After all, the Smithsonian American Art Museum mounted their Art of Video Games exhibit this year following the intense voting in 2011. And the highly esteemed Museum of Modern Art just announced plans to set up 14 classic games in their halls next year. So, debate over, no?
Not according to Jonathan Jones, the art critic for the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper. Reacting to the MOMA news, Jones roundly declares that games can't be art. The kernel of his argument goes like this:
Walk around the Museum of Modern Art, look at those masterpieces it holds by Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and what you are seeing is a series of personal visions. A work of art is one person's reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition. Art may be made with a paintbrush or selected as a ready-made, but it has to be an act of personal imagination.
That argument is pretty hard to make with games like Papo & Yo, Mattie Brice's Mainichi or, say, Braid out in the world. All of them explicitly come from personal places, leaving aside the fact that they're all moving in their own way. Aside from actual games, other excellent rebuttals—like this one, this one or this one—already exist.
Jones doesn't let on just how much he's been exposed to video games in his editorial. But he sure sounds like he doesn't want to be, either. Too bad for him.
The Assassin's Creed series has always been full of weird ambient dialogue. People on the street mutter the same few lines, and the mix never sounds quite right. Most of us have less-than-fond memories of the "Mah-ney mah-ney mah-ney!!" guy from earlier games in the series, and those accursed bums who bump and bug us as we try to look cool and flit about the streets.
While Assassin's Creed III thankfully doesn't feature any physically aggressive passersby, it does feature the weirdest, creepiest NPCs I've met all year—those ghastly children.
They roam in packs of three. They laugh like Pennywise the Clown and gesticulate like… I don't know, like they're doing a magic trick? And everywhere you go, they follow.
I wouldn't mind the kids except for the fact that every time I see them the game plays the same audio loop, over and over and over and over and over again. Seriously. One audio file, repeated with such frequency that I just can't believe no one working on the game noticed it.
I've been playing ACIII again on PC (the PC version just came out on Tuesday), this time with a mind towards finishing it. Despite the fact that I've been very disappointed with the game, I'm determined to really dig in and get into it, to better understand what it's all about.
Happily, the PC version runs much more smoothly than consoles, and whether it's because of the sizable patch that's been released or the increased power of the PC, I'm seeing fewer bugs and weird transitions than I did on 360. (Though there sure still are bugs.)
I'm playing with an open mind, and want to be sure I don't overlook the things I really do like to focus only on the things I don't. But the repeated, looping sound effects remain baffling to me. How did no one notice how strange they are? In an early mission, you attempt a rescue of a guy who has been swept on a log down a river. "Aaah! Help meeee!" he screams, over and over and over and over again, his audio on an incessant loop. In a bar fight, a guy gets stuck on a table and begins shouting "Too slow, I'm afraid!"
That kind of thing happens so often Assassin's Creed III that I have to wonder: What drives the decision to make audio loop like this? Who on earth hears it and doesn't immediately think, "This sounds weird! We should fix it!" Is this actually the kind of thing that can happen haphazardly, or by accident? Can it really be that at some point, someone said, "Well, all of our ambient audio is looping constantly, but there's nothing we can do about it"? It seems unlikely, but if you have insight into this sort of thing, I hope you'll pipe up in the comments.
All I know is, if those kids ever come for me in real life, I will run the other way and never look back.
Hearing that women make a difference in game development is one thing, seeing what it means in practice is another. Recently, David Gaider—lead writer on the Dragon Age franchise—posted a blog about how having women on his writing team affected something in Dragon Age 3.
The team was having a peer review about the game, and it seemed as if everything about a certain plot point was fine. Then, someone spoke up. A woman. The plot point, she argued, could easily be seen as a form of rape. Everyone became stunned—not because she was off-base, but because she was right. She was right, even though the writer didn't intend the scene to come off way, even though the team considers itself to be progressive.
In this case, it was not a long trip for the person playing through the plot to see what was happening at a slightly different angle, and it was no longer good-creepy. It was bad-creepy. It was discomforting and not cool at all. And this female writer was not alone. All the other women at the table nodded their heads, and had noted the same thing in their critiques.
What's curious about the team of writers on Dragon Age 3 is that it is primarily composed of women. Which leads Gaider to ask: what would have happened if that wasn't the case? Had the team been mostly guys—which isn't uncommon—would the scene have gone in? Gaider thinks so.
And this thought occurred as well: if this had been a team with no female perspective present, it would have gone into the game that way. Had that female writer been the lone woman, would her view have been disregarded as an over-reaction? A lone outlier? How often does that happen on game development teams, ones made up of otherwise intelligent and liberal guys who are then shocked to find out that they inadvertently offended a group that is quickly approaching half of the gaming audience?
Still, crisis averted, as Gaider says. Still, this example seems important in light of recent controversy surrounding the devastating things women in game development have to suffer just to be a part of this hobby we all love so much. They have to go through these things, even though they can often make our games better.
It makes me wonder, too—how many creepy sex things in games have occurred because there wasn't a woman on the team that dared to speak up? Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about, but there are quite a few creepy sex scenes or things with awful sexual undertones that sneak their way into games. Things that I doubt were intended to be uncomfortable, or if they are purposefully that way, the intention is not worthwhile/good enough to warrant potentially triggering someone.
I think, for instance, of the Madison Paige's nightmare in Heavy Rain, where she is running away from an assailant in her own home. I think of how a different Bioware game, Mass Effect 2, has you "fixing" Jack—a character with PTSD—by having sex with her while she cries. I think of Quantic Dream's recent Kara video, where a female android begs a man to stop dissembling her.
Maybe these situations seem thrilling, seem beautiful, seem awe-inspiring. Or, they might seem disgusting. It depends, but it's not a stretch for either to be true. Would you realize it without someone telling you that was the case, without having, for one second, some empathy for the sensitivities of another human being?
Regardless of how absurd it might seem, sometimes it does take a woman to notice something is off. Hopefully development studios take this fact to heart.
When I first heard about Pier Solar back in 2010, I thought the people behind it were out of their minds. An exclusive for the Sega Genesis, a console that was discontinued in 1998? What? Are we all still living on the same planet?
Then, as the project started to take shape and the role-playing game started to seem more and more appealing, I changed my mind. I still thought the folks behind Pier Solar were insane, but I was hooked on the idea. I wanted to play the game, even if it required dusting off that old awful Sega controller. Where'd I leave my Genesis, anyway?
Turned out my grandmother had gotten rid of it. Growing up, I was always a Super Nintendo kid, but when my grandparents bought a Sega in a brilliant attempt to con my brother and I into coming over to their house for weekends, I grew quite fond of the 16-bit system. Titles like Land Stalker, Phantasy Star IV, and Wonder Boy in Monster World became an integral part of my gaming vocabulary. But as my brother and I grew up, we moved on to shinier consoles, and eventually the Genesis was shipped off to some distant cousins.
So for me—and for other people with similarly abandoned Segas—hearing about Pier Solar was quite frustrating. I wanted to play it, but did I really want to re-buy an obsolete console for a single game? Did I really want to go through the hassle of trying to get Genesis games looking decent on my HDTV? Couldn't they just sell a ROM or something?
Two years later, the creators of Pier Solar finally have a solution. A few weeks ago, they launched a Kickstarter to bring the game to Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, and... Sega Dreamcast. The plan worked. As of this writing, they've raised roughly $160,000, $20k more than their original goal. And if they make more money, they say they'll bring Pier Solar to Android, Ouya, and Wii U.
So Pier Solar may very well be the first game in history to get a release on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, Sega Genesis, and Sega Dreamcast.
The team over at Watermelon Corp say the ports—which will be HD remakes complete with new art and other random little bonuses—will be ready for December 2013, so in the meantime, I thought I'd chat with them about this unusual project. I hopped on the phone with Tulio Adriano, one of the designers behind Pier Solar, to ask him about Pier Solar and just what makes it so special.
"We want it to be something that people will remember," he said. "and we just spent six years perfecting it to accomplish that. It was successful on Genesis—the reason is that it might be actually good."
Adriano wouldn't give me exact numbers, but he said they sold 2,000 copies during the first run (at $35 each), and at least another 4,000 during the second print (which was a bit more expensive). Over 6,000 copies. Of a Sega Genesis cartridge.
"I don't think there's any 100% 2D RPG made like Pier Solar on any of these new platforms that has that model of gameplay," Adriano said. "People who played the game can talk about it. People can say 'Hey, did you see that game, it was so successful on the Sega Genesis which is a dead system—there must be something to it.'"
Pier Solar is built like a traditional Japanese role-playing game—Adriano cites Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Phantasy Star as some of his inspirations—and the story should sound familiar to experienced genre fans: three best friends set out to seek a magical herb that can cure the protagonist's ailing father, but find themselves wrapped up in a larger conflict. Adriano says it takes 50-something hours to complete, and it's got a unique battle system, original music, and everything else you might expect from a classic-styled JRPG.
