Buyer Beware: The Oton

Earlier today, a post on the popular site Reddit, brought to light a supposedly fantastic console that should allow not just Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to shutter their doors, but every single video game developer out there as well. The Oton, a console that will cause many to recall the Phantom, is currently in a Kickstarter-like donation phase. The product touts automated game creation, allowing potential players to purportedly utilize a “Create Game” tab to procedurally generate a game. According to the Oton FAQ, the device possesses the ability to, “create over a quadrillion games, levels, characters, power-up configurations and all for free!” But if this seems like a pure flight of fiction, it gets better.

The Oton can play Android, Linux and licensed games. It seems that if you want the console to play a game badly enough, the Oton just might actually do it according to the designer’s website. Pledging for one of the various support tiers gets you, “a basic OTON unit [for] $179, a premium unit [for] $279 and a Supreme unit [for] $479 - only during our crowdsource phase. That’s a $100 retail savings per unit, but the basic unit does not come with laser projection camera. The premium unit comes with the laser projection, and the supreme OTON supports both laser projection camera and front-facing motion and voice camera.” This can also net budding programmers an Ubuntu 12.10 disc, which is little more than a distribution of Linux that can be downloaded online – and violates the tenets of being open source software – but, that may come with a copy of the Oton user interface for testing, but with it being planned as an autonomous operating system, why bother to learn programming on it?

Seemingly capitalizing on the popularity of the Ouya gaming platform, the Oton is making outright claims that even the least savvy buyer, game enthusiast or not, should be viciously concerned about. Assertions that not only the machine has top-tier hardware specs, but is already slated to have 12 – 25 games at launch, which shouldn’t be necessary if the console is capable of autonomous game creation, it’s enough to make anyone bat an eyelash. To make matters worse, key benefits listed with owning the system are free demos, full games, credits, cloud storage, no bandwidth hikes and support for both HTML5 and Android 4.1 titles, which again is laughable to say the least.

Claiming to have a, “a proven concept, that went through three years of iterations,” there is a warranted amount of skepticism about this product and for good reason. The product, despite statements of having a working prototype and functional software, isn’t necessarily shown in the EnGeniux demo video, instead showing clips from already well-known games. And despite being the brainchild of Derrick Samuels, supposedly a ten-year industry vet, there is little to nothing that can be found regarding any of his previous work. Most damning perhaps is the fact that, very much unlike Kickstarter, you are charged at the time of reservation, basically paying for an idea.

Even addressed again in the FAQ, the reservation charge proffers a poor excuse, “We have to charge your card in advance because all payments are immediately sent to the manufacturer after the 30 days to speed up the process. This is a very expensive project, and the quicker we can get suppliers paid the sooner we can get OTON into your hands. The quicker we get our contract manufacturer paid and ready to go, the quicker we can possibly meet our expected launch date. Our manufacturer has over 30 years experience in this space, and when we demoed the basic software they were amazed and aggressively snapped into action to help us move forward.” So, this logically leads one to wonder who the unnamed manufacturer is and why they aren’t disclosed in the FAQ. Offering more information, instead of less, is typically the best way to get a project funded. However, this comes off as much more of a cash grab.

Glancing through the Oton website begs significantly many more questions than it answers, especially when they’re pushing potential “supporters” to be charged for a product they, odds are, most likely will not receive by their tentative release date, again pulling from the FAQ, “We plan to finish the production of the basic OTON X in June 2013; we left enough time until the release to solve any unexpected problems. If needed, our talented team with diverse set of skills will do a great job in problem solving.” It smacks of a product meant to confuse or entice people who are in the know, but as P.T. Barnum famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Bottom line, backing any product on a relatively reputable site like Kickstarter doesn’t always promise satisfactory results. Inherently, risk and innovation go hand in hand, yet when someone looking to make a quick buck jumps on the bandwagon, offering the moon for a marginal fee, it’s best for everyone to simply avoid the snake oil and keep moving along.

Requests to EnGeniux for comments addressing these concerns were not answered.

Full “press release” from EnGeniux below:

ENGENIUX INTRODUCES OTON THE FIRST AUTONOMOUS GAME CONSOLE

OTON - THE NEXT GENERATION CONSOLE FROM THE FUTURE HAS ARRIVED IN THE 21st CENTURY!

ANNISTON, ALA. /Nov. 28, 2012 --- Today gaming will change forever! A new start-up called EnGeniux announced its next generation autonomous game console called OTON. The OTON console is the first system to automatically create games without human programming. The OTON platform is an enormous technical leap forward for game consoles. The system will create games autonomously using its built-in Game Creation Engine. Based on either the system or end-user protocol requirements, the system can produce unlimited game content nonstop. The system will possess the ability to create over a quadrillion game levels, characters and physics configurations upon launch, a new benchmark current or future consoles cannot match. "A new era in gaming is here and OTON will define the next true steps forward for game consoles," states creator and EnGeniux CEO Derrick Samuels. "Can you imagine unlimited games with endless possibilities? Additionally, there are no monthly game subscription fees and all OTON created games are free!" The system's artificial intelligence will also challenge the most elite gamers in ways never imagined with special physics and in-game challenges. OTON gives gamers unlimited OTON exclusive quality games forever, for free, for life! The start-up is seeking to crowdsource fund the project atwww.otonx.com.

The OTON technology has been under development for the last three years. OTON is powered with exclusive software built on top of a custom version of Ubuntu, which is called the Otonomous X operating system. The platform is the first console to ship with both a rear laser projection camera for gaming on any surface wall and a front facing camera for motion and voice input gameplay. A rear laser projection camera allows the system to double as game-anywhere unit or transform into low cost presentation device for end-users. The system will ship in three HD models that retail for $279, $379, and $579. Each unit will ship with an OTON game controller and accessories. The OTON system is the most stunning console ever produced, designed exclusively by Joseph Dumary, sensational internet graphic artist. OTON will ship in solid black, two-tone black and gray and a limited edition crowdsource white edition. Early supporters can grab an OTON console at a discount of $179 without camera, $279 with rear projection laser camera, and $479 with both rear camera and front motion camera bundled into one device.

