Sunday, September 30, 2012

Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2012  


Events: This weekend was the 7th annual Retro Gaming Expo, taking place in Portland, Oregon. Since it was just a three-hour drive away, and I had never attended the RGE before, I made the trip accompanied by my wife and youngest son. 

Game family…Gooooooooooo!
The event occupied one floor of the Portland Convention Center, and was split into two sections, more or less: on one half was an area dedicated to used games, various game-related items for sale, arts and crafts, and other things for people looking to add to their collections. The other half was a series of arcade cabinets, pinball machines, and home consoles set up on TVs for people to sit down and play for free.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked in, but I have to say that the place won me over immediately. At the beginning of the show, there were loud 80s tunes being pumped through the sound system. That, combined with the banks of arcade cabinets instantly took me back to my teenage years when arcades were actually a regular, normal thing. Tons of classics were there, in addition to some lesser-known titles I had never seen before. The fact that they were all set up on free play was like one of my childhood dreams come true.

It had also been quite a while since I'd seen a pinball machine live and in person, so to see so many and in such good shape was a real treat. The same went for the home consoles. Although I grew up having an Atari 2600, a Vectrex, and pretty much everything from the NES onward, there were still gaps in my game history that got filled at the show. (See below...)

My son, using a joystick for the first time, ever.

On a slightly different note, it was a genuine thrill to be able to bring my youngest son to see all of these still-functioning artifacts. Although he’s seen arcade cabinets here and there, they aren't nearly as common as they used to be. He was buzzing with excitement to try each and every one. Even better, this was his very first time ever seeing pinball or old-school joysticks. He had absolutely no idea what to do with either one of them, although he knew right off the bat that they were games of some sort... getting a chance to give him this kind of first-person hands-on history lesson has been one of the highlights of my year.

Leaving the play floor, I spent a good amount of time combing through the old games for sale, and I was very impressed with the level of handmade art. There were some truly amazing wall hangings made out of perler beads, and there were some wooden cut-outs that were nice enough to be hanging in the office of any game-oriented CEO. Although I walked away with a couple of things, I could have easily spent a ton more money…

I wanted that Ryu piece on my wall SO BAD!
There were other happenings to see and do at the show such as several panels that were being given (a few by Atari-age legends David Crane and Garry Kitchen) and I would have really liked hearing some of the chiptune performances that were taking place, but part of being a good parent is knowing when your little ones are running out of juice and packing it up. My small man put up a valiant fight, but he's still just a tiny guy. He’s getting there, though!

Even though we left a little early by game convention standards, we still had a great time and it was a unique experience to see so much old-school goodness concentrated into one place at one time. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who's able to attend, and I could easily see this becoming part of my regular yearly routine.

… and since a picture is worth a thousand words, let me leave you with the images below.


It's hard to tell, but everyone here is playing an arcade machine, just like the olden days.


Haven't seen one of these in years!


That thing must have been SO hard to carry around.

They had some great pinball machines, but I'm pretty sure that's an Alien and not a 'Space Invader'...


A legion of pinball fans. Lots of pinging sounds.

NES carts by the boatload to be had.


Pretty sure this is the Magnavox Odyssey 2. Had never seen this IRL before. I'm a n00b, I know.


Colecovision, another one I've never had a personal history with.


These wall-hangings were totally sweet.


Take a VERY CLOSE LOOK at the game title on display here.


The Interton VC 4000. Had never even HEARD of this thing before.


My son playing Pac-Man on an Apple II Plus


The obligatory Star Wars reference to maintain my nerd cred after that embarrassing Magnavox admission.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tokyo Jungle and Indie Info!  


Games: If you follow me on twitter, then you already know that I've been putting all of my game time over the last week or so into Tokyo Jungle on PSN.

In case it hasn't been on your radar, it's been talked about as a game that pits a variety of different animals against each other in a city devoid of people. That's true enough on the surface, but there's a lot more to it than that... basically, it's a hybridized Roguelike that asks people to take a particular breed of animal and help it survive as long as possible in an environment that grows deadlier and deadlier with each passing in-game year.

The production values are pretty low and it suffers from generalized roughness (and yes, that’s a scientific term) but it's unlike anything else I've played this year and you can just feel the energy and sincerity poured into it by the developers. I've been addicted to it since the first day, and I just completed the story mode about an hour or so ago. There were definitely a few frustration spikes, but the ending was kind of sweetly poignant and you can eventually unlock dinosaurs although it takes a pretty long time, so that evens things out.

The game hit PSN today (9/25) for $15.  My full review is done and should be up at Gamecritics pretty soon. In the meantime, I feel safe in saying that if you’re the sort of player who enjoys creative, unique games that may be a little on the unpolished side, then this one is well worth the price of admission. 


