Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Demon's Souls, Mirror's Edge, and Professor Layton  

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Games: Over 30 hours into Demon’s Souls and 2/5 of the worlds completely cleared… suffice it to say that this game is having no difficulty whatsoever keeping my attention, and I continue to be impressed with the levels, the design, the extra elements, the hidden stuff -- pretty much everything. It's also worth noting that this game, pound for pound, has more genuine OMFG moments than anything else I've played in recent memory.

I hate to sound like a broken record by praising this game so repeatedly, but it's such a fantastic title and I'm more than a little concerned that it's going to be written off as ‘too hard’ or simply ignored by the masses who are going to be flocking to the latest military FPS or sparkly driving game. I mean, I'm not totally na├»ve-- regardless of what I say, there's no getting around the fact that Demon’s Souls is simply not a game suited for every player. However, if I can help get the word out to those players who are so inclined, then that's what I'll do.
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It's not perfect and there are certainly a few things I'd change about it, but overall, I'm feeling like it's going to be a shoo-in for the top spot in my 2009 Game of the Year rankings. It's not a lock since there are one or two games that I think might have a chance of unseating it, but those titles would have to be pretty unbelievably fantastic to knock it out of first place.
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Games: In other game news, I started Mirror’s Edge as my ‘daytime’ game.
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(Since you can’t pause in Demon’s Souls, it can be pretty inconvenient to play during business hours or when the baby's awake. Thankfully, the start button works quite well in Mirror’s Edge.)

Anyway, I remember being inundated with the hype back when this title first hit the scene, and I couldn’t really wrap my head around what was supposed to make it so special. I mean, the entire premise of the game is that you do ‘acrobatic’ maneuvering through levels in a first-person perspective. I made note of it on my list and decided to come back later after all the excitement had cooled off. I just wasn't buying it.
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After picking up a deeply-discounted copy a weekend or two ago, I'm very glad that I waited. At this point, I'm a little less than halfway through the game, and it's already starting to feel stale. The controls don't come together as tightly as they should for a game that's all about navigation, and while it can be fun to build up some speed and pull off some scary jumps, the game comes to a screeching halt when indoors thanks to some confusing level design and other generally not-fun stuff.
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Honestly, it reminds me a little bit of the first Assassin’s Creed. That game had one core mechanic driving it (the climb-anywhere navigation) and the developers struggled hard to create a game to go with it. It seems like much the same situation here… someone at DICE thought it would be pretty cool to do some ho-hum platforming from a non-standard viewpoint, but there doesn't seem to be much else to this title besides that. I'm down to doing one level per day at the moment… it's a little too dull to sit through more than that.
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Games: Finally, I haven't had a lot of time for gaming on the go, but I have been able to sneak in a few minutes of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box here and there. Playing this title, it's become quite clear that my wife is the puzzle expert at our house.

She had first crack at it and blew through the game in a day or two. While I definitely agree that the puzzles seem easier this time around, I'm not getting through it anywhere near as quickly as she did. It's a bit humbling, perhaps, but at the same time it's pretty cool that my wife can pwn me now and again.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Interview with Drew Rechner...... Liaison for Section 8  

