Dragon Age Legends Live on Facebook

BioWare and EA have released its Facebook Dragon Age App, Dragon Age Legends. Normally we don’t cover FB games here but this seems appropriate. Plus, we’re going to have Soren Johnson on the podcast soon to talk about this game so…I guess we ought to play it. We’re pros.

For now, get Facebookin’ and check it out. It’s free. Well, sort of.

“We built Dragon Age Legends with one goal in mind: to bring the AAA quality gameplay BioWare is famous for to the social space,” says EA2D’s general manager Mark Spenner.

So go give it a look and report back here, stat.

Rico, I'm sorry…

No High Scores

Hey Rico, what’s up man? Yeah, look, I gotta apologize. Lately I’ve been saying some pretty bad stuff about you and I wanted to talk to you about it. I may have called you incompetent. It’s possible I called you the worst videogame character in the known universe. I know, I know, that’s some rough stuff and I probably went a little over the line, but come on man, we both know you deserve some of it. I mean, you weren’t a very good soldier in Killzone 2 and people died because of it. Not to mention you colossally screwed up your only mission while on Helghan. I mean, that’s bad, right? Well bro, I may have meant that before, but I totally don’t mean that now.

Not since meeting Ishi.

Ishi Sato is your, I dunno what you’d call him, your cyborg co-pirate in Bulletstorm. Cy-jerk is more like it. He’s part of your crew and then you get him half blown up pretty early on in the game. He gets patched up, don’t worry, but from then on he’s a cyborg who is constantly whining about how painful it is to fight the AI in his computer parts. That is when his bad, computer eye doesn’t get all red and he tries to kill you.

Now, Ishi certainly has a reason to be upset, I mean, it is my fault that he’s a cyborg, but he totally was an uptight prick before being turned half-robot. In the obligatory flashback scene where we see why me and my crew are a bunch of drunken idiots, he’s all like “we should take no joy in killing” and being all sanctimonious. I mean, we’re assassins, and aren’t you supposed to enjoy your work? And then I totally take a bullet for the dude and he didn’t seem even the slightest bit grateful. All I get now is “your thirst for revenge doomed us all Gray”, “I’m a cyborg because of you Gray”, “I won’t hesitate to kill you, Gray”. Yeah, well guess what dude, you were a pompous jerk before and you’re a pompous jerk now only now you can bench press a Volvo and take 10,000 volts to the face with no damage. From where I’m sitting, that’s an upgrade.

Now, if Ishi were just a jerk, it’d be ok. Well, better, but not necessarily ok. Here’s the thing though, he’s not just a jerk, he’s incompetent. And not incompetent in a passive way, like you, but actively incompetent in a way that gets me killed. Like, a lot.

First of all, dude can’t aim for shit. I mean I know the guns we get ain’t nothing to write home about, but come on, I’m popping off gag reflexes and head shots all day and he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Maybe it’s because his idea of firing from cover is to hold the gun above his head and spray wildly, but still. Second, he’ll let dudes just run by him so that they can make a beeline for me. I mean, I know I got him in this mess, but this leash thingy on my arm means that I’m the only one who can move that bus to make a bridge. Without me, Ishi sits planetside until his Energizers run out and the creeps and skulls try to make a stereo out of his stupid, red eyed face.

Still though, that’s not the worst. I mean, you can’t aim for shit either and based on our time on Helghan together, you were more interested in wasting bullets than killing Helghast. What makes Ishi so bad is that he gets in the way, like all the time. If I go to slide into an enemy, he’ll step in front of me and stop me dead so that the enemy I was going to launch into a prickly cactus now clubs me to death. Or, I’ll have an enemy in the sights of my flail gun and Ishi will step in front of me just as I shoot. That’s one round wasted and one enemy still alive to shoot me. Thanks Ishi. Or, even better, I’ll leash a dude and as the guy is being pulled to me so that I can kick him away, Ishi will step in between us and stop the guy dead so that he can get up and kill me. I mean, I know Ishi hates me and all, but this is ridiculous. The weird thing is that Trishka never gets in my way. Even when the enemies have dispersed for the time being, Trishka is all running forward and Ishi is all up in my business staring at me. I mean, personal space dude! It’s like this leash isn’t just for enemies, it also ties Ishi and me together.

