December 31, 2013

RushJet1 Puts One Last Album "Out There" for 2013

RushJet1 - Out There

In the mood to cap off the year with some retro NES bleeps and bloops? Chiptune artist extraordinaire RushJet1, known for tons of quality Mega Man re-imaginings as well as original works like Forgotten Music, has just the thing. His latest, Out There, just released today! Here's the concept, from the album's Bandcamp page:

Ever wondered what it's like in outer space? Ever wondered whether there's life on other planets out there? In RushJet1's second 8bitpeoples release, humans venture into space to find out and begin colonizing other planets. All is not well, though, as war ensues over control of a newly-found abandoned alien planet with advanced technology. What will the fate of the human race be? Recorded straight from the NES, these tunes were specifically written with the hardware in mind.

Head on over to RushJet1's album page before the remaining grains of 2013 slip through your fingers! Or, if you can't make it until next year, no problem -- the music is all available to listen to online for free, or download at any price you deem fair.

Sword Art Online II Teaser Takes Aim at 2014

Sword Art Online II

Happy New Year!!  Hope everyone's having a fun (and safe) night as we count down the final moments til 2014. Is it just me, or does the number 2014 suddenly sound very future-y? We've still got a while to go before our video games start running on Sword Art Online's virtual-reality Nerve Gear, though. Until then, we'll have to remain content with speculative fiction. Good thing Aniplex just put out a teaser trailer for Sword Art Online II!

Seems like the show will take a dramatic departure from the high fantasy setting of the games featured in the previous season. Personally, I much preferred the eponymous game environment that made up the first chunk of the series, as opposed to Alfheim Online in the second.

It will be interesting to see where this third arc takes the story. If it follows the light novel series, we're heading into the highly competitive Gun Gale Online. According to Wikipedia, "It is a virtual game world with a main focus on guns, although melee weapons like lightsabers and knives also exist. From all the games it is the most competitive one as the money earned there can be exchanged for currency used in the real world, drawing high-tier professional players to make a living from it."

The bullets start flying in 2014.

December 30, 2013

Project Nimbus Preparing For Takeoff

Project Nimbus

I have to admit, if I were to guess where the next great anime-inspired, mecha sci-fi shooter title was coming from, Thailand might not have been first on my list. However, indie developer GameCrafterTeam has blown that expectation out of the sky with a very impressive-looking entry called Project Nimbus. This free-flying aerial combat game will take players soaring through the clouds above the ruins of a war-wracked planet, piloting robotic suits called BattleFrames in intense mid-air dogfights.

Though the game has come a long way since development began in December of 2012, and it's already looking incredibly polished, the team has put up a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to make sure the end product gets the refinements it deserves. As of this writing, they're over halfway to reaching their £6000 goal (that's roughly $10k in Canadian dollars) and hopefully the latest trailer will encourage enough backers to chip in the remaining amount.

Project Nimbus wears its anime influences on its sleeve, without going overboard with it. The BattleFrame units have that distinctive, larger-than-life flair that mecha fans will appreciate, while not quite approaching the zany amount of impracticality one might see in a Gundam series or Xenogears. The designs range from mass-produced to exotic, while graphical concerns like colour and lighting are highly realistic and gorgeous. Weapons seem to stick to relatively sensible choices like machine guns, homing missiles and drones. I didn't see any robots wielding laser swords, though the the giant Patriot boss at the end of the first chapter does sport an ostentatious wingspan:

There will be a lofty amount of different BattleFrame designs and models in the game, ranging in size and weapon loadouts. One of the really neat aspects of Nimbus is that each unit eventually becomes unlocked for your characters by completing missions, ensuring a lot of replayability and unique challenges for repeated runs.

Project Nimbus

What has me intrigued, aside from the combat, is the promise of a good story. The population is split into three warring factions, each vying for supremacy of the embattled world. Throughout the plot, players will assume the role of characters on different sides of the conflict, aiming to reestablish peace in spite of the avarice of humanity. This "heroes on both sides" concept is one of my favourite aspects of mecha anime, and it's in design choices like this that I see Project Nimbus becoming a worthy tribute to the genre. Another good thing is that the game isn't simply a vehicle for competitive multiplayer, like so many shooters these days. GameCrafterTeam is focusing strictly on a quality single-player campaign, with possible multiplayer modes being considered afterward.

