I wrote a few words about my time at GameSpot, now I'm going to give my podcast, Dinner with Developers, some much-needed attention. Hope to see you all there!
When looking at the feedback for on "Forging WeaponLord," I noticed several commentators asking the obvious question: where's WeaponLord 2? Short answer: I don't know. I wish it was in my hands right now, and so does James Goddard, Dave Winstead, and the rest of the old WL team. Sadly, there aren't any concrete plans to bring back WeaponLord (yet), but I did pick up some tidbits about what the creators would like to do in a sequel.
NEW CHARACTERS: While the original WeaponLord only had room for seven characters, the team had plenty more ideas for other barbaric fighters. These included a spear-wielding orc, two gargoyles stacked on top of each other, and a demonic pit beast that would have been the tortured pet of Zarak. Having more dual-wielding characters was also something the developers wanted.
EXPANDED STORY: As outlined in this document, the canonical story would have Korr's long-lost brother, Kang (who was also Bane), returning to lead his brother's tribe after Korr is mortally wounded; Zarak's father, Raith, who is mentioned throughout the original game, would become a fully-fledged character; and Zorn would have also returned, however, as Goddard noted, "he would have been changed by his encounter with the possessed shield." The idea of WeaponLord 2 being able to read your save data from the original game and tailor the story based on how you played and which endings you received was also tossed around, though Goddard admits this would be a nightmare to program.
SMOOTH DIFFICULTY CURVE: This was a big issue for Winstead and Goddard. WeaponLord was a complex game, and the designers think its sequel could retain the first game's play style without being so impenetrable. As an example, they mentioned how, in Street Fighter IV, a new player could pick up the controller and start throwing fireballs and doing ultra combos without too much effort; they could feel badass right away. Then, when those new players saw combos using one-frame links and focus attack canceling, they were incentivised to improve their skills so they too could use those techniques. The original WeaponLord didn't have this; if you weren't already proficient at the game you got destroyed.
2D VERSUS 3D: The debate between making WeaponLord 2 a 2D or 3D fighting game is still up in the air. Should it be a fully 3D fighting game, like SoulCalibur, or a game with 3D character models fighting in a 2D arena, like Street Fighter IV? That decision hasn't been made, yet. In either case, Goddard is confident he could use 3D characters and still retain the same soul of the original game--while also adding in a ton more animations.
So, why hasn't WeaponLord 2 (or WeaponLord HD) happened yet? There are lots of reasons: time, money, and the fact that Namco--publisher of the original WeaponLord--still holds the rights to the WeaponLord IP. Goddard and Winstead considered trying to buy the rights from Namco after launching their joint-venture Crunch Time Games. However, when Crunch Time's first game, Shred Nebula, didn't take the world by storm, the idea of buying back WeaponLord was put on the sidelines.
A crowd-funding campaign was also considered, but ultimately deemed unfeasible as well. As Goddard explained, "In early Spring of 2012, [Winstead] and I were considering a Kickstarter to build a 3D WeaponLord that would have featured a professional fighting 3D engine that, after the project was completed, would have been open source for the community to do non-profit games with (the 3D equivalent of MUGEN, but with much easier work flow and pro-grade tools).
"However, if we were going to ask for crowd funding to build that, it was critical we be able to ship it and not run out of cash. The estimates got up to the $5 million mark and we decided that was not the right way to go. That project was very much motivated by building a fighting engine equivalent to unity for the community and the goals blew out the budget. Neither [Winstead] or I were in a position to take on, despite having built many combat engines and worked on so many fighting and combat games."
The fate of WeaponLord is still up in the air. The creators definitely want to make sequel, and it sounds like a lot you readers out there want to play another WL game as well. Rest assured that if the stars align and the opportunity presents itself, Goddard and Winstead will dive into WeaponLord 2 as soon as possible. They've learned a lot over the past 18 years, and have received a lot of feedback on the original game. "Honestly, that's the worst thing," said Goddard, "we didn't get the chance to take that feedback and do the right thing by growing the franchise into what players wanted." Hopefully, some day, they'll get that chance.