But part of Pier Solar's charm was the fact that it was a Genesis exclusive—at least for early adopters, and those passionate retro gamers in love with the idea of a 2010 game for the Sega Genesis. So I asked Adriano: why suddenly bring it to other platforms? Isn't that kind of... selling out?
"Since the beginning... I had interest in getting Pier Solar to the modern platforms," he said. "The main reason is because I think 2D gaming is so... these days 2D gaming has lost a lot of space to 3D gaming but I have this strong belief that 2D games are still fun and can hook players for hours on a TV regardless if they're 3D or not."
And of course, Watermelon Corp wants to make money. They want to keep making games—games that anyone can enjoy, not just the people who can still find their Segas. But Adriano says it took some convincing to get his partner, artist Gwenael Godde, on board with the idea. Adriano had to start building the game on Xbox 360 just to prove that it could be done.
"[Godde] was living in Hong Kong and I was living in the USA," Adriano said. "He finally decided to move here so we can build projects better. After he came here I said, 'Let me show you something.' I showed him the game running on Xbox, and I said, 'This is possible.' He started to get excited about it, and I got enough people to talk to him besides me to say, 'Let's do this.'"
Porting it over to other systems is a grueling process, Adriano told me, but once they've rebuilt the engine, bringing it to multiple platforms simultaneously won't be a problem. So if you've been crossing your fingers for a new Dreamcast game, well, Pier Solar might be for you.
"The main thing is that it's a game with a story that was built to catch your attention," Adriano said. "I'm sure that anyone who played this game for one hour, it's enough to make you think 'Okay, I wanna sit down and keep playing it. I don't really wanna turn off the TV because I wanna see what happens next.'
"Give it a try and that will be enough so that you want to keep playing the game."
Adriano and crew plan to release digital versions of the game for $15 and physical copies for $50, in case you're the type of person who likes holding discs before you play them. It's an exciting prospect, and I'm glad the Kickstarter did well for them: this is a game I'll be keeping on my radar. I love the style, the aesthetics, and the classic JRPG feel. And I'm glad I won't have to buy a Sega Genesis to play it.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.
You take millions of footsteps in video games and the sound accompanying those movements is probably something that becomes white noise after a while. There's a good chance that won't happen in The Witness, though.
In a post on The Witness blog, creator Jonathan Blow reveals the kind of small detail that shows an intense focus on creating a sense of place:
Q: How many footstep sound effects are in The Witness?
A: 1,119 so far. They sound really good! We will probably be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the game with the most footstep sounds…
Blow elaborates on just how that specific number comes about in the comments:
We have different sounds for left and right foot, always. For any given material there are 5-6 variations for each foot, to avoid mechanical-sounding repeats; let's just say 5 is average.
So for walking on one material, you have 10 footstep sounds minimum. Thus 1119 sound effects would be about 112 materials to walk on.
But actually, it's fewer materials than that, and more footsteps. We have reverb footsteps for specific locations, where we blend reverb in and out, or crossfade between two reverbs, depending on where you are in a room or hallway. We also have "texture footsteps" that are meant to be layered onto a base sound… so if you are walking on grass, but a little bit of dirt is poking through the grass, the game will play the grass footstep, but with a little bit of dirt texture overlayed on top of it. (The loudness of the dirt texture sound will be scaled by how much dirt is poking through the grass).
The reason behind all this is: The Witness is a game about you wandering through a deserted island. You are the only active character in the game, so the sound of your own motion is hugely important for establishing setting and mood.
The guys at Wabi Sabi sound are doing all this work. It is coming out very well!
When will you get to hear the other shoe drop in The Witness? Not for a while, as Blow says that there's much more work to be done. As for the Guinness Book of World Records, there have been far more dubious achievements between those covers.
Now that the first season of The Walking Dead is over, it's natural to ask the question: Did my choices even matter? Was this all smoke and mirrors, or did I really have a say over the outcome? It's the same sort of thing raised as any lengthy, branching video game story reaches its conclusion.
Partly due to production constraints and partly due to the writers' desire to tell a coherent story, most games like this don't have dozens of varied endings. We made so many decisions throughout The Walking Dead, but when all was said and done, did they matter? I'd say yes, they did.
Serious business Walking Dead spoilers follow. Beware of biters.
The final episode of The Walking Dead was always going to be where players' choices came together for a final reckoning. And there's no denying that a lot of the bigger decisions wound up not "mattering" that much, in a traditional sense. Characters you saved had already died some other way, and avenues you'd left open had been closed anyway. Whether you spared Ben in episode 4 or let him die (I let him die), he still died at the midpoint of episode 5. Even if Kenny stuck around, he still leapt down to get Clem's radio and met an uncertain fate. (Though remember the rule of death on TV: If there's no body, they're not dead. Going by both the books and the TV show, this even holds true for something as dark as The Walking Dead. So, we'll see about Kenny.)