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Games: A while ago, my review of the recently-released MMO FPS Section 8 went live at GameCritics. To my surprise, I actually ended up having a very enjoyable time with it, despite not being a fan of the genre.
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Although the servers have been full of players every time I've gone online, I don't get the sense that there is a very high level of awareness of this title in the games community-- especially in the wake of another recently-released steamroller of an FPS that’s had everyone buzzing over the last week. So, as my way of saying ‘thanks’ for making my time reviewing the title worthwhile, I decided to do a follow-up interview as my small effort to help raise Section 8’s profile.
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Without further ado, I present my interview with Section 8 Community Liaison Drew Rechner
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Hi Drew, thanks for talking with me. To begin, what should players know about the developers behindSection 8, TimeGate Studios?
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TimeGate is an independent development studio based in Sugar Land, Texas (outside of Houston) that started back in 1998 to work on our award-winning real-time strategy game, Kohan:Immortal Sovereigns. While originally focused on RTSs, we gained a reputation for innovating in a well-established and highly competitive genre. Since then, we’ve produced four other award-winning titles.
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We are all hardcore gamers at TimeGate. We use a critical eye on every game we play and think about how we could expand on the aspects we enjoy and fix or erase the things we do not. We then apply this knowledge to each game we create.
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Starting with a RTS background, how did you segue over into FPS development?
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We truly believe in the games we are creating at TimeGate. After releasing several successful RTS titles, we started kicking around ideas for the next game and it pulled us towards the FPS genre. Before work, during lunch, and after work nearly the entire office was playing an FPS. Because of this, our focus turned to creating FPSs using the untraditional library of knowledge we obtained through our work on RTSs.
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Our first released FPS titles were the expansions to the F.E.A.R. franchise, and we started full production on Section 8, our own IP, shortly after.
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The FPS market is a tough one to crack, especially with certain franchises having a virtual lock on the 360. In your view, how do you see the current FPS environment and what does Section 8 bring to the table that players should sit up and take notice of?
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There are a lot of deep-rooted and strong franchises currently on the Xbox 360, but there is still a lot of room for innovation. While many of them execute what they aim to do quite well, we believe the market has become saturated with a lot of stagnant ideas, and we feel that Section 8 mixes the pot quite well. So instead following the FPS “norm” of these games, we set out to do something completely different with Section 8.
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Section 8 is quite different than these games in a variety of ways. For example, we have removed much of the predictability of other first-person shooters with burn-in spawning. Because players can burn-in to anywhere on the battlefield when spawning, spawn-camping has essentially been eliminated in Section 8, and players will no longer be forced to stare at their corpse for 30 seconds after being killed by their opponent.
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Section 8 also features customizable player loadouts, unlike most other games that railroad the player into choosing between pre-existing classes. Players are able to equip their powered armor suit the way they see fit with passive modules, gear, and weapons.
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Additionally, Section 8 allows players to dynamically manipulate the flow of combat with on-demand vehicle and asset requisitions as well as participate in a variety of Dynamic Combat Missions (DCMs) which ensure that no two games of Section 8 play the same twice.
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Do you feel as though your goals for Section 8 have been successful thus far? How do you feel about how the game has been received in the reviews community?
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We genuinely set out to make a game that we would enjoy playing and one we thought others would enjoy as well. As mentioned earlier, we focused on taking the elements we enjoyed the most about FPSs coupled with a bunch of our own new ideas and fixing what we did not enjoy, such as spawn-camping, vehicle stealing, and predictable gameplay. To this extent, we feel Section 8 has been extremely successful. At the end of the day, we created an addicting and exciting shooter experience that is unlike any other FPS on the market right now, and we are proud of that.
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The majority of the reviews have been very positive and seem to appreciate our different and innovative point of view for FPSs. Like with many new ideas, there is some resistance—which is expected. Section 8 really challenges how people approach the FPS genre and forces players to call into question some of the standard conventions they’ve been putting up with for years.
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While some features of the game are quite excellent, such as the flight and speed-run abilities, several sources have noted that standard walking speed is quite slow and the tank is very difficult to maneuver effectively. Are there any plans to address these issues, or tweak any other aspects of the game?
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We are constantly analyzing the data and feedback the game is receiving these first few months and will be making adjustments as needed. We really appreciate all the feedback we have received thus far and have already started acting on a large number of items we have seen in a variety of places including our forums.
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Although the team-based play is solid and exciting, it seems to me as though there's a lot of potential for a more traditional single-player game based around a more mobile and able character like the kind featured in Section 8. Has there been any talk of a sequel focusing more on a campaign?
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Section 8 has always been a multiplayer focused game since its original conception many years ago. With that said, we still wanted to create an engaging single-player experience that introduced the player to the universe of Section 8 and told a bit of the story between the 8th Armored Infantry and the Arm of Orion. We agree that there is a lot of potential for further expansion in this avenue and we are constantly evaluating all opportunities for our future titles.
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Are there any plans for Section 8 DLC?
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We have not publicized a DLC schedule just yet, but we are working on this type of update for the near future. We are still evaluating DLC and have starting putting ideas together, but we are not quite ready to commit to a timeline just yet.
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What’s next for TimeGate Studios?
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We are already hard at work on our next slate of projects. While we are not ready to make any announcements regarding these yet, rest assured that our next projects will continue to expand upon our tradition of pushing genre-defining boundaries.
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Many thanks to Drew Rechner of TimeGate for the interview, and also to Rob Fleischer for taking care of the arrangements to make it happen.
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For more information on Section 8 and Timegate studios, please visit them at their website, and definitely check out the game -- it's available now.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

Done Moving, Podcast, Fruitsource  

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Misc: Well, it took a lot more effort more time than I ever thought it would, but our move to the new place is finally complete. We turned in our old keys a couple of days ago, made our final run to the dump, and all that's left is to put away a few things still laying around in our new space.
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Although it was extremely painful thanks to a good deal of underestimation on my part and entirely too many trips up and down stairs, it feels nice to be in the new space and having things start to settle down. My wife and I are definitely creatures of habit, and getting jarred out of our routine is fairly uncomfortable. It's not that we can't handle change, but our jobs and our lives in general are fairly chaotic, so we like to have a very stable, calm center in the home. When that gets disrupted, all bets are off.
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Thankfully, it seems as though the roughest waves are starting to smooth out. It might sound a little funny, but right now being boring and settled seems like the best thing the world to me.
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Games: Here’s a link to the latest GameCritics podcast. In it, we discuss Scribblenauts (DS), Muramasa (Wii), and the role of ease and accessibility in terms of games and their appeal to the mass market. Although I've got a few other game-related things to talk about, I'm going to take easy tonight and shelve that stuff until later. However, look for an interview with the developers of 360 shooter Section 8 coming soon -- most likely in the next update.
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Food: FruitSource bars (found at Safeway and other grocery stores in the produce section) KICK ASS.

