Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nostalgia tastes like those little square caramels.

And it looks like this. Well, not precisely like this - if we're getting precise, it looks like a cramped little convenience store a block and a half away from our (fifth-last) house in Kamloops BC, where we lived for six months back in the late 80s. Inside were two arcade cabinets - the first I'd ever seen, outside of a table-style Pac-Man game:

1942 and Ghosts 'n Goblins.

I woulda' been... eight or nine years old, I guess (which means the cabinets themselves were more than a few years old as well). I won't hazard a guess as to how many quarters went into those two machines, but I can't imagine the number is all that high - after all, at eight or nine I wasn't quite rolling in funds, but that had the side-effect of rendering every three lives purchased incredibly valuable.

At the time, the video games medium was still so young - it was such a heady thrill to interact with video systems, even on such a wholly transparent level. It was new and gorgeous and inspired.

That guy took my girl. Fuck that guy!

The fact that Ghosts 'n Goblins is still considered to be one of the hardest damned video games ever made likely contributed to how prized time with the title became. It was very, very rare to simply make it past the first level - and when I did, the map screen would reveal how much further you had to go - how lightly you had actually scratched its adamantium armor.

And it seemed impossible. Which it was, of course. At least for me, with my limited kiddie funds and wonky attention span. Perhaps now that I have a copy of the title to call my own, I'll focus my considerable Gamer Resolve on it, and defeat that once immovable object. Maybe not.

I'm just glad to have it.


'Course, Capcom Classics Collection contains a lot more than those two beloved titles. Far beyond what is listed on the back of the box, Wikipedia suggests it has twenty two games - of further interest are the arcade original version of Bionic Commando and three different versions of the game that truly launched the fighting genre, Street Fighter II - including the arcade original - another title I sunk a great deal of time into, as a wee thing. Very, very cool.

I bought the Collection tonight from one of my superiors at work for thirty bucks. Is it a great deal? No - but it's a good deal, and the disc is mint. Is it thirty dollars a reasonable price for a few titles that defined my gaming experiences as a child?

You bet your ass.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aw, phooey.

In an interview with Joystiq, Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik (Gabe) said we won't be getting any more Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness episode.

The purported rationale - that developer Hothead games, hard at work on (upcoming PSN/XBLA release) Deathspank would be spread too thin if they had to also work on OTRSPOD:Episode 3 - doesn't ring entirely false. But let's not forget game development is a business, and Episode 2 only managed to sell about 30% as much as the first installment. It's perhaps more likely that they reckoned there simply wasn't enough money to be made with the series.

Which is a damn shame, as I rather enjoyed it.

Jerry Holkins (Tycho) has said he intends to complete the narrative of the games within some sort of publication - in book-form, one assumes - so as not to leave its audience hanging. Joystiq is right to point out, however, what Krahulik said about OTRSPOD's Episode 3 announcement last year:
'We'll be honest, when Krahulik told us last August, "When you hear the announcement, you'll be like 'oooooh.' It'll make sense," this isn't quite what we had in mind. Holkins had added, "You'll feel vigor in all of your limbs." We're not sure this is what vigor is supposed to feel like.'
I'm positive it isn't. A sad day for the religious followers of video game webcomics.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Horaay, mostly!

If you missed it when I pointed out Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet's trailer back in July, you really need to click that link. When Shank and Deathspank were picked up by EA for multiplatform releases, I felt a twinge of hope that ITSP might get similar treatment - but for now, all we have is this:

It's coming to Xbox Live Arcade. On the comments section of his blog, creator Michael Gagne does point out that "nobody said it wasn't coming to PC" - which gives further multiplatform-itude potential hope, but for now all we've got is confirmation for the 360.

Which is good! Which is a lot better than no publisher at all. As a member of gamer culture I want this game to succeedso a dev or two will be reminded of what incredible animation and art direction are still capable of on a two-dimensional plane. I love 2D, beautifully animated games - and so, I want this one to succeed no matter the venue.

Still, this post is only mostly horaay. It would be entirely horaay if Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet were also confirmed for PS3.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Damn you, optional JRPG bosses!

Specifically in Resonance of Fate.

This is the same reason I put down FFVII. I was trucking along having a gay old time and I found an optional boss - whom I naturally had to defeat. After all, there had to be some way - some method to achieve victory - I just had to try a few dozen times and the answer would surely reveal itself.

Except it doesn't. The solution is generally ten or so hours of grinding so you can simply return, sneeze and blast the previously immovable object from your path. I hate that about JRPGs.

I wonder why? In a way, it's much like an inaccessible area in a Zelda-style game - you can't get through, but come back in a few hours with a shiny new item that will let you pass, and bingo - a sense of progression. But the Impossible Optional Boss in JRPGs is a different beast, to me. Specifically, it's pure frustration.

Perhaps doubly so because I really like the game. I like the world, the style, the combat, the exploration, the customization, the minimal way the story is presented, the charming banter among the characters and the (seriously!) fantastic English language voice work. I also like the challenge.

But this Mad Goliath in (what I can only describe as) the poison dungeon I discovered down on level 12... I just can't beat that fucker - which is no surprise, given that he's twice my level - but I've tried, boy howdy. I simply cannot conceive of how I could possibly defeat him without burning every single consumable in my inventory.

Hm... maybe if I put Vashyron on total healing duty and just had Zephyr and Leanne on offense... but no! That's crazy talk. You don't just burn through all your consumables! I might never find them again!

