Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beyond This Twilight

Playlist Available on Grooveshark.

  1. Owen Pallett – Midnight Directives
  2. Glasvegas – Geraldine
  3. Glasvegas – It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
  4. Vampire Weekend – Run
  5. Matt & Kim – Daylight
  6. Yeasayer – Ambling Alp
  7. Nine Inch Nails – Non-Entity
  8. Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt
  9. Volcano Choir – Island, IS
  10. Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights
  11. David Usher – The River
  12. Seabird – Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful
  13. Modest Mouse – Float On
  14. Bear In Heaven – Lovesick Teenagers
  15. Glasvegas – Daddy’s Gone
  16. Dntel - (This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan
  17. Nine Inch Nails – Beyond This Twilight (Stephan Carroll Mix)
  18. Owen Pallett – What Do You Think Will Happen Now?



I just found the coolest site ever.  Grooveshark.  Let me explain.

Cloud computing is the new big thing.  Basically it’s when processes and resources are done server-side, with only the basic interactions done locally.  To simplify: your files are stored on a site, and you can play them from there.  Sort of like I story my photos on flickr, and it’s almost like an external hard-drive.  The nice part about this is it’s backed up by a company with much more resources to ensure their safety than I could provide.  Another benefit is I can access my photos from anywhere, not just my computer.  I get show someone my photos at their place because I can access them on flickr from there.  Cloud computing is erasing the need for a hard-drive.

So apply this concept to music.  I have no idea how Grooveshark is legal, but it is.  Almost any mp3 you can imagine, Grooveshark has it in their database.  It streams these songs to you in real time, it’s just like listening to them from your hard-drive.  Any song, any time, as many times as you want.  Start an account, create a library, make playlists, share them, etc.  All free.  If Grooveshark doesn’t have a song you’re looking for, upload your copy to their database, and poof, now it’s there for everyone to access.

Grooveshark makes it’s money off advertising and/or subscriptions.  Every time a song is streamed, the artist and label get a cut.  So every time you listen to a song from your favorite band, they get a cut.  The more you listen, the more they get. 

I see this as the future of the music industry.  For a long time I had no idea how the music industry would ever regain their profitability, but I can see this being it.  A centralized place where you can access all your music hassle free.  Now you organize your music once and it’s the same regardless of where you access it from: home, work, phone, etc…  Same music collection, same playlists, everything.  And it’s free to use, the site makes its money off advertising, sponsorship of bands and optional paid memberships (removes advertising and gives a handful of non-essential but very cool benefits like a desktop client, etc).  The bands and labels get their money from every play they get. 

The best part is it’s a return to supply and demand.  The music industry could collaborate with the media hubs like radio and MTV to engineer the success of mediocre bands.  But with this model, an indie band from nowhere can make tons if their song catches on and gets lots of plays.

When you make a playlist it lets you export it as a widget, so my playlists will be from Grooveshark from now on.  The first is already up, to the right.  Underneath it you will see a link saying “Other Playlists”.  This takes you to my list of playlists on Grooveshark.  I am in the process of recreating all my older playlists so they will be accessible as well!  Loving this site!  I think when I get some money I will sign up for the paid membership!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Designing Dystopia

The preceding video is a speech given at the DICE 2010 design conference.  It is a talk about game design, social interaction, psychology and advertising.  It shows the far-reach design can have in society.  And as I watched it, to be honest, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a good thing…  I love game design, and design in general.  Photography, video editing, level editing, web design, etc…  All forms of design I’ve had fun with.  Design is the very career I pursue.  That being said, after watching the video above, this is an email on the subject which I sent to my cousin, the one who showed it to me.

Dale Furutani - February 26 at 12:34am

I watched that speech on Kotaku. It touched on a few things I've actually debated with Reid before. I told him about how Achievements were such a success because they turned your gaming as a whole into an augmented reality. Your gaming life was one giant MMO and playing GAME X was just a specific quest. It taps into the same things.

That being said, that speech REALLY depressed me. I hope it never gets to that point. He starts off by talking about how we're getting more and more disconnected from reality, and that hopefully we can eventually use technology to reach back to it. But then he talks about a global points system and technology that monitors our every move. The future he described terrifies and disgusts me. It's the point when we as a species become consumers.

