Category Archives: Blog

(S)bore

It happens every year. Some big video game release is hyped out the wazoo, and i get really excited about it, and i start recommending it to my friends, and blogging about it, and poring over every little blurry screenshot as media assets trickle out to the press, and then i end up dressing as one of the game’s main characters – not for Hallowe’en, even, but just to scratch an obsessive itch – and then i’m cancelling plans with friends and finding ways to get out of seeing my kids graduate or attending dearly departed family members’ funerals so that i can be at the midnight game launch at K-Mart, and i shank some poor fool in line and clamour over his crumpled body to claw my way to the cashier, game gripped sweatily in my clawed hand, and i hijack someone’s mini-van and drive it home manically on the wrong side of the street at twice the speed limit (triple in school and hospital zones), crashing it in a twisted heap on my front lawn as i birth myself through the steaming, open passenger side window and limp into my house to my teevee set where finally, FINALLY i put the game in the console drive and play it. And the game completely sucks.

This year, that game was Princess Debut.

Princess Debut

i crushed HARD on this game

For others of you, it may have been the user-created-content-O-fest Spore which, thanks to many negative reviews, i am now granting the Peter Molyneaux “Resting on Your Laurels” award to creator Will Wright. To be fair, i haven’t played the game, so from this point on (and as you’ll find in most of my posts), i’m talking directly out of my ass. In fact, i’m sitting on the keyboard right now.

Spore

Spore

The reviews are saying that the game’s creature creation tools are phenomenal, but the game that you play with those creatures is phenomenally dull. This became the worry in the back of my brain before the game was released, as i hungrily watched video after video of gameplay footage. There seemed to be no justifiable reason for why you would want to build one particular creature over another, because the game would play out broadly and generically regardless. Sure, there are differences depending on the various claws and beaks you add to your creatures, but they would just enable you to defeat other randomly-designed creatures that also had claws and beaks, and you’re back to square one.

Help Me, Little Big Planet – You’re My Only Hope

The only game remaining on my Christmas Ultimatum wish list is Little Big Planet which, like Spore, promised this unparalleled world of content creation. Little Big Planet is a physics-based platformer game exclusive to the Playstation 3 home video game system, and has struck me as the only decent reason to actually buy the system for quite some time. But recently, videos have been surfacing showing what people have done with the game, and they’re shaking my confidence in Little Big Planet’s ability to deliver on its promise.

Little Big Planet Super Mario Bros

A Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 recreation

Little Big Planet Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus (really?)

Little Big Planet Tetris

Tetris

In essence, these videos make the game look dull. The promo videos produced by the game designers were fun and exciting, and got me wound up like a red-headed kid in a dog-punching factory. And that, friends, is where i choose to make my Interesting Point.

Leave Game Design to the Pros

i admit that i’ve grown increasingly nervous as more and more game creation tools have surfaced, surrendering my industry to the hands of “any idiot”. When i was growing up, the video game industry was nigh-impossible to break into, particularly for a kid living in suburban Ontario, Canada. i fought tooth and nail to get in, and now the flood gates are opened and everyone’s a game designer. It’s like if you went through fifteen years of schooling and training to become a doctor, and then somebody invented the Surgery-O-Matic, and people were suddenly all performing triple bypass surgeries on themselves. You’d get your back up a bit too, i think.

But if these Little Big Planet videos reveal anything to me, it’s that putting game creation tools in the hands of the masses will lead to a lot of botched surgeries. If you build tools to be so easy that “any idiot” can create a game, that’s who you’re going to get creating games. The example above where someone re-created (badly) World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. shows that there’s more to level design than meets the eye. The differences between Mario’s fast vertical jump and Sackboy’s floaty leaping have to be accounted for if designers are going to craft a fun game experience.

Little Big Planet takes pains to enable good content to float to the top, where people with a knack for this sort of thing will get noticed, and people building oddly malfunctioning curiosities like the Shadow of the Colossus or Super Mario Bros. levels will sink to an also-ran rating. i’m hoping that the bad taste i have in my mouth is due to the fact that the game isn’t released yet, and it’s only when the flood gates open that the wheat will be sifted from the chaff and we’ll see some evidence of true inspiration and game design capability.

What i’m Playing

In lieu of any big launch announcements or new Pimp My Game posts, i thought i’d write a few capsule reviews for the games i’m playing right now.

Rock Band 2

Rock Band 2

Essentially, this game is more of the same … but that’d just fine with me, when the original game was so strong. i mean, let’s take the example of Nutella┬« chocolate hazelnut spread on a baguette slice. i really, really enjoy eating Nutella┬« chocolacte hazelnut spread on a baguette slice, so if someone were to offer me another Nutella┬« chocolate hazelnut spread on a baguette slice, i would happily oblige.

i prefer the first game’s soundtrack to its sequel’s, but for a cool five dollars you can port all of your disc 1 games to the Rock Band 2 experience. Those songs, coupled with any downloaded songs from your collection, make for a massively gigantic whopping blob of rock. We salute you.