John Dies at the End
A very funny and enjoyable book; bit of mix between Clerks and Ghostbusters (if that makes sense?). The story revolves around two smalltown boys who are swept into a supernatural adventure after ingesting a living drug from a shady Rastafarian. Hilarity ensues, possibly involving aliens. The writing is fast-paced, witty, and has earned a sequel (available now!). If you only read one book from this list, think really really hard about picking this one.
The Raw Shark Texts
Amazon has a real wishy-washy description for this book, but I can't blame them. Yeah, it's about a guy on an adventure to regain his memories, but there's so much more. Of course, telling you would spoil the whole first act (which is very mysterious). What I will say is that this book deals with memories, their power, and the worlds we create inside our heads. It's also not as heavy as I'm making it sound. And yes, there is a shark (of sorts).
House of Leaves
This book is a trip. It's a three-part story that is unorthodox not only in structure, but in presentation. Let's break this down Inception-style. Bottom layer: a family thrown into chaos as they discover oddities in their house: dimensions that dont add up, rooms that shouldn't (and couldn't) exists, and a hallway into nothingness. Middle layer: an old man whose life's work has been compiling information about the family. Top layer: a younger man reading the old man's work about the family and experiencing weirdness in his own life. This is a book of puzzles, and pages filled with sideways text. Its a tough read, but very memorable if you make it to the end.
Ready Player One
I'm sure you heard someone mention this somewhere at some point. It's that book what has all the video game references in it! Ready Player One cronicles an MMORPG player as he explores his digital world to solve an elaborate riddle, which is steeped in 80's geek trivia. The reward: control of the game world and the company that owns it. Of course, there's an EVIL CORPORATION trying to stop him. It's all very 80's action movie.
And if you have any recommendations of your own I'd be happy to hear them in the comments section below.
Sometimes I catch myself missing how I used to play video games. Today, when I sit down to play a game I have a pretty good idea what to expect within minutes of pressing start. Using my combined experiences of hundreds of games--plus the copious amounts of pre-release materials--I can set expectations very quickly.
But it wasnt always like this. I remember a young Maxwell who had zero expectations. He could take a game and in his own mind transform it into something completely different. For him, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis was less of a game and more of a toy. Remembering that kid tells me not only how Ive changed, but games as well.
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who had a gaming cave: a space, usually their room or basement, where they could retreat with their friends and play, undisturbed by the outside world. Me? I had a jungle. For part of the year, at least.
When it would get cold, my mother would bring in the potted plants from outside and store them in the basement. Surrounded by Fiddleleaf Figs and Arrowhead Vines, I would slump down in my old, brown recliner and lose myself in those digital worlds.
Not to gush, but those days were pretty awesome. Im sure thats how we all remember them, right? It was so easy to simply lose myself within their digital worlds, so much so that I would often ignore the central plot or object and strike out on my own. Exploring every inch of the game, and creating my own, internal narrative.
Earthbound on the Super Nintendo was a prime candidate for this. In the game, there was this really run-down house you could purchase for a huge sum of money. The joke was the outside of the house looked really nice, but the inside was a complete pigsty--one of the walls was even missing. I guess this was supposed to leave you with a tinge of buyers remorse, but I thought the house was awesome!
Inside that shack I would act out whole narratives where Ness and his friends had jobs, ran errands, and lived out their day-to-day lives together. It was a little sitcom inside my head. There was no fighting, no plot-advancement, or anything like that. I was basically recreating The Sims inside of a SNES game.
Today, this never happens. I approach games--all games--differently. There are several reasons for this, such as: my age, amount of pre-release exposure, or advancements in storytelling. Something I enjoy (but secretly loathe) is how much exposure we have to games before their launch. Look at Resident Evil 6. For an astute enthusiasts, you can get the bulk of what a game is about just from pre-release media.
Modern videos are so much more proficient at directing your experience to ensure all key moments and plot points the designers wanted you to see arent missed--no matter what! While entertaining in their own right, more complex games, more complex characters, and more complex stories are (perhaps) driving out room for imagination on the players part. Classic Mario and Sonic games had little to no story whatsoever. Save the princess. Stop Robotnik. It was up to the player to fill in the blanks about the world and its inhabitants.
And how many older games have you played where the art on the cover looked completely different from the game itself? That design constraint meant that as you were playing, say, Gauntlet on NES you were in your mind recreating those little sprites as epic warriors and monsters.
All this is not to say that I hate modern video games or good stories or anything like that. Im just...concerned about a perceived loss of imaginative engagement between player and game. Perhaps Im way off the mark (as I often am) in my less-is-more creative approach. Did anyone else even DO this as a kid?
We don't have an episode of On the Spot airing this week, but I'm still going to bring indie games to light with this text-based version of Maxwell McBargains. As some of you already know, each week I'm granted $5 dollars to save or spend on interesting indie games. After the E3 hold, my current total is $7.05, and I'm going to spend $1.99 on A.R.C.S. from developer Retromite.
A.R.C.S. is a survival game where you command a small group of mercenaries battling waves of invading aliens. It's an enhanced version of a free, online game of the same name. Using the mouse, you move a targeting reticule and shoot down enemies with a variety of weapons. Between each wave you're awarded currency based on your performance to spend on various upgrades. These upgrades include new weapons for personal use, upgrades for the infantry's weapons, and repairs for the base.
Right away I got an arcade, light gun-vibe from this game. The action is pretty slow in the beginning as you pick off little enemy tanks one after the other, but give it a few stages and the enemy variety shoots way up. Flying enemies, heavy tanks, enemies that repair other enemies--the list goes on. And each one is venerable to a different type of weapon. Juggling between these weapons is easy enough, but to truly master the game you must learn to manage your reloads. Different weapons reload at different speeds, and while one is reloading you can switch to another.
I have found that it's easier to focus on only a few weapons for yourself, and pour most of your resources into upgrading your teammates (who attack automatically). Doing so simplifies matters, but may not be the best strategy since I've yet to finish the game. This is especially challenging since a Game Over means you're starting back from the very beginning. You can save and continue during your journey, but dying deletes that save.
If you're interested in checking out A.R.C.S. you can pick it up via Desura for $1.99. There doesn't appear to be a demo, but you can always player the free version online. And if you want to check out the other McBargains recommendations, the list is as follows: Out There Somewhere, 1000 Amps, Birth Order, Lone Survivor, Offspring Fling, Wizorb, Noitu Love 2, Wyv and Keep, and Data Jammers: FastForward.
Note: I decided to blow this out into a full editoral. It can be found here.
Capcom is ready to admit that sales for Street Fighter X Tekken have not matched expectations. As our own Brendan Sinclair reports, "In a post-earnings Q&A session posted to the publisher's investor relations site today, Capcom addressed the game's worldwide sales of 1.4 million."
"Sales of Street Fighter X Tekken have fallen short of our plan," the company's statement confirmed. "We believe one of [the] causes is cannibalism because of the large number of other games in this genre that were launched within a short time."
I am inclined to agree: oversaturation of the marketplace is "one of [the] causes" why SFXT fell short of the projected two million sales mark. This is an issue I warned about in my recent editorial. But, as Capcom statement implies, this cause is not the only one. Negative word-of-mouth from the community--spurred by the on-disk DLC surprise--cannot be denied. From what I've seen, the fighting game community is tight-knit and extremely vocal. If they like your game they'll sing its praises to others, stream matches, post tutorials, and host massive tournaments with hilarious commentators. In turn, this draws in more people, who post more content, and the game thrives.
Conversely, if you tick them off, they'll tell you to go pick up The King of Fighters XIII instead. Or BlazBlue. Or Skullgirls. Or one of the many other great fighters out there. Just like the games themselves, the fighting game genre has become hyper competitive. Word spreads fast, and a less-than-stellar fighter will simply be buried under its tried-and-true kin. This presents its own problems, but that's for another time.
