BioShock™

The Video Game Posters For That Tiny Cinema You Never Go ToGet a load of these posters. They're game posters done up to look like movie posters, but not the boring kind, the kind you see for a quaint little art house cinema that only shows a movie once.


So they're not cold, stark images. They're a little kooky, a little old-fashioned, full of quirks and detail and colour. And there's not an airbrushed actor or "SUMMER 2011" in sight.


They're by Ron Guyatt.


The Video Game Posters For That Tiny Cinema You Never Go To
The Video Game Posters For That Tiny Cinema You Never Go To


BioShock™

marcus feniy fighting a big brumak in gears of warFreelance artist and game designer Anjin Anhut shares some thoughts (and neat comparison charts) on what size means for video game's creatures great and small .


Feeling And Understanding


While "make it big" seems to be the obvious approach, there is more to consider and to achieve by structuring the sizes of protagonists, enemies, items and environmental elements in a clever way. The basic conventional concept of size representing power can be an awesome tool to help players instinctively understand a game situation and also trigger the desired emotional reaction. Let's check out some ways how this is achieved.


The conventional idea of bigger=stronger is not manmade, it is based in nature. A common defense mechanism for many animals is to appear bigger. Some four-legged animals stand up and birds spread their feathers to provide a bigger silhouette and hopefully appear to be too dangerous to attack for their opponents and predators. Also large horns, antlers, tusks, manes or overall physique often help establish the status of the dominate male in herds, packs and animal families.


Man comes into play when tackling the idea from the physics side and cultural side. From a physics perspective, it is roughly understandable that large objects easily move small objects, but not vice versa. You know, like your body can easily be crushed by a tank. But the tank can't be crushed by your body. (I would like to see the Myth Busters disprove that one.) Anyway, culturally the analogy of size and strength is commonly used in narration and language. For example: "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?", which basically means "why don't you pick on someone as strong as yourself?".


super mario fighting a goomba on the NESStacking Doll Food Chain


To start with the simplest and clearest form of the idea, let's have a look at stacking dolls. Using the engulfing/swallowing as representation for all sorts of dominance, it helps to illustrate a simple concept. Whatever is bigger than me, is superior in strength, power to me. Everything smaller is inferior in those regards. One could also extract that idea from the principle of food chains, where it is usually the bigger animal eating the smaller one. But there are so many exceptions to the principle there, that I rather came up with the very consistent stacking dolls analogy.


The stacking doll model takes nothing into account, except size itself. No weapons, no superpowers or other factors. Some factors, we will explore later.


stacking dolls to illustrate a game design ideaOrganize By Size


The stacking doll analogy can be applied in various forms to various games. Structuring entities by size to help the player instinctively understand strength relations is quite effective and already used well. In professional chess several conventions assign relative values to the pieces regarding their offensive qualities on the board. This represents the strength of the pieces in the imaginary combat situation depicted in a round of chess. Various sources assign values like this: pawn=1/knight=3/bishop=3/rook=5/queen=9 (king not included, since he is not mend to join the battle). This hierarchy is roughly represented by the size relations of traditional chess pieces.


In Gears of War 1+2 it becomes also quite obvious that relative size is used to hint at relative offensive power or level of threat. While most enemy creatures actual offensive power is determined by the weapon they are carrying, the physical appearance of the enemy is always matched. Except boss-like enemies, unarmed creatures are smaller than the Gears (human soldiers). Enemies with equal weapons to the Gears (sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles) are human-sized. Slightly more powerful weapons and special abilities (Torque-Bow, summoning Tickers) are used by enemies either slightly bigger than Gears (Kantors) or by enemies with the same size, that wear big hats to appear bigger (Theron Guards). The really heavy weapons are held by so called Boomers, which are big in size and have a massive physical appearance.


Please note that the difference in size of all those enemy creatures is not a logical consequence of the weight or usability of the weapons they are handling. Making the physique and weapon power of the Locusts match in size is just a visual cue for the player. Gears can pick up and use all of the weapons described above and do not need to vary in size to do so.


locusts from gears of war, grubs, kantors, brumak, corpser, ticker, wretches and boomerHuge Threat


So, keeping the stacking dolls in mind, let's have a look at how the player characters from Bioshock 1 and 2 are ranking amongst the other characters and creatures from the respective games. Please note, that the mannequin is just a stand-in for the faceless protagonist from Bioshock 1. We can clearly see, that in both line-ups, the Little Sisters are way smaller than the player characters, which perfectly suits the concept of them being at the player's mercy. Also in Bioshock 1 the enemy creatures are either the same size or noticeably bigger than the player character, successfully providing a sense of threat.


