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Friday, September 21, 2007

AvP: Requiem Trailer

Winkyboy sent along this link to the new Aliens V Predator: Requiem trailer as he was impressed by it. I'm glad he did because the first AvP ended in disappointment and so I probably wouldn't have given the new one a first glance, much less a second.

Game Play: BioShock Narrative

There are times when I see Ebert's point.

But first, this post is for people who have finished BioShock. If you haven't - there be spoilers.

So, back to our old friend Ebert - who threw down the gauntlet some time ago that games are, at best, a troublesome form of art. While I don't agree with him, and still don't, games like BioShock exist as a kind of sample of the trouble games have as narrative.

Firstly let's dispel one of the most common misconceptions people have with game narratives. A backstory is not the same as a storyline. In Doom, you start the game as a marine trapped on a Martian base with everyone else killed by a horrible experiment gone wrong. That is not the story, that is the backstory. Doom actually has a better backstory than most - in fact it had a much better backstory than most games of the time - but the actual story persists as "lone marine travels from room to room blowing crap up."

My problem with modern shooters is that most haven't progressed much more than that. Now the main mechanic is to add a goal to provide some excuse for the player to travel from point A to point B. These reasons are usually pretty artificial and once the player reaches point B - largely forgotten. Usually the most substantial character development is getting a new gun.

So while we have all these fancy graphics for rendering characters - we just don't do much of anything with them. Many writing classes will tell you that a story is essentially characters in conflict - but most game narratives never have characters complicated or rich enough to have any conflict other than pointing weapons at each other.

Which can make for a fine game, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't make for a fine story. A fine story is when you can remove all the shooting and still have something worth watching.

And backstory is important ... mystery novels for instance are mostly backstory - but there's always a tangled plot to get to that backstory. It's never as simple as breaking down a door.

BioShock tries - and in some places succeeds - to break this mold. A little bit, at least. I think the most brilliant moment in the game is when you kill Ryan because you're programmed to kill Ryan. It's almost postmodern in nature ... why do you kill him? Because you have no other choice. You have to in order to progress. And calling out the fact that Atlas has been whispering instructions in your ear and then you having little choice but to follow them ... it is a moment which excels merely in framing the typical shooter scenario into a clever frame. You just experienced a dash of character development, free of charge.

The ending though? The ending? What the hell was that?

Instead of framing anything within the game - you're submitted to a cinematic which barely makes any sense. You have no control over your actions - you simply betray the Little Sisters without any warning and then inexplicably escape into a hundred bathyspheres and ... nukes? What? Someone sent a rescue sub with nukes?

BioShock has a pretty lovely backstory - but honestly that is all for naught if it can't even arrive to a sensible conclusion. Can't even allow the player to achieve their original goal - to escape - by themselves. In the end, the player is robbed of both the experience and the narrative.

I still liked BioShock. Quite a lot. It ranks up there as one of the better shooters. Just don't try and tell me how great the story was, if you please.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Devin Moore Files "GTA" Appeal

I've been getting clicks in from this Game Politics post all week, so I suppose I should comment.

Many of you probably remember Devin Moore. He's that kid from a broken home who shot three cops in Alabama. Or, if you believe a guy like Jack Thompson, he's a trained assassin.

The traffic is headed towards this 2005 post where I collected early reports of Devin Moore's trial and pointed out how it had nothing to do with video games until pretty late in the process. Most of the quotes are more like, I tried to warn everyone he was dangerous. And that's his dad.

Thing is - its hard to get worked up about it. The guy is on death row. The appeal is ridiculous and the courts have never, ever had a taste for BatJack's patented videogame defense (not that any court ever really have ... it's a media construct, not a legal one). Justice is done. I'll keep my ear to the ground on it, but I'm guessing Devin needs to get comfortable in the chair he's got.

Game Play: Puzzle Quest

I'm probably the last DS owner on the planet to try this title, but I'm really glad I did. Essentially Bejeweled shoved into a light RPG - I'm completely addicted to it. And honestly, I was never that big of a Bejeweled fan.

Mechanically speaking, my favorite part is that it is one of those games you can play for any period of time. Play a little combat, flip off the DS. Or quest around for an hour. It's simple, it's addictive and it's fun.

I had some prototypes of interactive fiction which used a card game for combat - I might take some notes here as I was considering moving that concept to Flex (which technologically speaking has taken over my world).

