Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jet Set Radio Review

With almost every company cashing in on HD remakes of older games, there are some classics from back in the day are being revived once again to help companies make their bottom line. Jet Set Radio is a unique game that came out for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, and now it has made its way onto consoles and computers alike with the HD re-release. Is it worth the $10 price tag? Let’s find out.

Jet Set Radio (JSR) is basically a game about tagging city streets. Flying around on rollerblades, you and your fellow felons skate around Tokyo-to duking it out with rival gangs with spray paint. Most of your gameplay involves collecting spray cans and tagging various places while running away from the cops. While the story is interesting and crazy, it’s not something that really stands out in this game. Most of the story is fed to you from Professor K, a DJ who pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Unfortunately I couldn’t really care enough to pay much attention to the story. And I wish I had the ability to not care about the gameplay.

Most of the game mechanics in JSR seem pretty cool on paper: skate around tagging things, escaping police and taking on rival gangs. Unfortunately the HD remake didn't have any real update to the controls. The camera changed to a manual control with the right stick, but most of the movement in the various areas is slow and clunky. Many tricks, grinds, and jumps are difficult to pull off not because it takes skill and practice, but because the controls and movements feel sticky and unresponsive. A simple jump could be thrown off feet by the slightest movement on your part. Most of the time you are running away from the police… right into buildings and walls. Think of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the feel of the controls. Now imagine if it was about five times worse than that. Unfortunately, that is what you’re working with when you play through the levels. What you are fortunate enough to have with this game is some sweet music.

One of the things that is awesome about JSR, both past and present, is the music. Instead of some MIDI track or 2 minute instrumental music playing through the various levels, you get funky techno, rock, and hip-hop songs that are all great to listen to. The music compliments the great visuals. Yes, you read that correctly -- the visuals are actually amazing. They really work with the music, and it helps make up for the downside of it being hard to play.. With an HD uplift, the visuals and the music are the saving graces of this game.
There isn’t much in the way of multiplayer except for a few leader-boards for the additional game modes. After beating the story missions, you can unlock Jet Crush, which is basically a time-attack mode with some added difficulty. You also have the ability to unlock additional characters and customize your art. It is nice to have something to look forward to but it isn’t worth spending extra time when the story mode is the bulk of the game.
Even though this is an HD re-release, there wasn't much done except to update the controls a bit and add some internet connectivity. The updated graphics make the cel-shaded art style look impressive, however these kinds of upgrades are pretty standard at this point. I wish they had added a few other extras, or incorporated some of the controls and additions from the sequel, Jet Set Radio Future. Either way, the HD-effect didn't have much of an impact. Aside from the slightly improved graphics, you could buy the game for the Dreamcast and pretty much get the same experience, and I don’t believe that is a good thing.

Jet Set Radio is somewhat of an enigma to me. When people discuss whether video games can be, or are, art, this is a game that should be referenced every time. The music and the visual art-style stand out and make the game unique. Unfortunately there are so many smaller faults that really take away from the experience. At first you may not mind some of the bad controls, but soon it adds up and really shows the bad parts of the game. I like the game a lot and wish it was given a little more attention in the HD-upgrades department, but I can’t really say that this game is worth buying. It may be worth playing some time, but if you do you might regret spending the $10 on it afterwards.

Monday, October 29, 2012

MechWarrior: Online starting Open Beta

Reactor: Online

Sensors: Online

Weapons: Online

All systems nominal.

It's been years since that beloved computer voice gave pilots that well known start-up, and now it seems the wait is finally coming to a close. Piranha Games has announced that MechWarrior: Online is to stomp its way into open beta today.  This free-to-play installment of the MechWarrior franchise is to be welcoming to both veteran pilots and new comers alike with an extensive array of mechs and weapons in the customizable fashion that's made the previous games thoroughly enjoyable.

This open beta may appear to be starting earlier than expected for the MechWarrior community, since several of the anticipated features for the game have yet to be fully implemented. However, according to Piranha Game's co-founder Russ Bullock via MechWarrior Online's website, he states that:

"Just because MWO is going Open Beta in no way means we are finished making the game or that we will even slowdown in the slightest. We already have nine months of work lined up in front of us and frankly there is no end to the work in sight. We could easily delay Open Beta endlessly to just wait for one more feature or one more piece of content which could easily become a block hole."

