Monthly Archives: March 2013

Quickie: (Family, Friends, and Elvis in a nursing home)

Hey Gamers

The end of another long week. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to kick back and enjoy me some virtual reality.

Some, not all.

Enjoy some virtual reality, not all.

Before resigning myself completely to rest and relaxation, I bring to light a couple more news stories that have caught my interest. While I’m still playing catching up with some of the more recent standout gaming titles, it seems as if the rest of the industry is absolutely adoring Bioshock: Infinite, with the game already achieving several perfect scores.

While I’m always hesitant about putting too much stock into review scores, it’s really the words that are matching the digits that I find most enlightening. A lot of reputable outlets are just blown away by the compelling atmosphere, and think Ken Levine may have even exceeded his own level of quality with the original Bioshock.

Bold statements, to be sure.

Besides, Ken Levine has been asking us gamers so politely to try Bioshock: Infinite...I just can't resist!

Besides, Ken Levine has been asking us gamers so politely to try Bioshock: Infinite…I just can’t resist!

A couple of other points of interest involve Nintendo bringing Miiverse to PC and mobile this April, EA having a moment of sanity with DRM, and Suda51’s new game called Killer is Dead.  The Miiverse expanding beyond just the Wii U is kind of a surprise. Not as if I want to horde the service all to myself, giving way to my insane Nintendo brethren and our incessant Zelda babble.

An artists rendition of what we normally do in the Miiverse.

Seen Here: What we normally do in the Miiverse.

I just stand surprised that something so innate and propitiatory is getting expansion into uncharted territories. I was even shocked initially with the staying power the Miiverse had, despite the rather controlled nature of the posting system. I’m sure opening up the platform to more prospective buyers, will ultimately lead to more adopters, something the Wii U is still in desperate need of, despite good quality.

While EA’s awareness of DRM being a dead end strategy is a great audio clip, they didn’t go the extra mile and look at the recently catastrophic launch of Simcity, as the source of the observation. Instead reminding us of the game’s “intentional online design”. I feel as if EA did irreparable  damage to Maxis, and a worthwhile brand, something they will never have to pay for.
Despite EA’s verbal misdrection, it seems as if the drastic failure has led them to second thoughts on their anti-piracy matters.

If nothing else, EA’s own strategy working against them, gave the entity at least one shocking moment of painful clarity.

It should be noted this doesn't always lead down a path of reform.

It should be noted this doesn’t always lead to a path of redemption.

Last but not least, Suda51’s up and coming gamer, Killer is Dead, seems to be as flamboyant and over the top as his other games, starring main man mercenary Mondo Zappa. The first write up’s I read, involved watching a hands off-demo, referred to the title as  “looking impressive” and “playing great”. The same kind of gore-tastic action you’ve come to love about games from Grasshopper Studios.

I’ve always been a fan of Suda51, just with his unrelenting style, and being fully aware of how ridiculous video games can be. In an industry all about big budgets and long waiting periods, it’s nice to have a creative mind deliver something loud with regular levels of consistency. I’ve always looked at Suda51 titles as kind of video games own version of “B-Movies”, not top notch in quality, but never failing to entertain.

Just think of Suda51 games as being like Elvis in a nursing home. You'll never be confused again.

Just think of Suda51 games as being like Elvis in a nursing home. You’ll never be confused again.

In a medium that sometimes takes itself too seriously, I’m all for a spectrum of options.  I’m glad the industry has grown big enough to accommodate The Big Daddies, The Cooking Mamas, and even The Kids who just want to “Be the Guy”.

We’re all just one big family of gamers.

Well, that’s it for this week everyone. I’ve loved bringing you gaming goodness day after day, but I’m in need of some definite and  polygonal rest and relaxation. Make the most out of your weekend, and treat yourself to something enjoyable if you have the moment.

Happy Gaming,
~Pashford

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Diamonds and Rust

While news of gaming promise helps to shape the forefront at GDC, it seems as if EA might have kickstarted a recent trend of CEO demise.

And I was starting to think we may have to call in an expert on bio-exorcism.

And I was starting to think we may have to call in an expert on bio-exorcism.

Yoichi Wada Steps down as CEO of SquareEnix… …and another one bites the dust…

Sora and the gang, getting the news that the Sqaure Enix CEO resigning may directly affect the release of their next game, Kingdom Hearts: a² + b² = c²

Sora and the gang, getting the news that the Sqaure Enix CEO resigning may directly affect the release of their next game, Kingdom Hearts: a² + b² = c²

Not that this is a huge surprise mind you, considering the kind of mismanagement the company has been through for the past several years. From Square’s glorified tech demos, to their stale ideas, and the financial  disrespect of gamers in between, this  shouldn’t act as a moment of silence. CEO’s are the last people we should feel sorry for, often seeking to conquer with acts of desperate finance, and being a primary source of lost jobs, and a degradation of quality.

A bad sign when the only product you've created any hype for, is one that wasn't even created by your current company....and is twelve years old.

A bad sign when the only product you’ve created any hype for, is one that wasn’t even created by your current company….and is twelve years old.

