Monday, August 23, 2010

Iron Maiden Game

Nothing says "METAL" quite like a dinky Flash game in which you fly a spaceship around shooting guys and picking up cargo. Yes, Iron Maiden has released a Flash game to support their (quite excellent) new album, The Final Frontier. If you want to play the second level of the game, you will have to purchase the "Mission Edition" CD.

Awesome comic book cut-scenes aside, this game makes their 1999 Doom clone shooter Ed Hunter look like a certified masterpiece. I need to dig that thing up...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Talking Heads

GDC Online (formerly the Austin GDC) is just around the corner, and I'm getting stoked. I really, really like this conference. Small enough that the sessions remain intimate (and most of the mainstream press pretty much stays away), large enough to make for excellent networking and (gasp) valuable learning. I have attended for many years, and I ALWAYS walk away with choice nuggets of worthwhile information. At the very least, I walk away with a mild hangover and the lingering disappointment of the Congress Ave Bridge. Austin rocks!

Go for the bats, stay for the Game Narrative Summit. They let just about anyone through the door.

Buyer Beware

Those of you with Blizzard/ accounts, beware: you may be targeted for this phishing scam, which looks surprisingly believable. (The scammers even include Blizzard's legit customer service number.) I got the email today, but it has apparently been circulating for about a week or so. The tipoff? I apparently purchased Starcraft II using my "Vista" card.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Halo 2600

Holy crap. Run, don't walk, to Atari Age right now to download the Atari 2600 version of Halo! Yes, this is real, and no, Microsoft didn't make it. But it is surprisingly fun, and you can actually tell the difference between a Brute and an Elite. Big ups to the guys who made this one.

PS - It has 64 SCREENS!

The New Yorker on Videogames

Man, I wish more mainstream magazines wrote shit like this. Leave it to the New Yorker to offer a thoughtful and entertaining piece on modern games from a writer who, admittedly, has barely picked up a controller in his adult life. What's great about this article is that it offers a very honest perspective on gaming from an adult, intelligent male who can actually form sentences without typos and leetspeak. (Granted, the NYer has a legendary editorial staff.) This is a rare opportunity to read about games from the point-of-view of someone who does not eat/sleep/breathe games, or, quite possibly, does not even know what the acronyms FPS or FTW stand for.

Point is, if you are a gamer like me, and you immerse yourself in "enthusiast" publications and the blogosphere, you tend to forget that the majority of the audience probably only buys a handful of games a year, and they are usually the blockbusters like the ones discussed in this article: Halo ODST, Uncharted 2, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin's Creed 2, Bayonetta, Heavy Rain, Red Dead Redemption, God of War III. And, irony of ironies, I have not played ANY OF THOSE GAMES. And I only WISH TO PLAY about half of them. Which says a lot about how I choose to consume this medium and how the majority of players choose to consume it.

Anyway, it was a great read, and offers plenty of tidbits that many gamers take for granted. For example, the writer (Nicholson Baker) dwells on the death sequence of a character in Call of the player-character begins to gasp as his health dwindles, then louder, with blood spots appearing on the screen...these are tropes that ardent players frequently take as a given. We forget how disturbing these small details seem to the uninitiated.

On a related note, I am listening to the audio edition of Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" -- the NY Times review of which can be found here. One of the chapters, "The Grammar of Fun", sounded quite familiar to me, and then I realized I head read it previously in the New Yorker. Mr. Bissell is clearly more of a gamer than Mr. Baker, but nevertheless, "Extra Lives" also offers some excellent commentary from the layman about videogames. (Especially when Bissell goes to the DICE Summit and starts talking with developers.) Book get!

Now we just need a point-counterpoint piece from Calvin Trillin and Joyce Carol Oates about the existential themes of Bulletstorm.

A Couple of Thoughts on a Couple of Games

In preparation for my recent summer vacation, I was super-duper excited to pick up Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies for the DS. After Dragon Quest VIII sparked my interest in the series (and also became one of my favorite games of all-time), the idea of the next "proper" entry in the franchise had me salivating. Of course, the game came out in Japan almost a year ago, and Square Enix took their time giving the title a proper localization for the Western hemisphere. To tide us over, we had the DS remakes of DQ IV and DQ V, both of which were awesome and enthusiastically consumed by Yours Truly. (I even wrote about them here.) I am really hoping Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie gets a North American release; if not, it will be the first game I import from Japan since that Shonen Jump DS fighting game.

Interestingly, DQ IX has been published in the States by Nintendo, not Square-Enix. As a result, the game has received the assistance of Nintendo's marketing machine, and I really hope it pays off. (For selfish reasons, of course: if kids buy this game, maybe we'll see more like them in the future!) Having spent 6-8 hours with the game, I can happily report that it is very Dragon Quest, and very, VERY fun. There have been some nice additions to the formula, including a deeper skill system and a more robust character creator. (Although, the level of customization that is promised in the unfunny Seth Green commercial oversells it a bit.) However, I have to level a significant critcism about the game, and that is related to its graphics.

They are shitty.

I'm sorry; I don't know another way to say it. Normally I do not get too preoccupied with a game's graphics, however, previous Dragon Quest games have set the bar pretty high. In DQ IX, The 3D character models look okay when zoomed in up close in the character creator, but when moving around the game proper, they look grainy and compressed. When running through a town with a full party, the game often chugs. And in battle, the animations are awesome, but the characters look blurry. Toriyama's monsters, which often sport the best character designs in a DQ game, sometimes look like messy blobs of color. When I play the game, I squint my eyes, hoping it isn't true. But it is. Even the world environments are drab and mushy. Two final things to say on this matter: 1. I have skimmed the reviews, and no one seems to mention this complaint, which I find surprising in this world of graphics whores. 2. The game would have looked better in the 2.5D of the DS remakes. Just sayin'.

Nevertheless, my enjoyment of the game is not really diminished overall because of the graphics. There is so much to do, and the level of challenge makes exploring a pleasure. However, don't be fooled by the "no random encounters" claim...monsters will descend upon you even if you try to run around them, so it's not like exploring dungeons becomes trouble-free. With my limited time with the game, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. (Hell, it took me 2 or 3 sittings to get through the INTRO of the game.) I've got alchemy pots, monster collecting, and who-knows-what-else to look forward to! Let's hope for an equally amazing DQ X on the Wii.

In related news, I picked up Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure on Amazon for $10. As you may have heard, this game ROCKS. I love it for many reasons:

1. Genre mash-up. (Platformer plus puzzler.) Great idea and makes for a frantic pace.
2. Platform-specific. The game was designed for the DS. I suppose you could switch between the platforming and the puzzling on a single screen...but it wouldn't be the same. iPhone remake?
3. Polish. EA poured a lot of love into this game. The graphics, the menus, the sound, music and overall presentation are all fantastic. And funny! (Well, maybe more "clever" than "funny".) You can even get the entire soundtrack on the official site. Seriously, "hats off" (pun intended) to the team that developed this gem!

Unfortunately, I don't think the game performed very well despite the positive reviews, so a sequel may not happen. And another note: I am only about 25-30% through the game, but from what I understand (from reviews like this one), the game becomes miserably difficult later on. This is unfortunate. I hope I don't have to put down an otherwise fantastic game because it becomes too frustrating to play.

Jolly good show, Nintendo DS!