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by Ethos

Sunday Soapbox: Pointing the Camera at the Floor

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

I’ve played more Epic Mickey. More than doubled my playtime, actually. And while this has allowed me to visit incredibly interesting and detailed worlds, partake in more sidequests, and witness more interesting examples of Warren’s “play style matters”, it also confirms what I’ve been reading since the beginning.

The camera truly sucks.

It’s not broken, but it’s frantic, frustrating, unhelpful, and more unfortunately: anti-cinematic. The reason I list that as the most unfortunate point is because it wasn’t until I was a few hours in that I noticed that Epic Mickey is incredibly cool-looking.

Unlike Uncharted – which pushes you to admire the landscapes so much that it even keeps a stat for it – playing Epic Mickey is akin to walking through the beautiful forests of New Zealand while looking straight down. You’ll be able to see where you’re going, but you’ll be so concentrated on making sure you’re not tripping over some Hobbit and landing straight onto the Nazgûl, that you won’t be able to appreciate the beauty around you.

It’s truly a shame. Epic Mickey has some really cool gameplay, a progressively interesting story with potential for real depth, and truly inspired environments. However, packaged with a loose control scheme, something as simple as the camera can distract from all that is good.

In almost every interview, Warren Spector would mention that the camera was giving him the biggest challenge. After all, Epic Mickey is the first full 3rd person game he’s ever made. Unfortunately, his full attention to the issue changed nothing.

Gaming is unique in this sense. While technical issues can plague a film set, technology and art doesn’t have to meld together in the same way it does for a video game. Interactivity and variables need to be accounted for with code and math for a player to appreciate good writing, deep gameplay, and inspired art.

Again, I’m not drawing a giant point with this Soapbox, but rather a whimsical “hmm” as I think about how interesting and – in this case – disappointing it is that technology collides with art in such an inseparable manner with my favourite medium.

Oh, but there IS a lock-on mechanic, despite what some major sites are telling you.

Hey! Look! Listen! #67

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

I wrote this entire article before writing an introduction. Why? I don’t know. But now it’s 1:27 PM CST, on Saturday, which is 33 minutes before I have to be at work. And I just got out of bed 27 minutes ago. And I need a shower. And I really don’t want to go to work.

But anyway, yeah, here’s my gift to you for the week. Unfortunately I’m a little too poor to buy Epic Mickey at the moment, although I sure would love to.

But that’s enough. Good day to you all, and please to enjoy below.

Dead Space 2 “Scarier” According to EA Boss

Worried that Dead Space 2 will be sacrificing scares and atmosphere for the sake of bigger guns, bigger action, and multiplayer modes? Yeah, so am I. But hey, John Riccitiello’s played through Dead Space 2 already – and he says that the game is, in fact, “scarier” than the original.

Now, seeing that John is the CEO of EA Games, I can’t help but think that his opinion’s a little biased. Or maybe “biased” isn’t the right word; maybe he’s just lying, because even if it was less scary than the original, it’s not like, y’know, he’d ever say that.

Or maybe he’s telling the truth, and Dead Space 2 will be even scarier than the original game. Maybes, endless maybes.

Speaking personally, I’m excited for Dead Space 2, but I’m fully prepared for an experience akin to BioShock 2. I mean, at least the setting is fresh, but I still get the feeling that there may be a lot of “been there, done that” involved. And there’s a multiplayer mode.

While we’re on the subject of EA Games…

EA Is So Stupid

EA has polished its image quite a bit in the last few years. I’m not entirely sure how they did it – fresh franchises like Dead Space certainly helped, as did undeniably strong, if familiar products such as Battlefield 2. But, at the end of the day, they’re still a money-hungry mega-publisher, and their most audible figures tend to be… well, ignorant businessmen. Like Frank Gibeau, president of the EA Games label. Recently, Mr. Gibeau had some things to say about a few of EA’s more financially disappointing franchises: Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space.

About Mirror’s Edge, he had this to say:

“There were issues with the learning curve, the difficulty, the narrative, and then there was no multiplayer either.

