Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year of the Letdown

Tonight is a good night to celebrate. Ending 2008, what I would call one of the most disappointing years in gaming that I can remember.

It started right off in January. Two of my favorite franchises, Burnout and Devil May Cry, were getting the next-gen treatemnt with Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4. They both garnered a good amount of hype and were looking to start 2008 on the right foot. Burnout Paradise turned out to be a bit too experimental (though I applaud them for trying something new) with the open world concept. Forcing you to rely on your microscopic mini-map and arrow indicators during a high-octane race was a horrible idea; the game used to just be about blazing down a linear path and trashing all that's in your way. In Paradise I was too focused on optimizing my route to the goal to think about actually enjoying the game. Add in annoyances like a lack of a "restart race" button and the lack of the much-loved Crash mode, as well as same-screen multiplayer, and the result was a package that was original and pretty, but just not that great.

Devil May Cry 4 was also a terrible letdown. Coming off from the stellar 3rd installment that got me into the series, DMC4 had definitely had some expectations to fill. What came out was a lackluster and uninspired entry to the series. Simplified mechanics trashed the complex and customizable weapon swapping and combat style systems for a simple grabbing mechanic, where you can grapple enemies from afar and slice them up. The combos in general felt less technical and more button mashing. The simplified controles and downgraded difficulty leads to what I would call "casual-i-fying" the series.

My hope was renewed in the prospect of the extremely hyped Smash Brothers Brawl. Daily updates on its website was a great hype device, but began to slowly make clear a sad truth - there really isn't much new in Brawl. While Melee was a milestone upgrade from 64 (crisp graphics, a ton of new mechanics and moveset expansion, trophy collecting and a roster that over doubled in size), Brawl only offered a few upgrades, none of which were that interesting. The fleshed out adventure mode turned out to be nothing more than some shallow platforming stages and decent boss fights, along with nonsensical cinematics (YOU try crafting a story with 35 characters that can't speak a word, and keeping it somewhat sensical). The only game mechanic changes (other than more subtle ones like weaker gravity) is in the form of final smashes which were only handed out through an item. Instead of creating an overdrive bar that charges when the character hits / gets hit, they leave it to the random spawns / locations of items to determine when someone can get a game-breaking attack. They can be somewhat fun in casual matches but anyone decently competitive turns them off entirely. The only real upgrade was adding in some new characters, but their appeal wore off relatively quickly, even the surprise appearances from non-Nintendo Sonic and Snake. And don't get me started on the absolutely terrible online support.

The next victim was possibly the biggest letdown of 08 to me, which was GTA4. While it was certainly met with critical success, I just didn't see it personally. The graphics were amazing, the city felt alive, the story was well presented and the new aim / cover mechanics worked great most of the time. The problem was that none of those things are really what GTA is about. The reason I used to spend hours on end in the lands of Vice City and the other PS2 entries was the sheer amount of fun things there were to do. There were hospital and firefighting minigames with gameplay rewards if completed, properties I could buy with missions attached to them, jetpacking around, torching people with flamethrwers or beheading them with katanas, finding hidden packages that gave you awesome upgrades with every 10 collected, just to name a few. You can do none of that in GTA4. While they do still have vigilante missions and hidden packages (well, pigeons this time) they have no tangible reward other than some achievement points. The exciting minigames of GTA4 include activities like watching fake television, browsing their fake internet, and playing virtual pool or darts with one of your virtual friends. Sure, taking them out enough give you some perks, but the entire affair felt tedious and repetitive. The weapon selection was as bare bones as possible with nothing interesting or fun to use. The cars have a realistic feel to them which makes extreme maneuvering a much more difficult affair (and less fun) affair. Money was entirely useless past the first 5th of the game since you never lose your weapons (unless you're bad enough to actually get arrested), so there's no real risk in stocking up on expensive weapons anymore, as well as no property to buy. Pestering the cops isn't even that fun anymore; in past games you could play cat and mouse with them for a while before they really took you seriously, but in 4 by the time you're starting to really have fun you'll hit 6 stars and get trampled by army men soon after (don't expect tanks though, since they removed those too). It just felt like GTA plus realism, minus the soul of the franchise. It felt empty, cold, and uninteresting outside of the main plot.

The next big release was Rock Band 2 in the fall. Now here's a hard thing to screw up; the game got rave reviews last year and pretty much perfected plastic band gameplay already. Instead of keeping to that and upgrading some aspects, they managed to change nearly nothing and actually remove some aspects of the original. Namely I speak of the game keeping track of your star ratings in individual songs; the fact that it no longer does was a glaring and absurd oversight in my eyes. As I just said nothing was really added to the game (other than songs, obviously). The world tour mode was the same as last year's mode, with a few gimmicks like managers you can hire and some more clothes for your virtual rock star. The solo tours were completely removed. There's still no way to do band vs band online play, just 1 vs 1. The battle of the bands mode past the first couple of weeks is just a glorified ad to buy more songs so you can play their setlist challenges that you upload to leaderboards that are forgotten about a week later. Promised modes like jukebox mode and a special mode for a person playing vocals and an instrument simultanously never made the cut. Songs with no vocals can't be played unless you exit the game, take out the vocals player, and go back in the game, just to play that song. The instruments were upgraded but most people didn't need more plastic guitars or drums in the first place. A lot of this is nitpicking but I expect a sequel to have something new or interesting. The only saving grace is being able to transfer 55 of the original game's songs into this one. But overall, collosal letdown on the whole.

