Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great vengeance and furious anger.


Last Saturday I discovered a blog which was basically taking every feature, review, article and news piece I wrote here and reposting them as that blog's own content.

Now... this wouldn't've pissed me off so much if (a) I had received any credit or (b) that blog wasn't plastered with fucking ads - indicating that this douche was essentially making some (probably not much) money off my work.

Anyway, I went to Blogger Help and poked around, looking at their rules for stuff like this. I couldn't seem to find anything that applied to this situation, so I started a help topic on their forums called "What do I do when I find a blog that's copying content from mine wholesale?"

Some folks quickly got back to me and suggested I lodge a claim of DMCA violation - essentially, that my copyrighted work has been used against my permission. The documentation there also states that if no real problem is shown to have occurred, I would be liable for all the expenses of the accused party.

I have no idea if the stuff I've written here is actually my own property. I hope it is. Maybe I need some sort of legal jazz at the bottom of the page or something, but I doubt it's that simple (if it is that simple, please let me know).

Either way, I wasn't prepared to face any monetary liabilities for trying to get this issue resolved. Fortunately, another member of the Blogger community took it upon themselves to do it in my cowardly stead, as in their eyes the offending blog was violating "several parts of the TOS."

Today a member of Google's staff posted on the thread, informing me that the blog which had stolen all my hard work had been shut down.



Ahhhh.

The system fucking works.

Confirmed - Limbo coming to PSN in July.


It's not often a rumor turns into fact so quickly, but just one day after it was discovered that Sony had submitted Limbo for a PS3 rating in Korea, PlayStation's official twitter feed confirmed it is headed to their platform. Limbo is coming to PS3, and it's coming in the next 31 days.


The tweet fails to note that it's also been confirmed as coming to PC - but that's good news too!

[update] Holy crap. If I write two more posts, that makes 200 for July. I shall have to hope some blogworthy stuff has hit by the time I return from work. [/update]

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

...do I really want to be paid for this?

The short answer is "sure. I love video games, I write about video games for my own pleasure, and it would be lovely to make a living doing what I love."

The long answer? I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure that I could. I received this email today...


It's not the first of its sort that I've received, and it took me all of .75 seconds to understand it was just another scam - but during that .75 seconds prior to understanding, it raised a question.

If someone wanted to put ads up on my blog, and pay me cash money for it, would I take it?

Well... that depends. How much would I be paid?

Now, obviously, were I paid anything by anyone associated with the industry we all love so well, it would be damaging to my integrity. Felipe, I'm going to quote you, here:


...now, this is entirely accurate. I love video games, so I write about video games. That's the point and purpose of this blog, and no other ambition or agenda enters into it. If I'm telling you that - contrary to popular opinion - Alice: Madness Returns is pretty goddamned awesome despite its faults, you can rest assured that I'm telling you that because that's how I feel, not because Electronic Arts has a banner at the top of my website which pays my rent, and I'd prefer to keep my meal ticket happy.

You may not always agree with me, but my integrity is rather well-kept, given that I receive no recompense for pushing one game over another.

Now, is it possible for a publication to get advertising from the very subject it publicizes and remain brutally honest? Of course it is - but at least with my complete lack of advertising, the question never enters one's mind.

There was an experimental site called Crispy Gamer which was even harder on games than Eurogamer. Crispy Gamer set itself apart - and attempted to remain completely impartial - by never taking advertising dollars from any game publisher, developer or console manufacturer.

In January of last year
their board of directors fired all the writers and turned the site into a video game advertising network.

Assholes.


So here I am. I work an acceptable job so that I can afford to live and play video games, and occasionally buy drinks for my work associates.

If Honda wants to come along and give me 50k a year to muck up this blog with banners? Hell yeah - I'd quit that job tomorrow to game and write full-time. I doubt that's actually going to happen, though (perhaps that's pessimistic of me).

Why not give it a shot, though? I once heard that game publishers require a site to have over a hundred unique hits per day before they'll consider supplying said site with review copies of games.

I'm well past that threshold. Maybe I could do it. ...but they probably wouldn't, given that I don't use review scores, and so would be no help in hitting 90 on Metacritic.


I wouldn't want to get there by inches. I wouldn't want to have random Google ads up and down the side of my blog, just to get an extra five bucks in my pocket per week. You don't come here to get sold stuff, and I'm not here to sell you on anything.

If, though. If... I could just game and write and spend my working days submerged in this medium I love so..?

Well, it would be like a dream. But when it comes to ads on my blog, I'm not prepared to settle for anything less than that. No half-measures. Not here.

I have to compromise everywhere else, but this? This is mine.

Batman's official box art is all gritty and bloody.

New.

Announced by Warnes Bros. today, this is apparently the official box art for Batman: Arkham City. Can I just say the mock-up we had up until now was better?

Old.

I don't know why, but I feel more confident in a game that doesn't need to flash it up at all. Just the name or a symbol or font can say it all, and spark your imagination to a much greater degree than a blood-splattered glove ever could.


See? Classic.

Limbo coming to PS3?