The game is already green-lit for release on Steam, though no solid date is set as of yet. Still, English voice actors are being hired and the devs seem to really have a clear vision, so I expect progress to go smoothly provided they have the funding. If you're a fan of sci-fi mecha anime, or looking for a fast-paced action experience, head over to their site and take a look at what they're working on.

Project Nimbus (Development Progress Blog)

Project Nimbus Kickstarter

December 29, 2013

Random Encounters: Top o' the Year to Ya!

For many, we've reached not only the end of 2013 but a transitional phase from one gaming generation to another. The term "generation," though, is a word that is quickly losing its meaning. It really only refers to an arbitrarily-defined, vague time period in which certain game consoles are thought to compete with one another in the same context. Increasingly, we're seeing systems like Nintendo's Wii or DS overlapping different gens, and the smartphone and PC space seem to hold no regard for the definition whatsoever. Outside of video games, the term is certainly meaningless -- are there "generations" of toasters or refrigerators? What "gen" of books are we on, now? It makes me wonder if this is one of the last traditional gaming "generations" we will see.

Still, there's no harm in grouping games together while it still makes sense to do so, for the purposes of reflection. We'll start off today's round-up of stories from around the web with a look at some hidden gems that didn't perhaps didn't get their fair 15 minutes of fame (or at least not their due sales).

The 100 Most Overlooked Games of the Generation

GamesRadar's piece had me agreeing with a lot of their choices, especially in Valkyria Chronicles, Folklore, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Retro Game Challenge, and Lost Odyssey. Some others I really can't speak to, though I think puzzle-platformer Offspring Fling should have been on the list. And where's Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? It did make headlines quite a bit, but mainly for its publisher's infamous financial scandals and not so much for being a masterfully-crafted action RPG. And how about indie fan game Rokko Chan? She really needs some more recognition!

The 30 Best Comics of 2013

I really need to get over to Dorkly more often -- their animated shorts always crack me up, and their comics are usually a cut above, too. They've compiled their choice of the 30 best comics of the year (I've linked to the top 10).

Is 11,000 Games Enough?

The Huffington Post reports on Buffalo, NY's Michael Thomasson, who made the Guinness Book of World Records for owning the largest collection of video games in the world. And I thought my Steam backlog was getting up there!

Finally, Chess 2: The Sequel!

Wired GameLife brings us the story on David Sirlin, who decided it was high time for the game of Chess to get a much-needed update. His new set of rules for Chess 2: The Sequel are designed for use with a standard Chess set, but promise to minimize over-reliance on familiar move sequences and minimize draws while promoting a more organic approach to strategy. Apparently, players may choose from any of six different army make-ups, rather than the standard one everyone's been playing with for centuries.

December 28, 2013

This is Breath of Fire 6. Apparently.

I was never a hardcore superfan of Breath of Fire, but I did play around a bit with Capcom's JRPG series over the years, and I enjoyed many aspects of it. It had some novel character ideas and fun mechanics I could appreciate, but nothing that truly hooked me for an extended period. Still, even I am a little offended by the announcement of Breath of Fire 6, which at this point is looking more and more like a superficial attempt to latch a familiar brand name onto an unnecessarily "social" browser/mobile product. Where is the little blue-haired guy named Ryu, who turns into a dragon?

Some recent media has popped up on Capcom's official Japanese page for the game, and I shared my early assessment of it over on Feel free to take in a few shots of the screens and artwork, and see what I had to say.

Breath of Fire 6 takes a sharp departure from tradition (

December 19, 2013

Random Encounters: Recent Highlights in Gaming News

In case you didn't catch the buzz the first time around, here are a few highlights from the gaming news of the past few days:

George Takei guest stars on Co-Optitude

Whether you still think of him as Sulu, or simply the de facto king of the internet, George Takei has certainly made a name for himself with the youngsters. He takes his open-minded class and sense of humour over to Geek & Sundry's gaming series Co-Optitude for a round of Mario Party 4 with Felicia Day. He may be a little inexperienced at the game, but damned if he isn't a good sport.

