do the write thing
In April I enteredthis imageinto a Mass Effect 3 pixel art contest at Gamespot.com and I won. Today, my prize came--a box full of Mass Effect 3 swag. Check it out:
That's me in one of TWO N7 hoodies, holding a sweet N7 mug. As a fan of tastefully geeky game memorabilia, this stuff is great. The N7 hoodies look like athletic gear (like I said, tastefully geeky), and are made of some surprisingly high quality material. These things are incredibly comfortable. Shame it's 86 degrees in Charlotte right now!
My lovely wife wearing the other hoodie (it's kind of huge on her) while displaying the N7 Playstation 3 armor. It's an N7 chest piece that actually goes on the PS3. Also comes with a cool back side and stand so you can sit the PS3 vertically.
Here she is again holding what is probably my favorite piece of swag: The Art of the Mass Effect Universe. As an artist and a huge Mass Effect fan, finding this at the bottom of the box was a real treat.
Here's the whole haul. Two hoodies, two shirts--one button up, the other a t-shirt--the PS3 armor, a N7 mug, and the Mass Effect art book.
I didn't get to see The Avengers this weekend. I learned a good lesson about seeing movies when you're a parent: if you went through the trouble of securing a sitter, go through the trouble of buying movie tickets in advance. Anyway, I had superheroes on the brain, so I took this image of Wolverine I sketched a year ago and decided to paint it in a Little Golden Books styIe. I hope this will be the start of a mini-series of pictures. The softer sides of some hard edge characters. Not sure if I'll record them all, but I did this one. Check it out!
I?ve been bouncing between three very different games the last couple of weeks?all of them refreshingly unique. This week I?ll share my impressions of these games, what makes them different, and why you should try them.Last time I talked about Trials Evolution. This time it?s Fez.
Read this post on my website, or at Giantbomb.
A few weeks ago I took my first foray into pixel art. It was something I always wanted to try, but never got around to. Actually, that?s not true, I used to do it all the time.
Back in like, 1995, my parents bought a computer that had MS Paint on it. I spent hours and hours drawing pixelated pictures with that clunky old mouse. Of course I wasn?t going for a pixelated look then, I wanted them to look realistic. Computer generated imagery was all the rage?1995, it was the year of Toy Story! I had an entire drawer filled with floppy disks, each one packed with goofy pictures (I think 11 year old me called them masterpieces). Sadly that drawer of floppies was lost to time. Sure would love to see some of those pictures again. I remember being particularly proud of an epic portrait of Macho Man Randy Savage.
Anyway, I went back to pixel art for Gamespot.com?s Mass Effect pixel art contest. It was the perfect excuse to give it a go?I like Mass Effect, pixel art and winning stuff. I was super busy with other freelance artwork, so I didn?t get to spend as much time on it as I wanted, but I think it turned out all right.
I discovered while I worked on it that pixel art is a ton of fun. I?m really happy it?s making a bit of a resurgence (for reference see Fez and Sworcery). Making it hits a creative and nostalgic sweet spot. The only downside is that when you?re done, you can?t play it. Once I finished ?de-making? Mass Effect into an old school 2D RPG, I was kind of bummed, I wanted it to be real.
I think it might be fun to de-make more games. Maybe I?ll do a whole de-make series and post it on my website. I might be able to squeeze in one or two a month with my other work (maybe, heh). Any de-make requests? Leave a comment of the game, and the genre you?d think it would fit in?like Uncharted might make a good 2D platformer or Call of Duty as a Contra-styIe shoot-em-up.
Oh yeah, if you have a Gamespot.com account, make sure to swing byhereand give me a vote in the comments, mine is Image 2. Thanks!
Smart phones game developers didn't invent the continuous motion or "running" game genre, but they definitely popularized it. It's a genre perfectly suited for mobile play--fast and easy to get in to, and they require minimal input (in most cases). Most people that are into mobile gaming know the big names in the genre, Canabalt and Jetpack Joyride, both of which are excellent games. If you've already played those, here are five more you might find fun.
Note: The Google Play Store is littered with me-too clones and bad running game rip offs. I played several in the genre, and these represent some of the best.
Stellar Escape puts you in the shoes of an astronaut fleeing an alien base. You'll jump, slide, vault and climb around a variety of obstacles through a set of increasingly difficult levels. The exaggerated cartoony animation is superb, definitely my favorite thing about this game. The button layout is under the on-screen action, not on top, so your thumbs don't get in the way. Though when things get hectic, it can be easy to hit the wrong one.
Micro-transactions?Yes, but only to upgrade to the full version, which unlocks a few dozen more levels.