They’re like a dozen fruit roll-ups squashed together into a thick, chewy ingot of pure sugary-sweet goodness. Just thinking about one now is making me salivate.
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These things are so good, I would easily eat six or eight of them in a sitting if I wasn't concerned about contracting diabetes immediately afterward. The best part is that they contain two servings of fruits, so it's not junk food all... just hyper-condensed fruit.
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Totally recommend these things. They are worth every penny.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interview with: Jim Deal of Airtight Games on... Dark Void  

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Games: At the most recent PAX show, I was fortunate enough to spend a bit of time with a game I had been greatly anticipating: Dark Void from Washington's own Airtight Games.
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Produced in conjunction with Capcom, Dark Void is an adventure game featuring aliens and jetpacks inside the Bermuda triangle. With tight transitions between air and land on top of clever vertical combat, this title is definitely one to watch -- it also doesn't hurt that the people behind it are some of the same folks who worked on one of my favorite Xbox titles, Crimson Skies.
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Airtight Games’ president and creative director Jim Deal was kind enough to spend a few moments talking with me about this upcoming title, and I'm quite glad to share what he had to say.
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What should players to know about Airtight Games?
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Airtight Games is a studio formed by several people from the core team that worked on Crimson Skies for Xbox. We banded together with Ed Fries, former Microsoft VP and Games Consultant and formed a studio whose intent is to make triple-A action adventure games. Right now we have two projects in the works, Dark Void and one other project that is as of yet unannounced.
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Being based in Redmond, what are the advantages or preferable conditions that made you locate your studio in the Pacific Northwest?
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We located here because the founding members were already here, having worked together at Microsoft. When the project we were working on got cancelled, I went and talked to Ed about starting up a new company to do some action adventure titles, and Airtight Games was formed. The location is great because there are a lot of game companies in the neighborhood, so there is a lot of talent around. Also, it is easy to get people to move to the Seattle area. Housing is relatively cheap and the quality of life is high.
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How did Airtight and Capcom connect on this project?
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We met with Capcom 3 years ago to talk about another project and immediately there was a meeting of the minds between the two teams. The project in question ended up not going forward and we developed Dark Void instead.
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What were some of the influences behind the game, both in terms of game design as well as the artistic style? (And how many times did the team watch or read The Rocketeer?)
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Well, there were many influences. Rocketeer was one of them, of course. We liked the rocket pack and flight, but felt it had a little more of a pulp 30's look than we wanted in the end. We tuned our character to give him a little more grit that fit better with our fiction. Naturally, since the core team did Crimson Skies for Xbox, there was a lot of influence there as well. Again, though, Dark Void takes an entirely new direction and has a more sophisticated feel.
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In general, what were the overall goals when the game was first on the drawing board? Obviously, the flight mechanic is central, but what were the surrounding and supporting ideas?
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The goal from the start was to do a game that featured flying, but that also had an on foot element. What we wound up with was, flying, on foot, and everything in between (hovering, vertical combat, and jacking of flying vehicles.) It is an ambitious project.
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Did some team members’ experiences working on Crimson Skies inform the design or plan of Dark Void, and if so, how?
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Sure, there was definitely influence there. We had experience doing a game that featured flying and dogfighting, and we wanted to play to our strengths. But, as stated above, that was only one of the goals. We wanted to blend in all the other stuff as well.
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Besides Crimson Skies, what other games have the team members worked on?
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We have a pretty diverse group here that includes experience on past games like NFL Blitz, Supreme Commander, Combat Flight Simulator, Metroid Prime, NASCAR Racing, Dead Space and too many others to list. All this experience blends together well to create an atmosphere of collaboration and creative confluence.
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I may be wrong, but the game seems designed for American sensibilities… is that the team’s intent? Are there any concerns about how it will be received in other markets?
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While the core feel and look of the game is definitely American, we have been well received in Europe as well. From past experience I know that games like Crimson Skies and Combat Flight Sim did very well in Europe. I think the flight element of the game may attract some of the same audience.
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The game felt smooth and comfortable at the recent PAX convention. Was it difficult to create a good transition for the player going from air to land and vice versa? Also, how much of the game will feature flight and how much will take place on foot?
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The smoothness you felt was definitely no accident and in fact took a lot of planning and development time. There was some very close collaboration between the tech team, the animators and the game designers to pull that off. In fact, we recreated whole huge systems for the camera and animation to get it right. I think the results bear out that the effort was worth it.
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Will the game feature choices or alternate paths/outcomes or endings?
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The game-play is designed to give the player a choice in the way objectives are achieved. For example, there are a number of different ways to get though combat. You can hover and rain fire from above, or just forge ahead blasting away on foot, take cover and be systematic in your approach or even use the rocket pack and its superior fire power. There are a number of different approaches to each situation. The narrative itself is linear and it takes the player through an unusual ride that hits on the elements of the mythologies of many different cultures. The ending will always be the same, but I don't want to give it away.
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Last I heard, there’s no multiplayer aspect to Dark Void. Personally, I don’t believe every game needs it, but was it a difficult decision to come to considering its popularity in the current environment?
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We considered multiplayer for Dark Void but in the end decided to focus on the single player experience. With all the different game play modes and transitions from one to the other I believe it was the right thing to concentrate on for this release.
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Will there be any differences between the different platforms, technically or in terms of potentially planned DLC?
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All platforms will include the same content and gameplay. The only differences will be found a special PC build we are putting together with Nvidia featuring some of their high end particle physics. Otherwise all will be identical.
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If you had to convince a player to buy Dark Void in just one sentence, what would it be?
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Experience the freedom of flight, the fun of combat on foot and all modes in between, that's Dark Void.
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Infinite thanks to Jim Deal and the rest of Airtight Studios. For more on them or the game, you can visit their website HERE. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for Dark Void published by Capcom and hitting shelves in January 2010.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Demon's Souls, Moving, Community  

