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LUCiD, An Original Game Concept by a Bunch of Crackheads

In Education, video games on September 17, 2014 at 7:45 am

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It was the year 2003, I think, and a few buddies of mine — Shawn Johnson and Jesus “Chuy” Quintero — were working as Resident Advisors for the USF Upward Bound Summer Program. For six weeks, we lived in a college dorm with a bunch of high school/aspiring college students taking classes at the university, but that’s not the important part. We had a weekend off so, we decided to create an activity around a newly discovered guilty pleasure: video games. We rented a bunch of games from Blockbuster Video (remember them), brought our game systems to the dorms, hooked them up to a bunch of televisions in one room and PLAYED ALL DAY.

At the time, we were still single and chasing women. We wanted to keep the video game thing a secret so we came up with a nickname. We called them Crack. Yes, sounding like we were discussing an illegal drug was somehow better than saying video game, but there it is. We used the name Crack because we thought a good video game was one that you couldn’t put down. A good video game was addictive like an awesome book. Thus, a good video game was like Crack, and our little event, which soon became a tradition, was our “Crack Session” where we “Cracked Out.”

We did our little events for only two more years but we stayed friends. Chuy bought his first console, got married and drove his wife crazy with his brand new hobby. Shawn worked for a year as a tester and hated it. A few years later, I did a stint as a video game journalist. To this day we still use the same words to describe video games. Actually, over the years we came up with a completely new lexicon because A) we were admittedly nuts and B) we absolutely hated how nearly everyone that wrote about games was white, male and geek. I was a Black dude from poor, working class San Francisco. Shawn was a brotha from Oakland. Chuy was a Mexican-American who grew up picking peaches in rural Yuba City, California. The way people talked about games on IGN or Kotaku just didn’t vibe with us.

A few months ago, I started teaching a class on principles of video game design with a small group of youth. I’ve learned a few things since the summer of 2003. During the first lecture, I talked to them about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, his Theory of Flow and it’s influence on video games. His theory, as I explained to my class, is the reason why a good game is like crack.  I explained it. They totally got it. I had come full circle. 

A few weeks later that small group of young people created a concept for a video game, called LUCiD, a game about dealing with grief. They used Little Big Planet 2 to create a concept demo and Weebly to create a website around it with character profiles, concept art and a YouTube video. And, they call themselves The Crackheads. On Moday, they submitted their game to the ESA LOFT Video Game Innovation Fellowship. No word on the results just yet, but I couldn’t be more proud of this small band of Black, Yemini and Latino youth.

Ain’t it funny how ideas develop?

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Kind of a Book Report – Reading Gaming (Galloway, Glory, and Games)

In Culture, video games on January 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

I stumbled upon this excellent video by Matthias Stork, a Cinema and Media Studies student from UCLA that reminded me of  this Kind of a Book Report I wrote about Alexander Galloway’s Reading Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture and the experiences that made me recognize the connection between video games and cinema. I’ve written a lot of posts expressing this idea here on Danger Brain. However, I must admit, Stork does a better job in eighteen minutes than what I’ve been trying to do over the last two years. His secret? He used a visual medium to talk about another visual medium.

Duh, Damon!

While discussing French philosopher Jacques Derrida, Alexander Galloway states “Derrida uses the concept of play to explain the nature of something else, namely, the structure of language.” I’m familiar with this idea. Although it has always been expressed in a different ways the idea that video games are somehow a language is something that has always resonated with me.

I remember exactly how– and when —  it started. I was at home in the living room. My family and I were living in the “brick homes.” Other people called them the projects but since the bricks were townhouses lodged between “The Swamp” (real projects buildings) and the Geneva Towers we called them the brick homes to indicate that they were brick walls separating us from the real hood. Truth is, they were all hood but that is where I was when it happen. I was watching a movie in the living room on Argonaut St. in the brick homes of the Sunnydale district.

I loved watching movies as most high school kids do. It’s the only place you can legally go to hang out with your friends besides the mall, which is where all of the movie theaters are at now. Going to the movies was an attempt to go and play. I went to the movies with friends to laugh at a good comedy, to be thrilled by a good action movie or freaked out by a horror flick. The movie experience was an extension of the playground experience, which we had grown out of. However, one day I watched a movie that didn’t feel like play.

