Viewing entries by
Daniel Rosen

Split/Screen: Sharing a Screen and Intimacy In Multiplayer

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Split/Screen: Sharing a Screen and Intimacy In Multiplayer

Some Japanese arcade machines don't have controls for a second player. Instead, they get two cabinets to be networked together. Sometimes, the two machines are right next to each other, sometimes they're across, so you can't see your opponent but you always know where they are. Sometimes, as was the case with the Japanese machines in the arcade I went to a few times in high school, they were scattered among the giant lineup of cabinets, so you had no idea who was playing with you. It added this palpable sense of loneliness to whatever game you were playing, since any opponent was essentially a CPU. There was no face to them, no name, just a series of strategies and inputs that was trying to defeat you.
 

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Op-Ed: Chess is Great, But We Can Fix It

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Op-Ed: Chess is Great, But We Can Fix It

Everyone should play Chess.

Seriously, everyone. Young, old, smart, dumb, men, women, anyone who identifies as something more fluid than that. Every single human being (and most transhumanist constructs) should be playing Chess right now if they have any interest at all in games. Chess is the ur game. Chess is the beating ancient heart at the centre of game design. It’s like a giant pictograph on the wall of the crumbling temple of game design that pushes it forward and brings back to its beginning. Whether it takes conscious inspiration, or it’s intended to be a response to games that unconsciously draw from the tenets of Chess, every game owes its existence to the original. But that also means Chess is old, and by its nature, a little behind the times. I think Chess can be better, Chess can be more powerful, but first, we all have to play it.

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Preview: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U- Tell Me if You've Heard This One Before...

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Preview: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U- Tell Me if You've Heard This One Before...

As a series, Smash Bros. was founded on the principle that fighting games could do with being a little less complex. To that end, director Masahiro Sakurai added two extra players and simplified inputs. If you want to take mechanics and design as symbolism (and I always do) it's a pretty clear statement that Smash Bros. is a game designed for anyone and everyone to play. No one should be sitting on the sidelines, because anyone can pick it up.

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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

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My Multiplayer Story - How Street Fighter Made Me a Better Person

When we were growing up, my brother and I would fight a lot.

I've heard that's pretty natural actually, but when we were younger it always drove me crazy. Not because we weren't close, I didn't really care about that, but because my parents would always demand we be nicer to each other. Well, specifically, they yelled at me that I was too mean to him. I figured they were playing favourites, but looking back, we were very close in age, had similar interests, plus, we were little kids with awful tempers- we were bound to butt heads.

We would hit each other, a lot. I was bigger and stronger, but not by much. There's about two year's difference between us, so whenever I got a little bigger and tougher, he'd just have to wait a few months and eventually we'd be on the same playing field again. 

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The Primer- Multiplayer Madness

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The Primer- Multiplayer Madness

In case you don't remember the halcyon days of plastic instrument parties, Rock Band is a fairly simple rhythm game made interesting by the fact that you play it with plastic versions of guitars, drums and keyboards. The conceit was that you and your friends were the titular Rock Band, and your basement was a stage.

The game itself is pretty irrelevant at that point. Sure, if you're better at timing your button presses you'll get a better score and the song will sound better, but you're not really noticing any of that once you reach a certain threshold of quality, you forget all that. You're on stage, you're playing the song. You are, for a brief shining second, role-playing as a rock band. That roleplay element is something that most video games can't really get us to participate in.

 

 

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Op-Ed: The Thing About the Holodeck...

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Op-Ed: The Thing About the Holodeck...

The thing about the holodeck is that it's not a game anymore.

All spaceships will have patriotically red white and blue-themed control consoles. It's only American.

All spaceships will have patriotically red white and blue-themed control consoles. It's only American.

It's the elephant in the room whenever people talk about VR, but in order to really get into what it means, let's go back a couple decades, to early on in gaming's modern history. It's 1979, and Atari is releasing Asteroids. The cabinet is pretty similar to its contemporaries'- the monitor is recessed into the unit, with walls on either side to block off the sights and sounds of the arcade around you. The control panel is designed to look like the controls of an imaginary spaceship. It's not just a facsimile of the ship's cockpit, designed to be a cute amusement. It's deliberately put together to make you focus in on the game and immerse yourself. Even from what is ostensibly the beginning of modern interactive media, the desire for immersion is present. Games aren't necessarily where the idea of virtual reality was invented- Pygmalion's Spectacles, a short story from 1935 was the first science fiction story to theorize on the subject- but they certainly awakened something in people. Video games held (and still do, to a certain extent) held promises of entire virtual worlds waiting to be escaped to.

Think of art as a machine. Books, games, movies, music, it's all a bunch of machines that are static, unmoving until we interact with them in some way. Specifically, imagination is the fuel, the force that turns their gears and makes the worlds they want to create pop out at us. Some machines, like books, need more imagination to draw the worlds out of them. Some, like movies, have more engaging visuals and sounds that build the world with very little imagination necessary. Not to say that these mediums are more or less creative than the other, but in order to get the most out of a book's world, you really do have to work your imagination harder than you would with a film. Games though, are a bit unique as an "art machine", they occupy both the high and low ends of that spectrum. Like a movie, all the visuals and sounds present the world to you automatically, without much need for the fuel of imagination to make it reveal itself. But like a book, the more imagination you pour in, the more detailed and deeper that world becomes.

Project Holodeck used motion tracking cameras with the Oculus Rift to try to simulate a Holodeck-like enviroment.

Project Holodeck used motion tracking cameras with the Oculus Rift to try to simulate a Holodeck-like enviroment.

Unlike a film, games allow you to poke around the world and discover things, to use your imagination to flesh out what is left unexplained. Sure, you can put more thought into a movie than just what it presents on the surface, but that doesn't build a deeper world so much as deepens your understanding of one already there. So games rely on that imagination to breathe as much as they don't. It's a weird thing to say, but if you've stuck with me this far, your reward is that we're finally getting back to that Holodeck thing.  See, the promise of the holodeck is an amped-up version of the promise of today's VR. It's absolute and total immersion. It's pure simulation. You aren't controlling Gordon Freeman, you ARE Gordon Freeman. Star Trek presents the Holodeck as a near-perfect simulation. The goal of its programs are that the user is never able to discern that it's not reality. In fact, that's the only real difference between the Holodeck and the Oculus Rift. The Rift, due to technological limitations, can't create a visual environment of the resolution it would take to be thoroughly convincing without using a headset. But above that, the Holodeck also has the benefit of impossibly (for now at least) clever computers.

Project Holodeck became Survios, which is developing a full-body motion tracking unit that eliminates the need for too much camera tracking. The trade-off is that for now, you look insane wearing it.

Project Holodeck became Survios, which is developing a full-body motion tracking unit that eliminates the need for too much camera tracking. The trade-off is that for now, you look insane wearing it.

The Holodeck is smart. Smarter than any computer that's out there right now. On a dime, it's able to react to anything its user does, within the confines of the simulation programmed into it. It uses Star Trek's fictional replication and force field technologies to create physical objects for the user to interact with as if they were real. In that sense, the Holodeck is not a virtual reality, but a virtually-made reality, rather than the realities made virtual that we experience via the Oculus Rift. The first writer to theorize about a holodeck-like system was Ray Bradbury, in his 1950 short story The Veldt. There, the playroom in a family's new automated home has the ability to generate any object or environment that its occupants imagine. Without going into the story itself too much, it's interesting that Bradbury, the first person to write about the concept, already singled out the virtual-reality space as a "playroom". Even from the very moment it was theorized, the Holodeck was always, at its very best, an entertainment space despite its boundless possibilities.

