Jurassic Park: The Game – Behind the Scenes

Today Telltale released a behind the scenes trailer for its upcoming Jurassic Park game. This is definitely worth a watch and I particularly like the idea that if you screw up you’re likely to get eaten.

The first episode of Jurassic Park: The Game is expected to release next month for PC and Mac, followed by console in the fall. Those who pre-order for PC / Mac now get the full 5 game season for $29.99 ($5 off the regular $34.99).

Telltale also opened up the exclusive Jurassic Park Insider Forums where anyone who pre-orders the series can chat with the people creating the game, get first-look production images, special Telltale Store deals, promotions and more.

This type of pre-order stuff I like and actually encourage — discounts, access, etc. and not “hey you get to see another dinosaur if you pre-order!”

Gameplay Video for Pirates of Black Cove

Paradox and Nitro Games today released a brief gameplay video clip for the upcoming RPG/RTS Pirates of Black Cove.

It’s rather cheeky.

Atari to Remake Warlords

Atari is bringing back the classic 2600 game this summer on XBLA and PSN.

PR ahead…

Atari announced today that Warlords, a remake of the classic Atari 2600 title, will be making its debut on Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and PlayStation Network in Summer 2011.

Warlords is a one-to-four player, arcade action game in which players will defend their castles from mischievous minions and ferocious fireballs spun from the mouth of a maniacal dragon. In this reinvention of the beloved classic game, players will face the ultimate (a) battle of speed, strategy and survival.

In addition, the game will increasingly challenge players to multitask as they strive to shield the castle walls and simultaneously rally troops to capture control points, collect power-ups and destroy the other warring factions.

Developed by Griptonite Games, Warlords will be available in Summer 2011. For more information, please log onto www.atari.com or www.atari.com/warlords

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD Launch Trailer

From this latest launch trailer, it looks like Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD will be arriving on April 14th. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take a two week nap so that I can wake up and start life anew, in a world blessed with a Clash of Heroes game I can play on my 360. Nighty night!

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The Story

No High Scores

As I went about playing Dragon Age 2, which I finished late last week, I’ve compiled on the order of ten pages worth of notes, thoughts, diatribes, and fan fic (erotic). (I’m lying about one of those items.) Way too much to put into a single post, but all stuff that I think worth discussing about the game, so I’ve been trying to decide on the best way to present it. After a couple days of banging my head on my desk until it suddenly got dark I settled on this Dissecting idea, in which I break up the game into some logical segments and talk in greater detail about them than what a single review or general impressions post would allow. If you all like it enough I’ll look at doing something like this for future games. The goal with this isn’t to lampoon Dragon Age (or any other game) for everything it’s not. The Intertubes are loaded with people ranting and raving over DA2. No, the goal here is to look at where various components of the game succeed and fail. Where did Bioware make interesting choices? Where did those choices fail or not live up to their potential? How could they have been done better?

For this initial post we’ll talk story. I’ve avoided straying into extreme spoiler territory here, but if you absolutely must know nothing about the game, you best skip this post. Some discussion of the story structure and narrative is inevitable. This post also overlaps some with the one I’m writing on dialog in terms of talking about characters and the sense of choice and consequence in the game. With that said, let’s roll…

Amongst all the smaller stories with which you may choose to involve yourself, there are two big sources of plot tension unfolding in and around Kirkwall: the shipwrecked Qunari who have set up shop in a sort of Qunaritown section of Kirkwall and the ongoing struggle between the mages of Kirkwall and the templars tasked with keeping them in check. In the middle of that there’s Hawke (you), a Ferelden refugee just trying to keep his family together and alive. The three act structure of the game breaks down as follows:

Act I – Establish yourself in Kirkwall. You’re poor and with family to feed. Get the money to fund an expedition that will surely bring you fortune and glory, Dr. Jones style.

Act II – Deal with the Qunari conundrum. The Qunari shipwrecked near Kirkwall. Fearful of what they might do, Kirkwall’s Vicount ended up giving them a section of the city as a means to preserve a tentative piece.