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Still waiting on that interview, so in the meantime we resume our regularly-scheduled blog…
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Games: I had to put Demon’s Souls aside for while to cover a couple of must-review titles, but I decided that I was going to take a break from reviewing for the weekend and just play for fun. Popping it back in my PS3, I was instantly sucked back in. Taking that short time away, I had forgotten how ridiculously awesome it is. The atmosphere, the feeling of exploration… everything. I totally love this game, and observant readers will note that my ‘top10 of all time’ along the left margin of this page has been recently adjusted to reflect my affection.
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That's not to say the game is flawless, though-- it suffers from the same issue so common to many RPGs in that the developers want you to choose the type of character you play before you really know what your preferred play style will be. Of course, everyone has their leanings. I tend to play brute strength characters and tanks most of the time because I don't like relying on magic spells when there is the danger of running out of mana, energy, or what have you. I went that route this time (choosing a female Temple Knight at the outset) and I've been generally pleased, but it takes a lot of effort to give a TK magic ability, and more than a couple times I've wished that I had a little more potency in terms of long-range attacks. Of course, by the time I realized that having the option would be desirable, I had already put so many hours into the character that the idea of starting over was not appealing at all. The same choosing-too-soon trap happened to me with Oblivion, and to this day I'm convinced that developers shouldn’t make a player commit to a class until they've been able to spend an hour or two noodling around.
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There are a few other things that I can nitpick as well. The first is that since I'm playing a female character, it's been a little frustrating that every new set of armor I've found has been male-only. I'm hoping that I find some new stuff to equip before too much longer, but this gender bias means that I left piles of bright, shiny kit behind for the goblins to pick at, and that doesn't make me happy.
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The other thing that needs a tweak is that the game should make it a little easier to compare the equipment you’ve already got on to the stuff you're considering purchasing, or stuff you’ve found in the field. It's a little hard to tell when something is actually ‘better’ or has special properties.
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For example, the shield my character started with was extremely tough, but I found one later on that had the exact same numbers in terms of statistics, but seemed to have special elemental resistance. However, I couldn't confirm that. Maybe I'm not looking in the right place or at the right screen, but it seems to me that this type of information could be a little clearer.
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Those issues are just nitpicks, though… Demon’s Souls is still one of the best games I've played this year, and is certainly one of the best in its genre, overall. If you're a PS3 player who's got an interest in the Action-RPG genre and you haven't pre-ordered this game yet, you’re crazy. You are of unsound mind. Literally.
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Misc: Today was supposed to be the final day of my move to the new place, but I'm extremely sad to report that my energy level was quite low after having moved last two days in a row, and there were just too many odds and ends to completely wrap up. That said, my wife and I did manage to make a good deal of progress, and I think that one more quick run-through tomorrow after work should probably do it. I hope. I mean, it's got to end sometime, right?
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TV: Frequent readers of the blog might have picked up that I am something of a Joel McHale fan. I think he does a fantastic job on The Soup (the best since Kinnear, and in all honesty, probably even better than Kinnear was) and his recent turn in the new series comedy Community was pretty damned respectable as well.
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Costarring Chevy Chase and a supporting cast that seems to have potential, the premise is that McHale’s character is a recently-discredited attorney who needs to go back to college and earn his degree legitimately. The hook? He's not really a nice guy. In fact, he's kind of a self-centered, self-serving scumbag who has no issue with manipulating people and worming his way through any situation in order to get to where he wants to be.
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It's interesting to have a centerpiece of a show like this be a fairly despicable character, and there's just enough edgy Soupishness to his performance to keep things popping. The first episode wasn't a complete home run, but it was better than most. I will definitely be tuning in next week. (Via DVR, of course.)
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Not Quite Ready  

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Games: Working on a potential interview, but it's not quite ready... Check back tomorrow!
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Demos: Part 2, Free Monkeys, Banchos, and Wii-views  

