Console Games

Kinect Star Wars Suggestions

Kinect Star Wars was just released for the XBox360, and has drawn quite a bit of attention.  Not all of it was good, as there was quite a bit of negative buzz yesterday for the Han Solo ‘dance party’ song “I’m Han Solo”.  Complete with dancing Han rising up out of the carbonite chamber.  A certain portion of gamers showed a bit of interest in slave bikini Leia dancing, however.  There are other mini-games as well as the full game with a story.  However, I think they’ve missed out on some great ideas for additional content here.  With that in mind, here are my suggestions for Kinect Star Wars 2:

  • Lando’s Mining Empire – If you’ve played any of the huge number of business management games, you know what this is about.  Help Lando by mining Tibanna gas and other minerals, placing them in the refinery, and then delivering them to your customers.  But watch out!  Darth Vader might alter your deal at any time!  Pray he doesn’t alter it any further!
  • Jar-Jar’s Hip-Hop Pose-off – Everyone’s favorite Gungan is here to challenge you to a pose-off!  Bet you didn’t know Gungans invented hip-hop music in a galaxy far, far away!  Match his movements, or he will somehow trip over his own ears and kill an entire regiment of troops.  Not at ALL racially insensitive!
  • Slice the Sith – Sith Lords jump at you – cut them up!  But watch out for Palpatine, he’ll fry you with Force lightning!  I hope your father can save you.  Sure would be nice if your astromech droid had warned you that could happen.
  • Droid Jet Jump – Speaking of Artoo, fly him through several side-scrolling adventures, where it becomes clear how much easier things would’ve been if only the droid remembered he could fly throughout the original trilogy.
  • It’s a Trap! – Uh-oh!  That things operational!  Better help Admiral Ackbar guide his Star Cruisers in close to the Imperial Fleet, but dodge the traps!  Sure could use an eight year old blundering his way through the entire enemy fleet and defeating them by accident.  Haha, that never happens though!

I’m just going to sit over here and wait for Lucasarts to contact me.  I’m a born game developer!

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Trying Again – Mass Effect 2

I’ve had my troubles getting into the original Mass Effect, most specifically the inventory management interface being sucktactular, among other things.  I read about the differences (which many didn’t like) between ME1 and ME2, and I decided these differences might actually make this a better game for me.  So, I’m starting with Mass Effect 2.  I played for a few hours yesterday, and it seems to be rolling along for me better than ME1.

I went with the default redhead FemShep, and I’m sure I’ll be maxing Paragon out as I’m pretty typically a good guy.  Now excuse me while Shepard and Chambers have sexy time.

Seriously, how could Chambers resist?
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Dragon Age 3 Speculation, Part 1

So Dragon Age 3 is happening, while future content for DA2 is shelved.  Bioware is looking for feedback on the future of the Dragon Age franchise, and the first thing I thought of is, where can the story go?  There are a ton of plot hooks out there, and any number of them could make up a worthy Dragon Age game.  Here are the ones I can think of:

  • The Warden and Morrigan – Morrigan leaves with the child that may or may not have the soul of one of the Tevinter’s old Gods.
  • Corypheus – Speaking of, it’s strongly hinted that he has possessed the body of whichever Warden party was still alive after Legacy.
  • Qunari – Especially this, in light of their importance in Act 2 of DA2 and Mark of the Assassin.  They have spies everywhere, and nobody really KNOWS what they want.
  • Mages VS Templar smackdown – I like this one, as it can involve folks like Wynne again, perhaps as leader of an ‘anti-resistance’ of mages that just want to get things back the way they were, and don’t want to resort to blood magic.
  • Flemeth – Still around and causing trouble, implied to be even more powerful than we’ve seen.  How do you kill something that seems to just pop right back up again?
  • Dalish Elves – A wild card in all this.  Could try to establish yet another homeland, though this might not be ‘epic’ enough to drive forward a whole game.  Maybe DLC or expansion material.
  • Tevinter Madness – We’ve so far only seen bits of these crazy mages so far, with Fenris and such.  Lots of evil possibilities here.
  • Something Else – Thedas is massive, and the little corner we’ve seen only scratches the surface.  Many all-new adventures could happen, and might make sense since there is unconfirmed (to me at least) talk that our save games won’t be imported into the next game.

I’m sure I’m missing an obvious future plot hook, so if you know one, comment it up.  I’ll add it to the post.  What would you like to see, plot-wise?  I’ll look at game mechanics in a later post.

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Vintage Gaming – Oni

Beat ’em up games have a long history, whether in the arcade or on your various console systems.  From Renegade to Double Dragon to River City Ransom, this style of game was a fun diversion from my RPG and Sim game-filled life at the time.  You might consider Oni a logical extension from those games.  Made by Bungie, Oni is a third-person perspective beat ’em up based in a near-future dystopia, with character design heavily influenced by Anime.

The story has Konoko, working for what amounts to Big Brotherish police force finding out she’s been lied to/finds corruption, and goes on to fight it.  Or something, I’m a little hazy because all I cared about was beating the shit out of dudes with the melee fighting system.  There are weapons, but you can only carry one, and if you run out of ammo, they’re no good.  But I didn’t buy Oni to use the weapons, I wanted to fight hand to hand.  That system was fun, with combos and special moves.  It would flash a different color based on how impactful the move was, or if it was blocked, and felt very fluid if your old machine could handle it.

On the negative side, I know many people were dismayed at how few and far between the save points were.  The devs also overpromised and underdelivered a bit, as people were expecting LAN multiplayer and a giant mech (based on one of the trailers).  Still, I had a blast punching, kicking and throwing my way through some pretty large (but fairly spartan) environments.  Tons of crates, too, if you’re into classic shooter level design.

Oni was available for PC, Mac, and PS2.  Your best bet would be a used copy from one of the sources linked at Amazon, there, if you are interested in trying this out.

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Gaming Is Good For Your Brain

I saw this article pop up on my Twitter feed (my apologies if you tweeted it and didn’t get credit), and I have to say, I can definitely see it.  Although since I’m kind of bad at most games, I wonder if it really helps me that much.  Heh.  The main thrust of the article:

A growing body of university research suggests that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. The specific benefits are wide ranging, from improved hand-eye coordination in surgeons to vision changes that boost night driving ability.

People that play ‘action’ video games make decisions up to 25% faster, and they can also pay attention to six things at once – two more than your average non-gamer.  Sounds good, right?  Playstations for everyone!  NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND:

Electronic gameplay has its downside. Brain scans show that violent videogames can alter brain function in healthy young men after just a week of play, depressing activity among regions associated with emotional control, researchers at Indiana University recently reported. Other studies have found an association between compulsive gaming and being overweight, introverted and prone to depression. The studies didn’t compare the benefits of gaming with such downsides.

Though I always wonder if the second half of that has anything to do with gaming specifically.  A person who is compulsive in one aspect of their life may have similar problems elsewhere.  Anyway, the story goes on to say that the most violent games are also the ones that seem to generate the most beneficial effects.  There’s a lot of interesting information here, with a bit of hyperbole, but I think this is my favorite part:

The vast majority of the research did not directly compare gaming with hours of other intense, mental activities such as solving math equations.

Yeah, mostly because you can’t convince a whole mess of 20 to 30 year olds to stop playing WoW to do math problems for 8 hours.  However, there is a large scale study of Starcraft II players ongoing via the University of Vancouver in BC.  It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

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Skyrim Mod Idea

Posting it both to keep it somewhere I’ll see and remember it, and to see if anyone else is interested in it…I’ve been thinking about taking a stab at a mod that would let you use mundane items (like brooms or empty bottles) as weapons.  I just think it would be hilarious to beat a giant to death with a broom, or to wail on a dragon with duel-wielded buckets.  Might even have to add a ladder that can be used, Jackie Chan style.