Maybe the best looking game on the list, Wind-Up Knight is difficult but rewarding. Seriously, if you can play perfectly, the game rewards you with free gear and level packs. Of course you can pay to unlock levels and gear too. I aced the first set of ten and got the second set free, but I'm not sure I can do the others without losing my sanity. The game has a steady stream of ability unlocks—double jumping, shield guarding, rolling, etc.—to help mix things up and keep you on your toes. The only fault I can find with this excellent game is that the control buttons are a little on the small side.
Micro-transactions?Yes. You can purchase additional level sets as well as in-game points, which you can use to outfit your knight with better gear, e.g., a helmet that can take multiple hits.
This one is just plain weird. You play a strange person-like creature with extendable legs. The further you extend them, the faster you move. You raise and lower Mr. Legs to avoid birds and bombs and eat cherries. Simply tap the screen to start moving, and then slide up and down anywhere to extend and retract his legs. The unique art styIe, quirky music, and easy controls make this one worth playing.
Temple Run has eaten up most of my mobile gaming time lately. It's one of the few running games that isn't from the side or played in landscape. You play an adventurer, dashing through ruins with a cursed idol, while strange monkey-like creatures chase you. The levels are randomly generated and feature a nice bit of variety. You tilt the phone side to side to lean your runner and collect coins littered about the world. Swipe up to jump, down to slide, and left or right to turn 90 degrees. This one has me hooked because of the achievement and upgrade system. Like many games, you can buy more in-game currency with real money, but in Temple Run, the upgrades are just low enough to make you think if you stick with it, you can make enough on your own. And so you try, and try, and try.
Micro-transactions?Yes. You can buy more coins to aid in the purchase of upgrades.
This simple little game is absolutely delightful (picture at the top). As the name implies, it's not about running. You play a charming British man in a top hat, out on his evening constitutional. Controls are simple, tap the screen to start him walking through the snow, tap and hold when the wind blows to make him clutch his top hat. The goal is to make it as far as possible without losing your hat. I love this game's presentation. It's simple and silly, and the pixel art visuals and retro 8-bit music are great. I also love the polite and pithy ponderings that pop-up as you walk.
Have you ever read a book, watched a show/movie or played a game (ahem…Mass Effect 3) and were hit something really weird at the end? Like something that doesn't fit? Something that's way too convenient; a strange, out-of-place person, character or circumstance that wraps the conflict up in one confusing swoop? Congratulations, you may have just come across a deus ex machina, one of the cheapest literary devices this side of the cliché.
I think TVtropes.com defines it best:
ADeus ex Machinais an outside force that solves a seemingly unsolvable problem in an extremely unlikely (and, usually,anticlimactic) way. If the secret documents are in Russian, one of the spies suddenly reveals thatthey learned the language. If the writers have just lost funding, a millionaire suddenly arrives, announces an interest in their movie, and offers all the finances they need to make it. IfThe Heroisdangling at the edge of a cliff with a villain stepping on his fingers,a flying robot suddenly appears to save him.
The term is Latin forgod out of the machineand has its origins inancient Greek theater. It refers to situations in which a crane (machine) was used to lower actors or statues playing a god or gods (deus) onto the stage to set things right, often near the end of the play. It has since come to be used as a general term for any event in which a seemingly fatal plot twist is resolved by an event never foreshadowed or set up.
Based on all the online vitriol surrounding the Mass Effect 3 ending, you'd think this was the first time gamers have come across this lazy storytelling tactic. But it's everywhere:
From books:Tolkien wasn't above it. Didn't you think it was odd how many times giant talking eagles came to the rescue?
To TV shows:Every other episode of Doctor Who seems to have one:
"Oh no Doctor, earth is doomed."
"No it's not! I've got a supersonic earth-saving wiggly wobbleator!"
Movies:Watch any pre-Daniel Craig Bond film. Amazing how Q always gives Bondthe exactgadget he needs to get out of a very specific situation later on. It's never a general-use spy gadget. It's a pocket snorkel that lets him breathe under water for five minutes, which is the precise amount of time he'll be stuck in a shark tank later on.
And of course games:*UNCHARTED 3 SPOILER WARNING* Toward the end of Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake picks up a portable rocket launcher that looks like some kind of weird prototype. Minutes later this launcher miraculously fires two rockets under water, which result in the large-scale destruction of the massive underground facility the bad guys are occupying. Also, it saves Sully and closes the door on the mysterious container they were hauling out of the water. Convenient!
