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            Can you handle it?
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.

Sunday Soapbox: Great Expectations

Monday, November 29th, 2010

So after a 6 year build-up, Gran Turismo 5 finally exploded out of Polyphony Digital’s loins into the face of the public. Some gobbled it all up while others felt it tasted a little bitter or stale. Either way it created a small mess that has all but subsided for now.

But moving away from the ejaculate imagery, game hype is an interesting topic. The quotes I pulled from that IGN review were not the exception, they were the rule. Many people could truly not understand how a game that was in development for 6 years could possibly not be perfect. 8.5 from IGN (a very good score, mind you) and an 8.8 industry average was somehow cause for revolution and an endless volcano of anger.

This might be the extreme, but even in more reasonable people a more subtle version of this rationale exists. Take the Riddlethos community, using Final Fantasy XIII as a prime example. The first proper HD Final Fantasy game, a four year wait, and a very lackluster end result. This was difficult to swallow initially. Even the largest detractors of the game now were forgiving and optimistic in first few days of its existence.

Of course, that’s not a perfect example as it did take a while to realize that the game truly was nothing but a tunnel for the vast majority of its length.

But this is not a Final Fantasy soapbox. The point is that expectations and hopes that a game will be fantastic creates very interesting emotions in the player when the product is either not very good or not widely critically acclaimed. A player almost feels emotionally violated; like her pride is directly linked to the quality of the title or the perceived quality.

I think about games that I was excited for that didn’t let me down: Shadow of the Colossus, Majora’s Mask, Final Fantasy XII, Mass Effect 2. I think about games that did let me down: Twilight Princess, Final Fantasy XIII, Wind Waker, Brutal Legend. It makes me wonder if I should shift the way I get excited for future titles: The Last Guardian, Skyward Sword, Kingdom Hearts III, even Versus XIII.

Like some Soapboxes, I don’t have a grand sweeping point. I’m just curious in the way you all handle hype. While my hype has sometimes not allowed me to fully appreciate a game until later, and I’ve been guilty of being forgiving to games I wanted desperately to like, I ultimately enjoy the fact that I get excited for games. It reminds me that I love this industry and that no other indulgence gets me excited like an impending anticipated title. I guess all I can hope for is to be better prepared for a potential disappointment.

Sunday Soapbox – Motion Controls: It’s Gonna Be Ok…

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

By now it’s no secret that motion controls are a shameless cash grab by the not-so-holy trinity of video-games. Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft have bulldozed the learning curve of what was formerly a very steep and alienating ascent and suddenly the thumbs we privileged-white-males, ages seven to thirty seven, have been sculpting for the majority of our lives are no longer our only invaluable investment. This leaves the door wide open for every demographic with a functional upper-body (and hopefully some without) to empty their wallets in to the corporate coffers, ensuring the rich get richer and every household on every hemisphere has access to guided yoga routines and other grievously inaccurate simulations of physical activity.

However, I find too many gamers are more than happy to piss and moan about the shortcomings of motion controls. A lot of this dissent originates from the community of anthropomorphic porpoises known as “Hardcore” gamers who are, in my fair and balanced opinion, whiny, misanthropic escapists that are scared to tears by anything that might threaten their safe, secure little hole in the ground in which to hide from natural light. That being said, many of their criticisms are valid. The interfaces are all equally sloppy and don’t lend themselves well to much of anything just yet.

Maybe I’m one of the few old enough to remember, but this entire hubbub is par for the course. Yes, the technology is still in its infancy and was obviously rushed to release for competitive purposes, but there’s a reason that Playstation launch titles look a lot different from the later titles. Maturation is a factor with any new technology as is, it would seem, the impatience and intolerance of its eventual beneficiaries. If we could all just take a deep breathe and put down the pitchforks for a moment, we might remember that technology has to endure an awkward puberty before it can be appropriately devastated, scarred, and socially re-built from the ground up, before it can do anything meaningful with its life. It’s like tearing apart a sixth grader’s book report for not enriching your already mountainous intellect. You monster.