Then, to top it off, Ishi doesn’t even have the cyber-stones to stay mad at me. Two thirds of the way through the game he has to give me some speech about how he doesn’t blame me, that my attempt to kill Sarrano, the attempt that got Ishi robotocized, was actually a mission of justice. Dude, it totally wasn’t! I just wanted Sarrano dead for using us! Justice had no part of it! I know that, Sarrano knows that, hell everyone knows that but Ishi can’t even be mad correctly! He’s gotta make it sound like he understands! Let me tell you something dude, if things were reversed, I’d a crushed his throat the minute I realized I was half MP3 player and then gotten off planet my own damn self. Screw this forgiveness noise.

So dude, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I said all of those things about you because for as bad as you were, you never got in my way, you never got me killed and you never backed down from your anger. I wish I could have said the same for Ishi. Worst part is he’ll be back in the sequel. Friggin’ great.

Hug it out, brah.


"Press X- Jump into Mass Grave"

Rejected titles for this article:

“Saving America One Hooters at a Time”
“American Cheese”
“2005 Called, They Want Their AAA Shooter Back”
“The Second American Revolution, Brought to You by Full Throttle Energy Drinks”
“Fever Dream of a Neo-Con Hawk”
“Fare Thee Well, Kaos Studios”
“Good Guys Wear Red, White and Blue- Even if they’re Dirty Subhuman Koreans”
“Smells Like Korean Barbecue”

Even though the last one is a line directly from Homefront and the penultimate one references how they’ve stuck in a “friendly” Korean-American resistance fighter to stave off the pretty blatant xenophobia and racism present in the game, I went with what I thought was one of the funniest onscreen prompts I’ve ever seen in my life. It was supposed to be chilling, I guess. It wasn’t. It made human suffering trivial and silly. I woke my wife up laughing at the absurdity of it.

Homefront is a total turkey. I’m so disappointed…

Now, this isn’t a formal review. I’ve only played the game for about four hours, but that includes three hours of the single player campaign which by all accounts is over half of it. I also played online for about 30 minutes yesterday morning and then for another tortuously laggy 30 minutes last night. I won’t be playing it any further, and I’ve already posted the game for sale at Half.com.

But I feel the need to rant about it, because I think it’s a complete piece of trash and if I can save at least one person from plunking down 60 bucks for this I’ll have done a good deed for the day. I’m literally shocked that THQ, who has done some mighty fine publishing work lately including the amazing Metro 2033 and the surprisingly good Darksiders, would have poured so much money into marketing what is essentially a half-decade out-of-date shooter with a “provocative” theme that turns out to be as nastily hateful and jingoistic as all of that North Korean propaganda they print up to convince their people that Americans are evil and bad.

It starts out promising with here-and-now footage of Hilary Clinton at a news conference regarding real-world North Korean transgressions, which sort of sets the stage for at least some degree of feasibility. Then we’re shown how events lead up to an emboldened and reunited Korean state that starts throwing its weight around internationally, leading up to an EMP attack on the US. Once we’re in the game proper, the faceless and voiceless protagonist is rounded up by hand-wringing, moustache-twirling Korean MPs, gets conscripted, and is put on a bus. It’s very similar to the opening of Half-Life 2 and how that game depicts the oppression and injustice of City-17, but more brutal and at least in one instance, more shocking. Derivative and a little forced, but I wasn’t hating it yet.

Once the resistance fighters show up and the shooting starts, it all goes to hell. The gameplay is stiff, the guns lack any kind of impact or punch, and enemy AI is of the “shooting gallery dummy” variety. The settings aren’t particularly effective, because they’re really just variations on the urban apocalypse we’ve seen in plenty of other shooters. It’s just supposed to be Colorado and not Afghanistan. You follow your betters around like a puppy, and they tell you everything to do. Over and over again. And then, when you get to a door, you wait on them to come open it for you. There was one point where I was sneaking into an area with this girl and I was way ahead of her. There was a wicked, murderous Korean soldier standing there oblivious so I walked up to melee him. It did nothing. I walked in front of him, he did nothing. Finally she came up and performed her scripted kill. The scripting is terrible, and it’s made worse by the fact that many scripted scenes lock you into walking incredibly slow behind other characters. Not a big change of pace since the running in the game is the slowest I think I’ve ever seen.

