Indie Game: The Movie

March 18th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (2 Comments)

I recently attended a screening of an independent film called Indie Game: The Movie. The film features Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen of Team Meat the creators of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish of Polytron Corportation the creators of Fez and Jonathan Blow the creator of Braid and the upcoming The Witness. I think the creators of the film describe it best:

With the twenty-first century comes a new breed of struggling independent artist: the indie game designer. Refusing to toil for major developers, these innovators independently conceive, design, and program their distinctly personal games in the hope that they, too, may find success.

After two years of painstaking work, designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes await the release of their first major game for Xbox, Super Meat Boy—the adventures of a skinless boy in search of his girlfriend, who is made of bandages. At PAX, a major video-game expo, developer Phil Fish unveils his highly anticipated, four-years-in-the-making FEZ. Jonathan Blow considers beginning a new game after creating Braid, one of the highest-rated games of all time.

First-time filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky capture the emotional journey of these meticulously obsessive artists who devote their lives to their interactive art. Four developers, three games, and one ultimate goal— to express oneself through a video game.

I found the film to be moving, informative and humorous. Quite often as a video game enthusiast I forget the blood, sweat and tears involved in creating the games that I enjoy. While large studios have teams of people dedicated to art, design, sound and all the other aspects of game creation these independent developers are often either alone or on a very small team. The day after the screening I decided to play Super Meat Boy and Braid again and not only did I enjoy the gameplay, story, art and all the things that I loved about them the first time I played them, I found myself with an even deeper appreciation for the personal touches implemented in the games. The movie is only screening in select theaters right now but you can pre-order the DVD/Blu-Ray or digital download here. Ultimately it is definitely a film I recommend watching.

My Top Ten Video Games of 2011

January 10th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (0 Comments)

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Bethesda Softworks – 11/11/11 (PC)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is one of those games that you have waited on for years and take a few personal days for. I know because that is exactly what I did and Skyrim did not disappoint. In a year filled with a lot of major releases it is amazing this game stands alone. With a couple hundred hours of game play, the option to potentially do anything you can imagine and the modding community for PC just getting started Skyrim is a game that I will play for years. As with all Bethesda games there are bugs (of course saying bugs is putting it lightly if you play on PS3) but in a world this massive it would be impossible to prevent. Overall Skyrim is an experience that is altogether different from any other game this year, because it is the story you tell, and that alone earns it the top spot.

2. Portal 2 – Valve Corporation – 4/19/11 (PC)

Portal 2

Portal 2 by all accounts should have been a total disaster. The original Portal was a masterpiece whose only flaw was its length and many thought it wouldn’t be possible to have a sequel live up to that standard. Yet Valve released this years Portal 2 and not only did it live up to the expectations of many Portal fans but surpassed them.  Wheatley and Cave Johnson are two characters introduced that might be loved as much if not more than Portal’s GLaDOS. The puzzles are top notch and the music makes for one of the best gaming soundtracks of the year. Part of Portal 2’s greatness is the story and how it is delivered throughout the game and really leaves it to you to get more out of it. Whether you are studying the paintings on the wall, reading the science fair cardboard cutouts or any other clue to Aperture Science’s past or just simply blazing through shooting portals at will you are guaranteed to have a great time.

3. Bastion – Supergiant Games – 8/16/11 (PC)

Bastion

Supergiant Games is an independent developer with only seven employees. Yet this indie game could have easily been my number one or two game of the year. Bastion has everything you need for a great game. Interesting story? Check. Brilliant art style? Check. Exciting gameplay? Check. One of the best soundtracks for a game I have ever heard? Double check. The emotional impact of your choices and the resulting ending is easily one of my favorite moments in gaming in 2011, perhaps ever. (Kudos to Darren Korb on an excellent soundtrack)

4. Batman: Arkham City – Rocksteady – 10/18/11 (PC)

Batman: Arkham City

In a year of sequels, none were as anticipated by me as Batman: Arkham City (obviously, my website is themed around the Dark Knight). The original Batman: Arkham Asylum was the first Batman game that I had played that was any good. The combat in Arkham City was as tight and exciting as Arkham Asylum and the detective elements were strong, which is important for the world’s greatest detective. I didn’t care for the openness of the world probably due to my obsessive nature to collect Riddler trophies however this definitely was one of the best games I played this year and I hope that Rocksteady makes another Batman game soon.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nintendo – 11/20/11 (Wii)

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart. Having grown up on the series, and Ocarina of Time being my favorite game of all time, I always make time to throw on my green tunic, shield and sword. Skyward Sword starts slow and picks up around hour twenty. The ending is great and really ties the franchise together. I honestly think this game could have been higher if there was less filler, they could have made this an excellent 20-25 hour game and instead made a good/great 60 hour game. My only other complaint would have to be the motion controls. At times the motion controls worked flawlessly and other times I wanted to just have buttons to press, OK most of the time I wanted buttons to press.  In the end, I will still buy the next Zelda because Nintendo still knows how to create a game without bugs or quirks in level design.

