Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Kojima, 2001): The Mega Analysis

Upon the release of Hideo Kojima's 'Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots' earlier this year, critics heaped praise onto this final chapter of the Metal Gear saga. The review at Gamespot, my preferred site for reviews, begins with this:

"Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the most technically stunning video game ever made. It's also a fine example of storytelling prowess within its medium, combining gameplay and narrative so slickly and beautifully that it's impossible to extricate one from the other. It's likely you will emerge awestruck from your first play-through, wishing the experience would continue yet nonetheless satisfied with its conclusion. It's difficult not to sound hyperbolic when discussing MGS4 because every part of its design seemingly fulfills its vision, without compromise. There is no halfway."

I am not here to talk about this game. I'm here to talk about 'Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty'. I haven't played the fourth title yet, but what that review says about the fourth title I would apply to the second. I'm going to go ahead and say that for me, this was the best videogame narrative I've ever experienced. By the time the final credits rolled I was so blown away that I had trouble sleeping that night, trying to make sense of what I had just experienced.

Speaking to a good friend a few days later, I said that it's almost a shame that MGS2 is a videogame, in that it requires you to play it to experience it, that you can't just sit back and be a passive observer. But that's also the beauty of it, because the game begins to toy with you right off the bat, leading you down further and further rabbit holes, which eventually start to break the fourth wall, leading up to a point where you, the player, are the one being played.

It's difficult to talk specifically about MGS2 without giving too much away. It's told in two chapters. The first chapter begins with you, back as Solid Snake, investigating a tanker leaving New York harbor in the middle of the night. It's been two years since the Shadow Moses incident, the name given to what happened in the first game. Snake now works with Otacon, the scientist and inventor of the original Metal Gear, for a group named 'Philanthropy', with the goal to rid the world of all Metal Gears, which have now become widely available since Ocelot, one of the main baddies from the first game, made off with the test data after the Shadow Moses incident and sold it on the black market. Otacon has learned (under mysterious circumstances) that a new version of Metal Gear is being transported on this vessel and Snake is being sent to investigate. Snake makes his way onboard, and let's just say things don't go as planned, resulting in the tanker sinking just off the coast of Manhattan.

Then the real story begins. In chapter 2 you start off as Snake, or at least you think you're Snake, being given a briefing in a scene eerily reminiscent of the original Metal Gear Solid. You're reminded about an oil tanker that sunk off the coast of Manhattan two years ago, and how the government came in and created 'The Big Shell' - an offshore platform built to clean up the mess. Just like with the original MGS, you're told that the President was touring the facility when terrorists took over the platform and are demanding a ransom, otherwise they'll kill the President and blow the Big Shell, resulting in an even greater environmental disaster. Then, in a bizarre twist, you're told that the leader of the terrorists is Solid Snake himself! And then it's revealed that you, the player, are not Snake, but Raiden, an effeminate whiny-voiced soldier who's had extensive training in virtual reality scenarios but who's now on his first real world mission.

This completely throws you off as the player, for you know what happened two years ago with the tanker, you just played that part, and now you're not only told an alternate history of those events, but you're told that Snake was responsible (which he wasn't)! And on top of that you're not playing as Snake, the hero, but as some other guy! What's going on here??

Things get weirder. Colonel Hoffman, who, just like in the original MGS commands the operation, informs you that he had to get a replacement communications officer due to some unforeseen circumstances. For the replacement he's picked... Rose, your girlfriend? Raiden is baffled by this, as are we. Over the course of the game Raiden will have many conversations with Rose via Codec, a sort of video-chat player Kojima uses as his primary narrative device. These talks with Rose are often lengthy discussions on the meaning of relationships, the importance of communication, and the importance of trust. I've never witnessed such conversations in a videogame, and even most television and movies don't go into such painstaking detail of how conversations in relationships can play out. Plus she refers to Raiden by his real name, Jack. So we've got Jack and Rose, a la a movie about a sinking ship, I don't think this is just coincidence. Watch an example of these conversation here (skip the first 20 seconds).

More bizarre things happen. As the story progresses you run into a man who looks and talks exactly like Solid Snake (voiced by the same actor), but who goes by the ridiculous name Iriquois Pliskin. You meet another Cyborg-Ninja, just like in the original game, who gives you a gift from some group called the 'La Li Lu Le Lo'. As the game goes on the rug is continually pulled out from under the player. Twists within twists. Eventually the game itself (or is it Kojima?) starts to toy with you, implementing fake game over screens ('Fission Mailed' instead of 'Mission Failed') and other bizarre happenings that break the fourth wall.

And then comes the finale, where the game becomes so bizarre and ridiculous I didn't know what to think. I was reminded of the infamous boat ride scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where you begin to think the director is either crazy or he's just having his way with you. I thought, "Has Kojima just lost it at this point? Is he just messing with me knowing that I'm too far involved not to continue?" Things got so strange near the end that I called out to my girlfriend in the other room to come witness what I was seeing to make sure I wasn't crazy. I thought that perhaps Kojima was some alien genius whose brain functioned at a higher level because I have no idea how he thought this stuff up, wrote it, and executed it so brilliantly. It's like some bizarre combination of the intricate and meticulous plots of Umberto Eco, mixed with the surrealness of David Lynch, and topped off with a dash of eccentric Japanese anime flair.

I can't describe the ending without ruining the story, but it ends with a whole treatise on the nature of self and truth, the importance of faith and free-will, and how our past is linked to our future as a species. In attempting to understand everything I stumbled across this site (it's one huge spoiler, you've been warned) which is devoted entirely to a discussion of the finale. I found this part was a good summation of the first two MGS games:

"The first Metal Gear Solid deals with the question, 'How much of a human being is defined by the genes?'. Naturally, the theme for the second is its complimentary part, 'How much of a human being is defined by information?'"

Update: This last Christmas day my dad gave me a catalog from MIT press to look at to see if there were any books I might be interested in. I ran into this book, which appears to deal with what I think Kojima was trying to say. Also, I've read that Goedel, Escher, Bach is another good place to start.

That's it for my look at Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I'll leave you with the closing credits to the game, set against shots of New York City and Federal Hall (where the game ends) with a great accompanying jazzy piece of music that fits perfectly. Stick around for the end to hear Snake's final monologue (and click on Part 41 if you dare to listen to the final Codec call, a Metal Gear tradition, major spoilers!).

P.S - Did I forget to mention there's a part where Raiden runs around naked? You can watch a short X-Play retrospective of this memorable incident.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update: Shoe Attack Already Turned Into Videogame

Not 24 hours since the incident occured a game company has already gone ahead and made a flash game based off of this soon-to-be-infamous event. Play it here. No respect I tell ya', no respect!