The conclusion of his speech offset me the most though. He says with a record of everything we do, with our grandchildren able to see every book we read, and where we spent our days, we'll be motivated to be better people. How is that any different than saying the government has placed cameras in every house and the only people who have anything to worry about are the ones breaking the law?

The future he described was the furthest thing from authenticity I can imagine. I do like the concept of games breaking through to reality. I like comparing my scores to my real friends and I'm clearly an achievement whore. But I also recognize that as a bit of a psychological flaw on my part, and I recognize it's being exploited. Kinda like the way a WoW player may tell you he loves it, even though he's pale, malnourished and has no real friends.

The very definition of an illusion is to distort your senses into thinking something unreal is reality. I really hope that future never comes, but designers and advertisers everywhere are getting wise to the back-doors to our brains that leave us completely vulnerable to such exploitation.

I don't want to see our society become a culture of OCD, counting every brush of our teeth, every gallon of gas saved, every Dr. Pepper drank and every advertisement read. The idea, to me, is the complete opposite of authenticity, and reflects the dark side of design.

My cousin replied in agreement.  His response makes me want to elaborate a bit further.  I suppose the future is coming one way or another, and as someone who hopes to get into the design field I guess I better get used to the idea of exploiting the psychology of our current society with the drip-feed, carrot on a stick approach.

I still can’t help but feel a sense of sadness.  The psychological markers left within us from our times surviving in nature now have us comfortably consuming our shrink-wrapped unreality.

I suppose I can only hope for, and maybe help design the backswing of the pendulum, to return to something more authentic.  Humanity tends to work that way, find something new, and love it until we hate it.  I must assume someday the consumer will get tired of having their OCD appeased and long for something more lasting than the next drip.

Either way, this trend in design and advertising is something to watch and be aware of.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Probing Uranus

Stay classy BioWare.



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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Divide By Zero

time Forgive me this long rant about myself, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect it.

I’ve always been a passionate person, for better or worse.  At work several people have made jokes that I’m a natural salesman because when I like something, I get so passionate about it I try to convince everyone around me of it, even if it’s something as mundane as, oh I don’t know, electronic cigarettes…

I’ve also always been a bit on the intellectual side.  While others may want to spend their nights having drinks and getting wild, or playing sports and being active, I always found a good debate to be my pass-time of choice.

And there was always much to debate.  Whatever beliefs I hold, I hold them strongly.  This has always been the case, and has gotten me into trouble more than once.  But this passionate advocacy of whatever side of the debate I was on has taken its toll over the years.

When you’re so behind something that you’ll go out of your way to debate it with anyone willing to not punch you in the face, you eventually hear many good arguments against it.  And as someone who respects truth more than any one opinion, I’d always do my best to overcome my personal bias towards my held belief and reconsider both options every time I received new information on the subject.

Eventually I couldn’t help but realize some of my beliefs were wrong.  Not wanting to be a stubborn ass, well no more than I’d already been, I suitably changed my beliefs accordingly.

But it doesn’t end.  Eventually I’d become passionate about this new belief, and get into as many debates as I could on the matter.  I’d debate against many points I myself used to hold.  Until eventually someone would make a good point that disproved the new belief I now held…

I’ve been a pacifist and a pragmatic.  I’ve been a socialist and a capitalist.  I’ve believed in free market, regulated market and all the shades in between.  I’ve believed in freedom over safety, and vice versa.  I’ve done almost all the things I once swore I’d never do, and taken back things I swore were intrinsically true.

Over time I was left feeling pretty disenfranchised.  I’d been so sure, so many times.  And being proven wrong was humbling.  But naturally I had to take humility to it’s extremity.  And now I’m passionately passionless.  I raise the white flag with pride.


