Deconstructing PAX

Sunday, October 3, 2010
The dice show two brains and a shotgun blast. I've got nine brains now and I'm one away from winning this round. I see the two shotgun blasts I've gotten staring up at me. Before I can really think about my situation, I've grabbed the cup and cast three more dice onto the floor. They topple briefly and finally settle on not one, not two but three more blasts. Game over.

Zombie dice punctuated our visit to PAX more appropriately than I could have anticipated. The ease with which you can introduce someone to the game and invite anyone to play is a perfect reflection of what it is to be at PAX.

The atmosphere of the Convention Center during those three days shouldn't exist. Popular media and pundits paint gamers as violent, anti-socials. Spend one day in the halls of the Washington State Convention Center with the attendees of PAX and you'll see just how wrong they are.

This was my fourth PAX. I've been attending since the hallowed days of Wil Wheaton's first PAX keynote. That first year I sat, enraptured at the words spoken in that enormous hall. I looked out over the sea of people, not knowing that I was part of something incredible.

"I'm not ashamed to be a gamer," he said. "Look around you, we are parents, we are grandparents, we are sons, we are daughters, we are professionals, we are students, we are geeks, we are nerds, we are liberals we are conservatives, we are Christians, we are Jews, we are Muslims, we are atheists, we are trekkies, we are brown-coats," The crowd roared with applause, "Apparently a lot of us are brown-coats. We are nintendo fanboys, we are xbox fanboys, we are sony fanboys, we are wannabe rock-stars, we are wannabe racecar drivers, but this weekend all that matters is that we are gamers. And there are 30,000 of us here, which makes it hard to believe that we are an antisocial group of maladjusted misfits. So, if you happen to come across someone who thinks we are, invite them to play a game with you. Just try not to be a dick when you own them."

With that, Wil closed out his speech with a humble thank you. Those words would echo in my mind countless times in the days that followed. I realized in that moment what PAX was all about.

In my day to day life, my vocal interest in games is treated as naivete. I am greeted with rolling eyes, superior looks and out right hostility when I talk openly about what games mean to me and can mean to other people. I am often caught defending my passion for gaming to friends, family and co-workers. It's tiring and depressing and it's easy to feel ostracized.

But all that is changing. It really started in 2007, with those words from Wil Wheaton. We were united, if only for three days against the voices of self-important pundits and politicians. But something happened after the doors closed and the final round of the Omegathon was complete. That energy followed us home.

Across the country, the continent and the world, blogs and websites, news articles and message boards lit up with talk about PAX and the incredible bond that was formed among the people there. That feeling of unity and camaraderie has built a movement from those three short days.

It seemed like only days after that fateful weekend that the media voices changed. In the weeks, months and years that followed, The Big Bang Theory aired to critical acclaim, The Guild was launched to incredible success, Johnathan Coulton and MC Frontalot exploded onto the music scene. The world had taken notice.

Every year since 2007 I've returned to PAX to commune with my fellow gamers. We are family, and we are growing. We are handing out controllers, rolling up characters, and setting up boards for new people every day. PAX is the beating heart of our movement, but every attendee, exhibitor and media person takes a piece of that heart home year after year. We are many, and more than ever before, we are one.

Penny Arcade Expo!

Monday, August 30, 2010
It is that time of year again somnambulant ones. This Friday is the beginning of the Penny Arcade Expo (West Coast). Melech and I will be attending as press again this year so if you see us around be sure to say 'Hi' (we like having proof that you guys exist outside our imagination).

For those of you who have no idea what PAX is I will sum up by doing a cut and pastie from Wikipedia:

The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is a semi-annual gamer festival held in Seattle and Boston. PAX was created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the authors of the Penny Arcade webcomic, because they wanted to attend a show that gave equal attention to console gamers, computer gamers, and tabletop gamers.

Created in 2004, PAX has been hailed as a weekend-long celebration of gamer culture. Defining characteristics include an insider keynote speech, game-inspired concerts, panels on game industry topics, exhibitor booths from independent and major game developers and publishers, after-hours parties, tournaments, and freeplay areas. Every PAX also features the Omegathon, a weekend long tournament of randomly selected attendees competing for a grand prize. The final round makes up the show's closing ceremony, past games for the final round have included Tetris, Pong, Halo 3, and Skee ball.

Jerry Holkins has said that the effect of PAX and Child's Play on gaming culture will outlast that of the Penny Arcade webcomic, "substantially."[1]

After many successful years of PAX, an east coast group seceded from PAX West and in 2010 the first PAX East was held in Boston, MA. Though it was said that PAX East was created to assuage the massive attendance to PAX West those in charge of PAX West considered this an act of rebellion and declared war. Those of PAX East were insulted that west coast PAX had asserted itself in such away and had tried to assume the title of PAX Prime. PAX East then challenged PAX West to a battle royale for the title.

The two factions of East and West raised volunteer armies primarily composed of PAX attendees to fight in the battle, set to take place at 10:00am PST on September 2nd at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, Washington.

When asked about the upcoming battle for PAX Prime Mike Krahulik said only "May God have mercy on their souls".

I'm a little fuzzy on that last part but overall it's pretty accurate.

