Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another explosion of Battle Princess of Arcadias screenshots.




So many screenshots so damned huge I'm gonna' hide the rest behind this jump.

Killzone Mercenary multiplayer dev diary. Oh my.

How did no one think of this before?



Earnings and unlocks from the single-player campaign transfer over to the multi-player portion of the game, and vice-versa.  That is brilliant.  Folks who went through the campaign first don't start out feeling way-too-weak when they tumble into multiplayer with ranked-up opponents, and multiplayer junkies don't feel like they're wasting their time playing the single-player game.

Well, Killzone Mercenary.  You are looking attractive, aren't you?


Oh my.  I do believe you're givin' me the vapors.

The Bureau : XCOM Declassified YOLO trailer.



I get that this trailer is trying to make fun of the YOLO thing, but... let's be honest, did it sell you on the game?

Batman : Arkham Origins has multiplayer. It looks... not bad.



And interesting!  3 crooks vs. 3 crooks vs Batman and Robin.  My fear is, the awesomest-sounding part of that is playing as Batman or Robin, hunting player-character criminals.  Who'd want to be the criminal, in that scenario?

I mean, look.  It's always important to be yourself.  Unless, of course, you can be Batman.

Press release!
"Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and DC Entertainment today confirmed that Batman: Arkham Origins will ship with a mode that allows players to take the franchise’s award-winning gameplay online to play with friends and foes. The online component blends the traditional Arkham gameplay with third-person shooter mechanics and is in development by Splash Damage.

The online mode will be available for the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system, Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and Windows PC. The game is scheduled to launch worldwide October 25, 2013.

The Batman: Arkham Origins Online mode offers players the chance to hunt as Batman or Robin against the most challenging opponents yet, friends and other gamers online. Players can also take on the role of a Super-Villain Elite and get a peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to side with The Joker or Bane as they establish their legacy by taking down Batman and Robin, and anyone else who gets in their way. Fans will even be able call in the ultimate reinforcement to help turn the tide in any match by playing as The Joker or Bane themselves.

Developed by WB Games MontrĂ©al, Batman: Arkham Origins features an expanded Gotham City and introduces an original prequel storyline set several years before the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Taking place before the rise of Gotham City’s most dangerous criminals, the game showcases a young and unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter that sets his path to becoming the Dark Knight. As the story unfolds, players will meet many important characters for the first time and forge key relationships.

Batman: Arkham Origins will be available for the PS3, Xbox 360, the Wii U system, and Windows PC. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, the handheld version developed by Armature Studio, will be available for PlayStation Vita handheld entertainment system and the Nintendo 3DS handheld system. The game will release on all platforms worldwide on October 25, 2013."
Who are Splash Damage, you may ask?

Splash Damage are the folks who made Brink.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chamberlain & Chance on The Last of Us.


This time, Chamberlain (read Infinite Backlog, his awesome blog!) and I have totally different emotional reactions to The Last of Us.  This C&C is absolutely bursting with spoilers.  Don't read this if you haven't played and finished The Last of Us, which is totally frickin' incredible and required reading for anyone (with a PS3) who fancies themselves a gamer. 

That said, this epic-length dialogue is, I feel, one of the better C&Cs we've ever done.  You should totally read it!



All good?  Let's rock.

* * *

CHAMBERLAIN : The ending of The Last of Us.

I am not thrilled with it. It feels like they bent over backwards to not have any closure so there was room for another game.

CHANCE : Seriously?  I feel like anything else they could've done would've felt... easy.  If Ellie dies, or turns and Joel has to kill her, it's this big tragedy you see coming after the game spends so much time getting you involved in their relationship.

If Joel gets bit or whatever and Ellie has to kill him, it's the same problem - it feels like an "easy tragedy."

The ending, for me, was perfect.  The story is Joel's story - an exploration of how hardened the world made him, after the death of his daughter - and the central question was whether or not he would or could ever open himself up again, and love someone in the way he loved Sarah.  He had no interest in taking care of Ellie, and fought hard against it - even going so far as to attempt to pawn her off on his brother, so he wouldn't have to... care about her.

The ending was Joel coming to terms with the fact that he loved Ellie - of letting the barrier down that kept him alive since the outbreak - an answer to his character's (and TLoU's) central question. As they walk back to Tommy's town, it's important that perspective has switched back to Ellie.  Joel is now The Other, and we see him from her point of view, finally opening up about Sarah. We see how much he's changed, as opposed to how the rest of the story shows so much of Ellie growing - like how much of Joel we see in her during the Winter sequence.

The ultimate moment, when Ellie reveals that she knows full well Joel was lying about what happened with the Fireflies and essentially begs him to lie to her... I just found it very beautiful, and very touching.

When Joel swears to her, we can tell - we can see it in her eyes, she knows he's lying.  She knows that this is Joel's way of taking care of her - of taking on the sin of surviving, so that Ellie can live.  And Ellie lets him, and says "okay."

God, it was fucking beautiful.  I never felt (to me) in the least like this was their way of leaving it open for a sequel - and Naughty Dog have said, clearly, that while they may tell other stories in this universe, the story of Joel and Ellie is over.



CHAMBERLAIN : The problem is that there is no surprise. It played out exactly the way I thought it would, only for the opposite reasons you saw it coming.

Joel is a terrible human being, just as bad as any of the bandits he kills. He has spent his life looking for the next thing to hold on to to maintain his will to survive. Like he said at the very end, bad things happen and you find something to hold on to.

