Sunday, November 27, 2011

Indie Music Bundle: 10 albums for $1

The Indie Music Bundle has now been extended until Monday November 28. Grab 10 indie-game soundtracks for $1 and 17 total soundtracks if you donate more than $10. Albums range from Minecraft and Super Meat Boy to ARES and Wind-up Knight.

If you want to get down to your game music on your own time, make sure to check it out!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gamers vs the Machine?

Let's face it, people love to play games. People will ignore work, going to class, maintaining a relationship, even feeding your baby, when faced with an addicting game. But what if we were able to harness that energy by wrapping real 'productive' contributions to society in a fun and digestible format. Imagine if WoW was feeding starving children in Africa! Imagine if for every kill you made in Call of Duty, a disadvantaged child got a toy?

Those with a PS3 might know folding@home, a program which allowed them to use their PS3's idle time to assist with scientific research (protein folding) at Stanford. Folding algorithms take a long time to process, but with folding@home and sourced to the crowd, the total time is dramatically cut down. But science and gaming never worked together. The more you played Uncharted, the less you actually contributed. Might as well not play anything if you wanted to really help out!

Enter FoldIt. Instead of utilizing the collective power  of computers, FoldIt utilizes the collective power of of human ingenuity.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Rare Negative Review for Skyward Sword...and I love it

I'll come right out and say it. I've been off the Nintendo bandwagon for so long that I have started to actively root against anything the company puts out. I'm not exactly sure why; I have so many wonderful gaming memories from Nintendo franchises in the 8, 16, and 64-bit era. At heart, though, I've always been a PC gamer, and now that Western developers have flooded consoles with their PC influenced games, I've found my tolerance for Japanese style games has dropped through the floor. Add to this the nearly fanatical, Apple-like devotion that some hold for Nintendo products, and I find myself actively disliking a company that projects an image of superiority and arrogance. After all the hype I've been hearing about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I found it gratifying to come across a review that excoriates this latest recycle job for a myriad of disastrous design decisions. A taste:
The more I played Skyward Sword the less I liked it. Like many Nintendo games or even consoles, there are some core features and gimmicks that can be entertaining under very specific circumstances, yet they’re utterly bogged down by obsolete conventions, repetitious filler, and undeniable proof that the Wiimote flat-out doesn’t work as a viable replacement for a standard controller...Even when the many flaws or ineffective controls aren’t getting in the way, it’s all just so familiar. Skyward Sword imitates not only other, better role-playing games and past Mario/Zelda titles, but it also copies and pastes massive chunks of content from within itself as well. I know that fans and Wii loyalists will rabidly delight in this game, but until Nintendo learns some new tricks or, at the very least, can keep up with other modern day developers, I think I’ve finally, reluctantly, outgrown the Zelda series.
 Head over to Gamesbeat to read the rest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Frozen Synapse: A Great Escape

My Frozen Synapse team was tasked with infiltrating a broadcast facility. While our boss was broadcasting a propaganda video, we were tasked with securing the shut-down keys (the red glowing boxes on the map; use your imagination) and escaping with them before the enemy could grab them and shut down the transmission.

We did it. Barely. My grenadier had a couple of lucky shots, but he didn't make it out.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Saints Row 3...

...sounds totally bonkers. I played the first one a few years ago, and spent the majority of my time ignoring story missions and instead committing insurance fraud by throwing myself in front of moving cars; this never stopped being funny to me. By all accounts, Saints Row 3 is completely insane. From the Giant Bomb review:
With all of these things in mind, I respect that Saints Row: The Third might not be a game for everyone. Specifically, those who do not find joy in the act of inflicting terrible, fiery, dildo-y pain on whatever innocent polygonal creature happens to wander too close to their personal blast zone will probably not get much out of Saints Row's unrelenting dedication to preposterous anarchy. It is a game specifically designed for annihilation junkies, those who can embrace the idea of an infantile playground of seemingly infinite obliterative pleasures.

Mmm... digital mayhem. That really sounds like fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sony, Nintendo, and the Death of Handheld Gaming

The blog Dubious Quality is probably one of my favorite blogs on the internet. Whenever a new post pops up on my RSS reader, I tackle it immediately. I don't really know much about the blog or where it came from, other than that the guy who writes all the posts is someone named Bill Harris. He posts all sorts of stuff, from funny little stories about his precocious ten-year old, to random interesting links all across the internet, to musings on new indie games.

I find myself totally fascinated by any post in which Harris decides to analyze console sales numbers and revenue; I really can't look away. He's really sharp when it comes to analyzing the business side of the console industry, and I've haven't found anywhere else in the video gaming blogosphere (with the possible exception of Matt Matthew's Behind the Numbers column at Gamasutra) that can make me so interested in the business strategy of our three major video game console companies.