Look for it and you'll find it everywhere. It's annoying, aggravating and often completely unsatisfying. And yet, it does work in some places. If the story is funny, cool, or quirky enough, sometimes you can overlook it. It's a gamble for the writer to take—you have to trust that the majority of your audience will swallow your silly twist. Shows like Futurama and 24 are both littered with deus ex machina's. The former makes up for it with absurdist humor while the latter (mostly) makes up for it with Jack Bauer's general badassery. Yes it's incredibly stupid that Angelina Jolie's character saves the dude in Wanted with one impossible bullet when he's surrounded by gunned-up bad guys in a perfect circle. Stupid, but kind of awesome, and it fits with the rest of the absurd, fourth-wall-breaking vibe of the film, so it gets a pass.
I was disappointed with Mass Effect 3's ending just like everyone else, but to me, it wasn't a petition-worthy offense. Maybe it's because I write for a living, or because I consume a lot of stories, or because I knew it was coming, but the ending didn't rile me up. I shook my head, uttered a long sigh, and then started a new game. They went for a silly slightly-literal deus ex machina, a god out of the machine. The Matrix trilogy tried the same thing, but it was worse there. Then again the Matrix trilogy took a turn south long before the ending. At least Mass Effect 3 is a fantastic game all the way up to those last 10 minutes.
Anyway, this wasn't meant to be another blog about Mass Effect 3, the internet has enough of those. Just thought I'd highlight the narrative device they used, for those that don't know. It's actually in more places than you might think.
I think, most of the time when it appears in games, it's through a cinematic or through level design ("Look at that, someone left a mounted turret near this enemy encampment"). Throwing in a gameplay-specific deus ex machina would be difficult, because it could require a new mechanic or extra development. Game developers are economical. Why create something the player only gets to use once?
That's not to say it's never been done. There are games that feature single-use items or mechanics that completely shift the tide of the battle or story. At the end of InFamous 2, Cole can pretty much fly. Would have been convenient to have that power earlier on.
Now, the fun part! Movies and shows are easy. What other games can you think of that had a deus ex machina?
Ever take a break and realize just as it ends that it was exactly what you needed? That's how I felt last night about my creative spring break. I still worked on the art I was obligated to do, and I still wrote (a lot) at work, because that's my job, but other than that, I took it easy. I think some great things came from it. Here's some stuff that happened in the past week or so.
-I did the Cooper River Bridge Run. It was fun, as always, to run with 40,000 other people. They were pretty unorganized this year and the race started a full hour late. My feet hurt before I even started running. But that's okay, I still had a great time and the weather was nice.
-I beat Mass Effect 3. I thought about writing a blog about it, but enough has been said about that whole ordeal. I didn't think the ending was that bad, certainly not worth starting a petition or filing a claim with the BBB. I'm not going to remember the ME series for its final 10 lackluster minutes, but for the hours and hours of enjoyment I got from its rich universe and exciting fiction. Years from now, even the haters will look back on the Mass Effect series and see it as a landmark achievement for video game narrative. I can't wait to play it again.
-I rooted my old Droid Eris and then paired a PS3 controller to it for some emulator action. I didn't actually get to the emulator part, but it's ready for that should I choose to pursue it. I always wanted to try rooting my phone, but I was nervous I would screw something up. Now that it's just sitting in a drawer, I figured it couldn't hurt. Turns out rooting is easy, once you sift through all the message boards, wayward download links and jargon-filled developer comments.
-I tried out theBlueStacksbeta. It's a bit laggy at times, but still really neat. I played some phone games using my mouse and keyboard and got to try out Posebook on a much bigger screen.
-I got an idea for an online story/etsy shop. Brooke's been telling me I should open one for a while, but I wasn't sure what I'd actually sell. I found a niche I could fill over the break. Still not sure if/when I'll open the store—gotta find some time for that.
-Way back in 2006 I started an online novel. One chapter a week, for about four or five weeks. It was called "Stranger Things". If you've followed me online for that long, you might remember it. I took it down after a few people told me I should make a go at turning it into a full novel. I did that, but eventually puttered out--that was long before I discoveredhow to build a story. Inspiration struck me during my run last weekend and I think I'm going to resurrect Stranger Things after I finish my current book, "The Unfortunate Wishes of Matthew Watson". I'm going to start from scratch, but some of the themes, characters and ideas from that original book will be in there. I love this stage of the writing process. When every idea feels like it could be the best thing ever and little bits of dialog and scenes flash into my mind.
-I came up with a new work schedule for freelance projects and art/writing development. Since having Parker I was kind of just working when I could, and it wasn't efficient, for me or the family. I've discovered that life with a baby works best when it's heavily scheduled. Babies respond well to routines after about three months. Everything gets slotted into a predetermined space—laundry, cleaning, freelance, lawn work, TV time, etc. It can be tough to adjust to if you're not crazy about routines, but it frees up the brain space you'd normally use trying to figure out "when am I going to get this done?"