I know I know, you could point the finger at Nintendo in retread territory and rehases, but I always like to focus on the worst case scenarios. Besides, Nintendo has put out at least a dozen top notch games in as many years, something I can’t say SquareEnix can really brag about. This is just attacking them from a development stand point. If we look at them as a publisher, they’ve helped to create excellent experiences with Hitman, Sleeping Dogs, and most recently Tomb Raider. I say that from a gaming standpoint, and not a delusionally motivated financial stand point, where things start to go slightly awry.

Picture Definitely Related

Picture Definitely Related

So when things started getting bad, they got worse, and then rock bottom. Over a period of years, SquareEnix destroyed a reliable formula, by trying to molest it for monetary reasons. I enjoyed FFXI as an MMO (which is rare), but it should have never taken the place of a main number installment. The fact that FF is about telling stories, and intimate character development with endings fit of grandeur should have been contradictory enough for MMO territory.  How no one saw that this doesn’t quite conform to the same formula in MMO’s is beyond me. Then we discuss the inevitable of end game content, which in MMO land, includes waiting around in a field for three hours to kill the same monster fifty times in a row.

Imagine if the end of FF7 went the exact same way? Cloud may not have been the only one with actual schizophrenia.

Imagine if the end of FFVII went the exact same way? Cloud may not have been the only one to develop actual schizophrenia.

If Square had learned their lesson, that would have been one thing.  FF11 did act as a cool experiment, a financial success, and helped to create a dedicated fan base with a cult classic MMO. The fact remains it shouldn’t have been a featured number in the first place, and definitely should not have been given a second chance. My perception, and not reality of course… As if in some doomed time loop, and a pretty hefty amount of negative feedback,  Square went through and did FFXIV in the same style of MMO! I remember reading there were audible sighs heard at the press reveal of FFXIV, because journalists were already exhausted with it.

If SquareEnix puts out one more Final Fantasy MMO, it will act out as if the third Michael Keaton from multiplicity.

If SquareEnix puts out one more Final Fantasy MMO, it will act out as if the third Michael Keaton clone from Multiplicity.

Part of the big problem here is, after Hironobu Sakaguchi was rejected from the company(original creator and main creative mind for FF1-10), SquareEnix just got cross eyed and painless, never once stopping to think about why they couldn’t see straight.  What’s even worse, is that before the merger with Enix, one of the primary reasons mentioned in letting Sakaguichi go, was because of the colossal  financial failure that was Spirits Within. The worse part doesn’t directly refer to Spirits Within itself as a travesty, but that despite acknowledging a flawed formula and basically outing Sakaguchi for the failing, SquareEnix then relentlessly ripped off the very same style that greatly hurt Square in the first place.

Let's all not avoid talking about the 800 Billion Pound Dream Whale in the room.

Let’s all not avoid talking about the 800 Billion Pound Dream Whale in the room.

I keep referencing FFX in the article, because it’s the last time I enjoyed the visage that was Square, which happened before the merger with Enix, giving clear indication of who in fact, shit the bed. Not to mention X still maintained a lot of the same design class Sakaguichi was known for, and one that should have saved him from the one misstep that was Spirits Within. What did Mr.Sakaguichi do afterwards?

Upon casual inspection...

Continue Making Good Games…

...the man clearly had nothing left to give to the gaming world.

Well, Duh

You might be wondering if this write up is just a slap dash retrospective/reminder of Final Fantasy Failures, or if it’s just one more eulogy for the passing of an RPG legend. Wherever the truth fully lies, Yoichi Wada stepping down is a good thing. He’s been there from moment one of the Enix merger with Square, and has had a major hand in the direction the company has gone in every year since things become unpallatable. Which, as I’ve noted here, has been downright poisonous.

Seen Here: Yoichi Wada giving his resignation speech.

Seen Here: Yoichi Wada giving his announcement speech of the Square Enix merger.

So yes, Wada stepping down doesn’t redeem the company, nor will it immediately change it for the better. That doesn’t change the fact that loss isn’t always a bad thing, with failure often acting as a great catalyst for opportunity. I know the next CEO will be misguided, and only act in favor of the bottom line. The one silver lining to this, is the potential for it getting worse is about non-existent,which is in the same field of quality Square Enix’s reputation currently resides in.

Perhaps, the next boss will observe at least some of the mistakes of his predecessor, and correct them, giving us rejuvenation in a once considered worth while franchise. If nothing else, I hope the next head honcho at least observes one basic honest truth. You don’t have to respect gamers to make money, but you do have to put effort into making something gamers do respect. The cash cows are there for milking, you just have to know what to serve the thirsty masses. With one last nod to my obsession involving leveling up and Michael Keaton, I hearken back to one pivotal truth Mr.Keaton inspired  as The Batman. When everything was spiraling out of control, and none of what The Joker was trying seemed to be working, he simply stated the obvious.

The Joker was forced into a single realization… “This Town needs an Enema!”

He wasn't joking.

He wasn’t joking.

As has been evidenced with Square Enix, if we wait long enough, the delusional powers that be will act as their own proctologists.

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Quickie: (But Quietly)

Gamers…how’s it hanging?

Hopefully, better than this.

Hopefully, better than this.

For any of those who missed it, I just posted my Tomb Raider review, for all you curious gamers to behold. I think the game delivered on a lot of the potential promised in the hype leading up to the launch, and definitely set the stage in bringing Lara back with full bravado. Read my full review, and you’ll be very surprised at how the whole thing went down.