So, while the "cannibalism" of the genre might be the smoking gun, the ones who pulled the trigger were the community. This is what I think detracted from SFXT more than any other: Capcom wasn't able to curb the swell of negative feedback from their consumers. When the dozens of fighting games are all targeting the same, core audience you simply cannot afford to have your game lose their support. But, as always, theirs is the distinct possibility that I am totally wrong. What do YOU think? What factor, or combination of factors, hurt SFXT most severely? Leaves your thoughts in the comments below.
Last week Peter Brown and I recorded a quick video for Bloody Roar II, a 3D fighter for the PS1 featuring people transforming into animals (I do miss the 90's). With so many classic fighting gems out there--both good and bad--we decided to start a video series highlighting each one and how it plays; nothing too technical, but hopefully entertaining. We also noticed a lack of quality footage for these games on the internet in general, so there's that.
Originally, the video was twice as long with tons of rambling dialog about Peter living on an island and me playing Bloody Roar as a kid. Turns out, that sort of talk is totally boring so we trimmed it down pretty heavily into what you see here. For future videos we're going to try and keep it even shorter, with the discussion focused strictly on the game.
We have a lot of ideas for future videos, but we also want to make sure that you can get gameplay clips of a decent quality without our ramblings. Therefore, each time one of these videos goes up we'll be sure to post some standalone clips of just gameplay as well. Let us know if there's a fighting game out there that hasn't received the attention it deserves, and we'll be sure to look into it. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the video.
"Back in the 25th century, Earth launched a generation ship into deep space, with the goal of establishing the first interstellar colony. It dropped out of contact and disappeared, never reaching its destination."
"Thousands of years later, it has finally been found."
Recently, Christine Love released Analogueue: A Hate Story, her latest visual novel. Having completed and enjoyed her pervious game, Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story, I was happy to drop $15 needed to pick this up (DRM-free, no less). After completing two playthroughs, and earning two of the five endings, I can say I was suprisied at how different Analogue was from Babe.
Analogue felt a lot harder to jump into. The bulk of the story takes place in the past between different families vying for political favor aboard the massive space ship Mugunghwa (which you are investigating). Their story plays out in journal entries and other records stored on the ship's computer. Very quickly you realize the world these characters live in is one of extreme gender inequality where women are basically objects meant to seen and not heard.
This sets up a very dark tale that dwarfs the school yard drama of Babe. However, getting to, and understanding, this story was a challenge. You only have access to a handful of log entries at first, and those entries are written by several different authors at different points in the timeline. Thankfully, you're not on your own to figure out the story. You quickly meet *Hyun-ae and *Mute, two cheerful A.I.'s with opposing opinions of what life was like on the Mugunghwa. By speaking with them you gain access to additional documents and learn more about what happened to the ship's crew.
Between the two, I preferred *Mute's character. She's sly, charismatic, and a total gossip. Her commentary on the different characters from the log entires helped humanize them more and add some extra flavor to their tale. *Hyun-ae was the opposite. It's clear she despised the sexist conditions on the Mugunghwa, and most of her dialog focused on the relationship between her and the player. Yes, you can have a romantic relationship with one (or possibly both) of the A.I.'s, but I felt like more of a creeper praying on *Hyun-ae's emotions to get more information.
Outside of interacting with the A.I.'s, you play a very passive role in Analogue. Compared to Babe--where you actively influenced your student's lives--this story feels sterile. The bulk of the plot has already happened; you're just trying to figure it out. To be fair, there was a clever puzzle sequence in the middle involving the ship's computer which I really enjoyed. All this is not to say Analogue is poorly written--far from it. I was just expecting more from the mystery angel, rather than character drama.
Call it laziness, but keeping up with the who's who was hard, especially when *Mute starts in on the political intrigue. The main plot of the past revolves around the tragic life of a young girl referred to as the "Pale Bride." A sickly child, she was put into stasis and reawakened years later to find that society had completely changed. With no freedom, no love, and a pre-arranged marriage already made, her tragic tale is heartbreaking--and by far the computer log's strongest narrative.
