1up.com covered a Q&A with Stan Lee at Comic Con and apparently “The Man” approves of the storylines going into games now. He, like many others, recognizes that early on, comic book-based games were not only hokey, but “nothing special”. When asked about the stories in current and upcoming Marvel games, he said, “I hate you [videogame developers] for being better than we [comic creators] are at storytelling, but at least it’s based on our stuff.”  Receiving a compliment from a man who crafted so many of the heroes that generations of readers have and will grow up with is incredible, even for an outside aspirant like myself.

Was Stan Lee a pimp in the '70s?

Was Stan Lee a pimp in the '70s?

 

This being said, I pose the question: Who is the most influential writer/creator for game related characters or ideas? Not to slant the vote any, but I have to give Stan Lee the gold on this one simply for the number of games made with the Marvel IP. Can you think of anyone else who could take it away from him?

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Tantalum capacitor - new Blood Diamond?

Tantalum capacitor - new Blood Diamond?

I should probably already be in bed but as I logged on to do a final email check, I came upon this interesting article. I am very surprised by this as I’ve never taken the time to understand what actually goes into making “western electronics”.

Better?

Better?

That being said, I feel like slapping Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King upside the head with a PS2 rumble controller for delivering lines that are nothing more than undeserved sensationalist speak. Quoted, he said, “Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms.” What kind of thing is that to say? Do you want the world hating young American and European gamers now? I can see a Leonardo DiCaprio role reprisal now. And, furthermore, why doesn’t Japan get mentioned in this “throw-the-kids-under-the-bus” statement?

Also of note, reviewing the release titles for the PS2 (this is apparently when the run on coltan hit its highest), I don’t see a single game that revolved around killing aliens. I bring this point to bear not to discredit Mr. Oona King, but to show the still sad state of what the world at large thinks of video games. If they’re not causing children to want to pick up prostitutes in cars or kill police, then they’re about killing aliens (I can only imagine Mr. King’s idea of the PS2 is one of an arcade machine for Space Invaders 2).

Still, all the misconceptions aside, this is bad news. I’m not sure what the Xbox and the Wii use that allowed them to fly under the radar of this article, because it seems that many electronics nowadays use the tantalum capacitors. Read this article for more info on the usage and specs than you probably ever wanted to know.

OMG! I don’t have just a whole lot to say about this game as I’ve only just killed my first two Big Daddies, but, man. This. Game. Scares me. 

Big Daddy from 2K's Bioshock

Big Daddy from 2K's Bioshock

Maybe scare isn’t the right word, but I feel like I need to be on speed to play this game. Maybe setting the difficulty on high the first time through was a mistake, but all the noises and people talking has me on the edge of my seat and my mouse zigging this way and that, trying to keep a constant 360 degrees on my screen. I feel like a steak walking through a lion’s den.

Kudos so far to 2K for a game that is being rightfully touted as an artistic breakthrough for the games medium. Though I’m cowering while playing, the music and cityscape are brilliant. Sound engineers, you’ve taken the spotlight on this one for the simplistic terror you’ve brought by making every small piece of refuse echo loudly in the levels. Nothing makes someone cringe like noise when silence would be the best bet.

I’ll have a full review when I’m done, though I don’t know how soon that will be. I can only take the stress for about thirty minutes at a time.

I finished Bioware’s Mass Effect last night for the first time. Not having an X-Box 360 put me behind a bit on writing this review but the wait was worth it…or so I’m told.

Cover Art
Cover Art

If you know nothing of the game and have not clicked on the link above, here is a two sentence synopsis: As a tough-as-nails space marine, you are charged with tracking down an alien that could be assisting in the destruction of the galaxy as we know it. You have two team members with you at all times, two of which are female – and it ain’t rated ‘M’ for violence. How’s that for an elevator pitch?

This is an epic game and from reading Patrick Weekes‘ blog (one of the writers for the game) and industry news sources, there is no end in sight as far as any time soon. Supposedly, this game is to be a trilogy (Halo can’t be the only modern day space trilogy can it?) and I, for one, am ecstatic about this. Rather than go over plot points, I want to review this game based on what it does well and not so well, in that order.

Done Well

  • To parrot the rest of the industry, ME handles storyline and dialogue better than any other game has…ummm…ever. From dialogue options that relate to your current mood to the feeling that you’re watching a movie (or reading a book), this game provides an immersive feel that will be remembered.
  • Immersion: Playing the character of Commander Sheppard is no light task as you are faced with difficult and mature decisions to make. I tell everyone that I find it hard to play as a bad guy (Dark Side or, in this case, Renegade) my first time through a game but because the writers truly spent time developing not only the main characters, but also the ancillary ones, I found myself feeling pretty justified in taking the life of the condescending and rude characters; justice is rewarding.
  • The music really made the game. To say the icing on the cake would be a slight. It was the icing after being whipped up with actual chunks of heaven. It really threw me into the Blade Runner type of mindset and for me, that is a great mindset to be in.

I could go on and on about what the game did well, but it has been discussed for at least the past six months. Bioware has the best game writing to date (Does Square-Enix actually have competition now?) so hats off to them.

Not So Well

  • As I mentioned, I played this on the PC and it made my system crawl in some spots. From more than a few friends, I have heard that the game chugged a bit on the 360 as well. This is noteworthy because a beautiful game is not so beautiful frame-by-frame. This point could be broken down into its own dissertation on PCs meeting the highest standards, but for now, I think I have said enough about it.
  • Monotony of the side quests – I personally believe the side quests became an unnecessary thorn in Mass Effect’s side and were only inserted to give the gamer the idea the story was not linear. After 4 or 5 re-skinned planets, I simply stopped running any side missions. You receive plenty of money in the regular story missions to provide you with top gear without going through the painfully obvious identical rooms on planet A, B, C…N.

That’s it. 3 good, 2 bad. Mass Effect is a win in my book and I highly recommend it. I would love to discuss further the actual design of the dialogue system, but this entry is already longer than I wanted it to be. I encourage you to leave comments or email me to discuss this further.

Following a night of music performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra at Video Games Live, I spent Saturday at Richard Garriott’s lakeside retreat for Austin’s IGDA Summer Picnic. This was an excellent opportunity to meet some new faces in the local games industry while reacquainting myself with some familiar folks. I volunteered to help with the setup or the day’s activities and saw most of the attendants while directing them to their parking spot.

Mike McShaffry was at the helm of the picnic and could be seen throughout the day scurrying along in a John Deere cart. I met Mike back in February at a pre-SXSW mixer hosted by ScreenBurn and Austin Community College. At the same time, I met Kain Shin who also assisted with the volunteer work during the picnic. I knew from reading about Red Fly Studios on Kotaku that Kain was close to finishing the Mushroom Men project, but I was excited to hear that he was now soley in charge of the combat system for the game. Congrats Kain! Looking forward to this one.

Mr. Mike kicking up dust

Mr. Mike kicking up dust

The picnic was sponsered by several companies including KillerNICs and AutoDesk, with KillerNICs winning my personal award for Sweetest Marketing Ploy to Date. It was a chain with their NIC’s heatsink hanging from it. The catch is the heatsink is a “K” that smacks of Killer Instinct or the Blade movies – if, you know, Blade had a “K” in it.

Me in Killer Bling

Me in Killer Bling

When the sun started cooking us all, the Games2U truck provided a dark and airconditioned place for all of us gamers to do what we do best: kill each other in 8v8 Halo 3 battles. They also had outside screens for Guitar Hero and Laser Tag!

The Games2U Guys

The Games2U Guys

Of course, the most tiring part of the day came from Yoga Soccer and the mutations thereof. By the end, it was more of a basketball-soccer-rugby mashup that resulted in a few minor injuries and a lot of sweaty and panting volunteers.

Me trying to defend a girl in Yoga Soccer

Me defending a girl in Yoga Soccer

My personal thanks to Salt Lick Barbecue for catering the event, Amy’s Ice Cream for a little dessert and Opal Divine’s for the refreshing brew. Look for this event to happen again next summer and register early as some of my friends were unable to get in last minute.

Friday night in Austin, TX, Video Games Live put on a show like no other that I have seen. My girlfriend and I arrived around 6:30 for the preshow festivities at the Long Center on Riverside (for those of you familiar with the Austin area). Unfortunately, there was little going on (the following day, I ran into one Julianna who ran the hosting of VGL and she told me that she was disappointed in what VGL actually brought with them as opposed to what they said they would bring) but we grabbed a bag of Razer gear, chatted with some friends also in attendance and went to be seated. As luck, or oddness, would have it, they would not allow us to sit in our designated seats, so we were moved closer to the action.

Me, Brandi, Pam and Roddy

Me, Brandi, Pam and Roddy

The show began with a very energetic appearance by the composer, Jack Wall, and occasional narrative by Tommy Tallarico – also full of energy. If you don’t know what VGL is all about (and perhaps this should be at the top of my entry rather than here, but, enh…) you can see a YouTube clip here and read the official site here. The Austin Symphony Orchestra played the themes of classic games such as Super Mario Bros. and Metroid along with lighting effects that spared no expense. The more intricate compositions of newer games such as Mass Effect and Halo were also elegantly intertwined.

A compilation of classics

A compilation of classics

Intermittently, a radio contest winner or preshow game winner entered the stage and was thrust into a gaming opportunity for some cool gear. The first man had to run across stage with a spotlight following him as his movements controlled the base launcher of the original Space Invaders. In two minutes, he managed to fail at clearing the first stage and instead of leaving with a $3K arcade machine, he got another bag of Razer gear. The second competition was much better. A 20-yr old came out to play Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion accompanied by the symphony. He had to hit 165K points on hard to win a $2,500 Dell Laptop and ended up with a score of 250K on Extreme! The tension had the crowd at the edge of their seats and a standing O when he won.

Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall

Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall

Other acts included Martin Leung (seen here) playing the Mario Bros. theme blindfolded and Tommy himself kicking in on the last number, the theme for Castlevania. Overall, an amazing show that these two men have developed over the past 5 years. Even my girlfriend, who is not a gamer, had a great time pointing out which games she recognized. I wish Tommy and Jack the best in the future and they have an attendant for life.

*Pictures by Eugene Hsu