The stance I now stand behind is a transparent one.  Nothing is intrinsically true.  Truth is a relative term.  While it may be the case that some combination of matter is accurate, we will never know it, not really.  We will perceive it, and file it away in the context of who we are, and where we were in our lives at the time of perception.  Some day it will need to be re-evaluated and filed accordingly by who we’ve become and how our perceptions have changed as a result of holding them.  Even if one of those times we get it right, we won’t even be able to tell it from all the mistakes we’ve made, and eventually we will inevitably re-evaluate and file it back into fallacy.  The truth will have no recognizable quality by virtue of itself, it will look and feel just like all the illusions.

Some people choose this moment to find faith.  I suppose once I see the inadequacy of intellect to find any lasting truth I can understand the inclination to faith.  But if you’re reading this, you know me, and you know the summary of this article is not going to be faith.  Nietzsche once defined Nihilism “as a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value and how the world appears to operate.”  Basically, when we realize what we want to be true isn’t, or at the very least, can’t be known for sure, we want to continue operating as if it were.

I will not make the argument that a life of faith is easier.  I’ve known enough people of faith to know their lives are just as difficult as anyone else’s.  But I will say that a life of purpose has direction.  So while it may not make the load easier to bear, it does give one a reason to bear it.  And so we’re down to the catch-phrase of nihilism.

“What’s the point?”

I’ve been at this crossroads for several years now.  It’s difficult to lead a life of value when you see how subjective value is.  How do you lead a just life if justice is just a word?  How can you do the right thing when righteousness is really just justification?  I don’t want to devolve into some animal, only in it for myself, fulfilling my base needs.  This, despite the fact that if you ask me what I believe we are, I’d answer “just animals, in it for ourselves, fulfilling our base needs.”

I have always considered myself a moral person.  I try to do the right thing.  But when morality is just a social construct, why do the right thing when no one’s looking? 

It’s that tension.  I believe in nothing, but to continue I have to believe in something.  It’s oft been said a true nihilist offs himself right there, the living are just posers.  Of course this is generally mumbled by emo teens wearing too much eye-liner, but they do point out a logical flaw of nihilism.  If there’s no point…  What’s the point?

And eventually you get tired of studying both sides to every coin.  The whole process starts to make you sick.  You search and study, but for what?  Everything is negated by something.  The easy thing to do would be just forget it and occupy myself with hedonistic pleasures, like tv, sex, drugs, alcohol, adrenaline, whatever.  And sometimes I fall victim to such distractions.

But at the end of the day, I’m still a passionate person.  And I’m still a bit on the intellectual side.  So time and time again I find myself back at the blackboard, hoping I’ve figured out the equation.  I try again and again to rid myself of that tension, to find a way to navigate that disproportion between what I want to value and how the world appears to operate.  Despite it all, I still want my life to have some sort of meaning.  I want there to be a right and wrong.

So for now, I’ll have to take that as truth.  I can’t say what is true about the world, but I can at least say what is true about me.  I don’t know anything for certain, and while sometimes that can be overwhelming, more often it’s just really exciting.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Bioshock 2 Review


It’s not widely known, but Bioshock was heavily influenced by the philosophical novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  It’s no coincidence that there is a character named Atlas.  Nor is it chance that there is a character named Andrew Ryan, which sounds a lot like Ayn Rand.  And the fact that it’s in the 50’s is an homage to the industrial revolution setting in which Atlas Shrugged takes place.  I’d read and loved Atlas Shrugged, so when Bioshock was announced I was intrigued.  I wondered how it would handle some of the tougher subject matter of the book.  It was predictably much more shallow than the themes of the book, but that is to be expected.  Bioshock was, at its core, still a game.  So instead of lecturing the player for hours at a time on the philosophy of Objectivism, it was meant to be fun with an interesting backdrop.  And it succeeded.

The first Bioshock was possibly the biggest advancement in first-person gaming narrative since Half-Life.  With its moral choices and gameplay consequences, its philosophical underpinnings, and its perfect use of the environment to create an atmosphere and consequently tell a story, it was a gem among the first person genre, which had grown stale with grizzled space marines.  It was a mature take on the first person genre, showing it was possible for a shooter to be more than mindless shooting.  People were thinking while they played.  It was loved by critics and audiences alike. 

Its story was pretty self-contained, so no one expected a sequel.  And then one was announced.  How would they justify a sequel after the first wrapped up so nicely?

