Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This is a long over do post. After returning from my Honey-month in Europe, I managed to neglect this page even more so then usual. Anyway, forgive me for not only failing to write anything over the past 2 months or so, but on my return, writing about a game that's release hype has come and gone like many a summer breeze.

Did you hear about "Knight in the Nightmare" jaded gamer? Did it register on your radar, you JPRG shut-ins? Did you even bother to take a break from Halo Wars to read about such a phenomenon.

I wish you did because "Knights" is something truly unique and memorable. To its credit, no matter how hard I try to describe the core mechanics of it to anybody who may be interested, I find myself unable to perpetuate a description that will truly encompass all the necessary details to paint a clear picture. How can I explain the grid based layout without describing the Law/Chaos phase system? And once that is comprehended, can I possibly make you understand the necessity of proper weapon selection in relation to the seemingly simple elemental based attack method?

The truth is, I can't. Or I could, if I was a much better linguist and had the proper funding and time for a dissertation caliber endeavour. "Knights" has to be played to be understood. And not just played, but weighed and tested. This is not a complaint, and I am not comparing it to any of the overwrought JPRG techniques that have so thoroughly brought me to power down my system in a act of defeat. It's a true pleasure to play and although the challenges are numerous and slightly repetitive, I was still enthralled till Chapter 45. A chapter can be completed in anytime between 10-30 mins, but you may want to take your time and collect all the special items that allow you to add soldiers to your force permanently in later chapters.

I am not going to get into the particular details that encompass "Knights" and instead just say it is a combination SRPG, Shooter, Puzzler and Action RPG all wrapped up in a Gothic-Fantasy with one of the largest character ensembles of any game, handheld or system. Some characters return and play a larger part in the narrative, while others make a single appearance in a chapter as it relates to particular story elements. Although wordy and a bit extemporaneous, the story stays fresh by giving the player details that occur both in the past and present. Incidentally, the pre and post chapter cut scenes work backwards from the much talked about assassination of the King (many months before the game begins) to the present events that you are actively taking part in. As details begin to emerge, the player gets a much clearer picture of the scope of the struggle taking place and the true nature of many characters you have come to consider friend/foe.

I am not going to pretend that the narrative had me on the edge of my seat, but I will say it kept a good pace along side the action and you can read or not read as much or as little as you want; which should be the player's choice no matter the genre.

Reading over this post, I can't help but feel that I haven't even come close to cracking the surface of any item of substance that goes about making this game so unique, but then again, I already expected that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Got my new DSi. My baby blue was picked up monday morning, with me parked outside of the Broadway Village Gamestop ten minutes before opening.

I thought I would be more pleased with the sleek outer casing and larger, sharper screens, but that just wasn't the thing that grabbed me. In some ways, I liked the smooth plastic finish the DS lite. The most apparent thing about the system is the existence of a new home interface.

In and ode to the uniform layout of the PSP/PS3 the DS's interface has a similar resemblance to the Wii's. Not entirely though, it seems more like playskool Wii, which is funny since the Wii's interface is esentially the digital version of FunMobile. Cute, but nothing eye-popping.

I am very into the power button acting as "menu" button, which brings you back to the main screen with a surprising amount of speed. Ditto on the not having to reset the system when removing and inserting game cartridges. It is the exist of the subtle technological fixes that reveal the DSi as a more sophisticated and versatile piece of hardware. It is really a must own for people who regularly use the DSlite and don't own any other handheld piece of tech that may offer more media features.

I am not going to go into the music and picture capabailites because they are just fine, nothing spectacular compared to an ipod or even a PSP but I feel that Nintendo is going to take a more active approach with upgrading the system with downloadable content and fixes.

If you will excuse me, I have to go get my Pesach on. Buy a DSi buy trading in your DSlite for some sweet credit at Gamestop.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Platinum Games "MadWorld" is focused visceral experience that could teach developers a thing or two about creating exciting content without bogging down the gaming experience with over technicality. First of all, "MadWorld" is short. I replayed a couple of the 9-12 levels and still clocked the entire game at something like 6 hours. I didn't replay the levels to upgrade my character or weapons, because there is none of that, I replayed them because the game happens to be, um...enjoyable?

