SIDEBAR
»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Morality, Maturity, Treading Water, and Missed Opportunities: A Mass Effect 2 Review [Game Overview]
Feb 23rd, 2010 by Dan

It's not this bad, but we've still got a long way to go.

…like many mechanisms of this kind your choices tend to come down to being an omnibenevolent supercherub or the Goddamned devil.

-Jerry “Tycho” Holkins

WARNING: SPOILERS

A member of your crew was double-crossed before he joined you. Eleven of his friends died as a result of that treachery and he wants revenge on the killer. Do you: A) Indulge his obsession and allow him to murder in cold blood when his target least expects it or, B) Convince him that his obsessive revenge will not bring him the closure he desires by obstructing his revenge attempt.

Why don't you just William Tell the shot?

Here's another question: if you weren't gonna let him go through with it, why would you wait until he's got crosshairs on the both of you to confront him on it?

Later on a member of your crew who has been hunting a serial killer for hundreds of years asks you to help her bring said criminal to justice. The killer is a genetic aberration in her species who kills everyone she mates with (her species can mate with any species) and derives both power and an almost narcotic effect from her murders. There’s also the extra angle that this killer is the daughter of your party member, a woman who birthed three such monsters and had the other two locked away in isolation for the simple crime of their genes. Do you A) side with your crew and murder this killer to end her spree or B) side with the killer and kill your crewmate, ultimately gaining this serial killer as a party member and allowing her to escape free after your mission.

Before I decide, Samara, if I were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would I be?

Kind of reminds me of Dragonball

One of these two represents an actual moral choice worth thinking about while the other is noticeably less complex and, consequently, far less interesting. It may not be as obvious a choice as mass murder a crowd or buy them all ice cream, but it’s still pretty basic when you look at it. Will revenge really give Garrus closure? Does letting Sidonis live with his guilt represent a greater punishment? These are things we’ve confronted plenty of times before in these games. “Murder or mercy” is the bread and butter of the morality system, but it’s been seven years since Knights of the Old Republic and we need to up the ante here a little (Yes, I’m aware that morality systems have existed long before KoTOR. Giant Bomb lists 168 of them). In fact, Dragon Age: Origins, another Bioware game that came out in 2009, featured a system that puts this game’s choices to shame.

Perhaps it’s because DA:O was in development since 2004 (that’s five years to its release in 2009) while Mass Effect 2 has only a scant three years under its belt, but almost everything about the “morality system” in Dragon Age far exceeds what’s available to the player in ME2. To start with, Dragon Age dispenses with the notion of good/evil points. Your actions don’t move a light side/dark side meter up or down, they simply have consequences. More importantly, those consequences are pretty brutal no matter which outcome you select. Not to digress too far, but my character in DA:O was a Casteless Dwarf, something akin to the burakumin of Japan, and her sister was a concubine for one of the noble families elevated in status because she produced a son (dwarves in this universe inherit caste from the same-sex parent). When I returned to the dwarf homeland, there was a bitter power struggle going on and it was up to me to choose to help who I thought should continue the disputed royal line. The obvious heir was a brutal man rumored to be the one who poisoned the his brother (and rightful heir to the throne) in the first place, but he was in favor of reform of the caste system and contact with the outside world. He was also my sister’s husband. The other candidate was in favor of a strong assembly (the legislative body) and, while he was a traditionalist, he was well-respected and, more importantly, not rumored to be a murderer. It then became a question of supporting a despotic butcher who would work to improve equality at the expense of representation (and also keep my family at a higher status) or a more traditional ruler who would rule without bloodshed, but keep my caste down and stay isolationist (not to mention assure that my sister’s place in society would be compromised). In the end I chose to side with my family, but I almost immediately regretted it when the man I chose ordered the execution of his rival immediately following his appointment. Not long after, the assembly was also dissolved. I made a hard choice that had no real good results for everyone and that’s ultimately what real life is about: grey areas.

It's called legal emancipation. You're probably also a legal adult after a few hundred years in Asari space.

Nothing like a little matricide/filicide to get the crew loyal to you

Back to the question of whether or not to kill Morinth or Samara, here is another interesting moral decision. Samara made irresponsible choices and had not one Ardat-Yakshi (that’s what it’s called) offspring, but three. Morinth’s crimes, at this point, were many, but her only choices in life were to live as a prisoner or to run and live as a hunted criminal. Even then, if you’re like me you’re thinking that this really isn’t that much of a decision. It amounts to supporting a serial killer or supporting an irresponsible mother looking to bring her daughter to justice. No matter how bad I feel for Morinth’s predicament, I, personally, couldn’t support her because she’s a sociopath and a murderer. That’s the real rub with the Mass Effect universe. Despite how good it is, despite how great the narrative is, and despite how much I love the games, its decisions are a constant disappointment boiling down to, in most cases, “murder or mercy”. Dragon Age constantly forced me to choose between “murder and murder”. Kill one person who had good and bad qualities or kill another with the same qualities. I’m not saying that all real decisions in games have to revolve around murder, there were some legitimately tough choices to make in the first Mass Effect (that still ultimately boiled down to “m or m” on a grand scale), like whether or not to kill a terrorist or let him walk free (his hostages will die if you kill him) or whether or not to spare the Racchni or commit xenocide, but even they skirted around the much more important decision of whether or not to utilize the cure for the Krogan genophage. Your only option is to destroy it. (SIDEBAR: The Krogan people were forcibly infected with a genetic rewrite that causes 0.999 of all Krogran pregnancies to end in stillbirth (SIDEBAR: The Krogan reproduce very rapidly and are quite aggressive)).

