Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On The Way: Pattern Recognition

Somehow until now I've managed to miss the news that a cinema adaptation of Pattern Recognition is on the way. Based on William Gibson's novel about mysterious film footage on the internet. To be directed by Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poet's Society, The Truman Show) with a screenplay by David Arata (Brokedown Palace, Children of Men) - which is already a far better creative team than I'd generally expect to be attached to something like this.

Looks promising.

Monday, May 28, 2007

10 Underappreciated Games

Doing my post-mortem of Obscure yesterday has got me thinking. It's a game that got receptions from review sites that ranged from lukewarm to downright insulting, and yet it's without a doubt thoroughly unique in both its genre (teen horror) and gameplay (co-op survival horror). It escapes me why such a competent and memorable game hasn't picked up a cult audience. Certainly developer Hydravision has faith in the brand as a sequel is now on the way.

So in the spirit of games which deserve more attention, I'm happy to bring you 10 underappreciated games which you can play on consoles you own today.

1) Sprung (Nintendo DS)
In the rash of DS launch games, somehow the world failed to notice Sprung, a dating game from the studios of Ubisoft. Rather than treading the path of Japanese hentai games, with cheap vicarious thrills motivating the player to slug through repetetive gameplay, Sprung instead opts for an engaging character-driven art style and genuinely witty dialogue. The majority of gameplay consists of working your way through branching conversation trees reminiscent of The Secret of Monkey Island in an attempt to accomplish a variety of goals, most of which are tangentially related to dating. Although packed with adult references, the game stays tasteful and non-explicit and is a genuine joy even for those not normally inclined to the genre.

2) Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) (PlayStation 2)
I can't talk enough about how good Fahrenheit is, and yet it seems barely anyone has played it. No other game has blended narrative, gameplay and cinematic direction as seamlessly as Fahrenheit, and although the plot takes something of a left turn near the end it still stands out as one of the most memorable games you're ever likely to play. You still have time to get in on the ground floor before developer Quantic Dream releases their follow-up, Heavy Rain, on the PS3.

3) Azure Dreams (PlayStation)
Don't confuse the PlayStation version of Azure Dreams with its inferior GameBoy port. Konami mixes the best elements of Rogue, Pokemon and Harvest Moon in this fantastic RPG. Trawl through a massive randomly generated tower full of monsters and mayhem, seeking out monster eggs which hatch into minions who'll fight for you and level up, and then use the treasure you'll find to expand your home town, decorate your house, and woo the fine ladies you'll encounter. Fanastically addictive and unfortunately all too hard to find copies of. If you see one in a PAL format I'll pay you good money.

4) DefJam: Fight for NY (PlayStation 2)
Don't be put off by the DefJam branding; this is a solid and unique wrestling-slash-brawling game. The mechanics behind the satisfyingly brutal pitfights are only enhanced by the fact you'll be using a surprisingly large array of real-life hip-hop artists and celebrities to fight them. Trust me, nothing beats throwing Snoop Dogg in front of a subway train, or beating Ice T senseless with a metal pipe. A decent create-a-fighter mode is the icing on the cake.

5) Zone of the Enders (PlayStation 2)
In all the Metal Gear fan-stampede that goes on, it's easy to forget that Hideo Kojima made another series about giant mechs. Zone of the Enders features a tight character-driven plot, an absolutely stellar soundtrack, and more importantly it's one of the few mech-based games ever released which is remotely playable. It's short enough that you can finish it in a single day, but you'll regard that day as exceptionally well spent.

6) Loco Roco (PSP)
I've spoken in depth about Loco Roco previously, but it's worth pointing out again how absolutely unique this little gem is. It doesn't seem to have flown off the shelves with quite the celerity I'd hoped for, so the chances are there's a copy sitting in a bargain bin near you. Do yourself a favour and play what's probably the squishiest platformer ever to come out for a portable system.

7) ActRaiser (Super Nintendo)
It's available on the Virtual Console right now, people - you have no excuse. This is Squaresoft's once and only foray into the madness of crossing hardcore platforming action with a god sim. Trust me that the levels where you play as an arrow-shooting angel watching over the development of a small civilisation more than make up for the absolutely brutal side-scrolling interludes. If you can't hack the difficulty on your Wii, then try it on your PC with an emulator to make the going easier.

