Friday, August 29, 2008

Noodle mouse?

Sometimes I can’t help but be impressed at what’s being done in the “Indie-circuit” of gaming. Now I know there isn’t really a fair way to describe what could be considered “Indie”, but I’m trying to think of it in the same terms as how films are cast into that category.

That being the games are developed and released using a budget and person power much less than that of the tens of millions of dollar heavy hitters people are seeing released today. Many of these big league games have teams of over a hundred working for four or more years to complete. Thanks to the internet and general word of mouth, much in the way that anything from fine art, films, and comics can catch on due to shameless self promotion, video games are now enjoying that same success.

X-Box Live Arcade has released a few games in the summer months that have totally blown me away. Two of which I have never mentioned, one of which, “On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness” was produced by Independent Vancouver based developer Hothead Games showed me a polish that I had was surprised to see. But the recent releases of “Braid” and “Castle Crashers” are truly something else. Both are completely different genres of gaming (a puzzle-platformer and a brawler respectively) but both show an incredible amount of dedication to making the game they really wanted to make.

First there’s Braid, a game that has challenged me in a way that no game I’ve played in a long while has managed to do (although I don’t own a DS and would like to have tried Mysterious Village). Jonathan Blow spent almost $200,000 of his own money to develop an absolutely beautiful and mind-bending platformer that is so well done you feel like you are playing a re-release of a game from the 1st or 2nd generation of gaming. Matt Helmann, the artist behind the characters and backgrounds created something that is truly aesthetic. The music thankfully due to the nature of this game is far from annoying as you often have to rewind time since you missed an opportunity you didn’t even realize existed, and may have to be subjected to same five to six second clip of music repeatedly as you work your way through. The story is interesting enough to propel you to solve each level’s puzzles, with cryptic storybooks in the beginning of each world as well as the puzzle pieces you collect in each level coming together to reveal why exactly the protagonist Tim is stuck in a weird world trying to rescue a princess.

Next there’s The Behemoth’s Castle Crashers. I remember playing Alien Hominid on my old laptop when I probably should’ve been doing something else, and vaguely remember the follow up game on Newgrounds that was a brawler but with the same punishing difficulty level in Alien Hominid. The art direction from The Behemoth always cracks me up in the same dark-humored way where something so “cartoony” can hack off the head of its equally “cartoony” looking enemy, but thanks to the art style it is hardly the same as aiming a sniper rifle at the forehead of an enemy and watching its head explode into giblets seen in games like GTA or Call of Duty (both of which are fantastic games in their own right). Anyone who grew up with gaming from the 8-bit era can tell that the people behind Castle Crashers did as well, and it shows in this clever nod to the brawlers of the past. Although more Golden Axe than Final Fight, I tackled the demo to the best of my abilities and enjoyed every second of it. The chance to customize your avatar’s abilities to what you want allows you to add your personal touch and the mini-games seem like they can maintain an enjoyable experience longer than a playthrough of FPS Timeshift’s single player campaign.

What’s the difference between games like Braid and Castle Crashers when compared to games with massive budgets and huge development teams? Both of which are available on Live Arcade for 1,200 points ($15)! This amount of money, relatively speaking, is almost nothing for the amount of enjoyment and time you can spend with each of these titles. At a quarter of the cost of newly released console games, these seem like a smart buy, and when you break it down you’re supporting independent developers to keep putting out games that have a unique flair to them that you might not see elsewhere but from something that has passed through the hands of the few as opposed to the hands of the many.

Bottom line: Download Braid and Castle Crashers!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

These people aren't even real...

Holy fucking shit Batman!

So much awesomeness to talk about my head could explode, and I'm not even sure how to get it in as one monstrous wall of text.

Well let's start it out like this then, I have reserved the super special editions of the upcoming releases of Fallout 3 and Fable 2, both of which are supposed be coming out at the same time. Fallout 3 special edition will come with according to
  • Fallout 3: From the creators of the award-winning Oblivion comes one of the most realized game worlds ever created. Create any kind of character you want and explore the open wastes of post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. Every minute is a fight for survival as you encounter Super Mutants, Ghouls, Raiders, and other dangers of the Wasteland. Prepare for the future.
  • Vault Boy Bobblehead: Enjoy your very own Vault Boy with this collector’s item direct from Vault-Tec.
  • The Art of Fallout 3: This hardcover book features nearly 100 pages of never-before seen concept art and commentary from Bethesda Game Studios artists.
  • The Making of Fallout 3: Get an exclusive, inside look at Bethesda Game Studios and the team behind the game with this special DVD.
  • Vault-Tec Lunch Box: The entire package comes in a fully customized metal lunchbox.
Are you serious?! The game comes in a fucking lunchbox?! I would buy a Fallout 3 lunch box just because of my fan boy tendencies for this game, let alone that I get a bobble-head and the game inside the lunch box. Oh well, yes I'm sure the game will be great too.

Fable 2 has released "Pub Games", games which allow you to earn money through some means of voodoo before the game comes out. So a person could effectively enter the world of Albion with over 500 gold, or as I am hearing about many people who seek to unlock interesting features via a flat gain in gold (not a NET gain mind you, just a gain) are entering the world about 15k in debt. From what I heard entering the game in debt means people come after you looking for the money. My goal is to be up about 10,000 gold when the game comes out so I have starter money to pick up a few basic things. I remember basic weapons and the like though costing about four times that amount though in the original Fable, so time will tell.

I'm also excited to hear about the constant companion you're given in Fable, that being a dog that basically follows you everywhere, in towns, in the great outdoors, will fight and protect you, and will unconditionally love you. Which brings me to a weirder and far more interesting point, the dog's AI was built around an Asimov-ian Three Laws: Unconditionally love the player, never annoy the player, and self preservation. It'll be cool to see how this plays out in the game, but from the vids of watched with that crazy Brit Peter Molyneux, it looks like I won't even be able to look at Wrath of the Lich King.

That's it for gaming, Thursday will be updates on comics and a possible movie review or two.