Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Grand Theft Auto Michael. Franklin. Trevor. trailer.

Say what you will about Rockstar, they know how to make fantastic trailers.

Killer is Dead third trailer.

I'm not sure being a Suda 51 game alone is enough to get me interested in Killer is Dead.  I fear it'll be No More Heroes 3, while I've little doubt many, many folks out there are crossing their fingers for it to be precisely that.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hellraid - the next thing from the Dead Island team!

Just look at that screenshot.  Anything else you need to know?  Not me.

A first-person sword-swinging' fantasy-horror open-world randomly-generated action-RPG from the only folks who actually make first-person sword-swingin' fun.  Sold.  Day one.  Preordered.

Coming so hot on the heels of Riptide is a bit odd (it's due out this fall, Riptide launched last week), but I'm hardly prepared to complain.

Screenshots and concept art!

Press release!
Techland has formally announced Hellraid, a first-person co-op slasher that offers two games in one: a single-player, story-driven campaign of hack & slash action; and unique, co-operative multiplayer that pits four players against the denizens of hell – and each other – in a battle for points, rewards and fame. The first official screenshots, game details and more are available on Hellraid.com, where you’ll also find the developers blog, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the production of Hellraid. 
The armies of Hell brought pain and destruction to the realm of man, and only a select few have the fighting skills necessary to confront the devilish monstrosities. Combining elements of hack & slash RPGs, first-person shooters and online multiplayer games, Hellraid features an advanced, immersive combat system with melee, ranged and magical weapons. The engaging Game Master system makes each game a different experience, placing loot and enemies while generating random online challenges. 
With exploration, looting, questing, weapon crafting, boss fights, armor customization, character development, leaderboards, magic and so much more, Hellraid is set to drag you straight to hell later this year on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Microsoft IllumiRoom is... kinda cool.

The explosions and projectiles coming off the screen I don't mind.  The rest of the effects..?  Not so much.  Either way, I'm not convinced this would actually enhance a player's experience.

I worry it could have a similarly immersion-shattering effect as Kinect.  If you're lookin' for more, All Games Beta's got a ton of tech documentation in addition to the video.

Watch Dogs - Out of Control trailer.

Rumor - Respawn's first game Xbox-only?

This could be a biggie.

Rumor has it that the first title from Respawn Entertainment - the studio founded by Infinity Ward talent  (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, CoD: Modern Warfare 2) following a mass exodus after Activision pulled some Activision shit on them - will be coming only to the Xbox 360 and its next-gen successor.

Which doesn't seem believable.  Not if you remember that the Respawn folks, after leaving Activision and forming their studio, were signed to Electronic Arts' EA Partners label for their next game. Sure, the game is being made by Respawn - but the name EA will still be on the box.

And a major Electronic Arts game being exclusive to any platform does not compute.  In the entire seventh generation of games consoles - that is, the PS3, the 360, the Wii, the PSP and the DS - Electronic Arts has only ever release four platform-exclusive games.  And they were such because nobody wanted them on other systems:

  • Rock Band Unplugged and
  • Medal of Honor Heroes for the PSP, and
  • Boom Blox and 
  • Boom Blox Party Bash for the Wii. 
The only way this could possibly make sense is if we are to believe that Microsoft simply drove a dump truck full of money up to Electronic Arts' headquarters in Redwood and offered it in exchange for the exclusivity.  Would Microsoft do this? 

If the rumors are true, yes - because the rumors also say that Microsoft is "six months behind" in the development of software for their next-gen Xbox, cancelling under-performing projects left and right - this could be a desperation move.  Or, simply, canny business sense - it's rather akin to Microsoft's courting of the Japanese market with all those 360-exclusive JRPGs at the dawn of the current gen.

Still... to sink (what I can only imagine is) such a large amount of money into an IP with zero mindshare in popular culture... 

This story is all kinds of weird. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

11 new Arkham Origins screens. I think.

Some of them kinda' feel like bullshots.

If it weren't for the lighting on the dude in the foreground, I'd imagine this one is concept art (the ship) with some in-game assets placed over top of it.

This one too.  The amount of snow and all the effects in there... if this is a screenshot, it's not one for a current-gen console.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rumor - Kevin Conroy isn't Batman in Arkham Origins.

If hearing Richard Epcar do his best Mark-Hamil-as-The-Joker impression in Injustice: Gods Among Us got under your skin, prepare to get your bell rung - there's a rumor floatin' around that Kevin Conroy won't be back as the voice of Batman in this Fall's Arkham prequel.

