Archive for September, 2010
I was never a big fan of Halo.
Saying that probably invalidates any chance I ever had working for Bungie or Microsoft Game Studies (MGS), but so be it. Well…let me back up and clarify that statement. For many years, first-person shooters (FPS) weren’t my particular cup of tea. I just found the format too ‘restrictive’ and highly repetitious in its offerings. But that changed over the years as better games came along such as Quake, Call of Duty, Bioshock, and one of my top 5, all-time favorites, Half-Life 2. But I’m also not the biggest fan of multiplayer (MP) game modes either. Don’t get me wrong, I can do a good game of co-op play all day long. Borderlands dominated my TV most of Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. But standard deathmatch / CTF rounds lose my interest after 15-20 minutes. And let’s be honest: No one buys Halo for its riveting campaign; it’s all about the multiplayer. So what does any of this has to do with Halo: Reach? I’m getting to that; bear with me.
I first played Halo the day the original Xbox launched. While I enjoyed the game, it really didn’t win me over as a blockbuster title due to the bland campaign. In short, it wasn’t touching Half-Life 2. Yes, I realize they’re different games with their own merits, but that’s besides the point. Regardless, I still forged ahead with Halo 2 & Halo 3. Again, both were really great games, but still didn’t win me over. In fact, I was so turned off by the trilogy’s campaign that I skipped out on ODST completely. But then, Halo: Reach came along.
I picked Reach (limited console edition) for two reasons. One, I really wanted one of the new, slim 360’s. And two, I sincerely wanted to show support for Bungie’s hard work all these years and experience their final mark on Halo. Despite my indifference to the series, all the Halo games are top notch, quality products worth any gamer’s time, fan or no fan. Having completed the campaign and running the the multiplayer mode, I feel comfortable to weigh in my final verdict. Simply put….
Everything about it is just a vast improvement from my previous gameplay experiences. Bungie even managed to nail the campaign appropriately. It starts off a bit slow but once it kicks into gear, it really evokes a true sense of overwhelming despair and impeding doom. As a swan song, it’s very poignant, yet very fitting for Bungie. Similar to Noble Team fighting a war that’s already lost, the Halo franchise has grown tremendously and is showing no signs of decline. It’s essentially bigger than Bungie’s bandwidth. Like many successful creations, there comes a point where you have to let go and move on so it can continue evolving. But let’s get back to how awesome Reach is. To Bungie’s credit, they’re never afraid to incorporate new elements into their games. One of the most memorable moments from Halo 3 was taking on the Covenant Scarab. The seamless transition from ground combat, to hopping in a plane to disable the Scarab, and then scaling back to ground combat was simply incredible. But this time, Bungie went all out by dedicating a full level for space combat. And they actually did it well, the sense of speed, the combat audio, etc. It all just works perfectly. I wouldn’t be surprised if their next project is a vehicular combat game or has a heavy vehicular component. But let’s jump into the real meat and potatoes of Reach: the multiplayer.
Based on my previous sentiments above about MP gaming, my expectations were minimal. Having finished the solo campaign, it was time to jump into MP. Now I started playing at about 7:00PM Sunday night, my play session ended a little after 6:00AM the next day. That’s right, I ended up playing over 11 HOURS of Reach multiplayer. And honestly, the only reason I stopped was due to an important incoming call that day, I needed to catch at least a few hours of z’s. That’s how much fun I had and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. The type of game modes and customization aspects can be pretty daunting; but it’s worth poking around for some of the more interesting, user-created game types. Thanks to the great matchmaking system, the level of balance is perfect. Regardless of the game type or weapon loadout, you never feel you’re put at an unfair advantage. That in itself is one of the greatest aspects of this game. In spite of all its depth, practically anyone can join in, have fun, and perform accordingly. Side note: this quick tutorial is great starting point for MP noobs like me.