As I move on from the lethal nature of the dark caverns of Tomb Raider, I’m reminded of how flashy and fast moving this industry has become. No sooner than PAX East ending, with me still catching up on all the juicy tidbits, GDC rears it’s informative head, and provides much needed insight to anyone with a more keen curiosity of how video games rock.

Seen Here: Just a couple of quick examples.

Seen Here: Just a couple of quick examples.

While GDC represents a far savvier, insider oriented affair as far as gaming gatherings go, there usually exists quite a bit of gaming goodness to gain. While there have been further insights into the behemoth that will be the PS4, my gaze is firmly fixed upon the final and conclusive reveal of MGS5. For anyone of those who missed it, the viral marketing that existed for the game in leading up to the actual reveal was intriguing, to say the least. The most interesting of which culminated with an interview involving Jeff Keighley, and a man named Joakim Mogren, which can be found here.  The two discussed the mysterious “Phantom Pain”, and in conceivable fashion, raised more questions than it answered with some dizzying misdirection.

Like so many mad men of our time.

Like so many mad men of our time.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, and was a great way to hype what many people had suspected for some time, resulting in the official MGS 5 reveal trailer at GDC, which can be found here. Not only am I constantly impressed by the huge jumps of quality I see every month from games on a visual standpoint, MGS stands as one of my all time fav series period. This announcement has me extremely excited, as aside from Peace Walker, I’ve largely left the series alone since the end of 4. This game looks to further the story of Big Boss, though it is interesting to note that within the time frame the game is based around, Solid Snake should be in his early teens at this point.

Picture: Early impressions of what a younger Snake looks like.

Pictured: Impressions of what a younger would Snake looks like.

I’ve always loved the narrative of MGS, and 5 looks to be continuing the trend. While I do believe Kojima has a lot more to give to the gaming world than just MGS, the obvious truth exists. I would love to see involvement from him on original projects, passing along the MGS brand to a trusted team…though I’d be lying if I said another feature presentation involving Snake by Kojima himself doesn’t automatically shoot to the top of my priority list. While I’m sure MGS5 is a long ways out (I’ll be surprised if it’s out by holiday 2014), every day the game is developed, is one more step to a next gen experience that will be largely unmatched.

That’s it for today, but not for the week! Expect some GDC updates as they arrive. I’ll also be looking at some of the more trying aspects of the industry later in the week, and investigate whether or not they are truly a cause of concern.

Till next time gamers.

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Disheveled Beauty

Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider as a franchise, has a past as storied as the history Lara uncovers in her own adventures. The series has been through the rough several times over, and the newest addition, simply entitled Tomb Raider, is one more brutal stab at reinvigorating the franchise proper. With survival in focus, and Lara Croft’s newly defined reputation at stake, does this game indeed give way, to the birth of a new survivor?

From the get go, and as you might have picked up from my initial thoughts on Tomb Raider, the game explodes forth with a full on sprint. Lara is thrust directly into nature’s harsh despair, with no choice but to survive.  This constant balancing act of survival, and her resilience in these trying circumstances, will act as the primary focus of the story, and does an admirable job of creating a fetching spectacle.

2013-03-12-170107

The game’s basic premise revolves around surviving in a natural element, and helping Miss Croft discover the mystery of the island her crew had the misfortune of shipwrecking on. I described the entire experience in my preview (for easy digestion) as “Resident Evil 4 meets Snake Eater”. This should give you an idea of the blend of third person action and survival stealth inherent through out the title.

Tomb Raider Stealth

The story lends itself to satisfying simplicity, like much of the experience does. Through desperate scrambles and horrendous encounters, Lara is portrayed as a far more capable female than we are use to in the video game realm. From her earlier moments of escaping capture, involving Lara lighting her self on fire to break free, to her wrestling with a bear trap and murdering a pack of wolves with nothing but a bow and arrow, Lara’s rugged nature is apparent. Crystal Dynamics goes the extra mile in helping to  positively re-define Lara, in all the right ways.

She remains safely distanced from overblown action trope, like so many other protagonists of our day. Her frailty and desperation, through being portrayed as a regular human being, helps to enhance and highlight her moments of triumph.

The fact that Lara can’t just leap buildings in a single bound, or engineer a gigantic mech to down her unruly foes, makes her a more relateable character. This helps to tie the entire experience together, and creates a motivating dynamic in seeing each new desperate situation you and Miss Croft are faced with. I was always on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would become of dear Lara. Her weakness has a passive way of beckoning me: I wish to see her soundly through her adventure, whether I forge through hell or high water to do so.

Tomb Raider Hell

Tomb Raider makes epic the struggle of the simple, with a humble look at Lara‘s success story starting out from scratch. At first, even avoiding a long fall by balancing over a log, and creating a fire for warmth are note worthy endeavors. The story escalates quite a bit, and so does the pacing in helping to create furious action. This is right along side in developing a sense of how kick ass this new Lara really is.

That’s not to say the game surrenders it’s better sense of simplicity to overdone grandeur. Through out the story, events such as downing beasts of the forest, and climbing a radio tower to send an S.O.S feel like massive satisfactions. This is in large part due to the cinematography and ambiance in affect, helping to remind us of an interest in a more basic struggls. This translates as a huge success for Lara, and subsequently, feels like a true triumph in the video game world.