-Best of all, I spent some quality time with my wife, son and puppy. On that note, you should watch the documentary Being Elmo on Netflix. It's an endearing, inspiring little movie about the man behind the famous red puppet.
Definitely a good break. My creative battery has been recharged and I'm ready to get back to it. If you create for living or for a hobby, you should definitely look into taking one. Stop being a creator for a bit, just relax and consume someone else's creations (read a book, watch a movie, play a game). It's good for you.
It's spring time! That means two things:
-I'm heading to Charleston for theCooper River Bridge Run
-It's Creative Spring Break!
That second one isn't really a thing. Until now, that is. I need a break from making things for a bit. Let my creativity recharge.
Currently I'm writing my second book, shopping my first book around to agents, doing the art for a video game, sending art samples to children's book publishers, designing wedding invitations for brides, working on a freelance art project, writing two blogs a week, and trying to improve my art in several different areas. All that on top of a day job, and my responsibilities as a husband, father and puppy owner.
So for the next week or two, I'm not doing any of that. Okay, I'm doing some of it—I'm obligated to work on/finish some of those things. But hopefully scaling back the others will help me catch my breath so I can come back strong and make some real progress on my goals, like finally finishing my second book.
That means I won't be blogging for a bit, but I'll probably still be aroundon Twitter if you want to follow me there. I'm actually really excited about this. I have this creative ambition swirling in my mind that makes not working on things almost impossible. I have to be doing something, all the time. It can be exhausting, and the weird thing is, because I make money off most of my hobbies, and I enjoy doing them, I sometimes don't realize that, creatively, I'm running on fumes. The last real break from creation I took was almost two years ago, when I went to Italy for ten days.
So I'm off to Charleston, to run across a bridge, and jumpstart my creative recharge. See you after spring break!
I've been super busy lately working on way too many things at the same time (I know, what's new?), but I'm still finding time to play Mass Effect 3 when I can. I think I'm closing in on this notoriously bad ending now. I've avoided spoilers, but haven't avoided the never-ending conversation about it. Every game site, twitter feed and podcast has talked about it. By now my expectations are so low I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it.
The one thing that bums me out with all this ME3 talk is that no one seems to focus on what was done right. The game might have a bad ending, but it has a fantastic middle. Here are some improvements over the previous two games I've noted and appreciated while playing:
-More talky talk.They scaled back the chatter in ME2, to the point that the only time you heard from your companions was if you sought them out. In ME3 they have more to say to you and to each other. They talk during missions, spit out quick quips and observations, they bring up past escapades, even call each other from different rooms when they're on the ship. You also see them out when you're on the Citadel, doing their own thing, sometimes hanging with other members from the crew or people from past games. The ME3 crew is a lively bunch.
-Better level design.There's nothing in the codex about the universe discovering ladders between ME2 and ME3, but I'm glad they did. The levels in ME3 are more dynamic and vertical and the backgrounds often depict scenes of epic battle. There's a richness and depth to them that make it feel like you really are a specialized crew weaving in and out of a greater conflict. A couple of the missions easily outrank anything the first two games did, even the well-regarded DLC missions for ME2. There's particularly cool one with the Quarians and Geth that offered something completely different while delivering some great story bits.
-It's like a movie!Remember when the first Mass Effect came out and we all flipped over the conversation wheel and the cinematic camera angles that framed your talks with aliens? Well the improvements in cinematic presentation made in ME3 (compared to ME) are like the difference between a crappy indie film and a big budget action movie. People walk and talk, camera angles shift multiple times in a conversation, set piece moments have some nice shaky cam to up the immediacy and urgency. How come no one is talking about that stuff? Look at the cool quick videos in the shuttle as you fly out to a planet. Shepard checks a computer screen, walks to the cockpit, talks with the pilot, chats with his companions, then hops out and starts shooting, all of it in-game. Also, lens flare!
-Multiplayer is fun.When the multiplayer was first announced, I wasn't outraged like some purists, but I couldn't say I was excited. It's not what I go to Mass Effect for. Turns out it's actually a lot of fun. You know how Call of Duty borrows some of the RPG-like level progression in its multiplayer? ME3's is like that, but deeper. You get the same powers and guns as you do in the single player, and you level up skills on branching trees the same way too. Plus you can play as aliens. No it's probably not going to unseat Call of Duty as the world's most popular multiplayer, but it's still a lot of fun.
So the ending isn't great, oh well. I've read plenty of books and seen tons of movies that didn't end well (Wise Man's Fear anyone? What about the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy?). Maybe I'll have more to say when I finally see it, but for now, I don't regret my time with Mass Effect 3 or my purchase. And I really don't like the idea of Bioware caving in and changing the ending. That creates a bad precedent, and all the petitions make gamers look like a bunch of whining, self-entitled douchers.