This game is sounding shittier all the time.  They need to release some gameplay trailers and quell our collective fears.

A short REVIEW - Thomas Was Alone.

Sony's recent emphasis on indie games coming to the Vita continues to pay off with the humble but critically-lauded Thomas Was Alone, which has been kickin' around the Internet for the better part of three years.  The ten-dollar price tag makes it an easy impulse buy, but TWA's tight design ensures you'll be done with the title in a few scant hours.

"Gentle" is the best way to describe Thomas Was Alone, from its gameplay to its design to the dulcet tones of British humorist Danny Wallace, the occasionally-grating but generally-upbeat chiptune electronica from David Housden and the almost insultingly-simple design which ensure one is never playing through a sequence that doesn't serve as a tutorial or a build-up to the next slight twist on its mechanics.

The game's design is thoughtful, but rarely adventurous and rarely inspired.  Instead, Thomas Was Alone is very, very by-the-book, to the point that its first level is literally walking from one side of a room to another, the second level reveals that gravity has an effect on you and you can walk off edges, and the third introduces you to the jump mechanic.

That's it.  That's all you ever get, in terms of how you communicate with the colorful shapes onscreen.  Move left, move right, fall and jump.  While it's profoundly simple, a modicum of depth is gleaned from the game's reliance on multiple protagonists - squares and rectangles of varying size, movement speed and jump height.

But even so, this game isn't exactly trying to impress you with the depth of its mechanics, or its presentation.

Just looking at the above shapes and colors, you've probably got the gist of it.  Most of Thomas Was Alone's puzzles are solved by stacking the characters to allow, for example, Chris - the little orange square - access to a higher ledge he couldn't otherwise reach with his pathetic little hop.

And that's what's lovely about Thomas Was Alone.  I can tell you that orange square's name is Chris.  Thomas is the fuschia rectangle, and John - that arrogant pretty boy - is the yellow line.  I can't tell you the name of any of the ancillary characters from BioShock Infinite or Tomb Raider - but I don't have to look it up to let you know that the large blue square's name is Claire, and she fancies herself a superhero.

...what the heck?  How on earth am I more invested and interested in the emotions and personalities of blank swatches of color than the high-def, fully-mocapped, fully-voiced cast of this year's triple-As?

It's because Thomas Was Alone feels more like cracking open a story book than anything else.

The game - as a game - would function just as well without its story, given how simple and easy-going its puzzles and platforming "challenges" are, and TWA would remain a comfortably-designed little platformer with zero frills, minor challenge and not a particularly enthusiastic value for ten dollars.

With the narration, Thomas Was Alone becomes... affecting.  Touching.  Inspiring, even.  It's another example of how the medium can be so adept at connection, even as the rest of the production trembles before the more-pronounced ambitions of the PlayStation Network's other artsy, indie fare.

This is no visual treat a'la Journey.  It's mechanics aren't particularly involving or engaging, like Mark of the Ninja or Guacamelee.  It affords those qualities very short shrift.

But it's a nice story.   You might wanna' check it out when it's on sale.

Beyond: Two Souls TFF trailer.

I'd love for David Cage to make a game that's as awesome as he thinks it is.  Could this be it?  I doubt it - but man is it good-looking.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Elf of Dragon's Crown - a portrait in seven screenshots.

I particularly enjoyed Destructoid's headline for the release of today's Elf-related media:

All Games Beta on the Sorceress controversy.

In its own way, the notoriously silent (and awesome) gallery blog All Games Beta - which never posts an article, editorial, review or any other collection of original writing - sounded off on this week's Kotaku/George Kamitani hullaballoo by changing its header to the image above (minus the logo).  The site has ever used big, wide, gorgeous pieces of fan art as its banner - though this one feels particularly timely.

Keep on rockin, AGB.

Art books!

I had a preorder down on the Songbird Edition of BioShock Infinite, but cancelled it a few weeks prior to launch as money was getting tight.  When the game's release rolled around, I felt so disappointed not to have the little lithograph and that awesome Vigor keychain that I snagged The Art of BioShock Infinite off Amazon, to ease my... whatever the antonym of "buyer's remorse" is.  "Skinflint's regret" perhaps?

I was not particularly pleased with Infinite's art book.  I felt like it offered only a cursory look at most of Columbia's more interesting designs, with far too much iteration of minor items - not nearly as enjoyable as Deco Devolution: The Art of BioShock 2.

Then, this past week, the George Kamitani thing happened.  Don't bother looking, Kamitani doesn't have an art book out - but if he did, I would buy it in a nanosecond and place it, proudly, next to the Okami book.