Act III – Untangle the mages and templars. Mages are powerful and once oppressively ruled over all the land (Thedas). After being overthrown by a religious movement known as the Chantry, citizens with mage ability are sequestered off to a circle where they can learn to control their gift/curse under the watchful eye of specially trained knights, called templars. In Kirkwall the templars are particularly restrictive towards mages, generating fear, resentment, and anger. Who knew that might lead to the dark side?

Although you’ll be involved in considerably more than all this, for the most part, even the most ancillary side quests deal with getting money to fund the end of Act I expedition or add flavor to the events unfolding in Acts II and III. Later in the game you might ask yourself why the Champion of Kirkwall would bother with doing this or that, but it’s usually a choice and quests do tie back into the overall story in one form or another. Quest themes do get repetitive –here’s another bad mage story, here’s another good mage story– but most are skillfully done throughout the game. What is also skillfully done is that Bioware has set up two sources of conflict that genuinely have no easy answer. Whether you believe the mages are mistreated by the templars or not, you cannot deny an unhinged mage can (and does) wreak havoc for all the little people of Kirkwall. It’s not a phantom threat they represent and you see first hand, multiple times, how people are hurt. Conversely, you also see first hand how good and decent mages are mistreated as well. The fact that either you or your surviving sibling are a mage helps ensure that choosing sides, or trying to find a fair middle, is not easy. This is where Dragon Age 2 is at its absolute best, but it does come with some caveats.

First of all, when push comes to shove you can hardly find a mage in Kirkwall that won’t turn to Blood Magic. (EDIT: Or fall to some other perversion.) By the end of the third act I was starting to wonder if there was a mage left in Kirkwall that wasn’t an Abomination or Blood Mage waiting to happen. Bioware is trying to make a point with this, but it’s overdone. Even the most ardent mage sympathizer can’t look back at what they’ve seen throughout the game and not conclude that even the most pure of heart mage will turn to Blood Magic be corrupted if backed against the wall. The only thing that makes their plight at all sympathetic is your own personal connection to mages and the fact you can go through two-thirds of the game pointing at this individual or that individual and say, “See, here’s why we shouldn’t oppress mages.” And then they turn and you’re left standing there saying to no one in particular, “For serious? You too? Come on!” There’s one case at the end game that very nearly breaks the game for me because the individual’s turn is so completely out of the blue.

It’s almost a reverse situation for the templars, whose order comes off as much less sympathetic right up until a McGuffin-driven revelation in the finale leads to some semblance of sanity on their part. In between, it’s just two sides that are a little too eager to kill each other (and you) and there’s ultimately not a whole lot you can do about it.

I suppose you could look at that as a commentary on how powerless you actually are in the face of events well outside your control, but mostly Bioware just has a story it wants to tell with this game and dag-nabit it’s going to make sure you don’t muck it up with your pesky choices. There are smaller choices to be made, most of them having to do with your NPC party members, but it doesn’t seem like there are nearly as many variables in play when the end game comes as there were in Origins. What the Qunari are going to do the Qunari are going to do. And, yes, the mages and templars are going to come to blows no matter what you do or whose side you take.

For me, this is not a scathing rebuke of the game so much as it is a disappointment with the overall thrust of the choice versus consequence system in Dragon Age 2. You make a lot of choices, many of them difficult, and yet it rarely feels like there’s much in the way of consequences for them in the game. This story is going to go where this story is going to go and it will drag you along kicking and screaming if it must, only occasionally making the game play out easier or more difficult depending on your past actions. It seems to me that telling a smaller, more focused story should allow more room for a strong sense of choice and consequence on the part of the player and I don’t really feel that here.