Whether or not players feel the game is fully ready, going into open beta should prove to help the development team continue their hard work on this massive undertaking for such a popular and time-honored franchise. In fact, before the game even went into open beta, MWO has reported receiving over $5 million from purchases of the Founder's Program and other similar packages.

"Mornin'! How's it feel to be strapped into a walking nuke reactor at 6:00am?"
- Sergeant "Deadeye" Unther, Hanson's Roughriders, Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Fall Of DLC

 As the leaves turn and the winter coats get dusted off in preparation for the coming winter, DLC news is abound and I am excited to see all the extra content I can grab with my game purchases this fall and winter.

To start off New Super Mario Bros. 2 DLC was revealed and released in Japan. The DLC packs are new levels to run through with your friends grabbing all the coins you can find. While the new levels are available in Japan now, they should be out soon in the US.

Dishonored will also get some DLC attention with three add-on packs coming with the first titled "Dunwall City Trials." set to be released in December, the first of three add-on packs will include 10 Challenge maps designed to "test and track your combat, stealth and mobility skills." These kinds of maps remind me of the DLC for Mirrors Edge, where you raced against the clock to complete your tasks: Sounds fun.

And if that wasn't enough DLC news 343 Industries and Microsoft has announced the Halo 4 War Games Map Pass. The Map Pass is pretty much what it sounds like: buying the pass now will give you instant access to the 3 map packs when they are released in the coming months. The Map Pass will also come with two in-game helmets, and an emblem for 2,000 Microsoft Points($24.99). It might be also worth noting that buying the legendary edition of Halo 4 will come with this Map Pass as part of the pre-order bonuses, so if you haven't pre-ordered yet...well it might be too late now but at least you cans till buy it separately if you want.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Retro/Grade Review

This week's review is from our friends at Give them a look see, won't you?

Half rhythm based and half shoot-em-up, Retro/Grade is the bastard result of leaving Guitar Hero alone in a romantic room with Galaga on a starry night, a lot of champagne… and potentially acid, as well. We’re not too sure. And all the while, the space-time continuum just happens to be falling in on itself outside of the grimy hotel window.

No, really.

Retro/Grade, the bundle of intergalactic joy brought to PSN by indie newcomer 24 Caret Games, is the Shepherd’s Pie of concepts – a bunch of ingredients that no one in their right mind should put together, yet somehow ends up being edible. A side scrolling shoot em up timed to music that can be played with either a guitar controller or normal d-pad, and manages to keep your head bobbing all the way through? Color me intrigued. And hungry.
Rick Rocket has just saved the universe! Unfortunately, the massive destruction he left in his wake has caused a temporal anomaly that has reversed the flow of time. The player must assume control of Rick’s spacecraft and fight through the epic space battle… in reverse!
The opening cinematic of the game begins by having the player fire a single shot to end the climactic boss battle and immediately rolling credits. While it may fool you for a moment, the credits then speed up and suddenly evaporate into a primordial black hole of names and titles, only to be spit back out and rewinding with the urgency of a VHS on crack. The player watches the big baddie boss once more, again having no control over the ship, until just moments before the anticipated bad guy battle and everything starts working backwards down from the perfect score you achieved in that last detrimental blow. Suddenly, the shots fired at previous enemies are hurtling back towards you, and now the object of the game is not to kill the final boss, but to make sure that every shot you initially fired throughout the game is “unfired.”

Imagine taking the vertically running mechanics of Guitar Hero (You know. The type that make the walls move after too many hours trying to 100% on Expert.) and flipping them horizonally to the gorgeously rendered backdrop of space. With that concept in mind, Retro/Grade deviates from other traditional rhythm based games and creates a niche for itself in that your spaceship is stationary in the center, with the ability to move only up or down, while the timed beats come at you from both sides. The game then throws you for a loop, as not only must you unfired the blasts you originally shot as you rewind through time to the beat of the music, but also avoid the previously-missed-and-now-timewarped enemy fire that you initially dodged from the opposite side. Don’t worry. Retro/Grade sounds more complicated than it plays, due to all the timey wimey factors involved.

In addition to the fun quirks, such as playing backwards through a perfect score and manuvering your ship through the path it once took, another well thought out feature of Retro/Grade is the time reversal power up. Since you’re already moving forward through the timeline in reverse, you can “rewind” certain objectives by using the fuel you collect for your rocketship. This allows the player a quick retry for certain sequences that were not mastered the first time around, and a Game Over occurs when the continuum takes too much damage to sustain itself and collapses. But as lovingly crafted as the gameplay is, the area where Retro/Grade really delivers is it’s shiny soundtrack, so masterfully designed that even the rhythmless can stay on the same beat as the dubstep-bumpin’ Captain Rick.

