Generation ABXY

Tales of a modern gamer entranced by the golden years.

Charlie Oscar Delta: A Reflection on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s Multiplayer Functionality in Anticipation of Modern Warfare 2.

Posted by variable on August 28, 2009

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare set a new standard for competitive multiplayer functionality in a primarily console-focused First-Person Shooter.  Its character progression was adopted my many of the shooters that followed it to market, though there remain numerous examples of shooters that hew closer to the classic design sensibilities.  However, even though the first Modern Warfare was evolutionary it was not without its flaws.

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First of all, let’s introduce the weapon add-ons.  The process used to unlock the Red Dot Sight, Silencer and ACOG Scope, as well as the additional camouflage options for the primary weapons, is sound.   It is bothersome to rack up the number of headshots required to unlock all the camouflage choices, though, and therefore this element of progression is in danger of being sped up by impatient fans.  Another strange thing is that, when the Marksman Challenge for an individual gun has been completed, the user has to wait until after the current match to equip their Red Dot Sight.  It’s important to prevent players from fiddling with their classes during a match in order to keep the focus on the current carnage, but Infinity Ward could easily have given users access to their Red Dot Sights immediately upon completion of the first Marksman Challenge, or during their next respawn period, through the use of a single additional screen.

Let’s move on to talking about the weapons themselves.  The weapon modeling and design in Modern Warfare is superbly detailed.  And many of them remain useful after the entire stock of guns has been unlocked, which is excellent.  The character progression doesn’t prove as disastrous as it could be, with low-level players being given access to weapons that can compete with the high-level gear.  Having said that, there are numerous occasions where high-level players have an unfair advantage, and this precedence isn’t always represented in terms of accuracy or damage dealt.  Perks complicate matters, and that will be addressed later, but high-level players gain additional benefits from kills and headshots that low-level players are unable to receive.  You can kill an enemy, take his gun and kill him with that gun, but you won’t earn proper credit for that kill unless you have unlocked that specific Challenge.

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The Challenge system itself is a mess of unlocks and lacking rewards.  The individual weapon Challenges have already been discussed, but there are a variety of Challenges that tie into the various game modes and the array of methods that can be employed to eliminate enemy players.  These are split up into five categories: Boot Camp, Operations, Killer, Humiliation and Elite.  What is irksome about the Challenge design is that, starting from the very beginning, the player doesn’t have access to the entire suite of Challenges available.  Each category must be unlocked in groups.  As you progress, you’ll unlock more and more of them, but you’ll soon realize that you are not being rewarded for certain actions because you haven’t yet unlocked the accompanying Challenge set.  Infinity Ward used the Challenge sets as stopgaps in between the more satisfying weapon and Perk unlocks, and their experiment proved to be a black eye on Modern Warfare’s character progression.

The Perks system allows for some interesting and humorous custom classes.  It’s easy to make a Stealth class by selecting Bomb Squad, UAV Jammer and Dead Silence, and  the player can easily roll a Sniper by selecting Claymores x2, Stopping Power, and Iron Lungs.  It’s also possible to design an incredibly useless Shotgun-exclusive class by selecting Bomb Squad, Overkill, and Extreme Conditioning.  A few of the Perks offer  multiple solutions to the same problem, such as Stopping Power, Juggernaut and Double Tap, all of which help to keep the player alive while he attempts to shoot his enemies dead.  There are some inconsistencies in the design of the Perks system, such as Last Stand being in the third slot instead of the second one, but, overall, the system is well-designed and offers an assortment of options to players.

cod4perks

In terms of the mechanical systems that lie underneath all of this customization and unlocking, Modern Warfare is somewhat lacking.  First of all, there is no host migration built into the netcode.  When the host leaves the match you’ll be forced to return to the game lobby where a new host will be selected.  That was a huge oversight on Infinity Ward’s part.  In addition to this failure, it’s disappointing that Infinity Ward did not enable any kind of skill-based matchmaking for Modern Warfare.  Players are collected just because they are currently looking for a match, not because they would be a good match for the other players.  In addition to the unpredictable match quality, the size of the match itself is not foreseeable.  Once the base number of players is in the lobby for the current playlist, the match will begin, with players being added to and leaving the game as it remains in progress.  There are several problems with this design philosophy.  First of all, Modern Warfare is still ridiculously popular, so it wouldn’t be difficult to wait until a full lobby was available before the game starts.  Secondly, there appears to be no punishment dealt out to players who leave a game before it has been completed.  Thirdly, as you are entering a match you are forced to hear your team’s voice chat.  Xbox Live is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and it’s extremely annoying to have to hear a seven-year-old whispering into the microphone while a twenty-year-old man-child who is unable to utilize the mute function of Xbox Live or Modern Warfare tells the child to “shut the fuck up.”  Here’s a useful tip: The best pre-match routine is to mute everyone in the lobby who has a mic.  Do this as often as you can.  Another annoyance in this regard is that, for team gametypes, you cannot view the Gamercard of anyone in the other team while you’re in the lobby.  That makes no sense whatsoever.