Retro: A couple of days ago, I came across a really fantastic retrospective taking a look at the Fear Effect games from PS1 by Mick Fraser (@jedi_beats_tank).  

If you weren’t playing games when they debuted, then it's pretty likely that you either know nothing about them, or have heard that they had some kind of lesbian sex scenes... the real story is that these titles were way, way, way ahead of their time and they deserved a much better fate than they got. 

Anyway, check it out here and read for yourself…


Indies: Over the course of running this blog, I've made various offers to promote indie games wherever I can. Tonight, I have a couple of people who’ve taken me up on it.

The first: Stained: the Game. Although I haven't played the demo of this one, I watched the trailers and it looks pretty interesting... I can't call very many games that use pieces of stained glass as a central element, so from that perspective alone, it's worth a look.

Here's the page for the game itself, and here is the game on Steam Greenlight.

The second: Jason McGrevy of Cryptstone dropped me a line to let me know that their game, Star Prospector, is now in the IndieFort bundle along with twenty other titles. Here's the info, straight from Jason himself:

We're very pleased to announce that Star Prospector, along with over 20 other unique and awesome indie games will be part of the IndieFort Championship Bundle on GamersGate starting September 10th! The IndieFort Championship Bundle will run for 3 weeks. There will be 24 games available to purchase via a bronze (3 games at $3.99), Silver (6 games at $6.99), Gold (9 games at $8.99) and Platinum (All games for a yet to be confirmed price) pack at a substantially lower price than if purchased individually. In addition, players will be able to vote via facebook for their favourite games, and on the 21st of September the 3 games with the largest number of votes will become part of a 1 week champions pack being sold for $3.00. The full list of games included in the bundle is as follows:

Star Prospector
Blue Libra
Tiny and Big: Grandpa's Leftovers
Cardinal Quest
Devil Whiskey
Sentinel 3: Homeworld
Three Dead Zed
Orbitron: Revolution
Hacker Evolution Duality
Zombie Football Carnage
Girl with a Heart of
A Sirius Game
Will Fight for Food
Dark Scavenger
Telepath RPG: Servants of God
AirBuccaneers HD (Alpha)
DEMISE: Ascension
Survivors of Ragnarok
Shepherd Slaughter
Black Market
Project Black Sun
Cell Emergence

The bundle can be found on GamersGate via the link and a new indie dev community has been set up on IRC via - channel #indiegathering where players and press can chat with devs.

So there you go, and my apologies to both Jason and IndieFort for taking so long to make this announcement. I got a bit swamped and it got lost in the shuffle, so that's on me. However, there are still FIVE DAYS LEFT, so jump on it now and you won't be too late.


TV: Just a few quick words on what I've been watching lately before I wrap tonight's entry... The first thing I wanted to mention was that Doctor Who is still disappointing me. I really don't know why I'm still bothering to watch it, honestly. I haven't enjoyed it since Smith’s first episode and I should probably quit, but I keep hoping it will get better. 

The most recent episode (Power of Three) was a slapdash mess that spent too much time on a ridiculously thin plot and not nearly enough on the characters which will be leaving the show soon. Speaking of which, why isn't Amy off the show already? And why are they bringing River back for the next episode? And… And… Aaargh.

Apart from that, the wife and I finally got around to watching the first episode of Farscape. Neither one of us had ever seen it before, and we're sort of in the market for a new show to watch at the moment. 

Knowing almost nothing about it before we downloaded it from Netflix, I think it was basically good stuff although the wife thought the acting was horrific. I didn't think it was quite that bad, but it definitely suffers from that "first episode" syndrome that plagues nearly every show. If it doesn't get better by the end of the season we may bail, but we're in it for now.

Otherwise, Alphas, Warehouse 13 and Psych are our weekly favorites... thumbs up to all three.


Writing: Edits and rewrites progress on Speaking in Forked Tongues. I’m about 50% done with the first major pass, and I'm on track to have the new version submitted to my publisher -- it's a big reason why I haven't been blogging as much lately! There are only so many hours in the day!

Anyhoo, thanks for your patience with the infrequent updates, and I'll be back on schedule with the blogging once this is all wrapped up... probably two more weeks or so.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - Wii U & 3DS  


Games: Presented without comment are some screenshots from the upcoming...

I think these images from the 3DS version speak for themselves. 








Sunday, September 16, 2012

My book resurfaces, Infinity Blade 2, and The Doctor Is Ill  


Writing: I haven't talked about writing here at the blog for quite a while, mostly due to not having enough time to devote to it between my family and my duties over at Gamecritics. However, I'm happy to say that publication of my second book, Speaking in Forked Tongues, is finally moving forward.