Bearing in mind, that many other game hero’s climb 10 times higher 5 times faster, helps to put into perspective, the game’s ability to make you appreciate the simple, without sacrificing the complexity of satisfying accomplishment.

2013-03-17-011545

The combination of Lara’s own struggle of self-identity, and the brutal nature of the stand out moments of the title, provide gamers with merits of excellence. One of the more distinguished moments I’ve enjoyed in this current generation of consoles comes from a rather extraordinary instance earlier in the game. Due to spoilers, I will avoid describing the situation in the explicit, but will make mention of the game’s commitment in trying to create a unique character within Lara. Through the intimate lens we’re forced to view the event, and the intense interactivity that follows, I started to forget Lara wasn’t just another video game character, but an actual person. The game’s efforts of exposure on this visceral level of emotion, in dealing with Lara’s pain and agony, individualize Tomb Raider among peers of comparably shallow compromise.

Tomb Raider Death

My original preview for Tomb Raider was entitled Filthy Gorgeous, and the description was apt. Between the eye catching set pieces of the island, to the detailed graphic fidelity of the environments and character models, this game looks beautiful a midst the grit and grime. The real element that ties it all together is the subtle use of atmosphere and sharp audio design. Very often, nothing but the sounds of the wild, and this creepy sense of foreboding accompany you and Lara, and never fail to create haunting suspense.

The game is about survival after all, and the oddities you will observe with both eyes and ears will help to shock, horrify, and wow

From the easy to master controls, to the slick interface involving a largely HUD-less design, the game is never hard to understand or control, offering  you a lot of comfort in moving to and fro. The inventory system is simply mapped to the d-pad, and the contextual interactions with objects and your surroundings are straight and to the point. I never had trouble with any sort of maneuvering, and this helped in creating clean cut control to navigate through the constant desperation.

The formula the single player provides, does well for the most part of mixing up the variety. The exploration elements and tombs feel natural, with the hunting and scavenging feeling like a nice break from the crazier circumstances you’ll find yourself in. The combat is appropriate in giving way to  new game play vectors (like newly acquired gear), and will regularly offer a stealth option for those with a quieter nature.

Tomb Raider Stealth 2

As far as replayability Is concerned, I found an easy time of staying on the beaten path, knowing I had the option of straying off of it. While I will surmise many who play will be easily pushed forward by the story, that doesn’t mean you can’t stop and smell the blood drenched flowers.

The islands imbued sense of history leaves plenty of interesting tid-pits to find, journals to read, and Tombs to Raid, leaving a well rounded but compartmentalized adventure. The ability to fast travel is key in creating a more robust exploration experience, and even lends itself to a Metroid-vania stylization of post-game discoveries. A nice compliment to an overall very engaging experience.

Tomb Raider Explore

Having enjoyed so much of this game, it pains me to go from mentioning the good…to the bad. I usually leave myself room towards the end of my review process in detailing these elements, and the length at which I must discuss them now with Tomb Raider surprises me, very honestly.

As mentioned, the games better half does a fantastic job of portraying dreadful suspense, intense emotion, and crafting an impressive character in Lara. This is all the while, looking fantastic while doing so, and maintaining an equally engaging experience…

…for most of the game

Somewhere towards the end, I felt a sudden shift in priorities in design ethics, and Tomb Raider quickly devolves from indepth  survival thriller,to run of the mill action romp. While this might entice many who would rather shoot their way through detail rather than appreciate it, I feel as if it betrays the basic tenants the game works so hard at creating in the first place.

Where there was once quietly suspenseful intensity, then there was overblown predictable action redundancy. Where I once looked forward to what waited around every corner at adventures beginning,  the ending constantly sought to test my patience.  The thought of me taking one more aggressively blocked step after another towards the bullet riddled inevitable, left me with repetitive dread. The game really takes a 180 from subtlety to the overdone, and in the final stretches of the game, never recovers from this.

Tomb Raider Shooting

This drastic change in pacing is very noticeable, and stands out to me as damn deafening. What’s worse is that the game also ceases to create fluid game cohesion, and degrades into a far glitchier experience as time rolls on.

So while I’m drawn into the intimate sense of who Lara is, and how they portray her earlier on in the game, it’s towards the end when they cease to focus on her as a character, and more as a soldier when the game really starts to falter. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing when there was a greater emphasis on your survival of the unknown, rather than your fight with the painfully familiar.

In this case,the painfully familiar being an army of never ending henchmen.

Tomb Raider Army

While I enjoyed the intimate moments of triumphant, defying gravity for a high climb S.O.S, and fighting tooth and nail against the primal, Tomb Raider’s ending portions left me scratching my head out of boredom. The Shanty Town, from first glimpse, added a bit of flair to the ever changing moments of survival. The beginning of the town represents Lara’s first use of her Fire Arrows, and the introduction stands loud and proud. I even enjoyed the rushing chase of men as I weaved and darted my way through the decrepit shacks, breaking through barriers, and snaking into doorways to elude capture.

A perfect blend of aggressive pacifism and forceful stealth, Lara at her best.

