I hate Clickers but there’s a good idea here

The Last of Us.

Clickers.

That’s all I need to say for anyone who’s played the game to cringe and/or explode with rage. These Tier 2 enemies have lost all humanity as the infection has blossomed out of their brain to replace their head with a series of fungal fronds. They look gross, sound terrifying as they use guttural clicks to hear their surroundings, and are a one-hit kill if they get up on you.

They’re not terribly different from enemies in other games but the major problem in dealing with them is their inconsistency. At times they work like security cameras and you can almost see the vision cone around them as you slowly sneak by or toss a bottle to distract them. At other times — the majority of the time — they seem to come bolting right for you even if you’re sneaking around. The game regularly mixes them in with the crazed “zombie” enemies that attack on sight making it even harder to determine how to solve the designers’ “combat puzzles”.

You might think the best solution is to remove the Clickers entirely but the more I think about it the more I’d like to see a game that pits you solely against them. The game is halfway there already with Joel and Ellie’s unique hearing radar and bottle/brick distraction mechanics. It’s like they wanted to go for a game devoid of gunplay but the risk of not looking exciting enough in trailers forced them into this confusing mashup of the two styles.

In my version, with gunplay and zombie hordes out of the way, the “combat” could become a unique evolution of what we’ve seen from Splinter Cell. Now you might shoot out lights or use a melee weapon to bang on a wall to get the Clickers attention. A BB gun could be the most effective weapon in your arsenal as it fires quietly enough for the game to ignore but lets you shatter glass or ping off of metal surfaces. Dumping a container of BBs down an exposed vent shaft could make for a painful decision: lose a ton of ammo to clear out a whole floor or look for a quieter way around.

Explosives could be cleverly implemented to disorient the Clickers or mask a loud move like busting open a door or freeing a trapped companion. The ultimate power trip — the idea that started this whole thing — would be entering a warehouse full of Clickers and setting off the sprinkler system. With their senses overloaded it would give you freedom to be as loud as possible, running around and taking out Clickers indiscriminately. Don’t get me wrong, I hate those guys — loathe them with a passion — but in the right game they could make for a thrilling new experience.

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My Top Twenty from the Independent Games Festival 2013

It’s that time of year again: time to go over the hundreds of IGF entrants and whittle it down to just twenty that I’m particularly excited about. This year there were 586 entries -- up just a handful from 2012 -- but unlike years past a bunch of my favorites have already been released. Be it a full price release or a frequently updated “beta” many of these games are very much known quantities. Let’s get those out of the way first because I think the more mysterious, lesser known, underground stuff is what’s so great about the IGF.

Cart Life by Richard Hofmeier

Once Giant Bomb digs into a game you know it’s hit a critical mass. That’s where I’ve seen the most of Cart Life which, at one time, sounded like an interesting literal take on a food-based time management game. Turns out it’s a literal take on reality and the tales of the downtrodden “every man” are a bigger part of this stark looking adventure game than actually running a food cart.

Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment

A roguelike survival game that is dead set on killing you. You really have to play it safe here or risk starving or being attacked but so many of the rules have to be discovered by taking a chance. The tension is amazing for a game that looks like a childhood Tim Burton doodle. Klei continue to evolve what the game is but I’ve already put a few dozen hours into it and can’t wait to dive back into a more finalized adventure.

Dust: An Elysian Tail by Dean Dodrill

Turns out I was able to get past the “furry” look of Dust once a for-real, heartbreaking story started to take shape. It looks fantastic, has a dazzling (if a little shallow) combat system and it’s hard to not love the all-the-work-of-one-man story of its creation.

FTL: Faster Than Light by Subset Games

Of all the games I played in 2012 FTL was the most effective, the most terrifying and satisfying. Despite its tiny, minimal graphics it often left me shaking as resources are slim, an encounter can turn at a second’s notice, and much of your success is dependent on your ability to manage a dozen functions at once.