Discovered by GameSetWatch and seemingly validated by 1up, Sony has requested a rating for Limbo in Korea.

Limbo is one of the best things on Xbox Live's Arcade, and - honestly - one of the reasons I purchased a 360. Were it to drop on PS3 it could only be a very, very good thing.

Grammar!

Last night, in the wee hours of the morning as I put together 'The Xbox 360 - six months later,' I made an egregious error. It's not quite as annoying to me as when I see someone use 'there' instead of 'their', but I used 'it's' as possessive.

Eugh!

I have no confusion about the difference between the two: 'It's' is only used as a shortening of the words 'it is,' while to make 'it' possessive, it's simply 'its'.

Somehow, my auto-typing muscle-memory betrayed me, and I wrote the wrong one. I want you to know, dear reader, that whenever such a mistake is made on the blog - and I notice it - my reaction is always the same.

The Xbox 360 - six months later.


By "the Xbox 360," I don't mean it in general terms. I mean, precisely, The Xbox 360 that sits by my television, next to my old PS2 Slim.

Now, clearly the 360 is a decent piece of kit. If it weren't, it wouldn't be the most popular HD console in North America - but I'm not talking about its commercial performance or its value to the average Xbox 360 owner, I'm talking about how it's treated me. Or perhaps, more to the point, how I've treated it.

The answer, I'm afraid, is not very well.


The very first thing I did with my 360 was... well, based on this article I spent a good half hour/45 minutes just navigating its interminable set-up. As soon as I could, however, I purchased Limbo. I really liked Limbo.

After that I tossed in Alan Wake, the only other 360 exclusive that I was really dying to play. I rather liked Alan Wake. And then..?

Well, then there wasn't much I felt a pressing need to play. I picked up Gears of War and its sequel because, well, that it was one does with a 360 - or so I've gathered. I felt much the same about it as I imagine folks do who've had Uncharted mercilessly overhyped to them. Meh.


It was good. It was okay. It was disappointing here, here and there - and I felt more uniformly positive about the opening of Gears of War 2 - but not positive enough to keep playing it.

The only other game I've actually completed on my 360 is Shadow Complex, which was rather pleasing. That's... pretty much it.

I put thirty or so hours into Mass Effect, I threw Bayonetta in to see just how much better it looks on the 360 (answer: a lot), I never put Deadly Premonition or Splinter Cell: Conviction into the drive and I found Halo 3 so boring I don't think I played past the first level.

Aside from the occasional Xbox Live Arcade title and Alan Wake, I've gotten very little out of my Xbox 360.

For the sake of clarity - I don't believe this actually reflects badly on the system.


I have reckoned a principle, which I call The Theory of RPG Love. Essentially, it's the concept that the longer you spend with an RPG (particularly JRPGs), the more love you'll have for it - no matter how good or bad it is. The more time you spend with something, the more understanding you have of its systems, the more affection you have for it. This concept is well-documented.

The fact that I have no great affection for my 360 doesn't speak to how well-designed its systems are or how good or bad it is as a console - it merely speaks to the relatively small amount of time I've spent with it. Let's be honest - I play a shitload of games - I just don't play many on the 360.

When a multiplatform game comes out, I buy it for the PS3 and that's that. Over the years the PS3 has turned into my Movie Theater, my Game Demo and Trailer Destination, my Other Internet Browser and most of all My Video Game Console. It's the RPG I've spent the most time with.

It's my video game home, and I'm simply not as comfortable anywhere else.


It's entirely possible that the dashboard on the Xbox 360 is actually more elegant and immediate than the PS3's XMB - but it sure doesn't feel that way to me. I still feel like in a lot of ways, the 360 throws more obstacles between me and my entertainment than the PS3 does.

Y'know what is really cool about it, though? They have a shitload of full games available for download on Xbox Live. You can get Darksiders and Alan Wake and pretty much every other major release, downloaded straight off the network.

That is sweet. Why don't you do that, PSN?

Now, I'm not saying I would buy a virtual copy of a game - I much prefer owning actual property instead of virtual - but still. That's cool. The only downside to it is you can't buy them using Microsoft Points, it seems.

That's kinda' douchey.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's PlayStation Store update day!


And this week, we've got some doozies - not the least of which are some sweet PSP two-fers.

First up, the multiplayer beta for Uncharted 3 opened today. It's currently exclusive to PlayStation Plus members - but given that we all have PS+ memberships (or access to it) at the moment, that's a non-issue.

I wonder, though, will I still be able to access said beta after my PS+ membership expires on the third or fourth or whatever?

Ah well - I've got the code that came with inFamous 2 to fall back on, in that case. I've heard some people have had freezing issues, but it hasn't thus far affected me, as I haven't (thus far) installed and run said beta. Until you run it, it's completely error free!

Also in the exciting-news bracket is Beyond Good & Evil HD's took-you-long-enough release on PSN. I have no idea when I'll have time to play it, but just to cast my vote and tell Ubisoft "yes, people want Beyond Good & Evil 2," I snapped that right up. For ten bucks, the price is right.

There's also something called Gatling Gears which I vaguely recall is worth noticing... let's refresh ourselves on what that is...



