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Colours are leaving us

First nintendo abandons colours with it's wii design, making each button a simple white or transparent grey, then Microsoft is taking the colour away from their Xbox 360 controller buttons, now iTunes 10 has lost the few colours in it's interface. Clearly we are heading for a monochrome future and I'm not pleased.


SlamBall: The Best Sport

During Jeff and Brad's stream yesterday (it's kind of broken), the topic of awesome off brand sports were discussed. Of course XFL came up as well as some other sport that I can't recall. I, of course, chimed in that the single best sport ever is SlamBall. It used to be on Spike TV for a while, but then lost it's contract. However, it's still played and there are lots of videos about it.

It's played on a basketball court with 4 trampolines under each net where the 3 point zone would be normally. The players wear protective pads and are able to check and block like in hockey or football. The inventor basically wanted to recreate video game-esque over the top action in the form of a competitive sport.

The result is NBA Jam style action.

This video should explain the sport and some of the greatness:  

  2:06 has a particularly familiar dunk. You can almost hear the "Boomshakala!"

These should just show off the awesome.  

So what do you guys think? Great sport or greatest sport?

Final E3 2010 Bombcast: Awesome in many ways

I was a little bit of a hater tonight during the Bombcast Ustream chat. You may be asking, "why would you feel the need to be mean in a Bombcast ustream chat?" Well, the reason was that Leigh "Nazi uniforms are objectively sexy" Alexander had returned and was already drunk by the time I had joined. She started off really overpowering the conversation, through a three-pronged attack of interrupting, speaking loudly and having a higher pitched more noticeable voice. She hated a lot on Boston in front of a dude from Boston (Harmonix Guy). Harmonix guy gave a Rock Band 3 pitch, basically out of nowhere, and then gave away some codes. Paul "the most interesting man" Barnett was interrupted quite a bit, but still managed to be interesting. It's not hard, though. Even when I disagree with that man, he is so well spoken it just doesn't matter. At one point he compares a Wii to a breadmaker and it's- well I can't do it justice, just listen to the cast. Leigh didn't have much to say that was super interesting like her MGS4 or Resident Evil comments of last year, but at least she didn't hate on Bioware dudes this time. Mostly she asked if the Kinect was really necessary, since the Wii already exists, and it doesn't seem to have use in "core" games.

Soon after I joined in, Brad Shoemaker showed up. He didn't say much, but his presence next to Leigh on the couch was enough to basically calm her down for a huge chunk of the cast. There was some interesting talk about how Rock Band 3 will work logistically, and more discussion of the Cirque Du Soleil performance. 

At some point Leigh decided to discuss the cost that she had been assured that Activision had paid for their Staples centre show. She claimed her sources confirmed 775 million dollars, and straight from Bobby Kotick's pocket no less. I didn't really think too much of it, until Paul called her out saying "That is 3 quarters of a billion dollars!" She refused to admit that she might be off by a few factors of ten. She did bring up the salient point that Treyarch is in a tough spot in having to create the next Call of Duty, due to the cross studio tension with Infinity Ward. Chris Tillton then used the power of the internet to confirm that the cost was 7.75 million dollars prompting me to suggest that her nickname be Leigh "775 Million Dollars" Alexander until next year's Bombcast.

A short while after this, Ryan had to leave his station as host. He had been reigning Leigh in, threatening to cut her mic if she continued to hate on Boston (a threat Leigh constantly ignored) and just straight shutting her up at points. She took this time to basically recap why there was some controversy last year, recapping the Nazi uniforms are sexy debacle, but leaving out the key word, "objectively." She stated that she had read all the mail and other messages her previous attendance had provoked, and said that while the negative stuff hurt her feelings (aww, muffin*), there was also a number of positive responses. I thought this was pretty big of her to go back to a place where she received such vitriol and just be upfront about what happened. Jeff said it was cool, and that she didn't need to apologize, Leigh apologized again and then we continued on. 


I can't tell whether it was the apology or the sip of sparks that fueled her tiny body, but from then on Leigh transformed into a bundle of energy. Once again she began monopolizing the conversation and interrupting others at every turn, even when she had asked a question. It was all of the rude without any of the interesting insight she had brought the previous year. It was near this point that I went to another stream. I won't say much more about that. It was a cooler stream.