The unit will ship with a Cortex A9 quad-core processor, 2 GB ram and 16 GB of flash storage. It will support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and has no optical disc drive. Support for audio I/O -- Line in/out/mic, S/PDIF in/out and support 2 SD ports with 3 USB and Ethernet port. Supporters of the project will get a free OTON preview disc powered by Ubuntu 12.10 in December 2012 to demo OTON with each OTON console donation. Derrick Samuels stated, "Our focus was to pack the most advance technology and innovation into this console to give gamers an experience in gaming never seen before."

Game developers can earn 100% revenue from their games and build basic games or demo levels for free by using the OTON platform. OTON will also help developers create game trailers, demo levels and distribute upcoming game news to the developers' social network. The multi-system will support Android games and open source games to provide a massive inventory of games. OTON is a sound economic solution for game developers. The OTON approach toward game development is from a new development vertical that focuses on saving developers money and yet increasing revenues with little effort. Another amazing aspect about OTON is it can take classic licensed games or characters and build new gameplay, levels and power-ups around these assets. The OTON creation can turn a 30 level standard 2D/3D game and create 100 plus new levels bringing unprecedented new value for gamers. Another innovation for OTON is it can convert your OTON console games into apps for your certified OTON mobile or table devices. "Think of OTON as a brain that makes calculated decisions and self independent game creations easier for amazing gameplay," states Derrick Samuels.

About EnGeniux

Founded in 2012 by ten year entrepreneur, inventor and game veteran Derrick Samuels, EnGeniux startup is focused on delivering autonomous game and software solution applications.

OTON: IMAGINE.CREATE.PLAY

UPDATE: CEO of EnGeniux, Derrick Samuel, responded to my request for comment

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for reaching out to us.

Now I will try to give you as much detail information about OTON and about me. I'm a ex-disable U.S. Marine veteran and I taught myself everything about computers and gaming systems over a period of 4 years. My company was the first company to successful release and ship a open source game console. Our first system called EVO Smart Console appeared at the E3 show in 2006 and in 2007 at the CES show. EVO was the first company to ship a voice control console and convergence device. My other company Envizions was in kicked off in 2004 with just $5 weekly contributions from family and friends. We shipped and sold out the EVO unit from 2008 to 2010. We made a announcement for our EVO 2 powered by Android in 2011 but canceled it once Ouya was announced. We had to do something new and change gaming forever with OTON. So building the OTON console isn't nothing new to us. I wanted to let you know about our history because this isn't listed on the site at this moment. We will post it soon. We are real and our desire is to innovate gaming is real.

First let me say we have develop production code for the OTON console. How OTON work is fairly simple and a process I figured out with over three years to study and fail with the concept. Trying to keep your company competitive with the big three you have to innovate. I had three years to get this software to the production code status hence we reach out to the community for help. I know it's a shock to people but believe the OTON software is legit. The $99 price is like all kickstarters early bird offers to drive donations. These units will retail for $179 to $579 respective if we make it to market. Now are we trying to do a cash grab. No. If we don't meet our goal I will refund every penny and send each backer a "Thank You" card for the effort out of my pocket.

The reason we offer the disc is to let our backers test the software and give us feedback while they wait on the final console. Just like Redhad and it's Fedora community we offer our users the tool to give us feedback on OTON so we can improve the code. No other kickerstarter I know can guarantee early product so soon because we were already working on code with limited funds to develop it. The reason we decided to charge up front was to lock in the funds to turn around to our manufacturer asap for building units. We understand the delay when launching a new product. I can provide manufacturer contact info if you wish? They flew down to meet us and loved the idea. If we could do it all over again..I would wait until after the fund end to collect money if people think it's a cash grab. We have done this before and have 10 years of experience. We tried to do Kickstarter but their hardware policy has changed.

We knew OTON would spark excitement and discussing but not the fact people think we are trying to scam people. I love this business, I like to see my customers happy and enjoy what we develop. I wish people would give us some of the same respect that Ouya received. Now I know if we mess up then call us out and I will be the first person to say we were wrong. We have proved that we can deliver and we can let you email a few customers to get feedback.I apologize if I'm so passionate. OTON is the most important console of a generation and one I want to define my career. Our supporters are working hard and I appreciate the effort especially being a old leather neck. Your team is everything and we hate some of the bad press that OTON is receiving . Most of it was our fault but we wish people would just ask us instead of it's a scam. I'm a open book. I want to build relationships and share some of the cool stuff we have in the works. You think OTON is awesome wait to see what's next if we hit our goal. One last fact. We switch from Envizions to the Engeniux project because we wanted OTON to be produce under the EnGeniux project.

I'm deeply sorry for the long rant but we have heard so many people say it's joke and it's fake. OTON is real. I would be more than happy and extremely gracious to answer any questions about OTON and the possibilities. I hope we can start over and get some real OTON facts on the web. We plan to offer a media website the chance to announce that we will let readers demo the alpha OTON UI before the kickstarter is over! Never done with a kickstarter project. I'm all about excitement. Life is already hell so let's bring some cool hardware to market and make a few people happy! I'm so confident that if OTON doesn't produce 1k unique levels we will refund customers money back if we get funded no questions asked. I also attach a Wikipedia link and a few of our CES EVO floor images and a few images of EVO.

I hope to hear from you soon to talk OTON. I promise discover for OTON will be fun! This platform is doable in 2013 if the press get behind us and get it done! i promise my next email want be so long! :)

Wiki Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EVO_Smart_Console

P.S.Please look over any typo's . Long day!