Update: Check out these animated .gifs, I really like the Matrix and Three Stooges ones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mega Man: The Movie!

Ok, so the above trailer isn't for a real film. It's just a fan made trailer for a fictional Mega Man movie. There's a lot of fan service going on, so if haven't played a Mega Man game in a while you might not get it all, but for a couple of fans working with zero budget it's pretty damn fun to watch and imagine "what if...". Now, it's nowhere near as good as the fake Legend of Zelda trailer IGN.com put out earlier this year, which looks so real that upon viewing it my girlfriend said "why don't they just make the real thing, millions of people would go see it anyways." Besides the ridiculous looking Ganon, it looks like a real trailer for a real film. Watch it below:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Skimbleshanks the... Dance Dance Revolution Cat??

Broadway will turn anything into a musical nowadays. ANYTHING. Legally Blonde? Check. ABBA tribute? Check. Dance Dance Revolution the musical? Check! Word on the street this morning is that everyone's favorite "let's watch the fat kid excel at the one thing he's good at" party game will be making it's debut on Broadway. It's about damn time I'm sure some of you are saying.
This adaptation of the popular dancing video game franchise will star Van Hansis of As The World Turns. And if that doesn't clinch it for you, perhaps the description of the musical will:

"Set in an Orwellian society where a dance prophet named Moonbeam Funk helps dancing youth gangs rebel against a fascist government. The company working on the show describes it as "like Footloose set in the future — but kind of scarier, and with 40 really attractive, barely-clothed young actors and buckets of free beer."

Footloose, in the future! Sign me up!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Time to Line Up (for a Wii)

NPR posted an article recently comparing the rise of recent videogame sales to the rise of movies during the Great Depression. In the pun-tacularly titled article "In Tough Economic Times, Video Games Console", writer Laura Sydell examines how during the Depression people started going to the movies more in order to find some cheap entertainment and forget their worries, and sees similarities to our modern times. While movie revenues continue to remain even, sales of videogames are up 43% from this time last year. She sees this in part as "getting more bang for your buck." Looks like more and more people would rather pay $50 for something that will keep them entertained for months rather than something that lasts just a few hours.

With Nintendo Wii's still flying off the shelves (I've yet to actually see one on a store shelf and they've been out for nearly two years now), combined with Nintendo's heavy marketing focus on families and the casual gamer, plus the rise of HDTVs, it looks like more Americans are deciding to stay in instead of going out. And with the Dow dropping another 679 points today, it may be that way for awhile.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bungie Announces New Halo Game, Internet Asplodes

Late last night, or early in the morning if you were there at the Tokyo Game Show, Bungie announced that the new game they are working on is Halo 3: Recon. With an amazingly cool trailer and equally cool box art, the internet promptly asploded into a million bits. This time there's no Master Chief, it looks to have a darker tone (doesn't that Covenant ship look a lot like the ships from Terminator?), and it looks to take place on Earth between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3. Well actually it takes place during Halo 2 since in the trailer you can see the slipspace rupture caused by the Prophet of Regret's ship entering slipspace which promptly destroyed New Mombasa which happened right after the first few levels of Halo 2... oh just watch the trailer here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Number 1: Super Mario Bros. - "World 1-1" (Nintendo, 1985)

Number 1 on my list of best first levels in videogaming is the first level of Super Mario Bros. This level is probably familiar to anyone who has had even the remotest contact with videogaming. It's also probably THE most played level in any videogame ever if you think about it. Who doesn't know those opening few steps, running up to the '?' block, the little Goomba which makes its way towards you, only to be squashed by Mario's jump, with a mushroom power-up as a reward? And then there's the memorable tune, the Super Marios Bros. theme if you will (not sure on the actual title or if it even has a title). It's so simple, yet so catchy, and ultimately very memorable. Nearly anyone who played the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the 80's can hum along with it, it practically defined the sound of videogaming during that time.

Then there's the story of a plumber named Mario and his brother Luigi, off to rescue the princess of someplace called 'the Mushroom Kingdom' from a giant turtle/dragon thing named King Koopa (the name Bowser would come later). Moving his way from left to right, Mario conquers his foes by 'stomping', or jumping, on top of them, encountering bizarre enemies such as large turtles, some of which have wings and fly, fireball spewing piranha plants that pop out of giant oversized pipes, flying men in clouds that drop spikey turtle things, hammer tossing turtle brothers, and all sorts of strange and bizarre creatures. Oh, and in order to 'power-up' the character Mario, he acquires giant mushrooms that pop out of bricks, which glide away unless Mario runs after them. Who the hell came up with this stuff??

The man behind this madness is Shigeru Miyamoto, whose name belongs in the above credits more than Nintendo does. A student of art and industrial design, Miyamoto was hired by Nintendo of Japan in 1977 as a staff artist. A few years later, when the newfound Nintendo of America was struggling to come up with a hit, Miyamoto was recruited to design a new game. This was rather unprecedented as nearly all videogame designers at the time hailed from the computer programming field, no one hired 'artists' to make games. He ended up creating two of the most enduring videogame charactes to date, a giant barrel-tossing gorilla, and a little mustachioed protagonist originally named 'Jumpman'. This of course was the game Donkey Kong. The name Jumpman was changed for the American release. The story goes that Miyamoto and the other designers were sitting around trying to come up with a name for this character when their landlord Mario Segale came knocking, asking for the overdue rent. And thus Jumpman became Mario.

World 1-1 is a great level because it does nearly everything right. Right off the bat it teaches you that you can stomp on your enemies to get rid of them. The '?' blocks invite you to 'hit' them from below, and the very second block contains a power-up, which is nearly impossible to avoid since it slides around and bounces off the pipe in front of you, coming back in your direction. The aforementioned pipe teaches you to jump over obstacles. What makes it all work is that the gameplay just feels right. Mario's controls are very tight and precise. There's a lot of nuance in his jump, so that with a good run Mario can leap over a long chasm, or with just a short press of a button he'll jump correspondingly shorter. Mario's stomping move is also well implemented. Enemies such as goombas are defeated with just one hit. Koopas require two hits to get their shells moving, but even then there's the danger that their shell will bounce off of an object and come flying back, sometimes resulting in a shell infininetely moving back and forth. The addition of the fire flower power-up allows Mario to shoot fireballs, with koopas now dying in one hit, thus adding another level of depth to the simple gameplay. All in all, everything from how Mario controls, to how the enemies behave, to the availability of power-ups, it all just works.

