The Last Straw for “The Last Guardian?”

In what may one day register as the final nail in the coffin either creatively or totally for “The Last Guardian,” producer of both “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus” Kenji Kaido, has left Sony Computer Entertainment.

He announced the news earlier on Twitter where he said:

“I have some news. This August, I left Sony Computer Entertainment. My plans for the future are undecided as of now, but for the time being I’m going to continue my summer vacation.”

There is no official word on what, if any, involvement Kaido had on “The Last Guardian,” but since he was one of the driving forces for Team ICO, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have a hand in designing the troubled title at some point.

Trouble is definitely the only word you can use for “The Last Guardian” when you also take into consideration executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama’s departure from the title to join Bossa Studios, a Facebook game company, and Sony’s admittance to the game’s developmental problems forcing them to send over developers from Sony Santa Monica to help finish the game. These kinds of actions, combined with extreme development time, don’t usually mark a future game of the year candidate in the making.

Regardless of his capacity on the development of “The Last Guardian,” Kaido’s separation from Sony is a sad end to a career with the gaming giant that included two of the greatest cult hits of all time, “Ape Escape” and “Tomba!” (which is soon to be available for download on Vita), as well as “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus” which are not only two of the greatest video games of all time, but two of the most artistically important as well.

Honestly at this point, I don’t want to see what “The Last Guardian” is looking like. This isn’t a title like the “Guitar Hero” games or the “James Bond” films that can be tossed around between different people and still produce enjoyable results, but rather a title in a series that almost solely represents the full artistic potential in video games, without losing a touch of entertainment value in the process. And unlike the similar situation involving “Bioshock Infinite” the troubles with “The Last Guardian” have been well documented long before a playable model was ever shown, and key developers started jumping ship.

Oh well, if worse comes to worse I guess we will always be able to reminisce over that incredible trailer released for the game, and wonder what may have been.

Level 10: “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”

I feel like the most consistently underrated element of video game design is level design. Whether you call them levels, segments, missions, or whatever, the parts of our favorite video games that make up our favorite video games deserve the proper recognition, and it’s the purpose of this column to make sure they get that.

And since the recently released “GTA V” screens have got me reminiscing about the last time the “GTA” series paid a visit to the west coast, I’ve decided to start with my favorite entry in the “Grand Theft Auto” series for this column, by looking back at the best missions from “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

10. Drive-By

One of the great thrills of the GTA series is how it allows you to live out all of those great crime fantasies that film and possibly literature has instilled in you. In “GTA: III” is was planting a bomb on a car mob style. In “GTA: Vice City” it was intercepting a coke deal with a speed boat like Crocket and Tubbs on “Miami Vice.”

Since “San Andreas” was inspired by the west coast gangta films, like “Boys in the Hood,” one of the great thrills is living out inner-ghetto turf wars, and any good inner-ghetto turf war needs a drive-by. Drive-by’s are so common in “GTA” that there is a feature on the control for it, but here is the only place where you get to roll up on enemy gangs with your friends and rain ammunition on them while listening to N.W.A. just like most of us modern suburbanites figured happened all the time in the early 90’s. It’s as simple as a mission in “GTA gets,” but it’s so satisfying.

9. Fender Ketchup

So you’re working for the Triads and the Italian mafia has been messing with their operations in the “San Andreas” equivalent of Las Vegas, Las Venturas. One of the thugs have been caught, and to make him talk your friends decide to strap him onto a car which you are to drive at top speed until he gets scared enough to figuratively spill his guts ( or not and literally do so).

Driving around in a convertible at night on the Venturas strip is always a fun experience, but doing so in the most reckless way at your disposal so that a mob thug will rat his gang out makes it all the sweeter. Much like Drive-By this is one of those missions that takes a simple gangland pleasure and lets you run wild with it.

8. Amphibious Assault

When most non-stealth games try to have stealth sections, they tend to suck almost without exception. Of course, this being “GTA,” it’s not like other games and therefore enjoys the distinct advantage of defying normal conventions.