All that said, I really want to spotlight this post over at Dubious Quality. In short, things are looking ugly for Sony and Nintendo. How ugly? Take it away, Bill:

In summary terms, only three months ago Nintendo and Sony were projecting a combined fiscal year profit of $997M dollars. Three months later, they're forecasting a combined fiscal year loss of $1.381B. 
Yikes. Harris goes on to break down these numbers, explaining that both companies have very different problems and reasons for this loss. Sony was betting on sales of LCD TVs to fuel the overall company's growth and offset losses in other divisions. Unfortunately, LCD TV sales didn't hit the crazy-ass target Sony set (60% growth from last year) and worse yet, they're projecting LCD TV sales to shrink next year. There's barely any growth in the PS3 division, so Sony can't count on that long-term money sink to offset losses elsewhere. It makes me wonder about Sony's strategy for the next generation. We already know about Nintendo's Wii-U and we're starting to hear rumors about Microsoft's new console, but I can't say I've heard much about what Sony will roll out to replace the "future-proof" PS3. I'm not sure, however, that Sony can afford to roll out a very expensive and flashy console this time around, especially if Microsoft is going to make the new Xbox cheaper than the 360.

Now for Nintendo. Boy, did I love Nintendo back in the day, but I've been off the bandwagon since the Gamecube, when it seemed to me like the company was starting to ignore third parties and instead rely on constant re-releases of their nostalgic franchises. Anyway, enough of what I think. Here's what Harris has to say:
Net sales for the first six months of the fiscal year were down over FORTY PERCENT from last year. Catastrophe. Surprisingly, though, it wasn't caused by the Wii, which is still forecast to sell 12 million units this year in advance of the release of Wii U.

What pushed Nintendo off the cliff were handhelds. They've lowered the annual forecast for DS sales from 9 million to 6 million, and guess what those 3 million people aren't buying? The 3DS, apparently, because even though Nintendo stubbornly stuck to its forecast of 16 million units for the fiscal year, they've sold only 3.07 million in the first six months.
Harris goes on to say that handhelds have always been a cash cow for Nintendo, and he's absolutely right. The Wii's sales will continue to decline, and I am not at all sold on the Wii-U, which seems to me as much of a gimmick as the Wii was (perhaps I'll post about that another day). The 3DS rollout has been a mess, and it's not going to get any better. As Harris says in his post, traditional handhelds are in serious trouble from cellphones (Android and iOS) and tablets. There are already tons of great games for these platforms, their install bases are much greater than what a traditional handheld could offer, and the pricing structure of cellphone and tablet games is much more attractive to the consumer ($5 or $10 for a great iOS game, versus $40 for a traditional handheld? Harris calls this "apocalyptic" for traditional handhelds, and he's right.)

It may take a few years, but I think cellphone and tablet gaming will ruin the market for traditional handheld gaming, and Nintendo's golden goose will be dead. I'm not sure if Wii-U will be able to make up the slack, and if it doesn't, I can't help but wonder if that forces Nintendo out of the hardware business much like Sega many years ago.

But then again, what do I know? I'm just some random blogger.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Deus Ex: Demonstrating the Damage of Smoking

I've been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the past week now, thanks to Fwiffo. I'm really enjoying it so far, and really love how true it stays to the spirit of the original Deus Ex: crawling through air ducts, sneaking into the women's bathroom, global conspiracies, stealth, hacking, and robots. Wearing your sunglasses at night.

But one thing that really bothers me is the voice of the protagonist, Adam Jensen. His acting is totally fine, it's just that he sounds like he's suffering from emphysema after smoking 5 packs a day. Maybe Adam's near-death experience did some irreparable damage to his voicebox. I understand JC's voice in the first Deus Ex was a little gruff, but it's nothing like this. It hurts listening to Adam speak.
Operation couldn't break that cigarette addiction

Do all male protagonists need to have voices that sound like sandpaper? At least Macus in Gears of War is clearly doing steroids and taking rockets to the chest. His body is a wasteland. Adam is hardly a gun-toting COG. If anything, the game encourages you to be stealthy, smart, and socially manipulative. Adam was 'fixed' and given X-Ray eyes and social pheromones. He's a social chameleon, but his voice makes people's ears bleed. You think that would have been part of the operation.

Actually, there's one scene where Adam loses his gravel-voice. He's negotiating with his ex-buddy at the Detroid PD, and he picks up a New York style 'cop' accent. It sounded great and really contributed a lot to the feel of that scene. Of course, as soon as that was over, he's back to being his old emphysema'd self.

Deus Ex is great, but I'm really disappointed Adam sounds like every other male lead on the market. Who actually speaks like this?

Speaking of stereotypes, don't even get me STARTED on the Chinese voice-acting....

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Frozen Synapse

Finally got around to playing some Frozen Synapse, which I picked up from the Humble Bundle a few weeks ago. It feels a little intimidating at first, but once I played a couple of single player missions I started to get the mechanics down, which is when it became really enjoyable. It's a top down, turn based game in which you control a squad of soldiers. During your turn, you issue them orders, set waypoints, establish directions of fire, and so on. It's not unlike the original Rainbow Six games for the PC, where you plot out tactical movements on a map before the action starts, except in Synapse you can't actually manually control any of your agents. When you're done plotting out your movements, you finalize them by clicking a button and then all hell breaks loose. Enemy units and your units undertake their orders at the same time in each turn (which in real-time lasts about 30 seconds), so its easy for your well laid plans to go to hell quickly. Your shotgun man might turn a corner and take a bullet to the head because you didn't programmed him to aim in the wrong direction.