In Bioshock 2, the player is the biggest stacking doll, with maybe only the Brute Splicer or other Big Daddies equal in size. This made me feel very safe and comfortable while fighting the regular Splicers. Even the Big Sister was very spooky but did not appear to be equally matched with my powers. If we just take the stacking doll principle into account, the player in Bioshock 2 had very little to actually fear, while in Bioshock 1 he was under the constant threat of being swallowed by bigger matryoshkas.


Maybe this issue is more tricky, than some game developers treat it.


little sisters, splicers and big daddys from bioshock


little sisters, splicers and big daddys from bioshock2Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee


There is something weird happening, when the difference in size passes a certain threshold. The payoff is satisfying. Taking down a titan as big as a house is quite an accomplishment. But the fight itself can feel less physically tense and dangerous, than fighting enemies, closer to the protagonist's height. Simply put, when the enemy is too big, he can become less frightening and the player character suddenly becomes the palpable threat.


I think, this impression is caused by several factors. One is the depiction of physical pain. Instant death is always looming, but normally there is little pain involved for the player. When the protagonists looses against the giant, he is getting completely crushed, swallowed whole or ripped to shreds. Total instant destruction. The giant enemy, whenever critically hit, gets hurt pretty bad and it takes multiple painfully articulated hits to finally end him. The protagonist mutilates hands, rips out eyes, cuts of tounges and the giant enemy creature dies a slow painful death.


Then there is giant enemies becoming so big, that they are treated as part of the environment. Fighting giants often feels like and is structured like a sequence of avoiding environmental hazards. All strategic elements of armed and hand-to-hand combat gameplay usually don't apply to taking down titans. There is no blocking, no quick kills, no juggling, no counter attacks, no splatting head shots. Climbing on titan creatures or crawling around in their innards, circling them on horseback and systematically damaging their weak spots often is more akin to toppling a tower, derailing a train or wrecking a building than to fighting.


Lastly, to return to the narrative perspective, the giant enemy creatures are often engaged by the protagonist in games. The giants are either hunted or are placed as bosses of their own realm. The player character usually moves thru an area to reach the giant, not the other way around. This also enhances the feeling of the insect-sized protagonist being the offensive force.


shadow of the collossus, gears of war's riftworm and the colossus of rhodos from god of warSupersized


Size can also be used as a multiplier for emotional effects. In horror literature and films supersizing things and creatures has a long tradition. Think of King Kong, Tarantula, the US version of Godzilla, Attack Of The 50ft Woman. But the multiplier also works on a smaller scale. We do not need the sense of being physically overpowered here. Know somebody who shudders at the sight of spiders? Have ever seen a camel spider or seen what it's bite can do? Use supersizing to multiply the dread and fear small terrors give us.


On the other hand, making things supersized can also result in big comedic effects, when funny and harmless things get blown out of proportion.


images of spiders to illustrate a game design idea


the cow from earthworm jim and the giant cow from black and whiteSize Matters


Now let's have a look at dead things. Props, weapons, armor, tools. I already mentioned large horns, antlers and so forth visually establishing the status of being strong. This can be directly translated into the size of manmade tools and weapons. Where it gets interesting, when you consider weapons and tools as extensions of your body. This concept is already extensively explored by various writers (for example Steve Swink – Game Feel or Scott McCloud – Understanding Comics) and especially powerful in video games, where the tools we pick up in a game actually allow us to interact. The power of the weapon or tool is projected onto the character by making the weapon or tool an extension of the characters physique.


This concept allows us to give great physical strength to a skinny boy, have a baby be a heavy force in hand-to-hand combat or apply the destructive power of a tank to a single person.


cloud strife from final fantasy, baby head from captain commando, vulcan raven from metal gear solidConclusion


I know my observations are incomplete and subject to discussion and there is so much more to explore. There is a lot of depth to the ways size and size relations can work for gameplay, narration or emotionally. And I always enjoy, when I recognize game developers tackled this issue with consideration and concept.


You can read more of Anhut's stuff (including this piece) over on his personal website, How Not To Suck At Game Design.


BioShock™

World Of Warcraft's Shocking Large Daddy Needs Your Help In a remote Horde outpost in the Stonetalon Mountains of the newly-restructured World of Warcraft, a young Blood Elf girl named Clarissa begs passers-by to help bring her pal Mr. D back to life. Sound familiar?


Players that participated in the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm beta and those players that have ventured into the Stonetalon Mountains since last week's world-shattering patch might have already run into Clarissa and her friend, a sizable Goblin mech called Large Daddy. There's also an Alliance version of the quest line that starts with a young girl named Alice, but no one plays Alliance so that hardly matters.