Best Regards,

Derrick Samuels
CEO/Founder

EnGeniux
801-5 Noble Street
Anniston, Ala 36201
www.OTONX.com
The Console From The Future Is Here!

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Steam coming to Linux?

                                                

Personally, it seems like PC users have often taken for granted just how incredible Steam is. Not only does it make buying, downloading and managing digital content easier than tying one's shoes before leaving the house, it soon might be available for every major computer operating system. Mac users have recently been seen rejoicing upon news that yes, they'll get the experience the awesome of Steam that PC users have been relishing in for years. However, it seems like Linux users may have some partying of their own to look forward to down the road. Engadget reports that a Phoronix user was able to capture an image of a very primitive Steam client running in a Linux environment. While this is still far from a completed product, it is definitely set to revolutionize how people purchase and play computer games in the future, especially if all any of them have to do is click on a Steam icon.

Now they just have to get that cross-platform gameplay working so we all can play Team Fortress 2 together and we'll be set.    
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I Suck at Starcraft 2

   

  

When the Starcraft 2 multiplayer beta finally hit the internet like the fist of an angry God, people were lining up to get their hands on it. Some, having gone so far as to eBay their multiplayer beta key, can certainly claim a spot in the top end of the hierarchy of douchebags. Others in the meantime have merely been doing what Blizzard wants players to do and play the damn game. Youtube user TotalHalibut has been doing just that, broadcasting battle reports in his series of "I suck at Starcraft 2". 

If the accent doesn't do it for you, his approaching the game from a beginner's level is enough to interest anyone.

That and some Starcraft 2 footage, in 720p, never killed anyone.  
 
   
 
  
 
 
 
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Activision vs. Potential Patent Trolls

                                                                                     


In a story reported on Slashdot, it seems Activision may finally have to shell out for all those different versions of Guitar Hero, Band Hero and DJ Hero -- or another patent troll is just coming out of the woodwork to try and claim an easily earned dime.
Patent Compliance Group, inc. (PCG) is asserting a claim that Activision labeled several of it's titles as 'patented' or 'patent pending' when in fact they had no right to do so. In particular, PCG is citing 35 U.S.C. 292(a) which effectively states according to Patent Arcade:

Whoever marks upon, or affixes to, or uses in advertising in connection with any unpatented article the word "patent" or any word or number importing the same is patented, for the purpose of deceiving the public; or Whoever marks upon, or affixes to, or uses in advertising in connection with any article the words "patent applied for," "patent pending," or any word importing that an application for patent has been made, when no application for patent has been made, or if made, is not pending, for the purpose of deceiving the public - Shall be fined not more than $500 for every such offense.


Also included is a list -- courtesy of Patent Arcade -- entailing what patents Activision has falsely claimed according to PCG, which at first glance is considerable, given that each offense is $500 per unit sold:

  • Activision's Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 5,739,457 ("'457 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,018,121 ("'121 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,252,153 ("'153 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,268,557 ("'557 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,369,313 ("'313 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,379,244 ("'244 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,429,863 ("'863 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,758,753 ("'753 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Patent No. 6,769,689 ("'689 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5 and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked with U.S. Design Patent No. D441,403 ("'403 Patent").
  • Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero Smash Hits video games are falsely marked as "patent pending" or "patent applied for."

So while success will heavily depend on whether or not PCG can show a judge just how much these specific patents don't cover the described products, Activision will be doing everything imaginably possible to prove that their products deserved the patents they received. 

Opinion-wise, this strikes me as yet another case of patent trolling. While I'm not saying that Activision have exactly been Capitalistic Saints, I feel that bringing these charges against them in the manner that PCG has chosen to do so is asinine at most and a waste of time at the very least, especially given the clandestine nature of PCG and how information on them has been very limited to even the more notable press outlets. In the meantime, this should be interesting to keep track of given the sheer amount of money at stake for Activision.
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Casual is the New 'Hardcore'

 

Gamers born in the 1980s have, for most of their lives, been playing electronic games as they’ve evolved into what we have today. While many abhor the use of labels to players such as ‘casual’ or ‘hardcore’, they still persist regardless. A hardcore gamer is easily defined as someone who plays games above all else. While the term may have changed slightly over the years, its definition is still succinctly accurate. On the other hand, there are the casual gamers. These are people who may merely dabble in gaming, enjoy games that may not demand the attention that deeper games do or more to the point merely don’t have the time to devote to gameplay other titles do. As time goes on though, there are casual gamers who play the informal titles they enjoy at the pace of hardcore gamers. Therefore, it becomes arguable that casual gamers are becoming the new hardcore class of the gaming community. 

PopCap games are most notably being recognized as the prime purveyor of games that many in the industry have labeled as ‘casual’. Many see these merely as simple mechanics mashed together and shipped out. 

However, there is truly a satisfactory amount of depth present. Peggle being one of the simplistic selections currently available in PopCap’s library, it at first seems to lack the profundity to keep any devoted gamer interested. But, the present mechanics combine a casual concept of dropping a ball with puzzle elements to make an astonishingly fun game. 

 
Conversely, games like Bookworm additionally seem to possess elementary qualities, but on further inspection reveal far engrossing fundamentals. Progressing through levels by completing words, it becomes a single-player Scrabble that keeps players constantly playing, learning and expanding there vocabulary to remain plausibly able of obtaining a high score. 

 
Most notably though is Plants vs. Zombies. For everything encompassed in a game where you defend your home from zombies using giant plants that are raised and purchased utilizing sunshine as your currency. A simple mechanic such as tower defense translated to the stellar creation that was PvZ is remarkable in that many of the people asked about the game hardly realize that they are even playing tower defense. Consequently, while it seems these games are at their heart very straightforward, the layering of multifaceted workings continually keeps them fascinating to players. 