Gaming journalists often talk about a lack of a 'Citizen Kane' of videogames. Newsweek's N'gai Croal doesn't like this debate, in this article from Slate.com, he says this:

"Would you ask whether literature had produced a Guernica, or whether photography had produced an Oedipus Rex, or whether film had produced a Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde? What's with this urge that many people have to compare games to other media—particularly movies—and find them wanting on those other media's terms? (Are we all Roger Ebert now?)"

I can see what Croal is trying to get at here, that every media should be taken on its own terms. Perhaps in comparing videogames to film we are missing the point, we should be looking at the genre of videogames as their own unique medium, it's just not fair asking for a Citizen Kane to come along and legitimize the form.

While Croal and others are arguing over this I think they're missing the Citizen Kane of videogames lurking right here in their midst. We've had it since 1985, and it's the game this article is about. I would say that Super Mario Bros. is the game these guys are looking for. Super Mario Bros. was responsible for arcade games transitioning into modern videogames. Until that point gaming was something you did at arcades, bowling alleys, and bars - something to pass the time away while you threw back some beers. The purpose of games like Pong, Asteroids and Donkey Kong was to provide the consumer with some fun while getting them to throw another quarter in the slot. There was no real concept of 'progress' within a game, there hadn't been born the idea that a game could be 'finished'. Have you seen The King of Kong? (highly recommended by the way) Only a handful of people have ever gotten to the end of Donkey Kong, and there's no real end, the game just sort of bugs out. With Super Mario Bros. gamers were invited to play a new kind of game, one where they could progress through a series of levels and ultimately defeat a big bad guy and win the game.

Super Mario had elements of arcade games that came before it, and through a combination of an amazing art style, memorable music, a bizarre world, and expertly crafted gameplay, it helped elevate gaming to something that hadn't been seen or done before. Gaming was no longer just about playing a game to see your high score, it was now about enjoying the whole experience, from the music to the visuals, familiarizing yourself with the layout of each level, and learning how to master the controls until you too could get to that final castle and save that damn princess!

Oh, and to take the analogy of films and videogames one step further, it would probably be better to compare Super Mario Bros. to The Godfather, with Super Mario Bros. 3 as The Godfather Part II.

For all these reasons, Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 is my pick for best first level of all time. Watch it here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Number 2: Half Life 2 - "Point Insertion" (Valve, 2004)

Returning back now with my list for best first levels in videogames, the number 2 spot belongs to the opening of Valve's sequel to its astounding masterpiece "Half Life". The opening level of Half Life 2 is called "Point Insertion". It begins with you, as our hero Gordon Freeman, being awoken by the mysterious "G-Man", who we'll come back to later. The original Half Life opened with the level "Anamalous Materials", with Gordon going to work on his first day of his new job at Black Mesa, a sort of secret government testing facility.

What makes the Half Life games unique is that the entire story is seen from your point of view. There are no cinematic sequences, no cuts, nothing at all to remind you that you are playing a game. The games play in a sort-of real time, with everything being directly experienced by you as the player. This was best witnessed during the opening of the original Half Life, with Gordon entering the Black Mesa facility as if he were just going to work, with the characters around you greeting you, giving you your nametag and ID and showing you your office. There was a never a game as immersive, and the game laid the groundwork for many games to come, such as Bioshock, which was also featured on this countdown.

So why did I choose Point Insertion over Anamalous Materials? Well, Anamalous Materials was absolutely amazing for its time and Point Insertion definitely couldn't have happened without it. But I'm of the opinion that the opening of Half Life 2 provides for a greater gameplay experience, subtly teaching you the mechanics of the game while effectively showing the world and conveying the atmosphere better than its predecessor. Anamalous Materials could be faulted for its lack of gameplay. While the opening tram-ride scene has been lauded, it doesn't provide for much gameplay besides looking around and taking in the environment. Because of this, I find Point Insertion a better opening level, if only by a hair.

What is the story of Half Life you may ask? Well, Gordon Freeman, fresh out of M.I.T., arrives for his first day of work. He's invited to take part in some sort of experiment which utilizes his knowledge of nuclear physics when something goes wrong during said experiment, opening a dimensional rift, allowing trans-dimensional aliens to invade and overrun the facility. After a lengthy battle working his way through the facility battling not only the aliens, but also the military who've been sent in to "contain the outbreak", Gordon succeeds in stopping the invasion and is subsequently placed in some sort of stasis by the mysterous "G-Man", an unknown figure who pops up throughout both games who appears to be observing Gordon and his progress (think of the cigarrette smoking man from The X-Files).

As I stated in the beginning, Half Life 2 opens with you, as Gordon Freeman being awoken from your stasis by the G-Man who ends his opening monologue with the lines "The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world. So wake up Mr. Freeman, wake up and smell the ashes."

You awake to find yourself on a train. There's just a small handful of people with you there. They're all wearing the same jumpsuits, with numbers sewn onto the chest, like something you'd see in a prison or concentration camp. One of them remarks that he didn't see you get on. The train pulls into the station and as you walk out the door you are presented with the grim nightmare world of Half Life 2. Apparently not everything went well after your success at Black Mesa. As you learn over the course of the game, an alien force known as "The Combine" has taken over the world. Having been attracted to Earth after you accidentally opened the dimensional rift in the first game, the Combine quickly took over in what became known as "The Seven Hour War", after which Earth surrendered. Apparently the Combine have decimated most of Earth's population, leaving only a handful of humans left to live in highly controlled city centers known only by their number.

You are greeted on the overhead TV screens by a welcoming voice. "Welcome, welcome to City 17. You have chosen, or been chosen to relocate to one of our finest remaining urban centers. I thought so much of City 17 that I elected to establish my administration here in the citadel, so thoughtfully provided by our benefactors. I am proud to call City 17 my home. And so, whether you are here to stay, or passing through to parts unknown, welcome, to City 17. It's safer here. " This is the voice of Dr. Breen, who will become the antagonist of the game, and you can detect just a slight hint of uneasiness, or maybe it's weariness, in his voice. This is definitely not the Earth you left behind.

As you make your way through the train station you are treated to an amazingly life-like world. From the dilapidated buildings, to the way the "Civil Protection", in their gasmasks and creepy vocoder voices push you around, to the little scenes that take place (like where you can see the poor guy being interrogated through the slit in the door), the game effectively builds the atmosphere of a nightmarishly dystopian world, that perhaps recalls the horror of WWII ghettos.

You run into an old friend disguised as a member of Civil Protection (CP) who briefly catches you up on what's been going on. He's part of an underground resistance movement against the Combine and directs you to make it to a nearby safehouse. Soon you make your way outside to the main plaza, where you first catch a glimpse of the enormous Citadel, a towering alien structure many miles tall. You make your way through a few alleyways where you stumble across the CP in action, terrorizing and beating a few citizens inside an apartment building, apparently for no reason. This scene reminds me vaguely of the part in THX-1138 with the robot officer beating the person being broadcast on TV (also used as a sound sample on the opening track of Nine Inch Nails' 'The Downward Spiral'). This is definitely a grim world.

