Friday, October 26, 2012

Hotline Miami

Play this game if you can handle its dark and violent themes.

Much better commentary on violence, accountability, and actions than you see in FPS's like Spec Ops: The Line, or Bioshock, or whatever. Only takes you four or five hours.

Forget all the comments on the music and gameplay and mechanics. Those are all well-executed, but the beauty is in the story, writing, and symbolism. Queue our "game is art" crowd. Maybe not quite art, but if mind-bending movies that use symbolism, alternate viewpoints and time-skipping as narrative techniques to blow your mind at the end have ever impressed you, this will not disappoint.

Also, if you loved the movie Drive, this game will remind you of it intensely.

It's rare when a game stays with you all day after you finish it, then you think about it while you're trying to sleep, then you start thinking about it when you wake up.

This is a game that really pushes the medium forward. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Molydeux Reveux is finished

You can find the entire series here. I conclude with a top ten, honorable mentions, and a review of tweets by the games produced therefrom.

It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. Here's to next year's Molyjam.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Upcoming Molyjam Games

These are the Molyjam games I will be writing about soon. I recommend playing all of them. Again, you can find all the Molyjam games here.

286: When Doves Cry
279: Orphanage Arsenal
275: A Civilized World
246 Friends 'til the End
242 Phone Frag!
235 You are the Road
227 In the Dark, the Blind Can See
226 Recidivism

Molyjam playthrough update

Right now I have played up through 225. I have played (or tried to play) 50-60 games of about 250. I have a long way to go.

I said I would make notes of all of them here but I have changed my mind. For one thing, some of them are not interesting to hear about. For another, some of them are bad and I don't want to be the jerk that is saying a game made in 48 hours isn't interesting or fun.

So, I will only be writing about ones worth writing about. In the meantime, my second piece, which is the first and only exception to this rule, is up on Snackbar.

I will post more impressions later. I have another dozen or so games worth writing on and another 180 or so to play.

Onward I shall go. When I'm done, I can say I played every single one! I know Molyneux and his most recent interviewer won't have been able to say that. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Molyjam Playthrough 2012

After extensive Googling, I feel confident that about no one has personally played every single one of the Molyjam games, and even more so that no one has written about all of them. I'm going to do that. I have a feature on Snackbar I'm going to be doing on the Molyjam games, of which there are over two hundred. The series at Snackbar starts today and I encourage you to read about my experience with the very first game I played, which is still one of my favorites. Snackbar will feature the "best of Molyjam" in future posts.

But here on my blog will I will write about playing every single Molyjam game. Every single one! No matter how boring it is. I have currently played over a dozen of them. They are hit and miss, but some of them have great ideas that I am convinced could be an element of or even basis for a full retail game.

If you only want to read about the most interesting or good games, just read the Snackbar posts, which I will be linking to from here and on my Twitter account.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My "so you want to be a games writer" post

I've been thinking about this for months. I could probably do a better job of this but I'm just going to do it now while I'm in a state of mind and action where I can do it--if I don't, I may never. I'm not as bitter as this is going to sound. It's been eight months since I wrote on this blog. About four since I last wrote something for which I was paid. No shame and no cares on that mark. Just a bit about why I've disappeared.

I'm never going to "succeed" at games writing and I've known this for a while. Recently Conan O' Brian said if one works really hard and is kind, amazing things will happen. They do. "It's just true."

It's not true. Another games/entertainment writer even explicitly said so soon after that quote. Not that I needed someone to tell me that.

Many game writers have written "so you want to be a game journalist" articles. Most of them talk about the parts of it that are not glamorous, the parts that suck. There is no money. PR people can be difficult. Most games are not fun. Sometimes you have to make it a score that it shouldn't be. And the consistency of the work is spotty as it gets, even spottier than it is for someone writes something that is in more demand, like regular news or features that have a broader appeal or fiction or poetry or articles about HOW TO TURN HIM ON WITHOUT FAIL! I have had experience with all of these except the pressure to change a score. I don't think there are many articles about the topic from people who have never made it, but still did something, who actually qualify as one of the ones who wanted and did not receive. So I'm here to say that if you want to write about games, you should give up. Immediately.

I'm going to list all the stuff I did. It amounted to little. Monetarily and accomplishment-wise. I enjoyed doing it while I did it, but now that it's done, all I've got are memories. I could have been using my time to get money, though, instead! Hmm. It's important when you're married.

So, stuff I've done! Let's review. I have been paid by three different outlets to write about games.

The first is GameSetWatch/Gamasutra. I have a warm relationship with Simon and he's always been patient with me and my wishy-washiness and self-consciousness. Simon, if you're reading this: hi.

