Gaming on the Go- Recent App Store Finds

No High Scores

Pictured is my favorite portable game of all time. It’s really bad, but I’ve had it since I was like five and it’s one of my personal treasures. Fortunately, mobile gaming has come a long way over the past thirty years. I’ve got something like 85 games on my iPhone now including Street Fighter and Resident Evil 4, and if that’s not THE FUTURE, then I don’t know what is. I love IOS games, and I think mobile gaming is a great venue for bite-sized games with interesting concepts and unique gameplay despite the overwhelming proliferation of “me too” games. Come, won’t you join me as I take a look at some of my recent App Store gaming finds?

Speedball 2

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Back when I was in high school in the early 1990s, I had a computer science class where we learned ancient languages like FORTRAN and COBOL. Every Friday, we had game day so we could play old timey games in glorious four-color CGA on the PCs. Somehow, the computer lab had a copy of the Bitmap Brothers’ crazy sci-fi sports game Speedball 2. I loved that game, and when I saw that a new version (subtitled “Evolution”) was available for iDevices, I jumped. Well, not really, I saw that it was $2.99 and waited a couple of days and then it went on sale for 99 cents.

It’s a great version of the classic game. Controls kind of suck, but that’s the case with most IOS games. At least you can choose between a digital stick and tilt. The fun, soccer meets handball meets pinball gameplay is intact, with cyborg-manned teams such as Brutal Deluxe and the Raw Messiahs beating the crap out of each other to try to throw a ball into a goal. There are also points scoring opportunities such as bumpers, light-up targets on the walls, and a multiplier ramp. And you can always knock a player out for points as well. Matches are short, quick, and brutal- perfect for mobile gaming. There’s plenty of content too, with a career mode, challenges, quick matches, and multiplayer options.

I’m really enjoying the game all over again. It’s definitely old fashioned, flawed, and sometimes frustrating but the nostalgia and simple fun of the game carries the day. It runs great on my quickly antiquating iPhone 3G. The game also gets bonus points for its loading screen- it plays a sample of that familiar groaning, grinding sound that old disk drives used to make.

Tiny Wings

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This is the game that bumped Angry Birds off its perch as the #1 downloaded IOS game, and it’s an ultra-casual game about a flightless bird “haunted by the night” (the game’s words) attempting to take wing while traversing the hills and valleys of a chain of islands. Like many of the App Store’s best games, it has a couple of key elements that spell out “success”- immediately graspable concept, simple one-touch controls, and charming visuals. It’s also addictive as hell.

The bird has two states. Touching the screen causes him to tuck and become heavier, which is what you want to do on the downhill slopes With a finger off the screen, it flaps its titular tiny wings and if you time it just right coming off an ascent, he’ll catch some (or a lot) of air and speed up. Timing a tuck on the downward trajectory at the right time will result in a smooth transition and bonus points. Hit three perfect landings and “fever mode” is triggered, which is not only a fun mechanic but it’s also a license to print money when it comes to these kinds of games. There are also coins to collect and clouds to touch for extra points.

It’s cute, it’s fun, and it fits the platform perfectly. I don’t think it’ll reach the iconic status of Angry Birds, but with some updates and extra content I think it’s got some legs. Or wings, as it were.

League of Evil

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Some folks have billed this retro-styled 2D platformer as Super Meat Boy for IOS. As far as the small level, achievement-based design is concerned, it’s a pretty close approximation. Fortunately, League of Evil isn’t nearly as taxing as Super Meat Boy and it does feel original enough to warn off any “ripoff” claims. I also like the theme and setting much better in League than in Meat.

You control a cyborg agent that can run, jump, grind on walls, double jump, punch, and do a flying kick. Your mission is to reach the evil scientist on each level and punch or kick him into oblivion. There are also optional goals that increase the difficulty of the game by way of hard-to-get briefcases and stars keyed to your completion time.

The level design isn’t nearly as elaborate as in SMB, which is fine given the limitation of IOS gaming. Controls are quite well done, kept simple and effective even when they’re not 100% accurate. Death is very frequent at the hands of spikes, spinning hammers, enemy soldiers, and so forth but the levels are bite-sized and failure only sets you back a couple of seconds. Die, and then you go again until you beat the level.

