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Sesame Street to Test Danielle’s Love of Double Fine

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If you spend any appreciable time with fellow NHS writer Danielle, you know that her love of Double Fine is so large as to defy conventional love measuring methods. With the recent announcement that the creators of such wonderful games as Psychonauts and Costume Quest are making a Sesame Street game for Kinect, one has to wonder if Danielle will break down and buy a Kinect to play it. Truth be told, I think this is an excellent move on Double Fine’s part as they have a very well tuned eye for children’s material, as displayed in Costume Quest, as well as the design chops to make a children’s game that has gameplay weight to it. Plus, if it gets Double Fine into more people’s homes, then I’m all for it. Danielle, if you need some kids this fall to play the game while you watch, I’d be happy to lend you mine for a weekend, or a month, or hell, until they go to college. Call me.

Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #56

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This is the first week of Jumping the Shark I’ve missed in a couple of months so, of course, they chose a topic near and dear to my heart: Romance in games. I guess with the show being released on Valentine’s Day, I can forgive such insolence. It’s harder to forgive the fact that with all the Bioware talk, Baldur’s Gate II was mentioned only in passing. Seriously, Bill, that’s all you’ve got?

If you want to talk about games that handle player “romance” in a way that doesn’t make you cringe, for my money, BG2 is the poster child. (Disclaimer: Given how long it’s been since I actually played the game, I may have the whole rose-colored glasses thing going on.) More after the jump…

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Ah, Jaheira, you saucy minx. You complete me. (No, not really.)

In all seriousness, you have to grade on a curve when it comes to romance in games. I think the so-called romances in Baldur’s Gate 2 worked, in part, because nobody really knew they were there. You were playing the game to play it and not to see which characters you could “score” with, so if your character ended up going down a romantic path with a party NPC, it was unexpected, and therefore more genuine, and not because you kept reloading dialog sequences until you found the one that worked.

In the case of Jaheira, I recall spending half of this gargantuan fantasy RPG just trading dialog about friendship and the nature of loss; she had, after all, just lost her husband at the start of the game. And because it was a much more primitive game by today’s standards, the romance was entirely about the dialog, rather than getting to the “steamy” cut scene showing characters with uncanny valley eyes uncomfortably doing stuff that may or may not resemble a PG-13 sex scene. Your relationship with Jaheira, should you choose to pursue it, builds gradually, as you travel the world, completing quests and the main storyline, and it unfolds in a way that can be meaningful if you’re the type that can put yourself in the shoes of your character.

People seem to be fairly divided when it comes to the question of whether or not games should incorporate romantic elements. Many justly think that if you can’t do it well, don’t do it and I think we can all agree that the vast majority of games are unable to handle such encounters in a way that would hold up to similar relationships in a novel or movie. That said, I don’t think it’s a mistake to incorporate love and adult relationships into games. If a game is trying to tell a story with some emotion, to exclude love from the equation, because you can’t represent it as well as can other forms of media media, is pure surrender. If it fits in the context of the story the designers want to tell, romance can absolutely add to a game. It is, after all, a fundamental part of the human experience and, where games are unable to accurately reflect said experience, I’m more than happy to do the heavy lifting of connecting the dots in my own mind. Just give me the dots.

When it comes to romance in video games, I’m fond of saying that you tend to get out of these games what you put into them. If your only goal is to get with every possible character and you always choose dialog options to that effect, you’re going to get a more juvenile result. You are, after all, behaving like a juvenile. (And that’s fine. I imply no judgment in that.) But a game like Dragon Age typically offers you the opportunity to play it with at least a relative amount of sincerity. For example, I actually liked the way Bioware handled the character of Morrigan because the game’s writers put an arc in for her that meshed well with the way I wanted to play my own character.

Morrigan, for all her power and intellect, is a child when it comes to understanding people. Her entire life she’s existed outside the fringes of society. She has not been taught to value life and she lacks any understanding of what it is to exist within the framework of organized society. People are a mystery to her and, convinced of her own superiority, not one she cares to solve. If you, as I do, like to play The Big Damn Hero archetype, you can, over the course of the game, evolve her perception of both people and love. True, some of the silly junk you have to do (gifts) and say to raise up her preposterous approval meter does break the immersion, but I found it worth overlooking because the result, the obvious inner conflict she endures and ultimately finds herself unable to truly succumb to, is done reasonably well. It will be interesting to see if anything becomes of her character when the sequel arrives next month. More interesting will be seeing if, and how much, Bioware is able to grow in terms of providing a romantic option for your new player character. The company loves to talk up how important story is to their games and why romance is such a critical part of that, so if that aspect of DA2 turns out to be all about getting to the inevitable sex scene then I will be disappointed. I think they can and will do better.

Back to the actual podcast. I was whipped from traveling this week and some other events that were going on. With very little free time this weekend, I took the cheap and easy route and again edited using the Pamela feed. With only a three-person show this week, it’s still much easier on the ear than last week’s show.

Keeping an Eye On — Hearts of Iron The Card Game

One for me to watch. Barnes too. Maybe Todd. Unlikely Danielle. Haha Brandon.