Second was Eurogamer. I wrote one feature for them. Kieron Gillen gave me advice on how to appeal to Tom Bramwell. My first pitch immediately succeeded with them, which was a surprise and a delight. The thing only got 8 comments. For Eurogamer, that is very low. None of them based the article, though, at least. I tried a couple more ideas later but nothing really stuck, they had end of year budget issues, and they've already got a staff. I thought it would be my moment where I "made" it, but it was a dead end, an additional item to add to my little vita.

My third was as a blogger for The guy who owns this is in Britain. It was and probably still is struggling. They laid me off after a month. The guy who trained me there was polite and patient. He was 17 at the time. He had been there for about two years. He was convinced, and for good reason, that I was there to stay as long as I didn't bungle anything up. There were budget issues. I had to go. I believe the staff there is even smaller than when I joined.

And that is it. I have pitched to many, many different places. All want features. The best way to break in is to suggest something they know would sell and something that no one else would have suggested. This is not as easy as it sounds. If you want to "succeed" in games writing you need a consistent gig doing news or reviews, or you need to start your own website and have such an awesome and unique personality (and uber "web 2.0 skills" or whatever) that people will trust you as a personality and seek you out by name, even if they don't like you. This is still something you'd probably be better off doing only when you've had a regular gig and/or reviews. Names: Michael Abbott or N'Gai Croal or Dan Hsu or Shawn Elliott or Jeff Gerstmann. And not even all these people get paid. The ones that don't certainly have the potential to, I'd think, but maybe they know, like I do, that it's not worth it. They do what they do for its own sake.

I never got that big break. I got an actual response with explanation about rejection from Green Pixels, Gamespot, and Crispy Gamer (note: not that I'm happy about it, but I always wondered if/when it would crumble). Two of those mentioned their budget. I asked people connected to all of them how to approach, the way I did with Kieron and Eurogamer. When I interviewed all the game writers for my multipart piece on GSW, I felt on top of the world. I'd made connections, most or all of the people liked me. I got a lot of great advice, especially from Kieron.

Other stuff of note that helped me think I was going to make it: I got sought out independently by a PR guy to do an interview (by Facebook, no less, not via blast) and I still get press releases to the email on this blog every day (I check that email, but is it not my "personal" one).

I can write a review that entertains, informs, has a unique style and says something definitive. I think of all the reviews I ever wrote for Snackbar, that one is my favorite. I've also gotten awesome comments: "that is mighty fine article craftsmanship, Mr. Walbridge." Sometimes I get the traffic too. Look at the super-l33t links I received:

Newsweek's Level Up, AOL's Massively, Gawker's Kotaku, The Sci-Fi Channel's Fidgit, Wikipedia, and SlashDot.

I'm proud of what I've done. I drove up traffic at Snackbar by writing and editing in an intense burst, I learned how to help game writers write better reviews (to the point the other editor said as much), and I did all that crap I just mentioned.

It has led to a dead end. I have been paid $1,000-$1,500 when all is said and done. That is before the taxes. My experiences will not help me get a job anywhere else (it got me one interview, though). Remember how I said most of the games aren't fun? Why would you do and write boring crap and not get paid for it? I had to remember I love games. I couldn't let my attempt to turn it into money ruin them for me. What would I then enjoy?

Really enjoying video games is why I got to the top 50 and top 1,000 on two of the Street Fighter IV leaderboards. This is why I played about 2,000 Starcraft matches when I was in high school and college. This is why I've played hundreds of games of League of Legends and am about to play another. Games are entertainment and escapism. It is where failure is fun, at least ideally.

You take your gaming to the next level and try to make money from it? Especially while you don't have any ideal employment options, if any? The failure isn't so fun anymore in that context.

Don't try to be a games writer. There is no more room. There barely was then. There certainly isn't now. 1UP blew up. Crispy burned down. Are you going to compete with the leftovers? You going to accomplish a lot and then realize the field basically has no money for you, then think "well damn, what now?" Kyle Orland wrote Games for Lunch forever before it got picked up. I wrote over two dozen reviews and edited more than twice that many more. Thousands of views, most or all of them. Nothing. On his twitter Kyle links to something a former Crispy guy says, and it's not pretty. This guy, he's getting out. Kyle is sticking around, but he's got years. Probably not making quite as much as he used to. What do you have? What do I have? Nothing.

If you really have to, make sure you have something else that you enjoy a ton, in case your experience ruins games for you. It almost did for me. I'm pickier now but not completely ruined.

But really, don't take me lightly when I say don't do it. Get out or stay out while you still know how to enjoy video games. All this advice has already been given in one way or another about writing, acting, music or anything else that is fun and inspires passion from many. This isn't that new or even that pessimistic. I just wanted to throw in a good, concrete example for games writing. This is how much you can accomplish without succeeding. Don't do it unless you're willing to do that much for that little, and to do a lot for free.