8) Clock Tower (PlayStation)
No one has ever claimed the Clock Tower series was perfect. In fact, a number of people have gone to considerable length to convince the world of the exact opposite. But there's no question it's absolutely unique. It's survival horror where you won't find a single weapon - when serial killer Scissorman shows up, the best you can hope for is to hide or to temporarily stun him with such handy nearby objects as fire extinguishers. It's absolutely criminal that this basic concept was never developed into something that reached beyond Clock Tower's small cult following.

9) Star Control 2 (PC)
It's like some sort of demonic injustice that there are still people in this world who haven't played Star Control 2. It somehow fell mostly under the radar when it was originally released, and to this day there are unenlightened cave-dwellers who haven't heard its name. This is possibly the greatest game ever made, and I don't use that phrase lightly. Absolutely first class non-linear plot, fantastic dialogue ranging from side-splittingly funny through to deeply creepy, scads of alien races, dynamic spheres of political influence, real-time 2D ship-to-ship combat, resource management, exploration, and a soundtrack that will make you want to punch people who haven't played the game right in the face. With all sorts of remakes and emulations floating around on the net, if you can't be bothered to go and play Star Control 2 right this minute then you, sir, are worse than Hitler.

10) ToeJam and Earl (Sega Megadrive/Genesis)
Another Virtual Console option, if you fire up ToeJam and Earl on your Wii I think you'll find it's one of the cleverest two-player co-operative games ever envisioned. Despite (or perhaps because of) its garishly loud graphics, it creates the perfect mix of cooperation and competition as two aliens attempt to reconstruct their damaged space ship and escape this crazy planet called "Earth". Isometric exploration-based gameplay has never looked so good.

And lastly I'm giving the honourable mention to Metal Gear Ghost Babel for the GameBoy Colour, also known as just Metal Gear. Though not really something you can play on a current generation system, it's just a terrible shame that this game was dismissed as an inferior port of the Metal Gear Solid titles. Packing in all of the deep plot, memorable boss fights, and surprise twists that made the PlayStation titles stand out, it manages to render an exciting and engaging Metal Gear experience on a portable platform, which I hasten to add is something that Metal Gear Acid never managed to achieve.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Robbie The Rabbit in Eledees

I'm about halfway through Eledees for the Wii (Elebits in the United States), and I'm amused to note that in what is otherwise an aggressively child-oriented title, Konami has seen fit to throw in a brief visual reference to Silent Hill. In the process of exploring Eledees, the player encounters an amusement park. Displayed prominently on statues and park maps is none other than Robbie the Rabbit, the terrifying creepy mascot of the Lakeside Amusement Park who appears in Silent Hill 3 and 4. In Silent Hill he's first encountered drenched in what appears to be blood. In Eledees he's shown holding a delicious hot dog, and the descriptive text reads, "He loves ketchup. (That's not blood.)".


Obscure Post-Mortem

Obscure is a game that lives up to its title. Developed by French studio Hydravision in 2004 and released in the Euro-Australian market long before it made its way to the US, the game never really made much of a splash. Which is a shame, because if you're into old-school survival horror, Obscure serves up a unique, if derivative, experience.

Obscure's really like a trip back in time to late 90s teen horror flicks. The first character you control meets a hideous fate before the opening credits roll, and then you'll find yourself leading a group of teens out to investigate their missing schoolmate. You'll end up traipsing the length and breadth of an American high school while simultaneously fighting off waves of darkness-spewing plant mutants.

Your team of groovy mystery solvers starts out with just three members, but you'll soon pick up some friends to round out the posse to an even five. Each character has a special ability, although none of the abilities are ever absolutely necessary. Stan, for example, can pick locks quickly and without needing to use the length of wire that everyone else requires. Shannon can advise you of where you'll need to go next to progress, while Kenny can run a little faster than anyone else. You can play as any character in your party, and you can take a second character with you as backup. The remainder of your group remain at a central "meeting point", which you can return to in order to swap people in and out of your expeditionary party.

It would be polite to say that Obscure references Robert Rodriguez's 1998 sci-fi teen horror romp The Faculty, but it would be more accurate to say that it steals from it wholesale. Entire level designs are taken straight from the film, along with large chunks of the plot, and the character model for Stan looks so much like actor Josh Hartnett that you'll be surprised to hear someone else's voice reading his lines. What it doesn't take from The Faculty it draws from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including a very familiar school courtyard and foyer, and a principal who bears an uncanny resemblance in appearance and character to Armin Shimmerman's portrayal of Principal Snyder.