Soon after, she had to leave and Paul, Ryan, Dino and Chris began to have an extremely compelling discussion about the importance of 3d as a technology improvement and the comparison to the DS and the iPad as game delivery systems. Dino's expression that taking that 3d out of the screen with holograms to have your interactions actually seem to connect with a physical object was a great idea, and something I would expect from some one working on Dead Space interface stuff. Soon after this it closed out.

All throughout the cast I was in the chat, getting angry at the interrupting and making "775 million" jokes. It was kinda crazy. There were white knights, standing up for Leigh despite her interruptions, dudes wishing that she would leave or shut up, people just trying to figure out who all was there, and others just yelling out inappropriate sexual stuff. The whole thing was really charged. It was also quite funny. Especially when Leigh praised the same community that was, at least in part, being super childish in the chat. All in all, I hope she's on the Bombcast next year, so I can sit in the chat and have a fun time if she drinks, or listen to some interesting discourse if she doesn't. Hell, maybe I'll get the best of both worlds.


Sega Classics Pack on Steam: Mostly Awesome?

Apparently you can now buy Sega classic games on Steam. They've basically decided to offer a select pack of choice Genesis games. Games that are great like Comix Zone and Vectorman,  and games that are not like Sonic 3D Blast. Let me repeat myself. In a pack of 11 games the Sonic game they decided to include was Sonic 3D Blast. And what's more, it's the most expensive game on the list, costing 5 dollars while every other item is only 3. I'm so baffled. I mean, as a Genesis game it's not the worst, but it's definitely the worst sonic on the console. I would appreciate Spinball and Bean Machine more, at least for their replayability.

Anyway, the games are being sold for a decent price of 3 dollars a pop without any graphical improvement it seems, which I am down with. Filtering pixel art always makes it look shitty, either redo the graphics à la Cave Story or leave it in the original form. Earthworm Jim HD comes to mind as an example of how to do right by your old stuff. I'm not sure if I'll be buying it, but it's definitely cheaper than the Virtual Console alternative, and less morally ambiguous than emulation. I might decide to check them out... ahem, elsewhere first, because some of the games I've never even heard of before.

Update: Hey I bought Space Harrier and thought I'd post some more info. The game has a choice of resolutions and aspect ratios, I have a 4:3 so I can't test what the widescreen option looks like. It also has 4 filter options from none to enhanced. There are no inter multiplayer options, so I'm assuming you're just left to one or two player local support, with gamepad choice and full button mapping. I don't think I'll be buying anymore of these games, but hey at least you get to see the filter run down. (From Left to Right: Game Interface, No Filter, Linear Filter, TV Filter, Enhanced Filter)


D&D Adventure Info and Rulings

Hey guys,

I figured this is the easiest way to make sure that everyone knows this, and I'm posting it while I'm out getting the adventure.

We're going to be running a 4th level adventure, make a lvl 4 dude. That means you get the three magic items (levels 3, 4 and 5) and gold equal to a 3rd level item to buy magic stuff. Magic stuff includes anything with an enchantment, but I think it also means ritual components and magical items. For example, when I made Frye I took camouflaged clothing on the presumption that it's mundane, but I paid for my everlasting torch, since it's "magical". It probably won't be a huge issue, and if you really need that money for something else I can probably be convinced otherwise (especially if you can think of some backstory hooks). Feel free to choose whatever feats, powers, or backgrounds you wish to take.

There are also some rulings I wanted to clarify in light of the new updates, and there are also some rules that I will be dealing with differently than in Outerspace.

Action points: You can use these to spend an extra action while dazed or after a charge, 

Skills and aiding: I'll let anyone who hasn't rolled the same action aid if they want to. In a turn based situation, you'll have to use your turn to aid, taking the same action as the desired one. (ie aiding a jump is a move, which will still let you attack, as long as you end up adjacent to the dude) Also, you can spend a standard action to aid another during combat, providing a +2 to attack or defense, without a roll (it was an easy dc before).  A heal check can also be used to grant a saving throw, if you don't have a power that does so.

Move actions: Must be taken at one time, cannot break it up with other actions. ie you can't move, pick up a thing or attack, then continue to move, unless you have a specific thing that lets you, but you can walk into a room and see whats up (reveal fog and what not), then keep moving.