Guitar Hero: World Tour had a chance to innovate on Rock Band's formula but fell flat on its head. Their take on the RB interface was a jumbled mess and key components like saving other players and unison bonuses were completely absent. Vocals were horribly done with a painfully strict pitch window and nonsensical combo system. The shared star power system is horribly done and leads to people hogging SP and making SP activations only last for a few seconds at a time. The solo / band tour modes are extremely drab and linear "play pre-done setlists to advance" experiences that were not compelling at all. Their biggest chance to step-up from Rock Band, the music creator, was a flop as well. It gives you no creative expression in making the actual chart (notes are pre-deterined based on the sounds used, and SP placement is 100% random), vocals arn't allowed at all, and the guitar / bass / drums are just terrible sounding midi samples. The only songs worth looking into are random mario / zelda / final fantasy songs redone and insane random solos designed for those crazy people that can 5 star Dragonforce songs. No matter what the song, the result was always a bit jarring for the ears.

A few other letdowns rounded out the year. Fable II, like its predecessor, was supremely overhyped by Peter Molyneux and underwhelmed, with game-breaking glitches to top off the mediocre experience. GTA 4's downloadable expansion got delayed until '09. The blockbuster hits for the Wii this holiday season composed of Animal Crossing, which may as well be a port of the DS version with some new furniture and a couple of gimmicks, Mario Kart Wii, which turned out to be nothing new other than the trick system, gimmicky controls and a gimped battle mode, and Wii Fit, which I just have no words for. Nintendo still doesn't care about finding any solution to its storage problem on the Wii. Playstation 3's Home was a floundering mess and, while still in beta, is already widely considered a failure. And Xbox 360's are still Red Ringing (though less so these days).

I mean, 2008 wasn't a complete failure. Brawl and Rock Band 2, while not really innovating much, remained fun as hell to play. The 360 got an interface overhaul that sent it from having the weakest OS this generation, to the best one. Games like LittleBigPlanet and indie gem Braid gave me faith that original titles can still fare well in the giant pool of sequels that we see these days. Perhaps I'm jaded because all the titles that really did well this year were in the genre I despise most - 1st / 3rd person shooters. Resistence 2, Gears 2, Fallout 3 (please don't try to tell me that this game is an RPG, if anything it's a shooter with some light RPG aspects and an overhyped targeting system), Left 4 Dead, and MGS4 just off the top of my head. I really get worried that in a few years I'll be able to just use the [shooter series' name] [number] format for every popular game released.

Here's hoping that 2009 will have a few less shooters, a few more risks, and some truly worthy AAA titles. To all those that read (and write for) TSG, Happy New Years!

Friday, December 26, 2008

4k and Games and Passage

The Java 4k competition is where people submit game entries that take up 4kb of space or less. You can read more about it on the site's about page, or the rules, but there's not much more to it.

It's pretty amazing what people can do, using such little space.  Oftentimes, a full-sized game is emulated, and shrunk down to 4kb.  An example of this is Left 4k Dead.  It's pretty fun, but really hard.  I can't speak for how true it is to Left 4 Dead, since I haven't yet had the pleasure of playing it.


The winner from 2008 is a game called Spiderball4k, and your goal is to get the ball into the circle.  You control your 'arms' which you shoot out like Spiderman shoots out his webs.  If you touch any walls or objects you die.  Difficult, but fun.

Fkconflict is a fun version of Risk.  Instead of choosing which countries to attack and move from, they are randomly selected.  During a round, a random country is selected, and you can choose to attack from that country, move from that country or pass.  Another random country is selected, and this continues until all countries have been selected.  A pretty fun take on the game.


Another one that's not really worth a screen is Scr4mble.  It's fun, mostly cause I love word games.  It's a great example of how 4k or 4 is often cleverly inserted into the title.  Left 4k Dead is one of the best in that regard.

Passage isn't a 4k game, but it's graphics/simplicity remind me of it.  It is an artsy game which lasts 5 minutes.  Before you read any further, I suggest you go play it, since it's impossible to discuss without spoilers.

Last warning before I start talking about it...  I didn't get at first, which is to be expected, since it's on the weird/artsy side, but I liked it by the end of it.  Given that the end is only 5 minutes away, it doesn't take long to warm up to.  Your first choice, marriage or not?  You get more points by being married, but that damned woman holds you back.


If you avoid marriage, and live the single life, you get less points, but you have more manuevarbility.  You can go around hunting treasure in a maze, and don't have to worry about finding openings that you can both fit in.  (Not meant to sound dirty...)

It got pretty big coverage, here's a few articles on it.  I played through it twice, and don't feel like I've learned anything, (since I already knew to avoid women) but I feel a tear in my eye...  (But not really, I'm too manly for that.)

Godspeed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 52: F-Zero (#28)

Racing games aren't my thing. This game is. Read on to find out why.


Title: F-Zero
Console: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 08/13/91
Genre: Racing
My Ranking: #28
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F-Zero is a hyper-intense futuristic racing game. You control one of four really fast hover cars and you race on tracks with crazy turns, jumps and in some cases, lava. I love the story wikipedia gives for F-Zero, as if a racing game actually needs a story:

"F-Zero is set in the year 2560, when humanity's multiple encounters with alien life forms had resulted in the expansion of Earth's social framework. This led to commercial, technological and cultural interchanges between planets. The multi-billionaires who earned their wealth through intergalactic trade were mainly satisfied with their lifestyles, although most coveted more entertainment in their lives. This resulted in a new entertainment based on the Formula-1 races to be founded with vehicles that could hover one foot above the track. These Grand Prix races were soon named "F-Zero" after a rise in popularity of the races."