If you've not played either "Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story" or "Analogue: A Hate Story" I would highly recommend starting with the former. I'm fast becoming a fan of Christine Love's style and, despite my complaints, enjoyed Analogue. If you'd like more information, you can check out Christine's official site here.
After some technical difficulties with my entry in our Personal Perspectives: The Top Ten of 2011 feature, I've decided to repost my list (with the intended text) here. By the end you may be asking yourself why such fine games as Portal 2 or Dark Souls didn't make the cut. Well, that's because I limited this list to only include games I'd spent a considerable amount of time with (I'll finish you one day, Portal 2). Thanks for reading, and a happy new year to all. Take care!
This is the first modern Sonic game I've played where it feels good to move around in the world. And I'm not just talking about the classic stages; I enjoyed the modern versions as well. Both were designed so that I could crowbar my way through them simply by running to the right and slapping the jump button. But if I wanted the best time I had to discover the alternate routes and execute them perfectly. When it all clicked I felt light, fast, and free--which is exactly how I felt back in 1993.
Mortal Kombat is an immense game. Its fighting system may not be the tightest, but it's easy to jump into and supports a fantastic story mode and extensive challenge tower. As someone who was sheltered from this series as if it were the plague, I'm thankful to see it get a new lease on life and experience the spectacle I'd read so much about as a kid. Now I get to bisect all the robots and ninjas I want--take that mom and dad!
I hated this game the first time I played it. Isaac moved so slowly and his projectile attack never fired in a straight line. Plus, the game was hard. Barf! Then I took a deep breath, gave it a second go, and it all clicked. I understood my character's limitations, and realized there was a bevy of new items and weapons to assist me through my journey. Those item configurations also change with every session, making no two trips exactly the same.
It's easy to get swept away by Shogun 2's gorgeous world and tactical depth. However, I found the real beauty of the game lied in the details. Elements such as the unit portraits in the HUD or the period-appropriate music really sold the experience for me and helped set the right mood for a feudal Japanese war campaign. Of course, I'm not the most tactical when it comes to the battlefield, so those campaigns rarely saw completion.
There is a line in the sand here at GameSpot. On one side lies Minecraft, and on the other is Terreria. Which is more important? Which is more fun? These questions are still up for debate, but for me I've been having a lot more fun with Terreria. It all comes down to goals. I need them, Terreria has them: build shelter, fight bosses, explore the dungeon. And it doesn't hurt that there has been a constant stream of additional free contented loaded onto this game since release.
Shallow as it may sound, one of the biggest draws for me towards Arkham City was seeing how the Batman rogue's gallery had been adapted into the style of the Arkham games. How did they look? Sound? Interact with each other? That curiosity propelled me forward more than anything. The game's combat it what kept me on track. Simple, elegant, and difficult to do well, it was one of the few games where I spent hours grind away at a challenge mission just to play more fisticuffs.
Saint's Row took all the crazy shenanigans I loved in the Grand Theft Auto series and made them an integral part of the game. Now I am awarded for nearly everything I do, from causing mayhem in a tank to humble car surfing. This game is just fun. Its one goal was to put me in crazy situations and make me feel like an action star. Layered on top were numerous comedic elements for me to discover: from outrageous clothing options to a dedicated junk-punching button. There was never a dull moment for me in Steelport.
Everything Bastion set out to do, it did so well. Few games I've played are as unified in purpose as this one. Each stage and every weapon had a story to tell, which all feed into the overarching tale of The Kid: the game's silent cowboy staring down the end of the world. Nothing felt out of place--there was no filler--it was just pure gaming goodness from beginning to end.
While Mortal Kombat won the blue ribbon for content, The King of Fighters XIII took home the award for best fighting mechanics of 2011. The system successfully channeled the spectacle of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 without falling into the realm of absolute madness in which that game resides. It also didn't hurt that it improved upon the (numerous) shortcomings of its previous console outing. This is the return of the king, and I'm happy to have it back.