Wesley, pictures here either pondering old sci-fi, or generally being a twat. Hard to say.

Wesley, pictures here either pondering old sci-fi, or generally being a twat. Hard to say.

A virtual reality room that can be programmed to have little-to-no consequence would be unimaginably influential on entertainment sure, but imagine what it would in other places. On-site job training, practice for surgery, driving lessons, education, sex work- it'd be just as revolutionary outside of the entertainment world as it would be in it. So what's this obsession with entertainment, and games specifically? It's possible that because games have, for the last few decades, been the entertainment medium most closely linked with technology, but I have another theory, and it comes back to all that "art machine" nonsense I wrote up a few paragraphs ago. If games are a machine of potential then the more of yourself you put in, the more you get out of them. Now imagine if you had to put all of yourself into the experience every time. Imagine being plopped down in a world you can see and touch and affect in ways that become more detailed the more imagination you put in. All of a sudden, it's not about putting more imagination into a world to get more out of it, it's a very tactile exchange of using more imagination to explore the world in an even deeper way. You touch an object, and all of a sudden it's real, as opposed to finding that object and thinking of what it would be like if it were.

Microsoft's RoomAlive might be our first step into a functioning Holodeck, but the fact that it isn't means we have a long way to go before we get to Holonovels.

So why isn't it a game then? Well, because there aren't really mechanics. The way Star Trek presents Holodeck simulations (and I apologize if i'm not 100% accurate, I'm not the biggest Star Trek guy and like many non-fans, I'm drawing off of my generally osmosed pop culture knowledge) is as just that, simulations. Sure, they're simulations of what it would be like to be in a scenario, much like games are, but games can't react in every single way. You could definitely play games in a holodeck scenario- if I'm not mistaken, there's a scene where Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton play cards with Data, but its express purpose is always a form of interactive entertainment that lacks the abstractions of game mechanics. When you die, you die, there are no health meters, no quests, and, well, no "goal". Games are often defined by that whole goal thing. They have a defined loss state. We've discussed this before, but it's interesting to think how VR is probably the space for all the stuff currently roped into games that defy a lot of the traditional definitions of games. Those games focused on creating immersive worlds to pour ourselves into, worlds designed around the player as an explorer poking around, they're the perfect fit for the eventual virtual veldt of Bradbury's imagination. Microsoft is showing off how they can use projectors in tandem with Kinect to display a game all around the room you're in. But it's not a reality. You're looking over an army marching across your coffee table. It's a virtually made reality, but not a reality you can only access virtually.

Well, that's not quite it, but nice try?

Well, that's not quite it, but nice try?

Does it really matter that it's not a game anymore? No, not really. Our definition expands and gets broader all the time. But all the people designing games around mechanics and goals are going to be left in the dust when the holodeck takes over and makes environmental design and storytelling king. Nothing we know about traditional game design will carry over, to the point where “videogames” and “holdeck games” might just be two totally dissimilar mediums. The Gone Homes, the Dear Esthers of the world, those are the beginnings of the "holonovel", those are the games that are taking us into gaming's potential future, and I for one welcome our virtually-crafted overlords.

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Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review- Mass Destruction

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Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review- Mass Destruction

Ultimax is a great arena to cut your teeth in, but there’s no master here to show you the ropes. That’s not really a complain about Ultimax specifically, it’s something all fighting games need to work on, but it feels like this game, with its cross-genre appeal and a story mode that’s ripe for teaching and guaranteed to be played by beginners, would be the perfect place for a real tutorial. Ultimax is a great game for fighting game fans and people who want to put in the effort to learn the game. It’s not a compromise, and anyone who’s only in it for the Persona elements is in for a nasty ultra suplex.

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The Circle of Sakurai or: The Irrelevant Relevance of Super Smash Bros.

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The Circle of Sakurai or: The Irrelevant Relevance of Super Smash Bros.

Masahiro Sakurai directed his first game at the age of 22. It was 1992's Kirby's Dream Land, and if you'll pardon the pretension this early in an article, it was the first postmodern platformer. It was a platforming game where the platforms were meaningless. The protagonist could soar over levels, never having to interact with enemies outside of bosses. It drew explicit attention to the fact that it was a platformer (which may as well be called "jumpers" honestly) where the challenge didn't lay in the jumping. In fact, at least with Dream Land, the challenge didn't really lay anywhere. Kirby didn't hop on enemies, he swallowed them from a fairly safe distance, and if a certain area was too tough, he could float on above them, laughing all the way.

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Reviews From a VR Future

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Reviews From a VR Future

This VR theme month has really got us here at Built to Play thinking about the future. We were promised hovercars and cool robots by now, and the future has yet to deliver. But, in a mystifying coincidence, while we were sitting around complaining about our lame present, we got a missive from the future through one of the many pneumatic tubes set up in the recording booth. It told of a terrifying but wondrous future, mostly similar to our own, but where virtual reality technology had taken over video games, ushering in the anaglyphic age of gaming. As part of the time capsule, we also got a set of reviews set to go up the week of September 22nd, 2034. We’re pretty sure we can’t break embargo on games that don’t exist yet, and stable time loops are for wussies, so we’re gonna post them today. Unfortunately, as we have no photos of these future games, you'll have to make due to terrifying Google search results and atrocious artist's representations.

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Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

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Preview: The Xbox One Holiday Lineup

Alien: Isolation:

There's our girl.

There's our girl.

The first thing I asked the Sgea rep demoing Alien: Isolation was when the demo content took place in the game proper. He told me it’s more of a vertical slice, indicative of the game’s overall feel, but not necessarily any one part.

People who remember 2013’s license nightmare Aliens: Colonial Marines know why this was deeply concerning to me. Colonial Marines was nothing but vertical slices, and when it came time for the game to be released, the final product was so different, it sparked lawsuits. So even though the next paragraph is going to begin with what’ll sound like a bit of hyperbole, know that I’m still very, very apprehensive about this game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

This spooky guy didn't show up during my demo, but one can only assume he's gonna be Xenomorph chow my the end of the game.

Alien: Isolation is probably the best Alien game ever made. It might even be up there as one of the best survival horror games ever made. The demo threw me into a limited zone, and presented a few tools up front. I had some flares, some scrap metal, and a flamethrower, which me handler was careful to call a “tool”, not a weapon. Unlke more classic survival horror experiences, Isolation doesn’t really hand you much in the way of weaponary, and why would it? Guns are pretty much useless against the Xenomorph. In fact, everything feels useless agaisnt the Xenomorph. It’s massive, towering over my character, and walks with a lumbering thump-thump. It’s genuinely horrifying, and with only one enemy throughout the entire game, it more than makes up for the pretty much guaranteed lack of jump scares.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

Even the motion tracker itself looks gloriously crappy.

It took me four tries to get anywhere in the demo. I had to be cautious and stealthy, checking my motion tracker whenever I found a safe hiding spot, and then finding out the alien was right behind me. The sound of it approaching was enough to get my knees shaking, and the subtle cutaway when it catches you is probably a thousand times spookier than any gore-shot could have been. The Xenomorph runs around unscripted too, doing whatever its AI feels like, so there’s no way to rely on rote memorization. It’s all about your skill at tracking, avoiding, and using the incredibly limited toolset availble to you. The game also looks incredibly faithful to the movie, replicating that 70s low-fi si-fi look with pretty stellar results. At the beginning of my demo, I got a tutorial video on how to use the motion tracker, which looked like the worn-out VHS tapes I saw in elementary school. Apparently, the dev team rendered the video in game, recorded it to a VHS tape, scratched it up, then put it back into the game. That’s dedication.