Eventually the Combine picks up that you aren't supposed to be in the city. Over a loudspeaker you hear a calm British female voice saying there's been a miscount of people in the sector. Soon the CP are onto you. They chase you across the rooftops, with alien-like helicopters on your tail. You make your way to another building only to find yourself surrounded by CPs. That's when you are saved by Alyx Vance, the comely daughter of one of your old work buddies, who becomes your companion for the remainder of the game.

This level does a lot of things right. It sets up the atmosphere for the rest of the game and it teaches you the basic mechanics of the game with nice subtle touches, like how it teaches you to pick up objects by having a CP officer order you to pick up a piece of trash and throw it away. It's also interesting how there's no HUD during this first level. With no life bars or ammo gauges to clutter up the screen it allows for a more immersive experience. For all these reasons this is why I've chosen Point Insertion as my number two pick.

Watch the level here, and if you're interested watch Anamalous Materials here.

(As a side note, I really enjoyed the ending of this game too. Though it could be said that it's exteremely abrupt, I thought it fit perfectly. Also, I haven't played through Episodes 1 and 2, so please no spoilers!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rock Band 2 Is Broken

This just in from my favorite gaming blog Joystiq: The talking parts in Rock Band 2 are broken. Need proof? They recited the Declaration of Independence to the Beastie Boys' "So Whatcha Want" (a song that doesn't have any singing parts) on Expert difficulty and got 100%. Not only that, but it's in the most drab, monotone voice possible, and hilarious! Watch it here and giggle away!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Number 3: Resident Evil 4 - Pre-title sequence (Capcom, 2005)

The opening of 2005's Resident Evil 4 starts off as quite the innocuous "first level" but just as the player begins to grasp the gameplay's basic concepts, turns into one of the most thrilling, exciting, nail-biting sequences in modern gaming, and hot damn is it fun!

In Resident Evil 4 you find yourselves back in the shoes of Leon Kennedy, star of Resident Evil 2. In the opening cinematic we listen as Leon summarizes the events of RE2 (townsfolk turn into zombies created by evil corporation, Leon saving the day - the usual zombie plot). We learn that Leon has gone from lowly police officer to government agent superstar. When word breaks that the President's daughter Ashley has been kidnapped while travelling abroad, Leon is sent to an unnamed foreign country (ahem... Spain) to her last known whereabouts to track her down and bring her back.

When you arrive on the outskirts of a small country village everything appears normal. You enter a house asking a local resident about Ashley. While Leon talks, the resident sits there with his back towards Leon stoking his fireplace. Suddenly he turns around wielding an axe. You respond swiftly, taking him out. You take out a few more folk along the road as they attempt to attack you. They don't look like zombies, they just look angry... strange.

Ok, so you've gotten about 10 minutes to try out the controls, get a basic idea of how to aim and shoot, taking out a couple 'non-zombies' when without warning the game amps up the difficulty of the situation to a nearly absurd degree. You enter the village proper and see the residents going about their business. You creep around the side of a house to get a better look. One of the townsfolk spots you and then suddenly the townsfolk go f-ing batshit crazy!

A huge mob makes its way towards you, armed with axes, pitchforks, and other blunt instruments. At this point you have several options open but the most common one is to barricade yourself inside a nearby house. You run inside, you can move dressers and tables in front of the doors and windows to slow the oncoming mob. You think you're safe for a minute when suddenly there's a guy with a freakin' burlap sack over his head wielding a chainsaw coming through the door straight at you!!

You run upstairs, find a shotgun mounted on the wall and take it. The townsfolk are putting ladders up to climb through the second story windows, they've made it past your barricade and are moving inside the house towards the staircase. The chainsaw wielding maniac is gunning right for you, with the intent to stick that chainsaw right in your head. You do the only thing you can, you just start shooting in every direction. You take out one guy only to have three more directly behind him, you shoot the chainsaw guy right in the face with the shotgun yet he still gets back up! Some crazed woman is running at you with an axe! You don't know what to do, you're shooting at this crazed mob but they just keep coming at you, you're running out of ammo, you're thinking "Oh shit, am I really supposed be taking on ALL these people this damn early in the game??!?"

And then as suddenly as it began - it stops. Church bells ring in the distance, the townsfolk turn around and leave, making their way towards the church, muttering something about "Lord Saddler". Leon walks outside. As Leon whirls around asking himself where everybody went the camera pulls away, moving to an aerial view of the town, and THEN, finally, the title of the game comes up, with the words "Resident Evil" and you realize that you've only just seen the intro to the game. Then you realize that you've just pissed your pants.

Watch a video here (sorry for the poor quality but it's the only decent one I could find).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Number 4: Bioshock - "Welcome to Rapture" (2k Games, 2007)

The number 4 spot on my list belongs to the opening of last year's critically acclaimed Bioshock. The game takes place in the city of Rapture, an art deco underwater city built as an objectivist utopia by a megalomaniac of a man named Andrew Ryan (a sort of play-on-words/anagram for Ayn Rand). You play as a man simply named 'Jack', who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the 1940's mid-Atlantic ocean.

Bioshock is a fascinating game because the game tasks you with hunting down and killing 'Big Daddies' - giant 'men' (we never get to glimpse who or what is inside) encased in oversized old-fashioned diving suits. You need to get rid of these Big Daddies because they protect the Little Sisters, small girls who walk around and harvest a material named 'Adam' from the dead bodies strewn around Rapture. You see, upon Jack's arrival you learn that something has gone horrible amiss in Rapture, leaving most of its citizens dead or so drugged-up that they've become ravenous killers. What you learn is that in this "anything goes" objectivist society, a new sort of drug/genetic modification was developed, called 'Plasmids', which gave its users phenomenal powers over the elements, allowing for such things as shooting electricity from one's hands, or the ability to turn water into ice. But something went wrong. It's a bit of a conceit, but is well implemented in the story. Plus it allows for some great old-fashioned advertising, like the old cigarette commercials from the '50's that look so silly and antiquated nowadays.

When you finally get to one of these Little Sisters you are presented with a choice, you can either choose to 'harvest' them, taking all the Adam they've accumulated but killing the Little Sister in the process, or you can choose to save them, removing the leech thing from their backs and returning them to normal, but sacrificing the precious Adam in the process. The first time you are confronted with this option it can be almost terrifying as you see a little girl looking at you in fear with the two options laid out in front of you. It seems that most people are unable to kill the little sister the first time, opting to save her instead.