As much as we seem to love to hate on motion controls, a little foresight permits us a view of some long-term benefits. If we want to see our medium develop even further, we need to invite new minds in to the evolutionary process. The same kids that are growing up with the motion controls are going to have an entirely new and exciting set of opinions as to what to do with them next. The same kid that’s jumping rope with his Wii-mote, when subjected to the appropriate traumatic experiences, is going to see that this funny little white candy bar thing could be used for sawing off gangrenous limbs in a survival-horror/first-world-war medic simulator. It’s just going to take TIME.

It’s the same process people undergo when immigrating to a new country. The first generation take the blue-collar jobs and establish a secure environment where subsequent generations can be free to pursue higher-education and become progressive, invaluable members of society. OR, first come the mass-appeal launch titles, then once everyone’s nice and financially secure, they invest in some more risky, ambitious titles that exhibit the technology’s real creative potential.

Rinse.

Repeat.

RELAX.

Sunday Soapbox: Dear PlayStation Phone, You Make No Sense

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Well, in classic Riddlethos form once again, we’ve written/done/played absolutely nothing that coincides with the theme week. I even said I was going to bite the bullet and play some Fable this week, but I didn’t! You can always count on us to never follow through on anything, ever. We’re consistent like that.

But, while I may not have anything to say about Fable, I’m here to bring you the Sunday Soapbox in spite of this. Today, boys and girls, we’re going to be discussing the recently-leaked PlayStation Phone, and how it will fit into the portable gaming market, as well as the overcrowded Smartphone market of today. As you can gather by the title of this article, my view on it is just a tad cynical.

The PlayStation Phone is a smartphone made by Sony’s struggling Sony Ericsson branch. It’s design is similar to the PSPGo, with a sliding top screen revealing a set of PlayStation-branded buttons and a D-pad. Instead of an analog nub there’s a touch-sensitive track pad. It’s rumored to be about as powerful as the PSP, and while it still hasn’t been officially confirmed, it’s practically a given –  original proprietors of the leak, Endgadget, swear by it – and they’ve got quite the track record when it comes to stuff like this. Among other things, they were the first to leak information on the iPad and the Nexus One .

The leak comes at a time when there’s actually quite a bit of buzz taking place in the portable gaming sector. For one, the Nintendo 3DS has been getting quite a bit of attention lately, with its glasses-less 3D technology and impressive lineup of titles set for launch. Given the hype surrounding it, and given that it actually looks like a solid, interesting device, I’m willing to bet that the 3DS will only fuel the fire behind Nintendo’s lifelong dominance of the handheld arena. (Excluding the iPhone, that is.)

That’s not all, though. Apparently Sony is hard at work on a true successor to the PSP, and some lucky people were able to hear about it at a private meeting during the Tokyo Game Show. Known across the internets as the “PSP2,” the device is said to be quite a bit more powerful than the original PSP and the PlayStation Phone; word on the street is that it will pack 1 GB of RAM. To illustrate, that’s twice the amount of RAM in an Xbox 360 console. Further word on the street is that the device will feature an HD display, a touch screen, and dual analog sticks. Oh, and there’s no UMD drive – which, in this case, I am all for.  In all, it sounds like an impressive device – a device poised to compete not only with Nintendo, but with Apple. Y’know, kinda like what the PSPGo was supposed to do.

So, to summarize: we have Nintendo, set to release an exciting new handheld gaming system featuring technology that we’ve never seen utilized in such a way. We have Sony, working hard on a powerful, UMD-less gaming system that could make the impact that the PSPGo didn’t – and then some.

We have Apple. Apple’s iPhone and iPads have more units in the hands of the public than any handheld system. What’s amazing to me is that even the iPad has taken off in such a way – which is a lesson to be learned that size, apparently doesn’t matter if you market your shit correctly. (Sony, perhaps, has picked up on this – the PSP2’s screen is said to be at least an inch larger than that of the original PSP.)

So. In the midst of all this, what possible piece can a PlayStation Phone cut for itself? A bit of a stumper, isn’t it? The handheld gaming space is well-populated right now, and if people need anything, it isn’t necessarily more options.

As a PSP owner, have you ever fondled your PSP gently in your hands and breathed, “if you could only make phone calls.”

No? Yes? If you said “yes,” then you’re probably a gamer, and a fairly devoted one at that. (Otherwise you wouldn’t be on this site.) But while Sony may be able to sell this thing to a select demographic of gamers, they’re gonna have to do more than that if they want the PlayStation Phone to make a serious impact in the portable marketplace.

And here’s part two of why the PlayStation Phone makes no sense: not only will Sony be releasing this thing into an overpopulated handheld gaming market, they’ll be dumping the PlayStation Phone smack dab into an even more overpopulated Smartphone market.

Hell, I don’t even own a SmartPhone, and I’ve spent the last six months or so going back and forth on what to (eventually) buy. People (myself included) were just starting to wrap their head around this whole Android vs. iPhone thing, and then BAM, Windows Phones. (Fuck you, Windows Phones. But god damn, do you look beautiful.)

Word has it that the PlayStation Phone will run the Gingerbread OS (that being Android 3.0) by Google. This, of course, makes one wonder how Sony can effectively brand the device as “PlayStation” if it’s, y’know… running on different software. If I don’t see the Xcross Media Bar when I boot the device up, it won’t feel like a PlayStation device to me. Or anyone, I’d presume. It’s said that the phone will feature a specialized Sony marketplace that will allow you to purchase games and other products from the PlayStation Store. That sort of brand licensing doesn’t seem like something Sony would be privy to doing. But, if the phone is indeed running the Android OS, I don’t see how else they could approach it.

Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention: Sony Ericsson isn’t exactly the most respected or, uh, profitable branch Sony has right now. They’ve lost most of the share they had in the smartphone market, and one has to wonder why Sony would even want to put their PlayStation brand name on a Sony Ericsson phone.

So. I ask again: what market is this identity-confused phone meant for?

Soon after the leak, Sony’s VP of Marketing was quoted  in an interview with CNN as saying that gamers were unsatisfied with the current software offerings in Apple’s iPhone/iPad library. “These are largely time-killers. Gamers aren’t satisfied with that.”

Okay! So… you want to offer more hardcore on-the-go experiences? Because, y’know, I’d really like to pull out my smartphone and complete a few quests in Dragon Age during my 15 at work. Point being, I don’t think there’s many hardcore gamers in the world screaming out for hardcore experiences on their smartphones.

Care to guess why?

Because hardcore gamers play hardcore games on consoles. And handheld gaming systems. That’s why.

Am I making sense? I feel like I’m making perfect sense here. As a hardcore gamer, my smartphone needs and my hardcore gaming needs are two entirely different things. If Sony makes a phone that can play God of War, I’m not going to give a rat’s ass, because I’d much rather play God of War on my PS3. Or hell, my PSP even.

Maybe I’m judging to harshly, too quickly, or both. Sony still hasn’t “officially” revealed anything. But this much is clear: whatever the PlayStation phone ends up being, whatever tech it packs, and whatever demographic Sony is aiming for, they’ve got a hell of an uphill battle from here.

Sunday Soapbox: It’s Only $15, You Cheap Mother Fuckers

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Hello website. Apparently you exist.

I’ve forgotten that most things exist. I’ve been working later than desired/expected this week and I’ve been doing fun, but time consuming things this weekend, so this is my first chance to sit down and write something when I’m not wiped from work or not somewhere else.

I heard a rumour that Lameish was going to post impressions of Fallout: New Vegas, but he’s caught onto one of the primary rules of the site quickly: Never follow-through on a promise. That’s our only unbreakable vow to you readers.

Anyway, I just played some Majora’s Mask music on the piano and it felt amazing but MAN is that music ever haunting and good at creating an atmosphere of loneliness. That’s usually the mood I like while playing the piano, but Majora’s Mask just took it to the next level. Song of Healing and the moody, slow version of Song of Storms are fucking beautiful and haunting as hell.

Anyway, I was going to write a Scatter Storming as you can probably tell from the rambles, but I have something specific to rant about.

Actual Editorial Starts Here

With the recent releases of DeathSpank, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, and Costume Quest, people have been complaining more and more that these games have the “hefty” price tag of $15.

Fuck the fuck off.

Obviously your money has value and you don’t want to throw it away, and the argument of games being overpriced as a whole might have merit somewhere, but complaining that “1200 Microsoft points is a little steep for a 6-15 hour game” blows my mind into pieces.

This is a good deal.

Considering the spectrum of pricing for video games, I – and many, many others – have no problem laying down full price for Uncharted 1 and 2. I beat both those games in a combined 3 sittings. I had a short, but very positive experience. I don’t even really want to replay the Uncharted games at all and I don’t have any interest in the multiplayer that was only available in the second one anyway.

Gears of War 2 is another example of a $60 game (more in Canada) that I beat in (essentially) one sitting, and it’s a game with broken multiplayer. That game has a bunch of fans and (too much) critical acclaim. And while you hear the issue of cost, “overpriced” is not the most common complaint issued against the game.

For some reason, when any game is released to the PSN or XBL at $15, the internet explodes with angered rants and comments that the price is practically robbery, and it’s almost the only comments heard about the title.

Perhaps it’s because the retail market pricing is a little more fixed, and because $15 was unheard of before Braid in the downloadable space. Still, paying a quarter of the price for a lot more than a quarter of a game isn’t “a little too steep” in my books.

$15 is a meal and a half at Wendy’s, it’s 3 round trips by public transit in Toronto, it’s the price of 3 cups of coffee if you go to Starbucks. It is not a whole lot of money compared to what most people spend on a routine basis.

Obviously games like Fallout 3, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect (to name only a few) can give 40-100+ hours of gameplay. But good games of such massive size aren’t common and are of incredible value. And that’s assuming I put hundreds of hours into these games. I often don’t have the time anymore.

Even if Costume Quest – which I’m playing right now and enjoying – does only end up being 6 hours if played once, that’s $2.50 an hour for a fun game. Even a 20 hour retail game ends up being 3 bucks an hour. And 20 hours is often considered to be a solid length for non-shooters.

And don’t give me the “I can trade in for retail games” argument. Not only can you trade in for points cards (at least in North America), that argument also doesn’t diminish nor change the value of the title itself. Sure, perhaps you can’t afford $15 if you’re unable to trade in for a points card, but that doesn’t mean that the game is too pricey.

Seriously, I’m over $15 downloadable games getting shit on for being a great deal.

Sunday Soapbox: Just Circling

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Let me preface this entire editorial by stating that I’m not going to pretend to have some grand meaningful statement by the end of this. I’m not going to make a point that the Pokémon Ranger series is somehow the greatest emotional showpiece in not only gaming, but in all entertainment art. No, these are simple words to question all those comments and reviews that feel they are justified in using “it’s just circling” as a negative argument with nothing else to back it up.

For those of you unaware, the Pokémon Ranger “battle” system does – in fact – require the user to draw circles around a Pokémon in order for it to become friendly. However, each Pokémon has a different size, different attacks, different movement patterns, and different speed. So it can be quite a task to perform a perfect capture. A task that benefits from quick reflexes and from learning from past mistakes and a careful eye; aspects that one might classify as skill in gaming.

Still, let’s pretend for a silly second that “just circling” doesn’t take any skill and that well-performed captures aren’t rewarded with skill points. I find it baffling that a unique and otherwise unused mechanic gets such flak just for existing. Batman: Arkham Asylum’s combat is largely “just pressing attack”. Of course, there is more to it than that. There is timing, direction, and a few other buttons occasionally thrown into the mix. But like I mentioned, there is more to Ranger’s circling than just circling. Games with button mashing will get called out, but only if it is incredibly excessive, or if there isn’t any good game to supplement it. The Pokémon Ranger games (or at least the latest two) are well designed with quite a bit of gameplay meat on its bones, so why is it that so many people are comfortable with reducing it to “just circling”?

