June 5, 2010
Hey guy, this post may have spoilers. I’m going to talk about some specific things the game does to tell stories, so your experience may be corrupted by reading this. If you haven’t played the game as far as I have (through chapter 4) maybe you should go do something else.
I’ve long maintained that video games have the potential to be an amalgam of all other story-telling media. While the actual story Alan Wake tells is of a caliber you might find on expanded cable, the way it delivers it is masterful. It’s hard to wrap your head around how it all fits together if you don’t have an appreciation for the individual pieces.
I’m most familiar with literature, so let’s begin with the way Remedy works the written word into the game. As you progress you find pages from an unfinished book scattered about. Narratively they serve two purposes: it provides the reader with a reliable voice and it constantly foreshadows. In Alan Wake you are told not to trust the other characters. The story also does a decent job of casting doubt onto the reliability of the protagonist as well, but the pages always tell the truth. Some pages will tell you about the developments other characters are experiencing, which is something books have always been able to do well. So the pages serve to keep the story cohesive by providing all the information you need clearly without splitting your focus. Compare that to your memories of the Snake/Raiden/Gekko/Vamp scene:
The pages also serve to fill in missing spots of the story. For example, there’s a sequence where Wake is incapacitated and he found himself in a mental clinic. During his escape, Wake coldly damned the doctor to a painful death. I felt it was a bit out of character for Wake, and an extreme punishment for a villain with such undefined motives. A few minutes later I found a page that detailed the methods the doctor used to get Wake into his care, and what he was doing to all of his patients. I retroactively felt proud of taking the doctor out of the story.
The way Remedy handles game elements also assists in story telling. You get metroided a lot in Alan Wake. Every hour or two (and sometimes more frequently) you lose your entire arsenal. Since becoming more powerful isn’t really the player’s goal, I never felt like I was being forced to starting conditions. These ‘player resets’ typically follow a dramatic story element, which leaves the gamer with a heightened sense of tension. I never knew what to expect while empty handed. In one instance I was given a gun and limited ammo, so the segment was tense as I waited for the exact right moment to attack my enemies. In another I was given a ton of weapons, ammo and random lights (which doubled as a weapon, checkpoint, and health station) while waves of enemies attempted to overrun my position. It played out like a high-adrenaline action scene. In yet another situation I was separated from my partner. He wound up with all the weapons, leaving me to run through the woods completely unarmed with no safety in sight. I felt defenseless, hunted, and terrified.
Finally there are the cut scenes and dialog. This is the element that most closely resembles the television shows the game pays homage to. With the exception of Barry, you’re never exposed to a character enough to see how two-dimensional they are, which helps lend credibility to the cast and setting. The random lines enemies throw at you are so common place you could almost suspect the speaker of suffering a psychotic break — except for the Delightfully Disturbing Distortion™ sprinkled throughout each sentence. This makes the bad guys equal parts sympathetic, pitiful, and horrifying.
Using a small amount of education in cinematography, I recognized several cleaver uses of the camera during cut scenes and even a bit during scripted sequences. Typically a game’s camera will pull back during a triggered event, so the player can see exactly what is happening – but this isn’t always the case with Alan Wake. One time I entered a cabin and the camera swooped low, which made my perspective as small as possible, while the doorway and the roof’s A-frame loomed over Wake. As soon as the shot snapped into place and registered in my brain, the cabin began to shake violently. I think Hitchcock and Carpenter would approve.
While this isn’t the best example of how all of these elements come together, I think it will give you a feel for it:
Taken as a whole I think Alan Wake succeeds at pushing the limits of narrative as an art form. I’ve never seen this combination of methods before, and I feel they performed exceptionally well together. If this game were a painting, it would demarcate a new school of art. As a game player I’m elated to be alive right now as the pieces start to come together. Welcome to the future of story telling.
May 25, 2010
“Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but” when I read the news over at the Wolfire Blog I felt like John Gacy at a Greyhound bus stop. Listen, I’m obviously not above telling the plutocracy off, but at some point the line between information freedom and ass-hattery has to be demarcated.
When the most well known game in an bundle is made by two people and the largest is published by a c tier company, you can’t make a case that you’re fighting the power like a technocrat Hugo Chavez. Stealing the Humble Indie Bundle is as disgusting as Bob Dylan selling tacos, only Zimmy will still leave behind a legacy of innovation and hard-earned rebellion from the status quo. It’s not even like they were inflating their prices in an effort to sucker would-be hippsters into coughing up significant chunks of income. You could pay whatever you wanted, down to $.01. One cent doesn’t even register as actual currency in Europe, and still you bastards needed to pirate it.
The worst of it is the proceeds of this sale were going to two very important charities. Child’s Play is literally working to provide a glimmer of relief to children caught amidst the most Lovecraftian horrors modern society knows. Because 25% of the PC populace with expendable time has douche bag contests with Jenny McCarthy, hundreds of children will stare into the abyss without the small comfort of escapism. If that weren’t enough, these imbecilic Narcissuses work against their own interest by denying funding to the only group crafty and daring enough to defend their actions. The EFF stood to take in money that would have been used to help net neutrality, fight the DMCA, promote free speech, and protect the consumer’s digital rights.
