Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lost Planet 2: Hands-On Multiplayer Preview  

Games: So, Capcom was gracious enough to invite me in to get a sneak peek of Lost Planet 2’s multiplayer the other day. I’d never been to Capcom before and there were a ton of great review/journo people as well, so it was truly a double treat to attend the event.

Before getting into LP2, I need to first disclose the fact that I enjoyed the original Lost Planet a great deal. If you haven't already read my formal opinion, HERE you go. (Go ahead, click it. I'll wait.) Although the game got a fairly rocky reception in review circles, I found it to be a fantastically good time, and absolutely on the right track. Simply put, I'm a fan.

With that disclaimer aside, I left the demo feeling very positive about what I saw. Although we did not get a full and complete look at the whole game, there is very little doubt in my mind that LP2 will surpass its predecessor.

Overall, there were two main themes to the content: Customization and Mecha.

Looking at the customization first, the Capcom reps made the point over and over again that the player’s character is meant to be a unique, personal avatar for use in both the main campaign mode as well as online. We were quoted that (at the moment) there’s at least seventy thousand possible permutations of a player's avatar, and that number is likely to grow prior to the time the game hits the shelves.

In addition to physical appearance and clothing, weapon customization plays a large role. There were several classes of weapons that each player will have access to, and each class has several different styles and levels of power. For example, in the ‘heavy’ class, characters can choose to have a rocket launcher or a pistol-like hand cannon. Each of those weapons has several different styles and variations, and so on.

When asked about acquiring the different options, reps stated that while some items would be preset and specific to certain conditions in the campaign or tied to in-game achievements, players would also collect credits that would be used for a slot machine-type mechanic that would randomize the gear people get. Not sure I'm sold on that particular concept, but I remain hopeful.

Although we weren't allowed to change any of the settings in the demo, it was pretty clear to see that there is huge potential for each person buying the game to have their very own customized character, and that's always a good thing.

Moving on to the mecha, all I can say is ‘WOW’. It's no secret I’m a nut for giant armored things, and Lost Planet 2 is absolutely filthy with them. These “Vital Suits” are definitely a major focus of gameplay, and they've been revamped in every way possible.

For starters, the number of different models was incredibly impressive. I got to play the demo for around three or four hours, and it seemed as though every time I looked at someone else's screen, I was seeing a new VS I hadn't seen before.

The smallest was almost like a thick suit of armor that encases the player's body and functions like an extra life bar. Moving up in scale, there were several small ‘platform’ types that were sort of like Segways with guns, both terrestrial and airborne. Even bigger were tanks, bipeds designed for melee, lighter units that can transform between walking and hovercycle modes, and so on.

The heaviest Vital Suits on display were extremely impressive. The first was a three-part walker that was piloted by a player in the middle and had two independent gun platforms on either side. Even larger than that was a massive giant spider that had been outfitted with cybernetic armor implants. Towering over the players on foot, it appeared to be able to hold four or five players, each controlling their own set of weaponry.

(Oh, and the best thing? There were several mentions of a two-part Voltron-style combiner that will be available, though it was not running in the demo.)

The most interesting and exciting thing about the expanded focus on Vital Suits was that so many of them were able to fly in some fashion. In a level that strongly resembled an oil rig, I hopped into an assault helicopter and proceeded to pick people off the platforms at will -- definitely a high point of the demo. Another helicopter was designed for transporting ground troops, and many of the lighter (or even medium) Suits were capable of taking to the skies. My mind was blown when a cyborg scorpion piloted by the enemy team leapt straight up and exposed membranous wings before sniping rockets from above. To say it was completely unexpected is a massive understatement.

Differences between the 360 and PS3 were basically nil. Some people at the demo felt that the 360 graphics were sharper, while others were sure that the PS3 had the edge. Although I did spend more than a few minutes trying to suss out which one was superior, I think it's a nod to Capcom that they were basically identical even on a nitpick scale. Honestly, I could not tell the difference.

One final note, reps at the event said that the game has a multiplayer focus in both campaign and competitive modes. When asked to clarify, the answer was that the traditional story mode is meant to be played with at least one other person, if not more. Co-op is absolutely being positioned as the preferred method, and AI bots will be available for people who do not have friends on-hand when playing story mode. It was also noted that players who are intent on going alone will have the option, but that the game does not scale difficulty down for people lacking backup. You've been warned.

Capcom has stated that the Lost Planet 2 multiplayer demo will become available to the public on April 21 (unless you’re a Capcom Unity fan or win a code via contest) and the game itself will launch on May 11.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3D Dot Game Heroes, Chatroulette Piano 2, and Split Peas  

Games: Been putting some time into 3D Dot Game Heroes on PS3. After logging a couple of hours on it, I think it's pretty clear to see that this thing will be a nuclear bomb of nostalgia for anyone who's old enough to remember The Legend of Zelda on NES. I mean, it was pretty clear that it was a Zelda homage from previews and early buzz, but putting the game through its paces, I really don't think it's an understatement to say that this is NES Zelda brought into 3D.

I just cleared the third (of six) temples this afternoon, and so far I've collected the boomerang, bow and arrow, bombs, hookshot, and picked up a few empty jars and heart pieces. Er, I mean, ‘apple shards’. The gameplay is pretty much the same as it was back then-- The hero searches the overworld and then enters subterranean dungeons full of monsters and puzzles while slowly building up his resources of equipment and health/magic capacity. The only real difference between Zelda NES and 3DDGH (so far, anyway) is twofold:

1> Instead of shooting a sword beam when the player's life bar is full, the swords in 3DDGH grow to absolutely ludicrous sizes and are capable of skewering enemies from across the entire screen.

