Backlog CatchUp: Lords of Shadow, Ni No Kuni, Last of Us, DmC and SMG

So I been playing games.

Ever since big daddy PS4 came home and took the spot in the big TV room, ye old PS3 has been relegated to "The Office". And by office I mean room-where-I-do-most-of-my-playing-because-no-one-is-watching-Netflix-there. Through a twist of fate I also discovered a dusty ass Wii in the office. Oh and there's a PC there too! Long story short, instead of playing shiny new PS4 games this holiday, I played dusty old PS3, PC and Wii games.

Let's get on with it and see how these five games are faring in my heart.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Excitement Level: Medium
Time Played: ~3 hours

2010? Really? That's when this game came out? Seems like only yesterday I fell in love with the PSN demo. Basically, I had been uncharacteristically excited for this game ever since I saw a trailer for it - the idea that Kojima and Fox Hound Productions or whatever they're called would have any hand in this game had me frothing at mouth. I've barely played any Castlevanias (yes, shame on me) outside of the first few hours of III and SotN over and over again and some gameboy game whose title I can't remember.

Hi, I'm Sir Patrick Stewart. Not only do I narrate the game, and star in the game as a hero *and* villain, but I also designed this character model, and keyed the animation.

I waited three years for this game to go on sale, and now that I've got it and all its DLC on PC I can't wait to devour it all. Or can I? So here's the truth: I wanted to love this game instantly. Turns out, I don't. But maybe I will love it soon? What first really got me about the game was just the whip action. It feels amazing. Unfortunately, the game doesn't throw very many interesting enemies at you in the early going. Wargs and Trolls? Is there anything taller than 3 feet that poses a threat in this game? I know there's tons of game left (hey 50 hit that big ass map!) so here's to hoping we pick up the pace soon. The giant golemn fight left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth unfortunately, with it being a poor imitation of Shadow of the Colossus mixed-in with QTEs, but I'm ready to press on. I'd be a lot further in this game if DmC hadn't reared its free, demonic head on PS+ nearly the same day I picked this baby up.

Story-wise I already know what's up with Zobek (thanks, Vinny) but that doesn't change the fact that listening to Patrick Stewart talk is awesome. And there's a lot of Patrick Stewart. Gabriel is a decent enough hero character. Solemn, likeable, looks cool. I'm actually strangely into collecting the soldier's letters. Great art in them - which reminds me - the production in this game is really great. Your menu book, which houses all the moves, character and monster info is very nicely done. The sketch-animations for the moves are especially cool. Unfortunately Lords of Shadow's in-game book is easily out-done by what is no doubt the best in-game book ever made, which brings us to...

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Excitement Level: High
Time Played: ~6 hours

It was Greg Miller's constant "Ni Nu No No" shtick that burned this game deep into my mind as something "I'd have to pick up, one day". Then I saw it at Wal-Mart for less than twenty bucks. After an awkward encounter with the clerk ("No, that one, Ni Nu Kuni"). Fast forward to me getting home and boom, after SEVEN YEARS away, I've been reunited with the RPG.

After jokingly saying "Ni Nu No No" and "Na Ni No Nu Nu" to my girlfriend and friends whenever they asked what I was playing, I've now brainwashed them all into referring to this game as such. Which is hilarious.

This is a big deal for me. A very big deal. In the 90s I played every RPG I could get my hands on. I burned through ever RPG Square could put out faster then they could re-release them. But FFXII was the last hurrah for me. After that pretty much nothing appealed to me. Certainly I've been all-up in turn-based strategy, cRPGs and aRPGs but not a true blue, turn-based, Japanese Role Playing Game. And BY GOLLY - I missed them so, so much. Even though I die a lot and am made to feel pathetic...

While the in-your-face gorgeous art-style and charming personality were the first things that warmed my heart, it didn't take long at all for the story to break my heart and that's when I realized Ni No was something a little different. It's not just that watching Oliver lose his mother (a painful thought for many of us, duh) is hard. The majority of traditional RPGs are about doing good, but Ni No is really transparent about this do-gooding. The central side-quest mechanic is about finding good qualities in people's hearts, borrowing a piece of it, and giving it to someone who needs it. If that doesn't put a smile on your face, you're probably missing something deep down yourself! This "feel-good" wrapper surrounds a combat system that so far has proven to be fast and fluid, two cliché terms you almost never associate with RPGs. It helps that the game has some real world-class animation. Magic spells look especially beautiful. The Wizard's Companion (of which I dearly wish I had a physical copy) is UNBELIEVABLE. Incredible art everywhere, fascinating magical descriptions, world history, world maps, bestiaries - just unbelievable. You seen the Fifth Element? Then you know. UNNNBELIEVABLE!

Now, for all the hullabaloo that was made about the English localization (and it's great, no doubt) I found myself playing in Japanese after only a few hours. Yeah, Mr. Drippy's accent is hilarious and all but I found Oliver and the rest of the cast much more likeable in Japanese, and Mr. Drippy's mannerisms/animations sync up much better with his original voice work. His dialect, even to non-Japanese speakers, is obviously different from the rest, so much of his "uniqueness" is preserved.

The Last of Us

Excitement: Low-Medium
Time Played: ~6 hours

For some reason, I could never get into Uncharted 3. Loved 2. Instantly bored of 3. So when The Last of Us came out I didn't jump on it right away. Since its release we've heard pretty much nothing but praise from every critic under the sun, and as GOTY got under way across the internet it became pretty obvious who had delivered the slam dunk of 2013. Agree or disagree, The Last of Us is the closest thing to a unanimous Game of the Year we may have ever seen across this internet. That's what got me to play it. I had to see for myself.