Earthbound's Onett rendered in stunning 3D

When I first saw 3D designer Christopher Behr's incredible rendering of the town of Onett from the SNES game Earthbound, I assumed I was looking at an actual miniature model town he'd crafted in real life. It's so toy-like, and the lighting is so well done -- it's as if one could reach in a pick up these cute, little figures. Boy oh boy, do I even dare imagine what it might be like to see these scenes animated, or even play a version of the game with graphics like these?

New Japanese Zelda ad is just like old Japanese Zelda ad

As Kotaku's Jason Schreier points out, there is a suspicious familiarity to a Japanese advertisement for 3DS title The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. And that familiarity is... rap! As the game is a sequel of sorts to the SNES's  A Link to the Past, I guess Nintendo thought it would be fun to reference that game's original television commercial as well. I'm glad they did, because that commercial is awesome. I wish more game ads had costumes and monsters and choreographed dancing...

It finally happened: Zelda and Dynasty Warriors had a baby

No, it's not April 1st. This is real. Dynasty Warriors developer Tecmo Koei is teaming up with Nintendo to produce what looks to be a very combat-heavy new concept for everyone's favourite green tunic-wearing hero. Not the worst idea in the world, but I sure found it unexpected. At least he doesn't appear to be fighting in ancient China, and after Solid Snake appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, anything goes!

NES Remix is suddenly a thing

Yesterday, Nintendo announced the existence of a new game for the Wii U eShop. They also announced that it is totally out, right now. NES Remix is a mishmash of bite-sized challenges that present segments of gameplay from several classic NES games, altered with novel quirks or specialized goals.

December 18, 2013

Dragon's Crown Diary #2

This is the second installment of my Dragon's Crown Diary. Click here for the first installment.

So, perhaps one of the most noticeable things about this game, right off the bat, is the ridiculous character proportions. I get it, this is a highly fantastical world rendered through deliberately larger-than-life caricature -- and it wouldn't be the first video game to star anatomically-questionable figures. It's just hard not to be a little embarrassed at having this game running whilst female friends are in the room, and explaining to them: "Yes, this is the game I am into now." After all, here are a couple of the images that flash at you in the first minutes:

Yeah, that happened.

I mean, it's kind of cool that the axe-wielding Amazon is actually built solid, but was it absolutely necessary to give her a scalemail bikini? I can buy the Sorceress as the sultry, bewitching type, but why does each of her breasts have to be literally the size of her own head? It's as if the usual trope of "scantily clad, abnormally large rack" wasn't quite enough for them -- they had to crank that dial to eleven!! Again, I know this is not a realistic game, and one could argue that the proportions of the male Fighter are equally ridiculous, but not in the same way. His monumental shoulders and titanic suit of armor make him look menacing, and certainly don't warrant him a NSFW warning the way most of the females in the game might. Anyhow, I don't mean to dwell on this topic (TotalBiscuit speaks for about 25 minutes on this topic, and still barely manages to offer a 101 crash course on the issue). Aside from some questionable designs, that's really not what the game is about. It's just something that a new player simply cannot ignore, and it colours one's first experiences of the game significantly.

But enough of that, let's get to the actual game!

It's actually a lot of fun, though naturally the learning curve and story progress can be artificially drawn out if you're with a few friends and you're all trying to learn your characters amidst all the four-player, screen-sharing pandemonium. As with many multiplayer co-op games, I sometimes find it hard to keep track of where my character is on the screen. Is it just me? At least we don't all look like nearly-identical, green, mutant turtles, so that helps.

In some ways, it feels a lot like being a kid again and going head-to-head with waves of baddies. Hurried lines like "No, don't get that food, you don't need it!" buzz about the room. Plenty of weapons, armor, and magical accessories drop from chests, the rank and quality of which we surmise might have been dependent on the quality of our performance in some way, though perhaps not. Some aspects of the game remain a mystery in the beginning, like why there are runes carved into the wall in some places, or which skills are the best investments, though this becomes revealed in due time. Dragon's Crown isn't punishingly difficult from the start, though it does require your attention, and we did have a few desperate scrapes when allies went down during boss encounters.

