Monthly Archives: January 2009

Press X to Not Die

All right, that’s it, timed button pressing minigames have got to stop invading my videogames.

I know it’s some sort of shiny fad or obsession or fetish or in-thing, but they’re not fun.

You hear me developers? Not bloody fun! Unfun. Anti-entertainment. Enjoyability factor zero. Stupendously unentertaining. Spectacular fun-fail of the highest order.

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The only reason these stupid things even exist is because developers get on their cinematic high-horse and want to have the spiffy-ultra-cool protagonist do some insane, needlessly showy, bring-in-the-stunt-double move and can’t figure out a way to make it actually, you know, interactive or enjoyable or fun or involving for the player.

“Hey, I know! Let’s throw in some parts where the player will have to randomly press a button that flashes on the screen during the scene suddenly and without any warning whatsoever! That’ll be great! That’ll solve all of our problems! That won’t be distracting or repetitive or annoying or cliched or old or not actually all that interactive at all! It’ll be like a miniature rhythm game slapped in the middle of our super-ultra-shiny-superfluous cutscene. Only without the music. Or the fun. That’ll totally draw the player into the experience and make them forget that our canned movie scene is having all of the fun instead of the player. I’m a freakin’ genius.”

Yeah, right along with the fifty gazillion other people who have now done the same thing.

You know, the idea was acceptably unique when Dragon’s Lair tried it in 1983. It added a small dose of interest to Shenmue. It provided for a few cool moments in God of War. It allowed a couple of tense actions scenes in Resident Evil 4.

But the concept is dead. Done. Overcooked. Destroyed. Played-out.

Take Prince of Persia, for instance. Clearly this was a team that had no earthly idea how to make an enjoyable combat system. I mean, I don’t think these poor guys even knew where to start.

First of all, the whole “combo memorization” thing got old just shortly after Mortal Kombat II. I prefer something slightly less putridly archaic in my action-packed battles, thank you very much.

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Secondly, there’s nothing quite as jarring as having the fighting system randomly determine that it’s time to take control completely out of your hands and test your reflexes instead of your skill.

“All right, Prince! Yeah! Show that enemy who’s boss with your sword-slinging prowess. You’ve got him right where you want him. Now, use your skills to — HOLY CRAP PRESS THE SQUARE BUTTON RIGHT NOW!”

“Oops, too late. You fail.”

Now that’s my definition of fun combat, let me tell you.

For some reason, more and more of these aggravating twitchy tests appear in the combat sequences the further you get into the game. As if that’s the way I want my progress to be rewarded. As if that’s the way I’m going to be able to tell that my skill is growing and the challenge is rising.

But of course! I’m failing more of these distracting button-matching sequences. I haven’t matched this many shapes since I was in kindergarten. I must be getting better at the game! Or something.

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This has to stop.

I’m all for interaction in games. As you might be able to tell from my cleverly subtle wording, I’m decidedly more a fan of games that let you play them as opposed to games that decide to show you crap while you sit back and twiddle your thumbs.

But half-assed, needless, mindless sequences like these “Quick Time Events” aren’t the way to go about it. If you seriously can’t think of any better way to involve me in your sequence, just show me what you have to show me and get on with it. Don’t shove these reflex testers in my face and then smile smugly in the corner thinking you’ve solved the problem of interactivity in cutscenes and created the ultimate involving story sequence.

You haven’t. You’ve created another in a long string of glorified movies that require you to press a button within a half-second time frame to continue watching them.

Would watching movies be more fun this way? Would you finish the ending credits with a smile on your face if you had to press the “2” button on your remote in 3/4 of a second before Neo’s punch landed on Agent Smith’s ugly mug or else it would kick you back to the beginning of the scene?

No, of course not. That would suck. Just like it does in movie sequences within games.

Would Metal Gear Solid have been more fun if, during the interminably long codec sequences, Meryll would have randomly burst out with, “Press the triangle button, Snake!” every few minutes and you would have had to react before the anti-triangle-button explosive charge went off in your head and blew your slimy brain to bits?

Well, maybe, but that’s just because I don’t like Metal Gear Solid anyway.