The Last of Us? More like... the Last Guy! Every time I hit start to begin TLOU I just hear someone whisper the... last... guy... in my ear, not sure why. Thematic similarity, must be.

Annnnnd??? Well??? It's aight. The major thing that is surprising me is that THIS IS A RESIDENT EVIL GAME. Handgun bullets and random healing items strewn around? Tank controls 2.0? Zombies and plant infections ?Quick use shivs? There's so much about the cadence of this game that is reminiscent of RE I was having serious bizzaro flashbacks the first two-three hours. Playing on Hard and not using the listening mode is basically making this a murder-puzzle room solver akin to Hotline Miami. One room with 5 enemies could be 15 minutes of 1 minute attempts gone wrong. After enough memorization and a few brave moves I make it through. Not what I expected from Naughty D. I've finally got a little more tools at my disposal (molotov, smoke bomb, nail bomb, etc) which are adding a needed layer to the combat, which until now felt a little thin. While I'm enjoying these rogue-like encounters I think they're also weighing me down. I can only play at that tension level for about an hour a time, which makes running into enemies kind of annoying. Ugh, I'll say, I don't feel like spending a half hour being super careful again. So far I've been able to avoid the nagging want to do a perfect run (restarting an encounter as soon as something goes wrong) but I already feel I am falling into a Difficulty Trap. At some point I may notch the difficulty down to Normal but I feel it will be world breaking for me. Better to just slowly get through this game attrition style I guess.

This might be a little pointless to mention at this point but, by the way, this game looks fucking amazing. Game definitely suffers from gameyness though, largely due to these fantastic graphics. When you're in a world that is so well realized and there is junk strewn about everywhere it gets a little weird that you need X number of random pills to increase your skills (what?) or that there are all these little bits of firearm parts lying around. Also... two shotgun blasts to ace a regular human? Nitpicks, absolutely, but they are definitely bubbling to the top. Where I am now, the relationship between Ellie and Joel is just taking off, so maybe I will feel more compelled to move through the game as that picks up.

DmC Devil May Cry

Excitement: High
Time Played: ~5 hours

Same badass attitude, same badass look. Well, sorta.

Ok, so, remember how I said it's been seven years since my last RPG? Well, guess when the last time I played a character action game was. That's right! You got it! TEN YEARS. Until this weird Castlevania/DmC double header Devil May Cry 2 was the last character action game I touched unless you count ten bored minutes of God of War and then another ten bored minutes of Darksiders. Long story short is I was blown away by the Devil May Cry demo that came packed in with Code Veronica X, and ran to the store the day DMC came out to buy it. Very few games are so room-by-room burned into my memory, but the original Devil May Cry is. So, like a lot of fans, when I saw the Ninja Theory remake headlines my immediate reaction was "Flock off!" but hooo boy was I wrong.

While I was never that attached to Dante's look (though it worked perfectly in the original) I was sceptical of Ninja Theory's ability to nail the fighting systems. Heavenly Sword was cool enough and Enslaved too but, you know, the combat in the DMC series is nothing to snivel at. It's some serious shit. Now, fair enough, I ain't been playing a lot of these types of games recently - but, at least compared to Castelvania and any other semi-action I've played in recent memory - wow. Just wow. I never expected to like this game this much. Dante is, pure and simple, amazingly agile and strong, and super responsive to player input. This means fun. So far I've got the handguns, sword, power fists, giant axe and scythe. While nothing quite has the classic oomph of Dante's Shotgun everything. really. hits. in. this. game. Amazing sound design makes all the combat not only sound like it hurts, but it's a great homage to the original game too. The returning hilarious thrash metal (DIIIIEEEE!!! JUUUST DIEEE!) and weird ambient noise are cherries on top. My favourite move so far is Showdown, in which you jump up in the air, charge up a huge punch, then drop down and punchcrack the ground beneath you. All of the animations (and there are a lot of them) are so slick it becomes addicting just to see them all. Very few characters in games move like Dante does and it only takes a few minutes with him to appreciate the buttery, turn-on-a-dime control.

Story-wise I'm surprised how much of the original DMC background I remembered, as I find DmC to be a great retelling of this "classic" tale of two nephelim born from the union of an Angel and Demon. There was a lot of crying on the internet about Dante's new emo look but he's actually very much like the original Dante: in your face attitude. The fact that the demons are in your face back is totally hilarious. There's an early sequence where Dante and a Succubus go back and forth yelling FUCK YOU at each other and it basically says everything about the game. DmC is an amazing remake because it captures everything that was awesome about DMC, namely, feeling like a badass. Dante is so cool (as in, unimpressed) towards demons it makes all the stylishness actually make sense. As a feat of identity, DmC is so cohesive it should serve well as a "Cohesion in Games 101" for the next however many years. Of all the games in this blog this is the one I will likely finish first, just because I can't wait to jump back in and fight demons.