One thing which I find quite enjoyable, though I probably shouldn't, is waving a little pointing hand around the field using the right stick. Hovering over several and various spots in the environment reveals hidden gold and treasures, which both act as currency in town and count toward your final "score" (experience points) at the end of the stage. You also use the pointer to direct Rannie, a non-combat NPC companion thief, to unlock doors and chests for you by clicking L1. You can also hit L1 on certain key spots to detect passageways to secret chambers, though it's up to you to judge where those might be. This can add an exciting element of discovery to the proceedings, though I would imagine it can be tedious upon repeated excursions into the same dungeons (and probably doesn't sound all that great via text). The degree to which one obsesses over these details is largely optional. You're rewarded for doing it, but not punished for cutting corners when you're feeling impatient.

Balancing equipment drops across a party can be interesting, as no character can equip everything. Each class has their own specific weapons, but armor and accessories are often shared between a couple of characters (for example, boots may be worn by the Elf or Amazon, while gauntlets are for the Fighter and Dwarf). Deciding who could benefit the most from an upgrade, and taking into account defensive and offensive bonuses on gear, promotes constructive teamwork.

Gaining levels accrues skill points, which can be spent on purchasing and upgrading various abilities from any of two pools: a class-specific category, and a common set of skills available to all. As an Elf, I had a number of good options including a powerful charge shot for my bow, increased quiver capacity, a strength upgrade for my melée kicks dependent on the defense rating of my boots, a whirlwind of elemental magic, and a vial of poison which I could equip as a "skill item" to enhance my arrow and dagger attacks with additional periodic damage. New skills, and higher tiers of existing ones, are accessible at higher experience levels.

As for the common skills, there are more generalized features such as health boosts, higher replenishment rates from food, coins counting toward the experience "score" at the stage's completion, and the like. They are less specialized, but very useful for any play style. I suspect many of the survival-based traits really come in handy if playing solo.

Of course, there's more to tell than what I've covered so far, and more depth and attention to detail than what first appears on the surface. Next time, I'll share some of my solo play experiences and expound on more features that become unlocked with further progress.

December 17, 2013

Dragon's Crown Diary #1: A Prelude of Punches

I've always had a penchant for side-scrolling brawlers, perhaps more than anyone ought to. Having grown up in the heyday of the genre, a younger me was content with the simple "walk right and punch badguys" formula of so many games like Double Dragon, Final Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles. Those games are still fun to pick up every now and then, but even when they were fresh there was a part of me that would have appreciated more spice.

Sure, River City Ransom on NES is the one infamous exception, for introducing character growth and shops run by friendly NPCs. And then there's my guilty pleasure, Dragon View for SNES, which is for all intents and purposes a (kind of bland) RPG that just happens to stage its dungeons and battles within "brawler" confines. Aside from those, almost all of these beat-'em-ups seemed a little too comfortable with the conceit that monotonous, repetitive fighting was a perfectly satisfactory thing to build a genre around. That could be part of the reason these games gradually became much more rare, as other types of genres became more complex. Or, it could be that the addition of deeper combat and expanded gameplay simply caused the genre to disperse and be subsumed by the likes of Diablo, Yakuza, Onimusha, and other fashions of action RPG.

Lately, there has been a bit of a niche resurgence of interest in side-scrolling brawlers, thanks largely to digital rereleases of classics and the rise of indie "retro" gaming in general. Castle Crashers was at the forefront of the movement for the genre, offering accessible hack-and-slash action packaged in zany humour. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was essentially a love letter to River City Ransom, and like Crashers it offered the chance to earn upgrades to character stats, gear, and skills. One of the key factors that unites the genre is the reliance on 2D visuals, an art which Vanillaware and Atlus have demonstrably mastered in their recent offering Dragon's Crown.

Like its spiritual ancestors, Dragon's Crown is a 2D, side-scrolling beat-'em-up. Up to four players can choose any of six character classes to take into battle against hordes of enemies in a chaotic arcade-style melée, with each dungeon usually culminating with a huge boss monster. Enemies, crates and treasure boxes hide gold coins and health-replenishing food. In that sense, at least, it plays similarly to the classic games that inspired it -- but of course, there are further complexities which put more meat on the bone and transform the experience into something more substantial.

From the outset, the six distinct character classes already offer a wide variety of play styles to choose from, and come with recommended difficulty curves. For example, the basic Fighter can both take and dish out a lot of damage and is described as an "easy" class to play, while the tricky sorceress is considered a support role for more experienced gamers. This is no mere matter of "walk right and punch badguys," either. There are elements of crowd control and tanking, item and equipment management, skill specializations to suit your preferred style, experience levels to gain, and tons of hidden secret passages and treasures. The result is a great game that finally succeeds in retaining the familiar feel of a side-scrolling brawler, while gradually piling on layers of depth that might be appropriate for a true action RPG.

When I first sat down to try out the game with some friends, I couldn't help but opt for the lithe and dextrous Elf. Some of her signature abilities include powerful, ranged archery attacks, poisonous venoms to apply to arrows and daggers for damage over time, and a short-range burst of elemental magic. Although she was labelled one of the most difficult character types, I wasn't about to let that stop me.

Accompanied by a beguiling sorceress, a towering amazon, and a hardy dwarf, I left the village tavern ready for a grand adventure. Let's go, little Elf! May your arrows fly swift and true!

December 9, 2013 News, Holiday Music!

Just thought I'd share, I have recently been hired to write for I'll be covering video game stories there, so please check it out!

My first story is about some albums of fun, game-themed holiday music that I think anyone can enjoy -- especially if you're partial to old-school 8-bit sounds. You can read the story right here, or click the individual album links below:

8-bit Christmas (Rush Coil)

8-Bit Jesus (Doctor Octoroc)

Wintertunes (Various Artists)

The 8bits of Christmas (The 8bitpeoples)

X'Mas Collections Music from Square Enix (Various Artists)

November 25, 2013

A Fond Farewell to The Legacy Music Hour

After three years of providing game soundtrack fans with a regular dose of nostalgic joy and thrilling discoveries, one of my all-time favourite podcasts has come to a close. The Legacy Music Hour, hosted by Brent Weinbach and Rob F of Los Angeles, boasts over 150 episodes of timeless music from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming's golden age. Tracks from a huge variety of titles, both familiar and obscure, are sampled from all the classic systems of yesteryear, including the Gameboy, NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Neo Geo. Through Brent and Rob's playful humour and thorough investigative efforts, even the most die-hard gaming enthusiast is sure to find a novel and entertaining listening experience that celebrates legacy video game music in a new light.

The format of the program is essentially like a radio-style DJ show, enhanced by the chemistry of the hosts' back-and-forth dialogue. As Brent and Rob are both comedians, they often find ways to round out the experience with cute jokes and anecdotes, beyond simply playing the music. Episodes are typically organized with loose themes, such as game genres, developers, composers, musical styles, or in-game mechanics like ice stages or shop music. This makes each individual show feel cohesive and grounded, but still fortified with enough variety to keep things fresh from moment to moment. It's eye-opening to find that genres I would ordinarily have overlooked as sources of great tunes -- puzzle games or sports titles, for example -- actually prove to be packed with inspired and captivating pieces.

One of the greatest and most unique aspects of this show is how they go about playing the music. Because the pieces exist as purely digital files, with pre-programmed sound channels that can be isolated and played separately, there are often times when the hosts take the opportunity to highlight a particularly good bass riff or solo and explore how individual sections of the music behave. This may sound trivial on the surface, but it goes a long way in giving listeners a kind of "Music Appreciation 101" crash course as the show progresses. In limiting the source material to a time period when any given track could only play a handful of sound channels at once, appreciating the techniques of the composers and comparing styles from track to track is made accessible and fun. The relatively short loops that most games employ also contribute to making the compositions easy to digest. Even pieces that might have seemed banal in the context of in-game background can belie a hidden charm when actively listened to.