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The point is, if you can figure out a clever way to bring interactivity into your games, then great. More power to you. Go for it. Even if this happens to involve timed button presses.

For instance, look at Indigo Prophecy. It was flawed, but the buttons you had to randomly match on screen at least occasionally matched up with what was going on behind the prompts. Mind you even then you couldn’t actually see what was going on because you were too busy looking for the damn prompts so your eyes couldn’t actually focus on the action, but it was still better than some other implementations.

Or look at Heavy Rain by the same developers. It’s much the same idea only the buttons to press are floating over the in-game items and actions they correspond to.

Now that’s more like it.

But having Prince’s sarcastic little ass blown across the screen every time I don’t press the square button quickly enough?

Well, you can take your Quick Time Event and shove it down your circle button.

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Dear World…

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Photo by infernoenigma

Source: “My favorite picture that I took from the inauguration”

I came across this picture from the inauguration whilst browsing the Internet and just had to share. I couldn’t have said it much better myself, random man holding an awesome sign. And good shot on the photographer’s part, too. Awesome moment.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Puzzle Game

Zestful Contemplations Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Contender:

  • Braid

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Few puzzle games have ever been able to grip me, for whatever reason, so in 2008 there was really only one puzzle game that mattered to me. That is to say, it is the only puzzle game I can remember playing. Luckily it was a really, really good one, so even if I am fairly ignorant of the genre, I can be halfway confident in stating that this would be a strong contender even on a list that came from slightly more experience than this one happens to.

Braid is a game that could almost be called pretentious, in a sense. I would argue this is not a bad thing. It is almost the very definition of the type of game the snooty games-as-art people bring up when they say that a game can be more than just mere entertainment; that a game can be considered, rightfully and truly, as something with a deeper meaning, purpose, and connection to the viewer.

For the record, I am one of these snooty games-as-art people and that is why I love Braid so much.

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It demonstrates with wonderful enthusiasm that games can do so much more than just provide the next summer blockbuster where your fingers happen to be pressing buttons to make things happen every once in a while instead of munching on popcorn.

It has a gorgeous and totally unique art style fit for framing and hanging on the wall. Its story is brilliantly told in a minimalistic fashion that doesn’t get in the way, but is still emotionally meaningful and impactful when the big twist comes your way. It uses its level designs to enhance the story.

Perhaps best of all, it shows how a small development team can create an absolute masterpiece to rival some of the best productions of the big studios (in its own little way) and almost singlehandedly shoves downloadable games into the realm of relevance.

Oh, and it has some pretty good puzzle elements in there somewhere too, now that I think about it.

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Green Dawn 2: Leafy Redemption

So this silly thing is the result of the final project in a class I just completed today.  I had an immense amount of fun making this thing and am quite proud of the way it turned out.

It tells the tale of a hero’s journey, based on the steps of the hero’s journey by one Mr. Joseph Campbell.  It is a fictional story set in the world of Fallout 3.  Our protagonist, however, might not be what you’d consider a typical hero….

Let’s just say we turned the steps of the journey on their head just a bit and had fun with them in a way much more fitting to the world of Fallout 3 than the myths of old told to us by Campbell.  The protagonist is a man who is a hero… in his own mind.  He follows the voices in his head that tell him how best to serve the world and spread purity to its people.

Well, purity or mini-nukes.  What’s the difference, really?

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Best of 2008: Best Platforming Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Platforming Game

Contenders:

  • Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • LostWinds
  • Prince of Persia

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The platforming genre is not as strong as it used to be, which is saddening for me as it has always been one of my personal favorites.  Still, even though there weren’t many entries this year, the ones that did come around delivered some pretty amazing gameplay.  So while we might be lacking in quantity, we certainly had quality this year.

Before anyone asks, yes, I think Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts belongs in the platformer genre.  Just because you’re platforming with cars and boats instead of the feet of a fuzzy bear doesn’t mean you’re not still platforming.  The methods have changed but the genre ha stayed the same.

Though it couldn’t quite compete with the big boys for the ultimate award, I would like to give a shout out to LostWinds here.  It proves what great things can be possible with downloadable games and remains easily one of the best things available on WiiWare.