Once you get over the initial gameplay, Retro/Grade does little to deliver on new challenges and at times can seem to be simply a dizzying bunch of trippy lights and pew-pew sound effects. Adding together the smaller annoyances like repetative challenges, no Platinum trophy, and only 10 songs means that Retro/Grade‘s fresh take can become spoiled rather quickly.

Despite being a rhythm based game along the lines of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Retro/Grade pales in comparison to the more adult forerunners of the genre. While it is a fun game with an inventive concept to put in the quick rotation mix, Retro/Grade is one that probably wont stand the test of time or replay value. Nevertheless, for the music and intriguing system, it is definitely worth checking out for only 9.99 via the PlayStation Network.

Retro/Grade: 7.5/10

For more game reviews, comic updates, and general pop culture tom foolery, head over to!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dragon Age III: Inquisition concept details

BioWare is finally starting to release a few details with its upcoming Dragon Age III: Inquisition, thanks to the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo. So far, we know that you will be playing as a human and yes, true to BioWare tradition, character backgrounds will have a huge impact on the game. Also true to BioWare fashion, previous saves from the other Dragon Age games will have an impact on what happens in this sequel, even more so that what's been done with the previous games according to creative director Mike Laidlaw. There's also to be a wider range of character customization for yourself and your companion(s), including possible control of your own castle.

Now for the part that many are wondering, the size of the game. To make up for the often complained short length of Dragon Age II, the size of this upcoming addition to the series is to be incredible. One level in Dragon Age III is to be as large as the entire game of Dragon Age II. I must admit, that is one incredible claim and makes this writer excited for this sequel.

No further details have been released yet, except for a few pictures of concept art (posted below). Release is still expected for sometime late in 2013.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Planetside 2 to be released in November

While first-person-shooters like Call of Duty and Halo seem to be getting all of the attention lately, there are plenty of other games that let you shoot your friends in the head. One FPS that has been in a closed beta for quite some time now is Planetside 2. Sony Online Entertainment has recently confirmed that the massive free-to-play FPS will be released November 20. What looks to set this game apart from other games in the FPS genre is how big the map is. Instead of going from map to map, Planetside 2 will have 3 factions competing against one another for smaller bases and installations in large map. These areas can be captured, held, and lost which will affect the map as a whole on a larger scale. While it is a PC-only title, it will still be interesting to see how well the game can do in competition with other games out there.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 2012 Podcast

Colby, Casey, and Ben discuss the future of game peripherals, the Kickstarter movement, Wii U, Borderlands 2 DLC, and Randy Pitchford's TV.

Subscribe to us on iTunes

Or download here directly

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Steam Account was Hacked

Steam LogoSteam is a very popular platform, and one I use quite a bit. Most of my PC games are registered through it, and it’s the first place I go to when looking for new titles, be they indie or AAA. And who can blame me? It’s made by the people who made Half-Life and was the brain child of Gabe Newell, a paragon of gamer worship. You can download your game to any computer, cloud save your progress, talk with your friends, and the deals—THE DEALS I TELL YOU.

But what happens when that’s taken away? When the $500+ (I’m lowballing here) of games you’ve accrued vanish into thin air? Well, let me tell you what happened to me, and how it sucks even more than you’d imagine.
It was a Friday morning. I turned off my alarm and grabbed my smartphone, ready to check emails before making some oatmeal, my morning ritual. I noticed an email from Steam with the title “Steam Account – Forgotten Password.”
That’s weird, I thought, maybe it’s from someone’s computer I was using. They probably still had my username in and didn’t realize it wasn’t their own. They must feel silly.
The thing about that, though, is I hadn’t been to a LAN party or so much as used a computer I hadn’t owned in at least a month. I didn’t think too much of it. My oatmeal was had and I went to work. On my way out to lunch a few hours later with some co-workers and I checked my phone like we all do when there’s a lull in the conversation. I had two new emails from Steam, one titled “Your Steam account: Access from new computer” and the other thanking me for changing my contact email address. I stopped dead in my tracks.
Steam Support Emails