2> Players have the option of creating their own avatar thanks to an incredibly cool customization tool available from the main menu. The game offers a wealth of different models to choose from at the beginning (heroes, ninjas, monsters, tanks, and so on) but the possibilities are basically unlimited as long as the creator can think in pixels. Just for fun, I created an exact replica of Mario and tonight I'll probably do Mega Man. For purists, it's totally possible to create an exact likeness of Link to complete the illusion of having an official 3D NES Zelda sequel.

Although I am definitely old enough to remember bringing home the original shiny gold cartridge way back in the day, I have to admit I'm a little curious to see how the game will be received by younger players who may not have any recollection of Zelda’s first incarnation. Personally, I'm having a great time and really enjoying this faux blast from the past -- although I haven’t enjoyed a true Zelda since Wind Waker, it's refreshing to see something like 3D Dot Game Heroes sweep all of the recent crap aside and focus again on the core formula.


In other Atlus news, anyone who's having problems with the soundtrack CD from Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey should read this:

"Due to a manufacturing error, the bonus soundtrack CD bundled with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey does not play properly," stated Tim Pivnicny, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Atlus. "We are moving quickly with our manufacturing partner to replace defective soundtrack discs, launching a fulfillment site into which customers can input their information and receive a new soundtrack CD in 2-4 weeks. We apologize for this issue, we appreciate our fans' understanding and patience, and we thank them for their current (and hopefully continued) support."

To formally submit a replacement request (limit one per customer), please visit: .

Misc: The second installment of Chatroulette Piano Improv is now up, and you can check it out HERE. Both brilliant and hilarious, there's nothing else to say.

Food: The wife came up with a brilliant, more stewlike play off of Split Pea Soup tonight. After softening the peas in boiling water, she added cubed pork loin sautéed with onion, spices and a dash of soy sauce. Cornbread was served on the side.

Neither one of us had ever made anything with split peas before, but it was pretty damned delicious and the entire meal (two big servings) only cost about $3.25 total! Take that, Melissa D’Arabian!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Firewalker, Fragile Dreams, Patchwork Heroes, Idol & Fried Rice  


Games: BioWare released a brand-new add-on for Mass Effect 2 yesterday. Titled ‘Firewalker’, it adds a hovering scout vehicle to the game, and this new ride is capable of some pretty nifty maneuvers. It's free to players who have activated the Cerberus Network within their copy of the game, and my review of the content is HERE.

In other games news, I'm in the middle of writing my review for the Wii’s Fragile Dreams.

It's a difficult piece to write, since on the one hand I find it to be a fairly refreshing effort conceptually, and quite unlike most of the other games available for the Wii. On the other hand, I have to be brutally frank in saying that it's extremely tedious and not much fun at all. Ideas and artistry only go so far... certain decisions must be made with regard to how the experience feels to play through, and in this case, I'm having a hard time believing that the boredom and frustration I'm getting is something that the developers were actually trying to achieve.

I haven't been playing a lot of portable lately, but I have spent some time with Patchwork Heroes on PSP, and I've got to say that it's pretty fantastic. The gist of the game is that giant airships are approaching the city, so the people living there launch preemptive strikes by sending soldiers to land on these airships and chop them to pieces with handheld saws.

It sounds bizarre, but it absolutely works thanks to the quirky, 2D presentation and easy-to-grasp mechanics that only take a minute or two to get the hang of. It has loads of personality, and has a vibe similar to things like Katamari Damacy or LocoRoco -- things are goofy, but they're intended to be goofy, so it all ends up being humorously tongue-in-cheek. It's early days yet, but I've got nothing but good to say about the title so far.

TV: I’m not going to dwell on this very long, but it needs to be said - this season of American Idol flat-out sucks. After watching the show for the last four or five seasons, it's quite clear to see that this year's crop is the weakest, most talent-free group they've ever picked. It's terrible!

This week’s ‘Top 11’ episode had only two performances that I would say were of the caliber of what should be expected at this point in the competition. The rest of the contestants seemed way out of their league, and a few of them have no discernible singing talent whatsoever. The wife and I (and most of America, evidently) have been sorely disappointed with this season, and we're even debating whether or not we care enough to keep watching.

Not only are the contestants terrible, but the judges are out to lunch as well. I'm often mystified by the praise given to lackluster performances, not to mention the personal antics happening. Ryan Seacrest is coming off like a toothy Chihuahua aggressively marking his territory, Kara DioGuardi apparently underwent a personality transplant and now has trouble keeping her hands off of Simon, and Simon Cowell himself seems mostly occupied with moving onto his new show and getting through this one as quickly as possible. Ellen Degeneres? Well, Ellen's worthless. She rarely says anything that isn't parroted from someone else, and it's like she's physically incapable of saying anything even remotely negative.

Several television pundits have been quoted as saying that Idol could be in serious trouble next season after the poor showing here and the fact that Cowell (long said to be the backbone of the show) is leaving. Based on the current level of quality we’re getting now, I'd say that sounds about right.

Food: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I just made fried rice for the first time and was quite proud of myself that it turned out to be pretty damned edible.

