Thursday, September 29, 2011

Video Games in TV: South Park

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

I must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if I'm turning to South Park for video games in TV. The season 10 episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft" deviates from the typical formula of video game episodes because it's not a crime drama using video games as the murder mystery, and it's not one of those "trapped in a virtual reality game" cliches. Instead, our heroes---the boys of South Park, Colorado---must stop the killing spree of a high-level, powerful player who has transcended the rules of the game and become stronger than the admins themselves.

There's really not much to say about this episode. I'm sure most gamers have already seen it, and once you watch it all of the jokes make sense. There's no commentary to be had except laughing along with the jokes and nodding in agreement at the satirical portrayal of WOW and its playerbase. I've only played WOW for about 30 minutes one time, but thanks to the Internet and gaming stereotypes, I know everything there is to know about WOW; this episode is accessible to non-gamers a real treat for gamers, thanks to the fidelity of the machinima animation from the in-game models. 

Instead of writing a critique or commentary, I'm just going to post some of the quotes that I found most amusing, along with pictures and things of the like. Continue reading for the quotes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pretentious Dialogue Trees

I've noticed that some dialogue trees (specifically those in BioWare games) offer the illusion of depth and complexity, but then betray their shallowness in practice. Conversations give you various response options, but in most situations they have very little effect on anything at all. In the more expository sections, your response only affects the very next line the NPC says, and then they go right into talking about the other topics you didn't prompt. It only affects the order in which information is presented to you, having zero resemblance to an actual conversation and ultimately making your input pointless.

There are a lot of other, more minor issues that bother me with some of theses dialogue trees. Continue reading for more about what's wrong with them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

15 Minutes of Espionage: Gravity Bone

In Brandon Chung's Gravity Bone (of Blendogames), you play as a spy in two simple missions: poisoning someone's drink and delivering it to him, and taking photographs of mechanical birds. It's in first-person with block-style graphics, and even a little bit of first-person platforming. The gameplay is pretty straightforward (functional and intuitive), and it's over fairly quickly (almost prematurely, it seems), but it's enjoyable enough while it lasts. The ambiguity of its ending sequence lends itself to artistic interpretation, if you're so inclined. Even if you're not, it's an interesting concept nonetheless. Get it for free here

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lost in Ruins

Ruins, a free indie game by Jake Elliott of Cardboard Computer, is about many things---music, life, aging, relationships, dreams, art---all told through the perspective of a dog chasing rabbits in a dream. Best described as an "art game," Ruins is all about branching dialogue; the "story" shapes itself depending on how you respond in conversations. Respond with tired cynicism and the story becomes pessimistic; talk about things in your environment and the game explores those metaphors. You'll uncover different pieces of dialogue, depending on what you do, which makes the premise very intriguing as you start to figure out what's going on. All in all, Ruins is a delightful experience that you should consider checking out. More of my critique after the jump.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Console Commands: The Gateway Drug

The developer's console is a great tool that allows you to play around with game mechanics. You can activate cheats like "god mode," manipulate settings in the environment like gravity, adjust your stats, or even fix broken content like a glitched NPC. It's fun just because it empowers you to control the game more. However, it still amounts to cheating in most cases, and isn't something that's really recommended on a first playthrough unless it's really essential. Because once you start using it for one, specific purpose, you can't stop yourself from fiddling with everything else.

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Periodical: Great Games You Never Played

There are a lot of great games out there. You've probably played many of them. But there are a lot of great games that you probably didn't play, likely because you never heard of them or because they just weren't that popular. These games didn't sell well because the concept was too weird, or because of poor marketing, or because they were overshadowed by a mega-hit from an industry giant. But some of these games were truly excellent gaming experiences.