Nuts and Bolts and LittleBigPlanet have some interesting parallels.  For one, they both have control issues that produce a few frustrating moments but manage to be incredibly fun despite this.  For two, they both emphasize creation of content by the user.

For the big prize, I had to give it to Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.  It was a tough decision, but here’s my reasoning.  What made LittleBigPlanet fun for me was its environments, its creativity, and playing other people’s levels, not necessarily its gameplay.  In fact, the core mechanics of the game are some of its biggest drawbacks.  Imprecision is an unfortunately common accomplice during play.

As such, Nuts and Bolts does the core of what it sets out to do better.  Sure its control is plenty wonky, just like LittleBigPlanet’s, but that can usually be mitigated somewhat by altering your vehicle.  This integration of creation with gameplay is the other thing I really admire about it.  While it’s entirely optional to create your own levels in LittleBigPlanet, it’s absolutely necessary to create vehicles to succeed in Nuts and Bolts.  Making the creation aspects not only easy enough that anyone can use them but also vital to success is an ingenious move that is highly satisfying to the player.

So as much as I adore LittleBigPlanet, the prize goes to Banjo.

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Game of the Year Awards: Best Action Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Action Game

Contenders:

  • Castle Crashers
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • No More Heroes

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Talk about a hotly contested category.  Just about every game in existence could be slotted into this space without trying all that hard.  Still, when you break the categories down as much as I have in these awards there are relatively few true contenders for this title among the games that mattered to me this year.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was incredible, but nothing we haven’t seen before (plus the needlessly difficult ending seriously turned me off).  No More Heroes was brilliant in story and graphics, but the gameplay, as good as the majority of it was, spent too much time in its tacked-on and horribly done “open world” bits to compete for this award.  Castle Crashers was a good little blip of fun, but, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it as replayable and addicting as most seemed to.

No, as anticlimactic as it may be, the gold has to go to Grand Theft Auto IV.  As much as a part of me wants to see something else win because everyone under the sun is giving innumerable awards to GTA IV and it would be fun to be different, there’s a reason why GTA IV is hording the awards for itself this year.

GTA IV is essentially a reinvention of its franchise that is a lot different than what many were expecting (much like Prince of Persia).  With this in mind, I think GTA IV pulls off the change the best.  I won’t ramble on for hours about its obvious strengths (although I could), but in short: the graphics are amazing, the world is incredibly detailed, the story missions are actually fun this time, the story is worth caring about, it has a great cast of characters and great voice acting, it has its own damn Internet, etc.

This is the first GTA game I have actually gotten to the end of before getting really sick of it.  I didn’t even feel the need to screw around and pointlessly kill hapless passersby either, although I did sate that urge on occasion.  The main package was strong enough this time that it didn’t need all that pointless haphazard nonsense to succeed, although it was still mostly available if you wanted it.  Niko’s tale was emotionally gripping, enthralling, and fun, making it the best action game of 2008.

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Rest in Peace, as My Fond Memories Shall Remain

I cannot even begin to fathom the twisted thought process that would lead to a company believing that it was a sound investment to purchase a company and then immediately dump every single valuable asset it contained. It is a truly pristine example of the proverbial flushing of money down the toilet.

A catastrophic misjudgment? A nefarious alternate motive? Idiotic corporate politics as usual? A sad inevitability that is a product of our rapidly changing times?

Ultimately it matters not. One of the last bastions of print gaming journalism at its best is no more.

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The question of why I even have any sort of emotional connection to such a fossilized medium as a print-based magazine that covers a subject as modern and constantly shifting as video games is certainly a valid one.

Electronic Gaming Monthly was the first gaming publication I ever subscribed to. I have been a loyal subscriber since issue 95. Yet there is more than loyalty at play here.

EGM marked the beginning of an era for me. It was the first place I turned to when I decided that this video game thing was something I wanted to stick with. The cheesy graphics work and decidedly less sophisticated writing of those early issues of mine mark a distinct turning point in my gaming career.