I was a little hesitant to make it because it was a dish my dad had always tried to cook for us growing up, and he never, ever managed to pull it off. I ate far too many scoops of wet, mushy starch embedded with cubed carrots and previously-frozen peas as a child, and because of my dad's numerous failures, I had somehow convinced myself that such a dish was not meant to be cooked by someone not of Chinese descent. However, it was one of those nights when there really wasn't much in the house and after surveying the available ingredients, the wife thought it was the most feasible prospect. She was right, it turned out pretty good, and I would definitely make it again.

In addition to the rice (of course) I ended up tossing in some mustard greens, frozen spinach, ground turkey, onions, carrots, egg, and fresh ginger. It may sound like a crazy hodgepodge, but I'd say it worked. If you've got some recipes or ideas of your own for fried rice, I'd love to hear them.

Comics: late to the party for sure, but here are a few pics I took at the recent Emerald City Comicon here in Seattle. Captions follow.

The view entering the hall. Hard to tell from this shot, but the place was huge and packed.

Kyle Stevens of Kirby Krackle rocking out at a free show. Hell of a gig.

Nothing like a little fangirl T&A to catch the eyes of passers-by.

Just a costume, and still totally creepy.

Fandom clearly has its price.

No funny comment, I just thought these three were hella cute.

This dude did a great job on his Spider-Man costume.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Welcome Back!  

Welcome back to Drinking Coffeecola!

Notice anything different?

No, not the hair.

No, I haven't lost weight either, but thanks for saying so.

After having been blogging for the last few years, I felt like it was time for a little change. Time to freshen up the place. Slap a new coat of paint on the walls, so to speak. Although I did switch templates (and it feels really odd to me to have my sidebar on the right and not the left) the biggest thing is the brand-spanking new custom logo created especially for this site by Chris Coughlan, AKA @TotallyEpic on Twitter.

Personally, I think he did an amazing job reading my mind, and was totally patient and professional when listening to all my nitpicks and tweaks. If you've got art needs, I'd totally recommend him. My experience was nothing but awesome.

Drop me a line if you’ve got any feedback on DC’s new look, I'd love to hear it. In the meantime, let's get back to the regularly-scheduled blog where I take a few bits and pieces that have been accumulating in my e-mail over time and I regurgitate them here for your viewing pleasure.

First up, a message from Daniel Lipscombe on a brand-new gamer-oriented charity project:

Points For Life is a charity event that will take place on June 5th 2010. A charity event aimed at videogame players, it’s our chance to give something back. The idea of the event is to ask people to sponsor us to gain Achievement points, PSN trophies and Steam Achievements. Play will start at 9am on June 5th and last for 24 hours, and it’s up to participants to earn as many Achievements/Trophies as they possibly can. Sponsors can pledge per Achievement points or Trophies, or they can just sponsor the event. The raised funds will be donated to Child's Play and Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

"We gamers are a massive community and a determined bunch of people," said event organiser Daniel Lipscombe. "Charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital and Child's Play need money to keep up the great work they do, and if we come together we can give something back and do some good."

Website -

Twitter -

Facebook -

We have a target to reach for each charity, and we hope to gather as many gamers as possible to reach (and hopefully break) these targets.

Email us about the project at

Moving on, anyone who reads this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Twisted Pixel. I loved The Maw and ‘Splosion Man was even better. Their new project, titled Comic Jumper, will be on display at the upcoming PAX East show.

According to my sources, attendees will be able to see the first ten minutes of gameplay along with concept art, screenshots and a Q&A with the developers. If you're going to be at PAX East, stop by the Twisted Pixel booth and tell them that I sent you.

(Also, if you stop by the Mommy’s Best Games booth and tell them that you heard about it from the podcast, you'll be eligible for a free piece of swag.)

I personally won't be at PAX East (will be at PAX West, though) but I look forward to hearing all about it. If you're going, drop me a line and let me know how it was.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Walking Dead  

Comics: I know I've written about it before, but it bears repeating. If you haven't read Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, you're missing out on some of the best writing being done in comics today.

The premise of the book is basically what you'd expect: the zombie apocalypse descends on the world, and everything goes to hell.

Kirkman’s story follows a sheriff, his wife and son, and the group of survivors they meet as they struggle for safety and a semblance of their former lives. On the surface, it seems like pretty standard stuff. However, what makes The Walking Dead so powerful is Kirkman’s ability to spin stories that hinge not on the zombies, but on the living characters.

Over the course of the series, I've continually been impressed by how real he writes -- how people react to certain situations, how emotions would play a factor in survival, and how people don't stop being people just because the dead return to life. Plenty of movies and books focus on the practical aspects like scavenging for food and ammo or building an impregnable base for defense, but very few zombie tales really examine what it might be like to continue to be a warm, breathing person with hopes and fears and needs in the face of inevitable horror.

Thanks to a half-off sale at my local comic shop, I was able to pick up the last four volumes I needed and get caught up after a long hiatus. Quite eager to jump back in, it's fair to say that I was already engrossed with the characters and their hardships, but my emotional involvement was taken to a whole new level thanks to certain events which I will not spoil here. As I sat turning the pages in a public place around by people, I literally thought I was about to start crying. I actually had to close the book for a few minutes and pull myself together in order to avoid having to dab my eyes with some Kleenex.

Very few things that can be classified as ‘entertainment’ ever connect with me on a personal, real basis. It just doesn't happen. However, my hat is off to Kirkman for not only touching me with his work, but for kicking me hard with a muddy combat boot and making me feel sickeningly ill with his words and ideas. Eliciting that kind of response from a reader takes true talent, and I honestly, openly admire the caliber and quality he delivers, issue after issue.