It became clear after Ellie ran away and they fought that he didn't care about her. He cared about the idea of her. She was someone that could be the next surrogate. After his daughter it was his brother. Then it was Tess, then it was the last thing that Tess told him to do. Finally it was Ellie. They were all just reasons or excuses for a killer to kill.

In the end Joel puts his own needs about that of the rest of humanity. This is not a beautiful thing, it is a complete tragedy. Joel gets what he wants and Ellie has so bought into him as her father figure that she will accept anything he tells her.

I just can't root for Joel getting his way in the end. He is not a character with any redeeming features. Joel should have died with Ellie in his arms. At least then some good would have come of the whole adventure.

Side note, they missed a great chance for a 'we have seen the monsters, and they are us moment' when Ellie was wandering through the camp in the snow storm killing guards. She should have come across a building full of terrified children, all begging her to not kill them.



CHANCE : It's this kind of disagreement that really highlights for me that The Last of Us is one of the truest examples of Games as Art - and doubly special, given that it's almost the only one I can mention that exists as a top-tier triple-A title.  It's a piece of work we can both look at and come away from with very, very different feelings - it's one story, one statement - but two people can absorb it and have completely polar reactions to it.

Like a Picasso.

I found the ending hopeful, beautiful, honest and inspiring - you found it (I'm putting words in your mouth, here) obvious, prescribed and shallow.

There are multiple conversations to be had about TLoU - one, for example, suggests that the theme running through the entire game is actually one of "partnership" (or simply love) and an exploration of its implications in this new world.  It begins with the statement of Sarah's loss, followed by the introduction, exploration and destruction of the Tess dynamic, which is later echoed with Bill.

"In this world, that kinda' shit's good for one thing - gettin' ya killed," he says. Bill, who chose his own survival over a relationship, and later has to confront the corpse of the love he betrayed.  Sam and Henry, meanwhile, suggest that such a relationship is the only reason to live - driven home by the hammer on Henry's gun.  When his brother dies, his partnership is severed, and he chooses not to go on without it.

It's fertile ground for so many interpretations.

In that way, I feel we're both right - and the fact that our perspectives are so different says great things about the game.

But then again, that rather suggests Max Payne 3 is an example of games-as-art, which kinda' damages my point.

Which reminds me,

-Critical Miss-

CHAMBERLAIN : I think you can call The Last of Us art and mean it. Max Payne 3, not so much.

The Last of Us has a message that is not static. It can mean something different to each participant. I would liken it to movies that you recognize as being of excellent quality but that are not necessarily pleasant. For example, Pans Labyrinth was a very good movie. It was also incredibly depressing and I do not know if I want to watch it again.

The Last of Us was also of excellent quality. At the end, though, it depressed me, because who my mind had labeled the 'bad guy' got his way.

Joel is one bad dude. 

CHAMBERLAIN : By the way…

DARK IS SO BAD. OH MY GOD. [see : this blog post at Infinite Backlog]

CHANCE : Sure Joel is, by the standards of our puritanical society, a "bad guy" - but he's also the hero.   Also, who's to say Ellie's sacrifice would have actually meant anything?

The point of the giraffe scene was to remind us - after all the shit, all the horror of the resort - that regardless of what happens with Ellie, life will go on and be beautiful and healthy and worth it.

There were certainly no assurances that Ellie's death would have actually solved the plague - all Joel got was "no, you can't even say goodbye to this girl, and no, we're not actually giving her the choice or telling her that this means her death."

Prior to Spring, it's never implicitly stated that using Ellie to find a cure would mean her death.  The fact that (as far as we know) she didn't give consent is one strike against the fireflies.

The second is their unwillingness to let Joel so much as say goodbye to the girl, or assure himself that that was, in fact, what she wanted.

The third is that she's fifteen fucking years old and they may not have been joined by blood, but if my "daughter" wanted to get her head cut off for the good of mankind, my answer woulda' been the same as his.

Seriously.  Picture this:

There's a guy standing in front of you with his hand on your daughter's shoulder, telling you he's going to chop her head off because it might do the world some good, and your fifteen-year-old daughter tells you this is what she wants.

Do you let her?

I don't, man.  No way in Hell.  I shoot that guy between the eyes, take my baby girl by the hand and tell her "you'll understand when you're older."

Also : awww I wanted Dark to be good, but it did look shitty.  It always looked shitty, in everything but concept.


CHAMBERLAIN : I think you are short changing Ellie and her desires. She may be 15 but she has had to do more growing up and deal with more insane situations than I ever want to. She was waiting for her turn to die and Joel denied her that opportunity without asking her. And he didn’t do it for her, he did it because he wanted to keep her around so his life had continued meaning.

Had Ellie regained consciousness at the hospital and volunteered for the process, what then? Would Joel still have killed most of the fireflies? Probably, which is why they didn’t want to let him say goodbye. They knew he was a skilled killer and were trying to get him out of the way as quickly as possible. I am surprised that they rescued him in the first place.

There are no heroes here, only victims. Which, in retrospect, is probably their whole point.


CHANCE : Let's say that Ellie's greatest and most-true desire was to die for the sake of a possible cure, and that at a mere fifteen years old she has the human right to make that decision for herself.  Given that she clearly knew Joel was lying as demonstrated by demanding he swear to it at the end - if it really was so important to her, if making that sacrifice was far more meaningful to the girl than the relationship she's forged with Joel, why did she wait until they were all the way back at Tommy's place to bring it up?