The much-vaunted Goliath is little more than a rolling version of the artillery strike function in other games. Paint targets with a targeter, it shoots them. There is also the need to babysit it, since those pesky, Satanically savage Koreans have EMP rockets they shoot at it. Yes, you’re escorting it.

The worst things about the gameplay are elements that other shooters did away with long ago. About a full hour of my play last night was trying to cross this catwalk to get into the administration building of the labor camp (set up at a football field- THOSE MONSTERS!). Endlessly respawning blood-drinking, baby-killing Koreans streamed out of the building while one of my compatriots CONSTANTLY yelled that I needed to get in there and shoot the guys manning the machine guns. I died over and over again because of enemies that were unseen, accidentally picking up a gun and thus triggering a painfully slow animation, and because skill is thrown out the door and the best you can do is charge forward and hope to squeak by. When I finally did get in the building, a monster closet opened up, apparently, and some guy shot me from behind. I think. There are also magically appearing grenades- I assume they’re either magic, or the filth-wallowing worse-than-Hitler Koreans have some amazingly accurate pitchers on their side.

The game is also very old-looking, with textures that look like first-generation 360 fare but with slightly better lighting. People look atrocious. I think the Gamebryo Engine has better looking faces. I’m not kidding. The previously mentioned good guy Korean (who, by the way, is of course the one character that royally screws the pooch during an operation that I believe is intended to reclaim a Tiger Direct store) has a face that looks like hamburger meat with eyeballs stuck in it. I’m not quite sure how this game is supposed to have all of this emotional resonance when every character in it is dead-eyed and completely devoid of any personality.

I’m making light of the racism and xenophobia in the game because I’m really just sort of shocked at how passively it’s been treated. This is a game that states quite clearly who the enemy is, and dehumanizes them every bit as much as the Koreans are supposed to be doing to the Americans in this game. It doesn’t help that they have this sort of stormtrooper body armor that hides their faces. One of the characters apparently feels bad about slaughtering them, but she’s probably a bleeding heart liberal.

As for the America depicted in the game, it is interesting that the game is almost a neo-con fable. America is made vulnerable and is worn down by financial crises, its dependence on Middle East oil, and waning morale. Adding to that is that the various newspaper collectibles you find throughout the game also suggest that a decentralized, stripped-down, and underfunded military is what allowed the situation depicted in the game to happen. No surprise, coming from the pen of John Milius. I’m male so I love Conan, Red Dawn was a great 80s picture, and Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest war films ever made…but Homefront is like that cranky old guy down at the used bookstore issuing proclamations and dire warnings about where America is headed.

Corporate logos and sponsorships also abound in the game. I’m not kidding about fighting in a Hooters or the Tiger Direct store. There are Jansport bags, and both Full Throttle and NoS energy drink ads. In a sense, I think this is actually OK because it’s realistic. Walk outside in America and you’ll see this shit everywhere you look. Why not in a game about America too? My retort to that, however, is that if that is what America is then let those ravaging, barbaric Koreans have it.

As for the Multiplayer, what little I played of it wasn’t particularly inspired or interesting. The big twist is that instead of unlocking killstreaks through continued killing, you get points to spend toward on-the-fly upgrades and abilities. It’s kind of a cool idea, but I can’t see playing this game over Killzone 3 or one of the other FPS offerings just to enjoy a different scoring mechanic couched in routine game modes.

So yeah, Homefront sucks. I was really looking forward to a great, story-driven campaign and some interesting multiplayer but I’m not seeing it at all, and I’m ready to drop this turd like a hot potato. In closing, I do find it awfully fishy that Monday night’s de-embargoed Metacritic scores were pegging this game in the high 80s and into the 90s. By mid-day Tuesday when the embargo levee broke, it plummeted nearly 20 points and for the 360 version I believe it’s sitting at 72, which I think is still awfully, awfully generous of a lot of reviewers. THQ’s stock dropped 26% yesterday, and the game’s servers are a complete shambles.

The only mass grave this game is headed for is the bargain bin.

Homefront Reviews Cause THQ Stock to Plummet?