The game also has one of the greatest twists in modern gaming, and in perhaps all of gaming. I don't want to divulge what it is here, but it's a great example of the reader-response school of literary criticism and really leaves the player to question what their role is in playing a videogame. I honestly felt that my trust hadn't been so much betrayed by the characters in the game, but that it was the actual game makers themselves who had betrayed me. I wish I could say more.

In the "Welcome to Rapture" segment we, as Jack, wake up from the plane crash to find ourselves floating in the water with the ruins of the plane crash around us. Water has never looked so damn good in a game. The fact that you don't have any sort of display at this point leaves a lot of people sitting there for a few minutes not realizing that the game has started. You swim a short way and see some sort of lighthouse protruding from the water nearby. You swim over to it and upon opening the front door are greeted with the statue of a scowling man holding a giant banner that reads: "No Gods or King, only Man". A short trip down the stairs brings you to the bathysphere (a giant diving bell). Upon pulling the lever the bathysphere closes and you are plunged underwater to begin your journey. Giant art-deco statues, straight from the cover of an Ayn Rand novel, appear outside holding signs which say how many fathoms deep you are. A movie screen pops up and a small "Welcome" movie begins to play. You are greeted by the voice of Andrew Ryan, who sounds something like Orson Welles, and he delivers his manifesto for why he built Rapture in one of gaming's great speeches:

"I'm Andrew Ryan, and I'm here to ask you a question:
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow?
No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor.
No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God.
No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone.
I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose...
A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small. And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well."

After this little movie you are greeted with the city of Rapture before you. An art-deco masterpiece entirely underwater, like something out of Jules-Verne. My favorite part is the giant humpback whale slowly swimming between the massive skyscrapers. Soon you enter Rapture and find that something terrible has occured.

There's no specific endpoint to the beginning of the game, but for this piece I'll say it's when you get knocked out and see a Big Daddy/Little Sister slowly trudging past you, with the Big Daddy sounding like some sort of whale. This level is not only a great introduction to the game, but it effectively introduces you to combat, plasmids, and how to use your environment around you. I could go on about this game, but I'll stop for now. I highly recommend watching the intro to the game, you can find it here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can love bloom on a battlefield? - Metal Gear Solid Conclusion

It's taken me a while but I finally finished the original Metal Gear Solid. In terms of plot, so much has happened since our last outing that it's hard to wrap it all up. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the series, really enjoys large, complex plots. Essentially, Snake learns that he has to stop the Metal Gear from firing. He also learns that he's been injected with a genetic virus called "FoxDie" which is a virus programmed only to kill certain people. Snake learns that he was injected with FoxDie which would kill all of the terrorists trying to take control of Metal Gear, but he learns that it is designed to kill him also. Basically his whole mission was a setup by the government from the beginning - in order to cover up the secret of the Metal Gear project, which if exposed could cause huge tensions between the superpowers of the world, Snake was injected with FoxDie. When he came into contact with the various terrorists they would be exposed to it and die (thus why the DARPA chief died of a mysterious heart-attack, because he wasn't the DARPA chief at all, he was one of the terrorists in disguise! Still following?). Snake also learns that the leader of the terrorists, Liquid Snake, is actually his twin brother. You see, they were all part of a genetic experiment during the '70's called 'Les infantes terribles' which was designed to create the ultimate super-soldiers from the cloned DNA of 'Big Boss', the bad guy from the original Metal Gear games on the old NES. They share the same genetic code and that's why Snake will also die from FoxDie. In fact, we learn that Gulf War syndrome is a byproduct of the genetic engineering, because all those soldiers over there were injected with stuff that essentially caused their genetic makeup to change to that of Big Boss's. Oh yeah, that Ninja that Snake encountered earlier turns out to be the brother of one of the operatives on your team, but he's not really her brother, he's actually her parents' killer!!! If you're wearing your tinfoil hat at this point don't be ashamed.

So as we can see, Kojima likes his plots complexo-to-the-maxo. But ultimately (and thankfully) not much of the plot is relevant to our discussion. Metal Gear Solid deals with a lot of themes not usually found in videogames. At the end of the story Snake knows that he's going to die from the FoxDie, but he doesn't know when. In fact, Naomi (who's brother was the Ninja) tells him that he'll die when his time is up, but until then he should "live life!" Kojima explores destiny and fate here. If Snake could die at any moment, then what's the difference if he didn't know he was infected at all? Should he let that control his life?

Kojima also deals here with finding purpose in one's life. Throughout the game Snake is constantly asked "what are you fighting for?" If he's just a mercenary, does he have actual beliefs, or is he purely just a gun-for-hire? During one of his conversations with Master Miller (who ultimately turns out to be Liquid in disguise), Miller says to him "The only difference between a murderer and a soldier is that the soldier has a purpose." Do we need to give ourselves over to something greater to find purpose in life? At the end, Snake escapes from the compound with Meryl (the Colonel's niece) and decides he'd like to finally give his life purpose by giving himself to Meryl. Watch the final cinematic here (skip to 4:15 to get to the actual speech by Naomi addressing this topic).

Speaking of love, the scientist who Snake helped rescue earlier, Otacon, delivers one of the more awkward lines in the history of videogames. During his time being held hostage by the terrorists Otacon falls in love with one of them. Later in the game, after he's been freed by Snake, Otacon approaches Snake and asks him "Do you think love can bloom, even on a battlefield?" Though its hard not to chuckle when you hear this line, it's Kojima once again driving home the point that we need to live life for a purpose, that we can't just live for ourselves, but that we need to live for something greater. Watch the scene here.

So, is Metal Gear Solid art? It's hard to say. The game certainly has a strong message. While most other games in the same league (I'm looking at you Halo) have larger than life heroes and a sense of epicness, their messages are ultimately pretty thin. But with Metal Gear Solid Kojima is actually trying to tell us something. Unfortunately most of this message is conveyed during lengthy cinematic cutscenes which technically aren't part of the gameplay, but more like watching a movie. Perhaps as a compromise we could say that the game isn't art, but the story and message contained within is.

Until next time, I'll leave you with the closing song from Metal Gear Solid 4 - a cover of Joan Baez's "Here's to you" from the film 'Sacco e Vanzetti'. Oh yes - Kojima goes there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Number 5: Doom - "Hangar" (id Software, 1993)

For the number 5 spot on my list of best first levels I've chosen the first level of Doom. A lot has been said about Doom. Though Wolfenstein was the first real first-person-shooter (also created by id Software) it was Doom that really grabbed people's attention and introduced them to the genre. Seeing everything from the eyes of the protagonist was a first for many people. But what really made Doom famous was its use of gore and violence. For its time it was an incredibly good looking game, and the blood, well, we thought it looked so damn real!!