I don’t have any earthly idea what made Paradox develop a free online card game based off its really detailed and grognardy World War II grand sim, but there you have it. That’s precisely what they’ve done. It’s not due until “later this year” and will go into beta “in the coming months” so it’s not like you’re going to playing this anytime soon. Paradox did “officially” announce the game today, again really as we’ve known about it for a while.

Because it’s Valentine’s Day and “Hearts” is in the title. Clever folks.

Main Features:

* Free to play.
* Play as the Axis, Allies or Comintern.
* 120 unique cards with authentic World War II artwork.
* 20 promotional cards.
* Multiple game modes.
* Deck editor lets you build and customize decks according to your preferences.
* Trade cards with other players.
* Paradox Connect support with achievements and high scores.

Did you read the part about being free? Yeah me too!

Kre-O Combines Terrible Branding and Awesome Toys

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Toy Fair was this past weekend which means that Hasbro rolled out a huge pile of plastic crack for toy fans to drool over before they got to quickly tearing it all apart on the internet. One of Hasbro’s newest ventures is a building brick line called Kre-O. What the name means, I have no idea as it sounds like something the Skrull fight. Bad naming aside, the first Kre-O line is a set of Transformers toys which means that my love of Legos and Transformers has finally combined to form an entity so powerful at sucking all of the money out of my wallet that I might as well set up my direct deposit to go right into Hasbro’s bank accounts. I don’t know if the toys will be able to transform once built or if you’ll have to break the robot mode apart to then build the vehicle mode, but whatever the case, I will have them. All of them. Possibly two of each.

Calendar Man – Week of 2/14

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Welcome to Calendar Man, our weekly new release column. Here’s you’ll find out about all of the new releases for the upcoming week and any sales or deals I feel you should be aware of. There’s nothing better than saving money on games so that you can buy more games. Thriftiness, woo. Hit the Read More link to see what you’ll be blowing your hard earned cash on this week.

First of all, I should point out that Monday is Valentine’s Day so be sure to save a little money so that you can buy your sweetie a gift lest you find yourself with possibly the greatest gift of all, more free time to play video games.

New Releases

First up is Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, a game that Danielle and I played at E3. I was feeling pretty cocky with my unstoppable attacks courtesy of Captain America until Danielle brought out Dante and completely obliterated me. I must admit, I am intrigued by both the premise and the gorgeous graphics but A) I am terrible at fighting games, B) I don’t have an arcade stick and C) until this game has Squirrel Girl in it, it’s just a waste of time. Release Date: 2/15

For all of you old school RPG fans, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation is finally making its North American debut. I loved DQ9 and am looking forward to the different combat engine and class system but not being able to see roaming beasties on the world map may be hard to get used to. Random encounters are so trite. Release Date: 2/14

If you ever thought that you’d like to experience all of the steroid induced, macho stupidity of an Epic game but you’re not entirely sold on Bulletstorm, the Gears of War Triple Pack may be just the thing for you. It includes Gears of War, Gears of War 2, all of the multiplayer maps and the content pack where Dom and Marcus play dress up. All for the low, low price of 30 bucks. I joke, but Gears of War is still one of my favorite 360 games and probably my favorite cover shooter. True story, my friend and I played all of Gears on Insane and spent about two hours trying to take down General Raam. We took a break, I did some research and the next time we played, it took is about two minutes start to finish to take him down with alternating, active reloaded torque bow shots. It was glorious. Release Date: 2/15

Hyperdimension Neptunia is a JRPG from Koei in which you play, I can’t believe I’m about to type this, the personification of a video game console. Your enemy: the personification of games piracy. Yeah. Moving on. Release Date: 2/15

If you haven’t bowled enough this console generation, Brunswick Pro Bowling for the Kinect will let you experience the joy of motion based bowling on the 360. The game has bumper bowling for the kiddies as well as online league play. Release Date: 2/15

Also in the Kinect department is Dance Paradise also known as “That Dance Game That Isn’t Dance Central”. It boasts the most songs of any dance game to date, a whopping 40 numbers. Plus, it shows the song’s music video in the background for spectators, as if watching your friends flail around isn’t entertainment enough. Release Date: 2/15

PSP owners have Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together to look forward to, with all of its, um, tactical, er, stuff. I have no idea what this game is about, but I’m sure tactics come into play somewhere. That and clinging. Release Date: 2/15

Finally, Kalypso has Dungeons which sounds a lot like Dungeon Keeper but apparently isn’t. Hey look, a demo! Maybe try that first. Release Date: 2/17


Not much out there in the deal department this week but here are the best of the admittedly slim picking:

Target is giving a free action figure when you buy Marvel vs Capcom 3. From the ad, it kind of looks like Spider-Man 2099 but maybe they vary per store because if not, that’s a pretty lame figure. Also at Target, if you buy two Kinect games, you save ten bucks.

Toys R Us will give you a 15 buck gift card when you buy Marvel vs Capcom 3. Sometimes TRU puts annoying expiration dates on their gift cards, so be aware. If you buy Dragon Quest VI or Mario Sports Mix, you’ll save ten bucks on any other Wii or DS game.

Best Buy is still hawking PS3’s with a 50 buck Best Buy gift card. Other than that, they’ve got bupkus.