The power of the press, eh? Tom Chick’s Homefront review, which he’s writing for Gameshark, will be posted on Friday but the general consensus so far is that the game isn’t quite as good as we’d hoped. THQ sunk a lot of money into this game, and top level THQ reps spoke of it as a real competitor to Call of Duty and Battlefield. So far the critical reception has been less than glowing.

That said, Homefront pre-orders were through the roof, according to THQ, and it’s not like this is the first high profile game to receive middling review scores. Currently Homefront sits at the completely arbitrary “71″ on Metacritic but according to a story from Reuters, this is the reason for the 9% stock drop.

Then there’s this:

“The first-person shooter game “Homefront” received a score of 75 on Metacritic, a website that tracks reviews of games. The market leader in war-themed games is Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI.O) “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” which has a score of 88 on the website. “This score is a bit of a disaster for THQ and the share price today is reflecting that,” said Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey. “The market is a quality driven market (and) you need at least a score of 80 and above on Metacritic to do well.”

Even Reuters and “Janco Partners analyst Mike Hickey”, who somehow is under the impression that this is a “quality driven market” even though I can show Mike about 1,000 cases of where that’s not true, cite Metacritic scores as if they’re actually tangible and every time I see that my stomach starts to hurt and I need to get up from my PC and take the dogs outside, get some air, and hug my family for reassurance that the entire world in which I work hasn’t lost its collective mind. If, and this is a huge assumption, that the Metacritic score is the reason THQ’s stock dropped, then we really need to start looking at how this industry functions from a criticism standpoint because if it’s THAT big of a deal and we’re using arbitrary review numbers from an aggregate website to determine stock prices and, thus jobs and livelihoods, then we’re deeper down the rabbit hole than I ever imagined.

Torchlight Makes XBLA Splash

Runic Games announced yesterday that folks on Xbox Live really like Torchlight. Or at least the idea of Torchlight. The hit PC hack and slash RPG which was recently published on Xbox Live Arcade on March 9th sold enough upon release to result in the best overall sale day in the company’s history.

If you didn’t play the PC version and want to take a spin on the couch with the XBLA game it’s well worth it. This is an excellent entry in this genre and for 1200 MS points, it’s a no brainer. That said, it remains a solo game; if you want multiplayer Torchlight you’re going to have to wait for the sequel which is set for a “2011″ release.

NPD To Slow Slide Into Irrelevancy With Digital Sales Data

No High Scores

Hot on the heels of EA calling them out for irrelevancy, NPD has announced that they are looking into expanding their sales data to include digital sales which totally makes them relevant again. Honest! According to NPD spokesperson Anita Frazier, they’re looking to include sales of video game subscriptions, mobile games, social games, and downloadable content. I’m glad to see NPD improving their data collection methods, but at the end of the day, the problem remains that there are so many way for people to purchase and enjoy games these days that there is no way NPD can accurately collect all of the data. As a result, their numbers, while useful as a barometer for general trends, is pretty dang useless in determining the nitty gritty of what people are spending their money on. Plus, once you start adding in all of the digital stuff, there’s so much data, how do you organize it all. The notion of a top ten list for digital games is patently ridiculous given the sheer number of ways people have to buy games, or game content digitally. Heck between WiiWare, PSN, Xbox Live, Steam, Impulse, GOG, D2D, iTunes and the Android Market, I have almost a dozen ways of getting digital content and that’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. Good luck to the data analyst that has to wrangle that big ball of wax into something meaningful.

Seen at Gamasutra.

LittleBigClass volume 6: lessons from PAX

It’s been an especially busy (and awesome) week for the DGM 6400 crew. We had two sessions this time around, one of them being an all-day stint at PAX East.

We arrived at the mammoth Boston Convention and Exhibition center early, which didn’t prevent me from getting caught in an insane line to grab my media badge, and we were kicked out of the first IGDA panel since floor-sitters weren’t welcome. Thankfully, everything went up from there – we were able to play – and have conversations with each of the teams behind – all of the games at the Boston Indie Showcase.