Oho, that does look pretty cool. Excuse me, while I download a demo.

Finally, it's a very good time to have access to PlayStation Plus, as Shank, DeathSpank and DeathSpank's sequel are all 50% off at the moment for PS+ members - that's $5 for Shank and $7.50 for DeathSpank. Shank, it should be noted, is pretty fantastic and my favorite downloadable game of 2010, while Deathspank was an enjoyable if insubstantial romp.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alright, I guess THIS is Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet's release date.

Microsoft announced the official dates for this year's Summer of Arcade lineup today. Like previous years, not every game on offer is a gem - but at least one is, and for me, that game is (honestly) part of the reason I bought my 360.



Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet drops on XBL on August 3rd. It will cost 1200 Microsoft Points, or $17.14 in real world money.

The full Summer of Arcade is...
  • Bastion - July 20th - 12ooMSP
  • From Dust - July 27th - 1200MSP
  • Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet - August 3rd - 1200MSP
  • Fruit Ninja Kinect - August 10th - 800MSP
  • Toy Soldiers: Cold War - August 17th - 1200MSP
  • Crimson Alliance - September 7th - 1200 MSP
There are other interesting games in the lineup - From Dust, for example, at the very least looks sorta-like-it-could-be-cool - but if any game aside from ITSP requires our attention I feel it's Bastion.

Bastion is a gorgeous, isometric, hand-drawn Diablo-like. Check out the trailer.

Ken Levine's reaction to the Supreme Court ruling.


So California was essentially challenging the concept that video games are just another form of expression, and as such are not protected as free speech under U.S. law. If the Supreme Court found this to be true, it would leave up to vague interpretation what, precisely, qualified as content damaging to children - as a result, most games currently on the market could arguably be labeled as adults-only, which would force game developers and publishers to only make the most kid-friendly games imaginable, which would be the only games still allowed on store shelves.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that video games are a form of speech in the same way books, movies and music are - and as such, are given the same protection under the law.

Good on you, American lawmakers. I don't believe I've ever actually said that before.

The internet was replete, today, with reactions from gamers, the enthusiast press and developers - but none of these were as eloquent as what Ken Levine put forward. The Creative Director of Irrational Games (BioShock, BioShock Infinite) had this to say:

"I would love to read through the entire decision before writing this, but Kotaku has asked for our immediate responses. So let me just quote this from the first page of the decision:

"Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium."

This was a terrible law to begin with. It could have effectively made ALL games M-rated games, because publishers would have been rightly nervous about "under-labeling" their titles and facing the wrath of the state (or, more precisely, states, because a California law would have no doubt spawned up to 49 deformed siblings). A cartoon plumber lands on top of an anthropomorphic mushroom and crushes it to death? Hmmm. Better label it "M".

This in turn would have discouraged the industry developing content for non-adults. Why bother, if you're just going to have to label it in a way which means it can't be sold to them? This would have the net effect of the industry under-serving children.

All of our freedoms derive from the right to express ourselves. The wonderful thing about speech is that is both powerless and omnipotent. The Emancipation Proclamation and Das Kapital are both simple collections of words. One led to the freeing of an entire race of people in one country. The other led to the effective enslavement of a population under a brutal dictator. But who has the vision to see where these collection of words lead? The greatness of the American experiment derives from the humility of the First Amendment. Why am I a better judge of where these collections of words lead than you are? I am not. Therefore, the law remains silent on them and lets the words take us where they will.

Today, the Court brought the medium we love fully into that circle of freedom. And we move forward empowered, but also with a sense of responsibility that words have meaning. So we as creators will choose our words with respect, understanding their power. But no law will have the authority to choose them for us."

* * *

A lean, mean, bloggin' machine.


I just realized that this month - E3 month - I not only did a pretty-not-bad job of covering E3, but I wrote four reviews. And not just little DLC games, but like, full games. I'm not sure if that's a personal best, but shit - that's a lotta' bloggin'.

Permit me to be mildly proud, for a moment.

* * *

Well. That was uncomfortable. I shan't do that again, any time soon.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

REVIEW - Shadows of the Damned.

Bam!

Let's ignore that Massimo Guarini has been credited as the director. If his work has any unique flavor, I have failed to detect it - besides, Shadows of the Damned was sold to us as the singularity-producing collision of legendary directors Shinji Mikami (God Hand, Resident Evil 4) and Suda 51 (No More Heroes, Killer 7). Rounding out this dream team of Japanese development is Akira Yamaoka, the composer who worked on pretty much every Silent Hill title. This game should be no less than a staggering explosion of visual style, flawless gameplay and utter craziness.

Shadows of the Damned is - unlike some of Mikami's previous works - no revolution in the gameplay department. Unlike much of Goichi Suda's games, it's not a master's thesis on visual flair and self-indulgence - what it is is a capable, zany, creative and straightforward romp through the underworld.

The game's constant use of genitalia-related puns may suggest it's a juvenile game for immature gamers, but it's a well-designed, fun and often clever title. Countless games feature protagonists who go to Hell and back in the name of their lady fair - Shadows is just a bit more literal about it.