Why, when we see the understanding in her eyes that, as he swears, he's lying to her, does she say "okay?"  She knows.  We can tell she knows.

Even if you would allow your foster daughter to make that choice, I put it to you that Ellie made it - and she chose to live, and stay with Joel.  She chose it as soon as she woke up in that car, and he lied to her the first time.

I didn't see it as a sad ending in any way, shape or form.  I can - I should italicize this - I can appreciate why one would view it with a different meaning, but I saw it as two vulnerable, deeply wounded people finding the meaning of their lives in each other.

Where one sees a tragedy, I see a celebration of humanity in all its weakness and beauty.

Another lovely interpretation I read, somewhere, was that "love makes monsters of us" as reflected in Henry, Bill, David and most of all Joel, which viewed the game's themes as terribly dark, and horrible.  I love that TLoU can be analyzed and argued in so many different shades.

How on earth do we wrap this up?

Do we just agree that, even with the highly divisive ending, it's a phenomenal game?  'Cause you can't tell me it's not an incredibly accomplished game in pretty much every regard.

Or can you?


CHAMBERLAIN : It most certainly is an incredibly accomplished game. It has to be to support two starkly different interpretations. Naughty Dog has given us all the information and the freedom to make our own decisions in a way usually limited to movies and books of the highest quality. The few quibbles I have about the combat don’t really matter because that was never the point of the game. All the violence and all of the combat were just a means to an end.

I do not usually clamor for the acceptance or acknowledgement of critics, especially ones specific to other media, but it’s a shame that Rodger Ebert will never play The Last of Us. I would very much like to hear his opinion.

CHANCE :  Ebert wouldn't know stealth from a steakhouse.

Guacamelee! is coming to Steam! (!)


Revealed over at IGN, Guacamelee! Gold Edition contains the full game, along with the costume DLC and El Diablo's Domain for the totally-reasonable price of $14.99. If you buy it during its first week (launching August 8th), you'll also get Drinkbox's last game, Mutant Blobs Attack!!! free of charge.

Given that Guacamelee is... well, yeah, the best Metroidvania we've seen in years (and a super-fun brawler to boot), PC-only gamers should really snap this up.

Just the other day I found myself wondering when this was going to happen (Drinkbox makes sure they own all their IP).  Four months of Sony exclusivity ain't much, but it certainly got me into the game.

Dragon's Crown launch trailer.



It's all stuff we've already seen - but it's still gorgeous stuff.

Take 2 just registered a new Bully trademark.


Given that (Bully developer) Rockstar Vancouver finished up work on Max Payne 3 last year... oh man, I hope so.  I'd love a sequel to this - heck, we all would!
-source-

The BioShock Infinite season pass is finally appealing.


Because it's going to save me ten dollars.  I'm mildly interested in today's Clash in the Clouds DLC.  It's five bucks, and contains a few brand-new areas to challenge Booker against waves of enemies and sixty "blue ribbon challenges" to complete.  At the same time, I'm kinda meh about it.  I didn't feel Infinite's gameplay was the best the series has seen, and don't feel any great need to shoot more mans in Columbia.

Burial at Sea is another story altogether - which is what makes it so appealing.

"BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea is a two-part add-on campaign featuring an all-new story for Booker and Elizabeth, set in the underwater city of Rapture before its fall. These two campaigns will be available individually for $15.00 or 1200 Microsoft Points, and are also included as part of the BioShock Infinite Season Pass."
Basically, Burial at Sea allows you to play as both Booker and Elizabeth in Rapture before the city goes to hell in an alternate reality storyline with sweet, sultry noire tones.  It'll cost you thirty bucks for both episodes, or you could (and I will) just buy the season pass for twenty.  Done deal - I couldn't be more pleased.



Bring it on, Irrational!  Now just gimmie a release date.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Order : 1886's tech is pretty incredible.

Serves me right for raising an eyebrow when they said that E3 trailer was in-engine.

This vid simply details their process for scanning a variety of textures :



But it's the screens found in these two .pdfs that really sell me on Ready at Dawn's new tech. Click to (slightly) embiggen.







How do they accomplish this supernatural presentation?  With math.  Math that somehow makes Dawson cry.


The best math.

Tearaway pushed back to November 22nd.


Aw.  November really doesn't need more games releases on top of two console launches.  If you're gonna' miss the October window, you really might as well just hold off 'till early 2014, MediaMolecule.  While not every Vita owner is going to be putting time into an early-adoption PS4, I'd bet a lot are.

So what's the story, anyway?
"Here at Media Molecule we love to make new things on new platforms. To us, making games is a real labour of love. Our very blood, sweat and tears are poured into every pixel, every line of code, every note in every song, and every little post it note we use to plan our lives.

Tearaway is our first handheld game, set in a totally new world, with characters on a new adventure. Throughout development we have constantly explored all the ways we could think of to create the most fun and enjoyable experiences possible on a PS Vita, whilst also learning how to make a 3D creative platformer! We are really proud of the work we are doing, and are really excited to share it with you!

We are now in the final stages of development, and have come to the realisation that we need a little more time than we anticipated to finish the game; to tie all of the mechanics, story and amazing visuals together into the adventure that we want you to play. To give us that time, we’ve decided to move the release date by one month, from mid-October, to November 22nd.