Like I said, if you're not reading The Walking Dead, you need to be. Go down to your local comic shop and pick up the first few collections. I sincerely doubt that anyone (including you) who gives it a chance will be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teething, Risen, and Perfect Dark Redux  

. .
I'll have some pictures of the recent Emerald City Comicon up in the next few days, but aside from that, there’s not much to report after the hectic weekend and a baby that's still in the full-blown teething stage.

If you're a parent, I'm sure you remember how difficult this stage is, and if you haven't had kids yet, let me just say that it is (in my opinion) the absolute worst part of raising a child, hands-down. Seriously, love my baby unconditionally, but I can't wait until these teeth come in and we can get past this.

Games: For the moment I'm still spending my available free time with Risen on the 360, and I'm loving every minute of it. The more I see of the game, the more I like it, and the more I admire the work and craftsmanship that must've gone into creating it. The island the player explores is a fantastic place, crammed ridiculously full of detail and interesting locations. My lust for exploring and adventuring has been stoked to fierce heights, and I would certainly recommend Risen to anyone who enjoys the same. Although it may have a lot in common with Oblivion thematically, the pacing and tightness of Risen’s design actually remind me more of a cross between Dragon Age and Fallout 3.

(By the way, if that combination sounds good to you, I would suggest securing a copy of Risen sooner rather than later. I've already started hearing reports that the game is becoming hard to find, and based on current sales numbers, I think it's a pretty safe bet that the publisher will not be printing a second run. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Also, I've heard that this week's XBLA offering will be the N64 classic, Perfect Dark. Believe it or not, I've actually never played the game. It's been on my list of ‘classics’ to experience as part of my general critic education for several years, but my N64’s been packed away in storage for a while, and I've definitely had my hands full with more current releases. However, now that it's going to be available in a souped-up version, I'm thinking that maybe the time is right.

However, before I pony up for it, I'd love to hear feedback from any readers who have played the game and have memories of it, whether good or bad. Did you like it? Is it worthy of being called a classic? Would you say it's a must-play for anyone worth their critical salt?

Drop some knowledge on me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Slippery Slope of Consumer Respect and Disc Unlocks  

Games: Yesterday, the subject of BioShock 2’s recent DLC came up and spurred a lively debate between a few people and myself on Twitter. As any tweeter knows, it's difficult to carry on an in-depth conversation with a limit of 140 characters, and trying to jump back and forth between several people at the same time is an even greater challenge. As a way of continuing the chat without the technical barriers, this post.

For those unfamiliar with the news, it was revealed that BioShock 2’s “DLC” was not so much additional content as it was an unlock key for content that was already encoded in copies of the game. BioShock 2 isn't the first game to do this and it certainly won't be the last, so before the rant begins, I just want to be clear in saying that this particular post is about the concepts of unlock keys, DLC, and ethics, and not about BioShock 2 in particular.

(Also, as another preface, I would invite you to check out my good friend and esteemed colleague Thom Moyles’ blog HERE. Thom’s a brilliant, standup guy, and I've got nothing but respect for him. However, this time we found ourselves on opposite sides of the issue. To see the counter to what I've got here, go check him out.)

Now, getting down to business…

In general, I'm a big fan of DLC. I can't even begin to count how many transactions I’ve completed, and I keep a pretty vigilant lookout for new additions to titles I've enjoyed. I think DLC is a great concept, I believe it adds value to games which would otherwise be cast aside or traded in after completion, and I support it as an effort on the part of developers and publishers to recoup losses they claim are incurred due to sales of used titles.

(Are used games REALLY costing them money? I'm not going to go there right now because that's an entirely different topic, but for the sake of this post, let's just assume that it's so.)

However, I do believe that there is a certain ethical element involved with the production, implementation, and sales of DLC, and I feel that it's often ignored or looked at as irrelevant in deference to the rights and profit of developers/publishers.

In Thom’s blog, he states “The problem here is that [Brad’s] applying the pragmatics of physical ownership to that of computer data. You see this a lot on the Internet, and it never works. It never works because when you buy game media, you’re not buying every bit of information contained in that media, you’re paying for whatever bits (literally) of that data that the game company chooses to give access to.”

Thom is not the only one who has cited this particular piece of logic, but in my view, anyone advocating this line without qualifying it is either profiting from this new era of online transactions, or simply drinking Kool-Aid to a certain degree. I certainly don't mean to insult Thom or anyone else, but I really don't see why the concepts of ownership that have served the human race since the dawn of time have to be chucked out the window just because we have so many new ways of controlling and limiting access. ‘Can’ does not equal ‘should’.

As someone who works for a living, who has responsibilities and bills to pay, value for the money I spend is always foremost in my mind. When I decide to put cold, hard cash down, I want to know exactly what I'm getting.

In the case of games which contain “extra” content on the disc that can’t be unlocked without paying an additional fee, I can't help but feel that there's something inherently dishonest about the practice. If I put $60 down on something and it's sold to me, I expect to be able to take full advantage of everything on the disc that is intended to be played.

The phrase “intended to be played” is an important distinction I need to make because as Thom pointed out, it's extremely common for any game to have a certain amount of content locked away for various reasons -- the developers weren’t able to effectively implement it, there wasn't enough time to bug-test, certain things had to be censored, so on and so forth.