Super Mario Galaxy

Excitement: Fucked
Time Played: ~15 hours

I don't have much to say about this game other than fuck. Fuck you Nintendo. Fuck you games industry. Super Mario 64 is an ageless masterpiece. I revisit it every year on my 64 and I love it more every year. Super Mario Galaxy makes Mario 64 look like pediatric monkey who can't jump. The minute to minute levels of creativity are overflowing so high I can't usually stand to play this game more than 3 hours straight. I also can never escape it before the 3 hours are up. My emotions are mixed between pure disgust at how talented one group of people could be (and the impossibility of that same group of people seemingly acting as one) and even greater disgust at every other developer on earth, because they've never made a game half this fun. I wonder, is this game the reason no one else makes 3rd person platformers? Was this the last nail in the coffin? This is the first game I've played since I was 12 where I play the entire thing completely wide-eyed. Yah! Wah! Waahoooo! The only serious problem I have with SMG is that Mario is basically a character from a nightmare now that I've seen the Giant Bomb videos with the man responsible for Mario's voice. Every time I crush a hapless creature under my boots or with my ground-pounding ass I just see the face of that vaudevillian actor smiling at me. I can't believe how good the music is either. But did I mention the levels? Running around and inside planets up-side down and right-side up? The way they play with gravity never stops blowing my mind. In the middle of the last Bowser level I did I nearly got up from chip-dust-encrusted chair and called every person I knew. But you can't explain SMG to anyone. Even a trailer or screenshot is useless. It has to be played to be believed.

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PS4 Day One! (Set Up Woes, Dat Controller, Resogun, Warframe)

So after a wee bit of shipping troubles my launch PS4 arrived yesterday, Monday November 18. Not counting handhelds, this is my 12th console, but only the 5th I picked up at launch (GC, PS2, PS3, 360). I'm a big, big lover of the launch - no, I don't need any software to justify my purchase. Since I've been gaming in 1990 I really can't remember very many years that didn't see the release of some games I enjoyed, so the soft-launches have never been a bummer.

Still, I almost got dragged down by the cynicism surrounding these launches and I think I had a bit of an epiphany - I've decided to give up reading most other websites. At this point I just don't care for this new so-called criticism. I want to go to sites that are a celebration of gaming. So while I was at work Monday, with my PS4 in a box behind me, I started to ask myself: was it the right decision?

And then, as soon as I got home and cleaned out the home theatre area, when I put the machine in its new place for the next ~8 years - and, duders, when I touched that controller...

Fuck yes

it was the right decision.

Set Up Woes & Crashes!

The boot-up process is super fast and easy - no complaints here. But once that was said and done, I noticed, uh, a notice about the downloading of the 1.5 patch (which you need to get to the store, multiplayer, etc). It said I wasn't connected to the internet (contradicting what the system had just told me a moment ago!). So I redid the connection test. Then it downloaded the update! Yay. Or not.

After the update downloaded the system went into an eternal "preparing to install" phase. If this happens to you, try this:

Click on Store, it'll tell you (again) that you need to update, and then will download the update all over again (2 minutes, so not a big deal really). I didn't leave the screen this time and the download and installation completed very quickly. Then the system restarts.

Finally, all was well.

Or was it?

I downloaded Resogun, Contrast and Warframe. Resogun downloaded so fast I didn't even get a chance to see how big it was. Warframe, which is about 4000MB, took 30 minutes. Contrast, unfortunately, didn't download. It just got stuck halfway through, then said "couldn't download".

After installing and launching Warframe, it began downloading a patch (in-game). I thought it now would be a good moment to test the UI ability to jump in and out of a game, go to the store, etc. So I started jumping in and out, went to the store, thought I might try to download Contrast again, but after clicking download, all the UI disappeared and the system just froze. :( Oh noes! Since there's no hard off switch, and the regular one wasn't responding, I had to pull the plug.

I haven't had any problems since then, though I haven't tried redownloading Contrast yet. Other than these small bumps I'm actually really impressed by the UI. It's really fast and made sense to me quickly. The store loads so quickly compared to the PS3 it's hard to overstate how much a breath of fresh air it is. I like the way it shows the download progress for each game on its thumbnail, and the layout itself is really cool plus the way the art pops up when you select a game is a nice touch.

Controller

I know lots of people have already said "hey the controller is great" but - duders - it's really, really great. I literally said Wow (to myself, in an empty room) like 5 times over as I held it for first time. It's night and day from the last Dualshock, it no longer feels like cheap plastic, and it's much, much wider now (wider than the 360 controller even). I can't say enough how much I love this new controller, though yeah, the bright light during a movie can be a little inconvenient. It's such an in-your-face problem I'm sure they'll patch it and give us an Off option. For now I just put the controller under the couch if I'm watching a pitch black film. I also have the advantage of being in Canada, and since it's -25 now (that's -13 for you Americanos) I'm gaming under blankets most of the time anyways.

You do need to get used to the positions of the Options and Share buttons. It's pretty easy to end up clicking the touch pad itself. In some ways that's actually very smart. You don't want to be hitting Options and Share accidentally, so they put them high enough around the circles that they're quite high and not in the way of when you actually want to hit the touch pad. But yeah, you gotta get used to it. And you know, there is something psychologically weird about it not being Start & Select. Start I kind of miss, Select never made sense anyways. I like the controller so much I think I might buy one of those custom painted ones AND I'VE NEVER HAD A THOUGHT LIKE THAT IN MY LIFE.

The touch pad itself - it's very easy to see this become the default map button/controller, or how it can be used for abilities like in Warframe. But it's also very obvious that, well, it depends on the abilities themselves how natural the touchpad feels (see below section of Warframe for more).

Resogun - "Hm, so you're as good as they said."