Prone: If someone falls prone, I'll be applying the -2 penalty to melee and removing flank, everything else is fair game. The main penalty will be the move action to get up. Teleporting will not let you stand up, unless you teleport above ground and make an acrobatics check to flip on your feet. (Hop Down, 10 feet fall 15 dc)

Teleportation: I will not be using the saving throw if teleported into dangerous territory, but the monster may attempt to save on arrival depending on the place. He might grab the edge of a pit, but will be helpless in the middle of one. If teleported straight up, he will take the fall damage, but won't provoke from falling next to enemies.

Criticals: Everything that you roll regularly will max out on a crit. If you have sneak attack, ranger's quarry, warlock's curse or assassin's shades they will all max out. If you crit and decide to use a magic weapon, it will max out any damage (eg full 6 damage plus ongoing fire for a flaming weapon daily use).

I hope that's everything that might come up. Once again, I'm not completely set in stone on this, I can be convinced otherwise with enough reasoning. 


Rocket Knight

***Reading this over, seeing as it's pretty much a review at this point, I'll probably do another draft and submit it as a review. I originally intended it to be an analysis of the game's qualities and my personal experiences, but it came out very review-y. There are other games coming that will be dealt with in a much less review formatted fashion.***

Seeing as it's summer, and I have a fairly large backlog of games from my Steam sale binging, I've decided to try to playthrough a bunch of games on my list, to find out if there are any gems. The first game I ended up playing (mostly due to it's small size and thus quick download) is the Noscon Rocket Knight by Climax.

Look at him, he's adorable!
Look at him, he's adorable!

Rocket Knight is a sequel to the previous two games in the series Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2. Both games were released on the Sega Genesis (where I played them) and the sequel was also released on the SNES. The games were great side scrolling platformers with a unique mechanic. The main character, Sparkster, is a cute opossum in a blue suit of armor, armed with his trusty sword and jet pack. Not only can you run jump and slash, but using the jet pack, you can dash at high speeds with your sword outstretched. This is not only a unique attack, but also an important traversal mechanic, as you can dash in all 8 directions using wall ricochets to get where you want to go. There were also a few side scrolling shoot em up sections, where Sparkster take to the skies and shoot down his enemies. All in all, the original games are great platformers with a lot of charm. The things I remember most are collecting flashing swords to become a golden armored Sparkster, fighting your rival Rocket Knight Axel and riding and fighting in a giant robot with it's own special mechanics.

The story of the previous games hinged on the kingdom of opossums being attacked by the warlike pig empire. Outnumbered and outgunned by their porky foes, their only hope was our protagonist. Sparkster had to fight pig knights and their various contraptions to save his kingdom and the princess. In this sequel, after the war had ended, the pigs and opossums created an alliance. The pigs had used all their resources in their never ending wars, while the opossum kingdom (Zephyrus) was ripe in food. In exchange the pigs offered their mechanical knowhow and served as a deterrent for enemies. Sparkster, the cute lil' xenophobe that he is, refused to believe the pigs were truly peaceful and left his home to settle down on a farm and raise a family. However, after years of peace, the lupine republic of wolves decides to invade Zephyrus, prompting our hero to once again don his trademarked suit to fulfill his pledge to defend the kingdom.
 Ricochetin' makes him feel good.
 Ricochetin' makes him feel good.

Gameplay proceeds much like the previous games, Sparkster can jump, slash, rocket spin, rocket dash/drill and hang from horizontal pipes using his tail. Newly added are destructable objects that he must drill through to destroy (double tap the rocket dash button). The levels are made up in pretty much the same way, with lots of verticality, and sections where careful (but not necessarily precise) ricocheting is needed to proceed.The game is made up of 4 stages separated into 3-4 levels each, with each stage ending with a boss fight level. There are also a few mini boss encounters at the end of regular levels. There are the aforementioned platforming sections, as well as three shmup levels. This totals out at 14 levels, 7 platforming, 3 shmup and 4 boss battles. All in all the game took me about a couple hours to finish. At first the Arcade Mode starts in normal or hard difficulty, but after beating it on hard you unlock Gold Sparkster mode, a harder mode in which you have half the health. The game is also interesting since to continue to the next stage in hard mode you must find the weak point of the boss. This involves finding some environmental feature or performing a more skill based attack and adds extra interest to the boss fights. The free play mode allows you to replay any stage including these boss levels to try to figure out what their weaknesses are. The bosses are varied, and some of them can be really quite challenging on the higher difficulties. Even the regular levels add in some interesting challenges and ideas, so that each level is fundamentally unique.

