Tag Archives: Reviews

The Zombie Autopsies: Low Calorie Snack Food for Hungry Zombie Fans

If you’re a zombie fan and you’ve ever been bothered by the inconsistency and implausibility of undead lore, there’s a book for that. The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven Schlozman, MD, attempts to legitimize zombie lore by throwing it through the ringer of science. While what comes out the other side doesn’t stand alone as a bastion of zombie canon, it certainly adds support to an otherwise fragmented and rapidly decaying mythology.

Patchwork Mythology

Could zombies really exist? I, of course, am unliving proof of it. But before the real zombie apocalypse struck, zombie enthusiasts everywhere were plagued by the sneaking suspicion that the canonical “rules” of zombiism were not just implausible – they were downright dumb.

How can a zombie keep on trucking, despite missing entire body parts that are crucial to body functioning (arms, chests, blood … everything below the waist…)? Why are zombies ravenously hungry all the time? Why can’t they ever push back from the brain buffet and call it a night? Why do they crave human flesh? Why is destroying the brain the only way to destroy them?

SAS: Zombie Assault 2 - Insane Asylum

Play SAS: Zombie Assault 2 – Insane Asylum on ZombieGameWorld.com

The Zombie Autopsies does a clever thing: it attempts to answer these nagging questions by presenting a realicious rubber-gloves-and-scrubs autopsy scenario in which a doctor dissects numerous zombies and reports, in often dizzyingly gruesome detail, what makes the undead tick. And because a straight-up autopsy report would be all kinds of dull, the book wraps that in an outer layer of fiction, in which the author scaffolds his own zombie universe. For those of you keeping score, that’s horror fiction wrapped inside science fiction wrapped inside more horror fiction, making the Zombie Autopsies a heaping helping of tasty horror/sci-fi turducken.

The Zombie Autopsies

Turducken? Scrumptious!

Lab Rules


The Zombie Autopsies with Steven Schlozman, MD from GCP authors on Vimeo.

Zombie purists may be interested in the fictional world the author has constructed; indeed, not since vampires started twinkling has a horror genre suffered such an identity crisis through the fragmentation of its fictional “rules”. The Zombie Autopsies sticks to familiar territory, holding mainly to the groundwork laid by George Romero (who endorses the book on the back cover). These zombies are walkers, not runners, but they’ll lurch if they get close. They’re not super-strong, but they are tenacious, and rabidly hungry. Zombiism is caused by a virus (not the full moon, radiation or toxic gas), and they’re only technically “undead” by a twist of human reasoning – the book’s “humanoids” are essentially human beings who have succumbed to a virulent sickness, a la 28 Days Later.

It’s Not All Withered Roses

While Schlozman creates a compelling doomsday scenario, his book presents a few frustrations. One of the main characters makes some sort of scientific breakthrough in studying ANSD (the virus that causes zombiism), but the reader is never let in on the secret. We’re left instead to flip back through the pages, hunting for clues and drawing connections to solve a mystery that i’m not certain even the author has worked out.

The illustrations struck me as somewhat amateurish. i was hoping for something that looked more authentically “medical”, like you would find in a very thick, very dull text book, but instead found doodles by what appeared to be an aspiring comic book artist. A cruise through illustrator Andrea Sparacio’s portofolio turns up vaguely Crumb-like art that may please some readers, but i didn’t care for it. Finally, the book is a very quick read. Laid out in a handwriting-style font with plenty of breathing room in the margins, it rockets by more like an overlong short story than a proper novel.

The Zombie Autopsies

“Hold still – you may feel a little pinch … ”

We Shall Overcome (and Eat Your Brains)

Concerning Zombie Rights, the book is deplorable. The author concocts something called the “Ecumenical Treaty of Atlanta” concerning the status of zombified humans, on which much of the book’s moral teeter-tottering relies. The ultimate conclusion is that zombies, lacking the reasoning afforded by functioning frontal lobes, are NLH (“No Longer Human”), and can therefore be dispatched with impunity.

I can assure you, dear reader, that if such a treaty actually existed in this day and age, I would be the first to march (or, rather, lurch) on the capital to growl my disapproval. I mean, of course zombies are not human! But to suggest we no longer care about anyone or anything is simply preposterous. I care very much about eating brains, and I should have the right to eat them where and whenever I so choose. And I should be free from the meddling spatulae of scientists who choose to perform autopsies on zombies while they are still alive. The barbarism is simply galling.