So who are these belligerent, child hating, freedom wrecking fucktards? ICP Fans.
Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.
January 13, 2010
I haven’t really had much time for gaming this week. I’m not 100% sure why; just hasn’t worked out that way. Instead I’ve begun to write the design document for the game I had in mind for the L4D SDK. We’re not going to use Source for the project anymore, opting for a more manageable first attempt. Here’s what I have so far, minus the plot points.
World War Z/Zombie Survival Guide
zombies are dead
zombies are slow
they freeze in extreme climates
they only die when you shoot them in the head
they will respond generally as described in the books.
Suikoden/NeverWinter Nights 2
- You will find various survivors on your trip. The more you gather the better your base will be. (Barracks, carpenter, mason, medical bay, gunsmith, chemist, etc).
- The Last Stand 2
- I want to crib the controls/perspective from this game. Our game is going to be a bit more side scroller-ish, think Streets of Rage or Battletoads.
Thoughts on mechanics:
Zombies will reach out from behind some building fortifications.
Opening doors to look for survivors and supplies may cause a wave of zombies to come out.
These zombie rooms will randomly replace between 75% to 125% of the value of the supplies the player spent on the horde, but not always what the player used. For instance, 25 shotgun shells were used, so the user gets 40 pistol rounds and 5 smg bullets.
Fatigue? If you don’t camp once a day you lose accuracy. If you skip camping for several days your vision blurs to the point where you can’t hit anything.
Survivors call out their positions on shortwave radios. You get an idea of their locations when camping. They may not be the best at giving directions.
World map for traveling between towns. May include notes from shortwave, total survivors possible/found.
Supplies, in terms of food and water, are required to travel and avoid a fail state. Three days without bottled water is game over.
Help I’d like to have:
Probably some help programming
Assistance with plot and dialog
January 11, 2010
Why is it so hard to make difficulty right? A week ago I was looking over someone’s tic-tac-toe program with three difficulty settings. Easy was completely random. Medium was random, but if he noticed he was about to win he’d make that move. Hard was a grand master of tic-tac-toe. That jump between medium and hard was brutal. The problem isn’t limited to indie games, either.
In Dragon Age: Origins the combat progresses pretty fast near the end. I started the game on normal, but since I was playing a mage and battles tended to crowd around me I switched to easy to turn off friendly fire. For a while I thought it was too easy, then I reached the last leg of the game. Currently I’m stuck on a battle with two mages and several guards. I’ve been getting close by tweaking my team’s AI settings, but I’m still restarting over and over.
It also goes the other way. The difficulty curve in the campaign portion of Batman Arkham Asylum is flat. Once you learn to bat-zip to a golem when in a tight spot you can do no wrong in combat. On the other hand, simply removing the golems would have increased the difficulty too much.
I don’t have an answer here, but it’s a fun thing to think about while playing through games.
January 4, 2010
I gathered Andrew and Caleb together to figure out which brands we liked the most of the last decade. Not new companies, per say, but companies that did a lot of work we approve of. These ten companies are where we see the most positive growth in the industry. Maybe they didn’t do things we love, but they all worked to shape the industry in a way that benefits us all.
Some of these are development teams, some are publishers, some are both. We tried to minimize praise given to publishers for things we attribute to specific studios; but sometimes it’s hard to ignore a company for making a lot of right moves and acquisitions.
Without further ado, here’s the list.
As far as we’re concerned Bethesda is only on this list for two games. They happen to be two of the greatest RPGs ever made.
It was the right game at the right time. It was the only ‘traditional’ western RPG out near the Xbox 360’s launch; the other RPGs were all ports or terribly mediocre; and the difference between Western and Eastern design was never more clear.
You were not only permitted, but encouraged to go anywhere and do anything right after a brief tutorial. I have put over 70 hours into Oblivion and I have not completed the second mission in the main quest.
It allows you to develop your own story. My main character was the nicest guy. He’d rescue your leukemia riddled, three legged cat from a tree defended by a horde of dragons. He wouldn’t think twice about it; it would be the right thing to do. About thirty hours in, after never killing anyone who didn’t attack first, my character was bitten by a vampire.
Suddenly Mr. Morality had to feed on the innocent any time I wanted to visit a shop or go out during the day. I imagined him being constantly tormented by his condition. Every move he made from the day he was bitten to the day I stopped playing filled him with inner conflict.
- Fallout 3
Take Oblivion’s scope and scale, then change the setting to post-nuclear war Washington D.C. The setting was ambitious. D.C. felt right, what few buildings still stood were properly positioned. But that’s not what I find most remarkable about Fallout 3.
What amazes me is how much content they released after the game came out. In the Oblivion days Bethesda was a leading example of how not to capitalize on DLC. With F3 they did it so very right. The retail package did not feel as though it were missing content, yet Bethesda was able to release five new areas and quests early and often. As a result there are some people who lost the better part of a year of gaming to Fallout 3.