The single player action isn't particularly inspiring. The game borrows gameplay elements from Resident Evil and Silent Hill, without really surpassing either of those classic franchises. You'll be moving through the interiors of school buildings, gathering ammunition and health items, duking it out with nasty critters, and solving simple puzzles. The two main innovations come from the use of light, and the second character.

It seems the monsters in Obscure are mutants created from a rare light-hating plant. Seeing as ammunition is brutally scarce even on the easiest difficulty, you'll be doing everything you can to pour light onto your enemies before finishing them up with a well placed bullet. Early on in the game, while the sun's still up, this involves smashing in windows to let the evening sunlight pour into classrooms. Some particularly tense scenes involve you working your way around the outside of rooms, near the windows, avoiding nasties waiting in the room's centre. Later, once the sun goes down, things become more problematic, but luckily the game lets you acquire flashlights, which can be sticky-taped to the barrels of your firearms.

The real genius, though, comes from the second character. In a single player game, your ally will support you with firepower, lighting, and the occasional bit of advice. You can switch between your active characters on the fly at the press of a button, and the two characters can even use healing items on each other to create healing support during combat.

But if you have a second controller sitting around, the game really begins to shine. Drop-in drop-out co-operative gameplay means that a friend can take control of that second character and turn an otherwise average survival horror-game into a fairly strategic social experience. The second player adds a whole new element to the game, allowing you to lay down covering fire, have one person providing light while another explores, or just have someone watch your back while you're working on a particularly tricky puzzle or door lock.

As far as I'm aware Obscure is the only modern survival horror featuring two-player co-op on a single console, and it's an absolutely fantastic idea. Everyone knows that horror movies are better when watched with friends, so why have we been consigned to playing survival horror alone?

The graphics are largely adequate to the job, although not special. The game makes extensive use of darkness, to the point where it occasionally becomes difficult to find your way around simple environments. Luckily a quick brightness adjustment on your TV will fix the problem.

The sound effects for monsters, weapons and suchlike are unexceptional, but the game makes fantastic use of ambient sounds including distant screams and breaking windows to suggest terrifying mayhem in progress just out of sight.

The music is even better than the ambient sound. In fact, it's absolutely fantastic. Opening music by Sum 41 and closing music by Span set up the teen-horror atmosphere, and the in-game themes feature rousing orchestral instrumentals and the creepy tones of a children's choir. You'll frequently want to stop and just bathe in how awesome the soundtrack is.

Is Obscure scary? Not in the same way as Silent Hill. The game makes use of very few scripted sequences, instead relying largely on the game's inherent difficulty and atmosphere to keep you on the edge of your seat. It's effective, but if you're looking for cat-in-the-locker or haunted-funhouse sequences you might be disappointed.

Arkem and I slogged through the easy mode beginning-to-end last night in about five hours, so it's not a particularly long game. There's a New Game Plus-type option which gives you access to new costumes and weapons, but none of that is very enticing. Even easy mode is pretty unforgiving, though - we did a lot of saving and loading - and normal might be a challenge for even survival horror veterans. When your characters die, they stay dead, and the game just teleports you back to the meeting place for you to continue on with whatever surviving teenagers you have left. There's also one bitterly stupid sequence involving a collapsing floor that can take several reloads if you're unlucky, but it's thankfully quite brief.

If you enjoy the survival horror genre, you should absolutely grab a friend check out Obscure, if only via rental, as a pleasant change from the genre kings. Or at least to tide you over until Silent Hill Origins finally makes its way onto store shelves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Halo 2 - Install First Impressions

I have my copy of Halo 2 for Vista, and immediately upon inserting the disc in the drive Microsoft's master plan for PC gaming becomes clear.

First up, there's Live. Halo 2 comes with a free 1 month Gold trial of the Live service that XBox users are already familiar with. This means you can access Live through your PC, and (I assume) play Halo 2 against Xbox or 360 owners.

You get the full Live experience - and by that I mean that Achievements, previously an XBox specific feature, are fully available for the Vista release of Halo 2. You can rack up your 1000 points for the game via its PC release. I haven't had a chance to test it yet but it looks like Live is fully interoperable between the XBox and the PC, letting you use the same account et cetera.