I would be hard pressed to find anything truly negative about this game. Most of my nitpicking is with the contents of the limited edition console, not the game. The console is a slick, flawless, shiny marvel. Everything else? Ehhhhhh. For starters, it only comes with component cables, not an HDMI cable. Common sense would infer that gamers who can afford a $400 system most likely have an HDTV as well, so why not include both types? HDMI cables aren’t expensive at all. Hell, I’ve even sourced HDMI cables in bulk within a few days at previous employer. Moving on, the wireless controller is pretty slick but comes with regular batteries. Way to be green Microsoft. Again, most gamers buying this system probably play Halo for extended periods of time. As such, I would’ve expect them to include some play-and charge kits or at the very least some rechargeable batteries (some of which are cheaper and last just as long). And it would’ve been appropriate had they branded the headset with the ‘Halo Reach’ logo as well. Again, I know it’s extremely petty, nitpicking on my part. But for a $400 console bundle and as a developer send-off for their flagship title, I’m expecting something with a bit more posh. And these are simply little blemishes that could’ve been avoided. Had I been part of their product team or supply chain group, this would’ve been produced more properly. 🙂
Pettiness aside, I take my hat off to Bungie for a job well done. But I really want say, “Thank you Bungie” for helping me gain a new appreciation for how great (& fun) this franchise really is. A lot of passion, sweat, and tears went into producing this game; and it clearly shows through. Excelsior job indeed guys! These are exciting time for both Bungie and gamers alike. It’s safe to say Reach will keep us preoccupied for quite some time. And for Bungie, they get to start with a fresh clean slate to create a new and even better intellectual property. But whatever it is, I’ll definitely be there front and center. Until then, I’m fine with playing numerous firefight & MP rounds while struggling through the legendary campaign.
It’s that time again where I offer another one of my video game ideas. This isn’t one of those original ideas. But it is one I hold dear to my heart. The Venture Bros., words can’t describe how much I love this series. I could go on about the show’s subtle nuances and kitschy humor; but I’ll spare you the agony. It’s not Shakespeare but it is a damn good show and just flat-out hilarious. If you’re unfamiliar with it, stop reading right now and head to Hulu, Netflix, or your local video retailer.
A few years back the creators, Christopher McCulloch (aka Jackson Publick) and Doc Hammer, weren’t too keen on the idea of a video game. But there’s no denying the series lends itself completely to the video game format. Hopefully their stance has since softened. In my opinion, it’s inevitably bound to happen. I know Adult Swim has been cranking out a ton of mobile games, but this would need to be a full-blown console adaptation (Playstation 3, XBox 360, & Wii). There’s just too much material and quirky extras they deal with. And that’s one of the many reasons why I love this show: It always keeps you on your toes. Since everything isn’t told in a straight-forward manner; you’ll usually have a few questions stashed away in the back of your mind. Some parts are gleaned upon or even left out completely for a later time. This provides the perfect setting for the game. They can label it as one of the lost episodes. Too trite you say? Why not revisit a past event form the show and allow players to experience a new perspective on the event or what “really” happened. Or…they can present a brand spanking new adventure set in the series future. This would also serve as a great teaser and inside scoop of things to come in the show. Whatever the case may be, I’m sure it’ll be awesome.
From the high level view, I envision it as an action beat-em up with some light platforming and exploring. Players would be able to control and switch off between 2 (to four) characters per level. Initial entries would include: Hank & Dean (possibly with Sgt. Hatred) / Doc & H.E.L.P.e.R. (or Jonas) / The Monarch & Dr. Girlfriend / Henchman 21 & 24 / The Order of the Triad (with Triana as an assist). Brock could run his levels solo, just for the simple fact he’s Brock Samson. Mr. White and Quizboy Billy would probably be better suited in a bonus level capacity. They’d provide some interconnected trivia challenge or brainteaser. Even the original Team Venture can be thrown in as a hidden bonus. As usual, I have to throw in a few of my achievements / trophies ideas. Most of these would be for standard level completion, item collection, etc. along with some that are character-centric.
Achievement / Trophy Possibilities:
- John. Bonham. Rocks!: Brock Samson, Settle an old score with David Bowie.
- What’s Good for the Noose…: The Monarch & Dr. Girlfriend, Squash the rebellion within the Guild (of Calamitous Intent).
- Don’t Forget Your 4chan Cookie: Henchmen 21 & 24, 100% item collection
- Chinatown 2.0: Complete the Venture Family & Friends Tree (clones & drones included).