Kotaku reader Travis pointed us in their direction, so I dusted off an old level 24 shaman alt of mine and did a little exploring, nearly getting killed in the process.

The quest wasn't open to me, which is probably for the best, considering my shaman had a respec waiting and hadn't repurchased any skills. In layman's terms, I was pretty gimped.


Interested in finding them for yourself? Just check out the quest Dream of a Better Tomorrow, or Just Ask Alice if you're Alliance and have somehow figured out how to read. You'll score Mr. Bubble's Shockingly Delicious Ice Cream for your trouble, and learn a little something about friendship in the process.


Kotaku

My Perfect Imperfect Video Game HeroineMy acting teacher taught me a variety of things, such as how to cry on command and sound really excited about floor wax.


But more importantly, she taught me that the hardest roles of my career wouldn't involve emotional death scenes, historical research, or any kind of physical and emotional transformation.


The hardest roles would be playing the attractive, heroic leading lady.


Not because the scenes are demanding in the least. In fact, they're usually some of the easiest: Smile, look pretty. Shoot gun, look pretty. Play hard to get, look pretty. Pouty-lipped reaction shot. Repeat.


My acting coach meant that it's easy to fall into the trap of just going through the motions as the ‘pretty girl.' I mean, who cares about my character's subtext (the emotion underneath the words) as long as I had a low-cut shirt, flat abs, and body oil, right? True – and there's nothing wrong with sex appeal – but it's the job of real actors to take something superficial and give it depth.


This same concept applies to video game heroines.


In the original Tomb Raiders, Lara Croft needed nothing more than D-cups and 9-millimeters to satisfy her demographic. But now that the bar of characterization has been raised, what makes a good heroine?


Personally, I compare it to what I've learned in acting: Leading ladies have to be tough, but accessible. Beautiful, with a vulnerable, ugly side. A strong woman and a scared little girl at the same time. Not to mention outfits and overall style need to make sense. And what about throwing some humor in there? A sense of humor makes her relatable. In other words, female protagonists should be well rounded… and not just in the physical sense.


These high standards of mine are the reason I still don't have a favorite video game heroine. The funniest thing, however, is that each of my requirements have been met – only with different characters.


So, I'm breaking all the rules, throwing on my mad scientist goggles, and splicing together some Frankenstein monsters, to see if I can create my perfect female lead.


Monster #1 – The Witty, Complex Beauty

Elena Fisher's humor (Uncharted series) + Lara Croft's style & weapons (Tomb Raider series) + Bonnie MacFarlane's emotional strength (Red Dead Redemption)


My Perfect Imperfect Video Game Heroine


No firearm compares to Nathan Drake's arsenal of one-liners, and while he's not the first wisecracking hero, he's one of the first to have a sarcastic female counterpart who can shoot the jokes right back. Elena's sense of humor could very well be the most lovable thing about her. Combine that charming personality with Lara Croft's short-shorts and pistols, and – well, talk about a firecracker!


You can't deny that Lara Croft's body is as classic to video games as Mario's red hat. I loved her style in Tomb Raider: Underworld, and frankly, I'd wear the same thing if I were chimney jumping like a spider monkey in a hot, sticky jungle. To top off a beauty like Lara with the quick wit of Elena, I'd add Bonnie MacFarlane's full range of emotions.


Bonnie is a real, relatable woman in a man's world. We see her as a protective landowner and a respectful daughter. We watch her take a liking to John Marston, which turns into a silent love, and eventually… we see her realize that love can never develop, as she kicks the dirt like a sad little girl.


While Elena's humor and Lara's style are good first steps toward creating a dynamic heroine, it's really the imperfections and heart of Bonnie that round out this Frankenstein monster.


Monster #2 – The Hot, Parkouring Zombie Assassin

Zoey's relatability (Left4Dead) + Faith Connors' acrobatics (Mirror's Edge) + Rubi Malone's fashion (Wet)


My Perfect Imperfect Video Game Heroine


The Zompocalypse is going to happen. We've all accepted it.


While we know virtually nothing about Zoey from Left4Dead, gamers are obsessed with her. I realized it's because she is one of the most relatable female characters around. She's extremely normal – a girl you could easily run into on the street. I guarantee if the outbreak happened tomorrow, I would be Zoey personified… but I'd wish I had the skills of Faith Connors.


Imagine being a survivor among zombies with the ability to parkour. Talk about a game-changer! Faith's unique, real-life free-running ability given to a sharpshooter like Zoey produces a character that's only missing one thing: some sexy style.