I think that our coverage of PAX this year is will be much better than last considering that we didn't have to sell our blood weeks beforehand to raise funds for the trip. I anticipate having much more energy this year. Also I'm glad I won't be forced into wearing long sleeves to cover the subsequent suspicious bruising and track marks.

Our road trip from north Idaho will start Thursday afternoon and will be a straight shot to Seattle. I can't wait to head out to that great big nerd family reunion and see that huge banner saying "Welcome Home".

An Open Apology to Our Somnambulant Public

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Dear Somnambulant Readers (if any of you are still hanging around),

We must apologize. This past year we have been posting much less regularly than we would like. The economy has effected the time we have available to contribute, not to mention the fact that 2 out of 4 of our writing staff have gone on hiatus. Both felt the need to pursue higher learning and one even fled the country to do so. We are not trying to make excuses, just offering a glimpse into out now limited inner workings.

Thank you for following us, we look forward to entertaining you with our biased views and our crude humor on a more regular schedule from here on out.

- Somnambulant Gamer Staff

XCOM is Alive and Looks Better than I'd Hoped

Saturday, June 12, 2010
Before you go shooting your mouth off about what a traitor I am, just follow the link and watch the trailer.

Well? Do you feel a little better? I certainly do. I still have a few tiny little reservations but given what I've seen and read from the developers of the new XCOM; sign me up.

I've read what the Great Crecente has to say about the trailer and for once I have to disagree. I am a little disappointed to see XCOM going the FPS route, though I think believing XCOM would be brought back largely unchanged is simply naive.

The Video Game industry today is far different from the one of 1994. This XCOM is honestly the best we could hope for, I just wish more people saw it that way.

I was skeptical, but after reviewing the available media I can say with certainty that 2K has kept the core of the experience intact. So what if the game has changed perspective? You still have research, you still choose your team, and you still get a base. The strategic basis of the game is still there. That's what is important here, not some preposterous ideal borne out of nostalgia.

It's time to stop living in some fantasy land and get real with our expectations. The new XCOM looks and sounds great, nice job so far 2K. Thank you for treating this title with respect.

Homefront: Playing On Our Fears (For better or for worse)

Friday, June 11, 2010
Yesterday, Joystiq posted a preview of a new game entitled Homefront. A quick synopsis:

The year is 2027. What we now know as the United States has suffered economic collapse, while at the same time, North and South Korea have united to become the Greater Korean Republic. The GKR has already seized Japan and much of South-Eastern Asia, and now they've set their sights across the Pacific.

The game focuses on a small troop of civilian resistance fighters. From the presentation Joystiq saw, it appeared that the game is not a struggle for victory; only survival in a war that has come home. The game is grounded by real-world brands and stores, and is apparently a more restrained, human look at the cost of war.

The trailer opens with footage of actual press conference featuring current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussing the recent sinking of the South Korean ship Chenoen. If you've been following the news lately, the situation has only escalated, and it's making the international community very nervous.

So, how do we, as gamers, respond to this? Is it gaming's place to create alternate futures--well, hopefully alternate--of current events? Watching the trailer for the game filled me with a keen sense of dread; as if I were looking into the future. Homefront is obviously playing on the current fears of the international community. North Korea is a dangerous, volatile nation led by a megalomaniac and an army of secret police--not a subject to be taken lightly. Homefront developer Kaos Studios stands to make a substantial profit on that fear. Is that moral? I don't know. What I do know is this: I wholly support the endeavor.

For a long time, artists have confronted and brought to the masses the different sides of current events. George Orwell's uneasiness about the future gave us the literary classic 1984. Scorsese took Joseph Conrad's journey into the Heart of Darkness, put it into the Vietnam War, and synthesized the film classic Apocalypse Now. (In fact, the screenwriter responsible for Apocalypse Now has also penned the script for the game.)

Some would argue that social commentary is the purpose of art and the impetus for most entertainment. And while I'll wait to play the game before calling it art, Homefront looks to do both. Am I only interested in the game because it plays on the current geopolitical climate? Probably. Is that a good enough reason? You're goddamn right it is. In fact, it might just be the best reason of all.

It's Like I can Touch you!

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Last month saw the announcement that Killzone 3 would be joining the slowly growing ranks of 3D capable games on the market. Sony has also stated that they are adding 3d capability to many of the PS3's titles. The latest return to 50's film gimmicks made it's way to console games (appropriately) when Avatar: The Video Game was released in 2009. Now more and more titles are announcing 3D capability in time with the hungry consumer hoof-beats.

We got a look at the Avatar game in 3d at last year's PAX. What we saw was not the breathtaking experience described by so many who saw the film in 3D. The use of 3D in game felt lackluster, more distracting than immersive. Above all else it gave me a headache the size of Pandora. Similar reports have come in from Kotaku regarding Killzone 3's 3d effects.

Is there really a need for 3d capable games out there? Surely there are those with the money and the home theater setup to handle such a task but 3d TV's aren't exactly in every home (certainly not mine).