 
Games scattered across the internet have additionally changed the way many players examine how they play. Playing a ninja collecting simple squares, N+ is doubtlessly one of the best examples of a game built on Flash that illustrates the uncomplicated gameplay which exponentially adds on new mechanics that keeps gamers absorbed. As the first few levels entice you to fly across the game-space, bouncing off the walls to scale ledges and obstacles, it at first plays very easily. However, as the player progresses, they encounter elements that make the game significantly more difficult. As this can become frustrating to many gamers, it then becomes a balance between the challenge curve and fun factor. Ultimately though, the balance remains proportional enough to keep people playing well past their bedtimes. 

 
Music is another genre that has gone from being a hardcore exclusive space, becoming increasingly accessible to just about anyone. Auditorium is an online only game that utilizes different instruments and generated tones to give gamers an audiophile experience like no other. Starting with a piano melody, the game uses streams of energy that move across the level unobstructed. Utilizing spheres with arrows in them, you can alter the course of the musical energy as well as affect the influence of the sphere itself by expanding or contracting the size of the sphere. Overall an intriguing concept that remains particularly effortless in the first few levels, it develops into a more demanding experience as the player advances. 

 
The up and coming outlet for casual games on the internet though is the social networking website Facebook. Games like Farmville, Mafia Wars and Bejeweled Blitz all demonstrate easy amusement that is capable of existing inside a social networking site viewed through a browser. While the prospect of browser-based games, especially those made accessible by navigating to a site primarily based on the prospect of social interacting is an interesting diversion.

While you may not necessarily go to Facebook with the intent of playing these ‘games’, they stand the real possibility of pulling you in and keeping you busy for an infinite amount of time. Adding insult to injury, friends on the site are capable of, rather easily, inviting you to play the game with you and in most cases are rewarded for doing so. While these are debatable as far as the industry and community are concerned in regards to worthwhile experiences, the ability to reach out to such a massive audience will ultimately see these games created, released and supported for an indeterminate amount of time. 

 
Interestingly enough though, online services provided by the big three game publishers have additionally grown in appeal amongst the casual crowd as time has gone on and remain continuously popular. Titles on Xbox Live such as Geometry Wars and Hexic have opened the door in a very significant way for casual gamers to get their foot in the door towards what could be considered more ‘hardcore’ titles. 

 
But what is consistently fascinating is that gamers, regardless of their walk of life consistently continue to play regardless of difficulty. If the game interests them and has a genuinely interesting quality about it, odds are the person in question will keep playing. For my part, my mom is currently playing Farmville relentlessly and constantly tries to recruit just about anyone she can get her hands on to play the game with her. My sister-in-law recently got hooked on Brain Age and it’s sequel with her interest constantly expanding. Finally, my girlfriend is playing through Might & Magic on her Nintendo DS and is expanding her repertoire as I keep offering her new titles to keep her interest constantly piqued. 

 
What it essentially boils down to is that casual gamers keep purchasing and playing the casual games made by independent developers or ‘side-projects’ of big name creators that enable to continue making the big name games that the ‘hardcore’ continue to know and love as the days go on. So, it could be arguably a symbiotic relationship between the casual and hardcore titles and gamers in the community. Thus, as long as people keep playing, the ability to maintain the industry as a whole via easier or difficult titles ensures that there will always be a steady stream of new games with content that players, regardless of how much time they put into their gaming lives, may have never seen before. Thus, casual titles serve as a means to an end in regards to hardcore or triple AAA games constantly creating circumstance where casual gamers have the potential to always become hardcore.

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Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond Lacking Humor; Disappoints

                          

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond  
Developer: Vicious Cycle Software
Released: January 6, 2010
MSRP: 1200 MS Points / $15.00 

Gamers growing up in the mid-eighties have finally aged to the point of being well positioned to receive the Monty Python of video games and Matt Hazard has done just that. In Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard players were introduced to out-of-shape, over the hill video game hero Matt Hazard. While the game wasn’t the most spectacular title the video game had ever seen, it was in its lack of taking itself seriously that made the title stand out and overall enjoyable to play without standing to be overly memorable. Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise when D3 Publisher set out to bring Vicious Cycle Software’s Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond to gamers on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. 


Discarding the 3D elements in favor of 2D side-scrolling with slight 3D portions is the first and most obvious divider between the 2 games. Once the first level loads, it feels almost like a knock-off version of Shadow Complex; however this is merely where its faults begin. Eat Lead offered gamers something they had never seen before in the form of being a self-aware video, Blood Bath and Beyond seems to struggle with this as a lot of humor fades in the first few levels. Spoofs are all well and good, but from the first level on, it seems to taper off and feel a lot like Contra. For a game that utilizes so much humor, it seems to drop off from having an interesting narrative early on. You don’t really care about Matt Hazard anymore than you did in his previous title. Eventually the game merely breaks down to what the designers decided to parody.

Despite the downfall of a forgettable story, there are a few pluses to the game. The controls are relatively smooth, feeling clunky very rarely. I only garnered genuine frustration from the controls about one in ten times, but when that one time does happen, you’ll notice it and hate the game a little bit more for it. One should also take into account that there being only 3 difficulty settings (Wussy, Damn This is Hard and Fuck This Shit) makes the game accessible for just about anyone looking for a quick shooter fix. Additionally, a co-op component opens up the possibility of going through this with a friend and that is never a bad thing. 


Overall, I wish I could convey more about what I saw playing through Blood Bath and Beyond, however I felt the game really didn’t do its 3D equivalent any justice. If this game had released as a regular shooter, independent of the Matt Hazard name, I would tout it as competently designed. But it feels like something is lacking and I still can’t put my finger on it. My largest complaint comes from the fact that more often than not, it felt like the designers spent more time trying to come up with things being funny and left the important things like level and enemy design fall by the wayside. With a decidedly lacking replay value ever-present, running through a level, slaughtering just about everything in your path and picking up the occasional power-up are all the game really does in an acceptably satisfactory manner. 