Glory was the first movie that left me awestruck. The 1989 film about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry depicted the trials of the US Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company. This was a history that I absolutely did not understand at that age. I remember reading a line or two in a history book that black people fought in the Civil War but there was never any real detail, never any explanation. Glory was a 118-minute story of the freed slaves that volunteered to fight in the Civil War amongst white men who didn’t too much care for them but were fighting for them anyway. That was awesome.

Traits like courage, honor, duty and sacrifice were very difficult to identify in my neighborhood. For a young black man to see this type of history while living in one of San Francisco’s most marginalized communities was a powerful experience.

By the end of the movie I was crying my eyes out. I wasn’t being entertained. On that day, I was aware that the movie was teaching me and to be taught meant to be spoken to. Therefore, the moving images of a motion picture must be a form of communication. I learned that movies were a language somehow and they always have something to say. According to Derrida, “as soon as it comes into being and into language, play erases itself as such.” Watching Glory was the last day that I looked at movies as an act of play.

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I went to the university to study that language. My first few years were fantastic! I went to class all day listening to Edward Branigan’s crazy film lectures. I studied David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson during the early evenings where I learned that the invention of film began as a playful wager when Leland Stanford hired Eadweard Muybridge to film a horse galloping. At night I hung out with my smelly roommates playing a silly little video game called Street Fighter.

Then one day video games started to look different. I remember exactly when it happened. I was staying in Santa Barbara for the holidays by myself when my brother called to tell me about a game called Resident Evil for a new console named The PlayStation. By the way he described it over the phone Resident Evil sounded like a movie. That couldn’t be right, I thought, he was talking about a silly little video game.

I was bored and curious so I went to Blockbuster and rented an entire PlayStation system and three games: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid. I didn’t know at the time that I was playing three games that would long be considered the best games every made. However, by the time I returned those games to Blockbuster I was convinced that video games were saying something and that they would become the next great artistic medium.

Although this was an infantilized idea it grew as I got older, the systems got more sophisticated and the games started taking more risks. Today, I absolutely believe that video games are a form of literacy that requires the use of a controller, being able to navigate three dimensional space, understanding heads up displays (HUDs) or interfaces as explained in Galloway’s discussion of Final Fantasy X.

Although they borrow in many ways from film (or to quote Marshall McLuhan they have absorbed the previous medium), to play a video game is to involve your entire body. The experience isn’t like passively watching a movie. A person has to be involved in a synergistic relationship with the computer. They have to dance with the algorithms.

Take for example, the difference between watching the classic Night of the Living Dead and playing (the classic) Resident Evil. Watching Ben defend that doomed home is thrilling. However, playing Resident Evil takes this experience to another level. A player is a participant of the thrill. In one segment of the game, they have to figure out how to get from one end of a zombie filled corridor to the other with limited ammo. It is an experience in visual entertainment, inventory management and hand eye coordination all at once. Experiencing the suspense of a horror film triggers places in our brain that we find enjoyable. However, using my example from Resident Evil, the players brain is being stimulated in three separate ways simultaneously. That, my friend, is the reason why my friends and I label a good video game… “crack.”

It is a remarkable example of McLuhan’s belief that the way we communicate would closely resemble tribal forms of communication. Playing a video game requires the use of your ears, eyes, hands and different places in your brain.

Reading Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture was a real treat because, as mentioned by Lev Manovich’s in his praise of the book, Galloway is a media scholar. Through my own personal experiences as a moviegoer, a gamer and a film student it gave me a better language to describe my own instinctual beliefs and it made it clear to me that this play we are experiencing in a game of Assassins Creed or Journey has two significant effects on us. It can not only teach in the same way that a movie taught me history, but it is also an inevitable transition to something far more significant, that is, once it ceases to be viewed as an act of play.

Diversity Contributed to Better Video Games in 2012: Sound Shapes

In video games on January 19, 2013 at 8:20 am

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Co-designer Jonathan Mak and composer and co-designer Shaw-Han Liem have made a that brings new meaning to the term “playing a song.” The design of Sound Shapes makes so much sense as that you have to wonder why no one has done it yet. As a matter of fact, the only thing wrong with the game is that despite albums by DeadMau5, Beck, Jim Guthrie and two albums by Liem’s alias, I Am Robot And Proud there damn well should have been more. Hell, I’d pay for more albums if they’re of the same quality.

Despite the attention this game gets for its music and its smooth platforming people rarely mention the visual artists that “drew” each level. The art of Superbrothers (who made the excellent Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery), PixelJam, Colin Mancer, Vic Nguyen and Pyramid Attack make you feel like you’ve fallen into one of those awesome album covers you’d see thumbing through an old crate at Ameoba Records.The visual cool-ness of playing through a level that is a visual artists’ interpretation of a musicians music is a fantasy that I didn’t know I had.