LOL.



The reason F-Zero is on my list is because of the awesome track design. F-Zero moves fast, REALLY fast. Yet, despite the speed, almost all of the stages feature 90 degree to 180 degree turns and in order to cut corners well, you need to have a solid feel for the controls. The best example of this is probably on the White Land maps which have 180 degree turns with ice to screw up your traction.

Not only do you need to be perfect in order just to make the turns, but the opposing cars on master difficulty will always be right behind you, making the game only barely beatable on the hardest difficulty. It took me weeks of grinding to be able to stand a chance on King league on master, and even now I can't get first place on all five stages in that league.



I can't talk about F-Zero without talking about the music. Every song in F-Zero is amazing, and all of them NEED to be replayed with live guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. I think my favorite song is the ending song, when you see your place and time for each stage. Then again, Silence has awesome music too. They're all good. Except for Death Wind. Screw Death Wind.

F-Zero did have some glaring flaws that prevented it from being the best racing game ever. For one, there's only 15 stages in the entire game, and while the difficulty and high-speed excitement keeps you coming back, the game feels a little too short. Just one more league would have solve this problem, I think. The other extreme flaw is that there is NO MULTIPLAYER. Seriously, who makes a racing game without multiplayer?

Yet, even with these problems, F-Zero is still fun to play, even today. I think that since you can enjoy this game without a multitude of tracks or cars and with no multiplayer shows how strong quality the tracks in this game are. F-Zero would be higher on my list with these minor additions, but even so, it's still one of the enjoyable racing games I've ever played.

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My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top 52: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (#29)

I've already talked about the awesomeness that happens when Mario meets the role-playing genre. Super Mario RPG was so enjoyable to play that it seemed almost impossible for another Mario RPG to top it. Paper Mario for the N64 was good, but not as good as Super Mario RPG. Then came Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which still remains as one of my favorite RPGs ever. Read on to find out why.


Title: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Console: Nintendo Gamecube
Release Date: 10/11/04
Genre: Role-Playing Game
My Ranking: #29
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It's rare that a single-player video game makes me laugh out loud. Paper Mario 2 is now always the game I think of when thinking of a legitimately funny game. There is an absurd amount of text in this game, even for an RPG but, you can see why there is. The dialogue is fantastically cute with Mario only making facial and body reactions to what characters say to him. I especially loved the bomb-omb town where the bomb-ombs have a pseudo-Tourette's syndrome, and randomly say BOOM when they speak. See the video below for an example.



The humor isn't the only aspect that makes this game great. The battle system was astounding and a huge improvement over the simplistic Super Mario RPG timed hit system. In addition to having to time your attacks correctly as the hit animation ensues, you also have to press A at certain times to gain stylish points. The more stylish moves you do, the faster your star gauge fills up, and your star powers are extremely powerful.

Even action you take in battle requires the player to do some correct input in order to get a good attack-including the star powers. For example, one star-ability called Sweet Treat puts you in a minigame where hearts, flowers and poison mushrooms fall from the sky. You have to aim and shoot properly to pick up health and flower bonus while avoiding the poison mushrooms that stun you. Instead of most traditional RPGs, Paper Mario 2 keeps you busy even during the attack animation.


The battle system doesn't stop being creative there either. With every battle you go into, you have an audience watching you. By doing the stylish moves I mentioned before you can impress your audience and they give you star power. They may also even throw items to help you out or throw blocks to try and hurt you. If you catch a bad guy trying to throw a rock at you, you can jump into the audience and beat him up, if you so wish.

On top of all this you have a badge system, which is just a glorified ability system. By collecting different badges and spending badge points to equip them you can have abilities that make you have a electrified shield around you, a multi-jump attack, a health point increase, etc. Depending on the boss fight or dungeon you are in, these badges can make or break the battle for you and require some strategic thinking to use them effectively.



I remember running through this game pretty quickly, but I don't remember it being incredibly easy or insanely difficult. The Pit of 100 trials was a bit crazy, as you had to go through endless amounts of battles getting no break to go an inn or save point, only to face a really hard boss after travelling 100 floors to get there. Albeit this was optional, but to have the opportunity to partake in this hardcore challenge was appreciated.

Lastly, what I really enjoyed about Paper Mario was that they made good use of the "paper" concept. Mario and all the characters are 2D living in a 3D world. And since Mario looks like he's made out of paper, he gets to use paper like abilities when not in battle. Mario can turn into a paper airplane to fly over large gaps or turn into a paper tube to fit into tiny tunnels. The first Paper Mario didn't make any use of the paper concept, but this one did.



Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is an all-around solid RPG. If you like humorous storylines, engaging turn-based battle systems and creative abilities, you're guaranteed to enjoy this game. There's a lot of text and the story is very similar to Super Mario RPG, but trust me, you won't care about these minor flaws.
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My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Flashy Friday: Gamma Bros.

Alright, so Flash Friday has turned into more like "Flashy Sometime Near Friday" or "Flashy When Rich Decides To Write It." Whatever though, I'm still sharing with you some awesome awesome games.


This week's game is Gamma Bros, an old-school space-themed shoot-em-up game. Gamma Bros has been around for a long time (since 2006) but I was only introduced to it this semester.

You control a spaceship that can move up, down, left and right. However, instead of only being able to shoot upwards (or sideways) like most shoot-em-ups, you can shoot in all four directions in this game. The choice of shooting four directions but only one at a time makes Gamma Bros really dynamic and fun to play.