So I'll go away. I'll grind for eight or eighteen hours and come back strong enough to blow that gigantic poison monstrosity away with a sneeze - because unlike FFVII, there's no way the frustration of twenty failed attempts on an optional boss are going to make me abandon Resonance of Fate.

PS3 firmware 3.21.


You may recall back in January, the PS3 was officially hacked via a ridiculously circuitous method that essentially made it stupid for anyone but a hacker trying to prove it can be done to pirate (a very short list of) PS3 games.

Well, Sony has struck back - by removing features from the older model PS3s. Specifically, the ability to install any other operating systems onto your Playstation 3.

I know very, very few folks who actually installed Linux on their PS3s - I hear a few scientists and military types have turned a bay of connected systems into cheap supercomputers - but for 97% of us, this isn't exactly a problem. Still, if you want to keep Linux on your PS3, this is what you'll be giving up, after 3.21:

  • Ability to sign in to PlayStation Network and use network features that require signing in to PlayStation Network, such as online features of PS3 games and chat
  • Playback of PS3 software titles or Blu-ray Disc videos that require PS3 system software version 3.21 or later
  • Playback of copyright-protected videos that are stored on a media server (when DTCP-IP is enabled under Settings)
  • Use of new features and improvements that are available on PS3 system software 3.21 or later
So essentially, if you want another operating system on it, you can never use the PSN or play PS3 games released after 3.21.

Personally I feel this may be a bit of an over-reaction on Sony's part. I have to think they did at least as much digging as I did, and discovered that it would cost any potential hacker much, much more in required tech to hack the system than it would to simply purchased the few games that the hack allowed them to play.

That said, who cares? Sony are covering their asses, and very few people actually use the other OS functionality of the older units. Still - feels a bit wrong for an update to remove a feature from a system.

The update goes live April first - which might give one reason to hope this is just an April Fool's gag. Knowing Sony, I wouldn't keep my fingers crossed on that one.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dead Space 2 at PAX East.

Woo! Our first look at actual Dead Space 2 gameplay. Sure it's cam footage, but it's also cam footage of Dead Space 2.




Killer.

Also, here's some wicked-cool cosplay. A promotional costume, a'la the various Bayonetta booth babes.


And remember that contest they're having where you can design a melee kill for the game? Well, here's a few entries.

Open all in new window/tab to enlarge.

Wish that last one was bigger - I have a hard time reading its text.

Also, I hope we get some non-cam footage and some non-scanned screenshots soon. Damn shame we have to wait 'till 2011 for the game.

Friday, March 26, 2010

And now for something completely different.

That last article is pretty weird, no? So let's turn to something more wholesome. Something almost definitively wholesome - a yummy, healthy sandwich.

* * *
My Delicious,
HEALTHY
Veggie Sammich

This is what I eat every day for lunch at work. At first, I was trying to re-create Subway's turkey sub, but I discovered the effect of tryptophan was too much of an issue - so I simply deleted it from the recipe, and found I enjoyed the meatless sandwich even more. Here's how it's done, and here's what you'll need:
  • a nice six-inch sandwich roll
  • a not-quite-ripe tomato (2 slices per sammich)
  • black olives (3 per sammich, more if you like)
  • spanish onion (1 slice)
  • iceberg lettuce (a half a palm's worth)
  • dill (garlic) pickles (a half a pickle's worth)
  • dijon mustard
  • Miracle Whip
Short recipe:
Put all those ingredients between two halves of a bun, and eat what you've created.

Long recipe:
Split the bun, and put the mayo on the bottom. If you don't like mayo or are a vegan, it's surely skippable. I tend to cut my tomato slices first (2 slices), then leave them to sit on a paper towel for a few minutes - this step, in addition to choosing firm, not-quite-ripe tomatoes has a huge impact on how soggy your sandwich will be, come lunch time.

Next, the olives.

They olives need to be quartered. I find the best way to achieve this is to cut into them until I hit the pit, then roll them on the board, creating a seam across its circumference. Gently crush it with the flat edge of the knife (a little like crushing garlic), separate the halves and pop out the seed. Cut each of the two halves in half, and repeat for the other two olives.

Place the olives down on the mayo - our whipped friend will hold them in place.

Julienne (cut) the lettuce (into little strips) and make yourself a nice bed of it on top of the olives.

The two tomato slices go here. On top of that go two rings of the Spanish onion.

"What's a Spanish onion?" you may be asking. My friend, a Spanish onion is what ever hamburger you'll ever have has been missing. They're sweet, crunchy, with only a hint of the pungent flavor we associate with the name onion. Trust me, it's delicious.

So, two rings of Spanish onion - placed so they form a figure 8, each on top of a tomato slice.

Slice up your pickle. I cut a dozen or so little discs from mine, as long slices have a habit of getting pulled out of the sandwich (this is the same reason we julienne the lettuce). Smaller discs better ensures a bit of pickle in every bite. Use the onion rings as little makeshift cups, to keep your pickles in place. Once this has been arranged, place a third (larger) ring of the onion on top, in the middle of your figure 8.

Apply the dijon mustard to the top half of your bun, and seal the deal.


I've probably lost thirty pounds since I started eating these sandwiches, and they're yummy enough that always look forward to lunch.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In defense of video game porn.

This is many, many thousands of dollars worth of stroke material.

The above image headlines a recent article on Kotaku. Someone, somewhere, has put together a collection of Japanese erotic games that makes my games collection blush. Along with anyone who stumbles into the pictured room, I suppose.