The draw of 3d games is understandable. People who want the latest and greatest from their tech or those who really feel it enhances the experience are bound to get a great deal of fun out of it. We simply feel that there hasn't been any real significant use of it in any games we've seen so far, and until it can show us that it really can change the way we play the game, we're calling it a gimmick.

We would prefer that developers spend more time working on story details, voice acting (please, for the love of god), immersive new mechanics, or getting the most out of motion controls (for once) before we spend another minute on 3d.

Video games suffer from an overabundance of new technology. The medium doesn't have time to adapt to any one new technology before it's replaced or one-upped by the next big thing. Developers end up victims of "jack of all trades, master of none." The only companies that seem able to really focus on and perfect these things are indie developers, and that's often because they can operate with much less scrutiny- the only perk of anonymity- than the larger industry.

We can't speak for everyone, but we want better games, not prettier games. Talk to your developers, they aren't unreachable. Go to their contact pages, write e-mails, call them or even just post in their forums. Let them know that it's about depth of content, not depth perception.

XCOM Update

Friday, June 4, 2010
A while back, Games Radar had a 4 page preview up for XCOM. It seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the greater press (as well as the lesser). It was taken down not long after it was put up, for reasons unknown. From various forums and quoted blurbs, here's what we've been able to piece together. Enjoy.

XCOM is a first-person shooter, set in the 1950s. Deep breath. This is not a time to panic. This alien invasion is an occasion to celebrate. Consider what those original strategy games were about. An implacable alien menace threatened the world. You were in charge of an agency that investigated these otherworldly horrors, engaged them in direct combat when it could find them, and poured vast funds and research into developing and improving countermeasures.

That’s exactly what XCOM does. You step into the shiny shoes of FBI agent William Carter, who heads a secret taskforce that is Earth’s last and only line of defense against the scum of the universe. From its underground base, this newly-formed XCOM monitors reports of alien sightings and dispatches agents to snoop around, gather evidence and, if necessary, clean up.

This isn’t a linear shooter, either. Your base’s phonetappers and police-radio scanners present you with choices as to where to go next and what to do, picked from a large map of the US. Rumours of animal attacks and strange weather patterns in a certain state? Sounds like Blobs are on the rampage. Saddle up, Agent Carter. Grab the wheel of your hulking fedmobile, take two of your best men with you, and go see what’s going on.

[sic] the nature and intent of the aliens is the game’s biggest secret. “We want to create a genuine mystery, one that players are compelled to find out more about, to unravel themselves.” Again, XCOM nods to X-COM, where your researchers gradually unlocked the aliens’ origins, how to stop them and where they came from. Unlike X-COM, however, these aliens aren’t a mix of random species.

“One of the things that we wanted to move away from was the kitsch or the expected from these creatures,” says Pelling. “Creating a set of enemies loaded with preconceptions really undermines the game. Part of the impact of seeing our aliens is that they’re not bipedal things walking around, it’s something completely different. We want you to look at them, study and explore them.”

Also, there’s Elerium here somewhere. This incredibly rare alien element is crucial for the construction of new weapons, armour and gadgets, but seizing it involves enormous risk. Out in the back of one pretty suburban house you spy a block of it – a strange arrangement of cubes, hovering in mid air. Dark lines and shapes whip around it in a self-contained storm, meaning you can’t just grab the thing. More Blobs. You’ll need to take them down if you want this precious spacerock. Check health, check ammo, check grenades. Every shot counts.

Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic nightmares are made flesh as an enormous monolith shudders out of the horizon, the accompanying mist and lightning blocking out the daylight. Before your eyes, this cubist deathmachine – is it a creature, a spacecraft, a building, all of the above? – transforms. First, into a ring of smaller, diamond-shaped artifacts, and then into two concentric rings, like a gaping metal maw. The rings suck. All the furniture of the house you’re in is dragged towards it, smashing through what few windows remain. Run. Your guns have no effect here. Run... ...Maybe those eggheads back in the lab will be able to build you something, so next time you can bring this faceless horror down to Earth. But not this time. Run.

This stay-or-go structure is a re-creation of the original X-COM’s missions. Yes, killing everything would mean success, but that wasn’t always possible. If half your team was dead and most of your ammo was spent, it was fruitless to hang around. Gather any alien tech and corpses you can, then get out of there. The difference here – and we think it’s an improvement – is that you’ll never end up in a situation where you know there’s one Snakeman hanging around somewhere, and you’re in for hours of peering behind every door, into every alley, over every rooftop to find him. The constant, gradual escalation means every mission will end on a high.

2K refuse to be drawn on any multiplayer details, but at least they’re not denying it won’t happen.

“We’re really good at making shooters” says Pelling. “We’ve got a lot of experience doing that, and I think that provides a unique opportunity to present XCOM in a much more immersive and intimate format. Putting it into the first-person shooter is going to blow it up a little bit.”

The revised setting is going to be a sticking point for many XCOM fans, but makes a surprising amount of sense – the ’50s were a time of political paranoia, which the B movies of the age reflected. It also means the world is attractively stylised rather than grimly, tediously realistic, and the homemade, early-007 gadgets look like a hoot.