So this periodical will be something of a retrospective, digging up obscure games that deserve some attention, and describing what makes them worth playing. In most cases, these games offer unique gameplay that you just can't find in the popular mainstream hits. The games won't be too obscure, mind you---some games we never played for a good reason. These will be the good ones that you might want to consider actually playing, even today. Every so often I'll write about new game, so keep your eyes open.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

suteF is Pretty dooG

suteF is a free indie puzzle game that has a lot going for it. It's dark and weird, and the puzzles are very well designed. You play as a little blue man whose main objective is to reach the static-screened monitor in most of the levels, which must be done by flipping switches, pushing boxes, jumping onto ledges, and by utilizing gravity-inverters, screen wrap-around effects, and your grappling hook. All while avoiding certain death from laser beams and other nefarious obstacles. 

The puzzles are generally clever and challenging. The solutions aren't always obvious, which makes it satisfying to beat a stage and progress to the next one. Gravity-inversion isn't one of the most original concepts in a game, but the other unique elements of suteF keep it feeling fresh. On top of everything else, the atmosphere and general premise is enough to be intriguing with retaining some subtlety. It's worth a playthrough, certainly. You can get it here

Friday, September 16, 2011

Video Games in TV: Stargate SG-1

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

This season eight episode "Avatar" is yet another one of those all-too-common "trapped in a virtual reality video game" deals, but with a unique "Groundhog Day" twist. As Teal'c tries to stop a bridge security threat to beat the game, the game adjusts by adding new twists. Teal'c inevitably fails, restarting the game each time armed with new knowledge of what lies ahead, but the game is always one step ahead of him.

"Avatar" is a very self-contradicting episode. It doesn't do much to offend me as a gamer, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. The premise of the game, how it works, and how they finally beat the system are all too contrived to feel plausible for what is supposed to be a virtual reality training simulator.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Good Indie Games Need a Good Hook

The hook is possibly the most important part of any game, because that's what determines if a player will continue playing past the introduction. The hook is supposed to intrigue the player with the premise, give him a sense of goals and directions, and set the stage for things to come. Above all, the pointy end of the hook is supposed to be the lure that compels you to keep playing this game, when you could be doing something else.

All games need to have a good hook, but I've found that it's especially true for these free indie games just because there are so many of them out there, and you haven't invested any money to justify your time with them. For examples of good hooks and further explanation, continue reading the full article after the jump.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Saving the Company is Hard Work

Saving the Company is a free indie flash game on Kongregate. The company is going under. You have one objective: save the company. Your objective is simple: break into a castle filled with random traps for no reason whatsoever and steal the treasure in the last room after defeating the boss and bring it back to save the company and stuff like that. These are the actual words of your character, who seems like he just wanted an excuse to play a video game. Sadly, you are not Boba Fett.

The gameplay is essentially a platformer/puzzler. You enter a castle and go through a series of rooms, each with some task to complete before progressing to the next room. Some of these are more traditional platforming tasks (avoid the spikes, avoid the lava, stay out of the dark spots), while others are a little more puzzley. The puzzles tend to be a riddle of sorts, some of which are fairly meta and require you to do things with your computer interface, instead of the game, specifically. So it's a fun, free way to spend a few minutes of your time. Play it here

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Defense of "Artistic Indie Games"

I recently stumbled upon two Destructiod articles in which Jim Sterling criticizes a number of "artsy fartsy" games. In summary, he says they're pretentious, self-righteous, and lack any redeeming quality in their gameplay. Ordinarily I would've disregarded this rant as a pretentious, self-righteous farce, just because it's Jim Sterling, but in the hundreds of comments that followed, a lot of people shared Jim's sentiments. I even found a few other articles and forum discussions with people up in arms over these games.