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Hopefully some of these flaws can be removed in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Despite the quality offered by the original Modern Warfare, it was, at times, a rough experience.

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Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A reflection on my Twitter usage and what future features my many readers can begin frothing about.

Posted by variable on July 16, 2009

I admit, I am strongly attracted to Twitter as a microblogging platform.

I don’t pretend that I was ever a blogger who was able to keep a consistent schedule, however, as my appreciation for Twitter has spread I have found it more and more difficult to write traditional articles.  This development is  more strongly associated with the kind of laziness and procrastination that has infected every endeavor I’ve ever attempted, but Twitter definitely factors in to my thought-process.  Via Twitter, I can instantly and easily tell the world what funny little thing I discovered while playing Earthbound or complain about the combat design of Contact.  There is an immediacy to Twitter that interests me, a reaction, I imagine, that is reflected in the way differing personalities take advantage of this tool.   Some corporate sites and personalities use Twitter as a pseudo-RSS feed.  That’s a perfectly valid use of Twitter, though I will say that I follow far too many of these robotic accounts.  I’m working on that.   Others use it as a way to instantly broadcast news from a convention or as a way to interact with their friends as they scoop up all of the latest news.  These too are valid.  My utilization of the platform Twitter provides isn’t simply a application of one of these base forms, but a hybridization of the global set of usage forms, and I imagine that is true of most Twitter users.

To my great embarrassment, I’ve used Twitter to advertise the Twitter-based game Spymaster, which is, purely and simply, a grind-fest that happens to use a social network as a wrapper.  I’ve complained about the presentation of certain products at E3 and highlighted my top two games of the show (…Although I wish I would have mentioned Scribblenauts instead of Just Cause 2).  And, at one point, I only used Twitter (and Facebook) as a, “Hey, I’m playing Spelunky” application.  To some, that habit would easily be more shameful than advertising a horrible Twitter-based game.   I feel a different way, however.

I admit that the majority of these statements are painfully obvious, but, as someone who embraced social networking later than many of my friends and acquaintances, I am confidant that this is a consistent “a-ha” moment that happens whenever one discovers a new method of self-expression.  Sadly, this also happened with many of the games and movies of the past fifteen years.  I have caught up on classics like Terminator 2: Judgment DayBlade Runner and Children of Men with my Netflix trial, and I’m doing the same with games I missed the first time around, such as Contact and Earthbound.

Up until now, when I tweeted about old games I’m currently playing I have used the #LTTP (Late to the Party) hashtag.  In addition, when I first tweeted about Earthbound, I included the #Earthbound hashtag.  I should have used a hashtag for Contact, but I didn’t.  The point of this analysis is that I have decided to stop using the #LTTP hashtag.  First of all, it’s obvious that I’m talking about an old game before I insert the hashtag into my tweet.  Of course I’m late to the party on Earthbound!  I started playing it more than a decade later!  Secondly, this hashtag habit makes my tweets more difficult for my non-robot followers to parse.  When I add #LTTP to a tweet, the reader could easily have no idea what subject I’m talking about, and may consider that type of update noise.  In light of this, I’m going to make sure, from this point forward, that each of my game-based tweets will be uniquely cataloged.  That way people will easily be able to understand what game I’m typing about and they will also be able to look back on all of the tweets tied to that individual game with ease.

With these changes made, I will now take all the relevant tweets in a given week, add in some editorializing and other trimmings, and publish a post on each upcoming Sunday night that collects and displays the recent highlights of my current playthrough.  It’s possible that I’ll miss a night, but I’ll try to notify readers via Twitter if such an event becomes likely.  Even though the fruit of this labor has not yet been seen, I’m open to any kind of constructive criticism that any of my readers would like to bring up.  If you have anything to say about this, please feel free to email me or leave a comment on this post.