“The choice of the ’50s was not about putting it into a specific time period –
we don’t have a set date for when the events of the game occurred,” says Pelling. “It’s more that we wanted to create a beautiful, idealised world for players to explore, and create this contrast between the horror of these beings and what is at stake. This is what life could or should be, whereas the infiltration of the aliens really destroys that.”

So, is this XCOM really our beloved X-COM? “We’re forging a new mythology, but what we’re retaining is the core elements that made X-COM X-COM,” says Pelling. “The strategy, the base, the research, agents, being in charge, and dealing with this problem as you see fit. You are the one that’s driving the investigation – those elements remain but we want to create a new world with a new set of enemies that’s genuinely compelling for players to learn more about."

So, that's what we've got. It would appear that a great deal of the experience remains intact. The research, the non-linear feel, strategy. Good on you, Take 2, this is encouraging news.

We'll be on the lookout for the remaining bits of the original preview as well as any new info on the title.

Special thanks to Evil Avatar user Emabulator for starting the thread we got a good deal of the text from, as well as Brian Damage from the 2kGames forums.

We want more Avatar Days!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Avatar Days is a short film that introduces us to a few average WOW players from the UK. It's a beautifully shot little film but it's far too short to really get a whole lot of substance. We were left feeling like there should be a whole lot more to this. Follow the players throughout their normal day, show us more.

There's a lot of depth in this 4 minute film. It'd be a shame to let it all go unexplored. In the words of Space Ghost, take us to 21.

Sound Off: Voices in JRPGs

Monday, May 31, 2010
Let me just lay this out. Cowboy style.

Voice acting in games is beginning to get on my nerves. Specifically in RPGs. Well. JRPGS.

When I was but a bairn, my first RPG was Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD. In those days I was still suffering from the acute retardation that comes with youth, and the game drifted to the back of my minor collection. Like many people, I didn't catch the RPG bug 'til I was wrapped up in the inescapable magicite-laced tentacles of Final Fantasy. And wrapped up I was.

I played the whole series. I collected the guides. I collected the soundtracks. I still have over three dozen Final Fantasy action figures. And the games grew and evolved as I did, and each revolution added vitality and depth to the series.

Then began the Playstation 2 era, and everything changed. Before PS2, voice acting was almost a joke. Today, it's a standard. If a game has talking, it has voice acting.

And you know what? That's okay. Sure, the voices in FFX were obnoxious. But hey! It was new! Fun! Right, guys? Right?


The voice acting in FFXII was decent. Pretty good, even. Now XIII is out...and so is the jury. (Except on Vanille. Everyone hates her voice. Her own mother hates it.) Lots of other RPGs have come out, and lots of them have voice acting. Some of it is good. Some of it isn't. That isn't really the point.

The point is this: Back in the 8-bit, 16-bit, and what-the-fuck-ever-bit pre-PS2 era, character animations looked something like this:

Back then, subtlety and nuance were impossible, animation-wise. Characters had big animations--the same way that in classic Kabuki theater, (and other forms of performance art) had big, obvious gesturing to communicate emotion. And it isn't that such stuff is no longer necessary--in fact, we love the hyperbolic reactions, the exclamations, the daft poses, the clenched fists, and the sorrowful looks at the ground. Everything about those old school games was over the top and we loved them for it.

The problem, today, is that developers have remained faithful to such stuff, without realizing that when you give a character a real human voice, it grounds that character and therefore that universe. All of a sudden, all the goofy moving, all the weird-ass dialogue, all of it--just feels embarrassingly awkward.

Being able to play out the dialogue in your head gives some gray area. Because the rhythm with which the characters speak is all in your own voice, as it were, you're able to forgive them their trespasses--hell, you probably don't even notice them.

When done wrong, giving JRPG characters voices shatters the illusion. Vanille in Final Fantasy XIII speaks with an Australian accent. I'm sorry--I didn't know Australia was in fucking Cocoon. It's even worse when characters that didn't used to have voices get them all of a sudden--Did you know that Cait Sith from FFVII is fucking Irish? Or that Cid is a Texan? I sure as hell didn't. Not until Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children came out.

Look, developers. I'm not asking for much. I know a lot of your audience likes voice acting in games because they're stupid, or because they're too lazy to read. But some of us remember the golden years--when campy dialogue and stupid anime poses didn't matter because what you were playing took place in its own world, where bullshit like that was acceptable. We remember when you could enjoy a game's music because you didn't have some whiny little bitch squawking at you all the time. And we want that back.

You already put subtitles in anyway, so I'm just asking for one little bit more. Let me read all that bad dialogue. Let me enjoy the music.

All I want is the option--just the option--to turn the voices off. Please?


The XCOM Debate

Friday, May 28, 2010
By now it's all old hat but it's taken some time to gather my thoughts on the XCOM issue. Take 2 bought the rights some time ago, so there was never any room for speculation on whether or not they would release a new XCOM, it was just a matter of time. That time is apparently nigh, though I expect Take 2 was hoping the news would garner far more aplomb than it did.