League of Evil may be my favorite platform game to date in the App Store. It’s streamlined, easy to get in and out of, and it keeps you coming back with those damn stars and briefcases. There are tons of levels and more have already been released so support is good. Can’t beat it for a buck, that’s for sure.

The Blocks Cometh

No High Scores

Halfbot’s hotly anticipated (and shamelessly ripped off by another developer) The Blocks Cometh is a crazy concept for a platformer. Imagine if you were a guy trapped in the drop pit of a falling block puzzle game. Your goal is to stay alive as long as possible against the increasingly difficult rain of blocks and to ascend as high as possible. It’s almost a vertical take on the endless running game, but with lots of wall-jumping and getting squished unexpectedly. The character has a gun to shoot blocks as well, since he can and will get trapped in pockets between them from time to time.

It’s a tough game, but it’s also addictive and rewarding. Once you break your high score, it becomes very high-stakes and tense. Good platforming skills and quick-thinking pay off, and like League of Evil it keeps the on-screen controls simple.

Speaking of League of Evil, there is some crossover with both games. The hero of League is an unlockable character here, and there are Blocks levels in his game. Both games share a similar look and feel, with some great chiptunes work and cool, modernized NES style graphics.


Puzzlevania was an instant download for me, even without the safety net of reviews or user opinions. It looked like and was more or less billed as a Super Puzzle Fighter-style falling blocks puzzle with a gothic horror theme- hence the descriptive name and the big monster heads that you’re tasked with smashing. Unfortunately, the game got off to a rough start with some game-crashing bugs that rendered it unplayable. It’s all better now, and it’s a good, if not great, puzzler.

A Puzzle Quest-style adventure narrative frames the preceedings but it’s hardly as detailed. You move from location to location and duel it out with various monsters by accomplishing certain quotas in the puzzle pit, employing a couple of different magic items to shift the balance. Just like Super Puzzle Fighter, combining blocks of the same color creates larger ones and then you use crash gems to knock them out, possibly triggering chain reactions. So there is strategy and some luck in the game, and making sure to hit the right marks before the pit fills can be as stressful as it is any other similar game. There are shops and “quests”, so if you’re like me and need there to be some context to the puzzle gameplay, it’s definitely present. Great graphics and artwork give it a nice atmosphere.

All the kinks aren’t worked out yet. The controls are super touchy, which often results in accidental drops. The bizarre dialogue attempts to be funny, but isn’t. Unlike Super Puzzle Fighter, you’re not actually competing against a rival so it feels solitary even though it’s supposed to be a battle. And it still crashes and hangs up intermittently. It’s fun when it’s working and if you’ve got some patience to deal with an unpolished game, but be mindful that it’s a little undercooked.

Alice Madness Is My Abner Shark

Oh no. No, no, no. Alice in Wonderland has always, always freaked me out. There’s something about how those characters have always been depicted that makes me want to run and hide behind the furniture. They are the sharks to my Abner, you might say. The latest trailer for American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, A Game By American McGee, You Know, American McGee? is just too damn freaky for me to even consider playing. That spider looking teapot? Hells to the no.

Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark Podcast #59

No High Scores
Image: Filomena Scalise /

In Jumping the Shark 59 we dig into the Dragon Age 2 demo (weee!), Bulletstorm, the Dead Money DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, Dawn of War II: Retribution, a Dreamcast Classics collection, and a few other things. (Believe it or not, there is still no resolution to the whole red ringed 360 issue. Good times!) We also tackled the topic (alliteration!) of difficulty in games. It’s a fairly wide-ranging discussion from what’s too easy to what’s too hard, to how games should navigate something so wholly subjective to the particular player. Mostly, I’m just mocked a lot…

iTunes Link
Direct Download

Speaking of being mocked, this week I’m writing a bit about my favorite segment of the show: Outtakes. I should clarify that. When editing the show, outtakes are a big ole pain in the ass. It requires listening to lengthy portions of audio that aren’t a part of the main show, separating out the useful bits, and then replacing them, where needed, at the end of the edited podcast. This is not difficult, but it is time consuming. Once they’re in the show, however, I love ‘em. A week in which there is not a fertile ground for outtakes is a disappointing week for me. Don’t judge me. I grew up with Cannonball Run.