Finally, I’d like to announce the fact that there will be a new post hitting this blog later today, although calling it “new” is rather cruel.  In reaction to a certain 1UP Feature that I tweeted about recently, I sent an email to 1UP’s feedback inbox.  I’m sure it wasn’t read, and I can assure you that no one at 1UP  responded to it.  Since I have received no official reply I have felt the urge to post the email here, in order to see what kind of replies I’ll receive and to shine a fresher flashlight on the specter of the term “non-linearity.”  The ease of this update was factored in as well.  So, my readers, be sure to look forward to this stunning post and feel free to tease me about my feelings about linearity in games at a later hour.

Your forgetful editor,

Vincent

Posted in Changing Gears, Gaming, Social Networking | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Of the Cult of Personality that often Poisons those who Blog About Games, and the Impact this Virus has on End-Users.

Posted by variable on April 5, 2009

Pete Wanat always has something to say.

Pete Wanat always has something to say.

Gaming as a medium has been influenced by a wide number of designers who have used their position as “people of interest” in order to critique the medium in colorful ways.  A recent example of this occurred when Pete Wanat went on the GameTrailers show Invisible Walls and spewed amazing lines like this:

“[Nintendo was] getting their ass handed to them [last generation], trying to compete with hardcore gamers.   So they said, ‘We’re not going to bother, we’re going to find our niche audience.'”

Nintendo fanboys followed this comment up with a very predictable attack partially based on Wanat’s usage of the word niche, which does, in fact, make perfect sense.  The word niche refers to a “specialized market,” and the overall Wii library speaks to a very inexperienced gamer who cannot understand a racing game without being given a plastic shell in the shape of a wheel to encase their Wii Remote in.  Wii and DS owners also attacked Wanat’s commentary out of disdain of his assertion that Nintendo struggled to entertain the hardcore gamer.  This is also true, to an extent.  Metroid Prime and Pikmin were definitely core franchises, but the majority of what Nintendo released on the GameCube, and what was released by third parties, appealed to a wider market.

In addition to giving Wii fans more fodder for vitriolic forum posts, Wanat also explained why we are seeing so few interesting third-party Wii releases.  The reason he cites is fairly simple, and that’s that development teams can’t easily port 360, PS3, or PC games to the Wii.  This is partially a result of the system’s specs, and partially a result of the impact the Wii Remote has on game design.  While there have been successes, in terms of critical acclaim, such as No More Heroes or Zack and Wiki, these titles haven’t been outstanding retail successes, and because of this third parties are even more wary of Wii development.

Now, it’s absolutely fine for developers to speak their minds about things, especially if they avoid the cliff that David Jaffe jumped off of when he attempted to discuss game reviews on one of the Listen Up GDC Specials.  However, it’s bothersome when gaming bloggers step into the fray and request developers to be more quotable or to be more visible.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Jim Sterling did on a recent episode of Podtoid.  And, it’s not difficult to figure out why a gaming blogger would ask for such a stupid thing to happen.  They just want more hits.

Getting hits for a good story is one thing, but it's another thing to get hits for publishing a piece of gossip.

Getting hits for a good story is one thing, but it's another thing to get hits for publishing a piece of gossip.

The dangerous side of a cult of personality is that it can negatively affect the quality of the gaming blogs, most of which could not afford such reductions.  Reporting the news as it happens, or posting rumors from popular gaming forums (without attribution) appears to be the goal for the majority of mainstream gaming blogs.  That’s great, and there’s a place for that kind of discussion.  However, there is no legitimate reason why a self-titled games blogger should be requesting game developers to be more forceful in the way they present themselves, apart from the obvious financial implications.  More clicks means more money, and it’s self-explanatory how this could be attractive to those who could directly benefit from it.  However, it’s not a positive progression for the end-user, who would be forced to endure a greater level of gossip and meaningless drivel if such a transition ever became more commonplace.

My post on Ocarina of Time should be up before the end of the world, if everything goes as planned.

After fiddling with the physical version of Pokemon Puzzle League for a few hours over the weekend, I've decided to ignore the VC version of that and use my Wii Points on Majora's Mask instead.

Majora's Mask is one of the most mature Zelda games ever made.

P.S.: Look forward to a possible Majora’s Mask post coming up before 2010.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why Game Designers Have no Legitimate Reason to Complain about Heather Chaplin’s GDC Rant and How Much Farther Games Still Have to Evolve to Achieve Something Truly Memorable.

