Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Video Games in TV: NCIS (again)

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

The premise in this season 8 episode "Kill Screen" is that the lead programmer on the fictional game Fear Tower 3 was paid by a middle eastern arms dealer to put hacking software into the game, which would actively run hacks against the Pentagon whenever anyone played it. Mix in a couple of false leads, finger pointing, and good old-fashioned (and even new-fashioned) detective work, and you have a gripping crime drama that manages to make some more really stupid comments about video games.

Despite the central video game theme, this episode doesn't deal with the subject matter very much. There are only a half-dozen minutes of actual game-related dialogue scenes, and only in the last few minutes of the episode does the video game theme come front and center. But most of it is still pretty nonsensical, and is still worth laughing at. A video montage of some the dialogue awaits you in the full article, along with the rest of my break-down.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No More Room in Hell for This Game

My experience with No More Room in Hell, a George A Romero-style zombie survival-horror mod for the source engine, has not been very pleasant, but what's ever pleasant about the zombie apocalypse? This is supposed to be a slower-paced game about survival, making it through large cities by following objectives (typically "get from point A to point B," or "get key item C for door D") all-the-while scavenging for ammo, supplies, and avoiding the hordes of shambling zombies that populate the large maps.

The idea was to create a zombie game that plays more like classic zombie films, with a greater emphasis on survival and strategic maneuvering than straight-up action. This is a novel ambition, since most of the popular zombie games aren't really survival horror any more. No More Room in Hell shows a lot of potential, but in its current beta state (1.02b), it misses the mark quite badly. It's a game that I really want to like, but the experience has been a turn off and I'm left abstaining until future versions (hopefully) expand on its content and fix its design problems.

You can download the mod on Desura, ModDB, and FilePlanet and play for free. I would actually recommend checking it out if you're somewhat curious about it, so that you know to keep an eye out for its future updates; just consider yourself warned that it's still rather rough around the edges. Keep reading for my own review / analysis / break-down.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voiding Expectations

This Half-Life 2 mod, Void, is something truly unique and remarkable. Developed by students of the Digipen Institute of Technology, Singapore, and receiving awards and recognition at the Chinese Independent Games Festival, it's something that I've seen before in other games (most notably Singularity), but it's never been as good as this.

Void is a first-person puzzler that has you navigating through a crumbling, dilapidated building with the aid of time-altering bubbles (called "rips") that change the space within the bubble back to the way it was in the past. In the game's current state, your goal is just to get to the exit of each level (much like Portal), but with an optional side quest to collect a total of six paintings to unlock something special at the end. Also in your handy toolset is a pair of glasses that let you see into the other dimension (how things look in the past, if you were to cast a rip).

This is a game that shows a tremendous amount of potential, the kind of thing that could easily develop into its own full-length game to rival even the likes of Portal, and is fun enough even as it is now. It's definitely worth checking out. More of my opinions after the jump.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

10 Games to Play for Christmas

'Tis the season, as the saying goes, to be jolly and play lots of video games. And yet there aren't very many Christmas-themed video games that are all that good. There's Elf Bowling as perhaps the epitome of stupid Christmas games, but then most of the others, like Santa Claus Saves the Earth, are so obscure that they're almost unplayable.

So what, then, are we left to play for Christmas? Luckily there are still plenty of games that come close to the essence of Christmas, even without being overtly related to the season, and yet more that are especially enjoyable in light of the season. So here are 10 games to consider playing in the weeks surrounding Christmas.

Friday, December 9, 2011

PC Game Series Ruined by Consolization

As an ardent player of PC games, I've noticed that longtime PC-exclusive series tend to get ruined the moment they make the cross over to the console market. There are over a dozen cases where an established, successful PC-exclusive franchise turned south almost as a direct result of console limitations, or for changing their design philosophies to match a new target audience. The end result is usually that intelligent, sophisticated, complex game series become simplified and lose a lot of their original appeal.

Consoles are also more prevalent among gamers, so producers can garner higher sales figures with the console market, which entices them to continue catering to the console audience with the next sequel. Which disappoints me, because even though a lot of these series continue to be released on the PC, they often just aren't as good as they once were. So in the full article I'll be taking a look at some of the PC-exclusive series that eventually broke onto the console market, and describing how the transition affected the integrity of the series.

Great Games You Never Played: Arcanum

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.

If the words "Fallout" or "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines" mean anything to you, then you owe it to yourself to play Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. Developed by Troika Games (the team that made Vampire Bloodlines, and many of the key designers who worked on the original Fallout), Arcanum is a steampunk role-playing game that plays much like the best of the classic RPGs.

Set during an industrial revolution, conflict pervades a society torn between sticking with the history and traditions of magic, and embracing the new wave of "heretical" technology. You play as the lone survivor of an attack on the maiden voyage of the IFS Zephyr. Initially tasked by one of the dying passengers to return a ring to "the boy," you set out on adventure to find out why assassins pursue you and, ultimately, to save the world.