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Games: A while ago, I complained about demos that failed to impress, and wondered why it seemed so difficult for developers to accomplish what appears to be a fairly straightforward task.
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(If you missed that particular rant, you can see it HERE.)
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At the end of the piece, I invited developers to write in and school me if I was off-base, and one actually did. Talented game dude and all-around good guy Andrew Rubino dropped me a line not too long after my blog ran, and this is what he had to say:
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In summary, making a demo is harder than it seems, especially for some games. A demo for something like Gears of War would be relatively easy – have a couple combats and the player walks away with a good understanding of what the game is about. But a demo for something like Batman is harder, (something that I can see now that I’ve played the full game, which is awesome, btw).
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At its heart, Batman is Metroid, which means it’s about exploring a large space and interacting with it in new ways. That’s difficult to capture in a demo where you can’t include enough areas to show that off.
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Ideally, a demo gives players a good idea of what the game is about while at the same time enticing them to check out the full product. But Batman has a number of different gameplay systems going on – combat, stealth, platforming, exploration – and that makes it difficult to pick a slice of the game to demo that shows off everything. We had a similar problem with Argo when we discussed a demo: if we just use the first 20 minutes, then people will think we’re an action game with little story and we’re not. If we just show the section after that, then people will think we’re all talking and won’t see the cool combat system. And we can’t show both or the demo will be too large.
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The first level/section of a game often makes a great demo, since that’s usually where you try to grab the player’s attention as well as explain all the different gameplay systems. But in addition to the previously mentioned problems, there’s also a more practical one – the first level is often the last to be implemented. So it might not be ready for prime time when a demo comes out. And while you could make a custom demo for your game, you might not have any time for it in your schedule.
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So I guess what I’m saying is don’t be too hard on the developers that put out not-so-great demos. They aren’t easy.
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Infinite thanks to Andrew for chiming in on the issue, and if any other developers out there would like to comment, please drop me a line anytime.
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Games: Although I haven't tried it yet personally, Telltale Games and LucasArts are giving away the first installment of Tales of Monkey Island for FREE on International Talk Like A Pirate Day (also known as September 19th.) In addition, they're having a number of sales and price breaks on other titles. To download the free game or for more information, go HERE.
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Games: Uber-publisher Atlus has just released a video for their upcoming PSP game, Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble. I'm always up for a good brawler, and what’s not to love about eye lasers or kicking someone’s ass in a giant banana suit? Looks like a winner to me. Check it HERE. You'll giggle in a good way.
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Games: Just completed my review of Muramasa: the Demon Blade… and it wasn't pretty. I can hardly wait for the fan mail I'll receive after this one. It hasn't gone live yet, but I'll post a link when it does.
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In the meantime, you can check out my review of Cursed Mountain, also on the Wii. For those of you out there who are convinced I'm absolutely anti-Wii, I think this particular piece will give at least a modicum of proof to the contrary. I give credit where credit is due.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Moving Sucks, Replayability, and Muramasa  

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Misc: I've got to say that I've never been a fan of moving, but this most recent one has probably been one of the worst I've ever had to suffer through. It's ironic, because it's also the shortest.
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Since the distance between my old place and my new place is roughly two blocks, the wife and I figured that we could get away with hiring movers for the really heavy stuff and do the rest on our own at night and on weekends. A good plan perhaps, but not one that has proven to be very effective… the movers did their part just fine, but since we have a baby on hand only one of us is really free to do work at any given time. Besides that, I've been doing freelance assignments (oddly enough) at nights and on weekends, cutting into the time we set aside to actually get the moving done.
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This extended state of having half a residence here and half a residence there has been a lot more stressful and draining than I would have ever expected at the outset. This weekend is actually the last one we’ll have before we need to finally be out of the old place, so things are going to get resolved one way or another. Definitely looking forward to it.
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Games: A while ago, I received a request for a quote from a guy named Chris at a site called The Sidemission. Chris was putting together an article about replayability, and I was glad to contribute, although I don't quite think I said what he expected… In any event, I thought it was an interesting read when all was said and done. If you'd like to take a look and catch Chris’ take on replayability (or the lack thereof) and scoring, click HERE.
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Games: My review of Cursed Mountain is nearly done and I've got another piece coming up for (believe it or not) Sudoku Ball Detective. In the meantime, I've started playing Muramasa: the Demon Blade for the Wii, and I'm finding it to be a difficult experience. Difficult not in the sense that it's hard to play, but difficult in that part of me wants to praise it and admire it, while another part is deeply unsatisfied with its structure and content.
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I definitely need to play more of it before making up my mind, but whichever way it goes, I have a feeling that this is going to be a difficult piece to write.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back in Action!!!  