Sound Shapes is a great example of what you can do when a diverse group of folks (visual artists, game developers, and musicians) get together to make a game. And, I love the fact that it was lead by two Asian cats from Canada with a love for electronic music and quirky aesthetics.

Kind of a Book Report – Me++ (Mitchell, Access Management and Marginalized People)

In Culture, Technology, video games on January 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm

I read some good books last fall and I wrote about two pages on each of them. They were grad school assignments but they have a more blogger vibe about them then a full academically sound paper which wasn’t the purpose of the assignments. Since they relate to some of my last few posts I think it’s a good idea that I throw them on Danger Brain. Maybe it’ll help to shed light on where these ideas are coming from and why. There are a few of them, so  just like I did for the well liked Blogaboutech Mixtape series (which is long overdue for a new entry. I know.) I’m giving this series a name. After all, it’s… Kind of a Book Report. 

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I wager that Me++ The Cyborg Self and the Networked City was very fun to read in 2004, but in 2012 it reads almost like a crash course in “What the World Might Look Like in 2035” to a guy who is about to walk into a time machine. Even a casual viewer of science fiction or a mildly techno-savvy individual can see these things coming. In some cases, they have already materialized just as William Gibson foretold with his famous quote: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” After reading Me++, I imagined author William J. Mitchell as a broken hologram in the future repeating that quote over and over again.

That doesn’t mean that Me++ isn’t full of interesting and incredible detailed opinions of just how our world is going to change.

The most notable is what author William J. Mitchell establishes very early on, that our reliance on technology is turning us into cyborgs. I believed that he heavily implies that we already are, but friends of mine who have read the book say otherwise. Either way, Mitchell asserts this point early on then proceeded to beat his readers over the head with it for thirteen densely technological chapters, a challenge for anyone who isn’t as well versed in technology as he is. I considered myself to be pretty knowledgeable before I read Me++, and midway through the book I began to feel uncomfortable with the space that a person like myself would take up in Mitchells’ future.

My personal favorite tidbit from the book was Chapter 5: Shedding Atoms and his discussion of virtual cities.

To find something out, or to get something done in a city, you now have a choice. You can navigate the bricks-and-mortar half in the time-honored way, or increasingly, you can switch to its electronic twin.

I have a small fascination with the use and the effects of virtual cities. Columnist Chris Donlan wrote a piece for Eurogamer where he talks about his experience playing LA Noire, a sand box game that takes place in a recreated Los Angeles during the 1940’s. Donlan was surprised that his father knew his way around and even gave him directions on where to go while he drove around in his virtual car. Further, he reacted to the game environment the way a person would react to a photograph.

When I was working in education I used to experiment on my students with a video game called Assassins Creed II that takes place during the Italian Renaissance. The design of the game allows the user to navigate through a very convincing recreation of Venice, Florence, Forlì, San Gimignano, and the Tuscan countryside (the sequel uses Rome as its setting). I always believed inner city youth — those that come from socioeconomic backgrounds that see little importance in such things for numerous and hopefully obvious reasons — would be more engaged using a “virtual camera” as opposed to an old book with pictures. I was correct. There was more engagement using a video game.

Mitchell doesn’t necessarily supply the reader with anything they can use in an urban academic setting but I appreciated it as source material. However, like I mentioned above this does make me uncomfortable, as Mitchell is both explicit and implicit in his views of marginalized people.

Me++ illustrates what the future will look like but it is written from the viewpoint of – as he called it – an access manager. An access manager is someone who has access to the net and will therefore manage it for those seek to profit from it. William Mitchell strikes me as an access manager describing a world that is bending to accommodate people like him, a world that he is well equipped to navigate. This is when I started to ask myself what is the point of all of this technological innovation? Is this progression, or is this regression? Is this for the benefit of the masses or for the few? The author references Karl Marx who “repeatedly argued, humankind never, in the end rejects more effective means to satisfy its material needs.”

I believe there are plenty of human beings that reject more effective means to satisfy material needs, but the winner gets to writes history. Also, the winner is usually the one with the most resources. I wonder what Mitchells’ future has in store for people who don’t have the resources to keep up, contribute or reject?