As an RPG, it's among the best ever. There are tons of different ways to customize your character, not the least of which is deciding whether to follow the path of magic or technology. One path has you casting spells of all sorts, and the other has you building equipment from blueprints and fighting with firearms. The game changes and reacts to your decisions in ways that are still unsurpassed in modern games, with a open-world to explore and fulfill quests in a non-linear order. So if you like good RPGs, then you should definitely give this one a shot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spread the Holiday Cheer with Killing Floor

Nothing puts me in the holiday spirit more than big guns and zombies, turning zombie-elves into giblets and decapitating snowmen to the tune of Tchaikovsky's Trepak. Tripwire Interactive's "Twisted Christmas" event returns to Killing Floor this year with the usual Christmas-themed specimens, a new level (the Ice Cave), new achievements, new character DLC skins, and seven new weapons. And as you'd expect from the kind people at Tripwire, the update is completely free. Except for the skins, which cost $2.

Oh, and there's a FREE WEEKEND EVENT now through Sunday night, so you can try the game out on Steam if you've been on the fence thus far. If you like online coop shooters, then I'd highly recommend checking Killing Floor out this weekend. And it's on sale for $5. Read my own words about Killing Floor here.

The update is a nice present for Christmas, certainly, because it's always fun to experiment with new weapons. Some of them are better others, but overall I'm optimistic that they'll add significant depth and variety to the game. My thoughts about each one after the jump.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freedom in Video Games

A big reason why "sandbox" games like The Elder Scrolls or Grand Theft Auto are so popular is because they give you more freedom to play the game your own way. Even the most linear, script-heavy game benefits from adding bits of freedom to let the player customize their gaming experience. Video games are interactive, after all, and it can be really annoying when a game forces you to play a certain way when other options seem completely obvious or simply more natural.

The most important aspect of freedom (whether it be the freedom to do quests in any non-linear order, or merely the freedom to choose your skills and specializations in a linear story) is that the player's input has a significant impact on the gameplay. You really feel like you're in control of the game and that your actions matter. "The main quest wants me to do this, but I don't want to yet. I'll do it later," or "I could finish my objective the obvious way that the game wants me to, or I could devise a clever scheme to get it done more efficiently." It just feels rewarding to make your own decisions.

More after the jump.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Video Games in TV: Penn & Teller's Bullshit

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

For this installment of the series that makes fun of the absurd portrayal of video games in mainstream television media, I'm pleased to reference an episode from Penn & Teller's Bullshit series: season 7, episode 3, "Video Games." The show, if you haven't seen or heard of it (and can't guess from its title), is usually about debunking misconceptions and generally applying critical thought to controversial topics---in, of course, the characteristically blunt and comedic tone of the magician/comedian duo.

In a society that's often plagued with inept understanding and misrepresentation of video games on television, it's nice to see some people actually treat the "violent video game" controversy with sensibility and reason. In this episode, Penn & Teller interview Jack Thompson (the industry-opposing activist against violent video games) and get opinions from people on both side of the argument, basically concluding for themselves that violent video games aren't the real problem when it comes to real world violence.

It's a fun, entertaining watch that might also give you some new thoughts and perspectives on the issue. I don't have much of my own analysis for this one because the real analysis is done in the episode, but there are a few points Penn & Teller missed that I'll go ahead and highlight. My own thoughts (and the embedded link to the episode) come after the jump.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Indie Platforming Two'fer: Depict1 and Loved

In a holiday season that emphasizes good behavior for just rewards, it's especially fun to play two indie platformers where breaking the rules and disobeying authority is sometimes the only way to get ahead.

Depict1 (top left) has a slightly "Portal" feel about it, with you essentially going through test chamber puzzles guided by a disembodied voice. The voice gives you instructions on how to play, but the question arises very early on whether or not you can trust his/her/its advice, when it gives you clearly incorrect information that does nothing or just straight-up kills you. Between reverse psychology and outright lies, the game goes into a metaphysical realm that almost defies the conventions of ordinary video games.

Loved (bottom right) gives you the freedom to obey or disobey the voice's commands. Following orders causes the game's visuals to become clear and detailed, while disobeying turns the visuals into crude blocks and distortion. The voice rejects you from the very beginning, declaring you the opposite gender of whatever you picked, and when asked if you want a tutorial, you'll either be denied one (if you said "yes") or be told "you will fail" (if you said "no"). The nature of the voice (and indeed, the game) changes depending on your choices.

The thematic exploration of both games is very similar, in each case offering a unique twist on the way you play the game. Depict1 can be played on Newgrounds or on Kongregate; Loved can be played on Newgrounds or on Kongregate.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Top 10 Horror Games

Horror is a tricky genre; it's really easy to get your game billed as "horror," just by throwing zombies and blood into it, but the best horror games are the ones that evoke a genuine feeling of dread, discomfort, and, well, horror. A lot of so-called "horror" games aren't really scary or horrifying, and it always boggles my mind that these faux horror games always top the mainstream "best horror games" lists.

So here's my pick of the games that best capture the essence of horror. As an added bonus, I'll even throw in a couple of honorable mentions to titles that accomplish some of the crucial aspects of horror, despite not being full-on horror games.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Was a Slow Month for Posting

And yet it was my most active month yet, traffic-wise, bringing in over 50% more hits than last month. Losing both of your computers within a week of each other can throw a wrench in your routines; consequently I only posted seven articles in the month of November, and two of them were about my computers dying. So to commemorate my 7 articles in November, I'm going to describe 7 of the top November 2011 releases in exactly 7 words, none of which I've actually played. 

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Hopefully not as overrated as Oblivion was.

Click the full article for the rest of my concisely poignant and descriptive opinions.