There seems to be a pretty robust multi-player component as well; there are a whole bunch of different gametypes. In the hour or so that I played today, I was challenged to two matches by two different people, and since the game is turn based, players don't have to be logged in at the same time. You can just set your moves, and return later to see the results.

It's a pretty fun game, and well worth the cost (you can get it for less than $5 with the HumbleBundle), especially if you have some friends you can play with. One feature that I really enjoy is the ability to record your missions and upload them to YouTube. In honor of this clever feature, here's a video of me getting most of my team (shown here in Green) slaughtered, and then pulling out a victory (against the computer, mind you) in the end.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Left 2 Rage

Let me get this straight, I love Left 4 Dead 2. It probably has the most compelling cooperative multiplayer on the market and its gameplay chock-full of tension, panic, and adrenaline keeps me coming back to play.

Most gamers, even if they don't own them, probably have played a campaign or two locally with a friend. While Campaign mode is certainly fun, they're missing out on the entire competitive multiplayer experience, VERSUS.

In Versus, you can be a zombie. Versus is fun. Versus doesn't take 2 hours to complete a map. Versus is completely filled with spineless rage-quitting chumps.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eye of the Beholder 2 and Old School Dungeon Crawlers

I was a big fan of Eye of the Beholder 2 back in the day. I spent a lot of time skulking around in the sewers of Waterdeep, and falling victim to all sorts of traps and monsters. It was fun. I miss those old, first person style dungeon crawlers; the last one I remember playing was Wizardry 8, and that was at least seven or eight years ago. Anyway, looks like some developers share my nostalgia for games like this, because they're making a throw-back RPG called Legends of Grimrock. It looks pretty cool, and might be out (I hope) by the end of the year.

Here's some gameplay footage.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More Space Pirates and Zombies

Still playing a lot of SPAZ. I must have destroyed dozens of galactic fleets at this point. I think I'm pretty close to the end, but I did want to mention a fun gameplay twist that the developers threw in. In the last quarter or so of the game, your interaction with the starmap changes. Rather than just using it to explore and travel around, you're suddenly forced to think about the map in a more strategic, offensive/defensive way. I won't get any further into it to avoid spoiling anything, but it's a nice, subtle change in the gameplay that helps keep things fresh.

The developer is MinMax Games. I'd be interested in seeing what their next project might be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Alpha Protocol is Really Fun

I know it got slammed by a lot of the popular online review sites (given how vastly inflated game reviews are, a Metacritic average of 72 is apparently a disaster) but I've been playing Alpha Protocol lately and really, really enjoying it. I'm only three hours in, so it's still early, but for some reason I find it very fun and entertaining. Yes, the AI is bad sometimes, the animations aren't great and the game in general is kind of janky and rough around the edges. But the conversation system is brilliant (adding a time limit for your responses is a great idea; Bioware take note), the voice acting is generally pretty good, and I just love the idea of a spy role-playing game taking place in the modern world of regional conflicts and covert operations. This game has set my heart pounding a bunch of times, and I can't really remember the last time a game did that. I'll have some more thoughts as I get further along.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Humble Bundle: Frozen Synapse

The Humble Bundle is a pretty cool idea. Pay what you want and get a cool indie game; if you pay more than the average, you get a few more games. Oh, and you get to decide how much of your cash goes to the developers and how much goes to charity. Anyway, I just got the most recent bundle, and it comes with:
  • Frozen Synapse
  • Trauma
  • SpaceChem
  • Trine
  • Shadowgrounds: Survivor
  • Shadowgrounds
  • Jack Claw
  • Splot
I've heard a lot about Frozen Synapse and Trine, but not so much about the other ones. I am looking forward to Synapse, though. Thoughts to come. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Space Pirates and Zombies

There seem to be a lot of good indie games out there lately, and Space Pirates and Zombies is one that I've been playing quite a bit. It's a top down, 2D space shooter and brings up, for me at least, very warm memories of my beloved Star Control series. It's pretty fun; you have a big mothership that you can use to build your fleet. There are five sizes of ships, from tiny to enormous, and each size has a bunch of different blueprints that you can customize with different weapons and various defense and support systems. You can have three ships active at any given time. At the beginning of the game, you determine the size of the galaxy that you're going to be exploring; if I remember correctly, you can have between 100-300 star systems. Each system has a bunch of different side missions you can do; they're usually pretty generic, but most of them involve you blowing up other space ships, and honestly, that never gets boring. The plot is solid enough, with a few laughs thrown in here and there. I'm about 30 hours in, and haven't finished it just yet, but I'm getting a feeling that I might be close. You can get it on Steam, and it's definitely worth $15, especially if you were a Star Con nut back in the day.

Now, here's a picture of me blowing up some spaceships: