Monday, March 30, 2009

Interview with: Afiction Games, developers of Mithra: Episode 1 - the Calling

.
.
Games: Interview with: Afiction Games
.
Although the Community Games area on Xbox Live was slow to start, there’s no doubt that the content is heating up. More and more titles of notable quality have been surfacing, one of which is the fully 3D Adventure title, Mithra: Episode 1 – the Calling. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t be surprised… Microsoft’s been lacking when it comes to promoting the better selections. However, that’s what I’m here for.
.


.
Check out Mithra’s trailer HERE, and a full review of the game will be up soon.

.
In the meantime, let’s talk with Keyvan Vakili, project manager at Afiction.
.
.
.
What can you tell us about yourselves and your team? How many people are involved, and are you in the US or international?
.

clockwise from top-left: Mahdi Jeddi (programmer), Mohammad Coochaki (3D Art Direction), Keyvan Vakili (project management), and Nima Raoofi (animation)
.
Afiction Games is an international team based in Canada. Currently it’s composed of a small core team of less than ten people, and almost the same number of part-time members. It was initially Mahdi (our lead programmer) and I when we started developing the main idea in summer of 2007. After settling on the core idea, we managed to raise the initial funding required to launch the project. Afterwards, Mohammad, our 3D art director, joined us. With his help, finally we gathered the core people needed to develop Mithra.
.
.
.
What is your mission as developers?
.
To put it succinctly, our mission is to build high-quality, entertaining games in genres we love, and share the fun with others. Our current focus is the development of episodic adventure games for both PC and Xbox 360.
.
.
.
What are your backgrounds with games development? Based on the quality of Mithra, it seems as though you've already got a good deal of experience.
.
Mithra was the second video game project for most of the core team members and probably the first experience for other members, though Mahdi has some experience developing mall games before Mithra.
.

.
As the core members, we had common experience participating in development of a role-playing game for more than a year before we came together again at Afiction Games to develop Mithra. I think this common experience made it much easier for us to communicate and to work things out during the development. Also, it gave us some ideas about the capabilities of each person, and the overall capability of the team.
.
.
.
How did you get Mithra off the ground? Did you all program and design in your spare time at the beginning, did you have investors early on, or what was that process like?
.
Well, Mahdi and I used to talk a lot about the possible opportunities that independent developers have in emerging markets such as episodic games. I was mainly concerned with the business and marketing in these niche markets and Mahdi was concerned with the technical opportunities in developing small titles.
.
After days of discussion during an RPG project, finally one day we decided to give it a chance. Adventure and Action-Adventure genres are favorite genres for both of us, and we have almost the same taste in games. The initial idea was a mixture of my business ideas, his technical ideas, and our interest in the Adventure genre. Mahdi started to test XNA’s potential for developing a new engine based on it, and at the same time I developed the business plan, investment estimates, etc.
.
Together we developed two background stories for Mithra at the same time. Interestingly, the current story has almost nothing in common with the very initial things we had in mind. The final story emerged out of several hours of discussions with the design team over several months. Based on the business plan and the simple prototype developed by Mahdi, we managed to find some good friends interested in investing in the project. It all started like that.
.
.
.
Your site says that you've developed your own engine based off of the XNA tools. What can you tell us about that?
.
MJine is a very lightweight engine for rendering games with some special effects like shadows and glow-mapping developed solely by Mahdi.
.