I've talked to a few people that don't really seem to understand why so many of the games fans are so upset about the news, some of them are even XCOM veterans. Let me put it this way. Say you have a favorite restaurant. Time goes by and the place closes. The building sits there untouched for a while until one day, a wealthy party buys it up. You hear rumors that they're going to bring it all back better than it was before. Then, when the big announcement comes that your beloved restaurant is re-opening you discover that the entire building was torn down and rebuilt into a cookie cutter fast food joint. Only the name had stayed the same. How would you feel?

I can't blame my fellow XCOM devotees for being upset. Hell, I was as angry as the worst of the mob for a little while. I had my own little breakdown, complete with raging forum posts and a Terror From the Deep marathon. Somewhere in that haze I realized something. I was getting upset over nothing. Literally, nothing. The truth of the matter is, we know very little about Take 2's XCOM.

I've tried contacting Take 2 about their promise to keep the strategic element intact. So far nobody wants to talk about what exactly they're doing to preserve that core mechanic. I don't doubt their claim, I just think it'd be nice to see what they have up their sleeves.

I can't say for sure if Take 2 can deliver a decent XCOM game or if this is going to just be an FPS that happens to be called XCOM. What I can say for sure is that Take 2 made this announcement far, far too early. All they really have to show us is a couple bits of concept art and one "screenshot" with no context behind it. Had they made their announcement later, when they had more resources to share or at least when they could explain the gameplay a little better, I think there would be far fewer disgruntled fans out there.

For me? Thanks, Take 2... What is it?

A substantial contingent of the unhappy horde have settled on Xenonauts as their remake of choice to carry the XCOM torch into the future. The gameplay seems to be nearly identical to the original games. The story is set during the dusk of the cold war rather than the distant future. The weapons, vehicles and equipment showcased so far reflect the time period well.

So is this what we want? A remake, a remastered version of the original XCOM? For me at least, it's not. I'm not looking for the same game I played countless times throughout my life and I suspect I'm not the only one. We want something familiar, yes, but fans want something new more than anything. There has been too much time wasted making copies of XCOM already.

Xenonauts is close, but not quite there. I love Goldhawk's tenacity and understanding of what made the original so spectacular, but it's too similar to be called much more than a remake. That's not all bad, but still not the new XCOM so many of us have been looking for. We've been waiting for something to expand the horizons of XCOM. Something beyond the dismal climbs of Interceptor and Enforcer.

As much as I'd like to forget those two dismal parts of the series, I am seriously disappointed to see that Take 2 has thrown the entire history and lengthy back story that already existed away in favor of something completely alien to me and the thousands of loyal XCOM players out there. Some acknowledgment of the series' illustrious roots would have been nice to see with the announcement. I can understand the decision to make it an FPS, given their seemingly universal popularity these days. Couldn't they at least maintain some of the established canon?

I have a lot of suggestions for Take 2 in regards to XCOM. As something near and dear to me there are a few mechanics I'd like to see preserved and/or revitalized. Perhaps give the game a sort of Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six tactical look, or use something akin to the VATS system in Fallout 3. Give players the ability to research new tech, examine aliens for new insights into how to fight them, even allow the players to tap into their own or other squad member's psychic potential. There are countless other requests, from me and the rest of the community, too many to discuss in just this one post.

Who knows, these may be things already present in the new game. If they are, we haven't seen them yet. What I'm trying to say here so very haphazardly is that Take 2's XCOM is still too much of an unknown. There's is little sense in grumbling to ourselves when we really know nothing about the game. Those of you that wanted a remake, you'll have your Xenonauts. Those of you who are like me; sit down, take a deep breath and wait. We've been doing just that for 13 years now, a few more months won't kill us.

Now That Is a Goddamn Crab

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Hello, sleepwalkers.

It's been a long time. Too long. But the prodigal has been forced off his ever-expanding ass and has arisen again to inform you that after much ranting and raving, my fucking prayers have been answered.

Final Fantasy XIV, which you may remember I have some interest in, is coming along nicely. And while it isn't the second coming of MMOs--in fact, aesthetically anyway, it's FFXI with a facelift--it seems Square Enix has learned a thing or two about the people who play their games. Yours truly, in particular.

See, a while back I ranted a lot about XI. One thing in particular. FFXI's fucking crabs. These little, dinky blue-shelled bastards which populated every possible ecology in the game. Deserts? Crabs. Beach? Crabs. Caves? Crabs. Man, those things were everywhere. It isn't even that they were everywhere, though--it was that you had six goddamn people fighting this thing which could be felled with a sturdy can opener.

Well, Square Enix listened. I said that if I was going to fight crabs, they needed to be cool crabs. Scary crabs. Crabs whose sole purpose was the consumption of manflesh.

They did it. Hot shooting ropes of joy, they did it. Now this is a fucking crab.
Note: At about 3 minutes you get a good hard look at the bastard.

Find more videos like this on FFXIVLOUNGE

'Privates' to be kept Private?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
There is a decent chance that Zombie Cow's 'Privates' will not pass the peer review on Xbox Live. When I first saw the press release for it I was intrigued by the premise. Zombie Cow described 'Privates' as,
"...a funky little game about tiny little condom-hatted marines going right up peoples’ rude areas and shooting all the nasty chompy things that tend to live there if you’ve been carelessly putting bits of yourself in silly places."
It sounds like a fun, if unusual, game and I like seeing developers push the envelope.