No matter the decisions you made, you still wound up in the hotel room with Clem in the closet. You still barely managed to get her out of there. Lee had still been bitten, and even if you amputated his arm, he still died (though not before making some awesome/improbable one-armed building-jumps). So did your choices matter, or didn't they?
I think they mattered quite a bit. On a perfunctory level, the inclusion of the crazy stranger in the hotel room was a smart move by Telltale—essentially, it allowed them to sit you down and judge you for every bad decision you'd made in the game. There was no way to make it through The Walking Dead as a saint, so everyone would have to answer for something. I took food from the abandoned car at the end of episode 2. As it turned out, the car belonged to this man, and in the end drove his family mad with hunger and caused him to lose them. It was a smart way to judge players for their actions in a streamlined and doable way, and it was, all things considered, a believable scene.
But on a deeper level, throughout the series, we made decisions about what kind of a man Lee was, and how Clementine would see him. Our choices may not have affected the story outcome or averted his death, but they certainly affected his life—they made him the character we got to know and care about. (Or, depending, dislike but maybe understand.) One could make the same argument about the Mass Effects and Dragon Ages of the world, but given that The Walking Dead was a character study as much as it was an adventure, the fact that our decisions affected Lee's character is more central to the game's meaning as a whole.
Game critic Sparky Clarkson has effectively encapsulated why player choice mattered in a post over at his blog awesomely titled "Your choices don't matter." Rather, the choices do matter, he says, but "they don't matter in the way that they appear to."
Lee's choices don't change the world, or alter the fundamental flow of the story. He can do nothing to keep the drugstore safe, preserve the motel stronghold, or prevent the treacheries in Savannah. If those are the kinds of choices that "matter", then Lee's decisions don't. But decisions that mattered in that way wouldn't really fit the themes of The Walking Dead. It's not a world where a man ultimately has any real power to save anyone.
But the choices in The Walking Dead aren't really about changing the world, they're about changing Lee. The player's choices define who Lee is, whose company he values, what principles he chooses to uphold. The world reacts to those decisions, in subtle ways that either reinforce those decisions (for instance, in the developing friendship with Kenny) or play off them (as in the case of Duck's fate). The player's choices matter because they establish a context for his emotional connection, through Lee, to the game world.
Clarkson calls out the moment that I thought was the cleverest in the entire series: At the very end, when Lee directs Clementine to fight off the trapped walker, get a gun, and handcuff him to the wall before he turns.
All at once, the video game hierarchy moves up a step. Lee becomes the player, and Clementine becomes his avatar. For a few short minutes, it's as though we're controlling Clem instead of Lee. And before we send her on her way, we make one final decision. This game, which has let us make so many choices about how Lee lived, allows us to choose how he'll die.
Right now, the Humble Bundle featuring THQ games has earned more than $2.3 million, with more 400,000 purchases. Hell, someone's even paid over a thousand dollars for the seven titles on offer. Wait a minute, that name seems familiar…
Jason Rubin is, of, course the
CEO of THQ. It stands to reason that he would put his money where his mouth is, since he thinks the company's games—and precipitous financials—are worth supporting. And he's probably got lots of disposable income to throw at the name-your-own-price handful of games. Rubin noted that his chunk of cash went entirely to charity:
That's good. Otherwise, it's just a weird sort of recycling.
Last night, Vice's sub-site Motherboard celebrated it's official relaunching the best way possible: by throwing a giant party, having Rza play and getting everyone drunk. Indie arcade-makers Babycastles were also there to bring their own brand of gaming weirdness along with the whole gang behind Sportsfriends.
I was in attendance and took some photos from the event. Highlight of the evening? Playing a version of the game J. S. Joust set to the song C.R.E.A.M.by the Wu-Tang Clan over the soundsystem of the Broad Street Ballroom.
While we've already brought you a detailed FAQ about the ChefVille Catering feature, we can now dive into much more detail with this new addition. The first Catering Order has finally rolled out in full to the game's millions of players, and it's called the Birthday Ball. You'll have just two days to finish its five tasks for a Gold Medal. The Birthday Ball requires you to do the following five things with five days available overall:
• Buy 20 Decorations
• Cook 40 Appetizers
• Serve 6 Focaccia
• Serve 25 Caprese Salad
• Serve 12 Grilled Steak Paninis
While these tasks would be difficult to complete on your own, you can add five friends to your "crew" in order to share progress with them. Essentially, if you're familiar with Catering Orders in Cafe World, they work almost identically here. The decorations can be something cheap or expensive, and the easiest way to finish this task is to purchase 20 pieces of floor tile for 1 coin each, only to delete them after you've earned the checkmark for that particular task, seen below.