You can click all these to embiggen, by the way.

Odin Sphere cover art - George Kamitani

So, disappointed with Infinite's art book - and unable to find one for Yoji Shinkawa - I decided to be downright naughty and find a book I've wanted for years; Shigenori Soejima Art Works 2004 - 2010.

And it's just... lovely.  Just page after page of beautiful, detailed, stylish, emotionally infectious drawings. 

Persona 3

If there's any complaint I have about the book, it's that it spends too many pages on Persona 3, P3: Fes and Persona 3 Portable.  Yes, Persona 3 is where Soejima made his name and it's the game that really launched (modern) Atlus into the spotlight, but his even-more-gorgeous work on Persona 4 is given comparatively short shrift - and with less time spent on P3, more time could have perhaps been spent on all this other lovely art he's done which I'd never heard of: 

Faust Vol. 7 - Harisuke Arietta

Momoiro Taisen Pairon

 Gengin Dante

 But yes, it's Persona that we remember him for.  The watercolor of Aegis he did for the book's cover is just... luscious, and - ooh, and where's that one of Chie in the kimono?  I love that one... there we go:

Kawaii, neh?

It also has a very nice interview with Soejima at the end, and - given this week's madness over the proportions of Dragon's Crown's Sorceress - it's nice to hear from a character designer who puts a great deal of thought in how he presents the different genders.  Specifically, he tries to make heroes for everyone:
"Another consideration that I feel is very important is the notion of designing characters that will be liked by players of the same gender.  Even in real life, I think people who are well-liked by members of the same gender have this powerful innate appeal that also makes them more attractive to members of the opposite gender.  Therefore, according to this theory of mine, if I manage to design a character that appeals to players of the same gender, it is almost guaranteed that they will be liked by all players, regardless of gender."
Very cool.

In other news, I'm still enjoying the heck out of Dead Island Riptide, and I finished Thomas Was Alone last night.  I really should do up a little mini-review, but I feel like the more you say about that game the more you might spoil it for someone, and really, all I could say is that it's a "light, pleasant, inoffensive and charming little platformer - but ten bucks would be steep, if it didn't have that sweet voice over."

Dragon's Crown Elf trailer.

Ooh I like how mobile she is and the melee options.  Just two to go!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eight official minutes of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

I stopped watchin' after about three minutes - gameplay spoilers!

Thor: The Dark World trailer.

Okay, Kayla, we'll go see it.  (Kayla's in love with Chris Hemsworth.)

There isn't Okami news today, but there will be soon.

Now, I don't generally care for announcements regarding announcements - speaking of which, they're going to announce the Xbox 360's successor on May 21st - but this is Okami.


According to Internet translators, this reads "Hello, this is Okami news. Sorry I’ve been kind of out of touch lately, but I have the feeling we’ll be able to drop a fresh announcement like WHAM! around the beginning of Golden Week, so please look forward to it. Right now we’re on track with preparations."

Golden Week begins on Saturday, April the 27th.   What could it be?  Is Okami HD going multiplatform?  A sequel?  A mobile phone Okami-themed social game?

Probably the latter.  But let us hope, good people.  Let us hope.

Penny Arcade on the Sorceress controversy.

Penny Arcade.
I lol'd.

[update] Ah, and now Jerry's newspost is up.  God, how I love him.  Here's the second half, where he hammers home the obscenity of bitching over Dragon's Crown's artwork:
"The only characters here who aren’t fucking mutants are the Elf and the Wizard, who are there to calibrate the player; everybody else is some fun-house exponent of strength or beauty stretched into some haunted sigil.  Iconic isn’t even the word - they don’t evoke icons, they are icons.  They’re humans as primal symbols. 
It’s very weird to pull up a story about a game with frankly visionary art and hear why it shouldn’t exist, or to hear what I supposedly fantasize about, or what kind of power I supposedly revere, and any attempt to defend oneself from these psychotic projections or to assert that creators may create is evidence of a dark seed sprouting in the heart.  It’s an incredible state of affairs.  They’re not censors, though - oh, no no.  You’ll understand it eventually; what you need to do is censor yourself."
Thank you for your wise words, you Eversage, you. [/update]

[update again] And now the PA Report is havin' a go at it.  Glad I got my licks in yesterday when it was less important - but it's also nice to see that Kamitani apologized. That's how grown ups roll. [/update]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dead Island : Riptide launch trailer.

And I have it in my hot little hands.  Also of note today, that crappy-looking Star Wars Trek tie-in game is out, and if you're a PS+ member you can cross-buy buy indie gem Thomas Was Alone for $7.99 (regular price is $9.99).