Awesome.

The gaming industry consistently cries out for new ideas and innovation. If a game doesn’t do something new, it is often faulted for it (something I don’t necessarily agree with either, but another Soapbox for another Sunday). Here we have a fresh series – a spinoff, maybe, but fresh nonetheless – with a unique and fun mechanic that gets criticized for that exact reason.

So not only do I not have a grand meaningful statement, dear readers, I also don’t have an answer to all these questions. Is it the inherent kiddy nature of the Pokémon universe? Is it an unwillingness to see depth in a new mechanic just because it isn’t buttons? I have no idea, but I do know that I will champion this criminally underrated series until Nintendo moves on to a different spinoff.

As for now? It’s Canadian Thanksgiving, so I’m not around tomorrow. I just gave you three articles in three days, though, so you should all be thankful for ME. There should be a new Call Me Lameish up at some point, however, so look forward to that. I hear that Lameish doesn’t share my adoration for DeathSpank. Just a rumour though. It had better be. If the newbie doesn’t share my complete love for DeathSpank, he’d better watch out!

…because I’ll…er…I’ll do something. Something badass. OkayIneedsleep.

Sunday Soapbox: BioShock Goes Infinite and Beyond

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

On Thursday the 12th, the world finally learned what Ken Levine and his infamous team of creative geniuses have been working on for the last three years: another BioShock game. It’s called BioShock Infinite, and it looks to be taking a bit of a different direction than the last two installments; rather than returning players to the watery confines of Rapture, BioShock Infinite will be taking players to Columbia, an all-new city in the sky. If you haven’t seen the game’s debut trailer yet, check out the post below this one, or just head to YouTube.

No gameplay, but there are plenty of details about the game’s new setting to be gleaned. A lengthy gameplay demo was shown at the game’s reveal in New York’s Plaza Hotel, and there are multiple impressions across the interwebs written by journalists who were lucky enough to be there. I’d recommend heading to either Kotaku or IGN for said impressions if you so desire. There are no gameplay videos for the general public as of right now, but Levine promises that they are coming.

So. Now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to discuss a few things. What is this new BioShock? Why is this new BioShock? Is this the direction that we, as devoted fans, want to see the franchise go? What’s going to happen to Rapture? Should we even care?

What’s Changed

BioShock Infinite isn’t set in Rapture. BioShock Infinite is set in the floating city of Columbia, 46 years before the events of the first BioShock even took place. You’re not a silent, unknown protagonist in Infinite, you’re a former Pinkerton agent named Booker DeWitt, and you’re here to rescue a girl named Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been locked away like Rapunzel for fifteen years now – and the kicker is that neither of you know why. Whatever it is, I’m sure the revelation will be shocking.

1912 is a period that Levine calls an era of “American Exceptionalism.” Unlike Rapture, Columbia hasn’t seceded ties to its nation; as you surely noticed in the trailer, American flags fly abundantly, and even make up a part of the game’s logo. And indeed, around the turn of the century, America was enjoying a period of extreme optimism – technologies such as radio, automobiles, and air travel were upon us for the first time, and a sense of American pride ran strong. It’s clear that BioShock Infinite plans to take the general feel and mindset of this time period and run with it. The people of Columbia seem to hold an extreme, almost fanatical sense of patriotic pride. Billboards boldly stating “Burden Not Columbia With Your Chaff” seem to indicate an exclusive, elitist culture and mindset that’s been established amongst the people of the floating city. Levine claims that the “4th of July” served as the inspiration for the environments pictured in the game, and it shows – everything I’ve seen for Infinite invokes the feel of a bright, summery American holiday.

