Kinect Captures Guinness World Record

Kinect is “officially” a record breaker.

Guinness World Records – the global authority on record-breaking – has recognized Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 as the “Fastest Selling Consumer Electronics Device”. Between November 4, 2010 and January 3, 2011, the company sold an average of 133,333 units per day for a total of 8 million units in its first 60 days on sale. These sales figures best both the iPhone and iPad for the equivalent launch periods. Kinect’s “Fastest Selling Consumer Electronic Device” record will be included in next year’s Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.

So if you want to know why Microsoft says that there’s more Kinect games a-comin’, this is your reason. Apparently, a whole lot of people own them.

Damn it I was really hoping this was going to be a fad.

Dragon Age 2: The First 8 Hours

No High Scores

New DA2 screenshot! Yay! (Now Bill can ease up off my back about it.)

I’ve got about eight hours into Dragon Effect, excuse me, Dragon Age 2 (PC version), so it’s time to post some impressions. These are in no particular order, but represent a fair sampling of the good and bad so far…

- I’ve got a solid DX11 video card (Nvidia GTX460 from EVGA) and I cannot run on Very Hight detail with all environmental effects enabled. I can run at High detail, using the high-res textures Brandon posted about yesterday. It looks really, really good. That said, if the magnetic weapons across the back thing bothers you, that’s still there, and yes it looks silly when a character with a huge staff on their back can just sit down in a chair. Whatever, that doesn’t bother me near as much as Sheperd drinking his Mr. Coffee through his helmet. (There is an option to hide your PC’s helmet, unlike Mass Effect.)

- Leveling in this game is pretty darn quick. My player character, Crow (yes, Crow Hawke), leveled up after the first battle and again before I reached Flemeth and is already, I think, level six. I noted this in the demo, but I was kind of hoping it was just accelerated because it was a demo. One of the things I didn’t like in Origins is that you put so many points into character attributes that leveling up meant less and less as you went on. All sense of scale to the numbers are lost and leveling becomes a chore. Looks like that will be the case again this time around.

- Your sister’s breasts are bigger in the “make believe” version of the champion’s escape from Lothering than in the “actual” telling and they’re plenty generous in the actual telling. This is exactly what I don’t want to see from the “unreliable narrator.” Do something cool with it; don’t just use it as an excuse to be juvenile.

- I have real issues with some of the “streamlining” they’ve done with this game, but there is good streamlining here too. I like that health and mana/stamina potions have a permanent quick slot at the bottom right corner of the screen. In Origins, having to drag five healing potion variants to your taskbar for every single character was annoying. There’s also a new Junk category for inventory. Items you never actually use (gems, incompatible armor, etc.) and will only sell end up here automatically, but you can also assign other items to it that you no longer want. When you go to a merchant you can then click one “sell all” button to get rid of everything in the Junk category. Wonderful! This is simplifying gameplay in a good way.

EDIT: Mr. Brandon says Origins had a trash option on the 360 version. 95% sure, if that’s the case, it wasn’t there on the PC. Or I’m getting senile. Assuming I’m not, I’m glad to see it here for the PC now.

- Inventory items use icons and not art. Not a big deal, but it’s a bit of added, cool detail from Origins that is no longer here. (Or am I remembering this wrong? Suddenly, I’m not sure.)

- Friendly fire for area of effect spells and items (AoE) is only available on Nightmare difficulty. In Origins it was a part of Normal difficulty (half damage, I think) and above. This is crap. Crap, crap, crap. The game is really easy on Normal and very difficult on Hard. I don’t want any piece of Nightmare. Just because I don’t want all my adversaries to be damage soaking tanks doesn’t mean I don’t want to have to think tactically when dropping a meteor shower on them. Why is this not simply a check box you can enable or disable at any difficulty level? Let the user choose. Also, there’s a Dalish Elf Mage NPC that says about her magic, “I try not to hit anyone.” Does it matter? (Nitpicking I know, but this irritates me.)