I remember the first time I saw Doom I was blow away. Was this real? Could I really just walk around shooting zombies and other creatures, watching them keel over in disgusting death animations uttering a dying moan as I pumped another round into my shotgun?? Would I get in trouble for playing this game??? For it's time it was an extremely violent game. This was back in the era when Bart Simpson uttering "Eat my shorts" was pushing the limits and offending Barbara Bush. No one had seen a game quite like this before.

In terms of the actual level "Hangar" it's a great little introduction to the game. You start out with the wimpy pistol but in no time you get the shotgun, a highly effective weapon which also produced some of the more grisly death animations. Fighting through a small group of gun wielding zombies the player is soon introduced to the fireball-spitting Imps. An experienced Doom player can get through this level in under thirty seconds, but there's a surprising amount of depth if you take your time. There's a couple of secrets to be found, including access to the outside courtyard. This also makes this level the perfect level for the introduction of the "Deathmatch" mode.

Doom popularized Deathmatch mode for thousands of kids across the country. It seemed so revolutionary at the time - instead of shooting the monsters, you connected up two or more computers and shot your friends! The introduction of Deathmatch helped lay the groundwork for the online deathmatches that you can play today in hundreds of games, from Counterstrike to Call of Duty to Halo. In fact in most games today some sort of "multiplayer" mode is practically mandatory. But there was nothing like it at the time. In fact, once you got a taste for fragging your friends it could be hard to go back to the normal game. For all these reasons, this is why "Hangar" from Doom takes number 5. To take a look at actual gameplay footage click here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Zrbo Presents: Top 5 "First Levels" of Videogames

As you probably know I'm a connoisseur of videogames. There's a certain enjoyment that comes with playing a game that can't be found through film or music. Especially when a game is new, there's nothing like getting home, ripping off the plastic and popping the disc/cartridge/floppy disc in and firing up that game for the first time, taking in the graphics, the music, and, most importantly, the gameplay.

The following posts will highlight those opening moments of videogames. More specifically I'll be looking at those great first levels of videogames. The top 5 "first levels" I've chosen are ones I believe effectively teach the player the basics of gameplay, give the players a taste of what the game is about and what's to come, and in cases where the game has a story to tell, introduce players to the story and leave them wanting more.

This list is not meant as a nostalgia trip, though you may find a whiff of it here and there. Also, my knowledge of videogames is not nearly complete and there would practically be no way for anyone to have played every single game out there, so please excuse me if "your favorite game" didn't make the list. The following list is composed of games that I have played, though that was not necessarily a criteria of mine. I hope you enjoy what's to come, and I'll try to make it as easy to read as I can for the non-gamers out there. Lad-, er, gentlemen, the top 5 first levels of videogames...

Friday, August 15, 2008

More Parodies

Back now with another round of gaming-related parody videos. Last year in the run-up to the launch of the Halo 3 videogame, a series of award winning ads aired for the Halo 3 "Believe" campaign. This series of ads was played out like a PBS World War II documentary, with "interviews" from "veterans" of the futuristic war between the humans and the alien Covenant depicted in the Halo series. This series of four videos can be seen here, here, here, and my personal favorite here below (the old guy in this last one really brings it home in my opinion):

In addition to these four ads, a huge diorama display was built and used in one additional ad (and was so popular that is subsequently toured the country). This diorama displayed a huge battle between the Covenant and the humans, with the commercial playing a piece from Chopin and containing a little twist at the end. Honestly I think it's an amazing piece. Watch it below:

There's a new Viva Pinata game coming out soon (Viva Pinata being both a game series and kids show on TV). The Viva Pinata ad campaign delighfully parodies the faux-gravitas the "Believe" ads try to achieve, with the cleverly titled "Believa Pinata" diorama parody taking the cake in my opinion. Watch both ads below:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Top 10 Forge Art Halo 3 Screenshots

From Hawty McBloggy comes these great screenshots of stuff people have made using Halo 3's Forge (a sort of level editor). All of these were made out of objects in the game such as barrels, guns, power-up items, etc. Check out some of my favorites or click the link above to see them all.

Guitar Hero




Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Saga Continues (part 2)

Here am I back with part two of my analysis of the Metal Gear Saga. Since our last outing with our hero Solid Snake, Snake has infiltrated a warehouse full of nukes. He was told by the now-dead weapons company exec that he needs to find Dr. Hal Emmerich, creator of the Metal Gear project. After facing off against a ninja-cyborg (who seems to know Snake from somewhere else), our hero finds Dr. Emmerich. The Doctor, who prefers to be called Otacon, explains just what the Metal Gear project is. The project is to create a giant bipedal walking battle tank fully armed with nuclear warheads, able to fire its nukes from anywhere on the planet. Unfortunately Otacon thought the Metal Gear would be used only for defensive purposes, only now realizing that his project will probably be used for more something more nefarious. There are many parallels here with the guilt behind those who took part in the Manhattan Project. Not fully realizing the implications of nuclear technology, some of those scientists felt regret the rest of their lives. It's actually layed on pretty thick here, with Otacon revealing that his grandfather had been involved in the Manhattan Project and that his dad also just happened to be born the same day as the bombing of Hiroshima. Kojima seems to enjoy laying things on thick. As we saw with the eight minute long speech against nuclear weapons in our previous outing, Kojima really likes to drive the point home, perhaps even overshooting it a bit. It's like he wants us, the player, to know that he is specifically addressing us. This goes against the writer's adage of "show, don't tell". Sometimes it seems that Kojima would just rather tell us. It can definitely pull you out of the game.

And it would seem that Kojima likes to pull the player out of the game. Continuing on, Snake meets up with Meryl (pictured above), the Colonel's daughter (it's a long story but the Colonel who's giving Snake the orders has a niece who joined Fox-Hound before they went renegade). What's interesting here is Kojima's use of "self-reflexive awareness of the game as a game" (I stole this from somewhere else, excuse me). After meeting up with Meryl you exit out into a hallway. Meryl calls attention to the fact that guards are no longer patrolling the hallways, which she finds odd. Then Snake replies, "What happened to the music?" It's then that you realize as the player that the game is talking to you, because in fact, the music in the game really has stopped. The tense spy-action background music, something the player probably never paid much attention to before, has ceased playing. I had trouble finding a good clip of this, for now go all the way to the very end of this one to watch.

