Search This Blog


Fight PIPA, Call Your Sentator, Save The Internet

- Do you believe in the founding principles of our country?
- Do you like using the internet?
- Do you think the government should be able to shut down the internet to protect certain corporate interests?
- Do you support innovation, creativity, and productivity?
- Do you think we have any hope of getting out of this depression if Congress clamps down on ingenuity and freedom?

Click here to phone your Senator and urge him or her to oppose PIPA. Just do it, it only takes like five minutes.


E3 First Impression:
Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins box artGAME:
Rayman Origins

Ubisoft Montpellier


PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii / 3DS / PSVita

15 November 2011

Single- and multiplayer platformer

Basically New Super Mario Bros Wii, but Rayman.

The artwork in this game is super awesome. The announcement article in Game Informer made a big deal out of how they hired artists who were specialized in traditional painting methods (as opposed to so-called "digital artists"), and how most of the art in the game is actually scanned oil paintings and what-not. Definitely makes for a cool, distinctive look.

Gameplay-wise, it offers that type of same-screen, drop-in/drop-out, interactive-co-op platforming found in Little Big Planet or New Super Mario Bros Wii. Hence I take it that this game is targeted at the "casual" crowd looking to have "fun" by convincing multiple people to play a video game on the same screen in the same room.

On the one hand, that's great. It's getting back to the arcade roots of gaming, when gaming was a living, social experience. Remember Golden Axe and The Simpsons? Of course, those were brawlers. Come to think of it, I don't remember ever enjoying a platformer in an arcade setting. But whatever.

On the other hand... how often does this sort of group game play actually occur in the real world? Like those ads for Kinect showing a bunch of people all gathered together in the living room and playing Kinect Sports: who really does that? Is that a realistic expectation? Haven't shooters already figured out that sharing a screen isn't as fun as putting on a headset and playing over LAN or online? Of course, shared-screen is totally different from split-screen, but whatever.

Furthermore... there's no getting around the fact that it's a platformer. Even the best platformer of all time would still beg the question of whether or not the world needs another platformer. Another CONSOLE platformer, that is -- because we all know there are about a zillion indie, browser-based, and mobile platformers that still need to be made.

Anyways, I want to like it, at least for the zany art style.


E3 First Impression:
Dead Island

Dead Island cover artGAME:
Dead Island


Deep Silver

PC / PS3 / Xbox 360

6 September 2011

Open-world 1st-person shooter

Like Left 4 Dead, but more Walking Dead-ish zombies and mood, with greater emphasis on melee combat, and open-world instead of on rails. Single-player or online co-op.

Seems like this game has been getting a lot of buzz ever since the super-awesome reveal trailer came out. That buzz may as well continue -- the E3 demo did not disappoint.

Visually, Techland's in-house engine looks great. Structure-wise, it's your standard open-world post-outbreak tropical island resort, with a main plotline and optional side missions. Gameplay-wise, it's killin' zombies with whatever you can find lying around (axes, pipes, canoe oars, etc.) Instead of giving the player a gun and making her hunt for ammo, the melee weapons take damage, so the player must constantly keep an eye out for new potential zombie-bashers to replace the old ones.

The writing and voice-acting are top-notch -- almost a mismatch for the rather wooden (by LA Noire standards, at least) character animations. Presentation-wise, I think it's a mistake to force short-attention-span E3 demoers to sit through the lengthy opening cutscene, even if it is backed by the hilarious "Who Do You Voodoo?" rap single.

Overall, I'd have to say this looks like an awesome game, and I am definitely going to buy it and play it.


E3 First Impression:
Lord Of The Rings: War In The North

Lord Of The Rings: War In The NorthGAME:
Lord Of The Rings: War In The North

Snowblind Studios


PC / PS3 / Xbox 360

24 August 2011


Licensed-franchise fantasy RPG with optional co-op

The game captures LOTR's epic mood, and the story elements feel compelling. I don't believe there's much room for character customization, but there's plenty of otherwise standard console RPG fare, in terms of leveling, grinding through hordes of orc creeps, item collecting, and so forth.

The focus seems to be on the co-op, which reminds me of partnering up for quests in WoW. I think this co-op focus also means that characters play similarly to one another, e.g. everybody has ranged AND melee attacks, can equip the same items, etc... all of which is fine by me.

There's a super-awesome "eagle power" that summons a gigantic (I mean, HUGIANT) friendly eagle who swoops in, snatches up your enemies in its talons, and then flies away. I couldn't get enough of that -- wish it had a shorter cooldown.


