Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

.
.
Not much to say tonight, though I will admit that I'm looking forward to the holidays being over.
.
.
.
.
Being a freelancer, assignments take a huge nosedive over the Chistmas/New Year stretch, and inevtiably some place I need to go to is either closed or on reduced hours due to half the employees being off. (Needing a plunger in a hurry on Christmas eve was this year's perfect example.)
.
Grinchiness aside, '08 was an okay year for me and the family... not the worst, but it could have been better. Though we didn't lose a ton on stocks (like we even own any) and we didn't get caught up in the housing mess, I think its safe to say that we're really hopeful that '09 will be a much better year... If nothing else, there's just no way Obama will begin to approach the embarrassing state of affairs that we've had for the last eight years. That's definitely something.
.
Anyway, Happy New Year to everybody and here's looking forward to a brand-new start.
.
See you in January.
.
.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Persona 4 Concludes, and MetaCritic Musings

.
.
Games: I just put the wraps on Persona 4, achieving the “True Ending” that comes after you push past what appears to be the final boss. I have to admit, I don't think I would have ever found the extra area if not for GameFAQs… it was pretty well-hidden, and there wasn't really any indication that there was more to do. My hat is off to whoever found that on their own and started spreading the word.
.


.
Anyway, it's clear to that P4 is one of the best games of the year, and easily the finest JRPG I've played in quite some time. It's very rare that I spend more than fifteen or twenty hours on a game for a few reasons; primarily, because most games rely on filler to jack up their completion times after they've run out of legitimate content, and secondly, simply because so few games are worth it. With Persona 4, I invested somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty-five hours, and I've got to say that it is one game that really can justify the play time. I honestly don't feel like much of my total was unnecessary-- and although I don't want every game I play to last this long, my time in Inaba with the townsfolk and my fellow students at Yasogami High was well worth it.

.

(Random commentary: P4’s “True” ending was not quite as impactful and as necessary as the final scenes of “The Answer” from Persona 3: FES, but I'm still glad that I went for it. )
.

.
Incidentally, on Metacritic’s “Best of the Year” games breakdown, Persona 4 is the PS2’s top game, and Persona 3: FES is right behind it at #2. This is indeed one case where the critics got absolutely right.
.
And while I'm on the subject… looking over the rest of the “Bests” (or at least in this case, the top five on each platform) and there are a few interesting things to note. For example, by this account, the Wii has had an atrociously bad year for software.
.
.
.
The Wii:
.
1>Super Smash Bros. Melee (93%)
Anyone that knows me knows that I can't stand anything to do with the SSB series. The concept is just fine, but the gameplay feels like the equivalent of listening to a person scratch their fingernails down a chalkboard.
.
2>World of Goo (94%)
This is one I can definitely agree with. IMO, this was the best game released in 2008, overall.
.
3>MaBoShi: the Three Shape Arcade (90%)
What the hell is this? I've never even heard of this, and every review seems to be from Europe.
.
4>Okami (90%)
Started as a GameCube game, became a PS2 game, then went to the Wii. Sloppy seconds.
.
5>Tetris Party (86%)
Tetris? Yeah yeah, great game and all that, but come on. It’s older than dirt.
.
.
If this is the best the Wii had to offer, then I'm not at all impressed. By comparison, the 360 had a much more solid year.
.
.
.
The 360:
1>GTA IV (98%... give me a break)
Can’t say I'm surprised, but I will say that this game didn't deserve it. Personally, I think there were just too many people ready to jump on the bandwagon and proclaim this the second coming of Christ, but it felt way too sloppy and just flat-out boring to me. In fact, I didn't even bother finishing it, that's how into the “immersive atmosphere of the living, breathing city” I was.
.
2>Gears of War 2 (93%)
Haven't played it yet so I can't comment, but based on what I've heard, it's got a fair amount of problems. Obviously, the multiplayer is what drives the scores.
.
3>Fallout 3 (93%)
My pick for #2 GOTY, so I'm glad to see it up here. If I had my way, it would've been #1 for the 360.
.
4>Braid (93%)
Eh, I dunno. I like the artistic factor it sported and I definitely liked how out-of-left-field it was, but the story didn't come together for me in a way that was satisfying and I felt like the actual mechanics weren't completely nailed down and as polished as they could've been. Original as all hell, but still, it's sort of hard for me to back this one completely.
.
5>Rock Band 2 (92%)
I've only played it a couple times, but each time it was a ton of fun. This feels right to me.
.
.
.
Bringing up the rear (because it's late right now, and I don't feel like typing out the rest of the listings) is the PS3.
.
.
.
The PS3:
.
1>GTA IV (98%)
See above.
.
2>LittleBigPlanet (95%)
Haven’t touched it yet. I'm kind of tired of seeing Sackboy all over the damn place, and the idea of making my own levels isn't something that really plucks my strings. I plan to get to it pretty soon, though… who knows.
.
3>BioShock (94%)
Eh. It was pretty good, but definitely overrated from where I'm standing. It originally came out in ’07, anyway.
.
4>MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots (94%)
Bah, even more overrated than practically anything else I can think of this year, this game was a lopsided wreck that squandered every bit of potential and was a pale shadow of what was achieved in the prior MGS games. Major, major disappointment and in no way GOTY material, IMO.
.
5>Rock Band 2 (91%)
Ditto what I said before.
.
.
.