The comments section on the article was pretty judgmental about it, but I wasn't personally shocked to see the image. If an item exists, there are collectors for it. No doubt someone out there collects turtle shells no larger than ten centimeters, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to know someone, somewhere, has an impressive collection of ancient, dried-out animal poo on display behind glass. People collect. We're like ravens.

We're also (like) mammals, which means we are genetically predisposed to do it like they do on the Discovery channel, as any good satirist addressing the Tiger Woods scandal will tell you.


News flash: men like sex. I've known more than a few women who are fond of the act as well, but let's stick with stereotypes and focus on males.

Puberty is a mysterious, natural, disgusting time for a young man. If you're a lady, you may not know this, but during that period the boy's wedding tackle will spontaneously petrify for seemingly no reason at all. It's awful. You'll be doing something perfectly innocent, and then*ding* - you're saluting at full mast to a painful degree.

Before long, most will discover what is required to resolve the situation. Few are the men who have not joined the Band of the Hand. Unfortunately, a young man's fertile imagination will hit the road block of what he can possibly conceive of doing with the opposite sex. I still recall my first sexual fantasy: there was a naked lady on the bed next to me - I kissed her, and then realized I had no conception of what was supposed to happen after the kiss. That was it.

Kiss.
...now what? I knew there was more to it, but what could it be?

Let's find out, I reckoned. This was back in the days when pornography came in things called magazines, which are printed on sheets of dried, pulped paper fibers. Truly an ancient and unnatural method of research and exploration.

Masturbation, on the other hand (ha!) is natural - men, women and even animals enjoy a little rub now and then - but masturbation is also often objective-based. (For the most part) one masturbates with the aim of achieving orgasm. When a partner is added to the mix, the objective changes - but the body has been trained to think sex is a race, and so it tries to win.

This is, perhaps, why most young men's First Time lasts such a (stereotypically) short time - their body is still treating it like a frenzied dash to achieve release. Oops - pop.

As an aside, I think Constantine is one of Keanu Reeves' best movies.

My point is guys are going to jerk off, one way or another. Men are very visual, so they'll find some porn - be it in the ladies' discreets section of the Sears Catalog or the seedy depths of the internet, the purpose is the same, and the race is on. This leads to the same unfortunate result, once it becomes a tango for two.

Also, Rachel Weisz plays twins in it, so that's like twice the Weisz.

Once a partner is involved, it's (hopefully) no longer just about the man's physical needs. To be more than a little idealistic about it, it's much more of a journey, and all the "training" he's put himself through is now counterproductive.

Now, finally, I'll tell you why Japanese ero games ain't all bad, compared to the other options.

They take time.

That's it. Are they objective-based? Yes. When I was living alone for a time, I discovered this seedy subgenre of gaming, and for the most part, this is how it played out:

Here is a cartoon woman. Do you want to see her naked?

Let's presume you're a man, and so, the answer is yes.

But you can't see her naked. Not for hours. First you need to get to know her. You need to correctly navigate countless conversation options, hope to say the right thing twenty or thirty times, and only then, maybe will you get her down to their undies.

"And that's better how?" you may be asking.

It defers the objective. Like almost any display of nudity for the express purpose of the viewer's self-stimulation, it's still objective-based - you're still hoping to see the women naked, and then achieve orgasm - but unlike the magazines found under the front step, unlike the Sears Catalog, unlike the internet, Japanese erotic games demand the man's time in order to achieve the same result.

Which, I have to think, is better "training" than any other option. With any other variety of straight-up porn, the objective can be achieved as fast as the man is able, and so, when the man enters into a relationship with a partner, his body once again is expecting a headlong race to the finish line - much to the chagrin of the woman he hopes to please.

When a man whose body has been subjected to the demands of the Japanese porn game finds himself in the same situation, his body reacts differently: "I'm ready," it says. "Let's get to work for the next hour."

* * *

It'd be pretty easy to discount the entire Japanese erotic game industry on account of crap like lolicon and rape games, but those disturbing extremes aren't the whole picture. Physically, it's perhaps a more healthy option than our North American standards - and unlike North American material, erotic dating sims put a huge emphasis on the slow build. Crazy, out-there concepts like getting to know a (virtual) woman and forging an actual (virtual) relationship with her before things even approach the physical level.

Of course, like our own, it unfortunately also guides the user to associate sexual excitement only with the most idealized images of the female form - and basically argues that the only reason to spend any degree of time with a member of the opposite sex is because you're looking to get laid.

Also, this:
is pretty fucking creepy - no matter what type of porn it is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Atlus did very well in 2009.

Siliconera directly attributes the boom to surprise sleeper hit Demon's Souls (which is possible) - but without comment from the publisher it's hard to know precisely what kind of impact the game had. What is known is that
"Thanks to their North American branch, Atlus USA, the publisher made 378 million yen (roughly $4.15 million) in operating profit for the first half of their fiscal year. The figure is up 236.1% compared to the same period last year."
They go on to say the most recent quarter in particular was a 578.5% increase in sales over last year.

This is nothing but good news for gamers who enjoy quirky, niche Japanese titles that have been lovingly localized. Good on ya, Atlus!

A successor to the DS.

*stolen image

It's been whispered about for years, with very little actual information coming from the Nintendo camp. At around midnight last night, they announced it - the Nindendo 3DS. Essentially, a DS with 3D capability.

At first, I thought this might be a pre-emptive April Fools joke, but now Nikkei has picked up the story - looks like this is the real deal.

Breaks down like this: from the sounds of it, the screens will be larger than the DS Lite, but smaller than the DS XL. It will be backward-compatible, allowing the use of all previous games in the DS line (I wonder if this includes DSi?). It features force feedback, but perhaps the most interesting part is how it will accomplish the 3D effect.