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Apologies to all my readers.
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I completely forgot to post a message here to let everyone know that I would be skipping updates for a few days due to my wife and I moving to a new place. My computer has been in a crate since I posted the last update about PAX Day Two, and with all of the hubbub and box-lifting, it didn't even occur to me that I had forgotten to say something until this afternoon. If you've been checking in and wondering WTF was going on, wonder no longer.
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Anyway, although I haven't quite gotten my office space properly set up, the blogging will commence... Now!!
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Games: Click HERE for my full review of Demon’s Souls, developed by From Software and published here in the states by super-pub Atlus. It was a difficult review to write since I have so much respect for the game. I really struggled to capture what it was that I fell in love with, and I frequently felt that words were failing me. Still, I hope that the gist comes across in some rough way, and that the argument I present is convincing enough to get you to buy the game. With the release of Demon’s Souls, I absolutely forgive FromSoft for the last few crappy Armored Core games… it really is that good.
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Games: Although I'm not finished with it quite yet, my next review will be Cursed Mountain for the Wii. I don't want to say too much right now, but what I will say is that it's definitely one of the best games available for the system, and a fine return to form for the Horror genre… as much as I like my Action, I don't need it in every single Horror title, and this is something that Cursed Mountain certainly agrees with. Absolutely recommended for those who are open to their scares being a little more subdued and cerebral. Look for the full review soon.
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Games: My good friend Nathan Fouts over at Mommy’s Best Games has put out a trailer for his upcoming game, Grapple Buggy, and it looks frickin’ sweet. I've got nothing but good things to say about Nathan's last game, Weapon of Choice, and if Grapple Buggy is at least half as good as that one, then it's another must-download. Check the video HERE.
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Games: Another fine developer and man-about-town, Terry Cavanagh has posted a video about his upcoming game, VVVVVV. You may remember Terry from another of his fine works that I mentioned earlier, Don’t Look Back. I loved that one, and this new one looks quite interesting, if not, perhaps, a bit evil. Check the video HERE.
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Games: For those of you in the Portland, Oregon area, there's going to be a Retro Games Expo coming up soon on September 20th. I've never been to this particular gathering myself, but if anyone attends, please drop me a line and let me know how it was. For more info, go HERE.
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I've got a lot more bits and bytes to share, but that's it for the moment… hopefully, I will get this off ice situation squared away and I'll be able to post on my regular schedule (every other day) starting this week, but if I disappear for a couple of days, you know where I'm at.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Games of PAX - Day Two  

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Games: Continuing the post-PAX love.
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Since this was my first year going to a conference as a family unit (mommy-daddy-baby) I decided to skip most of the presentations and after-hours events. My little boy was great on the exhibition floor, but I didn't want to push my luck… or his endurance. Since I don't have much to say on the other events that occurred (and boy, there were an absolute ton of them) here’s my final rundown of the games I saw and played.
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>Saboteur – PS3/360
A game that seems to be getting a modicum of buzz thanks to its B&W/Color mechanic, seeing it in action nearly put me to sleep. Granted, I didn't watch it for that long, but the bits that I saw looked like incredibly standard third-person action. I was trying to keep an open mind, but I just didn't see anything that piqued my interest.
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>Bayonetta – PS3/360
Okay, okay… I know everybody and their mother has been talking about this game for months, but I just didn't buy into the hype. The last DMC game was weak, and from everything I was seeing, this looked like another iteration of the same formula. After a hands-on, I can't say that it's a huge departure from the ‘Adventures of Dante’, but what I can say is that the handling and mechanics feel superior, and more finely polished. There was a certain ease in controlling the main character, and the action felt very organic and natural. It felt pretty good in my hands, and the visual style was interesting enough to get me wanting to see more. I was prepared to call bullshit on this title before actually trying it, but I'm starting to see strong potential.
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>Muramasa: the Demon Blade – Wii
I was definitely not the biggest fan of Vanillaware’s previous work (the wildly overrated Odin Sphere and 2D RTS GrimGrimoire) but it looks like they may be onto something with this change to straightforward action. It goes without saying that the artwork is beautiful, with an insane amount of detail put into every aspect. Cutting away the RPG extras leaves the framework that seems to fit more logically with the visual approach. Muramasa looks like it's going to be a pretty hot property for the Wii.
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>No More Heroes 2 – Wii
Taking a glance at NMH2, and the only impression I had was that it was virtually indistinguishable from NMH1. If not for the fact that main character Travis Touchdown was wielding two light sabers instead of one, I never would've known the difference. I'll check it out just to see the freakshow that's sure to be on display, but it's nowhere near the top of my list.
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>White Knight Chronicles – PS3 – Round Two
So, in the previous PAX entry, I expressed some misgivings about WKC and vowed to take a closer look. I did. After doing so, I was left both more confused and more reassured that I was the first day. Granted, RPGs are the toughest games to see at conventions because so much goes into the set-up, so much of their value is in the storytelling, and a vast majority of content is contextual. Walking into a fifteen minute demo with basically no information is pretty much the worst way possible to see an RPG.
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So, what was confusing/reassuring? Watching combat, it was good to see a real-time-ish engine come into play and I finally got to see the main character transform into the titular White Knight. Basically, it's a limited-time power-up that players can activate to wipe out groups of enemies, or take on large bosses one-on-one. This aspect of the game looked pretty solid. What was confusing? The amount of stuff that was on the screen. In the upper-left was a constant scroll of text that looked straight out of an MMO. Apologies to IGN for swiping their screenshot, but it was the only one I could locate that actually showed how cluttered the screen was during play. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Sony has selectively chosen the available screenshots in order to avoid revealing how busy it is.
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Like I said, it's practically impossible to get an accurate feel for RPGs at conventions, but if nothing else, WKC has me extremely interested to see how it's going to turn out.
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>Shank – 360 XBLA
I have a feeling that this title will be getting a lot of attention in the coming months. Basically, it's about a mercenary-type dude who kills people, a lot. What makes it special is that the animation is extremely impressive, with tons of little touches and nice transitions between actions. Combat was fast and smooth, and looked like a hell of a lot of fun. Guns, chainsaws, knives… I may even have seen a sharp stick or two.
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Last, but certainly not least…
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>Osmos – PC
One of the indie titles competing in this year's PAX 10 contest, Osmos is one of those abstract, artistic titles that's both absolutely compelling and a little head-scratching at the same time. Walking by, I had absolutely no clue what was happening on screen. Once I had a hands-on, it was a totally different story. Essentially, the player takes on the role of a single-cell organism with the intent of consuming everything around it as long as it's smaller than itself. The catch is that in order to move, this creature has to expel some of its mass. Move too much, and the cell shrinks, limiting your opportunity to feed. There’s a little more to it than just that, but really all you need to know is that you need to try it. It's fairly chill and relaxing, but still maintains enough ‘game’ to keep a player engaged. The music is pretty sweet, too… some nice ambient techno tracks that suit the content perfectly.
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Wrapping up, there were dozens of other titles I looked at… Splinter Cell: Conviction looks like it received an incredible upgrade, Mass Effect 2 seems to be on-track to meet or exceed standards set by the first, Sony’s EyePet looks like it will be great fun for kids, Scribblenauts is looking like a lock for purchase, and besides those were too many others to list here if I intend to get to bed at a decent hour.
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(Oh, just one last bit: I completely forgot to check out Red Dead Redemption-- and it was one of my most anticipated titles! Argh!!!)
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All in all, I had a great time on the floor and would like to extend warm personal thanks to Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik for continuing to host the show in the Emerald City. It's fantastic that we have such a world-class Expo right here in our own backyard, and it's all due to the hard work and dedication of the entire PA crew.
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Loved it, guys… let's do it again next year.
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Friday, September 4, 2009