The underlying problem remains that the game, in an attempt to be funny and not take itself seriously suffers from a lack of quality, which it tries to play off as being funny. But this ends up only being frustrating for gamers when better shooters have been out for a significantly longer span of time like Shadow Complex and Pixeljunk: Shooter. The game is fun without being memorable or coming off as unique since Eat Lead already did it conceptually and despite lacking production values, did it far better. It doesn’t seem like a really worthwhile buy at about 1200 MS points and for now seems like a game that is comfortable not taking itself seriously to the point of being okay with being mediocre. 


Here’s hoping the next Matt Hazard title ups the ante a bit. 


Final Score: 6 / 10 (D-)

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Why I Game - Part I

 We all have our reasons for gaming. Some play to escape the drudgery of an otherwise stressful day. Others might play because they want to enjoy the game as a work of art. Many do it just for the fun of it. But for me, I was raised on it for more than my part.

Video games have always been a huge influence in my life. Whether they’re aware of it or not, there are also many people in my life who served to further my interest with electronic games. Throughout my life, in one way or another, people have seemingly contributed to my appreciation of games far more than other factors ever could.

This one goes out to my Grandfather.

I couldn’t tell you when my Grandpa was born or what his childhood was really like because him and I never discussed it and admittedly my memory isn’t perfect, which in hindsight I really regret. If there is one thing I will always remember about him, it’s that he got things done and encouraged the same quality in me.

When I sat down in front of the Atari 800XL in his office, he showed me how to put the disc in, the commands to boot it, load the game and make sure the controllers were connected so I could play. He showed me once. That was always his thing.

He only spoke once.

If we were running through the house pushing each other near the top of the stairs, Grandpa would gently stroll out of his bedroom, look each one of us in the eye, hold up his index finger and ask us what it meant. We would giggle, but he would remind us that he only spoke once and to knock it off. We never did find out what the consequences were.

I tried to stay out of as much trouble as possible though being attached to that Atari by the controller. I played so many of my first PC games on there that they still remain tattooed on my brain to this day. The first time I was ever exposed to classics like Ballblazer and Archon, both of which I still remember to this day thanks to my Grandpa.

As time went on though, technology evolved compelling Grandpa to purchase a PC. It was a 386 - laughably slow by modern standards - but my Grandpa was never too busy to sit me down and show me how to navigate Windows 3.1 or a DOS prompt. I’m still convinced to this day that I ended up a system administrator because of his patience in teaching me. But as always, there were the games.

Being of early age, I was exposed to the normal round of games. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is probably still one of my favorite titles to this day. Additionally, in conjunction with the time-traveling incarnation in the series, my Grandpa made me fall in love with history, geography and the many varied cultures of the world. The man made me enjoy learning and I didn’t even know he was doing it. Yeah, age does have it’s points of wisdom.

As I played through the games haphazardly fast, there was one game I constantly went back to and the game I single-handedly blame for my lifelong love affair with puzzle games. The Castle of Dr. Brain wasn’t the greatest puzzle game ever created. All the same though, it was still damn fun exploring the castle and solving the different puzzles that actually require you to be somewhat intelligent. I can’t even begin to describe how many times I’ve beaten the game on easy, medium and difficult, but if there is anything I’m sure of, it’s that I’ve played through that game at least once a year for the last eighteen. In doing so, I’ve downloaded Dosbox countless times so I can emulate the game on whatever latest PC I happen to be running at the time. If you want to play it nowadays though, you may have to find the image of the code sequencer grid. Back in the old days before DRM, that’s how it was done and heaven’s knows I’ve hunted for the copy of that damn grid more than once. Thankfully though, my Grandpa made multiple copies for me.

Once Sega released the Genesis, ever kid on their block had to have one and my Grandparents did eventually buy me one for Christmas in 1989, but there was just one problem, I was young and broke. If there was one thing I came to realize about games is that there were always too many and not enough money for me to buy them all. However, there were always chores to be done.

I will say this right now, anytime I hear someone complaining about cleaning a house, I just ignore it. After cleaning my parent’s house and then my grandparent’s for the sake of earning whatever money on top of my allowance, it’s hard to get any sympathy from me. Every time a new game would come out, I would work for whatever money I could get my hands on after begging them to just outright buy it for me failed. That and it was always a sobering experience when one of my graphs depicting the ‘fun over time’ I would be having wasn’t exactly selling them on purchasing the game for me. More than once though, Grandpa would just take me to the store and buy a game for me and I would quietly owe him.

When it came time to get the Christmas decorations out of the crawlspace, the boat to get cleaned in the spring, leaves needing to be raked, dishes had to be washed, and lawns needed to be mowed. Believe me, my Grandfather worked his ass off all his life and there was nothing he was quicker to impart into my brother and cousins than the value of a dollar.

The last game my grandfather bought for me before I was deemed too old for toys and games (I would just get cash for my birthday, Christmas, my theoretical bar mitzvah that never happened because I’m not Jewish) was Mortal Kombat. My family didn’t object to my owning this title for two prime reasons. First, they all spent enough time with me to know I wouldn’t go and tear someone’s heart out. Second, my grandparents would be keeping the game at their house. It was an insurance policy. But the first time my grandmother beat me as Sonya, that was a rude awakening (She can actually still hand my ass to me in Columns, my point is, be wary of the elderly).

Some days, my Grandpa would just come and sit on the couch next to me as I played. It didn’t matter what I was playing, but he would still ask me about it and listen with a smile while I told him that Turok had to kill the raptors, shaman and hunters because that was what Turok did. He would listen to my ideas about why games were great or why they were stupid and allow me to have an open forum with him. He was the first one to really listen and at the very least try to understand where exactly I was coming from.