I've been asked to make a few stylistic and content changes by the publisher, so I'm currently in revisions and tweaking a few things here and there. The biggest shift will be that I'm toning down the horror and gore factor quite a bit in order to make it friendlier to the younger reader market. There wasn't a lot of sex in the book to start with, but I'm also making some cuts there, as well.

I'll have more details in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for further news!


Games: I’m currently in the middle of a marvelous little window of time where I don't have any reviews that need to be done, so I took the chance to pick a few titles out of my back catalogue and get caught up. After three days of fairly steady play, I put the wraps on Infinity Blade II.

In general it's a solid game, and was certainly enjoyable. While I think I prefer the first title’s streamlined focus, there are definitely some cool bits here, as well.

Although I don't think anyone would make the case that this game hinges on its plot, there were a few little revelations to keep the franchise going. In addition, I’m a big fan of the visual style... all of the bizarre armor is rather striking, and no one can argue that this series is at the forefront of graphics when it comes to the iPhone. It's also worth noting that the critical path was pretty easy to clear, with some very powerful weapons become available with relatively little effort. I would certainly say that this one was easier than the first game, and that's not a bad thing.

So what wasn't so good? The layout of the castle was a little confusing, especially whenever I was searching for one particular room and couldn't remember where I had seen it previously. Since there's no going backwards, making one wrong turn and getting sent back to the start got old after a while.
That wasn't really a big deal (making my own map with a piece of paper and pen solved it pretty quickly) but a larger problem was that the game requires expensive weapons to be purchased in order to see all of the extra bosses.

If you ask me, making the player buy the Infinity Blade itself in either game is pretty stupid – especially in IB1 -- but grinding for one big item isn't a dealbreaker. The straw that broke the camel's back was knowing that I'd have to grind for at least three more weapons past the Infinity Blade, and that’s not even including the “costs $1,000,000” weapon needed for the super-uber-crazy hidden boss at the end.

(And apparently, there’s stuff that costs even more past that…)

To be fair, there was very little grinding necessary in order to complete the main quest and a lot of the stuff I'm griping about is purely extra, but still... As someone who enjoyed going after and kicking the asses of the hidden bosses in IB1, it's a little annoying to know that there's stuff in IB2 that I just can't be arsed to work towards. I beat the main quest, collected all of the Vile equipment and the secret ring that comes after, and I have to admit that if the in-app purchases were a little more reasonably-priced, I'd be pretty tempted to pony up and push forward. I just can't see putting $40 or $60 into the game to avoid grinding, though.

Although I don't feel great about it, I'm sticking a fork in this one and calling it done.


TV: Although I call myself a fan of Doctor Who, I've got to be honest in saying that I haven't really enjoyed the show ever since Russell T. Davies left. It's just been lacking the human element that I always found so appealing. It’s been lacking the character work. I'm a fan of sci-fi shows in general, but I need them to have a little meat to them, and the first four seasons of the Doctor fit that bill nicely. Once season four wrapped, things went downhill and they haven't recovered. That isn't news, though... I've said that a few times here at the blog.

I was really hoping that things would turn around this season, but it hasn't happened. I'm still looking forward to Amy and Rory leaving (although I still think having Amy die and Rory be the sole companion would have been a brilliant maneuver) and I'm damn glad that River hasn't shown her face again, but the writing just isn't clicking for me.

Scanning for depth... NO SIGNS FOUND!!
The first episode (Dalek asylum) seemed to take too many shortcuts and had too many big events happening within a short span of time. The dinosaurs episode had the Doctor basically executing the bad guy and missed out on several obvious opportunities for some great character work with Rory’s dad and/or Amy & Rory as they relate to the Doc himself. The most recent episode (the Western) was probably the best one of the season so far, but it still felt very uneven. If you ask me, this would have been a perfect place to go a little deeper with regard to the Doctor’s past, but again, the opportunity was not taken. As my friend @Sajon77 astutely observes via Twitter, it's as if the current show is trying hard to ignore the decades of series backstory at all costs.

Although I do enjoy Matt Smith, it seems to me that he has been given the worst material since the reboot began, and he doesn't have a lot to work with. As such, his portrayal seems to be slipping deeper into a weird caricature that's too goofy and too clueless. A little bit was charming, but I feel as though it's becoming a crutch in the absence of anything more substantial for him to build on as an actor. Apart from growing disillusioned with the great doctor,I'm counting the minutes until we say farewell to the abrasive Ms. Pond. Never liked her, and I like her even less now. 

Even though her departure will be a minor victory in itself, I can’t honestly say that I'm expecting things to get much better overall, and that's a real shame, since seasons 1-4 were some of the best hours I’ve spent in front of a television in recent memory.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hitman Sniper Challenge, XBLI Indie Uprising, and Monster Hunter Wii U  

I've got a pile of stuff on my desk that I've meant to blog at one point or another, so tonight's entry? 