The Shanty Town, however, ended up being an early sign of doom for things to come. While the locale is book ended on both sides by worthwhile game scenarios, it was in Shanty Town I first ran into a number of unfortunate and repeated hiccups. From weapons going wonky, to Lara’s character model defying reality, and re-spawn closets with soldiers of no variety. I was kind of thrown off by this unpolished sense of error, in what had been a completely smooth game experience, always offering solid structure, and endless surprise.

2013-03-20-144015

Further, the longer I stayed in Shanty Town, the more I was disinterested in it’s approach of testing Lara. The more naturalistic elements slowly faded away from existence, and I was faced with nothing but the focused exhaustion with wave after wave of similarly looking baddies. This lazy use of enemy encounter always helps to pad an experience for time, but shatter the immersion of satisfaction.

When I have no other option but to fire away, and endlessly so, I start to wonder if the designers ran out of interesting scenarios. Lara had already been proven as a successful stealth saboteur, and unrelenting survivor. I question, why then at that moment (and many others in the games finale), was Lara faced with this misplaced call of duty, and the inability to refuse what ends up being a focus on  gun porn?

Tomb Raider Army 2

The stand out moments of the title focus more on feelings outside the norm of what video games so often portray. One of the reasons I like Tomb Raider so much, is the game’s flirtatious sense of emotion. Where shooters may just want explosive, Tomb Raider will seek to startle. Where other action games may only want to make your blood pump with adrenaline, TR looks to unsettle you with fear. Not to say TR doesn’t have excellent moments of white knuckle action glory, but the places the title goes up and beyond exist in the gruesome. The campaign has moments I found delightful from a sheer sense of surprise, and not their forceful nature into already exhausted game design territory. They help frame Lara’s desperate nature, and give way to pure blooded, full bodied suspense, something a great deal of the end of the game completely fails to do.

2013-03-20-231853

I wish Tomb Raider had remained a little more grounded, at least in how they dealt with Lara’s feats. While I don’t mind the larger jumps of fantastic the story takes later on, the way they make her deal with it becomes slightly too outlandish. One of the bigger moments in crossing the boundaries of disbelief, exists in one of the last encounters of the game. One scene in particular has her fighting off a literal army of savages on their home territory. I know the game was in “climax mode” and trying to impress, but it felt completely out of place and estranged from her character.

Lara waging an all out war with adversaries, whom on an individual basis, were veterans of combat, let alone en masse attacking, was too unbelievable. If we were to take even my play through as the standard example of the narrative we’re left with something of a crude farce at the end of a serious drama.

Let me frame it for you a little differently.

Lara, having not slept in days, and only having recently come to terms with murder in self-defense, somehow took out an entire platoon of elite warriors on their home turf, armed with nothing but a couple of pistol bullets and a pick axe.

No, fucking, way.

Overall, the ending feels very anti-climactic, and doesn’t at all match the bravado of the rest of the adventure. Somehow, the whole reality that exists in creating Lara as a believable and well rounded character dissipates to very minimal degrees in the finale. She doesn’t entirely lose her impressive ruggedness, but much of it is lost in misguided translation during the ending sequence.

She falls further into the pitfall of what I was hoping the game would avoid, which involved a completely misused villain,  an all too familiar character arc, and a final battle that’s been done to death. My initial hope was something far more sinister in nature, with Lara finding herself at the very end of her rope, her character faced with utter terror.

They ended up taking her in the opposite direction, arming her with luck and invincibility, instead of willpower and spirit.

TOmb Raider Awesome

There is also, the matter of multiplayer to mention…

I’m always immediately worried when I can’t find a single multiplayer game in a newer release, and Tomb Raider started me out on it’s competitive dealings with feelings of foreboding. After a lot of trial and error…and waiting, lots of waiting, I was left dumb founded. Once I found myself actually in a multiplayer game, I was struck by what an awkward mess the whole thing ended up being.

This wasn’t an isolated experience, mind you. My connections were regularly terrible, and the  matches ranged from complete quagmires of teleporting players, to barely managing a mediocre mayhem of an early stage beta build, accidentally released to the public. Players would zoom, as if human blurs, in every which way possible in the worst examples, making any aiming or precision weaponry useless by design. Everyone playing must have been as painfully aware of this as I was, with the only weapon seeing use with any regularity being the automatic rifles.

Tomb Raider Multi 2

The multiplayer reminds you of how bad the single player could have turned out, being filled to the brim with the hollow desolation of the competitive arenas, devoid of any impressive visuals or eye candy to speak of. All strategies and cunning were removed in the translation, with the varied themes of stealth from the single player left behind almost entirely. Leveling up lacked any sense of satisfaction, and even winning matches felt like a sigh of relief from the monotony, rather than a motivating boost to see what the next match held.

All in all, the multiplayer seemed like a bad excuse at over reaching demographic, and further devalues the experience rather than adds to it.

This isn’t too uncommon, as multiplayer modes in other wise single player games have this forced feeling of tacked on, much like we find with Tomb Raider. I came for the grand adventure, and wasn’t really looking for a romp with some strangers in the mud. The replayability exists for anyone who is in absolute love with the game, but with so many more refined and highly popular examples of death match out there, one has to question who this mode is really aimed at, especially considering it’s below average quality.