.
MJine has been heavily optimized to make the game run smoothly on Xbox 360 hardware, and we’re planning to do even more optimization in the near future. We’ve also developed our own set of tools for creating particles, adding metadata to game objects, placing objects in the scene, connecting story events, etc. Mahdi has done a wonderful job developing the whole engine and toolset on his own.
.
.
.
Why did you pick the Adventure genre for your first game? What other games in the same genre are you fans of, or inspired you?
.
Almost all the core team members love Adventure and Action-Adventure genres. Personally I love the storytelling nature of Adventure games. I’m a big fan of Neverhood, Little Big Adventure and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. The story and puzzles are brilliant in all of them. Mahdi is a fan of Beyond Good and Evil, the Sam & Max series, and Dreamfall. I think we were mainly inspired by the games Sam & Max, and Beyond Good and Evil.
.
.
.
In Mithra, the way the game begins and its setting reminds me strongly of an older game in a different genre called Out of This World. Are you familiar with that, and if so, was that similarity intentional?
.
It’s interesting, but none of us have played Out of This World before. As far as I know it’s a famous classic Sega title. Anyway, The Mithra story is totally original and any similarity is coincidental!
.
.
.
The puzzles in Episode 1 are all very logical and straightforward, and I mean that in the most positive sense. The Adventure genre is sometimes known for having very illogical, random, or esoteric solutions to its challenges, and I was quite glad to see that you avoided that. Was that intentional based off of your experience with genre, or how did you create the puzzles that you did?
.
Yes, that’s one thing we all hated about a lot of adventure games. We intentionally wanted to create a game with logical puzzles to prove that Adventure genre is not about illogical and random puzzles. We’re extremely stringent on the quality of the puzzles, and story of the game. After all, they are the two main elements of any Adventure game.
.
.
.
What has the feedback been on Mithra so far, and how (if at all) has that influenced work on the next episode? For example, on your blog you mention that some players have had concerns about the length of the game versus cost.
.
We got some valuable feedback during the playtest period from other developers in Xbox 360 Community games. Also, we got a bunch of interesting reviews on the game. The links to these reviews are available in the game forum at our site.
.
It seems that a majority of people like the puzzles, graphic quality and voice acting of the game. We had some negative feedback on the navigation system, and also the length-cost issue of the game.
Currently we are implementing unlockables and an Achievement system into the game to make it more replayable.
.

.
Very soon, we will release a new version of Chapter 1 with these features. We’re also planning to make future chapters lengthier with more puzzles, though at the same time we have to keep the whole project on plan, so we will probably increase the length of the next chapters gradually. For now, I can promise that we are and will be trying our best to continuously increase the value of each new chapter.
.
.
.
How long did it take you to make Episode 1, and how long will it be before players can expect to see Episode 2 of Mithra? Also, you've stated that Mithra is a game in five parts. Is that still true, and if so, what do you have planned for afterwards?
.
It took us almost 14 months for the base of the work and releasing Chapter 1. A large portion of this period was devoted to developing the game engine and the required design toolset. It will likely take us around four months to make the other two chapters of episode 1, which is more than what we planned initially due to the added puzzles and materials we’re doing based on the feedback. After that, our plan is to develop each new episode in less than six months.
.
Also as the project progresses, we expect that the time to develop each new episode will gradually decrease. You can find some early screenshots from the next two chapters on the game website.
.
Our current plan is to develop Mithra in five episodes. However, there is a small chance that we will change the number of episodes in the future. It basically depends on the feedback from the market and players. I think it’s too soon to talk about the plans after Mithra since, to a great extent, it depends on the future feedback.
.
.
.
What was it like working with Microsoft to get your game in the Community area?
.
It was pretty straightforward. We didn’t encounter any problems during the playtest and release periods. However, Community Games still has some major shortcomings. In my opinion, the low observability and profile of the games in the Marketplace, the lack of a rating system, and the lack of a professional business report dashboard are the main drawbacks of the current system.
.
We hope that in the future Microsoft addresses these limitations. Still, I believe that it’s a very good starting point for independent developers, considering that it eliminates the need to find a publisher or distributor-- which is a major challenge in front of most of independent developers.
.
Overall, I am optimistic about its future and believe that we should give the system some more time to see its ultimate benefit for independent developers, and its role in the game industry market.
.
.
.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about creating their own game with XNA for the Community area?
.
Be smart, and start small!
.
.
.
Finally, what are you and your team playing now? Any current favorite games or developers that you are fans of?
.
As far as I know, we’re all playing different titles. Just to name a few in Community Games: CarneyVale Showtime, Solar, and Miner Dig Deep. Otherwise, Prince of Persia, The Orange Box from Valve, Gears of War, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Assassin’s Creed.

Many thanks to Keyvan Vakili and the rest of the team at Afiction Games. For more information, you can check out their site HERE, and if you’re a fan of the genre or just someone who wants to support quality Community games, Mithra definitely comes recommended.
.

.
.