Hotline Miami by Dennaton Games

A glorious, punishing top-down trip that's as satisfying to play as it is disturbing to be a part of. Its neon-soaked, psychotic 80’s adventure is perfectly matched with one of my favorite soundtracks of 2012.

Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer

I hate adventure games so it's great that this one boils most of the classic tropes down to simple questions and items. It's all about the atmosphere and exploration which feels like a dreamy, somehow familiar limbo between life and death.

Now for the remaining 14 games, some you may know and some you may be meeting for the first time.

Against the Wall by Michael P. Consoli

I’ve been playing the Unity-based web version off and on for the past year and still love everything about it; the stark visuals, subtle color, and the way it slowly grows more organic and mysterious as you ascend. I am always looking forward to the final release and new platforms to play it on.

Alphabet City by Gigantic Mechanic

As tired as I'm getting of word games, this one's promise of "boggle meets foursquare" with words and rankings based around the location you’re at seems pretty enticing. And while most word games go ultra minimalist with their art, Alphabet City embraces a jazzy, typewriter style that feels fresh.

ATUM by Sassybot Studio / Team Cupcake

One of the most meta games ever. Enter a room in first-person to sit down at a PC and play a simple noir-colored platformer, then help your character by finding objects in the 3D room. It’s simple and rough but feels really special.

Chroma by Mark Foster

If there’s one overarching theme from IGF this year it’s “light and shadow”. Of all the platformers that let you run on shadows and manipulate light to progress Chroma looks the neatest. It doesn't hurt that it's all in a cute, colorful pixel style.

Contrast by Compulsion Games

Guess what? Light and shadow platforming! This time it's 3D on a 2D plane as you play both in reality and on the shadows it casts. The 1920's era jazz stylings look fantastic and set Contrast apart from the unexpectedly crowded light/dark genre.

Cradle by Flying Cafe for Semianimals

A totally dazzling looking first-person exploration game where you awake in a future Mongolia with a malfunctioning robot companion and work to restore her functionality and memory to make sense of the world around you. Development seems troubled but I’m really hoping this one makes it out.

Destroy All Color! by Golden Ruby Games

One of the most accessible AR games from the IGF, Destroy All Color requires you to point your iOS camera at objects in real life to match and destroy the colored blocks in the game. It’s a familiar concept with a frantic real world twist and I like it.

Farm for your Life by Anneke and Oliver Eberlei

Astute fans of the site won’t be surprised to see this one. I posted about the “zombie farming time management tower defense“ game back in December and it proved itself as one of the most interesting and adorable games from the entrants.

Icebreaker - A Viking Voyage by Nitrome

I used to love 2D physics simulation and something about Icebreaker has really rekindled that love. It’s part Cut the Rope and part Angry Birds but with much more complicated and platformer-like levels to indirectly navigate. The pixelart Viking style doesn’t hurt either!

Leaper★ by Sophie Houlden

I still get a kick out of good use of a gyroscope and Leaper★ looks to use it very well. It also mitigates the hassle of first-person platforming by making jumping (err, leaping) a process that lets you stop and line up exactly where you'll land. It looks like a nice little adventure.

Mushroom 11 by Itay Keren

Sort of like a water physics game only the water you're moving around is mostly solid. Destroying or shaving off parts of the mass change its size and momentum but the mass grows back quickly so timing and fine tuning seem important.

NEO Scavenger by Blue Bottle Games

Taking the things I like about Don't Starve, Minecraft and Make No Wonder to their ultimate, hard science extremes, NEO Scavenger is a brutal survival game. I've put hours into the demo alone and -- if nothing else -- always manage to die in a new and terrifying way. It’s a new kind of brutal, unforgiving and punishing rogue-ish survival game that I can’t seem to get enough of.

Sang-Froid - Tales of Werewolves by Artifice Studio

The biggest surprise from the IGF this year! Take Orcs Must Die's action tower defense to an even bigger and more strategic scale. It's got a wonderful lumberjack-vs-the-undead setting and looks maddeningly frantic. I cannot wait to play it!