We’re really, really sorry for the minor delay, we promise you hand on heart that the wait will be worthwhile! Thanks for being patient, please don’t be too cross with us, lots of love, MM."
-source-
Oh, alright then.  I can't stay mad at you, MediaMolecule!

Real Boxing hits the Vita on August 27th.

But I already updated the Games of August post twice today, and feel I've hit my limit.  Still...



Not too shabby for ten bucks.  Coming to Vita!  This post over at the PlayStation Blog gives a bit of detail about the game's breadth.
"As the name suggests, Real Boxing is a boxing simulation game where you’ll create a boxer and take him on a journey from amateur to pro. There are also a multitude of other modes and features including multiplayer so you can touch gloves remotely with friends. There will also be regular tournaments based on leaderboard rankings, so there’s always a new challenge ahead. Boxing games seem to be rather few and far between, so we’re really proud to be bringing the first console styled boxing simulation to PS Vita – the sport is the purest form of one-on-one combat, making this a highly strategic type of game."
And this is nice to see:
"We’d like to quickly thank Sony, who has been incredibly supportive. It has been a pleasure to work with PS Vita’s tech to make Real Boxing look and feel everything we want it to. We’re really chuffed with it, and I hope you guys like it. With any luck, I may be able to go a few rounds with you when the game comes out at the end of August."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Major Starlight Inception update - still coming, still sounds awesome.


Just the other day I fired off an email to Escape Hatch Entertainment asking for what updates they could share on how Starlight Inception is coming along.  You remember Starlight Inception, right?  A lovely indie mashup of Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace 2?  Will it hit its August release window?  Are the PS3 and Vita versions looking good?

Well, today I got my answer in the form of an update on the game's Kickstarter page (it was funded last year).  It's a doozy and I'm dead tired, so I'm just gonna' copy-paste (almost) the whole thing and highlight the super-important parts.

The short version : No, it won't hit its August release window unless, miraculously, the developer has produced a game beta that is flawless and needs no tweaking.  They expect November at the latest.

Yes, the PS3 and Vita versions are still a go, and sound like they'll release alongside the PC version.

Ready for a wall of text?  Here we go.

* * *

"Welcome to the "Inside the Ready Room - Starlight Inception Edition!" The Ready Room is the area on a carrier where pilots are given briefings and sent off onto missions; thus the name for this series of blogs.

Onto the July (or is it early August?) update…

TRAILER RELEASED 

The reaction to our official trailer (embedded below) has been overwhelming, to say the least.



21,858 views, 231 likes (and only 11 dislikes) is amazing, and the comments have been awesome. We definitely have been reading them, and assimilating the suggestions where possible.

Explosions and ship movement are already much better than that seen in the video, and is only getting better as we continue to hammer away at a beta version of the game.

If you haven't already, please go check out the trailer and give a thumbs up. We really appreciate it.

PRODUCTION (or WHEN ARE WE SHIPPING?) 

We are closing in on a Beta release in the next week or so. This is good news, since we are very close to wrapping work on the game and releasing it. However, with Beta being declared in the first week of August, unless we were 100% perfect in our execution, creating no bugs, no confusing objectives, no performance issues or other needs for critical and non-critical tweaks, our release date (originally estimated for August, 2013) will be affected. How much will it be affected? That will depend on feedback from the Beta, and the time necessary to fix the issues related to the feedback, the length of time it takes to go through the Steam [PC] and Sony [PS Vita, PS3] approval process, and the team’s signoff on a product that we are proud to deliver. 

When dealing with publishers, there are many artificial deadlines that get created, particularly the date when the game must go gold master. However, with self-published games like this one, we have the flexibility of holding the game a little longer to make sure that the product astounds, impresses, amazes rather than shipping with lots of distracting or in some cases, critical defects, and we intend to make sure that the quality is high with Starlight Inception.

There have been questions on the forums about what our new estimated date is, and for now, we’re going to work through the Beta and estimate from there. We don’t foresee the game releasing past November 1st, and we are relatively certain we can do even better than that. But again, after almost a year and a half of work (and a significant amount of planning before that), we would be foolish to release a product that feels rushed and not quite as polished as you’d expect from us. If it comes down to making the game work better, or fixing something that is just plain broken, that will always be the greater bias.

In the meantime, please participate in the Beta program (it is part of many of the premiums) and give us your feedback.


PROGRAMMING

Adam Larson, our lead programmer, has prepared an update for this month, and we wanted to share it with you all:

Since the last update we’ve made great progress on many fronts including Vita optimization, PC graphics, performance, and gameplay improvements. As you’ve probably seen by now we released our first trailer, and the feedback has been amazing. There has also been some really great suggestions and we are listening. Controls were brought up as still looking rigid by some of you. We would like to say controls have been improved greatly since the trailer, but we hope to do even more. Just from your feedback, we made changes that make it look and feel so much better. We want to thank each and every one of you for your kind feedback, it really motivates all of us to put out the best possible project.

As we’ve been building scenarios in each level as well as setting up cinematics and driving the flow of the story, we’ve found a lot of things we want to improve in the AI. That has been one of our current goals, and it’s going to be ongoing throughout the project. We’ve also really been pushing towards getting our multiplayer maps built and ready for full testing. We are working on different strategies and gameplay elements to really enhance the multiplayer experience.