Podcast 13 is UP

.
.
Games: The latest GC podcast (Episode 13) is now up. We talk Killzone 2, regrettable reviews, and erotic (or perhaps not-so-erotic) games. Check it out HERE.
.
Fedback and comments welcome, as always.
.
.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

MadWorld, Prototype vs inFamous

.
.
Games: Still working my way slowly through MadWorld. Not that it's really difficult or long, it's just that I get bored of it and have to move onto something else after two or three stages. Thankfully, it looks to me as though I'm getting close to the home stretch.
.

you'd never guess how dull playing MadWorld is from a shot like this
.
I have to say, I'm a little confused as to where all the over-the-top praise is coming from. Every review starts off by saying “I'm not giving this game a high score just because it's on the Wii” and yet, I can't help but feel that's a big factor. The game's formula is quite simplistic, the action gets repetitive, and to be perfectly frank, I don't think that the black-and-white color scheme really serves the game well. It's definitely distinct, but it can be hard to navigate the levels at times. When you're surrounded by a group of enemies, it's next to impossible to tell where you saw that last life-up dropped.
.
I mean, don't get me wrong-- it's not terrible… it's just really shallow and limited. Certainly a case of style over substance. Even though the enemies look different in each area, it feels as though I'm killing them the same ways, not to mention that killing enemies over and over to earn enough points to open up the boss doesn't strike me nearly as entertaining as the developers must think it is. Factor in the usual camera complaints and the annoyance of motion controls, and MadWorld is certainly one of those times when I'm pushing through just for the sake of saying that I finished it. Entertainment or intriguing design are not part of the equation here.
.
.
.
Just watched the latest trailer for Radical Entertainment’s Prototype this morning. I must say, my jaw dropped just a little when watching it… take a look for yourself here and see what you think.
.

Prototype: look down, exude toughness... show off special power
.
In a case of incredibly ironic timing, Prototype is making the rounds in the games media at the same time that Sucker Punch’s inFamous is. Check a trailer for that here. Both games use the same basic formula of an open-world bad-ass amnesiac superhero (villain?), both sport Parkour-ish influence, both feature wicked-looking combos and attacks. The only currently discernible difference between them is the implementation of powers: Prototype leans towards bio-creepy-tenaclish, whereas inFamous seems to be going with electricity.
.

inFamous: look down, exude toughness... show off special power
.
I'm a big fan of the open-world style of game design when it's done well, and I'm keeping an eye on both of these titles, but I'm a little doubtful that I'd want to play both of them back to back. In addition, it's inevitable that they are going to be compared to each other, and one will certainly trump.
.
On the one hand, I must admit that the bio approach strikes me as a little more interesting than electricity, and Radical’s Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was certainly headed in the right direction, if not exactly what I had hoped it would be. An improved and more balanced take on that formula would be very welcome. On the other hand, Sucker Punch has never made a bad game. Their track record is flawless, and if there was ever a sure thing in game development, it would be them.
.
This is going to be a close race, folks.
.
.

Fallout 3: The Pitt reviewed

.
.
Games: Just a quick update for those who might have missed it, you can catch my review of Bethesda's latest DLC, The Pitt here. Comments and feedback always welcome.
.
.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gaston (Face 353)

The Pitt, Community Adds, Clouding, and a Crab

.
.
Forgive the abbreviated entry, I'm running on fumes after a long couple days. Really, I should've been in bed a couple of hours ago, but I'm still awake because…
.
.
Games: I just completed Fallout 3’s newest DLC, The Pitt. It was a lot shorter than I expected it to be, and I have to say that the story progression and how everything ended up kind of left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth…
.

.
I don't want to ruin anything for those who haven't played it yet, but let's just say that although the appearance of having choice in what happens is there, the reality is that it's a lot more narrow than it first seems. Still digesting it, though.
.
.
.
In other DLC news, today was a great day for people who are keeping up with the Community games on Live. Dromedary (a bizarre text/card/random/cartoon thing), Solar (reminiscent of Nintendo’s Orbient), A Fading Melody (minimalist platformer with a nice tone - pictured) and Battle Havoc (Death Tank-ish with discrete levels) are all worth a look.
.

.
I ended up getting the full versions of both Melody and Solar, so more impressions to come on those, and I wouldn't be surprised if I spring for the others soon after.
.
.
.
Finally, all this talk about ‘cloud’ gaming is making my tummy hurt, but instead of going off on a rant about it, there’s a pretty good link I found that basically sums up my take on it, more or less. Check it out HERE, courtesy of James Walker at Binge Gamer.
.
.
.
Family: The son has been talking about wanting a pet for a while, and he finally got his wish yesterday: terrestrial hermit crab.
.

.
I had a couple when I was younger and I remember them being pretty fun and low maintenance, but when we actually got to the pet shop there was all sorts of stuff that the staff person insisted we buy. Special sand, moisture-retaining moss, freshwater additive, salt water additive, heat pad, cheese slicer, feminine napkin, and weave detangler… seriously, the crab itself was the cheapest thing out of the mountain of stuff we left the store with.
.
All I've got to say is that this little crustacean better hang in there and stay alive for more than two days.
.
.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Game Dad-ing, GTA: Chinatown, and MadWorld

.
.
Family: I’ve gotta say, being a dad is the best thing in the world. My son's spring vacation with us just started yesterday, and things are going great. Honestly, I wish he lived here full-time… I see so much of myself in him and I understand him so well, it's hard to live with the fact that some random judge somewhere decided he needed to spend most of his time someplace else.
.
...heavy sigh...
.
Anyway, now that he's older, more able to understand complex ideas and has improved hand-eye coordination, we've been tackling some games that would've been too tough for him a year or two ago. This time, it's Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter, on PS2.
.

.
He's able to get through most of the challenges and navigate the environment pretty well, and only needs a little bit of coaching through some of the trouble spots. He may have to try a few times and frustration is occasionally a factor, but he powers through like a real trooper. Seeing the satisfaction he gets from doing a tough part is a reward all its own.
.
.
.
Games: Picked up GTA: Chinatown Wars on DS a couple of days ago. Tim Spaeth from the podcast was raving about it, and if I'm not mistaken, I believe the words "game of the year" were in there somewhere. I hadn't originally intended on picking it up, but after hearing his praise I decided to take the plunge since I had a little extra trade credit on hand.
.

.
In terms of production it’s certainly got everything nailed down tight and I am impressed by the ability of programmers to pack so much onto the DS, but in all honesty, I got quite bored of it almost immediately. It's the formula. I've played every single GTA since III, and only really enjoyed two of them. Starting up Chinatown, an intense feeling of overfamiliarity hit me and my eyes started to glaze over. The minigames are kind of neat and having the scope of experience on a portable is nice, but I think I'm just over GTA in general. Seriously, how many times is Rockstar going to have a person arrive in a city, get beat up, and then join up with a crime syndicate to take on missions? The driving, the jacking cars, the whole thug life thing… it's just feeling really played out right now.
.
.
.
Also started up MadWorld tonight. Didn't have much time to play so I only completed the first world, and impressions are mixed… the black and white art design is certainly striking, but I'm not sure that it works very well in terms of being able to differentiate my position in each area. I noticed I was getting turned around a little more than I usually do when starting a new game, although maybe that's just me. In terms of gameplay, my friend Gene Park was right when he said that it was a lot like God Hand, just not as hard and with better controls. That's a pretty fair estimation, I'd say.
.

.
I'm certainly not averse to hyper-violence and the like, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the game is going to start feeling repetitive before it's over. I’ll reserve final judgment for later, but for the moment, I note that my socks are still on.
.
.
.
Family: And just to put this out there, please note that both GTA: Chinatown Wars and MadWorld remained on a high shelf and unplayed until after my son's bedtime… I absolutely believe in having the right to play whatever a person wants to play, but I also believe that kids shouldn’t be exposed to games that aren't appropriate -- and both clearly fall into the inappropriate category. Parents, do yourselves, your children, the industry, and the world a favor and keep M- and T- rated games away from young ones. That is all.
.

.
.

Angel (Face 350)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Big Day Tomorrow!!!

.
.
Misc: Although tonight would usually be an update night, my son's coming in tomorrow to spend spring break with us and I've got a bunch of things to get ready. Gotta beg off of the blogosphere for now, but I'll be back with a regular update soon.
.
In the meantime, heads up that we just wrapped up taping for GameCritics Podcast 13 and it was definitely one of our better shows, IMO... look for it soon and let me know what you thought.
.
.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Slow Week...

.
.
Been kind of a slow week for anything but work, so here are a few random bits to tide you over.
.
.
Games: I feel like I've already been talking about it for a million years, but I just finished Alone in the Dark: Inferno on PS3 today and I'm still basking in the afterglow. I may end up doing an official review for the game, but whether or not that comes together, it gets my absolute highest recommendation.
.