But, no matter how great Isolation is in, well, isolation, it remains to be seen how the full game will turn out. After the Colonial Marines disaster, it never hurts to be trepidatious, especially when dealing with a seven-and-a-half foot tall two-mouthed monstrosity.


Assassin’s Creed: Unity-

Bros before Templars, or something.

Bros before Templars, or something.

I am a cantankerous fart when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series. I’ve tried them again and again, but they’re never what I want out of a game that promises the experience of being an assassin. At best, they’re sort of bland trips through beautifully realized historical locales. At worst, they’re Assassin’s Creed 3. My problem always sort of comes down to the games increasing focus on open-world action. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is sort of the platonic ideal of that kind of game in a lot of ways. The focus is on fast paced, fluid action, and sailing the high seas looking for more people to shoot and stab. While that works for most people, evidently, I’ve always wanted a more stealthy experience from the Assassin’s Creed games. They always promise sneaky alternatives to action, but remaining hidden is usually so difficult and frustrating that it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

Assassinate people through windows! In a church! At the barbeque! After school! After lunch! Any where is good for assassination!

In my hands-off demo of Assassin’s Creed Unity, Arno was spotted exactly once, and was able to silently get away regardless. It was impressive, but it was basically all due to one little improvement, the crouch button. The assassin’s guild has finally learned the art of getting low to the ground and wearing darker clothes, making it actually feasible to sneak by guards! Arno can also take cover, peek around cover, and even do third-person-shooter style cover-to-cover transitions. It’s something of a late revelation for the Assassin’s Creed series, considering Metal Gear was doing it more than a decade ago, but it’s by no means unwelcome. Adding stealth options that actually seem to work is a big, big deal for the Assassin’s Creed games, which have been catering to the action-focused players since Assassin’s Creed 2.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

Next-gen consoles can render those crowds of thousands, but they're only there so you can kill 'em dead.

The game is also kind of insultingly pretty. It seems a bit cartoonier in style than previous entries, specifically when it comes to the blood. The Ubisoft rep who was demoing the game says the gore wasn’t specifically turned up, but the “improved” blood splatters and gore are definitely noticeable, and made me a little uncomfortable. At one point, Arno ducks into a confessional, and the camera zooms in as he stabs his wrist-blades into his targets eyes. It’s brutal, and just a little gross. Otherwise, the environments are beautifully realized, the crowds are enormous and give the world a much better sense of scope, and NPCs react accordingly. At one point, a man on patrol in Notre Dame cathedral was distracted by a cat long enough for Arno to kill him, and dump him into a nearby hay bale. But, this was all hands off. It remains to be seen exactly how well all this will work when it isn’t being demoed by a member of the dev team. For now though, Assassin’s Creed Unity looks like a stealth game I genuinely want to play, which is shocking.


Fable Legends:

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

That "four heroes walking into the middle distance" motif is real strong on this holiday's marketing materials.

At E3 Fable Legends looked both kind of generic, and far too good to be true. One one hand, it seemed like a weird offshoot of the Fable games, without any of their sense of scope and grandeur. On the other, the super seamless five player multiplayer, with one player serving as the villain and four working together as a band of heroes looked almost impossible. After going a few rounds with it, Fable Legends showed its true colours- it's actually two genuinely cool, interesting games.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

No pictures of my trusty pal Inga, so have Glory wrecking stuff with fireballs.

The first game is the heroes side. They play an action RPG where each of them has a primary weapon, three health potions, four special powers, and a recharging mana bar that they draw from. I played as Inga, a tank class character, who had a slow sword swing, a big shield, and various abilities that improved her teammates survivability. Along for the ride were Shroud, a sniper, Leech, the necromancer, and Glory, the mage. The developers mentioned that so far, there are eight characters, with more in development, and the plan is that any team of heroes can be viable. The character picking feels a little bit like a MOBA, as each has a very specific role to play on any team they take part in. Otherwise though, characters level up and keep those levels, getting stronger over time and holding on to different weapons and items that players find in the single player campaign.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

You know, they call 'em archers but you never see them arch.

The villain player though is playing a totally different game., sort of a cross between an RTS and a board game. In each arena (distinct areas of each level) the villain can place enemies from a palette of four monsters per arena, activate traps, and direct monster attacks. At one point, the villain player used a monster to lure me past a gate, then sealed it behind me, leaving my slow tank to deal with a swarm of monsters, and the rest of my party without a reliable damage sponge. Before every arena, the villain has about a minute of prep time, but most of their action goes on as the heroes advance through the areas, reacting in realtime to the weaknesses and strengths of the other players.

It’s unbelievably fluid, and part of that may have had to do with the fact that it was running on five networked machines, but god damn if it wasn’t impressive. The game doesn’t currently have a five player local option, which could be a problem moving forward, but apparently Lionhead is looking into smartglass support for the villain player. Otherwise though, so long as the game actually runs this smoothly in its final form (which is a while away, a beta is happening in October), Fable Legends is shaping up to be one of the more interesting multiplayer experiences on next-gen consoles.


Mortal Kombat X:

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

Yeah, that's Mortal Kombat alright.

X14, the media event wher I got a chance to play these games, was set up on two floors. More mature titles, like Assassin’s Creed and the Evil Within were on the basement floor, while family friendlier titles like Minecraft and Forza were on the first floor. I told you that because Cassie Cage, one of the new characters, has an attack where she punches her opponents in the nuts so hard their gentials explode.

Mortal Kombat was on the first floor.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Kotal Kahn is a new Mortal Kombat Kharacter, who Kicks and Kracks with the best of the top Kombatants.

Gameplay-wise, the big change is the introduction of a character variation system, which gives each character a choice between three different specializations. For example new character D’vorah, an insect-woman, had variations that added venom to her attacks, or gave her extra control over her bee swarm. Each variation changes the physical appearance of the character, letting competitive players know what they’re up against without any surprises. The other gameplay twist is taken from the MK team’s previous game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, which allowed fighters to interact with various objects and people in the environment. For example, on the market stage, the Warner Bros. PR rep playing the game with me picked up an old lady in the middle of her shopping and tossed her right into my face.

Mortal Kombats tone is a beautiful thing. It’s completely unserious, completely goofy. Where Assassin’s Creed’s cartoonish goriness was mildly upsetting, Mortal Kombat’s was almost jovial. This is a game where the aforementioned Cassie Cage (daughter of series mainstays Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, by the way) can kneecap her opponents, shoot them through the head, pull out some gum, chew it, stick it over the bullet hole, and watch as a blood soaked bubble pops out. The goofy goriness refreshingly unserious, which is strange to say in an industry where increased gore is meant to be a mark of maturity.


Ori and the Blind Forest:

Dang, that's pretty.

Dang, that's pretty.

Do you remember the action/platformer indie game trend of 2008ish? Moon studios does. In fact, their debut game, Ori and the Blind forest feels like it could have been ripped right out of that post-Braid period of indie game design. It’s actually kind of refreshing, considering so many indie games are following the current rougelike trend. In terms of platform mechanics, there’s a little bit of lag to Ori’s movement, a little bit of floatiness to his jumps, giving it a very similar feel to Rayman: Origins. Ori also shares that game’s focus on gorgeous 2D art. Like Rayman, it’s only meant to look hand drawn, but in motion, moves a lot more fluidly with less frames. It’s not janky looking by any means, but it’s likely what contributes to the floatiness of the gameplay.

Ori also borrows liberally from Metroidvania-style games, with areas that are only accessible by levelling up Ori’s various attacking, jumping and running abilities. The whole game takes place on one interconnected map screen, and the plan is for loading to be seamless, with all progress impediments being completely organic, rather than Metroid’s trademark locked doors. It’s a big promise, but as far as the demo goes, it seems feasible. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much that distinguishes Ori mechanically. It mostly seems like a method of conveyance for this gorgeous art, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s probably not the indie game that’ll put the Xbox One on the map.