More impressive still is the option that appears as soon as you jam the Halo 2 disc into your drive: "Play Halo 2". That's right - not "Install Halo 2" - just "Play". Apparently it installs in the background while you start playing.

Sneaky old Microsoft - while they've been busy making consoles look more like PCs, they've also been putting in the work to make PCs look more like consoles. I'm impressed, and hopeful for what this kind of approach will mean for future PC releases.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Next Generation Is Portable

A lot of the time when I talk to game geeks these days, the debate is still whether the next-generation console of choice is the PlayStation 3 or the XBox 360. The answer, of course, is neither: it's the Nintendo DS. The debate has moved past them. The next generation is portable.
I refer you to the latest worldwide sales figures via VGChartz.

(EDIT: I originally for some reason put a dollar sign before these numbers; they should represent units sold and I have now correccted accordingly.)

Total units of console sold worldwide:
Microsoft XBox 360: 9.71 million
Nintendo Wii: 7.09 million
Sony PlayStation 3: 3.31 million

Nintendo DS: 42.50 million
Sony PSP: 21.33 million

Breaking that down in consoles first of all, the Wii has sold about two thirds as many units as the 360 in a third of the time, and outsold the PS3 better than two to one over the same period.

Looking at the portables, admittedly the DS has been out a year longer than even the 360, but if we assume growth for the 360 over the next year consistent with its showing to date, then the DS is outselling the 360 nearly four units to one. Bear in mind that the last generation winner (by sales if not profit), the PS2, has sold only 117 million worldwide over its entire lifespan. The DS is significantly outselling the PS2 over the same period since launch.

The real significance of this is attach rates. For those who aren't familiar with this term, it works like this. When a game is released for a system, the audience isn't an absolute figure, because not everyone who might potentially want to play the game owns the relevant console. Rather, it's expressed as a percentage of the total ownership of the console the game is released on. A good game might sell to 10% of owners of the relevant console; a bad game might only reach 1% or less.

It doesn't take a lot of maths to see that 1% of the 42.5 million DS owners (425,000) is a larger number than 10% of the 3.31 million PS3 owners (330,100). That is, it's more economically viable to release even a mediocre game for the DS than it is to produce a triple-A title for the PS3.

So why would anyone be developing for home consoles? When the leading attach rate goes to a portable system, where coincidentally development costs must also be significantly lower, you can expect to see more and more triple-A franchises jumping ship to portable waters. Dragon Quest IX is only the beginning. With so far only around 4% of PS2 owners making the jump to the PS3, sales figures for Final Fantasy XIII aren't going to be anywhere near as impressive as the staggering numbers for earlier titles, and it's my prediction that you're going to see DS iterations of the series taking the lead over next holiday season.

Lumbered with increasingly irrelevant and poorly supported hardware, console gamers are about to find out they have more in common with PC gamers than they think.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

StarCraft II

Just thought I'd be the five millionth fanboy on the web to draw your attention to StarCraft II.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Playing Update

As astute Dustbunnies may have guessed, I'm currently working my way through Okami. It was giving me the feeling of a calligraphy-based Legend of Zelda, but with only overworld and no dungeons, which I thought was a vast improvement, until last night I encountered the first dungeon. Shame that. It's still an excellent game, though.

On the PC I'm delving into Command & Conquer 3, which has indeed managed to recapture everything that was good about the original C&C while placing the game firmly among modern RTS conventions. It doesn't seem to do much to advance the genre, though.

The cartridge in my DS is Custom Robo Arena, but I'm not playing it much. Every time I fire it up I just end up wishing I was playing Pokemon instead. Maybe it will grow on me when I get further in.

Also I'm slogging my way in spurts through ActRaiser on the Wii Virtual Console, playing a fair bit of multiplayer Mario Kart 64, and working on and off at the original Guitar Hero. I'm still stuck at Cowboys From Hell on Expert.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Five Licenses That Need To Be Turned Into Videogames

If there's one thing that the gaming world needs, it's more games based on licenses. It just makes sense - even when you make a very good game, it's logical that it would have been better if it had also been based on a comic book, movie, or TV show.

For instance Danger Girl. Or South Park. Or, um, Pimp My Ride. Artistic gems, every one.

So clearly as the keen-minded futurist I am, it's my civic duty to trawl the oceans of our shared cultural heritage for unharvested intellectual property to fuel the games of tomorrow. For your ease of reference, I've compiled a quick list of the five game licenses that absolutely need to happen.