Vita optimization has been ongoing, but we feel like we are finally making good progress on it. Just today we got most of the levels loading and running on the Vita. We still have a few shaders that need to be optimized for the Vita as well as some meshes the artists are working on. Overall though the Vita is looking awesome, and is very close to being fully playable from beginning to end. Some of our maps are very large, and it has been quite a fun challenge to get everything working. The next phase here is to really start heavy profiling and ensuring we get a good frame rate during every scenario.

Another thing we’ve really been looking at is targeting. We have recently reworked our targeting system, and so far the feedback is that it’s a ton better. There are still some tweaks and adjustments we need to make over the next few weeks.

We’ve brought on another programmer to help finish up the game, and it has been a huge help. Our focuses are gameplay and AI, along with work on the necessary engine and optimizations.


ART - 3D MODELING AND ANIMATION 

We keep finding cool things for the artists to work on, even though the art list for the game has been completed. Beefing up our projectile, explosion, ambient, etc. effects, as well as optimizing models for the different platforms as well as supporting the single player campaign tweaking and enhancing efforts have been the chief activities.

Our character artist, Cody, continues to build the characters for the cinematic sequences, but even with this last of our modeling tasks, we see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The art looks better than we ever imagined – our art team is amazing and has put together some really cutting edge graphics – we can’t wait to show you what we’ve accomplished.

MULTIPLAYER 

As Adam mentioned, we are working hard on multiplayer, but it is probably our biggest risk currently because of the large amount of time that it takes to test properly. We are working hard to give a great experience within the levels that we produce for multiplayer. We have a couple arenas working now, and are currently tweaking and testing them both in splitscreen mode and peer-to-peer. As the arenas pass test, we will add more to the mix.

SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN 

This is the part of the game that got the most attention, and probably held us up the most over the past month and a half. We had all the “LEGO” built – set pieces for the level, enemy targets, planets, etc., but it took longer than expected to wire them up and revise, revise, revise. The end result though is shaping up to be really cool.

The good news is that we just played through level 09 (Operation: Morning Star), which was the last level built (yes, we still have 10 levels, but somehow 09 drew the short straw), and it is a great deal of fun – challenging and really cool. You can now get a complete playthrough experience from beginning to end of single player campaign, which for us was a major milestone of Beta release.

FLY PATROL 

Fly Patrol, our more casual tower defense mode, works from beginning to end, but is still getting tweaks, which will make it significantly more fun. Things like in space refueling, additional tangos to shoot at for additional CPs and enhanced environments will greatly add to the Fly Patrol experience, and will be integrated within the next week.


SHIP CUSTOMIZATION 

We’ve been doing a lot of work on the weapons and equipment that can be added to your fighters in the game. This is proving to make the gameplay a lot deeper and the choices the player makes more significant, which is really awesome. 

USER INTERFACE

We are also finishing up a new pass of the main UI for the game. At this time we’re implementing three UI modes, selectable with a single keystroke or button press on the controller/joystick:

1) Main UI – 3rd person, behind the fighter, information of flight systems and status
2) Minimal UI – 3rd person, behind the fighter, extremely bare, just enough to play the game, but nothing extraneous
3) Cockpit View – as previously seen in screenshots, a first person view out of the cockpit of the ship

SCRIPT FOR THE GAME AND VOICE WORK 

All of the scratch track has been integrated into the game, and is helping reveal rewrites and additions necessary before we go into the studio with professional voice actors."

* * *

A free-roaming, fully 3D space ship game with serious customization, on the Vita? 

Oh Lord, yes please.  This game is unlike anything else out there - it's the type of freshness we need more of, and promises to fire pleasure receptors that haven't lit up in over a decade - not since the gritty joys of TIE Fighter back in the day.

The Games of August 2013.


After a wan July, August sweeps in with a lot of interesting, high-profile or otherwise cool titles.  Disney steps into the fray with their own riff on Skylanders and LittleBigPlanet, the Vita continues its recent trend as a lean, mean indie machine, Take 2 finally drops their controversial action-centric take on XCOM, Square Enix really hopes you'll forget how terrible their most recent MMO was at launch, Suda 51 returns and Nintendo, finally, releases a big, proper, triple-A 3D high-def game for the Wii U, nine months after the console's launch.


August 4th
Pikmin 3, an action-strategy adventure-puzzler
Wii U
Hype-O-Meter : This only took nine years.

Fans have been begging for a new Pikmin for nearly a decade, and those who've gone hands-on with Pikmin 3 insist it's gorgeous, and the first genuinely new-gen thing Nintendo's put out.  It features an army of adorable, living floral agents under your (adorable) control as you make your way through the underbrush of a forest, collecting fruit for your home planet and fighting awesome bosses.


A Golden Axe-like action-RPG.
August 6th - PS3, Vita - Hype-O-Meter : Oh my God yesss!

Remember playing Super Nintendo or Genesis back in the day, looking at those big, gorgeous, animated sixteen-bit sprites and thinking "man, things are gonna' be so much better-looking next gen"?

Then the next gen happened, and polygons became the name of the game.  But there's one studio that never stopped with the 2D.  One studio that just kept getting better and better at it over the years, and its name is Vanillaware.  Vanillaware's previous efforts include action-RPG Princess Crown for the Sega Saturn, weird RTS GrimGrimoire and sublime action-RPG Odin Sphere for the PS2, and most recently the orgasmic Muramasa for Wii and Vita.