For the privileged and powerful, this densely and inextricably interconnected world can be a dangerous and frightening place. It must be controlled through total surveillance, comprehensive access management, preemptive arrests and strikes, and electronically administered high-tech violence.

This quote is ironic. If technological innovation is an issue of material needs than that implies that the elite drives it. After all, I never woke up one morning with the idea of making my alarm clock obsolete by putting one into my phone or my iPad. There are management tools that can make an employee more efficient so he can do the work of two other employees. Does this benefit the employee or the employer? In some cases both, but inevitably it is a benefit of the employer, the privileged, and the powerful elite.

Mitchell goes on to say that the marginalized and alienated will eventually turn to acts of foreign terrorism to retaliate against the assimilation or eradication of their cultural values. He is referring to people who live elsewhere, but I wonder what that says about the very same marginalized and alienated people who live in America. This is what made me uncomfortable while I was reading William Mitchells excellent book on how the world will most likely look in the very near future. It is written using the Google Glasses of a person who is getting his ducks in order, a person whose viewpoints of the marginalized… are marginal.

Diversity Contributed to Better Video Games in 2012: The Walking Dead

In video games on January 11, 2013 at 12:05 am

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The best African American protagonist to grace any video game ever is Lee Everrett in arguably the best game of 2012. I’ve been familiar with voice actor Dave Fennoy’s work for a few years now, and I didn’t really care for it. There is a tendency  to take a black male voice actor with a deep voice and direct him to speak like an over the top tough guy. It’s annoying. I mean, who talks like that?

What is so great about Fennoy’s character in The Walking Dead is he’s allowed to speak like a normal person. It helps that he is paired with Melissa Hutchison (the second best voice actor of 2012) who plays Clementine, the little girl that Lee stumbles into and becomes her guardian and surrogate father. This gives the actor a clear motivation for his performance. Everything he says is inevitably for the purpose of protecting Clementine. You can hear it clearly in his voice. When he is angry, nurturing or inquisitive his motivation for it is clear. Also, this has the unexpected effect of allowing the player to wonder who he really is or to decide based on their tendencies.

Dave Fennoy’s amazing voice work will (and should) hopefully propel him to the same level as Nolan North and Troy Baker. And, by the way, I love that we can discuss voice actors the same way we discuss movie stars.

I haven’t discussed the gameplay because I don’t think my short blurb would do it justice. The Walking Dead is a point-and-click adventure game so the first impression is that it’s gameplay is fairly simple. The user places the cursor over a thing, hits a button and something happens. However, if you take a closer look at you’ll see some gameplay decisions that contribute to the tension. (like shortening the time limit for simple decisions in episodes 4 and 5, creating the feeling that time is running out) And, oh my God, the tension in this game is teeth-grinding.

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The Walking Dead is a great game starring a little girl and a black man in the American south.It is riddled with a wonderful mix of other diverse characters who are young, old, homeless, racist, handicapped and so on. Now, if that doesn’t wake people up to the critical and commercial viability of diverse characters in video games I don’t know what will. This is a great game that has arguably ruined this years zombie games. Telltale Games have created a game changer, and if you don’t rush out to play this, you suck!

I’m kidding, but seriously, you gotta play The Walking Dead.

Diversity Contributed to Better Video Games in 2012

In video games on January 11, 2013 at 12:02 am

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I love playing games. Well, actually I love visual storytelling and I think video games have produced some of the most interesting storytelling experiences of the last 15 years. I would place my enjoyable experiences watching a season of The Wire in the same sentence as Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and a playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I’m not saying they are the same experience. They’re completely different. However, what they do have in common is that I thoroughly enjoyed watching each of their respective stories unfold. I loved the mastery of acting, cinematography, narrative, and programming that went in to making them all fun to watch, to play and to experience.

So, yes! I have a lot of fun playing video games and experiencing interactive storytelling, which is why I’m such an advocate of games that avoid the derivative narrative of goblins, wizards, military shooters, scantily clad women and the omnipresent white male protagonist. Make no mistake, there is a time and place for playing as a white knight who blasts monsters with his fire staff while a sexy princess waits for him in the bowels of a castle somewhere. I’ve played those games. They’re fun. But, there are far more things to make a game about so let’s see them already. Further, considering how diverse we are as a group of developed nations and the possibilities inherent in interactive entertainment, the untapped story telling opportunities are exciting.