StarForge by CodeHatch Corp.

What is this madness!?! A realistic looking Minecraft with wave-based fort building and defense, the ability to build straight into space, hilarious movement physics, a Borderlands style gun system and vehicles. The only thing it’s missing is Match-3 and zombies.

And there you have it; my Top Twenty from the IGF 2013 is officially complete! In case you’re also a crazy person here’s a direct link to all 586 entries for you to start going over yourself. Have fun!

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Giant Bomb: Shawn Edition

So last week on the site was crazy relevant to all the weird interests I have in gaming. First Brad talks about Rubu Tribe which I asked him about just a few months ago on Twitter. Then they play one of my favorite PS2 games (Fantavision) and on Friday Drew actually showed off the tiny little web game I told him and Patrick about. That's all, just weird how all the things I've off-handedly mentioned to these guys all came up in the same few days of content.

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Achieving arthritis and more in Kung Fu Rider!

Even at the height of my Achievement hunting madness I was never terribly determined to “get them all” on any one game. It was cool if I could but usually there’s at least one multiplayer or time trial type Achievement that I know I’ll just never get. So it surprised even me that I’ve been so determined to “S Rank” Kung Fu Rider on PlayStation 3. There’s also something to be said about 100% completing a motion controlled game. More than quick witted thumb work, this took actual physical dexterity and endurance; it’s kind of a sloppy game to play and one that can quickly wear out your waggle arm. Looking at Raptr and Giant Bomb data it’s one that a lot of people have clearly given up on — so, yeah — I’m pretty proud of myself.

Mostly it was the CHAIRMASTER and MEDAL COLLECTOR trophies that I was afraid I’d never see. According to Raptr less than one half of one percent of players have ever gotten them to date. That’s the territory I usually never have the stamina, dedication or attention span to make it into. As flaky as the controls can be the game makes no consolations when it comes to scoring. Getting an S Rank on every stage requires a nearly flawless run and a high combo. The game is constantly throwing things at you to knock you off your seat but as I’ve played I’ve come to anticipate, improvise and overcome. After so many games that call it ‘close enough’ and let you pass it felt good to be challenged again, physically and mentally.

It also felt good (for the most part) to go easter egg hunting in a big open environment again. I haven’t seriously undertaken that task since Crackdown 2, only Kung Fu Rider doesn’t want you to find its hidden tchotchkes. There’s no rumbling tone when you get near one and there’s not much distinction between them and the hundreds of other colorful, spinning things around the city. Tracking down all 120 medals helped me get those S Rank scores, too, as I found new paths through the city I’d never taken the time to explore before. It was getting pretty maddening once I got down to the last two or three medals. Rounding a corner on a rooftop I swore I’d already explored and seeing the final medal felt glorious.

A few seconds later and I got my final *g’ling* and was done with the game but, wait, there are other people out there who can’t find all the medals. Surprisingly, there’s not a single walkthrough, map, or YouTube video on the entire internet with the answers. Hmmm, that’s a niche that’s right up my alley. Maybe I’m not quite done with Kung Fu Rider afterall…

Achieving: Tales of Pointless Self Reward in Games retold in brief posts whenever we feel like it.

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Animal Crossing: Minecraft’s Great Uncle

It seems like I’ve always got Animal Crossing in the back of my mind. Friday night those thoughts collided with an idle hour and my DS that has somehow held its charge through months of neglect. The town of nodnoL had been pretty well developed when I stopped playing the game regularly in 2006 so there wasn’t a lot to do after I loaded it up. Of course my town was full of weeds and the shoreline littered with shells but I immediately remembered I’d done just about everything. But what was that everything?

I started thinking about what Animal Crossing is and what you do in the game. It’s always been a tough series to classify: not really an RPG with stats and quests or a simulator like SimCity. I was really daydreaming about a new Animal Crossing that would let you dig up cartoony blocks of the world when I realized — hey! — Animal Crossing is kind of like Minecraft’s great uncle. Not a direct relative, not a grandfather — I’ve never heard Notch cite it as a game he’s played, let alone an inspiration for Minecraft — but the two have a lot more in common than any other two titles I can think of.