Imagine in a film if during a particularly quiet scene one of the characters mentioned that there was no music. How odd would that be? Then, just a few moments later, when you enter a new part of the building the music starts back up again. When you get a call on your radio, one of the characters working with the Colonel specifically asks you if you've heard any strange music lately, and Snake responds with something along the lines of "Yeah, when I entered this part of the building I started hearing a little tune". Kojima seems to enjoy playing with the person playing the game, and not just the characters involved in it.

There are a lot of humorous moments in the game too. I'll get into that more next time, along with a discussion of the lengthy cutscenes as I promised last time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Me and Louis Wu? Yeah, Weez Tight

Me and Louis Wu? Yeah, I know him. If you don't, he's the webmaster of halo.bungie.org, the main fansite for all things Halo related. His real name is actually Claude Errera, but no one ever calls him that (his name comes from a character from Ringworld. Halo - Ringworld, get it?). His website is basically the main hub of the Halo community, with daily news postings, discussions, and anything related to the world of Halo. Louis is in fact so well known that his name appears in the credits of all three Halo titles, even the first, and also had a character in one of the games named for him. There's even a whole segment on the special edition of Halo 3 where they visit his house and interview him.

Sometimes if I see an interesting bit of Halo-related news that hasn't appeared on HBO (as the fans call his site) I'll send in an e-mail with the news. So far I've managed to make the front page twice, here, and here (look for Herr Zrbo).

So this morning I saw an interesting bit of news, checked out HBO and thought that I hadn't seen it posted there, so I sent off a little e-mail to Louis informing him of it. After I sent the tidbit I checked out the site again and noticed that the news I thought I had heard first was actually the first news item of the day, having been posted a few hours before. Whoops.

BUT, I did receive an e-mail from Louis! It read:

"Was the first news post of the day - still on the front page. : )"

Yeah, that's right. I got a personal e-mail from Louis. Like I said - me and Louis? Yeah, we go way back.

Friday, July 18, 2008


This week, in the middle of the videogame industry's largest showcase, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a tragedy befell the videogame community. For the past few months Bungie Studios, creator of the Halo series of games, had been teasing that something new was in the works. Many speculated that it would be another entry in the Halo series. Last Friday Bungie put up a countdown clock, ticking down to Wednesday morning. Fans were ecstatic, on Wednesday they would get to see something new, something marvelous. That day never came.

With just 12 hours to go, the countdown stopped. A message appeared on Bungie's website from Bungie president Harold Ryan, it read:

"For the last several months, we've been building toward a reveal of something exciting that Bungie is working on. We were looking forward to sharing that with our fan community during the week of E3. However, those plans were changed by our publisher.

We realize that many of our fans are disappointed by this turn of events. Members of the Bungie team share that disappointment."

So Microsoft, the 'partner' mentioned above, decided at the last moment to pull the plug on the reveal. Fans went nuts. Websites went nuts. Even the LA Times went nuts, interviewing Don Mattrick (the strangest portmanteau of a name ever), head of Microsoft's Xbox division, who claimed that the reveal was pulled "...to help trim its E3 presentation to under 90 minutes, from 2 1/2 hours, to accommodate attention-challenged reporters. 'We had an embarrassment of riches', said Mattrick." Thanks Don.

So it looks like we'll have to wait to see what gaming goodness Bungie was going to reveal. In the meantime, please enjoy this video above - it's the funniest thing I've seen all week.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Herr Zrbo Calls It

Alright folks, here it is, I'm calling it. I'm gonna say the Mythic map pack for Halo 3 will be released September 23rd.

How do I know this when the map pack hasn't even been given the name 'Mythic', nor when any possible release window has even been discussed by Bungie studios? Well, with the release of 'Cold Storage' this past week for free (an excellent remake of the original Halo's 'Chill Out') Bungie has bought itself some time until it needs to release the next map pack. The last set of maps, the Legendary map pack, was released last April. We've got about two and a half months now until late September, the 25th being the one year anniversary of Halo 3's launch. Since new content is usually released on Tuesday, the 23rd looks like a fine day to release a map pack celebrating that anniversary. Considering that the map packs so far have been named after the difficulty levels in Halo, even though Mythic isn't an actual difficulty level, it's long been associated with Bungie studios.

You heard it here first folks, and if I'm wrong, I owe you a Coke.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Saga Begins

I've recently taken it upon myself to try out the Metal Gear series. Just a few weeks ago the final chapter of the series, Metal Gear Solid 4, was released. As I've posted before, it's been receiving rave reviews, with some reviewers calling it one of the best videogame narratives ever. After procuring (on-site?) a Playstation 2 and a copy of the original Metal Gear Solid (1998) I've begun my journey.

The man behind the MGS series is Hideo Kojima. He is both the creator and director of the series. One of the problems with videogames not being taken seriously as an art form could probably be attributed to the fact that games are made my many, many people, so there's usually no one identifiable person who leaves their distinctive mark or stamp on a game like there is with movie directors. This is not the case with the MGS series. Hideo Kojima, who is seen as a sort of auteur, is the driving force behind MGS. Some people think of Kojima as a visionary- a complete master of his craft, able to tell amazing, complex (actually, really complex) narratives. Others see his games mimicking cinema so much that they say he's in the wrong business, that he should be making films instead of videogames. For an interesting look at Kojima check out this article at the Brainy Gamer which compares and contrasts him with D.W. Griffith.

Metal Gear Solid starts out with the main character, Solid Snake, being given a mission to infiltrate a nuclear waste disposal facility in the Bering Strait which has been taken over by a rogue private military contract group called Fox-Hound, of which Solid Snake used to be a member. The game relies on you, as Snake, to sneak around and figure out what's going on.

What makes the game interesting, at least for me, is that the story is basically an analysis of the American military-industrial complex told from a distinctly non-American perspective. First off, the whole gameplay revolves around stealth. Fighting is usually a last resort, with sneaking around making the game much easier than if you try to fight everyone you see. I find this in contrast to most American made games, which usually have you shooting anything and everything, with violence being the easiest, if not the only answer. Whole books could and have been written on America's fascination with violence, but I think it shows here when your character doesn't fight all that much, even though you're told you're a top tier secret agent with deadly skills.

The other observation I've made so far is just how anti-violence prone this whole game is. There have been increasing anti-war/anti-violence themes and messages cropping up as I go along. Currently I'd say I'm a quarter of the way through the game. After rescuing a kidnapped weapons company executive (think Halliburton) the player is treated to an 8 minute long cutscene which goes into a whole history lesson about post-Cold War nuclear weapons disposal, how much nuclear waste is created each year, out-of-work Russian scientists looking for a job, and a whole diatribe on the evils on nuclear weapons. Watch it here (skip to 5:15 to get the real history lesson).