Just like the last two games, I'm already planning my second play-through. There are some parts in the middle of this game I can't wait to see again.
On a related note, Gamespot is holding a Mass Effect pixel art contest. I've never done pixel art, but it's something I always wanted to try. Here's my entry, a 2D "demake" of Mass Effect. Pixel art can be extremely tedious, but it's a lot of fun to figure out how to use the limited space to convey as much information as possible.
I came across the video today and must have watched it a dozen times. It's funny, inspiring, incredible, and hopefully,real. Check it out:
Because the internet is the internet, you can't find a video of this guy without someone calling fake in the comments. It makes me sad that we're all so jaded, but stuff is so easy to fake these days that it's hard not to roll your eyes and brush this off as a viral marketing video.
I don't want it to be a hoax though. It's too awesome. Also, after researching this guy and pouring over his website, it seems like he's done a lot of work. If it's all fake, he's put in a lot of time to make it look convincing.
His early test video of the motors that make his wings flap—cobbled together with Wii remotes and Android phones—werefeatured on Engadgetmonths ago.
The wingspan math wasexamined by a Wiredblogger back in January after his first test flight and deemed plausible.
Then today,Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters (and Tested.com!) fame weighed in. He also seemed to think it was plausible.
Thehumanbirdwings.netwebsite is filled with blog posts that go into detail about his creation.
I want this to be real. Yes being able to one day flap off to work would be cool, but for me the exciting part is just watching it happen. The bootstrapping, DIY spirit of this thing is what makes it so endearing. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a marketing campaign for Honda or HTC phones or Southwest Airlines. That would be lame. Please, magical flying contraption inventor man, prove the internet wrong.
A few months agoStephen Silverreleased an app called Posebook. I wanted it badly, but it was only available for iDevices. That changed this past week. You can now pick upPosebookfor your Android device through the Amazon App Store. If you're interested in improving your art, I highly recommend it.
Posebook is exactly what it sounds like, an electronic book full of poses. You get several costumed characters in a crazy amount of poses, plus silhouettes, hands and faces. Each pose has multiple angles and you can zoom in and flip every image. The app also comes with some short tutorial videos from Stephen and a gallery of images created by talented artists who used Posebook for their drawings. The videos are excellent and I wish there were more of them. They're really just there to drive you toStephen's Schoolism cIass, which I'm sure is fantastic (side note: if you're interested in taking a Schoolism cIass--and you should be because they're awesome--use thelink on my websitefor a discount).
The only downside to the app is that it can be a bit too sensitive when navigating the menus. The UI and overall design feels just like an iPhone app, meaning it was quickly converted and thrown on the Android market. Other than that tiny nuisance, it's a wonderful app. It looks great on my Droid Razr's big screen, and until theBlueStacksbeta starts, I can use the HDMI out on my phone to see the pictures bigger on my computer monitor.
Here are a couple sketches I did other night.
There are so many poses to choose from. I'm seeking out the ones that I don't normally draw, stuff at weird angles. Posebook is split into two apps, one has males the other has females. Each app is $10. I'm going to get the female version after my $10 Amazon credit comes in from pre-ordering Mass Effect 3. Even at $20 it's a great value. The absurd number of poses, the tutorials, and the ability to flip and zoom images elevates Posebook above its traditional paper-bound counterparts. If you have a compatible device and you want to improve your figure drawing skills, get this app.
I've spent the last month or two working on the art for an indie game. It's my first time working on a game, and its been fascinating. It's something I always wanted to do, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing it(side note: I always imagined working on a game's story, since I write for a living. So I'mthrilledto be doing the art, it's a fun challenge). Then I was approached byblog friend Seth. He's in school for game development in Chicago, and as a sort of final project before graduating he and a team are creating a game. He told me they needed an artist and...one thing led to another and now I'm doing a lot of the art, with the help of a talented art student, Amanda Humfleet. Fun!
Broken is a game about a man suffering from a number of mental illnesses. He's got a bunch of personalities running around his brain causing all kinds of chaos. Jim is Broken, and it's up to the player to fix him. You guide Jim with the directional arrows on one side of the screen and one of his crazy personalities on the other. They move simultaneously, but their movement isn't always the same. To finish a level you must guide Jim and his personality to the same exit--therby repairing his fragmented mind.
Seth and his team are on a tight deadline, so I've been pumping out as much as I can after work and on the weekends. We moved fast, from concept to gameplay in a matter of days, and it's been so incredibly cool to see it all come together. I'm a huge video game enthusiast (duh), so the way a game gets made wasn't a complete mystery to me, but it's still neat to see, to actually be in it. Changes in gameplay have lead to changes in my art, and ideas I've had with the art have lead to tweaks in gameplay and the story. It's all happening at the same time. It's an awesome organized chaos.
