April is officially Grand Theft Auto IV Hype Month. You could get involved by jacking some cars, shooting some sex workers, and suing someone – or you could take the enlightened route and read the history of the series, a wild and woolly ride full of lemmings, confusing corporate mergers, and even Shigeru Miyamoto.
Toku and I checked out this year’s Ad-Astra in Toronto this weekend and it was so much fun, but so tiring! I’d never been to a Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction Con before and wow, eyes are opened to a whole new sparkling world!
I chatted with so many writer peoples! It was crazy awesome! It definitely made me want to dive into the Toronto book scene and support that community way more than I have been. So bye-bye Chapters, hello Bakka Phonenix. I know that I should have been buying books there since the dawn of my being in Toronto, and I have been once or twice, but I’ve been tremendously silly. No longer! Well, I’ll always be silly but not when it comes to purchasing books of my favourite genre!
We tagged along with friends Lesley Livingston and Adrienne Kress who are two amazing women and also awesome authors. Check them out! I was also at the con with my good friend Jonathan Llyr, who will be popping up in Robot related news very soon (check back here May 1st for all the wild and crazy details).
Anyway, I was mostly talking written word on paper stuffs, but I did have a great conversation on gaming with Brett Alexander Savory. He’s an author, editor, musician, and a hell of a nice guy. He does like dark fantasy, horror fantasy, horror comedy and I guess general horror, but not in the typical “buckets of blood” way. And you can guess what I couldn’t help but ask him about…Yes, Manhunt 2 and censorship! Check out Robot Sounds this week for a bit of that interview and some music from his band (he’s, like, so multi-talented and energetic!) Diablo Red.
Back to the con experience…
I feel so at home with science fiction/fantasy fans! I mean, I don’t dress up or anything (I would possibly under the right conditions though) but the first thing I saw when I walked in the hotel lobby was a group of Klingons and it felt so natural to me. I had to call my sister and leave a message squeaking my delight. I love this stuff! I love that people do this stuff! Just because I don’t (have no courage…) doesn’t mean I don’t think highly of it. And I do, dear gods I do, because it takes bawls and grit to dress up in homage to a show or character you adore and walk around boldly even when in a fandom environment.
Though this con wasn’t so much dressy upy as it was super smarty pants awesome. Everyone was so intelligent and had such wonderful insights on writing, reading, and the sincere loving of both. It just feels good when you are surrounded by people who adore reading the same kind of thing you do. Who understand the love of adventure (and have gone on the same ones) and simply want to talk about how great they are. I mean to be able to say I was madly in love with the Malazan Empire books and see not confusion in the eyes of those speaking to me, but a twinkling understanding and a knowing grin. It was almost like by saying what you read people instantly understood a part of your personality. They could see a glimpse of the colour of your spark and appreciate it. Heady stuff, my friends, supremely heady stuff.
Well, I’m totally knackered from all the interviews, chatting, and general staying up late and getting up early convention styles so I’m off to bed. After this amazingly tiring and fun weekend I can tell that this summer Toronto Conventions + Me = Super Fun Times With No Prisoners Taken.
At issue here is net neutrality, and in the US there is public debate on the issue, whereas here there has been none. In brief, net neutrality is the principle that the network should treat all content and devices equally – that internet access should behave like electricity or your water supply. And generally that’s how it’s gone up until recently, when gradually the internet providers have been introducing bitshaping (slowing down certain types of traffic, most often BitTorrent) and bitcaps (a limit on how much you can download before incurring extra fees).
Don’t be distracted by the current focus on piracy – the idea that ‘a few bad apples’ are slowing down the internet for everyone else. The real issue is internet video in all its forms: bittorrented TV shows, youtube, and pay-per-download services like iTunes and Xbox Live. Video takes a lot of bandwidth and with the explosion in online video, suddenly ISPs are seeing people actually use some of the bandwidth they are paying for. And they’d rather not, you know, make less money. Let’s not forget that both Bell and Rogers sell TV services, and online video threatens their profits in that business as well. The last thing they want is someone canceling their cable to download shows off iTunes – but if that happens, they want to get their cut. Despite the fact that their broadband services are sold on the promise of fast, rich media.
Another issue is competition. We have less of it here, and so our telecoms can beat up the consumer to their hearts’ content without fear of consumers jumping ship, as there’s no ship to jump to. What they’d love to do is sell you access to pieces of the internet like they currently do with TV channels: wanna play games online? $15 a month. Facebook? $15 a month. Yeah, Rogers already does exactly that with its phone service (the facebook part, that is). It sucks for the little guy, yeah. But it sucks for our entire country as we watch Canada become a technological backwater in an age when high-tech competitiveness is more important than ever. We have 60% cellphone ownership here compared to 80% in the US. Typical broadband speeds in Japan are nearly 10 times faster than the Canadian average. There are a lot of amazing things that can be done with ubiquitous high speed access if we’re not paying through the nose for the ‘privilege’.
So what should we do? Amongst other things, join the net neutrality Facebook group. By getting 40,000 members, Michael Geist’s Fair Copyright group was able to forestall brutal DMCA-style legislation up here, so it could very well work. Also check out this site although it hasn’t been updated in some time, the petition has 6000 signatures already. In general, just get the word out and let’s make this an issue that more people know about.
In the article Are all video games doomed to irrelevance in the Globe, Chad Saphieha argues that, well, title of article because unlike films and novels which are valued for their stories and characters, videogames are valued for “elements that are constantly evolving within the medium, such as game design, play mechanics, and, to a lesser degree, graphics”:
In order to be considered timeless, a work of art must necessarily affect its audience in a similar way and to a similar degree, regardless of when it happens to be viewed. Super Mario Bros. fails this test because those who play it for the first time today have experienced more modern games that significantly expand upon and outdo Nintendo’s archetypal platformer. Everything Super Mario Bros. does well—its run-and-jump action, its hidden levels, its rewarding coin collection system—has since been improved upon by countless other games. We rightfully acknowledge and respect that it served as inspiration for later games, but we also understand that many of these games have inarguably surpassed their original muse.
On the other hand, “If The Godfather had debuted in 2008 rather than 1972, it almost certainly would have received reviews that were just as rave as those it earned 35 years ago. Ditto for a classic novel like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.”
Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Let’s imagine the Godfather comes out right now – after Goodfellas, after The Sopranos, hell, after Analyze This. After countless mob stories of every variety, let alone after the aesthetics of music videos and commercials have had massive influences on the style and pace of film storytelling. It would be shrugged off as a well-acted but nonetheless stodgily-paced and derivative mob drama.
I should know. I recently lent my Godfather box set to a friend who had never actually seen the films. He was less than impressed, but understood a key point: the sheer influence the film has had on subsequent films lessens its impact. I’ve felt similarly watching Breathless and Rashomon: the feats of technique and storytelling that made them remarkable upon release – and indeed won their entry into the canon – now seem commonplace by virtue of widespread imitation.
This is perfectly natural. Appreciating these past artworks requires not only a sort of aesthetic suspension of disbelief but also a certain knowledge of the work’s history and context. Really, there is no ‘timelessness’ in art; every work has its time and place. A work may speak beyond its own, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have one. This is true of videogames just as it is of any other art form. Videogames may change more rapidly than other forms, but hey, what doesn’t these days? And really, despite the advances in graphics, AI and online play and suchlike, we’re still clearing levels and beating bosses like we were in the 80s.
People do still play Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. The classics live on in emulation and on Live Arcade and the Virtual Console and even in their original physical incarnation. (To say nothing of the many current releases, including many art games, making use of “dated” technology like 2D graphics.) Our classics – as young as they are yet – are still alive and well, thank you very much.
Toku, Nadine and D discuss the news of the day, including Take-Two’s rejection of EA’s latest buy-out offer, WiiWare, and the value of unlockable content in games.
The music: the track “After Mars” by artist Mesu Kasumai is available here. And the last track is Twilight Electric’s “Body Parts” available here. Both are members of the artist group 8bitpeoples who are totally awesome and amazing. Check them all out!
CrossOver Games lets you run Windows games on Linux or Intel Mac. You could do this on the mac with boot camp, of course, but you don’t need a Windows license to use CrossOver. Might be worth a look for some peeps.
As if this wasn’t the first thing I ever looked for on the tubes! Geesh. This is my favourite game of all time ever. After watching this and hearing the sounds and feeling that intense rightness about flying through geometry and math, my love for this game is utterly solidified. I adore this game.