Of course to be fair, this isn’t a strict stealth mission as you are tasked with infiltrating a boat, planting a bug, and making your way off, but are free to kill at will as long as you do it quietly. However, the atmosphere the mission sets is just perfect, and the approach to the boat itself is very dramatic. The “GTA” series has always had an incredible sense of scale, and the ship makes for this perfectly ominous opposing figure in the distance, that makes this mission feel like a true accomplishment for having finished.
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I Can’t Tell If This Gaming Furniture is Cool, Or If I’m Just a Complete Nerd

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud to be a gaming geek, but if you took a look around my apartment, you wouldn’t really notice it. I’m not saying I live in the center of style, but my furnishings and decorations are modest at best, and outside of an expansive movie and video game collection, you could almost be fooled into thinking a normal, socially well adjusted person lives here. I guess you could say that may place is the Clark Kent to my inner gaming Superman.

Still, every now and then I see a piece that makes me want to take my home sweet home through the phone booth.

The latest example has to be the works of Igor Chak. Particularly his Donkey Kong inspired shelves.

Their style can’t be doubted, but you might be surprised to find out that the steel rod and carbon fiber design, supports toughened glass tops that can hold up to 60 lbs. Frankly, I’ve found no better way to support a serious video game collection, and these shelves are just cool enough to justify nerding out your place with, without fear of making some sort of style sacrifice. Their only downside? They aren’t actually for sale yet. However, for a meager $5000 you can buy this Space Invader’s inspired couch.

Ridiculously overpriced and gaudily designed? You bet. But it’s also apparently deceivingly comfortable and, as noted on the site is “An instant conversation starter, this unique retro gaming inspired couch will be the highlight of any room.”

By which I’m sure the artist meant, all your living room now belong to it.

If You Need Me, I’ll Be in My Trailer

With Gamescom starting this week, the world of video games is starting to get hit with the usual tech show barrage of trailers. While I prefer good old fashioned gameplay demonstrations and hands-on previews, trailers offer a high level of entertainment value, if nothing else. However, if you pay close enough attention, you can sometimes cut past all of the stylized cuts and unnecessarily enhanced graphics to actually tell something about the game underneath.

With that in mind, here are five of the biggest trailers from the week, and what, if anything, we can take away about the games they represent from them.

Remember Me

Analysis: While I’d like to have a beer with the designers of “Remember Me,” as they’ve clearly watched “Blade Runner” and played “Deus Ex” as many time as I have, I just don’t trust Capcom as much as I used to. This is a slick debut for “Remember Me,” and cyber punk noir games will always be welcome, but it does have the misfortune of going up against the similarly themed, and soon to be released, “Dishonored.” And right now, “Dishonored” is looking better. Unless Capcom has something more in mind than the “me too” looking third person action on display in pieces here, I’m just not that excited right now. It also doesn’t help it shares a name with a Robert Pattinson movie.

Star Wars 1313

Analysis: Ok, let’s assume that Lucas Arts is obliged to churn out a new “Star Wars” game every year until the end of time. Let’s also assume that “Battlefront 3” isn’t going to happen (and believe me, it’s not). If that is the case, then I’m at least happy they are considering options in the “Star Wars” universe outside of the usual suspects of the series. However, is this a game that really needs a teaser like this? Is anyone just so jacked up for the next “Star Wars” game that a one minute and thirty-four second trailer, with about 4 seconds of gameplay in it is going to make them rush to their computer and set the hype pyre ablaze? I doubt it. At this point, until Lucas Arts has something more substantial to show, the vague chance that this game might not suck, and actually be original is the best thing they have going for them. They don’t need to ruin that with more of these generic trailers.

Crysis 3 – Multiplayer Hunter Mode

Analysis: I had zero interest in “Crysis 3” before this trailer, and now I want nothing else. This looks highly reminiscent of “Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory’s” Spy vs Merc gameplay, in that it combines two different styles of play into a unified concept. The multiplayer in that game is highly underrated and virtually unduplicated to this day, and it’s about time someone re-explored it. Also, this looks like the “Predator” game we were never going to get, which makes me more excited than I feel I can freely admit. If it can even come close to combining those two things together into a cohesive, balanced multiplayer experience, I might have to allow myself to actually use the word ‘epic.’

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Analysis: First of all, “Can’t you tell where I must unleash this awesome power” is now going to be exactly where I tell every cab driver I’d like to go. Second, how long was he sitting in the back eerily glowing before the driver asked him where he wanted to go? Was the driver hoping he’d just disappear the next time he looked? Finally, as far as debut trailers go, if you’re going to avoid showing gameplay, this is about the best way to go. “Tekken” was always at its best when it was just having fun, and this is a fun trailer. If Namco doesn’t try to screw with the formula too much, and sticks with that loose and easy motif, I’d say the time is right for the next King of the Iron Fist Tag Tournament.

Assassin’s Creed III Naval Warfare Trailer

Analysis: As I mentioned, it’s going to take a concentrated effort for the next installment in the “Assassin’s Creed” series to suck. Ubisoft has proven they’re not scared to explore new ways to expand and improve “Assassin’s Creed,” and while the results have been mixed in some cases, I see no harm this naval gameplay could cause the franchise. Plus naval combat in this time period is rarely explored, and so far this game looks to actually be doing the idea right instead of treating the concept as an afterthought. As for the trailer itself, it features that perfect mix of style and intrigue that you expect from the series at this point, and keeps the well-oiled hype train this game is running well on track.

A Serious Discussion About Comedy in Video Games

I was lucky enough to grow up a gamer during the NES era. I say lucky not just because, as a child, the NES was this mythical monolith of unlimited entertainment potential, but because I’ve been lucky to see video games evolve from the big bang moment that was Nintendo’s first console. In that time, what’s impressed me most evolution-wise isn’t the technological advancements the industry has enjoyed, but the artistic ones.

Writing quality would probably be the biggest improvement. Recently, I started playing “The Witcher 2,” and I’m finding it to be a watershed moment in video game storytelling. Sure, some of the dialog is groan-worthy, but the overall tale, and the brilliant way in which the game weaves it, is simply astounding. While it may be a beacon of writing quality in games, it’s far from the only port in the harbor. Games like “Braid,” “Bioshock,” and “Heavy Rain,” to name a few, have all gone far and beyond to prove that at their best, the stories of video games can bring out all of the same emotions as the stories in books, films and theater.

Except for humor.

Of course, I’ve laughed while playing games before, but it’s rarely been because of a specific joke made. Instead, by their general nature, video games are just light-hearted entertainment sources. Hell, the mascot of the entire industry might just be an underdeveloped Italian plumber with a hatred of reptiles, incredible jumping abilities, and a hard-on for elitist blondes. So for an artform that isn’t supposed to take itself too serious by its very nature, why is good, pure comedy so hard to come by?

Let me backtrack a little bit from that statement. I know that funny video games exist. I also know that comedy is perhaps the most subjective form of entertainment there is. What makes one person’s sides split causes another’s lips to droop. But still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t works of comedy in other mediums that are generally considered to be undisputed comedy classics. Like “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters” or “This is Spinal Tap.” What is gaming’s equivalent? Well, type “funniest video games of all time into Google” and the consensus answer would seem to be “Conker’s Bad Fur Day.” I’ve covered Conker before, but just as a refresher, “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is simply the raunchiest, most parody-filled, brute force comedy video game ever made.

And it’s not that funny. Well, I mean it is, but at best it’s a decent episode of “South Park,” without any of the clever context. “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” was a machine gun of jokes that figured if it fired enough rounds, one of them would hit just about everyone that played it. Even worse, it aimed that gun square at the stereotype that gamers are only 14 year old virgins, and made its name from it. And yet, to this day when people reference it, they use the words “Adult Humor.”

The King of Video Game Comedy?

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What is “Infinite” Minus Two?

News is slowly pouring in today that two of the biggest developers on “Bioshock: Infinite“ are leaving Irrational Games.

Director of product development Tim Gerritsen and art director (and designer of the series’ iconic Big Daddies) Nate Wells have both updated their LinkedIn profiles to indicate that their employment with Irrational Games is now done. While no further official announcement has been made, Nate Wells also made a Twitter post earlier that read “New Job…Details to follow.” That tweet has since been removed. For those who don’t remember, “Bioshock: Infinite” was also delayed earlier this year until 2013, in order to give it “specific tweaks and improvements” that would make the game “into something even more extraordinary,” according to lead designer and Irrational founding member Ken Levine.