Smuggle truck, in particular caught my eye – it’s a satirical take on onerous American Immigration law, and a hilarious, uproarious game to boot. Alex Schwartz, the “chief scientist” behind the project, talked to everyone, extolling the virtues of Unity (a particularly awesome game engine) and giving the background on the game and its unique story. Snapshot and Blinding Silence both brought genuinely unique mechanics to the table, which is always nice to see (especially when you’re surrounded in a giant E3-like expo hall with franchise AAA’s blaring all around you).

We spent a good deal of the day in panels, including the awesome (and too short) talk on “dialogue as gameplay”, where Bioware’s Daniel Erickson semi-infamously said: “We always talk about when there’s going to be the Citizen Kane of games. There’s never going to be a Citizen Kane for ballet either. It’s a dumb concept. It’s a totally different genre of storytelling. Our biggest advantages is player agency so it’s what we have to put first.”

At the show, we spent equal amounts of time in in-depth conversations with small, indie developers and in career-focused programming (headed by folks from larger “AAA” studios), so we were able to effectively get both perspectives.

The biggest takeaways:

- A student/candidate’s portfolio is absolutely king when looking for a job at a bigger studio. It should contain only the very best work (and smaller is preferable, i.e. have fewer “great” pieces as opposed to several “good” ones).

- Everyone recommended having a portfolio website – many companies prefer links to attachments, and a website is another chance to show design/programming/art skills. Free blogs (wordpress, blogspot, etc.) are ok, as long as they aren’t used as “blogs” per se, but as a portfolio site that highlights your work.

- At larger studios, you will specialize to a tremendous degree, but it pays to have other related skills (such as a character artist who can also rig) for lean times at the studio.
-On an indie production, you’ll probably do a little bit of everything (design, program, art, marketing, etc.). Students need to choose which avenue they’d like to go and optimize their portfolios accordingly.

- This is huge: you need to learn a game engine. The biggest ones mentioned (that kept coming up throughout the day) were Unity and Unreal.

I was particularly interested in the point about learning game engines, especially for designers. Unity and Unreal were mentioned as top choices (for good reason, they’re damn near ubiquitous at this point), and something I’m certainly going to emphasize to students going forward. Every studio will be using an engine (whether its proprietary or licensed), so those skills are portable and incredibly useful.

On Monday night, we spent the entire class building in LittleBigPlanet. My students are excellent level builders by now, so we had a giant, tricky treehouse and a hilarious obstacle course up and running within an hour or two. Again, we have two small teams working on two-stage games each, so it’s nice to see quick progress.

Half of the class was spent playtesting – each team took turns handing over the reins to their classmates on the opposite team, observing their playthroughs for trouble spots, weak points, and everything else you never think of when you are designing things yourself.

It was remarkably instructive. One uninitiated student found a level-killing flaw within 5 seconds of starting a stage. Another playtesting session yielded several new ideas for directions their project could take. The feedback process is absolutely essential (and I’ve been teaching this class as if playtesting and the iterative process are gospel), and I could practically see the gears turning in students’ heads as they watched their colleagues fumble with their creations.

We’re building, playtesting and building some more from now until the end of the course, and next week is our penultimate session. 12 weeks goes by fast, and you can be sure I’ll have quite a few wrap-up thoughts at the end. For now, though, it’s LittleBigPlanet all the way to the end!

Check out every installment of LittleBigClass here!

Ogre 6th Edition Threatens To Make Barnes Weep

No High Scores
See that? That’s the high sign that Steve Jackson has finally gotten the Munchkin stick out of his ass and has announced that the 6th edition of his classic 1977 wargame will be in stores later this year. Having just named Ogre one of the best games of the 1970s in last week’s Cracked LCD column at Gameshark.com, I’m thrilled to pieces. I might cry. The sell sheet says that it weighs 12 pounds.

Ogre is a simple yet hugely atmospheric and thematic wargame. In its simplest incarnation, one player controls the Ogre, a giant cybernetic tank that can pretty much destroy anything. The other player attempts to defend an outpost using conventional infantry and armor. It ain’t balanced. But this box set will also contain G.E.V., a sequel to the original game that includes more extensive terrain and vehicle rules, Shockwave which adds more detail, and even more material never published in a boxed edition of the game before. More, including Jackson’s “I dare you to stock this” message follows.