There’s also some really noticeable gaps in the logic of this world. There’s this huge conflict betwen mages and templars and you see all these stories about apostates being tracked down and imprisoned, but you run around with apostate mages in your party all the time, flinging spells every which way as you put down every thug in the city. (Seriously, this place makes Gotham look like Candyland.) You yourself could be a mage (because I didn’t play as a mage I’m not sure how the game might change to reflect this), but aside from a throw-away line here or there, there’s never a real explanation as to why the templars aren’t breathing down your neck… except when they are, but then you’ll kill a full squad or two of their order and everything goes back to normal. Huh?

In another example, you can try to side (or at least sympathize) with the Qunari at every juncture through Acts I and II, if you so choose. They’re not the Darkspawn. They’re not inherently evil and there are plenty of reasons to be supportive of their overall viewpoint, pending the type of character you’re playing. You can even earn a grudging respect from them. And yet, when the moment of truth comes, it will be the same outcome no matter what you’ve done or what choices you’ve made. Their past behavior towards you and Kirkwall become irrelevant. The story needs them to do something to proceed, so they do it. The game treats these situations as ignorable inconveniences; as a player you must do the same.

What really makes up for those areas where the overall story falters a bit are the NPCs who join you for this adventure. Aveline, Anders, Varric, Merrill, Isabella, Fenris… god help me I loved them all. As much as I liked the cast of Mass Effect 2 the DA2 quests you take on on behalf of your buddies tie into the overarching story so much better than in that game. Thematically, Bioware does some really interesting work here playing around with the ideas of trust and betrayal. I won’t get into the actions of any particular character here, but there was a moment leading into the end game that I fell into hook, line, and sinker.

A character I had with me throughout the game, a character I trusted implicitly did something I found so revolting, so horrifying, I wanted to be mad at the game for making it happen. But unlike some other characters who turn on a dime just because the story demands it, the seeds of this character’s betrayal are planted. I knew something bad could happen. I even expected something bad might happen. But I didn’t expect what I got. I never imagined my trust would be abused quite the way it was. It’s one of the better twists I’ve seen from a game like this. Kudos to Bioware for that. (Although I am curious what would have happened had I not gone along with some things. Would it have been any different at all? I suspect not, and if that’s the case, it’s another example of your choices really not mattering all that much.)

How good or bad all this is really depends on your willingness to suspend disbelief and very likely that will depend on just how much you’ve enjoyed the rest of the experience up to that point. If you enjoy most of what a game brings to the table you’ll always cut it more slack when it cuts a corner. And make no mistake, every CRPG story has to cut corners somewhere. There are limits to what it can let the player get away with in terms of effecting the story and that requires some degree of willfull ignorance on the part of the player to accept certain boundaries. Personally, I liked Dragon Age 2 enough to live with its boundaries, but not enough to give Bioware a total pass. They chose to make a smaller game this time around and, in doing so, needed to do a better job of making sure the player’s actions in the game don’t feel so ineffectual. I’m not paying $60 to worry about the set up for Dragon Age 3; I want the best possible experience from Dragon Age 2.

Magicka Bathrobes are Magically Drylicious

No High Scores

If you’ve played Magicka and then looked down at your shabby bathrobe with disgust, gaming fashion store sinn d’signed has you covered. Now you can have your very own Magicka bathrobe in three glorious colors, all for the low, low price of $85. The store is currently taking preorders and all preorders are eligible for an in-game item to be determined at a later date. $85 seems high for a robe but hey, making you look like a Jawa wizard ain’t cheap! Feel free to insert your own joke here about how wearing the robe will cause you to have real life multiplayer problems, ie not having sex. Oh wait, looks like I already did.

Seen at Joystiq.

Mass Effect 2: The Arrival Trailer

Here’s a launch trailer for The Arrival, the last piece of Mass Effect 2 and the bridge to Mass Effect 3 we’ve all been waiting for. Well, maybe not so much that last part. Hey, you know the Reapers? You know how they want to kill us all? That’s all the bridge you need. I’m looking forward to this DLC but I will miss my trusty squad of Mordin and Miranda. How the hell am I supposed to burn armor by myself? The nerve of these people, slacking off at the last minute. The Arrival comes out today for the Xbox 360 and the PS3.

Red Faction: Armageddon Pre-Order Bonus Time

Time for more pre-order bonus content. Isn’t it awesome! I really, really dislike these. A lot.

Here’s the PR from THQ:

Before Red Faction: Armageddon explodes (is released) onto the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation3 computer entertainment system and Windows PC on May 31, those anxious to revisit Mars can pre-order a number of exclusive incentive items from participating retailers to immediately enhance their Armageddon experience, THQ Inc. and its internal studio, Volition, Inc. announced today…

At GameStop, those who preorder Red Faction: Armageddon will receive a free downloadable copy of Red Faction: Battlegrounds arcade game on either Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, or PlayStation Network for the PlayStation3 computer entertainment system, a $10 value. Players will also receive the Commando Pack that includes the armored Commando uniform and adds two new weapons to their arsenal. Players will spray an unforgiving stream of destruction (plasma) with the Plasma Thrower, or slice and dice the infestation (shoot people) with dual Laser Pistols.

At Best Buy, players will receive the Recon Pack that includes the clandestine Recon uniform, constructed specifically for Red Faction snipers and spies. Unleash two new weapons on your foes, including the Arc Welder, which immobilizes and electrocutes clusters of enemies, and the XNG-5000, which launches devastating Nanite-filled projectiles that seek out targets and dissolve them.

At Amazon.com, players will a free downloadable copy of Red Faction: Battlegrounds arcade game on either Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, or PlayStation Network for the PlayStation3 computer entertainment system. Red Faction: Battlegrounds pits four players either locally or online in a variety of game modes, including Survival, Annihilate and Flag Frenzy. Players rank up and are rewarded with a unique bonus weapon that will be playable in Red Faction: Armageddon.

(In other words, Amazon.com got screwed.)

At Walmart, players will receive the limited edition Red Faction 24-page illustrated comic book that follows Darius Mason as he chases down a gang of murderous bandits in a tale that takes place just before the events of Red Faction: Armageddon. The comic will also include a mini-strategy guide from Prima Games the world’s leading publisher of strategy content, for use with Red Faction: Armageddon.

Red Faction: Armageddon is scheduled to be available on May 31 in North America for a suggested retail price of $59.99. To preorder now, please visit www.redfaction.com/buy


So, looks like GS and Best Buy, no?

3DS vs Pokewalker – Fight!

No High Scores

The 3DS has a pedometer, the Pokewalker is a pedometer. Both give you things for walking. Which one is better? Let’s take a stroll and find out.

The notion of your 3DS talking to other 3DS’s as you walk about isn’t anything new. You could put Nintendogs on Bark mode and you’d get stuff from other people who also had it on Bark mode. For the record, I never got anything from anyone. Not once. So sad and lonely was my little puppy. The 3DS takes this notion of your console communicating with other consoles further out with the Mii StreetPass as well as ties into games such as Nintendogs and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D. With Nintendogs, your puppy gets presents from other puppies. In SSFIV:3D, you get beatdowns from other players. With the Mii StreetPass you can have other Mii’s come live in your 3DS. Why you’d want this, I don’t know. I have a bunch of strange Miis on my Wii and I never use them. They’re kind of creepy, to be honest.

The problem with the StreetPass system is that Americans typically don’t spend their time surrounded by other people as much as folks in Japan do. Mass transit is big in pockets of the US, certainly, but not to the extent it is in Japan. If you’re in the US and you want to take advantage of the various StreetPass features of the 3DS, you have to either go to a gaming convention like PAX or go to Japan. So Nintendo threw a pedometer into the 3DS, as if to say, hey, go out and walk around and you’ll find other people who are also walking around.

As I’ve talked about before, the Pokewalker has a similar purpose. It wants you to go and walk around, and for your efforts you can unlock Pokemon not available in the main game, as well as get items for battling.

So, which one is better? In the interest of science, I took a stroll to find out.

No High Scores

So here you can see my 3DS and my PokeWalker before my stroll. That canine butt you see is the butt of my Great Dane puppy Rufus. Rufus and I haven’t spent a lot of time together. He’s learned a couple of tricks, eaten a bunch, drank a bunch, peed and pooped a bunch, just like a real dog. He also doesn’t listen to me worth a damn during the frisbee competition. Also like a real dog. One of the best things about the pedometer in the 3DS is that I can boot up Nintendogs, take Rufus for a walk, close the 3DS, put it in my pocket and walk around and my real life steps are converted into steps with Rufus. Basically, I get credit for spending time with Rufus by taking a walk I was going to take any way. Below Rufus’ butt is my PokeWalker with Bronzor in it. Bronzor is one of my PokeWalker fodder Pokemon. They exist simply to walk. I don’t use them for anything but walking so I don’t care that they’re leveling up only in the PokeWalker. I don’t even know if I’ll bring them over to Pokemon White, so little do I care about them outside of walking. It is what it is. There are hundreds of beasts in the games. One has to draw a line somewhere.

As you can see from the picture, Rufus and I haven’t walked at all. Bronzor and I have. Bronzor got clipped to the exercise bike pedal and went for multiple spins this morning as well as was on my belt as I went around my morning. That’s why Bronzor has three thousand steps so far. From a utility perspective, clipping the PokeWalker on your belt is much lighter and more comfortable than carrying the 3DS around in your pocket, but preparing the PokeWalker for walking, by choosing a Pokemon and syncing it up is more cumbersome than simply turning the 3DS on and closing it. So I guess it’s a draw.

So for this test, I loaded up Nintendogs, said I wanted to go out with Rufus, closed the 3DS and put it in my pocket. I then took Bronzor off of my belt and clipped him to the same pocket on my other leg in order to rule out any pant related preferential treatment. I have no idea how these things work so it seemed only fair that both pedometers be in the same, basic place. I can tell you that with my pants weighed down by technology, I felt like I needed a bigger belt. Equipped thusly I went to the mall to get my wife a birthday present.

No High Scores

So here we are upon my return. In case you don’t have a calculator at the ready, Bronzor nabbed 1947 steps to Rufus’ 1525. Both Bronzor and Rufus were very happy with their stroll. Rufus found me some high heeled shoes and Bronzor found some more watts. Rufus got a bowl of food and a bowl of water for his troubles. Bronzor got nothing, but only because I can’t feed him. Plus, I have no idea what he’d eat. I have no idea how many steps I actually took, but given how small the PokeWalker is compared to the 3DS, I can see it registering steps more easily than the 3DS on account of it being more easily jostled. Seeing how the fate of the world is not dependent upon accurate step tracking, I’m not going to sweat the differences. So again, let’s call this a draw.

From a rewards perspective, it’s not so easy to declare a winner. The 3DS rewards you with game coins. Walk a hundred steps and you’ll get a coin. Not a bad rate of return. The problem is that the most coins you can earn in a day on your 3DS is 10 coins. Which means that after walking 1000 steps, something all but the most sedentary individual can accomplish, the 3DS doesn’t give you anything. The PokeWalker, on the other hand, not only rewards you for more steps, but it actually demands more steps. 1000 steps will get a few things unlocked for you in the PokeWalker, but not much. With the 3DS, you can use your coins to buy things in various games, fighting figurines in Super Street Fighter IV: 3D for example. The PokeWalker rewards you with the reason you play Pokemon in the first place, namely more Pokemon. Obviously, if you’re not a fan of Pokemon, then the 3DS has a better reward system but if you’re a Pokemon fan, the limit of only 10 coins a day would irritate me. The difference speaks to what each pedometer is meant to accomplish. The pedometer in the 3DS is a casual, non-threatening entity. Hey, it says, if you’re going out, why not bring me along? We’ll get some Mii’s, it will be awesome. The PokeWalker, on the other hand, rewards the players with the most dedication. Pack a lunch, it says, because you’re going to be walking for a very long time, but some awesome beasts lie at the end of the line.

In the end, neither matter all that much. You’re either going to walk, or you’re not and a plastic step counter isn’t going to make a lick of difference. I can say that when Pokemon comes out for the 3DS, you can bet that some sort of pedometer activity will be included and hopefully it will land somewhere between the casual “walk if you want to” mentality of the coin system and the forced march mentality of the PokeWalker. There’s plenty of room in between those points and the Pokemon games are well suited to take advantage of it. If my Pignite can find me some high heeled shoes in the process, even better.

Day Late, Dollar Short 3DS Impressions

I was resistant, but in the end I ultimately couldn’t resist trading in the aging, ailing, and down-at-heel Wii for a 3DS. After the trade-in, including a few games and accessories, I walked out of Your Favorite Used Games Chain with the hot-to-trot handheld and five bucks more than I walked in with. Not a bad deal. Here’s some “they didn’t send me a unit a month in advance” day-after-launch impressions.

I’ll spare you all of the weirdly fetishistic unboxing talk and pointless stories about what I ate on the way home, what the dogs thought about it when they saw it, and endless rhapsodies about my history of Nintendo. To get right down to business, it’s 3D alright. It does work, and it is impressive although it’s obviously an infant technology. In 20 years, we’ll be remembering how crude it was, but for now it’s interesting and when the stars are right it’s almost amazing. I’m just not really sure what to make of it just yet in terms of what it could mean for design and gameplay. I will say this- I don’t trust Nintendo with a potentially gimmicky feature like 3D. I’d hate for it to become the new waggle.

The unit itself is slick, slightly bulkier than a DS Lite but it also feels more substantial and adult hand-friendly. The buttons and D-Pad aren’t nearly as clicky as on the DSi, which I’m glad for. The thumb disc is cool- it reminds me of the old NES MAX pad. It’s not a traditional, ball-mounted thumbstick. It really is more of a slider. It’s definitely a good addition, seeing as many 3D games, racers, and other titles need analog control. The screens look good- bright, vivid colors but we’re still not in Retina display territory.

I messed around with Face Raiders and the AR cards first. They were cute and fun diversions, definitely a nice pack-in to show what the handheld can do. These are the things you’ll show to friends and family. I had some trouble with the 3D effect at first with double images and not being able to focus on the screen, but strangely enough the problem completely disappeared when I put my glasses back on. I usually don’t need them with handhelds, but for me it was the difference between the effect not really working and working great.

The first game I tried was Ridge Racer, one of my review assignments. It’s Ridge Racer all right. As in, circa 1995 arcade racing. The 3D effect is pretty neat and there’s tons of “Comin’ At Ya!” 3D exploitation bits. It may be a good showcase for the technology despite dodgy graphics and dated gameplay, but the game feels unimpressive considering that you can get similar racers on IOS for a dollar. But they’re not 3D, so there it is.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 looks great. The sense of depth and space that the diorama-like effect creates is really cool, but I doubt it will really impact gameplay. It feels pretty solid though, definitely better than previous handheld footie games. It’s not as feature-packed as a console Pro Evo or FIFA game, but Manc U looks and plays like Manc U so for a casual fan like me that’s a win. Full review forthcoming.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is definitely a must-buy for fans of turn-based strategy games, board games, or Advance Wars. The presentation is super-slick, with 3D layered menus and some fun GI Joe-like characters with cool code names and high-tech weapons. There’s definitely an X-Com/Jagged Alliance vibe, although at least in the early stages the levels are much simpler and I’m not sure if there are elevations or any of the more complex elements in those games. But it’s fun, accessible, and the 3D looks really neat, .like you’re looking down over a miniatures game. Another review I’m working on, and I think it’s going to be a good one.

So far, no headaches, dizziness, speaking in tongues, or bleeding.