Animal Crossing lacks the survival and combat aspects of Minecraft but both are built on the idea of letting the player explore and exploit the random worlds they’re given. “I hope Nook’s is in a good spot,” I remember thinking as nodnoL first loaded. I also remember harvesting the unique fruit in my town and collecting flowers to bring all the resources closer to my main path. I wasn’t building my home block by block but it definitely takes on the same feel as your “main base” in Minecraft. It’s a place you can expand, decorate and — most importantly — store all the unique things you find in the world.

Then I poked into my inventory and found my tools; an axe, shovel, net, fishing rod, and slingshot, most of which can deteriorate and can be upgraded to gold. User-created clothes to “reskin” your look and — oh my god, it’s still there! — a giant mural of the Prince from Katamari Damacy I painstakingly laid out near my town’s entrance. A few Question blocks from Super Mario Bros. dot the area as well and my town flag flies high featuring a turnip from Super Mario Bros. 2. Clearly the work of a nerd, just like the unexpected, inexplicably complex creations people make in Minecraft for no reason other than to see it done.

It still doesn’t help file either game under a clear-cut genre category but it does make it easier to say “if you liked this, maybe give this other thing a shot”. All this from my fleeting daydream for an Animal Crossing where you can sculpt the terrain. As if I didn’t already have high expectations for whatever Nintendo does next with the series.

Originally from my post at GameLuv

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Runabout is Back! Wait.... when did this happen?

I was looking for something special to be my 20th blog post and I couldn't think of anything more fitting than news of a new Runabout game! I loved the original: imported it on PS1 and helped a fellow player write a way-too-thorough FAQ back in the day. I never did get into Runabout 2 or Super Runabout much (and holy cow, there were like, 2 more games in Japan) but I've always held the series in high regards for its bizarre Japanese-iness.

Today Ghostlight (who localize a lot of JRPGs for Europe) unexpectedly announced they were bringing this newest Runabout (Runabout 3D: Drive Impossible) to the territory as Crash City Mayhem. I dig into it and -- lo and behold -- the game's been out since January in Japan... and I didn't know about it! I clearly need to read Magic Box more often. So this still doesn't mean I'll ever get to play the game in English as Ghostlight doesn't publish stuff in the States but with the work already done there's a better chance someone like 505, Zoo Entertainment or Majesco might bring it out over here. And if it is one of those three in particular it'll probably be at value-level price. For now I'll just plow away at the wiki page for the game and maybe finally dig into the sequels I do own.

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Dinosaur Hunting "review"

I was going to post this as an actual review but it seems you can't review a game without a domestic release so... to the blogs we go!

Dinosaur Hunting has been something of a passion project for me. I was enamored with it as soon as the preview coverage started in 2002 and only grew more excited as it was announced for a U.S. release and subsequently delayed out of existence alongside Western publisher Metro 3D. By 2006 I had found a copy of it but was stumped by the Japanese text and distracted by the shiny new Xbox 360. It’s not as impenetrably Japanese as a dating sim but the text is important enough that it took creating a full-on Youtube playthrough series for me to finally understand the game and finish it.

The story is so loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ that one of the hunters is an author named... Sir Arthur. Locked away from the world on the cliffs of the French Guiana, it’s discovered that the area has become unstable and a pair of European Lords are determined to keep the dinosaurs from going extinct again. Their first attempt results in hundreds of dead scientists but puts a lot of convenient gear and tips in place for the B team; a group of four international hunters who are tasked with tranquilizing as many animals as possible in eight days. The story spins off into wonderful anime-meets-Scooby-Doo territory from there, told through several cutscenes which contain practically the only English in the game.