- Androgynous Binds: Order of the Triad level completion.
- Swedish Murder Machine: Complete the game without ever letting Brock Samson die…EVER.
- Going Against the Brain: Beat Master Billy Quizboy at his own game.
- Am I My Brother’s Reaper?: Rusty & Jonas Venture, Discover the real story about their birth.
- Smart and Lonely Is Rich: Help Richard Impossible discover Sally’s secret.
- They Finally Dropped!: Help Action Johnny overcome his daddy issues.
- State of Concurrence: Stop Phantom Limb from recreating the Revenge Society.
- The Hardy Boys would be Proud!: Hank & Dean 100% item completion (clues, bits of nostalgia, and the rare Original Team Venture 8-bit video game cartridge).
Given Adult Swim’s track record with video game adaptations, I doubt this ever sees the light of day. And if it did, it’d probably be shipped off to some off-brand developer and forgotten until it shipped (see the dismal offerings of Harvey Birdman & ATHF). But given how popular this show is, I’m expecting this license will receive a bit more attention. Regardless of what happens, I just hope it retains the fun natured spirit of the show. Until then, I’m happy re-watching the DVD’s.
Go Team Venture!!!
Last week, I saw Machete! and it was the most entertaining popcorn flick I’ve seen in a long time. Machete! makes up for the massive disappointment that was Sly Stallone’s Expendables. To paraphrase a close associate, “it’s the Mexican version of Shaft.” I’d agree but it’s definitely a Robert Rodriguez film: over-stylized violence laced with appropriately fitting comedic touches. Obviously, Danny Trejo doesn’t set women’s hearts on fire as a sex icon, but he does fill badass category more than Richard Roundtree ever did. And seeing the beautiful Jessica Alba is always a viewing pleasure. But my heart still belongs to Michelle Rodriguez. Yeah, she takes the tomboy thing a bit too far; but I still love her. If you love bloody action, quirky humor, and enjoyed Rodriguez previous work; go see this right now!
What really struck me is that you never really see a movie like this come from the Latin-American perspective. At least in American cinema, Latsploitation (Latin + Exploitation) films are somewhat of an oddity. Whether that’s “good or bad” is not my place to say. But there were many great developments that evolved from Blaxploitation films. On its face, the films were rife with derisive stereotypes and some morally questionable characters; but they did provide African-Americans with their own icons and stronger sense of identity. But that’s going down a path I’m not ready to dissect. That aside, Machete definitely isn’t an original concept, but it does explore some testy, new waters. The real tragedy here is that Machete isn’t connecting to the larger audience it deserves. And as result, it’s not pulling in big box office numbers. Blame it on Labor Day weekend, the immigration issue, lack of an attractive lead, misguided marketing, or any other excuse. Hopefully, Machete and the subsequent sequels will find its cult status in home video market.
On a separate note, we’re long overdue for a blaxploitation video game. A game called Shank was released recently. The spirit of the game clearly has a Mexican theme. And the gameplay is strongly reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez style: overtly graphic and bloody, yet stylish. With that in mind, I’m hoping Shank is Mexican or of Latino descent, which is a major plus. I know race shouldn’t be that big of a deal anymore; but we’re still inundated with movies and games featuring predominately white males. Whereas, women and people of color are still far and few in-between. I realize that’s just one of the breaks of the industry and part of today’s world. But studios and developers need to start taking more risks. Even if it flops, take the salient learning points and try again. There needs to be more balance. If Reservoir Dogs can be made into a video game (and a very bad one at that), then there’s no reason some developer can’t scoop up Richard Roundtree or Pam Grier to drop some lines for game based on Shaft or Foxy Brown. Better yet, I’d like to see a video game adaptation of Michael Jai White’s Black Dynamite and its upcoming sequel. There’s already a cartoon in the works headed for Adult Swim. Half the works already done right there. Plus it’ll help the industry combat that nasty stigma of not having enough minority representation in video games (outside of sports games). As usual, my services are for hire if you want this done successfully. Let’s get this show on the road already.