Like BioShock 1 before it, BioShock Infinite seems to be taking a specific time period and enshrining it; exaggerating it, even.  But aside from that, the settings and atmospheres of the two games couldn’t be more of a polar opposite. Or… could they?

What’s Stayed

Levine has stated several times that his team approached the development of BioShock Infinite with the idea that “there are no sacred cows.” What that means, basically, is that they weren’t too worried about staying true to the formula of the original BioShock. Any ideas or conventions re-implemented in BioShock Infinite had to earn their way there. So, based on what we’ve seen so far, what made the cut?

-Big Daddies

The most iconic thing that has returned to BioShock Infinite is the lumbering Big Daddies. Unfortunately, as members of the general public, we haven’t been given the opportunity to see them in full – the debut trailer only shows limited, shadowy views of the beast. However, based on what we’ve been able to see, and what publications such as Kotaku have said, the Big Daddies seem to feature a more mechanized, steampunk feel. They’re a human head set atop a huge mechanized body, with a pulsing human heart clearly visible in the middle of their torso. Clearly some sort of bizarre man-machine cross, which makes them essentially the same (in concept) as those seen in Rapture. Given how beloved the Big Daddies are, this is hardly surprising. If there’s a sacred cow in the BioShock franchise, it’s them.

-ADAM/Plasmids

Another convention being re-used for Infinite are plasmid powers. Impressions across the web describe protagonist DeWitt using electricity, telekinesis, and a new power that allows him to control a flock of bloodthirsty crows. Apparently, instead of shooting up as you did in the original BioShock, Infinite merely requires you to take a swig of potion. Much cleaner process. Will these powers be referred to as Plasmids? Will the potions be known as ADAM? They didn’t say, but regardless of names, it’s clear what they’re meant to emulate. I gotta say, though, given the state of biological science during that period of time, I’m forced to wonder how they’ll explain the conception of such a thing.

-The Combat

Again, we haven’t been privileged enough to actually see any gameplay yet, and that includes combat. But Levine has stated that he considers the varied, player-defined combat of BioShock one of the series staples, and BioShock Infinite aims to maintain and enhance this mechanic. In BioShock – and, to be fair, particularly in BioShock 2 – the sheer variety in which you could approach combat situations was fantastic. You could opt for down-and-dirty gun combat if you desired, with a variety of different firearms. An arsenal of specialized plasmid powers were at your disposal. Bots and turrets could be hacked to fight on your side. The environment itself could be utilized; for example, a blast of electricity to a puddle of water would fry anyone standing in it. Combine all of these elements and possibilities together, and you had one of the most unique, robust first-person combat systems in existence. And with BioShock Infinite, Levine claims that you’ll have even more options in terms of customization and evolution.

-The Human Element

This one’s a bit more vague than the previous three, but it’s perhaps the most important. The ideologies behind Rapture and Columbia are nearly antithetical to eachother – Rapture was built on a culture of individuality devoid of restraint, while Columbia clearly displays prideful, collectivist systems. However, while the two cities may not have similar political climates, they have in common the fact that they’ve both become dystopian in nature, crumbling under the weight of their own radicalism. “This is not a floating World’s Fair,” Levine said. “Columbia is a Death Star.” Rapture discovered a powerful genetic modifier called ADAM, and the city slowly crumbled under the financial, political, and (of course) biological weight of such a discovery. Columbia becomes involved in a horrific (but yet unspecified) international event, and then takes to the clouds – running off to evolve into the violently patriotic elitist nation that DeWitt has the displeasure of visiting.

With BioShock Infinite, the franchise continues its tradition showing the chilling consequences of humanity’s own hubris gone horribly awry. And again, it’s up to you, the player, the unravel the story behind the dystopia that lies before you. Perhaps BioShock Infinite will bring back some of the mystery and intrigue that was missing from 2K Marin’s BioShock 2?

Which brings us to our next topic of discussion:

What’s Next?