Somewhere between Cabela’s and Turok, the game wants you to methodically scour the environment for clues to take down each animal in a single shot but it isn’t afraid of making raptors jump out of the foliage at you. You’ve got a pistol, shotgun and rifle that all fire tranquilizer rounds (yes, a tranquilizing shotgun!) and have their specific uses but the rifle is the key. By examining footprints, broken trees, dead bodies and gargantuan piles of poo you’ll piece together each creature's color-coded formula. Red, Green, and Blue ingredients can be manually mixed at any time and sometimes you’ll only have part of the formula to work with. It’s a well designed system that puts a lot of importance on each shot and makes you feel like you’re doing a little bit of science. Nailing each of the bigger animals in a single, 100% shot is what gets you the most money which is then used to buy ammo, health items, flashbangs and to reinvest in more RGB ingredients.

What initially stopped me is that I was playing the game like the third-person shooter it appears to be. You can run up on a Stegosaur and unload your shotgun in its face until it falls asleep but you’ll soon run out of cash to buy more ammo. I eventually wound up without enough ammo, ingredients or understanding to finish the game after a hard save. The voice plate recordings you find and the constant radio chatter from the other hunters provide enough tips to play efficiently if you can read Japanese. For me, it took plotting out each stage’s events and replaying several times. Despite that repetition and a few quibbles with the early-2000’s control I was still thrilled to explore each stage and see what was coming next.

The developers wanted to put their own creative spin on the debate over what dinosaurs looked like and it shows. There are three classes of raptor-sized dinos each brighter, more feather-covered and more vicious than the last. The gargantuan Ankylosaurus defend themselves by somersaulting towards you and the Ouranosaurus’ unique hump apparently housed its Predator-style active camo. There are also a number of secret extinct animals to find like the dodo, moa, saber-toothed tiger, and the questionably-extinct Barbary lion. While the visuals are obviously lacking the detail and fidelity of modern games the animation and scale of its inhabitants mostly keep it as thrilling to look at as the first time I saw it.

This is where I’d tell you that ‘if you’re a fan of dinosaurs or peculiar Japanese games you owe it to yourself to track down this lost gem on closeout at GameStop or Amazon’. But in a tragic turn for localized releases it is now infinitely harder to find, way more expensive than you’d like to pay and tougher to play than it should be. To save you all that hassle you can get most of the experience -- the dinosaurs, the hunting, the cultural stereotypes and epic guitar rock -- thanks to the years I’ve spent with the game. Not to sound too much like a self indulgent ad but since I can’t really recommend you play it for yourself it’s the next best chance anyone has to experience yet another of my quirky, oddball favorites.

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20 things that surprised me at E3

E3 2012 is over and while each annual show replaces the last as my least favorite there were still plenty of unexpected surprises and outbursts of joy. Maybe the biggest surprise is how few games there were overall. My feeds didn’t explode and I repeatedly ran out of press releases and uploads to check out at GamesPress. “Bigger games but fewer games” was the motto of the show for me but I’m not here to dwell on that point any longer. This is just a quick rundown of the games and reveals I didn’t see coming.

Avatar Motocross Madness (Bongfish for Xbox 360)

This one was a surprise for being mostly nonexistent to those of us not physically at the show. After the official tease leading up to E3 it was mysterious (and foreboding?) that the inoffensive “family fun” game didn’t get a spot in the made-for-TV press conference. It doesn’t even have a page at Xbox.com yet.

Beyond: Two Souls (Quantic Dream for PlayStation 3)

Sandwiched between sequels was Sony’s “new AAA property”, Quantic Dream’s next astounding looking interactive movie starring Ellen Page and that guy I still haven’t identified. Quick Time Events look to be pretty frequent but the moments where you control the supernatural entity known as Aiden and can float away from central character Paige felt noteworthy. Detached from the “star” you can discover the next threat coming her way or set things in motion she may never even realize happened. It’s like watching a movie and being able to stay behind when the action moves to a new scene.