For example, Rockstar locked away the infamous ‘Hot Coffee’ in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for good reason, and it was never intended to be accessed by anyone. The same goes for a more recent example, Yakuza 3. In that case, Sega said up front that certain parts of the game were going to be removed (most probably disabled and not actually removed) because they were deemed “too culturally Japanese” for the US audience.

In these (and similar) instances, I absolutely respect the decisions on the part of the developers and publishers to snip, tailor or edit a product until it takes on the appropriate qualities and profile that they’re after. However, if Rockstar came along later and said that the infamous locked scenes could be made available for an additional $3, or if Sega said that Yakuza’s host bars could be unlocked for $5 online, I would have a serious problem with that.

To me, if there is content on a disc I have paid for and own, and if that content is actually intended to be used and played at some point in time, then I'm of the view that developers and publishers have an ethical responsibility to say so up front. Full disclosure. They obviously have planned it in advance, so it's not as though they can say they had no knowledge of the contents status. Why don't they disclose? Because they know that the audience would go ballistic and never stand for it. And who could blame them? In my mind, that's the same thing as buying a house only to be told after the fact that a bedroom you weren’t shown will remain forever locked unless you pony up another couple thousand. It's the same thing as buying a new car and then being told later that you actually have anti-lock brakes, but that they require a fee to be activated. It’s always an unpleasant surprise to find that you didn’t buy exactly what you thought you were buying, and not in a good way.

No one wants to feel taken advantage of, and people who are spending good money (especially in this economy) want to feel like they're getting an honest deal. If developers craft content that's actually on a disc being sold, it feels very dishonest to be asked for an additional monetary contribution in order to see a part of a unit that the consumer has already paid for.

This is where the “physical/data” part Thom mentions comes in. As I mentioned earlier, I really don't see the need to throw out concepts which humans have employed since we as a species were able to understand buying, selling, and ownership. Regardless of what publishers and developers may want to convince me of, the simple fact is that if they sell me a disc, I see it as mine, and I expect to use it as I see fit. Trying to turn that simple idea into the current concept of “developers and publishers get to do what they want because everything is licensed and the player doesn't really own any of it” feels incredibly disrespectful to the consumers and fans who keep the industry going. I'm not interested in participating in this Brave New World where portions of a product I paid for are locked away and held prisoner to micro-transaction greed.

As a consumer, I don't feel that this new philosophy is ethical, and that has nothing to do with any kind of imagined “gamer entitlement” -- it's just a simple truism inherent to the concept of buying and selling, and intimately linked with the diminished perceived value of something that is suddenly revealed to be less than what the buyer thought it was. Disclosure from the seller and the buyer's ownership of the property in question is the basis of any financial transaction, and trying to modify (and then justify) this age-old understanding only sours goodwill on the part of consumers and flaunts the current imbalance of power.

Just because it's possible (and even legal) to slap all kinds of partitions, controls, DRM or any other sort of control system in games sold to consumers, that doesn't mean it's right. Supporters of this new e-control philosophy can try to manipulate words and twist the issue as much as they want, but ask anyone on the street if they're happy to pay for an unlock key to a disc they've already bought and the answer will always be the same – hell no.

Call me old-fashioned, archaic, behind-the-times, or any other title you’d like, but if the content was ready to go at launch, if it's actually on the disc, and if it was intended to be played at some point in time, then people who have paid for these discs should have full access to all of the content on them. If not, then there’d better be a disclaimer somewhere on the package telling me that I'll need to chip in another $5 to get the ‘full’ experience. (And no, don't bring up the whole ‘you get the full promised experience without the unlocks’ argument. It doesn't make the practice any less shady, and it doesn't make the consumer feel any less taken advantage of.)

Will the practice stop? Probably not. If consumers knew about such practices ahead of time, we could potentially vote with our wallets -- but with this knowledge intentionally and consistently held back to avoid such a circumstance, there is no way to know which games are guilty and which aren't. The fact that this knowledge is routinely hidden speaks to the attitude of those engaging in the practice. If publishers and developers genuinely thought it was all on the up and up and that nothing was wrong, then why not be straightforward about it? In this case, actions most definitely speak louder than words.

Like I said earlier, I'm not against publisher and developers earning a profit, I enjoy and partake of DLC just as much as the next guy (and probably more so) and I'm all for extending the life of games that I've enjoyed. That said, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this, and no matter which way I look at it, I can't see disc unlocks as anything other than dirty, disrespectful business. DLC will keep getting made and I’ll still buy it, but I certainly hope that those with the power to make such decisions will show consumers some respect, concede that there’s an undeniable taint to the practice, and avoid this delivery method in the future. It just makes everyone involved feel icky.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

ECCC, Kirby Krackle Performs, Risen (360), Heavy Choices, and Writing  

Events: This weekend is the Emerald City Comicon, taking place at the Washington State Convention Center this Saturday and Sunday. The convention just keeps getting bigger and better, and this year there are a whole lot of guests and events happening besides the usual avalanche of comics, toys, games, and so on.

Speaking of the Comicon, supreme nerd rock group Kirby Krackle will be there and giving a free performance on Sunday. I totally love their first album and I just listened to the second (E for Everyone) for the first time tonight, and I'm digging that too. (Review forthcoming, but you can hear the entirety of both albums FOR FREE at the KK website.)

If you're in the Seattle area and like cool things, ECCC is definitely the place to be this weekend. (And if you go, make sure to grab a crepe from La Creperie Voila on the exterior of the building, on the sidewalk directly beside the convention center's front doors. DELICIOUS!)