Red Rings. Games for Windows. Games for Windows Live. The failure to support Games for Windows magazine when they needed it. Fees for Xbox Live. Overpriced, proprietary hard drives and WiFi adapters. Microsoft almost didn’t make this list. However they’ve done a lot of flat out awesome things for gamers.
In theory this console competed with the Dreamcast for ten days in North America. In reality Microsoft nabbed a lot of the great talent Sega was preparing to fire in North America. If you were to look at the machine in a feature comparison it may as well of been Dreamcast 2.
It never earned all of the love Dreamcast gained; but it was defiantly the machine for the hardcore western gamer. Fable, Halo, Halo 2, a hard drive and broadband connectivity out of the box really showed vision for the direction of console games.
Also consider the blind eye they turned to modders. If one were so inclined an Xbox could stream media to televisions, play emulators, and operate as a general purpose PC.
- Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 is a fantastic console. The controller feels right (perhaps the first time I’ve felt that since the Genesis), the library is fantastic, especially considering Xbox Live Arcade. Xbox Live is a fantastic service even if you have to pay for it.
Among my friends there is no question that the 360 is the best console of this generation. That isn’t to say the PS3 or Wii are bad, but more of our time is spent on the 360 than any other TV based platform.
- .NET and XNA
C#, a .NET language, has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for programming. A lot of the ground work is taken care of. It’s to the point now where you can learn to write your own game in a week. Honestly, go try it.
Couple that with XNA and you’ll find anyone can create a game. For a minimal fee (alarmingly low) you can get your software on the Xbox 360, where it could be purchased by anyone who has a 360. While it’s hard to sort out the chaff; anyone can start their own profitable game development studio now. The popularization of game development cannot be a bad thing.
Popcap does what other casual companies can not. They make games that appeal to the hardcore gamer. They make a ton of games we don’t like here at NHR, but in the last decade they’ve put out three that we cannot simply can’t avoid. Compact that with the mad cash they make doing it, and they’re a force within the industry.
No one here’s big on match four games, but there’s no denying that everyone has played this game. Your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your mailman, everyone. Considering this is the game that Puzzle Quest used as it’s battle mechanic even the entire NHR crew indirectly played it.
- The Entire Peggle Series
I was sucked in by the Orange Box themed Peggle Extreme when they released it as a stand alone demo. Once I realized I couldn’t put it down I bought the newest version of the game. Anyone on my Steam friends list can attest to the countless hours I’ve sunk into Peggle.
- Plants Vs. Zombies
There was a week where I could not sleep. That week was spent beating every mode of Plants Vs. Zombies. I talked Andrew into playing, who spread it to his girlfriend, and mother. Then I was able to convince my wife to play it; she spread it to family and coworkers. On and on it goes. The damn game is a plague.
- The Web Business Model
Perhaps Popcap’s most important contribution has been their business model. They have demo versions of their games in flash on their website. You get just enough of the game to get hooked, and every level you’re prompted to buy the full version. This model has been emulated by Activision, E.A., and nearly every casual game company on the internet.
Nintendo isn’t really for us. No one here is big on Zelda, Mario, Metroid, or Smash Brothers. We can see why people would like it, and we support those people wholeheartedly. Regardless of our personal feelings, excluding Nintendo from a list of this nature would be a crime.
- The Comeback
Obviously the Wii is popular. I don’t think we’ve seen a console with this kind of penetration since the NES. However this is a huge change. When the PlayStation entered the arena Nintendo failed to produce another hit console. For a while in the GameCube era there were rumors of Nintendo dropping out of hardware, like Sega with Pokemon cards.
Enter the Wii. A repackaged GameCube with a novel controller. The world ate it up. The same public who criticized games for being juvenile picked up a wii-mote and pantomimed hoola-hooping. I don’t understand it, but the impact is huge.
In theory we now have millions of new gamers. They’re apparently uninterested in any game that says something; but they’re here now. It’s on us to show these fledgling members of our hobby what a game can do.
- The DS
I love my DS. If I think I’m going to sit somewhere for more than five minutes, my DS will be in my pocket all day. Most of the games I end up playing don’t take advantage of the features that make the DS unique, but the library of games it touts more than makes up for it.
Let’s cut to the chase with Rockstar.
- Grand Theft Auto 3 (and every GTA thereafter)
Name one college dorm that did not have this game. Name any person under 30 who hasn’t played it. For all practical purposes GTA3 is the first open world game. Defining a genre is reason enough to be on this list.
The game itself is actually really good. It’s still one of the best games in it’s class. The cars handled well enough to be a decent driver. The gunplay was passable enough to make a shooter. If you’d like a taste of several genres at once, GTA3 can still deliver.
The controversy the series stirred up is also important. The knee-jerk gamer reaction to the knee-jerk media reaction was consistantly and understandably dismissive. However some people took the discourse to heart. Non-gamers began to realize video games aren’t just for kids, and we began to take our hobby seriously.
While there is still some debate on the effects of media on impressionable minds, we know more about humanity as a result of the science this game inspired. We’ve solidified the line between “T” games and “M” games. GTA3 and the reactions to it, for the most part, is a prime example of society coping with a new idea in an amazingly positive way.