I loved exploring the world of The Witcher 2. The high-fantasy setting may be one I've seen one-too-many times, but this game, and the characters within, made it feel fresh and interesting. And as someone who didn't take to the previous game's combat system, I appreciated the changes made to simplify it. Of course, this is balanced out with a truly punishing difficulty curve which (thankfully) lacked the endless hand-holding seen in other modern games. The Witcher 2 was an entrancing game that I can't wait to get back to.
Visiting another country is like being caught in a joke that everyone is in on, except you. Very funny guys, you think as you disembark the plane. Then you approach the nearest pedestrian and demand they change all the signs and books back to English--only they're taking the joke even further by speaking in some made up language. After that you freak out a bit and some men in uniform have to pry you off the woman you're violently shaking; what a bunch of jokers!
It's all very foreign. However, in between the sudden bouts of culture shock, we managed to film a few video segments that didn't make it into the show. These are their stories.
Before leaving we had the idea for a video feature where I got my hair styled like a Japanese pop idol. Basically, we wanted a big mess involving tons of hair gel and a dash of personal humiliation (a recurring video feature theme). Our first stop was simply called Dude, a hair salon whose signature styles ranged from "Original Dudes" to "Uber Dudes." Sadly, there were no dudes to be found since Dude was out of business.
Next up was Hair Freak. The name alone sounded promising, but the staff inside informed us they were appointment only--or they just didn't want to deal with a pack of obnoxious tourist at five in the afternoon. The mysterious Hair with S was up next. I say mysterious because, after reading the shop's sign and following its instructions up to the third floor, we found only an empty room. No chairs. No hair dryers. No dated magazines.
I'm positive we nearly waltzed into a tourist kidnapping scheme.
The hour was late and our feature was dying on the vine. In our hour of need we found a tiny shop…whose name was in Japanese. Since the barber didn't speak a lot of English I did my best to communicate the desired hairstyle by holding up clumps of my hair and repeating: "Like a pop idol." After treating us to a round of iced coffee, he sat me down and, for a few tense moments, I thought he was going to hack off all my hair.
What happened instead was a bit of a mixed blessing. While my hair remained in tact, it didn't get the outrageous treatment we were hoping for. And without a satisfying conclusion, the piece ended up getting scrapped.
Before attending the Tokyo Game Show, we stopped off in Akihabara for a few days. While there, we hiked across the city in all its heat and humidity visiting as many arcades as possible. And since the last "arcade" I ever visited was inside of a bowling alley, it was awesome getting to experience the real deal.
Most followed the same layout, with claw crane machine floors sandwiched between arcade cabinet floors. Most of the claw cranes housed plastic girls with chests so big they would give anybody back problems. Numerous Street Fighter and Gundam: Extreme Vs. cabinets made up the arcade floors. And while it was fun playing a game that combined a light gun with Elite Beat Agents or one about flipping tables, it didn't make for very compelling footage, and was scrapped.
One final note: If you ever get the chance to have a tank of tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your feet, do it. I won't lie: it tickles like nothing else at first. But once the fish reach critical mass and are really going to town on your toes it feels no different than when your foot falls asleep. And once they're done, your feet feel as smooth as butter.
Complex toilet flushing controls aside, I had a really great time in Japan and can't wait to visit again. I'll leave you with the unused haikus I wrote for our haiku previews segment as they took me nearly two whole hours to write. Can you guess which games I'm talking about?
Gundams locked in battle / lasers snap and metal groans / hands won't stop shaking.
Vergil has great reach / Iron Fist builds a fiery combo / Anticipation.
Really old families / fighting dozens of drones / all very familiar.
Numerous Gundams / extreme attacks so intense / I cannot look away.
Cut open a microwave / bisect a two-headed man / life of a Black Knight.
Two newcomers / Vergil and Iron Fist meet / Where is Phoenix Wright?