You remember that, when you actually enjoyed the process of playing a game and wasn't strapped down to the experience to achieve a level-up or a +1 armor upgrade? Former Clover Studio head, Atsushi Inaba (acting as the producer on this title) has the uncanny ability to create games that never really burden you. Granted "Viewtiful Joe" and "God Hand" had upgradable abilities and some bonus arena content, but they never felt padded or artifically extended for the sake of some "hardcore" status. As with the aforementioned titles, "MadWorld" keeps the number of levels at a minimum while making each one a unique experience and worth a replay on its own merits.

Of course, the art style and presentation are what made you purchase "MadWorld" in the first place. The stark black/white/red presentation seperates "MadWorld" from the pack and transcends the gimmick by allowing complex shading and shadowing to create a environment that even the jaded "hardcore" gamer will find profound. Blood sprays and sticks to surfaces in thick pools and exits the facial orficies of every enemy you clock between the eyes with violent gusto. As has been said by every major blog/website leading up to it's release, "MadWorld" isn't your typical vilolent affair. The over-the-top finishers and kill sequences elicit more guffaws then cringes. It says alot that a game can use it's violent nature in such an effective way to produce such a response. We are so used to the media employing grit and hyper-violence to create a sense of ultra-realism in order to shake a viewer/player into a feeling of some kind of dark catharsism. "MadWorld" feels more like a non-stop gag reel then a Cronenberg film.

It's an important purchase, if not for its royal pedigree (Hideki Kamiya, of "Devil May Cry" fame was involved), which is why you should be purchasing it, then for all the whiny Wii owners who need some heavy blood shed to incite them to change their minds about the Wii's library.

I wish people wouldn't talk smack about the games available for the wonderful Nintendo system, but this may be a reason to be positive about the future of 3rd party content.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Valkyria Chronicles

I have been playing this gorgeous game about 6 hours per day for the past 2 weeks and as much as I am in absolute rapture over the uniqueness and playability of it, I still feel it suffers from some of the usual downsides of games of its genre.

Valkyria Chronicles is Turn-Based Strategy game that excels in substance and style. The art style is blend of anime aesthetics with some artistic use of cell shading and character design. Your squad is made of about 2 dozen unique characters, all with their own personalities, advantages, disadvantages and voice acting. Like Fire Emblem, relationships are fostered amongst your squad, although they are not reliant on you using a turn to cue some boring chat between the characters during gameplay. Instead, each unit can have a connection with up to 3 other units that grant powerful tandem attacks if they are placed next to each other on the battlefield.

"Like Fire Emblem, but fair"
That is the way I have been describing the overall design of VC. Instead of relying on a one strategic method to achieve victory, you are encouraged to think on the fly and create your own scenarios to turn the battle in your favor. There are these amazing moments of realization, where you survey the field and your line of thinking goes something like this:

"Can I do this? Well feasibly, given the design of the game, that would be a unique strategy, and hey, it just might work"
And god damn, when it does work! You feel like Anime Patton!

It is just another example of game where design is implemented into play instead of two different entities. Lazy game making can often occur when a system is in place, and then a actor (the player) is sort of expected to just nominally exist as a slave to the system, with no expectations on using the design that is all ready in place, to create a personal experience. In VC, the system is varied enough that strategy can be implemented in any situtation, and it can be uniquely yours.

I don't want to get into specific gameplay arenas such as leveling up your troops (which you do), enhancing your weapons (ditto) and losing fallen troops in combat (which is there, but forgiving, since you can call a medic to fallen bodies if you reach them before an enemy) because these are all standard parts of the genre. I will say, that I loved the idea that both the defensive and offensive forefront of your squad is your single tank. The versatility of the tank in battle makes the combat experience all the more intruiging. Not only because the concept of the tank as the leading unit fits in so perfectly with the WWII aesthetic, but because it transaltes the emotional weight so evenly into the actual playing of the game. Your tanker can lead the charge by dropping mortar fire in the midst of an opposing camp while your gunners and scouts swoop in to claim it, or he can drop a wide range smoke bomb to allow the faster troops to circle around an enemy and attack from the rear. There is also the ability to issue orders that temporarely enhance the stats of one or all troops, but I found that I rarely used them because layout became my more apparent strategy.