Throughout the series, The Legacy Music Hour occasionally hosts guests such as other podcasters and even some notable game music composers who worked in these "retro" eras. There are also interviews with famous composers, and recordings from live events such as the game music listening parties Brent and Rob have hosted. Video game music karaoke, as it turns out, can be utterly hilarious when done well.

You don't have to know anything about musical theory, or technicalities in video game hardware and history, to enjoy this program. Brent Weinbach and Rob F explain any relevant trivia there is to know, if it will enhance the context of the experience. They cross-reference favourite composers or developers when it's of note, and do all the detective work in identifying episode tracklists in the show notes for those who want them. Overall, though, it's all about appreciating good music with a couple of lighthearted and funny guys.

It's sad that this exceptional podcast has come to an end -- but, like its subject matter, The Legacy Music Hour is timeless. While there's still the hope of a few infrequent episodes being recorded in the future, reruns of this show are going to be cycling through my playlist indefinitely. Even if you've never heard the program before, don't let the fact that it's "concluded" stop you from checking it out.

The Legacy Music Hour Home Page

The Legacy Music Hour on iTunes

June 26, 2013

Head in the Clouds

The Xbox One train wreck has finally ground to a slow, agonizing halt -- and not a moment too soon, as it seems Microsoft was running out of fans to throw onto the tracks. However, as if all memory of the incident has been blocked out by mental trauma, some of the survivors are already dusting themselves off and lining up to purchase their next ticket to ride.

"Why would you get back on that train?" any sensible person might ask. "There's a much safer train over here -- one with a less homicidal conductor. It's a faster, more powerful vehicle, and the tickets cost $100 less, to boot!"

Microsoft has already conditioned their minds against this kind of critical thinkng, though. For you see, it is believed by these unfortunate folk that Microsoft's latest invention will lift them off the rails of reality itself, and into the very clouds!

There's a ridiculous amount of hype going on right now, at least among die-hard Microsoft fans, about the Xbox One using "cloud computing" to "offload processes" and perform dazzling feats that your individual console wouldn't be able to do on its own. Bigger online worlds, and better graphics, are some of the vague promises Microsoft and various twinkling-eyed dreamers are dribbling over. The basic idea is that your game console will be communicating via the internet with distant servers, and having them do some of the computing grunt work for you so that your system can get back to more important things... like, I don't know, keeping tabs on fantasy football scores and streaming reruns of The Price is Right. How much additional graphical "oomph" does this theoretical gimmick really afford the XBO? No one can really say. There's not been any concrete display of this technology functioning in any games yet. Microsoft just wants to plant the idea in your head, because -- while the PS4 will factually have more powerful hardware -- the Xbox One will be fictionally more powerful, through the magic of cyberspace! What's next, blast processing?

I'm not saying that cloud computing as a concept is impossible, but consider the examples of some heavily online-dependent games we've seen so far. There's Diablo III, and the latest Sim City, both of which require a constant online connection to function, even in single-player mode. Both are infamous for server crashes and malfunctions which rendered them inaccessible at launch and beyond. And these aren't small, start-up indie companies, either -- this is Blizzard and EA we're talking about here.

Have you ever played an MMORPG for any length of time? Nearly every MMO that ever came into existence has had a pretty rocky launch -- rife with shoddy connections, server crashes and capacity overloads. And further down the road, servers routinely are taken down for maintenance on a weekly basis, even when they're working perfectly (which they don't always). I hope you're looking forward to dealing with such frustrations for every video game, from now on!

The closest thing to a "cloud gaming" service we've seen so far is OnLive, which by all accounts is far from revolutionary. For a monthly fee, you can purchase games to have them rendered on their end and "streamed" to your system, essentially like a video. It's a cool enough concept, and lets you "play" games with graphics beyond what under-powered hardware might ordinarily be capable of, but it's not as if your hardware is really working in cooperation with theirs. It's a far cry from what Microsoft is proposing, where whatever computing gets done on their servers still has to be rendered finally on your $500+ new console.