Therefore, it is with great shame that I realized after seeing the advertisement for The Journey Down that I haven’t written about any of these exceptional games, particularly those that I have played recently. These are games that get diversity right. They are thought out, well written, designed, and executed. So, allow me over the next few posts to talk about why I loved them and why you should go out and buy them today. No, today!

1. Papo & Yo

2. The Walking Dead

3. Sound Shapes

4. Journey (coming soon)

5. Spec Ops: The Line (coming soon)

 

Diversity Contributed to Better Video Games in 2012: Papo & Yo

In video games on January 10, 2013 at 11:56 pm

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Here is a game whose lead character is a Afro-Brazilian boy named Quico who lives in the favelas. It has a beautiful soundtrack by Venezuelan composer Brian D’Oliveira. It is based on the personal story of Creative Director Vander Caballero who also co-founded  Minority Media Inc., the development house of Papo & Yo. And, their web address is weareminority.com.

I love it. I love it because it’s an inherently Latin video game. l love it because it’s really good.

Papo & Yo is a puzzle platform about a young boy who is trying to make sense of real world problems, namely his abusive father. He imagines that his father is a big pink rhino named Monster who is a harmless sloth when he’s eating yellow fruit but becomes violent when he eats frogs. To help Monster, Quico and a mysterious little girl decide to lure him to a mystic to cure him of his problem. The subtext of course is that Monster is Caballero’s alcoholic father.

The result is a wonderfully magical and tragic experience that rekindled memories of my childhood. Yes, like many people who were moved by the game, my father was an alcoholic but that wasn’t what really moved me (my pops was more a lazy drunk). As a young boy I grew up in low income communities that were filled with real world problems that affected me but that I had absolutely no control over. So, I did what most kids do: I imagined my own fantasy world. We see these type of fantasy world all the time in mass media. I reminded of childhood classics like The Neverending Story or The Goonies. I loved those movies but I was always aware that as enjoyable as it was to watch Bastion defeat the It (coincidently an unknown, unexplainable enemy) his fantasy was not mine. I was a black kid from the hood. Where was my fantasy at the movies, on television and in a video game world.

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The favelas of Papo & Yo is that fantasy world. It’s a world where project homes stack on top of each other to form a bridge. It’s a world where a cheap toy robot is actually a jet pack that lets me fly above trash cans and broken bottles. It’s a world where the Monster isn’t a threatening outsider, he’s my father turned monstrous by things that are out of both of our control.

Magic

In video games on October 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm


We had a discussion in class yesterday about a lot things: Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. We talked about the growing field of cognitive economists. We even talked about the law. None of those conversations were particularly interesting but we digressed there for a minute and talked briefly about the idea of disenchantment and re-enchantment.

It was a fascinating yet brief discussion so prepare for a horrible paraphrase. The professor was connecting the idea that we — as a society — have become disenchanted with life and we look for opportunities to be re-enchanted. The one example we used in class was shopping. Apparently, spending time at a shopping mall, for example, amongst a bunch of people can have that effect on us.

This was an interesting idea, not the idea of shopping but the dichotomy of disenchantment and re-enchantment. So, while I was discussing this years appeal of downloadable games vs. the usual AAA titles with one of my buddies I saw that it was applicable.

I think the highlight of this year are indie games and I think the traditional $60 games in 2012 have been significantly disappointing. I’ve been trying to explain this to the homie for weeks now while he desperately flings his fingers on the latest Halo 4, Borderlands 2 and Dishonored. Ironically, he didn’t really enjoy any of them. He’s disenchanted. We all are.

We remember Halo 2. That was a good fucking game. We remember Bioshock and Half Life 2 which Dishonored borrows heavily from. We  remember the first Borderlands. Those games were enchanting. These new games, however, seem like failed attempts to rekindle the magic of previous games and we rush to get them into our consoles, fingers fidgeting in anticipation for another moment of enchantment only to feel a little like we just wasted our time. Unfortunately, they are not that good.

We are looking for video games to re-enchant us and the sequels, remakes and copies released this year are failing to do that. Now, those indie/downloadable games? That’s what I call enchantment.

Sound Shapes, Tokyo Jungle, Fez, Slender, Papo y Yo and Walking Dead, to name a few are some of this years most magical experiences, but I’ll leave you with the Queen of indie games — and the best game of the year — Journey. Alexander Geraets of Bit Creature wrote a cool piece about the latest from developer, thatgamecompany. In it she talks about how Journey made her feel at peace and not anxious like most games do.