Posted by variable on April 2, 2009

“It’s not that the medium is in its adolescence, it’s that you’re a bunch of fucking adolescents.” – Heather Chaplin

Spacewar! is one of the earliest known videogames.

Spacewar! is one of the earliest known videogames.

Barring that statement, Ms. Chaplin’s rant appears to be one of the most honest critiques of the medium I’ve ever read.  Developers such as David Jaffe and “hardcore gamers” themselves have rushed to defend their favorite medium, claiming that Heather doesn’t have a firm grasp of game concepts and that the level of creativity she is asking for isn’t possible in modern, mass-market, games.  And, based on the releases of the past year, they aren’t wrong.  However, it’s important to consider why game developers would be wise to thoroughly criticize Chaplin’s rant.  Many mainstream developers are still toiling away, making experiences that lack any kind of value whatsoever, and it is in their best interest to crush any dissenters under their feet.

Prepare to be mentally curb-stomped!

Prepare to be mentally curb-stomped!

As time goes on, the industry’s reliance on established concepts makes it more and more difficult to build games that appeal to a wider audience while not being total cakewalks devoid of meaning.  Somehow, this is possible in the film industry, but impossible in the gaming space.  The act of leveling up or completing a quick-time event or choosing a dialog option is so non-essential to producing an interactive experience worth investing in.  And, yet, these cliches still end up in most modern games, despite the fact that they actively detract from the small trickle of believability that remains.  Despite the fact that most games are built around a compelling mechanic, many developers feel the need to wrap a nonsensical narrative around the core gameplay.  Shooting bugs from behind cover is nice, but why don’t you save the world too?  It’s difficult for me to continue to accept such rote and non-essential storytelling in a medium that isn’t overflowing with great examples of it.  You don’t often see developers forgiven for reaching with gameplay mechanics, but a poorly written or poorly told story is forgiven without question.  The common defense is, “What were you expecting, man, it’s just a game?”  And, as long as that feeling persists, game creators won’t achieve anything truly outstanding.

Ocarina of Time is still epic, though it aged poorly.

Ocarina of Time was once an epic, but it aged poorly.

Sometime in the future, you can look forward to an editorial about my current playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Pros and Cons of Creating a Game Series and the Impact of Fanatical Gamers on Those Franchises.

Posted by variable on March 13, 2009

Resident Evil 5 has become a divisive game.   A far cry from the overwhelming praise that announced the launch of Resident Evil 4, the response to Resident Evil 5 has been lukewarm at best and underwhelming at worst.  The reasons for this are varied, but the most common refrain has been that Resident Evil 5 is straddling two different genres without succeeding much in the implementation of either of them.  Long before Resident Evil 4, the series started to veer away from survival horror and began to move towards a heavier focus on action elements.  However, after Resident Evil 4, a watershed moment for the franchise, anything less than an true evolution will not be celebrated by the global gaming audience.

Resident Evil 5, apparently, doesn't have much conviction.

Resident Evil 5, apparently, doesn't have much conviction.

“The creepy suspense of the earlier games has been replaced with an action-packed intensity that will instantly appeal to some gamers and disappoint others. As an action game, RE5 is a success, and there’s a wealth of replayability through item collection, weapon upgrades, score chasing and the unlockable Mercenaries mode. But this is no gentle nudge to the formula of the previous main RE games; it’s an evolution.” -Ryan Geddes, IGN.com

“The absence of fear is one of the fundamental problems here. All the cumbersome inventory management (better here than before, but still not ideal), the clunky enemy AI, the (by comparison to other action games) stilted controls are all completely acceptable if they’re in the service of fear and intensity — those values Resident Evil has always so expertly cultivated. But when little else in the game is working towards frightening or even unnerving you, those odd facets aren’t “just how Resident Evil is.” They’re bad.”  -Justin McElroy, Joystiq.com

“Ultimately, Resident Evil 5 shouldn’t be looked at as a failure in the series, merely too ambitious, inconsistent and uneven. Earlier entries in the series benefited from their simplicity and focus, and while it’s laudable for RE5 to try and include so much variety, perhaps a little more of the same ol’ same ol’ would have resulted in a slightly better game.” -James Mielke, 1UP.com

“Resident Evil 5 is mired in poor design decisions that drag down the experience and render single-player campaign a tedious exercise in working around the game.  It’s frustrating to see a game that I so looked forward to playing and carried with it such potential, sabotage itself in so many ways.  Compared against the ambition of games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Assassin’s Creed; Resident Evil 5 seems timid, unwilling to move out of its comfort zone.  It’s a shame.” -Adam Sessler, G4TV.com

After Resident Evil 4, only evolutionary sequels would receive universal acclaim.