I realize these scenarios aren't exactly the same thing, but at least these are realistic considerations to take into account. If nothing else, they serve to remind us that we can't just lean on online infrastructures as a crutch for every single gaming application. The internet is not perfect. It doesn't work the way it should 100% of the time, and when your connection has a hiccup, get ready for any game reliant on "cloud computing" to lag or die on you. Hell, never mind complex next-gen gaming computations being calculated off-site and sent back to me at instantaneously -- sometimes I can't get a text e-mail right away, or even a phone call. When every online infrastructure we've ever invented has been proven to be unreliable, why would you put so much faith in Microsoft's "cloud gaming" promises?

Sony is looking into similar technology with their Gaikai service on PS4, aimed to go online in 2014. Details are sparse, though apparently it is being intended for uses that aim a little closer to practical reality -- the availability of PS1, PS2, and PS3 titles, primarily. There hasn't been much in the way of hype and pie-in-the-sky promises for what exactly will be on offer, but at least it sounds like something feasible. It's not being pushed as a leg of the PS4's "true" processing power, but it certainly has the potential to be expanded upon in future to enhance next-gen gaming, if that becomes a reality. Of course, Xbox fans refuse to acknowledge Sony's Gaikai as being at all capable of doing anything similar to Microsoft's "cloud" -- even though no one currently has any idea what either service can actually do.

When it comes down to it, you have to base your purchasing decisions on something. Do you want to base them on facts about tangible hardware specs, and real games and policies? Or do you want to blow your fortune on an advance ticket for the train to Cloud City, a place we've only heard about in legend?

June 24, 2013

Two Souls, One Face?

A curious situation has come up, regarding Naughty Dog's latest game, The Last of Us. One of its central characters, Ellie, bears a suspicious resemblance to actress Ellen Page. The character in question originally looked quite a bit more like her, though she eventually underwent some minor visual changes in an attempt to distance her from the actress a bit. Interestingly, Ellen Page had no part in the role, though she does star as the character Jodie in the upcoming game, Beyond: Two Souls.

Here are some image comparisons, to consider:

It made the rounds of the gaming news recently, because of an off-the-cuff comment Ellen Page made on Reddit: "I guess I should be flattered that they ripped off my likeness, but I am actually acting in a video game called Beyond Two Souls, so it was not appreciated."

Those are the facts. In and of itself, there's nothing particularly scandalous or controversial about it, at least in my eyes -- but it does raise some open questions. What is a person's "likeness," and what rights do they have over its use? Surely, it seems like common sense to say that Naughty Dog should have asked her permission to use her face for their character. But, how do you demonstrate concretely that it is her face? Ellen Page comes to mind because she is a famous Hollywood actress, and happens to be appearing in another video game set to release in the near future. However, there are probably hundreds of unknowns out there who could similarly be mistaken for Ellen Page, or either of the two characters inspired by her appearance. I don't think she could make a legal case out of the issue -- nor do I believe she is interested in doing so -- but is there a moral dilemma here?

Ellen Page didn't create her own face. It's not her intellectual property, nor are the faces of any number of other women who might happen to look extraordinarily like her. A number of comments I've seen suggest that she has a somewhat "generic" or "forgettable" face. That may or may not be the case, and is rather beside the point, but maybe it's not a trivial consideration. At least, she doesn't have any rare, distinguishing features or telltale marks. She hasn't got Liam Neeson's nose or Tommy Flanagan's scars, anyhow. I'm sure avid fans of hers, or people who know her personally, could spot her a mile away -- but to the general public or casual moviegoers, it's not so obvious. We might not have seen these resemblances unless we had photos like the ones above shown to us side-by-side.

Also, to put things more in perspective, Ellie in The Last of Us more resembles a younger Ellen Page than the modern-day actress. Ms. Page may have youthful features, but she is a grown woman in her mid-twenties, whereas the Ellie character is clearly a young child. And it does no good to point out that the original design for the character resembled the actress more, because then you're talking about inspirations, and not any tangible product.

This is far from the first time something like this has happened, either. Remember Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Remember Gray Edwards?

All I remember thinking is "Why is Alec Baldwin's voice coming out of Ben Affleck?" Similarly to the Ellen Page situation, you could argue that resemblances to Affleck here were coincidental. Okay, I would have to roll my eyes at that, but how would one prove it?