“The key learning from us was that if you’re going to be bold with that kind of concept, you need to take it as far as it can go in development.”

Hm, well, most of that sounds legit, except… no multiplayer? Listed as a con? Outside of money-speak, I’m not sure you can list the lack of a game mode as a detriment to its quality.

He also mentioned Dead Space, which, while profitable for EA, didn’t meet expectations. Why didn’t it? Well, much of the same reasons, it seems:

“It made money for us, but didn’t hit expectations. We felt like we had an IP that struck a chord, and one that hit quality, but again it missed multiplayer modes.

“So when we re-worked Dead Space [for the upcoming sequel], we looked at how to make it a better idea, how do we make the story more engrossing, how do we build [protagonist] Isaac as a character, how do we make this game a success online.”

Hm. This rubs me the wrong way. For several reasons.

First off, I know this guy is speaking in terms of cash, and I shouldn’t expect anything else. The truth of the matter is that a game without a multiplayer mode doesn’t hold the same wide appeal as a game that does, particularly in this day and age of social gaming. I get that, I really do.

However, being an individual who appreciates videogames as an art form, it pains me to see them broken down into individual money-making components. A multiplayer mode does not make a game better. A multiplayer mode, in fact, can cloud a game’s focus and make it worse.

What these quotes display, though, is an obvious but painful truth: more so, perhaps, than any other entertainment industry, the game industry is hopelessly intertwined with commercialism. You do not, for example, hear Paramount Pictures’ CEO Brad Grey spouting off about how the latest Transformers movie failed because it didn’t have enough explosions and boobs. Now, I’m sure statements like that are made behind closed doors in Hollywood all the time, but they’re smart enough not to say them publicly.

Frank Gibeau saying that Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space fell short due to a lack of multiplayer modes is essentially the same thing. And it was publicized. And nobody (except me) thinks anything of it, because that’s the way this industry works.

Perhaps, though, I’m overreacting.

Hey, Guess What: Comcast Sucks

It’s sad, but true. And… well known amongst the residents of the states. Comcast, quite simply, has a monopoly over broadband internet in the United States. And they abuse their monopoly well. And I’m only saying this for the sake of you non-American readers who might need a little context before I jump into this story.

Recently, it was made known that Comcast is squeezing a certain networking company – Level 3 Communications – for extra cash. Why? Level 3 recently signed a deal with none other than Netflix to become their primary provider for streaming video.

At this point, you might be wondering what, exactly, Level 3 Communications is. An excerpt from a New York Times article offers a simplistic explanation: Level 3 is a “highway” through which internet traffic travels; Comcast represents the on/off ramps of said highway. Make sense? At least a little? Good.

Now. As you can probably gather, since their deal with Netflix, Level 3 has been pumping quite a bit more data through their pipes. So. Comcast forced them to pay for it.

Mind you, now: Comcast forced one of its partners to pay a toll in order to deliver content that Comcast’s own customers requested. Seems a little fishy, eh?

“With this action, Comcast demonstrates the risk of a ‘closed’ Internet,” said Thomas C. Stortz, chief legal officer for Level 3. “Where a retail broadband Internet access provider decides whether and how their subscribers interact with content.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. Very timely, this is, because it cuts to the heart of a big issue in the United States right now: Net Neutrality. And, since Comcast is our tyrannical internet king, they’re intrinsically related to it.

However, not ones to take insults lying down, Comcast retaliated with this vague nonsense:

“We are happy to maintain a balanced, no-cost traffic exchange with Level 3. However, when one provider exploits this type of relationship by pushing the burden of massive traffic growth onto the other provider and its customers, we believe this is not fair.”

Yes… but… the customers requested this “massive traffic growth.” Level 3 was meeting a demand. Which is exactly what Comcast should be doing. If Comcast is going to turn around and gouge a partnering company every time I stream a Netflix movie, then what the hell am I paying them $80/month for?

I’m trying to see how this possibly makes sense, and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that it just doesn’t, and Comcast is evil. These are exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t be in the process of merging with NBC Universal. I get the weird feeling that NBC.com’s download speeds might getting a lot faster in the near future. Unless the FCC actually does the right thing, and sets proper ground rules for this sort of thing.