E3 First Impression:
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon:
Future Soldier

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future SoldierGAME:
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Ubisoft Paris
Ubisoft Red Storm
Next Level Games (Wii)
Virtuos (PSP)


PC / PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii / DS / PSP

March 2012

3rd-person tactical action shooter; single player, multiplayer, co-op

Another modern military shooter game [sigh] -- but a really well-done one!

The reaction on Giant Bombcast to this title was blasé at best. They cite their "gun fatigue," i.e. being sick of games where you running around shooting a gun. While certainly a valid point, it's not fair to poo-poo a good game (or any piece of media, for that matter) on premise alone. I mean, plenty of great stuff has a lame premise.

GR:FS provides an excellent case in point for why publishers are so desperate to control the flow of information coming re: their games. Like most big titles, this one has been through a series of delays. Per Wikipedia:
The release of Future Soldier was initially targeted for the 2009–2010 fiscal year, however Ubisoft later announced that the release date would be pushed back until the 2010–2011 fiscal year to "strengthen" its video game line-up. In May 2010, Ubisoft announced that the release of Future Soldier would be delayed until the "March quarter of 2011". On November 15, 2010, Ubisoft announced that Future Soldier would be delayed once again for an April 2011 – March 2012 release.
The PR side of marketing can make or break a game just as the advertising side can, and you can't expect journalists to get excited about old news. Furthermore, March 2012 is still a long ways off. I remember getting stoked for GR:FS at last year's E3 (and being disappointed there was no playable demo). That was all before Black Ops had come out. How much more "gun fatigue" will we have after the upcoming "third" installments of MW and Battlefield?

Notwithstanding, this might be my favorite game of the handful I played at E3 this year.

The weapons handle well and sound awesome. All the AR HUD stuff is really cool and looks splendidly future-tastic. The camera is both intuitive and cinematic. The destructible cover is spiffy and I'm a fan of the cover-to-cover mechanics.

They've certainly made good on their promise of a hyper-realistic military "vision," which feels appropriately fleshed-out, not just in terms of the much-hyped, super-cool, "real-future" weapons tech, but even as far as the sound design and dialogue go -- and it's definitely to a game's credit if it can manage to sound good on the noisy expo floor.

What I played of GR:FS feels very polished and well-paced. The seemless single-player in-engine cutscenes enhance the game's flow rather than interrupting it. There's a nice variety of gadgets, features, and mini-scenarios that add variety to the otherwise standard-fare military shooter gameplay. The team- and intel-oriented multiplayer feels both familiar and refreshing.

Overall, GR:FS delivers explosive action without going preposterously over-the-top. I can't find much not to like about this game, aside from the obvious point that, thematically, it's still more of the same military shooter stuff.

Last year's Medal of Honor was rushed to shelves. The single-player campaign especially suffered -- it needed a better story and a lot more time in the QA oven. IMO, that was a mistake, the game was generally received as a disappointment, and sales (and EA's reputation, if any) suffered for it. Even if Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will be arriving a few years late to the party, I'm looking forward to playing it.

E3 First Impression: Wakfu

Wakfu LogoGAME:

Ankama Studio

Square Enix

PC / Mac


Turn-based tactical MMORPG

A cute, anime-looking RPG game.

It looks great on the giant iMac screens. I like that the characters are so adorable. Apparently there's an extensive amount of back-story here.

Good tutorial for introducing MMO mechanics to people who may never have played one. Spells level up individually, so you don't have to choose a particular build right out of the gate... that seems to be fashionable nowadays.

I like that you can attack and kill pretty much anything, although, honestly, who wants to kill harmless, innocent forest creatures? [That's a joke. See my recent Flash project.]

No real surprises here -- you probably can tell from the screenshots whether this is your type of game or not.


"Featured" on BBC's Click Podcast

I was "featured" on the BBC's Click podcast this week (f.k.a. Digital Planet).

Click is a splendid little weekly technology news programme. To listen to it, do one of the following:

a) Subscribe to or download the podcast from the iTunes store. An iTunes Store search for "bbc click" should get you there. (This is the proper way to listen to podcasts.)

b) Click on one of these HTML links:
Podcast Feed:


E3 2011 Pics

South Hall Lobby Panorama

Battlefield 3

PS Vita

World of Tanks

World of Tanks



Gears of War 3

Sonic Generations

Binary Domain

Duke Nukem Forever

Wii U

Wii U


Weird Creature

Star Wars: The Old Republic

G4 Girls


Ratchet & Clank





A student game postmortem

By Matt Duffy Chidley

In October 2010, Mad Rat Labs (Chris Parker, Manny Perez, Carmen Scaringe, and yours truly) began work on our student game project, the capstone of our Game Production degrees at the Los Angeles Film School.