The first 3 seconds of Resogun, I was feeling Ehhhh I dunno about this - then BAM it clicked. Narrowly avoiding objects could be a genre unto itself (well it is, I guess) though I'm not sure Resogun is technically a Bullet Hell game, but it sure feels like it. Watching the level crumble into millions of tiny little pieces is super cool but beyond all the "hey man we can do particles now!!" effects the gameplay is just really, really solid. The fact that there are multiple ships is icing on the cake. It's definitely a short game but by the same token it's also infinitely long - like so many Arcade Classics I really think this is one we'll be firing up all the time just to take turns with friends and try and get a higher score. Very, very cool. I would certainly reccomend fans of Geometry Wars of Everyday Shooter pick it up. PS+ folks get it free, so, if you still need a reason to get sign up for PS+, maybe this will be it..

I could easily have played this for hours but that pesky girlfriend showed up! DAMN LIFE.

Warframe

This was the surprise. Now, I had played Warframe a long time ago, when it first launched (before the Quick Look aired on GB) and it was a pretty different game. I popped in and out as they updated but it's been 6 months since I put real time into it.

Duders - Warframe is a fucking awesome game. It's weird it has a metacritic score - I imagine it's based on the early beta like a year ago? The PS4 score right (in Store) is ultra high, and I have to say I'd rate it 5/5 based on what I've played.

The only thing you need to know about Warframe is that it has a mobility learning curve. Many buttons like crouch and jump have contextual uses that change based on which move preceded/followed it, whether your jumping/sprinting, whether you hold it down/click it, whether you are running along a wall or already are on a wall, etc - so there's a lot to grasp. The other thing you need to know is that there is an Options Menu. And it has so many awesome options! Since when can you adjust shit like Bloom and Motion Blur in console games? Very, very cool stuff here. But what I really wanted to point to are the options which 1) control Aim Sensitivity, and 2) which force your moves to lign up with how the camera is facing. Play with these and you'll really nail the feeling you want.

Aesthetically, this is far and away the coolest F2P shooter I can think of. Space Ninjas. Those two words say it all. Sprinting down a corridor, doing a leaping roll through gunfire and then cutting a space marine in two actually never gets old. Running along a wall, jumping down with a karate kick that auto-animates into a landing slide that you can continue to shoot from - also never gets old.

The touchpad is used in Warframe to activate your abilities. The best example is Excalibur's (that's the name of the Warframe) Slash Dash. You swipe up on the pad to do it, and the move itself takes the Warframe in the same direction - you slide forward about 30-40 feet. Because the move takes about 1.5-2.5 seconds and you can't do anything while it's happening, you have time to move your thumb back, or do another slide on the touchpad in a different direction. I'm using this as an example because, if, for instance, the touchpad was used to do something more twitchy it would feel too far. You also have to pay attention which thumb you use. Because Slash Dash follows where you are aiming, you can technically curve it a little bit by adjusting your aim in those few seconds. So, obviously in this case you want to use your left thumb on the pad, and keep your right thumb on the aiming stick. I think because the motions are so close with Slash Dash and upward slide, it works really well - maybe this obvious, but I just wanted to say I think the touchpad can be cool, but it really, really depends on the specific move you are doing rather than its inherent functionality.

The best part about Warframe is that you can play so much of it for free and if you won't feel gross spending 5-10 bucks on it. Yes, it always, always sucks to see that 150 dollar package but that's really just for the super hardcore. There's also a limited number of revives per day (or you can buy some with a ressource you can find/buy). This won't be a problem unless you are trying to do Solo play, which can require very perfect execution. Definitely stick with the default and play online. Like Mass Effect 3 multiplayer this pure co-op, and I found that the people I was playing with were always willing to run back and revive me or just to stick together. This is especially true at very low and very high levels where you kind of have to stick together.

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That's all for now! If anyone has questions I can try and answer them, though I know there are a number of these blogs/threads already.

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the game always holds up... sometimes the playa don't

For too long now there has been an idea spreading, and this idea is that games age out, and become no longer awesome. It's one thing to say a game's old graphics make it unplayable (you know who you are, you sonsofbitches) but it's another thing entirely to insult the integrity of its design. Facts aren't a nebulous concept that applies to half of this thing and half of that thing, no - a fact is what it is, and that's that (aka it is what it is). The concept of "holding up" (not at gunpoint) when used in regards to games, or movies, or music, etc. is only used by so-called educated folk who claim to be making some sort of historical-analysis survey of the subject (I guess), and yet... it is an incredibly uneducated mistake to make!

The first problem is that instantly assumes more = better. Big games are complex today. Heck, even "small games" are complicated. Well sorta, but that's for another blog. If you want to know how and why more isn't always better, go play Assassin's Creed 3. It's not a bad game by any sane standards but holy shit is it a boring, tepid experience. There are many other games that exhibit the qualities AC3 does but it is truly the crown jewel of the crown on the king of unfortunate games' head. You can compare AC3 to any old game you want, from any era you want. All the visual and technical feats in the world don't make a game fun. And then there's the level design. Ahhh yes.

Personally, I remember far more levels from the past than I do of the present though of course there are exceptions. Maybe it's the rise of open worlds that take place in one place that's all kinda the same place all over. 3D level design is something else. Often it exists moreso to delight visually than to be an actually fun place to run around/murder stuff in. The flipside is there of course. Call of Duty is a really excellent example. The multiplayer is an example of great relatively modern level design that puts player movement and firing lanes first, and aesthetic second. The single player is an example of how level design can put you to sleep by way of the world's tiredest checkpoint system. But! *That* is some really modern shit. Good multiplayer shooting maps go back to the 90s, but games that sneakily hold your hand (and sometimes not so sneakily) is one of the modern marvels of games, as sarcastic as that may sound. Ok, so there were some easy games back in the day... But you know what I'm saying, right?