Like Dead Island before it, Riptide's reviews have been all over the place - it got a 4/10 from GameSpot, but I swear to God last night I saw some insane site give it a 10/10.  Its metascore is currently hovering around 65, but don't let that bother you - Dead Island got similarly mixed reviews, but they didn't stop the delicious combat and effective atmosphere from casting their spell.

A short REVIEW - Dishonored : The Knife of Dunwall DLC.

Dishonored is a game that really invites players to come in, sit down and stay awhile, exploring the depressing and fantastical city of Dunwall, taking sneaky advantage of all your wicked-cool powers (but mostly and especially Blink).  It's not a game to be quickly chugged and tossed aside - this is a game to be savored.  A game one spends hours in, poking through the estates of the wealthy, eavesdropping on juicy gossip, nosing around dark corners and sewer grates for a precious Coin of 10 - immersed in and ensconced by this eerily beautiful world.

If one loved Dishonored as I do, and spends their time with the game as I do - exploring and discovering and testing the boundaries of its possibility - The Knife of Dunwall DLC is a great deal.

A different character, a different story, but the mechanics are almost entirely identical.  The only misstep was that, in place of a still-beating mechanical heart which directs you towards collectible power-ups, you now have to rely on a Void Gaze ability which shows them in the environment - but not if you're too far away - which can lead to some missed items.

But that's the only error, here.  What we have are two-and-a-half missions (the last one's a bit short) that ask for all the commitment of Dishonored's main campaign.  It probably took me close to ten hours to clear a single playthrough of this DLC, and as with the main campaign you can choose to go "high chaos" (kill everyone) or "low chaos" (kill no one), with low chaos providing the meanest challenge.

Your chaotic alignment affects the story, but that's not what I loved most about The Knife of Dunwall.

One of the greatest lacks of Dishonored, I felt - or at least a void I wished it had filled - was the fact that they presented this marvelous, newly-industrialized world built on whale oil, and then never gave you a really good look at the whales.

There's this part of me - the part that spent my childhood sifting through National Geographics and marveling at the exotic life that fills our world - that was deeply disappointed we never got an up-close look at those wonderful whiskered whales the ships of Dunwall carted back and forth.

Well, the first mission of The Knife of Dunwall takes place in an entirely new area - the Rothwild Slaughterhouse.

Ten bucks, between eight and twenty hours or playtime, and a deeper look at the enchanting world of Dishonored.  Delightful.

Dragon's Crown drops August 6th in North America.

Eeee!  It's official!  Can't wait.  Sooo gorgeous.

And sexy.

Jason Schreier and George Kamitani are kinda' being dicks.

Above is the entirety of a Kotaku blurb made two weeks ago, complaining about the Sorceress's character design in Dragon's Crown.  The Sorceress is one of three female player-characters in the game, along with the slender, bow-wielding Elf and the muscled, battle-bikini'd Amazon.

The ladies of Dragon's Crown.

If you gaze upon the gymnastic twistyness of the Elf, the tight glutes of the Amazon or the supernaturally nipple-less mammaries of the Sorceress and find yourself offended, that's fine.  No one's saying you shouldn't feel that Dragon's Crown is perpetuating a world in which women are only valued because of their worth as sex objects.  

If, when you watch a trailer of Dragon's Crown and note that her bustier does lamentably little to assist with what must be excruciating back pain as her assets leap to and fro, you find yourself disgusted - that's fine.  

You can feel whatever you want to feel, but - for the record - I feel differently. 

I feel Kamitani's art is gorgeous.  I love the his watery, pale eyes and wonderful colors.  I love how big and dramatic and bombastic his designs are - I love the Sorceress's big, floppy witch's hat and billowing skirts, her long Pantene-commercial auburn hair, Jessica Rabbit curves and straight-up sexiness.  

I have no problem with her sexiness.  If you haven't enjoyed a Vanillaware title - in part - due to its sultry eroticism and romance, you probably haven't played a Vanillaware game. 

There's no nipples - I checked many, many times.

I'm not deeply troubled by how sexy Dragon's Crown is (or is attempting to be).  Perhaps because aesthetic beauty occasionally dipped in the sticky waters of lust is part of what I expect from a Vanillaware game; 

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (2009)

Perhaps because I enjoy aesthetic beauty spiced with sex.  But let one not suggest that sexism in character design isn't a thing.  It's totally a thing, which does genuine cultural and psychological damage.  