1) Barbarella
Your mission, Barbarella: find Durand Durand!
Humanity's future is in danger... and only Barbarella can save the day! UNLEASH a huge array of questionable fashion choices! CASUALLY STROLL your way through implausible locales ripped straight from the hit film! Go head to head with evil scientist Durand Durand in RAMPAGING Orgasmatron battle sequences! Finally you can bring Barbarella home - in this brand new hit videogame!

2) James Joyce's Ulysses
If you liked The Da Vinci Code, you'll love Ulysses! Can YOU crack James Joyce's unintelligible literary cypher? Take control of TWO rugged heroes along with a host of memorable allies in your quest for a Gorgonzola cheese sandwhich, a backyard to urinate in, and the reconciliation of the history of the English language from Anglo-Saxon times to the modern day. The eighteenth and final level consists of eight massive rooms unmarred by walls, objects, enemies, or goals!

3) A Clockwork Orange
Fancy a bit of the old ultra violence? Then sobirat your britvas and your milk-plus, my droogs, and get ready to drat with a HUGE array of nazzes, millicents and chassos! Sod molodoy ptitsas! A bit of the old in-out, in out! Take jeezny by the yarbles! Get the bolshiest pan-handle as you viddy TWENTY ONE horrorshow levels full of crast, creeches and lubbilub, all to the zvooks of the old Ludwig van! You'll be smecking for sure!

4) Videodrome
At last David Cronenburg's masterpiece comes home to next-generation consoles, and puts YOU in the driver's seat! As Professor Brian O'Blivion, producer of renegade TV channel Videodrome, it's up to you to keep viewers literally glued to their seats by serving up a mind-destroying programme of televised torture, violence and rape! Use the Videodrome Signal to cause long term damage to television addicts! Maximise your converts - and your score - by stringing hallucinations and brain tumours into mind-rocking combos! Long live the new flesh!

5) The Brady Bunch
Forget The Sims! The ultimate blended-family game this holiday season is The Brady Bunch! Basically, it's the story of a lovely lady, who is bringing up three very lovely girls. ALL of them have hair of gold like their mother - the youngest one in CURLS! But the action REALLY starts when we introduce a man... named BRADY... who is bringing up no less than THREE boys of his own. Four men living all together - yet they are all alone... Use a revolutionary new game engine to help this lady meet this fellow! You'll soon know that it's much more than a hunch that this group will somehow form a family - and THAT's how they become The Brady Bunch!

There's no need to applaud my genius. It's just a matter of analysing market trend and seeing the almost inevitable next craze. My only hope is that these games come out for the Wii, because there's not a one of them that wouldn't be even better with motion sensitive controls.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On The Way: Obscure II

Okay, I've got something: news that Obscure II is on the horizon. PS2 survival horror ahoy! As someone who loved the original, I'm intensely pleased that they're keeping up the teen horror movie vibe, the co-op gameplay, and the rampant plagiarism from The Faculty.

Read more via Gamespot. And ignore their somewhat negative coverage. It'll be gold, I tell you! Gold!

In Spoon

Sorry for the lack of material. I'm a little short. On a totally unrelated note, I'm expecting to be able to declare tomorrow that I've finished the original Guitar Hero on Expert, and also that Okami comes from the Land of Awesome where fairies give out warm apple and cinnamon muffins to all and sundry.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for entertainment it seems like an impromptu round of Mornington Crescent might be starting over on The Angriest...

Monday, May 07, 2007


Via Wonderland:

Anyone for some multiplayer online Worms / Scorched Earth gameplay delivered in the form of a Flash applet with simultaneous turn structure? It's called ZWOK! and for some reason it's by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Check it out here.

Do Not Call Register

Juffles has alerted me to the fact that the National Do Not Call Register for Australia is no longer an urban myth. Go forth, my minions, and make it illegal for telemarketers to call you.

Viewtiful Joe Post-Mortem

I have to say that if you're the sort of individual who likes them their innovative 2D platformers, Viewtiful Joe is a particularly good one.

I'm not that guy.

Two levels in and I'm done. That's about how long it took for me to lose all my lives and discover that I'd have to replay the last twenty minutes or so of the game as punishment. The game was mocking me, so I had the last laugh by putting it back on the shelf forever. Take that, Capcom and Clover Studios.