More Prop than Proper Prose

The Zombie Autopsies turned my stomach – not because of the illustrations or the (literally) gory details, but because of the blatant disregard for re-life exhibited by its so-called protagonists. On the plus side, the lovingly-crafted descriptions of pulsating brains made me positively delirious with hunger. (I may have taken a bite out of the book at one point.) I inadvertently learned more about brain, heart, lung and GI functioning than I may have intended to, but nothing that could help me bluff my way through a premed exam.

Due to its length and somewhat frustrating open-endedness, The Zombie Autopsies serves more of a supportive role as fifth business to zombie lore than earning a star turn in the spotlight. It’s worth a (brief) read by any zombie fan who lies awake at night worrying about the scientific implausibility of his favourite novels and films. But if you don’t end up reading the book, allow me to reassure you: we zombies are very real, and I’m happy to pay you a visit in the rotting flesh to prove it.

The Tyranny of Stickmen

Earlier this week i played a Flash game called Continuity. The game is a clever mash-up of a platformer and a slider puzzle. You have to re-order segments of the level to get your stickman to the key(s), and then the door.

Continuity

Go play it. i’ll wait right here.

Continuity is a student project (JEALOUS!), and bears the hallmark of student projects/amateur game developers/free-to-play Flash games: a stick figure as the lead character. Countless free-to-play Flash games star the very same character. The stick man is, i believe, the most famous and popular of all video game characters – moreso than Mario, Pac-Man or Tim Langdell.

Brand and Deliver

i attend many many video game events where someone in-the-know preaches from the pulpit to people not in-the-know, mostly students and hobbyists and amateurs. And the one tip that i hear repeated again and again, particularly in the free-to-play Flash (and even iPhone) climate where there’s a lot of competition and it’s tough to be heard above the noise, is to “build a brand.” Put another way, “develop your own original IP.” They say this because generally speaking, students, hobbyists and amateurs don’t build brands. But what does building a brand or an IP mean, anyway?

Well, for starters, it means not using a stick man as your main character. You can’t own a stick man. No one can. And your stick man game, even if it’s innovative like Continuity, won’t stand out from the throngs of other stick man games. No one will approach you and ask to buy the rights to your stick man game IP. No one wants to develop comic books or fridge magnets or Band-Aids based on your stick man, because it’s not an ownable or exploitable thing. And, very likely, no one will remember your stick man game. i’m struggling to keep the name “Continuity” in my head as i write this article.

Winnie the Pooh thinking

Me being a blogger of very little brains …

i suspect the creators of Continuity are more passionate about programming than they are artwork. The bones of their game are reasonably solid. Now imagine what they could do if they found an artist and put a little English on it. Maybe Continuity’s main character is a fugitive on the run from the law, or an anthropomorphic kangaroo, or a sorceror who can bend reality to his will? Maybe she’s just a cool-looking chick in a hat? i dunno. But any of these completely trample “stick man”.

Stick Em Up

Let’s do the opposite: let’s take a strong brand and use a stick man instead. i don’t feel that the main character in Braid, “Tim”, was incredibly interesting. But he was short and wore a tie and was at least halfway there.

Braid

Now let’s wipe him out and replace him with a stick man and box art:

Braid without branding

Unbraided.

From awesome to n’awsome in sixty seconds.

Or let’s go with something like Super Mario Galaxy. Mario doesn’t say much, but his personality shines through the way he’s drawn and the way he animates. He’s a pleasantly plump Italian plumber who utters adorably stereotyped phrases like “It’s-a me!” and “Bowser Koopa sleeps with-a the fishes!” So here’s the game with its very broadly appealing brand identity:

Super Mario Galaxy

And now, Super Mario Galaxy with stick men and box art:

Super Mario Galaxy with no branding

It’s-a me … ?

Even though Braid has a wonderfully unique gameplay mechanic to offer (despite horrible, horrible grade 12 poetry class writing), and Super Mario Galaxy is a super-solid 3D platformer, if you take away the brand, you take away MOST of the experience. That’s right, i said MOST. Not half. Visuals are not half of a game. Even though your team and man-hours may be split 50/50 between code and art, a well-coded game with bad art (or stick men) that can compete commercially is a rare beast indeed. i’ll boldly put it this way: art and sound are 70-80% of both the player’s experience, and your ability as a designer to market and profit from your game.