.
If you're on the fence about it, don't be. If you heard bad things about the 360 version, understand that Inferno is a huge step up. If you want a classy, mature horror game that takes bold steps towards innovating the very foundations of modern game design, check it out.
.
An interesting side note: I don't know why it didn't occur to me earlier, but as I was poking around and looking up information on Inferno, I finally realized that Eden Studios is the same developer that created Kya: Dark Lineage.
.

.
A spectacular, fresh, and original action-platformer, your PS2 library isn't complete without it. Showing the same vital inventiveness and originality that Inferno has, Kya is every bit as good, just in a different genre. If you missed it, my review of Kya is here. Considering the work they've turned out, Eden Studios are some incredibly talented mofos… it's a shame that they've gone completely unappreciated.
.
.
.
Games: My good friend Doug over at Randomly Generated sent me this link and it blew my mind just a little bit. It's a guy playing the drums on Rock Band, and no matter how good you think you are, this guy is probably better.
.
.
.
Games: Am I the only person who's not completely bowled over by Street Fighter IV? I had a mad urge to run out and pick up a brand-new copy on the release day, but I held out in an effort to stick to my budget, and wow... I'm glad that I did. I finally got a chance to put some time into it and I've got to say, it left me a little cold.
.
For some reason, I thought the graphics would be better (and yes, I'm playing on an HD set). It's not just the resolution or whatever, it's that the actual art direction is just weird. The characters look kind of cartoony, kind of not… it's just odd. Besides that, the hit detection seems kind of wonky to me and I've got to be honest in saying that none of the characters really float my boat. Rufus, especially-- I mean, how did that guy ever get off the drawing board at Capcom R&D?
.

.
Fat guy in a yellow suit and topknot? Really?!? The AI leaves something to be desired, as well. In the short amount of time I was playing it, it seemed to me that the computer kept busting out completely cheesy routines… Chun Li abusing her rapid-fire kick, Abel constantly doing his throw—I’m sorry, but that shit’s straight annoying. Don't even get me started on last boss Seth. That guy is sixteen kinds of overripe cheddar all by himself. I still call myself a Street Fighter fan, but I don't see myself ever putting IV near the top of my list.
.
.
.
Writing: The new book is coming along… it just passed the official halfway point little while ago, so it's definitely cookin’. Haven't had to do a ton of rewrites yet, either, which makes me extremely happy. Not a lot else to say right now except that it's all good.
.
.
.
Idol: I really don't know why everyone seemed so surprised to see Alexis get kicked off the show last night.
.

.
I've never been very impressed with her, honestly. She's never been at the front of the pack and although she did have the single mom/ pink hair streak factors going for her, it seemed to me that people thought she was just cute more than anything. I would've rather seen Megan get the boot first (talk about a one-trick pony) but getting rid of Alexis seemed just as appropriate.
.
.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Alien Trespass and Alone in the Dark: Inferno

.
.
Film: The wife and I scored a pair of free tickets to go check out Alien Trespass, a brand-new retro-ish sci-fi movie done up in classic 50’s style. (A hearty thanks to @EMPSFM for the score. Much appreciated!)
.

.
Being shown inside a small theater within the Experience Music Project downtown, an unexpected bonus was that the film's director, R.W. (Bob) Goodwin was on hand to answer questions and share anecdotes. Goodwin has quite a storied history in films and TV, having worked on things like the X-Files, Trinity, and others.
.
Starring Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) along with smaller roles turned in by Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) and Dan Lauria (best known as the father from the Wonder Years), the film is about an alien saucer that crash-lands on earth. Upon impact, a rubbery penis-shaped monster escapes, and an intergalactic peacekeeper must recapture it before Earth is lost.
.