The Games of PAX - Day One  

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Games: Today was the first day of PAX 2009. I have to admit that I hadn't really been paying attention to many of the press materials prior to the show, and I was a little taken aback when the family unit and I arrived on-site to find that the place was an even larger, more spread-out roil of gamers than it was last year. I think the expo may be reaching its critical mass at the Washington State Trade & Convention Center, honestly. I certainly don't want it to leave, but I have a hard time imagining more people being able to cram into that space.
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(Interesting side note, the cosplay factor was an order of magnitude higher this year than it was in 2008. Not sure what caused the shift, but it seemed that every time I turned around, I was being faced with a roly-poly Cobra Commander or a giant Heartless, complete with twirling propeller.)
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Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend for the entire day due to some previous obligations, but I did manage to squeeze in nearly three hours, and spent all of it on the exhibition floor. I covered the majority of the displays, and I have to say that there weren't many big surprises in terms of new announcements or titles I hadn't seen before. However, there were some surprises in that some games were either better or worse in person than I thought they might be.
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Here are just a few quick notes for now, I plan to go over the rest of the games in greater detail tomorrow.
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>White Knight Chronicles – PS3
I only watched this game running for a few minutes, but what I saw really turned me off. Although I would ordinarily say that I was a big Level 5 fan, I'm not so sure anymore. Rogue Galaxy became intolerable after 15 or 20 hours, and the section of WKC that I saw seemed to start with the same slow ‘go search the village’ kind of activities that I've grown to detest in recent years. I plan to really give this one the once-over tomorrow, but unless I see something mind-blowingly cool, I'm going to call this one a ‘must be cautious’. I'm just too tired of overly-long JRPGs, honestly.
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>Darkest of Days – PC/360
All I basically know about this is that the player jumps back and forth in time and takes part in historical battles with anachronous weaponry. The idea intrigues me, and the build I saw running looks really smooth. I want to see more.
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>Fate/Unlimited Codes – PSP
This 2.5D fighting game came out of nowhere for me just a few days before the show. It appears to be based on a license of some anime, but I have no idea of what the source material is about. From my brief time with it, I was fairly impressed with the character design and the handling seemed good. Of course, fighting games are all about the details, but I was definitely liking what I was seeing. Apparently, this game is only available through the PSN Store for $30… I'm not entirely sure if that information is correct, but if so, I'm a little put off by the price. Weren't download-only titles supposed to pass savings on to the consumer by skipping the retail overhead and cost of producing physical copies?
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>Dark Void – PS3/360
I expected this game to be mobbed at the Capcom booth, but there were only a few people milling about. Watching over the shoulder of someone who would not give the kiosk up, this game looks like 100% pure fun. I definitely want to get a hands-on tomorrow, but I was immediately drawn in by the jet pack and flight mechanics, and I was a huge fan of the Xbox’s Crimson Skies. Some members of the development team are behind this game, and that's great news to me.
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>Darksiders – PS3/360
I know there are some people out there who have hopes for this game, but I have to say that it looked painfully generic to me. However, the developers have really put a lot of time into it and the build running was an order of magnitude smoother and more put-together than what they had on display last year. If I had to put money on it, I'd say that this is one of those games that will be a fun weekender for $20 used.
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>Brutal Legend – PS3/360
Looks like Tim Schafer may have got his mojo back. I definitely need more time with this one tomorrow, but it was looking very sharp and although the animation was a bit stiff, the fun factor seems to be pretty high.
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>Dante’s Inferno – PS3/360
Total God of War clone, but everyone already knew this. It runs smooth and looks crisp, but I can't say that I'm crazy about the art direction. The main character just looks kind of ‘off’ to me, and his main weapon -- a scythe made out of a spine -- looks entirely too huge and clunky to be cool. I watched a short bit that culminated in a QTE battle that could have come straight out of Sparta, and I couldn't get past the whole ‘shameless cash-in’ aura surrounding it. It looks technically competent enough, but I suspect it's spiritually lacking.
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That's it for now, check back tomorrow for more impressions from the show.
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Quickie: Demon's Souls & PAX  

