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Gaming gets Oscar nods

March 7, 2010

No, not a real Oscar nod, but a telling couple of mentions. For years now, gamers have talked about how it will simply take time for the generation that grew up with games — and considers them just another part of the modern media landscape — to come into their own and help push aside the notion that games are somehow different. The “bad” different. Every year I see and hear games more often mentioned in other media, just in passing, and in a way that makes them seem pretty normal. Because, you know, they are.

On the red carpet tonight:

• “Up in the Air” director Jason Reitman, who is 32, told Ryan Seacrest he was “playing some Xbox” earlier in the day to chill out and shake off the nerves. No jokes about Pong or Pac-Man were made. Hurrah!

• Jake Gyllenhall, who stars in the upcoming “Prince of Persia” movie said he believes the film will finally prove that video game adaptations are worthwhile. That remains to be seen, but if Jerry Bruckheimer can turn a cheesy ride at Disneyland into a genuinely cool, thrill-ride adventure film, then surely “Prince” has a shot.

Tough sell

March 3, 2010

Six Days in Fallujah is apparently finished. This is news not because anyone was anticipating the game’s release, but because precisely no one was anticipating its release. The title by Atomic Games, which attempts to be something of a historically accurate recreation of the 2006 mission in Fallujah by U.S. troops, was presumed to be a dead project after it was dropped by publisher Konami last year in the wake of a negative public reaction.

Today Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer makes a very strong argument for why the game should be picked up by an enterprising publisher that values the merits of the medium as much as its quarterly balance sheet. It’s a passionate pitch and I urge you read it.

It’s a tough sell, though. I don’t foresee any publisher picking this one up in today’s tough economy and retail landscape. And I fear for the game itself. As I wrote last year, it was irritating and disconcerting to see Konami backpedal and refer to the project as “just a game.” How much of that mentality seeped into the core design of SDIF? How much of the original vision remains after the busted deal with Konami forced layoffs at Atomic Games? Will it even be any good, as a game, at all?

I’d like to find out. But I doubt the game will ever see the light of day. If it does, I hope the finished product is at least better off for being severed from corporate influences.

Pong clock keeps time via gaming

February 28, 2010

Someday, when I have a man cave/game room, I want to put this clock in it.

It’s actually an open source kit available from Adafruit Industries. The computer is truly playing a game of pong, and the score changes every 60 seconds to track time. Not sure I’d want to bother with soldering it and all that, but I think it’d be worth buying a finished one. Adafruit has a short video showing how it works.

MONOCHRON – open source retro clock from adafruit industries on Vimeo.

In the unlikeliest of places …

February 24, 2010

Well… I’m blowing into the cartridge slot and spamming the reset button here, trying to get some posts going. I’m working on a few things that I hope will materialize soon. Right now I just want to post a link to a year-old essay from the London Review of Books.

Why? It’s strange to say, but LRB writer John Lanchester has penned one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on the current state of games as a medium. The piece is from early 2009 and most of the games cited are from 2007 or 2008, but because it takes a big-picture view of where things stand it’s still very relevant. There won’t be much here that gamers don’t know, or haven’t thought about, but it’s just so well-said that I want to share it. What I mainly love about it is that it’s written for a broad audience, but doesn’t dumb down the subject material one iota. That, in my opinion, is a difficult task but one more enthusiast writers should strive for.

Not all games are cynically, affectlessly violent, but a lot of them are, and this trend is holding video games back. It’s keeping them at the level of Hollywood blockbusters, when they could go on to be something else and something more. It seems clear to me that by the time my children are adults, video gaming will be a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity are at least as great as that of film or television. Whether it will be an artistic medium of equivalent importance is less clear.

It’s a long piece, but well worth the time.

Quotable: Jenova Chen

October 27, 2009

If I’m making sections of a game that will just extend the life of that game it’s like a crime, because you are wasting your players’ time. They don’t learn anything new from those levels. I want to make sure when we design games we feel responsible for our audience.

