Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The GAF Collection

The GAF Collection, Collected has compiled roughly 400 videogame covers created by the members of the NeoGAF forums, done in the style of the Criterion Collection. Like Criterion covers, they're classy, artful, and often very clever.

Below are a few of my favourites, and just a sampling of the hundreds to be found over at TGAFC,C.


Shadow of the Colossus (PS2), Katamari Damacy (PS2)

Two of my favourite games for the PlayStation 2. In both games, you control a positively tiny protagonist and the overall theme is one of largeness. Each of these covers emphasises this by offsetting your character against a backdrop of a massive Colossus\Katamari of which only a portion is shown. Both Colossus and Katamari seem overwhelming to the point of being nearly insurmountable.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

201 Mega Men: A Sampling


~captainslam has created a massive compilation of 201 videogame protagonists done up in the style of MegaMan, and it's a thing of beauty to behold. Above you'll find a few of my personal favorites, which is only a tiny sampling of the overall piece. Lookit that little PipBoy!  Adorable.  And DEADLY.  Radiation deadly!

Click on the image to be taken to the full-sized (6948x4032) images.

Fantastic Four #26, Donkey-Kongified


"Fantastic Four #26", by Anthony Vukojevich

Covered is a blog featuring reinterpretations of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) comic book covers by a number of artists. There's some excellent work to be seen there, notably Anthony Vukojevich's classic videogame-inspired rehashing of Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky's cover of Fantastic Four #26 (check out the original here for comparison.)

Gaming Triptych: 5x5 MegaMan, Metroid, Mario (Alexander S. Shen)

"rock, man." by Alexander S. Shen

"it's a girl" by Alexander S. Shen

"italian plumber" by Alexander S. Shen

As always, clicking on the images above will take you to a larger version.

Gaming Triptych: Street Fighter II

"Super Street Fighter Bros. 8bit" by ~torokun

"Street Fighter, Abstract Edition" by infinite continues

"Chun Li" by springfieldpunx

Click on any of the above images for a larger version.

Gaming Triptych: Final Bosses

"Final Boss", by fatheed

"Boss Battle", by dorito bandito

"Ganon: The Other Dark Meat" by Jude Buffum

Click on any of the above images for a larger version.

Ryu Is A Jerk

Monday, November 1, 2010

Miscellany: Super Mario Bros. Art


Super Mario Bros. World 1-1 Remake by ~marobot


Super Mario Realistic Pixelated by jimiyo


1985 by Mike Mitchell

So Analog by Squid Kids Ink.



(Click for larger image)

These are super rad. Meet 10-Doh!, B-Side, and A-Drive, three prototype vinyl figures from Squid Kids Ink. They'll be debuting at DesignerCon 2010 in Pasadena, CA on November 20th. Sadly, since these are only prototypes, they won't be for sale - though there may be a few blanks available for purchase at the Con.

My love of vinyls is well-documented and I can think of nothing better than seeing the So Analog series earn itself a solo custom show (with the exception of maybe owning a few of them). So if you're in the Pasadena area on the 20th of November and you happen to stop by D-Con, make sure you give these sculpts the proper adulation they deserve - and if you so happen to feel like grabbing a blank 10-Doh! for me at the same time, well, I wouldn't turn my nose up at it.

[So Analog, by Squid Kids Ink]

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Cautionary Tale.


The fear of doing this probably crosses my mind half a dozen times each day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

half-real: a critical study of gaming

One of the things that's taken my attention away from Apocalypse POW! this summer is a website I'm in the process of putting together, half-real: a critical study of gaming. It's the first part of a sort of interactive thesis that I'm writing on the history, cultural impact, and development of gaming, and I figured it might be of interest to those of you who read Apocalypse POW! on a regular basis.

half-real is currently broken up into three categories: the sociological perspective on video games, the cultural perspective, and the industry perspective. Right now, this is about one-quarter of what I plan to incorporate -- eventually there will be chapters on Design, Marketing and Production; Studio vs. Independent Development; and Traditional vs. Emergent Gameplay. It's very much a work in progress, so if you have any feedback or comments, feel free to contact me.

Here's an overly-wordy sampling:

The cultural study of video games tends along a spectrum, with one extreme termed Ludology and the other Narratology (as defined by Gonzalo Frasca). In their purest forms, Ludology focuses on rule-based game systems, while Narratology focuses on story-based game systems. In other words, Chess cannot be studied from a narratological perspective, as the game functions entirely as a rule system. Similarly, a work of interactive fiction, for example Infocom's 1980 text-based adventure game Zork, is difficult to assess from a ludological perspective, as it operates as a story delivery system with a minimal imposition of rules (which can be summed up, essentially, as "don't die" and "complete the story".) That said, most games today contain a roughly-proportional division of rule systems and story devices, allowing for multiple approaches to critical analysis.