We try to be amusing and entertaining when we’re doing the podcast, but we all know this is not the Bob & Tom show. It’s not a comedy podcast and if we were comedians, we’d be that guy at open mic night staring down the audience’s dead silence as he silently curses himself for ever thinking getting up there in the first place was a neat idea. It’s a gaming podcast and that’s where we keep our focus – mostly. Honestly, I lose interest in gaming podcasts that spend too much time trying to be funny. I think most listeners want the discussion more than the laughs. Yes, you want your podcast to be fun, but there’s a line. A lively discussion in which the participants are clearly enjoying themselves is a good thing, but I think if we ever sound like we’re trying too hard just to be funny, at the expense of actually talking about games, then we’ve lost our way. Hopefully that rarely happens.

That said, we also have some of our best and chuckleworthy dialog in that time before and after we’re actually doing the show. Stuff that, without the outtakes, you’d never hear. This week, for example, I am absolutely skewered for admitting I prep for the show by going over what I want to say in the car, during my commute, on the day we record. As much as it made me a target for ridicule, goddam was it a riot and I’m glad to stick it in the outtakes for all to hear. My personal favorite set of outtakes came in episode 48, in which there is a bizarrely long discussion of otters. I could listen to Danielle’s complete and utter delight about finding Ollie the Otter all day long. “They made this movie just for the hell of it!” If you ever wonder why we often reference otters on the show the past couple months, this is why.

So what do the rest of you think? Do you like the outtakes? Do you skip them? Do you prefer for there to just be one or two or do you like those few weeks when there’s a good three minutes or so of extra material after the credits?

A Brief History of the World Review

Ah, world conquest! Who doesn’t like taking armies and rolling through your adversaries, as General Patton put it, like crap through a goose! Well in A Brief History of the World you can play as the Americans, and the Sumerians, and the Incas, and maybe even the Huns — all in the same three hour game…

Before I get into this one I need to come clean: I never played the early 1990s original, History of the World, which is the game A Brief History of the World is modeled after (the term in boardgame lingo is “re-implemented”).

I also must admit that this was a Barnes recommendation. Mike knows that I love Civilization-type boardgames from Mare Nostrum, to Innovation, to Britannia so he steered me in this direction. I love to witness the ebb and flow of civilizations and this is a big reason why I find A Brief History of the World so fascinating.

The game allows you to loosely simulate the rise and fall of empires from the Assyrians to the Russians. The bright, colorful map breaks down into various regions from the Middle East to Northern and Southern Europe. Each region will become a hot spot as the game continues—early turns (called “Epochs”) will see most of the focus on the cradle of civilization in the Middle East and in Africa whereas North and South America remain silent until the final act of the game.

Watching each game unfold is like watching an abstract alternate history unravel before you. The Middle East is sure to change hands several times as the Sumerians, the Persians and later the Arabs sweep back and forth across the region. Imperial Rome will undoubtedly show its power, as will Egypt, the Huns and Mongols show up mid game to cause all sorts of barbarian havoc, the game shifts yet again once France and Spain gain a foothold, and the Americans and British arrive on the game’s final turn to race for end game victory points.


In all there are 42 empires in the game as well as several minor civilizations (played as event cards) such as the Celts and the Canaanites. A simple bit of math shows you that if the game supports up to six players and each player plays one empire per turn, some aren’t going to show up every game. In fact every turn, in a six player game, there is one empire that is left out of the loop, so to speak, and this radically alters every game you play. Imagine how a game like this could change if, say, the Romans aren’t involved at all? Aside from some happy Carthaginians, it alters the map significantly.

This is especially true when playing with six players as it’s merely one empire per turn that’s AWOL. With fewer players the map opens up a bit – sometimes too much as several civs are absent from the game. I have played several games with four, five and six players and while the four player game works it’s much better with five or six.

So how does all of this work? Shockingly easy, really. The rulebook is a mere dozen pages and it’s very easy to grasp. You can sit down with new players and teach them the basics of how to play in about 15 minutes. It’s learning the ins and outs of how best to play and take advantage of the empires and events at your disposal that takes time.