I’ve bugged Sony and Microsoft relentlessly about bringing this title to the online library. This is one of my top 5 favorite games of all time. Take the beat ’em up genre mixed with Predators and you have an EPIC WIN! And I’m not alone, even these guys agree. They missed a possible promotional tie-in with this summer’s Predators movie. Granted there aren’t any ‘aliens’ in the movie, they still could’ve pushed this game to generate more film hype. But I digress…
I’d be happy with a direct port but I wouldn’t be a decent HD makeover with some slight tweaks. The normal mode would be the standard arcade mode with unlimited continues. Hard mode would be the same but with only 3-5 continues. Plus, I would be open to the option for a boss rush mode and a challenge mode aptly named, The Predator Trials, which would be comprised of gameplay / time based challenges.
Achievement / Trophy Possibilities:
- To Catch a Predator: Defeat the infected Predator without losing a life.
- We Are the Champions: Complete the game in co-op mode.
- The Deadliest Game of Ultimate Frisbee: Defeat 100 enemies while passing the disc back-n-forth with another player.
- Mark Your Forehead: Complete the game on Normal.
- Ultimate Game Hunter: Complete the game with all four characters.
- Survival Instinct: Complete the game on Hard Mode.
- Back to Basics: Complete a level without using your special or any interactive items.
- Burn the Other Cheek: Defeat 25-50 enemies with their own weapon (type).
- All Hail the Queen: Defeat the Alien Queen without using a continue.
- Their Spears Were Seeking Prey: Rack up over 1,000 kills (possibly with one character) or amass over 1,000,000 points.
- Leave this to the Professionals Son: Complete Boss Rush Mode.
- Tools of the Trade: Complete the Predator Trials (as mentioned above).
Obviously, I’ve obsessed over this game more than anyone ever should, but I love it that much. A nice port or HD redressing would make me squeal like a little schoolgirl. Now that I’ve laid out the groundwork, Capcom needs to deliver. Just be sure to hire me as the Creative Lead / Producer to ensure this is an overwhelming success. 😉
During the Q&A session at Major Nelson’s PAX Prime Podcast, someone made a comment that after a certain point maintaining a high gamerscore almost becomes a mundane & thankless task. Oddly, there wasn’t any more discourse on the topic and it was pretty much skirted as a non-issue which I found shocking. These developers put so much effort in broadening the gamer market, that it only makes sense to put an equal amount of effort to maintain that group. To be fair, Major Nelson did say of the 23,000,000 active XBL users, the majority have a mean gamerscore ~20,000-23,000. The real hardcore gamers (like myself) are in the minority. Interestingly enough, there is a huge potential for publishers to take advantage of these numbers. I have a few ideas on this topic but here’s the most prevalent one:
Tiered Discounts Based on GamerScore / Trophies :
Quiet simply, why not provide a slight incentive to keep gamers playing? I know this idea may make a few gaming purist balk since it “cheapens” the gaming experience; but bear with me. Imagine the following:
- 10,000-25,000 GS receive a 5% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
- 50,000 GS receive a 10% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
- 75,000 GS receive a 15% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
- 100,000 GS receive a 20% on select avatar items, game add-on’s, etc.
Apparently, the bulk of most gamers sit right around 5,000-10,000 GS. The incentive marks could be set just slightly over the mean of each gaming segments (casual, moderate, hardcore, professional, etc.) ensuring only the earnest will be rewarded. This could even translate over to Games on Demand, Zune music, Netflix videos, and Marketplace games / apps. Furthermore, this could also tie into seasonal promotions or events (Superbowl, Playoffs, Elections, etc).
Conversely, the program could even be structured around certain game series. That one is a little fuzzy; but I’m thinking certain avatar items, add-ons’, in-game items can be unlocked or at least given a small discount based on the amount of achievements unlocked in previous titles. Say for example, Cliff Blezinski could provide ardent Gears players discounted modified weapons or maps in Gears of War 3 based on the amount time / achievements from the previous games. That one is a little far-fetched and raises some major game balance issues. But with a little tweaking, it may be a plausible strategy as well.