Well, whatever the truth of it is, from what I hear The Last of Us is a pretty dynamite game. People may be mistakenly attributing the character to Ellen Page, but it doesn't seem to be doing her image any harm. If anything, it's putting the actress on the map for those of us who couldn't quite remember who she is. I sure know her face now, I can tell you that.

Out of Tune

Perhaps you've seen this ad, or one like it, popping up around Facebook or other places online. It's for Wartune, a browser-based game which supposedly spans city-building, PvP, and RPG gameplay. I haven't touched it, mainly because browser games just give off a skeazy, low-quality vibe which their promotional materials do nothing to contradict.

Below is one such ad. Let us count the ways it utterly repulses:

Living Myth - Wartune Ad

1) Outright Plagiarism
This is artwork of the goddess Sillia, a character from the Korean MMORPG Forsaken World. No, the character is not affiliated with Wartune in any way. A lot of Wartune ads seem to display scantily-clad, vaguely-fantastical ladies ripped from various other games. There have been accusations that these ads are using images from League of Legends, as well. Does the actual game not have any of its own character art, which they might have used? Why must they steal from other games?

2) "No Children Allowed"
Ooooh, what manner of forbidden delights might one find within this risqué realm of debauchery? Let us peer into this decadent hive of adult pleasures:

Whoop dee doo. I am stimulated beyond compare.

If a game wants to advertise itself as a sexy, adult-oriented environment, fine -- but if it's unable to do so using its own assets, and it turns out to be this, what's the point?

3) "Male Gamers Only"
Let me tell you a little secret about gender and marketing, here. When you advertise "Ladies Night" on the front of your club, you might get more females to show up if they get free cover or some kind of deal on drinks -- but in addition, you will get more paying males to show up, because they want to meet ladies. Suppose you put "Males Only" on the front of your bar. What do you suppose will happen?

So, is Wartune the "gay bar" of browser games? I doubt it. What I assume they're going for are the stereotypical "hardcore" gamers, who are supposedly a males-only bunch, last time I asked 1987. Ironically, when I find out a game is trying to have a "males only" user base, it only drives me away -- and I am a male gamer. I just want to play a cool video game -- I don't go out of my way to play a game with only males. Does anyone?

4) "Once you're inside your friend won't be seeing much of you!"
First, I don't know how much this "Prepare to be addicted to this life-consuming game" line really fools people, or even sounds appealing anymore. It's the kind of thing people say in retrospect of a game they've already enjoyed, or at least to something they're already looking forward to immensely. It's not something people really look for, in and of itself. Like, "Yes! I don't want a well-paced, exciting game. I want a 100-hour, grind-heavy slog."

Second, my "friend"? As in, singular? Thanks for implying that I only have one friend, Wartune -- you just made one less.

5) The Logo
Nothing especially wrong here, but it's worth mentioning that it's likely the only non-plagiarised image on display. It's also the only thing that really has anything to do with their game -- and it's so small, you can barely read it.

From the ad itself, I had literally no idea what the game was even supposed to be about, or even what genre it was. It utterly fails to inform, impress, or inspire curiosity. Try harder next time, guys.

June 23, 2013

Light Bringer: Hyperion

When I first discovered Light Bringer, they immediately became one of my favourite Japanese metal bands. And then they were one of my favourite metal bands. And finally, one of my favourite bands, period. That all took about a day or so.

The stars alligned perfectly: hyperactive power metal with regular progressive and neo-classical flourishes; virtuosic guitar and keyboard solos; and an angelic voice carrying achingly sincere, operatic melodies. This is definitively my kind of music, trained on with expert precision.

It's not unusual to find a new band, get over-excited about how new and wonderful they are, and gradually lose some of that original enthusiasm as the years go by. Often, it's a case of a group rapidly becoming less like themselves, and more like everyone else -- or the original novelty wears off, and it seems like each album is just more of the same. I'm so happy I can say with confidence that this is not happening with Light Bringer. Their latest album Scenes of Infinity, is definitely as fresh and fun as ever, the instrumentals are urgent and powerful, and this might be vocalist Fuki's best and brightest effort yet.

Xbox 180