(I'm kind of wondering how it's even possible that Fallout 3 didn’t make the top 5 for the PS3.)
.
…Anyway, I think it's great that we saw a few DL games make the top of the charts. Also, I'm wondering how both Sony and Nintendo plan on ramping up the strength of their software offerings for ’09. MetaCritic’s rankings aside, my own anecdotal experience in 2008 was that Microsoft was the leader in straight-up software by a large margin, and everybody knows that the real key to success in the games business and software, skyrocketing Wii sales be damned. Between Live Arcade, Achievements, and exclusives, the 360 was the place to be… what do you think?
.
.
.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Let's Go, Voltron Force!!!

.
.
Misc: I still haven't been able to get back into anything even remotely resembling my daily routine, and productivity is suffering as a result. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you these two words:
.

.
Voltron rocks.
.
Any male readers who grew up in the 80’s like I did already know what I'm talking about, but for those of you who don't fit that description:
.
Voltron was an incredibly popular cartoon (Japanese import, of course) that told the story of a group of five young adults who each piloted giant robotic lions. When their home planet was under attack by whatever slavering monster was next up in the queue, these lions could combine to form the giant heroic robot, Voltron.
.

.
The reason I bring up this relic from decades past is that a few months ago, I saw a reissue of the same toy that I would have gladly traded my little brother for. Although there were a few changes (made of plastic instead of die-cast metal, all of the missile-launching and weapon apparatus had been excised) it was for all intents and purposes, the same thing. A little voice inside my head told me that there was something so undeniably cool… so intrinsically awesome about Voltron, that the same aura of OMG would transfer to my seven-year-old son even though he's never seen a single episode and had absolutely no clue what a Voltron even was..

.
I held onto the toy and finally rolled the dice as I placed it under the tree on the twenty-fifth. I would have been perfectly okay if he didn't think it was anything special, but I just had this feeling.
.

.
After the paper was shredded and the box opened, I am quite proud to announce that Voltron was an instant smash, and became my son’s favorite present of the year. Seeing that sparkle in his eyes as he was taking in this noble metal monster was absolutely priceless. Easily, one of the high points of being a father. Now, all I have to do is teach him to recite the proper Voltron combining mantra, and then we’ll be all set…
.
.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Potpourri

.
.
Since Seattle's been so snow-covered and treacherous to motorists lately, the wife and son and I had been feeling a little cabin feverish over the last few days.
.

.
Getting out and throwing snowballs is fun, but the fun runs out eventually and no amount of gaming or TV can replace just getting out and doing something away from home. We were expecting another coat of snow, but it turned to rain instead. Seizing the opportunity, we braved the trip to the local mall in spite of the fact that today was Christmas eve, and it was nice to stretch our legs a bit… even if we came back completely nauseated from too much bad mall food. A tip from me: fish taco + pecan cinnabon + ice coffee = WTF was I thinking?
.
.

.
Misc: The son and I were watching some Discovery the other day, and I was blown away by a segment on the new show, Time Warp. On it, a guy was demonstrating his invention: a saw that monitors electrical conductivity, and instantly stops slicing the moment it cuts into flesh. I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it, but this thing is so sensitive, the blade is incapacitated before blood is even drawn. It's called SawStop and you can check it out here.
.
.

.
Games: The best thing about the New Xbox Experience in my opinion isn't the new networking or the stolen-from-Apple interface, it's the community games. I had previously paid cold, hard cash to get a look at these things as a part of the Creator’s Club, but now the games are available to anyone. Last I checked, there were about eighty or so games to pick from. Eighty! Granted, quite a lot of these are not worth the time it takes to download the free trial, but some of them are quite clever, and a few are totally fantastic. Props go to Doug Walsh of Randomly Generated for tipping me off to one of the best ones: CarneyVale Showtime. Totally worth the five dollar download, CVS is about a puppet who wants to become the best acrobat in the world, and to do this he gets launched out of a cannon and spun around massively vertical levels while popping balloons and eventually making his way through a flaming hoop at the top. It only takes a few seconds to understand the formula, but the mechanics are introduced at regular intervals and the elegance of the game is simply stunning… I'm absolutely addicted to it, and I can't recommend it enough. I may be talking about this one again in the future, but for right now every 360 owner absolutely needs to go and download the full version RIGHT NOW.
.
.

.
Film: Always loved the psychotic brilliance of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and this was the year that we introduced it to the offspring. Not quite sure if he knew what to make of it (who does, really?) But he sat through the whole thing and said he enjoyed it at the end… I guess that's all a parent can expect when they expose their child to the sick, twisted things that molded us in our formative years. Good times.
.
.

.
…Oh, and a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone reading this blog. It's been a good year, I was glad to have you along, and I hope you stick around for the next.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Overdue, Snow-Covered Update

.
.
Misc:
Seattle's been hit with an extremely unusual (and heavy) snowstorm, and life over the last few days has been a wee bit crazy. 
.
Shopping for groceries was more like spending time in a disaster-relief shelter with long lines and disheveled, haggard people who look like they just survived something FEMA would ignore. 
.
Shops and services have been haphazardly open, and there are a ton of morons on the road who don't seem to realize that four-wheel drive doesn't mean your vehicle is immune to running into ditches. Or sidewalks. Or telephone poles. Or off bridges.
.
Unpleasantries of living in a city ill-equipped to deal with the weather aside, my son arrived last night for his Christmas visit, and the wife and I were thrilled to be able to share a good whiteout with him... it's his first time seeing and being in snow that's thick enough to cover the ground. Snowballs ensued.
.
Updates will resume their normal frequency once I dry up and warm off.
.
.

Your Face



Crikey! I really can't explain how I've missed this up until now. Splendid.

By Bill Plympton




Yara (Face 318)


Yara - here by popular demand.

That was all over a little too quickly so I'll move on to the name with the next highest number of votes. If you're called Katie/Kate expect to see your portrait appearing here over the next few weeks.




Kylie (Face 317)


The votes have been counted and it would seem Yara is the most popular name around here. A most extraordinary result as I only have one face in my inbox that goes by this most wonderful of names. I guess it makes things a whole lot easier for me with just a single portrait to draw.

Merry Christmas




Makeup The Professional Art








Check this Out! This week is going to be a full makeup activities. Let's have fun with Makeup and Eyeshadow SlideShows and A tutorial on the Eyeshadow from Lauren Luke. Hope you enjoy in this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There Aren't Any 47-hit Combos Here... And I'm Glad

.
.
Games: Just a few words on Rise of the Argonauts tonight.
.
I'm in the middle of playing it right now, and truth be told, I'm having a pretty good time with it.
.
.

.
.
I knew that there'd been some wonkiness with its release date having been bumped up and bumped back a few times, so I headed over to MetaCritic to see what kind of reception the game is getting after having been sort of rushed to market, and I have to say that I'm utterly shocked that it’s rating is at a miserable 50.
.
I'm especially shocked to see that 1UP gave it a 25, and Destructoid a 30. I pride myself on being one of the toughest-to-impress critics on the net, but these scores are so low to me that it's ludicrous…
.
I have the PS3 version and like just about every PS3 game these days, it forces an install to the hard drive. Although it kind of pisses me off that we don't even get the choice, there must be something good about it in this case since I don't seem to be encountering any of the reported glitches, bugs and framerate drops that people with the 360 version are reportedly having.
.
.

.
.
Technical issues aside, I'm finding it hard to understand why people are going so aggro on the game, when something like Fable 2 has a very comfortable 89 average. I mean, these games are generally in the same ballpark, but Fable 2 was so buggy on my 360 that it was unplayable without an install, and it was so dull and malformed that I quit it after four hours or so (sorry, Doug.) I mean, tastes certainly vary, but the 39-point-gap between these two games makes no sense.
.
Honestly, I feel pretty bad for Liquid Entertainment right now. They put a lot of time, effort, research, and soul into the game. It's pretty obvious to see, to anyone who spends a little time with it and isn't expecting the next God of War. I mean, the game is first and foremost an RPG in the sense that it's telling a story with a cast of characters, and that's the primary focus. It doesn't have all of the stat-crunching and obsessive management of its JRPG cousins, but I find that one of its charming aspects. It also doesn't go crazy on the combat, and that's all right with me too… if I wanted to play a DMC, I'd be playing one. Tom Price over at Team Xbox (who gave it a 52) says:
.
“In fact, early in the game, you’ll go a whole hour without fighting. You know, I’m not lugging this spear, this mace, this sword and this shield around not to use them.”
.
and
.
“Going long stretches without having fun is Rise of the Argonauts final error. This game could have used a lot of tightening, perhaps even a little grinding.”
.
Well Tom, I guess it all depends on what your definition of fun is. Any game that includes grinding is one that I'm not up for, and it's perfectly fine with me that I went a whole hour without killing something. During that hour, the time was well-spent filling gamers in on what life was like on Jason’s island of Iolcus and properly framing the beginning of the adventure. This game is a repurposing of Greek myths, and anyone familiar with those myths will really appreciate the time taken to include elements other than stabbing things with swords.
.
.

.
.
I'm not done with the game yet and I'm not prepared to give my final judgment on it, but based on the time I spent with it today, I am comfortable in saying that the game is getting a pretty bad rap, and an unjustified one at that.
.
Now, back to the Argo… I need to plot a course to Mycenae.
.
.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Interview With: Andrew Rubino, Liquid Entertainment

.
.
.
.
Games: At this year's PAX, there were more games than ever to check out on the exhibition floor, but more than the others, one stood out as something to keep a close eye on: Rise of the Argonauts from Liquid Entertainment. After a dynamite walk-through and presentation from Liquid’s Andrew Rubino, I was absolutely convinced that this game was on the right track. Currently scheduled for a December 16th release, Andrew took time out of his extremely hectic pre-release schedule to answer a few questions.
.
.



.
.
Your website's mission states that Liquid's philosophy is: Through the creation of rich characters and universes, and by creating technology that tightens the player's emotional experience, liquid hopes to distill the most enjoyable elements of any given genre and create the best games out there. How does this apply to Rise of the Argonauts, and what particular niche do you see this game filling?
.
At Liquid, we believe that the best games provide the player with an emotional experience, one that sticks with him after he’s done playing the game. Everything we created for Rise of the Argonauts was created with that goal in mind. We want players to feel Jason’s anger when his wife is taken from him and then feel his despair when he realizes she may be gone forever. We want players to feel like they are truly part of an epic myth.
.
When we looked at a lot of RPG conventions, however, we realized that they worked against the feeling of immersion we were striving for. Things like menus, complex stats, inventory management; they all have their merits, but they also break the illusion we’re trying to create. So, we streamlined a lot of the RPG elements. Menus are designed to be fast, Jason’s upgrades are clear without being confusing, the player doesn’t have to worry about money, etc. Doing this allows players to spend more time exploring the world, making meaningful decisions, and slaying cool enemies.
.
By focusing on creating an emotional experience without sacrificing the action, we think that Rise of the Argonauts will appeal to a variety of gamers. If you are looking to really experience a true action/RPG, or if you love the world of mythological Greece, then we think you will love Rise of the Argonauts.
.
.



.
.
What are the core concepts in this particular game's design? Would you say that it's heavier on the action, or on the RPG? And why?
.
The core concept was to immerse the player in the world of Greek myth. As such, we first thought about how best we could bring that world to life, and then worked from there. We didn’t worry about genre constraints, but instead focused on choosing the right feature in each instance to suit the game we were making.
.
The design grew out of that desire to recreate the mythological world. For example, we knew we had to capture the sense that the gods are always watching, and that they play a key role in the world. From there, the Favor system was developed, which governs Jason’s progression. When you read descriptions of combat in the Iliad, there are hundreds of descriptions of bones being hewn, limbs severed, and skilled combatants killing each other in some pretty graphic ways. So we knew that our combat had to represent that, which meant it needed to be real time, and it needed to feel lethal.
.
As far as the mix of action and RPG, we wanted to really deliver on both halves of that promise, in terms of both quality and time spent, so players can expect a 50/50 split. But again, this split came from our desire to bring the myths to life. Just like the heroes of Ancient Greece you've read about, Jason will spend much of his time exploring new lands and interacting with unique, legendary characters. Whether it’s amidst the haunted ruins of Kythra or the exotic wilds of Saria, danger lurks around every corner, and Jason will frequently find himself locking horns with some of the most powerful monsters in the mythological world.
.
.



.
.
How much choice will a player have over the game in terms of story events, recruiting characters, the ending, and so on? Along the same lines, what sorts of sidequests or bonus content will be available for players who want it?
.
The player can make many choices over the course of the game that will affect the story in a tangible way, such as whether they can protect the merchant Pytheas in the arena on Mycenae, or if Medusa, cursed by Athena for her arrogance, is worthy of redemption. In both of these choices, Jason’s actions will determine whether the character lives or dies, which will not only have an impact on what events are unlocked, but also, in Medusa’s case, will partially dictate who joins the Argonauts. Needless to say, players will definitely be able to shape the story as they play.
.
We also have plenty of optional events for players to discover. We’ve taken great care to make sure that none of these sidequests feel like busywork, but instead feel like side stories that branch off the main plot. For example, if Pytheas dies, his wife Zosime is left alone with no one to care for her. Jason can help Zosime find a new life somewhere else, and even encourage her to adopt the orphan Bolo, who has turned to theft to survive. Back on Iolcus, Jason can hear the petitions of his people before he sets out on his journey, deciding who will replace the veteran Captain Idas, or what to do with the bodies of the invading Ionians. On Saria, Jason can speak with the spirits of the dead, and can judge how they lived their lives before sending them to the Underworld. These quests aren’t merely “go here and do this”, but ask the player to make a choice about how each event develops and will be resolved.
.
These choices will change the path that players travel to reach the games finale, but there is only one ending. We wanted to stay true to the character of Jason, and his goal is to bring back his wife, whatever it takes. Furthermore, we wanted the players’ choices to be reflected throughout the game, not just near the end. Players will see the impact of their choices from the very start of the game through the very end, so every player will have a unique experience.
.
.



.
.
Besides the obvious Greek myths, what are some influences behind the game? Film, books, other games, and so on. (…And will there be any appearances from stop-motion skeletons as homage?)
.
Film was a large influence on us. Film has developed its own language for telling stories, one that that we all understand because we’ve grown up watching movies. Thus, we spent a lot of time studying everything from camera techniques and framing, to pacing and character development – we wanted Rise of the Argonauts to have a very cinematic feel.
.
We also looked at movies when designing the combat system. Movies are generally very WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). If a guy gets run through with a sword in a movie, the audience knows he’s dead because that’s how real life works. But in games, that same guy might get up two seconds later without breaking a sweat, and that just doesn’t make any sense. It breaks people out of the experience and reminds them that they are playing a game, which keeps them from getting involved with the story and characters. It's the same reason we've turned off the HUD; we don't want anything, even something as simple as a health meter, breaking the immersion for the player.
.
So a big part of the design was simply doing what would make sense. Every time Jason strikes an enemy, that foe is either dead or seriously injured, dropping their shield and limping around the battlefield. Jason doesn’t carry 45 weapons that magically appear when he wants to use them; he carries his weapons on his back so that are visible at all times. Jason is the king of Iolcus; he doesn’t need money, and he’s already bought the best gear, so the equipment he collects is all legendary and epic.
.
These may seem like small changes, but added together they equal immersion. The player isn’t constantly reminded that he’s playing a game, and instead he can stay engaged.
.
.

Speaking of other games, Rise of the Argonauts has been compared to BioWare's Mass Effect several times in the media, and having seen it at PAX, I'd say that there are similarities. How does the Argonauts team feel about these comparisons, and in what ways will the game diverge from the formula that BioWare's established?
.
It’s flattering to be compared to Mass Effect. It is a great game and we have a lot of respect for the team at Bioware.
.
That said, we’ve done a number of things in Rise of the Argonauts that really makes the game stand out on its own. We’ve created an immersive interpretation of mythological Greece that players can truly lose themselves in. We have fast and brutal melee combat where you fight alongside the greatest heroes of mythology, like Hercules and Achilles. We’ve also streamlined the RPG aspects of the game, making sure that the effects of Jason’s Aspects and equipment are immediately noticeable in combat, rather than requiring players to look up their stats to see how they’ve improved.
.
We’ve also strived to make all of the choices the player makes significant and important. Almost every choice Jason can make is aligned with one of his four patron gods (Apollo, Ares, Athena, and Hermes), and each choice reflects the ethos of that god. Additionally, when making a choice, Jason gains Favor with that god, which he can use to purchase new abilities for himself. In this way, players can craft the Jason in terms of abilities and disposition.
.
Overall, we’re very proud of what we’ve made in Rise of the Argonauts. We feel we’ve made a unique game that stands on its own alongside other great RPGs.
.
.

With the company's previous experience in PC games, how much of a transition was it to develop for consoles? Any particular challenges or highlights?
.
Working the Unreal engine in our transition to console development, gave us a solid foundation to build upon, and allowed us to really focus our attention on creating great content and gameplay.
.
.



.
.
How, if at all, did making Desperate Housewives influence or inform the development of Rise of the Argonauts?
.
You know, there was a surprising amount of lessons we learned from DH that were applicable with Argonauts. Part of why DH was successful because it let players feel like they were really on Wisteria Lane and gave them the opportunity to really interact with all of the characters they had grown to love from the TV show. So when we sat down to make Rise of the Argonauts, we spent a lot of time thinking about how we could make players feel immersed within the world of mythological Greece, and give them great opportunities to have cool interactions with many of the legendary characters that inhabit that world. In all of Liquid’s games, immersion in a compelling, consistent world is key.
.
One other specific thing that I’d like to mention is that DH did a fantastic job of letting the player make whatever crazy choices they wanted without punishing them. This is another lesson we brought to Argonauts. While there are always consequences, there are no “wrong” choices. We’ll never punish you for choosing option A instead of B, because otherwise you won’t make decisions based on what you want to do, you’ll make them based on what you think we (the developers) want you to do, and that’s no fun.
.
So, yes, DH definitely had an impact on the development on Argo, despite being a very different game with a very different audience.
.
.



