Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday afternoon tidbits

I've been playing inFamous, and will continue to do so this weekend. So far, I'm not terribly impressed, more for reasons of concept rather than execution. But that will all have to wait for the review! Let's get to some links.

-Seth Schiesel had a nice write-up about Dan Aykroyd and the new Ghostbusters game in the New York Times. What I liked about this piece was that it wasn't just about the video game: it covered Aykroyd's biography, the history of the Ghostbusters franchise, and the new game, and made it all of a piece. Just a good piece of journalism here, and not specifically "games" journalism.

-Matthew Gallant takes a look at the approaches some games take toward guiding the player's eye, and focuses on the masters of the craft, Valve Software. I always knew I liked that aspect of the Half-Life games, but I never knew why until I played through Half-Life 2: Episode 1 with the commentary on. One of the developers explained how they put an enemy on a platform who started shooting at you, so you'd turn in his direction just in time to see some kind of massive ship fly up out of the water. They play you like a fiddle, Valve Software, but their real trick is convincing you that you're the one who makes everything happen.

-Another week, another great read from Jeremy Parish. He reminisces about the "noble failure" of the horizontal pan in Super Mario World. As usual, Jeremy's scholarship is immediately challenged by pedantic commenters. It's true, though -- the shoulder buttons were a great idea, even if it took people a little while to realize why. The same thing happened with the Nintendo DS. For the first year, no one -- gamers or developers -- knew what to make of the touchscreen. These days it's hard to imagine how we ever played portable games without one.

-Gamers with Jobs is looking for writers. They're one of those sites that often gets overlooked when we decry the lack of an outlet that consistently publishes thoughtful, mature game writing. They've been doing it for years! I can think of several bloggers who'd fit in well there.

-Yep, I'm skeptical about Tony Hawk's Ride, too. It's easy to point to the success of peripheral-based games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Wii Fit, but I don't think the lesson to be drawn from those games is that consumers like expensive software that requires extra hardware to play. I would love for this game to work, though.


Anonymous said...

Are touchscreens really the new shoulder buttons? Call me old fashion, but I'll take the basic controller set-up of my DS over trying to use the little wand any day. Maybe it's an iPhone thing?

Gary said...

I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Infamous. I have picked it up and put it back (oh alright: clicked Add To Cart and then deleted) a few times the past couple weeks.

I LOVED Crackdown, so something even sorta-kinda as good would be neat. On the other hand, I am so thoroughly burned out on the game's look (i.e., the look of 78% of games these past few years). I'm not a moody teenager anymore, I don't get a hard-on for gritty environments and an uberkewl main character.

Mr Durand Pierre said...

I've been playing inFamous as well, and loving it to death. It feels like a great mix of Sly Cooper and Crackdown, two of my favorite platformers ever. I'm actually in the process of writing about it now, but probably won't have time to finish it for awhile due to E3 shenanigans.


Maybe I'm viewing inFamous under a different lens than you as I was a huge fan of Sly Cooper, but I'd say that inFamous looks really stylized and unlike almost anything else out there (whereas something like say, Prototype, looks rather generic to me aesthetically). The character doesn't look "uberkewl" to me. His design is fairly minimalist with the buzzed hair and athletic gear. It's not like he's covered in chains, pins, tats, and has a goofy haircut. The world maybe isn't quite as diverse as I'd like, but what's there is really good. It looks appropriately post-apocalyptic, but not like most games. There's a certain unique, junky, almost collage-like look to the world. To me, it seemed like they really nailed the comic-book superhero thing down pat.

Mitch Krpata said...

The Crackdown comparison is unavoidable, but IMO it's not favorable for inFamous. There are a lot of reasons why, but mostly it's because Crackdown seemed joyful whereas inFamous seems joyless. That is due in large part to the setting, which I'm finding to be drab and unmemorable. And I do wish Cole had more personality. I never played the Sly Cooper games, but I think I'd much rather play as a thieving raccoon than Some Angsty Dude.

Mr Durand Pierre said...

I can agree about Cole. By trying to give you choice, they end up unwilling to commit his character to any distinct personality. He's almost like a silent protagonist that way, where his personality is based on what we imbue unto him. The dramatic storytelling got me through that, so I didn't mind (much). Kind of reminded me of MGS that way. I mean Snake never had much personality, but we felt for him anyway. Cole's story is epic, even if he's not particularly well developed himself.

I'd have to respectfully disagree about the game feeling joyless. Maybe it's because I loved Sly so much, but inFamous clearly feels like a labor of love from someone (Nate Fox and co.) who clearly really, really, loves superhero comics. It's darker and drabber than Crackdown, but I found it to have at least as much personality. I guess Crackdown is more arcadey whereas inFamous is far more ambitious and narrative heavy. It provides context for the sandbox platformer/third-person shooter magic. While it may not make good on all of its potential (the black and white moral system is a bit at odds with a surprisingly linear story, ala Mass Effect. Another game I loved in spite of that), but I personally found it even more fun to control than Crackdown with a better story. And I loved Crackdown. A lot. I just love inFamous more.

sp said...

Having just completed inFamous choosing “evil” 100% of the time, I wanted to mention something that bothered me. The game presents many opportunities for the player to choose to be selfish and vindictive or benevolent and merciful; however, since the growth of all of your powers are tied to how extremely good or evil you are, the game does not promote actual moral decisions as much as forcing the player to pick a path and follow it blindly.

I’m currently playing through the game a second time and selecting the “good” option at every opportunity and I’m not finding any difference in the game besides a little “flavor” in the cut-scenes. I like to call this the BioShock Morality System: not so much “what are the consequences” as much as “what are the rewards”.

Mitch Krpata said...

I was wondering about that myself. I decided to play as good, and have yet to be even remotely tempted to do any bad actions. I've read that the decisions get harder as they go along, but I've almost cleared the second island and so far I am not finding that to be the case. It's always like, "I can kill this group of people here and get some blast shards, or I can kill that group of people over there and get some blast shards."

The Bioshock comparison was apt, but the decision-making process was much more immediate and visceral in that game -- at least before you realize that saving the sisters will ultimately net you more ADAM. I am not a fan of Cole's musing on the choice before him. I'm also remembering Fallout's morality system: that wasn't perfect either, but at least the "right" path was sometimes appropriately ambiguous.

I should also say that I've been griping non-stop while playing Infamous, but I haven't been able to stop playing it, either.

sp said...

I've found a number of people, myself included, have complaints with inFamous, but we keep playing likely because it's, dare I say, fun. I enjoy bouncing around rooftops blasting ne'er-do-wells and citizens alike (explosive chain lightning and crowds of hostages are my peanut butter and chocolate). inFamous, while I complain that the moral system is less than superb and the choices we're given really only come in black or white, is enjoyable.

In fact, you could make the case that, if your every decision had such a deep and lasting impact on the story, suddenly the game would be less fun because players would be more focused about their actions. inFamous is fun because, when I need to save those hostages from the Reapers, I can leap off a building, landing with a powerful thundershock and knocks everyone off their feet killing most of the kidnappers, some of the hostages, and doing thousands of dollars in property damage to the neighborhood. Sure, my "evil reputation" grows as a result of my careless and wanton destruction, but that's what I would expect from my actions.