-Jenova Chen, founder of Thatgamecompany and creator of “Flower” and “Flow” in an interview in the October issue of Edge magazine

This is one of the first times I’ve heard a developer make reference to “wasting” a player’s time. That is often how I feel when I play what I perceive to be a “bad” game. I have too few hours in the day to waste on poorly-designed or overly-long-for-no-reason titles.

NES 101 article is up at Racketboy.com

July 26, 2009

I’ve got reference-style article posted over at always-informative retro gaming site Racketboy.com. It’s in Racketboy’s “101” series, giving the basics of gaming hardware through the years. I’m taking on the Nintendo Entertainment System in this edition. Tip of the hat to publisher Racketboy – who also wrote part of the article.

If you like what’s at Racket’s site, check out the forums. The community is really cool over there.

Alien Hominid HD: Fun in the third-person

April 28, 2009

There’s something to be said for the infectiousness of having fun. I’m not talking about fun in the first person here, but rather in the third person. Even when you’re not participating in the good times being had, it’s easy to get caught up in the vibe if you’re watching someone who’s genuinely having a blast.

At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s a huge factor for me when it comes to live music. Even if the band in front of me isn’t necessarily playing music I’d listen to on my headphones, if the musicians are clearly loving what they’re doing – if they look like they’d be having a good time just playing in their basement with no one watching — then I can’t help but grin, bob my head and get into the moment. The same goes for watching Jon Stewart on the Daily Show — it’s not just the sharp satire, it’s that he clearly relishes dishing it out. I think this is why I like Coen brothers movies so much, too. Their films are fun to watch because I can just tell they had fun creating them. The Coens’ faces aren’t on the screen, but the love of the process still shines through in the end product. It’s indirect exuberance, but — at least for this viewer — it’s there.

It’s hard to get that vibe with most games, even indirectly. Games can be an impersonal medium when it comes to a direct connection between creators and consumers. I can only think of a few games — regardless of overall quality — where I’ve felt like I get a little bit of the developer’s personality in exchange for my thumb time.

I’ve recently found an exception: Alien Hominid HD, the stylish 2D run-and-gun game by indie developer the Behemoth (I recently downloaded the XBLA verison). It’s not just that AH is fun to play, though it is damn fun. It’s the sense of unadulterated joy that seems to be oozing through the screen from somewhere just on the other side of the code. Each ingredient in the Behemoth’s rollicking recipe, taken on its own, isn’t all that remarkable. Explosions. Cartoon violence and a few fart jokes. Tight, simple gameplay. Explosions. Huge character sprites and massive bosses. The distinct art direction. Flashy power-ups. Exploooosions.

hominid1

But when you put them together and consider the subtlties of some of the game’s other traits, the result is undeniable. The Behemoth clearly had fun making this game — and they clearly have a deep-seeded love for the videogame cannon. This is a gamers’ game — one that knows what it is and one that has some soul.

The hand-drawn art by Dan Paladin is, for me, the direct descendant of the old-school pixel art of the ’80s and early ’90s: the work of one guy who can put his own stamp on the character at hand. The game mechanics are an homage to the run-and-gunners that devoured countless quarters and hours two decades ago. The massive character sprites are the kind of thing that used to blow away players back in the day. The bigger, the better. These guys aren’t just imitating; with AH, the Behemoth pays respect to the games that made people of a certain age fall in love with games in the first place. They began by flipping a videogame cliche inside out and pitting a single alien against an unending army of human baddies. And then there’s the sly references. At various times I see echoes of Contra, Metal Slug, Battletoads, Asteroids, Bosconian, Donkey Kong, Rampage, Missle Command and Smash TV. The hard-as-nails, pattern-heavy difficulty level is a throwback to the 1980s, as is the inclusion of the (admittedly goofy) Russian KGB. The Behemoth’s newest game, Castle Crashers, is a similar tip of the hat to 16-bit hack-and-slash games, though I’ll admit I haven’t explored that one as fully as AH.

Alien Hominid’s core gameplay is simple, and its learning curve is maddening. It’s a game I shouldn’t really like, let alone be so enamoured with. Yet I can’t help but have a great time with the game when the developers were so clearly doing the same as they created it. AH is now several years old, but the hand-drawn art and loving references to past greats will make it as classic years from now as the games that inspired it.

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