Monday, March 7, 2011

Gaming Thoughts 03/07/11

Okay, so I’m a little late with this. Last week was a running exercise in absolutely lacking motivation. Combine that with anxiety over a possible upgrade on my day job which ultimately failed to materialize, and I haven’t exactly been the most focused of late. But with my inability to seal the deal on this last, I’ve come to a reluctant conclusion. I intend to keep my head down, work hard, earn a paycheck, and focus on my family and hobbies for the remainder of 2011.

Which means no additional distractions will be allowed in. Due to the public nature of this blog, I’m not going to specify those. Suffice to say, that this year will be a writing intensive year and that trend goes forth right now. When you consider I turn 34 this weekend, I’m long past the point where I should have “gotten on this.” I have a hard deadline of early June for a script contest I’ve decided to enter, which is about a week before I leave for E3. That follows several weeks worth of trips and parties and precedes more weeks of trips and parties. Then we’re into the fall and you can forget about it because from October on, each and every year, my feet barely touch the ground.

Ahh, the joys of adulthood.

Speaking of travel, this trailer for “Dead Island” should not be on your must-watch list if you’re heading to Hawaii anytime soon. It’s gorgeous, emotionally devastating, black hearted, and mean as hell. It’s for a video game and it depressed the hell out of me. I’m not kidding. I defy you to watch this and not sit there in shock at the end of everything you just saw. It also does in three minutes what "The Walking Dead" failed to do in six hours.

The catch on this game is the difficulty. You’re a tourist on an island and a zombie outbreak occurs. Fine. Heard that one a million times. But the catch on this one is that the only weapons available are those that would naturally be found in such a scenario. No rocket launchers. No gatling guns. No flamethrowers or heavy artillery or boxing gloves with knives strapped to them. What you find is a fireaxe in the hallway near a fire alarm. A paddle next to a kayak at the docks. A gun hidden in a safe in the manager’s office with only nine rounds of ammunition and no more in sight.

Feel safe yet?

I’m dying to try this one out based on the concept that you’re finally an average soul in the middle of a worst case scenario with the freedom to go anywhere. The challenge is going to be figuring out how best to defend yourself against an army of undead when weaponry is limited in scope, and few and far between in location.

And that trailer is a knockout, pure and simple. It’s stunning. It’s all digital, it’s about a zombie game, and it packs more of an emotional wallop in two minutes than most of the movies Hollywood released in all of last year. Looking at you “Scott Pilgrim.”

I’ve still been playing “Enslaved” of late and the game continues to improve the further you go. Watching as the central characters further the growth of their relationship is astounding. I honestly care what happens to them both right now and that wasn’t the case when I started the game. There’s only been one significant hiccup thus far and it’s having to race through a minefield. It’s a play on the old “memorize the pattern/path” and it’s easy enough to beat the third or fourth time you try. But the point is that gaming should have evolved past this process. It was fine in the coin-op days when developers had to milk every last quarter out of our pockets. But now it’s just stupid, along with save points.

To that end, I’m encouraged by reports coming in that Activision is flailing. That may sound odd coming from a member of the gaming press, but here’s the catch: They ain’t the only ones. The big dogs of the gaming world spend millions upon millions for retreads (how much was spent beating the Guitar Hero franchise into the ground?) with nary an original thought to be found. Then guess who walked in the door?


The iPhone has sparked a revolution in countless ways, but one of which is the democratization of video game development. Can a guy working out of his office crank out the next Grand Theft Auto? Probably not. But the trick is that he now gets the chance to at least try. This is where Yoda and I disagree. If you don’t try, how will you know if you can? The game Angry Birds is apparently sweeping the country and I can’t figure out why. I’ve played it. Yawn. There’s not much to it and it’s a simple strategy game… unless this is the first game you’ve ever tried. Then it must come off as genius.

Seriously. All the Junior Leaguers and other people who I know that have never tried games before are hooked on Angry Birds. What this means is that they’re more willing to try more and more games for $.99 on their iPhones which translates to vastly more opportunities for indie developers to have their wares seen. For a relatively small amount of money, one person can build a game and sell it to the public at large via digital distribution.

Hello Future, so good of you to kick in my front door and help yourself to the fridge. STAY OUT OF MY ICE CREAM!

I don’t have numbers on me right now, but they’re available online if you really want to look. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large number of mergers and acquisitions occur in the next 24-36 months in the games industry as one large company gobbles up another and another. I don’t think consoles are going anywhere, but I DO think that the games industry has been blindsided by the rapid growth of iPhone and Android compatible mobile games. Their monopoly on flogging franchises isn’t over by any means, but they can definitely see the horizon and it’s filled with an army of younger, hungrier indie developers who are no longer chained. Those new voices may not always make the best or even the most successful games, but at least now they have the opportunity and the format in which they can try.

And what iPhone game am I most hooked on? Dungeon Raid. At heart, it’s a match three tile game but its theme is that of an RPG. You match gold coins to buy weapons, spells, and general upgrades. You match shields to increase your armor to the point where you can upgrade that. You match red potions to increase your health. And you match swords to do damage to enemies. Where the strategy comes into play is that as you increase in strength, so to do your foes. Among the monsters are occasional bosses who perform different means of attack each round. Strategy is required along with a healthy dose of luck. Entire games have blown past without seeing particular status enhancing drops, then three of the same will appear in a row in a subsequent round.

The game also takes a hilarious swipe at the conventions of the genre by randomly generating a backstory for your character at the outset. It always varies in some form of you being the chosen one, which is absolutely hilarious for anyone who has ever played those games. Whatever happened to your character minding his/her own business before the world came crashing down on your front door step?

If you have an iPhone, it’s a lot of fun and worth checking out.

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