And that is the one fatal flaw with Bioshock 2.  The gameplay is still fantastic; it’s still the brilliant mix of FPS and RPG, shooting things and searching desks for loot.  The combat is still varied and interesting; mixing plasmids and ammo types, hacking computers and bots, and using the environment to out-think the enemies is still all as fun as it was in the first, with a few added goodies.  And it’s even great to continue to explore Rapture, the underwater city in which Andrew Ryan attempted to create his utopia free from the meddling hands of government regulation or religious judgment.  But at the end of it all, you can’t help but feel like the story was tacked on.  It has its moments, and it manages to be it’s own story, not just borrowing momentum from the first, but it also feels like it doesn’t know where it’s going.  By the time the story ended I’d already forgotten most of it.


Bioshock 2 is a AAA game with fantastic gameplay and combat, and exploring more of Rapture is itself reason enough to play it.  But it never manages to escape the shadow of the original Bioshock, and doesn’t manage to do a single thing significantly better.  In the end, it’s really just more of the same.  But when that “same” is one of the best first person shooters of the decade, that still makes for a great game, just not a revolutionary one.

Dragon Age Awakening Penny Arcade Comic Page 2

Page 2 of the Dragon Age Awakening Penny Arcade comic is up!  Click the picture to go to full page!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gamespot’s Awakening Write-up

Gamespot did got a hands-on preview of Dragon Age Awakening and did a write-up on it.  Check it out!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dragon Age: Awakening Penny Arcade Comic Page 1

Penny Arcade is doing a comic for Dragon Age: Awakening as its release approaches, much like they did for the main game.  Page 1 is up!



Cleaned up my room and reorganized it.  Feels so good to have a clean room with more space!


Getting Started

So I finished the first module of the training videos.  It teaches you the basics of creating a level without too many specifics, so here’s some screenshots of my final test area.  Essentially it’s 2 rooms, a short hallway connection them, some static meshes and lighting!

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I’m pretty proud considering a week ago I didn’t know how to do a thing.  These videos are super helpful, and I think I have a knack for this kind of thing.  I’m starting to get excited about the idea of some day making the jump from QA to Level Design.  I love QA, I love Level Design, so more options is a good thing!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Level Design

When I was a kid my best friend Tim and I used to play Duke Nukem games over the modem.  It was really fun, and I eventually taught myself how to use the Build Engine to make my own multiplayer levels.  It started simple, building versions of my own house, etc.  It was always a blast when I finished a level and then I’d send it to Tim and we’d play it.  Over time I got better and eventually created an entire episode, which is 12 levels of singleplayer/coop.  It took 6 months, but when it was done I sent it to Tim and we played through it on coop, and it was insanely fun.  The episode ended up being sponsored on several Duke Nukem mod sites.  This was all by the age of 13.


I used to find level building the ultimate form of creativity.  Especially single player / coop maps.  Guiding a player through something that came from my mind was a great feeling.  I’ve always liked directing an experience, whether it be video editing, photography or level design.  I remember when the next generation of level editors came out I tried to get into it, but it was a lot to learn.  Everything was true 3 dimensions, and the xyz axis model was a lot to take in.  And I was becoming a teenager;  I had a social life and had to deal with all the drama and change that comes at that time of life.  I never ended up learning it, and the field of level design left me behind.

Every so often I’ll still get the overwhelming desire to create something, and level design was always the most rewarding.  Just throw on some good tunes, bunker down at the computer with a vision and a few ideas, and spend all night bringing it together, watching it take shape.  I miss having that outlet.

I’d been planning on either learning the Dragon Age toolset or the Unreal Engine on my 3 months off, and I’ve decided to go with the Unreal Engine, since so many games use it and it’s more first-person shooter oriented, which is where my level design history is (though I did used to have a blast with RPG Maker 95).

My cousin is on the Mass Effect team which uses the Unreal Engine, so he’s been learning it as he goes, and pointed me to some invaluable resources, including over 20 hours of videos teaching you how to make levels.  I’ve made level design it’s own job now, to keep myself on a schedule and to be productive.  I wake up early on weekdays and work on levels until about 5:00, working my way through the instructional videos.  I’m catching on fast so far, and I’m already extremely excited to have that creative outlet again.  And since I’m in the industry now, I could potentially make the jump from QA to Level Design some day.