No funny glasses. No individual screen for each eye (see: Virtua Boy) - it sounds like the tech employed will be similar to that employed on the iPhone - the system will track the movement of the person playing it, and create the illusion of 3D by altering the image based on the person's position. This is an assumption, at this point - though earlier this year Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo said "it will be necessary to have a sensor with the ability to read the movements of people playing." Makes sense to me.

I've seen demos of similar tech employed by hacking the Wii and using the WiiMote to track the player's head movement - and it actually comes off as pretty slick.

Now the only question remaining is whether or not the software included for the system will be the generational leap we hope it to be.

Two reviews? That's just crazy!

You may notice that, beneath this post, is another review for God of War III. Why two reviews?

Why not? I reckoned the first review was a little too stone-faced anyway.

Monday, March 22, 2010

REVIEW II - God of War III.

As you'll surely be able to discern by reading it, this was originally intended to be an article on why the God of War series (and III in particular) is so celebrated, despite having gameplay that is largely cribbed from other games. In the end, though, it's pretty much a bunch of reasons why God of War III is incredible - so this is a second review. Why not?

What makes God of War so damn special?

Ripping off a guy's head? Pfft - been there, done that.

Really, what's unique about God of War III? Can't be the violence. I mean, sure, it's super-violent - but so is almost any game rated M for Mature.

It's not the general gameplay. It's a brawler - a brawler with less depth than almost any other high-profile franchise (Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry). It throws in adventure elements - puzzles and traversal - but we can't really count that as originality, can we?

You could suggest it's the boss encounters - gigantic battles with gigantic creatures of legend, but they're (usually) no more impressive than those found in other action games, and often less complicated to overcome.

You could argue it's got a better narrative than any other brawler out there, but let's face it - if I want a good story I'll go play an RPG or BioShock. Upon examining its individual components, there's nothing special about God of War beyond its production value and design. Are those two things really all it takes to make a phenomenon?


The short answer is yes.

Back in 2005, series creator David Jaffe recalled when he first pitched the game to the head of production:
"...he said to me, 'There’s nothing innovative about this at all.' And I said to him, 'I don’t care about innovation. I care about fun. I think we can execute this better than anybody.'
And then there's Kratos. Unapologetically violent folks like him have been around in video games for quite some time, but he's less two-dimensional than any other (save for Niko Bellic, perhaps - but Niko suffers from over-writing). He wholly accepts his nature as a selfish, mad-dog killer, and yet we often feel sympathy for him.

This guy butchered his family - sure, he was tricked into it, but still - we, the audience, are rooting for him the whole way through. In God of War II it becomes clear that he will achieve his selfish aim even at the expense of the fabric of reality, and still we cheer him on. We want to see him win.

So we're invested in the world and its protagonist. That wouldn't matter very much if the games weren't so damned solid. Throughout the entire series I can only point out two flaws in the pacing - otherwise, these games are masterworks of the form, perfectly tuned to fire the player through the game like a screaming child on an oiled-up funhouse slide.

And like a (good) funhouse, it is a sight to behold. Down every stairwell, just outside the door of every hall you will discover a new set piece - and these are boggling set pieces. Thanks to God of War III, we now have a successor to II's incredible Steeds of Time.

But hey, again, lots of titles have great pacing, a fantastic world and solid gameplay. More than a few have endearing characters and an above-par story. Let's move on to presentation.

This is not concept art.
This is a screenshot.

...which is, one must admit, the place where God of War sets itself apart, and sets standards.

Sony Santa Monica, as an internal Sony studio with a direct line to the ICE Team, pushes the company's hardware to the limits of its endurance. Back in 2007, when everyone was drooling over Microsoft's foray into HD gaming, Sony Santa Monica showed the world that the PS2 could still compete thanks to the incredible God of War II. With God of War III, they blow the lid (technologically) off anything that's been done before.

Instead of describing a series of moments from the game, let me simply say that God of War III is able to present a sense of scale beyond anything done before in an action game, and is still able to showcase liquid-smooth animation and the sharpest textures I've ever seen in a console game. It's just nuts.

And then there's the wonderful, unifying art direction. Then there's the incredible music. The voice work.

It goes on and on.

God of War III may be a copycat when it comes to gameplay. Examining that single component, it is indeed unoriginal - but that does not keep it from being unique. Its design, pacing, and, more than anything else, execution make it the standard by which other titles - no matter the genre - are judged.

III ain't perfect - check out the other review for more on that - but it's incredibly close.

Good on ya, Santa Monica.


THE GOOD
-another God of War game
-the presentation, scale, boss encounters pacing & technology
-pretty much everything

THE BAD
-one shitty sequence just before the end of the game
-a little bit of stickyness on the grab move, one bug, and one bad texture [update] And, oddly, on future playthroughs that texture seems to have corrected itself. [/update]

THE VERDICT
Incredible.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Almost everything you'll need to know about Resonance of Fate.


Website RPG Land has two articles up that address the intricacies of Resonance of Fate. The second one is a relatively short explanation of the map system (which is a bit of a mini-game in and of itself). The first one is the important one - it's a huge bloody article that tells you almost everything you need to know about the game's deceptively deep combat system - and there's a lot to know.

Little of it will make sense to someone who can't relate it to the game, but if you're finding yourself overwhelmed by Resonance of Fate's systems, hit the Arena, run through the tutorials and then give this article a perusal.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

REVIEW - God of War III.


