Monthly Archives: April 2011

Thief 4 Steals the Limelight

Now that Eidos Montreal practically has Deus Ex: Human Revolution put to bed, the studio is ramping up the continuation of another vaunted PC game franchise, with Thief 4.

It’s apropos that Eidos should follow-up a new Deux Ex game with a new Thief.  Both series were dealt a death-blow at nearly the same time in the early-to-mid 2000′s with mediocre third entires.  Thief: Deadly Shadows was slightly more redeeming that the disastrous Deus Ex: Invisible War, but still seemed dumbed down from the soaring heights of  previous efforts.

At any rate, a lot of the Thief series’ thunder has been stolen by UbiSoft’s towering Assassin’s Creed games, especially Assassin’s Creed II.  It’s hard to see how Eidos can possibly top that classic, but who knows?  They might just be able to swipe the crown.

Video Games Come Out On Top in Enforcement Rankings

Well, this really goes against the alarmist cry about how violent video games are corrupting our innocent youth.

The Federal Trade Commission in the States conducted an undercover shopper survey, where 13 to 19 year-olds were recruited to enter various outlets unaccompanied, and attempt to purchase entertainment items like movie tickets, video games, and DVDs which were all rated for adults only.

The big takeaway was that the lowest rate of sales of restricted materials to minors occured with video games.  Only 13% of the shoppers successfully purchased the forbidden products.  This, compared to the 64% of kids that were sold a music CD labelled with a Parent’s Advisory sticker, warning of explicit lyrics.

Also interesting is the break-down by retail outlets.  When it comes to selling M-Rated games to minors, Walmart was the worst offender.  So, when it comes to grandstanding about the morality of violent videogames today, Wally World is the best.  When it comes to actually investing money into proper training so salespeople don’t let kids get their hands on adults-only products, they’re the very worst.

Portal Re-Opens

A little game called Portal 2 released yesterday, by some company called Valve. I guess it’s big news to people.

And it should be. It is the sequel to Portal, released for the PC in 2007, and a scant 3 years later on the Mac. It was added, as what some might have assumed as an afterthought at the time, to the Orange Box bundle. This box contained Half-Life 2, the HL2 add-on packs Episodes One and Two, and the perennial team-based shooter Team Fortress 2. It’s safe to say that the Orange Box will be entered into the pantheon of gaming history as one of the greatest bundles ever sold.

Portal came from humble beginnings.  It all started with Narbacular Drop, a senior thesis project by a team of students at DigiPen, the most august of video game design schools.  ND stars Princess “No-Knees”, cursed with the inability to jump and kidnapped and held prisoner by a demon in his dungeon.  Turns out, however, that the dungeon is a sentient entity called Wally, and will allow the princess to form two holes, of differing colours, on any natural surface, which are then linked, allowing the princess to enter one and exit the other.

The DigiPen team operated under the moniker Nuclear Monkey Software, and at one career day at DigiPen some Valve people saw Narbacular Drop and requested a demonstration back at their headquarters.  The team eventually was hired by Valve to professionalize the game, and the result was Portal, one of the most beloved video games of all time.

Here is a video of game play from Narbacular Drop, followed by a clip of what the concept has become with Portal 2.

Jerry Lawson, of Channel F Fame, Dies at 71

Word is coming out that Jerry Lawson has died. He is known as the inventor of the Channel F home video game console for Fairchild Instrument, and with it introduced the concept of the “programmable” console, or one that takes game cartridges. Before the Channel F, users had to be resigned to playing the games that were built into their video game units. With the console Lawson designed, they could have, at least theoretically, an endless number of games to play.

For more information on the Channel F, consult your local The Dot Eaters article here.

Have You Played Atari On iOS Today?

Atari and Vancouver developer Code Mystics have dropped a metric tonne of retro joy onto the Apple App Store with Atari’s Greatest Hits, for iOS devices. The app allows you to play up to 100 classic Atari games; a few of their most famous arcade entries, but the majority of games come from the catalog of games released for the VCS/2600 home console. Only a small sampling of games are available for free, with 4-pack game downloads available for .99 cents, or you can get the whole 100 game enchilada for 15 bucks.

The app is universal, and I’d recommend playing it on the iPad, as the arcade games feature a representation of the original screen bezel, which shrinks down the playfield a bit too much on the iPhone. The games offer both landscape and profile mode, but not every one has that option to switch. The control methods on offer vary as well, and some work decidedly better than others. On the whole, however, I find the sliding controls that invariably represent dials or trackballs to be too sluggish, and their speed is not configurable. This definitely needs to be addressed by a patch to make these games workable. As for joysticks, the small virtual button that stands in for the stick is small, and I find my thumb constantly sliding off of it, or worse: pressing a different direction or multiple directions as once, deadly for games like Asteroids that put different, drastic actions like thrust or hyperspace on the up and down joystick positions.  Classic video game emulation is often slagged for missing that intrinsic satisfaction that comes from holding a joystick in your hand while playing. Since precise control is sometimes the only thing going for these games, in particular those for the VCS/2600, the sluggishness on offer here is pretty close to a deal-breaker.

Sometimes the controls work, however, as evidenced by the sliders that control the paddles in PONG.  But if you really want to capture that arcade feeling, the iCADE, set for release in June, will scratch that itch.  Originally a clever 2010 April Fool’s joke perpetrated by Think Geek, intense user demand has actually made the crazy idea reality.  Greatest Hits has support for the iCADE built right in, and makers ION will be releasing an API that will allow other games to support the mini-cabinet.

Even without the iCADE, however, Greatest Hits is a wonderful app for classic video game aficionados.  They will also be jazzed about the extras that come with some games, such as game artwork, scanned colour manuals, and more.  Some, however, are concerned that the package is infringing on iTune rules about apps downloading and running external code, represented by the ROM code downloaded in the game packs in order to play these classic gems.  A double-standard does seem to have been set with the acceptance of Atari’s Greatest Hits into the app store.  So perhaps games looking for a little nostalgia had better grab this baby fast.

The Return of Commodore?

I love the Commodore 64 as much as anyone. As the single best-selling line of computers in history, there are a lot of anyones.

That said, even I think this is going a bit far. Commodore USA is re-releasing the C64, with the same bread loaf shape, same dark brown keyboard with the same line of tan function keys on the side. It looks just the same as it did when you unwrapped the box in a frenzy while sitting under the Christmas tree in 1984.

Another thing hasn’t changed either from 1984. The price. Due to the fact that they sold a tonne of them, C64 computers are not exactly collectible. In good shape, they fetch maybe 50 bucks on eBay. The base model from Commodore USA goes for $250 USD. The top of the line costs $895. Now, before you have a coronary, the higher end models come with a netbook dual core Atom processor, 4G of RAM and a 1T hard drive all shoehorned into this brown betty. You can see the feature list and prices here on the Commodore USA website.

It won’t exactly run Crysis 2, but if you want to blow the minds of the friends by pulling out a C64 and playing, say, Bioshock 2 on it, now’s your chance. I recommend doing so while mechanically singing “More than meets the eye”.

Max Payne 3 Pics Surface

The two Max Payne games, Max Payne (2002), and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (2003) were immensely fun third-person shooters. Released by Rockstar, both games were balletic bullet-fests, borrowing heavily from such influences as Akira Kurosawa and The Matrix. They weaved a tortured story of tragedy and redemption, and featured novel level design that played with established norms in the genre.

So little had been heard about their followup, Max Payne 3, that a lot of people had given up on it. Some fans had come to the conclusion that the terrible 2008 Marky Mark movie released under the Max Payne name had finally sent the project to the morgue. Recently, however, images of the game have surfaced from Rockstar. Sure, it’s only two pics, but still at least something to satiate fans of one of the best third person game series around.

Duke Nukem’s Butt-Slapping Mode

I am not going to prefix this post with a disclaimer that I am against violence against women, because if you think that by protesting this effort against the game I condone such actions, you are an idiot not worth stooping down to talk to.

There is currently a furore brewing over an aspect of the “Capture the Babe” multiplayer mode in the forthcoming Duke Nukem Forever. In this mode, players attempt to kidnap a woman from the opposition and take them back to home base. Slung over the shoulder, if they start resisting and slowing your progress, a slap on the butt will quiet them down.

Let the outrage commence. For instance, there is a petition to get Walmart, the world’s leading retailer, to not carry the game if this multiplayer mode is included. It currently has, at this writing, over 5,600 signatures. Presented at change.org, it demands thusly:

Refuse to Sell Duke Nukem Forever Unless “Babe-Slapping” Mode is Removed

Greetings,

I’m writing to ask that Walmart take a stand against physical and sexual violence against women by refusing to sell the Duke Nukem Forever game until the “Capture the Babe” mode of play is removed.

Early reports reveal the new Duke Nukem Forever game is set to be released with a “Capture the Babe” mode of play. In this disturbing version of “capture the flag” the player is tasked with kidnapping a woman from his enemy’s base, throwing her over his shoulder, and carrying her back to his base to share the spoils. If she starts to “freak out,” the player is encouraged to slap her on the butt until she shuts up. This is a blatant celebration of violence against women in a game that will be played primarily by young people.

Walmart is a family friendly retailer and customers will not stand for the promotion of violence against women to the young people who walk through the store doors. Please publicly state that Walmart stores will not sell the Duke Nukem Forever game unless the “babe-slapping mode” is removed.

[Your name]

Let me proffer a couple of reasons why I think this petition is wrongheaded:

First: Equating a slap on the butt to “physical and sexual violence” is overblown, and belittles women who are the victims of ACTUAL violence, as well as endangers all women by diluting the idea of violence against women. At worst, the action within the game could be construed as sexual harassment. However, Duke isn’t an office manager, patting women on the butt as a sign that they better have sex with him if they want a promotion. For whatever reason (if any is even given in the game) he’s trying to kidnap or rescue women from a heavily armed opposition. Context, people!

Second: Duke Nukem Forever is rated “Mature” by the ESRB. This is not a game that should “be played primarily by young people”. If it is, then blame parents and retailers. Heck, blame Walmart, the company you are directing your petition to! Don’t blame the game makers.

And ultimately, it is just a game. If you think some butt-slapping in Duke Nukem promotes violence against women, why not a petition against the hundreds of thousands of bloody deaths that will no doubt occur in the game, which clearly promotes murder?