As for the 40 appetizers, you can cook three dishes on your various cooking appliances until you reach 40 in total. Cook Veggie Kebabs, Bruschetta or the Short Rib Plate, with the Short Rib Plate available via the new Party Platter Station appliance.
The Party Platter Station requires four Silver Serving Trays, four Party Picks and four Dainty Doilies to complete, with the Silver Serving Trays being earned through individual requests sent to neighbors. The other two items can be earned by posting general requests on your news feed. Once it's built, the Short Rib Plate takes four Sirloin Beef and five Flour to cook. It takes 10 minutes to prepare. Even though this dish (and the others in the Party Platter Station) is required for the Birthday Ball Catering Order, it can be cooked before and after completing it, as it has its own trio of mastery stars up for grabs.
Finally, the Focaccia is cooked on the Brick Oven, while the Caprese Salad can be prepared on the Salad Station. The Grilled Steak Panini is prepared on the Grill. Some of these dishes have incredibly long cooking times, making your friends an important part of completing these orders with the Gold Medal. Make sure you add some of your most active neighbors to your crew to stand the best chance. If you can complete these tasks within the first two days, you'll receive two Rainbow Balloon Archways as a prize.
What do you think of this first Catering Order in ChefVille? Will you work on completing it for a Gold Medal, or are you skipping everything related to catering in the game? Sound off in the Games.com comments!
Republished with permission from:
Brandy Shaul is an editor at Games.com
Two sharp critics have both spent some time this week saying that Call of Duty: Black Ops II is good. Better than that, one of these chaps suggests that Black Ops II might be, PC notwithstanding, best on Wii U.
What in the world??
Black Ops II is a faithful port of the Xbox 360/PS3/PC version of the game, but the knocks on it are that a) it's technologically a wee bit inferior to those other versions and b) not many people are playing it online.
Yet here is the Penny Arcade Report's Ben Kuchera in an article entitled: Black Ops 2 on the Wii U: The good! (GamePad) The bad! (Framerate) The weird! (Where is everyone?)
Fans of the series have likely already purchased Black Ops 2 before the Wii U was released, however, and the amount of players online is shockingly low. As of this writing (which is admittedly 2 p.m. on a Tuesday) there are under 350 players on the servers.
The really good news is that most of them have been pretty easy to kill so far.
And, better, he's loving the fact that the game lets two co-op players use the TV and the Wii U GamePad controller's screens as their respective displays...
This isn't split-screen, it's something much better. Once both players get their own screen the game becomes much more enjoyable, and since both of you don't have to stare at the television you can stretch out and relax. It's an easy-going, very social way to play multiplayer games of Black Ops 2, and teaming up with a buddy in the same room allows you to mop up other players in multiplayer pretty efficiently.
This is sounding good, right? Kuchera dives deeper into some performance issues and some other perks. He's seeing pros and cons. But then we've got Jim Sterling over at Destructoid. His piece is called: Black Ops II Wii U: the preferred console experience?
WHAT? It has worse framerates. It's not up to snuff graphically. How could this be, Jim Sterling? Or is that question mark at the headline the giveaway that he doesn't really prefer it? Here's an excerpt:
I may now consider the Wii U my go-to console for future FPS games ... that I'm not playing on PC.
My god. You should read that piece. Here's a little bit more:
the GamePad is shockingly enjoyable to use for first-person shooting. The control scheme is at first a little confusing, since the face buttons have all been mapped to commands different from the Xbox 360 controller. Once that hump's been gotten over, however, I have to say I don't think I've enjoyed a console FPS this much in a long time. The large surface area of the Pad makes long-running online sessions comfortable, while the analog stick and trigger placement is almost perfect for the genre. After my initial fears of the GamePad's viability, I am more than pleased.
Were you thinking that Black Ops II's Wii U servers were half-empty? Nay. These guys might argue that they are half-full. They're making a good case. If there are fewer players online, there are fewer jerks. There are fewer people who are playing so obsessively that you can't compete with them. The mortal gamer has a shot on a low-population Black Ops II Wii U server. They have a chance to actually get good at this game. Maybe this should be the version for me, too.
Black Ops II Wii U: the preferred console experience? [Destructoid]