Wet wasn't exactly Game of the Year, but its star, Rubi Malone, knows how to dress. Her style is practical, sexy, and gives off a "Don't screw with me" vibe. Why do I think my down-to-earth, Apocalypse-surviving heroine needs more than just jeans and a hoodie? It's the classic saying, "Look good, feel good," because hell, if I looked like Rubi at the end of humanity, my ass-kicking ego would be bigger than a free Lady Gaga concert.


Monster #3 – The Loyal, Independent Phasewalker… with a Sword

Lilith's Phasewalk (Borderlands) + Alyx Vance's complexity and independence (Half-Life series) + Lightning's gunblade (Final Fantasy XIII)


My Perfect Imperfect Video Game Heroine


Video games are fictional, and the best thing about fiction is that you can give characters unrealistic features, such as incredible super powers. Lilith's Phasewalk in Borderlands allows her to turn invisible and slip out of danger, then reappear in the center of the battle with a shockwave of pain. Yet, this amazing power is given to a character that's hard to get close to. Imagine this power given to a strong, sassy, beautifully complex character like Alyx Vance.


Alyx, more than Gordon Freeman, is the face of Half-Life 2, giving us a real human with which to connect as we control a voiceless hero. Maybe I'm just a sucker for that wink of hers, but Alyx's personality is a breath of fresh air in the video game land of superficial beauties.


Lilith and Alyx? They're all about guns. So, we'll stick with what they're familiar with and throw in a sword. The Gunblades from Final Fantasy are undeniably cool, and the one wielded by Lightning is probably the most gorgeous of all. Lightning's weapon, Alyx's depth, Lilith's powers – yeah, I'd play that game.


There is an obvious shortage of multifaceted female protagonists. Even in Game Informer's "30 Characters Who Defined a Decade," only six were women. In our male-dominated world of games, I'd love to see more female heroes that break the shallow mold and show us their gritty, even ugly side. And hey, a few more funny girls wouldn't hurt, either.


So, those are my creations – what are yours?


Lisa Foiles is best known as the former star of Nickelodeon's award-winning comedy show, All That. She currently works as a graphic designer and writes for her game site, Save Point. For more info, visit Lisa's official website.


Kotaku

That's Mikey Neumann, writer on Gearbox's megahit Borderlands, smashing up living room furniture for the debut episode of "Anthony Saves The World." His mom did not actually give him that table. It's from IKEA - it's got cardboard in it.


But they are in fact filming in Mikey's home. "Anthony" is Anthony Burch, another Gearbox writer. And the episode's director of photography is Brian Thomas, Gearbox's cinematic director. The music, also, is done by Danny Baranowsky, who composed the soundtrack for Super Meat Boy.


Mikey promises more episodes are coming, so be sure to check back at his YouTube page.


BioShock™

BioShock Creators Won't Let PS3 Lag For BioShock InfinitePlayStation 3 owners may still feel the sting of the original BioShock being an Xbox 360 "exclusive," then eventually getting a port of the game from another developer a year later. Don't expect similar treatment for BioShock Infinite.


Irrational Games' technical director Chris Kline took to the developer's forums this week to address concerns that PS3 owners might get less than first-class treatment for Infinite, explaining the team's approach.


"We're serious about making sure the PS3 version is great," Kline writes, noting that Irrational is "doing simultaneous in-house development on the PS3, 360, and PC versions of the game," which is expected in 2012.


"So instead of declaring a 'lead platform' and porting the game to the others, we've instead changed the game engine so that all platforms look (to a programmer) more like a PS3," Kline explains, touching on the unique architecture of Sony's home console. "Writing code this way is more difficult for us, but has a key advantage: it's both optimal for the PS3 *and* gives speed improvements on other platforms."


So, yeah, win-win.


For much more technical nitty-gritty from Kline, make sure to read the full post at the Irrational Games forums.


Please tell me your new game will be on PS3 [Irrational]


Kotaku

Borderlands Extends Its Boundaries To The MacGaming on the Mac improves later this year when Gearbox Software's shoot 'n' loot hit Borderlands comes to Apple computers courtesy of publisher Feral Interactive, shipping complete with everything a Vault hunter would need.


This is the "Game of the Year Edition" of Borderlands, which includes add-ons The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Mad Moxxiʼs Underdome Riot, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, and Claptrapʼs New Robot Revolution. All that Borderlands will be available to Mac OS X gamers on December 3, thanks to Feral, which will charge you US$49.95 if you're in the U.S., £34.95 in the UK and €39.95 in the rest of Europe. Borderlands for Mac is available for pre-order from the publisher right now.