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This is the test level I’ve been making so far.  I have basic geometry and lighting down, and have just practiced populating it with static meshes.  God I missed this!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Chad says:
watching figure skating olypics on tv
every single chick is hot
and wearing short tight skirts
and jumping around
it's awesome
unfortunatly the guys are wearing the same outfits

More Celebrity Crushes

You didn’t think I’d run out did you?

Cobie Smulders


She plays Robin on How I Met Your Mother, a great show, especially because it stars another of my crushes, Alyson Hannigan!

Alexis Bledel


I hear she’s from some show.  I remember seeing a commercial for it once.  Her Mom was hot too.

Emma Watson


Girl grew up!

Felicia Day


Every nerd on the planet has a crush on this girl.  She is the definition of girl next door.

Tricia Helfer


The other girl every nerd has a crush on.

Perfect Timing

Mobile Photo Feb 15, 2010 2 27 30 AM

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bayonetta Review


I beat Bayonetta last night.  I’d had several people tell me it was a must-play game.  And I know I’ll catch flak from those people, but I gotta say, I did not like this game…  I’ll readily admit I’m clearly a minority here.  Bayonetta is sitting at 91 on Metacritic, and the people who recommended the game to me are people I normally agree with on games.  That being said…  No.  Did not like this game.

It’s tough to review a game when you know, when it comes down to it, it just wasn’t your type of game.  I can (and will) list all the reasons I didn’t like it, but that’s not going to change the fact that everyone else did.

So, to the list! 

First of all, it’s no secret Bayonetta is meant to be over-the-top.  It’s overtly sexual to the point of mimicking 60’s sexploitation films.  The story is the epitome of self-important, confusing Japanese writing.  But it’s all done unapologetically, so I can forgive it that.  I like when a medium takes its failures and emphasizes them as a stylistic choice, turning it into something fun instead of shameful.  But if the game acknowledges the story as ridiculous why is half the game spent in wordy cutscenes?  That’s a LOT of time devoted to a throw-away story.  Especially when said cutscenes are constantly breaking the flow of the game.

The formula became painfully transparent to me early in the game.  Fight an easy battle or 2, get a nonsensical 5 minute cutscene, fight some new elaborate monster.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  You never really get into the action for more than a few minutes before another painful cutscene interrupts.  To make matters worse, Bayonetta herself is constantly commenting that the enemies will never shut up, it’s like she hates the game she’s in as much as I do.

And that brings me to what I’m sure will be the most controversial criticism.  I did not find the combat that great.  It was just a Devil May Cry clone.  Yes, it may even have perfected it, but Devil May Cry is almost 10 years old now, and it’s charm wore out a long time ago for me. 


Bayonetta prides itself on its Witch Time mechanic, and this was one of the things I liked the least about the game.  Dodge at the last second and time slows down, giving you a major advantage over enemies. Sadly it reduced the combat to a one-trick pony, the game was much too dependent on it, to the point that half the enemies can ONLY be damaged when in witch time.  The other thing I really didn’t like was that you only get witch time if you dodge at the LAST second.  So you’re rewarded for having slow reflexes.  If you dodge early enough that the enemy isn’t even close to damaging you, you get no advantage.  So you have to fight your intuition and stay in harm’s way until the last second, then dodge.  I was so unimpressed with the mechanic I would have preferred to just play without it.  But as I said, half the enemies require you to be in witch time to damage them, so I was forced to stand and WAIT for them to attack me, just to dodge.

Another major issue I had with the game was I found it offensive.  And not in the way you might expect.  I had no issue with the sexual innuendo throughout the game.  I found the game offensive to my senses.  It was too much; the game was a seizure waiting to happen.  It was digital vomit.  Everything that could possibly happen was happening.  All at once.  Over and over and over.  At 10,000 RPM.  To some of the most grating J-Pop music I’d ever heard in my life.  The game really managed to annoy me.  It reminded me of visiting someone who has kids and lets them sit in the living room watching their neurotic shows with the volume at 11.