This is a tremendous missed opportunity. Sure, the genophage is addressed in ME2 since it’s a central part of the Krogan species’ identity, but even then the decisions you make are irrelevant. If you destroy the work done to correct the genophage (again), the scientist in your team claims that it doesn’t matter anyway, since he could easily duplicate all of the results if he had to. Saving it or destroying it seems to have no real impact on the world of the game. Granted, I don’t need to control my destiny to such a fine level in the games I play, but when Bioware goes out of its way to explicitly claim that my decisions have a large, direct impact on the world, I begin to expect my decisions to make a difference. Even the major choices I made in the first game seem to only have cosmetic effects on the second. I might get a non-story-relevant message from a character stunned to learn that I was still alive or thanking me for saving them back then, but then there’s this one side quest that played out the exact same way no matter what I decided in Mass Effect, except that the character model talking to me and the spoken dialog were slightly different.

Yes, I realize that decisions having a real effect make the world exponentially more complicated, but you shouldn’t promise what you can’t deliver.

“[Mature] really has two meanings when we apply it to media. One is ‘not appropriate for children’ and the other is ‘exploring subject matter in a sophisticated fashion. Ironically, the word mature when applied to games tends to have a very childish connotation.”

In late September of 2009 a Mass Effect 2 trailer highlighting Subject Zero was put out as part of the ME2 hype machine.

Needless to say, I became very concerned. It definitely did not fit in with the Bioware aesthetic and it felt like it was trying too hard to be edgy. This was the “maturity” that I’m always up in arms about and I was pretty worried that Bioware was going to take a serious misstep with their “dark second chapter”. After playing the whole game through, I’m confident in saying that Subject Zero and the characters in this “edgy” game were more or less about what you’d expect from Bioware in that they are decidedly not two-dimensional and are actually interesting. That’s not to say that Bioware didn’t make a few mistakes with its decision to go darker for this second game (they even redid their logo in blood red…it’s almost funny).

She likes to throw around plenty of hardcore language too.

Nothing screams combat-ready like minimal chest support.

Subject Zero (AKA Jack) may have a “seriously abused child” story that fleshes her out and makes her character actually make sense, but that doesn’t mean that they made no mistakes with Jack. Her outfit, if you could even call it that, is absolutely ridiculous. It feels like a grab for the adolescent attention span by making her dress in what amounts to a pair of pants, some belts, and tattoos (if it wasn’t so blatantly sexual, it could be a Nomura design). When will game designers learn that dressing women in this way is not cool or interesting? All they’re doing is enforcing the stereotype and furthering the divide between gamer and non-gamer. Who could possibly see the way that Jack is dressed and think it was designed for anyone older than a 13-year-old male?

The dress code is pretty informal

Actually, yes...Cerberus has a pretty liberal dress code.

The other Bioware attempts at making the game more dark, serious, and mature seem to have been carried out much better than Subject Zero. Every planet or space station that is explored is appropriately seedy and grimy. Gone are the sterile, clean blues of the Mass Effect Citadel. In its place we have reds-orange slums, planets so dominated by commerce that slavery is legal, prison ships, and war-torn wastelands. Running into the formerly naïve and innocent Liara T’Soni from the first game is jarring and depressing when you see how she has become ruthless, cold, and calculated in her efforts to bring down the Shadow Broker. Even Shepard has changed in the eyes of the galactic community thanks to his involvement with the shady Cerberus terrorist organization.

I think it's the hexagons that really get me goin...

Male gaze does not equal maturity

Mass Effect 2 also benefits from the complex social situations set up by the lore itself. Credit is definitely well deserved for those responsible for the universe’s depth and background. Alien cultures are fleshed out and the interaction between them, humanity, and themselves feels genuine and interesting. In fact, aside from the fact that humanity seems like a brilliant race able to work wonders that others cannot (no doubt an extension of that same “white is might” mentality that is subconsciously behind Avatar, Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, etc.), I find that we’re treated appropriately for an up-and-coming species that is rapidly stepping on so many toes. Actually, let’s take my parenthetical a little further: why is humanity a special species here? Why are we the only ones to accurately see the threat of Saren and The Collectors? in a galactic community featuring multiple sentient species, it hardly seems probable that the only one that is like the current Western world is humanity. Then again, why would aliens be anything like us, culturally? Why would future humanity continue to be so dominated by white men? These questions are kind of wandering around, so let me just say that having a token non-western cast that ensured inclusiveness might have seemed pander-y anyway. Next paragraph!