God, I’m such an idiot! Someone’s stealing my account! I thought. I had the chance to fight back and I didn’t take it. Now someone’s taken away 25% of my usage for my home computer. I was furious at myself for being such a complacent ninny, at the hacker for taking what wasn’t his, and at Steam for not protecting me.
But wait, I had Steam Guard which sends unique codes to your email address before you can log on from a different computer. He shouldn’t have been able to hack my account with the second layer of security. I wracked my brain trying to figure out how he could have guessed the randomized codes until I happened upon the very simple but horrifying conclusion—he had my email address.
Lulzsec Logo TwitterLet’s zip back to May of 2011. I was in some downtime at work reading about a group of hackers called Lulzsec. They were taking on huge corporations, exposing their weaknesses, taking down websites, and generally taking private databases for joyrides. I was cheering them on from behind the scenes for flagrant illegality and rubbing the flaws of the people we trusted in everyone’s faces. It was a fantastic showing of why companies should take better care of the data entrusted to them by the public. And then they leaked thousands of usernames and passwords from many, many sources, one of which was Battlefield Heroes. I love Battlefield. Of course I played Heroes.
I was panicked at first, but realized that it didn’t matter. You know that email address you set up in middle school that you now use to give to stores and places you know are going to be sending you spam that you don’t want? You know, the one that has over 1000 messages in its inbox despite it being cleaned monthly? It was that one. I couldn’t care less about that email address. You want some deals for staying at a Hilton? Maybe to hear about the price for a new bass at Guitar Center? Take it, hacker. I don’t care. I thought.
And that was where I made the first critical mistake—not remembering my Steam account was linked to that email address and they shared a common password. Well done J., well done.
Lulzsec taught me a lesson that day that I wouldn’t actually learn until last month, a week before I had to record Borderlands 2 footage.  The first thing I did was file a ticket with Steam. Something to the effect of “OH GOD, SOMEONE TOOK MY ACCOUNT, PLEASE HELP ME. I’M AT WORK SO I CAN’T ACCESS MY ACCOUNT FOR VERIFICATION, BUT SOMEONE STOLE IT FOR REAL WHAT DO I DO HELP WHAT IS MY LIFE”. There was nothing else I could do until work was over; a full five hours of “what ifs.”
Steam Support

I got home from work and immediately tried getting on to my account, but to no avail. I even tried different password combinations to see if he just moved letters. I tried resetting the password despite knowing the contact email address had been changed. I even tried making a separate account to try talking to the hacker and saying he should give me my account back because come on man, be a buddy. Unfortunately, he had already set the profile to be private, so I couldn’t get in touch with him and my heart sank.
I put myself in Steam Support’s hands and hoped they could make it better. I focused on other work over the weekend, making sure to give Valve time to sort the issue out.
By Monday morning, however, I was getting anxious. I went back to my ticket and realized that in my panicked haste, I had left out proof verifying the account was mine. I gave full credit card information, my driver’s license, a picture of my Left 4 Dead key with my ticket number on it, everything. When I was satisfied knowing I could do nothing more, I let them take the reins.
For a few days.
Wednesday rolled around and I needed gameplay footage before doing live recording and still no message from Steam. Not so much as a “We’re working on it.” A quick post to the Steam subreddit yielded “They’re usually pretty fast” to “Good luck, I had to email bomb them to get mine fixed.” So I sent an email to an employee and sure enough, it was cleared up in three hours. In that time I also found out my Origin account was tied to my spam email and he had tried ordering FIFA 13, but without my full information, he couldn’t complete the transaction. Hooray.

FIFA 13 Origin

He also changed my email settings to French. Hourra.
So finally back in control of my Steam account and the worst he’s done is deleted my friends. A pain, but an easy enough fix. No bans, no account purchases, nothing. He just sat on my account for a weekend. Good for you, buddy.
Though the entire ordeal lasted five days, it still felt awful. Not only did someone have my account, they had easy access to stored credit card information, they could get me banned from playing some of my favorite games, they could pose as me to my friends to ask for gifts or trades. It was a breach of my personal space, a space I thought was secure, but due to no one’s fault but my own, was not.

More important and alarming, however, was the potential loss of save game data. I’m a gamer that plays principally for story, and by taking the record of my own story away from me, it’s like you’ve erased my personal progress from happening. Chances are high I’ll never go back to that data again, but if I ever do, I’ll be greeted by the character me-from-the-past thought was awesome and a slice of life at the time. Even now, sound effects from Counter-Strike or songs from Final Fantasy VI conjure very specific memories in my life.