Games: GDC is going on. I'm not there, but I've been following the news and it seems like it's been a great gathering so far. I'm not even going to attempt to recap the news, but if you're interested in what the movers and shakers are doing, a quick Google search or going HERE will hook you up.

In terms of what I've actually been playing, I've been putting all of my available hours into Risen on the 360.

Prior to receiving a copy, the best I'd heard about it from anyone were fairly middling descriptions, but more often it was referred to in fairly negative terms. Basically, the general consensus was that it was way too hard, didn't bring anything to the table, was eminently skippable, etc. Despite this downward buzz, something about the game still held my attention and I was determined to check it out regardless. I'm really glad that I did.

I'm working on a review now, but as far as I'm concerned, this is a real gamer’s game designed for people who enjoy western-style RPGs. It's true that the graphics are fairly crude and the combat system is sketchy at best, but it more than makes up for it with clever writing, extremely solid voice acting, an open world ripe for exploration, and an incredibly massive amount of content for players to dive into. There are tons of really interesting quests to take on and the game presents two different factions for the player to align with. The interesting thing is that they are both good and evil in equal measure, meaning that there is no ‘right’ team to choose. The Bandits believe in personal freedom and liberty, but also extort funds and steal. The White Robes provide care for the sick and order to the wilderness, but also force men to bend to their will and treat people as objects to be managed. I thought long and hard before choosing a side, and the fact that I had to think at all was greatly appreciated.

I don't want to spoil the review I'm cooking up, but what I will say at this point is that I see Risen as a sleeper in the truest sense of the word, and that anyone who truly enjoys freedom and role-playing in games should absolutely take the time to check it out. In fact, if you sweep aside technical concerns and the fact that there’s no party to manage, I'd say that Risen is easily on par with something like Dragon Age, both in terms of choice and scope. It surpasses it in many ways, even.

In other games news, I was reading an interview with David Cage (the man behind Heavy Rain) and came across something rather interesting... he stated that during one of the game’s “big choices” 80% of people declined to complete the task at hand, with only 20% going ahead with it.

I found this to be totally fascinating because I was in that 20% (as was my wife) and I never in a million years would have guessed that so many people would have chosen the other way. Completely unfathomable, really. I am quite eager to discuss this in detail, but out of respect for those who have not played the game yet, I cannot in good conscience spoil it here at the blog.

Writing: At the moment I’m knee-deep in editing a stack of manuscripts that are not game-related, and it's been a very educational, enlightening experience. Without going into detail, getting the chance to read so many different writers’ works one after another has greatly altered my view of my own as-yet unpublished pieces. Seeing the choices others made and how those choices impact the way their work reaches me as a reader put a slightly different perspective on things; gave me another set of eyes to look through, if you will.

Once I wrap this project up, I think I’ll definitely be getting out the red pen and making changes that I previously found too difficult or too distasteful. Some were changes I wasn't even aware needed to be changed. I guess it just goes to show that the best way to become the best writer you can be is to read, read, read.

(Oh, and going through these manuscripts has also shown me that there are some really, really, really talented people out there just waiting to get the chance to make their name… )

Monday, March 8, 2010

Interview with: Nathan Fouts of Mommy's Best Games, talking Grapple Buggy and Shoot 1UP  

For those of you who've (still) been paying attention, a great little game called Weapon of Choice hit the Xbox 360’s Indie Games area a while ago, and quickly became one of my favorites on the system. It should be one of your favorites, too -- it was great stuff, and well-done. Following such an energetic title can't have been easy, but developer Mommy's Best Games and its mastermind Nathan Fouts have come up with not one, but TWO projects. Let's talk.

Hey Nathan, thanks for speaking with me. It's been a while since we last chatted... Can you fill us in on how things have been going at MBG since Weapon of Choice launched?

Once Weapon of Choice finished up (I want to say "shipped" but with digital that's not really applicable any more) I went into "marketing mode". That took about a month and a half to follow up on interviews, and opportunities, and the holidays took some time as well.

After that, it was time to dig into the BIG BOOK and find out which hopefully amazing idea I needed to make next. After rejecting, or rather filing for later some fairly cool ideas, I decided "buggy with interchangeable grappling hooks" was the best fit at the time.

Grapple Buggy

For the last few months, the game I've been looking forward to hearing more from you about has been Grapple Buggy. How is progress there?

Metaphorically, over a few months I got Grapple Buggy revved up and producing a satisfying roaring sound, but there were still a few clinks and clunks to be heard as the engine idled. It still needs some tuning there, and some rapping with the comically-sized wrench here.

Right now, it’s in the shop, with some of its vital parts strewn about the floor. But the good news is this is all for a tighter driving experience in the future!

Shoot 1UP

Grapple Buggy aside, I have to admit I was a little surprised to find out that you had a second project in the works—and a shmup, no less! At this point, it's been released and is available on Xbox Live Indie for the incredible price of $1.00. What else can you tell us about it?

Shoot 1UP is not only for shmup fans longing for a new variation on our treasured classics, but also for normal action gamers who feel side-lined by the ridiculous maneuvers required in recent bullet-hell style games.

As you collect 1UPs, you gain new ships immediately, and while you do have to control a large phalanx of fighters, you also wield greater fire-power. There’s the “plasma auger” which forms once you spread your ships far enough apart, and there’s a temporary, bullet-clearing shield you can produce at any time you’re in for too-tight of a squeeze.  If you do happen to get hit, each player ship detonates in an enormous explosion which wipes enemy shots, but also damages nearby attackers.

The game features “Chilled” mode which is great for just taking it easy, and for non-shmuppers to enjoy (I’ve had a lot of playtesters claim they weren’t into shoot ‘em ups but were able to have fun with this mode).

Harder campaign difficulties are available too, as well as the new “ScoreHore” mode. This allows you to play through the game continuously, building ship stats such as shield power, and increasing your score multiplier max. ScoreHore saves your progress including the last loop and area number, so you can quit or even die and come back where you left off.

With your studio being on the smaller side, how do you have the time and resources to work on two different projects simultaneously? Are you using the mountain of cash you've accumulated from XBLI sales to fund your new development empire?

Bahahaa…. Yeah, mountains of coins and they’re all mine!

Honestly we’ve done okay compared to most of the Indie Games devs, but there are definitely some other higher grossers out there. It just goes to show if you find a new market not being served, you can definitely carve out a nice niche!

As for Mommy’s Best, it’s a careful balance of family life and work. You can read about big developments on our company blog, and small achievements by following us on Twitter - @MommysBestGames.

I’m really excited about Grapple Buggy and its potential, and I’d like it to have the proper time to breathe and grow. Shoot 1UP came about from taking time off and playing lots of shoot ‘em ups in the meantime, and finding inspiration in the Experimental Gameplay Project.

Grapple Buggy

With two projects in the works, are you making them both available on XBLI exclusively, or will you be hitting Sony and Nintendo as well?

It’s a good, straight-forward environment to see how things do on Microsoft’s console before spending the time porting them. For now they’ll stay on the 360, but PC versions (limited by testing/compatibility issues) may be in the future.

One last question, who are your intended audiences for each of your current titles? Are there certain segments of game-dom you're shooting for? Additionally, what would you say to ‘sell’ each of these titles to the people you think would enjoy them the most?

I’m fighting for the gamer dads and … dadesses, or, “moms” as some call them. I’m specifically looking at gamers without tons of time that are ready to jump into an old-school adventure with great art, and interesting, new gameplay twists.

Don’t squander your time on overly-long-tutorials and mind-numbing fetch quests. Lay your kids to bed and come play something new and interesting for a bit then go to sleep happy!
So there you have it... Infinite thanks to Nathan and Mommy's Best. Be sure to check out Shoot 1Up NOW available on Xbox Live Indie, download Weapon of Choice if you haven't already (Seriously? You haven't yet?) and keep eyes peeled for Grapple Buggy, coming soon.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Darwinia+, Risen, Some Links, and Heavy Rain Musings  

I've never really been one of those ‘TGIF’ folks, but this past week definitely had me counting the minutes until quitting time. Definitely looking forward to a couple of days off.

Games: Finished Darwinia+ on XBLA this evening. Although I was initially skeptical of its $15 asking price, by the time I finished the single-player campaign I felt as though I got more than my money's worth. (And I didn't even touch the multiplayer at all…)

Although the gameplay is fairly straightforward (enter a zone, clear it of enemies) it was almost Zen-like in a way. Taking control of a six-man squad and methodically wiping out all opposition was a lot more calming than I would have initially guessed.

Sweetening the deal, the super-clean Tron aesthetics were very attractive and the developers capitalize on the "virtual life inside a computer" premise fairly well. The campaign felt as though it was exactly the right length, and after finishing the epilogue, I unlocked a neat Avatar shirt that I might actually use. I'm not too keen on paying money for Avatar items, but I do appreciate when developers toss something your way. It sort of commemorates the experience for me, I think.

Although it irritates me when half a game’s Achievements are related to multiplayer, I still give Darwinia+ a Recommend. (The single-player part, anyway.)

Moving on, I'm going to get back into Risen on 360 starting tomorrow. I was only able to put about an hour into it this week, but I was really liking what I saw so far.

The capsule on Risen is that the player takes control of a male character (no gender choice or appearance customization, boo!) who washes up on a tropical island after a wizard capsizes his ship. Waking up on the beach, the player has nothing except what can be scavenged nearby-- a wooden stick, some gold coins, and some raw shellfish. Initially, there’s no map and no suggestion as to what to do, so it's up to the player to explore the surroundings and see what can be seen. After taking down some nearby fauna, I explored a cave and looted some chests. Soon after, I made my way to the top of a ridge to an abandoned house to find... a frying pan.

That's right, Risen has players cooking their food for sustenance. With just the push of a button, I had some tasty seafood, roasted bird, and fried mystery meat in my inventory, all waiting to be devoured. I'm a big fan of Western RPGs’ exploration, open worlds, skill-building, and cooking monster meat. Risen seems to offer all of these things in great amounts, so despite being a little rough on the technical side, this game is giving off all the right vibes. More on this later.

Speaking of RPGs, Chris Vandergaag over at The Side Mission has a new humor piece up about a gamer who's upset with developers for forcing him to play as himself. If you're in the mood for a chuckle, check it out HERE.

Speaking of RPGs (yes, again) supa-playa Teryx has updated his superb Mass Effect walkthrough checklists for both games. If you haven't played either of these titles yet, or you're going back for a second run through and you want to bank a perfect save file, my guess is that you’ll find these lists pretty handy. I used the ME1 list myself prior to starting ME2 and was quite pleased to find more than a few things I had missed the first time around. Take a gander at them HERE and tell Teryx I sent you.

Finally, I had originally intended on writing a fairly lengthy post about Heavy Rain, but I've decided against it for a couple of reasons. However, the official review at GC will be done by Richard Naik, so it's definitely in good hands. However, there are two bits I'd like to mention.

The first is that although I have no intention of replaying the game myself, it's been quite entertaining-- fascinating, really-- to watch my wife go through it. I had warned her against spoilers and she had only seen me playing the game for a moment or two, so she was essentially coming into it a blank slate. Although there haven't been any drastic changes, she did trigger a few minor cut scenes that I did not see during my game, and trying to guess the choices she's going to make as an entirely new level of suspense to the experience.

The second thing is that having completed the game myself, I couldn't help but feel that Quantic Dream list a bit of an opportunity in the way that they structured the story. As it stands, the four main characters go about their business and the player will cycle through all of them in a fairly balanced fashion. However, it occurred to me that the story would be stronger and more cohesive if the game put the player in only one character's shoes and stayed there unless that character got killed. In that event, then the game could shift the player into the next character and continue in that plot line uninterrupted. If the second character ends up dead, then the third makes an appearance, and so on.

Heavy Rain is an incredibly interesting experience the first time, but once the mystery is revealed, there is precious little reason to go back to it. A system like I just described would certainly provide a much greater level of replay, not to mention that there are several odd occurrences and weird things that happen in the plot when all four characters are on the prowl. By only focusing on one character at a time, it seems to me that the developers would have less balls in the air and would have been able to craft a much tighter tale for each separate time through the game. (Having the Origami Killer be a different person for each character would have been a great bonus as well.)

Just something to think about.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Just a quick note tonight... The baby's still feeling ill and hasn't been sleeping well, so my normal evening hours of productivity have been, ah, decimated in the most literal sense. Please forgive the lack of timely posts.

Quickly: Finished Heavy Rain (PS3) and still mulling it over. Will likely post something spoileriffic (WITH WARNINGS) on it soon.

Still playing Darwinia+ (XBLA) and still liking it. It's simple and relaxing, and games like that have value in the right circumstance.

Started Risen (360) and though still early (30-45 minutes in) it seems very, very promising. I get the sense that it may end up being incredibly deep and/or long, but I appreciate a well-done WRPG. If it ends up as good as it seems it will be, I'll be quite pleased.

Work on the novel continues.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The PS3's Mystery Cock-Up  

Family: This has been quite the weekend. Everyone in the family was sick at the same time, and this has been the first illness the baby has had since birth.

Though not at 100%, I wasn't feeling too badly... the same can't be said for wife and son, though. The baby's been really congested and having a hard time sleeping, not to mention the constant whining and crankiness. That in itself would be bad enough, but because he's been feeling so rotten, he's been keeping mommy and me up and draining our batteries with lack of sleep. I can't really complain too much since the wife has been doing the bulk of sitting with the baby, but the entire weekend was basically spent with all of us feeling miserable to one degree or another.

Games: Well, trying to play Heavy Rain has been quite the experience. After initially getting the disc, my play sessions were interrupted with a few instances of skipped audio and multiple system freezes. I didn't get too far in the game before getting frustrated and taking an extended break, so when someone suggested that the day-one patch available on PSN might be causing the problem, it wasn't too painful to delete all my data and start over.

Just let me play the damn game already!

After removing the patch I still had one system freeze, but in general the game played much smoother than it had before. I thought this was the end to my issues until this afternoon, when I was greeted with my PS3 reporting some kind of failure to log onto PSN and getting booted back to the XMB desktop. At first I thought it was some kind of router malfunction so I checked on my equipment and tried again, only to be greeted with the same response. I tried a few different things like disabling the Internet connection option and so on, but nothing fixed the issue.

Now it's understandable that online services will have problems and go down occasionally. No piece of technology is infallible, and I’m not bothered by that. However, what does bother me is that Heavy Rain is a single-player game. There is no logical reason that the game cannot be played off-line, yet because of this reported error, I was completely unable to play the game at all. Other players quickly reported having similar experiences and expressed the same sort of confusion-- why was the game not able to be played off-line? Even worse, some players have reported missing data or corrupted data on their hardware.

Besides Heavy Rain, I've heard that players are having problems with White Knight Chronicles and MAG, as well. There may be other games similarly affected, and as of the time of writing, no solution had been found, nor any satisfactory explanation.

Adding to the confusion, it's been alleged that only certain models of PS3 have been affected, with the ‘slim’ configurations supposedly still functioning as normal. Some still believe that the issue is due to some sort of PSN failure, but others have put forth the theory that it's some kind of Y2K-inspired problem with the older consoles. Whatever the issue, Sony now has an incredible public relations nightmare on its hands. Not only was one of their biggest titles already greeted by a host of technical problems, players across the country are now effectively locked out of using hardware and software paid for with good, hard-earned money.

One other thing to consider: if the problem is indeed something similar to Y2K in nature and these consoles are now prevented from going online to download a fix, the possibility exists that owners of the affected units might have to actually physically send them in to be repaired—and don't even get me started on what would happen if a player’s saved data ends up being unrecoverable.

Any way you slice it, this is cluster-fudge on a galactic scale, and it's hard to imagine Sony getting themselves out of this fix unscathed. It's especially ironic since there's been much talk lately of Sony promoting the PS3 and its PSN service as being comparable or even better than what's available on the 360. Although it's true that Microsoft’s Red Rings were (and still are) and ever-present nightmare, at least it made sense of a kind. Too much heat, melty innards, and so on… you can wrap your head around it. This PS3 issue is just bizarre from any angle, and doubly infuriating for being so.