If cheap magazines or dummy's guides to dummy's games are the only exposure you have to video games and the world of words on paper, I'm sorry you weren't gaming in the 1980s, when you would have been treated to some of these.
I shared one of them a few weeks back, but seeing a big collection like this is enough to trigger that "musty old book smell" in my head, and that's a good smell.
Just look at some of these. Playboy's guide to...rating games? A guide to computer and video games?
CLASSIC VIDEO GAME BOOKS [Pulp Crush]
Hi there Kotaku. It's Monday, and so here we are doing another open thread.
Here are a few things from around the 'nets for you guys to read and talk about.
And that's that. Have a great week.
Call of Duty developers Treyarch have only ever made games set in the past. Whether that be the Second World War or the Cold War, doesn't matter, their games have never seen the 1990s, let alone today. But that looks like it's set to change with the next game in the series.
What will surely be revealed as Black Ops II sometime tomorrow is already out there in the wild via marketing material, and someone has finally had the sense to take a decent photo of one of the posters.
It shows the same silhouetted man we've been seeing for a while now, only with the lights turned on, so we can actually see what he's wearing and see what he's holding.
What he's wearing is contemporary military gear, in particular Oakley Assault gloves, which you can see available for purchase here.
He's also packing a rather futuristic-looking attachment on his sidearm.
Oh, and not that this has anything to do with timing, and not that this is a surprise, but he's also American, his service flag just visible in reverse on his right arm.
This all suggests the game is at least in the ballpark of 2012. The last Black Ops game only rarely left the 1960s.
This wonderful series of graffiti from artist Sean Kernick was probably the most delightful aspect of my visit to Epic Games' headquarters last week. I started at the top floor, where the angle made it nearly impossible to get the full Gears of War piece into focus, but Kernick's signature combination of urban graffiti and traditional character art manages to shine through.
Descending the stairs revealed a fresh work around every corner; Shadow Complex, One Must Fall, and even my personal favorite, Jazz Jackrabbit, brought to life in vibrant color. If my plans for a Jazz tattoo didn't involve the length of my forearm I might have just 'borrowed' Kernick's interpretation.
Is there anything worse than killing a child? It's one of the most reprehensible things a person can do. Not just in real life: Along with Golden Retrievericide, child-murder is one of the most double-secret-ultrabad things a character can do in a movie, book or video game.
The murder of a child can be an incredibly potent moment in a story. But it can also be a hacky, cringe-inducing grasp at unearned maturity.
I played a good chunk of Prototype 2 over the weekend. It's a fun game—it's basically as though Crackdown met Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and it's a lot more balanced and enjoyable than its predecessor. I like it, despite its rough edges and dumb writing.
But man, that dumb writing can be really dumb. The game takes place in "New York Zero," a quarantined city that has been infected with a horrible super-virus that turns people into all sorts of murderous monsters. The government bad guys are represented by a seemingly endless army of hilariously amoral Blackwatch soldiers and Gentek scientists. They're all so vile that they can't even stand each other—they're designed that way expressly so that you won't feel bad about ripping a thousand of them in half.
Early on, I picked up an audio collectible that let me listen to a recorded sound-byte that seemed designed to flesh out the world and share some of what had happened in this city. On the recording, a soldier at a checkpoint yells at a terrified civilian woman who's trying to pass.
"Why isn't he talking? Why isn't your kid talking?" the soldier barks.
"He's not infected!" his mother cries, panicked. "He has autism! That's why he can't respond!"
Cue sounds of the soldiers opening fire, and a woman screaming.
Look, I get it: New York Zero is a really shitty place to live. All the same, this was just… come on, guys. This was needless. It was basely manipulative, a grasp at relevance and maturity that serves only to make the game feel more crass and less mature.
The story starts out with some child-murder, as well—protagonist James Heller's wife and daughter getting brutally murdered, so, you know, we've already got one child-murder in the game. But okay, whatever—many a comic book origin story has done this, and while the whole "woman in fridge" thing is worn and hacky, in a game like this I don't really care.
The audio diary, however, was unnecessary. I'm not all pearl-clutching about it or anything; it was just... gross. We as a culture have got all sorts of things going on with autism at the moment as it is, but just blandly throwing a murdered autistic kid onto an audio diary seems like a pretty tasteless way of enhancing a game's fiction.
[Mass Effect 3 spoilers follow.]
I was reminded of how I felt when I saw BioWare's Mass Effect 3 presentation at E3—they showed the opening level of the game, leading up to the appearance and subsequent laser-blasting of the Only Child in the Universe.
I scoffed at the time, since my god did this feel manipulative—"Okay, time to get invested! See this kid? You like him. Yeah, you do. You think he's cute. Well now… watch him die."
The full game, of course, did more with the child than simply use him as a first-act motivation for Shepard. He became a (ham-fisted but still roughly effective) symbol of all that Shepard had lost on Earth, turning up in dream sequences and eventually making a return as the form that the
Deus Ex Machina celestial presence took, Contact-style, to tell Shepard about the grand plan and give him or her that controversial final choice. Call it Chekov's little kid.