We had spent the previous 11 months as the very first group of students to undertake the brand new program. Although labeled a "film school," LAFS houses four separate departments (film, audio recording, computer animation, and game production) staffed by industry professionals and experts. Instead of traditional semesters or quarters, the school follows an accelerated monthly block schedule of intensive full-time classes (30-40 hrs. per week). Double that time for homework and you're talking some epic scholasticism!

As you might have guessed, the Game Production program aims to groom game producers -- specifically by putting students through a broad curriculum of courses in design, theory, audio, art (2D and 3D), level design, programming, project management, and business. The thinking behind this holistic approach is that game development is a highly collaborative pursuit, and a good producer is one who can understand all the disparate components of a project and make them fit together. The program is also geared toward the emerging model of smaller independent game studios where team members are frequently called upon to wear a variety of hats.

During the final month of classes, each of us prepared a game design document and pitch for presentation to a Selection Committee made up of faculty advisors from the school's various departments. The Selection Committee then greenlit two of those designs and divided us into teams to begin work on them.

The other team's project, RISE OF CHAOS, is a splendid hack-and-slash platformer and can be played here.

PROTOCOL: THE FINAL JUDGEMENT was based on a Carmen Scaringe design called "World Wide Judgement Day."  The idea was to create a browser-based Flash game along the lines of the film 2012, offering players the same thrilling experience of barely escaping a massive rolling wave of global destruction. The game, we hoped, would pose challenging moral dilemmas in a high-pressure, life-and-death context, providing a forum for examination of how normal society and behavioral norms break down during times of extreme crisis.

What we ended up shipping was an arcade-style, Canabalt-esque "boatformer" with cool background art and a sophisticated radio-play storyline. You can play it here. I'm sure you'll agree with us that all it really lacks is a gun, a jump button, and dragons.

It was an intense production cycle, full of triumphs and frustrations. In retrospect, the roller-coaster experience was a lot like that of playing the game: exasperating, terrifying, occasionally fun, and extremely gratifying to finish.

(Author's Note: Please humor me in breaking with traditional postmortem format by alternating between things that went wrong and things that went right. Adios, legacy postmortem design!)

1a) WHAT WENT AWRY: Unrealistic Initial Concept
Most members of the faculty Selection Committee that chose PROTOCOL's initial concept were familiar with big-budget console titles, and few of them had much experience with Flash games. Several from the film department barely even know what a video game is.

As originally conceived, PROTOCOL was a sprawling, epic adventure featuring four separate gameplay modes, vehicles, NPCs, mass destruction, and all the other lunacy we've come to expect from big-budget action games. Keep in mind that our "studio" was a four-man team of producers (that is, production students) and this was our first game. In hindsight, the task that the Selection Committee had assigned us to was totally impossible.

I really wish the Selection Committee had gone with my idea to do a simple match-three game with pretty gemstones.

1b) WHAT WENT RIGHT: Re-Scoping
Fortunately, we were armed with Agile sensibilities. Instead of freaking out and popping our emergency cyanide, we took deep breaths and decided to tackle the project one mode at a time. Following a brief pre-production, we commenced work on Boat Mode, during which the player attempts to flee the impending apocalypse by sea. Our first sprint would be a "spike," giving us a chance to explore what we were capable of, and hopefully at least yielding a playable prototype.

At the end of two weeks, two things became abundantly clear:
            1) We had a pretty fun and functional 2-button boat game concept, and
            2) There was no fracking way we would have time to do the other three modes. No fracking way.

We scheduled a meeting with our Executive Producer (i.e. our primary faculty advisor) to discuss the whole thing with him. We pitched our new idea to set the entire game on the boat, and to devote our energies toward fleshing out and polishing this unique core mechanic as opposed to scrambling toward ultimate failure on the original over-ambitious design. We framed it as a learning experience about biting off more than you could chew (even if the truth was that we had been force-fed this particular bite by the Selection Committee).

It worked. Collective sigh of relief from the team.

2a) WHAT WENT AWRY: Waterfall Pressure
Prior to starting work on our final projects, we spent two full-time months in project management classes with a certified PMP / ScrumMaster. Needless to say, Agile[1] was fresh in our minds.

It came as a small surprise when our Executive Producer presented us with his traditional timetable of waterfall-style milestones, including a "feature-complete" Alpha, "asset-complete" Beta, and so on. We were confused. Why did the school teach us all this Agile stuff if they didn't want us to use it on our final projects?