.
The film will be an immediate trip down memory lane for anyone who's seen the seminal sci-fi that became so popular in the shadow of nuclear fear. Careful attention was paid to the clothes and small details of the time period, including the preposterousness of the special effects. It's obvious that the people involved with making this film had a great love of the subject matter.
.
In terms of the film's actual quality… I hate to say it, but I feel like the film is way off target.
.
Goodwin stated that some of those old classics seem so hokey in modern times that viewers can only laugh at them, so he wanted to emulate that unintentionally-comedic style. However, the actual film is extremely earnest in its presentation and pays homage to its inspiration to a fault. Rather than taking a satirical edge or even presenting itself as a tongue-in-cheek farce, Alien Trespass is literally a 50’s film made today. Like an extremely drawn-out joke with no punchline, I kept waiting for the actors or even the director to wink at the audience and let me know that they knew how absurd some of those films were, yet it never happened. I admit that I chuckled a few times, but the film was neither clever enough nor self-aware enough to be able to present itself with any relevance to modern audiences.
.
Scenes drag on, some dialogue has no purpose, and the actors do their best to deliver material that doesn't connect. There’s no teeth, no bite, no outrageous parody of the genre or time… it's completely straight-faced, and I have no idea who the audience is supposed to be. It wasn't funny enough to play off the source material for those who will remember it, it's not interesting or engaging enough to stand on its own, and it seems more like a love letter to bygone days from someone who always wanted to make one of those movies, but never did.
.
Although neither I nor the wife found the film to be our cup of tea, I did think it was quite interesting that the director was able to shoot the film in fifteen days and under budget of four million dollars… the very fact that he was able to complete the project under these parameters was impressive, regardless of how I felt about the final product.
.
If you're still curious, the film hits nationwide on April 3.
.
.
.
Games: A couple of days ago I finally located a copy of Alone in the Dark: Inferno for the PS3. I'm not a huge AITD fan in general, but prior to the game's release for the 360, there had been quite a lot of talk from the developers about different ideas they were trying out, and their approach to making something they saw as fairly revolutionary.
.

.
…Of course, it ended up accumulating countless negative reviews and extremely poor word-of-mouth. Last time I checked Metacritic, the 360 had an average score of 58. Basically, pretty much everyone who played it hated it, and it crashed and burned spectacularly.
.
After this potent feedback, the development team at Eden Studios gave the game a radical makeover and fixed many of the things that sunk the first release. This new and improved version (PS3 only) was subtitled Inferno, and despite addressing the concerns, this release also went nowhere. Currently, a brand-new copy can be had for $20 or less, and last I heard, any hope of a sequel has been utterly destroyed.
.

.
It's deeply, deeply unfortunate that Eden released the flawed 360 version first, because Inferno is completely fucking brilliant.
.
Without meaning to sound intentionally hyperbolic, I can certainly say that it's been the best experience I've had on the PS3, bar none. The development team and director were thinking so far ahead and so far outside the box that I've basically been totally impressed with everything I've seen.
.
It's dynamically cinematic. The set pieces are fantastic, pacing has been great, and the overall tone and setting are extremely cohesive. In a nutshell, Lucifer’s going to make his grand entrance in Central Park and everyone else is along for the ride. Honestly, Metal Gear Solid 4 could take quite a few cues from what's going on here.
.

.
The physics dominate. Within every aspect of the game, the developers have implemented a physics engine. While most games using physics employ them to a limited degree, Eden has created a world where everything fits and works together, especially with regard to the puzzles and challenges that main character Edward Carnby must overcome. Rope, electricity, fire… all these things are included in a way that's so straightforward and natural, you'll be surprised no one has really attempted it before.
.
The design is unique. From the main character’s inventory (pockets inside his jacket), to the combination and manipulation of items, to the extremely bold DVD-style chapter system that allows players to rewind or fast-forward to any segment of the game, it's pretty easy to see that Eden was not afraid to try something that wasn't common-consensus game design.
.
Although I haven't finished the game yet (in the home stretch right now) Alone in the Dark: Inferno is easily one of the most impressive experiences I've had this generation, and is certainly a title that deserves to be studied by anyone interested in game design or games criticism. It's not a perfect project by any means, but its bumps and rough edges are absolutely forgivable in comparison to how much it gets unequivocally right.
.
Original, visionary, and with an exceptionally unified approach towards creating the game's world from the ground-up, I'd strongly recommend Inferno to anyone with a PS3 and a desire to partake of something that breaks out on its own and succeeds where it counts.
.
.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Preview: Super Robot Taisen OGSEF - DS

.
.
Games: Another sneak peek at upcoming Atlus goodness, this time around I’ve got some shots and info on Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier.
.