Each turn players “draft” empires as well as event cards. These decks are kept separate so if you get first pick of empires in an Epoch you will be the last player to pick an event, and vice versa. Events from range the small civs I mentioned earlier to screw your neighbor cards which may cause riots, the plague, and so on. All of this drafting is blind so you have no idea who has taken what.

“Are the Arabs even in the game?”

“Did Mike take that small civ event card?”

“If the Mongols are available I’m grabbing them.”

“I’m picking last this Epoch. Hello Vedic City States!

Each empire card will show you where it starts its turn (what region) as well as how many armies you get. Each empire, it should come as no surprise, is not created equal. The Romans, for instance, in Epoch 3 receive 15 armies, a fleet in the Mediterranean, (used as a land bridge basically) and the special ability “Pax Romana” which gives the Roman player three free forts (thus making that region more difficult to conquer.) The Sassanids, in that same Epoch, receive a mere 6 armies—and in a region (Middle East) that is sure to be contested and full of established empires.

I’ll take Rome, thanks.

The other tricky aspect to empire selection is that in each Epoch there is a strict order in which each takes its turn. Using our Epoch 3 example, when that turn starts the order is as follows:

1. Macedonia (10 armies, Capital in Balkans, Special Ability)
2. Maurya (7 armies, Capital in Ganges Delta)
3. Han Dynasty (8 armies, Capital in Great Plain of China, Fleet in South China Sea, SpecialAbility)
4. Romans (15 armies, Capital in Apenninies, Fleet in Mediterranean, Special Ability)
5. Sassanids (6 armies, Capital in Zagros)
6. Goths (7 armies, Barbarians, start in Danubia)
7. Guptas (6 armies, Capital in Deccan, Fleet in Bay of Bengal)

The order could play a vital role depending on how the map looks at that time. Also, notice how the Goths don’t have a capital? They are a barbarian civ, which means they earn gold (points) by sacking other capitals. It’s also important to note that each empire gets ONE turn the entire game. After you use your 15 Roman armies, they’re done; they might still score points in future Epochs if they remain on the board but their expansion ends the moment you use that 15th army piece.

The goal is to earn as many points as possible with each empire and if you can work it so that your empires survive several turns the points add up quickly. This begins the overall strategic options: do you expand with a large empire as far as the eye can see or use some armies to fortify positions that may earn points in future turns? Conquering an entire region is the carrot on the string as that earns huge point bonuses but going too far means your empire won’t last as future kingdoms sweep in to banish you to the dust of history.

Combat is a snap. Let’s say Rome has established itself in Africa by way of its boat and wants to mess with the Carthaginians or the Egyptians. Combat is resolved by the attacker rolling 2D6 and the defender 1D6 (unless they have a fort) and the attacker uses the higher of the two values and ties go to the defender. There are other rules for things like Overruns (which allow the attacker to just smash through an area like a runaway freight train), monuments, capitals, regional scoring, and so on but that is the general idea.

One of the complaints I have heard leveled at the game, not including from those who feel anything with dice is somehow a waste of time (silly people), is player downtime. This is a stance that is sometimes valid—it all depends on the game. A boring game is a boring game and downtime is noticeable.

In a game like this, where every player turn has a direct affect on your plans, I don’t see how it’s an issue. If you abhor downtime go play Civ IV on the PC; not every boardgame needs to have you constantly fiddling with stuff. A great game can survive player downtime if the other player turns are significant enough to force you to pay attention.

This game certainly qualifies.

That said, turns tend to go quickly. Some empires have a few scant armies and those turns zip by; it’s only when you get to the biggies than it can take a little time (Rome, the Huns, the Arabs, Persians, etc.) The game says to assume 30 minutes per player to play a full game and that seems about right.

I love games in this class because they encourage table talk. Once the game is underway and declining armies are scattered all over the map and a large empire makes its debut you are bound to hear cries from the other players “you need to go after that guy.” You will hear all sorts of rationalizations why the Mongols should attack a specific empire or who Spain should attack since they can sail across the entire planet. I would love to see one of those stop-motion films of a game like this just to watch how the map evolves over the course of a mere six turns.