After Resident Evil 4, only evolutionary sequels would receive universal acclaim.

During the previous decades of gaming publishers and developers have struggled mightily to make their franchises thrive.  They’ve made sure to keep their series in the minds of gamers, releasing games across console generations in an attempt to create a fanaticism that becomes timeless.  While this is an essential element of each publisher’s money-making machine, it also comes with a share of negative factors.  First of all, games in a franchise must live up to that which has come before, which can be a difficult path to tread.  Many series have been undone or undermined by one outstandingly good or bad game.  Secondly, individual games in a series can often collect large groups of fans that are not satisfied with any of the other games in that series.  These fans don’t contribute sales to future iterations, and they tend to clamor for remakes for their chosen game.  Finally, fanatical franchise followers are the most likely to ignore critical game design flaws.

These fanatics are one of the main barriers to evolution in a given franchise or genre.  They resist changes to controls, mechanics, difficulty and other miscellanea.  Even when presented with other games within the same genre that have successfully evolved, these fans hold on to their precious iconography.  The most startling recent example of this has been Resident Evil 5.  When news of the TGS demo was transmitted by the enthusiast press, the fans defended the controls and the overall design of the game.  When that demo later made its way to the 360 and the PS3, those same fans rose up to defend the tank controls as an element that contributes to the tension of  the game.  Even Ludwig Kietzmann offered up a very personal and pedantic defense of Resident Evil 5 on Branching Dialogue.  His claim that those who are critisizing Resident Evil 5’s controls should first consider its context is incredibly ironic, because its context undercuts its control scheme.  Action-oriented games, with minimal focus on such passing fancies as survival or horror, need not burden the player with obtuse controls that increase the difficulty of each engagement.  That wouldn’t increase the tension, but it would make the game more frustrating  to play, as is noted by Justin McElroy in Joystiq’s Roundtable Review of Resident Evil 5.  Along with this comment, Justin also mentions that if Resident Evil 5 wasn’t the heir to a valuble franchise that it would be eviserated by most professional  reviewers, and no one would be there to defend it in the fan community.  This realization shows the power of franchises and of the fanatics they seem to gether.  It also shows how many more updates Resident Evil needs to apply in order to stand side by side with the giants of this age as a modern game.

Resident Evil has a long way to go to become a modern game.

Resident Evil has a long way to go to become a modern game.

Now, excuse me while I go pick up Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Watchmen: A review of the movie currently in theaters.

Posted by variable on March 9, 2009

Disclaimer: This review will be spoiler-heavy.  If you have not read Watchmen in graphic novel form, or are planning to see the film version in theaters, and you want to go in with little to no expectations, turn back now.  I’d also like to make clear  my allegiance to the graphic novel version of Watchmen.  I view the movie through a lens of heavy appreciation for the original work, leading to a lack of respect for many of the changes made to translate the dialog, fights, and characters of Watchmen to a marketable, mass-market, product.  Now, let’s start the show.  But first, could you turn off your cell phones?  Thank you.  Now, it’s time to begin.

I apologize to those who are tired of the smiley.

I apologize to those who are tired of the smiley.

Watchmen begins with the death of Edward  Blake, The Comedian, at the hands of one Adrian Veidt.  For the film version, this scene was lengthened considerably, with additional dialog for Blake and additional frames of pain dished out by Adrian.  What surprised me most about this scene wasn’t the appearance of slow-mo.  Instead, I was surprised that Blake’s attacker was shown so vivdly.  In the graphic novel, the reader doesn’t even get a chance to see the Comedian’s killer, leading to additional questions being raised along the lines of, “Who would have done this and why?”

After Blake hits the street and his smiley button becomes dislodged, viewers are assaulted by a visually interesting but altogether unnecessary opening credits sequence set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  This montage illustrates much of what was lost in the transition Watchmen made to the silver screen.  If you blink, you might miss Silhouette entirely.  Dollar Bill’s death is glossed over.  Mothman’s being sectioned for admittance to a mental institution in Maine is swept under the rug as well.  Because of all of these little changes, you lose all of the history of hooded justice in the US.  The story of the Minutemen, which eventually led to the organization of the Watchmen, is only partially told.  And, even worse, what is presented doesn’t have much soul.  It’s unfortunate, but that’s what Hollywood is best at; ripping the spirit from the source material.

