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JusticeCovert Blog

PR Opener of the Day

From my inbox this morning:

I have a question for you. Do you like eating food? If, by any chance, you answered yes, you might like to know it is now possible to eat, vomit, and crap in a game. What's more, YOU have the possibility of being eaten, vomited, and crapped out.

The game in question, by the way, is Culinary Conflict: Recipe for Disaster

RIP Ryan Davis, 1979 - 2013

When I moved to GameSpot's San Francisco office from England back in 2004, Ryan Davis was among the first US-based staffers that I bonded with. I used to go out drinking almost every night back then, regardless of whether or not I had anyone to go with, and on a good number of occasions the person I had to go with was Ryan Davis. For his part, I think he enjoyed the novelty of knocking a few back with an Englishman who, by his reckoning at the time, was one of relatively few folks who was not only down to drink any night of the week but was also able to keep up with him. For my part, I enjoyed drinking with a genuinely entertaining guy who, in a city that I had yet to make many friends in, almost immediately felt like someone I'd known for years.

On the Spot

Me, Alex, and Ryan demoing a Wii game on On the Spot.

I won't pretend that I was one of Ryan's closest friends, but he and I shared plenty of good times, and I'm thankful for memories like these:

  • We went to an Incredibly Strange Wrestling event together and spent the night throwing tortillas around.
  • We camped out at some store in the middle of nowhere to secure our launch day Wiis and then had breakfast at the local Burger King because they were doing that weird promotion with Xbox 360 games.
  • We got up crazy early one day to watch a World Cup match at my favorite English pub, where I believe I impressed Ryan greatly with my ability to stray from their menu and order a portion of curry fries with a couple of sausages thrown in.
  • We, along with Matt Rorie, spearheaded the charge down to the local pub on the day that Jeff and GameSpot parted ways.

     Ryan wants a Wii
    Ryan waiting in line for a Wii on launch day.

We grew apart when Ryan left GameSpot in Jeff's wake. We didn't hang out nearly as much in recent years. Now that I can't help but think about it, I think the last time we hung out outside of work was at Ryan's July 4th celebration a couple of years ago, when this photo was taken. I never dreamt I'd be embedding it in a blog as I struggled to find the words to write about his untimely passing.


Ryan, Vinny, and me. Enjoying hotdogs from the BBQ. I brought enough HP Sauce for everyone.

I'm realizing right now that I'm not good at this. Where feelings are concerned I tend to internalize rather than share them. So I'll just end this rather abruptly by saying that I'll miss seeing you around the office Ryan, I'll miss hearing you on the Bombcast every week, and I'll pour one out for you when I get home tonight.

Something about Star Wars

Mere hours after saying farewell to Star Wars Galaxies alongside Kevin VanOrd, I was sat at home squeezing in some playtime with Star Wars: The Old Republic ahead of my Christmas vacation in the UK. Revisiting Galaxies--the first MMO I ever played--and then jumping straight into Old Republic served as a timely reminder of just how much both gaming and my life have changed during my 11-plus years at GameSpot.


When Star Wars Galaxies was released in 2003, the original GameSpot UK site had already gone the way of Greedo, and yours truly was working from home as the European correspondent for the US team. I knew very little about Star Wars Galaxies when I went out and bought it, and upon seeing the size of the manual (something like 200 pages) and being dumped unceremoniously onto the nondescript planet of Talus, I was convinced that I'd made a terrible mistake. My screen filled with confusing pop-up windows, there were no other players in sight, and I was given no clue as to what I was actually supposed to do in this universe.

I remember that, after happening upon my first quest terminal, I figured I should probably spend a great deal of time on Talus before even attempting to venture to another world; blissfully unaware that planets like Tatooine, Corellia, and Naboo were hives of player activity, and every bit as appropriate for me to be questing on. Getting to those planets wasn't too painful either--if memory serves, interplanetary shuttles left Talus every 10-15 minutes. (Yes, they were like buses. If you missed one, you had to wait around for the next one.)

Can you even imagine what players who came into MMO gaming via World of Warcraft would make of a game introduction like this? I suspect few would have persevered with Galaxies for more than a day or two, much less made it through their introductory month. Star Wars Galaxies was a wonderfully ambitious and rewarding game, though, because where games like World of Warcraft and the recently released Star Wars: The Old Republic (which I'm loving right now) offer scripted storylines and carefully developed characters, Galaxies was a destination where you created your own. My character Justy, for example, was a failed bounty hunter who went on to become a master creature handler and--after far too many hours spent seeking out and taming rare pets--eventually went into business selling mounts, meat, and milk. The greatest Star Wars story ever told? Hardly.But after that initial week or two of pain I enjoyed every minute of it.