TBC..

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Music of the Day: Moroder's Good Old Germany (Best of a Young G)

Music of the Day Music Blog Volume 1

Since Giorgio Moroder has been (re)introduced to so many people recently I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some of my favorite tracks and reflect on how awesome he is.

Good Old Germany & The Best of Young Giorgio: A Young G Rises

Long before he was a half-robot genius, Giorgio Moroder exhibited a penchant for dark synth and bass and a general tendency to go for low. Even Luky Luky, from his Italian/English Beatles/Beach Boys days, has some flavour of what would come later, though, like Arizona Man, another early favorite, it's otherwise far from the sound he's famous for. His earliest work (going back to about 66) isn't his best, but it's fascinating when you go back to it knowing where he ends up. "It's Bla Bla Bla!"

Right. Pretty weird. No smooth transitions following that song, so I'm just going to move on. However I feel about the album all in all, I was pleasantly surprised to see Giorgio get some love on the new Daft Punk. Of course this isn't the first time artists have paid tribute to Mr. Moroder, as he's considered one of the grandfathers of Italo (more on that one day) and some other much less sweet genres. While some extra-young Moroder does preview the electric weirdness he shows off in Einzelganger and later (see Son of My Father), that album really stands apart. It's bizarre. You should listen to the whole thing, though I am dropping the bomb here. Innovisions, the record immediately following Einzelganger, is the supposed jewel of the crown, and goes for some stupid amount of money (like 2500 bucks!) on websites were people do that sort of thing, but trust: Einzelganger (aka ze Lone Wolf) is where it's at. Admittedly not a smooth listen - like I said, it's odd enough that you have to stop and think and go huh? periodically, but it's such a unique collection of sounds and has a really gripping tone of robotic melancholy.

Moroder is well known for Midnight Express and Scarface, and this where we're going to end it today. The former has one especially well-known, catchy track (The Chase), but Scarface is the real masterpiece. In fact, it's among the most impressive musical feats in film history, in my own insignificant opinion. Very often when I watch that movie someone will remark on the music. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they don't. I love it. Like so many gamers I listened to "She's on Fire" as much as possible in Grand Theft Auto III, and like so many Scarface fans I figured the soundtrack was just a collection of once-awesome, popular 80s tracks. I had probably seen the movie a dozen times before I read about the soundtrack, and was blown away to learn that Moroder had composed every song exclusively for the film. His range is pretty phenomenal here. In between all the pop-of-the-day tracks, Maria Conchita's Vamos a Bailar (special mention!) and Push It to The Limit, he sneaks in that deadly dark synth, its greatest appearance right at the start, in the opening theme:

The Scarface soundtrack was unfortunately not recognized as a masterpiece at the time of its release, and was ignored by that extremely important measuring stick we call the hakademy hawards. That said, in 1978 Moroder did beat out both John Williams (Superman) and Ennio Morricone (Days of Heaven) for his work on Midnight Express. Which is pretty wild, considering how amazing both those scores are.

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Giorgio Moroder went on to compose a large number of high-profile movie soundtracks and work with many famous recording artists. But that, as they say, is another story.

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Simple game? Or shocking simulation of life? Douche Defender Review

I told a special amigo I would post this review last night (sorry boss), but since the Douche Defender page is still pending approval from our moderators, I've decided to blog it here in the interim, and maybe get a little more attention for this game.

Very often Douche Defender feels like the videogames your mother warned you about. It’s a little bit like those old websites that still exist in places on the internet. No one thing tips you off, but you feel it in your gut: I shouldn’t be here. Still, like all Big Head Mode games, Douche Defender isn’t without its charms. And this one comes with deep insights too.

And here I am, hard at work playing Douche Defender. Chris is guilty by the way. This is an easy hint. Only regular guys are too afraid to talk to girls in groups.

See, Douche Defender is about pickup artists. Or, more formally, Pickup Artist Douches. This simple trivia game pits you, a big-headed damsel, against a lineup of goal-driven douches whose giant faces are seemingly culled from the internet (Duchovny’s in there at least) and your facebook friends. Your own visage comes either from facebook or your device camera. Anyways the douches hit you with a line and you say Yes he’s a pickup artist, or No he ain’t. This is largely a multiplayer affair, though you can play alone, for a price. The depth of the game comes from the fact that the pickup artists are (supposedly) hitting you with real pickup knowledge that (supposedly) works. As you play the game over and over again, you begin to develop your own database of pickup artist douche tells, and the persona of the artist begins to solidify. It’s a conniving science they employ, and this science is at the root of the psychoanalytical power that Douche Defender wields.

The complexity of the pickup craft does give some legitimacy to the pickup artist moniker. Really the question Douche Defender is asking is what does the dividing line between douches and pickup douches say about how society perceives aggressive sexual courting. On the one hand we have douches who are cheesy, and dim-witted, who barely have a chance with women. On the other, we have a group of men who have reduced the interaction to a science. They wear eyeliner to make their eyes seem bigger and more youthful, they rock back on their heels to make you feel they’re always about to leave, and instead of telling you what you think you want to hear (compliments) they provoke you into liking them by acting aloof or uninterested. Now, because we live in a place called the real world, we know that men of both groups are successful in netting and bedding (and sometimes wedding) women. Are the scientists the bad guys, because it is a science? It’s hard to make a real judgment hear. Is a well-planned trick more morally egregious than a poorly planned trick if both succeed? If neither succeeds?