Good luck trying to stop playing this game once you've started. It's addictive.

Click here to play Gamma Bros right now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Other Election -- the new VGSA Presidential administration

With Barack Obama’s administration taking power in January 2009, the United States of America has its new leaders. However, though the story was overshadowed during the election season, the future leaders of the Video Game States of America (“VGSA”) were also recently elected (er . . . chosen unilaterally by me).

Often overlooked by the media and others who solely (and foolishly) concern themselves only with matters relevant to the tangible or “real” world, the VGSA—a large nation comprising an aggregate of all video game worlds—is in trouble. It is a highly diverse nation with many problems, including multiple wars, economic troubles, systematic glitches, monsters, and evil robots. It is a nation that needs leadership. But who among the VGSA is qualified to lead it through these troubles and the unforeseen troubles that lie ahead?

Well, the voters (er . . . me) have decided. Here are the members of the new administration voted to lead the VGSA through these trying times.

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Mario – President


A leader in dozens of video games, Mario has proven himself to be able to adapt to the changing world and its many conflicts, rendering him a flexible champion of the people. Building on his defeat of Donkey Kong at a young age, Mario has repeatedly defeated such adversaries as Bowser, Bowser Jr., Magikoopa, and Count Bleck. He has proven his mettle as a platform-jumper, a water-squirting town cleaner, a coin-collector, a multi-sport athlete, and as a pipe-diver. Additionally, his roots as a plumber (albeit one not named Joe) clearly mean that he represents a symbol of the common man, and small business.

However, as some of his critics claimed during the campaign season, Mario’s alleged ties to communism may render him a risky choice to lead the VGSA. Similarly, his use of magic whistles and raccoon-costumes may demonstrate a lapse in judgment that lead some to question his readiness to lead. Others may take issue with him on moral grounds, due to his documented frequent use of mushrooms.

Finally, Mario’s lack of communication skills may harm him in foreign policy. His extremely limited vocabulary may limit his ability to effectively persuade his adversaries, leaving only jumping or attacking them with Fire Flowers as an alternative. However, Mario may mitigate this weakness through the use of varied fonts and text boxes.

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Cloud – Vice President


As part of Mario’s Team of Rivals, Mario chose to incorporate his chief opponent as his Vice President, recognizing Cloud’s diverse strengths. This former Soldier carries with him the experience of having saved the world from complete annihilation. His leadership in the Jenova conflicts was brave, and his defeat of the dreaded Ruby Weapon, Emerald Weapon, and Diamond Weapon threats solidified his status as a military leader. His prowess in Chocobo raising demonstrates his patience, and his connection to the domestic homeland. He is a true military hero, with Chocobo farm values.

Furthermore, Cloud’s steadiness and persistence in acquiring gil demonstrate an economic conservatism that should help the Mario administration to make the VGSA economy grow and prosper. While it is true that much of Cloud’s gil was applied to weapon purchases in the past, his prudent investment in Chocobo farming, local inns, and various healing items show that he is capable of leading the VGSA into a balanced economic future.

Finally, Cloud has demonstrated an ability to unify and lead a diverse group of VGSAicans. He has demonstrated a history of reaching across the aisle to join with men, women, African-Americans, dogs, cats (or rather, cats-riding-mogs), and even the previously marginalized cape-wearing gun-wielding mechanical-claw-hand-having sort-of-vampire guys. This demonstrates that he may be the unifying presence that VGSA needs in these trying times.

However, it is worth noting that Cloud’s willingness to reach out to all has raised serious questions about him, and his readiness to lead the VGSA, during the campaign season. For example, it is without question that Cloud has relied upon numerous foreign deities to aid him, including Shiva, Ifrit, Odin, and Ramuh, just to name a few. This polytheism hurt him among religious voters. While Cloud argued that his long-held faith in Aerith and traditional Lifestream values demonstrated his true values, voters decided in the end that they were less comfortable with a leader who relies on foreign deities and things like Kjata during a conflict.

Furthermore, Cloud’s associations with known cape-wearing gun-wielding mechanical-claw-hand-having sort-of-vampire guys led some voters to question his judgment, and his forthrightness. The people of VGSA proved unwilling to support a president who pals around with cape-wearing gun-wielding mechanical-claw-hand-having sort-of-vampire guys. The significance of his ties to Soldier and Sephiroth, not to mention his curious relationship with the mysterious “Zack” remained unclear to many voters. Voters felt that they simply needed to know more about Cloud before casting their imaginary ballot for him. In short, voters asked, “Who is the real Cloud Strife?”

Similarly, Cloud’s history of mental illness raised insurmountable concerns for the majority of VGSA voters. Without warning, Cloud has succumbed to paralyzing flashbacks, and has even succumbed to the psychic control of Sephiroth. All of VGSA no doubt remembers the tragedy of the Black Materia Transfer scandal, where Cloud gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth (albeit once when it looked really cool), claiming to be a victim of some sort of mind control. This scandal, as we all know, contributed to Weapon proliferation and to the dreaded Meteor threat. Voters proved unwilling to trust someone who we know has given dangerous materials to megalomaniacal leaders in the past with the future of VGSA.

An ongoing concern however for the VGSA still remains with regard to Cloud’s defense credentials. As the Mario campaign reiterated, Cloud could not save us from Meteor alone. Rather, after he heroically defeated Sephiroth, it was only the magic of Aerith and the magical white-materia dealie that prevented Meteor from destroying the world. VGSAicans will have to wait and see if their future security will depend on the hope that Aerith and her magical white-materia lifestream spell thingy will show up in a crisis.