You are Garcia Fucking Hotspur, hunter of demons. Your sidekick is Johnson, the reformed demon. The baddest of baddies stole your girl and took her to Hell, so naturally (led by your Johnson), you follow in hot pursuit. Oh hoh hoh. How droll.

Alright, I'm onside. Let's see what you've got, Suda-Mikami-Yamaoka-Guarini.


Shadows shares a lot in common with this month's other kinda'-pulpy release, Alice: Madness Returns. Both have a clear horror bent, both are visually striking but merely acceptable, in terms of pushing polygons, and both have gameplay that essentially could have been accomplished back on the PS2.

Unlike Alice, Shadows pulls well ahead in the gameplay department. Mikami's finely-honed gunplay (which he's perfected in titles like Resident Evil 4 and Vanquish) is front and center, here - nailing headshots is always met by a reasonable degree of skill and a satisfying level of challenge, but things are spruced up with Suda's trademarked ridiculousness. Occasionally your headshots will be accompanied by an unobtrusive slow-mo view of the bullet impacting a demon's face, to be followed by firework jets of crimson as the body takes a step and a half before falling.

Every now and again, it also brings to mind Mikami's other masterwork of gameplay, God Hand. Context-sensitive melee always feels vicious and impactful, and it's just as fun to mash square when stomping the life out of a crawling foe here as it was when you pummeled fetishists back on the PS2.


Weapon upgrades and selection is pared back and well-designed. While you only have three guns, each tools at your disposal is effective, satisfying and necessary. Your sidekick-demon Johnson is your handy-dandy source of exposition, as well as your weapon - he instantly transforms from a torch/club into a pistol, machine gun or shotgun, and the game certainly doesn't fail to inject as much double-entendres as possible into that equation.

Take your standard pistol, for example. It fires the bones of the dead, collected in chests throughout the underworld. Suitably - given its ammunition - it's simply called The Boner. After upgrading the weapon so it fires a superheated explosive substance (used for cracking enemy armor and carving out paths), it is obviously referred to thereafter as The Hotboner.

Progression is well-layered, with no tactic or mechanic outstaying its welcome before a new one is introduced - and the title comfortably points you in the right direction when you're given a new ability. For example, when you come to a nearly-broken wall that impedes your progress, Johnson suggests that in order to overcome the obstacle you fill its crack with your Hotboner.

Naturally.


In terms of presentation, there's a lot to love, here. The game is entirely linear, but between levels we're treated to a Ghouls N' Ghosts-style 2D map of the underworld, and a paper-cutout version of Garcia walking across it.

I love how, after a death and during the load, we see the paper-cutout Garcia pick himself up off the ground, throw a determined fist into the air and carry on. Lord help me, I even kinda' love the tiny, winged, cyclopic demon One Eyed Willy, who is always so terrified by your approach that he craps himself and takes to the sky - the flaming turd he leaves behind is a signal that you've just passed an autosave checkpoint. If you don't love Christopher, who serves as the underworld's store, I can only suggest you suffer from an irreparable flaw.

Shadows offers a creative yet familiar take on the underworld. Gothic architecture cut with cool blue, rich greens and bloody red abounds - but it's also full of interesting, imaginative detail and world-building that demands your attention. After a few hours of blowing your way through hordes of the screaming damned, I love that the game offers an optional, lazy pause as Garcia or Johnson reads the story of a fallen demon or legendary huntress.


The game is rich in flavor and uncensored creativity. This is clearly a title made by folks having fun - and this easygoing, let's-just-have-a-good-time attitude is the same one that lead me by the nose through the campaign.

Thanks to the fits-like-a-glove gameplay, I was always enjoying myself - often challenged but never frustrated. Thanks to its zany, anything-goes take on the land of the dead, I found myself constantly amused by flares of creativity and winking nods to horror genre (there's an Evil Dead homage, for example) and gleeful abandon of imagination.

Given that Shadows of the Damned is clearly a fun, original-feeling, indulgent, creative and comfortable game, you may - at this point - have the impression that it's worth an immediate purchase.

...I wouldn't go that far.


The game is, for starters, short. There's nothing wrong with games being short, so long as they totally blow my socks off - but, as covered above, Shadows is merely a good, fun, interesting game. It never really amazed me, and it lasts about eight hours.

At the same time - no biggie. It's a lean, well-crafted game, which is better than having it go on way longer than it has to. After having beaten it, though, I feel no great need to revisit it any time soon. There is no New Game+, there are no hidden unlockables - it's a decent, entertaining, fun-while-it-lasts experience - but the game gives you no reason to double-dip.

While I was largely (almost entirely) entertained by Shadows, I must admit I also found some of it a bit distasteful. I defended Duke Nukem Forever for taking a comedy tack in its treatment of women, and and being just as cruel to men - but the fact that every skinned, tortured, hanging body you come across in Hell is female is, frankly, disturbing.


Shadows of the Damned is a fun, original-yet-familiar, creative game that misses very few steps along its short path. Its simple, linear, classic structure feels just as natural as its finely-tuned shooting mechanics, and its interesting details and sense of style is unique enough to make it stand out.