GrimGrimoire I couldn't get into - it suffered the same console limitations as all RTSs, and couldn't really overcome them - but Vanillaware makes spectacular action-RPGs.  Odin Sphere was a stunningly attractive, deeply melodramatic fantasy brawler of epic proportions, and I've put no less than sixty hours (so far) into Muramasa on my Vita - a game which proved Vanillaware are more than capable of making a slick, rich combat system of pleasing depth and tight control.

More than that, these guys are basically the Naughty Dog of 2D.  Their games are nothing less than luxurious.  Sumptuous titles so rich in detail, so spectacular in their presentation and so considered in design that it one almost gets a little choked up by how supernaturally beautiful the games are, in every single way.

Dragon's Crown is the single title dropping in August that I am all but guaranteed of adoring.  It will offer dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of content, standard-setting production values, satisfying challenge, ridiculously deep mechanics and slick, gleeful combat.

If you don't have a preorder down on Dragon's Crown - I don't think I've ever said this before - you should get one.  The game's already pretty hard to find in Japan, having sold out almost everywhere after its recent launch.


August 13th
Payday 2 - it's kinda' like Left 4 Dead mixed with Heat.
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : Worth keeping an eye on.

Payday: The Heist was an interesting game, pitting a team of co-opping human players against a series of bank jobs and robberies against AI guards and police.  It got some timed exclusivity on PS3, received a PC port, and enjoyed a modicum of success thanks to how damned different it managed to be, and the unique fantasy it evokes.

Payday 2 has received nothing but positive buzz when folks are able to lay hands on it.  With deep stealth options for keeping yourself and your team hidden from scrutiny throughout heists and tighter mechanics, Payday 2 may end up providing the windfall developer Overkill has been gunning for.


August 13th
Dishonored : The Brigmore Witches, campaign DLC for Dishonored.
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : I loves me some Dishonored.

The Brigmore Witches is the conclusion of the story begun in The Knife of Dunwall DLC this past April.  You'll return to the boots of master assassin Daud, ferreting out the mystery of the supernatural powers that want you dead.

The Knife of Dunwall was a delicious dish at ten bucks, offering a welcome deeper look into the world of Dishonored - and I would definitely day-one this if I didn't expect to be eyeballs-deep in Dragon's Crown.


August 18th
Disney Infinity, which is Disney-themed Skylanders meets LittleBigPlanet lite.
PS3, 360, Wii, Wii U, 3DS, PC
Hype-O-Meter : The kids will love it.

The starter kit comes with figures for Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles.

It works like this - each character brings their own "play set" into the game.  You can run around the play set's pre-built Pirates levels as Captain Jack, but not as Sully or Mr. Incredible, for example.  Because you have those three toy boxes, however, you can enjoy all three in "toy box" mode, which is where the LBP bit comes in.

You can build and design your own world with all the assets your play sets contain, and then run around them with any of the characters you've collected so far.  Cars and The Lone Ranger content has also been announced, but you'll have to buy them separately in-stores starting at $12.99, just like a Skylanders figurine.

If this catches on, it's gonna' make a fortune.


August 20th
DuckTales Remastered, a classic 2D platformer reborn in HD.
PS3, 360, Wii U, PC
Hype-O-Meter : See, I never really got in to the first one, so...

I mean, I played it.  It was good.  It was nicely hard core and had slick graphics, for back in the day - like Chip n' Dale's Rescue Rangers and Tiny Toon Adventures - and if you want a decent little platformer, you could do a lot worse.  You could also do a lot better, but its price should be on the slender side - and who doesn't like a nice HD 2D platformer?

No one who counts, that's for sure.


August 20th
The Walking Dead, the modern-classic adventure drama comes to
Vita.
Hype-O-Meter : I do wanna' play Season 2 on Vita...

The glorious second coming of the adventure genre, replete with good art direction, a fine script and major emotional impact comes to Vita on August 20th.  Season 1 was excellent and 400 Days was pretty damned good, but do I really want to buy TWD a third time?

Damnit, I think I do.


An orgy of open-world action-craziness.
August 20th - PS3, 360, PC - Hype-O-Meter : I really should try Saints Row: The Third one day...

I've got the free copy off PS+.  It's just sitting there on my hard drive, but the Vita's kept me so busy lately I just haven't had the time.  This wouldn't usually trouble me, but Saints Row: The Third enjoys exactly the type of reputation I value - the game is said to be fun, and who cares about anything else?

The Saints Row series first set out to challenge GTA's street-tough crown, and quickly changed course to present its own, zanier take on open-world shenanigans where absolutely nothing is off-limits for gameplay mechanics or storyline nuttiness.  Saints Row IV looks to extrapolate even further on that strategy, given that a large chunk of the game takes place in an artificial reality constructed by evil aliens attempting to take over the earth - a false world which permits the player the sort of fantastical locomotion you'll find in games like Prototype and Crackdown.

It just looks... well, fun.


August 20th
The Bureau : XCOM Declassified, a squad-based tactical third-person sci-fi shooter.
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter : I'll look to like.

Full disclosure - I've got a preorder down on this.  But not because I'm sure it will be a good, fun game.  I've got a preorder down because I want it to be a good, fun game.

The Bureau began its life simply as XCOM, the classic isometric, turn-based strategy game re-imagined as a somewhat-samey first person shooter.