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Squall Leonhart – Chief of Staff


Who better to manage the flow of information, negotiate with Congress, and uphold the interests of the President than a guy with a gigantic gunblade? Though he's not the most talkative character, Squall will definitely be more than capable of keeping order in the Mario administration.

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Wario – Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency


Wario won this appointment because of his unique power to single-handedly clean up at least 85% of the entire VGSA environment, simply by agreeing to dietary changes to help prevent the further release of poison gas.

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Merlon - Director of the Office of Management and Budget


As a psychic, Merlon from the Paper Mario series is best equipped to give expert advice to the Mario administration on any policy, management, legislative, regulatory, or budgetary matter.

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Bowser - Director of the National Drug Control Policy


Bowser's hostility toward mushrooms makes him a perfect choice to continue the war on drugs.

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Agitha - VGSA Trade Representative


While admittedly a little young for the job, Agitha did an excellent job of coordinating the golden bug trade in Twilight Princess, and has pledged to institute a similarly lucrative trading system for the VGSA.

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Dr. Light – Chief Technology Officer


A position newly established by the Obama administration, Dr. Light’s extensive experience in creating complex robots should benefit future VGSA technological goals. Additionally, his close relationship with Mega Man, who will serve as Secretary of Energy, should create a beneficial synergy for the administration.

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Crono – Secretary of State


As the VGSA’s chief foreign policy negotiator and adviser, Crono offers the unique ability to meet with not only present-day heads of state, but also past and future ones. This ability to transcend time should be an invaluable aid to present and future VGSA foreign policy. Additionally, his ability to bring frogs, robots, and Fiendlord wizards together for a common purpose should indicate that he will be uniquely situated to bring about peaceful relations throughout the VGSA.

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Sonic the Hedgehog – Secretary of Treasury


Sonic's sound investment strategy, focused primarily on gold rings and emeralds, will provide a solid economic backbone for the future, while also providing a strong example for all VGSA citizens.

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Link – Secretary of Defense


While undoubtedly qualified for several cabinet-level positions, Link’s command of swords, bows, boomerangs, bombs, bombchus, and hookshots, among other weapons, renders him best qualified to establish and maintain a broad-based national security strategy. He has also graciously agreed to provide the Treasury Secretary with access to his Giant Wallet to aid the troubled economy. (And, on an unrelated note, he makes an adorable cat.)

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Phoenix Wright – Attorney General


A consensus pick to be the VGSA’s chief law enforcement officer, as he is one of the only characters who actually has a law degree.

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Toad – Secretary of the Interior


Toad is an appropriate appointee for this position dealing with land management because he looks like a mushroom. He can identify with stuff that grows in the ground, which is a good thing.

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Kirby – Secretary of Agriculture


Kirby’s voracious appetite should singlehandedly increase food demand throughout the VGSA, while his Cook ability should increase supply.

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Edea – Secretary of Commerce


The formerly-possessed sorceress Edea will fulfill her duties to foster domestic and international business with a tried and true two-step method: magic and hotness. Granted however, that she and Squall, the Chief of Staff, can get along after this little tiff.

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Hammer Bros. – Secretary of Labor


Hammer Bros. support for the United Hammer Workers’ Union and United Hammer Throwers Association signals clear support for an increase in infrastructure development, which should produce a much needed boost in jobs.

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White Mage/White Wizard – Secretary of Health and Human Services


An obvious choice. Additionally, the white mage/white wizard’s unclear gender may signal a turn toward greater rights for VGSA LGBTs.

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King of Coneria – Secretary of Housing and Urban Development


The unnamed King of Coneria from Final Fantasy I is the perfect choice to promote urban development. Just look at how quickly he got that bridge to the north built.

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Star Fox – Secretary of Transportation


Narrowly edging out Captain Falcon for this position, Star Fox’s interstellar travel experience and ability to do a barrel roll should help the Mario administration plot a modern course for the future of VGSA transportation.

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Mega Man – Secretary of Energy


While slighted by not being chosen for Secretary of Defense, Mega Man’s commitment to transform the VGSA to a megabuster-and-E-tank-based energy plan, could greatly increase energy efficiency, thereby enhancing President Mario’s green initiatives.

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Mother Brain – Secretary of Education


Why? ‘Cause she’s a giant brain, that’s why.

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Barrett – Secretary of Veterans Affairs


With a massive gun for an arm, few will doubt his dedication to alleviating the plight of the VGSA’s brave returning troops and Soldiers.

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Thwomp – Secretary of Homeland Security


After careful debate, Thwomp’s “Open for a Few Seconds, then Smashie Smashie” border control policies, while considered extreme by many, were determined by President Mario to be more prudent than the “Shoot Straight in a Slow, Rhythmic Fashion” policies of Bullet Bill. To quiet naysayers, Thwomp also demonstrated his superior technique against Bullet Bill directly. Case closed on that one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fallout update

This is just a followup to my review of Fallout 3 a few weeks ago.
Around the end of November, Bethesda announced the upcoming DLC for their game Fallout 3. Among other things this included the release of a construction toolset for the game. Well last week they released the toolset and the trickle of mods for the game has turned into a torrent of user created material.

The construction set is available for download at the Fallout 3 website as well as on Fallout3Nexus. They've even put up a wiki to explain how it works along with a tutorial to get you started.
So far the best site for mods seems to be Fallout3Nexus.