As I said in my opening day essay, this was my favorite game of 2010 (it was released in 2009, actually). You can find it at most online game retailers for around $55 to $60 and it’s worth every penny if you have 4-6 like-minded civilization/history nuts who want to play a light to medium weight game that goes great with a few beers—or in my case, some industrial strength coffee with maybe a little (to a lot) of Kahlúa.

The Technology of Dragon Age 2

Part 2 of the Technology of Dragon Age II series is up on the Bioware blog. This series discusses the technological improvements in the game as well as what high end PC users can expect in the form of shiny doo-dads.

We can debate the merits of the new game’s design, and Todd is going to be posting heavily on DA2 this week (right Todd?) but the new tech looks rather impressive and this is worth a read.

“One of the major goals of the team was to make the game look great on all platforms. Having accomplished that, we started researching what additional features we can offer to our users that have invested on higher end PC hardware. The latest PC GPUs that have been recently released on the market are very powerful. DirectX 11 technology is a great way for us to target this advanced GPU hardware, as DirectX 11 is fully backwards compatible with DirectX 10. So if you have a video card that supports DirectX 10, DirectX 10.1 or DirectX 11, and Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7, you’ll be able to benefit from additional technology features as described in this post.”

Part I

Part II

Thanks Blue!

The 9th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards!

Now, granted, I had no idea that:

A: This organization existed
B: That they have had eight previous award presentations

This outfit is dedicated specifically to game audio, which I think is pretty neat, and I received a press release from them and everyone loves awards so I figured I’d share. One thing: the members of G.A.N.G. really love them some Red Dead Redemption…

The Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.), the non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of game audio, is proud to announce the winners of the 9th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards held at the 25th Annual Game Developers Conference Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 in San Francisco.

Voted and judged upon by the game audio industry and members of G.A.N.G., the finalists represent an array of the best audio in video games from 2010. A 70 person Advisory Committee helped in deciding each of the final nominees which included hundreds of hours of research, listening, watching and playing. The final winners, voted on by the general membership of GANG, included multiple wins for Red Dead Redemption, Battlefield: Bad Company, and a strong showing by Blizzard Entertainment and Activision.

“The quality bar from 2010 was so high across the board, it was impossible to predict specific wins” said G.A.N.G. President Paul Lipson “With over 350 submissions this year, just making it to the final nomination process is something all the teams and publishers can be proud of”.

Over 2,000 people representing over 30 countries have signed up as members of G.A.N.G. since its inception in 2002. The award show has become an annual tradition at GDC, drawing standing room only crowds and has become the centerpiece of the audio track at GDC.

Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar Games
Composers Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
Lead Audio Designer Jeffrey R. Whitcher
Audio Designers Steven von Kampen, Christian Kjeldsen, Corey Ross
Audio Programmers Corey Shay, Robert Katz

Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar Games
Bill Elm, Woody Jackson

Halo: Waypoint “The Return”
343 Industries/Microsoft Game Studios
Kristofor Mellroth, Senior Audio Director, Microsoft Game Studios
Paul Lipson, Audio Director, Pyramind Studios
Peter Steinbach, Steve Heithecker, David Earl, Michael Roache

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Electronic Arts/DICE
Stefan Strandberg, Ben Minto, David Mollerstedt, Thomas Danke, Mari Saastamoinen, Olof Stromqvist

Video Games Live – Level 2
Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall

Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar Games
Bill Elm, Woody Jackson

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge
Tom Bible, Jesse Harlin, Wilbert Roget II, Jeff Ball, Dan Reynolds, Andrew Aversa

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Blizzard Entertainment
Russell Brower, Paul Menichini, David Farmer

Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar Games
Lead Audio Matthew Smith
Additional Dialogue Editing Will Morton, Allan Walker, Jon McCavish
Audio Designer George Williamson
Dialogue Assistant Lindsay Robertson

“Athens Harbour Chase” – James Bond 007: Blood Stone
Richard Jacques

“Invincible” – World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Blizzard Entertainment
Music by Russell Brower, Jason Hayes; Lyrics by Derek Duke, Neal Acree