CastleStorm (Zen Studios for Xbox 360)

At this point anything Zen Studios does that isn’t pinball is a surprise. That CastleStorm looks to mix Angry Birds with real-time strategy only adds to the intrigue. While you’re hurling projectiles at teetering enemy castles you’ll also be managing a ground battle between classes of troops against some really well designed enemy forces.

Demon’s Score (Square Enix for iOS/Android)

This is my iOS/Android game of the show… not that there were any other contenders. Ouendan style beat matching played to tunes from “hit songwriters” as a cyber-girl slays fantasy beasts who belt out oddball dialog. I’m already sold but I’m still super interested in what the songlist is going to be like and what they mean by “hit songwriters”.

GameGlobe (Square Enix for Web)

Take all the “you make the game” games of recent years, throw them into a 3D powered browser-based format, and give it a dense and colorful art style. Somehow it’ll be free-to-play with tools complex enough to sculpt landscapes and control the timing of individual moving platforms. It looks pretty heavy on 3D platforming but the trailer also shows third-person combat, flying, and “endless running” style gameplay. That Square Enix is backing it also surprised me.

Lifeless Planet (Stage 2 Studios for PC/Mac)

You’re an astronaut sent to what looks like a life-sustaining planet but by the time you reach it you find out it’s a barren wasteland. Your crew goes missing, a mysteriously underdressed girl appears, and then it gets weird. You soon find signs of human occupation and realize that a Cold War Russia had colonized the planet unbeknownst to the world. And then something decidedly inhuman wakes up. I’m really excited to hop around a mysterious alien world in low-g, tempering my urge to explore against dwindling air and power supplies.

Lococycle (Twisted Pixel for Xbox 360)

This has something to do with a bike… and it’s from Twisted Pixel. All I can say is I’m sure it’ll be funny and that I can’t wait to find out more.

Matter (Blind Wink for Xbox 360)

It looks like Marble Madness with a personality sphere from Portal rolling its way through TRON. Oh, and it’s brought to you by Gore Verbinski, ya know, the director of Pirates of the Caribbean. The only downer is it’ll incorporate Kinect which may render it unplayable but I’m still super intrigued by this bizarre conglomeration of things.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (Criteron for Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)

We knew it was coming but not until the stage demo did I realize it would be a perfect mix of everything I loved about Need for Speed and Burnout. Open world, real cars, cop chases, loads of jumps and secrets with metrics tracked on seemingly everything you do. It’s not a mind-blowing revolution in comparison to Burnout Paradise and Hot Pursuit but it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

PlayStation Plus update (PlayStation 3)

Maxx and I still can’t believe that this crazy deal is legit. For $50 a year Sony is really giving away hundreds of dollars in free games that you can keep playing as long as you’re paid up? They sweetened the deal on stage by throwing out 12 titles that members could download including major releases like inFAMOUS 2 and LittleBigPlanet 2. If I didn’t already have a dozen games to play at any one time (or a bigger PS3 hard drive) I’d probably jump on this.

Project Happiness (TOYBOX for 3DS)

Project Happiness aims to “help expand the player’s view of the world, and make them ponder what their life means to them.” That’s some Molyneux level hyperbole right there and I can’t help but take note. From Yasuhiro Wada, Creator of Harvest Moon, the game definitely looks the part from the teaser trailer but I’m intrigued to find out how it hopes to alter my world view.

Rayman Legends (Ubisoft for WiiU)

Ubisoft’s stage demo of this game nearly brought me to tears. The animation and art is wonderful and the way the layers interact looks so much more seamless than the stuff in LittleBigPlanet or Mutant Mudds. What really got me though was the musical level (of which there will be several) where the player with the GamePad taps objects on the touchscreen in time with a song to help out the other players. It doesn’t sound like much in written form but seeing it in action felt like something really, really special.