I'm one of those people who didn't hate the Mass Effect 3 ending, but I don't love the inclusion of the kid—it just felt so out-of-step with the rest of the trilogy. Couldn't we have had one of Shepard's dead allies be the one to haunt her dreams, and the one to turn up at the end and talk her through the master plan? Why did they have to write this kid into the third act?
For all its faults, Heavy Rain was one of the first games I've seen really go the distance in attempting to realistically portray the pain of losing a child. The fact that David Cage and company felt the need to use the game's shattering opening events to get us invested before ripping the other child away is perhaps less elegant. But still, points for effort.
Bioshock used child-murder as a central gameplay mechanic, and got away with it, largely because the entire game was built around that father-child/big daddy-little sister relationship. That relationship was further explored in Bioshock 2, and taken in an (I thought) even more interesting direction.
It's even possible to—gasp!—make the death of a kid a little bit funny. Limbo embraced sick thrills by making its little boy protagonist die over and over again in horribly violent (but silhouetted and vague) ways. The "Childkiller Perk" (shown at the top of this article) in Fallout is another example of kid-murder pushed to a ridiculous, offensive, and blackly funny place. (It probably wouldn't fly today, however: In the modern Fallout games, you can't kill kids at all.)
As Stephen pointed out a couple of years ago, we are in the midst of "The Daddening of Video Games." That feels truer now than it did in 2010. More and more developers are fathers, and it makes sense that they'd begin to write more stories of parenthood into their games. Think about the big-budget games you've played that are in some way or another about fatherhood. They are legion. (And while yes, plenty of women make games too, the "Mommening" of video games has yet to manifest itself to the same degree.)
It's a good thing that games are looking at our relationships to our kids, twisting and turning them to make statements that are worth making. Our fear for our kids, our desire to protect them, and even the awfulness of a child's death are all worthy topics for a game (or anything else) to discuss. That now-infamous Dead Island trailer promised us a level of emotional catharsis that it turns out we want very much. Its popularity and lasting cultural impact demonstrate that this subject matter is both potent and relevant. But it's live ammunition, particularly when a kid is actually being killed, and it's easy to handle it classlessly.
One of my favorite things about the new Walking Dead video game is the paternal, cautious relationship between protagonist Lee and his ward, a girl named Clementine.
I don't know how Lee and Clementine's story will play out, but if there comes a moment where she gets bitten and I have to decide what to do, I don't know how I'll handle it. That will be a mature, dark, and intense decision; Bioshock's harvest/save choice made devastatingly specific. It's just the kind of thing that I'd love to see a game do, as much as I'm dreading it actually happening. It would feel truly mature in a way that the hastily barked, recorded murder of an autistic kid never could.
I applaud games willing to take chances, who'll risk dealing with difficult material like the death of a child. But you've got to earn it, and keep it in a context that feels appropriate to the kind of game you're making.
Prototype 2 is good in plenty of ways. But a game that's at its best when I'm dive-bombing from a skyscraper and blasting tentacle-shockwaves into military compounds... probably doesn't need to start killing kids in an effort to get me to take it seriously.
Game designer and champion Jane McGonigal advocates games as a tool for making the world a better place. She has a book and a pile of research explaining all of the ways in which games can be beneficial for players' physical and mental health as well as for the wider world.
So now, it seems almost inevitable that she has created a game for no less powerful a person than Oprah Winfrey, media titan. The project, found on Facebook, is called "The Thank You Game" and aims, aptly enough, to make players express gratitude more often in their daily lives.
The game captures exactly what makes both Winfrey and McGonigal so well known: the idea that through focusing one's mind on gratitude and a life well lived, one can find peace, coupled with the idea that "gratitude is contagious," and that through the play structure, players can improve both themselves and the world around them.
The game's stated goal is "to spread gratitude to half a billion people worldwide." The message is thoughtful, and it's true that positive (or negative) actions and moods can have a cascading ripple effect. But it seems rather spectacularly misplaced to suggest that the best reward for expressing true gratitude is to make sure you run to Facebook and push the big pink button (which asks you if you really mean it!) as soon as you've thanked someone. If any thought in the world could be imagined to deliver its own intrinsic rewards, surely thankfulness is at the top of the list?
In truth I'm surprised the game isn't a mobile app, making it easier to track your gratitude on the go. On the other hand, I guess my oft-shouted, "Thanks for cutting me off, jerkwad!" might defeat the purpose.
Oprah's Thank You Game [Facebook]
So, does it live up to the hype?
You can judge for yourself by watching these two videos. In them, I take the retro versions of Elise and Moby down the new environment's super-long track.
Mount Eddie certainly boasts a crazier configuration of ramps and rails than most other location in the 2012 edition of SSX and it certainly offers bigger drops than the other peaks. You'll be able to get the Mount Eddie DLC on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network tomorrow.
I just... don't know what I'm watching.
I've watched this new Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance trailer three times already and I still have no idea what's going on. It's like that weird video from Lost. Or pretty much anything from the Metal Gear Solid series. Enjoy.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is slated for later this year on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
It is curious that there are far more games on a Soviet invasion of West Germany that never happened than a Communist assault on South Korea that actually did. It is even more curious that there haven't been more games on a Second Korean War, given how volatile the region is.