“I’ll Take it All” – James Bond 007: Blood Stone
Dave Stewart

Bioshock 2
2K Games/2K Marin
Michael Kamper, Audio Lead and the 2K Marin Audio Team

“The Weight of Silence – How Silence Can Indicate a Character’s Importance” – Game Developer Magazine
Jesse Harlin

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Electronic Arts/DICE
Stefan Strandberg, Ben Minto, David Mollerstedt, Thomas Danke, Mari Saastamoinen, Olof Stromqvist

Sumthing Else Musicworks

Dren McDonald, Jacquie Shriver

Woody Jackson, Bill Elm

Chris Huelsbeck

Sumthing Else Musicworks
Game Developers Conference
Pyramind Studios

Cute, Bungie, Cute

Remember when we said Bungie was working on an action-oriented MMO? Yeah, well, not so much. Bungie now says that was supposed to be a joke.

Ha ha.

“Now, in rehearsal Aldridge was convinced that everybody got the joke. It was all in the delivery, he assured us, and he was certain it was clear that he was playfully riffing off of the recent rumors. Unfortunately, most people can’t figure David out – they can’t process him. And we don’t expect them to.”

So this Aldridge fellow is Bungie’s Charlie Sheen. Nice.

Of course Bungie still hasn’t completely denied that the company is working on an MMO. So who knows? Bungie said some journalist saw a slide with MMO stuff on it, but IGN, who broke this story, says this was spoken.

Let’s be clear: I don’t care if Bungie is making an MMO, RPG, FPS, or RTS. But did you guys really think people at GDC would see/hear that and think “Ha ha no way would they do that! You guys are hilarious!

We’ll have more on this after Bungie declares via semaphore that its working on a 3DS Cookie Mama spin off.

Battle Slots Combines Orcs and Degenerate Gambling

The upcoming RPG Battle Slots from Phantom EFX and 8 Monkey Labs combines traditional fantasy tropes (orcs, elves, a great evil that wants to do evil stuff) and everyone’s love of Vegas style slot machines. I for one think it’s about time someone blended hacking off a limb with a rusty axe and the desire to pull three lucky 7s.

This tidbit is taken from the website:

Battle Slots is an upcoming quest-based slot game for PC and consoles that takes the player on a journey of exploration, allowing them to choose their own path in order to defeat the evil that has been plaguing the land. Equipped with a magical Slot Machine, it is your task to collect new and more powerful Slot Symbols, Attacks, Spells, and Runes as you level up and master the device.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

And the real kicker? It looks rather neat.

Check it out here:

Calendar Man – Week of 3/7

No High Scores

Welcome to Calendar Man where I outline all of the games you can spend your hard earned cash on. This week’s new releases are led by the sequel to a popular, action packed romp through blood and mayhem. That’s right, Yoostar 2 is out! What? Dragon what? Age? Never heard of it. On with the games!

New Releases
I’m kidding! Of course I’ve heard of Dragon Age 2, and if you’ve been reading this site at all, so have you as Todd took the demo out behind the woodshed. Personally, I thought it was alright, but I play it on casual, as an action-RPG which works pretty well. If you’re looking at this as a deep, tactical RPG, I think the camera is going to have different plans for you. The game is doing the day-one-DLC thing, so if you buy it brand new, you get some DLC with a whiny prince or something.

As I have made painfully clear over the past week, Pokemon Black & White is now available. Honestly, by now I think even I’m sick of Pokemon.

I alluded to this in the opening paragraph, but Yoostar 2 is actually a game that’s out this week for both the PS3 and the 360. Both systems require a camera so that you can pretend to be in popular movies such as 300. I’ll give 5 bucks to anyone that gets this game and then films themselves kicking their significant other through the coffee table while screaming “this is Spaaaaartaaa! On second thought, that sounds like a bad idea. Please don’t do that.

When I was a kid, I used to love watching $10,000 pyramid. I always wanted to be on that show. Dick Clark seemed awesome. If, like me, you want the opportunity to get in a huge fight with your spouse because neither one of you can figure out the other one’s clues, then

target = "new">$1,000,000 Pyramid for the Wii is for you. By the way, that’s a tremendous bargain as $10,000 adjusted for inflation from 1973, when the show first aired, is just under $50,000.