He was like my first community blog, except he never trolled.

The only thing he ever asked in return from me was to work hard and do my best in all things.

My Grandfather was an amazing man and what I’ve written here isn’t even a tenth of the influence he had on my life. I just wish I could’ve told him that before he passed away last week.

In the meantime, I remind myself that doing my best is exactly what he’d want me to do.

That's why I game. 

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Top 10 Games of the Decade

 I sincerely believe that while technical achievement and graphical eye candy are all well and good, the thing that stands out succinctly best is when a game is genuinely fun. As artsy as I do enjoy my titles as well, I would enjoy being shown something that just may blow my socks off. But if a game is crazy-awesome in the way it treats me to a good time, then odds are I really won’t be complaining. That being said, I feel I’ve made a succinct introduction to my top 10 games of the last ten years.

10. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando



There are two types of people who owned Playstation 2 consoles; those who like Jak & Daxter and the people who like Ratchet & Clank. I have what I like to call an unhealthy obsession with Ratchet and Clank games. I’m pretty sure because under all the sensible humor and Monty Python-esque science fiction, there’s some genuinely stellar gameplay under there. As memorable as the autochthonous apotheosis in the series goes, Going Commando takes the Platforming genre and merges it seamlessly with the elements seen more prevalently in a role-playing game. For 2003, that was a pretty bold move and it paid off pretty well for Insomniac who, if you haven’t noticed, is still fu*king making Ratchet and Clank games. The ability to level up weapons as well as the replay value afforded by the mini-games there in simply took hold as one of the few must-have platform titles since Mario had been on the scene for a bit under a score by then.


9. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan



There are games that you can import and end up blowing a lot of money on a rather terrible gaming experience. Ouendan is not one of those. Probably one of the few titles I’ve ravenously attempted to import after having a brief taste of it on a friend’s DS at the time, I still carry it with me to this day. Not only is the game accessible and easy to understand, I’m firmly convinced that the kick ass soundtrack easily supplants the OST of the Americanized version of the game: Elite Beat Agents. Since I’ve always loved seeing how different cultures approach games, particularly the Japanese, this game was an introduction to a love affair that’s only been rivaled so far by the game’s sequel. Notable as the Japanese are for certain wackiness in their games, each song has an individualized story that the Ouendan must arrive on the scene and help the main character through. Few games will make me shell out the money to import and in the last ten years, this and it’s sequel were the only two.


8. Metroid Fusion



Samus Aran taught me that girls, under their soft, pink exteriors possess the hearts of badasses, provided of course they are raised by the Chozo. Metroid Fusion taught me that, despite the awesome Metroid Prime possessed being the first 3D Metroid title, Metroid was still first and foremost a 2D side-scrolling franchise and a fantastic one at that. From the moment you dock on the station to the X parasite forming the dastardly SA-X to hunt you down, the game consistently remain fun throughout. Never feeling like a rehash or just something done for the sake of slapping the Metroid name on it, Fusion stands as one of the last great Gameboy Advance titles.

7. Geometry Wars 2



While the first Geometry Wars proved to be the must-play title when it was released, Geometry Wars 2 shattered it by improving all the qualities of the original exponentially. Abandoning the singular retro for the sake of rebuilding the game from the ground up, there is a significant improvement to the mechanics without it feeling like Bizarre Creations was trying to reinvent the wheel. Complete with six modes instead of the original two of the game’s predecessor, there is the constantly one reason or another to go back and play the game. Most importantly though is the persistent high score board for each game mode, glaringly present every single time you play, reminding you of where you stand amongst your friends. I guarantee a fair share of the people who will read this list will own GW2 and even more will have at least tried it once, coaxed into it by an excited friend.

6. God of War: Chains of Olympus



If someone told me that a God of War title would not only be made for the PSP, but actually had the potential to be well done, I would’ve slapped them in the face and sicked the dogs on them (or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you). Thankfully, the remarkable fact is that the game does exist and not only is it well done; it is kittens-in-a-trebuchet fun. The controls are tight and perfect just like anything that’s fun in life should be and the story overall drags you back in. While not the longest of the God of War titles, it certainly kept vehement Kratos fans busy for a while and still sticks out in my mind as one of the better in the series. Granted, this isn’t saying much as all three major titles in the franchise have been Wookiee-tearing-your-goddamn-arms-off incredible and anyone who disagrees should have a word with Kratos. Thanks.

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty



Probably one of the best games of its day if for no other reason than the sheer fact that it is exactly, in most respects, like the original. A prime example of a postmodern game in that, “postmodernism refers to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality, in a way that is often indistinguishable from a parody of itself. It has given rise to charges of fraudulence.” Essentially, the game forces you to play the events of Metal Gear Solid because Hideo Kojima, in his infinite artistic wisdom, believes that is what equated to a sequel in his mind. Since many gamers took it with critically high praise, there is still a large divergence in the community as to whether or not this game is basically a middle-finger from Hideo Kojima to gamers everywhere.

4. Grand Theft Auto III



Not the best game ever created as far as narrative goes, this was when Grand Theft Auto games were still essentially light-hearted romps with the occasional bouts of ultra-violence on the part of the player. Being one of the first games to create a three-dimensional sandbox world where, upon completion of the introduction, players are able to run wild there is still a significant amount of content to see here even to this day. As far as the lack of noir style that many gangster titles have been synonymous with over the years, the GTA series has never taken itself all too seriously which is one of the qualities that keeps it at its very basic level a damn fun time.

