Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dead Rising: The 7 Day Survivor  

Games: As a little change of pace -- and because Dead Rising 2 is the subject of a lot of conversations at the moment -- I decided to try and track down someone who's actually earned the infamous ‘7 Day Survivor’ Achievement in the original Dead Rising.

I was successful.

For those of you who don't know, this particular Achievement is commonly seen as one of the most difficult to earn out of all the games available on the 360, and for very good reason. Essentially, a player who hopes to unlock these 50 points (yes, a measly 50 points…) has to devote approximately 14 real-time hours to one continuous game that can be paused, but not saved.

Fourteen… real… time… hours.

To reiterate, the game cannot be turned off or saved and the player must constantly monitor their progress to avoid death by zombie or Psychopath (the human enemies in the game) else all the hours they've invested are wasted. To make matters worse, the player's character is constantly losing life and the available food items (to restore health) don't respawn -- a true war of attrition, indeed.

While this challenge already seems steep, the general consensus from the precious few who have earned it seems to be that the most lethal opponent is perhaps an unexpected one: boredom. Devoting that much time to simply surviving doesn't seem to be the most exciting way to play the game, and Capcom asks quite a lot of the player. If their attention wavers for just a few seconds at a crucial moment, it's all too possible to accidentally forfeit that last bit of life while distracted and get sent back to the title screen. Too bad, so sad.

So, who would be crazy enough to put themselves (and their 360 hardware) through such an ordeal? To protect his privacy, he has asked to simply be referred to as Charles.


Charles, why did you want to do this?

Well I've been a long time fan of Dead Rising and I've been playing it regularly once every few months over a two year period. About a month ago, I got the last of the achievements... or near enough. I only had 5 Day Survivor and 7 Day Survivor left, and I'm a big enough fan of the game that I thought I might as well attempt full completion before Dead Rising 2 released.

Around the end of August I told myself I'd take a short break from the game and that I would come back to it to eventually finish it off. Sure enough, a couple of nights ago I woke up and I just thought to myself 'tonight is the night', and that's when I had my mind set on it.

What did you do to prepare?

Because the Achievement takes around 14 hours of non-stop gameplay, I was worried my Xbox would overheat and crash on me in the middle of the task. So, I had to take out the old fan my family used to use during summer and put it behind the Xbox to cool it down every so often. Apart from that, I had my iPod Touch and Nintendo DS with me to keep me entertained while waiting for time to pass by.

So you can pause the game. How many hours total did it take you to do?

Earning the actual Achievement itself takes 14 hours total, but I had to do other things in between that time like eat and clean up the house. I'd say 15 hours and 30 minutes, somewhere around that mark.

What kind of strategies worked for you? Any tips for others who want to go for it?

I played Infinity Mode once before [the mode where this Achievement must be earned] but that didn't last too long. I only managed survive just under a day unprepared and didn't intend to last the full 7 days, so I just stopped playing and let myself die. This time around, I checked a few guides to give me a brief idea of what to do.

The Real Mega Buster

First up I'd say to be sure to have the Real Mega Buster on you (obtained via earnng the Zombie Genocider Achievement) then I'd advise checking GameFAQs. As for me, I only ever needed to know the times the Survivors and Psychopaths spawned. You will also need the two books that increase health upon consumption of food and the survival book which also increases recovered health from food. Once you have those, a single food item gives triple the normal amount of health recovery.

As is known in Infinity Mode, your health slowly drops from hunger. Each unit of life runs out every 1 minute and 40 seconds, so once you kill all Survivors and Psychopaths and take the food they drop, there's nothing to do. I just sat myself in a safe area where no zombies could reach me (there's several around the mall) and while waiting for the next spawn, I just checked Twitter and Facebook, or played my DS to kill time.

Any unexpected problems after you started?

One or two of the Psychopaths could deal a fair bit of damage, which I was surprised about, but apart from that there were no real issues for me.

Did your 360 survive?

I did play Reach on it the following night, so it's recovering well. I haven't played it much since -- I decided to give it some recovery time.

Was it worth it? How did it feel when you finally got it and heard it pop?

The 5 Day Survivor rewards you with a laser sword which is incredibly awesome, so I'd say it was worth it for that alone. For 7 Day Survivor you get "Arthur's Boxers" which is a nice reference to another game, but didn't do much for me, personally.

When I finally got both Achievements there was a sigh of relief that I actually managed it without anything going wrong.

What was the first thing you did after you got the achievement?

As soon as I got the Achievement? I went to the security room to try out Arthur's Boxers, and then let myself die to end the suffering. I wanted to save my progress, turn off my console and go to bed!


And there you have it -- a true-life account of one man's quest to conquer one of the most difficult Achievements out there, while fending off hordes of zombies to boot. Congratulations, Charles... and thanks for sharing your story!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Enslaved, Arcania, Etrian's Done, and Deadly Premonition Media  

Games: Like many of you, I gave the new Enslaved demo a whirl. From developer Ninja Theory, it's a new spin on the classic ‘Journey to the West’ tale from Asia -- although it takes so many liberties that I don't think anyone could be blamed for not immediately noticing the inspiration.

Anyway, I can't say that I was a very big fan of Ninja Theory’s first work, Heavenly Sword, but from what little was shown in the demo, Enslaved seems to have its head in the right place. I like the overall concept in general, and it's pretty clear that the developers are going for a big-budget slam-bang action sort of thing. Nothing wrong with that in my book, though I'm guessing it's probably going to be more of a quick-play wowee-weekend rental than something worth dropping sixty bones on.