The ultimate idea behind these student games, anyway, was to simulate as much as possible what it's like to make a game in the "real world." A trial by fire. Sink or swim. Welcome to the game industry. What the publisher says goes.

Being a bunch of Agile producers, we took it in stride.

2b) WHAT WENT RIGHT: Agile AnywaySomehow, we figured out a way to satisfy the Executive Producer's various requirements and run our show as an Agile one anyway. It's my understanding that producers often find themselves having to shield resistant stakeholders from the off-putting argot of our field's best practices. We kept him happy by showing him user-centric progress, and meanwhile we worked internally as a single cross-disciplinary unit with sprints and shippable slices and all that good stuff.

Especially at the beginning, the Agile mindset helped us all to take responsibility and ownership of the original concept and to make it our own. This was especially crucial for those team members who saw the project as more of an assignment than an opportunity to work on a labor of passion -- the power of self-motivation that Agile fosters became especially apparent when it broke down later on, and orders issued by fellow students (and even teachers) to perform certain tasks were simply blown off. Without a rigorous hierarchy and the threat of getting fired or flunked, Agile (and pizza, of course) proved to be the only way to motivate the chronically unmotivated.

All along the way, Agile helped us to keep from getting overwhelmed, to prioritize only high-value features, to focus on one thing at a time, to timebox tasks and know when to give up on a story and when to adjust the schedule or backlog to accommodate it, and to clamp down on the impulse toward what sometimes turned into explosive-diarrhea-like feature creep sessions.

I don't think we could have done it without Agile. It was our first game, and we really had no clue what we were capable of at any point during the production process. That can be pretty intimidating, ya know?  I mean, honestly, how do you make a game?  Where do you even start?

3a) WHAT WENT AWRY: Situational Annoyances
As mentioned previously, the idea behind our student games was that we would be working full-time in a real-world studio simulation. In lieu of class instruction, the school would be providing us with studio space, server access, guidance from the faculty, and whatever other tools we might need to make our games.

Unfortunately, for various internal reasons, construction on our studio space didn't begin until the last minute. We moved in even before the paint was dry. We couldn't leave anything in the studio overnight because doors hadn't been installed yet. It took several weeks to get a white board installed. By the time the IT Department got our server access and Alienbrain up and running, it was too late -- we were already in the final stages of our project and our workaround pipeline was already established. Working in a construction zone was a roadblock with which future classes will fortunately not need to cope.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being the guinea pigs for a fledgling Game Production degree program at a media-centric tech school. Despite some areas of overlap, game and film are quite distinct animals, and the existing structures and practices that make sense for film students aren't always suited for games. Again, future students will not have to deal with many of the minor growing pains that we experienced as the school learned to adapt to our needs as game students.

The school's 14-second splash screen / animated short film, required during the intro to our Flash game, is a prime example. Not only did it create a major technical hurdle (it more than doubled our game's data weight and, consequently, download time), it also demonstrates a disregard for the needs of the medium.

3b) WHAT WENT RIGHT: Free Tools (esp. Dropbox and FlashDevelop)
Praise be to "the community" for open-source tools. Our budget was $0, so these were an especially good fit in our case.

In the absence of proper version control, Dropbox really saved the day. It was probably even better than a local server because it allowed us to work anywhere there was Internet, including nights and weekends. (…Huzzah?) Dropbox let us do file transfers, updates, and rollbacks without even really having to think about it. Of course, it's only as good as the user, and we had occasional hiccups when, say, torrent activity slowed a team member's internet connection to a crawl or filled his Dropbox over capacity. It's also too bad Dropbox doesn't have any "read-only" functionality, as the latest build was repeatedly deleted from everybody else's machine by a certain team member who prefers drag-and-drop over copy-paste.

As Lead Programmer, I wanna throw a shout out to my boy FlashDevelop. It's loaded with brilliant features, helps you stay organized, and anticipates stuff for you so you don't have to waste your valuable time figuring out where the bracket you omitted is, or why a variable isn't defined all the sudden (hint: it's because of a stupid typo), or digging through the Flash API to locate the package you need to import ("Is that one thing in TextField or TextFormat?  Neither! It's in TextFomatAlign! Thanks, FlashDevelop!")

4a) WHAT WENT AWRY: Division Of Labor / Specialization
The ideal four-person game dev team would consist of an ace programmer, a dope artist, a brilliant designer, and a savvy producer / QA lead / everything else that needs taken care of. Most game schools, I imagine, can match such specialists together, but LAFS’ game department is one of the few that teaches game production and only game production. The result is that our team had four chiefs and zero Indians.