So, here’s a speedrun (tool-assisted) of my fav game ever: Star Fox for the SNES.
It’s just under twenty minutes so if you have nothing better to do…Enjoy.
And yes, this isn’t so much WTF save for the fact that I can’t believe myself for having neglected this for so long.
Completely on another topic, I recently found the site of artist Roberto Campus who gives short tutorials on digital painting and Photoshop. I found the before and afters quite interesting since I have no artistic skill whatsoever myself.
Definitely check the site out, there’s loads of sci-fi, gaming, comics, and fantasy images that range from super freaky to sexy fine awesome.
Okay, I’ve been thinking. I’ve recently discovered that I’m filled with ire by the lack of variety of sexuality and gender in the gaming world.
In popular culture, well, in all culture gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/ two-spirited people get lost in the overwhelming difference in population percentage. Let’s be realistic (yes, some people are not what they seem though they may never act on it) and give all of the above around 15% of the total population. Books, television, movies, games are all made for the main goal of profit. You need to sell more cake, so make the kind of cake most people want and thus you sell more cake. Oh sure, you can have some other flavours, even pie sometimes, but mostly you’ll have the one cake that most people want and the rest can either go along with that choice, make their own damned cake, or find a smaller bakery to suit their needs. This analogy is making me hungry for sweet things, and I digress.
When I was just entering my teens I found myself yearning for something in my entertainment that I did not fully understand at the time. I was drawn to certain characters in tv and film that emanated a certain energy or had characteristics I found interesting because they had something slightly off about them, slightly out of sync with the rest of the characters and archetypes to which I had grown accustomed. I soon found out what I was picking up on was the fact that they were gay, or as close to it as they could be to fly under the censor radar. I also found out I was gay as well. Super gay.
I remember searching through the local library for anything I could find on the subject. I feel as if it was a rite of passage to take those books up to a very sour looking older woman as she scanned them quickly and offered me such a glare that to this day I’ve not forgotten it. I needed to seek out gay content to satisfy this fierce need within me to feel normal. I needed to read, hear, and see experiences that mirrored my own. If I couldn’t find that in the media around me, I just had to go digging for it. Glares be damned.
For any person who identifies as “not quite straight” the ability to see media through pink glasses is surprisingly easy and instinctual. I would see characters on tv and just automatically think of them as gay, even if series canon dictated otherwise. I would just click it in my head that they were and proceed enjoying the material. For games, however, being able to read between the lines and read subtle facial movements in different ways isn’t that easy. There are no pink gaming lenses as of yet.
When I play games I set myself up to explore a world and go on an adventure, much as I would when reading a book or watching a film. I accept that this is someone else’s vision and story and that I am merely the audience. I also accept that making a game is a complex beast and certain choices need to be made. Hero: male or female? For a long time the choice was almost always male. For many of the “hardcore” games this still rings true. Only recently have games like G.R.A.W 2 included the ability to make your character a female, for online play anyway. My beloved Halo 3 simply has a female voice feature for online multiplayer. Yippee.
It was only when I played Jade Empire years ago that the strange feeling I was so accustomed to, just like in my teens, lifted. Jade Empire was my Xena of gaming. In Jade Empire I played a female character, but another female character reacted to me in the same way she would if I had chosen a male lead. I was astonished. I would refer to her as “my girlfriend” when I was chatting with my cousin as he watched me play. And when he played as a male character I would tell him to “be nice to my girlfriend” even though he chose to be super evil and sell innocent people to slave traders, and also kill my gf at the end of the game. What a bastard.
Jade Empire showed me that I was lacking in the fulfilling experience part of my play. That the majority of games took a certain road in storytelling that I had taken as an unbreakable norm until Bioware showed me that was incorrect thinking. They came back again with the much talked about “lesbian” sex in Mass Effect only this time their approach was a little flawed. The fact that you could be female or male was terrific. And getting with an alien? Brilliant. The flaw was that the alien had so many “female” characteristics, complete with a lilting voice. This excluded the male/male alien sex perspective entirely. Oh Bioware said it was a sexless being, but our eyes and ears said “that’s a she-lady!”.