I don't understand why people are so intolerant. Is art not a free expression unchained by conventions and restrictions? Is beauty no longer in the eye of the beholder? Who says that games have to be necessarily "fun" to be enjoyable? Can we not appreciate something just for its aesthetic expression? If you're one of those who disdainfully looks down on games like The Path, then I think you've missed the point.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Philosophical Depth in the Infinite Ocean

Jonas Kyratzes' The Infinite Ocean is not remarkable for its gameplay (it's a standard point-n-click adventure), but its story is engaging and offers a lot of room for philosophical interpretation. It explores different aspects of artificial intelligence, asking us to reconsider our definitions of life, and wondering if it's possible for AI to actually be more "human" than humanity. The gameplay has a couple of problems, and there's an awful lot of reading involved, but the way the story unfolds kept me interested in continuing forward. If you have the patience to read a lot of text, and especially if you're interested in AI, then this game is worth playing. Continue reading for the rest of my review / analysis.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Hate Preliminary Character Creation

I don't like it when games forces me to make decisions about my character before I have any context to understand the effect of what I'm choosing. The decisions you make at the very beginning have long-lasting impacts that dictate how you'll be playing, when you don't have any grasp of how things work with this particular game. Several hours into some games, you might realize that you made a completely broken character, or you realize that certain playstyles are more fun than the one you chose. So I don't understand why games don't handle this aspect better.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Aliens vs Predator vs Boring

Rebellion's 2010 version of Aliens vs Predator feels like a less innovative version of their 1999 Aliens Versus Predator, and like a lamer version of Monolith's Aliens Versus Predator 2. There's almost nothing new or interesting going on here, it's just a modernized re-hash of everything we've already seen and done before. There are only five missions for each species, most of the combat breaks down to mindless click-fests, the missions themselves aren't varied, and it's just not that interesting. It's a shame, really. More about how boring it is after the jump.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Video Games in TV: Law & Order SVU

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

In this season six episode, "Game," NYPD detectives work a murder case that appears straight out of a video game. The episode explores the controversial topic of video game violence and does a fairly good job of representing both sides of the debate. But, like nearly every television series out there, they wind up using incredibly stupid-looking game footage, misusing video game terminology, and generally betraying their inept understanding of video games. So let's jump right into it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beautiful Escape is Beautifully Disturbing

I wouldn't say that I like Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, a free indie game by Nicolau "Calunio" Chaud. It's a game about stalking innocent people on the streets, seducing them, and bringing them home to your basement to sadistically torture them until you've broken their body and soul. Unlike the Saw and Hostel films where the goal is just gratuitous gore and violence, BE:D is actually fairly tame in its graphical depiction, aiming instead for the psychological aspects that motivate psychopaths.

The atmosphere of everything is so thick and disturbing that it crawls under your skin and makes you wriggle with discomfort, not just because of the subject matter, but because of how creepy it is to be inside the mind of a hunter. This isn't a game for everyone, but its underlying message is surprisingly meta. Not to mention it's definitely one of the darkest and most emotionally-moving games I've ever played. To that end, Beautiful Escape is a successful execution of artistic design, as disturbing as it may be. If you're morbidly curious about this game, continue reading for the rest of my review / analysis.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wonderputt is Wonderful (Kinda)

The latest sensation on the circuits is Wonderputt, a free indie flash game on Kongregate. The premise is mini-golf, where you use the mouse to determine the direction and strength of your putts in a kind of bizarre putting green. It's basically what you'd expect for mini-golf, but there's a wonderful sense of charm with this game, mostly because of the level design. All 18 holes take place on the floating block in the sky, with a few dynamic pieces that change as you move around the course. It's a great way to kill some time, but that's about all it amounts to.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bastion Wallpapers

Here are several wallpapers I made of Supergiant Games' Bastion. Some use the image of The Kid from the game's cover art, and the rest are screenshots from more artistic moments in the game. I had to do a little bit of photoshopping to crop The Kid, so if you look closely you might catch one or two minor differences, but I think it looks pretty good. I could easily add the Bastion game logo, if anybody's interested in a version with the wall and the stylized text. Click the full article for the wallpapers.

UPDATE: I added a wallpaper from the restoration ending.
UPDATE #2: I added a few more wallpapers, including the evacuation ending.