It often felt the game was deliberately avoiding fun to instead be a chore.  The fact that it counts your continues and judges your score based on that was often discouraging, especially when you consider the amount of quick-time events.  One missed button and you have to use a continue.  Then when you use a continue, far too often the auto-save was at the worst possible moment.  So after using one continue, you push start and you’re loaded mid-combat and suddenly have a split second to dodge an attack or lose half your health, even though you had no idea that’s where the auto-save had been.  Now you’re down 2 continues, which costs you in-game currency to boost your stats.

Half the time the camera is in such a position you have no idea an attack is coming, and can’t dodge it, which is especially game-breaking considering its dependency on the witch-time mechanic.  The level design was painfully linear, and always nonsensical.  Climbing a building only to find it’s a pillar supporting a village.  Sure why not?  Giant bouncing metal balls in a town square?  Um ok…  Levers that rotate entire buildings…  WTF?


By the time I reached the final stretch of the game, I was literally just pressing buttons to end the game.  I just wanted it to be over.  And it was as if the game knew this, and was using my desperation against me, as its one final insult.  After 3 fake endings I was ready to openly break into tears.  What would it take for this to end!?  Throw the boss into THE SUN?


Bayonetta, to me, will be remembered as some sort of mathematical proof that less is more.  Riding a motorcycle up a giant tentacle may sound cool, but need I remind anyone of Ninja Blade?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Darksiders Review

War-darksiders-2154826-2560-1600 (1)

I beat this game a while ago, so it’s not as fresh in my mind as I’d like, but I felt it merited a review.

Darksiders has a really original premise.  You are one of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse.  You are summoned to earth to bring about the end of humanity, but you quickly realize something isn’t right.  Before long you are accused of starting the apocalypse and dooming humanity before its time.  The other 3 horsemen weren’t there, no one admits to summoning you, so why did you jump the gun?  The rest of the game is finding who framed you for the end of the world.  The story from there, sadly, only serves as a device to propel you forward, but the premise itself is pretty cool.

I really enjoyed Darksiders.  It was the perfect blend of old and new.  I played the game with a simultaneous sense of nostalgia and wonder.  It has been called a mashup of the God Of War and Legend Of Zelda series, and I’ll agree with that 100%.  And that’s a great thing.

Legend of Zelda was known for it’s fantastic dungeons, filled with puzzles and boss fights that would tend to make use of all the techniques you learned within that dungeon.  God Of War was known for its combat and it’s gory mature nature.  So a dark mature Legend Of Zelda?  Yes please.

And it did both elements perfectly.  The puzzles are challenging and rewarding, and some of them are especially creative.  The combat, while simple, was fun and rewarding.  And the guys at THQ really knew how to balance the two.  Whenever you’re getting worn out from the combat you run into a new puzzle to solve.  And when you’re beginning to get mentally exhausted from solving that puzzle, on the other side is a fresh horde of enemies to mindlessly slice through.

The mix really shined when combined together though.  Each boss was a mini puzzle in its own right.  Using the techniques you’d learned and used to reach this far, you had to find a creative way to use them to take down the boss.  From targeting multiple targets with your glaive, to using portals to gain vertical momentum to get on top of a towering boss, to making use of your new grappling hook to reach a teleporting boss too fast to reach any other way, it was more than button mashing combat. 

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Joe Madeira is the man responsible for the fantastic art style in Darksiders.  With a history in comic book art, it really shows in the game.  Hand-painted textures and slightly out of proportion levels and characters create a unique cartoony but dark look that really add to the experience.  I especially loved the fact that each dungeon had a “theme” like the videogames of old.  One dungeon is overgrown with plants and trees, while another is a desolate desert.  It brought back memories of Mega Man 2, with each level having a distinct feel.  It may be an old gimmick, but it’s one I’ve missed and was glad to see return, especially in the hands of such a capable artist.

That game has some fantastic voice acting as well.  Mark Hamil lends his insane voice to The Watcher, and while it’s a little too similar to his Joker voice, it’s still always great to hear how creepy he can sound.