Not much respect was given to these guys.

Not much respect was given to these guys.

After this montage, we get into the core of Watchmen as Rorschach tries to piece together who is conspiring against his fellow heroes.  The way Rorschach’s face animates is very impressively done.  Unlike the comic version, which featured Rorschach sporting a different pattern in each panel, his face is constantly changing from one pattern to another.  This section of the film was true to the comic than I expected it would be, with Rorschach updating Dan Dreiberg on the apparent mask killer and Dan doing the same for Adrian.  Along the way, we see pieces of the past as Rorschach heads over to the Rockefeller Military Research Center to inform Laurie and Jon of the mask killer.

Who watches the Watchmen?  Hopefully you do.

Who watches the Watchmen? Hopefully you do.

At this point the film begins to veer of the rails.  Rorschach’s fight with the police, after being set up at Moloch’s house, is drawn out into a messy conflict.  Once he has been imprisoned, the depravity of Rorschach’s condition is glossed over during his short conversation with clinical psychologist Malcom Long, and all of Malcom’s lines that occurred away from Sing-Sing have been cut.   The fight that Laurie and Jon have during Jon’s interview with the media, during which Dr. Manhattan is accused of giving cancer to his closest friends, is much longer than the comic version, and is much more graphic in its display of violence.  Immediately afterward, Jon freaks out and skips off to Mars in order to escape the media’s hounding questions.  The movie does a great job of presenting Jon’s external view of time.  The audience sees Jon’s transformation from watchmaker to physicist through his stilted narration.   The same can’t be said for Laurie and Dan’s springing of Rorschach from Sing-Sing.  Once again, the fights go on far too long.  The violence is, as always, more graphic than need be.  Rorschach’s killing of Figure in the prison bathroom is executed remarkably well, with a swinging door giving viewers a somewhat voyeuristic look at Figure’s last moments.

watchmen_photo08

The movie just about nails the bleak tone of the graphic novel.

Unfortunately, that build-up was for naught, as the ending is poorly-scripted and badly-shot.  Dan and Rorschach head toward Adrian’s Antarctic lair, convinced that he is behind all of the chaos that threatens them, alongside Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” which also appeared in the original work.  Dan and Rorschach catch Adrian watching his wall of TVs, and attempt to creep up on him for a surprise attack, only to be surprised themselves.  It is annoying that the conflict doesn’t end there.  In between moments of conversation, additional fighting will occur, as if Rorschach or Dan have any chance of stopping Adrian by force.  Adrian’s plot is slightly different than the graphic novel version, as he’s scrapped that antiquated alien invasion tale for an act of god-like destruction.  Apparently, Jon was working with Adrian on an renewable energy system, or so he thought.  Little did he know that he was creating reactors that could be used to blow up some of the most hihgly populated cities of the world.

Instead of an alien invasion, Adrian spooks the world with the help of Dr. Manhattan.

Instead of an alien invasion, Adrian spooks the world with the help of Dr. Manhattan.

The only other thing worth mentioning is that Rorschach’s death is much more dramatic in the film version.  It is drawn out much longer, and, in the end, Rorschach asks to be killed.  For some reason, Dan sees this happen and utters a cliched cry of, “No!”  Also, for some reason, Rorschach leaves a red rorschach blot on the icy ground.

Watchmen is an above average interpretation of the comic.  It isn’t outstanding, and it isn’t what I’d prefer to see, but it’s probably the most mass-market version of Gibbons and Moore’s work that could hit the big screen.  Fans of the comic should attend a show, if only to discover how the movie fits in with their appreciation of the graphic novel, and to show their support for a higher level of super-heroic entertainment.

For an alternate opinion, check out Spoony’s Vlog Review of Watchmen.

For more perspective, check out the /filmcast review of Watchmen, featuring Kevin Smith.

On Friday, look forward to something video game related once again.

Posted in Film | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

An attack on non-linearity and those who would like it if it existed.