6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Eidos Montreal – 8/23/11 (PC)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The original Deus Ex is one of my favorite PC games of all time. After playing Invisible War, the 2003 sequel, I was a little disappointed and wasn’t holding very high hopes for Human Revolution. What I found was a game that could be proud to share the name of the original. The flaws in this game such as the animation during dialogue and the boss battles being pretty damn lame do not keep me from enjoying the gameplay. The choices you make just deciding how to play the game are fantastic and the fact that I am a sucker for dystopian stories and transhumanism doesn’t hurt either. Eidos Montreal weaved together a great story with good questions about the future of mankind and did it in a way that still lets me sneak through vents.

7. Terraria – Re-Logic – 5/16/11 (PC)

Terraria

This game surprised me more than any other game this year. I bought it on sale on Steam and didn’t like it the first time I played it. I came back to it during a lull (one of the few this year) and ended up loving the pure joy of creation. I have read that there are many things to do in this game such as taking down a large worm or fighting large bosses, I honestly don’t care about any of that because the most fun I had in Terraria wasn’t by fighting anything but instead creating bases, armor, weapons, bookshelves, beds, jetpacks and flower pots. I honestly think Minecraft created a new genre of games and I look forward to future endeavors by this indie developer.

8. Gears of War 3 – Epic Games – 9/20/11 (360)

Gears of War 3

Epic’s Gears of War series is a game that is best played co-operatively with friends. The co-op alone is enough to put it on this list, however 2011’s Gears of War 3 has much more to offer. The story in GOW3 wraps up the franchise nicely and does it in a way that won’t sour fans. The multiplayer is decent and worth putting a few hours into but all-in-all nothing to write home about. The “dudebro” dialogue that has been criticized in the past has been toned down and in its place are some great moments. Cole Train in the stadium and the scene with Marcus, Dom and Gary Jules’ “Mad World” will be remembered as two of my favorite gaming moments of this year.

9. Mortal Kombat – NetherRealm Studios – 4/19/11 (360)

Mortal Kombat

Some might think I am crazy for putting a fighting game in a top ten list for games of the year, but this years Mortal Kombat was just that good. The gameplay was the same great gameplay I have come to expect from a Mortal Kombat title, and despite the online issues at release, the main thing that stuck with me in this game was the story. Yes, the story! It might be that you need to have played the previous games to appreciate it but the way they tie all the characters stories together is amazing. I am impressed with NetherRealm Studios and while this game certainly has flaws, the story was actually what cemented itself on my top ten.

10. Battlefield 3 – DICE – 10/25/11 (PC)

Battlefield 3

The story is weak, short, typical and the co-op is equally lame. Where this game shines is the multiplayer. It is hard to describe the mayhem that takes place in multiplayer. Tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, assault rifles, grenades, rockets and large open maps. I witnessed a jet destroy a tank subsequently to be shot down by a RPG and then crash into a heavily contested area destroying a small group of people. Battlefield 3’s Frostbite Engine is pretty amazing and I look forward to its implementation in the years to come.

Honorable Mentions: Orcs Must Die

Games I didn’t get time to play that probably would have made this list: The Witcher 2, Uncharted 3, Dark Souls, Saints Row: The Third, Rayman: Origins, LA Noire, Super Mario 3Dland (so many games this year)

Biggest Disappointment: Dragon Age II

 

Bioshock 2 Review

May 4th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (0 Comments)

2K Games Bioshock 2

 

After completing my second tour of Rapture I found myself wondering how we would return a third time. To say the first Bioshock was anything less than amazing is just plain wrong. 2K Marin had a large task in creating a sequel that would be as memorable as the first Bioshock. As you start the new game and start to get a familiar feeling of Rapture it becomes as though you never left. This is a success in my opinion.

The visuals in Bioshock 2 improve upon the first but not nearly as much as would be expected. The water is particularly good in the newer version. Dark shadows help create the creepy utopia-gone-wrong vibe that is emanating in the first game.

A lot of Bioshock’s success came from the story that pulled you in and refused to let go. Bioshock 2 is no different, from the prologue until the end you are treated with audio diaries giving you insight to the minds of the splicers and the main antagonist. There is no major plot twist like in the first game but that is acceptable. Several games that have plot twists try and repeat the process in the sequel and instead of being earth-shattering it is expected and stale.