Darksiders was one of the best games I’ve played in a while.  It was the kind of game I could bunker down and make a night of playing.  Rewarding puzzles, fun combat, old-fashioned bosses, a variety of environments and gameplay mechanics, combined with a mature art-style and some classic design choices made for a truly enjoyable experience.  Very easy to recommend.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Saboteur Review


I beat The Saboteur tonight, and keeping with my “review every game” plan to help keep my QA skills intact, here goes!

The Saboteur puts you in 1940’s nazi-occupied France.  You play in the role of Sean Devlin, a race-car driver who has no interest in politics or war.  But of course, that would not be much of a game.  Well, a racing game maybe…

Events lead Sean to become wrapped up in a Parisian rebellion.  His hideout is a boudoir of sorts, complete with topless women.  From here the game opens up, letting the player progress missions at his own pace.

By the end of the game I had a fairly high opinion of the game, but it didn’t start that way.  Open-world games have been done to death, and unless it introduces something revolutionary, or perfects one of the old staples, it feels like the same-old.  Saboteur did neither.

Open-world games often suffer from the major design flaw of punishing the player for having fun.  Ever since the days of GTA3 the open-world game shows points on the map to reach, but the player rarely gets there without succumbing to the temptation to blow something up, beat someone up or steal something.  And as soon as he does, he is funneled down from the infinite possibilities of an open world to the repetitive process of escaping the cops.  So to make any progress the player has to restrain his desire to do any of those things.  He has to refrain from having fun…  This is a fundamental flaw I’ve seen with open-world gaming since day 1, and sadly Saboteur is not the one to fix it.

Granted the gunplay and cover system are better than most open-world games, but at the beginning it really suffered as a result of the lack of innovation.  So much so that I put it down and instead beat Mass Effect 2 first.  When I did come back to Saboteur it began to grow on me.  Despite the many flaws that come with an open-world game, I found it easy to just sit down and have fun. 

Paris has a charm that comes across in this game.  And I have to hand it to Pandemic for creating a Paris that felt cliché in all the right ways, pushing some of gaming’s limits along the way.  The topless women and chain-smoking lead characters were refreshing.


Allow me a moment to rant.  Gaming tends to get politicized too often.  Games are constantly portrayed in the media as some sort of role model that let the youth of our generation down.  I don’t think gaming is about youth anymore.  The kids who got Nintendos for Christmas now have kids of their own.  And as the market grew up, so did the product.  I’m a strong believer in gaming as art, I feel it’s the natural progression of a new story-telling medium.  And history has shown us nothing stands in the way of art more than censorship.


So yes, it’s refreshing to see topless women and smoking lead characters, just like it was refreshing when our controllable avatars started dropping F-Bombs.

Does that make this game art?  No, of course not.  Art is more than just doing something because you can.  None the less, beating the next layer of censorship is a step in the right direction.  Sadly this game squanders it sometimes.  While yes, it was refreshing to have an uncompromised vision of cliché Paris with the beautiful women, and the judgmental chain-smokers, it often felt immature.  Some of the sexual innuendo between Sean and the female lead felt downright sophomoric.

While on the topic of art though, the visual art-style was among the best I’ve ever seen in a game.  Paris starts in black-and-white.  The only colour you see is the red of nazi propaganda and your own blood, or the blue of the rebel’s tell-tale turtlenecks.  But as you progress through the game you “inspire the people of Paris” and colour returns to those areas.  It’s purely aesthetic but really adds to the feeling of oppression in monochrome, then the sense of liberation as colour is restored.  I’ve written before about how colour returning to the game-world is a reversal of the norm, and one I approve of.

The story in The Saboteur has its highs and lows.  It feels uneven at times, not sure where it’s going.  But the parts it does right, it really does right.  For example, the main enemy in the game, a car-racing nazi named Dierker, was an enemy I could really hate.  And towards the end of the game he delivered a retrospective line that actually sent chills down my spine.

The game suffers from small hiccups like path-finding issues and level streaming failures, but these are not the things I will remember about the game.  It had some truly memorable moments that made the rougher areas worth bearing.