Now some sites are already panicking about this pretty hard. I’m not quite there yet myself. For one thing, it’s a sad but true fact that developers at all levels will often leave a studio before a project is completed. Moves of this nature traditionally have no bearing on the quality of the final product on any consistent level.

No the real news here is that there is no real news. Ever since the delay of “Bioshock: Infinite” was announced, updates on on the game have gone ice cold. This is okay if you’re a title like “Grand Theft Auto V” (another Take-Two production). It’s “GTA”, and everyone knows there’s going to be a lot of secrecy involved leading up to the release. But “Bioshock: Infinite” didn’t even bother to poke its head in at E3 this year. Plus, even though “Bioshock” was possibly the game of the decade, the fact that the only news on its true successor in the last year has been a delay and the departure of your manager of content creators (Gerritsen) and a 13-year veteran of your studio (Wells), makes even the most level headed gamer start to wonder what’s really going on at Irrational.

Ultimately, “Bioshock: Infinite” will still sell millions, and I don’t believe that its overall quality will have anything to do with these departures. However, I’m curious how Irrational addresses this news. Do they remain silent and let speculation rule, or do they make a move as bold and innovative as “Bioshock” itself and actually shed some light on this situation, beyond the typical PR release?

Simply put, if there’s no fire to report, then why fan the flames?

Bethesda and Dishonored Give Me an Excuse to Run This Lena Headey Picture

You know, as much as I love Bethesda, they don’t exactly have an astounding history of success with original titles.

If you look at their history as a developer, you’ll of course notice their standout titles (“Fallout 3” and the “Elder Scrolls” series) are both of unquestionably great caliber, but only one of which is a true independent property. After that, you’ll see that Bethesda mostly spends their time as a publisher of titles that include “Brink,” “Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth,” “Rouge Warrior,” and “Rage”  (which John Carmack recently apologized for). All of those titles share one thing in common. None of them were really, truly great, but they all featured at least one aspect or element that made them stand out.

See that’s the real magic behind Bethesda. Even when everything doesn’t come together as it should, they always manage to attach themselves to titles that never really feel like they are phoning it in. Hell, they even published a “Pirates of the Caribbean” game that wasn’t a complete hack job, and Disney and Johnny Depp have been phoning that franchise in since “Pirates of the Caribbean 2.”

It’s such a consistent enough history of exceptional effort that it makes gamers everywhere stand up and take notice when the Maryland based developer starts a new project. Apparently, gamers aren’t the only ones taking notice as some A-list Hollywood celebrities have jumped at the chance to sign on for Bethesda’s next title “Dishonored.” It was recently announced that Susan Sarandon (“Thelma and Louise”, “Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Chloe Grace Moretz (“500 Days of Summer”, “Kick-Ass”), and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia…duh), will join previously announced actors Brad Dourif (“Deadwood”, “Childs Play”), Michael Madsen (“Reservoir Dogs”, “Kill Bill Vol. 2”), Lena Heady (“300”, “Game of Thrones”), and  “Mad Men’s” John Slattery as voice actors for the new title.

That’s clearly one hell of a cast assembled so far. What’s got them so excited? Well “Dishonored” is described as a “Steampunk, stealth first person role playing video game” that follows an Empress’s bodyguard, turned assassin who becomes framed for the Empress’s murder and must prove his innocence and find the real killers. “Dishonored” is supposed to support a revolutionary stealth system that boasts that no enemy must be killed, and a non-lethal solution is available for any situation. Along with that, the games steampunk open world promises to offer the traditional Bethesda quality open world, where they claim that every NPC is alive and active even if they are not interacting with you.

If you’re anything like me, that description got all kinds of hairs on you standing up. Like I said, when Bethesda gets behind something, they don’t do it half-ass. Between that description, that cast, and the development team attached to “Dishonored” (Arkane Studios, who previously worked on the incredible “Dark Messiah of Might and Magic” and “Bioshock 2”, and designer Viktor Antonov who helped design “Half-Life 2’s” City 17), this is starting to look more and more like a sleeper Game of The Year contender in the making, that’s causing all of the stars to align.

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