Is God of War III everything a series fan could want and more?

Yes.

And no.

Like the PS2 classics, it is a technical showpiece - no other developer has addressed scale in the way God of War III does. You will be stunned by some of the texture work (see: the Minotaur execution), the art direction is as good as ever, the cast is strong, the gameplay is almost perfectly tight and even on repeat playthroughs, the prospect of returning to the game manages to elicit more excitement than any other title I can name.

Like a good book you'll read time and time again, like a movie you love to watch over and over, God of War III delivers. It is, in nearly all ways, a better experience than the incredible God of War II, but...

... and this isn't a "but" I'm pleased to point out - while it is indeed a markedly better game than its last-gen prequel, a few of its facets aren't quite as well-realized. The pacing is strong up until the climax, when an ill-devised sequence which attempts to rationalize itself with needless (shallow, pop psychology) emotional depth crushes any momentum that had been built. The graphics are jaw-dropping throughout, save for one set-piece with textures so bad one can't imagine how it made it past the quality assurance of Sony Santa Monica's otherwise perfect standard. And the gameplay - while many, many improvement have been made - is likewise not quite ideal.

[update] Oddly, the last few times I played it, that texture was perfect. [/update]


Why is it, when I'm fighting a gigantic bloody cyclops and a bunch of battle-hardened skeletal warriors and I finally get the prompt over the cyclops's head to dispatch it, Kratos insists on attempting to grab enemies who shrug him off (wasting precious seconds, and getting a third of his life bar chopped off in the process)? Why is the position for opening chests or interacting with items so tiny that I find myself running back and forth over them three or four times before finding the sweet spot?

And I found a bug.

So what? Lots of games have bugs. In fact, nearly all games have bugs of one sort or another - the nature of development for high-def consoles almost demand a few imperfections, here and there. Likewise, many developers have been exploring the current generation for four or more years - this is Santa Monica's first crack at the bat, and perhaps the only reason these little (and they are little) issues are so bothersome is because the lion's share of God of War III holds itself to an impossibly high standard.

As a whole, the game is of remarkably high quality. The graphics and art direction are second to none (and technologically, no other title comes close). The voice work is pitch-perfect, and the addition of Rip Torn and Malcom McDowell to the cast are welcome indeed.

God of War III begins with what is, perhaps, the best opening sequence ever. I do not say that lightly. And then the game keeps it up for the next seven hours. Only one battle returns to the glorious scale of the first encounter, but that's fine - those incredibly ambitious sequences (and the fantastic set pieces and boss encounters in between) are more than enough to drive the player forward thanks to well-tuned variety and smart pacing. Always promising some new power, some wonderful new sight, some foolish enemy for Kratos to defy around the next bend, once you begin playing this game you have little choice but to see it through to the end. It's wonderful.

Much that could stand to be improved from the original two titles has been addressed. The combat has many more options, is faster paced, more lethal and much, much better looking. The combat grapple is fantastic - if you wish, you're never out of the thick of things for more than a half a second - and even the series' trademark quicktime events have been improved thanks to placing the button prompts to the top, right, left or bottom of the screen, to reflect their location on the controller.

Not only does this free up the center of the screen for the (rightfully) showcased art and animation, it allows the player a mental shortcut. No longer do you have to look for the button prompt, realize it's a triangle, and then press triangle - you just notice that the prompt is at the top of the screen, and tap triangle. A lovely, elegant solution to a problem that no one thought to identify as a problem.

The alternate weapons are also, finally, useful. I didn't get much use out of the first one you unlock, but the second and third were absolute lifesavers - even having played Chains of Olympus, this is the first time a God of War game has made alternate weapons as useful as Kratos's trademark chain-blades. Throw in some combat/puzzle items that are all accessible at the tap of a face button (with the L2 modifier), and God of War III plays beautifully.

I'm probably doing the title a disservice if I don't mention the technology that drives it - which is, in a word, unique. This is an engine that comfortably pushes dozens of enemies flailing at you while on the arm of a mile-high, tree-covered titan. This engine somehow delivers excellent facial animation, standard-setting textures and realistically glinting eyes - attention to the tiniest detail - along with a scale the likes of which we have never seen.

But what of that one awful texture? That one bug? That nasty way the game often refuses to have Kratos grab the intended enemy?

They aren't good. Neither do they really limit my enthusiasm for the title.

I've been all over the place on this review, so let me clarify my position in no uncertain terms - terms I'm not entirely comfortable using:

9.5/10

God of War III is an absolutely incredible game. One of the best I've ever played. It's awesome. That's a good word for it. Awesome. This is a game that takes the word "epic" and reminds you what that actually means - no developer has managed such an impressive debut on the PlayStation 3.

It's also got a few imperfections. God of War III is like the sexiest person you've ever seen in your life, who happens to have three big, bright zits on their left cheek. Is that acne unfortunate? Yes. But between their amazing good looks and their sharp, creative, eager-to-please personality you should definitely still take 'em home.


THE GOOD
-they topped the Hydra fight.That's really all I need
-peerless presentation, from the best textures you've ever seen to the wonderful art direction and animation
-absolutely phenomenal boss encounters
-redefines "epic"
-nearly perfect gameplay
-great pacing & voice work
-very, very technologically impressive
-the combat is much improved over the previous titles
-violence
-violence
-violence


THE BAD
-there is a sequence near the end that simply should not be in this game
-the grab move occasionally insists on trying to grab someone you can't grab. which can get you killed
-one bug
-one bad texture. Just the one, though.