While we’re talking about tropes, I also find myself wondering about the impact that the trilogy structure on the story of ME2. The first game had a story that revolved around mind control, domination, and indoctrination that culminated in a plot twist about the real enemy and the insidious nature of the greatest scientific technologies that sentient life depended on. It had weight and purpose and things happened. ME2 seems to drag along, treading water the whole way. Your crew’s various backgrounds and backstories take center stage, but at the expense of anything that legitimately moves the plot forward save for two things: 1. You learn that The Collectors are genetically modified Protheans being manipulated by the Reapers and 2. You learn that a human-inspired Reaper is in the works (and you destroy it). All that says is that the Reapers have decided that humanity is its only legitimate threat and worthy of being adopted into their strange genetic-mechanical history, but that ultimately means nothing. Not one thing that happens in this chapter of the trilogy can compare to the Reaper bombshell of the first game. In terms of story, ME2 is just ME1.5 (or ME1.125).

Mechanics is where ME2 takes major strides away from ME1, but in a direction that is both welcome and distressing. Mass Effect was a serviceable third-person shooter with a super-clunky inventory and interface and unfun vehicle sections. It sounds harsh, but it really wasn’t all that bad for a freshman effort by an RPG company to make a shooter (notice the caveats!) and it was helped along by its strong narrative and much stronger conversation systems. ME2 brings what some might call a pretty good shooter to the table along with all the baggage that such a thing merits. Gone are many of the RPG elements of the first game (weapon skill, a glut of powers and passive skills, statistic-determined shot accuracy, and ammo types) and in are oversimplified options and a streamlined story structure to go with it. In a sense, Bioware did something right by avoiding pairing the slow, deliberate pace of the first game with the new, frenetic shooter engine, but at the cost of the weight of the narrative.

As I said before, the story is nothing to write home about and I attribute that mostly to the new mission structure that the game is hampered with. Each little action section takes place in an instanced area outside of the normal exploratory zones, lasts 20-30 minutes, finishes up whatever relevant story points are specific to that mission only, and then dumps the player out to a Mission Complete summary of their exploits as presented to the Illusive Man. I’m not sure what it is about the clear separation of action spaces and non-action spaces that peeves me so much, but I imagine it has everything to do with the way that the story parts were just as integrated with the action throughout most of Mass Effect. One sidequest in the original had me engaged in a firefight in the same exact place I’d just bought armor from half an hour ago. ME2 has rooms that the player can only access to start up their missions when said mission is available. There were very few locked doors in the first game. If I see one in ME2, I know a sidequest will take me there later. The zones in ME2 are merely hubs with shops and non-combat quests.

I do like the sun in the background...

Jarring and non-immersive.

Combat quests are bizarrely chosen as the main mode of exposition in the game, which I’d normally be ok with, except that their focus is so laser-focused on whichever crew member’s backstory it is revealing that the third member of your party is often ignored. I couldn’t help but wonder why the game didn’t take advantage of my entire three-man squad in these story interaction moments since it’s always been my favorite part of Bioware games. For example, on Samara’s conversation-heavy loyalty quest, your third companion might as well not be there and he/she/it actually seems to disappear once it begins with no real explanation. He/she/it was there before we went into the apartment to investigate the murder, but then I didn’t see him/her/it again until after the mission. The lack of companion interaction is simply inexcusable after the shining examples set forth in the first game and Dragon Age: Origins. At any given quiet moment in DA:O, two of the companions following the Grey Warden can spontaneously burst into conversation about something. These talks are multi-topic connected affairs that have a complete arc to them throughout your travels. Mass Effect relegated these mostly to elevator rides around different places where they were there to help deal with the dead time in their concealed loading screens. Aside from one moment that I had to trigger in the Citadel by having two specific party members with me, there was not one bit of witty banter or conversation between my companions. I know this is supposed to be the “dark, serious second chapter”, but lighten up guys. We don’t have to spend our entire mission in steely, concentrated silence. A quip here or there would be more than welcome.

We can’t talk about things removed from the game without mentioning the Single Worst Thing About Mass Effect 1, the Mako tank. It handled poorly, was used for boring exploration, and was completely out of place with the rest of the game. It was like it was the 90s again and every game needed a vehicle section (game designer protip: we REALLY don’t need vehicle sections shoehorned into our games). Worst of all, it was associated with planetary exploration, a boring slog through the terrain of each planet to look for mineral resources and other artifacts that existed to provide money and experience. One correct lesson was learned and the Mako was excised from the game. The designers didn’t quite understand that a lot of the Mako hatred stemmed from planet resource mining, so they retained mineral mining in a different form. If you were the commander of an interplanetary space ship and you needed to mine resources from a planet, would you want to manually scan the planets yourself before sending down a probe to retrieve the resources? No, of course not. You’d have your engineering and mining teams handle all of that busy work while you managed other parts of the ship. As the player, I’m ostensibly Commander Shepard. There’s no reason why I have to tell the probes whrere to go. I don’t want to and it bores the hell out of me. If one aspect of your game (upgrades) is inexorably tied to a cripplingly boring aspect of your game (planetary scanning), then I think you need to reevaluate the way that you’re handling that first aspect

For my final nitpick of the game, I’d like to say that a PC version of a game should always have scroll wheel functionality if your interface allows for scrolling. Why do I have to click on a down button to scroll text? When are we living, the stone age?