With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine is aiming to show the world that the BioShock experience is bigger than the confines of Rapture. A bold statement, for sure; it can’t be denied that the defining factor of the original BioShock experience was, in fact, the city of Rapture. The city was steeped in character, atmosphere, mystery, backstory, and all manners of narrative and visual appeal. It was, essentially, the star of the show.

But, one must also recall BioShock 2. I enjoyed BioShock 2 quite a bit; however, the entire experience suffered from a case of “been there, done that.” Rapture just wasn’t as engaging a second time around, because I already knew the story behind it. There was no sense of mystery, no dark secrets to unravel. To be frank, I’m unsure if the setting could even hold up for a third outing. With BioShock Infinite, Ken Levine has stated that he wants to bring back the sense of intrigue and discovery that made BioShock such a memorable experience. And indeed, the floating city of Columbia already has me intrigued as a setting – I’ll be most interested in seeing just what makes the city tick, as it were, and what sort of colored past has paved the way for its violent transformation.

And maybe that’s the BioShock experience at its core. Think about it. A shocking example of human civilization gone awry, a thrilling, unique world, and the ability for you, the player to discover and unravel it. If this is the direction that the franchise is going to take, it could have many incarnations. What about a BioShock set in current times, or the near future? Take the political and social climates of, say, modern-day America and extrapolate it to the extreme? Hell, what about a BioShock set in the Wild West? Or in the Middle Ages? Fun to think about, isn’t it?

At this point, a lot of people are still wondering if BioShock Infinite will have any narrative ties – i.e, share the same timeline – with BioShock 1 and 2. Levine refuses to give a straight answer on the subject, and I’m inclined to believe that his team isn’t going to be terribly concerned with maintaining any sort of narrative connections between the games, or any sort of “timeline” as it were. After all, it’s entirely needless – I’m perfectly fine with letting the two games exist within their own spheres, much as entries in the Final Fantasy series do. As long as the Big Daddies stick around. Y’know, kinda like how the Behemoths do.

I haven’t seen enough of BioShock Infinite to form a strong opinion on the game itself, but I certainly concur with Levine’s direction for the franchise. To be perfectly frank, had we been informed of this project two years ago, I would have been outraged – I once firmly believed that Rapture and BioShock couldn’t exist without eachother. But after seeing the city wear thin in BioShock 2, and after seeing what bold new direction Levine’s team has taken with Infinite, my mind has been changed.

Sunday Soapbox: Tradition

Monday, July 19th, 2010

No matter the context, tradition is a very interesting concept. On one end, the idea appears to be lunacy. People will make decisions that impact their (and others’) entire lives based on the fact that other people did the same acts and have been doing them for quite some time. On the other end, tradition can be a comfort. Something you expect and even look forward to. Maybe a family dinner or even just a morning coffee. But these are sprinkled pleasures and not a way of life. Even the stubborn Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof realized that the world was changing and so he must change with it. So why can’t Dragon Quest do the same?

Yes, Dragon Quest IX has some new features. The multiplayer in a large-scale JRPG is the first of its kind. Such a grand adventure has probably never been developed for a portable system, and it also takes a few steps from within the series to progress it.

But despite these evolutions, the series also has misguided inspiration about where it should keep its traditional roots. I understand the desire to keep some things the same, I really do. I don’t want every JRPG series to slowly turn into Modern Warfare. However, Dragon Quest IX’s ability to do away with random battles, but inability to change its excruciatingly slow method of displaying text or its horribly ugly and unintuitive menu screen baffles me.

The battle system, I'm okay with.

There are plenty of ways to honour traditions that make sense and move on from ones that simply don’t anymore. The turn-based battle system is a great example of a tradition to stick with. It is a system that is simple to operate, but has a lot of depth in the way it upgrades, and even the way it controls during more difficult battles. A perfect balance of stat building and strategic challenge. A great tradition of JRPGs worth keeping.

Not being able to open the main menu without vomiting? Not so much a tradition in need of keeping.