Making a video game is hard. Good-looking art takes real talent and years of practice. Using ActionScript 3.0 and Flash may not be "real" programming, but it ain't exactly what most folks would call "easy."  Design… well, I guess anybody can be a game designer, but still…

In our case, we assigned roles based on a combination of our own personal ambitions and our comparative strengths -- meaning that everybody spent some of the time doing what he wanted to do, but also got "stuck" with certain jobs he wasn't qualified for. Usually, we did the best we could, but there were moments when we all lamented our individual and collective shortcomings.

As Lead Programmer I constantly felt the pinch of my own limitations. It's a drag to have to say no to an awesome feature idea because you lack the skills to execute it in time. Of course, working under constraints can spur creativity and give rise to those occasional "happy accidents," the novel and clever workarounds of necessity so common in our particularly young and experimental field of digital game development.

Perhaps this problem can't be helped. Game students need to work on student games, and producers especially need to be able to figure out how to turn lemons into lemonade. Besides, team strengths are seldom optimal in the "real world" either. Welcome to the game industry.

As is likewise the case in the "real world," some of the team members ended up pulling more weight than others. Of course, in the "real world," work is rewarded with financial compensation reflecting (in theory) the marginal value of workers' labor. There are bosses who will promote you for doing a good job (in theory) and who will get on your case if you are slacking (in theory). By contrast, school group projects usually result in the nerdy kid getting suckered into doing everybody else's work.

This isn't to imply that the team didn't behave like responsible adults… most of the time. Because our roles and responsibilities were either poorly or not clearly delineated, there were plenty of occasions when half the team was crunching like crazy while the other half sat around asking what they should be doing.

In retrospect, having a single team member designated in the producer role could have alleviated this. A full-time producer could have helped motivate the unmotivated by keeping the team on the Agile track and spending the time it takes to figure out how to plug people into miscellaneous tasks. Where all else failed, he could have provided some good old fashioned, legitimate-authority disincentive for slacking.

A dedicated producer would also have been able to "run interference" on the constant barrage of well-meaning visits we received. A proper producer could have made the time to demo our latest build, answer questions, collect feedback, and then prioritize (ahem, *file*) suggestions so that the rest of the team might be spared the pressure of trying to please all of the teachers all the time.

4b) WHAT WENT RIGHT: Office Hours
Even if we didn't really know what we were doing, even if some of us didn't always have something to do, at least we were there for each other as a team. By establishing and committing to a regular work schedule early on and being disciplined about making up lost days and hours, we made sure to grind out the legwork necessary to get our game off the ground.

Our mutual minimum time commitment to each other went a long way towards soothing the natural resentment and crankiness that can build up over a long haul. All kidding aside, we began and ended the project with the same sense of "we're all in this together" and every member of the team really stepped up and did a commendable job.

There is no accompanying "What Went Awry" for this section. While the independence we were afforded was harrowing at times, and the game we ended up making was completely our own, it's not like we were simply thrown to the wolves.

Our studio was conveniently located across the hall from the teachers' offices and they were constantly dropping by to check on our progress, to give us pointers, or just to say hi and tell us everything turn out all right. They were always available whenever we had questions or concerns, and on multiple occasions we took advantage of their generosity by scheduling tutoring sessions and feedback discussions.

The hardworking, diligent, intelligent, knowledgeable, patient teachers we had at LAFS were the best thing about our experience throughout the program, and we really can't praise them enough, thank them enough, or understate the positive impact they had on us. Thanks, guys!

This is the part of the postmortem where I mention all the valuable applied lessons we learned, and how book-learning is great and all, but there's no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty working on a real project from start to finish…  Let's just skip straight to the part where you hire one (or all) of us, Mr. Bleszinski / Kojima / Molyneux / Wright / Brenda Brathwaite / whomever!

You want to know the most important "what went right" of all?  It's the BFFs who came together to pilot this Game Production program and work on these student games. Luv you guys! (Chanting:) Mad Rat! Mad Rat!! Mad Rat!!!


[1] For those intimidated by this producer-jargon buzzword, don't worry.  It simply refers to the best way of managing a project, except in cases when another way would be better.  For more, see


Free PSN Games: Analysis

As you probably know, Sony is hyping the re-launch of PSN and the PSN Store with some free giveaways, including an offer of two free games from among the following for all PS3 owners:

Dead Nation
Super Stardust HD
wipEout HD+Fury

Woohoo! Thanks, hackers!

My gut tells me to go with Dead Nation and inFAMOUS. But if you’re anything like me, you suck the fun out of every decision by over-analyzing it.