At Steve Jackson’s site, he published a pretty interesting letter to distributors regarding the game’s imminent release. I thought it was pretty gutsy, because he’s basically saying “look, this is an expensive prestige edition of the game, it’s my first design, and it’s one of the seminal hobby games. Carry it or don’t, it’s my victory lap”. Awesome. After years of peddling Munchkin crap, it’s great to see one of hobby gaming’s earliest and most important designers state that he wants to leverage the fortune that game makes to get back to his roots. Here’s what he said in its entirety:

Later this year, we’ll release Ogre 6th Edition. It will be a very, very deluxe boardgame, with all the rules and units from Ogre, G.E.V., and Shockwave, as well as things that have only appeared in magazines and miniature releases Why? Because I want to. Ogre was my first design, and the boardgame version hasn’t been available for years. And people keep asking me for it. So some of our Munchkin money is going back to support the people who bought my very first game, by bringing them an edition with the best possible components.

It won’t be “Euro” style. No meeples, no plastic. This will be the kind of hex wargame that we dreamed about 30 years ago, back when our heroes were SPI and Avalon Hill. HUGE double-sided map boards. HUGE full-color counters with HUGE type. A HUGE box to hold them in. And giant constructible Ogres!

So why am I writing this letter? Not to say “Hey, distributors, we’ll do this if you like the idea.” I’m going to release this game, no matter what. If we don’t get enough distributor interest, we’ll release it for direct sales only, with (probably) a lower print run, and (certainly) a lower price, since we won’t have to build in the distributor and retailer margin. But I don’t want to bypass distribution. We went through this with GURPS Russia, back in ’98. When we solicited it, the distributors said “Meh.” We believed in the book, and printed a short run for direct sales. Suddenly everybody wanted it! It sold out quickly, distributors and retailers demanded it, and we ended up reprinting it for distribution! I won’t go through that again.

Here’s why you may not want this game: It’s going to retail for $100, and it isn’t full of plastic toys. It’s a classic hex wargame, and those aren’t in fashion. Here’s why I hope you DO want it:

It’s a humongous, heavy box that will have a huge shelf presence. How big is it? Over twice the size of Munchkin Quest. It takes three copies of the original edition of Ogre to cover up the word “OGRE” on this box.

It’s got three huge mapboards with 1.5” hexes, and big full-color counters. The Ogre and building counters are 3-D constructible miniatures!

I don’t expect to keep this in print. Realistically, I expect to print it once and let people spend the next 30 years fighting over the remaining copies. The people who get it are going to show it off at parties and conventions.

It’s a pretty good game, if I say so myself. A lot of people remember it. (More than 25 years after its original release, Ogre won a spot in Hobby Games: The 100 Best.) Some of them would love to drop $100 for a beautiful version of the game they played 20 or 30 years ago, whether it was in high school, or in Germany or Kuwait or some classified spot in the middle of the Pacific.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow "Reverie" DLC Whips it Out March 30th

No High Scores
I gave Mercurysteam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow full marks when I reviewed it last year- and I’m a die hard Castlevania fan. I liked that it sloughed off some of the stagnant tenets of the franchise and went for a much more European dark fantasy setting with Gothic horror trappings instead of the anime direction the games have been heading in over the past several years. And man, that ending. Anyway if, like Depeche Mode, you just can’t get enough then Konami is dropping the “Reverie” DLC on the 30th. It sounds pretty good, almost like a mini-sequel to the game’s best segment. Hey, press agency, what do you have to say about it?

Konami Digital Entertainment GmbH today announced it will release the Reverie DLC pack for its acclaimed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow title on March 30th. The publisher has also released a trailer, showcasing the DLC’s new content.The download content will be available from PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE® Arcade , and costs 7,99 Euros/£6.39 for the PlayStation®3 version, and 800 MS Points for the Xbox 360 code. Reverie is the first of two planned DLC packs for the game, and marks a return to the game’s climactic castle setting as Gabriel seeks to assist the recently-slain vampire Queen’s hand maiden. The download spans three stages, and offers a breath-taking twist to the game’s plot – and will segue into the next DLC pack’s stunning conclusion…

Batman: Arkham City Trailer

So…that was pretty damn sweet wasn’t it? The city, the bad guys, the animation, and the MUSIC.

Now that’s a good trailer.

Thanks RPS.