You Have One Chance to Play This Game

In six days, every single living cell on earth will be dead. You have one chance.

So says the the tagline for One Chance, a flash game hosted on Newgrounds by Awkward Silence Games. You've just found a cure for cancer, but the next day you find out that the cure is extremely deadly, and that it's killing everything. Every day for the next six days, you make a decision that will ultimately determine the fate of the world. Can you save humanity? Can you save your family? Can you even save yourself? It's one of those artsy games without a whole lot of gameplay, but it packs some emotional resonance into the experience, and that makes it worth playing. But be warned: you really do only have one chance. More after the jump.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Assassin's Creed 2 Doesn't Completely Suck

I did not like the first Assassin's Creed. It was flawed in nearly every way possible, but it had a rich, organic soul that still made it worth playing, at least in a strange, masochistic sort of way. Assassin's Creed 2 fixes nearly every single aspect that sucked from the first game, while introducing several new mechanics that make the gameplay far more compelling. But despite all of these improvements on the gameplay and presentation, it eventually starts to feel even more artificial than the first game. And that makes it really hard for me to appreciate this game. Continue reading for the rest of the break-down.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The End of Us is Rather Good

I don't have much to say about The End of Us, except that it's a brilliant execution of narrative design without anything resembling a story or characters. You play as a purple comet cruising through space, when suddenly an orange comet bops into you, initiating a playful dance of back-and-forth interactions as you hunt for stars and avoid asteroids before one of you inevitably hits the earth. The following is from the creators, Chelsea Howe and Michael Molinari, describing the philosophy of the game:
"The End of Us" was designed to evoke friendship, attachment, and affinity without overt narrative. The orange comet's behaviors are intended to endear. It might not arise directly from the actions but emerges from the familiarity of friendship, good and bad, and the hollow that arises after one-to-one attention vanishes, permanently, for whatever reason. 
As you grow and age and eventually start to fade alongside your friend, you come upon an asteroid belt that chips away at both of you. Your final (only?) choice in the game is who will take the fall, and who will have to suffer a solo existence after.
The effect really resonates, which is remarkable considering that these are two lifeless comets. Not a word is exchanged and yet there's a genuine feeling of companionship between the two of us. It's a free flash game that takes about 3 minutes to play. All I can say is go play it. You won't regret it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Twilight Princess Sucks

Except for the Zelda games on the CD-i that no one ever played, Twilight Princess is the the worst Zelda game ever. The series has always been innovative, introducing new gameplay mechanics and presenting everything with an interesting premise and high production values. But TP is a half-assed effort that doesn't capture any of the unique qualities the series is known for. It's a lame re-hash of the same things we've already seen and done before, and most of its original content is just not good. Even though it's still above average, it's completely underwhelming for a Zelda game. Continue reading for the break-down of why Twilight Princess sucks.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Video Games in TV: Ghost Whisperer

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

In this season four episode of Ghost Whisperer, "Ghost in the Machine," Jennifer Love-Hewitt has to track down a sexual predator by playing an online game similar to Second Life. The ghost of a deceased player manifests itself to her, and she quickly becomes involved in an investigation to save a young girl by figuring out the real identity of an in-game character. This episode could be a lot worse, but like most every TV show, it goes for gaming cliches to set the tone, which makes it a little lame. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Should Be Playing Bastion

Bastion is the first game from Supergiant Games, and it is a remarkably enjoyable experience. An action-RPG, you go through levels fighting enemies, acquiring new weapons and items, leveling-up, and upgrading your character. It's not especially unique in this regard, but the gameplay is masterfully crafted to feel highly rewarding and compelling. Its most remarkable aspect is the atmosphere; the lush visuals, melodic soundtrack, narrative storytelling, and general premise are uniquely refreshing. Since Bastion only costs $15, you have no excuse not to play it. In fact, you should be playing Bastion right now instead of reading this review.

If you insist on reading further, I have more words for you about why the game is so good, after the jump.