It's an excellent rental - a game I certainly recommend investing your time in - but you'd likely be better served by waiting until it comes down in price. What's here is entertaining and generally above-par - there's just not enough of it to legitimize a sixty dollar price tag, and it's not impressive enough across the board to make it an event.

Heheh. Johnson.


THE GOOD
-Garcia Fucking Hotspur is a Mexi-can, not a Mexi-can't
-an original, funny, creative riff on Hell
-your lady fair actually becomes a very interesting, mysterious character by the end
-visually striking
-great music
-finely-tuned third-person shooting is satisfying and comfortable
-the combination of the shooting and (very simple) melee is well designed
-tons of entertaining little touches
-does a great job of slowly building its narrative
-Christopher
-always fun, never frustrating
-you can fill cracks with your Hotboner
-more dick puns than you can shake a Johnson at

THE BAD
-merely capable, in terms of graphics
-at eight hours it feels a bit lean
-little replay value, beyond the fun of it
-I find the fact that Hell only concerns itself with mutilating and torturing women a bit off-putting

THE VERDICT
Definitely check out Shadows of the Damned - but I wouldn't fault you for doing so on a budget.

Game Diary - Shadows of the Damned.


I have a suspicion that whatever game you play after Duke Nukem Forever looks like a masterwork in comparison. Not that Shadows of the Damned is a masterwork, but it's certainly infinitely more satisfying than Forever (which ain't sayin' much).

When I wrapped it up last night it was too late to do anything but some prep work for the review, so hopefully I'll get that done tonight after work. Ya'all take care, now!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mother-#^&*@$...


So I'm poking around search engines today when I find a monetized blog (ads and such) that's been taking entire posts from my site and reposting them as its own, complete with links that reference other posts on The Games of Chance - along with full reviews from major sites, full news articles from the official enthusiast press, et cetera.

Screw that guy.*

*or girl.

On the other hand, it's nice to know my stuff is good enough to steal, right? I think.

Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta!

This feels... somehow... familiar...

Fantastic news! There's a new IP coming to the PS3, along with PC, Mac OSX, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android Devices. It's said to be the first PS3 title ever developed in Saudi Arabia.
"Get ready for the spine-chiller of the year! When Arab fortune hunter Faris Jawad and his archeologist sister Dania receive a call to visit Morocco they embark on an exotic adventure throughout the Middle East on the trail of the famous Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta (1304-1369 A.D.). The trail won't be clear however as Faris will have to overcome an unholy alliance of a militia army leader, a weapons dealer and a wealthy antiquities smuggler who are after the same goal."

Check out the gameplay video.

It's like everything you love about Uncharted, except kinda' shitty! I should note, the environments don't look awful. What will this unique and original take on the action-adventure formula offer?

  • Travel across the Middle East from the wild life of Moroccan Atlas mountains to the alleys of old Damascus through the port of Alexandria and the metropolitan city of Dubai.
  • Unique mix of platforming, melee fighting, shooting and stealth gameplay.
  • Presented in a TV style episodic format along with recaps of previous episodes and teaser cliff hangers of what lies ahead.
  • Unearthed Online is an additional free-to-play browser based multiplayer component that is available now on Facebook
Here's my problem, with this. This blatant, balls-out ripoffery has made me angry at a young, ambitious studio who really could use some media support.

That's one problem.

This young, ambitious studio is trying to make a game that's exactly like one of the single best games of the current generation - and if you're going to shoot, shoot for the moon. What I don't appreciate is what a blatant rip off it is - more precisely, that they aren't even attempting to stake their own claim in video games - the font in their logo is the font used in Uncharted 2 and 3.


And it's like... dude.

Yeah, pretty much.

I know for a fact that this is the reaction of many folks to every piece of media that's released with the name Skyrim on it.



It helps that this video's hilarious.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (finally) gets a release date!

July 27th.

...that's... that's really the only new stuff I can tell you about it. If you look at the name and the picture and have no idea what I'm talking about, I highly suggest you click the Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet tag at the base of this post and watch some trailers.

Yum.

Personal note.

I won't go into specifics, but the work I've been doing at the office for the past two days has left me drained.

It directly recalls when I was a younger man and performing on stage. I dunno why, but it gives me the same rush and it leaves me similarly physically and emotionally exhausted.

I've heard complaints that Shadows of the Damned is too short - so I'm taking that as a sign that I may be able to complete it this weekend, and hopefully get a review up before I head back under the spotlights.

So... yeah. This is your post today. Sorry for its meagreness.

...and here I was thinkin' I might actually break two hundred posts this month.

Eh - there's another week to go, yet.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Futurama's back!


The first two episodes of the new season aired tonight - or maybe it's just the fourteenth and fifteenth episodes of last season, I'm having trouble keeping track - so if you're a fan, head on over to the TV-watchin' location of your choice.

Remember the good 'ol days, when you had to watch TV when it was actually being broadcasted? Man, the good 'ol days sucked.