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I’ve been following the magazine ever since and have read just about every issue. I was chastising myself recently for being behind a couple of issues, but now I’m glad my busy schedule got in my way. Now I can read every word of these last precious few issues and cherish these remaining memories with a group of writers I hold dear to my heart in a publication I’ve been reading for damn near as long as I’ve considered video games an actual hobby.

EGM also signifies something greater, grander, and more important than my own memories. In its dying days it struggled to be more than your average gaming magazine. Sure there were reviews and previews and coverage of major releases, but there was more than that. It dialed down the focus on the inevitably outdated sections such as news and instead focused on content of the likes that I’ve yet to find an equal for on this much-hyped “Internet” thingamajig.

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The Internet has brought great things to gaming coverage and there can be no doubt that it has thoroughly outclassed the poor magazine in many areas. But one thing it has seemingly yet to match is the dedication, passion, and depth I have found recently in the pages of the newest EGMs. The terrific exclusive interviews, the in-depth feature articles, magazines thematically devoted to entire issues, special features and sections that the highly categorized and news-focused web sites just don’t have the time or space for, are all things I am going to miss dearly.

EGM was spearheading a new, tougher direction for gaming journalism that I was proud to be a supporter of through my readership and subscription. Their writing didn’t feel like glorified PR, a fate an alarming number of other publications have fallen victim to. They weren’t afraid to ask tough questions, even if their inboxes were flooded with fanboy rage soon after. They were trying to do something different with their publication that everyone else seemed to afraid to do. Their writers were not just fans of games who gushed or raged about them in their articles. They were more than that. They were journalists. They sought the truth above all else, even in this seemingly frivolous medium. That’s something sadly rare in the all too infantile realm of gaming coverage.

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So, perhaps more than anything else, the loss of EGM and catastrophic downsizing of 1UP means a significant setback for those who think about games more seriously; for those who want to place their gaming hobby on a pedestal of equal level with those long established dais of movies, music, and literature. I may be a writing student who has largely shunned his required journalism courses as fairly unnecessary to his own perceived destiny, but they had enough of an impact on me to give me a great respect for the art of reporting and what it could do for my revered hobby of video games.

Seeing that fresh copy of EGM arrive in the mailbox is an experience I’m going to miss dearly. It’s one of those simple pleasures in life that you can’t explain to anyone else, but that brings you great joy anyway. The pain is especially severe because it’s a feeling, albeit an admittedly small one, that I don’t expect to be able to feel again in my lifetime. It’s obvious enough that magazines are a dying breed and I genuinely doubt I’m going to hold any publication as dear to me as one that I read and cherished for so long. I loved that magazine damn it, weird as it may seem to anyone else, and I make no apologies for my heartbreak over its loss.

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To all the writers of 1UP: I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Although I know it realistically won’t be possible, I will try my best to keep track of as many of you as possible. Your writing is what made your publications such an important part of my life and those of you that continue writing elsewhere I hope to follow to wherever else you may roam. I hope you do your best to carry on EGM’s mission of making gaming journalism something to be respected, rather than slobbered over by fanboys and completely ignored by everyone else.

To UGO, and anyone else involved in the business dealings that led to this sad day: I cannot empathize with your incomprehensible actions. I cannot understand how you thought this would be a good move. But I also cannot truly be angry. Business is business and the world must move on. Maybe it was just destined to happen sooner or later. Regardless, throwing venom in your general direction wouldn’t do anyone any good and wouldn’t lessen the pain or emptiness caused by the void of displaced talent you have left in your wake.

I simply wish that, whatever you choose to do with your acquired properties, you do them justice. Either let them die a dignified death, or carry them to new heights. Just don’t let them languish in a painful limbo. They deserve better than that. Either way, I won’t be a reader of the future 1UP, nor will most others who were formerly in your camp I would imagine. What could you have dreamed would possibly be the result of this? After all, you’ve brutally slain what once made the brand so great. 1UP and EGM were the terrific institutions that they were in virtue of their writers and wonderful staff. Having now dismissed most of those valuable assets, there is little left to truly care about.

Goodbye Electronic Gaming Monthly. You will forever hold a place on my shelves and in my heart.

egmsigned

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