[h a l f - r e a l : a critical study of gaming]

The Legend of Busting Up People's Stuff (or, Why Link Is A Jerk)

A trio of Zelda-related videos for your enjoyment.



Really makes you wonder about Link's priorities. I mean, the dude picks the worst possible time to go fishing. Then again, what's up with villagers handing out pointless busy-work to Link when there are clearly more important things to be focusing on? They should know he's got the attention span of a ten-year-old on a sugar high.



Crazy red-eyed Link ineffectually smacking a chicken with his sword makes me bust a gut every time.



I don't know why this is a thing.

One-Line Wonders: Ah! MADNESS.

Oh, right -- I have a blog. Huh. Forgot about that.

Actually, no I didn't. I just haven't had time over the last few months to keep it updated as regularly as I'd like, despite my best intentions. I could go into all the extremely boring real-life, grown-up things that have been taking my attention away from Apocalypse POW!, but you'd find them extremely boring. So instead, let's focus on a topic that is relevant to everyone's interests: the games I've been playing, instead of updating here. That's right, it's time for another installment of One-Line Wonders.

Transformers: War For Cybertron (PC, Wii, PS3, 360, DS)

Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 7.5/10
Design: 7/10
Semi Truck Trailers Vanishing Post-Transformation: 0
Peter Cullens: 1

If the whole point of Transformers is that they're robots IN DISGUISE, TF:WFC seriously drops the energon ball -- despite some fairly solid squad-based gameplay, I'm not really that interested in Bumblebee and Ratchet transforming into Cybertron-style vehicles and zipping along overwrought, Michael-Bay-ish purple Cyber-avenues.


Optimus, pre-Prime. So young and fancy-free.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)

Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Gameplay: 5/10
Design: 7/10
Monsters Fought To Reach Level 25: Roughly Five Billion
Interest In Alchemising New Items: 1.75/10

I'm apparently the sole dissenter on this, but DQIX fails where DQVIII succeeded: instead of offering a compelling, consistent storyline with well-designed NPCs and teammates, it seems to have been designed with the MMO crowd in mind and is far too open-ended and arbitrary, from its multi-player structure to its all-too-frequent non-random monster encounters to its spawned dungeon (or 'grotto') architectures.


Seasaurs: Not Metal Slime Kings.


Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (DS)

Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay: 8.5/10
Design: 8.5/10
Objects That Can Be Fired At The Enemy During Tank Battles: Catnip, Chili Peppers, Yourself
Other RPGs Spoofed: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Harvest Moon

Another entry in the Dragon Quest franchise, this one is incredibly fun, humorous, and full of series in-jokes that only a die-hard fan will get (you play a BLUE SLIME, for chrissake; you encounter tanks (TANKS!) based on familiar monsters from the DQ canon; you even rescue Morrie from DQVIII (in slime form, of course) which allows you access to the Tank Masters tournament) and, while aimed at a slightly younger crowd, is a worthy addition to the Dragon Quest universe.


Yes, that tank is a giant Slime. Yes, that's awesome.


Space Invaders Extreme (DS)

Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 8.5/10
Design: 8/10
Epileptic Attacks Per Second: 2.25
Idea Of What Is Going On Here: None

I picked this game up with a certain amount of jaded cynicism -- I mean, Space Invaders? Really? -- but then I played it for five seconds and my mind was literally blown.


SERIOUSLY WHAT THE EFF IS GOING ON

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (DS)

Graphics: 7.5/10
Sound: 6/10
Gameplay: 7.5/10
Design: 7/10
Hipsters and/or Cultists Populating Tokyo: 8,000,000
Number of Games in the Shin Megami Tensei Series I Have Not Played: 23

Like one of my all-time favourite DS games, The World Ends With You, SMT:DS is an unconventional RPG in a contemporary urban setting... But unlike TWEWY, the squad-based combat and "Devil Auction" gets dull in a hurry, and it's fallen out of rotation for me.


Yeah, WENDIGO. We don't like your kind around here.

Singularity (PC, PS3, 360)

Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Design: 7.5/10
Timelines Altered: 1 (so far, but it was a doozy)
Freaky Ghost Children Encountered: One Too Many

For every original concept in the FPS genre, there are ten run-of-the-mill entries, but thankfully Singularity is not one of them: the time-shift between 2010 and 1955 concept is artfully executed, and the whole Soviet-environment-with-horrible-monsters thing works surprisingly well.


If Bioshock was inspired by Lenin rather than Rand, and did away with that whole "underwater" gimmick.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hadouken!