THE VERDICT
God of War III attempts to reach an impossible standard, and - amazingly - nearly achieves it. This is another jaw-dropper from Santa Monica.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Just threw in Resonance of Fate.

How awesome is the opening cutscene? This awesome.

Well, actually slightly more awesome - 'cause this isn't in HD.

More BlazBlue headed our way.

BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger woulda' been the fighting game of 2009 if Street Fighter IV hadn't come along. Based on the reasonable amount of research I put in, Calamity Trigger was a drop-dead gorgeous, 2-D sprite-based fighter with wonderful art direction and a combat system as deep as the Mariana Trench. It was, in a word, hardcore.

It was also The Game I'm Sorry I Didn't Play In 2009. Well, no - Muramasa takes that cake - but BlazBlue is a close second.

Fortunately, I'll get a second chance not to buy BlazBlue later this year, when the arcade follow-up gets a console port.

It's not a full sequel - a bit like Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution or Super Street Fighter II, Blazblue: Continuum Shift has minor tweaks and a few new characters. Three, to be precise - and while no release date has been hammered in stone yet, PlayAsia lists it for July.

Hopefully I'll actually bother to pick it up, this time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Very, very good.

It's strange to be so excited to sit down and resume your second playthrough of a game. I'm about halfway through my hard mode run. God of War III is pretty incredible.

Australian zombies march in support of violence (in video games).

For years, Australians have been attempting to get themselves an 18+ rating classification for video games - it hasn't been going well. Constantly stymied, the best Australia's got right now is a rating called M15+ - which ensures that no game entering the country has seriously excessive violence.

If a game is deemed too extreme, it is either banned outright or heavily censored to the point where it can get into the country (Left4Dead 2, Silent Hill: Homecoming, 50 Cent: Bulletproof). To anyone who doesn't live down under, this just seems pretty stupid - though how God of War III made the cut, I'll never know.

If a game is banned in Australia, it is a punishable offense to even show a banned game to a minor.

Whelp, Aussie gamers are working on this issue. They will paint themselves with blood and gore, they will shamble and moan, and they will educate folks about how silly it is to have an 18+ rating for films, but no equivalent for games.

The march is scheduled for March 27th, in Sydney.

The debate over the issue has - again - been going on for a long, long time. But now the gamers have statistics on their side - statistics showing that the average age of the Australian gamer is thirty years old. Why a thirty year old can't play any game they damn well want is just beyond me.

Aside from lolicon hentai games, of course. Or sexually violent ones. Hm - I wonder if it's just being North American that gives me such puritanical leanings - or perhaps such things are simply offensive to the human soul.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So, Resonance of Fate...

(End of Eternity in Japan.)

Yesterday was the release-slash-ship date - few stores actually have it, yet. This game is so under-hyped, and is enjoying such a small amount of preorders, you can go into an EB and ask them about it, and they'll say "what?"

They've never heard of it. If you weren't a Gamer, chances are you wouldn't've heard of it either.

A demo came out on the Japanese PSN a while back, and try as I might to explore it, the language barrier - and a total lack of knowledge regarding the controls and rules of the combat system made it pretty impenetrable to me - but still, I liked what I saw. If it played like I thought it could be played, I knew it was one to watch.

I don't often do this, but I suggest you go read this review from Eurogamer.

And then, in case you think this game might be devoid of personality, watch this vid of a cutscene - which features sexy dancing and unrestrained gainaxing.



Really, it was the Eurogamer review that sold me. The vid just sort of solidified my intention.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oh, you should also check this out.

I've been meaning to point y'all towards this game for... feels like six months or so. But this new trailer gives a better idea of what the game's actually about.

From what I hear, it's a teensy bit like The Last Guardian - as in, there's a mysterious magical creature that you don't control, but you have to work together to overcome obstacles. Looks pretty action-heavy, and I dig the art style.

It's by the same folks who made Folklore.


Majin: The Fallen Realm

Beat'd.

7.5 hours - but it didn't feel too short.

At this point I'm so thrilled with what I just went through, if I tried to talk about it now I'd spout nothing but hyperbole - so I'll keep it short.

It's very, very good. It's better than the PS2 games. I can't wait to play it again.

So I won't. Seeya tomorrow.


Also - holy crap, even Famitsu loves it: 10/9/9/10

Monday, March 15, 2010

So I get home tonight...

...and there's this dude standing in the yard. Like, inside the fence. Leaning against the fence, between my yard and the neighbor's. Just standin' there. Lookin' kinda' sleepy.

We approach, open the gate, step into the yard.

"Hey," we say. No response.

The guy's not wearing any pants.

Or underwear.

He's got white socks on, and a black hoodie.

We go inside, and call the cops.

He comes to the door.

He orders a baloney and cheese sandwich, with pickles and mustard.

Then he wanders south on the street a little ways - goes up on to a neighbor's porch.

Comes back north.

Goes south.

Repeats.

Repeats.

I call the cops again and inform them of the change in the situation.

I report his movements until he's almost out of sight, and it occurs to me this is really not how I want to spend my night.

"I'm going to stop watching him, now," I tell the lady on the phone.

"Okay," she says.

And then I reheated myself some supper.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ahh, that feels better.


Felt like I hadn't written a review in forever.

It's kinda' hard to try to be objective about God of War and God of War II. I love those games. I've played the ever-lovin shit out of those games - so I figured the best thing to do is say "yes, I think they're awesome - and here's why I think they're awesome."

And now, it's just two more sleeps 'till III. I think I'll return to Eternal Sonata 'till then.