Once in awhile an outcome can reassure the player; it can be peaceful. Sometimes I don’t need to keep fighting, or punishing enemies, or causing hurt simply to solve a problem. Sometimes, I just need a walk through the desert, to reach the highest mountaintop. On my way there, I know there will be a friend or two waiting for me, ready to play, eager to continue the walk together, and I’m content.

It’s a short little piece on Journey and although there are many of them out there, because the game is really that good, it made me think about the first time I met someone in the game. It was such an odd feeling. One, it scared the Hell out of me when I turned around and saw someone standing there. But, when I noticed they actually wanted to kick it and be friends in the most innocent of ways it reminded me why I hate multiplayer games. I was so excited, actually, that I turned the game off. Sounds funny in retrospect, but the moment was really that cool!

Read the article. Play the game. And, while you’re at it, throw out those derivative mega-budget titles and download some magic. Hey they’re only about fifteen bucks. You can thank me later.

Video Games in 2012 – They Haven’t All Been Bad

In video games on August 15, 2012 at 4:41 am

Last week I started to write a short piece about a handful of games that I’ve been high on this year. However,  the article turned into a full scale attach on this years games and the titles we see coming out in the near future. I didn’t really want to be part of a chorus of like minded opinions (both IGN and Gamasutra had similar articles the week before last) but before I wrote about the games I’ve enjoyed this year I felt the need to put some context around it. What I have legitimately enjoyed this year has come despite some seriously boring titles.  Of course, they weren’t all bad and below is a brief write up of some real gems. Note: some of these games are layovers from 2011.

The Walking Dead


There is an interesting debate — that I won’t get into in this post — about how video games should aspire to NOT be like movies. I am not one of those people who support this idea. People have been searching for ways to make movies interactive for years. It’s a great idea if you can make it work. We’ve seen this in the Mass Effect series with their intuitive approach to dialogue. David Cage gave displayed arguably the best example of an interactive movie with Heavy Rain. And, evidence that video games can mimic movies and be good for it is Telltale Games excellent The Walking Dead.

A prequel to the comic book and television series, Dead puts its emphasis on decision making, puzzle solving and dialogue rather than the shooter heavy gameplay of Left 4 Dead, the absurd customization kills of Dead Rising or the gorefest of last years Dead Island. Telltale focuses on what we like best about classic horror: ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. These stories are appealing because they force us to ask ourselves what would we do.

The Walking Dead arguably works best as a video game than a comic book or a television series because it forces you to make the decision. Also, Telltale uses the best parts of the two mediums such as a monthly episodic release, a comic book inspired art style, and Hollywood voice actors while retaining the feature that makes it unique: choice.

I highly recommend The Walking Dead series. Episode 1 is a little pedestrian but by the end of episode 2 you’ll be scratching your neck like a crack head for the rest. I hear the series has been a big success thus far, so hopefully we’ll see more games like this in the near future.

Resistance 3 (originally released in 2011)


Resistance 1 was good. But, it felt like it was trying to be too clever. It felt like developer Insomniac Games was trying to appeal to WWII shooter fans who were into Call of Duty and sci fi shooter fans who were into Halo. Shortly before its release those two titles ruled the shooter genre but shortly after its release Call of Duty 4 came out and dramatically changed peoples expectations.

Two years later Resistance 2 drops and Insomniac removes the open environments, med kits, and weapon wheel for a more Modern Warfare military feel while maintaining the Halo-ish spin. The result was a game that didn’t feel like it was built on the foundation of the first game.

Now, Resistance 3? This is a unique game. In this terribly under appreciated last entry in the series the aliens have won. More than half of the human population are dead . The planet is almost unrecognizable and its eco system has adjusted to the now dominant Chimera. These characteristics make for an unpredictable ride from the midwest to New York as Joseph Capelli attempts to shut down a terraforming device.

Resistance 3 is dark, brutal, and bleak. It still possesses a hint of that 1950’s American charm and the developers thankfully brought back the weapon wheel from R1 which makes for some fun gameplay amidst a slightly more mature approach to an age old genre.

PixelJunk: Shooter 2


The music is fantastic. The gameplay has more variety which makes it longer than the first game. It feels retro but the fresh coat of paint (HD Graphics, better physics and that soundtrack) reminds me of when Ford released the Mustang 5.0. Developer PixelJunk never disappoints and their latest release in the perfect summer game for people who are planning to spend most of their time outside but want something short, simple and fun while they’re trying to cool down.