Welcome to the club, Mac people.


Borderlands [Feral Interactive]


Kotaku

Gearbox's shoot-n-loot action game Borderlands has just been updated on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, delivering a level cap-raising patch for all players. Have fun getting to 69, kids! [Gearbox Forums]


Kotaku

Borderlands' Big Level Up Update ExplainedGearbox Software's promised patch for its smash-hit action RPG Borderlands is coming, raising the level cap for everyone in the pursuit of better loot and harder bosses. When's it coming? Soon. Soonish. Maybe.


An official post on the Gearbox forums says the free title update for Borderlands is finished on the dev side. They just need to get the thing reviewed by the right people and fully "green lit across the board."


"We expect that last light to turn green within a couple of weeks, possibly sooner," writes Gearbox marketing guy Adam Fletcher. Fletcher also explains how the level cap boost will affect all Borderlands players, whether they own expansions like The Secret Armory of General Knoxx or not.


Here's the official breakdown.


  • Level cap increase for all players of 8 levels. That means that all Borderlands players will now be able to achieve a new maximum level of 58.
  • Owners of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx can achieve a record setting increase to a maximum level of 69.
  • End game players that have completed playthrough 2 will see enemies scale to the new levels up to the new level cap. That means that if you've completed everything, you can play through the game again and again at a challenging level in order to find better and better loot.
  • Item drops (with the exception of COM Decks) will also scale with higher level enemies to the new level cap. That means that this Title Update features the highest level weapons to date!
  • Other fixes, including DLC4 Achievement/Trophy glitches that have affected some users and will be corrected to properly award players for obtaining these achievements no matter which order they were completed in.

An update on Title Update 1.41 [Gearbox Software Community]


BioShock™

Microsoft: We Are Doubling Down on PC Games Exactly a year after rolling out Windows 7 with much fanfare, Microsoft seems to be finally remembering the gamers who help make their platform so popular.


The Oct. 22, 2009 launch of Windows 7 happened with almost no reference to gaming, or the people who use the system so prevalently to game.


It was a massive shift in tone from 2006, when then Microsoft Vice President Peter Moore apologized for what he called a dereliction of duty to the company's number one gaming platform: The PC.


While Vista's 2006 launch was touted as a renaissance for Windows gaming, three years later Microsoft seemed to have once more forgotten about their other gaming platform.


Last week, though, the company unveiled their plans for a bigger, better online store for selling computer games digitally. Peter Orullian, group product manager for Windows PC and Mobile, told Kotaku that the idea is to "bring some of the rigor thought and success we've had on console to bare in the PC space."


"PC games," he said. "is a place where we are doubling down."


For now "doubling down" on PC gaming means relaunching their web-based Games for Windows Marketplace next month with about 100 titles for sale.


While it's nice to see Microsoft paying attention again to the PC as a gaming platform, I asked Orullian why Microsoft is spending time fixing a program that already has several very successful third-party solutions. Why reinvent the wheel, I asked, mentioning Valve's tremendously popular Steam service which currently has more than 1,200 games for sale.


"We have a different vision that runs parallel to what (Steam) is doing," Orullian said.


This is just the start of Microsoft's latest PC gaming push, he said. As the company builds up their store, they will also be tapping into the massive community they've built with the Xbox 360.


Could that mean that gamers will see a second attempt at cross-platform gaming between the PC and the Xbox 360?


"We have a healthy list of features we're going to start bringing out once the store launches," Orullian said.


One obvious place where Microsoft's new Games For Windows store may have the upper hand on Steam is how it handles digital rights management.


Where Steam uses a single proprietary system, Games for Windows will have a much more flexible approach.


The Marketplace will work with nearly all forms of digital rights management, Microsoft told Kotaku. Instead it will allow publishers to submit a pre-protected or unprotected build of their game with their choice of DRM. Microsoft will then distribute the builds on the Marketplace along with the appropriate activation keys.


While Microsoft's renewed interest in Windows gaming is surely tied to the chance to create a foothold in the digital game sales space, this year's tremendous line-up of computer games also probably helped.


Over the past ten months we've seen the release of a new StarCraft, a new Civilization, a new Total War and computer versions of massive hits like Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2 and Dragon Age: Origins.


With only two months of the year left, we can also look forward to the coming of the Cataclysm expansion to massively popular, massively multiplayer game World of Warcraft.


Despite the popularity of Playstation 3s, Xbox 360s, Wiis and iPhones, computer gaming isn't just still around, it's making a resurgence.


Well Played is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.


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