Scribblenauts Unlimited (5th Cell for WiiU/3DS)

It’s good to see Scribblenauts again and with their experience on iOS and hindsight after the DS original I’m expecting both versions of Unlimited to be much more playable.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Ubisoft for Everything)

I haven’t touched a Sam Fisher adventure since 2005 so I came away from Blacklist more excited and surprised than most. Yes, the demo wasn’t very stealthy and Michael Ironside has been replaced but they sold me with most of what they showed.

Star Wars 1313 (LucasArts for Next-Gen consoles)

I think this was most everyone’s surprise of the show. Not only did LucasArts emerge from a years-long development black hole but they showed the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen and a Star Wars experience set before all that crappy New Trilogy/Clone Wars junk. That it’s labeled as a “mature experience” and eschews focusing on force powers only adds to the surprise. Now, as long as it doesn’t disappear completely like that Indiana Jones game…

Tank! Tank! Tank! (Namco Bandai for Arcade/WiiU)

Maybe most surprising is that an arcade game was on display at E3. I may never see this game outside of the WiiU but in either format it looks like crazy, colorful fun that reminds me of classics like Tokyo Wars and Alien Front Online.

Watch Dogs (Ubisoft for Current and Next-Gen consoles)

After a showing of games I was increasingly excited for Ubisoft closed their show with the completely out-of-nowhere reveal of Watch Dogs. Part GTA, part Assassin’s Creed, part Deus Ex hackery, everything I saw of this game blew me away. I’m one of those folks who was a little bummed to see more cover-based gunplay at E3 but there’s no way that alone is going to stop me from playing this game.

WiiU social features (WiiU)

I don’t think anyone expected Nintendo to go so off the deep end of the social diving board as they did at E3. Game-specific Twitter-style feeds that pop up tips and lewd comments about individual levels. Friends and strangers chatting about whatever you have on your Dashboard. Impromptu video chat with practically anyone online. I am supremely interested in seeing how this works in practice, if anyone finds it useful and the time-to-headline of something like ‘Nintendo lets sex offender video chat with children’.

Wonderbook (Sony Computer Entertainmet for PlayStation 3)

Nothing at E3 had me repeatedly stammering “what? what? what?” like Sony’s Wonderbook reveal. I love the idea of a book full of AR codes that publishers (both the game and book kinds) can use to tell interactive stories. The J.K. Rowling connection behind ‘Book of Spells’ was a big part of the shocker but I could see it working just as well for Dr. Seuss or Sesame Street. I don’t expect anything for a more adult or “core” audience out of it but it definitely counts as a surprise. Like the guy on stage said “we managed to keep this a secret”.

Xbox SmartGlass (Microsoft)

The idea of Microsoft embracing anything but their own hardware is the biggest shock of the SmartGlass announcement. It’s definitely ambitious and mysteriously in-line with what Nintendo is doing on WiiU’s supplementary screen. What worries me is that Microsoft has never been able to get all their numerous divisions working in unison and they frequently abandon new products. Trying to make the experience work across dozens of hardware platforms and keep reliably in synch with on-screen action isn’t the kind of feat I expect from modern day Microsoft. I’ll be just as surprised if SmartGlass succeeds as I am here at its reveal.

Originally posted at GameLuv.com

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Could Smell and Feel be the Next Gen’s fancy effects?

Ghost Recon Future Soldier is definitely not the first time I’ve seen “cold breath” in a game but it’s been such a long time that the effect really caught me by surprise. Watching Giant Bomb’s Quick Lookof the multiplayer beta I kept focusing on the effect after thinking to myself “wow, I’ll bet that guy’s cold”.

‘Smell’ and ‘Feel’ are two of the hardest senses to convey in any form of media but games have it hardest. Showing that an actor is sweating from heat takes almost no work at all. Doing the same to a player character requires immense feats of visual programming. Given a third-person perspective it’s work we might not even notice outside of a deliberate cutscene. What can help is the spoken word — a simple comment by a character about a smell or a change in temperature — but that relies heavily on the voice actor’s performance and a good bit of planning from designers and writers.