By now I’ve realized that it looks like I really don’t like this game. I’ve got a lot of negative things to say about it precisely because I feel like it missed so many opportunities to be really great instead of just great. I wasn’t kidding when I said that the shooter mechanics were a leap forward. Everything from shooting enemies to throwing around biotic powers just feels crunchier. There’s no sweeter feeling than launching a ball of biotic push energy at a curve and watching it impact with a target and launch him off a platform. No. Sweeter. Feeling.

The game also offers just enough variety in its loyalty missions to keep them from becoming too stale. Most of them are combat affairs, but some, like Thane and Samara’s, feature no combat at all while others, like Jack or Tali, have combat interrupted by long conversations of narrative sequences which connect the player with the characters a bit more. Even Grunt’s straight arena setting is punctuated by a battle with a thresher maw whose mechanics are not seen again anywhere else in the game.

Despite the lack of real story, the game does also feature the best characterization I’ve seen in a while for a “dirty dozen”-style narrative structure. Team member depth varies widely (Zaeed has no dialog tree associated with him at all while Jack, Miranda, and Thane all feature long backstories and conversation trees), but each member does have a defined arc that is sometimes unique, funny, or tragic (or all three). Even non-party member crewmates have dialog allotted to them in more meaningful ways that the prior crew of the Normandy. This is all in the service of motivating the player to save them, which is another great narrative choice by Bioware.

SHORT DIGRESSION WHOSE PURPOSE WILL BE APPARENT SOON…

Whenever we want to talk about ludonarrative dissonance, Final Fantasy VII will inevitably come up. In the late game there is a meteor set to strike the earth after a fixed time period…except it isn’t. The player can spend millions of hours racing and breeding chocobos while staying in inns (which should technically be advancing time by a full day) instead of progressing the story. There is no point where the meteor strikes because Cloud was too busy hanging out at the Golden Saucer playing a stupid snowboarding game. The narrative is at the player’s mercy.

Every person who plays Mass Effect 2 will have his crew (minus combat party members) abducted by The Collectors in the endgame. Most players probably think they can continue to fool around and expect to save the crew before they are killed. I completed all the sidequests expecting that I wouldn’t be able to return to them and in the interest of boosting my level higher. When I finally reached my crew in the endgame, all but one (or two…it’s not many) had been murdered. Granted, that one will always survive no matter how long you take breeding chocobos (aka: scanning minerals), but the rest of your crew is permadead, leaving your ship empty in the open-ended postgame.

There’s not enough of this in video games. If you’re telling me to hurry and do something, I’d better damn well have to hurry, because otherwise I feel cheated when I see the man behind the curtain. JRPGs may be the biggest offender in this dissonance, but it’s not alone. Consider the heavily scripted shooter where I can spot the “actors” up ahead standing stationary until I get close enough to trigger the event that kills them. I can stand for an eternity watching my comrades stand in an exposed corridor with shooters at the end, but they’ll never die until I get close. Counter that with Dead Rising and its brutal time system. If you wait until 1600 on Day 2 to save this one person, guess what? He won’t be there. The zombies killed him. If you don’t complete the next story objective before the timer runs out, the rest of the game is closed off to you. Events will no longer transpire in that way and you’d better reload your save. That makes perfect sense for a game where haste and time management are issues. When someone tells you to do something quickly, they mean it. I don’t like to be blatantly lied to. Mass Effect 2 is honest in that respect.

I guess that’s really all I have to say about Mass Effect 2. It’s a fine game that you should own, but it also brings up a lot of issues about game design that I hope Bioware confronts for the concluding chapter of the saga.

Evil Shepard can look pretty rough by the end of the game...

Evil Shepard will put the screws to you too if you don't play ME2

Getting to Know Your Friends [Game Overview]
Dec 31st, 2009 by Dan

New Super Mario Brothers Wii is marriage poison.
-Gabe (AKA Jerry Holkins). “The Fullness of Time

In the past two months I’ve learned one very important truth about my friends: they’re complete jerks. Not in any friendship kind of way, but in the if-it-came-down-to-it-would-they-have-my-back kind of way. It all started with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo made an important design choice with the game by giving each character physical impenetrability with each other and allowing (almost) the entire moveset to work on fellow players. In a nutshell, you can push, run into, and jump off of your buddies and you can pick them up and throw them around, but fireballs pass through other players. The result can be total (accidental) chaos or it can devolve into actual, sincerely evil behavior toward your fellow players.

The evil doesn’t have to be obvious, like picking up fellow players and throwing them into a chasm, it can also be little things like taking multiple power-ups “by accident” or “inadvertently” getting in the way of jumps or platforms. In our case, we started off our first session for the night in the first world of NSMBW with a somewhat cooperative nature about us. I showed the other two how we could affect each other’s gameplay (I’d been practicing some a few days earlier at my brother’s house, which I’m not sure I’m welcome in anymore after playing, haha) and then popped us out really quick to play one of the legitimately competitive multiplayer modes. As I expected, putting us into a competitive mode for a few levels carried right on over to the cooperative experience and we were at each other’s throats for the rest of the game. Sometimes the sabotage was deliberate. I distinctly remember Darek picking me up and throwing me into lava when I least expected it. Since we were high up, it was torture to watch my avatar tumble for a few seconds before burning to death. Another time saw us all standing on a narrow platform. Ian suddenly jumped up and butt stomped me, sending poor Mario flying helplessly into a chasm. There was a glimmer of hope late in World 8. Faced with obstacles too tough to tackle while at each other’s throats, a temporary truce was effected and we were able to traverse the level after many attempts. That goodwill continued into the final battle against Bowser and we were finally able to conquer the game.

There is a drastic shift in tone when you go from NSMBW to Left 4 Dead 2, both in how vital cooperative play is and how devastating griefing can be to a team’s chances at survival. Valve crafted the game experience to almost ensure 100% failure when a player is by himself. Every time one of the four survivors is too separated, dead, or incapacitated, the chance of failure rises dramatically, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Playing this game gives you a feel for how your friends might react in a true zombie apocalypse. Consider that there is zero risk to a person’s real physical health in this game. Death just means you have to restart the level. That means that reckless behavior is far more likely, but Valve has crafted a game that still seems to encourage cautious, self-serving behavior in most. Let’s take a look at how some of my friends play to see what their personalities are like.

Nolan

If there’s one thing that you can be sure of when you play a game with Nolan, it’s that he knows what he’s doing. How can you tell? He will loudly tell you at every chance what you’re doing wrong. Nolan is also very focused on winning at any cost. Exploiting the death system (when you die, you start the next level with higher health, but none of the weapons you had) and optimizing weapon load outs are his main strategies. Unfortunately for me, I can also count on him to let me die if he’s within running distance of the safe room. I could be just outside the door with only two zombies beating on my incapacitated body and I’m pretty sure he would just shoot me to help me die faster. Ruthless.

Ian

You know that one guy in a horror movie who’s always too far ahead or behind or too inquisitive? I’m sure you also know who tends to die first in those movies. Ian is always just out of reach or eyesight, which is devastating when you get pounced on by a hunter and it takes him so long to get back to you that you’ve been incapacitated. The opposite situation is also often true, with Ian so far ahead that the team gets there just in time to see him shuffle off of this mortal coil. Like Nolan, if you’re surrounded by zombies near a safe room, he will run inside and bolt the door shut. Expect the only help you might get from him to be a molotov cocktail…thrown at your still upright body, killing all the zombies and incapacitating you before you can escape the flames. Sometimes it’s better not to help…

Min

A player who I feel has developed along the Dan Mesa path of Left 4 Dead playing, I can count on Min to risk life and limb to save me in any situation, provided I don’t tell him to just continue on without me. Min likes to stick with the group and remains mostly aware of the status of the other three players. When the going gets tough, you can count on him to at least try to save the team (or blow them up by accident with a grenade launcher), but if you’ve been getting on his nerves, he may just leave you to die.

The funny thing is that these gameplay styles mostly translate to the personalities of the friends involved. I can’t tell you how many times we’d be walking home from dinner and Ian would suddenly be missing because he was playing with a giant snowball or rushing ahead to beat us somewhere. As to whether or not Nolan would truly let me die in a zombie apocalypse, I can’t really be sure about it without the zombpocalypse occurring, but I’m not that optimistic.

“There are no commercial games for Linux.” “OBJECTION!” [Objection!]
Aug 18th, 2009 by Eric

OBJECTION!

Hi, I’m Eric and I’m a guest contributor to Dan’s blog. I plan on starting a column on Dan’s blog called “Objection” where I debunk rumors. I’m not sure how often this column will appear, but I’m sure we’ll get it figured out with time.

Today I wanted to debunk the rumor that there are no commercial games for Linux. First off, a really insanely quick primer. Linux (aka GNU/Linux to some) is a kernel (brains of an operating system) that is paired with a bunch of programs to make a fully-functional operating system. A Linux operating system package is called a distribution and a distribution can be compared to Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s OSX. Linux is free software, but that’s not the same as freeware as in that video game you downloaded off the ‘net last night that was fun, but over quickly. Although Linux is often given away for free, the free in free software refers to the freedom to do whatever you want with it. You can take all the code and change it and get new functionality. The duality of these attributes leads most people to make the following generalizations about Linux users: they are cheap and they are hackers.

Therefore, some major game publishers have written off Linux because they assume no one using Linux would actually pay for a game. This turns out to be very wrong, as we will see. Still, it is true that most major games are not developed for Linux. You won’t see a Linux version of The Sims 3, Red Alert 3, or Starcraft 2. Well, you won’t see Starcraft 2 for any computer system at this point. These can be run on Linux with some massaging, but that’s a topic for another post. So does that mean you’re left running clones of games from the 80s/90s?