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Player versus Developer Narratives

David Jaffe, designer of the Twisted Metal series of games, made a splash recently at a DICE summit presentation.  The Ars article linked has a good breakdown of it, and if you want the full talk, go here (he’s a bit obnoxious and vulgar, FYI).  Here’s a pertinent snippet:

My talk is actually a warning, about why we shouldn’t tell stories with our video games. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s a waste of resources and time and money, and more importantly I think it actually stunts, and has stunted over the last 10 years or so, the medium of video games. Sort of at our own peril. And to be clear, I’m not talking about player-authored stories, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s kind of a buzzword these days amongst designers, but basically, a player-authored story is something… I mean, the best example these days is… Skyrim and Arkham City are wonderful, but you can also go down the chain of scope to a game like Angry Birds. A player-authored story is basically where the mechanics and the interactive is so compelling and so engaging that the player, by the very act of playing the game, creates a narrative in his mind.

Now, there’s a good bit here to agree with.  I love Skyrim, and if you read the site, you know I’ve actually written an adventure or two I’ve had in it up as a story – a literal player-authored story.  I’m not the only one either.  Other games – MULE jumps to mind – are ripe for this as well, since it’s different every time you play, and can really engage your creativity if you role play it.  But Jaffe’s logic breaks down for me when I think of some of my all-time favorite games, Dragon Age: Origins and Starcraft.  Looking at Starcraft, there was a developer-made story, progressed in a linear fashion, but it HOOKED ME.  I finished that game – I cheated to finish it the first time! – because I HAD to know what happened.  I didn’t create that story, and maybe Jaffe would tell me it would’ve been better as a book or a movie, but I don’t agree.  I felt like *I* did all those things, I was betrayed by Mengsk, I fought the Queen of Blades, it was ME.  Maybe that’s still a player-narrative in his mind, but it doesn’t happen without Blizzard’s story.  Without the story, Starcraft is just a series of skill challenges, which can be plenty of fun, but it’s not the game I love.

I think Dragon Age: Origins is a great example of why a developer driven narrative is still needed.  While I’ve built up quite a player-narrative in my head for the game, often referring to ‘My Warden’ as a unique individual starring in a story of my imagining.  But again, it’s BECAUSE of what we went through.  We killed an Archdemon!  I let out a “Hell YEAH” when she killed that asshole Arl Howe.  How much of that could you strip away, and still inspire me to think of my Warden like that?  To make in-game decisions actually in-character?

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of games I love that work exactly like Jaffe describes, but I don’t know why there can’t be variety.  Just because one set of games works this way, doesn’t mean they all need to or should.

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Skyrim – Mod It

So, Bethesda finally released the long-awaited Creation Kit for Skyrim, so the modders of the world can finally really sink their teeth into the game and start producing outstanding content.  Well, there’s some good stuff already, but the options are now thrown wide open.  If you are interested in giving it a whirl, they’ve got a wiki set up with starting information, including how to install the Kit (not obvious via Steam, at least to me) and some solid tutorials.  I myself am not much of a 3d designer (hence why most of my art resembles The Order of the Stick), but new quests (or adjustments) would be fun.  I added a room in the basement of many buildings (one room, linked in many places) in Morrowind to give me a place to store stuff as well as to ease travel restrictions in that game.  What would YOU add or change?

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Skyrim Screenies

In case you want to see more of my adventures, including me blinding a bear:





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Skyrim Stories – The Shakiest Swordarm In The North

This is a new series I’m doing, highlighting some of the cool cinematic moments I find myself in while playing Skyrim.  I hope you enjoy them.

A rescue mission!  My first task as a new Companion is to head to a cave and rescue Camilla Valerius of Riverwood.  I collect Lydia, my housecarl, and head out of Whiterun.  I see from my map that our path will take us past abandoned Fort Greymoor, which is sure to have at least a few bandits nearby (abandoned forts are funny that way).  We approach the fort, and spot at least two bowmen stationed on the battlements.  It looks like more at first, but the bandits have placed training dummies along the wall to try and obscure their numbers.  Smart.  I line up a bow shot on the living bandit on the wall, and let loose an arrow.  Hit, but not dead, he alerts his companions.  At least a half-dozen bandits come boiling out of the ruined gate.  I raise my bow again as Lydia fires her first arrow, confident I will hit SOMETHING with all the targets when I hear it.  Beating wings, and an ear-piercing shriek.


I scramble for the cover of the wall while shooting arrows, and I see the bandits have momentarily forgotten our quarrel and are doing the same.  The dragon glides around in a circle, then dives towards the ground, landing just in front of the gate.  I run left as a tongue of flame sweeps my way.  I’ve lost track of Lydia; I can only hope she got out of the way and is still in the fight.

I put aside my bow and take out a massive axe.  I run to the dragon’s side and swing the axe into it with a scream.  The creature howls in pain, and I swing again.  Scales are flying, blood flies off the axe and into my face, but I keep hacking.  The bandits keep firing arrows, and I, with one more mighty swing, cave in the dragon’s ribcage.  I stumble back as beams of light curl out of the dragon and into me, and I feel the power.  I then feel a sword crash into my helm, apparently there’s a couple of surviving bandits.  I whirl on them and use my VOICE.  They fall back – one stumbles to the ground – I swing wildly at the two still standing and they fall.  Without pause I line up a powerful swing, and realize too late that my target is wearing a nice set of steel armor.

The force of the killing blow rolls the body over.  It’s Lydia.  Oh, crap.  At least she won’t have to carry my burdens anymore.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim First Impressions

I’m only maybe 5 or 6 hours into Skyrim, but I feel like I’ve seen and experienced enough to give you my first impressions.  It’s a downright beautiful game, it set my detail level to ‘High’ based on my specs and it was just ridiculous how good it looks.  I think there’s been an emphasis on the Elder Scrolls games after Morrowind to try and get you into some action right away, and Skyrim does not disappoint.  You start the game as a prisoner (as per usual with these games) and being taken to your death.  You escape when, as they shove your head down on the block for the headsman’s axe…well, you’ll see.  A member of a rebelling group of Nords (the Stormcloaks) helps you, and depending on how you want to play it you can join them if you like.

Let me pause right there and explain how The Elder Scrolls games are different than some other popular computer RPGs.  In The Elder Scrolls, your character is intentionally a blank slate.  You start in prison or under arrest in some way – did you actually commit a crime?  Are you wrongfully accused?  Maybe you stole to feed your family, or you killed someone who was attacking your wife.  You decide, and role play it that way.  Let that color your decisions for the rest of the game.  It’s freeing, especially if you’ve been playing linear RPGs for a while, but for some folks it can feel a bit directionless.  You are helping to create your own story, which for some people is not as much fun as starring in their own interactive movie.  I love it, though.  Similar to that is the fact that Bethesda doesn’t like to limit what you can do, and you can often find quirks in the game which you can exploit to your benefit.  It’s up to you not to game the system too much and ruin your experience.  If you’ve ever had a DM who had to house-rule something particularly gamebreaking out of a DnD session, same idea.

Below, I will talk about my early game experiences, and there are some minor spoilers.

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Friday Finds – Remembering

It’s 11/11/11, a day I’m already tired of being reminded of as being ‘special’.  The REAL reason it’s special is Veteran’s Day (or Rememberance Day for you folks north of me).  My dad was in the Navy for 26 years, in Vietnam, in the Gulf during some tense times, all of that.  I heard a ton of stories as he, my uncle and the husbands of my mom’s friends all told their stories while the ladies played cards and drank strawberry daquiris (half the time forgetting the rum).  The men, ranging from my dad, who spent most of his career in the ‘brown water’ Navy, on amphibious ships and in the rivers of Vietnam, to a supply corps Captain, to a Merchant Marine sailor during WW2, told stories ranging from hilarious to harrowing.  Many of the stories have stayed with me to this day.  Thanks, Dad.

On a less serious note, this week’s posts:

Links of the week:

7 Things You Should Do In Skyrim – The game is now out, and I must play it.

Create instant origami.  Light, heat and plastic sheets.

Urine Power.  I need say no more.  You’ve already clicked it.