Posted by variable on March 9, 2009

In our modern age of gaming, linear has become a dirty word.  Games that are completely linear are frowned upon as poorly-designed relics of the past.  A game like No More Heroes may be reviewed poorly by certain outlets because of its inherant linearity, while a game like Grand Theft Auto IV may be celebrated by those same outlets because of its inherant nonlinearity.  However, the fact remains that every game is linear, every action programmed, along with its reaction.  Each move the player makes is quantified.  All games have at their disposal is their ability to make it difficult to discern just how closely the player is following the script.  Their only ally is the curtain.

no-more-heroes

No More Heroes is linear, which is bad.

In Grand Theft Auto IV, the city environment provides a lot of randomness.  During a mission, the player could easily run into a parked car, or some other obstruction, failing the mission in the process and having to start it over.  In No More Heroes there  is no such randomness.  Environments are static and enemy patterns are set.  However, both games are linear at heart.  Both games anticipate every one of the player’s actions and respond accordingly.  Nothing is hidden, and everything is possible that the designers sought to allow players access to.  Still, we see distinctions between the two games.  And, even worse, we see comments like this floating about the web.

“Imagine if a game said something, created a meaning with the whole of its branches (and not just two or three endings tacked on; I’m talking about branches), and it were a meaning that you would ‘inkle’ with a single playthrough, but which would dawn on you slowly and eventually with every succeeding linear cut. If you can envision this in the world inside your mind, you might be surprised at the ‘aha’ moment the lies in wait — at the things that can be said about reality, things that will continue to be much further out of the reach of the linear artist than a hypothetical nonlinear one who has yet to be truly born. These are the sorts of things our ultimate descendants will probably say as a matter of course, if everything goes right and we aren’t invaded by nonlinear aliens first.” – Laroquad

The fact is, nonlinear games don’t exist.  In fact, they may never exist.  Don’t tell that to this guy, as he raves about “nonlinear aliens” and other rubbish.  Non-linearity is as fantastical as blast processing.  Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Where blast processing was eventually proven to be a manufactured marketing buzzword, non-linearity has the potential to exist in a more elegant and exciting way.  It’s simply not time to get excited yet.

Later today, look forward to a review of Watchmen.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

In a time of trouble, it’s easiest to blame the newer faces in the crowd.

Posted by variable on March 6, 2009

Game publishers and developers in the modern age have come to realize, finally, that this casual market can, in fact, enable a lot of interesting experiments.  From games about keeping your mental faculties sharp, to games about cooking, to productivity software that makes no effort to be qualified as a game; there has been an increase in the production of what the hardcore terms “casual games.”  This term is hard to define.  From everything I can gather, games are not labeled casual or hardcore by their mechanics or their graphics alone.  If anything, the two features are mashed together inelegantly in order to arrive at a simplified explanation of what the game offers.  Unsurprisingly, this analysis is most often poked over by the hardcore, while the results will be useless for the casual crowd.  The hardcore crowd is dense enough to not realize the lack of importance of their work, and they continue to delve into the miscellanea that divides hardcore and casual games, despite the minimal impact their discussions have.

WiiSports has become one of the most well-known casual games.

Wii Sports has become one of the most well-known casual games.

As part of their struggle to over-analyze every situation they find themselves in, the hardcore are quick to claim that casual gamers have influenced or even ruined a great many modern games.  I’m willing to accept that changes have been made across the board on difficulty settings in games in order to give the casual gamer a compelling experience without demanding much effort in return.  However, games like Mega Man are just as demanding as they once were, and other games have their hard difficulty settings set up to be the standard play experience for the more established gamer.  That’s not to say that casual gamers have not had an impact on game design in the modern age, outside of difficulty, it’s just that casual gamers, in my opinion, have yet to ruin anything with the collective force of their will.  Unlike the hardcore, who have contributed to many past failures.

megaman9bosses

Mega Man 9 continues the series' mean streak, unlike other modern games.

Along this partially-formed line of reasoning, the hardcore have claimed that many casual games are in fact hardcore, as the casual gamer continues to destroy what little fun that can be found in the hobby.  Series like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout and others are far removed from their formative years, during which they revealed in hardcore delights, and yet this same audience is unable to respond accurately when theses games are portrayed as being what they are.  In addition, these same people cast aspersions on casual gamers, productivity software and toys in the form of games, while still claiming to be on the lookout for interesting experiences.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The term hardcore gamer is more of an oxymoron than anything else, just like the term casual gamer.  However, those who call themselves hardcore often fall under the umbrella I have presented in this introductory column, and it is embarrassing to have to refuse to use the term that best describes me.

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