As the length of just this cutscene shows (and there are many more lengthy cutscenes), Kojima is fond of fashioning his games like they were movies, and that's what I'll explore next time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Im in ur internetz

From Gizmodo comes this great idea: Why have your wi-fi router named something mundane like '2Wire5420' when you could name it something more clever. Some of the examples they include are here for your enjoyment.

  • YourDaughterIsaWhore
  • Keepthatnoisedown
  • Thosepeoplein1583lookliketerrorists
  • YourWifeCheats
  • IHaveYourMail
  • GetYourOwnDSLCheapskate
  • MyNetworkIsLockedJackass
  • ISawYouNaked

So many options to choose from! Anyone else have any good ones?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Greatest Game of All Time

And now ladies and gentlemen, the intro to the game that sparked a thousand bases belonging to us - Zero Wing:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Microsoft finally fixes Xbox 360 DRM Issues

Microsoft has finally got around to fixing their crappy DRM on the Xbox 360. Well, they haven't fixed the DRM so much as given Xbox users a way to consolidate all of their licenses onto one Xbox. The reason this has been such a royal pain is that the content you download is tied to the specific console that you downloaded it to. So, if for example you're like me and your 360 broke and you had to go get a new one (with the warranty you're glad you purchased), you could access your paid-for content only while signed into Xbox Live (XBL). This is fine most of the time as my console is usually plugged into the internet 24/7, but occassionally when XBL is down, or my internet was down, I was unable to play games I had paid for! Well, now you can fix this dastardly issue, just go to xbox.com. Now my girlfriend can finally play Zuma again on her own account, thank the gods!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Smuggler = Chill Out = Cold Storage

If you understand the subject line, you're excited, if you don't understand it, you probably don't give a damn.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Parodies of Parodies

In late 2006 the game Gears of War premiered on the Xbox 360. Set in a war-torn futuristic world, Gears of War told the story of Marcus Fenix as he and his buddies fought back against the Locust horde. The game was pure machismo - the characters all looked and talked like football players, with huge, huge guns complete with chainsaw bayonets. It was a pretty violent game to say the least.

An interesting counterpoint to this violent image was the preview trailer for the game. It presented the game as this somber, moody piece, with the trailer set to the music of Gary Jules' cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" (originally featured in Donny Darko). You can watch this trailer here.

The videogame community reacted positively to this trailer. Soon, a few other games took this trailer and twisted it into a parody of their own. One parody of this trailer, comes from Battlefield: Bad Company with the appropriately titled "Bad World".

But the real cream of the crop comes from the Leisure Suit Larry series. In this video, Larry runs around to the same tune as the original Gears of War trailer, but finds something very different in the end. Watch the others first, then watch this.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beastie Boys' Sabotage video recreated using Halo 3

Some clever folks in the Halo community remade the video for the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video. Find it here, and find a side-by-side comparison here. I recommend the side-by-side comparison, I can't imagine how many hours they put into making this!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

PS3 or not to PS3?

Metal Gear Solid 4 came out last Thursday and so far the critics have been raving. A brief view of metacritic yields such praise as:

"Is it possible to give a game an 11? If so, this would be the game that would merit that score."

"Hideo Kojima set out to move and excite people, to truly make a work of art, and not just a fun videogame. Metal Gear Solid 4 is an accomplishment like no other."

"A true masterpiece that will be revered for years to come like its predecessors, but one that will stand through the tests of time and will still be referred to as perhaps the pinnacle of storytelling in videogames."

All this praise has got me interested. What could be so amazing about this game to get such glowing reviews as this? I mean, "the pinnacle of storytelling in videogames"? Wow. I've never been interested in a Playstation before, but now, jeez, I think I'm ready to plunk down by $400 a give it a chance, just to play this freaking game.

One way to look at the current generation of gaming consoles is in how much potential each console has left. By potential I'm referring to how much uncertainty each console still has in its offerings. The Xbox 360, as far as I can tell, has a fairly certain future. At this point it's put most of it's big offerings onto the table, it doesn't have much of a hand left. Halo 3, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto. After this past holiday season there's really not many surprises in store. Sure we'll have some milking of the Halo franchise, another Gears game, but I don't foresee anything as mega-selling as Halo 3 coming along.

Next up is the Wii. When the Wii was first announced it definitely had the greatest potential. The idea of motion-based controls just blew everyone's minds away. Unfortunately I don't think the Wii ever truly utilized those motion controls to the extent it could have. Instead it seems to have become a haven for mini-games and 'shovelware'. An interesting read on this lack of squandered potential is from MTV's Stephen Totilo with an article a while back called The Case of the Missing DS Drawing Games. Now that the Wii has got it's obligatory Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kart, and Brawl games out of the way, I just don't see what big name items are left. Maybe another Zelda game before the current cycle is up, but even that's a bit of a guess. As far as I see it, though the Wii might continue to sell like hotcakes, there's really no more interesting games coming out for it.

And now we come to the Playstation 3. Usually I don't side with the PS3, but when it comes to remaining potential, this is where I think it's at. With pretty much nothing worth owning until now, the PS3 is still hiding its hand pretty well. Another Final Fantasy game, which is almost a certainty, hasn't even been announced as far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong). Blu-Ray being the winning format certainly works in Sony's favor, as does the price drop, which is right on the heels of the 360's current price. In terms of games, I think the 360 has the best selection right now, but in terms of potential, I think the PS3 has the most left.

So, is one game worth buying a Playstation 3 for? I'm not sure, that's probably why I'm writing this. The biggest thing that I have against the PS3 at the moment is that they dropped the backwards compatibilty, though the already-sold-out Metal Gear Solid bundle was backwards compatible, and just yesterday Sony said they were shipping more. If they do, I just might be tempted enough to buy me one.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In a more perfect world

Check out this piece on Cracked.com (remember Cracked magazine, they're all digital now). It's a collage of videogame objects in the real world. I really enjoy the Donkey Kong one. Some are a bit obscure, even for me. Read it here.

Bungie announces new Halo 3 map

At the MLG tournament in San Diego this weekend, Bungie showed off a new map, 'Cold Storage'. It's supposed to be a remake of Chill Out from the original Halo, and it looks a lot like the area from the final cinematic of the game, the one where Master Chief is taking a snooze (probably where the name Cold Storage comes from, hint hint). I don't have much experience playing Chill Out but apparently it's a fan-favorite, especially among the competitive MLG types. It's also not certain whether Cold Storage is one of previously known new maps, codenamed Purple Reign, Moonbase Alpha, and the recently revealed 'the Smuggler' (complete with it's own mini-ARG ). I, for one, welcome our new Chill Out overlords.