Douche Defender puts up a good front – the fiction works: the combination of real pickup moves, giant heads and the frequency of your encounters all coalesce to make you annoyed. But you know, meaningfully annoyed. You begin to develop two simultaneous frustrations at 1) hearing the same pathetic attempts over and over again, and 2) being tricked by a pickup artist. It’s very easy to fall into a rabbit whole of assumptions playing Douche Defender. I mean shit, I’ve used these lines on women before! So it’s no wonder that you start to think you feel like any uninterested woman might in these situations. And just as the lineup of hopeless bar-going, beach-stalking men never ends, so too do the douches never stop coming. The constant flow of easy obvious douches lulls you into a sense of safety when bam, a real pick up artist appears – you’ve gotta stay on your toes to stay safe. There’s also never a dude who’s not a douche. It’s douches and pickup douches. Now, am I talking about the game, or the game? In this way, Douche Defender is the one of the most important simulations of human drama I’ve ever played. Mechanically, next to nothing interesting is going on (though, in a wonderfully realistic twist, the dresses, hair colors and shoes you unlock throughout the game have exactly zero effect on how any of the douches treat you). But the idea, the context of the trivia, is so ripe for internal analysis it’s frankly disturbing. Like an excellent piece of literature, Douche Defender is a mirror: what does a douche see when he plays it I wonder. A joke? A condemnation of his life? Or a promotion of the pickup lifestyle?

Magic tricks are an easy tell, Kanye.

Hard to say. My cynical soul compels me to believe Douche Defender is a Trojan horse. On the outside, a douche defense training program – on the inside, a pickup art 101 class. Three quarters of the way down Douche Defender’s main menu are links to popular books, videos, and even music about pickup artistry. You may have seen one of these brash young men on a late night television show, pimping his book and utter mastery of female desire. And just like a good pimp’s book, Douche Defender does indeed drop knowledge. Spend only a few hours with the game and soon you’ll be spotting pickup artists like dice on the table! Though to be fair to the game it does open with the following blurb:

This game teaches women to identify pickup artists. In the wrong hands, the material contained within could be used for evil. If you are a douche, please leave.

My hope soul wants to believe this is a true. Clicking the I Am Not A Douche button should mean something! And you know – it does. What was it I just say about mirrors? When I looked into Douche Defender I saw a douche too. Not a pickup artist douche, but a confused douche. As I tapped my way through the trivia I learned not only all the mistakes I had made in approaching women, but also discovered that many of my successes also lined up perfectly with pickup art. A dark truth: the tricks pickup artists use sometimes border on sincerity. The other tricks they use are entirely reminiscent of all those awful girlfriends I had who played me like a fiddle! If you're my girlfriend and you're reading this, I'm not talking about you. Probably a good time to wrap this up though, huh?

Big Head Mode is a developer of simple, funny games. They tend to have somewhat poor UI (blurriness and mismatched fonts/art styles) and their fair share of bugs, but good ideas. Ideas worth a laugh, if not always dollars. Plus, the developer’s basic promise, which is that playing games with your friends’ giant faces plastered all over them is funny, is true. The only things holding this score back from a perfect five are issues with stability, poor synching of scores, janky, ugly UI (except the spot on logo), a random opponent mode that has far too low a ceiling for number of opponents per day, and some poorly written text menus. The game does at least continue in the tradition of BHM’s economies, which are far from the worst offenders in the iOS F2P ghetto (with the possible exception of NomNomFace). Douche Defender doesn’t have the charisma of PuppetFace or reach the heights of ZombieFace, but it’s also not really interested in being much more than a trivia game – still, due to its bizarre fiction and theme, Douche Defender does prop up a mirror with which users can examine their own minds and thoughts on love, desire and neuro-linguistic programming. Based on book sales, pick up artist douches aren’t going anywhere, and based on Hollywood movies, women are joining the ranks of pickup douches in droves too. Keeping this in mind, I believe Douche Defender is required gaming for any young adolescent mind. It’s true that dragging a child to fire might get them burned, but they could also learn some important, lifelong lessons about themselves and others.

SCORES

for the App Store: 3 out of 5

for Giant Bomb: 2 out of 5

for your mind: 10 out of 10

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Hate the Developer – Punish the Game: Dennis Dyack & Eternal Darkness 2

If you hate long, meandering, nigh-pointless internal dialogue that’s all shoot-from-the-hip then I’d say you should either run away or just scroll down, type TL;DR, and peace out.

The Promise

Was the wait worth it? Will the juice be worth the squeeze? I thought we couldn't have images with watermaks?

Shadow of the Eternals will be an episodic, horror adventure action game developed by Precursor Games (which is seemingly made up of Silicon Knights remains). It is the self-appointed spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness. Each episode (total of 12) will have roughly 2-4 hours of gameplay. The game is crowdsourced, and will incorporate content “created” by those who help fund the game. If you submit an idea on the forums, and the fans like it, the developers want to include it.

Denis Dyack says this new company is letting him focus purely on creativity and creation, rather than business.

The Past

I’m looking at the Precursor Games website right now. 6.58% of 1.5 million funded. 30 days left. No, I’m not considering pledging my support – but it’s not because I disagree with Dennis Dyack. Will Shadow of the Eternals reach its goal?