Approaching a lab that has recently been “decontaminated” with the staff still inside, one of your squadmates in Mass Effect 3 exclaimswhat’s that smell?” and the otherwise sterile room takes on a whole different feel. It’s the only scene like that in the game and all it took was a tiny voice file and a note in the script to make a simple puzzle room memorable. As the voice acting talent pool deepens and we move on to new hardware with power to spare these are the kinds of “sensory effects” I hope to see much more of in the future.

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Dark Monster Souls Hunter: the Dragon's Dogma Demo write-up

What you say about my game?

This demo is dumb Shawn lol” read the message in KakaoTalk from my wife. A real understanding of what Dragon’s Dogma is has been hard for me to come by and this foreboding message was as close to a cut and dry explanation as I’d come. A “Japanese Skyrim” or “another Monster Hunter knockoff” seem to be the most frequent comments but now I’ve played it myself and I can definitively tell you that it’s... well, it’s like... uhm...

Dark Souls meets Monster Hunter. Having barely played either of those titles I still feel totally comfortable in telling you that’s how Dragon’s Dogma boils down... probably. Obtuse systems and peculiar terminology mixed with epic fights against giant beasts in an open world. There, now you’ve got it.

The demo throws you straight into things with its “Prologue Quest” and offers only a couple screens that break down what the buttons do. And wow, there’s a lot of button combos. Blocking with your shield enables 2 attacks and an Aggro call while you have a default Regular and Strong attack as well as 3 more combos that use your stamina. An inventory of found ingredients and a screen full of numbers and status symbols await you if you press the Back button. There’s nowhere you can go in this game that doesn’t initially look overwhelming.

Your companions -- flippantly referred to as “pawns” who can be warped to you at special stones -- try to help but they’ve clearly played this game before. Mimicking the live chat of an MMO, their comments and hints are constantly scrolling up the left hand side of the screen as they run directly into combat with or without you. You’ve got a few commands on the D-pad but no matter how frequently I called them to my side they would always run off chasing the story while I was trying to get my bearings. You can’t live without them, though, as they are the A.I. embodiments of your MMO hotbar. A mage will cast healing spells or buff your weapons while another brute will yell out that he’s going to draw the beast’s attention. Still other characters will be shouting out hints and offering to launch you onto whatever monster is around.

"Hey watch out sir, that goblin is about to hit you in the face and you know how bad your acne is already!"

At one point I referred to them as my three moms, constantly telling me to do this or watch out for that. “Let him do it himself, it’s the only way he’s going to learn,” I hear an imaginary dad say, one I wish was in the game to assuage the fears of my pawns. Maybe there’s a way to tailor the behavior of at least one pawn -- your dedicated follower -- but I sure didn’t see it in my five runs through the demo.

I also wasn’t aware that there are character classes in this game! The Prologue Quest forces you to use the default fighter dude but the second demo mission lets you use anyone you’ve made in the world’s worst character creator. Without explanation you choose a class based on a single visual of what look to be monks, mages, rangers, warriors and the like. Seriously, they don’t even give them a name, I just picked a lady who looked like Legolas. Sure enough she wields dual blades, ditches the shield for a bow and has amazingly different moves than the default dude. Then it’s off to fiddle with their physical appearance which can be tweaked to create some truly horrific (but also recognizable) figures. Sliders define how “ladylike” or “confident” a character is while wrinkles can be added but only to the head. It is perfectly bizarre and totally Japanese and you can expect it to be a short-lived meme or a Joystiq header image.

I never did get to really sink into Dark Souls so I’m hopeful that Dragon’s Dogma will be my perplexingly difficult fantasy adventure game to comprehend and conquer. It seems like there’s a ton to learn and even more to customize about your character and those nannying pawns. I don’t think the demo does a good job of explaining exactly what the game is but at least I know how it plays and can say for certain that I really want to dig into it. Check out the demo yourself (it’s out on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) because if you’ve read this far you’re clearly as intrigued by the game as I am.

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