...and I need to finish watching Black Dynamite. Which you should watch too.

You jive turkey.

REVIEW - the God of War Collection.

"The gods of Olympus have abandoned me.
Now there is no hope."

How can I possibly be objective about this one? This is like asking someone to review an HD up-port of the original Super Mario Brothers without letting fond childhood memories color their judgment. And yes, Super Mario is a fair comparison - like God of War, it wasn't the first of its type - and like God of War its impact on the way games have been designed since is unmistakable.

Maybe I'm giving Sony Santa Monica too much credit. It's not like they came up with quicktime events, or even the idea of mixing up hardcore action gaming with platforming and puzzle-solving - but it is in the execution that God of War made its indelible mark on the industry. These games are, simply, incredibly well-designed and lavishly produced.

Or were, when they were released in 2005 and '07.


Three years is a long time in the world of game design, and surprisingly enough God of War I and II still hold up. They've fallen behind where the constraints of the PS2 forced them to make compromises - environmental detail, the occasional stiff animation - but the total package is still a stunning showcase of artistry and thoughtful planning.

The art direction remains well above-par, even compared to current-gen titles. All action titles have a great set piece or two, but the God of War series constantly bombards the player with one incredible vista after another, and an unparalleled sense of scale. I defy you to forget the first time you saw the Steeds of Time.

While the stellar art direction is most evident in the games' backdrops (particularly in God of War II), it extends to the excellent character, boss and enemy designs. The standard-setting presentation isn't limited to mere visuals, of course - the animation is excellent, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the mad Spartan warrior, Kratos.


For some, Kratos is a two-dimensional bore. He does nothing but kill (and solve diabolical, ancient puzzles), voices no emotion but rage, and thinks no further ahead than the next target of his brutal revenge. Not for me.

To me, Kratos is one of the most well-realized characters in all of gaming - a tragic antihero unlike any other. The terrible, touching story of his violent origin (the story behind his iconic candy cane coloring) and his quest to be rid of his sins gives way, in the second game, to his acceptance of his own savage nature and - once given motivation - his unwavering resolve to see things through to the end, even if he happens to unmake reality in the process. I love Kratos - and I want him to win.

Terrence Carson's pitch-perfect voice work perfectly captures both Kratos's limitless violence and infinite regret. The character's design - first imagined by artist Charlie Wen, drawn on a napkin - speaks only of strength, brutality, and bigger-than-life action. Everything Kratos does - from the iconic, back-arching freeze-frame of the final blow in his six-hit combo to the simple act of opening a chest is big - all liquid muscle, meta-human strength and straining tendons.

The plot is simple enough, but - again - the execution is excellent, and to be honest, it can be as moving as it is thrilling. Production values aside, I always felt what put God of War beyond other action games was the wonderfully presented story.

That's what I always felt, but I think I was wrong. It's not just the production values, the excellent storytelling, the art direction, the music, the characters. It's all those things plus rock-solid game design.

Save for one area towards the end of the first God of War, nothing ever feels tacked-on or extraneous - the games are perfectly paced. You'll beat on some monsters, solve a puzzle, and see an incredible new sight. Along the way, a terrible new enemy will be revealed, a monster or warrior of legend will be defeated, and you will find yourself in possession of some great new power or weapon no mortal man should ever wield.

The player is driven forward by such promises - always something new, always something grand, beautiful, or terrible - and the games never betray your trust. They always deliver, and even after playing through each title ten or more times on the PS2, it's a pleasure to revisit them in 720p.

That said, don't go into the God of War Collection expecting a current-gen game, 'cause that's not what you're going to get. Character models have a limited polygon count (this is most apparent in the original title), and textures remain last-gen. You won't find animation to rival Ubisoft Montreal, or graphics that would have been acceptable in anything but a first-gen PS3 title (and even then, not really).

The one great disappointment of the Collection is the in-engine cutscenes. The pre-rendered sequences still look pretty damned good (particularly in II), but all the in-engine scenes have been left untouched. Perhaps to re-animate the scenes using the Collection's HD resolutions would have been prohibitively expensive for Bluepoint Games, but the result are some jarring switches between the crisp new visuals and the last-gen, 480i cinematics. This is most disappointing in the first boss battle of the original title, where it switches to an old in-engine cutscene for your foe's death - a bit of a downer for one of the greatest boss battles in all of gaming.

Beyond that one flaw, the conversion is perfect - both God of War and its sequel remain two of the greatest action-adventure games of all time - still relevant, and still engaging despite the advent of current-gen design tropes and streamlining.

If you're a fan of the series, or looking for a crash course in the storied franchise's history, the God of War Collection is well worth your time.


THE GOOD
-wonderful art direction
-among the best storytelling in action gaming
-incredible music and voice work
-Kratos is a uniquely well-realized character
-God of War II in particular looks wonderful in 720p
-two of the best action adventure titles of all time, for one low price


THE BAD
-prepare for jarring switches between the crisp in-game visuals and the last-gen cutscenes
-low poly-count characters and some last-gen textures mean that the titles - the original in particular - don't really measure up to current-gen graphics


THE VERDICT
Classic games, well worth the price - and still worth the time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sooo lazy...

Not much in the way of news today. Someone thinks it's huge that Valve has hired some ex-Naughty Dog devs (two who've worked on the PS3) - but given that Valve likes to hire talented people, I can't take that as direct evidence that they're developing for the PS3.