Condom capped privates marching dutifully across a pubis in search of evil STD beasties.

Honestly it confused me that this game might not pass. Sex and video games are nothing new, they are paired together and rated with an appropriate Mature all the time. It seems however the Xbox Live Indie Game guidelines are a bit more restrictive than one might expect in an industry that leans heavily on pixelated tits.

Add to the mix that Zombie Cow developed this game with the U.K.'s Channel 4 as an educational endeavor with the Personal, Social and Health Education guidelines of the British gov's National Curriculum in mind.

While no absolute verdict has been passed the outlook isn't good. In a release to the an Xbox Live spokesman stated,

"This game has not been submitted to our pre-publication peer review process, and it has not been approved for distribution on Xbox Live Indie Games. We have guidelines in place that closely track requirements of content ratings boards worldwide and, among other things, prohibit the publication of strong sexual content.

While we haven't seen this game, we can confirm that if it is consistent with the description we have seen on the Internet, this game would not pass peer review and would not be permitted to be distributed on Xbox Live."

Doesn't exactly raise the confidence does it?

While waiting on a verdict looks like I'll just have to get it on with any number of characters from Dragon Age, or Aphrodite in God of War III, or Madison in Heavy Rain, or well, you get the idea.

Halo: Reach Hangover

Monday, May 24, 2010
The Beta has come and gone leaving me with slightly empty feeling every time I turn on the 360. It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts about the Reach Beta and I think I have sorted out my feelings.

I need to preface my observations with the fact that I am not a particularly good player. My enjoyment of video games surpasses my skill by far. I usually stick to playing with friends online so I can avoid the depression of having my ass handed to me by some foul mouthed 11-year-old or the hassle of the anti chick gamer comments (Tits or GTFO!).

Halo: Reach, with all the beta bugs, was the most fun I have had playing online (outside of custom games with my friends). The variety introduced by Bungie with the new game types, maps, and armor abilities gave me a fighting chance I have never had in matchmaking before.

I could go into further detail about the gaming experiences I had with Reach, but with every single gaming news outlet throwing in their 2 cents, my monetary worth feels devalued. I will keep it brief, I loved Halo: Reach. I feel as if I was given the online gaming experience that my skill has always kept me from. I truly enjoyed myself during matches instead of slogging through trying desperately not to come in very last, again.

I know that the experience will change somewhat when Halo: Reach releases this fall. I just hope that with a greater audience participating my new found joy won't be quashed by more snot nosed kids. Until then I will try to reacquaint myself with the Halo 3 controller scheme and dream of more Headhunter.

That Damn Art Argument; The Ebert Opinion

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Once again the award winning film critic Roger Ebert has weighed in on the "video games as art" topic. He has made it clear again that video games are not art under his definition of what art should be. There have been many opinions given and arguments made by notable people involved in the gaming industry over the 5 years since Ebert first voiced this opinion on his blog.

I respect Roger Ebert very much. Even though I do not always agree with him; I can't help but respect a man who is able to articulate his opinions in such a clear manner. I admire his obvious love and respect for movies. I wish very much to see the quality of his reviews carried over to the gaming world but his like has not emerged yet into the video game industry.

Video games are still very young. Like movies or rock and roll in it's youth they are viewed with much criticism and even fear about their influence on society. This is just the way of things. Previous generations find it hard to acknowledge new cultural advances into their own long established world view. Penny Arcade addressed this quite well in their recent strip.

Fellow gamers, it is very important to note that Roger Ebert (as Brian Ashcraft stated in his open letter) is a critic of the cinema. This has been his life. And though there are many who feel that video games are just another breed of movie, they are very wrong. Though the two may have some similar qualities they have very fundamental differences. Mr. Ebert is not equipped with the lifetime of involvement so many of us have, that has endeared us to this medium.

The take-away from this whole brouhaha should be - Mr. Ebert's opinion is not something to get angry about. His opinion is his own, that is all. As a community we have endured worse criticism and slander than a respectable gentleman not understanding how video games are in fact art. His singular opinion does not negate ours, nor our love of gaming. Let it go, we are many and our attentions can be pointed to more important things.

Taking it way back: Gnome Ranger

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's been a while since we had anything substantial up and I though it would be a perfect time to re-hash some of our classics. Let's start things off with a personal favorite of mine; I give you, "Gordon Freeman, Gnome Ranger" Originally posted on August 6th, 2008.

Valve has done a wonderful thing. Besides releasing the single greatest deal for current consoles, they've sprinkled in some of the most entertaining achievements on the 360. With everything from "go through this level using only the gravity gun" to "only fire one bullet in Episode 1" Half-Life 2 on the 360 more than makes up for it's lack of multiplayer support. The following is the tale of one quantum physicist and his gnome.

Episode 2, the second expansion for Half-Life 2 included in the Orange Box has an achievement titled "Little Rocket Man." From the description, one can glean that somewhere in the game is a gnome and somewhere else is a device that will put him in orbit. I found this concept intriguing. No one has ever attempted Gnomed space flight. I could be the pioneering spirit of a whole new era of space travel. I knew then, it would be my destiny to put the first gnome into space.