Check out the gallery below, andthe game's website(note the website is a work in progress, as is the gameplay you see there, it's missing final animations and a host of other things, but you get the idea). The guys are bringing a playable build to GDC next week and I'm very excited for them. Hopefully there will be a playable beta open soon and I'll be able to let a select few in for some testing. There's still a ton of art to do, some glamorous (character design!) and some less so (wall textures!), but I'm having fun doing it.
So that's what I've been up to, and what I'll continue to be up to for a while longer. I'll post more updates downt he road. Thanks for checking it out!
For those that don't know, rental-by-mail service Gamefly has a PC client sort of like Steam. You can purchase games, manage your queue, and if you're a paying member, download and play a wide variety of PC games. By wide variety I mean mostly crap—those awful WalMart PC games with generic titles and even more generic art. But there are a few gems, like Prince of Persia 2008, Tomb Raider Legends and Anniversary, and all three seasons of Sam and Max.
If you're like me and you own all the systems and have been a Gamefly member for years, you've probably played all those games, which is why I don't check in on the service often. I do like to peruse it for games I missed; last generation titles that I always thought about playing but never got around to. Stuff like XIII or Red Faction 2. So that's what lead me to Rogue Trooper, a 2006 third person shooter that was among the last crop of games on the PS2 and Xbox. I downloaded it the other day and played an hour or so.
I won't be playing more.
Rogue Trooper is not terrible. In fact, it has some impressive elements considering when it came out. There's a nice upgrade system to the weapons, a pre-Gears of War cover system that works 65 percent of the time, and some slick (for the time) cutscene animations. Unfortunately it's just not fun to play. The gameplay design is uninspired, filled with stuff we've all seen before in shooters.
At first I thought this was because it was a six year old game (six years! I feel old) and I've seen the tricks Rogue Trooper used in other, better games since then. But then I looked up some reviews. Check out this bit from the 1Up review:
"But more often, you're having garden-variety gun battles, garnished with a handful of repeating tricks: "Hold off waves of attackers while your helmet hacks a door," "Put bombs in the appropriately shaped sockets, usually to unlock a door, but sometimes to prevent aircraft from landing with reinforcements," and the old favorite, "Man the turret while you ride a vehicle on rails."
Other reviewers had similar thoughts, labeling the game as "capable" and "average" a solid, mediocre 6.5. So if we were tired of those boring mission designs and combat scenarios then, why are we still playing them now? Every one of those scenarios in the quote above has made their way into most modern shooters. Last year I made a list ofgame tropes that need to die. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek, sort of serious. I didn't realize at the time just how old some of those tropes were.
Can those tropes even be avoided? Has the game industry run out of ideas? How much can you add or change in a shooter before it stops being a shooter? For example, what if instead of manning the turret in the plane, you fly the plane? What if instead of waiting for your computer-controlled ally to hack a terminal, you hack the terminal (with a clever mini-game, not the "press X to hack" thing—that's a poor attempt at varied interaction)? What if instead of being the muscled escorter, you were the weaponless escortee, trying to avoid getting shot?
Would placing those mini-games and non-shooting scenarios in a shooter break the genre label? Do shooter fans even want that stuff? I'd be willing to give it a shot (zing). I definitely don't need more Rogue Trooper in my life.
I've been working for weeks onthe art for a video game, but I can't share it just yet (UPDATE:Turns out I can! The game's website is up but it's a work in progress right now. I'll post some annotated pics here later this week). So I decided I would share my warm up instead. Here's a quick (around 40 to 45 minutes) picture I did this morning. Set to the music from Bastion, because that music is awesome.
I just got around to watching the new Far Cry 3 trailer, and like the one that came before it, I walked away from it with awesome shivers. Check it out (warning trailer contains dupstep and nsfw language).
Awesome right? My first reaction was "Now that's a game I want to play", but the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became about that statement. That trailer doesn't feature any gameplay, hints at some, but it's still all pre-rendered CG. I guess I can assume the gameplay will be kind of like Far Cry 2, even if the tone and story are completely different, and I liked Far Cry 2 well enough. So the question is, am I excited to play Far Cry 3, or do I just want to watch more of that crazy action movie-like drama unfold?
Famed game developer David Jaffe recently gave a talk at a developer's conference about story in games. As is Jaffe's **** the talk was blunt and to-the-point. His main argument: games should stop trying to be movies. (I'm paraphrasing his stuff here) Movies and books tell stories, and they tell them well. Games are interactive, so the stories should be too.Jaffe went on to point out how games like Skyrim and Battlefield 3create stories from rich gameplay experiences. Things happen in those games that might never happen again. You experience crazy stuff you tell your friends about. The story is your own, not what the developer dictates.