- Max Payne
Max Payne is important to me for one reason. It is the earliest example I can name where a game captured the visual appeal of a movie. Bullet-time is now a groan inspiring mechanic, but when The Matrix and eventually Max Payne came out, it was the height of visual effects.
The first time I dove down a flight of stairs, shooting enemies in all directions, I felt like a bad ass. I felt like Neo. That feeling sold over a million copies.
The game does support itself in the story department. While it’s not the greatest tale ever told, it did kick off the faux-noir movement we saw throughout the last decade. Personally, I’m a big fan of this style and am thankful to Rockstar for bringing it up.
- Neverwinter Nights
NWN was the last great Dungeons and Dragons video game. Sure, the Obsidian developed sequel was good, but the Bioware touch was remarkably absent. Bioware took the understanding of RPG elements they learned last decade and continued to push the genre forward.
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
In what may be the smartest use of a license to date; Bioware completely sidestepped any issues with canonical Star Wars by setting the games thousands of years before the popular story. Leaving out known characters might have left the game feeling like “Dungeons and Lightsabers,” but Bioware managed to capture the tone of Lucas’ universe perfectly.
It’s also worth noting that this game popularized the “morality meter.” As your character did various ‘light’ or ‘dark’ deeds, your affinity with the corresponding force powers increased. Your appearance changed to reflect this. In other terms, it did everything Fable did a year earlier. Of course the decisions were a bit black and white. It didn’t always do a good job of taking the consequences of those decisions into account when assessing the ethical integrity of your deeds.
- Mass Effect
Detractions aside, the Citadel and it’s galaxy seem completely realized. Characters have struggles completely unrelated to anything that happens in the game. Multiple races fight for power. There is conflict between individual members of various species. People try to do good things with misguided methods. In short, nothing in this game requires me to suspend my disbelief too far.
- Dragon Age
While the dust is still settling on this game, I’m preparing to call it a triumph of the medium. Dragon Age clearly draws from modern fantasy literature, yet it maintains it’s own voice. It also generates various developmental dialog depending on the relationships the character and various npcs have with one another. The way I interact with my bisexual elf is likely to be very different than the way you do. There are hundreds of ways the story can play out; each of which would make a completely compelling book.
My Favorite aspect of Dragon Age is the murkey choices you have to make. I’ll try to keep this vague, but if you’re worried about spoilers skip the reset of this paragraph. You encounter a pair of characters. One asks you to kill the other as a preemptive attack. When you confront the other character s/he injects reasonable doubt into your motives. You’re forced to choose who to believe; and so far as I know you never find out the truth.
4. E.A. started this decade off as an example of a game company that did everything wrong. They’d only release a new franchise when they milked their old ones to death. They were the last place you’d look for anything innovative. Then someone decided to take some chances. Some worked, some fell flat, but at least they tried.
- Mirror’s Edge
This is the first game I think of when I consider ‘new’ E.A. A first person platformer is a crazy idea, and there’s no way it should have worked as well as it did. Consider the jump puzzles in the Half-Life series. They’re terrible and should not exist. It’s a bad idea to make jumping the core mechanic of a level in a FPS. Yet DICE went for it.
Some bets were hedged, and as a result the game felt a bit compromised. Even so, the first few levels of Mirror’s Edge could be the foundation of a new genre. When you’re unarmed, running, ducking, dodging, climbing, and rolling through the rooftops of Futuristica (or whatever city that was set in) the game works. I get a viseral reaction to Mirror’s Edge; I find myself leaning when taking a fast turn, sinking into my shoulders when doing a tuck and roll, and swearing with a gut fear when a guard opens a door I’m about to run past.
- Battlefield 1942
What a breath of fresh air! When BF1942 came out FPS multiplayer took a huge shift. You can feel it’s influence in nearly any multiplayer shooter designed since. Halo’s King of the Hill mode, Call of Duty’s Dominatio, Frontlines ripped it off whole sale, as did the Battlefront series.
Back in the day FPS was all about death match and capture the flag. Battlefield introduced control points, and everything shifted. Even my beloved Counter Strike started to feel a bit stale in BF’s wake. The idea of holding a point that provided your team mates with additional resources and positions to spawn in has been the biggest gameplay shift I can name.
- Boom Blox
Boom Blox did not get the sales it deserved. It is one of the few casual games on the Wii that is worth the disc it’s etched on. In essence it’s the milk jar game you play at the fair, but digitizing it allows for so many more opportunities.
The most memorable level type for me is destroying castles. Finding the perfect methodology for knocking down a complicated structure makes a very primitive part of my brain happy. What could make it even better? Having the blocks fall on cutesy brick animals. I imagine the brick-sheep baahing in anguish. I imagine that and laugh.
- Hellgate: London
HG:L was a solid idea in theory. Get some guys from Blizzard North to make a MMO. Let them make it the first major MMOFPS. What could go wrong?
Well, you could give them too much leash and not enough programming talent or time. There were a lot of bugs, more than a few that broke the game entirely. I was able to see the polished gem inside, so I bet whatever the lifetime subscription cost that they’d eventually get to show it. The game could have been Borderlands two years ago, but Flagship had to close shop before it had a chance to shine.