The internet belongs to the people, goddammit.

This is like Mapco charging the local Hummer dealership every time one of those gas-guzzling monsters rolls through and fills up.

An Inception Video Game is (probably) Happening

Skeptical as we all (rightly) tend to be about licensed videogames, you can’t deny that the surrealistic world of Inception provides a wealth of potential for a videogame. If done right, that shit could be, for lack of a less depraved term, off the chain.

So, we can all be tentatively happy and wary of the fact that Christopher Nolan is, in fact, working on an Inception game. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the director of last summer’s biggest film had this to say: “I always imagined Inception to be a world where a lot of other stories could take place. At the moment, the only direction we’re channeling that is by developing a videogame set in the world.”

The article goes on to say that Nolan is working with a “team of collaborators,” and that any Inception game is a “longer-term proposition” at the moment.

A “team of collaborators,” eh? I like the sound of that. It makes me imagine a table surrounded by game geniuses, hashing out a way to bring Inception to the interactive world with bravado and style.

On that note, if you were to choose a dream-team of collaborators to work with Nolan on such a project, who would they be? I happen to have a few ideas:

1. Ken Levine. The man who behind BioShock, one of the single most atmospheric games ever created, surely, could work wonders with a concept like Inception.

2. Patrice Desilets. Creative director behind Assassin’s Creed II, which remains the greatest sandbox game I’ve ever played. An Inception game, in my opinion, would absolutely require an open, non-linear world.

3. Amy Hennig. The creative mind behind Uncharted. A brilliant writer, and clearly knowledgeable of how to construct some of the greatest videogame setpieces of all time. Something an Inception game would need a lot of.

If I thought long and hard enough, I could come up with a longer list. Those are just from the top of my head. Now it’s YOUR turn!

Aren't they cute?

Life as we Know It Redefined

Before we begin, let me warn you that this is probably the most out-there story to ever grace Hey! Look! Listen! It’s not about videogames in any way, really. Regardless, I feel like its something that people of our kind might appreciate.

The definition for life itself has been changed. That’s right.

In Lake Mono, California, there’s a certain microbacteria known as GFAJ-1. This bacterium has long been known to breathe Arsenic, a compound that is poisonous to every living creature on the planet, save a few microbes.

Well. NASA announced last Thursday that GFAJ-1 wasn’t only breathing Arsenic. It was substituting Arsenic for Phosphorous, one of the essential building blocks of life as we currently define it. That is to say: this particular microbe is using a poison to build DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes.

Now. Obviously. This changes everything. Life exists outside of the pre-existing requirements we’d identified over the centuries. Extra terrestrial life just became that much more of a possibility.

Think about it: if a life form here on earth can formulate its very DNA through means poisonous to every other living creature, then what sort of bizarrely unconventional life must there be out there?

I’m no scientist, so I’m not going to bore you with further discussion; go to Gizmodo for a more in-depth discussion. But, truth be told, this something I find extremely interesting, and honestly, quite exciting. And I hope you can as well.

EA’s Awesome Plan to Dethrone Call of Duty

Call of Duty is a massive brand name. It’s picked up a lot of momentum over the last four years or so, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Competitors, such as EA’s recent Medal of Honor reboot, have very pointedly tried – and failed – to take it down. At this point, the world is forced to wonder when and if a suitable competitor will ever give the franchise a run for its money.

Well, the boss of EA (who’s now made *two* appearances in this very column) has a plan. Oh yes.

His plan?

“Make a better game,” Riccitiello told Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo during an interview. “And make a better game again.”

Alright, well, perhaps there’s more. Later in the article, Riccitiello went on to say:

“What I’ve witnessed a couple of times in the games industry is the way you unseat a market leader is you make a better game a couple of times in a row. ”

The mind behind EA Games, everyone.

Well, to be fair, I’m unsure if I should be more baffled at John for saying that, or at Totilo for writing an article entitled “The Plan to Dethrone Call of Duty.”

Thoughts?