3. Halo



Not Halo 2, which had an incomplete ending. Not Halo 3, which while splendid felt as though something was missing. Not ODST which had that slick, cool jazz feeling to it. The original, unabated Halo. While the game didn’t descend from heaven in the way many fanboys would have you believe, it is still amazing in that it showed gamers things they hadn’t seen before. The ability to carry two weapons instead of lugging ten machine guns, a shotgun and a rocket launcher or two across a map was a change of pace in that choosing what weapon you were using actually began to matter. Additionally, a sassy AI which has been reproduced more times doing lascivious things across the internet is an image all too deeply burned into my memory. But think of a game which has had as much machinima made about it, had as fan-damn-tastic multiplayer and become a franchise that has more than once kept Microsoft’s consoles above water and all answers still lead back to Halo.

2. Eternal Darkness



Dear Silicon Knights,

Stop screwing around with this Too Human bullsh*t and get to work on a next-gen Eternal Darkness!

Love,
Drew

1. Portal



Everything in the Orange Box is an incredibly stellar buy and if you didn’t purchase it in the past decade, you’re not exactly swinging any home runs in the awesome department. As everyone who has played it is aware, Portal is not exactly capable of standing up to say, Dragon Age: Origins regarding length of gameplay. But for what you get, it is a succinctly crafted package that never once leaves you wondering what is going on or wandering helplessly until you bump into an invisible wall. Portal is a complete gaming experience that can be sat down and played by anyone in about three to six hours and that is what makes it so great. Being a classic example of why shorter games are fun, it delivers exactly what it promises to while staying within a relative length, never overstaying its welcome. Being a puzzle title, I have a natural affinity for it, but as a game it otherwise stands head and shoulders above the rest of it’s contemporaries as far as I’m concerned. Now if I could just see a sequel before this decade ends, that would be pretty good…unless that gets in the way of the next Half-Life, in which case, get back to work Gabe! 
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Alien Breed Evolution Quite Entertaining




There are few times when a Xbox Live Arcade Game has been genuinely able to make me jump when a twinge of fear hits me, however Alien Breed Evolution did it repeatedly. Surrounded by human corpses and under siege as multiple alien creatures burst from walls or burning holes in the floor with all the intent in the world of tearing off you face, the game wastes no time in setting the mood.

While heavily reminiscent of classic science fiction titles along with the survival-horror genre, Evolution has a distinct arcade comportment all it's own. The seemingly lone survivor as the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, you are immediately thrust into circumstances where you either adapt and overcome via superior firepower or get torn to shreds. Immediately noticeable, the controls are extremely smooth. Using the left thumb stick to move and the right to aim, it's a relatively standard formula. However, utilizing the left and right bumpers allows the player to switch the overhead view by 90 degrees. By granting the constant ability to shift the point of view and see from all angles at any given time, it makes the players life significantly easier in terms of gameplay. Additionally, players are able to switch weapons and items by using the directional pad with their uses mapped to the right and left triggers respectively. Naturally, the fluidity in the control allows for players to focus on the two most important factors of gameplay, staying alive and killing everything in sight.

As you progress through the game, you will be tasked with various objectives. In the first level, you must shut down the main reactor to keep your ship from exploding and coincidentally scattering you across space in the form of debris. As you move through the dark corridors, you'll happen upon human corpses that can be searched for health kits and ammunition as well as lockers, save terminals and logs that can be accessed through the PDA, which gives you a bit of backstory on the circumstances surrounding the Aliens. While the game has a distinct Aliens feeling to it, especially with the motion tracker in the upper right hand corner of the screen, I felt there to be a mixture of ambiance from other titles as well. The survival-horror components reminded me, at least visually, of the Dead Space, while the Aliens themselves reminded me of the space station sequence in Starcraft in which Marines are engaged by the Zerg. Furthermore, with the use of Epic's Unreal 3 engine the game does look prodigious for an XBLA title.



Admittedly, the game is a truly fun arcade title and not without moments that make players jump, while being a very fun game to play. Despite possessing a single-player campaign, Alien Breed Evolution also offers a free play mode as well as cooperative gameplay for up to two players to run through and exterminate every single alien in sight. In regards to accessibility, I can't imagine many gamers who wouldn't enjoy playing this title at least on 'Normal' difficulty. However, for those who either fondly remember playing the original on the Amiga or have a taste for a challenge, the Elite mode will definitely keep you busy for sometime and shouldn't be overlooked.

While the game certainly wasn't without flaws, I found them to be a bit more forgivable given the overwhelming amounts of fun I was having with the game. As smooth as the controls were, I felt at times that I didn't have enough fingers to rotate the screen, switch between weapons or items and keep up a constant rate of fire when a swarm of Aliens were bearing down on me. On the contrary, the screen also seemed a bit dark at times allowing me to miss creatures just up until they attacked. While I'm not sure if this is intentionally done or not, I was forced to turn up the brightness on my screen just a bit prior to playing. Otherwise, I found the sound to be more than capable of creeping the hell out of me more than once. Also, the replay value of playing the game on multiple difficulties, hunting achievements and multiplayer potential make it a lot easier to part with the 800 MS points to download the game.
 
Final Review Score: B+ (8.5 / 10)
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A Belated Top 10 Games of 2009

10. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

Dispensing with the original formula of base building, Dawn of War II took the stance of kicking ass without having to hunker down first to do it. Taking the role of the silent Space Marine Commander, you slaughter your way through the single-player campaign while taking charge of up to four unique squads of fellow Space Marines. Differing from the original and its expansions Jonny Ebbert, the game's lead designer, best describes the feeling of the title by saying it "takes everything that was great about the original and combines it with the best that Company of Heroes had to offer." While the game can be played cooperatively, going through the campaign alone is nonetheless an engrossing experience. Furthermore, branching battlefields, allowing the player to select the next location in the theatre of war and even, at times, the objectives themselves made for an extremely engrossing experience, which remained ripe with replay value. Essentially giving Warhammer 40K players the PC game they had always dreamed of in the sense that on the tabletop, you don’t have builder units, bases or worry about resources. You land, kick ass and sort everything out after. That is how Warhammer works and this is the best possible presentation I could’ve asked for in a game illustrating the awesome of 40K.