Probably. But not before we hear the rage of the internet. The comments on websites showing the trailer for the game, on IGN’s gameplay demo and just on forums here and there show well enough what the core temperature is. No one’s forgotten about that Kotaku article yet…

Many have already pointed out that the Shadow of the Eternals trailer we’ve seen appears to be quite similar to the secretly developed Eternal Darkness 2 demo described in that fateful article. Now, before I continue, I’m going to come right out and say I couldn’t give less of a fuck that Silicon Knights lied to their publisher and spent time developing this Eternal Darkness 2 demo instead of focusing on the well-known shitware that was X-Men Destiny. Sorry duders. The morality of that decision isn’t what I’m interested in really. Frankly I’ve worked in enough companies and known enough employees of bigger companies to know that this “strategic reallocation of resources” is nothing special, in this industry or the next. Is it right? No. Does it need to happen? Probably not. Is it a known issue? Yep. Did it *really* blow up in SK’s face? Oh yeah.

Was this game robbed of its potential success, or was it always doomed? Better question: if Shadow of the Eternals is ultra, ultra amazing - was it worth sacrificing this lamb?

It’s really only the mistreatment of employees that rubs me the wrong way – but again, nothing in MacMillan’s Kotaku article, from leaving employees off of the credits to a creative director who miscommunicates, excommunicates, and simply doesn’t *get* what is going on with his team and how to best direct them – none of this is new. Or it didn't strike me as new. The issue of crediting in games is a big problem (there are a million stories, here's a famous one from years back), just like all the layoffs we’re crying about every few weeks. In his article MacMillan makes reference to another he penned about Team Bondi (L.A. Noire) – this is worth remembering; here too we have many employees left overworked, uncredited and angry. But of course no one is shitting on Whore of the Orient. Dyack, of course, unlike whoever heads Team Bondi, famously took to forums to defend his games on numerous occasions, and this definitely helped cement him as an unlikable, evil, Bizzaro Vinny. Oh and there was that lawsuit too…

Anyways. I’m not here to excuse Dennis Dyack. Forget that shit. I just don’t think he’s special. Him or his poorly run business. You think his wife was the only family connection working at a game company? You think he’s the only boss who bad mouths his ex-employees? You think he’s the only developer who thinks “artists are a dime a dozen”? What – did I die and wake up in a perfect world? What year is it?

Sigh.

Denis Dyack… Are you worth hating a game over? I know, in my heart of hearts, that Denis Dyack did not make Eternal Darkness. He was responsible for it, at least, but a game like that does not fall from one man’s fingertips. I feel the same way when I look at Shadow of the Eternals. Who really owns a game? The fans? The owner of the company? The man or woman who planted the idea seed? Or every hand that ever touched it, credited or not? Most importantly: can we have an Eternal Darkness without Dyack?

Looking at the (very short) list of Precursor team members, I can see they all worked on either X-Men or Too Human. Two worked on Eternal Darkness outside Dyack. If these aren’t the people to make the “right” sequel to Eternal Darkness, who is? And will we ever hear from them? Maybe this is a product of the demo being made so long ago but I’ll be honest and say Shadow of the Eternals does look like the sequel to Eternal Darkness, as hard as it is to describe what about it gives that feeling. Something about the character models?

Should You Support Shadow of the Eternals?

Maybe. The fact that it’s not through Kickstarter (no Canadians allowed damn it!) may scare you and the fact that Silicon Knights, er, Precursor, will keep all money raised regardless of whether they reach their goal or not, probably should scare you. That said, it does say somewhere on their website that if it is clear they don’t have enough to make the game they will refund donors. So! Chew on that?

One thing that’s confusing is this: why would subsequent episodes cost less to make than this first one? Again: the team is exceedingly small, and if this trailer we saw *is* the demo that was developed all those years ago… uh... see where I’m going with this? Maybe this 1.5 million is for hiring? Or is this money actually for development of the following episodes? Questions – so many questions! All in all I find it hard to believe that figure is an honest number. This is a growing issue for me with crowdfunded games. I don’t understand why developers aren’t more transparent – the answer, probably, is they just don’t need to be. Will Precursor ask for a million for each episode, making it a 12-15 million dollar game? That makes a little more sense to me.

Conclusions

As I gaze into the palantir on my desk I see two lessons, two futures, ahead of us. In one we learn the bastard cost of legacy. Had X-Men Destiny been developed by some joker like Brad Muir probably we would have all said “sure, makes sense,” and shrugged. But it wasn’t. It was made by Silicon Knights. If Too Human was a new IP from an unknown developer like, uh… Brad Muir… then – well you know! My point is Eternal Darkness is a 10,000 pound anchor and we, the fans, are the ship tethered to it. I guess that makes Dyack the storm? (What the hell am I even talking about now?) Ok, I remember: legacy is a bitch. The history of Silicon Knights has paid massive dividends to the developer, in terms of success, not really, but in terms of attention, yes. This whirlwind surrounding Shadow of the Eternals is largely incidental. The team that made Eternal Darkness is gone. Time has passed. Why should we believe the quality of that game would influence this one? It’s entirely likely this game comes out and is bad; it’s also possible this game simply does not come out.

But there is another future: what if Shadow of the Eternals comes out – and is good. What if the whole season is great? I love Eternal Darkness to hell. I want to want to play Eternal Darkness 2. And if I hear from all around that Shadow *is* a true successor – then what? Do I “forgive” Dyack (if ever there was something to forgive)? Or do I go back to the idea that the game was never his anyways; that its success or failure as a game, like the original, is not entirely up to him (poor management be damned).