On some levels I agree with this, especially after completing Skyrim. While the narrative dictated by the developers was entertaining, the most memorable moments for me in that game came from exploring the world. When I talked about Skyrim with my brother on the phone a few weeks ago, we didn't talk about the story, or the developer-designed quests. We talked about things that happened while we were out exploring. I told him how I took down a wild mammoth with nothing but a lightening spell and luck. He told me how he got swarmed by frost trolls on a mountaintop while poking around for treasure. The developers created the world and we made our stories by interacting with it.
The original Borderlands was a bit like Skyrim in that stories organically appeared thanks to the nearly endless amount of guns, and the four player co-op. When you talked about Borderlands, you didn't talk about the thin plot and fetch quests, but what kind of guns you found and what you could do with them. Take a look at the new Borderlands 2 trailer. It is the opposite of the Far Cry 3 trailer (except for the dub step, they both have that). Instead of showing you a pre-rendered scene with the implication of excitement, it shows you gameplay, which is exciting in itself (joy puke!). There's a story in Borderlands 2, but that's not the draw, and they know it.
But not every game is like Skyrim or Borderlands, nor should they be. I think there's a place for good pre-determined narrative in video games. I think it's possible that the two styIes, organic story and pre-determined story, can be combined. The industry is still relatively young and developers are still exploring the medium—there's a ton of potential there. The biggest problem right now when it comes to marrying the two styIes--and this may have led to Jaffe's speech--is the disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay and the pattern they create.
Remember thatamazing Dead Island trailer? It caused quite a stir back in the summer of 2011. It didn't show any gameplay either, though the developers went on to argue later that that wasn't the point. The pre-rendered trailer was a tone piece, a taste of what the actual game would be like. It worked too. If playing the game could evoke the same emotions as watching the trailer, I was sold. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I haven't played Dead Island, but from what I've read and heard, it doesn't deliver on the trailer's promise. It's not a bad game, it's just not the game the trailer implied it would be.
The point of the Far Cry 3 trailer is to make you think that playing the game will deliver the same rush, the same "ohmygod, ohmygod, what is happening!?" feeling that watching those kinetic scenes creates. They are showing us a dire situation and then saying, "Guess what, you get toplaythis. You are on the run and a crazy man is after you, this isyourdire situation." That is something only video games can do. But they're still working out how to do it well.
There's a good chance that Far Cry 3 will open with a balls-out crazy scene, setting up a situation not unlike the trailer. Your pulse will be pounding, your mind will race at the thought of jumping in the shoes of this man on the run, and then…you'll shoot dudes with a gun, just like every other FPS game. You'll creep along through the jungle—just like Far Cry 1, Far Cry 2, Crysis, Call of Duty Black Ops, and countless others— and shoot more dudes. Then there will be a turret sequence, or a sniping sequence, you'll shoot more dudes, and then—oh boy!—another cutscene!
It's a cynical view of game design sure, but if you've played games long enough, you've seen that exact setup dozens of times. I think that pattern is what Jaffe was getting at with his speech. There's got to be a better way to tell a story than the current, popular loop of cutscene-gameplay-cutscene. When you step back and look at it, it's a pretty ugly, stapled together format. All first person shooters boil down to shootin' dudes. It's the context wrapped around that core mechanic and the promise of a compelling yarn that keeps us coming back to the controller. The promise of a perfect marriage of organic and inorganic story.
At least that's what keeps me coming back. I'm a sucker for that promise. I want to see them sustain that excitement created in the unplayable parts of the game to the playable parts. I don't want to shoot dudes in the jungle. I've been playing games for more than two decades; I've had my fill of shooting dudes. I want to play that story. It's possible, and I'm an optimistic guy, so I'll check out Far Cry 3 and hope they pull it off. That trailer is a doozy, and if they can translate the excitement of watching it into gameplay, they can take my money.
In the interest of keeping my decent streak of Tuesday-Thursday updates going, here's a cool thing that's not happening where I live and I really wish it was:
A coworker tweeted a link toRun For Your Livesthe other week. It's a zombie run, and it looks awesome. Here's the gist:
-You run a 5k course filled with obstacles and zombies
-You wear a flag football-styIe belt. The flags represent your health
-Lose all your health and you die (I don't think you become a zombie)
-Health bonuses are hidden throughout the course
-Make it to the end with at least one flag intact and you're eligible for some cool prizes
Anyone can run the race or register to be a zombie (age restrictions do apply). I'm not sure what the specific rules are for a zombie, and I'm also not sure which role would be more fun. Unfortunately I won't get to find out because this event isn't coming to Charlotte, at least not right now. It looks crazy fun though, like playing Left 4 Dead in real life...without the guns.