Most tidbits lately are about how incredi-awesome God of War III is, calling its first sixty minutes "the best game opening of all time." Not that I'd know, of course - but when you consider GoW's Hydra fight and the Colossus of Rhodes from II, a mind-boggling opening sequence is kinda' par for the course. Let us recall The Word, as put forth by Gabe & Tycho.
The original.

Oh, I also cleaned up the PS3 Exclusives Guide and made some measurements on the butter chicken recipe clearer.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Well, now it's two rumors.

Check it out.

This one has more teeth than when we heard similar rumblings back in December. "Overheard at the Game Developers Conference" and told by a "trusted source," IGN says Insomniac Games is indeed going multiplatform. Of course, none of this is confirmed - but clandestine conversations at GDC have much more credence than the solemn oath of a writer for a little-known site.

Is it possible? Absolutely. Insomniac has always been independent - and they've made it clear that's how they like it - they don't have to be exclusive to Sony. And let's face it: on the current gen, if you want the cash, you either make Halo, Gears, or go multiplatform. Heck, even Final Fantasy went that rout - it's just good business.

Naturally, if this happens that could be the end of my beloved Ratchet & Clank franchise, which Sony owns the publishing rights to. After Resistance 3, if Insomniac indeed goes multiplatform, they'll need to do it with a new, original IP.


I'm of two minds about this. The only reason I love Insomniac so much is because they give me the Ratchet & Clank games - because I love the Ratchet & Clank games. It's like the new novel by your favorite author - beloved characters, beloved tropes, beloved style - always satisfyingly familiar, but every time you sit down with a new one you still get that thrill. You're about to play Ratchet & Clank for the first time, again!

If Insomniac goes totally multiplatform, I will never get to play Ratchet & Clank for the first time again. I hate that thought.

But I like Insomniac enough to know that it makes business sense - and the more successful Insomniac is able to be, the more Insomniac games we'll all get to play - which is a good thing.

Still - this is just a rumor, whispered by the (generally unreliable) "trusted source." Is it possible the head of Insomniac will walk out on stage at Microsoft's E3 presser and announce a new title? Sure.

It's also possible that, as Insomniac now has two studios, they'll still occasionally produce a new R&C title.

It's also possible that Insomniac will stick with Sony until New Year's 2100 - who knows?

We'll see.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some real video game awards.

The Game Developers Conference is home to the Game Developers Choice Awards - it's the Oscars of the video game industry - nominated and voted on by game developers. Specifically, the International Choice Awards Network - a new invitation-only club consisting of five hundred game creators from all corners of the industry.

Here's what went down. First off, three special awards.

Lifetime Achievement
The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the career and achievements of a developer who has made an indelible impact on the craft of game development and games as a whole.

Winner: John Carmack



Pioneer Award
The Pioneer Award (formerly known as the First Penguin Award) celebrates those individuals who developed a breakthrough technology, game concept, or gameplay design at a crucial juncture video game history - paving the way for the myriads who followed them.

Winner: Gabe Newell




Ambassador Award
The Ambassador Award honors an individual or individuals who have helped the game industry advance to a better place, either through facilitating a better game community from within, or by reaching outside the industry to be an advocate for video games and help further our art.

Winners: Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik and Robert Khoo (Penny Arcade)
(nice)


And on to the standard awards:

Best Game Design
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady)
Assassin's Creed 2 (Ubisoft Montreal)
Flower (thatgamecompany)
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Plants Vs. Zombies (PopCap)

WINNER: Batman: Arkham Asylum.


Best Visual Art
Borderlands (Gearbox Software)
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft Montreal)
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Infinity Ward)
Flower (thatgamecompany)

WINNER: Uncharted 2


Best Technology
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Infinity Ward)
Red Faction: Guerrilla (Volition)
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Killzone 2 (Guerrilla Games)
Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft Montreal)

WINNER: Uncharted 2.


Best Writing
Brutal Legend (Double Fine)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios)
Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare)
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Halo 3: ODST (Bungie)

WINNER: Uncharted 2.


Best Audio
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare)
Rock Band: The Beatles (Harmonix)
Flower (thatgamecompany)
Brutal Legend (Double Fine Productions)

WINNER: Uncharted 2.


Innovation
Scribblenauts (5th Cell)
Flower (thatgamecompany)
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Plants Vs. Zombies (PopCap)
Demon's Souls (From Software)

WINNER: Scribblenauts.


Best Debut
The Maw (Twisted Pixel)
League Of Legends (Riot Games)
Spider: The Secret Of Bryce Manor (Tiger Style)
Torchlight (Runic Games)
Zeno Clash (ACE Team)

WINNER: Torchlight.


Best Downloadable Game
Plants Vs. Zombies (PopCap)
Trials HD (RedLynx)
PixelJunk Shooter (Q Games)
Shadow Complex (Chair Entertainment)
Flower (thatgamecompany)

WINNER: Flower.


Best New Social/Online Game
Restaurant City (Playfish)
Farmville (Zynga)
Dungeon Fighter Online (Neople/Nexon)
Free Realms (Sony Online Entertainment San Diego)
Bejeweled Blitz (PopCap)

WINNER: Farmville.


Best Handheld Game
Scribblenauts (5th Cell)
Flight Control (Firemint)
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North)
Spider: The Secret Of Bryce Manor (Tiger Style)
Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo EAD)

WINNER: Scribblenauts.


Game Of The Year
Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog)
Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios)
Demon's Souls (From Software)
Assassin's Creed II (Ubisoft Montreal)

WINNER: Uncharted 2.


What I love about this list is how I can't really find fault with any of the winners. Well, maybe game design. I at least woulda' given Demon's Souls a nod, there.