.
.
Considering the wealth of characters and stories in Greek mythology, are there plans for more adventures of a similar theme if Argonauts sails successfully?
.
Mythology if filled with fantastical stories and compelling characters. The world we’ve created for Rise of the Argonauts still has plenty of stories left to tell. No one but Apollo can predict what the future holds, but we’d love to work on more games that draw from mythological roots in the future.
.
.
.
Extreme thanks to Andrew Rubino and Liquid Entertainment. If you’d like to know more about Rise of the Argonauts or the company itself, please visit them at http://www.liquidentertainment.net/. And once again, keep your eyes peeled on December 16, when the game hits store shelves.
.
.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interview With: NinjaBee

.
.
Games: Although the New Xbox Experience is slowly growing on me, the best thing about making the transition was being greeted with an instantly-addicting new Arcade game making use of Microsoft’s avatars: A Kingdom for Keflings. Developer NinjaBee’s Steve Taylor (company owner) and Kevin Heap (lead programmer on AKfK) were gracious enough to spend a few minutes talking to me about Keflings and their other titles.
.
.

.
.
What can you tell me about the background and experience of the team who came up with Keflings?
.
Steve Taylor: The original concept was mostly developed by a programmer, an artist, and a designer, all of whom have been making games for a really long time and wanted to try something a little off the beaten path. Brent (the artist) and I developed a rough game-in-a-day prototype and then the concept was almost entirely reworked, with Jeremy (the designer) adding the idea for controlling the game with an avatar-type character. The full design and production after that was done by the NinjaBee team, and everyone had the chance to contribute ideas and influence the way things worked, with certain people (the lead designer, team lead, and lead programmer) bearing the final responsibility for the design.
.
The production team was anywhere from 3 to 12 people, depending on the stage of development, and included programmers, designers, artists, composers, management, QA, etc. As far as experience level goes, it was a real mix. Some of us have been working in video games for 12 or 13 years, some for less than a year.
.
.

.
.
Was A Kingdom for Keflings originally conceived as a game on its own, or was it commissioned specifically to help launch the NXE avatars?
.
Kevin Heap: It was definitely conceived as a game on its own, long before we even knew about the NXE Avatars. We actually completely finished the game without the Avatars before adding in the NXE Avatar support.
.
.

.
.
A game without any negative repercussions for player actions as well as total omission of any external negative forces such as enemies or natural disasters is a very rare thing, and in my opinion, it was a great success in this example. Was this always the intended form of the game, or were there some elements or circumstances during development that led you to this conclusion?
.
KH: We definitely discussed having enemies, natural disasters, alien invasions, etc. very early-on in the planning stages of the game. As we played the game in the early stages of development without that stuff it became clear that the game was fun without it. We really wanted to focus on making the core gameplay rewarding and to not distract the player with other things that would remove them from what was really fun already. We also wanted the game to have a unique feel. While it's fun to go to war and blow things up, it feels like that's what most games are about. We wanted to take a step back and let players relax and just - play.
.
.
What has reaction been to Keflings, specifically the unusually pacifist nature of play? Additionally, do you have any way of telling what percentage of people play with their avatars, and which use the stock characters?
.
KH: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive on this note. We occasionally get criticism about it but it seems that for every complaint we get 4 or 5 positive remarks thanking us for making a game that everyone in the family enjoys and that is so compelling and addicting.
.
While we don't have any specific way of telling the percentage of stock vs. NXE avatar usage people seem to almost exclusively use their NXE avatar - at least in online play. And asking around, I can't name one person who isn't using their NXE avatar (myself included) in their game right now.
.
.