Man, this game feels really, really familiar.  I feel like humming a russian song, but I don't know why...

Man, this game feels really, really familiar. I feel like humming a russian song, but I don't know why...

OK, I guess penguins make about as much sense as bubble-blowing dinosaurs, right?

OK, I guess penguins make about as much sense as bubble-blowing dinosaurs, right?

No! There are some independent games producers that have chosen to create native Linux games with great success. First of all, there’s 2d Boy’s “Word of Goo“. Now these guys are over-achievers because they have created versions of this game for Windows, Linux, Macintosh, and the Nintendo Wii.

The World of Goo

The World of Goo

World of Goo is an awesome and unique game whose closest comparison is Lemmings. And it’s really only like Lemmings in the sense that you have creatures you have to get into an exit pipe (in Lemmings it was a house). Whereas the major challenge in Lemmings is that the little guys keep walking non-stop, the major challenge in World of Goo is physics. Basically you have goo balls which can be arranged in a lattice structure (as seen in the above screenshot). You have to create a structure that will get you from the beginning of the map to the pipe at the other end. While this may sound simple at first, it’s made hard by the fact that the bonds between the goo balls have a jello-like consistency to them. If you build out to the right, the structure will start bending over to the right. It also sways in the wind. The amazing playability from this game comes in the fact that each level is unique (although your skills build up) and every few levels you’re introduced to a new type of goo ball. Maybe this one can be detached or that one only needs one bond between balls. And the environment has all sorts of hazards to kill your little goo balls. It’s a very fun game, it only costs $20 and it works perfectly on Linux. I played it on my old Fedora (Linux) computer which had the AMD equivalent of a Pentium 4 and a 128 MB graphics card. With only a few audio glitches (and they BARELY happened), the game worked perfectly. I’ve also run it on my laptop with Crunch Bang Linux and whatever crap graphics card the laptop has and it worked perfectly with only a slight slowdown in one scene with hundreds of goo balls.

One important thing to mention, the developers had the following to say on their blog: “More copies of the game were sold via our website on the day the Linux version released than any other day. This day beat the previous record by 40%. There is a market for Linux games after all :)”

The other major indie game I know of that’s produced with a native Linux binary is On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, the Penny-Arcade game.

A game with an insanely long title, but just as much fun:  On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

A game with an insanely long title, but just as much fun: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

I’ve played games like this one before, but I can’t quite remember them, so I don’t know what to compare them to.  It’s basically an RPG (NOT a jRPG, but not too far from that concept).  It has all of the awesome hilarity of Penny Arcade.  So if you like PA, you’ll like this game.  If you hate PA, you’ll hate this game.  It’s a testament to the fact that the guys behind PA know their audience that there are binaries for Linux, Mac, and Windows.  Try out the free demo and see if you don’t end up paying for the full game.

So, you see, there are commercial games available for Linux.  Even games like Unreal Tournament usually have a Linux binary.  These games are amazing and worth checking out.  Let me end by saying once again that there the commercial games that don’t work natively on Linux are legion.  But the fact is that more independent game publishers (which is where all the cool stuff is nowadays) are starting to recognize Linux as a good potential games-buying space  Especially now that the market is so sparse, Linux users will buy almost anything you put out there.  So having a Linux computer doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing on ALL games.  And, although it’s a topic for another day, there’s Wine for running some of the other games.

I hope you enjoyed, and until next time, this is Eric stealing the catchphrase, “OBJECTION!”

Summer of Arcade, 1 G$ in Losses, Twisted Shadows, and More![Game Overview]
Jul 17th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

There’s been a lot of news this week, so let’s get right down to it.

The Xbox Live Summer of Arcade schedule has been announced and it looks like there are some great games coming soon.

22 July – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled – A 3D update of the classic arcade and SNES beat-em-up, this game could be fun, but then again, the 3D models just look so uninspired compared to the cartoon and their pixelated counterparts.

29 July – Marvel vs. Capcom 2 – The most famous of the Capcom vs. series, MvC2 was one of the worst kept secrets in video gaming. We’re all excited to see it arrive soon, even if the game makes absolutely no sense and is hectic as hell.

5 August – Splosion Man – Don’t know much about this platformer other than that 1up.com kind of likes it.

12 August – Trials HD – Some motorcycle racing platformer. :yawn:

19 August – Shadow Complex – Epic’s latest project was surprisingly not Gears of War related. This Metroidvania-style game has a lot of promise and a great pedigree. Will it deliver?

English Downloads

The English have figured out something before we did:

Music game downloads are becoming a significant share of music sales.

They’re looking into counting them on the downloads chart to try and track them a little better. I applaud their practical thinking.

My national pride (the 4th wasn’t that long ago) requires me to say, “Hey, at least we figured out dentistry first!” Sorry UK, nothing personal.

Trailer Time!

Some great trailers and videos about Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted 2.