Churchs for non-quicksave save points? Being able to climb down wells? Reoccurring musical themes? Slimes, metal slimes, Toriyama’s artwork? Sure! Those are all examples of traditions that encourage nostalgia, keep Dragon Quest unique, and do not murder the experience.

Drawn out and repetitive text explanations coupled with poor item management and requiring a spell or visit to town to check experience needed to level? Those are not positive gameplay elements and serve no purpose in the series and are not at all justified by the explanation of “that’s the way Dragon Quest is”.

Tradition does not innately make a mechanic nor a design choice better. It can instill nostalgia into elements that are clever or fun to begin with, but it cannot fix anything that is broken. Perhaps most of my complaints are about the menus, but in a menu-based JRPG, it is something that should not be slow, unattractive, and unintuitive.

So how long before Dragon Quest, the traditional RPG with the most tradition, will finally realize that the world of intuitive interfaces is changing and that it – too – must change along with it?

Sunday Soapbox: A Life Without Riddles

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Well folks, it’s past. The slowest week in Riddlethos history since “Fuck you, it’s Christmas Break Week”, which doesn’t really count. Riddles’ sabbatical officially comes to an end starting tomorrow, and while he might not be back in full force the first week, it has caused me to look back on this month and come to a very difficult realization.

This website needs Oliver Motok.

For all the joking around that I’m the one who delivers for Riddlethos.com, Riddles is the inspiration for the quality and quantity of the content I produce. If he were around, he would be making jabs at the slow pace I was releasing Quickie Impressions and so I would likely get around to them in better time. If he were around, he’d produce a thorough and entertaining edition of Hey! Look! Listen! and that would make me to not want to fall behind causing a better chance of Scatter Storming and Tingle! Tingle! Kooloo-Limpah!

Not to say I’ve been useless without him. I started a successful and hilarious new segment in “Spam Comment Roundup” (another one coming soon), produced the first podcast for this website in 5 months, and provided pretty consistent E3 coverage for just one guy, but I’d be lying if I said his absence hadn’t taken a toll on my productivity.

Riddles’ sabbatical was well deserved and I’m glad he took as much time as he needed, but Riddlethos welcomes him back. So please be kind to him as he returns.

…at least for one day.

As for me? I’ve got Dragon Quest IX in my hands so that I can already one-up Riddles next week.

Sunday Soapbox: Puzzle Quest – The series I hate to love

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Well I figure I should probably mention Puzzle Quest 2 at some point since this is Puzzle Quest 2 Week. I did download it on Wednesday and have played a few hours and that’s all it took for me to remember how I feel about that series.

It’s like I can’t find a single thing I like about the games, but I also can’t stop playing them. The music isn’t memorable, the visuals aren’t particularly inspired, the upgrading system is a little convoluted, and the game takes itself way too seriously for a title that uses a souped-up version of Bejeweled for its battle system.

The sequel is much like the original, except (from what I’ve seen) the overworld has been scrapped in favour of a zoomed in world that you can explore with what can only be described as point and click controls. Anyway, that doesn’t make much of a difference to me. The point is that – just like the original – I find myself saying “just one more battle” in my head all the time although I’d never describe my experience as particularly fun.

There is some skill involved in choosing which gems to swap and which abilities to assign to give you the edge, but luck has a more noticeable role in the Puzzle Quest series which dampens the feeling of satisfaction in battle. I suppose it could be my general lust for RPGs and the promise of reward for level-grinding, but I don’t get addicted in the same way to games like Brave Story and Lunar even though I enjoy them quite a bit more than Puzzle Quest. There’s not even quirky or amusing writing to enjoy in between battles; it’s a melodramatic story with unjustified clichés.

Hell, maybe I just like Bejeweled. Perhaps I should download that and forget about Puzzle Quest for the rest of my life, though I somehow doubt that’ll fly.

Anyway, that’s really all I have to say about the game. That’ll teach me to have a Puzzle Quest Week again. Do you guys have any love-hate relationships with a game or series?