But then – if that’s true – why all this writing in the first place? If the quality of a game is independent of the man who calls himself head honcho – why do I care about him at all? Why do I care about any one developer? Gut tells me that as fans, we want to root for a person. Like a director. Or actor. In games we have people like Ken Levine, Tim Schafer and Will Wright - but these guys barely make the games they make. The idea, or most of it, or part of it, is theirs. But the makers are many more...

So here's to you, game makers far and wide: programmers, artists, sound engineers, and the rest of you whose job positions I don't even know exist. Whether you worked for Silicon Knights, Team Bondi, Irrational or whomever: Sorry. Your hard work shouldn't be reduced to one person, either in a negative, or positive way. It's hard to see how this could ever change, but I, at least, will do my best to honor the team and the game.

Peace be with all of y'all.

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Short History of the Giant Bomb Game of the Year

This Year's Last Year's Game of the Year

AwardWinnerRunners-UpYear

2008's 2007 Game of the Year

Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfareRock Band, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, Halo 3, Crackdown, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, The Orange Box2008
2009's 2008 Game of the YearShin Megami Tensei: Persona 4Fallout 3, Fable II2009
2010's 2009 Game of the YearBorderlandsForza Motorsport 3, Dragon Age: Origins2010
2011's 2010 Game of the YearStarCraft II:
Wings of Liberty
Rock Band 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops2011
2012's 2011 Game of the YearSuper Mario
3D Land
TrackMania² Canyon, Pushmo2012

Best Debut

WinnerRunners-UpYear
Dead SpaceLeft 4 Dead, No More Heroes, LittleBigPlanet, Braid2008
inFamousBorderlands, Shadow Complex 2009
BayonettaSuper Meat Boy, Limbo2010
BastionSuperbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, L.A. Noire2011
The Walking DeadMark of the Ninja, Fez2012

Best New Character

AwardWinnerRunner-UpYear
Best New Non-Player CharacterTenzin - Uncharted 2 2009
Best New CharacterBayonetta or maybe Mordin Solus - Beyonetta & Mass Effect 2Captain Donnelly (L.A. Noire), Johnson (Shadows of the Damned)2010
Best New CharacterWheatley - Portal 2Lee Everett (Walking Dead), Javik (Mass Effect 3)2011
Best New CharacterVaas - Far Cry 3Ghost (Modern Warfare 2), GIRL (Noby Noby Boy)2012

Notes

One of 2008's 2007 Game of the Year Runner's-Up, WarioWare, was released in 2006.

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All the Games I've Played: 70s + 80s

I'm using Giantbomb and Wikipedia to run through all the games that have ever come out. I'm going to note every game I've ever played or finished. This was pretty fun to do if you want to give it a try, I learnt a lot about myself and it was really eye opening to see what came out when. I'm using a title's original release date for consistency. I was born in the late 80s and had few consoles growing up. I read nothing and knew nearly nothing of games until the years leading up to the launch of PS2.

1972

Pong - Didn't play this in arcades but had the home version. Pretty sure I had a clone game, but in any case: this is the beginning of game fights with my brothers.

1978

Space Invaders - I never really liked this game or others from this genre.

1980

Pac-Man - Loved to play this game when I came across it at arcades but I was terrible at it and still am. In all my years I've never made it more than a few stages in.

1981

Donkey Kong - Another game my feeble hand-eye skills can't master. Like many I went back to it after Fistful of Quarters, but immediately remembered: Oh yeah, I suck at this.

1982

Q*Bert - Jeez. Just realizing I'm terrible at all these games. Something about the perspective of this title always made it impossible for me.

1985

Gauntlet - Yep. Guess who sucked at this one? At least everybody thought this game was hard. Never got through it, not even close.

Duck Hunt - Hated this game. That damn laughing dog and that repeating musical track. Used to play with the gun just hovering off the TV as the sensor never seemed to work. I remember this game as being the one I would accidentally play if I pressed the wrong button when starting up that Mario/Duck Hunt two pack.

Super Mario Bros. - Not much to say here other than played it every day of my life for years. The first game on this list that I beat.

Tetris - Played this at arcades all the time but, you guessed it, never made it very far.

1987

Mega Man - I only played the first Mega Man last year. I was never really into this series growing up but I've always loved the music and I was a huge fan of 10 when it came out, though I couldn't beat it alone.

The Legend of Zelda - Played this one on GBA after the fact. It was my little brothers but he "lent" it to me so I could get through this. Link was my favourite game character until Solid Snake showed up.

Metroid - Had a family friend who played this on GBA all the time. Didn't like that kid at all but man this was a sweet game to see.

Contra - Always really loved the art in Contra but... yeah.. too hard for me.

Double Dragon - Played this a lot with a friend of mine in junior high. Really miss side-scrolling beat-em-ups and on the couch multiplayer when I think of games like this.

1988

Metal Gear: I didn't realize this game came out the year I was born (literally two weeks after) and now my whole life makes sense. Never had a chance to play this until a re-release - Snake Eater I think - but it's still great. Stealth benefits so much from simplicity, it's interesting there aren't more stealth games from this era. Like many I think a remake of MGS would be a dream come true.

1989

Shufflepuck Cafe: Almost forgot about this one. Screens for this game show it in colour but the version I had was definitely black and white. Loved the hell out of this game. That pig bastard was a real challenge.

---

End Part 1. Thoughts:

Either games were harder then or I was really bad at them or a combination of the two.

Love the box art from this era, lots of high quality fantasy/sci-fi artists.

Wish I had played: Maniac Mansion, Prince of Persia, Sid Meyer's Pirates! and Bionic Commando.

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