But look, there's a whole bunch of good in it. The game's set inside a movie, and the visual style comes complete with projector flickers and filmstrip-holes at the top and bottom of the screen. You'll basically proceed from level to level busting up enemies and solving puzzles, within the confines of a fairly inane plot that would probably be better if it wasn't present at all. Controls are responsive, moves are satisfying, and the action is well paced.

The game's gimmick comes in the form of "VFX", which are a set of three powers related to cinematography. First up you get a slow-mo power. Attacks delivered in slow motion do more damage and give your enemy less time to get out of the way. Secondly, there's "mach speed", which is basically a speed up, letting you move faster and deliver attacks more quickly. And lastly you get a zoom in, which makes all your attacks more flashy, with wider hitboxes and interesting effects.

Where the game gets clever is how the powers affect the world. You see, when you use slow-mo, you're not just seeing everything going slower. Everthing is actually going slower. Against your average goons this won't be too noticeable, for if, for example, you're attacking a helicopter, you'll soon realise that it's very hard for a helicopter to stay airborne when its rotor is moving at one tenth of normal speed.

There are some very clever puzzles built around this concept, which are interspersed with the action gameplay in a very pleasing mixture.

On top of all this there's a shop/power up system, where you can exchange tokens collected during levels to buy new moves and stat upgrades. In my brief time with the game these felt pretty much irrelevant except for the life upgrades, but I'm really not in a position to give an accurate estimation of that.

Like I say, if platforming is even remotely your thing, you should really play Viewtiful Joe. It probably gets even better past where I got to. I hear the PS2 version (which I played) has all sorts of cool bonus stuff. Me, though, I'm still hoping I'm going to learn my lesson about platformers this time and stop buying shiny new ones just because they're in the $20 bin.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Unless you're one of those too-smart-for-your-own-good bloggers who nobody likes, you've probably been wondering what the coloured icons attached to some of my last posts were. The answer is this:

I have in the past been a contributor to the Round Table of Bloggers, run by Corvus over at Man Bytes Blog. This month, Corvus challenged contributors to choose three of a set of nine Rorschach-like images and write a short passage of prose or verse about what they evoke in the writer. Like any good blogger, I've taken that idea and completely ignored what Corvus intended. Instead I've written no less than three articles on game design inspired in a very loose sense by Corvus' odd little pictures. They are:


Hybrid Gameplay

The Player In The Box

Now, having taken the intent of the topic and done a merry tap dance upon its grave, I'm not at this stage sure whether my entry is going to be accepted, but really I wanted to write those articles more than I wanted to be on topic this month, so we can all wait and see with suspended breath what occurs. In the mean time, if you want to check out what else is going down in the Round Table, you can draw strength from the drop down menu included immediately below.

The Player In The Box

The absolute biggest problem, and by that I mean the 100 pound gorilla that cripples your pets and eats all your cereal, involved in writing rules, settings or scenarios for tabletop roleplaying is this: that you can't fit the GM in the box.

Lackluster systems and dry settings can be spun into gold by a talented game master (or dungeon master, if you prefer, or referee, or storyteller). Likewise literary gold can be churned into unusable muck by a bad GM.

You can load a system to favour storytelling. You can give GMing advice in the rulebook. You can shift some component of creative control to the players. But none of these address the fundamental problem that your game is only going to be as good as your GM, and if you're a player who has a bad GM you're out of luck, because you can't pack a good GM in the box.

Screw that. Who wants to be a player anyway?

Now, as someone who runs games more often than he plays them, I am not without a large helping of appreciation for the merits of a good player. A good GM makes a game good; but when you have good players as well, that's when art happens.

But while ideally every game would consist of groups of perfect people sitting down to play perfect games, if I have to short one side of the equation, it's the players. I want good players, but if I can't get them I'd be perfectly happy to settle for something pre-packaged.

So is there a way that we can put the players in the box? If you have an answer, then blog it. I want ideas, and there's a lot of very talented game designers out there. Think laterally. Can an offline solo roleplaying experience be designed which casts the consumer in the role of GM?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blue Charlie

I recently ran a very successful systemless tabletop RPG called Blue Charlie. It's for one GM and two players, it runs for between 2 and 4 hours, it's set in a future/outer space environment of political suspense and horror, and I can pretty much guarantee you've never played anything much like it. It's been past three groups now with everyone rating it between "very good" and "exceptional". I'm wondering whether there's any interest out there in me writing up the scenario as some sort of text file so it can be recreated elsewhere? I'm mostly moved on to the next thing I want to run now so if I'm going to set anything down about Blue Charlie I'd better do it before I forget the key points.