.
.
Making players choose between one of two branches and closing the unselected one off forever threw the completionist in me into a small panic. Was the decision to do that simply to encourage players to start a brand-new game and choose the other path?
.
KH: We wanted to allow the player some choice in their building path and we also did it to add some replayability to the game. Most people seem to want to play through the game a second time (at LEAST) and so it adds a bit of variety to that experience -- besides the complete restructuring most players will give their towns after learning a few tricks from their first play-through!
.
.
The land in the game can get quite crowded at times. Why was the decision made to keep every type of workshop necessary until the end?
.
ST: The basic idea was that once you had built and stocked a workshop we didn't want it to be wasted - if you had to keep tearing down old workshops and taking out all the resources you'd stocked them with, it would feel like that particular workshop was less valuable. And, I admit, I was reacting a bit to something I didn't like in Outpost Kaloki, where it was to your advantage to building something and then immediately tear it down. It felt like destruction was as common in that game as construction, and that's not the feeling we wanted for this game, so we pushed in a different direction.
.
Finally, we liked the visual concept of a bunch of Keflings walking around in a big spiderwebby pattern to a bunch of buildings, rather than always streaming to and from one building. That said, I can see it as mostly a personal choice.
.
.
If the little people are called Keflings, what is the proper term for the giant?
.
KH: There isn't really an "official" term for the giant. When we designed and built the game, we just called them giants, and when you choose a giant in the game that's the word that's used. We have since been contacted by the Federal Association for Respecting the Tall, and they've informed us that any future use of the derogatory term "giant" will force them to begin legal action against us, and the correct term is "vertically enhanced person."
.
.
To date, which of your games has been the most successful on XBLA, and why would you say that is? Was there one you felt should have done better than it did?
.
KH: I would definitely have to call Keflings our most successful title to date. It feels like each game we make gets better as we learn from past mistakes and build on past successes. In addition, this has personally been the most rewarding and fun title to work on and it's awesome to see my wife pick it up and play it like I've never seen her play a video game before.
.

.
I really wish Band of Bugs had done better than it did. We put a huge amount of effort into it and absolutely packed it full of features (a level editor and a bunch of different gameplay modes in both local and online play and some awesome DLC) but it seems like most people just didn't try it. The trial experience is a bit weak and that doesn't help. We have many a NinjaBee here that claim Band of Bugs as their favorite game but the public just didn't seem to eat up the idea of playing as little bugs.
.
.

.
.
Cloning Clyde was, and still is one of my favorite games on XBLA, and Band of Bugs got lots of playtime at my house as well. Are there any upcoming plans for more DLC for either of these games? What about Keflings?

ST: There are no plans for DLC in Cloning Clyde. There's potential for more DLC in Outpost Kaloki and Band of Bugs (check out the extensive DLC already there!), and there's some DLC in the works for A Kingdom for Keflings, but it's nothing flashy.
.
.

.
.
Boingz recently launched on Nintendo's WiiWare service. Any plans to bring the game to XBLA?
.
ST: We'd love to expand the reach of Boingz. Boingz was developed in cooperation with RealArcade, so future plans for Boingz depend a bit on what Real and NinjaBee decide to do together.
.
.
.
Infinite thanks to Steve Taylor and Kevin Heap of NinjaBee-- and if you haven't already given A Kingdom for Keflings (or their other great titles on XBLA) a try, you're really missing out.
.
.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Placeholder Post

.
.
It's been one heck of a week, and my updating schedule has been thrown into complete chaos.
.
Le sigh.
.
Hate to do it, but instead of updating tonight, I'm going to take the easy way out, turn in early, and get a good night's sleep. BUT, I'll make it up to you-- I've got interviews with NinjaBee (A Kingdom for Keflings) and Liquid Entertainment (Rise of the Argonauts) coming up this week. It's good stuff.
.
I gotta catch some Z's, but check back tomorrow.
.
.

Jeni (Face 316)


Last face before I count the votes.




Monday, December 8, 2008

Books of Blood, Part 1 - Book Review

.
.
Books: It’s been a while since I've done a book review (mostly because I haven't been reading any books) but I did manage to finally finish one off… Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, volume 1. Any fan of horror has likely heard of, if not read this book already, but I'm just now getting to it. Better late than never, right? Anyway, I will say up front that I am a definite Barker fan, so keep that in mind.
.
Also, SPOILERS for the stories… you've been warned.
.
.