The possibilities are endless. It’s just a matter of how far the big 3 want to take it creatively. Aside from MS, Sony, and Nintendo, the partnering studios, networks, developers, etc. need their cut. Implementing such an incentive program means someone is going to have to take a cut somewhere. Not to mention, implementing such a program would be an operational nightmare. If such a program did evolve though; I just hope it would be a driving force to enhance the gaming, entertainment experience. I’m a gamer first and foremost. The last thing I’d want is for games to become laden with incentive-driven achievements just for the sake of driving up future sales. And on that note, let’s stop there. I can’t give away all my ideas. 🙂
This was my first time attending the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). And I’m proud to say it was one of the most exhilarating and insightful experiences I’ve ever encountered. The sheer amount of diversity among the gaming community is amazing. But even more surprising was the congenial nature of the event. It didn’t matter what type of gamer you are, personal background, or any other discriminatory factor; everyone came together and just had a great time. It truly was a beautiful event and I will definitely be there next year. First, I’d like to a give shout out to Dave (from Ontario) for procuring my PAX badge on such late notice. Dave was even nice enough to let me join his group for awhile and grab lunch. We’ll definitely hook up again for next year’s PAX. Another shout out to Tom (from Couchsurfing) for allowing me crash at his place during PAX. Tom and I have so many hobbies and traits in common it was frighteningly weird. But seriously, Tom was awesome and look forward to many future outings.
Most of my time was just spent bouncing around from different panels, visiting various booths, and socializing with other gamers. I even played my first tabletop game, Battlestar Galactica, and a really fun dice game called Zombie Dice. While I did enjoy myself, next year I’d like to go with a group of friends instead of solo. Being alone can be a bit bothersome at times, but I was fine with it for the most part. Regardless, there was always someone in the same boat as me, so it wasn’t too bad. In hindsight, the whole point of PAX is not about checking out the latest, upcoming games and the free swag. But it’s to create a welcoming environment where gamers of all sorts can convene, have fun with one another, and just be themselves.
Highlights of PAX 2010 :
- Meeting Ed Boon practically five minutes after entering the expo hall, EPIC WIN!
- Microsoft Kinect was actually impressive and a lot of fun.
- Twisted Pixel continues to create simple, yet highly impressive fun games, Comic Jumper will be their best game to date.
- Meeting some of the great people from MS / Xbox. Shout outs to: DMZilla (who forgot who I was the next day when we were in the elevator), EverettGresham (you still owe me a drink), MacheteBetty, Esko, and EpicAndyB
- Most Impressive Game: Dead Space 2
- Biggest Surprise: Brink
Quite honestly, the FPS genre has been played out these past few years in my opinion. But something about this game has a certain charm that grabbed me.
- Most disappointing Game: Fable 3
This series has always been underwhelming and just bland. And quite honestly, this game is even more streamlined and “simple’ than the previous incarnations, which is hard to believe.
As awesome as PAX is, there were some shortcomings and disappointments. I’d like to see more…’unique’ discussion panels. Do we really need to have yet another panel dealing with “the Myth of the girl gamer”? Yes, we all know there are women gamers out there. Hell, I’d even say quarter, if not a third, of the PAX attendees were women. They made up a larger portion of the group more so than the minorities. Point being: it is no longer a myth or a rarity even. Let’s focus on something more unresolved such as the lack of diversity in gaming (from hiring to the game characters themselves) or ways to bring gaming to disadvantaged people and / or less fortunate communities, or investigate ways gaming can be used for more educational / professional training purposes.
Additionally, some of the lines were just too long. You could literally spend all day in 4-5 lines to play a 10-15 minute demo and that’d be your whole day. Either they need to add an extra day to the event or secure more space for some of the larger developers / publishers. This way attendees (especially for one day attendees) can see and try out a good portion of games without feeling rushed.
Next year, I’m looking forward to more games, more parties, and more fun overall. This was a much needed excursion for my soul. But alas, the vacation is over and now it’s back to the daily grind of hunting for my dream job. But not to worry, this experience has invigorated me with a stronger resolve. I have a good feeling about my future.
In the meantime, here are few pictures. I know the quality is crappy. But that is due to the iPhone 3GS camera being utterly horrible.