While the mods out so far vary from nude mods to new weapons to replacement companions for your character, it's only a matter of time until we start seeing some pretty amazing work.

For now though I'm comfortable in saying that Fallout 3 is now a game worth buying. That is, as long as you're buying the PC version. While there will be DLC for the X-Box 360, the mods are only on the PC version and there are alot of bugs in the game that will only be fixed by the fans.

PC wins again console junkies. Bwahahahahahahahaha!!! ^^

Top 52: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice for All (#30)

This pick is more of a shout out to the entire Phoenix Wright series for the Nintendo DS. It's hard just to pick one game in the series without talking about the others since they are so woven together but, it would also be silly for this series to take up four slots on my Top 52 list as well. Regardless, the Phoenix Wright series owned my life for a semester and all I could think about was playing this game.


Title: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 01/16/07
Genre: Adventure/Visual Novel
My Ranking: #30
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In the Phoenix Wright series, you play as Phoenix Wright, a up and coming lawyer. Yes, Phoenix Wright is a lawyer game. In each case, which is always a murder case of some kind, you are playing as the defense attorney for someone who has been wrongfully accused. It is your job to find the contradictions in the witness' statements and find holes in the prosecutor's arguments.



Sounds boring at first, trust me; I know. However, once you start playing the Phoenix Wright games, your hooked for a couple of reasons. For one, the cases you deal with are astounding and finding the contradictions is a surprisingly difficult task if you're not accustomed to thinking outside the box. I would love to give an example here of what I'm talking about, but I do not want to spoil anything about the crazy twists that are in every case of every Phoenix Wright games. Seriously, you can NEVER foresee how a case will end. Sure, you'll end up winning the case, but how you win will blow your mind.

Calling the Phoenix Wright series a visual novel is surprisingly accurate. The connection you'll gain to Phoenix Wright will become so strong by the end of the fourth game because the writing is by far the best I have ever seen in any video game. When you catch a tricky contradiction in a witness statement, you'll share your excitement with Phoenix. When you see Phoenix lose a battle, you'll emphasize with his feelings. Anyone who enjoys character development in video games has to play this game.



This game should have failed miserably since the gameplay is minimal. When investigating a crime, Phoenix Wright is a point and click adventure. When finding contradictions, all you are doing is reading text, searching through your evidence and pressing the "Press" button for more information out of the witness. However, since the story is so engaging and the music is fantastically composed (and fits the environment of the game), the minimalist gameplay doesn't even matter.

Though Phoenix Wright is a lawyer game, you can see from the videos and photos that the game looks very anime. This works to Phoenix Wright's advantage as whenever you counter an argument the screen shakes, the background moves really fast, and the animations are highly exaggerated, making the pleasure of finding a contradiction that much more exciting. Sometimes you'll just laugh from the animation alone (e.g. a prosecutor throws coffee at Phoenix... multiple times, lolz).


I highlight Justice for All (the second of four games in the series) in this post since it features my favorite case in the entire series. The wikipedia article on this game gives an excellent description of the case without giving away the major twists. "Phoenix defends Matt Engarde, an actor charged with the murder of his television rival Juan Corrida. This case ends up becoming a personal matter after Maya [your assistant] gets kidnapped by an assassin hired by the real perpetrator." Ah! I want to say so much but I have to respect the spoilers! Lame.

The Phoenix Wright series has gained a huge following of deeply devoted fans. On Newgrounds I discovered a long series of flash animations and spinoffs called Phoenix Wrong. The Phoenix Wrong animation series takes the animations from the Phoenix Wright series, as crazy as they are, and re-appropriates them with sound bytes from movies, songs, pop culture, etc. It sounds silly as first, but some people are REALLY creative with the combinations of sound bytes and Phoenix animations. (Howard Dean's famous exclamation + Von Karma's scream animation = ROFLMAO). A good example is shown below.



The Phoenix Wright games are probably the best sleeper hits in video games right now. Even after four games in the series being released, and a fifth one being announced, this series isn't at the forefront of video gamer's minds, and it should be. Sure, there are many ways you can attack Phoenix Wright's style, the main one being the gameplay is minimal. However, regardless of how bad it looks from the outside, once you play it, you'll be captivated in fantastically fun experience.

>.>

OBJECTION!
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My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)

Reflections on a Gaming Semester

I'm a Video Game Production major at NYU. I'm sure that confuses some people, since NYU just announced they will have video game majors starting NEXT year. At my school in Gallatin we get to create our own concentrations, and mine is in Video Game Production. I guess that means I'm slightly ahead of the curve? What's nice though is that NYU is starting a masters program in gaming in Fall 2010, which is the semester right after I graduate. If I pull the right strings I might have a way into that, unless, of course, I find an good-paying job out of undergrad. Eh, whatevs.


Being that I'm a junior, my academic career is flying full throttle. I took four classes this semester. Digital New Media, Game Production, Culture as Communication and Hackers: Culture and Politics. All four of these classes blended together extremely well, and I felt that each discussion in these classes were extensions of a previous conversation I had in different class but with a different spin on it.

The first example of this happening was when I talked about Jorge Luis Borges and the Garden of Forking Paths. I had to read that short story for both my Digital New Media class and my Game Production class. In game production we looked specifically at the labyrinth the main character walks through in order to find the person he needed to kill. We took that winding labyrinth idea and made our own 3D models of of a labyrinth. Hence the Lego Labyrinth post I made earlier.