Sharp-Dressed Man

The one interesting exception i’ll throw out here is Fancy Pants Adventures, a free-to-play Flash game with great programming and tight platform controls. These games star a stick man as their lead character, but dig the difference: a pair of yellow pants and a shock of hair.

Fancy Pants Adventures

Can you own a sitck man with a pair of yellow pants and a shock of hair? Sure you can. Can you build a strong original IP with such a minimally modified figure? Absolutely. In this case, the pants and the hair are all it took to elevate Fancy Pants Adventures from a generic and forgettable free-to-play platformer, to a memorable series that has done extremely well for the developer.

Now let’s take a look at the same character with no pants and hair:

Fancy Pants Adventures stripped of branding

(pants off – please shield your children’s eyes)

Visual style and brand identity are not nice-to-haves. If you have any hope of rising above the thousands of hobbyists, amateurs, and even certain professional developers in the free-to-play space, visual style and brand identity are HAVE-to-haves. Free yourself from the tyranny of stick men and, at the very least, put a hat on that guy. Then you can go from this:

Stick Hat Stripped

To this:

Sir Stick-Hat's Amazing Escapades

The difference is brand recognition, noteriety and, hopefully, money in the bank.

12 Types of Puzzles in Graphic Adventure Games

One of our clients has contracted us to build a Graphic Adventure game, and we’re jazzed. This is my absolute favourite video game genre, one that died in the mid-90′s as jocks started playing games, and the focus turned from story, humour and character design to action, violence and tits.

Duke Nukem and Lara Croft

Action, violence and tits are among my least favourite genres

Most of my unproduced game ideas are for Graphic Adventure games. So i’m toying with the idea of using this project as an excuse to build a Graphic Adventure Game engine, so that i can more easily produce additional games in that style.

So i started to think about what that engine would look like – what sorts of toolsets i would have to build, and which common Graphic Adventure game features i would need to support. i started thinking about the way in which players interact with these games: puzzles, the gameplay mechanisms than enable players to progress through the game. Here then, for your edification, is a list of different types of puzzles found in Graphic Adventure games.

Advanced warning: here be spoilers.

1. Item Use

Nearly all Graphic Adventure games have some sort of inventory, a place where the player can store items he’s collected throughout the story. The player applies these items to characters or objects in the environment to effect a change. The most simple example is a lock and a key: apply the key to the door lock and the door opens.

Modern MMO fetch quests are simple lock-and-key puzzles. Give the pirate some rum to get onto the ship. Give the seagull a french fry so that you can walk past him and climb into the dumpster.

Dizzy's Fantastic Adventure

“Dizzy” games featured a 3-slot inventory and simple lock-and-key fetch quests

Item puzzles can be daisy-chained so that a single solution requires multiple item/environment interactions. My very favourite example (from my very favouritest game ever) is in The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.

You need money to charter a ship. The only place hiring is a restaurant, and they’ve already hired a chef. Through devious adventure game logic, it’s clear that you have to get the chef fired so that you can take his job. It amuses me that as soon as i found a rat on a nearby screen, i knew exactly what to do. By using three different items in your inventory, you construct a trap to catch the rat. The puzzle is one big lock using multiple keys. (The rat somehow ends up in the restaurant’s soup, and the poor chef is sent packing.)

Monkey Island 2

Just thinking about this game makes me giggle.

Using items on the environment could complete the puzzle, or it could produce a new item. In this case, use three items to build a rat trap, which gives you a rat as an inventory item. The rat is part of a bigger puzzle.

2. Item Combination

Puzzles can get even more complicated when the player has to combine two items in his inventory to form a third, new item. The new item becomes a key to open a lock. In Simon the Sorceror, use the “rope” item on the “magnet” item to create the “rope and magnet” item. Drop this item down a hole to swipe money from a dragon’s cave.

Simon the Sorceror

Simon the Sorceror: an underrated adventure game series

While item combination can be very rewarding, game designers have to be careful. As with all Graphic Adventure puzzles, designers should ensure that the reason for combining items – the goal – is clear and logical. Otherwise, you wind up with a game like Return to Mysterious Island, which features almost arbitrary item combinations and recipes. Long stick + twine + grey rock = fishing rod, while short stick + rope + black stone = hatchet. Ugh.