As far as negatives go, the controls felt a little loose to me, and I can't say that I'm a big fan of the ‘auto-play’ mechanic on display. What I mean by that is that there were a few times when the main character needed to jump to a certain spot, and the spot I was attempting to go to wasn't actually the right one. Instead of falling to my death, the game auto-moved me to the correct spot even though it wasn't my intent, basically eliminating any sort of skill needed to make the jump.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm no fan of needless or repeated deaths in any game, but I also don't need to have my hand held every step of the way. I am grown up enough to be responsible for properly jumping. That's all I'll say at this point since the demo was quite brief, but while I'm not one of those players who pines for the ‘good old days’ when difficulty curves beat you down with a vengeance, I do think there is such a thing as being too nice to players.

For technical comparison purposes, I downloaded the demo for both PS3 and 360, and after having looked at both back-to-back, I'm definitely going to be going with the 360 version. The graphics looked sharper and crisper, and the color palette didn't seem to bleed together as much as it did on PS3. It also may have been my imagination, but the control felt a little bit tighter, too. Whether that is the system, or the quality of the sticks on the DualShock, I'm not sure. (Probably the latter.) Whatever the case, the decision was pretty easy to make.


Games: Also spent a bit of time with the demo for Arcania: Gothic 4. I've never played any games in the Gothic series before, but Arcania immediately reminded me very strongly of Risen -- hardly a surprise since Risen’s developers were responsible for the first three games in the Gothic series. Development of Arcania has been handed over to a new team, but many similarities were immediately apparent.

Without going into a lot of detail, I will say that although this is a type of game that generally holds a lot of appeal for me, I've recently played through Risen and Divinity II, and Two Worlds II is close on the horizon. I can only play so many of these types, and just putting in fifteen or twenty minutes on the demo made me feel like I was already starting to burn out.

It probably didn't help that you get hit with a silly string of quests right away, and the world might not be quite as open as it first appears. After trying to cross a bridge and being turned away by some schmuck with a gopher problem, I figured I could just jump across the river a bit upstream since the gap wasn't that wide. I made the jump easily, only to hit an invisible wall preventing me from moving on. I'm hoping that was something for the demo’s sake, because that kind of limitation in a game of this sort is a major no-go for me.

To be perfectly frank, I'm sure I will play this game at some point since I can never seem to stay away from them, but I definitely need to pace myself. At this point I'm going to hold off on any more in this genre until after Two Worlds II.


Games: In other games news, I'm quite proud to say that I finally rolled credits on Etrian Odyssey 3. It took me quite a bit longer than expected (although in my defense, I did get sidetracked for a bit with work and illness) but it's finally done.

Despite the game being the most player-friendly of the three in the series, I have to say that I was still a bit surprised at how easy the final bosses were. I honestly think I had more trouble with some of the mid-game bosses than the ones at the end. They were so easy, in fact, but I kept waiting for another final surprise encounter to be the "real” one, but it never came.

(Now that I've shot my mouth off about it, I will say that my wife took the alternate branch in the story and she reported that her final bosses, a different pair, were quite a headache. Also, there is the “ultimate boss” at the bottom of Floor 25, but I really can't justify putting any more time into the game with everything else that's backed up in my review queue. I'm sure *that* thing would give me a real run for my money, no doubt.)

...Anyway, for those who care, here's a bit of stat geekery:

Final Party:

F -Gladiator (sub: Ninja) - Level 63, ATK 378, DEF 346 – Main Skills: Break/Bunshin

F -Monk (sub: Princess) - Level 62, ATK 337, DEF 313 – Main Skills: Party Heal/Royal Veil

R -Farmer (sub: Buccaneer ) – Level 55, ATK 221, DEF 254 – Main Skills: Rotten Egg/Eagle Eye

R -Arbalist (sub: Princess) - Level 63, ATK 422, DEF 266 – Main Skills: Armor Piercer/Royal Veil

R -Princess (sub: Arbalist) - Level 63, ATK 369, DEF 364 – Main Skills: Royal Veil/Attack Order

The Gladiator was basically my tank/damage dealer for most of the game until the Arbalist surpassed her. There isn't really anything to exciting or special about the Gladiator, but by using the sub-class Ninja’s ‘Bunshin’ skill, I was able to create a duplicate in tough battles. Basically, I would have two Gladiators to bring my party up to six members instead of five.

The Monk, of course, is the primary source of instant-healing. Aside from that, the Monk actually absorbs quite a bit of damage and serves as a strong front-line attacker after having put some points into the barehanded skill set. It was also a big plus to not have to buy weapons, so a money savings there.

The Farmer was one of the keystones of this party. Her EXP-increase ability was invaluable throughout the length of the game. Without it, level-ups came at a snail’s pace, so there was strong incentive to keep the Farmer around all the time. Apart from the EXP gain, using the Farmer's abilities to harvest large quantities of items gives a huge money boost and ensures that the shop never runs out of key items. (This is the first time I recall the shop ever actually running OUT of things… even more reason to keep the Farmer on board.)

The Arbalist is a strong rear-line attacker, and eventually became my heaviest hitter. One ability gave her the occasional chance to hit twice, and the Armor Piercer skill is pretty deadly. There were a few times when she would hit for upwards of 1000 DMG in a turn, and even the hardiest of bosses can't shrug that off.

The Princess is basically a must-have class in EO3, if you ask me. The Royal Veil ability grants healing to all party members at the end of each turn with no MP cost, so unless players don't mind their Monk running out of MP every five minutes and going back and forth to town, I'm pretty sure that everyone playing this game will have at least one Princess onboard. In my party, you'll notice I had *three*… one actual Princess, and two other characters with Princess as a sub-class to increase the amount of life awarded each turn.

It's not the most creative party and I didn't take advantage of some of the more exotic set-ups, but it was rock-solid and got me through the game, so I'm not complaining. I might tweak things if I ever go through it again, but I'm happy with the way it turned out.


Games: I meant to post this link earlier, but completely forgot. In any case, better late than never. For those of you who want to learn more about Deadly Premonition and the man responsible, SWERY, you can go to Planet Redwood and find a whole slew of links to things like interviews, features and videos touching on all aspects of DP and the team behind it.

Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sonic Adventure Winners, Deadly Premonition, Preacher, and I Kill Giants  

I originally had a much longer blog post planned, but I'm actually not feeling well tonight. My old nemesis Sinus Infection has reappeared, and we are currently doing battle.

I think I've got the upper hand thanks to some saltwater gargle tips from @SidShuman and @StinkyRedDog, but this particular skirmish isn't over quite yet. As a result, I'm going to keep it short, sweet, and to the point tonight.

Following up on the previous post, the randomly-drawn winners of the Sonic Adventure contest are:

#1> Dan
#2> Alex
#3> Bill

Please send me your e-mail addresses and I will hook you up with the codes ASAP.

Also, the person who won the PAX Prize Pack #2 last week never claimed it. Kind of bizarre, but there you go. Since they never got back in touch, I am now awarding the prize to the runner-up: Lucy.

Lucy, please send me your mailing address via e-mail and your package will be on its way!

Games: I just finished Deadly Premonition about an hour ago, and I have to say that it was one of the most interesting and satisfying experiences I've had all year.

I've decided to start working on a Second Opinion for GameCritics, and while I won't spoil the verdict here, It's pretty safe to assume that my final breakdown will be quite positive and score much higher than what my esteemed colleague gave it.

While most of the knocks against the game in reference to the production values and controls and so forth are totally valid, I really think that most of the people reviewing the game just didn't ‘get’ the story, or were the type of player who puts gameplay before all else.

Don't get me wrong -- gameplay is certainly vitally important, but it's not the only thing that carries weight in my mind. I think video games are the perfect medium to host all sorts of different experiences, and there's plenty of room for titles which focus more on delivering mood, atmosphere, or character work than combat systems or some ungodly number of highly-polished polygons.

Deadly Premonition is most definitely not going to be a game for everyone (much like a Lynch film is not for all viewers) but I think those players who are tolerant of low-rent production and can appreciate the value of fantastic characters and interesting stories will see what others miss.


Comics: Finished up Volume 7 of Preacher. I know I've talked about this series a couple of times already, but it's worth mentioning again. I've actually been pacing myself when picking up each collection since I don't want the series to be over too soon. Regardless, there are only two volumes left and I'll burn through those before I know it.

Preacher’s main character, Jesse Custer, is quite a figure. I've greatly enjoyed the time spent with him, and I really don't know what I'm going to do once his tale has been told. It's a fine problem to have, however... it's pretty rare that I feel so strongly about a book, so the fact that I will miss it so much is high praise.


Comics: Speaking of comics I have a strong feeling about, I also just finished the collected I Kill Giants, and that was a fantastic read as well. Without spoiling the story, IKG is basically about a young girl who is a bit of a social misfit and uses fantasy to escape the problems in her life… although, it's possible that there is more to the fantasy element than what's in her head.

While the art is a bit jagged in places and the story assumes a bit of familiarity on the part of the reader with some of the references, the flow of the plot action reminded me a bit of William Gibson’s work… it's perhaps a bit dense and confusing at first, but once the reader finds the proper mindset, everything unfolds wonderfully.

Bizarre, obscure, real, and relatable… I Kill Giants was aces all around.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Sonic Adventure (PSN) Giveaway!!!  

Games: When it rains, it pours, right?

It's been quite a while since I ran a giveaway, and then here I go doing three practically back to back… still, nothing pleases me more than handing things out for free, so I'm quite glad I have the opportunity to do so.

Up for grabs: three copies of Sonic Adventure for PSN, *including* the extra DX content. That's right, if you win, you will receive a complete copy of this Dreamcast classic via the PS3 download service.

Just to be absolutely clear, these codes are only good for the PS3… No 360 codes available, sorry about that.

So, what you have to do? Simple. Just answer this question:

What exactly does Sonic DO with all of the golden rings he collects in his games?

Serious, silly, absurd... whatever. Give me your best answer posted as a comment at the bottom, and I will choose three lucky folks at random to receive the codes. That’s it!

Winners will be drawn at the next update, so enter as soon as you can and keep your eyes peeled.


Games: Not much to report on the what-I've-been-playing front. My little boy has been under the weather with a nasty cold that's been keeping him up late at night, so my nocturnal time to game has been instead dedicated towards snuggling with him on the couch and watching Pingu and the Wiggles into the wee hours of the morning. (...And by the way, Sam will never fill Greg's shoes.)

Etrian Odyssey 3 (or is it?)
When not wiping his nose, I've been squeezing in a little bit of Etrian Odyssey 3 when I can. Although the review went live a while ago, I had not completed it at the time it was submitted and it's such a great game that I didn’t want to stop even though the pressure to produce was off. At this point I'm on floor 19, and the boss is on floor 20. Just a little more to go!

(…And no, I'm not going to start the post-game content on floors 21-25. I've got to draw the line somewhere.)

Definitely NOT Deadly Premonition
Besides EO3, I'm still trying to chip away at Deadly Premonition… to be honest, I'm enjoying it greatly, but it's hard to find the time to play since the save points are not always handy and the cutscenes can’t be paused. These two things alone pretty much rule out any chance I might have to get in some time with it during the day, and I already mentioned the nighttime predicament... Le sigh.

Still, enjoying it!

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero - Winner!  

Just a quick post today... The winner of the Dead Rising 2: Case Zero download code is...


Congrats, K-Chan. Please send me your email address and the code will be on its way! 

Monday, September 20, 2010

MvC3, TW2, Explosionade, Legend of the Guardians, and Quantum Theory  

I've got a whole bunch of stuff to talk about tonight. Too much, really... since so much is backed up, I decided to announce the winner of the Code Zero giveaway tomorrow instead of tonight, so you've got one more day to enter if you haven't already. Go ahead and give it a whack if you're so inclined, your odds will be pretty darn good.

By the way, PAX Prize Pack #2 was won by Adam, who has not contacted me yet. Adam, if you are still interested in collecting your prize, please get in touch with me ASAP. If I don't hear from you by Wednesday or so, I’ll have to give your prize away to someone else. Get in touch, yo!


Now, for some PR stuff…

Games: If you are in or around the Chicago area, Capcom will be hosting a night with Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The event takes place on September 22nd from 8pm – 11pm and is located at 437 N Wolcott Ave. Apparently the first 300 people will get goodies of some sort, but the first 100 people in line will get some kind of mega-swag. If you end up making it to the event, drop me a line and let me know how it was.


Games: The latest in the recent series of videos promoting Two Worlds II is now out. Episode 4 can be found HERE. I love that SouthPeak isn't afraid to poke fun at themselves after the chilly reception the first Two Worlds received. Rather than try to spin it, they took the other direction and produced this string of spots starring series villain Gandohar. Funny stuff.


Games: The good people over at Mommy’s Best Games are at it again. If you follow this blog with any regularity, then you know that I loved Weapon of Choice and Shoot1UP, both on XBLIndie. The latest creation from mad genius Nathan Fouts will be hitting the same service within a week or so, and it's called Explosionade. From the official press release:

* INFILTRATE subterranean strongholds manned by cunning bipedal aliens and their mind-blasting hellions!
* Recharging MegaNades and an earth-shaking machine gun rip DESTRUCTIBLE environments to hand-drawn bits!
* Tons of CHALLENGE-ROOM style gameplay with a zoom function that lets in you close or zooms out to see all the action!
* 2-PLAYER COOP so you can share the alien-stomping, grenade tossing joy!* ONLINE High Scores to show off your skills!
* Hand-drawn, silky-smooth effect animations just like Mom used to make! (If your mom was SNK)

I don't have much more info at the moment, but considering that MBG’s last two efforts are a couple of the best things available on XBLI overall, I think it's pretty safe to say that this one will be worth looking into.


Enough PR, here's the chatter...

Games: I don't know a thing about the upcoming Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole except that it has owls, and it's got a terrible title. However, a demo for the licensed game is available on XBL and I gave it a spin a day or two ago.

Strangely enough, I thought it was pretty good... I have a weak spot for games that substitute animals for vehicles (don't ask) and after the brief bit available here, LotG struck me a bit like Ace Combat, except... with owls. I have no intentions of seeing the film, but I'll certainly make an effort to at least give the game a try. After tossing hot coals at tower emplacements and swooping down on enemy owls with outstretched claws, how could I not want to see more?


Games: The other demo I spent time with this week was Quantum Theory, from Tecmo. Besides the animals and vehicles things I just mentioned, I also have a sick fascination with any game where the player is asked to either progress up or down a tower. (Again, don't ask.)

QT seems like a lower-rent version of Gears of War set in a tower, with one of the hooks being that the AI partner who adventures along with you is a stereotypical "hot chick" in armor who can be tossed towards an enemy like a weapon. Not quite sure what that concept means for feminism, but at the very least, it was something that isn't found in GoW.

Honestly speaking, I think this game has a pretty tough row to hoe. The combat didn't feel quite as smooth or as polished as the competition, and the visuals left something to be desired, both artistically and in terms of production. I hate to say it, but there's not a lot of room for second-stringers in its genre, and it struck me (at best) as one of those “buy it at $20” weekend-killing titles that you pick up three months after its release. I could be wrong, but...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Contest winners, Code Zero up for grabs, and TGS impressions  

To start off tonight's blog, here are the winners of the PAX swagpacks…. many, many thanks to everyone who entered, but unfortunately, not everyone could win. After putting all of the names in a hat and having my wife draw randomly, the lucky people are:

Pack #1 – Agent.

Pack #2 – Adam.

Pack #3 – FinalMacStorm.

Congratulations to all three of you! Please e-mail me where you'd like these packages sent, and they will be on their way in tomorrow's mail!


Speaking of contests, I also have a code for Dead Rising 2: Case Zero to give away. If you have a 360 that’s hooked up to the Internet and you're itching to see what kind of trouble Chuck Greene is getting himself into, all you have to do is leave an answer to the following question:

Where would be the absolute worst place to be trapped by zombies, and why?

Interpret the question however you wish, and post your response here. I'll pick a winner later this week!


Games: Tons of news came flooding out of the Tokyo Game Show today. While TGS has been fairly sedate in recent years, it seems jam-packed with all kinds of interesting stuff this time… the highlights:

>A revamp of Devil May Cry, powered by Ninja Theory. There's already been tremendous amounts of talk on the subject, but here's my personal take – DMC3 (the SE version) was the high point of the series, and although Dante & Co. still rock a fairly high cool factor, the series is definitely due for a top-to-bottom shakeup. That said, Ninja Theory remains an unknown quantity in my mind. Their first effort (the PS3’s Heavenly Sword) was uneven and wildly overrated. Their soon-to-be-released Enslaved looks great in screenshots and videos, but its true nature won't be known until controller is in hand. Is Ninja Theory the right studio for DMC? The trailer looks quite intriguing, but time will tell...

>Shadow of the Damned. A demon-hunting game coming from Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill) and Suda 51 (Killer 7). While there's no doubt that these three are some of the most notable names in the business, I have to admit that the trailer didn't really do a lot for me. It's hard to put my finger on it, but the word ‘kitsch’ kept coming to mind while watching it, and you can almost point to individual elements that were shown and call them out from other games. It's way too early to tell, but my spider sense was tingling a little bit on this one.

> Ico and Shadow of the Colossus remakes confirmed. I'm not a big believer in re-buying software that I already own, but when first playing through both of these classics, I have to admit that I felt as though both of them would have been better served by more powerful hardware. There's not a lot of info right now, but I'm hoping that the games will get a deep retooling rather than a quick and dirty polish-up. Either way, it's always good news to see quality games like these be made available to people who missed them the first time around.

