09 floor report: Melech's Friday halfway report

Friday, September 4, 2009
Here we are, sitting in the hand-held lounge. I thought I'd take a moment to type up a few things we've seen today. To get the updates as they come, check out our twitter feed. I've posted a few things already. Here are a few thoughts of our time so far.

WET will not have any DLC, nor future support for leaderboards. Seems a waste.

God of War III plays just as I remember the God of War games. It's still a sadistic bloodbath. Still has that same flair. The game is looking smooth and incredibly polished. We'll have video up later.

ODST still looks entertaining, haven't gotten a chance to play firefight yet but we will.

Brink was a hell of a surprise. I'm amazed at how polished and smooth the game plays. I like the twist on FPS and MMO play.

Splinter Cell is still Splinter Cell. They've mixed the stealth more realistically with the action. It is a little more fast paced. I'm still worried it will be too easy to run and gun.

Ron Gilbert's Keynote was good. If you catch a video for it, the best stuff is towards the end.

More later tonight folks. We'll have a more formal recap of the day up by tomorrow morning. Thanks for reading!