- Acquisitions and Partnerships
This is really where E.A. shows their interest in moving the medium. In the last ten years they have published, purchased, or partnered with the following companies: Bioware, Valve, Dreamworks Interactive, Pogo.com, Criterion Software, Harmonix, and DICE. These companies have been releasing some of the best titles in the last decade.
3. Harmonix In 2001 I was still a pretty typical gamer. I’d play Medal of Honor or Driver with friends all night over weed and brandy. We’d get drunk on bad beer and play DoA until someone opted to take the violence off the screen. Typical behavior for a gang of 18-23 year olds. Then one of our friends recommended I try a game called Frequency. My perspective on games shifted a bit after that initial playing.
I was never very big on electronica, but even I couldn’t deny the great music Harmonix put together in Frequency. The way Harmonix used a medium I already respected as an art made me take a serious look at video games.
Suddenly I realized games were more than pushing a button at an appropriate time. I noticed that sound, visuals, and even the gameplay had to align themselves just so. I found the art in game design. I concluded that video games are a collaborative art form, like cinema or theater; one that requires the audience be involved.
While Frequency wasn’t the first rhythm game, it was the first one I played and in my mind, still the best.
- Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2
Plastic guitar controllers. I can’t imagine a party without seeing one or two of them making a cameo. Activision loved the idea, obviously. It’s estimated (by me) that the money this franchise made could feed Africa for a century.
With songs like Ace of Spades, Bark at the Moon, Godzilla, Iron Man, Thunder Kiss ‘65, Unsung, Ziggy Stardust, Killer Queen, and Cochise, GH1 may have the most memorable set list of any of these games. It feels to me like Harmonix had an appropriate amount of respect and reverence for rock music; something the series seems to be lacking in modern iterations.
- Rock Band and Rock Band 2
Why stop at plastic guitars? I have purchased two drums, three guitars, and two microphones that do nothing but interface with Harmonix games. The toy/video game crossover appeal is terrifying.
Again, the song selection was amazing. Are you Gonna Be My Girl, Black Hole Sun, Blitzkrieg Bop, The Reaper, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Wave of Mutilation, Paranoid, Maps, In Bloom. All major rock movements from the 70s on were covered with songs that showcased every instrument.
It’s also important to note that the Rock Band Store is essentially a license to print money. I’ve probably paid $100 over the retail price for Rock Band 2 in DLC. And I’m thankful to do it. Every time I go in the store I seem to think, “Yes! There’s a Radiohead track!” or “OMG! Interstate Love Song!”
- Beatles: Rock Band
Harmonix did what Apple couldn’t: They got the Beatles to put their music into a computer. This is the first video game since Super Mario Brothers that had my dad legitimately interested in gaming.
I played through it while my wife, who thinks pretending to be a rock star is inherently wrong, watched on completely riveted. The juxtaposition between dreamscapes and the Ed Sullivan Show kept her attention while the music inspired her to sing along (without the microphone, because that would be evil). We played through the entire game in an afternoon; comparing trivia knowledge and pointing out where the game differed from reality.
It’s rare for a video game to captivate both of us; and I think that ability should be commended.
- Diablo 2
Diablo 2 was an opening salvo, defining the dungeon crawler RPG genre and setting a watermark that has yet to be bested. I’m going to a LAN party next month; and people will be playing Diablo 2 there.
It’s staying power can be attributed to the randomized item drops. To my knowledge this is the first series to create items based on hidden dice rolls. It always feels like there’s room for your character to improve; and that’ll keep you playing.
The developers of this game went on to make Hellgate: London, Mythos, and most recently Torchlight. They really enjoy crawling around in dungeons.
- Warcraft 3
For many people Warcraft 3 is the RTS genre. Also it allowed for mods, such as Defense of the Ancients which spawned two new strategy genres: Desktop Tower Defense and Tower Defense. The last decade would look pretty different to us at NHR without DTD games to play at work.
We’re not huge on RTS at NHR, but we are assured that this game is great and still gets play at LAN parties.
- World of Warcraft
Everyone at NHR dabbles in MMOs, some more than others. Personally, I’ve played WoW several times. Andrew has a few max-level characters. We’re not huge fans, but World of Warcraft is certainly a huge chunk of PC gaming.
In terms of impact it may be the most mainstream game of the last ten years. Perhaps it’s because I tend to hang out with nerds, but I don’t have a single peer who hasn’t rolled a toon in WoW.
It has been proposed that WoW is both the savoir and death of PC gaming. It’s certain safe to say as long as that game is standing there will be people playing it on computers. It is equally certain that every PC RPG that comes out will have weak multiplayer because they’re afraid of competing with WoW.
We really love Valve. A whole big bunch. I would hug Gabe Newell. The staff of this site spent more time this last decade playing Valve games on Valve’s platform than all other games combined. It’s safe to say we’re big fans.
When Steam first launched I was pretty unhappy. As I recall it was required to patch Counter-Strike to 1.5. It didn’t work half the time, and it was essentially just another thing to have running while playing games.
Fast forward to today: I have purchased over 90 games through Steam. I use it to keep in touch with more than 120 people. If I don’t buy a game through Steam, I’ll import it because that’s just how games open in my head.