> Dead Rising 2: Case West. If you ask me, Capcom really hit home run with Case Zero… creating a bite-sized ‘prequel’ experience that was complete in and of itself was a brilliant alternative to crafting the kind of standard demo that generally fails to impress, and now they’ve announced another piece of similar DLC. Case West will serve as an epilogue to Dead Rising 2, and will star both current hero Chuck Greene as well as the original DR protagonist, photojournalist Frank West. Although Frank has made appearances in a number of games since starring in DR, players have never really received the kind of closure that they've craved. Anyone who saw the “real” ending to Dead Rising was no doubt wondering what happened next… hopefully this DLC will give us the answer.

> Radiant Silvergun coming to XBLA. More than anything else so far, this is the news that really blew my mind. I've never been much of an importer and only had the chance to play it once years ago, but what I saw was extremely impressive. Besides that, everyone who's played it has had nothing but raves. I've never understood why Treasure never brought this Saturn shooter to the states, and would have bought it immediately if it had ever been available in any domestic format whatsoever. Unfortunately, since new Japanese copies regularly go for between $200-$300 (or more) on eBay, I could never really justify the cost. The thought of having this holy grail of gaming available as a download puts an extremely big smile on my face. Finally, after all these years… I guess dreams really do come true.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Deadly Premonition, Two Trailers, Free Stuff, and Book News  

Games: Started the infamous Deadly Premonition a few days ago. I'm still really early, probably somewhere in the five-hour ballpark, but I'm definitely far enough along to say that I think most of the critics who passed judgment on it really didn't get it.

I'm not going to go into too much detail at this point since there is still a lot to see and I definitely want to compare notes with people on a few things, but I will recommend that anyone with even a passing curiosity in the title read my fellow critic Dan Weissenberger’s epic take on it. Click HERE to read his opinion on the game, and know that I basically say ‘ditto’ to just about all of his conclusions.

I will absolutely be talking more about this game in the future, but for right now I do know that I am enjoying it a great deal, I find it quite utterly fascinating in several regards, and I would highly recommend anyone with an interest in alternative titles or unconventional game design pick up a copy immediately. At $20 brand-new, I daresay it will be a much better value for people interested in exploring the fringe than just about anything else on shelves this year.


Games: While I don't usually use the blog as a straight-up PR tool, I'm going to bend that rule tonight for two reasons: the first is that I’m frickin’ tired and it's easier to cut and paste a link than it is to come up with effervescent material off the cuff. The second is that I'm actually genuinely excited for both of the following titles, and I've got a feeling that each one is going to need every bit of coverage they can possibly get.

Trailer A: Battle vs. Chess. I talked about this title in my PAX 2010 coverage, but in case you missed it, this game is basically classic chess at its core. However, there are a number of tweaks that make it much more interesting than the standard video chess game.

For example, there is a modes that lets players have pieces fight in real time to defend their squares. There's also a mode that sets the pieces up on the board randomly, and the campaign mode is made up of chess puzzles taken from real-life matches between expert players. I have a great affection for chess even though I completely suck at it, so the unique video game spin on this timeless formula is looking pretty damn irresistible to me right now.

Trailer B: Section 8: Prejudice. If you were one of the many players who missed out on Section 8 the first time, then you really missed out. Although it wasn't perfect, this first-person sci-fi shooter had some great ideas and was a hell of a lot of fun to play. The ability to employ a jet pack during combat opened up a lot of possibilities, and the multiplayer mode was fairly unique. Besides the standard "kill everybody who's not on your team" goal, there were several in-match mini-goals which players could pursue that didn't really have anything to do with directly opposing the other team. Things like capturing AI- generated VIPs, or taking care of timebombs which would appear randomly.

The feeling of being on a busy, active battlefield with tons of things going on at once was a great one, so I'm very curious to see what the developers will have to bring to the table in this recently-announced sequel. (Of course, that's beside the fact that I don't think anyone, myself included, actually expected a sequel.) Very, very interested in this one.


Games: After going through the stuff I brought back from PAX, I realized I had enough to give away. Here's what's on hand:

Pack #1 – A D&D comic from IDW, a Dragon Age inflatable spear, and a 5-button set for Valkyria Chronicles 2.

Pack #2 - A Super Meat Boy comic, a Dragon Age inflatable spear, and a 5-button set for Valkyria Chronicles 2.

Pack #3 – two sets of Valkyria Chronicles 2 buttons. (Both identical.)

If you're interested in any of these packs, leave a comment, pick Pack 1, 2, or 3 and tell me what you think the best game of the year is that nobody’s been paying attention to. In other words, what's the best underrated game you’ve played so far in 2010? I will put the name of everybody who enters into a hat, pick a random winner and send this stuff out. If nobody enters, I guess I'll just throw it out…


Writing: So, I've just been e-mailing with the co-author of the book I just finished, and at this particular point in time it seems like everything is completely done on our end. We're going to send it in to have it properly formatted and the publisher will be launching it online quite soon. At this particular second, I don't have any information on exactly which sites it will be available or what the pricing will be, but I will pass it along as soon as I know for sure. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Phone Call, and an Impromptu Survey  

Family: I don't talk about my kids all that much here at Drinking Coffeecola, not because I'm some sort of neglectful dude, but because I feel like they’re entitled to as much privacy as possible until they’re old enough to make a choice about whether they want to be "on the Internet" or not. That said, I do love them like crazy and every once in a while I'll mention a little something...

Regular readers here will know that I have two boys, only one of which lives with me full-time. The other is my oldest, and he lives pretty far away for most of the year, so our usual method of contact has been via his ‘other-home’ phone. This year the wife and I felt like he was old enough to give having his own cell phone a try, so we went out and got him one of those pay-as-you-go jobbies. I figured if he didn't actually use it, or if he couldn't take care of it, then we weren’t going to be locked into any kind of monthly fee.

Anyway, he took to it like a fish to water and showed us that he was extremely capable of using it responsibly. As a result, we've been keeping him stocked up on minutes, and he's practically a cell phone pro now. He's been sending me texts pretty regularly, which is really cool, but even better is that every once in a while he'll just randomly call me out of the blue.

It may not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but if you ever find yourself ending up on the non-custodial side of a separation or divorce proceeding, little things like this become infinitely valuable. Going from having a child in the house every day to only seeing them three times a year is a fundamentally life-altering experience, and the kind of simple phone call that most people take for granted everyday is incredibly precious to me.

I actually didn't intend to talk about this topic tonight, but just as I was about to begin writing today's blog, the son called me up just to chat. No reason. He didn't need anything, wasn’t asking for anything. He just called because he wanted to talk to his dear old dad. I can't even put into words what a great feeling that was, so I guess I just spent about 400 of them in a vain attempt.


Games: I was putting some time into a game I’m going to be reviewing soon, and I got to a point (about halfway) when I just felt no desire at all to keep going. So, instead of suffering through hours of boredom and apathy, I just stopped.

As a reviewer, I used to think that I needed to roll credits on every game that I wrote about, but I let go of that notion some time ago. There were just too many games that ran for too many hours without any good reason to do so, and there were also too many games that just weren't interesting or enjoyable. They just were. I eventually came to the conclusion that if a game wasn't able to keep my attention, then that was a statement worth making about the game overall.

I feel pretty good about this philosophy and it works well for me, but every once in a while I like to do a little reality check on myself to make sure I'm not coloring too far outside the lines. If you follow me on Twitter, then you probably saw me asking a question like this:

Would you characterize a game as “average quality” if it wasn't fun/engaging/interesting enough to keep your attention and motivate you to finish it?

It's granted that Twitter is not exactly the best place to have in-depth discussions and I probably could have phrased the question a little more clearly, but this wasn't any kind of scientific experiment and I was in search of some quick feedback.


So here's what I was getting at: In a nutshell, GameCritics uses the full 10-point scale. A score of 1 would be something that was atrociously bad, a score of 5 would be right in the middle, neither terrible nor commendable, and (of course) a 10 would be something you'd try to convince your grandma to play because it would just make her life that much better. We use *all* the numbers.


As I was playing this review game, I started to try and mentally place it on that scale. It wasn't broken and it wasn't terrible, but I did find it tedious enough that I did not want to finish -- that's a pretty big negative in my book, but then I started to wonder what other people's perceptions might be. Was I out of line in thinking that an ‘average quality’ game should at least be good enough to keep someone's attention until the end? If I gave this particular game a 5, would that be too high, since I was absolutely not going to put in the time to complete it?

Like I said, I put the question to Twitter and here's what I found:

14 people said an ‘average’ game should keep a player's attention until the end.

5 people said an ‘average’ game should not be expected to keep a player's attention until the end.

3 people mentioned suffering from ‘game ADD’ as the reason for stopping a game, although they might return to it later. (I would actually challenge this by saying that if the game was interesting enough in the first place, then you wouldn't be distracted by something else, but that's a debate for another time.)

1 person was undecided.

Richard Naik did not answer the question.

According to my totally empirical and unimpeachable results, it seems like most of the smart, attractive and charming people who follow me share my view that a totally average game should at least be good enough to make you want to roll credits on it.

However, this begs the question about the other side. I'm actually quite fascinated as to why some people didn't feel that it should be expected for an average title to be good/interesting/fresh enough to keep someone playing from start to finish.

I can think of a few reasons off the top of my head, but rather than feed myself an answer that may or may not be correct, I would very much like to hear from anyone who takes the view opposite to my own. If you are a person who thinks an average game doesn't need to be good enough to motivate you until the end, please leave a comment and let me know why!

(Although if you just want to comment and agree with me, that's alright too.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

PAX 2010 - The Scoop  


Another year, another great PAX.

If you've never been to the Penny Arcade Expo, it's debatably the best gathering to celebrate videogames and videogame culture on earth. E3 might win out in terms of sheer size, number of parties, and the incredible quantity of games on display, but PAX has never attempted to be direct competition. Instead, this convention focuses more on the gamers themselves, and in doing so, has become the preeminent place to be a gamer.

I've been to PAX several times, and every year it just gets better… and bigger. It's literally impossible for one man to cover the entire show, so I'm not even going to try that. Instead, I'll talk about what I saw and tell you what I thought, and hopefully that will be enough to pique your interest for the length of this article.

Maybe you'll even be interested enough to go next year.

(Before going on, I would first like to thank my wonderful gamer wife Gina and my little boy, Whittaker. I feel incredibly blessed that I was able to attend this event as a unit with my family, and that I did not need to leave my loved ones behind. Not everyone can say that, and as a gamer who’s also a dad and husband, I'm certainly aware of how lucky I am.)

So, PAX…



Walking the show floor, I was struck by two ‘social’ things; the first was that there seemed to be an extremely healthy number of girls and families attending, in addition to the usual mob of sweaty single dudes.

I'm really not that old, but I suppose I am in relation to how many new gamers are entering the fold. “Back in my day”, a convention of this sort would have been overwhelmingly male, with the only females in sight (and on-site) being PR reps or bored, disaffected girlfriends dragged along by their inattentive partners. That's just not true anymore.

I spent more than a bit of time people-watching, and I was continually impressed with the sheer number of girls who were there of their own accord. They were playing kiosks, they were making game-trivia jokes, they were buying used cartridges -- they were just being gamers. I can't even begin to express how overwhelmingly positive a shift this is.