Tori Amos v Bush

"In order to make her political statement, Amos called on "Isabel," one of the four archetypes she developed for the disc [American Doll Posse]. Each of these archetypes symbolizes a particular side of her musical personality, and each is based on one of the female constituents of the Greek pantheon. Isabel, Amos explained, is a photographer and a reflection of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Clyde, who was inspired by Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, embodies the singer's emotional and idealistic side. There's also Pip, the confrontational "warrior woman" based on Athena, and Santa, the sensual side of the artist, who was inspired by Aphrodite."
MTV News: Tori Amos Forms Anti-Bush Posse By Mutating Into Greek Goddesses

I love this woman, but really, she couldn't be more deeply strange if she tried. Her new album American Doll Posse was apparently released yesterday; will have to trawl music shops for it tomorrow. Here's hoping the tour is coming to Australia.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

World's Best Hold Music

In the course of my normal conveyancing work today I was placed on hold with a Canberra law firm. It is with the utmost pleasure and surprise that I report that their hold music was the dungeon-crawling theme from the original Phantasy Star, in all its 8-bit glory. It seems that in the legal arena not only do you have to worry about amended pleadings and answers to interrogatories, but you'll also be going up against the evil Emperor Lassic and the mysterious Dark Force.

Hybrid Gameplay

While the rest of the world wallows in the sty of God of War 2, I’m sloughing my way through the original, and finding that the hype is very much overrated.

The action, it must be said, is superb. God of War takes everything that worked in the Devil May Cry franchise and ratchets it up a fairly meaty notch. Controls are responsive, attacks are spectacular, and enemy executions are blisteringly satisfying.

Where it goes wrong is that it does all this, and then thinks it can be a platformer, too. You’re expected to jump from moving platforms like some kind of rabid monkey, scale vertical walls, rappel along ropes, and tiptoe your way along razor-thin rafters. Mistakes generally result in instant death, and you’ll be doing it all under the view of a camera that changes angles like a schizophrenic Hitchcock. It’s small consolation that some even more intense platforming levels were wisely cut from the game prior to release.

You get used to it. You shrug. Sometimes the fun will stop, and the platforming will begin. This is how life is.

But it’s what turns a potentially perfect game into one which is merely memorable. Hybrid gameplay. The developers wanted their game to be too many things and suffered as a result. After all, what’s an epic Greek adventure without a downfall brought about by hubris?

It makes me wonder whether diluting gameplay purity is perhaps by definition a bad thing. I’m looking at the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year, and there’s no question that they share something in common: Guitar Hero I & II, Ossu Tatake Ouendan, Elite Beat Agents, Excite Truck, Trauma Center, and Disgaea – they all have an unquestionable purity of gameplay. They take a central core concept and iterate it until it bleeds fun. They are definitive. They are archetypal.

There is no question that Disgaea is a turn-based strategy RPG. In fact, there’s no question that it is THE turn-based strategy RPG. It stakes out a space of gaming ground, and it does it better than anyone else. Excite Truck is a game about monster trucks flying through the air, and by golly never have there been more trucks flying through more air.
And that’s what these games do. They don’t need to muck around with minigames, or interludes, or pacing – they just serve up what’s on their stove in steadily increasing quantities until the player has some kind of culinary gaming orgasm.

If you’re making a hardcore action game, why on earth would you waste time on some half-assed platforming when you could be making the slice-and-dice festivities rock just that much harder? If leveling up is your goal, what possible use could there be in fumbling around in the world of dodgy rhythm-based extreme sports? Who wants a wide variety of mediocre instead of a single pinnacle of excellence?

It’s the traditional failing of movie license games, which feel the need to capture every element of a movie experience within a single game. It’s the failing of copycat games, which model themselves after a genre leader with no real ability to exceed the standards laid down by their predecessor. It’s the process by which good software is turned into unappealing crud.

I don’t need your hybrid gameplay. I don’t want my bloody haze of battle to rise while I navigate a platforming puzzle. Leave me to tremble in the ecstasy of non-stop over-the-top violence. I’m sure there must be a game out there like that.

Weren’t we due for another Dynasty Warriors game some time soon?