On the 28th April 2013, yours truly paid for an apple tree on mobile game, The Simpsons: Tapped Out. As soon as this transaction was concluded, a feeling of regret emerged similar to that moment when you realise buying several batches of Lynx: Africa doesn’t actually produce some strange pheromone, whereby you’re inundated with bikini-clad beauties. In fact, were I not in a Starbucks at that moment, I may have indeed stood up and exclaimed with much gusto something like “bloody hell” or “balls”. You see, against my quite cynical nature I had embraced the idea of downloading a free game, only to be duped quite unceremoniously by the snake-like antics of these companies using “freemium” models, trapping their consumers into the mindset of paying to progress.
It’s akin to being given free cocaine or heroin with the promise that it’s not harmful or debilitating, then once you’re hooked being offered up an even more delicious and delectable grade of the drug for a minor fee. This, of course, builds and builds, progressing to a situation one can only describe as addiction. It’s a horrific business model, one that guarantees financial viability for the companies and assures financial instability for the consumer.
[Part One is here, if you're not keeping up]
You finally make it back to camp, outrunning whatever foul creature was causing that awful racket. Sitting down near your tent, you become increasingly aware of the unpleasant odour emanating from your backpack. The datapad you rescued from a pile of monster faeces is nestled between your survival kit and some other “important” junk.
Safe again, with food cooking slowly over the fire, you decide to turn the device on once more. The last entry you read was not a hopeful one; in fact, it was decidedly bleak, and knowing where the datapad ended up, you don’t hold out much hope for the author’s ability to turn his situation around.
Browsing the tubes of the internet in the wee hours of the morning, I came across something rather intriguing: Tangiers. Described by developer Andalusian as a surrealist stealth game, my interest was immediately piqued. The trailer — which you can find below — is quietly disturbing and alien, and it has done far more to sell me on the title than hours of exposition.
The likes of surrealist painter Man Ray, industrial music founders Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, and novelists William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard are noted as inspirations for the game; it explores the abstract realm of 20th Century avant-garde art. It’s bizarre and experimental, and I’m extremely eager to dive in when it launches next year.
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
With audacious style and almost impossible fluidity, Geralt of Rivia, Witcher and monster slayer took out his silver sword, looked straight into the eyes of the wolf and stroke it down in one fell swoop. He scavenged the corpse, skinned the beast and walked on, leaving the pink, sinewy body behind.
I’ve experienced many games recently that have brought about the tendency to examine what constitutes the monster in a game. Video gaming, as a medium, usually presents its characters in an effective black and white cloak; you are the hero, he, she, or it is the villain. You are normally tasked with fighting on the side of men, helping the good triumph over the evil by slaughtering tens upon tens, hundreds upon hundreds, even thousands upon thousands of enemies in the ever increasingly glorious quest to kill relentlessly.
Now, admittedly, the process is understandable in certain scenarios. Halo’s John-117, for example, isn’t going to back away from destroying weaker enemies because he has to consider the psychological ramifications (although it would be nice for him to consider that which he shoots), but other games, particularly those involving RPG and open world elements, provide situations where you hack, slash and stab your way through slimy, smelly, misunderstood creatures simply to please some fat cat back in the local town who wants the meat of a creature to provide the nobles with local delicacies. The Witcher is an excellent case in point. An incredibly deep, well-thought out, occasionally politically inclined RPG that features a main character who’s function in society is to kill miscreants. He scythes through these abominations without remorse, manufacturing coin through their demise and yet he’s not the one we consider a monster.
Remember when EA leaped into bed with Nintendo with the vigour and enthusiasm of a person who hasn’t bumped uglies in several months? “An unprecedented partnership” was what was promised by former CEO, now full time warlock, John Riccitiello back at E3 2011 in regards to the Wii U. He gushed about the sweet, tender magic the two companies would be making between the bed sheets, and everybody was suitably excited by the prospect of all the sports and ports they’d be adding the platform.
Fast forward to launch, and EA delivered a reasonably strong starting line up for the console, all ports, but it’s the most action the Wii U has ever seen. There was Mass Effect 3, Madden, and Fifa to name a few, and though they were all months behind the launches of those titles on other platforms, at least they gave early adopters something to throw money at.
EA is a fickle lover, however, and after it shot its load last year, it’s decided that it’s had enough of the Wii U. Speaking with notorious gamer food critics, Kotaku, Jeff Brown revealed the company’s plans for the Wii U. “We have no games in development for the Wii U currently.”
In a move that should calm some of the intense distrust and heartache coming from fans of their series’, Capcom has announced that Ace Attorney 5 — now known as Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies — will be heading to the west for the Nintendo 3DS. In another move which may rekindle those same ill feelings, Capcom also announced that it will only be released as a digital download on Nintendo’s eShop. A price point hasn’t been revealed yet, and the game is set to come out in fall 2013.
Capcom’s Christian Svensson explained in a post on Capcom Unity why a physical release wasn’t possible: “Historically it’s been tough to attract long term retail support for Ace Attorney titles. With the release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies we wanted as many people as possible to be able to enjoy the game for as long as possible. With that in mind we have opted for a digital only release via the Nintendo 3DS eShop. I understand that this decision may upset fans who wanted to have a physical version of the title to add to their collection but we believe this direction is the best to take. We will be confirming details on the price point in the not-so-distant future which I hope will also shed more light on the strategy at play here.”
Despite all their missteps in the past, including the atrocious handling of Street Fighter x Tekken‘s on-disc DLC, Resident Evil 6 managing to sell 5 million copies and still somehow become a failure, and pretty much everything related to Mega Man, this might actually be the best course of action for the Ace Attorney series.
If you are an aspiring game developer, and have dreamt of being taught by industry luminaries, the University of Texas at Austin and Warren Spector are about to team up to give you the opportunity you have been waiting for.
In the Fall of 2014 UT Austin will open the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy – a twelve month postgraduate program which, according to their press-release, is designed to “focus on building the skills required for students to lead teams and develop games from concept to completion, while growing talent for the gaming industry.” While UT Austin already offers an undergraduate game development program, this new initiative is specifically meant to train candidates for upper echelon roles within the industry, such as Creative Director or Producer. Graduates of the program will be issued a post-baccalaureate certificate, which is described as having “fewer restrictions than a traditional degree.”
Industry icon Warren Spector (Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima) will serve as co-chairman of the academy’s advisory board, alongside Blizzard COO Paul Sams. Both men will act as part-time professors at the academy, as well. Austin, along with the state of Texas itself, is a hotbed of game development, hosting offices for such development houses as Activision Blizzard, Arkane Studios, and BioWare, just to name a few. Given how much time remains before the academy is slated to open, it is very possible that we may see several more big names from the industry hop onboard in order to share their expertise with the next generation of game designers.
It all started with a horse.
More specifically, horse armor — perhaps the first shot fired in the ongoing battle of Consumer and Developer, the great DLC war of this generation. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s “Horse Armor Pack”, released on the fateful day of April 3, 2006, was one of the earliest DLC packs of this generation. For a hefty 200 Microsoft Points, you could outfit your steed in a suit of armor, coming in two stylish flavors: Elven and Steel. Little did we know, gaming would never be the same.
Despite the appeal of that new horse-armor smell, the response from gamers was less than enthusiastic. Fans, consumers, and media outlets alike criticized the DLC for offering no apparent value, despite the cost. The horse armor didn’t do much for your horse or your character, other than slightly increasing the health of the horse; it was, more or less, a vanity item. Gamers expecting an elaborate quest or a lengthy crafting process to create the armor were left sorely disappointed, you simply plunked down the Microsoft Points, talked to an NPC, and received your item. DLC as we know it was just getting its legs, but this was a shaky start.
To say Dark Souls is a cruel game is to do its design a disservice. The atmosphere is agonizingly tense, and there’s this bizarre synthesis of dread and exhilaration knowing that each step in the world moves you through and ever-deepening gloom. It’s an RPG that contains elements of survival horror demanding that you make use very limited resources in a world where you’re over-matched. It’s a game in which death is not so much a punishment as it is a learning tool, a digital koan to meditate on to better prepare yourself for trials ahead. A deft player can fight his/her way through almost any real challenge because the combat, however difficult, is rarely (if at all) unfair. It’s an exceptional masterpiece.
It also scares me—I mean genuinely scares me so much that at one point I had to re-think the time I spent with it. There’s something at the heart of that game that I find more than unsettling. Dark Souls operates outside the bounds of our average concept of video game horror that reaches a level on par with some of the deepest existential terrors glimpsed through Cormac McCarthy’s elegiac nihilism and H. P. Lovecraft’s mythic cycles. Deep in the recesses of that digital world, something stirs…and waits.
Metro 2033 was an unpolished gem; a journey through claustrophobic tunnels punctuated by bleak forays into Moscow’s post-apocalyptic surface. For all its bugs and questionable optimisation, it stood out with its punishing difficulty and novel mechanics, and it existed as an interesting companion to Dmitry Glukhovsky’s book of the same name.
With Metro: Last Light, 4A Games has addressed many of the concerns and criticisms over the first game, crafting a polished title that stands alone, having nothing whatsoever to do with Glukhovsky’s sequel, Metro 2034. It’s a confident piece of digital fiction, creating a believable world out of the Russian capital’s underground, and it is undoubtedly an impressive first-person shooter.
Amid the improvements and increased ambition, Last Light is a very different experience from its predecessor, however. It has more mass market appeal, and unrelenting horror and tension is now a little less less common — though certainly still present — than explosive fire fights and over-the-top action. It’s a less subtle and nuanced journey, becoming more bombastic and epic.
It’s different, and to some this will be disappointing. I am not one of those people.