The same went for families. Seeing babies and small kids (like mine) has been generally unheard of, but I was constantly seeing moms and dads with baby carriers strapped to their fronts and backs. There were a fair number of toddlers running up and down the aisles, and plenty of parents accompanying older kids as well. In other situations, I can say with first-hand experience that announcing yourself as a parent who plays games is analogous to pulling down your pants and announcing to the room that you have anal warts. Here at PAX, being a parent AND a game player is just the next normal phase of life.

The other ‘social’ thing that occurred to me was how fundamentally Twitter has changed the nature of networking and meeting people.

Although I've attended PAX several years in a row, 2010 was the best because I had friends in (literally) every corner of the building thanks to following and being followed. Although this was the first time I had met most of these people in person, they certainly weren't strangers and it was a lot less awkward than walking up to someone cold and trying to start a conversation.

Morning, noon, and night, Twitter provided constant access to the goings-on of people that I wanted to know about, and I was able to share tidbits of my day with them as well. It was incredibly easy to coordinate lunchtime meetings and evening plans. If I was somewhere and put out a tweet asking if anyone was in the area, there would inevitably be at least one or two people who could come over to say hi.

As an even better example, GameCritics teamed up with Gladriel to host a tweetup at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant directly across from the convention center. Thanks to this electronic network, we gathered an eclectic bunch who likely would have never sat down with each other to share a meal under any other circumstances. It was a similar situation at the Sega party later on -- there were plenty of people I knew of tangentially, but thanks to the tweets, seeing some of these people face-to-face for the first time was like meeting old friends.

I don't mean to be a Twitter evangelist, but the service has done wonders to turn a traditionally forum/IM-oriented circle into something that's alive, vibrant, and immediate. I can say with complete confidence that if you are not already on Twitter and using it faithfully, you are missing out.



While PAX doesn't boast an exhibition floor as gargantuan as E3’s, it can certainly hold its own. With display spaces packed to the gills with upcoming games and vendors, there’s still plenty to see, and it takes quite a bit of time to get through it all. That said, in terms of quality I’d have to say that (in general) the selection was a bit lacking. I don't think it has anything to do with PAX itself; I took the uninspiring software and predictable entries to be more indicative of the industry overall. Still, there are things to talk about…

Biggest surprise – Mortal Kombat. If you had asked me before the show, I would've told you that MKII was the last time anyone gave a damn about it, including myself. After today, I suspect that might change.

Taking a cue from Street Fighter’s back-to-its-roots reinvention, the developers of Mortal Kombat have apparently decided that it's time to drop all the goofiness and stupidity that has infiltrated the franchise over the years. Rather than being another parody of itself, this new iteration was dark, brutal, and unbelievably gory – even for a Mortal Kombat.

The crowd around the kiosks was electric, gathering around to whoop and cheer with each Fatality more explicit than the last. The dissections and decapitations weren't limited to the end of each round, though. During the fight, there were frequent CSI-style close-ups and X-ray views of internal damage being wrought. It was brutal stuff.

With redesigned characters, a roster that seems to include all of the fan favorites, and (apparently) limiting combat to a strictly 2D plane, this might just be the return to form that the series has badly needed for so long.

Most Improved – While I enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, I will be the first to say that it needed a lot of work. The story carried me through, but I didn't care for the combat and the graphics/presentation was sorely lacking. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with some of the developers and take part in a brief fifteen minute demo of Dragon Age 2 at PAX, and while there are still some question marks about the final product, my initial impression is that this sequel is a top-to-bottom renovation in every way. It looked so good, in fact, that I really don't think I'd be able to go back to the first game now.

The biggest shift in the formula is that combat now takes place in real time for whichever character is currently under the player's control. All of the same menus, options, and strategy are still there -- the only difference is that rather than selecting a power or ability, the player presses a button and the action happens at that exact second. It may be a bit of a shock to some people, but after having seen it in action, I would definitely agree with the developers that this was a better way to go.

Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider - A supremely friendly fellow! 
Graphics have received as much of an overhaul as the combat has. The visuals are now on par with the lushly-illustrated Mass Effect, and every aspect displays a much higher level of quality. The magic and skill effects are improved, and the supporting elements like the HUD and menus have been totally polished up, as well. Players (like myself) who journeyed through Ferelden on consoles will be quite shocked at the overall jump in quality.

The Other Stuff – Tron Evolution: The Video Game was looking pretty good. Although the developers have apparently not had much time to put the game together, what they have done is quite respectable. The neon world and light cycles return, but the game now features a surprising parkour element with the main character performing wall-runs and some platforming maneuvers. Also interesting to note is that the feature film in theaters will use sections of the game for certain flashback sequences, and the continuity between the two is canon. (Unfortunately, the developer I spoke with dismissed any possible link between Tron Evolution and Tron 2.0. I can't say that was expected, but I'm still a bit disappointed.)

Front Mission: Evolved - Taking a detour from every other FM game ever created, this new installment bears more than a passing resemblance (i.e.- almost exactly like) the Armored Core series by FromSoft. In fact, if I had to describe it, I’d call it AC-Lite. I'm interested as a mech fan, but what I saw didn't exactly set my imagination on fire.

Battle Vs. Chess - Knowing nothing about this game except the title, it quickly made a place for itself on my day-one-purchase list once I laid hands on it. The game is essentially chess, but pretties things up with some extremely sharp-looking character models and backgrounds while adding some… uh, ‘nontraditional’… twists to the formula. In one mode, the pieces are placed randomly on the board. In another, players can "defend" aggressive moves by literally having the pieces fight each other. One of the most interesting, though, was the campaign mode where each level is a puzzle taken from famous matches in real-world chess history. This game isn't going to be for everyone, but it sure as hell is for me.