XCOM fans are passionate fans, and the public backlash was swift and severe.  As someone who'd never tried the classic strategy exercise, I liked the idea of running around in a dapper 1950s hat, shooting aliens with an old pump-action shotgun - but then Firaxis (of Civilization fame) stepped forward with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which was totally awesome and a huge success.

Taking feedback from the fans and leaning on the success of Firaxis's efforts, 2K Marin re-created their first-person shooter as a third-person, squad based, tactical sci-fi exercise that looks far more like Mass Effect than DOOM, replete with art assets and even the fonts used in Enemy Unknown.  The jury is still well and truly out on how successful it'll be, but I've seen a gameplay walkthrough where the player cleared an entire area without ever firing a shot, relying entirely on canny squad movement and ordered abilities.

...it could work.  And I want it to.


August 20th
Divekick, a two-button fighter that started as a joke, but is said to be major fun.
PS3, Vita, PC
Hype-O-Meter : ...it's said to be major fun.

Divekick began with two guys joking about a fighting game that only used the heavily-abused "divekick" mechanics so common in fighting games - a leap into the air followed by a much faster descent with a foot on the business end.  And lo, Divekick was born.

It got a bit of buzz around it, enough to get picked up by a large(r) game studio.  As it's been shown around at game conventions, crowds will gather around this weird little fighter that only features three moves, and I've heard far too many tales of just how fun it ends up being.  You can press the kick button to do a "kickback" and gain some distance from your opponent, you can jump, and once in the air you can press kick to perform the titular maneuver.

The game's ostensible simplicity hides the depth that I'm told comes from such a tight system, and it's very encouraging that everyone who's laid hands on it describes it with the F word.  A two-button, one-hit-kill fighting game, in which the main characters are called Dive and Kick.

...wonder what the price tag will be?


August 27th
Killer is Dead, a stylish brawler from Suda 51.
PS3, 360
Hype-O-Meter : It'll definitely be different.

From legendary weirdo Suda 51 (No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw), Killer is Dead appears to be something of a dark spiritual sequel to the No More Heroes games, with an ultracool secret-agent-lookin' hero with a transforming cybernetic arm who crisscrosses the globe to execute underworld figures with a samurai sword and to make it with hot, scantily-clad babes.

I enjoyed Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw far more than I did Suda's earlier work - but it's worth noting that both of those games were produced by him, not directed.  He's back in the director's chair for Killer is Dead, and I fear that may mean the gameplay will be less than pleasing - but hey, at least he's still got Akira Yamaoka doin' the music.


August 27th
Final Fantasy XIV Online : A Realm Reborn, Squenix's hard-done-by MMO.
PS3, PC (coming eventually to PS4)
Hype-O-Meter : Is it fixed?  No, seriously, is it fixed?

Final Fantasy XIV Online crashed and burned when it debuted back in 2010, and A Realm Reborn is host to a litany of fixes, tweaks and improvements to the embattled game.  Will ARR actually bring the game up to FFXI Online's level of respectability?

Only time will tell - but I'll admit, I still have a soft spot for Tarutarus and the exploits of an Elvaan Samurai named Chance who rolled through the hills of Sarutabaruta impressing Japanese players (a serious thrill), making friends and discovering my long-favored smilie : ^.^


August - exact date unknown. [update] Pushed to September. [/update] 
Lone Survivor : Director's Cut, a post-apocalyptic 2D retro psycho-survival horror.
PS3, Vita (already available on PC, Mac & Linux)
Hype-O-Meter : more indie deliciousness on the go.

Single-handedly produced by a fellow named Jasper Byrne, Lone Survivor is another original, award-winning indie brought to the Vita via maestro Shahid Ahmad.  Given that the platform is entirely devoid of survival horror (unless you count PS1 classics, which I don't), Lone Survivor is definitely worth checking out.


August - exact date unknown.
Luftrausers, a high-flyin' retro flight shooter.
PS3, Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
Hype-O-Meter : yet more indie deliciousness on the go.

Not to be confused with a shoot 'em up or bullet hell game (though you do shoot them up, and there is a helluva lot of bullets flying around), Luftrausers is the latest thing from Vlambeer, an indie darling studio responsible for Super Crate Box and the Apple Design Award-winning Ridiculous Fishing.

Your little custom-built plane (which has three interchangeable parts and a ton of possible combinations) swoops and loops around the game's 2D plane, taking out enemy fighters and laying waste to their ships.  Looks like a nice, twitchy little actioner.


August - I hope.
Starlight Inception, an open-"solar system" space flight/combat game.
PC, PS3, Vita
Hype-O-Meter : Man I want this to happen.

If you enjoyed classic spacefaring PC games like Wing Commander, X-Wing and TIE Fighter, Starlight Inception is like a wet dream come true.  Successfully Kickstarted last year, the game's development has been (distressingly) quiet ever since.  The most recent thing we've heard from the dev is a confirmation in early July that they're still on course to make the game's August release, but there's been no mention of the PS3 or Vita versions.

I reached out to developer Escape Hatch last week in hopes of an update, but have yet to hear back anything more solid about the game's progress for the PS3 and Vita.  I'll update if I get anything!

[update] The August release is looking unlikely - but it sounds like it's still coming along with both PS3 and Vita versions, at least!  Eee! [/update]

* * *

And that's August!  A pretty smexy-lookin' month, if I do say so myself - but that may just be the Vanillalust speaking.  Man I really want Starlight Inception to happen on Vita.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Editorial : I'm with Marcus on the Fez II thing.