One thing I really liked about this game, is that it has full controller support, not just Xbox 360 support. The game launches a little settings dialogue where you can choose your controls, but you can't choose which controller, of those plugged in, you'd prefer, at least I couldn't.

Old school cartoony
Old school cartoony

The game looks great. It's in 2.5d, which is fully three dimesional sprites locked in planar motion. It features a very cartoony style that really fits in with the content. The game also features nice background work that often incorporates the character models in action. For example the first stage has an opossum being threatened by a wolf, who upon seeing Sparkster leaves her to attack the rocket knight. Little touches like this really give the impression that you are saving the kingdom. Some of the textures on background objects aren't the highest res, but the animations and the depth more than make up for that fact. Sparkster's jet pack effects look really nice, with great cartoony puffs of smoke. All in all, it's a great take on the very cartoony style of the original games.

 New School Cartoony
 New School Cartoony

The strong graphical style is paired with some good sound work. Every slash, woosh and clank sounds great and the action is paired with some nice music. Listening to it now, and perusing the credits, it seems like it is sythesized using samples, but the tracks are catchy and the samples are high enough quality to feel like a real orchestra.

All in all this was a great game that, as a fan of the original two, I was thrilled to play. Although it's not the longest game, it is difficult enough on the hard difficulty and on Gold Sparkster (which I have not yet beaten) to give you some replayability. It also tracks scores and times and has online leaderboards for all your speed running needs. If you're a fan of side scrollers or adorable opossums, pick this up. If you want to see more of this Capcom-esque revitilisation of older franchises from Konami, definitely pick this up.

First! Quest is starting to annoy.

I've been watching Giant Bomb for a little while before the whole quest thing started. I've always enjoyed their content, and the comments under the videos were always people sounding off on their opinions, whether or not they were dumb, they always at least related to the video at hand. However, with this new "First!" quest, people are being rewarded for the "First!" post, which is always a stupid, but extremely harmless thing. Since the creation of this quest, there are now several "First!" comments for each video, followed by people griping about not getting the quest, or how it's a stupid thing. Essentially this has had the opposite effect and has made the first page of comments essentially useless. I usually skip to the second page by instinct now, to avoid people griping.

This seems to be the opposite intention of the whole quest system. I always assumed it was supposed to foster genuine communication, and encourage people to explore the database and community features. Basically, it was the site version of frosh week, it's supposed to get you hyped about being at the site and let you know what awesome things are there. Even the Halo:Reach early beta quest was a clever use of the system, designed to create a fair way of doing such a giveaway. It could be argued that a lot of the quests are a double edged sword. Quests to make topics could end in interesting communication or forum spam, but we hope that the former is more valuable than the latter is detracting.  However, the first comment thing doesn't even seem to have a use. Is there anything gained from being the first person to go to a new video page for us the community or for the Giant Bomb staff?

I wish someone could explain the rationale behind this, other than "we just wanted there to be something for you to do" because many of the other quests succeed in this task and actually encourage positive interaction. This quest seems to do the exact opposite: people who are just excited about quests are being actively pissed off by their inability to beat others to the punch. And those of us who abstain*, or who have gotten it already, have to deal with their (justified?) whining. What's next, rewarding people for posting spoilers for the video above, or for creating the longest quote tree? I get that some people on the site might think it's funny in an ironic way, but in reality it's just creating less on topic discourse and communication, and I thought that was what this site was all about.

*Full disclosure: I haven't gotten this quest, and I haven't really tried, since when I am able to watch videos, they usually have been up for several hours. I will probably never get a first comment on a video, and I don't really mind.


Games tending towards the centre

Recently I've been bummed out about some trends I've noticed in games. Well now that I think of it, it isn't as widespread as I first thought. Most of the impetus for this comes from Jeff's Splinter Cell Conviction Review and his article about the new X-Com by 2K. I found this particularly interesting because I'm a huge fan of X-Com (especially Terror from the deep) and a huge detractor of Splinter Cell. First up, I'd just like to say that I haven't played that much SC, just a fair chunk of the first game and all of double agent. I obviously haven't played the new X-Com, so I'm just reacting to the news there. 