Journey


What can I say about this game that hasn’t been said before? Oh, I know. I bought it the day it came out but haven’t played it yet. I was so blown away watching my girlfriend toy with it that I’ve been scared to press play. Journey has officially become that immaculately wrapped present that you’re afraid to open because it might kill the presentation and the promise of what’s inside.

I’m working on it!

Max Payne 3


Now, this is a fucking game. Max Payne is what would happen to John McClane if you made him a hired gun slash raging alcoholic and dropped him in Brazil. This is a Hollywood style blockbuster filled with epic gun battles, huge explosions, plenty of cursing, loud noise and T & A. Handed off to Rockstar Games (my favorite game development studio) by [name] who have been spending most of their time on the overrated Alan Wake, this third entry into the series is delicious neo-noir set in Sao Paulo.

Last week I wrote about how video games over the last few years have started telling better stories — aimed at the young male demographic — than Hollywood. And, although I think the industry has begun to wane this is the type of experience that I’m talking about, the kind of experience that I miss and would desperately like to see more of.

Catherine (originally released in 2011)


I have a love/hate relationship with Catherine. It has a great premise:

Catherine is a puzzle-platformer psychological horror adventure game in which players control Vincent Brooks, who begins having strange nightmares after his girlfriend, Katherine, begins to talk about marriage and commitment. This matter becomes more complicated for him when he meets a girl named Catherine, and begins an affair with her, and the nightmares get more and more intense.

But, I’m not done with the game yet but therein lies the problem: it suffers from what I call the Okami effect (a classic PS2 game that annoyed the Hell out of me). It over stays it’s welcome and it has moments of extreme difficulty. There is nothing worse than a really good story sandwiched between a really hard game. No, I’m lying. There is something worse. A story that is a few scenes longer than it needs to be sandwiched between even harder gameplay. Just end already!

But, it’s really good.

Little Big Planet 2
This series is one of the best to come out of this console generation. I think it is a mark of absolute genius. However, here are the problems that I had which were very minor, I might add. Media Molecule wanted to give LBP 2 a story. They did and the story doesn’t make any sense. Also, LBP 2’s gameplay is still floaty and its clearly aimed more towards kids.

This sequel is a creative and funny tour de force! I was a little bored and it took me a while to finish which had absolutely nothing to do with the game. I’m just getting old.


Just around the bend…


Sound Shapes


Jonathan Mak’s debut title Everyday Shooter was the first PSN title I fell in love with. It was like playing a cooler version of Astroids to an even cooler soundtrack. His sophomore effort takes a similar art style, a platform game aesthetic and combines that with music from deadmou5, Jim Guthrie, Beck and others in a very similar way. The reviews so far have been through the roof. I can’t wait to get my thumbs on this one.

Papo & Yo


On the surface it is a puzzle/platforming game about a young boy, his experiences in the favelas and his relationship with a monster name Monster. But, according to creator Vander Caballero of Brazils Minority Games (their url is awesome: wereaminority.com) Papo & Yo is a metaphor for his relationship with his drug/alcohol addicted father.

The PSN exclusive released today. Joystiq and Kotaku loved it. IGN hated it. I’m in either way and you will too after you see that trailer.


Dyad


Proving that Sony is on a roll this year and that indie titles have become far more interesting than the $40 million + titles that line the walls at Gamestop, Dyad has been grabbing headlines since it released last month.

Although I’ve played the demo I haven’t the slightest idea how to describe  it so I’ll use the quote from the creator himself:

Dyad is an abstract racing game that has influences in many genres including racing games, fighting games, puzzle games and classic arcade shooters.

Dyad does away with the traditional racing game mechanics of break and accelerate and replaces them with puzzle-like mechanics. You must interact with your enemies in unique and varying ways in order to gain speed.

It felt like a cross between old school Tempest and Wipeout HD with a psychedelic coat of paint.

The Game Industry Has Become a House of Cards and I’m Getting Bored of It

In video games on July 31, 2012 at 2:01 am


I was just thinking earlier today that I haven’t written about video games on this blog in months. Although I’ve been out of the loop for a minute — and for good reasons — I haven’t even mentioned games in my last few posts. It isn’t because I haven’t been playing anything. I’ve got sore thumbs from some pretty cool titles that I’ve had the pleasure of playing until 3am. But, here’s the thing: video games are in this really weird place right now.