For all you baseball fans out there, you’re in heaven this week as both MLB ’11 The Show 11 and MLB 2K11 are out this week. I have no idea which is better as I wouldn’t know a good baseball game if it bit me on the ass. I’m sure either Todd or Bill will chime in at some point this week to tell you where to spend your baseball dollars. For all of you PSP owner, there’s a version of The Show for you too.

I’d say it’s just in time for Easter, but Easter is over a month away and maybe you don’t celebrate Easter. I like Easter because I usually get a DS game or a book or something because I don’t eat Easter candy. My wife on the other hand, makes out like a candy bandit. Still, those Reese’s Eggs are to die for. What? Oh, right, Petz Bunnyz Bunch drops this week. You can raise rabbits, or rabbitz or whatever.

Atlus’s Phantom Brave series makes it’s PSP debut with Phantom Brave: Heroes of the Hermuda Triangle. This is the same game that was released on the PS2, albeit with some new content so you may have already played it if you’re a JRPG fanatic.

For Sims fans, Barnacle Bay the pirate themed expansion drops with all new areas and items. How do you say “Arrrrrrr” in Simlish?

I know this has nothing to do with games, however if you were to draw a Venn diagram of people who play games and people who watch The Walking Dead, there would be a significant overlap. The first season comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday.

I know this also doesn’t have anything to do with games, but Lupe Fiasco finally has a new record out. Yay! I loved “Food and Liquor” to death but wasn’t as moved by his later stuff. Here’s hoping Lasers is good. The first two singles I’ve heard off it are promising so I’m hopeful.

Toys R Us – Buy one DS game, get one at 50% off. Not a bad deal if you’re looking to pick up both Pokemon Black and Pokemon White.

Target – Free Pokemon art folio with purchase of Pokemon White or Pokemon Black, ten bucks off of MLB apparel with a purchase of MLB ’11 The Show. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Best Buy – Save 15 bucks if you buy MLB ’11 The Show and either LittleBigPlanet 2 or Gran Turismo 5, free Amulet of Ashes in-game item with a purchase of Dragon Age 2, free $5 gift card if you buy Pokemon Black or Pokemon White.

Kmart – Buy Pokemon White or Black and get the other version at 50% off (this was announced at so it’s not in the circular), buy either of the Pokemon Black/White DSi bundles and get any other Pokemon game free, free copy of MLB ’11 The Show with the purchase of a PS3, You Don’t Know Jack for the Wii is on sale for $19.99

Sunday Time Waster: Allowing for Failure

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Failure is, as we all know, part of life. In every aspect of our lives we eventually screw up, hit the wrong button, misplace homework, fail to plan for a meeting at work, forget to pick your kid up from school and she calls you, angry as an abandoned 10-year old is prone to be, because dad was writing a news story. You know—life…

In most games, however, failure is not an option. If you don’t beat that boss, make that jump, or conquer that territory you see what is essentially the game over screen and you reload your saved game or are transported back to the last checkpoint. I was reminded of this as I was finishing the Dawn of War II: Retribution Imperial Guard campaign. In Retribution, the campaign has a linear main story path with optional side missions. So while you’re tracking down the big bad guy you might make a left turn at Albuquerque and take out some Eldar or raid an Ork base to grab some extra supplies. Fair enough.

But what if you lose a battle?

Strategy games use various tactics to deal with this, but in Retribution, your heroes succumb to “emergency extraction” and you are brought back to the main star map screen. While it’s nice that you keep any XP gained from the failed mission, nothing else really changes.

I hate that.

We learn from our mistakes, right? Well, usually. I think we’re supposed to, although it takes some longer than others. We take our defeats and screw-ups and apply them to our next situation, whatever that may be. More importantly, situations change. There are, usually, consequences for failure.

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It’s perhaps a touch unfair to single our Retribution because after all this is an expansion to an already established game and you can’t expect a complete restructuring in such a release, but how cool would it be if your failed mission actually cost you something other than time?

There have been games to try this in some form or another. The classic PC strategy game Rise of Nations tried this via its “Risk” style of map, and today the Total War series does a fine job as well because it’s so open ended, but the one that sticks in my mind is Panzer General, the old DOS PC game from yesteryear. I loved that game to death despite its flippant treatment of realism; it was a great, great game.

In the campaign you played a German army officer in charge of planning the attacks on the Allies. There was a campaign mission structure sure, but if you lost a mission it wasn’t always game over. If you failed to take Paris in time, well, you lose your chance at trying Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of England). If you fail to take another objective the game would simply move on.

There were certainly missions where if you lost in was curtains – as you heard the click of the SS Officer’s gun as he showed you his displeasure by “relieving you” of your duties, but losing wasn’t always a death knell.

In fact, you can see exactly what I mean by checking out this campaign tree FAQ at IGN. How cool is that? Look at all of those various results from winning big, winning by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked. I miss that so much in today’s designs.

In some genres I suppose that’s ok. I’m not a huge platform gamer like Danielle, Brandon and even Mike but I know part of that hook is trying to beat a tough level even if it takes 100 tries to do it. That’s part of the attraction and honestly why I don’t play a lot of them. I’ve been known to break a controller back in my “younger” days. Stupid Donkey Kong.

This is in part why I love sports and sports games. You can fail. In fact you are going to fail and you don’t get to press the reset button or reload a saved game. Two on, two outs, bottom of the 9th and you have to get a hit to win the game – this is it. Full count. This ONE pitch is going to decide the game and it’s totally up to you, as you impersonate a real MLB hitter, to bring it home for the good guys.

The possibility to truly fail by swinging and missing like Mighty Casey is absolutely part of the design. Failure is most assuredly an option—and if you do fail, most importantly, the game goes on. Add a game to the loss column and try again. You can apply these pressure situations in any sports game – football, basketball, soccer, golf, whatever. It’s what makes watching sports interesting and what makes the games playable—that real chance to lose and for there to be consequences when you do it.

Going back to Retribution, how cool would it be if you were tasked to take out an Eldar Teleport Gate, and failed the mission, that the Eldar did …”something” as a result? You could even get dressed down by the Inquisitor for being such a screw-up. “As a result of your incompetence the Eldar Avatar is now awake and we’re in serious trouble.”


Ok I think in that case I might just reload the game.

Anyway there was something else I was supposed to do today.

Ah yes! Contest winner!

First off, I want to thank each and every user who signed up before the contest and for taking part in the discussions in the comment sections of our posts. Having a sense of community is important to us, as we don’t want this to just be a blog where we post stories and you guys talk to each other while we stand on the sideline, perched atop our thrones of omnipotence. I hope newly registered users will also jump in.

I also have to apologize for the piracy thread. Not that I posted it as I think it was interesting but I get the sense that I sort of ran into the movie theater, yelled fire, then bolted. Sorry about that. Thanks to everyone for keeping all of the discussions lively yet civil. I know as we grow, assuming we do, that we’re going to eventually attract forum/comment trolls but so far we have all been amazed at the discussions because they’ve been, well, discussions. Knowing our writing team as well as I do, I know that we’re going to eventually piss people off but so far so good.

Finally, the contest. Yes, this was a ploy to get more of you to register and it appears to have worked! Woo hoo dirty tricks! We will run more of these contests from time to time as I tend to get a lot of extra game copies and when I do we’ll fire up another contest and no – it will not always be PC stuff. I get plenty of console extras as well.

As for the winner, I can appreciate some of you buttering me up with your public allegiance to Ohio State – a deft tactic indeed. Sadly, it has no bearing on who wins. Brandon also had nothing to do with determining the winner. I just posted that so he’d panic a little. Mission accomplished. The method I used in determining the winner was to look at the posts, remove the double posts, the posts from people who said “I’m not entering” and the extra comments (Todd!!) and then get a final number total of contest entries and use the random number generator at to determine the post number of the winner.

And now, the winner of the brand new shrink-wrapped copy of Dawn of War II Retribution is…


I’ll be in touch today and will get your shiny new copy out the door ASAP. Congrats to Setzer and thanks to everyone who entered!