My search began close to the end of the game. I thought that somewhere close to the rocket, already up to it's red hat in the space program, I would find my astrognome. Though I searched high and low, I found no suitable candidates. I did find an open rocket however, and one very intrepid headcrab. But alas, it seemed I would have to broaden my gnomish horizons to areas outside of White Forest. And so the first step in my epic journey was made.

I began my search at the beginning of the episode. Waking in the ruined train car I looked furtively about for any possible gnome activity. Perhaps the gnome was a fellow passenger on the train, or even the conductor. No, he'd need a really tall box to see outside, and I saw no boxes in the train. Outside, a portal tore open the sky, glimpses into the hellish netherspace flickering within it. Miles wide, it held an ominous post over the now ruined city 17. I would find no gnomes there.

To the east there sat a small shack beneath a radio tower. Alex began her repairs to the equipment once inside. While Eli and Dr. Kleiner spouted something at me about closing portals and destroying the combines stranglehold on humanity I examined my surroundings. A plain design scheme, rustic, or at least rusted, few aesthetic encumbrances, natural feel, and a low bed. I was in the very lair of the gnome I sought. I opened doors, turned over boxes and finally found my true goal and reason for being under the bed, no doubt waiting patiently for the intruders to leave.

Despite my rude intrusion, he seemed pleased to have been found. No doubt, being the sole caretaker of a secluded radio transmitter is a lonely position. I explained to him the situation, the possibilities, the fame and the scientific immortality that awaited him in the icy black void beyond. Being no fainthearted gnome he agreed to accompany me on my trek towards the future.

Being of small stature and completely immobile, I was forced to carry my lilliputian companion from the cabin and beyond. His expression never changed from that of unrepressed joy. Being outside and so far from home must have been terribly exciting. Held firmly in the nurturing arms of the gravity gun, he would be safe from the peril that beset us on our way.

Through ruined farms and forests I carried him as a father a child. While carrying him, I was defenseless and so relied on my companions to protect both he and I. While the gravity gun if capable of hurtling objects at incredible speeds, my gnomish friend proved useless as a projectile weapon. Indeed, these early tests were better designed to test his heartiness during launch. Through it all,he maintained his altogether delighted disposition.

Eventually I was tasked with retrieving a certain substance from the heart of the ant lion's nest in order to revive a fallen comrade. I knew the path ahead would be too much for the poor gnome, as the ant lions would surely find him a delicious treat. Instead I left him to tend the wounds of our poor compatriot. Upon my return from the nest we would continue our trek.

After nearly an hour of ant lions and zombies I resurfaced with the necessary substance. With a few words, our friend was resurrected and we were on our way. Yet, before we could move much farther the ant lions, no doubt searching for smaller and more jolly foods assaulted us. We were forced into a small enclosure with limited supplies of ammunition. I was forced to fight off the onslaught with nothing but the gravity gun as my previous encounter had left me with precious few bullets. Through patience and careful hurtling of explosive barrels, we defeated the ant lion menace once and for all.

Our destination was an old factory. Once home to labor and industry, it now housed only zombies and the car that would carry us to White Forest, home of the fateful rocket. Again, I was forced to carry on alone, making my way across the putrescent factory floor, fighting off zombies as I went. Eventually coming to the bridge, I found it's decayed state similar to a giant see saw. Positioning cars at one end allowed me to traverse its length in the newly procured getaway vehicle.

Once on the other side, I flipped a switch allowing my friends access to the vehicle. While making my way over to the door I'd just opened in order to retrieve my soon-to-be space explorer, I found it had shut again. "No," I thought "there's still someone on that side!" I returned to the booth with the switch. Through the window I could see his red hat just on the other side of the door. I flipped the switch and ran as fast as my HEV assisted legs could carry me. But I was not fast enough. The door slammed shut as I approached, denying me access once again. This mad dash continued for another fifteen minutes. Exhausted from my herculean task with the door, I looked for something I could use to hold open the door. I eventually (through much trial and error with other objects) found a chair. I placed it at the door, hoping that when it opened, the chair would fall into position and hold open the door long enough for me to retrieve my one reason for living. It worked, but only just. The chair strained it's metal frame in the door and no sooner had I retrieved the gnome and turned back to the car the chair collapsed and the door smashed shut with a loud bang behind me. No matter, the gnome and I were safe.

It was about this time I realized I cared more for the gnome than my own safety. I'd risked life and limb to keep him safe and he didn't even have a name. Searching my mind for an appropriate title I settled on Gnome Chomsky. From here until eternity, we were the closest of friends.

From our first moments in the car, I knew we were in for a long journey. There was no operable trunk in which I could store Gnome for the duration, nor was there a secure location in the back seat where he could rest. As it was, I would have to stop every hundred feet or so to retrieve the overly rolly polly Gnome from the ground. If only I had a car seat. This didn't seem to be too much trouble until we were forced to flee from an attack helicopter. Gnome Chomsky thought it better to tuck and roll from the car on several occasions rather than trust that my driving would see us to safety. When I would stop the car to retrieve him once again, the helicopter would shoot him from my hands, seemingly more interested in stopping him than me.