- The loss of the overhead camera, as I said about the demo, is significant. You can pull back some and, if you stick to controlling just one character during combat, it’s not a huge loss. But if you, say, want to play on Hard or higher where you pretty much have to stop and control characters all the time, it really, really sucks. Switching the character resets the camera behind that character; sometimes it’s a convenience, sometimes it’s a real pain. Example: My melee guys are getting slaughtered while my mage hangs back from a safe distance. All I want to do is select her, fire off a spell in the middle of the group, and get back to my guy. Selecting her shifts the camera to her distant position away from the battle, a position completely unsuitable to actually targeting the right spot for the spell. I then have to reposition the camera as best I can (not easy from a distance), cast the spell, switch back to my guy, reposition the camera again and continue. Annoying.

- In Origins if a party member’s health hit zero they dropped unconscious and sustained an injury. There were a variety of different injuries and the effect varied based on what it was. One might affect health, another dexterity or damage. It was really cool, especially because you knew some injuries you could live with for awhile. Your mage loses some dex? Save the injury kit for someone who really needs it. Injuries would also stack and better injury kits could remove more ill effects. This is gameplay. Really good gameplay. Injuries in DA2 are now a straight reduction of max character health; I don’t think they stack, but it’s hard to tell since the character sheet doesn’t seem to tell you exactly the extent of the effect (there’s just a note on the main UI screen by their portrait).

- Did you kill Flemeth in Origins? Not sure what you’ll think of how they handle that. (I’m fine with it, but then, I didn’t kill her.)

- Threat reduction, the degree to which enemies focus on stopping a specific character, seems a much bigger deal in this game and there are more ways to manage it. I like this. Playing Origins on Normal, I didn’t have to worry that much about who was drawing the most aggro from enemies. The tanks could take it and the ranged characters I would just reposition. That’s harder here, even on Normal. You want to use your skills intelligently to keep your more vulnerable party members in relative safety. Good stuff!

- Character equipment is seriously class-limited now. I know Bioware wanted to more clearly define the classes, but this goes a bit far. I’ve got a rogue, for example. I can dual wield daggers or use a bow. Done. No sword. No shields. Just done. Maybe there’s some other options later, like a short sword? Not sure. This is overly restrictive and limits the how you can build your character in ways that I think are completely unnecessary. Also, you cannot apply armor for your NPCs unless it is specifically for that NPC (something I haven’t found yet). Found a bad ass new set of plate for your warrior? Too bad, it’s only for Hawke. Wait. Your Hawke is a mage, you say? Ah well. Guess you’ll have to sell it. Lost. Gameplay.

- I mentioned before I see no character skills that don’t relate specifically to combat maneuvers. No dedicated skills for: tactics, speech, crafting, survivalism (or whatever it was), etc. More lost gameplay. (I sense a theme here.) You can argue the systems didn’t work well enough in Origins. That’s fine. Then improve the systems. Bioware school of design lately is retreat, retreat, retreat. I can’t tell you one new system they’ve added. They’ve replaced (in good ways) and taken away. That’s it. Stop assuming your players are too stupid to figure things out or at least muddle through and still be happy. Origins was a game first and a movie second. Don’t run from that. Challenge us.

- Again, several spell effects sound and even look like laser blasts. This just sets absolutely the wrong tone for the game. But there’s other stuff I don’t care for either in terms of how abilities are reflected. Again, I’m playing a rogue. I have a backstab skill. I was fine with the days where I had to actually position my rogue to execute a backstab. Bioware wants to do this for me as soon as I click the button. Fine, I can live with that. But do it in a way that makes sense. You could show my rogue charge and backflip over a guy to stab. You could show him deftly swirl around a guy, lashing out with a backhand swing to the back. I’m sure there are other things that would look both cool and physically possible (reasonably so). Instead, my rogue literally sinks into the ground and then rises back up behind the target. What am I? The Mole Man? C’mon. You simply cannot insist you’re not making Dragon Effect and do stuff like this.

EDIT: Brandon also indicated to me your character is using a smoke bomb to disappear from the screen when backstabbing. I went back and looked closer -the combat is really frenetic, so it’s hard to see- and he’s right. The rogue doesn’t sink so much as kneel and disappear. But then, to disappear right in front of somebody is bizarre to me too; a thought I already had about the stealth skill. Must be magic stealth, I suppose.

Now, all that bellyaching said, if you’re okay with playing Dragon Effect, you absolutely are going to like this game. The production value is outstanding. The voice work is very good. I like the story so far. I like the characters. These are all things that will keep me playing and enjoying the game. If you liked Mass Effect more than Origins, there’s a real good chance this game is for you. I’m upset because, although I liked Mass Effect 2, I thought Origins was the superior game. Origins showed there’s room in the market for a fair marriage of so-called old-school sensibilities with modern day design concepts and technology and Bioware has run from it. I really don’t know why that is and it’s disappointing.

It also doesn’t help that the PC version is $60, which only adds salt to the wound, especially in combination with the Day 1 “DLC” extortion tax they’re levying against anyone who didn’t pre-order the game two full months ago. I bought the DLC because I want to see how much it feels like core content, something cut out so that EA/Bioware could specifically charge extra. I’ll let you know what I think when I get to that point. Note too that this is different than Stone Prisoner in Origins. That was core content to be sure. If you didn’t bring Shale to the Deep Roads, you totally missed out. It was fine, though, because Stone Prisoner specifically incentivized buying new instead of used. You bought new you got the content. Period. There’s some fairness to that notion I can understand. This is something else entirely. People want to drink what EA and Bioware are selling, but the companies are poisoning their own well with stuff like this (the DLC, not the streamlining). I drove home from the store angry about purchasing the game. I’ve never experienced that and were I not reviewing it, I likely would have left it on the shelf. I hope they turn back from this path, and soon.

PlayStation Plus Sends in the Clouds

No High Scores

If you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, tomorrow is your lucky day as cloud based saving comes to the PS3. Starting tomorrow you’ll be able to save up to 1000 save games, or 150 MB worth of space. Additionally, you can restore said saves once every 24 hours if you’re the kind of person that has some strange desire to play on a new PS3 every day. Be warned though, if your PlayStation Plus subscription lapses, no online save retrieval for you. Instead, they send you your saves, one bloody byte at a time. I seem to remember Sony saying that the cloud will also work with the upcoming NGP and the Xperia play, but rather than just checking your Uncharted 3 progress on the go, I’m not sure how. Cloud based saving will arrive in yet another PS3 update, so make sure you plan ahead lest you spend your gaming time staring at Jimmy O’ProgressBar, everyone’s favorite free time waster.

Seen on the PS3 blog.

LittleBigClass Volume 5 – Job Searching

As someone who finished grad school and entered the frenzied world of “hey, I’m overeducated and want a job in a specific creative field!” not too long ago, I’m very serious about trying to give my students as much ammo as possible for their own career planning. In that light, week nine was all about the job search – finding out what various companies are looking for, how to build particular skills, and how to effectively search for opportunities.

I gathered a few design-specific postings – from Blizzard (they’re seeking a designer for Diablo 3), Gameloft (looking for a general game designer), and Irrational (for both level design and systems design positions). I tried to go for variety (both in terms of genre and scope), and let everyone go wild on the Gamasutra job board if none of the pre-selected positions suited their fancy. Then, I tasked them with writing cover letters for their job of choice, listing all of their design experience and portfolio-worthy work (including everything we’ve done in class, and an “aspirational” project – a full mobile game – that they expect to graduate with).

The point, of course, is to get them familiar with what’s out there, what will be required of them, and what they should have in their portfolios come game day. We chatted about the value of knowing a given company’s line of games (and the ability to speak critically about specific design decisions), and the importance of having an absolutely stellar portfolio. Studios want to see that you have the skill and the determination to put together strong, coherent work – so levels and mods and well-thought-out design docs are a must.

Check out the “requirements” section for the Blizzard/Diablo position:

Requirements
• A minimum of 2 years game design experience on a shipped product
• Excellent written and verbal communications skills
• Absolute passion for playing and making computer games
• Able to work well in a team environment

Pluses
• Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience
• Experienced in designing, playing role-playing games (RPG’s) and action games
• Experience developing rule sets (pen and paper or electronic, character classes, enemies, skill systems, etc.)
• Experiencing running pen and paper RPG campaigns

And the Irrational Level Designer:

Required Experience and Skills:
This position requires a high degree of creativity. You will be required to work with the team to form a “vision” of your levels and use that vision to inform your design decisions.

An important part of the role is communicating that vision clearly and concisely to the rest of the team and ensuring that they have a clear and specific mandate for their work. You must also provide a receptive ear so that other team members can provide input on the game design.

Above all we are looking for somebody with enthusiasm, passion and the desire to create levels that are going to amaze gamers.

We’re also planning to hit the career-related panels at PAX East this Friday – so if you’re hitting up the IGDA dev center for “Resumes That Rock” or “Portfolios and Demos that Rock” – feel free to come say hello!


The second half of class was spent on building exercises in LittleBigPlanet. After a few weeks spent primarily on design discussions, job searching, and mechanical analysis of existing games, we’re back in the LBP saddle for the rest of class, building two-stage “games” for the final project.

It was a simple assignment. If you like, take a gander:

In your groups, build a very simple stage that contains at least TWO of the following features:

1. An elevator
2. Suspended platforms
3. A vehicle
4. A “dangerous” obstacle (such as a pit, fire, poison gas, etc.)
5. A character with dialogue

This is an exercise in very rudimentary building, LBP toolset use, and problem solving. Do not worry about aesthetics. You’ll have 90 minutes to build and present your work to the rest of the class.

Not to leave anyone high and dry, I supplied a few youtube tutorials (in fact, tutorials I’ve used in building my own levels) for good measure and let them have at it. Once everything was up and running, I floated around the room, watching the magic happen. One group put together a sensor-enabled elevator that connected to a zipline (which ended with a sackboy-skewering pit of spikes), while the other worked on a tiny fleet of retro-looking cars.

It’s awesome to see these kinds of “it has guidelines, but feel free to create what you want” exercises work. It’s always a balance between giving clear, concise instructions and letting the creative juices flow freely, but I think we hit a nice middle point with this one. As always, the most fun part of this job is to sit back and watch the wacky stuff that comes out, and its always gratifying to see the “aha!” moments alight when a student starts seeing the potential in his/her fiddling.

Check out every installment of LittleBigClass here!

EA Games President Loves him Some PC Games

OK in fairness he likes everything downloadable. If he could download money he’d love that, too. (As would I for the record)

But here’s an interesting quote from a Gamasutra article :

“The user base is gigantic,” he says. “PC retail may be a big problem, but PC downloads are awesome. … The margins are much better and we don’t have any rules in terms of first party approvals. From our perspective, it’s an extremely healthy platform. … It’s totally conceivable it will become our biggest platform.” Gibeau says EA is also increasingly dabbling in the freemium business model on the PC, given how successful it has been in China. “If you look at the way people play in Asia, PC is the model,” he says. “I think that free to play model is coming to the west in a big way.”

The days PC retail might be over but this whole using the Internet thing just may catch on one day.

MLB 11 The Show: Gameplay Impressions

On the surface, MLB 11 The Show is a hell of a lot like MLB 10 The Show.

When you scan the fact sheet a lot of what Sony is touting are periphery issues — a new custom camera feature, a new co-op mode, stadium specific sounds and cameras, online league stuff, etc.

But wait — there’s more. Some good, some great and some I wish Sony would do differently…

The feature that stands out, to me, is the new analog systems. You can use the right stick to hit, pitch, bunt, and throw. Three of those work great. I am in love with the pitching system because it’s tough to always throw strikes — and more importantly — LOW strikes.

One of the keys in pitching effectively, in real life, is keeping the ball down. If you can do that with consistency and throw strikes doing it you’re on your way to being Greg Maddux. Congrats!

In most baseball games throwing low strikes is about as easy as, well, throwing high strikes. In The Show 11 if you try to locate pitches on the lower half of the zone, there’s a great chance, if your pitcher isn’t terribly accurate, that you’ll hit a lower than anticipated target. As a Reds fan, using Volquez to hit the bottom part of the zone is freaking *hard* — as it should be. His fastball seems to dip a bit so he tends to miss that low target. Volquez has to use his speed and power and hope he can get hitters to go fishing.

The result? I have pitched Volquez several times and there are games when he’s ‘on’ and he’s damn near unhittable. Other games? I walked six one game and was both frustrated and elated that I witnessed such a lack of user control in a baseball game. Throwing Arroyo, a pitcher with better control, is easier to locate pitches but certainly not a guarantee that you’ll locate the pitches where you want them.

Arroyo also has a nasty “12-6″ curveball. Another pitching maxim is that if you can throw strikes with your curve you are going to be tough to hit. Throwing consistent strikes with a looping curve, when using this analoig system, is tough. (Unless you want to throw it right down the pipe). This makes the pitcher/hitter confrontation truly wonderful and I can’t get enough of this part of the game.

In this year’s game I see ample walks and strikeouts. And it might sound silly but most games simply screw this up and you have to have these two facets of the game working together or you have a game that is not unlike baseball, but it ain’t baseball.

Hitting, using the stick, isn’t as much fun or as realistic. It’s basically a pull back/push forward mechanic that does nothing for me. Your mileage my vary but I’m still a guy who likes “timed” hitting over zone hitting and while the analog method is timed with a tint of zone mechanics, I much prefer straight up timed hitting as my reflexes just aren’t what they used to be. Yes, I am an aging gamer. Past my prime. I’m officially the Jamie Moyer of videogame baseball critics. Thankfully analog options are just that — an option.

I like the analog throwing quite a bit — very organic and easy to comprehend. Simply push the right stick to the base you want to throw and if you use too much dynamite it increases the chance of making a bad throw. Easy.

The other area in which I think the game has improved is in its “timing”. This is one of THE most difficult things to nail down in a baseball game and frankly an area in which The Show has always struggled. By “timing” I mean the speed of the runners that work in conjunction with the pace of the ball and the reaction time and arm strengths of the outfielders.

If this part of the game is screwy it messes up the entire experience on the field. Runners can’t score from 2nd base on singles, balls hit down the line that reach the wall turn into long singles (an area in which the Show has always struggled), and so on and so forth. This HAS to be right or the game basically breaks down and becomes a station to station game which simply isn’t how baseball works.

This year The Show NAILS this. The fine tuning done in this area is noticeable. Scoring from 1st on a double, gappers resulting in stand up doubles, hard liners over the 3rd/1st base bag also resulting in doubles even with a slow runner, it’s about as good as you can expect and it cannot be emphasized enough.

So what about the gameplay isn’t clicking?

Two things:

I still feel and have always felt concerning this franchise, that hitting is a bit unrewarding. In some games, most notably the old High Heat series and the old MVP Baseball series, when you caught good wood on a ball you almost FELT it. The minute you made contact you could sense it — “ohh I got all of that one..”

You don’t get that here — or at least I don’t. Home runs when they leave the bat feel like every other hit ball and it really shouldn’t feel this way. Something just isn’t right and I don’t know if it’s the sound or what but I hit homers that sound like ground balls and I’m surprised when they leave the yard.

My other issue is that games still take too long.

Even when you choose “fast play” a game takes anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour. Sorry, but that’s too long for a baseball game. I don’t need to see every foul ball go into the stands, every tap of the cleat, and anything that does not concern the gameplay on the field. That’s what fast play means, right?

LET’S GO PEOPLE I HAVE THINGS TO DO.

I want the game to move along at a much faster clip. There is no reason whatsoever that a baseball game, when you take off all of the presentation fluff, should take more than 35-40 minutes. When I choose “fast play” I want *all* of that extra crap gone and The Show still seems to want you to watch and gaze at how pretty it is — and it IS pretty but there are so many ways they could speed things up and yet they don’t allow you to skip stuff.

It doesn’t take away the fact that it’s a brilliant game on the field, but an hour long game just isn’t necessary and honestly I don’t have time to play more than a game a day (after the review process is over) because of it.

Next up — Franchise time.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Gets Release Date, Tons of Extra Stuff

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Deus Ex fans rejoice, the time for the human revolution is fast approaching! This assumes you consider waiting for five months “fast”. In celestial time, that’s barely an eye blink!

Square Enix recently released the official North American release date of Deus Ex: Human Revolution as August 23rd. Austrailia gets it two days later on the 25th and the UK gets it on the 26th. I remember the summer of 2000 when Deus Ex, Icewind Dale and Diablo 2 all released on the same day. I was the most excited about Diablo 2 but ended up playing Icewind Dale to death. I started up Deus Ex, died a lot in the beginning and then put it away but eventually got back into it and really enjoyed it. The funny thing is that I don’t remember a lot about the game which makes me wonder if I really liked it as much as I think I did, or my memory is too fuzzy and I’m just filling in the blanks with love that didn’t happen. Maybe those memories have been implanted by a shadowy government agency so that I’ll buy this new one. It could happen!

If you have an extra ten bucks in your wallet when the game drops you can get the Augmented Edition (nice wordplay there Squeenix) which comes with 10,000 in game dollars, a bunch of new weapons with super-serious names like the SERSR Longsword Whisperhead silenced sniper rifle and the M-28 Utility Remote-Detonated Explosive Device (UR-DED). You also get another mission, an art book, a making of DVD complete with motion comic and a coupon for a free arm-blade implantation. That last one is a joke, but I so wish it wasn’t.

Seen at Kotaku.

Dragon Age 2: Importing Origins Savegames

No High Scores

Yes, I know I keep re-using this shot. I’ll get some more screen grabs soon. For now, you’re stuck with Flemeth the Dominatrix.

On the off chance you didn’t already know this, although Dragon Age 2 does not continue the story of The Greywarden, Origins’ protagonist, it does let you import the state of the world you left behind from the first game. I’ve just gone through the process and thought some of you would like to know exactly what choices you made in that game are imported. I don’t necessarily know all the variations on these choices, as the list I got only shows what I specifically did, but you ought to be able to extrapolate from the following list, which does include heavy Dragon Age: Origins spoilers…

Italics refer to direct quotes from the in-game list:

- Connor was freed from the demon. This refers to the little boy in Redcliffe possessed by a demon. You could also have killed the boy to save the mother’s life or gotten a mage to help you save both.

- Mages were recruited to the army.

- Dalish Elves were recruited into the army.

- Harrowmont rules Orzammar. There was some other dwarf dude you could have crowned. I forget who was who.

- The Anvil of the Void was destroyed. This was the golemn-making device; you could have elected to preserve the forge. Of course, that would make your character a dick.

- Loghain was killed. Sure, you could have spared him, but then Alistair pouts.

- Anora is queen of Ferelden. You could have crowned Alistair or yourself. Possibly some other options?

- The Warden performed the dark ritual with Morrigan. I was already sleeping with her, so what’s the big deal, amiright? You could also have had Alistair do it, or rejected Morrigan outright.

- The Warden killed the Archdemon. I have the power! You could have had Alistair do this (or he could step in, if it’s to save your life; not a total douche, that guy).

- Amaranthine was saved from the darkspawn assault. This is from the Awakenings expansion and refers to a big outpost thingie that your decisions could have lead to ruin. I saved the day because, well, I am just that good. (You heard it here first.)

- The Architech is alive. More Awakening content. Dude wasn’t all bad, but you could elect to kill him.

- Warden’s Keep was reclaimed. I’m assuming this refers to the Warden’s Keep DLC (and having completed it), but I’m not entirely sure.

- Shale was discovered. Shale is an NPC from the Stone Prisoner. You know, the “DLC” (it’s totally core content to the game) that you got for free so long as you didn’t buy used. Who knew we’d so soon be referring to this as the good old days. F$$$ing EA/Bioware and their pre-order DLC extortion tax. Sigh.

- King Cailan’s corpse was burned. This comes from the Return to Ostagar DLC. I assume the options are to burn his corpse or ignore it.

That’s the list. It’s possible there are options from some of the DLC I did not purchase (the Leiliana one, for example), but probably not. (I did play Witch Hunt and imported that save, but no items from that carried over.) I’m good with this list as it does reflect the big decisions I made throughout the game. I have to admit I’m curious if they’re all reflected in some way in this game and how that might be. Most likely, it’s just quick hints in dialog rather than anything substantive, and I’m good with that.

Update: I should also have noted there are three “pre-built” histories from which you can choose. They are as follows:

- Hero of Ferelden: A young man from a noble family rose to become a Grey Warden, then ended the Fifth Blight by killing the Archdemon himself–and surviving. He always strove for the greater good, and placed his friend Alistair on the throne of Ferelden.

- The Martyr: Ferelden will forever remember the young Dalish elf who died to kill the fifth Archdemon. Even though she had reason to be cynical, her actions always benefited others. She left a kingdom ruled jointly by Alistair and Anora.

- No Compromise: A ruthless dwarven noble took command of Ferelden’s Grey Wardens, then let nothing stand between him and victory. He exiled Alistair, sent Loghain to his death against the Archdemon, and left Anora as Ferelden’s ruler.

Not much love for dwarves in the Bioware offices, I’m guessing.

Free Game Music

No High Scores

Hey, do you like music? Yeah? Do you like game music? What about free game music? If you do, I’ve got you covered on multiple fronts.

First up, Ubisoft is giving away the Beyond Good and Evil soundtrack. Maybe you played it a long time ago, maybe you’re playing the newly HD-afied version, maybe you’ve never played it all. In any case the music is good, so you should get it. Plus, it costs nothing.

Second, remember the Presidents of the United States of America? They did Lump and Peaches and that awesome cover of Video Killed the Radio Star. Yeah, well now they’re doing songs about Pokemon. Can’t Stop (Catchin’ Them All) is the new Pokemon theme song and it’s a doozy. It reminds me of the Animaniacs song about the presidents, which is a very, very good thing.

Shorter is Sometimes Better- The 10 Hour Campaign versus The Illusion of Content

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Pictured is one way that Red Dead Redemption could have been improved. No, not by Jed Buell’s Midgets, but by it being shorter.

Over the past several years most AAA games, barring anything developed by Bethesda, Rockstar, and BioWare, have been offering shorter campaign experiences supplemented by multiplayer or extended play modes. With skyrocketing development budgets and the impetus to produce the next big blockbuster, the days of the 20 hour single player campaign- let alone the 40-50 hour one- are gone. And I say “good riddance”, particularly as games become more filmic and dependent on qualities such as pacing, direction, and visceral impact.

When Platinum Games’ incredible Vanquish released last year, one of the most common complaints from the internet peanut gallery was that its four to six hour campaign was too short. The usual forum cries ranged from “rental” to “ripoff”, with most bandwagon hysterics failing to acknowledge or understand the kind of game the cocaine-bender-of-a-shooter was intended to be. Yes, the campaign was short and indeed it was shorter in comparison to most modern examples. But it was also insanely paced, tightly directed, and sharply focused- not to mention that score attack and challenge modes extended the replay into an arcade-like experience and multiple difficulty levels double or even triple the play value. You wouldn’t want a game like Vanquish to be an epic 20 hour game filled with meandering story, repetitive missions, and long passages of doing nothing. I spent $60 on the game and I never felt shorted by the brief campaign. I felt exhilarated. All killer, no filler.

But many gamers chafe at paying full retail for a game that isn’t offering these extended story modes, mostly because everyone has these apocryphal (and likely exaggerated) stories of spending fifty to a hundred or more hours on Final Fantasy VII, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, or Baldur’s Gate. I think my legendary tale of game duration is probably Phantasy Star II, I swear I put a hundred hours into that one myself. But how much of that was actually in playing the game, as in engaging the gameplay and moving the narrative or character progression forward, and how much of that was in wandering around lost, talking to inconsequential NPCs, fiddling with equipment, looking at shop inventories, engaging in random encounters or simply grinding? It seems to me that many of these mythical hours spent playing the long games of days gone by was wasted in a quagmire of illusory content that may not have actually existed.

The open world design concept has added many hours of play (if not content) to some current designs. But how much of a game like Red Dead Redemption is meaningful content and how much is just filler and empty padding to extend the length of time it takes to play the game and to enable Rockstar to claim that they’ve released an “epic” game with countless hours of gameplay? After ten hours of side quests including plenty of dreadful flower picking, I realized how much of a sham it was to suggest that there was this vast frontier to explore in the game- let alone that there was anything approaching a focused or well-written Western experience.

I’m at the point in my gaming life where I’ll gladly take a ten hour, tightly controlled campaign with good writing, tight scenario design, and great gameplay over a twenty or more hour one that has me doing what amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of story and character progression. Some games are more appropriate for a longer experience- I’m looking forward to spending 30 or so hours with Dragon Age II- but to suggest that something like Bulletstorm or a Call of Duty campaign should be more than a couple of hours start to finish is frankly ridiculous. Don’t you people understand pacing, rhythm, and narrative trajectory? You’d almost think that gamers would be more happy plunking down their sixty bucks for a sloppy, directionless game with a guaranteed 100 hour campaign than they would for a truly filmic, well-framed and executed story with tight gameplay.

In a sense, it’s the director’s cut mentality- the belief that longer is by default better. Yet in many cases a director’s cut adds footage that was intentionally cut to improve the picture. It’s not always a case where the aggrieved artist was forced to alter their work against their wishes or vision, hence the subtext behind the term “director’s cut”. Less is often more, as any creator working in any medium is aware. What does Aliens really gain from all of that rambling footage with Newt’s parents? Nothing, except length and weaker content that lessens the strength of the whole.

There is a lot to be said for games that opt to tighten up content and streamline play to focus on what is most important and instead strengthen the whole. Mass Effect 2, for example, was an amazing example of how to edit the process of playing a CRPG down to its core essentials. Citadel may only have a couple of areas, but they’re all essential and there is a story component in each one. So what if you can’t walk into some random building off in the distance to look at some things that do nothing to further the world-building or plot development. Conversely, while playing Oblivion recently I realized that for as big and expansive Cyrodil is, most of it is completely inconsequential, meaningless, and existent only to create an illusion of true content. I played a fighting class, so the extensive magic and crafting system really added nothing to my experience. And don’t get me started on all of the lore found in all of those books, none of which adds anything crucial to the story or gameplay.

I do believe there is a major difference in the discussion about game length when considering games like Street Fighter, Diablo, Starcraft, sports games, or a multiplayer-focused shooter. These are games that are much less content-driven and focused more on mechanics and skill-based gameplay. I think you can get as many hours of great gaming as you want out of these kinds of titles chiefly because they aren’t reliant on single-player modes or specific storylines. They’re like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But when the dinner bell rings on story-driven games, I’d much rather sit down to a great meal of that’s just enough than a gluttonous junk food feast. I’ll have the really nice small artisan pizza with farm-fresh ingredients over the $5.99 large from the corporate delivery chain, thanks. I’m finding more and more that once I hit the ten hour mark in most single-player campaigns, I’m ready for them to be over and I’m usually glad when they are so I can either move on to the next game or get back to playing something like a fighting game or multiplayer shooter. I do realize that for kids and folks who are more casual about gaming purchases that it’s more important to get value for the money out of a single purchase. It’s important to assess, however, where it is actually coming from- is it originating from solid, significant content or from lazy, bulky filler and false content meant to pacify consumers looking for longer playtimes and assumed value?