Return to Mysterious Island

The only mystery is why you’re still playing

Item combination can also include reverse engineering. Sometimes the player can manipulate or examine an item, or use another item on it, to break it into two or more component items. A classic example of this is opening a flashlight to produce a broken flashlight and a pair of batteries.

3. Environment Puzzle

Picking up “anything that isn’t nailed down” is tons of fun, but some puzzles simply require the player to fiddle with items right on the screen. A simple example is pulling a lever to open a door.

A creative take on the environment puzzle crops up in the opening scene of Full Throttle. Tough guy Ben extracts info from an obstinate bartender by grabbing his nose ring and smashing his face against the bar.

Full Throttle

“You know what might look better on your face? The bar.”

4. Navigation

Navigation puzzles require the player to carefully steer the character around the screen, or risk a penalty. As par for the course in Sierra On-Line Graphic Adventures, this penalty was usually a frustrating death sequence.

In Space Quest II: Chapter II: Vohaul’s Revenge, Roger Wilco has to tread lightly through a deadly maze of poisonous plant tendrils.

Space Quest II plant

Well this certainly looks annoying.

Similarly, in King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human, Gwydion has to schlepp his way up and down a perilous mountain path not once, not twice, but like a million times.

King's Quest II:To Heir is Human cliff

] Take elevator ( “I don’t understand ‘elevator’” )

A variation on this is the Endless Maze. The player reaches a rigged maze of endlessly repeating rooms. The player can only survive by learning of the correct route and taking it directly, or risk perishing in the wilderness. In The Dallas Quest, the path through the endless wheat field is etched on the tombstone of a pervious adventurer.

The Dallas Quest

i don’t care who shot J.R. … this wheat field is enough to kill any gamer.

5. Diversion

Prevalent in many LucasArts adventure games, the distraction puzzle pits the player against a non-player character. The npc usually won’t allow the player to steal things in the immediate vicinity, so the player cooks up a distraction to occupy the npc, leaving him free to pad his inventory.

In Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Zak has to nab a number of probably crucial goodies from his seat in the airplane. But would you believe it? The witchy stewardess is constantly telling him to put the stuff back. Zak could travel to the back of the plane and clog the sink, and then to the front of the plane and nuke an egg in the microwave, creating enough of a mess to busy the meddling stewardess.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders airplane scene

Fly the friendly skies.

6. Order of Operations

Some puzzles require the player to perform a discrete series of actions in a certain order to succeed. Return to Zork had the player perform a very specific toasting ritual.



Want some rye? Course ya do.

While it’s not a graphic adventure game, it’s worth mentioning the legendary babel fish puzzle from the Infocom text game The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Trapped aboard an alien ship, the player has to obtain a babel fish from a vending machine. The fish will help the player understand alien languages. In a timed sequence, the player has to push the button and watch the elusive fish disappear multiple times – through a hole in the wall, through a robot panel in the floor, swept up by a cleaning robot, etc. By using inventory items (a dressing gown, a towel, a satchel) to circumvent these problems one by one, the player essentially constructs a Rube Goldberg machine of failure:

A single babel fish shoots out the slot. It sails across the room and hits the dressing gown. The fish slides down the sleeve of the gown and falls to the floor, landing on the towel. A split-second later, a tiny cleaning robot whizzes across the floor, grabs the fish, and continues its breakneck pace towards a tiny robot panel at the base of the wall. The robot ploughs into the satchel, sending the babel fish flying through the air in a graceful arc. A small upper-half-of-the-room cleaning robot catches the babel fish and exits.

After multiple attempts to overcome the comedy or errors, the babel fish finally lands with a wet squish in your character’s ear.

7. Conversation

Many graphic adventure games use a conversation tree to enable the player to interact with different characters. The non-player character says something, and the player can choose from one of many responses at each break in the conversation. In some games, the player’s success entirely depends on the conversation options he chooses.

In order to avoid the terribly-designed fisticuffs mechanic in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the player had to pick his way past each nazi guard in Brunwald castle by choosing his words carefully.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Brunwald castle

Please – ANYTHING but “throw a punch”

8. Timing

On occasion, the player is faced with an animated sequence, and must click a hotspot winthin a few frames of animation to overcome the obstacle. The climax of each game in the Monkey Island series ends with this type of challenge.