Pandemic Studios was closed shortly after the completion of this game, and it has been called their “Swan song”.  While flawed, I think they can be proud of their final effort as a team and the fact that they left on a high note.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Children

A trailer of Dragon Age Awakening, the PRC project I was working on for the past 6 month, featuring “The Children” some new, incredibly creepy enemies!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Review


So to keep my QA mind sharp I’ve decided to write a review of every game I play…  And I just beat BioWare’s own Mass Effect 2.  Skip this review to avoid spoilers, though I’ll do my best not to include any.

I suppose people will see me as biased, but it was honestly one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Mass Effect 1, probably because by the time I played it it was pretty outdated, and I’m a shooter fan at heart, and the combat was all determined by hidden dice-rolls.  I liked the story, but even then it didn’t blow me away.  Mass Effect 2 improved on literally every area.  The combat was fun and visceral.  Instead of the distraction from the story it was in the first, it added to the story in Mass Effect 2.  You really felt like you were fighting for something.  All the fun of a real shooter, all the story of a fantastic movie or novel.

The thing that really struck me as unique in this game though, was the mature themes.  Early in the game it was established the final mission was a suicide mission.  We were not expected to survive.  And it’s been marketed as such, making it very clear one of the many endings includes everyone dying.  So as I traveled across the galaxy collecting new friends and catching up with old ones, it was always lingering in the back of my head, that I was recruiting these people for what would likely be their final mission.  And as I earned their loyalty through missions for each follower, I got to know the characters more.  I helped them face their demons so they could face their deaths with a sound mind.  And I got to know just what they’d each be leaving behind.

Watching the characters each deal with their mortality in their own way, was an experience I’d never had in a game.  Gaming has taught us to think of in-game death as a mere obstacle.  Revive them with the potion, or use a continue, collect a 1-up.  But in this game, their deaths were always hanging in the air, as something final and unforgiving, and it created a sense of tension throughout.

By the time I went on the suicide mission, I was incredibly invested in these characters.  As we pushed our way forward I was hoping I’d done everything I had to do to keep them all alive, and anxiously awaiting the moment when I found out I hadn’t.  As one character nearly died, only to be saved at the last second, I honestly had an emotional investment in the character, I knew exactly what they’d be leaving behind if they died, and I didn’t want to see their story end there.  Few games have managed to make me care like that, and I’m proud to say everyone lived in my playthrough.

The other thing I loved in the game was the uneasy alliance between Shepard and crew and the mysterious and morally ambiguous Cerburus group.  I’m doing my best not to include any spoilers, so I’ll just say the game perfectly manages to keep you asking yourself if the ends justify the means, and I was quite happy with the way the game wrapped it up (or didn’t, depending on the choices you make through the game).  Not to mention The Illusive Man is one of the coolest characters in a game ever, voiced perfectly by Martin Sheen.

And choices.  Dragon Age was all about choices as well, it’s sort of a BioWare staple.  But this was the first BioWare game where choices from the first game CARRY OVER into the second by importing the savegame.  My friend and I compared Mass Effect stories after we both beat it, and the differences were staggering.  Choices we’d made in the first game had drastically changed our experiences in Mass Effect 2, and neither version felt like the “real” one.  They both felt legitimate.  Just different.  Even in conversations, the responses you choose and the following reactions always feel fluid.  It never feels like a conversation is “collapsing” back to the default path.

This is the only game I know to tackle this kind of subject matter.  Generally from a sci-fi opera you expect it to be “fight some big bad guy who wants to destroy the galaxy and save the day”, and to be fair Mass Effect 2 has its share of that, but it takes a back seat to the much more present threat of death.  It focuses on characters, their development, and how each of them face their own demons and the realization of their own mortality.  I can’t relate to some space hero saving the galaxy from aliens, it’s a fun age-old literary device, but nothing that really reaches to me.  I can, however, relate to a character who has regrets, and wants to right them before it’s too late.  Who can’t relate to something like that?

One of the best games I’ve ever played.  In my top 3 of all time, easily.  If you are any sort of gamer, you owe it to yourself to play this, even if you haven’t played the first (and ESPECIALLY if you have).