Final Fantasy VI Opera House

I played FFVI from the beginning to the opera house scene everyday during the summer of 1999. Anytime I hear that tune, I can remember conversations with my grandfather and how hot his small house could get. Though both he and the house are gone, I continue make the play through at least once a year.
To me, save files are a record of my past or a hook to happen upon a memory I’ve forgotten. When the hacker took my Steam account, he took far, far more of me than I had bargained for and that feeling is awful.
Since then, I’ve adopted a more secure password, different passwords for all of my accounts, and have turned on two-stage security with my email address. Luckily, the only large negative impact I had was the video review being pushed back a few days. I was lucky, and I intend to keep myself from having to be lucky again. I value my personal information and privacy enough to now know better than to leave myself open to attack.
So please, secure yourselves and realize that having your Steam account stolen means much more than losing games.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Steam adds 21 additional Indies

Valve already announced back in September the addition of 10 indie games to the Steam client to help the community driven Steam Greenlight, a project to help PC game developers further efforts in publishing. Now Valve is announcing the addition of 21 more indie games. The following games have been selected as part of the Steam Greenlight project:

- Afterfall InSanity Extended Edition

- AirBuccaneers

- Blockscape

- Contrast

- Fly'n

- Folk Tale

- Forge

- Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

- Gnomoria

- Interstellar Marines

- Lost Story: The Last Days of Earth

- Miasmata

- Miner Wars 2081

- Neotokyo

- Octodad: Dadliest Catch

- Perpetuum

- Postal 2 Complete

- Secrets of Grindea

- The Intruder

- The Stanley Parable: HD Remix

- Yogventures!

We'll need to be sure to keep our eyes on Steam Greenlight as even more games are to be added to it in the next couple of months.

AristoGamer October 2012 Podcast

These United States are starting to cool down, but gaming news is still red hot. Here are the topics for this month's podcast:
  • Valve may have a new IP called SoB
  • Wii U release games and predicted success
  • Borderlands 2 DLC
How to can download and use Teamspeak

Date: Tuesday, October 16

Time: 8:00pm Central Time

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Super Saturday News Special

Hello to all and a hearty good day! With all of the hubbub happening around the fall releases like Borderlands 2, for which we have a really cool video review, and Dishonored, for which we have a cool interview, I seem to have forgotten something. What could it be? Ah yes of course the rest of the world and the news to go with it! Well here is a Saturday special recapping some really cool and slightly hilarious news to make your weekend just a little brighter.

Borderlands 2 DLC Extravaganza
In a great turn of events the much advertised “Mechromancer” character class was released an entire week early. After a short tweet from Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, Borderlands 2 was updated and Gaige the Mechromancer became available as a playable character to any who pre-ordered the game and for a small fee to those who did not. Additionally a small leak led to a full blown announcement that the first of 4 campaign add-ons will be named “Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty.” If that doesn't sound entertaining enough, a thorough interview with Pitchford by Kotaku revealed that they had plans for not only a possible PS Vita Release, but even more characters and campaign DLC past Gaige and the already announced expansion plans. If fans didn't have a reason to buy the season pass before, this might be the tipping point for some if Gearbox can keep putting out quality DLC like they did with the first Borderlands.

Rockstar Collection Part 1 Announced
Though this collection was heavily rumored before, it was officially announced recently and it looks like quite a deal. The $60 Rockstar Collection will be released on November 6 and contain Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, L.A. Noire, and Midnight Club: Los Angeles Complete edition. Although it will be competing with Halo 4 on its release date, I would definitely keep this in mind for Christmas presents as this collection is one heck of a deal, with at least 2 of these games worth $60 alone. Plus, the fact that its an “Edition 1” suggest that editions 2 and 3 are on their way.
Halo 4 Leaked
It seems like leaking Halo games is a tradition at this point. Halo 2, 3 and Reach were all leaked with videos and pictures being uploaded to YouTube. Recently, several videos of Halo 4 gameplay footage has been uploaded, and subsequently taken down. Even box shots and screen captures of people’s Xbox Live profiles showing them playing through the campaign have snaked their way onto the internet. As skeptical as it may sound, it seems like Halo 4 has also succumbed to being leaked before its release date; Microsoft can't be happy about that.