Sunset Overdrive:

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

I really hope that gun actually fire bullets shaped like the word "Blamm!"

Sunset Overdrive is Sonic the Hedgehog but with guns.

But also it’s nothing like that one game that already did that.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

See? Grinding! Just like everyone's favourite the Hedgehog.

Insomniac Games is coming hot off the heels of last year’s tepidly reviewed Fuse, their first multiplatform title. Sunset Overdrive meanwhile, is their first Xbox exclusive game, and the attitude is an interesting cross between the classic Insomniac cartooniness and Microsoft’s focus on “mature” content. The game opens with your personally designed character (mine was a buff red haired girl with a fantastic goatee) cursing up a storm as they flee from mutant energy drink addicts and learn how to grind on rails and building ledges. That’s where the sonic comparisons come in. on the ground, your character is a sitting duck. You’re not very quick, but the mutants are fast and come at you in droves. While grinding though, you get both the high and speed advantage, along with a better look at the lay of the land. Your advantage is the mobility that the rails offer you, and it makes for a faster, more visually dynamic shooter.

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

Explosions! Orange! Blue! Soda! Tongues! Firmly in cheeks! But not in a ditry way!

The problem mostly comes in when your weapon variety starts to show up. I had a flaming  gential-themed shotgun, a disc gun that fired vinyl records, and a massive hand cannon called the Dirty Harry. None of these guns really favoured the high speed, far away combat style that the grind-rails encouraged. The shotgun worked great for enemies nearby, and the hand cannon was perfect when I slowed myself down and focused on enemies, but otherwise, the disc gun’s bouncing records was the only weapon that worked at the high speeds the game wanted me to move at. Presumably as the game opens up, you’ll get more weapons that suit how you want to fight, but the game pushes you very hard in a particular direction. The other problem I see is the game’s open world, which sort of renders that high-speed mobile combat moot. Specific challenges designed around your mobility in certain areas can be really interesting, but a big, open world might just allow the developers to create more generalized challenges that can be dropped in anywhere on the map. For now, Sunset Overdrive’s overall goofiness, and highly mobile combat style has me a lot more interested in it than I’d initially thought, but that open world is particularly worrying, and very much not in Insomniac’s wheelhouse.


The Evil Within:

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

That lanterns is almost certainly going to burn through his pants. Give him some toasty buns.

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Hoods are so last year for "spooky apparition", don't you know that?

Did you play Resident Evil 4? If you didn’t, it’s something of a classic. Shinji Mikami reimagined of the survival horror genre when it desperately needed some fresh air, and created one of the first modern third person shooters to boot, RE4 is pretty rightfully considered to be one of the best games of its time, and it holds up surprisingly well. The Evil Within is Shinji Mikami’s return to the genre he revolutionized twice, and it’s sort of lacking in the revolution department. Without Mikami, Resident Evil has become a far more action- oriented franchise than ever before, and indie games have taken the survival horror genre in a more atmospheric, less actiony direction.The Evil Within is a very anti-climactic return to that Resident Evil 4 middle ground. The protagonist even has Leon Kennedy’s trademark constipated shuffle.

Ammo’s in tight supply, the “haunted” can come back from the dead if you don’t burn their corpses with a match, and the demo took place in a spooky mansion. The potential for jump scares and death traps is pretty much infinite. At one point, I walked down a hallway, and triggered a rope that dragged me into a closet full of spinning blades. I tried shooting at the blades to jam them, but of course, the game didn’t exactly highlight the tiny blinking light I was meant to shoot at until after I died. And then I lost about 20 minutes of progress. Retracing my steps was an exercise in memorization. Turn around, shoot that zombie. Stop, kick open door, defuse bomb, grab safe dial, go down hall, activate trap, shoot trap. The sheer scriptedness of everything renders the horror moot. The terrifying atmosphere of modern survival horror has left Mikami’s take on the genre feeling more like a particularly goofy haunted house.

In a more positive take, having to burn enemy corpses is an interesting mechanic. Your character only has so many matches available to him (one has to wonder why he doesn’t just carry a lighter) and any enemy whose head you don’t completely blow off has a chance of coming back. I could see that becoming a real great way of building dread, but then again, after dying once or twice, it wouldn’t be too hard for a player to figure out which bodies to burn and which to leave. Especially when compared to Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within seems like a survival horror throwback, and not necessarily in a good way.


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The Next Reality- What Works With VR?

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The Next Reality- What Works With VR?

For years, virtual reality was nothing but a twinkle in the eye of the goofiest of cyberpunk-tinged games industry futures. But now, with the advent of technology like the Oculus Rift, and the Samsung Gear VR, virtual reality is just a few steps away from your eyeballs at any moment. Of course, that means the temptation to make those headset-wearing VR dreams come true is stronger than ever, and here at Built to Play, we’d like to crush those dreams. Not every game is good for VR! In fact, most games aren’t! But some work really well- like, genre redefining well.

Virtual reality displays are- and have always been - peripheral to the overall game experience. Generally speaking, games that are made for VR displays are incunabular in nature. They ape the current format of games rather than create something that requires VR to function properly.

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The Primer: The History of VR

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The Primer: The History of VR

Before we kick off this month’s Built to Play theme on Virtual Reality, let’s take a trip through the frightful history of consumer-level VR game technology, shall we? Now hold my hand, count to three, click your heels, and strap a computer to your face, because it’s time to go!

While it isn’t technically virtual reality, the Master System’s 3D glasses are the first example I can find of a game developer using dedicated hardware to push immersion. Or, more accurately back then, the promise of immersion to sell dedicated hardware. To be fair to these guys, Master System 3D is in full colour, trading out red and blue lenses for rapidly moving shutters. That doesn't make it any less a waste of money. 

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Nintendo's E3 Lineup Previews

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Nintendo's E3 Lineup Previews

Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker:

Zooming out Captain Toad levels is a lot like playing Where's Waldo, if Waldo had the voice of a shrill, screaming grandmother.

Zooming out Captain Toad levels is a lot like playing Where's Waldo, if Waldo had the voice of a shrill, screaming grandmother.

The Captain Toad levels are the best part of Super Mario 3D World. Full stop.

If you don’t believe me, you either haven’t played 3D World, or that grating Toad voice Nintendo has been putting in games since 2001 made your head explode a lot faster than mine. For the former, the Captain Toad levels saw the titular explorer (first introduced as Mario’s weird schlemiel tagalong in Mario Galaxy) move around a 3D puzzle box level, hunting down green stars. The captain can’t jump use powerups, or even run very fast, but he can manipulate the camera a full 360 degrees, allowing levels to be trickier than they seem at first glance.

This is BASICALLY Gears of War. That cover would be waist high on anyone else.

This is BASICALLY Gears of War. That cover would be waist high on anyone else.

They were short, but generally really clever little puzzles. and the only complaint I ever had with them was that there weren’t more. Now that I have that though, I can’t help but be a little concerned. Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles are still tricky, and require some careful thought, as well as quick reflexes, but I have to wonder how much Captain Toad can justify an entire game. The demo I played had four levels, all pretty different from one another, including one where our intrepid explorer had to move from cover to cover to avoid a dragon spitting fire, while also moving forward to avoid the slowly rising lava lake. It’s not a terribly original level design, even for Nintendo, since it's pretty much exactly the Helmaroc King fight from Wind Waker, but Captain Toad’s specific limitations and goals gave it an interesting spin on a classic puzzle platformer challenge. If Nintendo can keep that kind of variety up across a few dozen levels, Captain Toad might finally escape his eternal sidekick role.

 

Mario Maker:

That hand isn't for show. It's in the game every time you edit a level and it's mildly unsettling.

That hand isn't for show. It's in the game every time you edit a level and it's mildly unsettling.

The first thing you have to know about Mario Maker though is that it really isn’t a game. It’s more of a toy, sort of in the vein of Mario Paint. However, unlike Mario Paint, fans have been making Mario level editors for years on the interest, at different, mostly questionable levels of legality, so what’s the deal here?

See? Maybe that's Miyamoto's hand? It would only make sense.

See? Maybe that's Miyamoto's hand? It would only make sense.

Assuming Mario Maker is a smaller, eShop title, and not a full retail release, the basis of Mario Maker is sound. Making your own Mario levels is a fun enough concept that dozens of half-baked fangames have been made to service the idea. The problem is how Nintendo plans to make Mario Maker worth a price tag. As it stands, Mario Maker feels pretty early on, it’s fairly light on features, and I’m assuming plenty more will be added as the game gets closer to release. For example, while the toolset let me put wings on any damn enemy I pleased, the red Koopas pictured in the official art weren't in the demo, leaving me dropping hundreds of winged green turtles to their doom.

Actually, it could be Reggie's hand. It is very well manicured.

Actually, it could be Reggie's hand. It is very well manicured.

The most intriguing feature the demo had was the ability to swap between Super Mario Bros. 1 graphics to New Super Mario Bros. U graphics on the fly. Nintendo has mentioned that they’re looking into adding more graphic overlays, and I think that’s where this game has a chance of really standing out. If tools from every 2d Mario platformer are available, with abilities from every game, we’d have a much deeper level editor than fans have ever made. Imagine switching to Mario 2 graphics and being able to plop down turnips for throwing around and setting up magic potions and portal doors, then erasing that level, and building one of those nightmare Kaizo Mario World death traps that require constant spin jumps over hungry piranha plants. Or assets themed around more obscure games like Donkey Kong ‘94, or even a Paper Mario visual filter. Mario Maker could be a really deep, fun toy that takes a look back at Mario’s platforming history by giving players the reigns. Emphasis on could. It could also be made obsolete by fan games before it’s even released. Here's hoping for a Hotel Mario skin at the very least.

 

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse:

Every single piece of art for this game is so cute it may actually kill me. LOOK AT HIS CUTE GLASSY EYES. LOOK UPON THEM AND DESPAIR.

Every single piece of art for this game is so cute it may actually kill me. LOOK AT HIS CUTE GLASSY EYES. LOOK UPON THEM AND DESPAIR.

Kirby’s Canvas Curse is the actual best Kirby game, but probably also one of the most overlooked. It came out at a weird transitionary period in the DS’s life. It was long enough after launch that every DS game wasn’t an exciting new tech demo, but before the system hit its popularity stride with stuff like Brain Age and Nintendogs. Not to mention that it was a touch based game about two months after touch was no longer a special feature. But, it was a really clever platformer that used the DS hardware better than pretty much any game before it, and was fun to boot.

I wish every screenshot of this game was a ,gif, it's sort of the only thing that would do it justice.

I wish every screenshot of this game was a ,gif, it's sort of the only thing that would do it justice.

Almost a decade later, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse becomes a long-awaited sequel by default, but there’s something off about it. It’s still fun, and the paint-line mechanic hasn’t been revisited since the original, but I just can’t understand why the game is on WiiU. Yes, it’s gorgeous. Screenshots don’t quite do it justice actually. The world is rendered in clay, giving the game a faux-stop motion feel.  It’s constantly moving but in tiny, imperfect ways. Kirby is never a perfect sphere, but invisible hands are constantly trying to remold him into one, like a child with a ball of plasticine. It’s some of the best, most creative use of HD I’ve ever seen, but it’s not necessary to the game. The aesthetic tries to justify its existence on WiiU, when it’s otherwise a much better fit for 3DS. It is the sequel to a DS game after all. One has to wonder if this game and Kirby’s Triple Deluxe, a more traditional platformer that would probably get more attention on a console, didn’t get swapped around or something at birth.

Yeah. If that doesn't win you over you're dead inside.

Yeah. If that doesn't win you over you're dead inside.

It's Yoshi! But yarn! It's cute!

It's Yoshi! But yarn! It's cute!

Yoshi’s Wooly World:

Yoshi is another WiiU game that tries to justify its existence through an aesthetic. Unlike Kirby though, its harder to fault it for that. I’m sure it’s coincidental, but considering the general “meh” Yoshi’s New Island received from players at large, stepping as far away as possible from the traditional Yoshi art style is probably a good idea.

No one man should have all that yarn.

No one man should have all that yarn.

Otherwise though, Woolly World is Yoshi as you know it. Considering it’s already the third direct Yoshi’s Island sequel in eight years, the ground before it is pretty well trodden. You eat enemies, turn them into eggs (yarn balls technically), bop more enemies with them to collect treasures. In a cross with Good Feel’s previous craft-based game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi doesn’t have a life bar, instead losing a chunk of collected treasure upon death. In multiplayer mode, dying also respawns you as a floating egg for your partner to pop, sort of like respawning in New Super Mario Bros.. It’s totally solid, but I’m still iffy on using Epic Yarn’s death system. While it does get rid of Baby Mario’s incessant whining, Yoshi’s Island’s difficulty was in collecting well hidden secrets like the red coins and flowers. Putting the emphasis instead on amassing as much treasure as possible feels like it’s missing the point, much like Yoshi’s New Island and Yoshi’s Island DS. Maybe we’ll just have to wait a little longer for a true Yoshi’s Island sequel after all.

 

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright:

Luke's the only one not getting in on the Objection action. That's because no one likes Luke. Sorry guy.

Luke's the only one not getting in on the Objection action. That's because no one likes Luke. Sorry guy.

Earlier this year, I got really existential about there being no more Professor Layton games. Of course, I knew then that Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney would be coming out in North America eventually, I just also knew that due to its long release delay it was going to feel like a pretty significant step back.

When the 3DS was announced, this was the game that made me perk up and get interested in the system. Two of my favourite DS adventure games come together to form a weird, violin accompanied Voltron? Where do I sign up? Playing it now though, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. The game doesn’t demo well, but in the half hour or so I played it, I watched Professor Layton explain what a puzzle was, using a non-interactive cutscene that lasted three or four eternities, and Phoenix and Maya bicker about how they’re bakers, not lawyers. I swear, they think they’re bakers until the first contradiction, and it lets them justify every first case cliche the series can throw at you. Explaining how to press witnesses? Check. Explaining what contradictions are? Check. Explaining how testimony works? Arghhhhh

Spoilers: Maya isn't in AA5, so seeing her again is a real treat for long time Ace Attorney fans.

Spoilers: Maya isn't in AA5, so seeing her again is a real treat for long time Ace Attorney fans.

I’m sure those things will pass, but I can’t help but feel the game is designed for newcomers to the Layton franchise from the Ace Attorney side, as well as newcomers to the Ace Attorney franchise from the Layton side. It’s tutorial city. Again, the demo I played was only an hour and a half or so into the game, and I’m sure it’ll pass, it just didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth. Also, since the game came out before Ace Attorney 5 in Japan, it lacks the option to skip text at any point, forcing you to sit through s l o w ,  s c r o l l i n g  d i a l o g. It’s a minor complaint, I know, but I’m a fast reader, and having that option in AA5 was a real blessing. Playing without it may get really frustrating for Ace Attorney veterans in the same camp as myself.

 

 

Hyrule Warriors:

Fans have determined that this Link is the "pretty Link", and I can only assume it's the scarf. Gotta be the scarf.

Fans have determined that this Link is the "pretty Link", and I can only assume it's the scarf. Gotta be the scarf.

The problem with writing about Hyrule Warriors is that it’s exactly what I expected of it. Not that that’s a terrible thing. Hyrule Warriors is a Zelda-inspired take on the Dynasty Warriors franchise, which at this point has teeth so long they qualify as tusks. If you’ve played any of those, you know what to expect here- giant hordes of enemies, punctuated with a few bigger, tougher foes, scattered across a map with various bases and control points. Kill scores of them and complete missions (mostly oriented around running to another point on the map and killing scores of them) and beat the level.

Some days, we just need to sit back and appreciate how great the Skyward Sword Lizalfos design is. It has a giant rock gauntlet Let that sink in.

Some days, we just need to sit back and appreciate how great the Skyward Sword Lizalfos design is. It has a giant rock gauntlet Let that sink in.

There are a few differences, sure. Subweapons like bombs can be found on the map and equipped instead of the standard healing potions, and having individual hearts instead of an ambiguous health bar makes it a lot easier to know how much health you need to pick up to keep on trucking, but overall, this is Dynasty Warriors wearing a Zelda skin.

Original character White Sorceress Lana is here to fulfil your daily recommended dose of moe character design.

Original character White Sorceress Lana is here to fulfil your daily recommended dose of moe character design.

It’s a pretty skin though. Hyrule Warriors is among the prettier WiiU games, and the Skyward Sword-inspired battlefield the demo took place in looks like a massive step up even from the game’s initial trailers. And, speaking as a far-too-enthusiastic Zelda fan, the little touches thrown in are adorable. Midna’s “twilight wolves” have the same chunky dreadlocked mane that Wolf Link was rocking back in Twilight Princess, and one of Zelda’s alternate weapons is the Wind Waker, complete with requisite sound effects. There are a few spots where the shout outs go a little too far, like when Navi’s ever-grating “Hey, Listen!” plays over tutorial tooltips. It’s as if the developers knew that her catchphrase became memetic, but totally missed the part where it was the world’s most annoying sound.

It’s hard to write about this game without it just sounding a back-of-the-box feature list. Kill monsters! Zelda things! Dynasty Warriors was smart to move into more and more licensed titles, like their recent Fist of the North Star and One Piece-themed games, and Hyrule Warriors is no different from either. It’s classic, tried-and-tired Dynasty Warriors gameplay with a candy-coloured Zelda coating. That was totally enough to get me to buy One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2 last year, and depending on how much more content this game has we haven’t seen yet, it might manage to do it again.

Twilight Princess's Midna brings down Majora's Mask's moon as part of one of her supers, and that sentence is definitely a dream come true for someone. (That someone is me.)

Twilight Princess's Midna brings down Majora's Mask's moon as part of one of her supers, and that sentence is definitely a dream come true for someone. (That someone is me.)

Remember, for more previews of games like Bayonetta 2 and Project Giant Robot, check out our audio from Nintendo's preview event, coming soon!


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Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

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Super Smash Bros. WiiU/3DS Preview: Lookin' Good

Smash Bros. is a weird beast. On one hand, it’s an outsider game, part of Nintendo’s initiative to take genres they aren’t comfortable with and Nintendo-ize them. Smash Bros. is an action-platform-brawler, sure, but it’s also Nintendo’s more intuitive, easy to understand take on the fighting game genre (see also: Splatoon for shooters, Fire Emblem for RPGs, Luigi’s Mansion for point-and-click adventure games). On the other hand though, it’s the insider game, combining pretty much every Nintendo franchise that matters (and some that really, really don’t) into one fan-pandering package.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

It's like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Mega Man beats Mario who bears Sonic who beats Mega Man until both are irrelevant.

That fighting game part of the equation is really relevant these days, with the sudden surge of popularity Super Smash Bros Melee, the 2001 Gamecube incarnation of the series, has been seeing in the fighting game community. Nintendo, in response, made sure that Gamecube controllers, the Smash Bros. standard would be compatible with the WiiU game through some sort of Frankenstein's monster of a switching box. It takes up two USB ports, and I’m not really sure how. Then, they held a tournament, inviting the world’s top Smash Bros. players to show off the game in a livestreamed event in the Nokia Theatre. Nintendo is pinning all its WiiU hopes and dreams on Smash, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s consistently a multi-million seller, but unlike Mario Kart, its more popular older brother, it draws in a fairly stable crowd of Nintendo, and specifically, Smash Bros. diehards.

So, getting Super Smash Bros. for WiiU and 3DS (seriously, that's the full name) right is a Big Deal for Nintendo. Such a big deal that they’ve dedicated multiple Nintendo Directs to it, post daily updates on the games development to Miiverse, and commission original, usually super clever art every time a new character is revealed. Smash Bros. is an event game. It’s a once a generation game. But enough context, let’s talk video games.

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

Rush....Do you think love can bloom? Even on a battlefield?

To prepare for the demo, I played enough of Melee and Brawl to get a feel for the differences between the two games, and to remind myself exactly how they felt to move around in. I found that Melee was a lot slipperier than I remembered, while also being a very stiff game overall. Brawl, meanwhile, had a lot more traction on the ground, and moved more smoothly, but had a lot of floatiness and looseness in the air. Smash Bros. for WiiU feels tighter, in a good way though. Melee’s stiffness made hit and run tactics the order of the day giving defensive players really big opportunities, while Brawl’s floatiness made matches one long air battle, eventually culminating in a single strong ground hit for a kill. Overall, characters feel like they have less airtime now, as well as more responsive hits on the ground. The overall feel is snappier, tighter. Characters have real weight to them again, but not so much that they feel cumbersome to combo with.

K! O!

K! O!

For example, I got my hands on Punch Out’s Little Mac, one of the game’s newcomers. Mac is a boxer, not exactly skilled at air fighting. His jumps are low and heavy, and his off-screen recovery options either move straight up, or straight to the side, no precise recovery here. But, his ground game is unmatched. He’s lightning quick, hits like a tank, and most of his specials and smash attacks combo out of his jab attack. Mac also builds up a power meter as he takes and deals damage. Once it fills up, you get a single use, instant-KO uppercut. It comes out slow, but hitting it stops the action and zooms in on you crushing your opponents jaw with the might of a thousand elephants. It’s crazy satisfying. The rebalancing of the air and ground game still makes Mac a less viable character overall, Smash Bros. is an action-platformer after all, and what good is a platforming character who jumps like a turtle? But, more of the action takes place on the ground, and playing to your strengths (and the center of the stage) makes Mac a really solid, entertaining character to use.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Rosalina. The Mario Galaxy princess is light, and floats around pretty much like she’s right out of Brawl. Her shtick is that she has a Luma following her around, sort of like the Ice Climbers tandem system from previous games. Unlike Nana though, Rosalina is in full control of her Luma, and can use it to create devastating (and really cool looking) set ups and combos. In the time I used her, she seemed really tricky to get a hold of, but definitely showed potential for serious damage. Between the Luma and Little Mac’s power meter, it’s easy to see that Smash Bros. new direction isn’t so much about refining the engine and core feel of the game, as it has been before, but about refining the characters, and making each feel more unique.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Don't worry, Diddy always has it coming.

Take a look at Mega Man. He doesn’t have his own special subsystem, but the way he operates is entirely different from the rest of the cast. His jab combo fires three pellets (and only three, just like NES sprite restrictions demand), and each of his moves are individual, distinct hits, often with charge up time, poor recovery, or slow start-up. Mega Man doesn’t combo. At all. But, just like he does in his games, he has a ton of options available to him. The (ironically sort of useless) Metal Blade can go off in any direction, the Leaf Shield lets you run right through projectiles, Hard Knuckle demolishes any enemy beneath you, Air Shooter lets you chase enemies right off top of the screen in an aerial battle. Mega Man has an option for any situation, and they hit hard. Mega Man requires you to understand the game and predict your opponents, not react, then pick the right tool for any job. No other character plays like that.

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Yeah, but where's all the sports tape?

Even older characters have gotten tweaks. Pikachu’s thunder attack is no longer nearly as useful, and his “breakdancing” down-smash has a bit of a vortex applied to it, letting him suck enemies into his whirling death tail. Overall, it forces Pikachu players to play more aggressively, having to rely far less on well placed thunders to carry enemies off screen for them. Meanwhile, perennial bottom-tier bench sitter Link has a stronger downwards stab in the air, as well as far batter range on his boomerang. Maybe it’s not enough to take him out of the D-List, but he certainly feels more viable.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

I could look at 100 screenshots of Sonic eating it and never get bored.

It all makes Smash Bros. feel much more like what I think it was intended to be. A collection of Nintendo's unique characters, each recognizable because they play just like they’re supposed to in their original games. They’re more different than they ever were before. It diversifies the gameplay in a way that Smash Bros. hasn’t tried since the very first game. Greninja plays hit and run like a melee character, Wii Fit Trainer is floatier, but hits hard and plays a strong fundamentals game. The Villager is unpredictable, much like Mr. Game and Watch, but with a heavier focus on set ups and traps. It’s the first Smash Bros. game where I feel like I really need to sit down and learn some of the characters, and that’s a really good thing. It’s making me very excited to clean up with Little Mac in Super Smash Bros for WiiU and 3DS.

Boy, it really needs a better name.


Sidebar: Smash Bros for 3DS Update-

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

It does actually look this nice up close. Zoomed out? Not so much.

Did you hear? Smash Bros. is also on 3DS this time around!Presumably because the WiiU isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, and a 3DS version is a pretty sure sales bet for a good few million copies. But handheld fighters are never the best idea. Sure, they can function, but it often comes at a serious cost. Either the engine suffers, or the controls aren’t right, or frames get dropped. 3DS Smash Bros. is a pretty unique case in that it is literally the exact same game as it’s console big brother. Sure, it has a different set of stages and a few special modes, but it uses the same characters, the same assets (scaled down significantly for the smaller screen) and the same engine. It plays identically, smooth as silk. I’ll take the thick black outlines over dropped frames any day of the week.

The game’s big draw right now is the Smash Run mode, which lets up to four players run around a floating island dungeon for five minutes, killing various Nintendo enemies for power ups. These power ups then get applied for a set of multiplayer matches once the time limit is up. The mode is entertaining, but playing against CPUs really only hammered across the fact that Smash Bros. is built on local multiplayer. The controls work (the timing for smash attacks feels a little more lenient on the handheld), and the screen size isn’t really an issue. Online multiplayer is solid enough on 3DS, but it’ll never replace the local, punch-your-friend-in-the-shoulder-for-using-a-cheap-move multiplayer that made the series so popular. This game needs tons and tons of single player content, but I have to imagine all of that will find its way to the WiiU version anyway, considering it comes out a few months later. No matter what Smash 3DS does, it’s always going to be the inferior version, and that’s not a great place to start from.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

Not the 3DS version, but do appreciate the RESOLUTION on those hula hoops. You won't find hula hoops like that on any other console. Those are proprietary hoops. First party hoops.

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Op-Ed: E3 Shows us that 2014 is the Year of Stagnation

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Op-Ed: E3 Shows us that 2014 is the Year of Stagnation

There were more severed heads in trailers at E3 this year than there were women on stage. 

That's a frightening statistic, but let's be honest here, it didn't surprise you, did it? It's E3 after all. Sure, no one made a rape joke on stage this year, but across the four major shows (Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft and EA) there were five women presenters. Counting Nintendo, which had none, that averages out to one women per show. Meanwhile, the number of severed arms, heads and other appendages probably tallied somewhere in the 50s by the time all was said an done. Hell, outside of Nintendo, individual presentations had more gore than women every single time. Nintendo went zero for zero by the way, but they're something of a special case. Not so special though that they didn't have more women playable characters on screen than every other presentation combined. 

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Op-Ed:  We Need To Talk About Budgets

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Op-Ed: We Need To Talk About Budgets

Yesterday's EA conference bugged the hell out of me. Not because of the constant deluge of sports games, I'm used to that. That bit where they called bothMadden and Fifa football in the span of like 20 minutes was pretty annoying, but I got over it. There was a good 5 minutes there where they were using Bruce Lee's digital corpse as a puppet to shill UFC games, but that didn't annoy me so much as make me deeply uncomfortable. No, the part that drove me insane was when they showed four games that looked to be in varying stages of pre-beta development. Criterion's new, currently untitled, action sorts game, DICE'sStar Wars Battlefront 3, as well as their Mirror's Edge prequel/sequel/reboot and Bioware Montreal's Mass Effect 4. 

Every one of these games was prefaced with plenty of text telling us about how the footage we were seeing was nowhere near final, and, in the case of Battlefront, that this was merely a test of what the engine could potentially achieve. Hell, Bioware announced a new game that didn't have a concept, just a fancy season changing system. 

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The Primer: Interesting Failures

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The Primer: Interesting Failures

Like any creative medium, games fail. A lot. Creatively, critically commercially, even morally, games that don't succeed seem to outnumber the ones that do sometimes. But, behind every failure is a story. Sometimes the budget ran out, sometimes development shifted suddenly halfway through, sometimes the market wasn't right for the game, sometimes the game just sort of sucks and no one can do anything about it. 

But other times, a whole host of things go wrong and stop a game from succeeding in any number of ways.  This month, in our look at failure within the industry, what causes it, and what goes wrong, we want to take a look at some of gaming's more interesting failures, commercial, critical and otherwise.

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Op-Ed: Americanizing Ace Attorney Was a Brilliant Idea

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Op-Ed: Americanizing Ace Attorney Was a Brilliant Idea

Anything you've ever liked in an Ace Attorney game is a result of its localization. Every clever joke, cute pun, and witty line of dialogue was a product of the localization team taking the original script and reworking it to fit an American audience. Sure, the localization team has no control over the mysteries they're handed, or any particularly offensive character designs, but other than those things, Phoenix Wright is pretty much all text. Which made it sort of a revelation to me which it came out. I'd played adventure games before, but never anything as visual novel-styled as Ace Attorney. My computer wasn't really up to snuff, and from my perspective, most of them were R-rated hentai games, which I was terrified of my parents catching me playing. But Ace Attorney was something different- it was well written. In fact, so well written that nothing about it really screamed "Japan" at me. I'd watched a bunch of anime at that point, so I was catching the art style, and the various seinen tropes it drops, but other than that, the first Ace Attorney doesn't seem really seem out of place in its Los Angeles setting. It’s a game about lawyers with wacky clients, a plot that could have easily been transposed onto a TV series, or movie, or book. But outside of that, every character had been renamed with a usually goofy, but never grating, pun, cultural references to Japan had been totally relocated, and characters cracked jokes based on American idioms and pop culture, but never in a way that felt like someone just checked a Wikipedia page and based their goofs off of that.

Cultrual differences: In Japan, that "Victory" text was in Japanese, and that ghost was a werewolf.

Cultrual differences: In Japan, that "Victory" text was in Japanese, and that ghost was a werewolf.