.
(Whew, that title is a mouthful.)
.
I don't have a lot of dirt on the game at the moment, but what I do know is that it's an RPG with a sci-fi setting, most of the female characters are ridiculously endowed (sold you right there, eh?), there’s tons of sexual innuendo, and the combat system takes place in real-time-- I've heard a few people compare it to Xenogears in the way that each battle plays out, but I cannot confirm or deny that. I can confirm the cleavage, though.
.

.
Take a look at these pics and see what you think, take note of the soundtrack CD included in the package, and check out the official site here for more info.
.

.

.

.

.
what, you want a shot of gameplay? psht, whatever... here you go...
.
.
.

.
.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Two Sorts of Vampires

.
.
Misc: As a freelancer, I get a large portion of my work through word-of-mouth and referrals from people who know me personally. It's not 100% of the job, but it's a pretty vital part. Seattle has traditionally been a really great place to work and has honored this system for many years, but it seems as though it's kind of falling apart-- and it's annoying the hell out of me.
.
Granted, the economy isn't as robust as it has been, but this problem has been growing since before we got into the current troubles. More than anything, it seems like laziness and greed on the part of certain people who (in the past) would have passed assignments on to the people they rightfully belong to. These days, it seems pretty obvious that they're cherrypicking for themselves and giving scraps to those of us who should be doing the work in the first place.
.
These words probably won't be seen by the people who should be reading them, but if they are, here's a bit of wisdom: this strategy may seem just fine in the short run, but I guarantee it's going to bite you in the ass later on. Is the trade-off of cash for the goodwill and loyalty of those you work with really worth it?
.
enjoy it while it lasts
.
.
.
.
.
Games: Don’t get me wrong. I really like DLC when it's done right, and it's something that I think is going to become a very vital part of the industry, if it hasn't already. (And really, I think it already has.)
.
That said, certain companies and their practices are really starting to piss me off.
.

.
In my mind, it seems to me that the proper role for DLC is to extend the life of a game after it's been out for a while and would ordinarily have been put aside in favor of newer releases. Perfect examples would be something like the add-on missions for Oblivion, Mass Effect or Fallout 3, each new piece of content able to reignite interest in games that would likely have been traded in or covered with dust on a shelf if not for the knowledge that something else would be coming down the pike. A trait common to all of these is that their core games were all unquestionably complete in and of themselves, including all the trappings we'd expect.
.
So what's got me so steamed? More and more companies these days seem to be taking the DLC concept in a different direction, and are releasing games which have content available for download on the day of retail release, meaning that anyone who ponies up full price for a brand-new game plus sales tax will automatically feel as though they are missing out on something since there’s “extras” already online.
.
Take, for example, the multiplayer versus mode just announced today for Resident Evil 5. I haven't played the game yet and I haven't seen a full list of what's included in the retail version, but I find it particularly galling that Capcom has the stones to announce that anyone who wants to partake of this online multiplayer will have to pay $5 to download the option.
.
Excuse me? It wasn't too long ago that adding multi was pretty much considered a requirement for the majority of games, and especially so now in the current environment of online connectivity for consoles. How is online multiplayer an “extra”? This particular announcement says to me that anyone buying the retail package alone isn't going to get the complete experience, and that is dirty business.
.
There have been plenty of other examples of companies obviously ripping gamers off (EA leaps to mind) but this one just struck me as going too far. It's one thing to try to milk people on some nonessential costumes or new skins, it's another to keep an entire mode of gameplay off-limits unless people who've already paid sixty dollars cough up a few more.
.
Like a powerful weapon or an important piece of knowledge, DLC seems as though it can be both good and evil, depending on the intent of those who implement it… I just hope that developers don't get too tempted by this kind of disingenuous practice. It's not too hard to imagine people paying full price for half a game, and then entering their credit card numbers online to get the rest.
.
Capcom's new VP of development
.
.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lara's Shadow, Ninja Blade, Devil's Engine

.
.
I've fallen into a routine of trying to update the blog at least once every two days, and I don't quite get how I end up having busy days and late nights every time I need to post something. Guess I gotta work on my timing. Still, the show must go on…
.
.
.