It's a wonderful experience and one of the rare games that I can't step away from for too long without going through withdrawal.

In addition - I almost forgot, but this game bares a really close resemblance to an early PS1 game entitled "Hogs Of War", which had a similar component in regards to phsycially moving your troops and firing manually. It had a really odd concept about oinkers playing cultural stereotypes from around the world and had the same class based gameplay as VC. I don't if anyone is aware of this game, but the similarites are truly apparent.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Academic Inegrity

I can't get this idea out of mind. It's nothing too profound:

While working on my Masters in Film Music composition, I have already geared my studies toward video game music and interactive media. If you are no stranger to any video game blogs or industry news, then you would know of the rise in market share held by video game publishers. Granted we are now finding out that the video game industry is not recession proof, as it was previously thought, it is still a media giant.

I have been dialoguing my interests with a professor, the head of the film scoring dept, and he empathizes with my struggle for creativity and originality in video games as he had a similar experience with the less then warm treatment of film music by the academic world. So I pass the dude today, and in our talking he drops some little nugget about how he sees that many students are focusing on the video game industry, particularly in the music tech department.

Meanwhile, back at the apt:

I start up the F.E.A.R 2 demo, which I only played on recommendation from a classmate (a dude I respect intellectually, but not his video game tastes) and I just thought it was a perfect example of the watered down crap American developers pass off as "cool" and cutting edge. It was a fucking nightmare, and not because it was scary because it wasn't. The controls go from twitch-tastically unwieldly to tank-ish ooze walking. The cues that were supposed to draw you in to the atmosphere were just confusing and off putting.

Now in my "Audio for Games" class, I get to take my first look at the unreal engine.

This is not how to make games. It is essentially a multi-tool where you take this poorly designed little "cutouts" and place them throughout the environment, hopefully out of the way enough so that passing rockets don't interfere on their way to make giblets out of some 10-year-old. You can choose "Awesome High Textured Machine Gun" or "Halo-esque Floaty Legged vehicle"

It just bugs me. I mean, obviously I want to make a buck, work regularly and be creative, but this lowest common demoninator game making is the equal of a jerry bruckheimer or that other asshole who made transformers whose name I can't think of right now because I'm partly watching the "Colbert Report".

Basically, I am committed to this industry artistically as much as I am dependant on of it financially. I really don't have the patience now to articulate that, but I will in time.

I just chose to shit on people now, it was brainless and rude. but chathartic.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Psych-Fi II

I feel as if my previous response to a truly significant game like "Psychonauts" was inadequete. I mean, what exactly is the point of me writing this blog if not to say the things I feel are significant; ideas that people haven't expounded on yet. This becomes particularly important with a game like "Psychonauts".

I think my response was only so short because of the time that has passed between the release of "Psychonauts" and the discussions that have already been held. In this case, it is just me showing up so late to the party.

The thing I can say that I feel is unique is to focus on the actual gameplay mechanics of "Psychonauts" and it's pitch perfect platforming design. There is a never a point where conceptual design takes prominence over actual playability, and there is certainly a dose of experimentation when it comes to the twisted world that "Psychonauts" resides in. Wether you are progressing up a series of barely connected platforms deep within the recesses of the wind of a paranoid psychotic or sliding "up" a ladder in a grotesque circus bit top, there is always a organic nature to the design in which the next jump is clearly designated.

The fusion between concept and gameplay is so tightly connected that there is never really a seperation between the two. The levels are chock full of appropriate props and themes where in each jump, swing, tightrope walk or pole climb, is part of a greater narrative scheme.

Truly brilliant. I will stop at that, and just say that "Psychonauts" is probably one of the most simply enjoyable games I have played in the last 5 years.