What worries me even further, is that the mulitplayer experience may not have been planned from the get go, or not necessarily implemented as a “want”, acting out as more of a “need”. This goes back to what a game “MUST have”, despite the historical contrary. The game’s mishandled ending, and rougher around the edges single player, could have been marvelously honed and polished with the same amount of development time it must have taken to force a sub par extra mode into the equation. If Crystal Dynamics hadn’t had to focus on this tacked on feeling of marketing hype in a mulitplayer sense, Tomb Raider might have been a top tier treat from start to finish, rather than begin with a bang, and end with a whimper.

Tomb Raider Multi 3

As just one more conceptual aside, seeing one of the enemy character models in the multiplayer lobby, just standing there in the rain, kind of made me realize how devaluing a multiplayer experience can be.

Sure, Tomb Raider‘s multiplayer isn’t completely devoid of fun, but this odd sense of embarrassment and exposure washed over me. Seeing what once represented a domineering figure in the single player, so exposed and lifeless in the multiplayer mode, made me cringe a little. This was a man who made me fear for my life in the campaign, representing the wild and unknown. He now stood there, lifeless and unanimated, being used as some pointless avatar in some virtual dick war. This all reinforced my realization of where the game might have gone wrong, with an out of touch focus negatively affecting a worthwhile game.

An odd realization, to be sure.

TOmb Raider Multi

I’m still astonished that the game, in some way, seemed to get “sick of itself”. The formula the game laid out worked so well, why the experience betrayed this sense of success and conformed to loud explosions is beyond me. I will stand by the sentiment that the over all feeling of the single player has moments of brilliance, and fierce satisfaction, but wilts and withers towards the end with repetitive and all too familiar shoot outs.

While the adventure may disrupt my own sense of appreciation, in dealing with some major design concepts, one thing the title never compromises on is Lara’s character. She is portrayed throughout, as a strong willed, sensible woman who just won’t stay down and die. Tomb Raider, and with thankful awareness, owes much of the experiences appeal to Lara Croft’s reinvention, providing a refreshing take on not only an excellent action character, but a great female role model in video games. While I’ve made prior note of her being an icon, that is from an unavoidable observation and not personal belief. I always had trouble getting behind the over the top sex appeal Miss Croft represented, and saw her more as this bizarre fantasy than an actual character. I find new Lara far more attractive, because of the content to her character, and not the looks concealing them.

2013-03-25-030241

I said it best in my preview:

“(Lara’s) contextualized nature of the struggling is a drastic and powerful divide from her once familiarly unstoppable avatar, instantly endearing her to me as a character. Lara is a surrealistic kind of bad ass in this reboot, as opposed to someone who exists only in the hyper fictionalized, making Nathan Drake look like Bugs Bunny in comparison.”

While the end of the game tried to dismantle this sentiment, it did not destroy it.

Tomb Raider, while certainly flawed, is not without merit. The troubles that exist on the island do no contradict the intense elements within, and engaged me time after time with unrelenting extremes.

In closing, I still stand impressed, and impart the words of wisdom that Lara’s resilience is well worth experiencing, even if it means enduring through her  adventures more troubling rough spots to do so.

Tomb Raider Lara Pain

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Quickie: (PAX to the Max)!

Hey Gamers!

New week, new games! Plenty of good ones coming out, and great ones that have already come out. After I just worked my way through Tomb Raider (more to come on that),  I turn around and find Gears of War, Starcraft, and Bioshock all have new bundles of joy, for all the happy gaming boys and girls out there.

It’s Christmas in March!

A video game X-mas is like this,  except with way more death involved.

A video game X-mas is like this, except with way more death involved.

On top of these ominous yuletide signs of festive oblivion, PAX East is going on right now in Boston. The industry has really expanded it’s scope of gaming conventions in recent years. moving  past just the gluttonous gauntlet that is   E3. PAX is just one more incarnation of gaming goodness.

Among some of the stand out titles this year, we got a look at the ever expanding world of Borderlands 2, some more juicy details on The Last of Us, and most surprising of all, the DuckTales NES game getting a remaster!

It's a Duck Blur.

It’s a Duck Blur.

Some surprisingly big and satiating news coming from PAX East this year, if I may say. While there are plenty of bigger names I’ve looked at that have me a great deal excited, the reports from the Indie Front excite me just as much. Between Double Fine’s newest game finally getting some details, to a game called Octodad I’ve been waiting too damn long for, PAX East has thrilled my gaming heart with news of great promise.

For anyone completely unaware of what Octodad is all about, click here,  and stand amazed at his timeless mastery in the art of stealth.

.Nobody suspects a thing.

Nobody suspects a thing.

I was expecting to have a more substantial write up for you guys today, but between watching, reading, and playing all the games that are either out, or coming out…

I ran out of time to be funny.

A problem more common than you think.

A problem more common than you think.

I’ve got a couple of ideas and pieces lined up for this week, so rest assured, the best has yet to come! Why not look at the bountiful glory of PAX East news, and spend ample hours enjoying a good old fashioned Zerg rush, a stroll through Columbia, or just a warm and sentimental Chainsaw Duel with your buddy of choice!

Ahh, the therapy of gamers.

 

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Quickie (Masks of Mischief)

Hey gamers.