Oh, I can't wait to watch 'em! New Futurama is such a treat. It's like New Archer or New Ratchet & Clank.

[update] Episode 14 was kinda' meh, but Episode 15 was much more of the inventive sci-fi weirdness I crave from the series. [/update]

This BioShock Infinite dev diary is worth watching.

It's about the tears in space and time that exist throughout the floating city of Columbia. If you're like me, you've already read all about them and how your companion Elisabeth can pull an object of your choosing through these tears - the example in the video is a big bus that acts as cover, a door that may bring with it NPCs who are angry with the faction you're fighting, or a barrel full of weapons.

Ho hum. I've already heard about this before, and yes, we get that this ties in to Irrational's ambition of giving the players a ton of choice - but if you watch 'till the end, or just zip it to 2:40, your Hype-O-Meter for Infinite will progressively tic up for about twenty seconds.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Team Fortress 2 is now free! Free forever!


You read right - one of the single most widely loved and critically acclaimed multiplayer shooters of all time is now completely free on Steam. You can head on over there and download it at this very moment at no charge whatsoever.

Also today, we got a new video in the 'Meet The...' series - finally, it's the Medic's turn at bat.



Will we ever see the Pyro?

Almost definitely. You may be wondering why on Earth Valve would choose to make one of their most popular properties free? The answer is microtransactions - which, added up, ain't so micro...

Ahhh... that's better. That's the stuff.


After four days of dealing with Duke, I finally put in Shinji Mikami/Suda 51's Shadows of the Damned tonight.

It's like... being on bread and water for a week, and then someone puts a nice burger in front of you. I'm talkin' home made, off-the-barbeque with a nice big slice of Spanish onion and some good firm tomato and num num num.

It's a little interesting and (thus far) rather entertaining and the gameplay is fun and... yeah.

Home made burger.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

REVIEW - Duke Nukem Forever.


Duke Nukem Forever is not a complete mess - though folks could be forgiven for thinking it is, when compared to any game that's been released in the past five years.

Chances are, if you've been a gamer for the better part of a decade, you've already purchased or rented and played Forever. If you're new to the scene and would like to know if it's worth your time without the required nostalgia, the answer is no.

If you want a fun, well-designed game with potty humor, go play Bulletstorm. If you want a technically remarkable first-person experience, go play Killzone 3, and if you want a beautiful FPS with a compelling narrative and rich gameplay go play a BioShock title.

If you want to play a game replete with ancient or otherwise unfortunate design, a total lack of consistency, bad graphics, epic load times, thoughtless pacing, wisecracking, pop-culture-referencing jokes and big bare boobs designed around a completely male-targeting fantasy of blowing away alien scum while airhead babes throw themselves at you, you should definitely play Duke Nukem Forever.


Duke Nukem 3D was a truly seminal work, back in 1996. It featured huge, labyrinthian levels which truly rewarded exploration and experimentation and an unprecedented degree of interaction with the game world. It was, honestly, a thrill to be able to hit a light switch and have the room darken back then - stuff we take for granted, nowadays - but when you think of Duke, that's never the first thing you remember.

Duke Nukem Forever remembers the strippers and the gaming in-jokes - and for the first half of the game there's a great deal of little interactions with the environment - but it's clearly forgotten the rest. It seems age has taken from Duke his ability to recall big, gorgeous levels that demand you to seek out every nook and cranny. He's forgotten how to invent cool new weaponry (every weapon in DNF is from DN3D), and - criminally - he's forgotten how to be a satisfying, well-designed game.

The pacing is just awful. You move from one slapdash, poorly-realized set piece to the next. I was never precisely having a great deal of fun with Forever, but for its first half it at least did a good job of distracting me from the core issues of its gameplay with constant switch-ups. Now I'm shrunk. Now I'm driving while shrunk. Now I'm manning a turret. Now I'm driving again.

Once Forever stops running you through a bunch of locales designed to impress on us how important and cool Duke is - his Casino (The Lady Killer), his football stadium (The Duke Dome), his strip joint (Duke Nukem's Titty City) - the game clearly runs out of creative steam and you find yourself playing just another bland corridor shooter. The casino and stadium aren't particularly great, I suppose - but they're much, much better than what comes after.


I could probably be a lot kinder to Duke if I didn't feel the core gameplay was so flawed. Back in the day, you had enemies with simple seek-and-destroy AI and a health pool which could only be recovered by finding health items.

Somewhere during its decade-plus gestation, the developers decided to pull the regenerating health and two-weapon-only limitation from Halo - which would have been fine if they had made their artificial intelligence similarly up-to-date. They didn't. What we've got are a bunch of brainless but vicious enemies which (on normal difficulty) do massive damage. You'll spend a great deal of time in Forever cowering behind cover - an ironic pastime for a guy who passes on Master Chief's helmet because "power armor is for pussies."

Occasionally - during certain shootouts, with a certain loadout - I found myself directly reminded of the feel Duke Nukem 3D provided all those years ago. This is a very good thing, but it was also such a rare sensation that those slim moments of pure pleasure are completely overshadowed by the boredom of sitting behind a wall waiting for my health to tic up, the righteous fury of the many cheap deaths the game inflicts on you and switching the input on my TV to an old Cate Blanchett movie to subsequently sidestep the game's epic-length load times.