.
Games: Started playing the new Tomb Raider: Underworld DLC today, titled “Lara’s Shadow”. In a neat twist, this time around players take control of the evil doppelgänger that's been causing Ms. Croft so much trouble, and I must say it's rather entertaining.
.
I didn't have very much time to spend with it so I'm reserving final judgment, but in the little bits that I saw, I was really intrigued by the tweaks. For example, this “evil” Lara scrabbles up craggy rock like a lizard instead of the careful ascension we're used to. She also leaps further, and has much more physical strength, attacking enemies with punches and kicks instead of the usual “shoot and circle-strafe” routine that has been par for the course since Tomb Raider’s inception. It's pretty cool, really… the energy level seems higher, and there's more of an edge to the character.
.
I hope this particular piece of content isn't over too soon because in all honesty, it's the most interesting thing about the entirely unimpressive Underworld experience.
.
.
.

.
Games: I’ve been keeping an eye on Ninja Blade, and to be frank, it hasn't looked very interesting. Giving off sort of a cheesy, Ninja Gaiden-ish vibe, I wasn't sure what to make of it… until I played the demo today. Available on Live, I've got to say that it really knocked my socks off. The action was completely over-the-top and really cinematic, thanks to a very liberal application of Quick-Time Events.
.
The playable segment starts with a group of ninjas jumping out of an aerial transport without parachutes, killing creatures on the way down. After a brief bit of straightforward swordplay, there's crazy wall running away from a gigantic monster, a completely vertical (heading downwards) section on the outside of a skyscraper, and the demo wraps up with a boss battle against a spider the size of a football field. I won't spoil the way it ends, but it certainly wasn't what I expected, and I mean that in the best possible sense. This demo really served its purpose and got me to sit up and pay attention in a way that I haven't been motivated to before, so kudos to FromSoft.
.
One word, though: the character design flat-out sucks. That gimpy, goofy mask has got to go. I'm praying that there are some alternate costumes or something, because seriously… it's not cool.
.
.
.

.
Books: Making a conscious effort to read more books lately, I've been leaving the handhelds at home and it hasn't been as painful as I thought it might be. In fact, I'm glad that I decided to do this, since it gave me an opportunity to finish a book I've been trying to get to for a long time: Devil’s Engine by Mark Sumner.
.
I picked up the first book in the series, Devil’s Tower, on a whim one day when I was buying a stack of used books at one of my favorite local spots (Twice Sold Tales on Capitol Hill) and I fell in love with it by the time I finished the first page. The sequel doesn't disappoint.
.
In Sumner’s book, certain people in the old West developed natural abilities called ‘Talents’, and the appearance of these powers radically changed the landscape. The main plot thread in the book is about Sheriff Jake Bird, his town called Medicine Rock, and the impending arrival of the first railroad to join the eastern and western halves of the continent together.
.
To be honest, I'm not much of a straight Westerns fan, but there's something really interesting and engaging about it when supernatural or fantasy elements are added to the mix. In my opinion, Sumner’s attempt at this formula is probably the best one I've ever read. The book is very fast-paced and displays an extremely solid, workmanlike level of writing ability that doesn't waste time on anything that doesn't add to the action. Each sentence is surefooted and serves a purpose, but at the same time, Sumner has an uncanny knack for painting scenes and characters effortlessly. He does more with two sentences than some authors do with an entire paragraph, but at the same time, never losing the energy and flow that keeps the pages turning.
.
I really respect an author that knows how to entertain without getting into self-indulgence and needless tangents. In this respect, Sumner totally delivers. I'm tracking down the rest of his stuff as soon as I can.
.
.

Paloma (Face 347)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Preview: Hammerin' Hero

.
.

.
Games: Here’s another preview of a quirky PSP morsel from my good friends at Atlus:
.
Hammerin’ Hero.
.
Developed by none other than Irem (makers of seminal shooter R-Type, personal fave Disaster Report, and others) this little guy and his hammer set out in an adorably irreverent and slightly absurd adventure.
.
.
Keeping things fresh, main character Gen has a slew of different outfits to alter his abilities, and each level is set in a completely different location. From construction zones, to baseball stadiums, underwater and beyond, you never quite know what the next stage will bring.
.

.
Platform games never go out of style as long as they're done well, and there's tons of charm in Hammerin’ Hero. According to my sources, it should be hitting store shelves on April 7, so keep your eyes peeled-- and if you want more info, click here to check it out.
.
.

.
.

.
.

.
.

.
.