.
.
First published in 1984, Books of Blood is a trilogy of short stories. Volume 1, the subject of this review, contains six.
.
.
#1: The Book of Blood
Short and cute, this story tells of a person who is feigning psychic ability, and in doing so, angers spirits who are passing through the house that he's pretending to “read”. Some beautiful imagery here, and the rest of the stories contained in the trilogy have been transcribed from the scars that were carved into the body of the faker.
.
.
#2: The Midnight Meat Train
According to Mike Bracken’s Horror Geek blog (which is fantastic), TMMT is either somehow limping its way towards becoming a feature film, or going direct to video. I'm not entirely clear on the whole debacle, but from what I gather, the carnage of converting this story into a movie has not been pretty.
.
Anyway, I can see why someone would want to film the story, although I daresay it seems more fit for television than an actual film… A straightforward play off of themes found in H.P. Lovecraft’s classic works (albeit with a more personal and modern flair) TMMT is about a mass murderer who preys on people who ride on subways late at night. I'm a big Lovecraft fan, so this one struck a chord with me.
.
.
#3: The Yattering and Jack
A demon is sent to torment a man with the intent of claiming his soul, and finds itself frustrated at every turn since the man in question is able to turn a blind eye to all of the mischief and destruction wrought around him. I think this story is possibly my favorite out of volume 1, since it's a good mix of horror and comedy. The ending is strong as well, a good little twist waiting for those curious to see how it turns out.
.
.
#4: Pig Blood Blues
I have to admit, I really didn't get this one. It seems like the elements are there: a possible haunting, a boy's reformatory, a giant pig… but in actuality, the story didn't go anywhere near the direction I thought it would, and the end left me wanting. With all due respect to Barker, I felt like this one was a fail. It was weird, but it didn't amount to much.
.
.
#5: Sex, Death and Starshine
Far and away, the most unsatisfying story in the book. The gist is that a group of actors are resurrected from the dead to go on performing their craft for all eternity… and that's about it. I get the feeling that Barker was writing this not so much as a horror story, but as a commentary on people he knew, or his experience in the theater wrapped up in a little zombie veneer. It was too long, it was neither scary nor very interesting, and meant very little to me as someone not involved in acting or the theater.
.
.
#6: In the Hills, the Cities
Although I hated the ending to this story, I have to say that I found Barker’s imagery and descriptions of certain aspects of the story to be quite hypnotic; haunting, even. In this tale, the residents of two small Eastern European villages strap themselves into giant frameworks that take the form of huge men. The original intent is for each “city” to battle the other, but something goes awry and what results is a very disturbing series of events told from the eyes of two travelers passing through the area. Very fresh and inventive, this one stuck with me the most and even now, I'm having a hard time getting some of the images created out of my head. Good stuff.
.
.
Although not every story in the book was a success, it's very clear to see why Clive Barker rose to the top of the horror genre… some of his phrasing is poetry, and he does not lack for imagination.
.
I'm very much looking forward to volume 2.
.
.

Estefania (Face 315)


While we wait for the last few votes to trickle in.




Makeup 4 Ever Professional




Makeup 4 ever is a professional makeup brand made in Paris. It has been 25 years since this brand was made. It is internationally spread all over the world. It is one of the globalization business. It's products are made by excellent equipments . Most of saloons and Makeup artists choose this brand. Moreover the products give you a beautiful face that you've always dreamed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vote


Now that the last Brooke has been uploaded I'm going to open up the next name for debate. leave a comment on this post to vote for the next name I pick out from my inbox. In the event of a draw (or more likely - no votes at all) I'll carry on randomly choosing.


Brooke (Face 314)

It's Official: Heroes is Crap

.
.
TV: Just so it's official, Heroes (which was my favorite show on TV during its first season) is absolute crap right now. What used to keep me on the edge of my seat every week is now a meandering, nonsensical mishmash of completely random plot threads and blundering character assassination on the level of which I don't think I've ever witnessed before.
.
.

from this...
.
.
The thing I liked most about the show when it first debuted was that it was incredibly entertaining to see normal people develop superpowers, and how this situation affected their lives. There were lots of moments that resonated with me, and almost all the characters were very relatable and made sense. (Nikki’s split-personality thing never quite came together for me, but still, it wasn’t terrible.)
.
I have no idea what went wrong, but the people behind the show seem to have completely lost touch with what made this show a hit. Now, instead of being about people who are dealing with problems and being helped/hindered by their abilities (Matt Parkman’s combination of mind-reading and a disintegrating marriage was genius) it's become a bloated soap opera with absurd twists and turns that a whale couldn't swallow, and characters that are constantly doing and saying things that fly in the face of their established personalities.
.
.

...to this.
.
.
Truth be told, I can hardly believe how far the show has fallen. The writing is just so incredibly bad, and there's not even a meager scrap left of what hooked me to begin with. The worst part is, there are decades and decades of quality comic book plots that the show's writers could have been ripping off in order to produce quality material, but instead they’re fiercely buggering off into some bizarrely contrived nonsense that's not even watchable.
.
Wasting this much potential should be a crime.
.
.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lock's Quest - DS

.
.
Games: Just a few quick words on Lock’s Quest for the DS—it’s good.
.
.

.
.
Kind of a variation on the “Tower Defense” style of game that’s seeing a current upsurge in popularity, the game puts you in the role of an ‘Archineer’, which is basically a guy that runs around and sets up defensive structures like walls, cannons, and so on.
.
.

.
.
In each level, you're charged with protecting a certain structure or person, and it's up to you to design a small fort around this fragile thing. As wave after wave of enemy pours in, main character Lock can either engage in battle directly (although he's not really that tough) or run between emplacements and repair them on the fly to keep them from going down.
.
.

.
.
I've been playing it for a few hours and I've got to say that the quality of it completely surprised me… the animation is pretty damn decent, the artwork is solid, and the game mechanics are completely ironed out. I might have more to say on it when I'm done, but at this point I would easily recommend it for anybody looking for a top-shelf DS game.
.
Thumbs way up.
.
.