Yet this game was so close to the mark for what I want in every game from now on. Bioshock? That’s First Person, so why not make a female character too? Give me the choice! Halo? Samus was a fully loaded cybernetic warrior, I don’t need much and the extra voice work is nothing with the pithy amount of lines Master Chief delivers. He’s super big anyway, what difference would it make to have a female version?
Fable let me woo any gender, but I was still locked into being male from the get go.
Now you may be saying, “What the hell! You can’t choose the sex/gender of every protagonist in a book or a movie! Suck it up!” No, I can’t do that. But those are linear, and in some ways, limited experiences. A game is an interactive story with so many gameplay variables, why can I not play through the story with the gender and sexuality (when applicable) I choose? Why can’t I play Halo as a woman? Why can’t I play the way I want to? When Cortana talks to the Chief with such a special fondness, why can I not experience that as a male or a female?
Games are engineered, and in this rapidly evolving art form why is it that I am forced to play as a man and have all interactions under the assumption that I am straight and I enjoy straight content. Bioware has shown that with a little extra effort this assumption can be removed from the equation altogether. That the experience of the game can be varied with no damage to the overall feel or plot of the game. Jade Empire is sadly my only example of this. There may be others I am not aware of, I hope there are, but right now what I am seeing and feeling in my playing experience is a limitation. And limitations in an arena of unparalleled freedom to create experiences and new visions of storytelling are a sad thing.
I understand it takes a huge amount of effort to make a game. Character animations, cinematics, voice acting, I get it. I understand that not every story can be told in a genderless way. I want to play Conan as a male, I want that kind of game too. What I am talking about here is the option for more. That the default setting on storytelling does not always fall into the majority cake factor. I want to enjoy a variety in games. I think now is the time to be critical of this tradition in gaming. Bigger, better games are coming and they are coming fast. I’m not asking for equality in those games, no that’s not the issue, I’m asking for variety. Let the vast human experience have just a wee bit more room in the realm of gaming.
I sincerely hope that the future of gaming is not constrained by a begrudging and slow acceptance of that other 15% percent. In the past twenty years gay and lesbian content has soared in books, magazines, tv, and film. I just hope it doesn’t take that long for the world of gaming to do the same.
Word is in on the remaining map from the Halo 3 Legendary Map Pack: it’s Blackout, a remake of Lockout. I didn’t think that would happen as Guardian is so similar, but there we go. Bungie producer Allen Murray says “Lockout was leaps and bounds ahead of every other map in terms of games played and the public demand.” It’s a classic, that’s for sure.
This really should be a WTF Wednesday post because it’s just so stupid. Why would you deny the basic and essential features for a game like Rock Band?
Stephen Totilo over at MTV Multiplayer got some answers and seems to think that there is an online future for the game on the Wii. I say if it’s not there when the gate opens trust nothing! All my friends who have the game have already downloaded additional songs. It’s like one of the first things you do! There’s five extra songs in this version. Five. Because that is a satisfying number.
So… I’ve taken a week break from Eyeless Max in order to horrify our readers with a drawn representation of my naked body. Not even steel wool will be able to scrub that one out of your brain.
D and I have been going Halo nuts. D has been even analyzing past matches to find our weak points. So let me sum up what we’ve been doing in our matches:
We are sub-par Halo players. We are far from the best on the net, but we aren’t terrible… no random blind shooting in the hope of hitting things. We have been mysteriously winning most of our matches, however. How? well… Any combination of D, Rugatu, Leto, Nadine, Duiker, (and a few others that I’ve most likely forgotten) go online as a team and talk to each other rapidly. We’ve found that we actually fare pretty well against people who would normally have us dead to rights by just sticking together, covering each others asses, and holing up when things are tight…
a) Bubble shields are your friends: Plug up small entrances with ‘em… prevent your enemies from making long distance kills by forcing them to come to you.
b) Keep your distance: Guru players love instant kills with shotguns, hammers, and beatdowns… they wait around corners and don’t move so they don’t show up on the radar, so tread carefully and remember… your battle rifle is an amazing tool for taking them down without getting close… Aim for the head…
c) Go in twos. This way you can cover entrances easier, bump off weakened enemies who just pegged your pal, and move with relative safety.