Following up on Hipster, Please!'s Doctor Who mixtape I linked to the other day, I thought I'd offer up another free download - this one somewhat more relevant to Apocalypse POW!'s usual theme: Akira the Don's full-length Street Fighter II remix album. And, if you'd like to hear it before you pay zero dollars (or whatever you like) to receive high-quality mp3s straight from the Don himself, he's put the whole thing up as an embeddable stream.

Akira The Don - ATD23 - The Street Fighter Mixtape by Akira The Don

And here's the tracklist:

Akira The Don – ATD23: The Street Fighter Mixtape

Produced, engineered and mixed by Akira The Don at Don Studios IV
Cuts by DJ Jack Nimble
Extra guitars by Jeremy Allen

Tracklisting:
Waking Up
Theme From Ken
Entertainers ft. Littles
Be Brave
The Title
Winners ft Envy
The Victory Boogie
R.Y.U.
Ending 1
Nomad
VEGA
Street Fighter (I Will F U Up) ft Big Narstie, Littles & Lickel P
Steal The Show ft Littles
Congratulations
BONUS: Ken Will F U Up

Monday, April 26, 2010

Assorted Miscellany: Our Man On The Inside Edition.

Life has a tendency to get in the way of the things I'd much rather be doing, like blogging about videogames. However, I have a few key articles of news to report today that can't wait any longer. Frankly, I can't believe I left them as long as I have.

First and foremost - my good pal Mister Horrible recently lucked into a cherry position at the Redmond, WA offices of none other than that paragon of family-friendly interactive entertainment, Nintendo. This is awesome on roughly seventeen levels. Not only will he be able to supply me with insider news (which, I'm sure, will invariably come along with the condition that I in no way leak said information on my blog,) but I will also be able to suggest game ideas to him and pretend that they will be passed along to the appropriate departments.

Supposedly Nintendo has already anticipated my incoming deluge of brilliant pitches, because according to Mr. H, the employee handbook explicitly states the following:

Each week, Nintendo receives hundreds of questions and suggestions about our games and systems. While we appreciate the enthusiasm, due to the volume received, we simply do not have time or resources to process them. Accordingly, it is Nintendo's policy to NOT accept unsolicited game ideas.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I'm nevertheless convinced I can wear them down. Anyway, props to Mister Horrible! If nothing else, I look forward to scouring the Nintendo employee tuck shop and picking up Invincibility Stars at cost.

On another note (one which is easily as geeky as my usual fodder, but for once not game-related) I'd like to point you all in the direction of Visitations: A Musical Tribute to Doctor Who over at Hipster, Please! - Z.'s put together a pretty sick Who-themed nerdcore compilation for your time-and-space-voyaging, Dalek-outwitting, sonic-screwdriver-wielding enjoyment.

And while you're at it, take a look at his write-up on Doctor Octoroc's chiptune-and-video project reimagining Doctor Horrible as a classic 8-bit NES game. I was going to post on this myself, but thankfully Z. got there first and saved me the trouble.

And then go here and watch the video in glorious full-screen Flash animation for yourself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pixelbomb!

Uploaded by onemoreprod.

Patrick Jean's Pixel is one of those rare gaming-related video art projects that's both clever, hilarious and aesthetically pleasing.  I could watch it fifty times in a row and not get bored of it.

If you can, watch it full-screen in high-definition to get the full impact.

(via One More Productions.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amazing Races!

Tron, if it had been released in the 1960s and had titles designed by the legendary Saul Bass:


Truly, this is why I get up in the morning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sora in Naboombu.

Since there’s been no major Epic Mickey news in a while, I thought I’d move on to my other Mouse-House gaming obsession today: Kingdom Hearts (not that there’s been any notable developments on the third installment of that series either, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make wild, random speculations in the meantime.)

Rob Bricken, my fine feathered friend over at Topless Robot, has compiled a list of ten hitherto-unvisited Disney worlds he’d like to see in upcoming Kingdom Hearts games – amongst them, the Horned King’s Castle from The Black Cauldron, Romney Marsh from Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, and Notre Dame from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It’s really quite an insightful list and probably at least partially prophetic, since I can’t imagine The Princess & The Frog’s New Orleans or the Isle of Naboombu from Bedknobs & Broomsticks not being touched on at some point in the future by Square Enix.

Inspired by that list, here are a few suggestions of my own:

5. Sleepy Hollow, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

More than any other Disney movie, Legend of Sleepy Hollow scared the bejeebus out of me as a kid.  It was aired every Halloween, and was just part of the spooky tradition for me – trick or treat, come home and gorge on candy while watching Ichabod Crane try to hold onto his head, and then have Headless Horsemen nightmares.  Sleepy Hollow would fit in well with KH’s naming traditions (Hollow Bastion, Twilight Town, Castle Oblivion) and would almost certainly feel more natural than the awkward Port Royal\Pirates of the Caribbean levels in Kingdom Hearts II.

4. Bald Mountain, Fantasia

Fantasia deserves to be mined even further in the KH universe.  It’s been touched on briefly (with the presence of Yen Sid amongst other shout-outs to the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” bit) so there’s some precedence there, and Bald Mountain in particular would make a fantastic end level.  I mean, think about it: ghosts, skeletons and goblins would be scary enough, but HEARTLESS ghosts, skeletons and goblins?  That’s like two orders of badassery in one.

3. The Jungle, Jungle Book

In my mind, Shere Khan is one of the greatest underappreciated villains of the Disney pantheon.  He seemed far more complex and malevolent than the power-hungry Scar from Lion King, because unlike the latter, Khan is motivated purely by animal instinct. Given the predilection for wilderness levels in Kingdom Hearts (the Jungle from Tarzan and the Pride Lands from Lion King) a nod to Jungle Book seems like it would be entirely appropriate.

2. Andy’s Room, Toy Story

I’m assuming the reason why the Pixar\Disney films never made it into any of the Kingdom Hearts games was due to convoluted copyright situations, but… Considering the presence of both Halloween Town and Port Royal, I can’t see why I should be so quick to assume anything Pixar-related will never crop up.  Anything from Wall-E to The Incredibles would make for excellent KH fodder, but Toy Story takes the gold, in my mind: imagine articulated, toy-jointed, miniature versions of Sora, Donald and Goofy running around in a gigantic house fighting toy-Endless alongside Woody and Buzz Lightyear and try to tell me this isn’t the best idea you’ve heard all day.

1. Green Town, Something Wicked This Way Comes

I’m not sure I can justify this, because Something Wicked is more tone than action and it may be too grim even for Kingdom Hearts, but I would sell my left kidney to see it happen.  Mr. Dark, Mr. Cooger, The Dust Witch, and all manner of sideshow freaks and carnival folk are cartoonishly overwrought antagonists, and while the film doesn’t offer an iconic central hero the way, say, TRON does, Green Town is a perfectly self-contained small-town environment that actually bears a lot of similarity to Hollow Bastion and some of the other non-Disney worlds in the games.  Given Square-Enix’ tendency to dip into the occasional obscure reference, I’d like to believe this could actually work.  A guy can dream, can’t he?

Sinister Peripherals For The Southpaw Sniper.

As a left-hander, I have long struggled against the oppression of the right-hand man.  I’ve had to restring more than one guitar to accommodate my mutant handedness, and I struggle to cut an even line with normal (read: right-handed) scissors.  Chop saws and chainsaws are pretty much straight out for me.  God forgive anyone who puts a bolt-action rifle in my hands.

So when I came across the Razer DeathAdder Left Hand Edition mouse on Kotaku, I was kind of surprised.  And a little infuriated too, since it retails for $60, when all the righties of the world can just go pick up an ergonomically-aligned mouse for a third of that.

Luke Plunkett over at Kotaku decries this on the basis that he, as a left-handed gamer, has just adjusted to using a right-handed mouse – a sentiment I can appreciate to some extent.  However, I still use my left hand as my mouse hand… I’ve just made a point of buying design-neutral mice to facilitate that.  I can’t help but wonder if a mouse designed to fit my crazy freak flipper would improve my game somehow.  I don’t $60 wonder, but I’m still intrigued.

Razer is far from the only company that’s dipped their toe into the left-handed market, though I have to admit I like their design better than anything else out there.  For that matter, there’s apparently a burgeoning market in left-handed keyboards – the Evoluent, for example:

… Which doesn’t make sense to me at all.  I appreciate the gesture, but after a lifetime of remapping WASD to 8-4-6-2, this just feels like a step backward.  Maybe it’s really great for southpaw data entry clerks, though.

Of course, my heart leapt with joy when I discovered Maltron’s left-handed version of their keyboard.

Because, you know, why make something slightly more awkward when you can go the whole hog and make it so uncomfortable as to be absolutely infuriating?  $650 for the unit is a steal.*

* And yes, I realise that the Maltron keyboard is designed specifically for those with limited dexterity\motor function and I’m sure it’s been an incredible boon for many, but could you imagine playing Call of Duty with this thing?  My point being, if I’m ever in need of a computer keyboard to get through my daily life, I’ll stick with my crappy Microsoft one if at all possible. Although having said that, now I really want to try playing Call of Duty with a Maltron.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Retro Roots: How Did You Get Started?

Inspired in part by this post over at Kotaku, not to mention the urge to prove to myself that I have actual readers beyond search engine spiders, today I’m opening up the floor (or at least, paying more attention to the comments than usual) and asking the question: What was the first gaming rig or console you ever owned? 

I suppose 90% of gamers out there got the bug with their first NES, and rightly so – for me, although I was staunchly a member of the Nintendo Generation, my first post-arcade pixellated experience was two-fold and pre-dated the household NES by about a year.

My first console, or at least ostensibly mine, was the ColecoVision, around 1984.  My grandparents, suddenly burdened with half-a-dozen grandsons between the ages of six and twelve, did the only sensible thing they could think of (and in doing so, were nigh prophetic in the grandparent-grandchild-videogame interrelational framework which exists to this day) and purchased a ColecoVision and handful of games to keep us occupied while the grown-ups drank coffee and, I dunno, made borscht or something.  I only recall playing two games on this console, but I played them harder than any young boy had a right to – The Smurfs: Rescue In Gargamel’s Castle and Donkey Kong.

The Smurfs game was horrible, insanely hard, and tedious.  Like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong or any of the other classic games from that era, there seemed to be an endless number of levels, patterned thusly: daytime meadow, scary night-time forest, Gargamel’s castle.  If you could get past even the first meadow, you were treated to a round of cheers and astonishment from the collective cousins, but you quickly discovered that the greatest gamer in the world could not BEAT this god-damned Smurfs game.  And the music… Christ, it haunts me to this day.

Donkey Kong, on the other hand, struck a chord with me from the very start, and I presume I hassled my parents for my own videogame system almost immediately.  Never quite trusting new, hyped technology (my dad got burned in the whole Betamax fiasco) they opted for an Atari 2600 over the just-released Nintendo Entertainment System.  While the NES thus became the ever-untouchable Holy Grail for my brothers and I, the 2600 did an admirable job of keeping us entertained over the next year.

I don’t recall the complete list of cartridges we owned, but a few will stay in my memory until my dying day.  Yar’s Revenge was easily my favourite, along with Atlantis and Dig Dug.  I logged my requisite hours with Adventure and Joust, though I could never figure out the point of the latter.  I made my little brother cry whenever I played E.T. (which wasn’t very often.)  And although I could not now comment on its overall quality as a game, I remember making my mother take me to K-Mart to pre-order Desert Falcon and then shell out $59.95 upon its arrival (subsequently, whenever I was being a pest, her typical exasperated response to me was, “Why aren’t you playing that $60 game I just bought you?!”)

Around the same time, my parents latched onto the firm belief (which was admittedly widespread in the ‘80s) that Computers Were Our Future, that it was their responsibility to expose their kids to the wonders of personal-computing technology, and that somehow, Pac-Man on a Commodore 64 was more educational than Pac-Man on an Atari.  Thus began the near-constant stream of computers into our household: A Timex-Sinclair 1000 with a cassette-tape drive my father could never quite figure out how to make work; a used C64 that broke after six weeks; an Apple IIe; and countless others.  Somewhere in the midst of this, we adopted a Trash-80 Model III.

The TRS-80 Model III was notable in exactly one regard: it was a complete unit, housing CPU, drives, keyboard and monitor.  It also had one other quality that allowed it to survive in a household of reckless, overexcited boys.  It was virtually indestructible.  I swear to God, it lived in our garage, amongst my dad’s power tools, dune buggies and engine parts, and it worked beautifully up until the day someone accidentally rested a welding gun on its frame.  The thing had some serious silicon balls.

I don’t recall exactly how old I was when the Trash-80 happened along, but I do know that I was young enough that, by all rights, it should not have managed to lure me away from my Atari as successfully as it did.  To begin with: it had no games.  No store-bought, neatly-packaged games with instruction manuals, anyway.  We had exactly one original game for it, which had been thrown in by the original owner, and that was Zork

This was my introduction to coding my own games.  First off, the thing had BASIC built into it, meaning I could (and did) scour my local library for books with pages upon pages of reproduced BASIC code for everything from Pong to Chess to god knows what else.  While my pre-pubescent attention span never got further than laboriously typing in the first three or four pages, I did manage to pick up enough of the language to start making my own games, inspired by Zork and whatever Saturday morning cartoon show I had just finished watching.  Thus, I undertook to design my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles text adventure – and though I devoted dozens of hours to it, it sadly remains unfinished to this day (and is probably still sitting on a 5.25” floppy in one of the melted drives of the defunct beast to this day.)