Well that was only a taste of the happenings and scuttlebutt roaming the net. Come back Monday for the latest news!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit Review

We're trying something new this month -- mini video reviews! For our inaugural entry, we're tearing through Arkedo Studios' Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Arcane Legends Preview

Spacetime Studios took the time to sit down with me and let me play their newest title, Arcane Legends, before GDCO. The studio is best known for its free mobile MMO titles like Dark Legends and Pocket Legends, featuring isometric 3D adventuring and cross platform multiplayer. If you haven't had the chance to play one of their games, think a cross between Diablo III and World of Warcraft, but on a tablet.

Full interview audio here:

The most striking thing about Arcane Legends is its interface. A virtual joystick rests in the bottom left hand corner of the screen and your attack is on the right hand corner, with skills surrounding it. This design means the player more room to actually see the game, a problem Pocket Legends suffered from by allowing the entire right hand side of the screen to be taken over by skill bubbles. The HUD is discrete and allows for much better visibility than its predecessors no matter the platform.

Speaking of platform, that's one of the most stark realizations I had while playing this. Me and one of the guys from Spacetime were playing together even though I was on a Google Nexus 7 and he was on an iPad 3. At first, this didn't register as something that should be a problem, but once it was pointed out, I realized there was real-time cross platform gameplay between Android, iOS and Chrome browsers. No separate worlds, interaction zones, or transfer services are needed. It just works, and it works well at that.

I had previously played Dark Legends and was concerned about two things -- its lack of an engaging story and its color pallet. If you watched our Borderlands 2 review, you'll know I'm not very motivated by looting alone. I'm must more likely to continue playing if I have a story, no matter how flimsy, to keep me going. Dark Legends didn't do such a hot job of that, and the colors were depressing enough to make me want more, though I'm not sure what I was expecting since the word "dark" is in the title. Arcane Legends features a cutscene system, allowing the developers to expand on story past dialogue to give their characters more life and meaning. This addition is fortunate, because the graphics are a pleasure to look at. It's bright and colorful without being too childish. It's a visual mix of Torchlight II and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, with swirly smoke and visually engaging colors. Choosing to allow their game to be bright in places also allows them to characterize areas more easily by colors, something that seems to be going away as having browns, red, and oranges as your primaries is a growing trend.

The gameplay in Arcane Legends is similar to that of Pocket Legends, allowing you to pick a base class and expand your skills to customize your character. A system that's been improved, though, is the pet system. Your pet will fight alongside you and earn their own experience points to level up as you do. There will be over 40 different pets to chose from before the dust settles including this cool design for a goat I was shown. the pup may be cute, but that goat's got my name on it.

If you're a fan of MMOs, do yourself a favor and check out Arcane Legends when its released this November. It's deep enough to satiate your questing urge, but brief enough to be played for a few minutes while waiting in line at the bank. It's a definite improvement over Pocket Legends in every vector. It'll be available for iOS devices, Android devices, and Chrome browsers with the potential for Windows Phone 7/Windows 8 and Ouya on the horizon.

Dishonored Launch Party- Interview with Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio

Today's the official release date of Dishonored here in North America, and to celebrate, the developers from Arkane Studios held a launch party at a GameStop near their Austin, TX studio. On hand were some of the coding and level design team behind the game and co-creators Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. Right before the official midnight release, I pulled them aside for a quick interview about Dishonored, some of the game design choices they made, and got their thoughts on how people play their game.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Borderlands 2 Review

J is joined by Apprentice Casey and the Colonel for a co-op review of Borderlands 2. Could it step out from the shadow of its original, or was Duke Nukem Forever a sign of things to come?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012 Review

2012 is one of those big years; the ones that come around every so often in which a larger-than-normal percentage of the population think we’re all going to die. I’ve heard the sun will go out, and I’ve also heard that earthquakes will shake the earth apart. I’ve now heard that zombies will come out of a seemingly random temple in the middle of the Amazon. 2012 seeks to titillate audiences with zombie-killing, puzzle-solving sprite action. Can it live up to the hype of its namesake, or will it too be debunked by people who make logos like this?:

2012 Scam

2012 follows archaeologist Frank Mors into the end of the world. Mors informs his colleagues that he believes a temple in South America holds the key to the doomsday prophesies about 2012. He is laughed at for being a loon, but decides to go to the temple anyway on New Year’s Eve. At midnight, the earth quakes and suddenly zombies are on the loose. The rest of the game is spent trying to solve puzzles in different temples and help your fellow survivors to save the world. The story in this game is rather light; the story arcs start and finish far too quickly to mean anything to the player. In the beginning, you’re tasked with finding a woman’s daughter outside of the encampment. You fight your way to the temple, rescue her, bring her back, and the mother thanks you. The only storytelling in this scenario comes from the dialogue, of which there is the bare minimum.  Generally speaking, this problem is not a big one, as the rest of the game should be enjoyable without a well-told story… but the game has deep issues.