9. ‘Splosion Man



For anyone old enough to remember the fun that was to be had with platformers like Super Mario Brothers 3 and the original Sonic the Hedgehog, ‘Splosion Man will seem like someone kicked your ass into a time machine. From the introduction forward, Twisted Pixel created a game that wasn’t just full of a lot of humor, but also filled to the brim with enough gameplay to make the MS point cost easily justified. The story isn’t especially strong, but the game mechanics easily make up for this and a 2 to 4 player co-op mode guarantees a significant amount of replay value. While the amount of time spent playing is dependent on skill as well as likelihood of utilizing the “Way of the Coward”, this is still a fine game regardless of length. Probably one of the funniest games to premier in 2009 besides Brutal Legend or the remade Tales of Monkey Island, ‘Splosion Man easily takes the cake as one of the best games of ’09.

8. Halo 3: ODST



It wasn’t the perfect Halo experience that the fanatical Halo zealots have come to expect over the past several years from their beloved Bungie, but the fact that it was so differential from what had come before it is what made it stand out most. Taking the role of an ODST wasn’t what players had been used to in the original Halo trilogy. They had become used to playing as the Master Chief, able to leap buildings with a single bound and curbstomp a grunt without a second thought. That was the character we had all gotten used to playing. But when Bungie served up something different, just because they could, it was done remarkably well. Playing through the evening sections of the burnt out New Mombasa played a significant parallel to the daytime sections, which became all about straight up action. It wasn’t perfect, but a memorable experience all the same, it earned its place in the top 10.

7. Street Fighter IV



There is always going to be a new fighter for gamers to go bananas over, but what happens when the game that all modern titles in the fighting genre gets remastered for the next-gen consoles? Something amazingly, utterly mind-blowing. Not only was the game redone in a visual style that is graphical eye-candy, it plays well, fast and strong against other titles that premiered in the past year such as Soul Calibur IV and Tekken 6. Not to be outshone, Street Fighter IV consistently proves that it belongs as a fighter and I have a feeling, many gamers will be fluctuating between II and IV for many years to come.

6. Killzone 2



The original wasn’t a Halo-killer and neither was the second, but I’ll be damned if this game didn’t look as sexy as a Playstation title should. From the introduction on throughout the entire game, it distinguishes itself as one of the few must-have shooter titles on the Playstation 3. While the visual aesthetic is grimy, dirty and extremely bleak, that, my friends, is the visual style of war. Utterly forgotten about in the torrent of excitement up until the release of Modern Warfare 2 and since then, I still think this game definitely sets the precedence necessary for the inevitable Killzone 3 and personally, I can’t wait to play the hell out of that either.

5. New Super Mario Bro. Wii



If someone had told me 19 years ago that I would have my childhood packed in delicious nostalgia and resold to me again, I would’ve called them a filthy liar and punched them in the junk. Well, Nintendo has done it yet again. Following the slew of titles, from Metroid to Zelda and on through Punch-Out, we’ve been provided with a Mario title of note before the end of 2009. Bravo Nintendo. In all fairness though, it is a relatively fun game for four-player, regardless whether or not you grew up playing the original source material. Basically, envision Super Mario 3 and New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS and you have this game nailed down pat. Nonetheless, it is undeniably fun and that is what makes it one of my favorites of 2009.

4. Modern Warfare 2



I really don’t need to explain this, do I? But, as for its position on my list, it was a well-made game; there is no doubt about that. Infinity Ward knows how to make a good game. They just took a lot of what made the original Modern Warfare amazing and blew it all out of proportion ten-fold. Seriously, it was like turning the entire damn game up to 11 and from the narrative of the campaign to Spec Ops and ultimately the crack-addictive multiplayer, it is absolutely obvious why Modern Warfare 2 has sold, and been pirated, as much as it has.

3. Gratuitous Space Battles



Probably the overlooked strategy game of 2009, I think this game got significantly less love than it deserved. Taking the role of both Fleet Admiral and Engineer, you build the ships, form them up on the line, give them orders and let your captains do the rest. While at first very frustrating for me since I love to micromanage in RTS games, it took a long time for me to actually kick back and enjoy this title. However, once I did, the gratuitously beautiful battles pleased the eye and the strategy aspect kept me ravenously coming back for more. For such a fun game, it deserved so much more acclaim this year but missed it.

2. Plants vs. Zombies



There is an entire genre built around tower defense. People who will sit for hours mapping out strategies and figuring out the best way to utilize their turrets to massive effectiveness before committing to a run-through that invariably ends up on youtube somehow, but this is the genre for those people. Whether this game is for those people or not is relatively debatable. The best part about PvZ is that it is so lighthearted in nature, that few people that I’ve discussed it with who’ve played the game rarely are ever even aware of the term Tower Defense. They just see it as another rich game experience that conceals all the complicated aspects of traditional tower defense for the sake of fun. Sure, Plants stopping Zombies is ridiculous, but it’s goddamn fun.

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum



Without a doubt the sleeper hit of the year, this game surprised the hell out of everyone and certainly left enough wanting more to warrant a sequel. Essentially appealing to every male between the ages of 2 and 102, you get to try and fill the shoes of the Goddamn Batman. Not only was this game done well, it was of such high quality that in no short span of time, it became the underdog title bucking for game of the year. I don’t know how that happens by accident, but when video game content achieves a quality like this, I can only be left wishing for more accidents than a maternity ward during a power outage. Yes, you can dispute it as a game of the year as there is no perfect game, but as the best comic book hero game, it certainly takes home the cowl. 
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