Homeschool: My wife and I homeschool our young son, and if my oldest comes to live with us at some point, we plan to homeschool him as well. This is a touchy topic for a lot of people on both sides of the issue, but I recently came across an article that addresses a large part of why we decided to take ourselves out of the public education system. I’ve had a few people ask me about it over the last few days, so in case you're curious, here you go.


Games: The good people of 17 Bit Studios have cooked up a new trailer for their upcoming title, Skulls of the Shogun.  I've talked about this game plenty of times so I don't want to beat a dead horse (you're all buying it, right?) But in case you've somehow missed me mentioning it, check out the video and keep your eyes peeled... Last I heard, it's coming in October.


After playing Hitman: Absolution at PAX, I felt a lot more confident about it and decided to put $5 down at Gamestop in order to play the Sniper Challenge demo level.

Basically, it's a micro-level available for download right now. Agent 47 is perched on a rooftop opposite from a party taking place on top of a neighboring building. The object is to take out one particular guy, but there's also a score-based element where shooting certain things increases a points multiplier, and in addition to that, it's more than just shooting. With careful aim, it's possible to take out the enemies in true Hitman fashion without alerting anyone that something is up.

It only takes a few minutes to complete but there are loads of little touches and small little secrets to find, and the drive to beat your friends ranked higher than you on the leaderboard is pretty strong. If you're planning to buy the game anyway, it's totally worth putting a couple bucks down for this and playing it now.


I haven't tried it yet, but apparently the soundtrack to Double Dragon Neon is pretty sweet. It's available here to download for free, or you can do the cool thing and donate a couple of bucks to the composer if you wish.


The third Indie Uprising is taking place on XBLI right now, and a good chunk of titles are already out. In case you're not familiar, you can click here to read up on what the Uprising is all about in greater detail, but basically it's a way to showcase the best of what XBLI can offer.

I didn't have time to play through all of them, but here are some quick thoughts on the ones that I did check out:

>Qrth-Phyl: It's a ridiculous name, but it was by far my favorite of the group. Basically, it's Snake + Tron, but has an added twist of going back and forth between 2D and 3D. A level starts out with a snake eating dots on a flat plane that can be flipped, but after enough have been eaten, a hole opens up in the plane and the snake can enter free-flying 3D space. The presentation is super-slick and it controls smoothly. Bought this one on the spot.

>Setentia: This one shouldn't have been included in the promotion. The graphics are ugly, it's clunky to control, the basic concept of play is a non-starter and it's got a wordy ‘art’ vibe to it that makes the whole thing a little bit ridiculous since it's such a poor game. I could go on in greater detail, but there's no point. Just avoid this one.

Diehard Dungeon
>Diehard Dungeon: Sort of a real-time quasi-Roguelike, I bought this one after the first couple of minutes, but then started to regret my purchase. The old-school graphics are great and I like the idea of combining random dungeons with fast action. On the other hand, I wasn't hitting power ups fast enough to keep things fresh and the rooms feel too similar -- basically, break a bunch of boxes until you find a key while dodging or killing creatures. Open the door, move on to the next room, repeat. The thing that really killed it for me was that the boxes that hold items take too many hits to break, and it just started to annoy me after a while. With a little work this one could be pretty awesome, and apparently it's getting patched soon. I’ll revisit in a while and see how it's been tweaked.

>Gateways!: The easiest way to describe this one is that it's a 2D Metroidvania-ish title where the main mechanic is a Portal gun. I have to admit that style counts for a lot with me, and I didn't care for the graphics in this one at all. Also, I've already played Portal twice (three times, if you count the section in Darksiders) and it's not really novel anymore. I appreciate that the developer was able to implement it in this way, but at the same time, it felt a little too cumbersome and not fresh enough to keep my attention. I didn't get very far, but based on what I saw, I didn't want to keep going.


So, the Wii U announced a release date, launch titles, tech specs, and all that stuff. You can click here if you want to read up on it yourself, but I'm not going to go into details.

Long story short, I wasn't very keen on it up until this point, and after the announcement, I still wasn't. However, the one bright spot to come out of this (no, I don't really care about Bayonetta) is that Capcom FINALLY announced a new Monster Hunter as a Wii U exclusive.

MH: 3 Ultimate will be coming in March, apparently… so I will be getting a Wii U in March.  It was the only name that could have possibly been announced that would have convinced me to make plans to buy the hardware, and there it is.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm slightly disappointed. MH3 (Tri in the US) is a good game for sure, but it's not my favorite and I'm still quite frustrated that Capcom hasn’t made any moves to bring MH: Portable 3rd to the states. That's the one that I was really hoping would get here sooner rather than later, especially since there’s an HD version that can be played on the PS3 instead of the PSP.