Like most top-down sprite adventures, this game is based on grids. See, it’s most intuitive for a programmer to map areas in the game to specific squares on the field. You press right one time and you move one square to the right, and the background updates appropriately. Most games also allow you to hold right and dash across the screen without interruptions. Unfortunately, 2012 did not get that memo. Instead, holding right will take you to the next square, pause for a quarter of a second or so, and let you go again, breaking up movement. This problem absolutely took me out of the game. If movement feels jarring, that breaks the immersion in the game. In 2012’s case, the immersion never happened because I never felt like the environment was believable. Take a look at this video and see what I mean:

The weapons system in the game sits a little better with me than its movement. You can pick up a variety of weapons from melee to long range, each doing an amount of damage and having a fire rate. There are very few pros and cons to weigh between weapons and I enjoy that since it makes choosing a weapon quite easy. I also like the fact that ammo isn’t a worry. The one big problem with the combat system is that you can’t shoot and move. This problem is yet another that 2012 has with immersion. I constantly find myself asking “Why can’t I do that?” with this game. 

2012 Weapons

The art style is interesting, and the sprites look great. Though the zombies could use some more variations and the grass tiles could use blending, the art on the sprites look great, as so do the still image cut scenes. The character portraits, however, could use some work. It’s a radically different style from anything else in the game, which would be okay if the precedent hadn’t already been set up by the cut scene stills of a different styling choice. The cut scene stills also look better drawn than the portraits, so seeing them after seeing the cut scenes is striking.

2012 Sprite Art

Another problem with the art is scale. When going into a pyramid, you look too large, and when inside, some items, like levers and torches, look too small. I couldn’t figure out something in the first dungeon for a while because I just couldn’t see the lever, and that is always frustrating.

2012 Temple

 Once I did find it though, the puzzles were rather simple, though enjoyable. Think Legend of Zelda’s first two or three temples for the entire game. Not particularly difficult, but challenging enough to not be boring.
At its core, I think 2012 suffers from a platform shift problem. If this exact game had been released as a Flash title that I happened to play, I would have thought it was great. There’s just something about making the change from browser game to console title that bring a higher level of expectation. Perhaps it’s the combination of the $2.50 price tag and the demand of my undivided attention. I know if I were playing 2012 in Firefox with Notch’s Twitter open in another tab, I’d be far more forgiving.

Verdict: 2012 seems to be an unfinished game. The art assets, gameplay issues, and styling choices could have all been ironed out given more time, and maybe even made for a fun indie title.In its current state, however, it feels more like a pan of doughy fruit than a cobbler. Play this game if you like top-down adventure style games and are willing to look past its incredibly rough edges.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mass Effect Trilogy Release

Mass Effect Trilogy Box
Many people have been wondering when/if BioWare was going to release the first Mass Effect for console so that they may experience the full story without having to select their own ending when beginning the 2nd game. Finally the wait is over! Electronic Arts has announced that the entire Mass Effect trilogy will be released on 5 discs for the standard new game price of $59.99. For an added bonus, PC gamers will also enjoy several (though not all) of the DLC content for the games available in their trilogy purchase. BioWare states on this DLC: "On PC, Mass Effect will include Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station on disc. For Mass Effect 2 Cerberus Network will be included with features Zaeed - The Price of Revenge, The Firewalker Pack, Cerberus Assault Gear, Arc Projector heavy weapon, and Normandy Crash Site mission. For Mass Effect 3, Online Pass will be included granting players access to co-op multiplayer. With the games also compatible with previous game saves, allowing any N7 players to continue their original stories should they wish, this trilogy should prove to be a must-have for any fans of Commander Shepard who have not yet had a chance to play the entire series. The Mass Effect Trilogy goes on sale on November 6th.
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