In Broken Sword (AKA Circle of Blood), George has to do some fast clicking to get past an ornery goat in the game’s most difficult puzzle.

Broken Sword goat close-up

Use anti-goat spray on goat

Broken Sword goat scene

9. Mini-games/Riddles

Adventure gamers can be a strange breed. i remember when adventure games started introducing some fast-action elements (like the fighting sequences in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), adventure game reviews would explicitely point out which games had action sequences and which games didn’t, in case the player was averse to these types of gameplay. Many adventurers saw the presence of a twitch element as an intrusion in an otherwise mellow gaming experience, and lacked the fast motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination to pass these sequences. Personally, i missed the final quarter of Last Crusade due to the fighting sequences on the zeppelin. i like to think this had more to do with long Amiga 500 load times and terrible game engineering than my own deficiencies as a player.

A more common break sequence seen in adventure games is an appropriately-paced mini-game that involves turn-based movement or plodding strategy. MYST caused controversy when it appeared on the scene, as adventure purists argued over whether it was even an adventure game at all. Around the same time, The 7th Guest linked classic strategy, board game and paper puzzles in a full-motion video framework and called itself an adventure game.

The 7th Guest

The scariest thing about this game was the acting in the fmv sequences

Games like The 7th Guest often rely on pre-existing puzzles that the developer pulled out of the latest Dell Crosswords n’ Challenges newsstand issue. They contain tired riddles that you’ve likely heard before, and challenges that you’ve likely solved before, like the Tower of Bozbar (Tower of Hanoi) puzzle in Zork Zero.

Zork Zero Tower of Bozbar

Oh … goody?

10. The Implausible Item

The Implausible Item puzzle is just a straightforward take-the-item action, complicated by the fact that the player doesn’t immediately recognize that the item can be taken.

In Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places), Larry Laffer visits the Quickie Mart and shoves a thousand-gallon Grotesque Gulp down his pants.

Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places)

But an even subtler example is the bloodhound that Guybrush Threepwood stuffs inside his coat in The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. ( “You’re coming with me, dog.”)

11. Real-World Research

As an anti-piracy move, some games shipped physical materials in the box that the player required to solve certain in-game puzzles. These materials were often included as a copyright protection measure. In Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, a line-up of customers asks Freddy to concoct some 19th-century meds for them. The player is completely lost without The Modern Day Book of Health and Hygiene that ships with the game.

In DreamWeb, lead character Ryan (no relation) can’t even enter his own apartment unless the player find the access code in the Diary of a Mad (?) Man in the game box.

DreamWeb

While it’s not explicitely a Graphic Adventure game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego shipped with a world almanac that the player could use to track the game’s villains. (Indeed, teaching kids to research countries using the almanac was the sole educational goal of the game.)

12. Teamwork

Some of my absolute favourite Graphic Adventure games enable the player to play as two or more characters. This opens up a whole world of fun puzzle contrivances where, for example, one character has to pull a switch to let the other character out of a dungeon. This was exactly the situation in the original Maniac Mansion, where the player could control three different teenagers in their quest to save a cheerleader from a diabolical mad scientist.

The most exciting, hair-raising moments in the game happened when one character would ring the doorbell, and then hide in the bushes. The mad scientist’s mentally unstable son Weird Ed would answer the door, leaving a second character free to pillage his bedroom for a limited time. This is the diversion technique mentioned earlier, made far more challenging by having the player juggle multiple characters.

Maniac Mansion

Ring that bell, Dave. You won’t regret it.

Utter Nonsense

Unfortunately, one of the things that led to the death of graphic adventure games was the fact that the player could get hopelessly stuck on a puzzle, even early in the game, and miss out on the entire experience. Sure, companies sold hint books, but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth when you shelled out sixty bucks for a new game, and you were unable to fumble past the first third of it without coughing up another fifteen clams for the hint book.

Now that we have the Internatz (and, most notably, GameFAQs), the problem is moot. But back in the day, you could swear that certain companies were building their games with the express purpose of moving more hint books.