d) Go for the bigguns: Learn the maps on your own and where the heavy hitting weapons are. If enemies learn that all you use is a rocket launcher they’ll think of you as a threat and find a way to kill you… but if you use it randomly and sparingly enough you can really throw people off balance. Show them you have the power but not the ego to abuse it. keep them guessing…
e) Jayne’s favorite toy: Grenades! that’s right…. they’re everywhere… when in doubt… toss a grenade. They keep your enemy mobile and prevents campers, they flush out corners and corridors, they cause you enemies attention to briefly go elsewhere… they are a fantastic tool. And it’s a great surprise for the asshole hiding in the dark with a Grav Hammer.
f) Finally: Talk… give your pals a running commentary of where you are and what you see. Information is the key… use it.
My cousin Dom and I (went to a family event on the weekend and ate so much food) played this bugger for the entire weekend and I have oh so much to tell! It’s five parts hilarious, two parts horrible, and three parts we’re still playing it, so if that tells you anything…then, well, you are an alchemist.
Here’s the trailer again to refresh those memory engrams.
But good gods people the script is so funny sometimes! And the voice acting! Oh man, Dom and I were at once creeped out beyond measure and tickled pink at the sheer comedic gold of the line delivery. The game should almost be played purely for the dialogue alone. It’s like watching a “so bad it’s good movie” but in game terms. For serials.
I’ll have the full tested article later in the the week after we’ve finished the game, but I think you can tell which way I’m leaning…
It should be obvious as you read this that we have a new design goin’ on here. Come in, look around! Take off your shoes! Kick back and have a cold one, eh?
So we had a blog design before, and we were a blog. But we were doing longer articles, and it became frustrating to have them roll out of view whenever we found something shiny on YouTube. So the general idea behind the new look is to structure the content a little, introducing new sections and giving each section a little real estate on our front page. We also wanted to give first time visitors from Google and elsewhere a better sense of the content we provide, so individual entry pages are a little more fleshed out with all of our hot jazz.
So, generally, it’s all the same stuff as before, just shuffled around. Longer pieces will be in the features section, reviews will be in what we call tested (because we seem to like making up names for things), as before, the podcast is Robot Sounds, and the comics have their own place now, aptly named comics. General bloggy stuff now lives in the Roblog. What we called ‘links’ before is now called “In brief”, and it lives over in the side columns as before. There’s no section for that, as it’s a feed from delicious.
The layout before was pretty minimalist. Now that fabulously talented designer Nadine Lessio has given us a much lusher, 4 column look, we’ve got room for a lot of little widgets that hopefully will come in handy to all of us. There’s a list of recent comments, recent posts, what we consider the best posts, etc.
We’re also deploying some ads for the first time. This was always the goal, but it didn’t seem worth doing until we had the new design up. Hope you don’t mind ‘em, as we’ve got to find some way to pay for our wallet-crushing videogame addictions!
Finally, lots of stuff may still need tweaking, or may actually be horribly broken. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of integrating a new design into an existing publishing system like ours, and I’m sure I messed a few things up. So if you see something that isn’t working right, let us know and we’ll fix that bastard up! In the meantime, hope you like what you see.
9 Home Gaming Setups Better Than Yours. Indizzeed. I’ve got a pretty ok rig myself, but these homeboys blow my measly 42 inches out of the water. You know the deal, for the most part: enormous flatscreens, theatre seats, speakers multiplying like rabbits on cialis. But how about multiple plasmas? A row of arcade consoles? And the piece de resistance: Jerry Rice’s home snack counter, with popcorn machine, candy and chocolates, and neon signage. Classé.
So, since I am a Guitar Hero/Rock Band crazy person I was delighted to see the DS add-on for the franchise. At least I was for the first fifteen minutes.
Thinking about it more I actually think this game will frustrate me, maybe even make me feel silly playing it, which is something so far I’ve avoided. Even when Toku txts me (yeah, we txt at home sometimes…that is silly) and asks me why I’m typing so furiously in my room when in fact I’m just playing with headphones on, I still don’t feel silly.
This thing just looks…awkward. I’ll have to try it out (release date supposedly sometime in the summer) and maybe I’ll be over the moon singing daisies about it. But I have concerns yo. Concerns. Like my hand already gets sore after awhile and now I’m going to have to hold my DS in one hand and I know there’s gonna me serious wrist aching going on.
Also, that is the lamest video game commercial I’ve seen in recent times. Kids don’t jump around to play games, they sit and move as little as possible for as long as possible. Silly rabbit, exertion is for adults.
Child obesity, awesome.
(It’s actually not. It’s gross and terrible and if you have a kid they shouldn’t touch video games until they are fifteen and even then sparingly.)
Hey, Team Halo! Your new, expensive maps are here. Or rather they’re coming April 15th. The New Legendary Map Pack includes the huge “Avalanche”, an update of Halo 1’s Sidewinder (with Hornets and tanks and Men Cannon).
There’s also Ghost Town, a new, asymmetrical, smaller map.
There will be a third, as-yet unrevealed map that the press release describes as a “returning classic… fans of smaller Slayer maps, it’s time to get excited.” I don’t think it will be lockout, so.. Foundation? The Map Pack costs the same as the Heroic pack did, 800 Microsoft Points. There will also apparently be some new Forge options.
Well, we were playing Smash Bros. Brawl and something occurred to us as we wrestled through the co-op campaign… This could have been done on the Game Cube. In fact we even used Game Cube controllers while playing. There was little difference between Melee and Brawl. It made us wonder why a sensor bar wasn’t just released for the Game Cube in the first place and save us a butt load of cash. Aside from the downloading and internet capability the WII doesn’t provide for ANYTHING we couldn’t have gotten from the Cube…. stupid technology…
My cousin Rugatu and I had a better Idea for Smash Bros. than what we played. Call it “Smash Bros. Shooter.” Basically it would take the aiming capability provided by the WII by turning the game into a third person shooter. Wouldn’t that be awesome? We could deathmatch on Unreal style levels using an array of adorable weapons. Would that not be fucking AWESOME?!
The introduction of Snake to brawl made me realize something… real people would NOT survive being walloped by a mallet the size of a barrel. It would not end well and poor Snake, awesome stealth/military ability aside, would have his ass handed to him in the Cartoon world of Nintendo Smash Brother titles.
This Comic took me 14 hours… you better like it, you ungrateful bastards.
I was only mildly put off with the “Press X, now O!” gameplay during God of War 2. I didn’t really like it but everything else made up for it. Then I played Beowulf (I know, I know) but what could have been a nice hack and slash also went the way of the simon says. I dislike simon says, always have. When I’m playing a character with a giant metal weapon I want to wield said weapon with my own sense of timing and aggression. It completely sucks the soul outta of a fight when you’re just mashing to the visual cues. This is not Guitar Hero this is swordplay dammit!
It’s like reading the Narnia books. You know everything is gonna be okay because it’s already written somewhere in the deep magic of the world. There’s no spontaneity, Aslan brings people there when he needs shit done and they do it, but he already knew they would. Same thing with this test your reflex crap. When it’s time to take out the Big Bad just let me do it in my own combo variation way, please.
So then I was playing Conan (yeah, gave up on that…I figured why play that when I could just play the original, hence Chains…) and the reflex crap was back again with a vengeance. It was toned down in Conan but I still had to open every heavy door with a steady mashing of the circle button. Why? Why do doors suddenly have to be a five second mini-game that adds absolutely nothing to the overall experience but frustration? Even my beloved Ratchet and Clank had door opening mini-games, but at least those were fun, what with sparking circuitry and all.
It’s just developer/publisher-who-wants-quick-profit laziness. It goes like this:
Silly Head A – Why not just ripoff this combat mechanic from this mega popular game so that all our games can be mega popular?
Silly Head B – Yeah, let’s do that!
Silly Head A – Oh no wait hey we’ve overdone it and now every one else is doing it too and this isn’t really fun anymore…
Silly Head B – I’m getting KFC for dinner!
Silly Head A – Tasty!
See, that’s how it is. And much like KFC, reflex button mashing is crap. Fatty, against nature, unrepentantly evil crap. This is only my opinion, you may disagree, but I firmly believe the fun is being leeched out of my fav game type. I loves me the action adventures, and if this trend keeps on truckin then I may have to switch. Lost Odyssey is helping with that, but I’ll tell you more about that later.
And that, my friends, is the end of that! Well, I’m going to stop talking about it but the mediocrity shall continue unabated for much, much longer I’m sure.