Saturday, January 31, 2009

Resident Evil 5 Demo Impressions

So the demo's been released to a fairly mixed but for the most part positive reception from the masses. For all the hype they generated and the appearance of the early trailers, I think a lot of us expected a little more than Resident Evil 4.5; more sprinting Left 4 Dead-style zombies and fewer lumbering villagers along with slightly more evolved controls. That being said, the addition of co-op has a done a lot to ease that initial sense of deja vu. Having a quick and easy way to locate your partner at any time does a great job of easing what might have otherwise been an impossible task of staying together. Friendly fire isn't an issue and ammo trading is a great addition if one that's somewhat clumsily implemented. Obviously, the game really shines most when you've got a human partner; the AI's functional, but not particularly useful. It seems to spend most of time it's time standing blowing bullets on enemies you would've downed in one more shot anyway. Its response time generally just seems to be too slow, but that's probably a purposeful flaw given that a really efficient AI would make the game far too easy.

At this point, it's clear the game's not going to be the revolution some thought it might, and a lot of people are jaded about the almost complete lack of change to the game's core mechanics, but at the very least, it seems like it'll be a fun multiplayer romp.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Song That Never Ends

Rock Band is a big name, especially around a university campus where it's the favorite of dormitories everywhere. Downloadable content is nothing new to the series, but Harmonix is now promising over 5000 songs total by the end of this year.

On a related note, the competing Guitar Hero series of games recently announced that they'll be offering at least one new song a week for download, but with Rockstar doing many many times that now, they may have a long way to go in terms of catch-up.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ninjas Infiltrate the Three Kingdoms

In probably one of the stranger mergers this year, developers Tecmo and Koei have merged with the approval of their shareholders. Tecmo's probaby best known for their Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden games while Koei does work on the very niche Romance of the Three Kingdoms games -- which are based on the novels that are. themselves based on Chinese history -- as well as the equally niche and somewhat well worn Dynasty Warriors games where you mindlessly hack your way through hundreds of enemy soldiers.

It'll be interesting to see what comes out of this if anything. Either Ryu Hayabusa is going to become the next Chinese warlord or all the female characters in the Romance series are suddenly going to develop double Ds.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Delicious Incentives

The good state of Oklahoma is, apparently, considering legislation to allow tax breaks for game developers that create more family friendly games meaning that, among other things, they fall into the M-rated category. So that means no blood, guts and glory as games of that rating are usually want to have. This comes in light of their previous, more direct attempt to regulate games by imposing game content legislation, which, thankfully, was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Oklahoma has similar incentives for films, but there's no age requirement for those. Not surprising given the huge disparity in public perceptions of both mediums. Games are still kid's stuff to a lot of people despite the main demographic being young adult males these days.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Funcom's Age of Conan is shutting down 18 of their 24 servers in light of the dwindling number of subscribers. Like all the would be World of Warcraft killers of the last few years, it didn't quite have the muscle to de-throne the reigning king of genre, and this isn't just due to the inherent futility of that task. The game shipped with a promising combat engine, but was plagued with a lot of game-breaking bugs and a severe lack of end-game content. Just about everyone I knew was bored a few weeks into playing, and the ones that did try to stick it out ended up getting frustrated by the game's constant hiccups.

Funcom put enough effort into trying to make the game unique (and creating a decent licensed title at that), so I hope they maintain enough users to keep the remaining servers running, but these kind of mass server merges are rarely a good sign.

Flagship Studios recently closed down shortly after making a similar move with their Hellgate London servers and shutting down their Mythos beta completely.

We'll see if WaR follows a similar fate in the coming months.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Artist's Interpretation

The games as art debate is getting another spin cycle as game designer Tony Huynh shares his views on the matter. Roger Ebert decided a couple years ago that games, in their current form, can not be constituted as art, and while some of the arguments he made were interesting, the fact that he used Halo 3, a game that can be best compared to a summer blockbuster in movies, put his conclusions into question, somewhat.

Huynh comes straight from the heart of industry though, and he uses some more compelling examples like Shadow of the Collosus to fuel his own analysis that sides somewhat with what Ebert was trying to say. He doesn't focus on the visuals, which I don't think anyone will deny can be artistic in themselves but rather on the experience of playing a game.

The crux of his argument is that games are inherently judged on their ability to provide "fun", whereas a serious viewing experience in film can be uncomfortable and even unpleasant. I'm not sure I necessarily agree that this bars them from qualifying as an artistic experience. For sure, it limits the number of games we see enter that category, but I don't think it disqualifies the medium as a whole.

If you're interested, read on at Hunyh's blog

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Uncertain Times

Cost cutting is rampant in the games industry right now with major developers and publishers cutting their staff significantly, but in a surprising development, EA's also cutting people from its celebrated Tiburon studios who are responsible for the Madden and Tiger Woods series among others.

If even Tiburon's being hit by cutbacks then the industry may have been hit harder by the US economic slump than many previously estimated. At the very least, it's probably safe to assume that we'll see cuts to the hockey, baseball and golf teams before we see anyone cut from the coveted Madden assembly.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Strange Winds are Blowing

flOw developer, Xinghan Chen and his team at thatgamecompany, are bringing their latest project, Flower, to the Playstation Store on February 3rd. For those who haven't kept up with it, it's like most of their games in that it features little to no graphic violence and focuses instead on simple, addictive gameplay with a unique artistic flair.

The main objective is to gather flower petals and blow them throughout the environment, which causes all manner of flora to sprout from the otherwise barren landscape. It's actually very similar in concept to, That Cloud Game, one of Chen's previous free-to-play efforts that had you creating large cloud formations and dragging them with you to create shapes or bring much needed rain to dry industrial areas.

Flower's not likely to win any game of the year awards, nor is it likely something you'll be playing every day, but it's one of those simple, relaxing games that you break out every now and then for a short 20 minute session when you don't feel like playing something more taxing.

The graphics do look a little dated for a game relying so much on the visual flair of its environment, but it's more about the visual interaction between the player and the flower petals anyway, and the animation looks appropriately restrained and airy enough to carry the presentation through to the end.

For a glimpse of the game in motion, check out the trailer from the 2007 TGS.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wii Lack Devotion

The lasting appeal of Wii Fit is, apparently, less than stellar, as a recent Japanese poll shows that a large number of people have stopped playing the game shortly after purchasing it. It seems that while the novelty value of using the board may have enticed some people to exercise more in the beginning, the game's entertainment value simply isn't enough to keep up with the laziness of the average person. I guess when you get past the colorful visuals, and you start to feel that lactic acid burn, people start to realize that it really is still exercise at its core.

Obviously, this poll only represents a small minority of the people who own the game, but if further research indicates similar perceptions then it's funny to think that Dance Dance Revolution may have actually been more successful as a fitness tool in the long run. That game is far past its prime at this point, but stories about the game's tendency to create calves of steel still circulate at campfires and marshmellow roasts.


A Lingering Unease

Bit late to the party on this one, but it seems I'm not the only one that wasn't entirely enthralled with the Skate 2 demo given the small but vocal minority expressing a similar displeasure on most forums. The first Skate wasn't perfect by a long shot, but it was an unpretentious effort that happened to feature a truly unique and intuitive control system along with a real simulation feel. Other than the controls, the sequel seems to retain little of that charm.

From the moment you're presented with the opening cinematic, this all becomes crystal clear as you're presented with some of the worst kind of skateboarding cliches and caricatured "personalities" this side of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground.

Immediately, the game feels a little off, and lots of people have commented on this. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I popped in the original and noticed the lack of motion blur in the sequel. The increased frame rate was a contributor, yes, but this seems to have been the main culprit.

There are plenty of new tricks at your disposal and they're nice to have for variety's sake, but they're not explained very well, and some of them are fairly awkward to use. My biggest gripe is probably with the board physics, which unlike the first game where every trick was uniquely animated, are much more rigid and Tony Hawk-esque. It seems almost impossible to flub a trick unless you're purposely trying to land on your face, and you still get a picture perfect landing half the time anyway.

I won't go into the on-foot controls since enough people have taken the piss out of them, but needless to say, it's like controlling a robot made of wet cardboard, powered by a flashlight battery.

I'd like to say I'm hopeful that the final product clears some of these issues up, but given how fundamental most of them are to gameplay and especially since it hits in less than a week, that would be like hoping for the sky to suddenly turn green at this point. Playing Skate 2 is sort of like going to bed with your girlfriend's evil-twin. You know something's not right, but it's not immediately apparent, and things are just functional enough to make the experience enjoyable.