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Friday, July 23, 2010

For Sunday: Sonic 2006 Bug Reel

Via Wired and @kobunheat.

Ebert Folded

This may be the best evidence to date that film critic Roger Ebert's very public stance that games can never be art was, at best, fodder for flame wars. Ebert recently retreated, saying:

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn't seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

At this moment, 4,547 comments have rained down upon me for that blog entry. I'm informed by Wayne Hepner, who turned them into a text file: "It's more than Anna Karenina, David Copperfield and The Brothers Karamazov." I would rather have reread all three than vet that thread. Still, they were a good set of comments for the most part. Perhaps 300 supported my position. The rest were united in opposition.
If you assume I received a lot of cretinous comments from gamers, you would be wrong. I probably killed no more than a dozen. What you see now posted are almost all of the comments sent in. They are mostly intelligent, well-written, and right about one thing in particular:

I should not have written that entry without being more familiar with the actual experience of video games.
-- Okay, kids, play on my lawn[Chicago Sun-Times]

Emphasis is Ebert's, not mine. He continues to ramble on, sometimes his original stodgy stance reappearing but in general giving gamers the due they rightfully deserve. Yet the response now has been largely silent - Ebert is just reassuring us what we already knew, that he was clinging on to a position he didn't have any real reason to have except because it was generating controversy.

Kudos to him for reversing that, of course, and hopefully in doing so it will serve as a guidepost to others in similar fields to do a little research on modern gaming before trolling for posts, but it still feels like the opportunity to have a decent conversation on the subject was tossed away.

Stick to movies, Roger - Transformers 3 is coming out soon and probably won't be art either.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gameplay: DeathSpank

Having recently joined the rest of the world in enjoying the incredibly well designed Torchlight - I was overjoyed to see that DeathSpank was hitting the PlayStation Network last week. DeathSpank is essentially Diablo for Monkey Island. Which is to say - it's pretty awesome.

There's more of the former than the latter in the game in terms of mechanics - so if you don't like hack and slash action RPG's, you probably won't suffer through enough to enjoy Gilbert's immense sense of humor - though it might be close. The character DeathSpank is essentially The Tick with a broadest sword and no Arthur to keep him in check. The graphics are a slick combination of 2D cartoon and 3D effects, the overall production from voice work to sound effects is pretty top notch and the RPG mechanics have been simplified to make the game extremely accessible.

Actually, if I had any complaint it would be that the game is a little too accessible. My inventory is cluttered with potions I really don't need (except for healing). There is offline 2 player co-op with the second player as DeathSpank's trusty friend Crackles ... but Crackles is essentially just a walking turret without any upgrade paths or inventory of his own. The "justice meter" mechanic is slightly flawed since the uber-attack uses the same button mashing as any other attack, leading to several unintended overkill blows. DeathSpank's inventory management is simple, but also so shallow that you eventually feel more like you're just doing spring cleaning than actually configuring.

These are minor aspects to what is otherwise a brilliant game, though - and aspects which are really just victims of a design which is trying to streamline fun and remove frustration. The goal is to have enough action RPG to get to the adventure game concepts - heavily displayed in the character conversations but also apparent in the slightly less successful puzzles which suffer from some of the same interface problems as every other adventure game puzzles, i.e. letting the user know that a random noun or verb is really what they require. This is, again, a rather small nuisance and rather easily corrected with the ingame hint system.

It's a great game, with a beautiful style and possibly the best sense of humor available for digital download right now ... highly recommend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For Sunday: iDosing - Digital Drugs Are After Your Children!

An astonishing combination of biology, psychology and technology being completely misunderstood all for the cause of moral panic. Via @ShawnElliott.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Antennagate, as a new iPhone 4 user

Look, I've clearly haven't been a proper Apple fanboy for a while, and even briefly considered the same defections some of my geek comrades are making towards the recent crop of Android phones - but the argument that the iPhone 4 is such a massive refinement to the product line as to nearly perfect was something I had to try for myself.

And the office was giving out a discount, so...

I just got my hands on the phone last Friday when I returned to the office after a business trip to California. I had hoped to get it before the trip, but considering I procrastinated ordering until late last week - I was lucky to get it when I did. Before ordering I interrogated the early adopters I knew - the ones who grabbed it day one, and compared their notes to what was coming out from respected portions of the industry - like Consumer Reports.

So I'm right-handed - though I would probably describe my phone usage as 'polydextrous', I kind of fiddle and fumble with the phone unless I'm just talking one on one: which is probably my rarest activity, I email and text far more frequently. Still, I actually had more phone conversations than the norm this weekend, and except for a local pizzeria hanging up on me (which at best I could blame on AT&T) ... I haven't had any problems at all. In fact the reception, especially the WiFi reception - is better than ever. And the WiFi is certainly noticeable better.

I think Apple's recently press events and especially the offer of free bumpers will defuse the situation somewhat. The general consensus from iPhone4 users is that you'll probably want a case with this one, though I'm holding off for a while as I'd prefer to get the slimmest one possible - I really like the feel and form factor of this model.

Once again, I don't think Steve Jobs should be allowed to answer emails anymore - he just can't respond directly to problems customers are having without sounding a bit like an ass. If anything, this fiasco is a case scenario of what happens when a beloved brand comes under fire with a bit of evidence behind it. Did the press exaggerate the magnitude of the situation? I think, but if you don't want to be shark bait ... don't flail around in the water. Apple could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by getting to this point sooner in the game. Or even finding a bumper-like case they aren't wildly overcharging in the first place.

So bottom line? If you're a southpaw and a have phone user - go borrow a friend's iPhone4 for a couple calls. Worst case scenario? Get a case. It's not armageddon, nor is it a killer flaw in an otherwise well designed product.