DVD Watch: The Host

For the unfamiliar, although I imagine that would be few of you considering the buzz the movie got, The Host is a South Korean horror flick - a creature caper as it were.

What's most interesting about the movie is its ability to revitalize a genre which quite honestly hasn't gotten much farther than having some guy run around in a latex suit. Yet with The Host you can see a touch of what made movies like the original Godzilla so great. There's aspects of tragedy and disaster thrown in and by the time you get through the impressively early debut of the film's namesake (most monster films wait until at least midway through to build tension) - you'll see what the buzz was all about. The Host is scary fun.

Its also more than a little uneven. It can't always pick up from the same tone it had just a scene earlier. There's melodrama for comedic effect, surrealism for ... well confusion I think, and even the occasional slapstick. The movie feels a little soft in the middle.

Fortunately, it is sharp on the edges. The early scenes and the last quarter of the movie are gripping and entertaining. The movie stumble sometimes, but strides more often than not. Highly recommend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BioShock's Lost Plasmids

A perspective 2K Games forum member, using the PC version of the game, uncovered several .ini files that contain not only a downloadable content announcement but also unused plasmids that are in the game but aren't implemented. Potential spoilers are ahead, so beware.

The unused plasmids names include Machine Buster, Vending Expert, Sonic Boom and EVE Saver. Sonic Boom, for example, is listed as being able to "hurl creatures and objects back with a blast of force." An option called "LockedContent" is set to true on all four plasmids, so one can guess that these are planned DLC.

In addition, it appears a whole section of plasmids was cut from the game too. They're called Ecology Plasmids and include a plasmid called Drone Neutral Dampening Field Plasmid, which has drones take longer to sound their alarms.

As of writing, 2K hasn't announced any plans to release any DLC or a level editor for BioShock. Previous 2K games, such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, had a robust level editing community and thousands of mods and custom levels are readily available for the game. Hopefully BioShock fans can get their hands on an editor in the future too."
-- Is 2K Games planning BioShock DLC?

Still very much enjoying the game and really wish they'd release an SDK for it. The Unreal engine is insanely mod friendly and it always gives me a bit of the annoyance when I can't jump in and try and muck with stuff.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Children Learn To Aim And Shoot With Wii

Speaking of idiotic sound bites:

Most people think it's a bone-headed idea.

"Great, this is what we need. Children with guns learning how to aim and shoot. Then we can sit back and wonder what is happening to our country with kids killing kids......what's next? Could we make it squirt blood, too" one reader commented

A "very concerned grandparent" wrote:
"....Why don't they enclose an application to the NRA in every box as well....the marketing person who came up with this brain child of an idea should be fired."

Another reader commented, "I think it's irresponsible for Wii to come out with a controller that looks like a gun so kids can play games simulating shooting. What kind of message are we sending as parents when we buy these things for our kids?"
-- What do we think of Wii? [Star-Ledger]

Why is it that some newspapers feel their role is not to inform but simply feed into people's fears? Light gun games have been around for most of modern gaming history - and quite like the Thompsonian suggestion that the PlayStation turns kids into trained homicidal assasins - they number of skilled snipers which were turned out by Duck Hunt remains at the low, low number of zero.

For the love of Jeebus, I'm a veteran of Duck Hunt, Laser Tag and nearly every first person shooter ever created and I stand here before you to say I suck something royal with a real firearm. I've fired bolt-actions, revolvers and semi-autos and I gotta say ... I'm more dangerous with a bow and arrow.

And let's cover this little concept - aiming and shooting isn't really something you need to learn. It's a pretty straightforward idea. Takes about three seconds to pick up. And unless you've kept your kid from watching every western, action and most sci fi shows ever made - they already get it.

Wonder how many of these "concerned parents" have bought their lovely children a water gun.

GamerDad's Heart Attack

Andrew Bub, known to some as GamerDad and the founder of the parent friendly review site, recently underwent a quadrapole bypass surgery for a heart attack and apparently will need additional surgery. As anyone who has lived with the American health care system can imagine - this can create something of a financial burden to those invovled.

So GamerMom is kindly asking for your quarters to help out. I interviewed Andrew a few years back and can attest he's a heck of a guy and the real deal. In a culture where idiotic sound bites generally wins out over rational discourse, Andrew's actually trying to give parents a legitimate dialog in which to understand games. So if you have a moment and few spare nickels, help them out.