Fast forward to about three weeks ago, and--more than 5000 miles away from where I created Justy--I've created another wannabe bounty hunter in another Star Wars universe. Currently level 27, Kunoichi is a lot more interesting and successful in her chosen profession than Justy ever was, but the illusion that she is in any way unique is shattered every time I encounter another bounty hunter in the game. Other bounty hunters use similar weapons and armor, fly the exact same ship, and for the most part they're even accompanied by the same companion character. Where at its best Galaxies felt like writing a book, Old Republic feels more like reading one of those old 'choose your own adventure' deals. Yes, we have some opportunities to do things differently, but our stories are ultimately the same. Better, no doubt, but the same.

Remembering: Paradroid

If everything goes according to plan, this blog post will be the first of a series in which I remember fondly the games that I was playing during my formative years. Growing up in the UK, Sega and Nintendo systems weren't nearly as common as they were in the US, and so when my friends and I went to each other's houses to play games it was invariably on either a Spectrum or Commodore computer. These were fantastic machines in their day, and as I hope to illustrate in these blogs, there were a lot of fantastic games released for them. (Expect extreme Commodore bias since I never actually owned a Spectrum.) I should also mention that I'm using these blogs as an excuse to update our mostly-empty pages for these games with screenshots and gameplay videos wherever possible. Our Paradroid page has never looked better.

Starting out as the 001 influence device.

As a kid, I didn't get to play nearly as many games as I do nowadays, so I like to think that I was pretty selective. Sure, I still bought games that cost a couple of pounds apiece based solely on the screenshots on the back of the cassette box from time to time, but for the most part I based my (parents') purchasing decisions on reviews in magazines. My dad took out a subscription to the excellent Zzap 64 magazine very early in its life, and I remember that he even ordered binders to keep them all in at one point. If a game was awarded the prestigious "Gold Medal Award" in Zzap 64, there's a good chance that we discussed adding it to our collection at one point, even if the screenshots didn't look great. Paradroid was one of those games, and to this day it remains one of my favorites.

Paradroid Spaceship
Your goal is to clear the whole thing. Eight times.

Paradroid is a shooter of sorts, in which you take control of a puny droid known as an "influence device" and must clear a huge spaceship of other, more powerful droids. You view the action from a top-down perspective and spend the majority of your time either shooting at other droids or attempting to assume control of them. Which weapon you have at your disposal varies according to which model of droid you're currently in control of; most fire lightning bolt projectiles of varying sizes (in any of eight directions!), while a few are armed with cannons that hit all nearby enemies simultaneously. All models of droid have a three-digit number designated to them that's clearly visible when you encounter them, and generally speaking those with higher numbers are more powerful. Your influence device's designation is 001, the ship's command cyborg's is 999, and there's plenty of selection between the two. There's even one (security droid 883) that's modeled after a Dalek from Doctor Who.

Taking control of the 999 command cyborg.

Often, it makes more sense to take control of droids that you encounter than it does to do battle with them; you only get to control droids other than the 001 for a limited time anyway, and using healing stations after sustaining damage drains points from your score. In order to take control of another droid you hold down the fire button (there's only one button, remember, and it's used for a lot of different things) until your current droid changes color, and then you plow straight into the droid that you want to control. This triggers an ingenious minigame in which you battle for control of your target on something vaguely resembling a circuit board. It's a lot of fun, and while it's possible to jump straight from your 001 into the game's most powerful droids, there's a simple system in place that makes the difficulty scale appropriately.

Paradroid Transfer Minigame
Remember when hacking minigames were this much fun?

I used to spend hours playing Paradroid, and the goal of completely clearing all of the droids from this huge spaceship was daunting to say the least. Revisiting the game recently it seems like a perfectly attainable goal, but in 1985 I remember thinking that I had achieved the impossible when I managed it. I was stunned, then, when I was greeted not by a "Well Done, Game Over, You Rock" screen but by an invitation to proceed to a second ship. I've since learned that there are eight ships to clear in total, and one of these days I hope to do just that.

Lunar Explorer Post-Mortem

If you witnessed my appearances on either Today on the Spot or The HotSpot earlier this month, you might remember that while reviewing LittleBigPlanet 2 I "developed" a game called Lunar Explorer. You might even have caught a glimpse of it on Giant Bomb's LBP2 Quick Look around the 30-minute mark. If you read or watched my LBP2 review you already know that I had a great time with LBP2, but what I didn't really get to talk about is just how fascinating I found the process of designing, developing, testing, releasing, reading reviews of, and even patching my game. I won't be adding "game developer" to my resume's list of previous jobs or anything, but I definitely feel like I gained some insight into some of the trials that developers working on games must face as well as the emotions they surely experience.

I knew from the outset that I wanted to create a game loosely based on Lunar Lander, so job one was figuring out how to make a craft that would be flyable and feel somewhat like the one in Atari's classic using only a thruster and left/right rotation. Ultimately, this meant lots of playing around with engine power, steering sensitivity, gyroscope strength, and the strength of the gravity in my level, but before I could tackle any of that stuff I first had to figure out LBP2's new controlinator gadget. There was a lot of trial and error involved, and just when I thought I had everything figured out, I had to completely redesign the craft because I couldn't figure out how to make my original one blow up properly without leaving unwanted pieces of debris behind. Many Sackboys were harmed during testing.

Once the craft was finished, I started work on the level and, while I'd love to tell you that I had it all planned out on paper or something, the truth is that I made it up as I went along and my only goal was to make something fun that people might play multiple times to try for higher scores. I doubt many real developers work in such an unorganized way, but I reckon that some of the problems I encountered along the way might not be too dissimilar to those that they experience. Early on, for example, I realized that the solid shapes I was using to create the lunarscape were far too complex for me to just have the entire level be constructed from one or two of them. So I had to use multiple shapes instead, and then come up with ways to keep players from seeing the unsightly areas where they met. Nothing particularly clever about it, but I got a real kick out of solving these little problems, and was reminded of my time with WarioWare D.I.Y.'s excellent Assembly Dojo mode while doing so.

Lunar Explorer
The only shape I ever used to make the environment was a pentagon. You'd never guess. (ahem)

Every time I added something new to the level, I made sure to test it over and over again, and because I hadn't (haven't) mastered all of LBP2's tools yet (and didn't think to simply position a start point in the middle), that meant playing the level from the start every time. I identified and subsequently fixed plenty of problems while testing, but the downside of this process was that I got to be extremely good at my own game. I imagine that this must be a big problem for developers and their armies of testers alike; they get so good at their games that it's difficult for them to gauge how other people will play. The two people who got to play Lunar Explorer before I made it available publicly both found the handling of the craft to be overly unforgiving, but I was still able to make it through the entire level without losing a life, so I unwisely chose to ignore their spectacular failures. The result was that the first wave of LBP2 players found the game far too difficult and started giving the game negative reviews.

After working on my game in isolation for several days, I had managed to convince myself that it was great, and that while it was clearly aimed at those players who have played or at the very least remember Lunar Lander, its high score table would be a hive of activity for weeks. Boy, was I wrong. Eagerly looking for feedback in the form of smiley/sad faces and player reviews, I was disappointed to see that almost nobody was able to complete my level and that most weren't having much fun with it. You can read the reviews on the Lunar Explorer page on, but in case you can't be bothered, here are some choice quotes:

"…this level is almost unplayable because the ship is so difficult to control."
"I fought the controls more than the turrets."
"The unforgiving controls break this level."
"too damn hard mate"
"didn't like it need smaller ship 2 hardddddd"

Footage of me pretending to work on and subsequently playing Lunar Explorer.

Not all of the reviews were negative, but the sad faces easily outnumbered the smiley faces (and still do), and for the first few days it seemed like nobody else was ever going to get onto the high score table, much less try to relieve me of my top spot on it. Fortunately, some of the reviews offered constructive criticism and ideas for improvements, and so I took it upon myself to "patch" Lunar Explorer (version 1.1) by making some tweaks to make it a little easier. I removed a couple of the plasma turrets that were turning areas of the level into a bullet hell, and made others fire a little less frequently; I tweaked the handling of the craft slightly by making the gyroscope that straightens it up a little more powerful; and I reluctantly gave the craft a health bar so that it would blow up on the fifth impact rather than the first. For me personally, this has made Lunar Explorer a little too easy, but the good news is that I'm no longer alone on the leaderboard. At the time of this writing, 674 people have played the game a total of 1077 times and completed it 40 times. I know… the game is clearly still too difficult, but I really don't want to make it any easier. I like that it's more challenging than most LBP levels, and there are at least a handful of people out there who agree with me based on their reviews:

"Tough but fun. "
"Hard and unforgiving but good fun"
"Level design is awesome!"
"Challenging and addictive, rivals most addictive arcade games!"
"The difficulty was what set it apart. Perfect the way it is!"