Since Microsoft wasn’t willing to put much effort into keeping PC gaming afloat in retail, I’m willing to credit much of it’s tenacity to digitally distributed games. Valve is on the forefront of that battle. I’d imagine most people haven’t even heard of the other players in this new online retail space.
I use Steam as an avenue to find out about new games. For me it’s like browsing the shelves of GameStop, only no one hassles me for preorders or game guides. Oh, and there are actually PC games there.Steam alone puts Valve in the top spot of our list, but there’s also some great games.
- The Source Engine
Valve developed the Source Engine in 2004. Left 4 Dead 2 was released on it in 2009, and it still looks and plays great. Sure, it doesn’t have the flash of CryEngine, but it is WAY more flexible. Officially there are two major versions of Source; the original Half-Life 2 version and the Orange Box version. Unofficially the engine has been adapted and tweaked beyond recognition. Valve set out to make the only engine they’ll ever need; I’d say the succeeded.
- Half-Life 2
Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise and shine. Not that I wish to imply that you have been sleeping on the job. No one is more deserving of a rest. And all the effort in the world would have gone to waste until… well, let’s just say your time has come again. The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world. So wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up and smell the ashes.
- Counter-Strike: Source
I have invested more time in to Counter-Strike and CS:S than any other game. We’re probably pretty close to thousands of hours at this point.
I could go into a minutia of detail about things like how the new, slightly more random spray patterns changed the game. I could talk about how the changes to de_inferno made it infinitely better. I could also morn the loss of vip_oilrig. None of that would be interesting to read, however. Believe me when I say CS:S was a significant update to anyone near tournament level play.
What if I were to tell you the same people who make the annoying ass jump puzzles in Half-Life and Half-Life 2 put together a game that was nothing but jump puzzles? You’d be put off, and rightfully so. I think that’s why most people failed to see Portal coming.
I was entranced with the game the moment I saw that initial trailer. Teleporting around turrets, a creepy computer telling me to think with portals, and the horribly complex looking level that I knew would make total sense some day. It was one of the last games I let myself get hyped for.
When I installed it I found out the game was funny as well! When the humor began to fade and the tension built up I was still enthralled. I ended up beating the game the first night.
- Left 4 Dead
Man, we loved us some Left 4 Dead. The AI Director enabled us to play the game for a year straight with a constant sense of anticipation and surprise. “Will there be a tank or witch around this corner?” “Which special infected are about to spawn?”
The dialog was witty. The special infected were well balanced. The original versus maps played wonderfully.
As time went on we had less faith in and love for Turtle Rock Studios, but we are still thankful for Left 4 Dead.
That’s it. These companies made 2000-2009 the best years in gaming to date. With Bethesda stepping up as a publisher, and Valve continuing to expand the services of Steam (and making it more open to indy developers) the future is looking bright too! This medium is still growing and finding it’s voice; I don’t think we’ll see an end to the improvements any time soon.
December 30, 2009
We’re writing about our ten favorite developers of the last decade. It’s a pretty unwieldy post to write. After arguing about who gets listed and at what rank for a few hours we settled upon a list. You’ll see the final product of that Friday. Here are a few companies that did not make the list, but were really close.
Having been the publisher for early Harmonix games, Tony Hawk, Call of Duty, and many franchises that were once innovative and fresh, we seriously considered giving them the nod. However a slew of crummy games, over-baring franchise sequels, and a general distain for their developers and consumers, we had to knock them off the list.
Ubi has some great games. Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, and the Tom Clancy games to name a few. However they waffle on supporting some of their best titles, and while their main roster is great; none of their franchises are among our favorite time sinks.
For us 2k boils down to Bethesda. The other studios may release good games now and then, but again, they’re not our favorites.
We loved us some Dreamcast. We loved us some House of the Dead. We even enjoyed Mad World a bit. But fuck Sega in their Sonic hating asses. Whenever they make a nod to the hard-core crowd we get something better than average. We start to think Sega’s turning it around. Then they release another Sonic game and I have to cry. I can not, in good conscience, reward that behavior.
October 28, 2009
Right now I have Borderlands coming down in uTorrent.
To understand the magnitude of that statement you must know that I’m a huge fan of PC gaming, and I am more than willing to put money behind products I’m interested in. This is the first game I’ve out-and-out stolen, ever.
I bought Red Faction: Guerilla for PC a few weeks ago. Despite having months to perfect the PC port the game was buggy to the point of being unplayable. A few levels in a demo would have let me know if the game worked or not; but there wasn’t one. In a period where I’m running a new operating system, a game without a trial is just too risky. A $60 purchase is an investment, and I’m typically not allowed to do any first hand research.
Another instigation that motivated me to raise a middle finger to the gaming industry is Activision/Infinity Ward’s decision to avoid private servers in Modern Warfare 2. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I enjoy becoming a member of a community that has built up around a server. Clans aren’t just groups that game together, they’re a congregation point for people who seek out a certain atmosphere during their games. I haven’t heard a derogatory term in a PC game for years; being able to choose the group I play with is a big part of that.
That doesn’t even mention the PC’s greatest, unique feature: customization. I love Left 4 Dead; so much so that I wrote an application to fix things I didn’t like about it. I wrote modified server configurations to change the core game mechanics, which created completely new game play experiences with a few lines of code. I built my own map (only the first level exists, thanks to a hard drive crash). My cohorts and I were able to squeeze out more than $50 in value of the game as a result of my efforts and those of like-minded individuals.
Now some companies want to take that away. They want to limit us to the console experience. They want us to play the game they made, only the game they made, and only with content we’ve given them money for. They don’t want to compete with people who’re willing to give out content for free. They disguise their moves by saying they’re trying to avoid the pirates. I submit myself as an example of the opposite being true.
Games like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Defense of the Ancients (and thus the entire tower defense genre), and any of the hundreds of games based on the Source Engine are examples of the power of community modifications. I have to wonder where Valve, Blizzard (an Activision company), and iD would be without communities who changed their games into something unrecognizable.
July 7, 2009
Dedicated followers of the site may have noticed my name popping up around the web. For everyone else: I’ve been making posts for other sites. Particularly Bitmob (a pro-am site for games journalists) and 1up. I started roughly two weeks ago, and I’ve already earned featured posts on both sites; the same posts that have been published here over the last few weeks.
My next move is to begin freelancing. If I can land a job I probably will not be able to repost those articles here; but I’ll be sure links are provided for anyone interested.
If you go through the archieve to see my modest beginings I think you’ll see how valuable running this blog has been. My writing has improved significantly, my motivation has increased, my confidence is up, and I’m more creative in general. I love this site, and I love you for reading it. Thanks readers, you’ve helped keep me going.
June 29, 2009
For me the best part of ‘open world’ games is looking for the orbs/hidden packages/charged earth. They are a great way for the developer to show a particularly awesome view of the virtual world or highlight a tricky locomotion puzzle while rewarding the player for their efforts.
This summer I decided I needed to be less sedentary. A friend of mine mentioned that they frequently went Geocaching. Geocaching involves using a GPS receiver to travel to a predetermined location in order to sign a log and exchange trinkets like key chains or toy cars. When it was first described to me it seemed like a silly high-tech scavenger hunt and I could not be less interested. Eventually I made the connection to open world games and realized there’s a lot I haven’t seen in my city.
When my wife and I went out for the first time we were directed to go to a park a few miles from our house that we didn’t know about. A about 50 yards along the trail the aging trees and brush made it easy to forget we were inside a modern metropolis.
The cache was hidden on a floating unguarded bridge over a small lake. The bridge’s segments shifted with each step we took, a veiled threat to dump us into algae coated water. Turtles, cranes, and hundreds of tiny fish eyed us cautiously, as if ready to flee the moment we toppled into the drink. While we were looking for the exact hiding spot we looked north, where the trees had given way to the city.
After a few weeks of caching I’ve received a bonus to my constitution! I’m a few pounds slimmer and I traded my monitor tan in for a more traditional version.
So you want to get involved. You need two things: a GPS receiver and a caching community. The community provides the cache, and the GPS receiver helps you find it. Before you go hunting, it might help to know what a cache is.
In my experience caches are typically containers that are more-or-less waterproof. Film canisters, plastic food containers, mint tins, sandwich bags, water bottles, and even light posts. Often they are camouflaged to increase difficulty and prevent casual observers from stumbling upon them. Sometimes finding a location will present you with a riddle/puzzle you must solve before you discover whatever prize the owner left for you. Most of the time a cache will have a notepad so you can prove you actually found it.
I shopped around the internet for a few days and eventually found a GPS receiver in my price range. You’ll want to look for a device that has at least a 512k of internal memory and is “Geocaching friendly.” You might want to give serious consideration to water resistance, depending on where you live. These statistics will be listed on the details on the product page of the unit. Street and trail maps aren’t required, but if you have the money to spend they can be helpful. I’d recommend sticking to Garmin and TomTom devices because they have the greatest compatibility with the various web communities and software. You can find refurbished units for as little as $50.
There are several communities out there. The largest independent site is http://www.GeoCaching.com, while membership is free they do offer premium features, including special caches that presumably contain items of more significant monetary value. To my knowledge they have the largest listing of caches, and they operate in nearly every country on the planet. Directions to the cache’s general location are given by all major driving direction sites.
http://www.NaviCache.com is a popular alternative to Geocaching.com, mostly because they are not as selective about what awaits the cache-hunter at the coordinates. The unique cache types Navicache has to offer include events (cache party at x, y!) and caches that move around. They rely on MapQuest to give directions to a general location. Navicache is very friendly with their data, a lot of smaller caching sites use their engine.
http://www.TerraCaching.com is a site for the hard-core end of the sport. To be honest I’m a little intimidated by this site’s reputation. They say it has the hardest caches, either it’s difficult to get to or it’s hard to find once you’ve arrived. TerraCaching promises the most rewarding experience of any of the communities out there, but it doesn’t feel very friendly for beginners.
