Friday, February 29, 2008

GG Awards 2007

So awards season has mostly come and past. Last Sunday I was watching the Oscars and thinking about how awards work in the gaming industry. The vast majority of awards given out are split into categories such as platform or genre, but for me, I think it would be a bit more interesting to give awards more in line with movies, where categories are based more on technical distinctions, such as the difference between a Documentary and an Animated movie or Costume design versus Set Design.

So without further ado here are GG's awards for 2007!

best script... Portal
best graphics... Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
best sound... Bioshock
best interaction.. Rock Band

best single player experience... Portal
best social experience... Rock Band
best competitve experience... Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
best mmo experience... World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade

game of the year... Mass Effect

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Rigidity of Play

My memory has always sucked. I can't memorize anything-- names, faces, numbers, events, it all goes in a fog. I was never any good at memorizing Capcom's long moves lists for their fighters, nor memorizing boss attack patterns to ready my parries in the right order. Heck, I still can't always remember with accuracy which element defeats which in Lost Odyssey. Was it wind vs earth or water? Last week while playing a particular level of PixelJunk Monsters I was reminded of why I tend to dislike games that rely on memorization and trial and error.

For those who haven't played PixelJunk Monsters or any tower defense game, the gameplay primarily consists of placing defensive structures around a home-base and the game testing your defenses by sending wave after wave of pillaging monsters against you.

The level that soured me was one where only four defensive placements were available, each had to be correctly configured for the particular variety of monster that it would face at any given time, which is intended to be a hectic experience for the player. What pained me about this level is the fact that not only is it unforgiving of mistakes, defensive towers have to match the monsters they're fighting, but the game itself is not very forthcoming about the particular variety of monster you will face. You may know the next monster will be shielded, but what type of shield and the best counter to their defense is only discovered through trial and error. This wouldn't be too annoying except for the fact that the more difficult monsters only arrive after around a dozen minutes have passed in gameplay, making each failure and restart an annoying process of wading through monsters you've already determined the method to defeat until you finally reach the wave that bested you last (there are 20 waves).

After a few attempts at this level I finally threw up my hands in disgust. Although basic memorization and pattern recognition in games are staples of the industry, personally I wish the days of memorization as a gameplay challenge would be long gone. Where is the skill in an long and aggravating loop of trial and error? Shouldn't a game be more clever in challenging me than resorting to methods of play from years past? I'm all for a tactical challenge, and limiting your defensive options definitely made the level fresh from an initial perspective, but the game itself should strive to allow players to break from any specific rigid solution and instead allow them to use their skills and creativity to beat the level in their own way, making the experience truly interactive and personal.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Puzzle Quest Galactrix preview at IGN

One of my most played games last year is getting a sequel!
We've known for a while now that developer Infinite Interactive is working on another RPG/puzzle hybrid set in space called Galactrix. It turns out this is our next PQ fix and has added the brand name to its title so that it reads: Puzzle Quest -- Galactrix.

D3 was only showing off the new battle system at this point. Galactrix's puzzle mode is still a match three game, but now the gems are hexagonal. They can be swapped horizontally, vertically, and now diagonally. As the action has been moved from the countryside of Etheria to zero-gravity space, the direction from which new gems will fall into play changes based on which way you swap tiles. They can now replenish from any part of the playing field's circumference. D3 hopes this adds another level of strategy to gameplay as we plan our moves in anticipation of creating combos.
Read the rest at IGN.

Friday, February 22, 2008

How to play XNA Creators Club content

So you want to try out The Dishwasher but can't figure out how to download it from XBL? Here's how:
Downloading the new XNA Games takes a few extra steps. You can watch a video (on Inside Xbox, or linked below) featuring Xbox LIVE's Michael Klucher to explain it, or use this handy-dandy crib sheet:

Xbox LIVE Community Games

Xbox LIVE Community Games
Find out how to download the new XNA games from Xbox LIVE and play them on your console. High | Low

1) Download XNA Creators Club Game Launcher (Marketplace/Game Store/All Games/XNA Creators Club). Ignore the others.

(Note: If you use "XNA Game Launcher" or "XNA Game Studio Connect", you'll be told you need a Creators Club membership linked to your profile.)

2) Browse to My Games (Games/Games Library/My Games) and twist to XNA Creators Club.

3) Press Y to Download Games

4) Choose a game to download like any other game.

These pre-release demos are available for a limited time only. Via Gamerscore Blog.

1UP Games Developer Conference podcasts

Four episodes each of 1UP Yours and Games For Windows podcasts this week!

1UP Yours:

1UP Yours: "Adventure"
Amy Hennig, Naughty Dog & Lorne Lanning, Oddworld

1UP Yours: "Shoot 'em Up"
Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward

1UP Yours: "A One Console Future"
Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights w/Mark MacDonald

FRIDAY, 2/22
1UP Yours: "Beat the Press"
N'Gai Croal, Newsweek & Stephen Totilo, MTV
w/John Davison

GFW Radio:

The Big Picture
with Warren Spector, Junction Point Studios & Paul Wedgwood, Splash Damage

Real Time
with Josh Mosqueira, Relic Entertainment & Chris Taylor, Gas Powered Games

The Icing
with Kim Swift and Erik Wolpaw, Valve Software

FRIDAY, 2/22
Some Clever Theme That's TBD
with Ken Levine, 2K Boston

All Points Bulletin breaks cover

A few previews have popped up for RealTime Worlds' (Crackdown) upcoming MMO, All Points Bulletin. What does this GTA-like MMO bring to the table?
Here is where APB is so clever. The servers automatically match a similarly skilled set of enforcement agents to deliver the APB to in a dynamic form of matchmaking. You'll never have a clue who you'll get matched up with. It's all done automatically based on stats.

After the APB was sent out to a clan of enforcement agents, we watched a chase scene unfold. Cop cars converged on the van. One gang member drove while two others hung out of the sides firing guns at the officers. A cop car tried to block off an alley at one point…another time one took a jump over a barrier to get closer to the criminals. The scene ended with the gang making it to the drop off point at the same time as the cops and a shootout began.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Random Game Related Picture

Top 10 selling PlayStation Network games

From Joystiq.

Sony Computer Entertainment America
  1. flOw
  2. Mortal Kombat II
  3. Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection
  4. PAIN
  5. Warhawk
  6. High Velocity Bowling
  7. Super Stardust HD
  8. Calling All Cars
  9. Aquatopia
  10. Everyday Shooter
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
  1. Tekken 5: Dark Ressurection
  2. Warhawk
  3. flOw
  4. LocoRoco Cocoreccho!
  5. Mortal Kombat II
  6. Super Rub a Dub
  7. Calling All Cars
  8. Gripshift
  9. Lemmings
  10. Super Stardust HD

Is PC Gaming dead yet?

Looks like there's yet another initiative to save PC gaming making the rounds.

While I don't think PC gaming is dying necessarily, I would definitely argue that something is rotten in Denmark. Here's a few of the things I think are working well and not working well with PC gaming:

(+) Steam. Steam rocks. Yes Steam used to suck, but lately they've been doing a bang up job of making their platform stable, reliable, accessible and useful. Steam Community and Steamworks already seem much better than Microsoft's half-assed Live for Windows implementation. I wish publishers would unite behind it (fat chance I know, but it seems more and more are coming aboard).

(-) Vista. It sucks. My 8800GTX still isn't stable in Vista, DX10 or not, and that's unacceptable for PC gaming's flagship videocard. I don't think I can even name a game with which I've had a pleasant experience in Vista with. I hope they get their act together, but at this point I'm kind of hoping someone (Valve?) might create a unified development platform that would be able to play games on Intel architecture, bridging the gap between Linux, OSX and Windows so that gamers will be able to enjoy games on the PC while choosing the OS that works best for them (once again, fat chance, I know).

(+) European developers. I think they've definitely found their groove... Crysis is a solid effort (although too much of the same for me) but really what stood out for me last year was The Witcher, a refreshing take on RPGs. Definitely looking for more PC hits from the Old World such as Alan Wake, Age of Conan, and more.

(-) Bugs. They seem more prevalent than ever. Is it the publishers' fault for rushing out games for the holiday season or developers for biting off more than they can chew? I don't know, but please, a little polish would be great (and not in the form of a post-release patch).

(+) And finally the games. I want to play Spore, I want to play Starcraft 2, I want PC gaming in my life! So come'on guys, pull it together!

Is the Xbox killing PC gaming? I would actually argue against that at the moment. Yes, there are fewer big titles aimed purely at the PC audience, but the Xbox has also allowed the PC to get many of the biggest console games in a timely manner-- something that did not happen in the past. Mass Effect, Gears of War, Halo, all have come over to the PC in solid iterations.

PC gaming isn't dead. 2007 wasn't the best of years for PC gaming, but it continues on. There are certainly alot of problems and issues that need resolving and I hope the industry works together to provide a better experience, from end to end.

Too Human flood at Gametrailers

Gametrailers has put up a bunch of videos from Silicon Knights' Too Human, and it looks like my Action RPG fix has arrived! The videos show off tons of character customization options, the quest system, and a bit of the story-- which is starting to seem rather twisted. Definitely check it out, Silicon Knights have seemingly made alot of progress since its disastrous showing at E3 2006.

Microsoft's GDC Keynote

Today at the Game Developer's Conference Microsoft showed off its latest and greatest including Lionhead's Fable 2, which looks like The Molynator might actually deliver what he's promising, as well as Ninja Gaiden 2 and the newly announced Gears of War 2.

The most exciting part of the conference for me however is Microsoft's XNA announcements - they're going to open up XNA downloads to the general public as well as provide XNA tools for free for college students. Hopefully this opens up a new flood of independent game development on console platforms and maybe even the Zune. You can already check out some of the games XNA has enabled including The Dishwasher on Xbox Live today, so "jump in" and take a look!


From MMOG Charts.

Fallout 3 Interview (E3 2007)

After the demo presentation, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Emil Pagliarulo (Lead Designer), Todd Howard and Pete Hines asking some more in-depth questions about their upcoming take on the Fallout franchise. Here are the answers they kindly provided (and the guys at NMA kindly called me a liar about... haha):

Will there be separate PC and Console UIs?
Yes, they learned their lesson from Oblivion and are making sure that the PC GUI will be suitable for keyboard+mouse users

PC/360/PS3 simultaneous release?

Will there be mod support like in Oblivion on PC or Console?
Hasn’t been decided yet.

Are there any more celebrity voice-overs to announce?
Besides Ron Perlman, they aren’t ready to make any further announcements at this stage. No Jean-Luc :(

Any returning characters from previous Fallouts?
Not saying at this moment.

How does dialogue work?
Branching dialogue tree, different choices/chances of success based on charisma and speaking skill.
Poor INT will NOT affect your dialogue choices.

Weather system?

How do you guys deal with those crazed Fallout fanbois?
They understand they’re passionate about the brand and want to live up to their expectations but they are definitely making a game that they themselves want to play

How far can camera zoom out?
Pretty much full control over camera and can get into an iso/top-down view.

How does combat / VATS work?
Pauses game and lets you queue up actions, according to how many Action Points you have.
Action Points regenerate in real time based on Agility.
AP cost is dependant on weapon, skill.
Can queue up actions on multiple enemies.
My impression.. the combat looks like alot of fun!

Will the game scale with the player?
Game areas are not scaled such as in Oblivion although there will be some minor scaling of creatures withing a predefined range of levels to maintain a fair bit of challenge.
Because XP and Levels are used, they are able to determine PC level/power better and be able to tailor quests/direct players to zones appropriate for their levels.

Will there be random encounters/easter eggs such as the Alien ship from Fallout?
FYI, on the Energy Weapons skill info pane, it affects these types of weapons:
Alien, Cyro, Laser, Plasma and one other I think I missed.

In the game, killable (directly)? Not yet decided.

Groin/Eye shots?
They figure that a crit on the eye will gib the head anyways so probably leaving that out. Groin shot is a maybe.

What about NPCs? Will we have our own Dogmeat?
Animal companions.. maybe. NPC followers are recruitable based on karma (good/evil/neutral) and controlled through dialogue.

Is the bloody mess perk in the game?

Does the game end? Is there a level cap?
Yes to both questions.

How much it ties into the previous games?
You’ll find out!


Weapons have decay. They are repaired using the repair skill which requires weapons of the same type to get parts from. Weapons decay has many effects such as Rate of Fire, Cone, Damage

Water is an important theme in Fallout, it’s one way you can heal.

The Super Mutant Behemoth… looked like something out of GeOW, but in GeOW you don’t actually get to fight the big monsters.

The Fat Man nuke effect is really cool.

Hacking minigame… hack into the BIOS for passwords to terminals. There will be alot of terminals.

XP mostly comes from quests.

Towns and Buildings are zoned like in Oblivion (load times between each, etc).

Other factions: one of the radio stations mentioned by in game dialogue is apparently run by The Enclave.

The faces are much better, especially the female ones.

Your in-game father (Liam Neeson) will physically reflect the choices you make on your own character’s appearance.

Overall… I want to play this game!

Fallout 3 Preview (E3 2007)

Here's a preview of Fallout 3 I did for DigitalMediaNet at E3 2007, which I don't think was ever published... so I'll throw it up here:

Do you have what it takes to survive in the wasteland, brother?
Fallout 3 is the newest entry in the critically acclaimed Fallout series. This time however, things are a bit different. Your quest still takes place in an irradiated Earth where you'll have to wrestle angry mutants and giant cockroaches for survival, but instead of taking place in the familiar blasted Californian landscape as its predecessors this new entry to the series now focuses on our country's capital, Washington D.C. One of the reasons behind this change is because Maryland based Bethesda Softworks has taken over the franchise's reins from now defunct developer Black Isle.

Another change longtime fans will immediately notice is that the camera perspective has been moved from its previous bird's eye perspective to a first person one. Bethesda believes that in a game world as large and immersive as the one they're building, the use of a first person perspective is the best way to draw the player into the game. The bleak desolation of a post-apocalyptic world has never been so viscerally portrayed. Powered by the might of next-generation graphics technologies found on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Fallout 3 promises to be an experience you'll remember. Along with this change in perspective is a refocusing of the game's combat to a more action-oriented form instead of its previous strategy and turn-based board game roots. That isn't to say some of the old tricks you learned in previous Fallouts aren't still around however. Take out a mutant's legs and you will cripple his progress. Get a solid shot on his head and… well… there's going to be a bloody mess.

Fallout 3 is first and foremost a role-playing game however. Unlike Bethesda's previous RPG works, such as the highly acclaimed Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Fallout 3 will be less of a sandbox world and will feature prominently a focused narrative. As all fans of Western role-playing games know however, it's all about choice. The opportunity will be there for players to define their own adventure, something Bethesda is well known for. Make these choices wisely however, because they will be reflected in the game world. Rig a dud nuclear bomb in the middle of a shantytown to explode for some greedy real estate developers? Don't expect to be able to visit the local dive bar for a quick fix anytime soon.

Bethesda has enlisted a top quality voice acting team to bring the experience to life including acclaimed actors Liam Neeson and Ron Perlman. The new focus on narrative and character interactions has led Bethesda to increase substantially the number of spoken lines and important characters in the game over their previous efforts. They are definitely keeping the tone of the Fallout series intact, with its tongue-in-cheek humor, dark comedy, and future-retro aesthetic evident throughout the game.

The demonstration Bethesda put on was impressive, with the game running smoothly and looking nearly feature complete. This will give Bethesda plenty of time to iron out the bugs and add endless things for us wasteland warriors to do in their post-apocalyptic future, set for release in the fall of 2008. Giant cockroaches never looked so fun to squish.

About the Golem

Here's a little about me. My first game machine was the Commodore 64. Although my dad claimed that computers had all sorts of useful purposes, I knew what it was really for. Soon after that I got a MS-DOS PC and we were really off to the races! It was also around then that I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons as well as Magic: The Gathering.

Of course, gaming could not be confined to a box in my room! By junior high, I'd started playing those crazy BBS door games such as TradeWars 2002 and Legend of Red Dragon. By high school I was MUDding and it was pretty much all over after that. Luckily I got in during the golden age of DikuMUDs with great places to explore such as Sojourn and Luminous Horizons.

Sometime in 1997 or so, I got the strange idea to start writing about games and started Golem's Computer Role Playing Games page, a fairly standard rip-off of Blue's News at the time, but still I think one of the earlier gaming blogs. Later on, I shuttered its doors when I went to be an editor for The Vault Network (later known as IGN Vault), one of the best CRPG sites ever established. When my focus started to shift towards consoles, I started up, which Dan "Shoe" Hsu (later of EGM fame) once told me was one of the sites he made sure to read everyday. That was pretty cool! More recently however, I mostly just spend my time trolling NeoGAF and hopefully this blog will prove to be a more productive outlet for my gaming thoughts. ;)

About the Blog

Hello and welcome to The Game Golem. Now you may be asking what justifies another random gaming blog on the internet? Well, nothing really! Nevertheless, here is where I'll post random gaming thoughts that don't quite fit on my normal blog at random.

Please leave a message if you found anything here at all enjoyable or interesting!