It's supernatural that a game which is so bad-looking takes such an eternity to load - even after installing almost five gigabytes.

"Take your tentacles back to Japan, you freak"? C'mon - that's pretty funny!

The best thing I can say about Duke Nukem Forever is that its writing often put a smile on my face. Others may list it among Duke's flaws, but I found his regular, self-important, pop-and-video-game-culture-referencing quips quite entertaining. Sure, it's a bit limp when he rips on other big names in the shooter genre like Halo or Gears - given that those games are actually pretty darn good - but more often than not I found myself laughing with Duke's jokes instead of at them.

I cannot, in good conscience, suggest you pay money for Duke Nukem Forever. It really sucks. I can't remember the last time I ran through a game for review purposes that so felt like work instead of play. Oh, yes I do - it was a movie tie-in game in 2009.

If nothing else, Forever reminds us how lucky we are to have all the fantastic games available nowadays. It points out that balanced, fun gameplay, good pacing, well-designed levels and a degree of technical proficiency doesn't just get yanked from a hat.


I'm not sure we should blame Gearbox Software for this. I get the impression they just dug the parts of the game out of 3D Realms' graveyard, sewed them all together - whether they worked or not - and passed an electric current through the game's monstrous corpse to subsequently cry "let there be life!"

We were all begging for it - so, fine. After fifteen years, Duke lives - and word is, this isn't the last we'll see from him.

Good, says I. There's absolutely room in the genre for a game that's totally unwilling to take itself seriously - in fact, it would be the refreshing polar opposite of almost every other major FPS release.

I'd love to play a wonderfully-playing, well-designed and technically proficient Duke Nukem game. There's a lot of fun still to have with this franchise, I'd wager - there's just not much to be had with this game.


THE GOOD
-so sue me, but Duke is (mostly) funny and unapologetically so
-it's a fantasy of alien ass-kickery and machismo
-occasionally recalls the gameplay of classic Duke
-I loved the irony of the kiss of life Duke receives at the end of the game

THE BAD
-ugly as sin
-a technical train wreck
-epic load times
-it's quite regular for your deaths to feel very cheap
-most weapons feel pretty useless, and there aren't any new ones
-the two-weapon system really flies in the face of Duke's attitude
-the recharging health system really flies in the face of Duke's attitude
-it would be generous to suggest this game even had pacing
-you can beat the final boss by circle-strafing
-feels more like work than play

THE VERDICT
Ech.

Beyond Good & Evil HD coming to PSN next week?


The high-def up-port of last-gen cult classic Beyond Good & Evil has been due on the PSN for quite some time. It's been out on XBL since March, but the PSN version has been quietly pushed back a time or two.

With yesterday's PlayStation Store update it still had not appeared (we got more DLC for Castlevania, though!) - which prompted a member on Sony's blog to ask when we could expect Ubisoft's latest classic up-port.

The answer from on high?

Oh, I'll check, all right. And I better see.

[update] Yep. Happening. [/update]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Okay, why didn't anyone talk about this during E3?



It's a Japanese-developed first-person survival-horror game for the Kinect. Honestly, Microsoft - if you want to get the hardcore contingent onside with Kinect, this is the way to do it.

Wow - what the heck is Amy?



Amy, as it turns out, is an "apocalyptic survival horror" title coming to PSN. It was originally slated for "the second quarter of 2011," but I somehow doubt the game will be making that launch window. Amy is being made by Paul Cuisset - best known for the phenomenal 90's rotoscoped platformer Flashback.

Amy puts you in the shoes of a young lady named Lana who survives the impact of a meteor into her home town, only to be infected by a virus that turns folks into crazed, mutant killers. The rest of her town has already been infected - they hunt in packs, and detect you by heat signature or smell - but with the help of a "mysterious youngster called Amy," you will attempt to negotiate and survive the disaster and its dangers.

Amy will also help you fight the infection that threatens to overtake you. As it progresses, Lana will access "new powers," but if she is not treated, she'll turn into a mindless monster herself.

New, inspired survival horror? Yes please!

It's all about the product.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Does Duke Nukem go too far?


I wasn't going to talk about this, but I find it's on my mind. I'd been mulling over the post I wrote but didn't post last night, so this afternoon I sat down with someone who is deeply familiar with the subject of violence towards women and discussed it - and when, at the end of things, she agreed with me, I resolved to write this.

Saying that, I'm aware that I may well piss some readers right off by taking this tack. That's not my intention, of course - I just feel that the reaction to the treatment of women in Duke Nukem Forever has been rather extreme and rather knee-jerk, and it's reasonable to talk it out.

* * *

Game consumption and game development remains largely male-dominated, to the point that when a game presents a female as a major character who's not merely eye candy, it is celebrated. It is - unfortunately - still somewhat special to play a game in which women are presented as genuine, three-dimensional characters.