And so now I face something of a dilemma, and perhaps it's not wholly unlike those faced by modern game developers. Do I stick to my guns and keep the game challenging, knowing that it won't be enjoyed by everyone? Or do I take steps to make it easier (which actually wouldn't take long) in the hope that it will appeal to more players? I'm torn. I've made a game that I genuinely enjoy playing myself, but I've also made a game that the majority of other players find frustrating. Either way, there's a version 1.2 of Lunar Explorer coming sometime soon because I've been informed that one of my plasma turrets isn't properly attached to the lunarscape (though I still need to figure out which one) and also learned that there might be a way for me to address the problem that the craft blows up if Sackboy touches it while attempting to climb into its controlinator seat. I'm also toying with the idea of adding an option to play the game in black and white or with different lighting, though I've yet to come up with a more elegant solution for switching between the visuals options than having Sackboy interact with a button or lever.

If any of you have LittleBigPlanet 2 and have played (or are now going to play) Lunar Explorer, I'd love to hear your feedback, good and bad. I'd also love to hear about any games that you've made yourselves so I can check them out and return the favor.

Justin Calvert Ornament

This blog is a part of the scavenger hunt.

Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
I don't really have a Christmas list this year; I've already bought every game that I want to play. The only thing I really want over the break is time enough to actually unwrap and play some of them. I haven't even started Call of Duty: Black Ops yet! With that said, a new video card for my PC wouldn't be a bad gift.

What games will you play during the holidays?

I'll definitely be playing Call of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, since I bought both of those games at launch and haven't unwrapped them yet. I'm sure I'll end up playing a lot more World of Warcraft as well.

What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?
One of my favorite things about the holidays here in the US is pumpkin pie, so you can bet I'll be eating as much of that as I can get my hands on. I'll also be drinking a healthy amount of beer, and have already stocked up on two of my favorites: St Peter's Old Style Porter, and Schneider Weisse Hefeweizen.


Me and my Kinect

It's been about a week since I contributed to our Gut Reactions piece on the Kinect and so, now that I've been able to spend more time with my own, I figured I'd deliver some updated thoughts on it. Kinect Sports is still the game that I'm spending the most time with, and I've also played a lot of Kinect Joy Ride for review. My copies of both Kinectimals and Kinect Adventures are still sealed, though I did spend a couple of hours with an office copy of the former prior to its release.

A week after allowing the Kinect into my home I'm still impressed by how well it works in my dimly lit living room. Since the regular controller is still much easier, I'm not using it to navigate menu options on my X360 or anything like that, but when I'm not working on games for review or reacquainting myself with World of Warcraft in preparation for the impending Cataclysm, Kinect titles are my games of choice right now. That's largely because they're fun for my girlfriend and I to play together, though I should point out that she's no slouch in "regular" games, as evidenced by a competitive Puzzle Fighter session recently.

Oddly, while her coming over to play Kinect games with me is undoubtedly one of the main reasons that I've been playing with and enjoying it so much, her presence has also served to highlight a flaw of the Kinect that I hadn't experienced previously. The problem, at least in my living room, is that there's almost nowhere that she can stand, sit down, or otherwise position herself when she's not playing where the Kinect won't see her. Escaping its infra-red gaze is tougher than steering clear of the Eye of Sauron.


When it inevitably spots her, it assumes that she wants to play, and--depending on the game--loads in her avatar automatically. This is only a minor irritation, but it'd be great if the Kinect was somehow able to tell the difference between someone who's standing right next to me wanting to play and someone who just happens to be laying on the couch off to the side. Maybe I'm expecting too much of this new technology, but perhaps the fact that her head is about three feet closer to the ground than it was when she created her Kinect ID should clue it in? Or maybe that she's not really inside what the Kinect generally considers to be an acceptable area of the room for playing in?

I guess my only other complaint with Kinect right now is simply that there aren't many Kinect games that I want to play. (The same is true of PlayStation Move, incidentally.) I'm hoping that will change, but as I scour what we know of the release calendar for next year, Child of Eden is the only Kinect game that I'm excited for. I know that Dance Central is great, but games with the word "Dance" in the title just aren't for me I'm afraid. And nor are games that throw around words like "fitness" for that matter.