In Digital New Media, we took Borges' story and analyzed it terms of hypertext. By killing a prominent person who was also the name of a city, Borges showed a hidden meaning embedded with his the actions of his character. The idea of hypertext also blended into other topics in Digital New Media, the obvious one being how we use hyperlinks to continue a line of thought or a narrative.

I thought it was neat that my classes complimented each other in little bits early in the semester. By the end of the semester though, everything I was doing was becoming part of one big wheel, and content was getting recycled with different lenses in different classes. I remember watching McLuhan's Wake in Digital New Media while reading McLuhan's Understanding Media in my Culture as Communication class. McLuhan's Wake was a film produced by Marshall McLuhan's son that took McLuhan's ideas of the "medium is the message" and "hot and cold media," along with many others and used them in a film format.

For those who don't know, McLuhan is one of the pioneers of new media studies. I recently wrote a paper on how McLuhan would probably look at the interpersonal relationships between people while they play video games. You can read that paper through this link.


I also read Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture and I took one his ideas--Trans-Media Storytelling--and decided to do a final project for my Digital New Media class with Jenkins in mind. The concept behind Trans-Media Storytelling is that current media have the ability to take one storyline and extend it over different mediums. For example, The Matrix is a three part movie series. However, the story is also extended in the Animatrix anime series and in the Matrix Online game.

For my take on his theory I made a Little Big Planet level that focused more on a narrative, while still having quite a bit of gameplay. I recorded the level with voice acting and made it into a video on YouTube. The video is also posted on this site, right before this post. The Little Big Planet level is just one step in a trans-media storytelling format. By making a video, I move the game into another medium, and since I made the level copyable, someone could take my design, improve upon it, or even continue the story.


The Little Big Planet level isn't the only project I was working on this semester as well. For my Game Production class, I had to create a game using programs such as Autodesk Maya and Virtools, which both focus on making 3D environments. After much deliberation and tons of time spent learning the software, I was able to create (fairly) working demo and a level design document that lays out the goals of the game, the inspiration and a timeline of various models. I have a screenshot of what the game looks like below (called Clockwork), and you may notice that the level design was inspired by the Lego Labyrinth.


I do plan on finishing the game, at least just the first level. I plan on having it out before the end of December and it will posted on this site first. Shawn was awesome enough to record some music for the game, and he linked to you it in his most recent, and first, post on this blog.

The story for Clockwork is pretty straight forward. You're a worker inside of a gigantic clock constantly being watched over by what looks to be drones. Your character decides that he can't take it anymore and decides to leave his post working on the gears. In order to escape from the clock, you need to solve a series of puzzles to unlock the path to the exit. And being that you're in a place filled with gears, many of the walls and floors turn, which add to the puzzle frenzy.

This whole story is explained without words, mostly because gamers playing a puzzle-action game probably don't want to read story. Instead, the above passage is explained just through animation. A video game narrative doesn't need words to be effective, at least, in my opinion. Why is this the case? Sherry Turkle, a writer I mentioned in a previous post gives her view on the subject. Turkle suggests that gamers care less about narrative in games because the interactivity of a game already allows them to create their own story, even if they are trapped in a highly rule-based world.Even though Turkle made those observations in the 1980's, some of her perceptions still hold true today.

I actually learned a lot about video game history this semester, though that knowledge surprisingly came from my Hackers: Culture and Politics course. I didn't know that the makers of the Atari 2600 were a bunch of hackers, and I also found out where the 2600 came from. I wrote a whole history about the 2600 on Will and Beyond, so check it out if you want to find out more.


I think the most important thing I learned this semester relating to video game production is that in order to create something successful, you have to look at it from an interdisciplinary point of view. Gameplay isn't the most important thing, as I always have said in the past. The look and feel of a game, the story, the music, the entire development team; they all need to work together.

Games aren't all about the content either. McLuhan taught me to look at the interactions outside of the content and Jenkins showed me that video games aren't a closed medium; they seep into almost all of the other media that we have. And while games should be focused on making gamers happy, games are so integrated into our culture that they affect the growth of business, music, film, and ourselves. To ignore the appeal of games to any person would be taking a very narrow mindset.

Next semester will be interesting as well. I'm taking a class on game art, another in advanced photoshop, a class about evil characters in stories, a class on reading and theorizing film and my internship with Illclan, an animation company that produces Machinima.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Little Big Planet- The Owl Collector

One of my many final projects was to create a Little Big Planet level/film. I learned a lot about how different mediums combine together in my various classes at NYU this year. Whether is was McLuhan's theories on hot and cold media, or Jenkins' idea of convergence culture, each of them suggested a melding of mediums. So, I decided to take their ideas into practice and create a little big planet level with some basic story elements and voice acting. The result is shown below.



Alright, so it's not THAT funny, but I thought it was pretty cute for what Little Big Planet is. Making the level took about 4-5 days of work; most of it being spent on testing and re-testing gameplay elements (the falling blocks part was a bitch).

The gameplay and script was created by me and the characters used are characters Media Molecule had in the story mode. The fantastic voice-acting was all performed by my roommate, Garrett.

Yeah, I know. The quality sucks. Eventually I may have a (working) adapter that allows me to plug my PS3 into my computer. If and when that happens I'll recorded this video with better quality. Even with this quality though, my professor and classmates seemed to love it when I presented it. I think I also blew their minds when I showed how the gameplay mechanics work.