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Games: Been pouring the hours into Demon’s Souls on PS3, and all I have to say about it is that it's pretty incredible. In fact, it's literally incredible.
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Without a doubt, this is one of the PS3’s finest titles, easily eclipsing the vast majority of the games available for Sony's shiny black box. As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-buy for anyone who's even remotely interested in Action RPGs, or RPGs in general. Seriously, I can't say enough good things about it.
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Games: Tomorrow is the first day of the Penny Arcade eXpo! Quick disclaimer: I'm not going to be able to spend as much time at the show as I have in the past, so I'm going to be focusing my limited hours on the show floor, and trying as many of the games as I can.
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I'll be doing as much coverage of the show as possible, but just know in advance that it's going to be more discrete and not quite as inclusive as it has been in the past. Even so, I'm still pretty psyched… Mike and Jerry put on a hell of a show, and I can't even begin to express how happy I am that it takes place in my hometown.
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If you are going to the show as well, drop me a line and share your impressions here on the blog.
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Writing: Work on the book has resumed, and my co-author and I are on track to complete it before the end of the year, if my calculations are correct. Quite excited to be getting back to it… more details to come.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Demon's Souls (PS3) - Early Impressions  

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Games: Got my hands on a pre-release copy of Demon’s Souls from Atlus today. It's certainly been one of my more anticipated titles, yet has remained a fairly large question mark. It's easy enough to get the gist, but as we all know, the devil is in the details… Fortunately, although I didn't have as much time to sink into it as I would have liked, the time I did have was extremely impressive-- even moreso than I had anticipated after watching several videos available via the Internet.
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Basically, the king of a faraway country has unleashed ultimate evil and the player takes on the role of a warrior intent on sealing it back up. The twist here is that thanks to the supernatural properties associated with this demon, the kingdom and surrounding lands are places where the player can’t die. Or, at least, not die in the classic sense. It's certainly easy enough to be defeated by enemies, but when this occurs, the player is reincarnated as a spirit to return to battle.
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It's not immediately obvious how this scheme plays out just from reading or hearing about it, but after spending some time it became quite clear. Essentially, the section of kingdom I was in is one level and certain aspects of it are presented persistently. For example, after making my way through a certain distance, I was able to hack through some chains and open a gate that had been previously locked. I died shortly afterwards, but after reincarnation, I returned to find that the gate was still open. It's progress gained by degrees.
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There are other unique aspects, such as the ability to leave messages or read messages left by others. For example, before rounding a particular corner, one message scrawled on the ground said ‘watch out for the ambush’. Sure enough, after stepping foot into the next room, I was waylaid by an enemy in hiding. Thanks to that message, though, I was prepared and made it through without a scratch. Apparently, this system comes into play not only through messages developers have left, but other players can leave notes that can be read by anyone. In effect, each chunk of the game’s world is a persistent place that can be altered by the actions of other players.
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Although these things were interesting enough, I found myself most fascinated by the attention to detail given to the combat system. I’ve played nearly every game that FromSoft has put out, but after spending time with Demon’s Souls, I was extremely impressed by the advances they've made in terms of control and fluidity of motion. This is by far the most sensible, natural control scheme they've come up with, and it feels comfy.
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Additionally, they've really spent time implementing the weapons in a very logical way. My character wields a halberd, so I'm at a disadvantage and narrow hallways since the weapon can't be effectively swung. However, I do have the option of controlling the weapon with both hands, and in that particular stance, my attack options are modified, granting me more freedom to defend myself in small spaces. It's pretty clear that the developers really put a lot of time and attention into the nitty-gritty details of how melee works, and I'm loving it.
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I'll have more to say later, but for right now I'll also throw in that it's extremely atmospheric, the graphics are quite impressive, and the slow, deliberate pace of combat is a perfect fit.
I've only just scratched the surface of the game, but so far, it looks like a real winner.
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