Sierra On-Line was a prime offender, with its King Graham mascot combining completely unrelated items to solve nonsensical puzzles, baffling the player within an inch of his life. (For a special treat, read Old Man Murray’s moratorium on adventure games, which puts a fine point on the topic with a hilarious conclusion.)

But if you were to put a series of games to death for its completely out-of-left-field puzzle design, it would be Gobliiins.

Gobliiins 2

Can you explain what’s going on here? Cuz i sure can’t.

Here’s an example from Tom Hayes’s GameFAQs guide for Gobliiins 2:

Get a feather from the helmet. Use the feather on the can of red paint. Use the cockroach on the hole. Use the brush, pepper and kind elixir on the cockroach.

The Gobliiins games combine many of the puzzle types listed here – teamwork, item use, inventory combinaton, timing – to such a completely inept degree that i recommend that you steal – not pay, STEAL – at least one of the Gobliiins games for a crash course in how NOT to design a Graphic Adventure game.

i’m a HUGE advocate of purchasing games with your hard-earned cash, but in this case, i’ll make an exception. If you’re feeling guilty about stealing one of these steaming piles, take the money you would have spent on the game, and give it to a charity of your choice. Or set the money on fire and burn the game in a big expensive bonfire.

… but not before using Winkle to hold the chicken and then using Fingus to hit the chicken on the head with a sausage to make it lay an egg.

For further reading, check out Mark Newheiser’s article classifying Graphic Adventure game puzzles

Little Big Planet Review

This week, guest contributor Jim McGinley talks about the player-created content juggernaut (and now Muslim-friendly) Little Big Planet.

Little Big Planet

I played it multiplayer for about 10 levels.
I haven’t played it online, nor have I tried single player.

  1. Music & Sound Effects – GREAT.
    The best thing about the game. Upbeat, but not irritating. Even “sproing” sound effects sound great! Add a ton to the game’s charm.

  2. Graphics – GREAT. some insanely good shadowing making everything look real. Wood looks like wood. The variety of graphics is incredible. Sackboy is an amazing character.
  3. Gameplay – surprisingly AWFUL
    1. Controlling your guy is sloppy. And it’s precision platformer!
    2. You keep moving when you land from a jump (like you’re on ice) Sliding off small platforms is common, especially since relatively speaking your guy is so big.
    3. You automatically move 3D planes. It makes no sense. It’s confusing. You have no control over when it happens. When it switches, you probably don’t want it to. When it doesn’t, you probably wanted it to. It’s like playing an optical illusion. It’s horrible for young and old alike.

      Just horrible. They generally include 2 paths for people that can’t make the jumps – which is why complaints have been mitigated. i.e. Thank god I can just walk by those platforms, because jumping them is impossible. Should have just made the game on a fixed plane.

      It’s worth noting my arcade heritage means I can make the jumps 80% of the time, but Em is getting frustrated. They put fun items (new clothes) in areas that require life or death precision jumps Ironically, Em (Jim’s wife – ed.) wants these items more than me.

    4. You can make small or large jumps (by holding the jump button longer) I’ve yet to use the small jump. It’s useless. I have to keep reminding people to always hold jump.
    5. Checkpoint / live system is awful. You can’t buildup lives towards the hard parts hence, even if you breeze through the easy stuff you always get the same 3 lives to tackle the hard part. spend 5 minutes running past the easy crap, only to die at the same part over & over again. the 5 minutes does nothing for you (can’t pickup more lives for the hard part on the way) genius.

      I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about what a horrible, horrible platformer this is. Strip away the production values, and you’ve got a heaping mass of poo. Most 2-day flash games do better platforming than this. My first platformer was better than this. “Hold me closer, Giant Dancer” is easier to control than this, and that was a joke game.

      Hold Me Closer, Giant Dancer

      Jim McGinley’s Unauthorized demake of Shadow of the Colossus

      What’s extra baffling is their interactive, multiplayer menu system for making stickers, decorations,
      and character modifications is brilliant. It’s easier for me to position, rotate, and scale a sticker than to make a jump.

WHAT HAPPENED!

Prediction:
We’ll keep playing MULTIPLAYER for the music, graphics and variety. As soon as it starts getting hard (it’s going down that path), we’ll get frusterated and search for easy online levels, or go back to fun games (Rock Band 2).