When it comes to MH I'll take what I can get, but it's been a constant source of frustration to hear Capcom say over and over that the franchise just isn't popular in the West, yet they've never really given it a proper chance. I still say that if they took a full-fledged, meaty title like the PSP's amazing MH: Freedom Unite and put it on PS3 or 360 with full online capabilities, it would take off like a rocket. 

Instead, here they go again with another Nintendo version… The core fans like myself will jump on, of course, but this feels like another half-step of progress for a franchise that's rotting on the vine.


The AbleGamers Foundation is pleased to announce the unveiling
of Includification—a 48 page, fully illustrated how-to guide for 
videogame developers and publishers road-mapping the exact
solutions needed to design an accessible game.

 “For nearly a decade, our organization has been reaching out
to developers convincing them they need to include accessibility
 for gamers with disabilities,” said Mark Barlet, President and
Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation. “As that message has
been increasingly accepted in the video game industry, the question
has slowly turned into “Okay, we need to make our games accessible, but how?””

“We believe this document and its companion website will serve to answer any questions a
developer might have about the solutions needed to make their
 games accessible to the disability community,” continued
Mr. Barlet. “What thrills me the most is that our recommendations
can be updated via the website as new technology and information arises. 
The videogame industry is a living breathing entity and we need to
treat it as such by updating information as it comes in.”

“Words cannot express how extremely proud I am of this document,
this organization and everyone who helped bring this together. 
This is the culmination of the hard work and dedication everyone
at our nonprofit has put in over the last 8 years,” said Steve Spohn,
Editor-in-Chief of “It is my sincerest wish that a
 copy of this document sits on the desk of every developer, in the
resource area of every library and with every major publisher across
the world. It's time game accessibility leaped to the next level and
these guidelines show developers exactly how to enable gamers
with disabilities in the easiest, most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.”

The AbleGamers publication, Includification, includes numerous
detailed explanations of common problems for gamers with
 disabilities, solutions for those problems, printable checklists,
developer exercises and personal letters from industry insiders
to the game industry.  You can download Includification for free
at The companion website
 with easy-to-read references can be found at  A physical print copy is available
at-cost from


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Steam Greenlight, Mark of the Ninja, and Tekken Tag 2  


Swag: To start off the blog tonight, I’d like to announce the winner of the PAX swag.  Thanks to everyone for entering, but there’s only one package to give away.  I’m sorry that I don’t have enough to send to everyone, but that’s how it goes.  In any event, I put everyone’s name into a hat and had my son pick one at random.  The winner is: Justin Knowles.

Congrats, J!  Send me an e-mail and tell me where you want me to send your stuff!


Indies: So I’ve been thinking a lot about this Steam Greenlight thing for a couple of days, trying to come at it from a few different angles.  I had originally written up a blog post about it, but after discussing it a little further with some (very smart) friends of mine, I decided to do something else.

 So, here’s the deal.  If you are an indie developer who’s got a complete game or at least a playable demo and you are legitimately unable to come up with the $100 to list it on Greenlight, get in touch with me and I will be happy to do what I can to spread the word.

Although I’m not able to fund people out of my own pocket, I’ve got this blog, and Twitter as good ways to get in touch with folks, and I’m sure that there would be plenty of people willing to cough up a couple of bucks to help a great-looking game make it in the world.

You don’t need to prove anything to me about your financial situation, and you don’t need to write me your life story.  There’s no time limit on this, and I’m not asking for anything in return.  I’m just a guy who supports indie games and indie developers, and this is something that’s within my power to do to help further that cause.  If this sounds like something that would be a benefit to you, then please send me an e-mail and we will see while we can do.


Games: As much fun as PAX was, I feel like it really threw a wrench into my gameplay schedule.  I’m just now settling back into a groove, and really looking forward to getting into the upcoming end-of-year reviews crunch. It'll be madness, but there's some great stuff due out sooooooon....

At the moment, I’m playing Mark of the Ninja. I did an interview with one of the developers earlier (scroll down) but the full game is now out for purchase on XBLA and it’s pretty sweet for anyone who’s into stealth and ninjas.  And really, who’s not?

I won’t be doing the main review, but I can say that I’ve really enjoyed my time with it so far, and that it plays like buttery silk. Silky butter? Either way, it's easily one of the best XBLA titles in 2012, no doubt.


My next official review will be Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which I’m also playing right now.

I’m a long-time Tekken fan, going back all the way to 1994, when I found it in an arcade for the very first time and completely flipped out at how cool it was.  I was pretty poor back then, but I dumped every quarter I had into that machine and never regretted it.

(And by the way, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW, it’s just some brief thoughts. Embargo, yo.)

So TTT2.  

In a technical sense, this is certainly one of the best games in the series, overall.  There are tons of extras, the customization of characters is great, in the roster is huge.  As of right now (prior to any upcoming DLC) there’s already something like 50 fighters or so.  There are whole modes I haven’t even touched yet, and I saw an in-depth look at the online site analysis mode, and that was a giant, sucking rabbit hole of stats and information.  Certain heads are going to explode when they see how much stuff is being offered here.

To on the other hand… It’s pretty f****** hard.

Although I’m certainly rusty after not having been playing the game in any serious sense for a couple of years, I’m no a slouch.  At the very least, I’ve always been able to hold to my own and not walk away from any multiplayer sessions with my tail between my legs.

This game is something else, though.  I’ve had it set to the easiest difficulty level for the last two days and I still haven’t been able to beat the final boss, Jun Kazama.  Tonight I tried something like 40 or 50 times in a row, and never put her down.  Not only is she incredibly difficult, certain encounters during the Arcade mode have mad spikes in challenge, and the game goes from being fun and interesting to F$&#@!&# in a hurry.

...And now.
It's pretty clear that this game is aimed at serious fighting fans and that's cool, but when a game is set to Easy, I expect it to be pretty easy. My kids like to play fighting games with me, and even the lowest difficulty here is far beyond their abilities. There's no chance for us to play together on this one, and as a critic playing on my own, I'd like to beat the game with as many characters as possible. It's just not feasible in a game with over 50 characters to spend two or three days with just one and still not be able to finish.

I'm sure people will come out of the woodwork to say that I suck or that I just need to practice more -- and those statements may be true -- but I've played a hell of a lot of fighting games over the years, and I think I've got a pretty good sense of when things are a little out of whack. At the moment, I'm really hoping that Namco Bandai will put out a patch and lower the difficulty for those who want it. People who like a stiff challenge will be in hog heaven here, but in its current state, I see it scaring off a lot of casual and non-hardcore players.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

PAX Prime 2012, Day Three  


PAX: Today was the last day of PAX Prime 2012, and as such, this is my final writeup covering the event. 

I don’t know about anyone else, but this year seemed a little weird to me.  The crowds seemed a little harder to push through, people seemed a little crankier and a little more rude…  It wasn’t terrible by any means, but the vibe felt a little off.  Maybe it was just me, but there you go.

Weird vibes aside, PAX offered the same set of problems that it usually does. Even with three full days, there’s not enough time to see and play all of the games, and there’s definitely not enough time to sit down and have a cup of coffee or a meal with all of the people that I wanted to see.  Although I did manage to catch up with a good number of people and I coincidentally bumped into many that I knew on the floor, it’s still depressing to think that there were plenty of folks that I couldn’t successfully connect with, and that I likely won’t get a chance again for at least a year.

In any event, enough sentimentality and on with the coverage!


My first event of the day was one of my most anticipated - Dishonored, from Bethesda.  When I sat down with the game, I asked Seth Shain, one of the developers, to show me all the highlights and details that I might miss walking into the game cold.  He was happy to oblige, and I hit him with every question I could think of.

Without getting into too much detail, I was most concerned with whether Dishonored was really as open-ended and flexible as has been advertised.  After all, some games let players make minor choices (blow up the enemy/strangle the enemy/snipe the enemy) while still funneling them down the same basic paths. 

The short answer?  From what I could tell, the game lets the player do what they want, how they want, when they want. Of course, there are certain limits since the developers can only include so much content, but the demo level that I played through was quite impressive.  Within a few minutes, Seth showed me no fewer than six different ways to enter the building where my target was located, and none was “right” or” wrong”.  It was all about how stealthy a player wanted to be, and what skills they chose to use. (once inside the building, there were a slew of different ways to accomplish the objective, but that’s a different discussion.)

Over the course of the discussion, he mentioned that Thief and Deus Ex had been sources of inspiration for Dishonored, and in fact, several members of the Dishonored team had actually worked on Deus Ex.  For fans of free-form play and stealth, I can’t think of anything that would inspire more confidence than that.

A couple of factoids:
>The game features multiple endings.  Two main branches, with multiple variations of each.
>It’s possible to complete the entire game without killing a single character.
>It’s possible to complete the entire game without being seen by anyone.
>The world reacts, alters and adjusts in response to each person’s playstyle.
>In addition to missions, the player can steal various valuable loot items.

I was already excited going into this hands-on, and after seeing it for myself and finding out even more information, this game has secured a place for itself at the top of my PLAY ASAP list.


Speaking of stealthy, free-form games, it just so happened that my next appointment was at Squeenix to see Hitman: Absolution.  I’ve been a huge fan of the series since Silent Assassin, but in all honesty, it feels like franchise has been in a bit of trouble lately. Blood Money wasn’t quite to my liking, and with all the talk of the changes made to the formula (run and gun as a valid option?!?) I was more than a little concerned.  Thankfully, Hitman developer Tore Blystad was available to give me an insider’s peek at the demo level, and I’m happy to say that he calmed all of my fears.

Hitman: Absolution
The section that was available to play featured an important person of some sort wandering a crowded Asian town square.  I requested that Tore show me as many ways to complete the level as possible, but we only had time for four: sniper rifle, bomb, poisoned drugs, and the most direct route – a bullet straight to the face at pointblank range.  That was just the tip of the iceberg, though.  He told me that the dev team counts 12 “official” ways to complete the level, and that’s not including several of the unexpected, “unofficial” ways that playtesters have found.

Hearing this?  Music to my ears.

After being satisfied that the game has embraced a less-structured designed than the previous installment, I then asked if they were serious about run & gunning as a sound strategy for success.  He laughed at this for a bit, and said that although it was possible, the team had never intended for players to get the idea that a full frontal assault was just as do-able as being stealthy.  I asked him to demonstrate for me, and he was happy to oblige.

After sufficiently arming himself, he went about shooting every hostile enemy in the area.  He was quickly overpowered (this was on normal difficulty) and was not able to complete the section.  He apologized for not being able to finish, but I told him that I couldn’t be happier.  I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of games out there that satisfy any gun-crazy cravings I may have.  With so few quality stealth games available, I certainly don’t need Hitman to compromise in that area.

As the demo ended, I felt a hell of a lot better about the game than I did going into it. It seems clear that the developers are fully aware of what the core Hitman fans want, while still trying to make the game more approachable for newcomers, or for those who don’t want a “realistic” level of difficulty.  It’s looking really, really good.


Although it wasn’t on my agenda to check out Borderlands 2, I had a little bit of time and there was some space available, so I figured “why not?”

The short presentation given ran through the DLC Mechromancer character, and showed a bit of her skill trees.  (The person speaking was very careful to avoid using anything resembling “girlfriend mode” language.) He also showed the improved gun turret for the soldier class, and then moved on to give us a taste of an endgame boss, Terramorphus.

Borderlands 2
This huge creature drops specific rare items, so there’s some incentive to take him down.  On the other hand, the developers had only chipped away about an eighth of its life after several minutes of four characters equipped with top-class gear blasting away at it, nonstop.  I gather that it’s somewhat tough to kill.  Also, that may be an incredible understatement.

After the talk wrapped, we were let out to get a hands-on with the game itself.  Brief impressions: it’s more Borderlands.  Of course, it’s impossible to get a feeling for the true scope of the project after just a few minutes of a demo level, but as someone who wasn’t really a fan of the first game, I didn’t see anything here to convince me to give the sequel a shot.

YM, of course, MV.

(Fun fact: the developers ordered 160 pizzas to feed fans attending the panel later that day!)


In last year’s PAX rundown, I had made some brief comments about a game called Antichamber, and how it seemed quite impenetrable from the perspective of someone watching over a player’s shoulder.  The developer, Alexander Bruce, reached out to me and invited me back to take a closer look and get a better idea of what it was really about.  I was happy to accept.

Sitting down with the game without really knowing anything about it, my feeling was that I needed the tiniest bit of info before playing in order to get myself in the frame of mind to properly interact with it.  I didn’t need a story mode or cutscenes, but I had no idea what to expect, and to say that Antichamber is a cryptic game is putting it mildly. After I put a few minutes in, Alex and I had an intriguing discussion about some of the meta-issues surrounding experimental or indie games. 

I don’t mean to put words in his mouth but if I understood him correctly, his basic concept for Antichamber was to challenge a player’s expectations by introducing puzzles which require various degrees of perception and thought.  I think it’s a great aim, and I fully support such works.

On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to pick apart with this particular title in regard to player engagement, the importance of context-setting in any game, and whether or not genre conventions can be played with, bent, or broken if the player is not aware or keyed into which conventions they are.  Another issue that came up was aiming games at an appropriate target audience, and how to define who that audience was.

It was fascinating stuff to chew on, and Alex is certainly a bright guy full of ideas.  It was an illuminating, thought-provoking chat, to be sure.


At this point, I was nearing the end of the day and I could feel that time was running short before people would start packing up their equipment and heading home.  I kicked things into rush mode and tried to see as much as I could before the doors closed.  I certainly don’t mean to give short shrift to any of the following titles, but I didn’t have nearly enough time to spend with each of them. I hope to sit down with every one for a longer period of time in the future.