40 Novels?!

While we’re in the vicinity of Bioware coverage, why not mention this alarming statistic about The Old Republic, Bioware’s upcoming (in 201X) MMO.

The good folks at Bioware claim that TOR will be as long as 10 KOTORs. Now, Knights of the Old Republic was a plenty long game, but the scope we’re talking here is, wait for it, forty (40!) novels worth of dialogue that’s ALL SPOKEN. That’s going to be a lot of audio.

L4D2 and Nerds

Has a week gone by since L4D2’s announcement that I haven’t talked about it?

EA and Valve have decided to show off the new game, specifically a campaign called “Swamp Fever,” at next week’s San Diego Comic-Con. This means I may have more news next week to post about. Good on you Valve and EA

Everything Old is New Again

Much has been said of the recent resurgence of the fighting and adventure game genres. The most recent Giant Bomb Bomcast (Downloadable Here) made a joke about how we were back in the 90s with the punchline being something like “All we need is for Starcraft and Diablo to come out again.”

Well Starcraft II is scheduled for a late 2009 launch, but analysts are starting to get skeptical (quite frankly, so am I), especially given statements by Blizzard itself. They want about four to six months to beta test the new game, but we’re already at a point where only five months remain before 2010.

My prediction: mid-2010.

Two Million?! USO!

Dragon Quest IX went and had two million pre-orders set for the game before launch. Guess what, it sold about two million. Lines weren’t as ridiculous as they were in prior years, but it was still something of an event.

I started reading an article on Kotaku about the launch and it didn’t quite feel like it was by Brian Ashcraft as my RSS reader said it was. It sounded more like…well, I watched a video on the story (good read) and pretty much knew by then that it was Tim Rogers. It’s worth reading and it provides a look at what a modern Dragon Quest launch is like in Japan now that players can just pre-order their games at local convenience stores.

UFC…yawn…

UFC president Dana White says “EA doesn’t give a fuck about mixed martial arts.” That makes two of us…

The real point of the story is that White tried to pitch the ridiculously well-selling UFC Undisputed 2009 to EA a few years ago, before MMA was big, and he was turned down. Now he says that if any fighter signs to be in EA’s upcoming MMA title (creatively entitled MMA), they can kiss the UFC goodbye.

This now makes for two (three, counting this one) more paragraphs about UFC than I ever want to see on this blog again, so I will close with Penny Arcade’s accurate rendition of every UFC match ever.

VIDEO GAME BREAK!

SOUR / 日々の音色 (Hibi no Neiro) MV from Magico Nakamura on Vimeo.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Get ready to say “That’s ridiculous.”

Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to Call of Duty 4, has a special edition coming out that includes functioning night vision goggles. The less said about how ridiculous that is, the better.

Club Nintendo Rewards

If you were a Platinum member of Club Nintendo last year, you can earn yourself a Punch-Out Wii download that will allow you to box Doc Louis, your personal trainer. It’s kind of crazy, but also way cool.

1 Beellion Dollars

You know how EA has that pesky monopoly on football games due to an exclusive deal with the NFL?

Well, according to an economist, that deal has cost gamers about $926 million due to lack of competition allowing EA to raise their prices.

EA thinks this is ridiculous and I kind of agree. Guess what, Mr. Economist? If 2K still had access to NFL licenses, they probably would have sold their game for $60 too.

Looks Neat and Shadowy

That dude, Michel Gagne, who’s famous for leaving Disney and making his own cartoons has got a game in the works and it looks beautiful. Watch:

The game is called Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and it looks quite good and retro-tough. All of the footage is in-game, apparently, so it also looks pretty kicking.

Penny Arcade, The Guild, Lost, Heroes [Game Overview/Idiot Box]
Dec 16th, 2008 by Dan

PA

I think it’s worth mentioning that the guys at Penny Arcade are universally hilarious. I was tooling around their site today and I found a couple of oldies, but goodies that I thought I would share:

There’s one about Pokémon that shows Gabe at his training worst. If nothing it’s a hilarious take on the oftentimes frantic and crazy love of the game that you usually witness in small children.

Then there’s the running gag that Gabe loves Patrick Swayze and Dirty Dancing. I’ve seen the ending to that movie. I think this does accurately represent it.

There’s also Gabe dominating children’s games and deciding that he needs a new group of friends.

And, finally, we have Doritos. I think the less said about that the better. Let the professionals do the talking.

The Guild

I’ve never seen The Guild, but I love Felicia Day and the premise of a WoW guild who decides to meet in real life just sounds like too much of a delicious premise for me to pass up. I’ll probably start watching today, but if any of my readers has seen it and knows if it’s good or not, let me know. Season 2 is debuting every Tuesday on XBL.

LOST!

It’s been about half a year since we saw just what happened to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and I’ve gotta say I’m itching to get back into the swing of things. I got my hands on Season 4 on Blu-Ray and I’ve been working my way through the disappointingly short bank of episodes to fully recap all the plot points I’ll be expected to have at my fingertips on 21 January.