There’s a saying that the best localizations are the ones no one notices. That a light touch is best when it comes to bringing something over from another country. It makes sense, if you beat someone over the head with any Americanisms it’s going to seem pretty obvious that it wasn’t American in the first place. Ace Attorney 1 hits that sweet spot perfectly. It might as well have been an American-developed game from my perspective playing through it for the first time. There are some weird Japanese things left over, like the string of flags on one character’s souvenir stand, or a popular Tokusatsu show being filmed in an LA studio, but those just sort of make sense in the inherent weirdness of a world where magical spirit channelling exists and is totally admissible as evidence in court.

To be fair, some of those cultural references are uhh...uncomfortable.

To be fair, some of those cultural references are uhh...uncomfortable.

Just as an example, there’s a bit in the Japanese version of Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations where one character spills curry on a picture of the spirit channelling master. In Japanese, her orders are to put a “splendid end to the head of the house.” Being a kid, she misreads some of the Kanji involved, getting karei, or splendid, confused with kare, which means curry. She also gets indoh, which is the word for giving someone their funeral rites, as indo, which means India. So she spills Indian curry on the picture. Of course, that pun doesn’t make a lick of sense in English, but the localizers were stuck with the picture being covered in a brown foodstuff. Her orders in English are to “gravely roast the master,” so she dumps some gravy from the night’s roast on the picture instead. The event doesn’t change, but her misunderstanding makes sense to an English speaking audience. It’s a perfect crossover, and until someone pointed out that the gravely/gravy and roast/roast connection doesn’t exist in Japanese, I never noticed it. It’s the deft, light touch or a good localization. Sure, the fact that she mixed up those words is a little goofy, but it’s equally goofy in both languages, and makes perfect sense in the moment. There isn't really anything lost by changing the food items, other than a bunch of Americans not getting the joke, because curry isn't particularly popular here.

Of course, for a series that lives by its localization, it also dies by it too. So sometimes, when an Ace Attorney game falls flat, it’s probably the localization’s fault. Ace Attorney Investigations is a pretty boring game. It has hysterically simple cases that last forever because of dozens of filler interrogations you have to sit through before you can actually get your hands on the culprit, but that’s the fault of the game’s developers. The localizers instead have to shoulder the blame of the bottom of the barrel puns (the sports-loving Jacques Portsman, the victim known as Died Mann) and the monotony of Edgeworth, Gumshoe and sidekick Kay having exactly one joke each. Some of that might be attributed to the fact that because of the game’s core conceit, you aren’t really ever doing anything of purpose, just wandering around trying to find someone who will be arrested and eventually dragged to real court, but there’s certainly space for a localization to have spiced things up. It’s too light a touch for localization.

Just gotta something!

Just gotta something!

Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, on the other hand, actually suffers from a very noticeable and problematic localization- it’s full of typos. There’s actually a tumblr dedicated to cataloguing some of the incredible spelling mistakes. Most of them are small ones, “any” instead of “an”, “statute” instead of “stature”, nothing that seems totally crazy. But then they spell one of the game’s primary locations three different ways and you realize they didn’t hire an editor. It makes the whole thing look amateurish for a high-profile release from a major publisher. It also totally destroys a lot of your immersion when you have to stop every few textboxes to gawk and marvel at the latest unbelievable error.

Vale/Vail/Veil/Village/Vermont/Vermillion

Vale/Vail/Veil/Village/Vermont/Vermillion

And while Ace Attorney 1 benefited from the westernised script, Dual Destinies stumbles over it. Where the Los Angeles setting made for a more welcoming atmosphere for a new player than Tokyo would have, Dual Destinies leaves players looking for semblances of American culture cold. The game features two Japanese villages that somehow relocated their entire populations from Japan to Southern California, brought over their ancient sealed demons, and somehow used their images to sell a popular wrestling show. All of that is crazy, especially the wrestling bit. 

Now, that isn't necessarily Dual Destinies' fault, considering they were stuck in LA to begin with, but they really could have done something about the incredibly problematic third case, which features a very Anime-styled legal academy, a prep-high school for law school, which is presumably what allows people in the Ace Attorney universe to pass the bar at 13. At the school, you run into a young man who was born female and lives life as a man. Of course, once you reveal this in court (which is kind of gross in and of itself), the character admits the truth by pulling out a pink high heel and staring at it longingly. You need to make them admit this because you need a reason for them to have stolen and worn a dress. Even though the proof is there, there is somehow no way they could have done it unless they were secretly actually a girl. Also, after the big reveal, the character becomes very stereotypically girly, teasing characters, doing over-dramatic fake faints, and putting their hands on their hips. It’s sort of crazy offensive, and the kind of thing that probably could have been worked around a little bit by the localizers. To be fair, I don’t know if it was worse in the Japanese version. This was, after all, the series that had an enormous, flamboyant French chef talk about how he was a “woman on the inside” and leave it treated as a hilaaaaarious joke.

He also smokes a feather, but that's not a Japan thing, it's an Ace Attorney thing.

He also smokes a feather, but that's not a Japan thing, it's an Ace Attorney thing.

Dual Destinies takes a pretty light approach to the whole localization thing outside of a handful of cultural references here and there. Prosecutor Simon Blackquill is a walking ball of Japanese cultural references that don't track unless you're familiar with a whole host of Japanese tropes. He's a samurai, but dresses more like court nobility, he calls everyone -dono at times, an antiquated Japanese honorific used to denote respect, the list goes on. To be fair, the localizers did a decent job of making him speak British English to reflect the more archaic Japanese he used, but there's no halfway here. he came off as strange, and sort of jarring. No one is going to argue that Dual Destinies is a well localized game. Part of that is partially because being stuck in LA renders a few of the cases and characters impossible to localize, but the rest of that burden sits on characters like Blackquill mixing Japanese and English tropes, along with the complete lack of editing in the game's script. 

Dual Destinies manages to have a localization that isn’t just offensive and confusing, but also completely unreadable at times. It sort of ruins the game, in the same way that Ace Attorney 1’s spectacular localization saved it from being “too Japanese” for a wider audience. It was a visual novel that didn’t really feel like one, and opened the floodgates for me personally. I really fell in love with the visual novel concept, all because Ace Attorney was so well written, and so well localized. I’m pretty sure Dual Destinies won’t accomplish the same for anyone. It might even scare them off of the genre as a whole, considering how little it tries to make things palatable to a western audience. Someone yells YOLO once, and I’m pretty sure that’s the sum total of the cultural references I caught. A good localization is very important, and in Ace Attorney’s case, it’s literally the difference between a good game and a bad one. In my case, and I’m pretty sure for many others as well, it’s the difference between being introduced to a new fantastic genre, or being chased even further away by typos and uncomfortable Japanese attitudes to sexuality.

But also the typos.

But also the typos.

Some might argue that Ace Attorney goes too far in its localization, that it erases the original Japanese intent by retrofitting the script to work in America. But the problem is that if it was left as a Japan-centric game it would have never found the popularity it did in the West. A good localization change things around to better suit the culture its being brought to, and in Ace Attorney’s case, that meant playing down the Japanese element to it, which was honestly not terribly important to its core plot. As the series went on, it got out of hand, sure, but there’s no denying that it was the best decision that localization team made at the time. Of course, some games need different localization choices. The Persona games wouldn't make any sense at all if they were westenrized to the same degree as Ace Attorney. In fact, that's often one of the major complaints people have with Persona 1. A good localization is one that takes both the needs of the game as well as the audience into account, and a bad localization is one that fails them.

A good localization also won’t put in a “this is Sparta” reference, but we’ll let Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations slide. It was 2007, we were all making mistakes.


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