But neither am I prepared to suggest censorship or any variety of vitriol is the solution to it.  Neither am I prepared to suggest that the Sorceress could be any less of a victory for video game characters than Bayonetta or Juliet Starling - video game women who, like the Sorceress, where harshly judged and condemned based solely on their appearance, prior to any press or gamer getting to know them, and were subsequently revealed to be intelligent, charming, witty characters who were very much aware of their own sexuality, of the shallow-minded folks who would condemn them for it, and the uniquely feminine power it offered.  

I find nothing wrong with sexy as I find nothing wrong with chaste - but I find the sophomoric pissing match between Kotaku writer Jason Schreier and Vanillaware artist George Kamitani just plain disappointing.  

In response to the Kotaku blurb, Kamitani took to his Facebook account to post this: 

And, naturally, Mr. Schreier had a lot to say about that.  But this whole thing is just so disappointing and so immature for two people who really should be more invested in having an intelligent conversation on the subject.  Instead of an insightful exploration of the Sorceress's design, the conversation we have is this: 

Jason : "You like big titties, you must be a little boy going through puberty."

George : "You don't like big titties, you must be a gay person."

Me : "You're both being assholes."

[update] As things were cooling down, Jason reached out to George to actually have a dialogue on the art of Dragon's Crown, and George sent this email reply that paints things in a gentler light: 
Thank you for contacting me; I am George Kamitani from Vanillaware.

I’ll go into detail about the reasons behind some of Dragon’s Crown design concepts.

I believe that the basic fantasy motifs seen in Dungeons & Dragons and the work of J.R.R. Tolkien have a style that is very attractive, and I chose to use some orthodox ones in my basic designs. However, if I left those designs as is, they won’t stand out amongst the many fantasy designs already in the video game/comic/movie/etc. space. Because of that, I decided to exaggerate all of my character designs in a cartoonish fashion.

I exaggerated the silhouettes of all the masculine features in the male characters, the feminine features in female characters, and the monster-like features in the monsters from many different angles until each had a unique feel to them. I apologize to those who were made uncomfortable by the art’s appearance, and did not see the same light-hearted fantasy in my designs.

I don’t harbor any ill-will to Jason Schreier for the article he originally posted about the Sorceress or his follow-up. Although it may be negative feedback, I am very thankful for having one of our titles being covered. I do understand what Jason and the rest of the discussions on the internet are saying for the most part. I am not sure if I can implement the critiques from him and others around the internet into my future artistic creations, but I will definitely keep in mind that these opinions are out there and affect people on a personal level. I feel that any form of media content faces death when it doesn’t receive attention at all. So, be it criticism or support, I am truly thankful for the people talking about Dragon’s Crown and the people discovering Vanillaware for the first time.

In regards to the Dwarf image I posted on my Facebook page: This image was never intended to attack Jason. Originally, it was a promotional image that I created for my fan base in Japan, which I posted to the official Vanillaware Twitter account earlier.

We receive many requests from companies to create publicity illustrations for the game, but we never received any requests for the Dwarf. Also, as the game’s street date nears, most retail shops start requesting exclusive art for their retailer-exclusive bonus items. In Japan, these illustration requests can even be as specific as something like female characters in swimwear. In these requests as well, the Dwarf was nowhere to be seen.

So, I decided to unofficially draw a sweaty Dwarf in a bathing suit, with a bit of cynicism towards those retailer requests. I drew 3 of them to show that there are character color variations available.

However, this image is something I created on my own, and will not see the light of day in any publication. I felt it was a shame to just throw it out, and thought I’d just post it on my own Facebook. That’s when I remembered Jason’s article and thought that I’d post it as a little joke with a comment. I used an automated translator to try and make a lighthearted joke in English, but clearly that wasn’t the case. I was very surprised to see the crazy aftermath.

It’s okay if it was just me who was criticized, but it is not my intention to cause problems for Dragon’s Crown publisher (ATLUS) and all the other people who are involved in this project. From now on, I will limit myself about transmitting something personal out in the public.

Also, it would be very appreciated if you could please contact Index Digital Media, Inc. if you plan to make anything related to this matter, including this e-mail, into an article.

Lastly, please tell Jason that I am sorry for causing him trouble, and also to please don’t let my actions cause him to shy away from Vanillaware products…

Good bye, and thank you."
I hope it's not weird that I'm kinda-really-happy Kamitani had long-before produced the Sweaty Dwarfs image as a sort of protest to all the requests from retailers requesting sexy pics of the ladies of Dragon's Crown.  

At least he's mindful - to a degree - of the same imbalance we find distasteful. [/update]