The Demilitarized Zone between the two nations is the most heavily armed border in the world. The two Koreas together are only about the size of Nebraska, but they have close to two million soldiers, 10,000 tanks, and enough firepower - even without North Korea's nukes - to turn the peninsula into a wasteland.
The specter of war has hovered for 60 years, but the dogs of war are barking more loudly than ever, incited by hard times in the Hermit Kingdom. North Korea's economy has collapsed, its people have been reduced to eating grass, and its latest rocket ended up in the Yellow Sea instead of outer space. So we have a desperate regime that, like the high school juvenile delinquent, believes that bluster and threats will terrify the world into meeting its demands.
At the same time, South Korea is taking a harder line against North Korean artillery barrages and attacks on South Korean warships, and it won't take much in the way of malice or miscalculation to ignite a conflict. The First Korean War was a UN "police action" (as Alan Alda complains in "MASH", "If this is a police action, where are the cops?"). The Second Korean War could be anything from a targeted strike against Pyongyang's nuclear facilities, to all-out regime change by U.S. and South Korean armies, to a "what the hell, we're going down, let's throw the dice" invasion of South Korea by the North.
Can wargaming illuminate a Second Korean War? To some extent, yes.
For flight sims, it's easy. Find the flight sim of your choice. Find a game that lets you pit the latest F-15s, F-16s and stealth bombers against 1970s and 1980s Soviet—and Chinese-made aircraft flown by pilots who can barely get their planes in the air. That's the air war over North Korea (or all five minutes of it).
Shooter games can be anything that lets you pit top-of-the-line Western equipment against older Soviet and Chinese tanks and rifles. I'm not going to bother with an arcade game like Invading North Korea. As for Homefront, what can I say? If you believe in a North Korean invasion of California, then you also believe that he invented the hamburger.
Strategy games offer the most insights into what a Second Korean War might be like. While North Korea would love mano-a-mano combat between the fat, lazy imperialist mercenaries and the heroic Korean People's Army soldiers, the U.S. isn't about to oblige. Aircraft will rain down smart bombs, including bunker-busters to destroy weapons and installations inside mountains.
To get the flavor of this, try Hornet Leader. It's not a flight simulator, but a 2D air strategy game that challenges the U.S. player to plan an air campaign of multiple strikes. The graphics are blah and the turn-based gameplay may be a little dry, but it probably offers a deeper glimpse into a Korea air war than many flight sims. The air war won't be decided by dogfights but by careful mission planning to hit key targets while avoiding an aging but still lethal air defense system (the Modern Air Power series from HPS Simulations is also worth checking out).
For the ground war, the deepest game is Raging Tiger, designed by Pat Proctor, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who's currently fighting in Afghanistan. Raging Tiger looks like the kind of computer simulation that real military professionals use, and unfortunately it plays the same way. This is a very complicated tactical (platoon and company), pausable real-time game with a lot of detail in terms of planning artillery barrages, issuing units the appropriate standard operating procedures, and so on. Easy or visually appealing it's not, but if you want to see modern combat through the eyes of a military professional, this is the game.
An easier introduction to a Korea ground war is Korea '85, part of HPS Simulations' Modern Battle series. It is a turn-based, battalion-level design that includes a giant 180-turn campaign game. There is a fair amount of repetitive mouse-clicking as you try to move and fight with hundred of units, but one thing that Korea '85 shows very well is just how many troops and hardware are packed into the DMZ. All-out war would be intense, bloody, and most of all, big. America has become accustomed to small wars fought by a squad here, a platoon there, to the point where our own generals wonder whether we have lost our big-war skills.
Yet the caveat here is that while wargaming does best at covering the kinetic side of war—how far can a cannon shoot, how many inches of reinforced concrete can a bunker-buster bomb penetrate—it doesn't tend to cover the "soft" factors as well. The Raging Tiger game has rules for refugees and collateral damage, but for the most part, these games focus on combat. Yet the South Korean capital of Seoul is within artillery range of the DMZ, and North Korea has the largest artillery force in the world. Surely that will affect Korea's strategic decisions. China may be tired of propping up its unruly North Korean client, but the last time American troops approached the Yalu River, Beijing sent 300,000 "volunteers" to fight them.
One reason why wargames were invented was so that commanders wouldn't be surprised by what happened on the real battlefield. But we can pretty sure that whatever happens in Korea, it won't be what we expected.
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Square Enix has been working on an RPG-slash-shooter called Catacombs, gaming site Siliconera reports today.
Developed by Cavia, also known as the studio behind 2010's cult classic Nier (and a studio that has since been dissolved), Catacombs is a team-based shooter set in a twisted version of New York's Museum of Natural History. Siliconera has more details on the purported game, including information about its characters and weapons.
Square Enix doesn't know whether or not it will complete Catacombs, Siliconera says, although a playable version exists.
"We have not made any official announcement on this title and do not have info we can share," a Square Enix representative told Kotaku when asked for comment.