Finally, after a very long forty five minutes, we arrived at White Forest. My excitement grew as the lift drew nearer the rocket. I swelled with pride as I placed Gnome Chomsky the Brave in the rocket. I said my goodbyes and shut the hatch tight. Later, as the countdown ticked away his last seconds on Earth, a tear crept into the corner of my eye. We'd come so far, faced so much and now our time together was at an end.

The rocket soared into the sky on a gleaming trail of fire, while my mind sang a mish mashed chorus of "Space Oddity," "Rocket Man," and the theme to "From the Earth to the Moon." This travelogue is for you Gnome Chomsky. You, the bravest little man in a giant red hat. May your journey be long and enlightening. I hope you remember me fondly as you travel where no Gnome has gone before. God bless and God speed you and your headcrab co-pilot.

Fallout: New Vegas Puts a Face to the Name

Thursday, February 4, 2010
Bethesda released the teaser trailer for Fallout" New Vegas today. It's done in the same style of the teaser for Fallout 3 though it's packed full of references for Fallout veterans like me. Have a look at it here in all it's glory.

First off, the trailer is set in what appears to be (or could at least be likened to) Golgotha from Fallout 2. For those of limited recall or the true Fallout novice, Golgotha was the graveyard where all the mobsters from New Reno were buried.

Pulling out a little more, we can see the city itself with a few recognizable landmarks. I have to say, it all looks remarkably complete for a city surrounded by military test facilities.

Finally, as we catch a glimpse of the Helghast-esque figure at the end of the trailer, you can make out that the flag belongs to the NCR (New California Republic), a city that has seen mention in both of the original games. Starting as the quiet, Radscorpion infested village of Arroyo, the village evolved into the NCR under the leadership of Tandi (wee lass in Fallout to ancient curmudgeon in Fallout 2). It's nice to see some familiar faces

Bethesda has been hush hush regarding any further details. We'll start getting answers soon I'm sure, but at least we've got something now.

A Triumphant Return and a Foetid Game

Friday, January 15, 2010
We have returned to this world at last. Our yearly trek to the unutterable places of this world to commune with the Ancient Ones has ended and we stand ready now to fill your minds with tales of horror, evil and games. Mostly games.

I'm not sure which of the above categories this should fall into. I played the demo for Dante's Inferno recently and couldn't be more sickened by the results if I had tried. I've known how hideous the game was for a while but had reserved my final judgment until I had actually played it.

I should say that my issues with the game aren't exclusive to the story. The gameplay itself leaves a lot to be desired. The combos are terribly limited an unimaginative, the leveling system is obvious and counter intuitive. The enemies are generic and dull to fight. The controls are decent enough if a little unresponsive at times. It doesn't play well; at least not in this demo.

The story is so very far from the classic poem that I think the developers really should have thought of a different title for the game. They could have kept the tag saying it was inspired by the work of Dante Alighieri but given it a title that more reflects the separation from the literary classic. Had they done that, I would have far fewer issues with the execution of the game.

I think if a game is to carry the name of a classic work of literature, film, sculpture, what have you, the developers have a responsibility to stay true to that work. The game produced under the name of the Inferno does not accomplish this in the slightest. Only the names appear the same as the text. This is most certainly not enough to win any affection from me.

I have more issues with the story than the liberties taken with the source material. Many parts of the demo's story made little to no sense whatsoever. The game begins with Dante standing in a dungeon in Acre. The desperate and innocent prisoners come bursting from their cells armed with swords. Where they got these weapons is a complete mystery. After killing seventy or so of these poor people, Dante races out into a courtyard where an unnamed and completely random guy dressed in black casually and loudly walks up behind him and shoves a dagger in his back. Damn those blind spots!

Dante is greeted by Death who quickly levies his judgment on our titular hero. Dante, upset by this decision challenges Death to a face off. Somehow a man who was just "killed" by a leadfooted man with a butter knife takes down death itself, claiming it's scythe for himself. Tell me how that works and I'll shake your hand.

The game takes a sudden change of venue and we're in Florence. Dante rides into the scene, still wielding the scythe with patented extending spine technology. Now, were I one of the many people this character surely encountered during his long trip back to Italy from Acre, I'd probably wonder why a man was carrying a twelve foot long scythe made from an enormous spine. Call me inquisitive if you will, I just think he would have been stopped by customs.

There's a whole deal with Beatrice being dead/possessed/evil/kidnapped/naked that comes out of left field. Then Dante descends into hell where we meet Virgil who apparently is some kind of guardian summoned to you by Beatrice. Virgil gives you the gift of holy ice and vanishes without so much as a good luck.

The game doesn't like to linger on anything too long it seems. This is most likely a reflection of the developers themselves as is truly revealed in the developer diaries. Each one is supposed to be an exploration of the various circles of hell and the different design choices and challenges associated with it. The developers really only mention the design in passing and spend the rest of the time saying over and over again how brutal, dark and violent their game is.

I think Visual Effects Director Jeff Kuipers put it best: "Everything about Dante's Inferno is about torment." Well said Jeff, I couldn't agree more myself.