It is also, we should note, just as rare to play a game in which its male characters are given a respectable degree of depth and humanity, and aren't just hard-bodied he-men - but for now, let's focus on the ladies.
Few M-rated games contain ladies which aren't, in some capacity, present for the purpose of titillating male gamers - but just as rare are the games that don't even try to suggest they're doing anything else. Look at the female cast of almost any fighting game, if you want an example.

Duke doesn't try to hide it with some sort of self-assurance that it's cool to present their female protagonists this way because "they kick ass!" or some such nonsense. In DNF, women only exist to be objectified. Every woman in the game possesses gigantic boobs, washboard stomachs and a microscopic modicum of clothing. Duke may only view women as sexual objects, but at least he's not trying to pretend their presence in his game is about anything more than appealing to newly-pubescent youth.

I'm not saying it's a wonderful thing, but at least the game isn't being dishonest about the purpose of their presence - which is more than I can say for some.

I'm sorry, Lara Croft circa 1999, I wasn't listening - I was admiring your immensely impressive education and list of remarkable accomplishments.

What I find strange is that - timing aside - I don't mind it. Most folks complaining about the treatment of women in Forever point specifically to a sequence involving earth women being used as incubators for extraterrestrial breeding (see topmost image). In Forever, there's a greater sexual connotation to it than there was twelve years ago, and if you don't put them out of their misery they'll explode with aliens who subsequently attempt to devour you.

I don't want to get too deep into this. Perhaps admitting that I don't hate DNF for its portrayal of women puts me in agreement with folks whose club I'd rather not join. Still, the described, most-vilified sequence in Forever is - to me - merely the current(ish)-gen re-imagining of the exact same thing in Duke Nukem 3D, which was itself a nod to pretty much the exact same thing happening to John Hurt in Ridley Scott's Alien, and the whispered "killlll mee..." begging of fellow victims in James Cameron's Aliens.

Duke Nukem 3D (1996)

What made it okay for Duke to do pull this fifteen years ago? Is it because graphics weren't really capable of rendering nipples back then? Is it because nowadays the similar sequence comes equipped with a lot more audio (the women moan suggestively, and are clearly unhappy about their predicament)? Is it because, nowadays, we're so worried about offending people that what's most offensive is the lack of risk-taking creativity?

It's just as tongue-in-cheek and - I'll be honest - funny now as it was then. There are even aliens running around called Pregnators who will jump at your face, forcing you to mash X to stop them from thrusting their funky mutant appendage down your throat. When fighting them at range, they attack by violently ejaculating at you.

And I'm sorry, but that shit is funny. There's always been something both sexual and humorous about the whole alien-pregnancy thing - and if it is a disgusting, harmful image, it's not like we have only Duke to blame.

Duke didn't invent the concept of alien life forms forcing their foul seed from the far reaches of space into a human incubator which, once gestated, bursts forth in a savage blood orgy - and neither is it the first attempt to draw some humor from the situation.


Spaceballs (1987)


Does the fact that Forever interlaces these scenes with (very) dark humor make it okay?

Maybe. Maybe it does - after all, why should it only be acceptable to turn the disturbing combination of sex and violence into comedy when it's happening to a dude?

If that is the line - that it can be funny when John Hurt gets his chest exploded again in Spaceballs or Chi McBride forces himself of Will Arnett, but when a game developer admits to the sexual aspect of the situation and applies intergalactic incubation to women, it becomes somehow sick and wrong - then that shit is sexist.

We can't have two standards, here, people.

The real question is, is the game truly misogynistic? That is to say, does Duke Nukem Forever promote hatred and violence towards women? I believe it's fair to suggest that if you feel Duke has crossed the line, you're right - but others who disagree you can be equally right. What qualifies as offensive is often subjective:


One could suggest that the airhead bimbos of Duke Nukem Forever are merely a (variety of) idealized pubescent male fantasy, and that the point and purpose of the entire game is to mete out justice on those who would threaten our awesome earth babes.

I think that's giving DNF too much credit. The writers clearly put no more thought into their treatment of women than they did the level design (zing!) - Duke Nukem is simply a bullet-point list of the things young boys love. Hot, freely sexual women, gory, cartoony violence, toilet humor, pop-culture referencing one-liners and the universal male fantasy of wielding a massive, hard tool in your hand.

I don't believe that Duke promotes hatred any more than I believe it promotes literacy - and I must admit, sometimes he can be pretty funny. I legitimately burst out laughing when, upon killing my first Octabrain, Duke barked "take your tentacles back to Japan, you freak!"

That's funny - and, in a certain frame of mind, so is the idea of a carnivorous horror from beyond the stars having its carnal way with your most delicate bits.



We can't just pick and choose what's okay to joke about and what's not. Duke Nukem Forever may not be a great (or even good) game - I haven't finished it yet, so I'll hold off on that one - but I don't feel it's ever hateful. It's incredibly juvenile, incredibly indulgent - and given that modern society is so aware of what is and isn't acceptable behavior, its complete and utter objectification of a gender is just as inconsequential as the game itself. This is Porky's in video game form. Low-budget - not very well-made - and good for a guilty laugh.