The big difference for me, being a friendless loner, is that i can play the campaign mode by myself. i missed out on a lot of the first game because i could never lure the same three people to my house to play for any appreciable amount of time. As a result, i think i’ve played “Say it Ain’t So” and “Maps”, among the game’s first-tier songs, more than the bands who actually wrote them.

What i really appreciate about Harmonix’s efforts, which are drawn in stark contrast to Activision’s non-canonical Guitar Hero franchise the longer they have it, is that Harmonix has made good on its “campaign promises”. They said that Rock Band would be a music platform, and they delivered. They promised weekly downloadable content. Lo and behold, every week, whether i enjoy the music or not, they delivered. Meanwhile, on the other front, we’re awaiting the ninth Guitar Hero game, Guitar Hero: Captain & Tenille, which contains the full 15-minute version of Muskrat Love.

Captain & Tenille

Hey lady – don’t ruffle the ‘stache

Castle Crashers

castleCrashers

i know, i know. i bad-mouthed this game after i saw it at X08. But a week later, i went in to get my bike fixed, and the guy in the shop started going on and on about it – how you can collect animal orbs with little pets that give you combat bonuses, and about how your weapons storehouse is inside a giant antlered frog, and how there are all sorts of hidden things you can find by bombing the walls, like in Zelda, and …

Sshhh. Stop, stop. You had me at “animal orbs”.

i actually ended up buying two copies – one for home and one for the office. i like that i can play the game with my wife and that it requires very little skill – two ingredients for keeping a marriage together. i also find it very inspiring that a 2D game can hold players’ attentions and earn a big stinkload of monays for its creators. Finally, i am happy that the game makes me kill a bunch of ninjas to earn enough money to buy a pet monkey. Top marks.

Braid

Braid

A testament to what you can do with one man, a computer, and a creative writing course from the Learning Annex, Braid is a puzzle platformer where you can reverse time to pull off some amazing brain-bending trickery. Some of the puzzles in the game were wonderfully challenging, but on the whole, Braid was too short. When you reach the end, you can complete a few above-and-beyond tasks to unlock some further snippets of the story, displayed in text fields on the screen. But after reading a few of these tediously-worded blurbs, i would have taken my character to Hell and back to avoid reading any more of them.

Our world, with its rules of causality, has trained us to be miserly with forgiveness. By forgiving too readily, we can be badly hurt. But if we’ve learned from a mistake and become better for it, shouldn’t we be rewarded for the learning, rather than punished for the mistake?

***

Tim needed to be non-manipulable. He needed a hope of transcendence. He needed, sometimes, to be immune to the Princess’s caring touch.

***

But the ring makes its presence known. It shines out to others like a beacon of warning. It makes people slow to approach. Suspicion, distrust. Interactions are torpedoed before Tim can open his mouth.

Good gracious gravy, that’s some gawd-awful writing. Quick – where’s the “stab out my eyeballs” button on the Xbox controller?

Touch Detective

Touch Detective

This is an older game that i threw into my DS for toilet time in the hopes of spicing up my bowel movements. The previous spot was filled by Etrian Oddyseey II, which was becoming too monotonous to bear (much like sitting on the toilet).

Touch Detective, about orphaned little girls in boarding houses who solve supernatural mysteries, is a lesson in how not to design a graphic adventure game. The cardinal sin being committed here is dropping the thread. You’ll be on a roll questioning people and gathering clues before the game just comes to a grinding halt, with no indication of where you should go or who you should speak to next.

What’s worse, your progress is not broken down into smaller problems with clear goals. You’ll get one big goal, like “solve the mystery”, and beyond that, you’re on your own. Too often, the game doesn’t explain what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re left to wander around town randomly using objects on other objects until something (dumb) happens.

The review scores for the game were middling, but i decided to take a chance on it anyway. i’m a huge fan of graphic adventure games, and i figured that the reviewers were probably just disappointed in the lack of exploding zombies or heavy weaponry. But now i see the light: Touch Detective is abysmal, and i can’t wait to find a replacement for it.

What are YOU playing? Anything good? Please let me know – i’d much rather die with a good game in my DS and the pixels of a solid entertainment experience burned into my bloodshot retinas.

The Unboxing of Untold Entertainment

For the past month, my living room has been filling up with boxes and boxes of goodies, in anticipation of the big move to our new office space. i thought it might be nice to preface an official announcement by posting these before and after pictures of our little two-person (and growing) operation:

Untold Entertainment Before

Before

Untold Entertainment After

After

Mark's desk

Mark’s desk. i have NO IDEA why he’s so into Hello Kitty Online.

Garbage

The aftermath.

Untold Entertainment cares about the environment! After setting up our office, we set these boxes and chunks of styrofoam adrift in the Arctic Ocean to provide homes for orphaned fur seals.

Orphaned Fur Seal

Have a heart. Dump your junk.