This Kotaku post explains why I’d be getting a better deal with wipEout HD+Fury than Dead Nation based on the following price points:

inFAMOUS - $23.44
wipEout HD+Fury - $19.99
LittleBigPlanet - $17.98
Dead Nation - $14.99
Super Stardust HD - $9.99

I see several flaws in this line of reasoning:
     (1) Who knows if these prices will be the same after the PSN Store re-opens?

SOLUTION: N/A - With the PSN Store servers offline, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to know what the price of something was, is, or will be. Meanwhile, the Amazon prices listed are already out of date.

     (2) The price quoted for wipEout HD does not include the price of the Fury DLC.

SOLUTION: N/A. See (1).

      (3) Dead Nation, Super Stardust HD, and wipEout HD+Fury are all download-only titles. Comparing their prices to boxed-game prices is apples to oranges. What about having to wait for the box to come in the mail? What about shipping charges? What if somebody steals the box off my doorstep? What about having a hard copy, in case an EMP wipes my PS3 hard drive? What about saving a few bucks by getting a used copy? Heck, what about supporting local business by buying from a brick-and-mortar store?

SOLUTION: N/A. See (1) and (2).

Price, in this case, is clearly a hopelessly flawed metric. It is said that "A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Consider the following formula:


That is to say, given two items of equal quality, the one that is twice as expensive offers half as much value.

Assuming we want to max out our value, and since we’re talking about free games here, price isn’t a relevant factor. In this case, value corresponds directly to quality.

So -- how should we determine the quality of these games? For simplicity’s sake, let’s go with Metacritic score (I know, another deeply flawed metric, but this blog post is already long enough as it is):

LittleBigPlanet - 95
wipEout HD - 87
            + Fury - 89
                        = average - 88
inFAMOUS - 85
Super Stardust HD - 85
Dead Nation - 77

There you go. Any sensible person would pick LittleBigPlanet and wipEout HD + Fury.

Personally, though, I already played LittleBigPlanet. I’ve never cared much for racing games, so I doubt I’ll get wipEout HD + Fury. And I want a real game, not an arcade game, so Super Stardust HD is out.

That leaves Dead Nation and inFAMOUS. Sigh. The moral: trust yer gut.


Venom on NPR re: Call of Juarez - The Cartel

I've recently found myself decrying the Republican slashing of NPR's budget, defending our nation's publically-funded liberal media outlet as a pillar of journalistic excellence and integrity in a landscape otherwise corrupted by pandering and money-chasing.

Then they go and make me look bad by running a story like this:

This is shameful sensationalism, not journalism.  The piece reflects a complete lack of any attempt at veracity -- to wit:

"...a video game that glorifies murder and mayhem..."
It's pretty stupid to assume that artwork automatically glorifies its subject matter, especially if you haven't read/seen/played it.  Which I know you haven't, since nobody has, since the game is still months away from completion.

"...critics on the border are already condemning its bad taste."
Again, how could anyone outside of the publisher/dev team be in any position to judge whether or not this particular work is in bad taste?

"A screen shot of the game pictures an outlaw in a flak jacket and cowboy hat..."
Dead wrong.  He is the opposite of an outlaw.  He is a law enforcement officer.

"...people see it as really the ultimate dehumanization of people of Juarez..."
Even though this statement about what "people see" is technically true, doesn't a reporter have a responsibility to distinguish between misconceptions and facts?  Al Franken describes a technique employed by Fox News, the "Echo Chamber," whereby a speculative, baseless quote or sound bite is repeated so often that it loses the context of subjectivity and is perceived as true.

"Critics say the video game dehumanizes the people who have been killed in the Juarez drug wars."
Critics say a lot of things.  I'm a critic.  I claim that playing this game will make seven beautiful, naked virgins magically appear in your living room.  Why doesn't NPR run a story on that?

"...for people to mock them and make light of them is very, very insulting," Campbell says. "I mean, more than 8,000 people have been killed in the last four years; and it's not something to joke about." 
This guy is either misinformed, misquoted, or a total jumping-to-conclusions jackass.  Back in 2000, the movie "Traffic" won widespread praise for its depiction of the terrible situation at the Mexican border (as well as four academy awards). Nobody accused the filmmakers of trying to cash in on human misery. Nobody leveled charges that the film was "dehumanizing" or "mocking" or "making light of the situation" or "joking about" it.  And certainly nobody would have made such comments on the sole basis of looking at screenshots before the film's trailer had even been released. And CERTAINLY certainly no respectable journalist would report on such wildly inaccurate, unfounded speculation as matters of fact.