We might be running out of days in the week, but that doesn’t mean we’re running out of games to play. In my last quickie, I took a brief mention of pause to thank the one true Gaben, and the work Valve does in making Steam an awesome place to be. Not a day after the fact, Steam’s Indie Spring Sale went into full effect, which sent my wallet into a dive bomb.

Just kidding, it’s a Steam Sale! They practically kill themselves to get this shit to us for free.

 

Even Meat Boy stands horrified, in the ensuing  carnage of Steam Sales.

Even Meat Boy stands horrified, in the ensuing carnage of Steam Sales.

I’ve already bought a couple games, and more yet to purchase. While I’ve written about the strength of the Indie presence on Steam in the past, I’ve more recently looked at the consistent quality of smaller titles like Hotline Miami (<—that’s worth clicking on). The game stands as a testament to brand refusal, you’d never guess by a simple glance that a 2-d action title would have such dark nuance about it. I use this moment to re-convey some initial thoughts: “The game’s depraved ethos and merciless brutality is evocative of what would happen if Kubrick and Tarantino co-created a video game.”

The game existing somewhere between this kind of fast paced bloodshed…

Quickie Kill

and the center focus of your twisted smile while doing so….

Quickie Alex

Ultra Violence at a fever pitch.

While Hotline is not on Steam Sale (currently), it doesn’t really need to be. The title is only $5, and is an experience worth having. Another honest mention is the game’s soundtrack (also on the cheap), and has few competitors. The sounds and music of Hotline Miami, blend a  creepy ambiance and unsettling focus, the audio standing as a  prime factor in how the game champions your better sense. Hotline Miami  just released on Mac in the last couple days, so the community of potential fans is ever increasing. I cross my fingers that the console guys will get there stab at trying HM out, as I remain impressed by what residuals it’s left within my own gaming experience.

This you can imagine, is a tall task. Decades of experience leaving you behind at the cross roads of excess and familiar quality.

Happy Gaming,
Pashford

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Encylopedia Muranica: Being Killzoned

Killzoned:

~verb~

Definition- Early impressions, by either trailer or demo, that impersonate or mis-represent game play, as to fool the gaming audience into believing something that isn’t true.

I explored in my last Muranica entry, a different take of format in my look at Theory vs Exeuction in video games. While I love playing video games, half of the thrill in their enjoyment, at least for me, is understanding them. I know people often misunderstand what kind of work that goes into them, or the complexities they are made up of. My TvE  exploraiton was the beginning effort in looking at the ins and outs of what make video games tick. While in the entry, I went into basis of subject matter involving the distinction of successful video games, and their mi-guided brethren, today I look at a more isolated example of where video games go wrong.

Comprehending the very moment when “things go wrong”.

Which sometimes, isn't quite as obvious as others.

Which sometimes, isn’t quite as obvious as others.

I had made written out a personal list of personal gaming phrases I believed to represent some of the dirtier tenants of game ethics, and one of the ones that I found was being explored by others more than myself was “Killzoned“….or “Being Killzoned“. As defined at the beginning of the article, the term “Killzoned” is pre-release gaming hype in media form that wildly exaggerates what’s on show. This could be due to a desperate grab at media attention, or an off focus sentiment of trying to dress up your game more than you should. Good intentions can lead to the same results as malicious ones, so we will not dwell on the speculative there fore, just the now within the  element of Being Killzoned”.

Pictured Here: A Calzone. Far more delicious than getting Killzoned, but just as full of shit in doing so.

Not to be confused with being calzoned, which is just as full of  itself, but a far more delicious experience.

The origin of the term “Killzoned“, comes from a rather infamous E3 event involving Sony. Back in 2005, Sony was trying to hype how powerful the PS3 was, with a two minute trailer involving early footage of Killzone 2, with “real gameplay everybody’s seeing out there” on the PS3. The problem with the footage, to anyone paying attention, was that the game looked unreal.

As in, not real.

What's tasty being a construct in this scenario.

What’s tasty being a construct in this scenario.

The problem with the footage, and which was identifiable to most gamers who had been around the block, is that the footage looked way too good to be true. The frames per second were too high (without any hiccups, mind you), the lighting effects seemed too dynamic, the camera angles too dramatic. What’s most evident of the mock up, is the complete lack of any gaming elements to speak of. No HUD showing us weapon statistics, or life bars hanging in the air for our convenience. No way points to show the audience what we were to hypothetically do next, and not any noticeable feedback to speak of (like getting damaged etc). The interesting dilemma of noticing the unreal, comes from the trailers complete lack of anything real enough. 

The KZ2 trailer from 2005 not showing a real battlefield.

The KZ2 trailer from 2005 not showing a real battlefield.

Killzone 2’s trailer had a detachment from gaming reality, and went wrong by possessing no real flaw. We will never know if the decision was internal from Guerilla Games, or if Sony approached them with the idea to do the mock up, based on rough looking alpha build (or a non existing build) at that point. Whatever the motivation, the fallout from the showing was massive.  The talk of the show (putting aside Nintendo’s reveal of “The Revolution, later renamed Wii), was how unbelievable Sony had been about their representation of KZ2. The game created more negative buzz than positive buzz, and the criticisms hurt the image of the game and the company more than anything else.