I usually only run races when I can justify the cost. I can run anywhere for free, and since I'm not a competitive runner, there's not much of a difference come race day--let's be honest, at my 10 minute a mile pace, I'm notracinganyone. In order for me to fork over $40 or more to put my left foot in front of my right foot a race needs to either be a long distance on a good course, like the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll half marathon; or if it's shorter, have some kind of crazy hook, like zombies or running across the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston.
I'd gladly pay to run this event if it was coming to Charlotte. If anyone out there plans to run the zombie race, or already has, let me know. I had a blast doing the Warrior Dash back in August (pictured above...I lost my shoe in the final mud pit), so I imagine this would be even more fun, since it features similar obstacles and has a fun zombie movie/video game vibe.
"Show don't tell" is a much heralded mantra in writing—it's a practice proven to make good stories great, and it works for most other mediums as well. Games have been telling for a long time, but as the industry matures, technology advances, and budgets expand, showing is getting easier. Our imaginations don't have to work near as hard as they used to. And that makes games more accessible, more fun, and in most cases, more entertaining.
While there's nothing wrong with using your imagination—I mean, I use it for a living—it's kind of exciting to see games get to a point where that's not necessary. Those that have been gaming for a long time know that sometimes you have to fill in the gaps. Sometimes a game implies something amazing happened, or just straight up tells you what a character is feeling, and you have to use your imagination to gauge the impact. For example, you may know the back story of a character after hours of play, so even though the game can't properly show it—due to technical limitations—you know that the revelations about his motives have a big impact on the direction of the story. Your imagination covers the game's technical shortcomings.
We've come a long way in the last decade. The easiest way to see the progression is to show you (duh)...
I haven't been really hooked to a TV show drama since Lost. Outside of my favorite comedy programs—Community, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Daily Show and Modern Family—there are few shows that I watch with complete focus. Most I'm content to have on in the background while I screw around on the internet or entertain my son with things that rattle.
I tried a few "full focus" shows that others rave about. Mad Men had promise, but I eventually gave up on it, tired of finding out that every single male character was a cheating scumbag. I tried Breaking Bad, and I really like it, but I have to be in the right mood to watch it, because that show's kind of a downer. Then there's Doctor Who. That show is great and stupid at the same time and I think I like it. It has replaced 24 as my favorite form of ear TV. I usually "watch" it while I'm working on art. It streams from Netflix in a small window on my other monitor.
Maybe Lost was a one-time thing. Now that I have a baby I rarely watch a show when it actually airs. Our DVR is always packed with shows waiting to be watched. It's kind of nice actually. Whenever I sit down to watch TV, I can watch what I want, and that suits me. I hate flipping channels and just watching some mindless programming. If I've designated some time to watch TV, I want to watch TV, not some lame apartment hunting show on a upper-200 channel with a nonsense acronym.
I have tried out a couple of non-comedy shows, and one I keep coming back to is Person of Interest. It's not particularly great, but it's consistently pretty good, with promise to get better.
It's about a machine that predicts threats to the nation. It was built by an insanely smart and insanely rich guy named Finch, played by Lost's Michael Emerson. When Finch realized that the machine was also predicting small crimes—it would spit out social security numbers of those that were in danger, or about to commit a crime—and they were getting ignored, he struck out on his own. Then he hired Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, an ex-super spy dude looking for a purpose. Together they use the machine to find the people the government deems "insignificant", and they save lives. Finch uses his nerdery and Reese uses his general badassery.
I like the show because it's got that crime of the week thing, and also some light over-arching mystery. Each episode reveals just enough of the mysterious side stuff to keep you coming back. It's not heavily serialized like 24 or Lost, but it's not completely disconnected like some procedurals. I guess I just appreciate the fact that they aren't doing that heavy handed "we have a mysterious development that we're going to hint at (or beat you over the head with) in every episode!" thing that every post-Lost drama tried to do.
I have no idea how the show is doing because I always DVR it, but I hope it continues. Yes Caviezel's delivery can be wooden and forced at times, and some of the stuff they do with technology crosses the line between sort-of, maybe possible to just outright dumb, but the good outweighs the bad. Emerson is fantastic as Finch. He's a good guy, but he's got skeletons in his closet. He's not nearly as duplicitous as Ben was in Lost, but Emerson still plays up some of that same "I've got some secrets you shouldn't know" tension to great effect. Also, Caviezel's smooth badassery approaches Jack Bauer levels on occasion, and that's never a bad thing.
It's pretty good TV, and maybe it will eventually make the leap to pretty great. Any other shows out there that fit the same description?