Obviously, video games still have plenty of new-medium stigma to overcome.  Venom on you, NPR, for helping to make our fight that much harder.  And here I thought you were the good guys.


Miel a "Redención Rojo Muerto"

As a nod to all my Spanish-speaking readers, I present my bilingual analysis of Red Dead Redemption, Spanish first.
El mejor videojuego nuevo del año pasado es, en mi opinión, Red Dead Redemption.  Con este no lineal de disparos en tercera persona, Rockstar ha logrado trasladar el formulario de Grand Theft Auto al Viejo Oeste de una manera inmersiva que nunca se ha visto antes.

RDR -- siguiente a Red Dead Revolver (2004) pero sin tener mucho que ver con él -- relata la historia de John Marsden, bandido que quiere dejar de vivir así y se encarga de buscar y matar a su ex-compañero.  El jugador se mete en la frontera entre Tejas y México en el año 1911, al principio de la revolución Mexicana y al cabo del Viejo Oeste, lo que va modernizando rápidamente con la llegada de electricidad y el ferrocarril.

Se encuentre la mayoría de los mecánicos familiares de GTA.  Marsden puede cumplir misiones a su gusto para progresar o hacer colectas al lado para ganar dinero que gastar en armas y otras cosas.  En vez de manejar autos, monta a caballo (o por diligencia) tras el yermo.

Lo más disfrutable del juego no es solo perseguir el cuento bien escrito y lleno de personajes interesantes, pero además pasar tiempo en el mundo detallado y realístico que ha construido Rockstar. La gente de los pueblos (hablando el inglés y el español, donde sea apropiado) vive por los ciclos de día y noche tal como los aves y animales salvajes de la tierra poco poblada.  Los efectos del tiempo, cielos hermosas y paisaje rico son de una calidad muy alta, todo acompañada por música linda, y cualquier imagen del juego merece colgar en la pared como pintura.  ¡No sería difícil imaginar que el mundo persiste aunque se ha apagado el Xbox!

Red Dead Redemption entretiene los jugadores bien familiarizados con el género y ambos los que no jueguen y tienen la curiosidad de ver lo fascinante que se puede fabricar los desarrolladores con la tecnología del actual.
Last year’s best game, in my opinion, is Red Dead Redemption.  With this open-world third-person shooter, Rockstar has succeeded in bringing the Grand Theft Auto formula to the Old West for an immersive, altogether unprecedented experience.

RDR -- technically the sequel to Red Dead Revolver (2004), though barely related -- tells the tale of one John Marsden, an outlaw who must hunt down and kill his former partner in order to leave his past behind.  The game is set near the Texas/Mexico border in 1911, on the eve of the Mexican revolution and at the twilight of an American West now facing modern encroachment, electricity, and railroads.

Most of GTA’s familiar mechanics are present.  Marsden may complete missions at his leisure to advance the story or perform side quests to earn money for guns and other items.  Instead of racing around by car, he traverses the wilderness via horseback and stagecoach.

As fun as it is following the game’s well-crafted story full of interesting characters, the real joy lies in the detailed and realistic world Rockstar has constructed.  Townspeople (speaking both English and Spanish, depending on their location) lead busy day-night cycle lives, as do the birds and wild animals of the open range.  The high quality weather effects, beautiful skies, and epic landscapes are accompanied by a masterful soundtrack, and any given screenshot is worth framing and hanging on the wall.  It’s not hard to imagine this world persisting even after the Xbox has been switched off.

Red Dead Redemption is sure to satisfy both hardcore fans of the genre and non-gamers interested in seeing the best of what developers, armed with modern technology, are capable of.


More On Adventure Games

Robert Bryant, one of my design teachers, often asserts that "the essence of fun is surprise."  During the late '80s and early '90s, adventure game developers pushed this idea as far as they could -- and adventure games eventually became so surprising as to be nonsensical (Gobliins 2 stands out in my mind as a prime example).

Developers simultaneously discovered that such designs boosted demand for game guides, and so a new pre-internet business was born.  The guides had higher profit margins than the games themselves, and it was only a matter of time before adventure games were specifically designed to sell guides.  This mild form of cheating eventually became the only possible way to get through the games, and it was common practice for pirated copies of the games to be distributed along with .txt walkthroughs or even barely-legible photocopied game guides.

Alternatively, you could ask one of your friends who had played through the game for advice on how to get past a certain sticking point -- a rudimentary precursor to the internet forum system we all leech off of today.