Wii Speak Peripheral to be Phased Out (In All Likelihood)

“The Wii Speak microphone is still available at limited retail locations,”  Nintendo told IGN. “Additional shipments can be made if consumer demand increases.”

HA

HAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Ahem. That’s enough. I’m over 2000 words. Let’s hear it for the longest HLL OF ALL TIME.

Yeah. Alright, well it’s Friday night. Time to uh, DO STUFF.

Epic Mickey: The First Few Hours (or so)

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Haven't run into Goofy yet

I got and played the game last night. Haven’t been as productive tonight, so I thought I would at least write about it.

Epic Mickey is, so far, living up to everything I’ve read about it. Admittedly, I haven’t read that much, but the general opinion seems to be that the story, mood, characters, and music are spectacular, the visuals are good, but the cut scenes are lacking and the controls and camera stink.

This is largely where I stand too. I’m not that far in, so there’s not much that I haven’t seen already on the internet or during my extended preview session about a month ago. Therefore, I don’t have a properly formulated opinion on the story or characters. The opening scene is awesome, and I’m really digging the dilapidated feel of Wasteland. Also, I get the feeling that I’m being groomed to be able to take on a bunch of sidequests, which I’m really hoping for; the beginning has been disappointingly straight-forward.

In terms of the cutscenes, I agree that they feel a little under-produced. Mickey is voiced in Kingdom Hearts, but Epic Mickey only gives him Zelda-esque yelps and exclamations as punctuation. No full voice-work from Mickey or anyone else so far. And from what I read, that’s the case for the rest of the title.

Still, there is the occasional stylized 2D cutscene, and they at least look fabulous. Also, I’m having a blast playing around with Mickey’s animation. There was a point near the beginning of my experience that I strangely realized that I was playing a game with Mickey Mouse. I know it should be obvious, but it was a stark realization, and I was able to appreciate his outfit, his mix-matched design, and his cartoon-clichéd tiptoeing if I only tilted the analog stick a little.

The controls and camera, however, are pretty flawed. I’m a master at fiddling with shitty cameras, and contorting my hands into bizarre positions to accommodate, but it’s not something I should have to do. Also, Mickey feels really loose. He’s really slippery, which I suppose is a byproduct of him being partly made out of ink, but it would have been more effective if they just stuck with the cool dripping effect and didn’t make controlling the main character an occasional chore.

Also, the game is in SD and I don't get trophies

But back to the good, and that’s the choice factor. I was worried about the paint/thinner thing being way too black and white of a gameplay mechanic. And while it kinda is in some ways – each decision is technically binary – I often feel torn in how I want to play. That’s saying a lot for me, the guy who generally always wants to be the good guy. I often find myself rethinking a decision whether it’s “good” or “bad” and then wondering if those terms even really apply in such a bizarre world.

But don’t let me deceive you, a lot of this depth is just projected right now in the way I’m reacting to it. I haven’t yet come across any major effects from my style of play. And maybe – if the team did a good enough job – I won’t even notice unless I happen to play through again.

The point is that the “evil” path in Epic Mickey is far more appealing because it’s more mischievous than evil, and that sort of Mickey almost fits better in this world. A Mickey that causes trouble with his curiosity and that people react to with a mix of fear and respect.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. I’ll hopefully play a bunch more and give you more impressions from a more experienced perspective.

Welcome to Epic Mickey Week

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The game is out!

I know this because Gamestop called me last night to remind me of my pre-order.

Also, apparently, the internet has this sort of information.

Anyway, this unfortunately is not a title that I secretly got early to surprise you all with a day one review, despite my interview with Warren Spector.

But luckily that means that I can provide impressions throughout the week about my experience!

I’m a little antsy to play more Sly and to dive into my PS3 version of Fallout 3, but that’s what the Christmas break is for. Playing games nonstop. Last year I wasted it on Dragon Quest VIII. But was it a waste? WAS IT?!?!

Anyway, I’ve gone on for about two paragraphs too long. Look forward to impressions at some point. Expect me to complain that I’m not getting trophies and that it’s not in HD.