Not really the part where he rips in to Fish just because Fish wouldn't comment on the Xbox indie self-publishing reversal.  Everything Marcus says is a fiery editorial, and while I understand his frustration with two indie leaders not chiming in about the Xbox One self-publishing rumor, I don't actually think Blow and Fish were out of line to say "no comment, at least until we actually know what's going on."

For the record, Marcus calling them names?  Pretty douchey, Marcus.  But Fish's reaction...

I am about to, for the record, editorialize - I'm about to side with someone who was a total prick and started a fight - so it's entirely possible and even likely that you'll heartily disagree with me.  I am pro developer.  Pro little-guy, and Phil Fish - on paper - is the type of developer I adore.

The games industry would be a far poorer place were it not for folks like Fish.  Folks like Drinkbox and Klei and Supergiant and Capy and Dennaton and Jasper Byrne.  And the games industry is poorer for his departure.

Don't know what happened?

Marcus Beer and Phil Fish (the picture's irony is unintentional.  But funny.)

I think The Examiner has the best breakdown I've seen of events.

The short version?  Marcus Beer said some shit in a podcast that made Fez creator Phil Fish pretty upset.  Phil had some nasty things to say to Marcus on Twitter about it, and Marcus said some nasty things back.  Phil Fish then announced that Fez II was now cancelled, and the official Polytron Twitter feed confirmed it.

The common reaction across the 'net seems to be "who the hell is Marcus Beer?"

Marcus Beer works over at GameTrailers.  He appears on their weekly Invisible Walls podcast, and does a minishow called Annoyed Gamer.  He's an ex-industry PR man, a Welshman and an all-around entertaining personality - mostly because he doesn't subscribe to your usual game-site-speak in the least.

When he plays a preview build of a game that feels like shit, that's what he'll say - as opposed to, for example, every preview article you'll ever read, anywhere - because (whatever the hell Marcus's job may be, now) he doesn't need to play the PR game.  He's at GameTrailers because the staff there loves him - and I'll be honest, I do too.

I appreciate his honesty in an industry where the enthusiast press is entirely beholden to the games and publishers they cover.  I also completely agree with his statement in a recent episode that Jon Blow is a total blowhard - I've said so myself on more than one occasion.  Blow, at the very least, comes across as an arrogant, dismissive fellow who thinks any title that's not his game is pedestrian crap that holds the games industry back and isn't worth discussing, unless you're taking the time to shit on it and explain how much better Braid or The Witness is/will be than every other video game, ever.

What a... dipshit.  I stand by that.  Jon Blow, you need to get over the smell of your own farts - 'cause they ain't so sweet.

Now, who's Phil Fish?  Is he a dipshit to the same degree Blow is?  I have no idea - beyond the fact that Fish is the guy who told a Japanese dev at GDC that "your games just suck."

I didn't play Fez and only followed Fez II to the point of saying "oh look, that Fez game is getting a sequel."  For all I know (above quote aside) he's not a dipshit - but Marcus thinks so - and if Marcus is prepared to lump anyone in with Jon Blow, I'm prepared to reckon it's because they're an indie dev so self-important they border on insufferable.

What did Marcus have to say about Fish?
"He's a fucking asshole most of the time."
Given Marcus's history of honesty..?  I believe him.  He's never lied to me, that I can tell.   In response, Phil Fish Tweeted... well, he Tweeted a lot, but the standout bit is this:

The fact that it may be a Futurama reference doesn't make it any less of a shitty thing to say. 

...which does little damage to the concept of Fish as self-important jerk.  If I didn't know who Phil Fish was before today, I sure do know.

He's another Jon fucking Blow.

A little Twitter war happened, and then Phil Fish decided to take his ball and go home.

Note : Fish's Twitter account is protected - all Tweets shown are from screenshots taken by others.

And he is - from the look of it, at least - serious.  He says he's quitting the games industry entirely, and not "because some boorish fuck said something stupid," but because "i choose not to put up with this abuse anymore."

I, for one, am glad I never checked out Fez.  Not because it would have dropped a few pennies in Fish's pocket, but because it allows me to feel nothing as a result of his dramatic announcement.  A guy who made a game I never played is quitting the industry.  I couldn't care less.  If you loved Fez and wanted Fez II, I am - honestly, not sarcastically - sorry for your loss.

I do worry there will be fallout for Mr. Beer, whose open, honest criticism of games, the games industry and the personalities that inhabit it, is... valuable.

Pure, unfiltered candor is far too precious and rare a thing in the gaming press.  Marcus is the guy who actually points stuff like this out:


And I'll take one of him over a thousand egotistical indie auteurs any day of the week.

Did Fish and Blow actually owe the media a response to a rumor?  Of course not.  Was Marcus out of line calling Fish an asshole?  Yeah, sure - it's not like this is a private conversation at his kitchen table.  Invisible Walls is a widely-viewed blogcast - but Fish's response was...

Whatever sympathy I have for someone who gets bullied on the internet (which is a serious issue and not to be taken lightly), it's pretty much obliterated when they tell someone to go commit suicide.

But then again, I just referred to a man I've never met (and never will) as a dipshit, merely based on his behavior in articles and interviews.  So what do I know?



Y'know what's a good read on this subject?  Patrick Klepek's missive over at Giant Bomb.  Check that out.

And while I have no great love for Cliff Blezinski, I really like his open letter to Fish.