Perhaps the format of all media is determined by the constraints of its funding, presentation, and consumption.  Is adventure gaming a valid storytelling mechanism, or merely a peculiar technological oddity that arose with and was only appropriate for a simpler age?  An age of limited hardware, when there were few PC gaming options and adventure gaming was really the only show in town?  When there was no internet to subvert companies who earned their keep by peddling the secret keys to their elaborate digital puzzles?  When fan devotion to the pluck and humor of the folks at Sierra generated enough surplus of goodwill to offset all the are-you-f#@%ing-kidding-mes they put us through?

It is my fervent hope that torch-bearers like Telltale Games can continue to adapt and innovate this formerly beloved genre of mine.  Otherwise, should adventure gaming go extinct within the next 15 years... you heard it here first, folks.


H2G2 Remake review: We Apologize For The Inconvenience

I was raised on graphic adventure games --they were the first video games I ever played and have profoundly influenced my approach to games ever since.  I was also raised on The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, so naturally I jumped at the chance to write about the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Remake, or H2G2 Remake for short.  Unfortunately, it seems you can't turn back the clock.

One of the original "transmedia IPs," there is no definitive version of the Hitchhiker's Guide story as such.  It has existed in various incarnations as a radio play, a novel, a TV series, a stage play, a comic book, a feature film, and of course, a text adventure game.  Released by Infocom in 1984, the text for the game was written by Douglas Adams himself -- allegedly a process Adams found frustrating, which is why the game ends abruptly near the story's midpoint. 

H2G2 Remake is a lovingly executed point-and-click adaptation of the original text adventure.  Credit is due to the developers for their obvious devotion and fidelity to the details of the original, but on the whole the experience left me questioning the wisdom of the game's premise, and even whether or not the adventure gaming genre is still at all viable. 

Text adventures are designed to be difficult and puzzling because, gameplay-wise, that's all they've got.  The joy of unraveling a text adventure comes not just from moments of insight arrived at by clever reasoning and deduction, but from the simultaneously rewarding, humorous, and annoying experience of exhausting every logical action, getting stumped, feeling like you've hit a dead end, and typing in something completely absurd that turns out to be the solution.  Many of the early graphic adventures added illustrations to the process, but remained largely text-based in the sense that gameplay consisted of reading and typing responses.

Although they were often maddeningly difficult, puzzles in text-based adventures could sometimes be easier than those of later point-and-click graphic adventures, because the text was there to clue the player in to everything he or she needs to know about the current situation.  If you walk into a room and the game mentions that there's a knife on the table, it probably has some significance -- otherwise, they wouldn't have mentioned it (unless it's a red herring, of course).

In point-and-click adventures, graphics have replaced text descriptions, and such previously explicit clues are no longer possible.  To balance this, most point-and-click games include some sort of mouse-over feedback that lets the player know which objects in the environment can be manipulated, which eventually led to the core mechanic of systematically exploring all of the game's essential and non-essential animations by clicking.  Moreover, where the player previously enjoyed apparently unlimited action options, point-and-click games simplify player choice by constraining it and abstracting all activities into standard touch / talk / look clicks.  The resulting evolutions eventually brought us the sort of brainless click-through interactive storytelling adventures that dominate the genre today.

Bearing in mind the interface and format discrepancies between text adventures and point-and-clicks, does it really any make sense to port the one to the other?  As a case study, H2G2 Remake seems to indicate that a radical design overhaul is necessary for such a translation to be viable.  Adams' recycled one-liners here feel tired and outdated, and fail to drive the story forward.  The game's word puzzles, especially the so-called "dark" sections, do not translate and handle quite awkwardly.

Alas, these are only the beginning of this game's problems.  The inventory interface is clunky and counter-intuitive, and the game's instructions / help section is so badly written as to be incomprehensible.  Though mostly stable, one of the game's prevalent bugs is that the cursor fails to flicker when held over certain interactable objects, an infuriating and almost game-breaking flaw.  With all due respect to whoever worked very hard on the artwork, the graphics are lacking to the point of having an adverse effect on the experience -- unless the designers mean to intentionally increase the game's difficulty by, for example, depicting the crucial knife on the table as only one of several misshapen, unrecognizable blobs of pixels on screen.  I wouldn't put anything past an adventure game developer.

Whether you're a bigtime Hitchhiker's Guide fan with nostalgia for the text adventure, or just curious about what it was, check out  It's the BBC's better-illustrated, browser-based version of the original text adventure without any point-and-click nonsense.  Just don't forget to pack your towel, and perhaps this IGN walktrhrough. 

Rest in peace, Douglas Adams.  We love you and miss you.