>Flying Frog is a local creator of board games, and they had quite an array on display at the show.  I’ve heard great things about one of their titles, Last Night on Earth, and one of the staff at the booth was happy to play a quick session with me.  Essentially, it’s about a group of survivors fending off zombies in a small town, and it seemed like it would be a lot of fun at a dinner table with some friends.

>Klei Entertainment was showing Don’t Starve.  It’s an experimental title currently being built via an iteration process incorporating substantial feedback from players on the Klei forums.  In its current state, and the game begins with the main character being dropped into a strange land and being forced to figure out what’s going on, while scrounging for the means of survival.  It looks a little like it was drawn by Edward Gorey, and it strongly reminded me of the survival mode in Minecraft, even though the game currently does not offer the ability to create structures.

Super Time Force
>Capybara Games was running Super Time Force, and it was pretty awesome.  Graphically, it resembled an old-school 16-bit sidescrolling shooter, but the hook is that the player can “rewind” time every time they die, and that dead clone remains in the world.  It’s a little hard to describe without seeing it in action, but dying and leaving these copies behind is almost like giving yourself backup in difficult sections.  It’s heading to XBLA next year, and this is one I’m going to pop for on the spot.

>Splice was an elegant, ingenious puzzle game featured in the PAX 10.  In this one, the player takes a chain of genes and can cut it anyplace where two genes join.  The goal is to rearrange the structures into a predetermined shape, but everything shifts and moves when cuts are made…  It seems incredibly easy, but can be quite confounding past the initial levels.  Thankfully, the graphics and music were quite mellow and relaxing.  A smart move!

>Deity was another PAX 10 entry.  The gist was that the player controls a demonic spirit trying to reclaim its land from invaders.  Since it’s a spirit, it’s able to jump from body to body and object to object for various results.  It played swiftly from an isometric perspective, and looked like nothing else I saw on the floor.  Unfortunately, this one was created by a team at DigiPen, and half of the team has already been hired by big-time studios in the industry.  Deity looks like a one-and-done in this case, but hey, at least you can download it for free.

>Dokuro is a Vita title that (I hope) will be getting a translation and become available sooner, rather than later.  The build on display was Japanese code, but it didn’t seem like a lot of work would be required to localize it.  The gist is that the player is a skeleton who must guide a princess through various trap-filled levels in order to prevent her from coming to harm.  It’s cute and fairly simple, and looks like a perfect fit for a handheld which is currently starving for original content.

>Guacamelee was the only other Vita game I saw worth mentioning.  Coming from Drinkbox Studios (the developers of the excellent Mutant Blob games) this one stars a platforming luchador who brawls and combos his way through artistically stylized levels that incorporate Mexican mythology.  According to developer Chris McQuinn, players should also be able to choose the much cooler female character Tostada, if they prefer her to the hulking beefcake. Yes, please!

>Skulls of the Shogun has been in the works for quite a while, but this much-anticipated title from local developer 17-bit Sudios has finally gotten a release date of sometime in October.  I’ve been following this one for a couple of years, so the thought of actually getting a final version has got me giddy. She’s gonna be good.

>My Giants is a child-oriented multiplayer game that aims to satisfy both little gamers and big ones.  It’s still quite early in development, but for parents on the hunt for games suitable for family co-op, this is one to watch.

>The Unfinished Swan is an art-house PSN title coming soon to the service.  It’s a little tough to describe, but the player tosses blobs of ink into blank space, and when those blobs hit something, it kind of “fills in” the world as you go.  If that sounds a little dry, trust me, it’s much more interesting in person…  Looking into a blank white screen, tossing a blob, and then seeing animals and shapes materialize is a unique experience.


Like I said at the beginning of this article, there was no way I had enough time to play every game and talk to every developer to the degree that they deserve, but I’m just one game writer trying the best I can.  I’m sure there were a dozen more titles worth talking about that I didn’t get to cover, so if you were at the show and know something that I overlooked, please feel free to drop me a line and clue me in!

(No need to tell me about Quadrilateral Cowboy, though. EVERYBODY told me about that.)

At this point, I have a couple of pieces of swag that I’d like to give away as a small gesture of thanks to everyone who read my PAX breakdown.  Here’s what I snagged:

>Batman: Arkham City artbook.  This is the hardback collector’s edition art book that was only available with preorders of the game.  It’s definitely one of the nicer giveaways I’ve seen, and feels like an extremely high-quality product.  There’s even a space in the back of the book to house a game disc!

>Borderlands 2 T-shirt.  Orangey. XL.

>An Injustice: Gods Among Us headband. Red, stretchy, and built to take abuse.

>A PAX-exclusive Artemis skin for Smite (PC).

What do you have to do to win? Just post a comment here. Say anything, and you’ll be entered. Winners will be picked at the end of the week, and one lucky duck will get all the stuff pictured here!