Honestly, today the video game industry isn’t very exciting. Looking back, there was a reason why games cut into Hollywood movie sales. Hollywood blockbusters became so financially bloated that it only made sense to make sequels, prequels, remakes and formulaic crap. Stereo surround sound, IMAX theaters and 3D glasses turned movies into theme park rides. Going to the theater started to feel like a hustle. The studios would sell you the promise of a great movie with a barrage of exciting trailers. You would mark your calendars, show up on opening weekend, spend money on food, tickets and parking then two hours later you’d walk out the theater feeling like someone robbed you.

So, people got bored and they turned to video games. But, now game budgets have become so inflated that they’ve decided to copy and paste their spiritual cousins. The result: endless military shooters, an embarrassing cache of white male protagonists, terrible stories, scantily clad women, hyper violence, sequels, formulaic games that feel like the last formulaic game and now – with the soon to be released Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider – prequels. Last week CEO and co-founder of Ubisoft, Yves Guillemot blamed the console manufacturers (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) for the problem:

“We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market. I understand the manufacturers don’t want them too often because it’s expensive, but it’s important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity.”

I think it’s much bigger than that. It looks to me like the entire infrastructure is fucked from top to bottom. The budgets are so big that titles have to sell between $2-5 million copies to be considered a success by a publisher. Of course, this is terribly difficult to do when Gamestop is making $2.6 billion a year from used games sales. But, since games are so overhyped and overpriced what do you expect customers to do? This little tit for tat sounds like the plan of a wicked drug dealer. He sells his drugs as pure as possible at an affordable price, gets his customers hooked then slowly dilutes the product and slightly raises its price. Thus, the customers need more, buy more and spend more. Of course, the problem is that the actual drug makers and distributors (i.e., publishers and developers) have been cut off by the people tasked with pushing the drug (i.e., brick and mortar stores). The term FUBAR comes to mind when I try to wrap my mind around this.

Gimmick games are no fun.

Now, throw in the Metacritic controversy that if a game can’t land an 85 on the popular aggregate site it isn’t a success. Add a bunch of development houses that can’t find inspiration from anything that isn’t Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, Norse mythology, Greek mythology, Michael Bay, Die Hard, Terminator, or a bunch of Marvel and DC comics and what you have is an industry that is eating itself from the inside out and has begun to produce an incredibly dull product. Sound bad? It’s getting worse. Video game sales just reported its seventh consecutive month of decline. E3, the biggest industry event of the year was heavily criticized for featuring games that were too familiar and too violent (I was personally bored to death).

And, recent interviews of developers, executives and analysts paint a picture of an industry that can’t agree on anything. GameStop president Tony Bartel, thinks his companies used games business is actually good for the industry (word?). While blaming the creative void on console manufacturers, Guillemot mistakingly believes that customers want to go out and buy a new console (we don’t). The omnipresent research analyst Michael Pachter compared the success of the excellent Max Payne 3 with the highly successful and awfully trite Call of Dutyseries with this disturbing quote:

“Call of Duty and Battlefield are competing, and they’re both on a two-year cycle. They will not go to a three-year cycle to make a better game. It’s Alan Wake and Max Payne that are multiple-year projects. If it takes Rockstar eight years to make a game that’s about as good as a Call of Duty, then I say props to Activision because they figured out the formula. And shame on Rockstar.” [IGN]

And they all fall down…

Want more? According to one SVP of Global Marketing at EA Games “new [games are] not for the faint of heart. But it’s incredibly important for the health of our category and our industry and our organization.” This type of rhetoric is not indicative of a healthy industry. Stating that, “We don’t really want to make new games but we have to” from one publisher could easily be rephrased to “we want to make new games but we can’t,” by another.

Although I’ve played some pretty good games this year — and I’m looking forward to a few games in August — for most of this year I’ve been pretty disappointed with present titles, future titles and most of the men and women responsible for them. This is why the last game article I wrote was about (here) a title released in 2010. It’s also worth noting that the more interesting game related article written recently (Tom Bissel’s musing on the modern shooter, Kate Cox’s rebuttal of Colin Moriarty’s raggedy essay on how political corrected-ness is ruining creativity and Kris Graft’s rip on E3) have been highly critical of the industry.

While I’ve been excited over a lot of the low budget PSN / Xbox Arcade games (more on that later) most of what the industry has to offer has not been keeping my attention. Here’s hoping that things change real soon and for my money I don’t think a change has anything to do with a new console. The current infrastructure of the video game business needs be dramatically shifted if we want to get back to playing the good stuff.