When keeping it real goes wrong.

When keeping it real goes wrong.

Hence, due to the controversy, and the infamy of the event, I came to coined the phrase “Killzoned“, to remind myself of the effortless downfall in pre-hype bullshit. A couple of points to bring up, after the fact. While Killzone 2 did look quite good on the Ps3, this was years into the life cycle of the system, after the devs had ample time to create the reality they proposed. To further remove any doubts of speculation, statements later produced by Guerilla Games in their admission of failure in creating a false premise can be seen here and here.

The first statement being issued before KZ2’s actual launch, is a bit more defensive in it’s approach of the media gaffe. This is likely due to the fact Killzone 2 had yet to be released. The defense sustaining from admitting fault before the game’s launch, which would have reignited bad press, and effected the bottom line. The second, statement, issued years later after KZ2’s money was already made, is a bit more frank. Guerilla Games went on to explain the situation in gaming relevant forums, and was quoted with “The hard part for us was like ‘Uh-oh. Now we will actually have to make that!’ But the good part is that that 2005 trailer shown at E3 created tremendous focus for the team.” Killzone 2 did turn out very well, from both a gameplay stand point and a graphical one. This helps to frame that “Being Killzoned“, isn’t a death knell, nor is it only performed by talent-less studios. Guerilla Games has gone on to do great work with the series, and has even improved on their own pre-hyping laurels, by showing a very impressive, and very real trailer of Killzone 4 during the Sony PS4 press conference this year.

Killzone...not getting Killzoned.

Killzone…not getting Killzoned.

It is worth it to point out, to any of the uninitiated, that neither  KZ nor Sony set the trend for this, and aren’t the only one’s who do it. “Pre-rendered” cut scenes and movies at pre-showing press events are referred to as “smoke and mirrors”. These are elements or assets custom built for or from the game, and altered dramatically, to enhance what the games look like. The smoke and mirrors of an event like E3 can be so over used, the show floor can resemble more of a god damn carnival than of actual product demonstrations. The over-saturation of material and sensory over load helping to detract you from what’s really there.

Sometimes, if you stop to look around, you'll realize you aren't doomed wandering endlessly in a maze of death...

Sometimes, if you stop to look around, you’ll realize you aren’t doomed wandering endlessly in a maze of death…

 

...but in actuality, are walking around a fun house, while being trolled by a bored french dwarf.

…but in actuality, are walking around a fun house while being trolled by a bored french dwarf.

Being Killzoned” is something that is still happening, and will likely happen for the rest of gaming time. The specific reason I decided to stake a claim in this observation, was due to overwhelming evidence that the practice is alive and well, and may even be worsening in it’s execution. A recent read of Edge magazine had me quite thrilled with an article referring to a similar concept as “Bullshotting”. While not dealing with pre-rendered cut scenes or pre-hyper trailers, Edge Magazine helps to articulate the very same act companies mis-inform us, with dolled up and out of proportion screenshots and pre-release imagery. While never truly defined, “Bullshotting” has a very simple approach in vernacular, further extrapolating with “(Bullshots) being identifiable by their lighting…details emphasized…and exotic camera angles, depicting an activity that is unlikely devs would ever let you experience yourself.”

One of Edge’s examples was Halo 4. While the game does look amazing, there is a slight disconnect in cinematic visual quality, and real time game footage quality (for technological sanity purposes)

While the concept art of this scene is impressive...

While the concept art of this scene is impressive…

Even within they cinematic pretense of quality within the game, the details and fidelity on show don't quite match up.

Even within the cinematic pretense of in game quality, the details and fidelity on show don’t quite match up.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Halo 4 was a blast to play, and that scene in the game was still very well done. I just act as a constant reminder that this thing is very common. So common, in fact, a mere hour after reading the article, I was reminded of the very same consistency I speak of at this moment.This time, involving the Elder Scrolls Online. Max Scoville was invited to a press only event, earlier build of the game. So while Zenimax Online isn’t trying to deceive the gaming public directly, the gaming press might be “Being Killzonedas we speak.  Max Scoville goes on to say “It (public footage) still isn’t conveying what it actually looks like…there showing some very controlled…yeah…” (See at 7:30 in the video). This is also aside from the reminder, that truly rampant examples of “Being Killzoned” are ever present, with the most recent offender being the much lauded and documented debacle that was the “Aliens: Colonial Marines Disaster”, probably best documented by D-Toid’s own Jim Sterling.

Sometimes, we as the gaming public, are just looking the wrong god damn way.

Sometimes, we as the gaming public, are just looking the wrong god damn way.

The truth of the matter remains, if we don’t approach these situations with caution, or don’t call them out when they are truly fictitious, we will all truly live in a virtual reality.

So what can we learn from all of this? Having adjusted expectations. I know the human mind wants to believe things that aren’t true, but the twisted delusion that takes us to nirvana is often just that,  a perception, and not an actual journey. As someone who never wants to stop being excited about video games, I would never suggest others do the same. Just make sure not to take everything so blindly, or at face value. Use basic observation to reaffirm what may or may not be of the real, and focus on the real that exists, and realize there is still enjoyment of the real to be had.

And there’s plenty of real going around.

Killzone 2 Final

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