In fact the only reason I was interested in SC was because of the bet between Vinny and Ryan. I still remember being annoyed at the analog sneaking in the first game, where if you wanted to sneak up on a dude you could only tilt the stick the slightest amount and slowly plod towards an enemy. Now it seems the sneaking is exactly like Batman Arkham Asylum. Ditto on the sonar goggles. Also gunplay in the first game was just a punishment for messing up the stealth. In conviction the pistol is a one hit kill to the head every time (something I think was present when I played Double Agent). Now as much as I didn't like the gameplay in the first splinter cells, and as much as I wanted them to be refined experiences, I did not want the games to stop being very realistic tactical stealth games. I really kinda kicked myself for not liking them. Opening up areas and making them less like levels, and more like Assassin's Creed 1 assassination locations with multiple entryways would be one way to build upon their formula. Instead Ubisoft threw that out the window and decided to make an action game. A game that seems to be Batman-esque without all the cool abilities, exploring and, most importantly, the length of that experience. So as action games go, I would rather replay Batman, and as 3rd person shooters go, I'd rather replay RE5 with it's awesome amount of weapons. In the end, it seems that SC:C has attempted to go towards action on the stealth-action continuum, but now it fails to excel at either. Since I don't care about the story, there's nothing really there for me. 

On the bombcast, they talked about the death of stealth games, and I'm reminded of Kojima's GDC (I think) keynote about how he created the genre because the MSX couldn't render enough sprites in one place. He turned that limitation into a goal for the player. And although all his games start with how "this is a sneaking mission," starting with Solid 2, you could almost always brute force your way through with tranqs or assault rifles. However, this was a choice, and it was also possible to attempt to sneak through those same areas. Failing to sneak rarely ever lead to the loss of the game, in fact it often caused you to figure out new ways to avoid and harry your foes, if not just kill them all. Not only were you given a selection of weapons to kill, you were also given a section of tools to incapacitate, distract, and avoid your enemies. These choices became more and more varied as the series moved along. In splinter cell, it seemed like the set of tools you were given were limited and situational, (although the gadgets were pretty cool) your paths were constricted to force you to deal with enemies, and firefights always ended with alarms that could end missions. Now in this latest version, the combat tools have opened up, but the stealth maneuvers are even less interesting and varied. I feel like these changes mark the game tending towards an actiony middle ground.

The X-Com news definitely follows that trend. X-Com was a great series of turn based strategy (A genre that might not even exist at this point) games. In Terror from The Deep, you built a team of aquanauts, researchers and technicians, researched new human and alien technologies, and then used those technologies and strategic movement to stop aliens from attacking boats and homes, and even taking the fight to the aliens themselves. All in all it was pretty revolutionary as far as game design went. They certainly didn't invent the idea of researching tech, but they made it as deep and necessary as in a Civilization game. Now, 2K games wants to take the idea of X-Com and turn it into a first person shooter. I'm reminded of the asteroids movie. You don't need a license to make a game about aliens attacking. In fact I'm not sure how you imply X-Com without that distinct style of gameplay and base work. This just smacks of an executive decision to make an FPS because those are big, and to make it an X-Com game because it has fans. I believe the end result will be similar to that of Conviction: fans of the series will be pissed off. Now I'm not saying X-Com has to be a turn based game, but I do believe it requires that global in between mission gameplay and tactical team based action. Whether that action is turn-based, real-time, or even some sort of rainbow 6 style team shooter would be fine. Even a SWAT 4 style X-Com game, would have enough context and team action to feel like X-Com.  However, that last game is more in Irrational Games' wheelhouse.

With all these games tending towards the big sellers right now, first and third person shooters (and character action games, although there isn't quite as many of those), it seems like we may be up for some kinda samey games in the upcoming years. I'm kinda sad about it, because some of my favorite games were strategy and adventure games. Telltale has caused a resurgence of the latter, but I haven't really felt a lot of the new strategy games to come out recently. Some of it is platform based. I don't think a strategy game has ever really worked well on a console, but with the inception of all this motion control, maybe we could start seeing more traditional strategy flourish on the big platforms. And maybe with all these people trying for a slice of the big pie that is FPS sales, the market saturation will take over and developers will start trying to make new experiences in other genres as big as the Halos and Modern Warfares of our time.

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