Two Worlds II - The original Two Worlds was little more than a punchline for most, but the developers have gone back to the drawing board and have come up with something that seems to be an order of magnitude better. An open-world RPG in the Oblivion vein, TWII instead delivers a third-person viewpoint and puts heavy, heavy emphasis on player customization. Not only does the main character have an appearance that can be altered, every weapon in the game can be broken down into component elements and used to modify or upgrade other weapons. Magic spells can also be changed on-the-fly to add, subtract, change, or completely transform their effects. In one example, I saw a spell go from a simple lighting bolt to an area-effect blast, and from there it transformed into a lightning-absorbing shield before becoming a simple light spell – all in the span of a minute or so. Players who enjoy tinkering with gear and abilities are going to be in hog heaven.

Hunted: The Demon’s Forge - This co-op game can be boiled down to something like “Fantasy-themed Gears of War”, but in my book that's not necessarily a bad thing. If a title is going to offer a multiplayer component, my preference is always for campaign-based co-op, and that's exactly what this game delivers. With one character focused on melee and the other on long-range sniping with a bow and arrows, there's plenty of potential here for some fairly epic adventuring, buddy-style. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

The Downloads and Indies - Unsurprisingly, some of the most fresh and original titles on display at PAX were the smaller ones. The first that caught my attention was About a Blob. Soon available on PSN, this bright and colorful game offers physics-based puzzling with a blob that absorbs whatever’s nearby. Imagine a smaller, 2D Katamari Damacy that has puzzles and you won't be too far off.

Outland – An unusual mix of platformer and bullet-hell shmup with a healthy dose of Shadow of the Colossus thrown in, this one was a favorite of many passers-by.

Super Meat Boy - I've heard tons about this game, and after finally getting a chance to check it out first hand, it seems as though much of that chatter is warranted. An old-school-ish take on hyper-difficult platforming, this one seems tailor-made for masochists… yet I found it somewhat irresistible.

Swarm - Take a large group of disposable blue creatures, group them together, and then try to navigate them through obstacles and puzzles, most of which are lethal - that's Swarm. The interesting thing about this title to me was that the individual had no importance: the name of the game is sacrifice for the many. When trying to leap across a chasm, the swarmlets stacked atop each other in a pendulous pile in order to make a big jump. The creatures at the top made it, but the ones at the bottom… well, let's just say that they died for a greater cause. Thankfully, the swarm can be repopulated quickly and easily to prepare for each new deathtrap, whether it be saw blades, tossing themselves into machinery, or just a good, old-fashioned explosion.

Bastion – Currently without plans for a specific download service (watch that change in a New York minute) this title will without a doubt be snapped up by some publisher by the time the show’s over. Visually reminiscent of something along the lines of Boktai, this stunningly beautiful project revolves around a world broken up into fragments, and the player’s quest to reconstruct it. Words cannot do this game justice, so make sure to watch the trailer.

There were a few other notables that warrant further investigation, specifically Hoard, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, and Plane Weaver. I ran out of time on the floor, though, so I can’t speak on them in any detail. Still, appearances were very promising.


I don't often comment about public relations reps, but this year I’d like to give special praise to Aubrey Norris of SouthPeak Games, Shaun Norton of Sandbox Strategies, and Lawrence Lacsamana of FortySeven Communications. All three of these folks knew what to do and how to do it, and as a critic who sometimes has to hustle and deal, it was a pleasure to work with some people who were happy to work with me.

On the other hand, I was more than a little put off by the quality of representatives at the Ubisoft booth.

After something caught my eye in Ubi’s area, I had a few questions to ask, but there were no reps in sight. I looked around and found a developer, but he couldn't stop playing his own game long enough to speak to me. Instead, he directed me to a desk around the corner, and when I got there, the person at the desk said she had no idea who I should talk to or where the person in charge was. I offered a business card and asked if she would pass it along to the person who dealt with such things, but she wouldn't take it. When I asked specifically who I should talk to in order to set up a line of communication, she shrugged and said “we don't really do that here, this isn't E3.”

Is this really how PR should be handled, Ubisoft? Somehow, I don't think so.


Best Snack

On the second floor of the convention center near the Rock Band stage, there was a small juice bar and healthy food café tucked away from sight. While their tuna sandwiches were great and the orange Creamsicle smoothies were too, the best thing was a special wheatgrass drink they made that blended the pungent juice with lemon, lime, and cayenne pepper. Instant perk-up GET!!


Cos/Dis Play

What fan-oriented convention would be complete without dozens of people walking around in fantastic (and some not-so-fantastic) outfits? There were a few impressive-looking costumes that we didn't manage to snap when the camera's batteries died (Renegade Shepard and Battle-Damaged Garrus come to mind) but more than a few were happy to pose before the Duracells ran dry. Also included: some of the more interesting floor displays and statuary. I think these speak for themselves, but you know what? Comments follow anyway…

In random order:

This guy is at PAX every single year. He never misses.

No line-jumping! Hold those media bastards back!!

PAX took up every floor you see here, and more.

My son couldn't stay away from this giant dino. We visited it at least 50 times.

Apparently MS was pissed that these guys were backlit.

This was fifteen minutes before the crowds were let in. The floor was never this empty again.

My son Whittaker, racing to get a place in the Killzone 3 line.

At PAX, this isn't odd in any way.

Can he really see through that orange glow?

Bees about to take the Rock Band stage.

Subway sandwiches are the preferred sustenance of Black Mages.

No clue what this was advertising.

Seriously, take a shower before you come to PAX.

I have NO IDEA how she got someone to fit inside that Servbot.


I'm guessing the big blue guy isn't the brains of this crew.

That line of people against the windows? All sprawled out on beanbags. Downstairs, too.

A Big Daddy, a Little Sister, and... a maid?


For Gallia!!!

Still looking for that damned Ring.

Can you spare 1.21 gigawatts?

...And there you have it. This year’s coverage is a wrap, but endless thanks to Jerry, Mike, and the rest of the Penny Arcade crew for making such an amazing thing happen. PAX is always a high point of every year for me, and I hope it keeps going for many, many more.