Wii Fit – First Impressions

Shortly after forming Untold Entertainment Inc, i bowed out of my role as a Canadian video game journhalist, forfeiting perhaps the only benefit of the job: playing hot new titles before anyone else. That decision had me standing in line this morning at the Bay + Dundas SuprPrice in Toronto with the chubby, unwashed masses, hoping for my chance to pick up Nintendo’s hot new game, Wii Fit.

Wii Fit

i dunno … those green letters are looking a little “generously kerned”, if you know what i mean …

Wii Fit, which ships with the startlingly heavy Wii Balance Board, did big numbers in Europe. i reasoned that since Canadians were basically Europeans with less armpit hair, i’d better hustle down to SuprPrice on Day One.

The Line-Up

SuprPrice shuffled the customers in their line-up by weight, reasoning that their heaviest customers were likely in dire need of the product. An overweight or obese person is more prone to heart disease and diabetes, which may shorten his lifespan. And dead people don’t buy DVDs. So there we were, fatties at the front, enduring the hours-long line-up.

The folks in the middle of the line were actually the best-placed people, because after the first hour of waiting while the SuprPrice sales associates tried to upsell customers on SuprPrice Points Cards and Extended Warranties, many of the morbidly obese people at the front of the line started dropping out, unable to stand unaided for more than a few minutes. Many of them were carted away on flatbed dollies, draped over empty HDTV boxes. The only exception was one gentleman, who had been transported to the store on a flatbed truck, having been carefully extracted from his home after his living room wall was knocked out with a wrecking ball. The SuprPrice people eschewed the store’s 1-per-customer rule for him, actually requiring him to purchase two balance boards – one for each huge, hammy foot – in order to guarantee the manufacturer’s 1-year warranty.

The Weight

When i finally reached the front of the line and puchased my copy, i was quite dismayed at the sheer weight of the product. Feeling like a sack of potatoes, the Wii Ballance Board strained the flimsy plastic bag handles and threatened to pull my stick-like arms out of their sockets. Expecting me, a feeble video game designer with a physique like Gollum’s, to carry this product home was like asking someone to run a marathon before he can purchase a treadmill, or to win a weiner-eating contest before he can order dinner. In fact, i would much rather that SuprPrice had me win a weiner-eating contest with a free cab chit as first prize so that i could make it home safely with my technological plunder.

Wii Fit

Cuddly Nintendo mascot Shigeru Miyamoto holds a styrofoam replica of the Wii Balance Board – the actual product, if held aloft, would crush an average man’s spine.

The First Five Minutes

By the time i’d lugged Wii Fit home, i was a little tuckered out, so i plopped down on the couch with a chocolate milkshake and some microwavable Kraft Dinner + mayonnaise to get my strength back. After that, i felt a little sleepy, so i channel-surfed for a few hours before opening the Wii Fit box. And finally, the morning spent recuperating, i hooked up the game.

One of the keys to good game design is your reward system. A good game constantly rewards the player. It’s especially important to reward the player early in the experience; this is why many XBox 360 games unlock an achievement within the first five minutes of play. Wii Fit is no different: within the first five minutes of playing the game, i was informed that i had already lost four pounds. Bonus!

While creating my Wii Fit character, i rolled a 17 for upper body strength, which hardly reflects my actual physique, but i wasn’t about to tell the game that. i usually play wizards or mages with extremely high intelligence, but i chose the Athlete class this time, because i thought it might give me a Wii Fit advantage.

Deathmatch Mode

The most surprising thing about Wii Fit’s gameplay modes was Deathmatch, where you have to exercise the hardest in order to murder other players. i was doing alright on the treadmills, until MarioLover99 got his heartrate up over 170, and my Mii’s head exploded. i spawned on an exercise mat not too far away, and did a figure-4 hamstring stretch right through his chest. It was awesome. Surprisingly violent for a Nintendo offering, but i suppose you have to hook players any way you can.

Diet Guide

In addition to helping you get in shape, Wii Fit also makes suggestions about what you should be eating in order to attain a trim figure. i find this feature a little suspect, though – my first few times through the game, the Diet Guide kept popping up this ad:



i’m looking forward to making Wii Fit a lifestyle choice. The game tells me that if i stomp on 400 virtual Goombas a day, my appearance will be upgraded from “universally repellant” to “potentially sexy, given the right lighting conditions” by September 2009.

Wii Fit