But really, I'd say just don't do it. "So you want to be a games writer: don't." That's my advice.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Retro Game Challenge

So I never got around to mentioning it, but I’ve reviewed three DS games recently for Snackbar. The most interesting one was Retro Game Challenge (I always hear it as "charrenge" in my head for some reason).

Briefly: a crazy Japanese guy send you back in time to play games from the 80s with his former self. The games are not actually old, but they are designed and drawn to look old. You are not allowed to leave the 80s until you beat his challenges.

On the top screen is the actual game, but on the bottom is the TV, the console, and two kids (you and the crazy guy’s younger self). The majority of the humor comes from the kid you’re playing with. He makes references to things that really happened in the 80s, asks you naïve, childlike questions, comments on your playing (“Nice!” “Ouch!” etc.), and is always there to bother you.

It’s all very cute, but it’s really saying something about the nature of gaming as a hobby and its big sell. At any time, you can pause the top screen and look at the magazines or manuals to learn how to play the game (or how to cheat). The brief descriptors make it really really obvious that the game companies are the master string-pullers:

--The magazines obviously are at the mercy of the companies and perhaps owned by one (perhaps a reference to the success of Nintendo Power, which in the 80s was actually owned by Nintendo)
--The hints, tricks, and cheats filtered out from the magazines slowly but in time for sequels, ensuring players were hooked on game number 1 long enough to remember it but not so long they wouldn’t be enthusiastically waiting another
--Competition is highly desirable, as it increases a games longevity (and sales)

The challenges themselves seem pointless. Get a certain amount of points, beat a level without using a regular move, and getting to checkpoints in the games. Then, of course, comes the glory of simply beating the game and getting to the end. No one knows of your victory but you and your friend, sitting in the living room.

I mean, today is so different! You don’t just get high scores, you get win-loss records, experience points, and achievements. Your accomplishments can now be seen by anyone in the world.

But has anything really changed? Magazines have, a little bit, but only in volume, not in purpose or type of coverage. Strategy guides are more important as a source of revenue and getting people to beat the games and getting the cheat codes out.

Instead of being the best at home or in your neighborhood or even arcade, it’s being the best in the country.

While exceptions exist, games have changed little as a cultural product or in the way they drive us. All games are now is bigger.

For me, it’s not a bitter realization; games are still fun and there’s nothing wrong with something being entertainment. But let’s not kid ourselves. For economic and cultural reasons, games will mostly be "just games" for a very long time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


There is not much in the way of news. I have applied for a blogging position that may or may not pay, but would bring the prestige regardless. A few of you may not which position I speak of. There's nothing else to publicly say on that.

Games--well, poor 'ole Snackbar had its only advertiser withdraw. The recession has even hit what few free games we (I) were (was) getting. But, I have received some DS games, some of which are awesome, and some of which are not. One of these is Retro Game Challenge. If you haven't heard of it yet, I think my review will turn out pretty well. Look for reviews of that and a couple of other games to come soon on Snackbar.

I've mainly been laying low because 1. I haven't gotten many new games and 2. Most of the places I've pinged have ended in rejection or "looks good, but we're pretty full." There's very little open to anyone, freelancer or non. That's not news. I'm just saying that that's why I'm more sporadic and less consistent. I'm still lurking, still reading, and still keeping tabs.

Oh, and I was laid off from my job in January, so I've had more important things. Also, my 360 red ringed the day I got SF IV, which was soon after I got laid off. Also, we're moving to another apartment in about a month.

Economics and life leave me with little to say, but I've not gone away.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The F word

It has been a very, very long time since I felt this way. I am currently very excited about the release of an upcoming game.

Valve’s recent offerings of Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead were both games I was pretty excited about. I kept track of them months before their release and purchased them early and played them much.

This, though—this is something different. Something has happened to me, and I do not know what it is. It has been suggested that sexuality is mostly formed before one actually engages with or recognizes it. Perhaps one’s gameality or whatever it is is the same.

I am thoroughly and unhealthily possessed by an overwhelming desire to do nothing but three things:

--Figure out how to procure a copy of Street Fighter IV as early as possible
--Become a freakin’ legend for being so good at the game
--Figure out which tool is best for me to personally bring this about, and then acquire said tool

I am not interested in food. I am not interested in playing other games though I have plenty of time to do so. I am distracted. I got laid off a few weeks ago and I don’t even worry about it. This is partly because I’m waiting to hear on a good job opportunity that I interviewed well for, but it’s no guarantee and I really shouldn’t hold out for it. The last two times I got laid off I spent all my time trying to figure out how to get employment; if not that, I worked on distracting myself so I could forget about it. Games helped, obviously. But now, I spend even more time thinking about how to best acquire, enjoy, and dominate Street Fighter IV.

The roots of this are likely fairly common; when I was 11 years old could make a dollar go for over an hour at the arcade while my parents shopped. I’d play at malls or at a store within walking distance from my house, “Fun Fever.” Fun Fever was a new and perhaps used game retailer that had consoles available for play by the hour in addition to 8 arcade units. These were only awesome arcade units, though, units like a shorter, squattier Neo-Geo unit with four rotating games, Mortal Kombat, and of course variants of Street Fighter II.

SF II: Champion Edition was a big hit because it finally let you play with the four boss characters. I would always choose M. Bison. I fought cheaply and fiercely, for if I lost, I’d die of boredom, a fate I will never again face.

One time when I was between 11-13 a large, jockish kind of guy in his 20s challenged me and I handily defeated him. He got angry after two or three tries; sometimes his frustration made him even closer to beating me and sometimes it caused him to make bad mistakes.

I ended up spending 30 or 40 minutes thrashing this guy. He spent five to ten bucks getting thrashed. Later, in my 20s, I got thrashed in Marvel vs. Capcom by a kid who had to stand on his tip-toes just to see his power meter at the bottom.

But this guy; he chose different characters. He started to shout. He cursed in between matches. A crowd gathered round. My timing was flawless; I had a definite style and could adjust it on the fly. I was king of the arcade. At the end, the guy shouted like Blanka and Zangief, grabbed my neck and put me in a choke hold and with an “AARRRRRRGHHHH YOOUUUUU” he gave me a noogie, rubbing his fist across my hair. While friendly, it was violent enough that it actually hurt.

He let me go and through his arms in the air at the crowd of ten, which was laughing by now. I smiled sheepishly. He left the store. My mother didn’t find out about it for years.

Fun Fever later closed and so did my opportunities to play with others, until Street Fighter II came out for the SNES. My childhood friends, whom I still hang out with (I challenged them and called them out via email recently to make sure they knew of the incoming SF IV deluge), were about my skill. I played against them and my brother for hundreds of hours.

When I got to high school, Street Fighter was a memory until one of my friends got a Playstation and Street Fighter Alpha 3. I had discovered it at the mall near where I worked. I’d use my 30-minute break to sprint a quarter-mile to the mall and play it during the day while still in my McDonald’s uniform. I enjoyed it most when I had someone to play against. Sometimes, I’d beat a guy and then hand over my play to him, explaining I had to get back to work. Surprisingly, I was rarely late.

That was in ’98 and ’99. In 1999 and the succeeding years, Street Fighter III came out, as well as the Dreamcast and Playstation 2. During these years I was off in Australia or at college and couldn’t afford a console. PC gaming was my only option.

I never got the opportunity to get dragged into Tekken. Other recent releases in the Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and Dead or Alive franchises have failed to capture my fancy. I never learned how to play those. I think many haven’t. And now that consoles have a huge network with which to play online, the lineup of opponents is infinite.

The EVO tournament reminds us that some people never left that world, but most of us had no choice. But it’s back.

The ability to take on a slew of incoming challengers is now multiplied—dormant, fierce, Rocky Balboa-esque energies are being awakened and soon the day comes wherein every man who owns a current non-Wii console and can do a Hadouken will be commanded to stand accountable and show his worth. He must face his eternal rival, just as the characters will. See below.

My name is Michael Walbridge, and I have a fanboy problem.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Backlog status

Any games you want to hear about?

What I'm playing or have recently finished:
Wrath of the Lich King
Left 4 Dead
Team Fortress 2
Gears of War 2
King's Bounty
Fallout 3
Lock's Quest
Tomb Raider: Underworld
The World Ends With You
Drill Dozer
Metal Slug 7
Geometry Wars: Galaxies (that's the DS one)

What I've recently gotten but haven't played or have barely played:
Space Rangers 2
The Political Machine 2008
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl

What I still hope to get, in no particular order:
Far Cry 2
World of Goo
EDF 2017
Defense Grid
Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Season 1 (35 bucks for the whole season now)
Immortal Defense
Some GBA games and DS games; I cannot access my Amazon list for a while
One racing game for the 360 (wouldn't want to get burdened with too many games to catch up with!) from the following list:
Midnight Club: Los Angeles (leaning towards this one)
Need for Speed Undercover
Burnout: Paradise
Baja: Edge of Control

I think that, apart from these lists, the list I have on Amazon, and the games I will receive for Christmas, I will be well-covered for the first half of the year. Yes? Also, hooray! I see patterns erupting. Someone needs to hire me to be the casual MMO guy. I don't know of any casuals who understand or care about MMOs. I also haven't seen anyone compare the vast range of tower defense games that came out in 2008. Along with the downloadable revolution, tower defense has really come of age recently; Lock's Quest is awesome so far and I'm enthused about chewing on the many others.

It's a good thing I haven't gotten a Playstation 2 yet.

Slight Update


I have not heard word back regarding some freelance offers. There is one more place I will take a stab at; I have discovered by reviews are pretty bad, and am going to be a bit more bold in my next three reviews. One of them is pretty much done. The games are Metal Slug 7, Lock's Quest, and Tomb Raider: Underworld. I only really liked one of them. Can you guess which one?

Upon writing these three (ironically, the one I like seems like it will be the hardest to write about), I'll send them as part of the samples to one more place.

After that, I'm going to take it slow, think about what I'd really, really like to do. Not really sure what it is I'm best at yet, and not really sure what to do with the blog, the idea of freelancing, or the time that I have to do writing.

Also, the post below was going to be up for my column, but my editor rejected it, for he did not get it. That doesn't mean it was his failing, it means that it sucks! Oh well.

Finding someone to play your game with: a guide for the lonely and/or obsessed

It doesn't seem like the reasons for excessive gaming zeal are mysterious are complex. If you want someone to read a book you read, you can at least join a book club, go online and discuss it, or ask someone to read who might pretend to, satisfying your need for book comraderie.

And movies! It's easy to get people to watch a movie; it's two hours. You, or someone else, can fake it 'til you make it through any movie of any genre. Men who have succeeded in relationships can tell you all about it: to endure a "chick flick" often means scoring major points.

Games, on the other hand, require not just an investment of time, but of effort. To play a game and then not really try or not really enjoy it makes it awkward. Finding someone else to play any game that isn't popular can be very difficult.

If you don't know anyone who likes your game it is imperative, therefore, that one of two things occurs: you either persuade people to like your game and make arguments on its behalf, or you learn to find people who already feel the same as you do. The first method is one that people are doing all the time; no doubt if you are online you are already able to persuade people to play something other than what they already do! Finding someone who already likes what you play is difficult, though.

That's why I've made a handy guide on how to find people to play the games you want to play. Can't find anyone who wants to play Band of Bugs, Quake 4, or Fury? NO PROBLEM! I, Michael Walbridge, can show you how. Not all options work, but for any system or game, there is a guaranteed method by which you will be able to find someone to play your game with you.

For just $9.95 a month or by continuing to read below, I will share my secrets with you about how to find people to play any video game with you, not just World of Warcraft or Gears of War 2!

Nintendo Wii

The Nintendo Wii can't be played online, unfortunately, but there is an option through which you can play with your Wii with other people, and it's the most important option there is.

The Wii Option

1. Find friends or groups of people who like to play video games, or who also have this system.
2. Send a communication of some sort to this person. Say something like, "Hey, have you tried this game? Want to play it sometime?"
3. Wait for a response.
4. Go from there, treating it like any other planned social event, such as playing soccer, going shopping, going on a bow hunting or hog hunting trip or a trip that involves both, drinking alcohol, drinking coffee, or drinking both alcohol and coffee mixed together.

The steps in the Wii option are a common and effective way to play games with people. Also, this option works for a surprising number of systems, ranging from as early as the Atari 2600 (earlier, some claim) and onward to systems like the Atari Lynx, the Atari Jaguar, and even more recent offline systems such as the Nintendo Gamecube. In fact, exhaustive studies have proven that the Wii option works for any system!

Playstation 2

Unfortunately, the Playstation 2 doesn't have online capabilities, just like the Nintendo Wii. See options for the Wii, listed above.

Playstation 3

The Playstation 3 has severely changed its method of social interaction; fortunately, I have delved the secrets of multiplayer success and am sharing them with you.

Option 1

1. Sign into Home.
2. Start up the game of your choice and go into a game lobby.
3. Wait.

Option 2

1. Walk around the town, displaying which game you'd like to play.
2. If no one comes, log out or go to a place where no one can see you and change your avatar to a female avatar.
3. A female avatar's effectiveness is reduced if your name is something like xXxDUDExXx. If a female avatar won't get anyone to play a game with you, option three will not work.
4. Remember to fake your voice or manage to pretend that you don't have a mic. Act feminine!

Option 3

1. Go to the official Playstation forums, or some other forum online.
2. Talk up your game, leave your ID and get the names of others.
3. Send and accept friend invites.
4. Try to get people on these lists to play with you. Send a message that says something like "Hey, do you have this game? Want to play it sometime?"
5. Go from there, etc.

Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 is home to some of the most disgusting version of male known to man. Fortunately, there are ways you can play games that are not Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, and Gears of War 2. Did you know that you can play card games like Uno and Texas Hold 'em? These games never have anything unpleasant occur in them; that's why the online interactions don't need to be rated!

There are other games, too, and the secrets to finding people to play with lie below.

Option 1

1. Sign into LIVE.
2. Start up the game of your choice and go in to the game lobby.
3. Wait.

Option 2

1. Go to the official XBox forums; look for the forum for the specific game you are thinking of. Add your name to the "Who plays this game anymore?" and/or "If you still play this game, put your name HERE" threads.
2. Send and accept friend invites.
3. See option three for the PS3 above.

Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS cannot be played online, but there are plenty of places where a large number of people have a DS. There are numerous options for finding people to play the DS with you.

Option 1

1. Go to a place where it is known that many of the people have a DS. Make sure popular titles such as Mario Kart DS and the latest edition of Pokemon are on your person.
2. Attempt to socialize with these people.
3. It is likely this will be difficult; parents, teachers, administrators, or even the DS owners themselves might not approve of your attempts to play the DS with them. It is probably best to not even try this option, but instead to try the Wii option.

Important note: make sure that the person has the game that you do, because for every person playing you need a copy of the game!


The Wii option seems to be the only effective option for the Sony Playstation Portable. Rumor has it that watching movies is a more popular social activity than is playing video games; the PSP is often-touted as an effective movie-watching device, something that the other consoles do not boast of! This may account for why it is difficult to even find the mention of a PSP being used to play multiplayer games. This is still being researched and I'll reveal the findings as soon as they are discovered.


The personal computer is a complex device with numerous options. Sometimes the methods through which you will find people to play will vary depending upon the type of game you play!

Option 1

1. It is worth noting that the options for the Wii can actually work on the computer! Grab two controllers, Lego Batman, a bunch of ROMs (these are widely available and the gaming companies provide them for FREE) or whatever, sit yourselves down, and like magic you can have your own creatively created console experience! Right at home!

Option 2

1. Use the servers or network that the game features; this is particularly relevant for first person shooters or real time strategy games.
2. Wait.

Option 3

1. For MMOs, consult the instruction manual or one of many Internet sites on how to be in these unique game worlds.

Option 4

1. Use forums or websites in a manner similar to the options used for consoles.

Option 5

1. Go to a LAN cafe. You may need to combine the Wii Option with this option in order for it to work effectively. Get your LAN cafe's permission before installing games they don't have.

Option 6

1. Use game socialization software combined with the approach of forums and/or the Wii Option; Steam, MiRC, Xfire, Facebook, Raptr, GamerDNA, and MyGameMug are all examples. Combine with option number two.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lists. Everyone likes lists

Lists are so cool. Actually, I've seen a few I liked recently.

Here's one I wrote. I tried to be a little original. If you follow my twitter feed, I already posted a link to this.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Review Terms and Structure: The Experiment

I wrote a review, but decided to post it first so visitors would see this post at the top, the why before the how.

This is ambitious; I'm 1. proposing common terms and regrouping games' features and 2. demonstrating an alternative structure for a review. The first point has my stronger convictions, but the second could still be of value and open up thinking about reviews in a different light. The alternative structure is better for reviews than criticism since reviews are about being buyers' guides.

One huge problem with reviews is numeric scores. Why do readers demand them? Because reviews are too long to read, or because too much of it is redundant? By having categories like this, a reader is served; numbered scores can be removed with fewer repurcussions because (1) new readers can be introduced to the game while at the same time (2) anticipatory fanboys and enthusiasts can skip the parts they have already passed judgment on prior to release.

Instead of writing a 500-word newspaper/website article, I'm simply listing these new terms as categories and proceeding through them in a logical fashions. In order, they are Content, Gameplay, Sociability, Playstyle, Innovation, and Summary. Most of these are familiar, especially if you've been reading recent posts. The "graphics/sound/gameplay/multiplayer/presentation/replay" groups we often see are narrow categories that fail to address other important questions; I also think these terms could manage help tackle the problem of describing the game so that someone will be able to tell whether he will or will not like it regardless of whether you do or do not like. It will also indirectly address the problem of how long a reviewer spent playing the game. Some parts of a game take time to review; others do not.

It seems two goals everyone can agree on are 1. to judge the game by its intent and 2. to explain it well enough that the player will know whether he likes it or not whether the reviewer likes it or not. I think doing it this way meets those goals.

I am choosing to do a review on Atlus's Contact (below) and Jonathan Blow's Braid (forthcoming). Contact is a very strange and different game, the kind traditional reviews serve the poorest. The opinions on it varied widely and hardly anyone played it. It's hard to explain why you would or wouldn't buy this game; it is a game that would make a person tremendously happy or tremendously disappointed. It is a game that, if you like it, you hope everyone who would want to see it will see it, and that anyone who hates it will never see it. Braid is different, too, but it's recent and many more people have played it or are at least familiar with it. Reviewing Contact and Braid means I'll have both an obscure and famous game to display as examples. Braid also elicited divided opinions, and I also hope to write a review that would explain to those both new and familiar with the game why they would or wouldn't like it.

And now, a review of the categories:

Content: graphics, sound, story, presentation, plot, characters, voice acting, writing, campaign length, "ludonarrative dissonance", etc.

Gameplay: controls, option, game design, bugs, glitches, etc. The part game reviews are most likely to do right because they are simply mechanics and issues each player is forced to acknowledge no matter how seriously they do not take games.

Sociability: Multiplayer modes, communication and behavioristic design. It's one thing to have good multiplayer modes that play well because of good singleplayer gameplay; it's another thing to have a good match-making system or design choices that make the players more likely to stick around or more likely to be mean/helpful, etc. Most Game Anthropologist articles I've written are really just in-depth reviews of the unique multiplayer and sociability design choices that some games feature.

Playstyle: regarding playstyles, there seem to be two types, explained in a earlier post. This means I'm harping on it, but it's convenient to leave it in this post.

Reckless people go into the game with no set purpose. They want to see what it is, then make their choices. Some want to goof around, some want to explore; the key here is that they want to let go of their inhibitions while they play.

Deliberate gamers have already decided beforehand what they want; if the game meets their desires, they will keep playing. If not, they will either not like it or say "Gee, not in the mood for this right now, even if its good." This also boils down to immersion; deliberate gamers are the kind who like to forget they are playing games while taking themselves in; reckless players are aware they are playing a game and aware they are being someone else.

Most games allow for both of these playstyles, but some are very much only one or the other, making them niche titles that are highly hated and loved at the same time: Spore, Little Big Planet, JRPGs, etc. Either way, each game has to allow for at least one of these playstyles to be nourished. How well does it do it? Traditional ambiguous terms surrounding these playstyles are "freedom", "linearity," and "interactivity", which are all terms that are a matter of preference rather than standard.

Innovation: Does it adhere to conventions? If not, are the innovations inspiring, creative, and interesting and do they work well? If they do, are they polished and done better in anyway? Do they matter? Why or why not?

Summary: Does anything not mix well? Basically, do the failings of one area weaken the strengths of another or vice-versa in a way that lessens or greatens the game as a whole? Who would like this game? Who wouldn't?

One note on "replayability" or "game length": these are important, but don't warrant lengthy discussion; I feel they can be mentioned in content and sociability.

I highly welcome and desire feedback on the review, and the terms. Do you like the terms? Should these be the trees, terms, and umbrellas used? What about a review with each aspect written in a separate section, only loosely referring to each other?

An Experimental Review: Contact for the DS

Read the section(s) you are interested in.


Contact has one of the most unique openings to a complex, twisted plot laced with extremely subtle humor and foreshadowing. It is in fact so unforgettable that I wouldn't want to spoil it (thought most reviews and all comments threads invariably already have). If someone ever said to me, "rent this game, and you'll not regret the money spent even if you only played it for half an hour because the game is just so full of ideas and and creative storytelling mechanisms", I'd have never believed it. Now that I've played Contact, I find that a possible statement.

Contact is one of those games for people who want to see something different, and that's true of almost everything about it. The game's manual and the back of the box champion its willingness to be different, to be a different kind of JRPG. It is clever without being too blatant, for all its oddities, if you give it a chance you will find the premise (un)believably absorbing.

To be short, the main protagonist is Terry, a random silent protagonist kid of indistinguishable age. He gets into some trouble and ends up being abducted on a spaceship by a kind, absent-minded professor who likes like he could sub in for the Monopoly guy. The professor fails to fill Terry in on the details but tells him he needs Terry's help in collecting some organic cells that got scattered across the world; as they are potentially dangerous, it's imperative that Terry collect them.

He spends the entire game at the top screen except during some boss fights and when you are in the inventory system; these are perhaps the only two moments you're guaranteed to be completely absorbed in the game, anyway, so it's unavoidably disturbing that he sits at the stop screen muttering to himself through the entire game while Terry is in mortal danger ("don't let the insects bug you, Terry! hee hee"). They are also illustrated using radically different textures; the professor and his spaceship look 8-bit, while Terry and his environs try to look a little more simple and realistic in perspective, not unlike an improved version of Donkey Kong Country.

Terry gets called by his parents, who are extremely worried, looking for him. The professor shrugs this off in the name of the mission. The armor and weaponry and abilities are also contemporary; if you've played Earthbound, Contact feels similar, especially in its use of quirky soundtracks to enhance locale, but is so different it could convince you that JRPGs have a sub-genre that isn't about swords and magic but about baseball bats and aliens.

I haven't finished the game yet; I suspect the events and ending will highly impact how interesting or satisfying Contact is to the player in a subjective way. Contact is made or broken by its story even more than other JRPGs; playing it is almost like reading a book; it flows quickly, easily, and yet its unique combat system makes the game feel more like work than fun; the story is what will compel the player to keep playing.

Contact is approximately 15-20 hours long.


So the gameplay feels like work, because it usually plays like grinding in an MMO. Terry never gets a party; he is always alone. You can see his outfit and weapon in action, and fighting is a simple matter of entering combat while he and enemies hit each other every 2 seconds until they die. Combat is even avoided or engaged in the same way; if you get too close, they chase you and you can outrun them. If you don't, you can walk through an entire dungeon without being hit. Monsters occasionally throw projectiles; unlike in an MMO, these move in real time, and you have to dodge them the way you would in a 2D Zelda game. Money or items is not guaranteed upon victory; if you do get any, they appear on the ground and you walk over them.

Sure, there are special moves you can use at will, there are stickers you peal with the stylus, an interesting muscle-based, use-it-or-lose-it, Obvlionesque stat system with no levels whatsoever and a stomach-based food system where food doesn't just give health but takes an amount of time to digest while also taking up a certain amount of space in the stomach. Seriously, your inventory contains the outline of a stomach with tubes on each end and it gets filled up to a certain horizontal line; if it's full, you can't eat anymore.

It's easy to pick up after a while, but it takes a while to get used to. While an interesting diversion, it still comes down to grinding, avoiding enemies, and working your way through the story. The quirky inventory and systems (you change clothes and armor only on ship in the changing room, and before you can eat it, the meat that monsters drop on the ground must be cooked on the ship too.) It does manage to mix in with the world and the story rather well, though, so it manages to stay out of the way of the world and the dissonance between Terry and the Professor's world.

The saving is location based, which is unfortunate; were it not for that, Contact would take hold of you like a good TV show; the combat would simply be something you'd do just to see what happens next, like characters, commercials, side plots you put up with. Location-based saving makes it more work rather than going through the motions. Death is frustrating; you lose no money or saved game, but are sent back to the ship. These two flaws work against it; at least the combat is mostly easy and the save points are not brutally spaced-out.

Also, the save point is always a bed and it always has a bathtub with hotwater in it next to it; bathing in it gives you full HP. Contact refuses to do anything by the book.

Also, the bosses are more like bosses in Zelda; lots of dodging; it's awkward though; instead of dodging, then pressing a button and immediately seeing your sword swing, you must dodge, run up to the enemy, and wait for the auto-attack. This is challenging, but they are beatable enough to not crush the player into believing the next attempt will mean imminent defeat.


Contact is a single player game.


The plot in Contact is tightly controlled and highly deliberate; if you don't like anything, you can't ignore or destroy it. (You can actually kill any villager, but there are no repercussions, and they reappear once you revisit the area, even if it's by double-backing through a door five seconds later). There is no world map but simply locations you choose to fly or sail to. The ship then lands and when you walk out there is a town or small area or both. This makes the game technically composed of levels that you can revisit; the content and gameplay fortunately make it still feel like an RPG. And it actually has room for exploration; very early in the game you have the choice to visit an island that isn't the place the professor tells Terry to go to. So you go there, and there is a guy with no clothes on who explains he's washing them, sorry he's naked (see screen below, which shows the contrasting graphic styles). A monkey takes off with his clothes. You can then pursue it, and it gets attacked by a large carnivore; upon defeating it, the monkey gives you the clothes and follows you out of the cave.

Jean Pierre then lets you keep his chef's outfit, which gives you the ability to cook.

Again, exploration isn't necessary; the sites are interesting, but not more so than the main plot, which is a problem some RPGs possess. It may give the ability to beat the game more quickly, though, since money is not easy to get and food is important and expensive and the chef's outfit is necessary for cooking uncooked food you find.


Contact is literally the defining game on handheld innovation. Interesting, unnecessary, revolutionary, pointless, boring, barely noticable, head-scratching, incomprehensible--if there are styles and kinds of innovation, it feels like every single one is here. It manages to work because its most unique processes are the storytelling devices, narration, characters, story. What's fascinating is that the silly and stupid creative liberties taken with every single game feature still work in harmony with Contact's plot, world, and sense of humor.


Do you like weird Japanese stuff? Earthbound? Issues of narration in gaming? Studying "ludonarrative dissonance"? Atlus games? JRPGs for the story more than the combat? Quirky villains and characters? Games that are actually funny? Japanese humor? The more of these you love, the more you'll love Contact and put it on your secret list of games you'd put in your personal top ten but wouldn't dare to name in public.

If unique scenery, stories, music, and characters aren't enough to make the journey easier and you require RPGs that reward you with difficult, interesting or intense combat you will detest it for its simplicity, ease, and MMO-like auto-attack system.