Supposedly the new season will feature less flashbacks and flash forwards, but I’ve gotta say that I don’t really mind those. I’m just insanely curious about how the (SPOILER ALERT!) Oceanic Six are going to find their way back on the island. How is Jack going to convince Kate to get back on a plane? What happened to Locke and the rest of the folks still out there? T-36 days until I can finally find out at least one or two answers…

Heroes

Despite a lukewarm season so far, Heroes managed to put together a rock-solid mid-season finale ending to Volume 3: Villains.

Contrary to what most people have been saying about the show, I think this season has been as strong as S1 in a lot of places and certainly way stronger than S2. Still, they could use some refocusing and I hope that they learn from the finale (which was amazing because of Sylar) about how to effectively tell these human stories in the future.

Just remember guys, Hiro is not a moron, so stop making him act like one!

Valkyria, Tomb Raider, and Realism? [Sony]
Dec 4th, 2008 by Dan

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about it, but I’m still very excited for Valkyria Chronicles. I promised my family that I wouldn’t make any purchases until after Christmas (not that I should be making any at this point), so I have to wait until at least then to hope that I get what promises to be a sweet looking video game. Enjoy the video review.

We shall see if it’s as good as it’s claimed to be by people like Shane Betenhousen and the PA guys.

Now for a bit of a digression/editorial:

This excerpt from an Action Button Dot Net review of Tomb Raider: Underworld written collectively by the staff will spearhead our topic:

“Does anyone in the audience here have the upper body strength to do one pull-up? It’s really hard, isn’t it? Now imagine doing a pull-up and then, at the end of the pull-up, pulling down so hard with your biceps that you launch your entire body six feet into the air, then grabbing a ledge and doing another pull-up and launching yourself six feet into the air. It takes roughly six hundred times the upper body strength* (*these figures have not been evaluated by the Olympic gymnastics committee) to launch yourself six feet in the air after a pull-up as it does to do a single pull-up in general. Now imagine a wispy girl doing it, fourteen times in two minutes, and with two sub-machine guns on her back (about eight pounds each, we reckon), with a pair of D-cup breasts pressed uncomfortably against the rock.

We say, the better the graphics get in these games (current status of game graphics: “Prettttttttty! Good!”) the more ridiculous these things look. You might as well just make the hero of this game a super-hero. Iron Woman, maybe. As-is, you’re kind of giving impressionable young people the wrong . . . impression.”

So yeah, I mean, why bother worrying about stuff like realism when it comes to a series so clearly based in unrealism as Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is a caricature of what a real woman is like. She is, as many have said in their reviews, a Barbie running around these exotic locales (exterminating endangered wildlife the whole way through!) that are looking more and more photo-realistic with each iteration. Her face, her character model, her proportions, they just don’t fit in any more. Not to mention how unlikely her ability to complete the actions she completes are.

Call me a nerd. I’ll take it in stride. I write a blog! It’s mostly centered around video games. I have a strong desire to make this a career. How else can you describe me? However, there is a deeper level that you don’t know about. I’m an engineer, so I am almost physically wounded by witnessing bad physics in movies and games (so long as I’m thinking of it in a real context). Nathan Drake, for some reason, didn’t bug me as much. He’s a lot less ridiculous, but he’s also able to make leaps that require ridiculous upper-body strength and grab hold to precarious handholds. The rest does seem somewhat more realistic though…although the gunplay is equally ridiculous. A shotgun to the body should kill in one hit…

Sorry, I’ve been wandering…my point is that somewhere, deep within my consciousness, I crave a more realistic experience. I want a game where if you jump from a high enough location, you break your legs. I want a game where one good slash of a sword will kill you. Bullets should be more lethal. It seems like a really bad idea, but I think they kind of do that with the Rainbow Six series (at least the first one).

Then again, how would that be fun? Say you’re playing a regular Joe in one of these games. You probably couldn’t run full speed around the whole map without getting tired. You probably couldn’t carry infinite inventory and run as far as you could before. You probably can’t stuff a giant sword into your pants to store it.

There are people who love stuff like this, they’re crazy tabletop RPG players, but that’s not what I want to do. I just want to boot up a video game and complete a cool scenario that doesn’t require me to be a superhero. I want the game to be about a regular guy, have regular physics, and just make a lot more sense. You could still have aliens, but recognize that organic life is organic life. A good bullet to an alien will still probably kill them, right?

I’m rambling, but we’ll see if something like this ever happens in the future. We’ll see if anything like this will ever be fun.

PA on GoW 2 Dialogue [You Can Quote Me On That]
Nov 16th, 2008 by Dan

Here’s what Tycho has to say about the dialogue in Gears of War 2:

Still. There is a point at which “the rookie” says there are a shitload of grubs down there. Marcus Fenix corrects him, suggesting that there are, in fact, “Ten Shitloads.” I want to grant that Gears of War takes place on the planet Sera, where Shitload may be a genuine unit of measurement – but that’s dumb, and this line is dumb, and the people speaking are idiots, and they live in a world of dumbshits where stupidity of a form of currency.

I love it. Check out Penny Arcade if you want more webcomic goodness.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa