Chaotic Thoughts: The Birth of a Gamer

Today, I’m happy to announce a true miracle of life: the birth of a gamer. No, I’m not a dad (thank God), but in a way, I did help create a new life in the gaming community. This new gamer to join our community of Cake jokes, interactive storytelling, and fanboy-fanaticism is my girlfriend.

This is a feat that most gamers in a relationship can only dream of. Videogames are the point of contention in most relationships—a veritable TV hog, monopolizing the screen while favorite shows are missed. For the longest time, I thought she would never accept videogames outside of Flash games or PopCap creations for the iPhone.

But I realize now that I had approached gaming for her in a completely wrong way. I was asking her to jump into games that I liked rather than pick games we could both enjoy. The first thing we ever played together was Halo ODST’s Firefight mode. I thought this would’ve been perfect; after all, we would be on a team. What better metaphor could there be for a boyfriend/girlfriend gaming team?

Halo firefight

Not exactly a casual experience

Well, that experience ended badly. She was frustrated and angered. She fought with the controls. On top of everything, her pride was injured from the fact that the hallmark Halo announcer proclaimed my Killtrocities, while being frustratingly quiet on her side. This was such a setback that it would be a year before she played a console videogame again.

While she certainly didn’t suck playing Halo, I realize that asking her to play a game like Halo would be like asking a toddler to run before it could crawl. Gamers my age grew up as videogames did: we saw the Nintendo classic controller, the first ever dual-analog stick controller, and now motion controllers. I remember playing Ape Escape, the first game to really use the dual-analog sticks, and having the exact same problems as my girlfriend did: while competent with the controls, I lacked the fluidity required to perform well. It would take years of practice before I could shoot 10 Grunts in the head while on the move.

Ape Escape

DAMN DIRTY APE!

I think many people in my age demographic—the (once?) primary demographic for videogame developers—forget what it was like to start playing games. We expect others to play as well as we do now; we laugh at our parents and loved ones as they fumble with controls. Instead, we should embrace their first venture into gaming. Even if they never play a game again, their experience should involve fun and not frustration.

That’s one of the reasons why I think the Playstation Move and Microsoft Kinect (and to some extent the Wii) are great for the industry. Hardcore gamers can complain about the crappy games, but in the end, what these platforms are really doing is opening the door to the total gaming experience—what I define as a blend of hardcore and casual games. I think the videogame industry needs to open up. Not every game has to be about shooting or killing an enemy. Games like Heavy Rain, LittleBigPlanet, and basically every Mario game are popular because they offer experiences almost everyone can get into, whereas Halo, Call of Duty, and Gears of War simply cater to a small group.

Mario Galaxy 2

So this last time I introduced gaming to her, I showed her LittleBigPlanet. She loved the art direction and gameplay mechanics. From there, she started playing Super Mario Galaxy 2. I hopped in as the second player, but soon she was asking me to let her go it alone. I feel confident now she can play any game she wanted on any system.

When we were in GameStop the other day, she said something I never thought I’d hear. She was looking around the store and spotted a poster for Fable 3. Then she began to tell me why she wanted to play it. At the same time I thought about all the grief hardcore gamers give the Fable series, how we complain about Peter Molyneux’s typically exaggerated promises, and yet somehow I didn’t care. The only thing I thought of was experiencing a videogame with someone special, not some anonymous jackass on Xbox Live but a loved one.

Peter Molyneux

Thanks Sir Pete for everything (even if you never live up to your promises)

Written by Neutrally Chaotic

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Little Big Planet Game of the Year Edition Review

Little Big Planet review

With the announcement of Little Big Planet 2 at E3 2010 and the fact that Sony is now offering Little Big Planet Game of the Year edition bundled with its PS3 console, fans of the original have a lot to look forward to. While not as versatile as its upcoming sequel, Little Big Planet has the best level creator available right now. But the big question is, how does the platform elements hold up? After all, this is a game and not a level editor.

The answer to that question is mixed. One of the interesting approaches to Little Big Planet is the division of foreground and background space. Instead of having the ability to move freely between foreground and background (think the 3D Mario games), there are layers to every plane. The game will move the character automatically between the planes depending on the environment. Very infrequently, for example, will you jump for a ledge and the game decides you want to jump in the foreground, falling to your death. The auto system works pretty well, but it’s not perfect, and like I said, there are moments where the game just goes insane and thinks you’re a suicide jumper. About 85% of the time, my character moved to the right plane, which isn’t bad, but that 15% can get irritating.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “my character” (outside of the RPG genre) and meant it as much as I do in a Little Big Planet game. Your little character, affectionately called Sack Boy, can be customized with a variety of outfits and decorations. As you play through the levels that come with the game, you’ll find prize bubbles that unlock more costumes and pieces to build levels with. It’s a smart system, as players will have to replay levels again and again to find all the pieces to complete their collection.

Sackboy Little Big Planet

Cute little fellow, isn't he?

Music in a game for me usually is only a detractor. Sometimes the soundtrack can become really annoying, but it rarely ever adds character to a game for me. In Little Big Planet, the soundtrack is seriously awesome. It fits the context of the game, and makes everything seem that much more polished. Plus, the British voice over work brings out the Anglophile in me (that’s love of English, for those who saw the ending -phile and got scared of my tastes).

The level designs in the Media Molecule-made (try saying that three times fast) levels are fantastic, and it should be worth noting that they made the level editor first, and then made all their levels. Everything that you play, you could hypothetically make. How easy to use is the level editor? It depends on what you’re trying to do. Every time I tried to make something, I always thought of the most complicated solution as possible. I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired. For instance, one time I made a level where players had to climb up until they reached a ceiling of sorts. They had to get on top of the ceiling. The easy way to do this would be to make platforms that they could jump up, but platforms are for Mario, right? So I made a rocket car that would propel the character around to the other side. That took about 30 minutes to make, when making platforms would take about three minutes.

But that’s the beauty of Little Big Planet. You can make your levels as complicated or simple as you’d like. You can use stickers and background elements to give your level some flair, or leave it looking like wood cutouts glued in an elementary school panorama project. It’s entirely up to you. You can cram your levels with a lot of cool designs. I made a Plinko part to one of my levels (think Price is Right), and every time the ball hit a spoke, a sound effect played and lights went off. Conceivably you could make a pinball level—your imagination really dictates what you want to do.

And that brings me to the final part of Little Big Planet: the community. There are some truly awesome creations on Little Big Planet’s servers. The levels range from difficult to cinematic. For instance, I played a level that recreated the Apollo 13 disaster. I barely did anything in the level itself, but what amazed me was how cool the level was—it felt like a recreation, and it was all made from the same bits and pieces I had collected while playing Little Big Planet. I can understand why Media Molecule is giving players more freedom in the next version, however: so many times players have to come up with convoluted ways to achieve an effect that could’ve been easily done if they had been given the right resources. It’s obvious people want to create games, not just levels, and Media Molecule deserves a real pat on the back for listening to and being perceptive of its community.

In the Game of the Year edition of the game, players receive all the downloadable content, including the Metal Gear Solid pack, which adds a paintball gun. The paintball gun adds a lot of interesting options, as players can now effectively attack objects from a distance. You’ll also unlock some sweet Metal Gear Solid 4 swag for your Sack Boy, including a Cyborg Raiden outfit, which is sweet. The other packs are great, but I suppose I’m biased towards the MGS pack since I’m such a fan of the series.

On a personal note, this is the game that got my girlfriend into videogames in general. Media Molecule should receive an award for that one—we now no longer fight for control of the TV, but rather play co-op Little Big Planet. Kudos to Media Molecule on LBP, and I’m looking forward to Little Big Planet 2.

The Good: the most versatile creating tools in any videogame right now (until Little Big Planet 2), great level variety, fantastic community support in levels that can be downloaded and played.

The Bad: sometimes the auto-detection for foreground/background movements is off; the camera in level creation can be fickle.

The Verdict: so with Little Big Planet 2 releasing in November 2010, you’d think I’d tell you to wait until that came out. Wrong! You should at least rent this game. You could also probably pick it up used somewhere, but you definitely want to try this sucker out, get your platforming on and make some levels before LBP2 drops in November. You don’t want to be rusty when the new one comes out, right?

THE HYPE MACHINE!!!!1 OMG!

E3 may be over, but the wave of hype is just beginning to destroy thousands of lives as people start circling dates (in some cases months, quarters, or years) so they can start saving their money. To help out, I’ve assembled a list of the hottest announcements (of course, subjective) and when they are tentatively released. Enjoy!

5. Metal Gear Solid: Rising (Release Date: TBA 2011?)

Raiden Metal Gear Solid Rising MGS

Konami teased this game a while ago, but it was only until E3 that I had heard anything about it since. For those who haven’t played Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Raiden is no longer some punk, Solid Snake stand in. Instead, he’s gone the way of RoboCop and made himself mechanized…or something. You know how it is with Hideo Kojima games—never quite sure what exactly is going on, but hey, that’s why we have wikis nowadays.

What makes this game cool is that the developers are claiming you can literally cut anything. From limbs to columns supporting structures, the word is your chopping block and you are the Cutco salesman. But don’t worry, Metal Gear Solid fans, the game still wants you to be sneaky as you fight your way on your roaring rampage of revenge (or whatever reason). I’m just excited because it seems that the game explains what happened to Raiden between Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4. How did he become so cool and lose his whininess? And could he help Anakin Skywalker do the same?

Check out the slicing and dicing for yourself.

4. Kinect (November 2010)

Kinect Project Natal Microsoft

EYE HAVE YOU

While no one knows the price—or if the damn thing is going to work at all—I’m still extremely curious about the Kinect (formerly known as Project Natal). While none of the announcement titles particularly amazed me, there were some cool demonstrations, such as Child of Eden and, dare I say it, Sonic Free Riders. From what I’ve read, some controls are spotty, but some controls are nearly one-to-one. What makes Kinect so interesting is the technology behind it; it’s not just a combination of IR tech and gyroscopes used in Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s Move (which does look cool). It’s actually making you a controller. That’s cool, folks. For those who want to complain about getting off the couch to play games, I say pfoo pfoo on you. A little activity isn’t going to kill you.

And before anyone starts freaking out about the rumored 149.99 price tag, I just want to put this in perspective. Kinect allows four people to play a game for $150. In order to do that on a Wii or PS3, you will need to buy four individual controllers, and possibly four (or more) controller add-ons. Do some quick math, and you’ll realize Kinect becomes a lot more cost-effective for multiplayer games. Plus, isn’t everyone tired of explaining to the grandparents that you release the B button down when you swing the Wiimote in Wii Bowling!?

3. Shogun 2: Total War (TBA 2011)

If you’re a fan of real-time strategies and have never played an entry in the Total War series, stop reading this article right now and go pick up SOMETHING from Creative Assembly. I’ve been a big fan of these guys’ works for a long time, ever since I started playing Rome: Total War (and then went back and tried Shogun: Total War). Every entry in the series gets better and better, but this one looks like it’s ready to blow my socks off. First of all, I love Japanese culture (sou desu ne! ^_^) and this era of Japanese history is awesome. Second, the battles in Total War games have always been great, but this looks cool:

Shogun 2 Total War Creative Assembly Sega

Finally, Creative Assembly is making the game have more of a plot, which I always appreciate. Who knows, maybe we’ll even be able to sail over to China and show those commie jerks a good one-two slice and dice?

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