I'm happy that I bought a Kinect, and I'm very much looking forward to playing it with some non-gamers over Thanksgiving. I'm still not entirely convinced that motion controls are for me, though, and I can't help wondering how long it will be before layer of dust on my Kinect rivals those on my Wii and Move controllers. How many of you already have a Kinect, and how are you liking it so far? Any amusing stories to share? I almost forgot to mention that, while playing at work, one of our Kinects was trying to use its facial recognition on a pedestal fan that I'd stuck on top of a chair to make some room. It was funny at the time, even if it doesn't sound funny now. The opposite is true of this video:

On Used Games

A lot of people are talking about used games at the moment. THQ creative director Cory Ledesma feels that developers get "cheated" anytime of their games get bought used, and although they're not being as vocal about it, a number of publishers are currently experimenting with ways to make money from those of you who buy their games used rather than new. One publisher getting in on the action is THQ, which after doing something similar with UFC 2010 Undisputed recently announced that used buyers would have to spend an additional $10 to play WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 online.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction from what appears to be the majority of gamers--or at least of the most vocal ones--is less than positive:

  • "new games already cost 60 f***ing dollars... why can't they just leave the also high-priced used games alone?!"
  • "always looking for ways to screw the buyers. it's a freaking GAME, let us PLAY IT!!!"
  • "They already got paid once, somebody had to buy it new for it to be used in the first place."
  • "Game Publishers: Stop Raping Gamers' Wallets! Nuff said!!"
  • "Nice, way to go on alienating a fanbase and people who sometimes don't have 60 bucks to spend on a game, so instead they go for the used games."

There are plenty of people sticking up for the games companies as well, of course, but what I find most surprising is that very few people on either side of the argument appear to see stores such as GameStop as the bad guys in this scenario. Maybe it's because they're too busy attacking each other.

For the record, I don't have a problem with there being a used games market; I very rarely buy used games myself, but I've been known to trade in used games against new purchases from time to time, and recently I've been selling off a few of my old games on What I do have a problem with, though, is used games that sell for almost as much as new games, and for significantly more than the customer trading the game in was given.

It's been a while since I traded in any games at my local GameStop, but I don't think I've ever received more than $20 for an individual game. Now, I daresay they go a little higher than that if you're trading in something released very recently (you tell me), but I'd be extremely surprised if it's ever as high as, say, $35. Maybe I'm wrong, but the impression I get is that when GameStop (which I have nothing against, by the way, they just happen to be the only brick-and-mortar games store I ever go to) puts used games on the shelf with a $55 price tag, that's a serious mark-up on what they paid for it. I've even had these $55 games offered to me at the counter after waiting in line with my $60 new copy, and told that buying new games is crazy by the cashiers on more than one occasion, but that's a gripe for another day.

The point I'm doing a horrible job of getting around to making is that , in my opinion, it's the stores selling used games that are being greedy. It's not the gamers who prefer to save money by getting their games used, and it's definitely not the developers who'd like a return on all of the time and money they invest in making games that are the problem. We should absolutely have the right to purchase games used, but do any of us really want that right to come at the expense of the developers who work so hard creating the games we love? I'd like to think not.

By charging $10 to unlock online play in used copies, games companies are at least getting a share of the money they've earned, and I for one am all for it. No, it's not a perfect solution. And yes, it sucks if you want to use your copy of a game on multiple consoles or with multiple family members' profiles. But what else can they do? I'm sure it won't be long before a better solution is forthcoming, but in the meantime I'd like to toss a couple of thoughts and questions out there:

  • What if those $55 used games were sold for $45 instead? Retailers would still make a decent margin on them, and you'd have the option (but wouldn't be obligated) to spend the $10 you saved on a code to unlock online play.
  • What if new games came not with just one single-use online code but two or three? That way a game bought new could be used by two family members, for example, and if only one of the codes was used it would retain more of it's value the first time it was traded in.

Maybe physical game discs and cartridges will be a thing of the past before this mess gets sorted out, but I doubt it. Where do you guys stand on this issue? Do you sympathize with the games companies who are taking risks by investing millions of dollars in game development? Or maybe you feel bad for the game stores that are coming under fire for doing the same perfectly legal things that they've always done, because now the games companies have figured out a way to get a slice of their action?

I'm interested to see you your comments. :)