A new feature in Bioshock 2 is multiplayer. I wasn’t expecting much to be honest and I am glad that I wasn’t. I find the multiplayer to be disappointing. 2K implemented a ranking and leveling system similar to Modern Warfare 2. This is where the similarities end. The servers tend to be laggy, there are few people playing the less popular modes and little incentive to get to the highest level. 2K also included a DLC that was already on the disc that you had to pay to unlock. After purchasing the game for $59.99 not many people wanted to drop $10.00 more to unlock ten more levels on day one. Overall multiplayer is a nice feature but I still don’t understand why it was necessary in this game. Bioshock is a story driven excellent first person shooter and I feel more time could have been spent on the single-player side.

Bioshock 2 is a game that has a lot of hype to live up to. Building on the success of the first game looked to be a daunting task and I feel 2K did a great job.

I recently picked up a copy of Battlefield Bad Company 2 from DICE developers and was anxious to start blowing stuff up. I decided to post a quick review of the game.

The single player campaign is about 8 hours from start to finish depending on your pacing, which you can really take your time if you want to since the next sequence of enemies doesn’t begin until you move to the designated spot marked by an orange diamond. Letting you know where the next area begins is nice because it gives you time to either find the collectible weapons or destroy M-COMs scattered throughout each level. The collectible weapons are fun because it adds a search for different weapons and once you find one you can get it again each time you stop at a weapons supply crate. While most of the game strives for realism I found the weapons crate feature to be out of place. I doubt that the real U.S. Government would drop a specific crate for a specific groups of guys halfway between them and a large number of insurgents with no guarantee that the very same weapons wouldn’t be used against them. Of course I doubt they would let four of their soldiers wander about unaccounted for either.

Plot holes aside, the story is fairly cheesy but most FPS stories are and rather than take itself seriously it seems content to make jokes throughout as well as take potshots at Modern Warfare 2 (comments about snowmobiles and heartbeat sensors) which was cute at first but by the fourth time I was thinking, “All right we get it, you are supposed to be direct competition.” Which to pretend that they aren’t trying to be the franchise opposite Modern Warfare 2 would be delusional. DICE’s recent marketing campaigns of anti-mapathy and the like makes it pretty obvious. One of the things I loved about this game was the ability to utterly destroy everything (93% of the environment). Every house, shack, tree, fence, guard rail, tower, and person in it is capable of crumbling to nothing. I found myself often times wasting ammo destroying buildings and water towers which can be a fun distraction from your objectives.

The graphics are outstanding. The jungles are beautiful and the desert feels barren and hot. DICE did a great job on each level paying attention to detail and making sure you feel as though you are in that environment. The characters in the game are real enough to make me feel like I am looking at humans but not crazy enough to dip into the uncanny valley. During several sections of the game the environment plays against you which is quite realistic. In the desert you have wind blowing sand in your face, the jungle mist blocks your vision and the arctic scenes feel cold, combine that with debris flying everywhere and it sets up some memorable firefights. I have heard about some problems of screen tearing on the Xbox and PS3 versions but having played this on PC I can say that I was able to maintain a good frame rate on high graphic settings at 1920 x 1080 and my machine isn’t crazy high-end so the average user should be able to handle Bad Company 2.

The graphics are impressive.

The artificial intelligence of enemies is impressive. I would duck behind cover to find an enemy hitting it with heavy artillery and forcing me to move. I wish I could say the same for my teammates AI. I think in total I saw them kill maybe four people in the entire game, they were pretty much as useless as you can get. I found a lot of the vehicles and sequences in the vehicles to be gimmicky and forced in just to have them in the game. I enjoyed firing from the helicopter but driving a jeep and firing the grenade launcher at the same time is a little ridiculous. I prefer the option of driving or firing as is implemented in many other games for a good reason.

The sound in this game is superb I would actually say that this is where Bad Company 2 becomes amazing. Every gunshot and explosion is magnificent. DICE expertly crafted their sound to be as realistic as possible. In one particular instance there is a sniper that is firing on your squad and you hear the shot like a thunder clap in the distance and then the accompanying ricochet. Playing this game using the “War Tapes” setting is what I recommend. My sub-woofer was echoing throughout my house with each earth shattering boom. The voice acting was good and I didn’t hope for any of the characters to die to avoid hearing them talk. The music was well placed non-distracting and appropriate. All-in-all superb job on sound in this game.

Characters I don’t want to die

When you combine the decent story, great graphics and superb sound you get some fantastic battles and you truly feel like you are experiencing what its like to be in a firefight. Which is what I think DICE was striving for in this game. I don’t think you will be telling your buddies what the “Aurora” mission was or why we should still be worrying about Russians, but you will be telling them how awesome it is to shoot a guy in the head with a grenade launcher. At Gamestop, Steam or whatever retail outlet you prefer for $49.99 (as of 3/28/10) I recommend Bad Company 2.

Graphics       A
Sound             A+
Gameplay     B
Story               C-
*Overall         B+

*Overall not an average