Of course, soon after its demise, we acquired an XT with a modem and everything went downhill from there.  The sheer availability of easily-obtained pirated software by that point deterred me from the necessity of programming my own entertainment, and sadly it’s a skill I have long-lost.  But I still remember that Trash-80 as my very first gaming rig, and it will always have a place in my heart.

Now it’s your turn.  What was the first game you remember playing?  When, where and how did you get hooked? 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Saxton Hale Will Beat You Up.

Saxton Hale.  President of Mann Company (“We Sell Products And Get In Fights”), proud Australian, and inventor of Jarate (the jar-based karate).  He fights lions, sets grizzly bears aflame, and makes sharks cry.  He is more of a man than you will ever be (especially if you’re a girl).  In fact, you could invent a machine that allows you to travel to alternate dimensions, kidnap ten of the most manly versions of yourself, tape them all together, and Saxton Hale will still punch them to death with both hands tied behind his back and wearing a blindfold.

As always, click on the image for full size.

And you can check out one of Saxton Hale’s Thrilling comic-book adventures over here!  Saxton Hale.  He’s made of stern stuff.

I haven’t played Team Fortress 2 yet, but this is exactly the sort of demented thing that will convince me to get into it.

The Science Gets Done and You Make A Neat Gun

Days like today, you realise how beautiful a place the Internet has the potential to be.

Yesterday, Valve released a Steam update for Portal, containing one new achievement and a couple dozen short audio files which play on peripheral radios throughout the game. The fact, I guess, that Valve would bother releasing an update with such minimal content got fans of the game thinking, "There has to be something else going on here."

Naturally, they got to digging, and it turns out their suspicions were right. Here's the quick rundown of what they found:

1. Hidden in the audio-file data were Morse code transmissions and SSTV (Slow Scan Television) encoded images;
1a. Some of the Morse code data were easily translated and contained a username and password;
1b. One in particular was Morse coded Morse code for 'LOL';
1c. Another was an MD5 checksum string.

2. The SSTV images looked like framegrabs from security cameras from inside Aperture Science, along with a handful of close-up shots of keyboard keys and black\whiteboards, emphasising certain digits, characters and equations.

So far so good. This is starting to look like an adventure, Encyclopedia Brown!

3. After applying the presumably Hogwarts-acquired spell Mathemagicus to this information, smarter people than I came up with a random string of characters, which itself turned out to be, wait for it...

3wtf. ...An encoded phone number for a BBS.

4. Dialing up this BBS and logging in with the given username and password provided access to the old Aperture Science board, and an impressive amount of oft-hilarious infodump, most of it written by witch-hatin' Aperture Science founder, Cave Johnson.

A short sample of one of Johnson's typical missives to his employees:

"Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: Why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: Why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired."

Anyway, here's the thing: amongst the witty little system responses like "ERROR: ERROR NOT UNDETECTED" and "WARNING: BIOS INSUFFICIENTLY BASIC", company memos from the 1970s detailing policy on "Low Risk" Human Resource Acquisitions (summary: Hobos good, Orphans even better, Psychiatric Patients and Seniors unencouraged,) and low-rez ASCII art renderings of various photos and diagrams...

There's a fair amount of teaser information for Portal 2 and, quite possibly, Half-Life 3.

To begin with, the above-mentioned memo seems to delve into the reasons for GlaDOS' fractured, passive-aggressive personality more than ever before. The founder of Aperture, "Cave Johnson", is introduced. And there's one ASCII image in particular, of two robots holding hands, that hints both at potential new enemies for Portal 2 and Half-Life 3, and suggests some kind of backstory for the Aperture Science\Black Mesa animosity.

Here are a handful of screengrabs for you to pore over and try to make sense of. Click through to embiggen.




Hey, Valve? Y'all are magnificent bastards. But I like your style.

[Original post on Kotaku right here.]

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Five-Minute Impression: Silent Hill - Homecoming


I have always been a pretty huge Silent Hill aficionado.

Moreso than Resident Evil or F.E.A.R., Silent Hill has always been my go-to survival horror series of choice. Unlike either of those two franchises, the Silent Hill series puts you in the shoes of someone who is both inherently inequipped to deal with the insane shit thrust upon them, and also a character who is integral to the narrative right from the start. The horrific and often traumatic world of each Silent Hill game is a direct product of the main character's own history and psychological state - and despite the fact that the odds are stacked against me from the start, I'm always sucked into the details. I'm not just an unlucky individual who found myself in a harrowing situation: I am somehow linked to the proceedings, and over the course of the game, I'll find out why.

I played the first three Silent Hill games back-to-back and each installment solidified my growing fervour. When I got around to playing The Room, some two years later, I appreciated the more immersive engine and the attempt to shake up the gameplay structure, but ultimately never got further than about a third of the way through it - I found it too difficult, even for a Silent Hill game, to get my bearings. And then some time passed before I was in a position, timewise and hardware-wise, to tackle the fifth entry in the series, Silent Hill: Homecoming.

Like the title of this post implies, I haven't played through that much of it yet - more than five minutes, admittedly, but less than an hour. And what I've experienced thus far has been simultaneously impressive and disappointing.

I love that your introductory level in the game is, in effect, a nightmare. I love that your character, Alex, is thrown immediately into the abandoned, effed-up Silent-Hill-hospital environment without any context or explanation, and is given a number of clues pertaining to a much larger mystery than you'll ever have the opportunity to solve in the span allotted to you. The structural design is clever and subtle and immediately familiar to anyone who's played a Silent Hill game in the past. And most likely terrifying to anyone who hasn't.

And I'll go even further and confess that the family theme, in particular the brother relationship, at the heart of Silent Hill: Homecoming is particularly engaging on a personal level. Silent Hill has always played up the family thing, but in the past, it always revolved around a daughter or a wife or a parent. It usually worked, but I'm finding myself especially drawn into this complex filial intrigue between Alex and his younger brother Josh (and it doesn't hurt that my own youngest brother is also named Josh. Spooky.)

So. It's appropriately spooky, it's well-written, it has a hook that grabs the player right away, and it employs a number of themes that are both compelling and feel like a natural progression for the series.

On to the bad.

This game is buggy beyond belief. So buggy, in fact, that every single time I have STOPPED playing it thus far has been due to a crash to desktop. Despite any number of patches and tweaks that I've hunted down and applied, it's the same thing over and over. Along with this, I've had to deal with control-scheme problems (no matter what I do, I cannot seem to map a key to move backwards) and glitches with both cutscenes and savegames.

And that leads me to my biggest frustration with Homecoming: the sheer lack of available save points.

See this?  Yeah, you won't see much of it in Silent Hill: Homecoming.

During the intro nightmare sequence, I came across at least two - always situated along my path of progression, right out in the open, and typically in a room that I could easily make my way back to if real life intruded.

After that sequence, we're treated to a cutscene, a (very) brief opportunity to run around Alex's hometown of Shepherd's Glen, and then another cutscene which explicitly instructs you to get thyself to a particular nearby location. There are no apparent save points either during this short Shepherd's Glen sequence or in the location you, the player, naturally make your way to. In fact - unless you do some online investigation and discover that there is, in fact, a save point in a random innocuous building nearby following the second cutscene - you're treated to at least half an hour of puzzles, fights, further expository cutscenes, and obligatory exploration before you're given the opportunity to save again subsequent to the nightmare.

All of which would not be nearly so aggravating if the game didn't have the face-clawing tendency to bork itself back to the desktop at random intervals.

This is disappointingly poor game design on a couple of levels. First of all, these bugs shouldn't exist in the first place. There's a reason why QA testers are listed in the credits of every single game ever released... It means that a developer has run their game through the gauntlet, so to speak, before they felt confident enough to release it to the public. And yeah, glitches and bugs are a fact of life. You can't predict with 100% certainty how your game will play on any one randomly-chosen person's system. But if, post-release, it becomes apparent that it's going to be a problem, you figure out why and you address it in a patch. Which Konami has yet to do, and likely, at this point, will not even bother with.

But you know what? Let's say that's the case: your game turns out to be laden with unexpected problems, but you simply aren't in a position to tackle them. Here's a thought: give the player the option to quick-save. Seriously, why this is not a standard option in every single game released right now is a mystery to me. By and large, we all have lives and may, despite all reluctance to the contrary, need to unexpectly quit the game and deal with some banal responsibility. Even if Homecoming had been the recipient of rock-solid coding and never, ever crashed, quick-saving would be a necessity. And because it isn't rock-solid, it's that much more of a critical issue.

Sad to say - since Homecoming really does have so much to offer in terms of narrative and concept - but given my ongoing frustrations regarding phenomenally poor design choices and recurring gameplay bugs, I may not bother returning to it anytime soon... If ever. I mean, at some point, I'm going to stop fighting against the obstacles and turn my time and attention to Bioshock 2, Resident Evil 5, or another one of the dozen games I've put on the back burner just so I could give the latest Silent Hill entry a fair shake. I'm a patient man, but this is just getting ludicrous.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up


It would be overly simplistic to state that Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim is a comic series about videogames... But on the other hand, it's not NOT about videogames, either. Games are just one of a number of themes woven into Scott Pilgrim that make my nerdy little heart race with glee every time I read it. There's the fact that Scott and his friends are (mostly) Torontonians, so there's any number of casual shout-outs to daily Canadian life (Scott regularly wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the CBC logo, for example.) Or the whole struggling, self-important indie band thing, as epitomised by Scott's band Sex Bob-Omb or rival band The Clash At Demonhead, amongst others. Or the near-constant stream of pop-culture references - Amazon.ca, Trainspotting, The Shins - that never come off as forced or overly cute.

But this is a blog about videogames, and if there's one thing Scott Pilgrim's got in spades, it's videogame love.


To date, O'Malley's released five of his intended six-volume Pilgrim opus, charting Scott's epic quest to defeat his girlfriend Ramona Flowers' seven evil ex-boyfriends (I'm wildly speculating here, but presumably the final volume will come out concurrently with or just prior to the theatrical release of the movie adaptation this August - but more on that in a sec.) In both concept and execution, it's pretty much a comic-book translation of the definitive videogame storyline: the hero must tackle and beat X number of level bosses, go up against the Big Bad, and win the heart of the princess in the end. It sounds incredibly precious, and make no mistake, it is - but O'Malley knows what he's doing, and over the course of the five books to date, he's thrown so many curveballs into the proceedings, and dealt with so many identifiable, grown-up trials and tribulations (like scraping together enough rent money to hang onto your shitty apartment for another month, or navigating awkward and often soon-to-fail relationships) in an admirably deft and even-handed manner, that it's anyone's guess where the story will end up.


Of course, at heart Scott Pilgrim IS about videogames, and there are clever little touches throughout to remind the reader of this fact. Besides the band names, the ex-boyfriends literally drop coins (actual pocket change) and items after they're defeated, and characters transform from average 20-somethings to cartoonish, insanely skilled fighters at the drop of a hat. They operate within a universe that's half-reality, half-videogame, and Scott himself is the quintessential videogame protagonist. And in a weird way, all of this makes perfect sense and actually lends the book a kind of heightened realism (at least for colossal nerds like me): how many times have I gotten through a rough day at work by thinking of it as XP grinding so I can eventually level up, or justified dropping $100 on a textbook by looking at it as providing +1 to INT?

Yeah, it's nerdy. Laugh all you want, but you do it too - we've all been deeply influenced by a lifetime of growing up playing videogames. And the great thing about Scott Pilgrim is that he doesn't just think this way: this is the way his world actually works.


Unless you've been living in a Hutterite colony for the past year and this is the first opportunity you've had to escape the watchful eyes of your elders and get onto the internet, you're probably aware of the upcoming adaptation of Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which - barring global catastrophe - should hit theatres August 13th of this summer. Edgar Wright (who, besides having directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, was the co-creator and director of the brilliant nerd-love British series "Spaced", which if you haven't seen... you should) is directing, lovable geek George-Michael Bluth is playing Scott Pilgrim, John McClane's daughter is playing Ramona V. Flowers, and the likes of Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, and the incorrigable Jason Schwartzman have been cast as various Ex-Boyfriends (the screenplay was penned by one Michael Bacall who, despite having no major studio credits to his name thus far, is following up his Pilgrim script with a fictional adaptation of the documentary The King of Kong for New Line Cinema - good enough for me.) And it was, appropriately enough, shot in Toronto, which makes it one of the few high-visibility American films I can think of both filmed in and unabashedly set in a Canadian city (seriously, can you think of any? At all?)

There are a ton of movies out this year based on both comic books and videogames. On the one hand, we've got Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, Jonah Hex, and The Losers, while on the other, there's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Resident Evil: Afterlife, not to mention the rumoured Mortal Kombat remake. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World stands as the only adaptation slated for 2010, however, that falls comfortably into both categories, and frankly (based on the admittedly-miniscule amount of information that's trickled out thus far,) it's probably the one film I'm most excited about, in a cautiously optimistic sort of way.


AND, because the world apparently is a beautiful place, Ubisoft Montreal is currently developing a videogame adaptation of Scott Pilgrim. Whether it'll hew closer to the film or the graphic novel (or equal measures of both) remains to be seen, of course, but in an interview with Comic Book Resources, Bryan Lee O'Malley has gone on record to state that it'll be a classic, retro side-scroller beat-'em-up.

Just as it should be. A videogame based on a movie based on a comic book inspired by videogames? It's almost enough to make a guy religious.

***

All five volumes of Scott Pilgrim are available in paperback from Amazon.ca for $11.26 each (Canadian funds). That means you can get all five for around $60 Canadian, including shipping! That's how much you spent on BrĂ¼tal Legend! This is a much better investment, trust me.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Vol. 1)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Vol. 2)
Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness (Vol. 3)
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Vol. 4)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (Vol. 5)