|Benchmark||Similar to travel bugs (see below) only they include instructions on locating government created permanently marked coordinates. The locations described are usually geologically significant, and thus a great deal is known about their position.|
|Micro Cache||Smaller caches, typically only large enough for a log.|
|Muggles||People who are not geocachers. They provide an element of danger for you while you’re carefully looking around public areas. They might ignore you. They might ask what you’re doing. They might destroy the cache if they see you find it. They might report your suspicious activities to law enforcement. Geocaching isn’t illegal in the United States, but bomb squads have been called, and no one wants to explain what they’re doing to the police. To avoid these issues stealth is strongly encouraged.|
|Multi-part cache||These are a lot like scavenger hunts. You find one box which gives you a clue to find another, and so on. Often hiders think it’s a wonderful idea to make you learn something about the park’s history in order to complete the chain. These hiders are jerks.|
|SL||Signed Log. The one thing nearly all caches have in common is the log. It’s the only way to prove you actually found the cache.|
|TFTC||Thanks for the Cache|
|TNLN||Took Nothing, Left Nothing|
|Traditional Cache||Usually large enough to hold common prizes, such as toys or keychains|
|Travel Bug||Some people purchase tokens (such as coins or dog tags) with codes and leave them in a cache. You can take them provided you put them in a different cache and announce the new location later.|
|Virtual Cache||Often these are designed specifically to show you something about the location; can be included in multi-part cache|
Generally the rules are pretty easy. Stay off private property and don’t trash the place. Parking lots seem to be frowned upon for cache locations, but you’ll find it’s pretty easy to get permission from hiking/outdoors stores; often because they sell related gear. Finally Geocaching.com runs “Cache in, Trash out” which asks you to take a garbage bag with you on your walk to pick up stray litter. I shrugged off the idea at first, but after a few frightened looks from muggles I’m beginning to seriously consider picking up trash as a “cover-id.” People are less likely to report a bomb scare if there’s an apparent reason for you to be poking around public areas.
June 2, 2009
I was taking notes so that I could write a post without forgetting anything. The notes were sort of conversational, so I figured I’d cop out live blog, post facto.
Dante’s Inferno trailer – Vencian poets are a lot more bad ass than I imagined. This may as well be called EA’s God of War. I think I’d rather take a virtual tour of hell; or at least a decent silent hill clone. Why even invoke the name of the book?
Sims 3 – More Sims. Yawn.
Chip Yang talks about a bunch of crap I don’t care about. That’s about all Chip ever seems to do.
People are clapping for littlest pet shop. There’s your unbiased media, folks.
Oops, they were welcoming tweens to the stage. Yay tweens.
Speed hair teasing – I really wish these were booth babes and the game was as perverted as I make it sound.
Need for Speed: Shift presents: Bullshots. Precise vs Aggressive driving seems interesting. My wife likes to smash the cars, I like to race like a ballet; maybe we should pick this one up. Cockpit crashes look awesome. I hope it works out that way in game.
Journalists might win a car for checking out NfS:S. What kind of crap is that?
Bioware doctors have my attention. Dragon Age: Origins sounds like a George Martin book. Hopefully it skimps on the twincest.
Mass Effect 2 – “How awesome are we? We’re really awesome.” I’m not hearing anything informative about the game… but wait, here’s a trailer. Sounds like the original voice actors are back; yay for Seth Green. Game mechanics look more-or-less unchanged. I think I’m alright with more of the same.
EA Sports segment; I wish I was there so I could hit the concession stand. Oh wait, Peter Moore might have a new tattoo. Nope. I guess no one wants to be typecast. The Madden 10 Online Franchise looks like a great way to manage fantasy football teams. 600,000 units of EA Sports Active. Apparently there are lots of soccer moms who can’t find Wii Fit.
Hey, real games again. What’s Saboteur about? France? In World War 2? Man, it’s going to take me a bit to get comfortable with this strange setting. Bullet Time effects and “stylized black and white” ala Sin City; I thought Mad World would be the only game to rip that off. Gameplay is MGS meets GTA; then again isn’t that sort of like what they said about Crackdown? Hopefully stealth remains viable throughout the game.
Tim Schafer on the stage. It’s hard not to love this guy. Ozzy is in Brutal Legend. Pimptacular. Jack Black is being Jack Blacky; I really wish he wouldn’t. I really don’t have a good idea about how this game plays; looks a bit like Overlord?
Crytek. I smell pretense. Yep, CryEngine 3 is going to be the second coming for all platforms, including PC. But will it be optimized enough to run Crysis?
Realtime Worlds MMO, APB. Character creation looks really tight. I’m not seeing any gameplay in the trailer. That’s too bad.
Star Wars something-or-other–ooh, Bioware’s KotR MMO. Lucus Arts says Bioware was the obvious choice for a Star Wars MMO. I thought that was SOE, silly me. Old Republic will be fully voiced, eh… sounds like lots of micro-cut scenes. Bounty Hunters will be an Empire class; that’s too bad. I thought bounty hunters played both sides. A chick wearing Boba Fett’s gear; color me interested. Too bad I still have a mountain of questions about the game.
EA in summary: a bunch of interesting sounding games that I know nothing about after supposedly being informed.