I'm still impressed at the amount of tools Little Big Planet has for the level editor. I was even able to affect the camera angle at the end so you could see the catapult activating. Crazy stuff. If you have LBP and you would like to play this level, search for "The Owl Collector" in LBP. And if you like it, please heart it! I need 5 hearts in order to get a trophy.

Expect a Little Big Planet review in the upcoming week.

Video Gaming with McLuhan

I wrote this paper for my Culture as Communication class. The essay looks at McLuhan's theories on media, and sees how well his theories would apply to video games. Since McLuhan always pushed the "medium is the message" idea, I analyze the interactions between people as they play video games, while under a McLuhan lens. Being that the paper is academic, read only if you're looking for something fairly intelligent sounding.
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Video Gaming with McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan introduced a revolutionary idea to media studies. Instead of examining the new content in the media, McLuhan looked at the interpersonal relationships forming because of the new medium. He was more concerned with the human interaction than with the subject itself. I only wish that McLuhan would have been alive to study and remark on the environments that current video games create. There have been hundreds of studies that look at the effects of violent video games, but few have looked at the interpersonal relationships that form around this new medium.

A common misconception of video gamers is that they become glued to the action on the screen and do not interact with the players around them. Yet, whenever I host a video game club event in NYU, the room is loud not because of the television, but because of the people interacting (more like yelling) with one another. As play occurs, the people become more in tune with their characters or avatars and as their characters win or lose, they mimic the feeling of joy or despair in the real world.



Mocking, cheering, gloating, cursing and anger are just some of the emotions expressed in the multiplayer experience that exists out of the gaming world. For “play,” whether in life or in a wheel, implies interplay. There must be give and take, or dialogue, as between two or more persons or groups” (McLuhan, 240-241). The discussions outside of the game are particularly odd because a game allows the parties involved to be cruder. Calling someone a loser or a n00b is mean but, a gamer has no choice but to accept the insult, and retort with an even better insult. In addition, the better your rhetoric is, the more you will impress your opponent and you will bond closer together both inside and outside the gaming environment.

Why does this happen? Multiplayer gaming is a forced competitive environment and since you are battling in a virtual world, it only seems natural to extrapolate the virtual competition into the real world, and have a competition in rhetoric. And when you eventually win a battle—especially in something like a fighting game where there is a clear cut winner—the jubilation of the character animation and the player may often times be one of the same. “Games, like institutions, are extensions of social man” (McLuhan, 235). Though we may not be battling with swords in the real world unlike our virtual counterparts, we find other ways to compete.


The need for competition in both the virtual and real world may be brought further to light by McLuhan’s theories about hot and cold media. Simply put, hot media is any medium that is high in data but low in participation, while cold media is low in the amount of information but high in participation (McLuhan, 23). Video games seem to break from this mold as they are both high in participation and in data. The user playing a video game is being inundated with visuals and sound while inputting commands on a controller and potentially conversing with his or her neighbor. Participation, in this case is both mental and physical.

The visual and sound power of a movie, on the other hand, is such an overload of data that the watcher is forced to be quiet and process all that is happening within the screen, making it clearly a hot medium. Video games have a similar level of focus since each player looks closely at how the character is interacting with the environment when he or she inputs commands. However, since the inputting of commands forces us to participate in order to enjoy the medium, we naturally participate in the real world as well.

Another reason why we might be more prone to talking in real life while playing video games is that we have a closer tie with the character than that of movie characters. We control the movements and actions of the avatar but the technology is not advanced enough yet that we can control their speech and make it our own. It is possible that since we control the character in some elements, we feel the urge to speak so that we can further complete our connection to the avatar and make the gaming experience a closer match for the extensions of ourselves.


Video games force the user to multitask since there is interaction with a visual object. Since we have the senses of sight and touch covered, the hot media environment we live in may force us to connect with the gaming experience orally as well. Instead of cutting our minds off from an oral interaction, we may feel compelled to discuss while gaming so that we do not overload one of our stimuli. This idea slightly differs from McLuhan who suggests that our bodies self-amputate in hot media situations. “The function of the body, as a group of sustaining and protective organs for the central nervous system, is to act as buffers against sudden variations of stimulus in the physical and social environment” (McLuhan, 43).

It’s hard to argue that we, living in New York City, do not live a hot media society. The internet is loaded with information that we can access at any time now, thanks to the availability of cell phones and laptops. However, instead of blocking ourselves off from the stimulus, we engage with it. The want to know information is very much a gaming quality since it is akin to exploration. The fact that we can handle all the information and play with it might show that we are attempting to cool down our environment in order to make use of all of our senses.


With video games the environment seems to protect its users from self-amputation. You are aware that the player sitting next to you is engaged in the same competition experiencing similar emotions to you while participating in the content. The urge to share your feelings is strong, just as it is when watching a movie with a friend. However, the difference is that since you are changing the content, you feel more ownership to the experience and have no qualms discussing the experience mid-gameplay.

Gamers are a social bunch when partaking in a multiplayer experience. The interactions may be a product of the “warm” medium that it is, since video games are filled with data and participation. Regardless, McLuhan may have made some changes to his theories based on the relationships that form with video gaming. Hot and cold media might have to be re-evaluated and the self-amputation concept might have to be entirely remodeled since video gamers seem to counteract that belief. Since McLuhan never witnessed digital play on something of this magnitude, I am sure our society would influence the development of his theories.
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The book referenced in this essay is McLuhan's Understanding Media.

Feel free to debate my ideas expressed in this paper. I'm sure there are some holes in my argument that people can address.