If You’re Not Already, Now Would Be a Really Good Time To Get Excited About “The Witcher 3″

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Even though it sat awhile untouched in my Steam queue, “The Witcher 2” ended up being one of my favorite RPG’s of modern gaming. While this is due in large part to some world spanning story telling similar to “FF XII” in scope, but with the intimacy, pacing, and tight structure of a Bioware tale, even the controversially challenging gameplay grew on me, largely due to the fact that mastering it didn’t come easy.

Considering that challenge, it’s surprising that the game had the success it did across the mass market, but ultimately the level of craftsmanship put into the game made it undeniable, even to people that wouldn’t normally receive it so well.

Given that combination of quality and success, a sequel may have been inevitable, but ever since that announcement “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” has been anything but a given, and has been surprising all that lay eyes on it with its ambitious plans to completely re-shape a franchise that already re-invented itself once before with its runaway hit predecessor.

While it’s as true as ever that anything shy of the final product will be loose talk and hype, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to remain level headed when it comes to “Wild Hunt” as every promotional bit and feature plan released so far has shown a game that is going to be very, very special. That’s a trend that continues with the newest teaser called “Killing Monsters.”

Without spoiling anything from that must see video, the way it turns the trailer title on its ear and defies your expectations going into it with something incredible is a microcosm of what this series does so well. “Dead Island” may have proved that great teasers do not equal great games, but I dare you to watch that video and not tell me that despite any inclinations you may have toward pessimism regarding the entire concept of a pre-rendered teaser, that you are not seriously hyped up.

Add to that the recent announcement the great Charles Dance (Lord Tywin Lannister from “Game of Thrones”) will be playing a major role, and it’s becoming more and more clear what the first truly great game of the next generation may be.

Fan Film “Fallout: Nuka Break – Red Star” Is the Most Surprising Thing You’ll See Today

Whoa.

If the phrase “Live Action Fan Film” in the world of gaming makes you cringe, it would be hard to blame you. Often times they are poorly produced (if generally well meaning) works of minimal effort that remind us all that the world of gaming and film do not easily mesh.

Even if you are adamant in that belief though, you do yourself a tremendous disservice if you don’t take about 30 minutes of your time today and check out that fan film presented by the folks at Machinima set in the “Fallout” universe.

Beyond impressive for a fan film, it’s actually a genuinely entertaining, and surprisingly well made, piece that somehow manages to maintain the things that make the “Fallout” series so great, while just transferring them to another medium. While some production hiccups are found (the super mutant fight stands out), even the low points are enjoyable in a campy sort of way, and in no way diminish the incredible writing, pacing, direction, and yes, even acting to be found. It’s perhaps the best example ever made of the magic that can happen when you give a filmmaker with a true passion for gaming even the most modest of budgets to work with.

Made by the same people responsible for the also entertaining, if less dramatic, “Fallout” series “Nuka Break,” “Red Star” is apparently the first in a series of fan made live action adaptations planned by Machinima, with games like “League of Legends,” “Half-Life,” and even “Minecraft” all getting the celluloid treatment.

While the quality of those additional adaptations remains to be seen, this was an excellent way to present the idea, as “Red Star” is the greatest  live action video game film I’ve ever seen. Give it a shot, and start dreaming again of the day when a network like AMC, FX, or even HBO realizes the creative potential inherit in a “Fallout” TV series.

“Beyond Two Souls” May be Video Gaming’s Trojan Horse

“Beyond Two Souls” recently sent a gift to some journalists and industry types, and an unusual one at that.

It was 1,999 blank pages bound by two yellow covers, one of which beared the game’s box art and title. The one page that wasn’t blank was the initial one notifying the recipient that what they held was a replica of the 2,000 page script that “Beyond Two Souls” is built upon, as well as a friendly reminder that the game was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival.

Besides a joyous bearing of free printer paper, the other intent, and message, of the script was a simple one. It was to make everyone take notice that “Beyond Two Souls” will be different.

No…not different.

Unique.

It was the late Roger Ebert who famously raised the question if gaming could ever truly become art. Mind you he didn’t say it wasn’t art, and he didn’t say it couldn’t be art as is popularly cited, but rather it was more of a challenge to the medium to silence the doubters, himself included.

Now any gamer knows that storytelling in games is impressively unique and blazes its own path to create a quality that only the medium is capable of. To summarize the idea, think of “Bioshock.”

What gaming has lacked up until now though is a title that makes people who neither care about or respect video games (but very much do care about and respect films) to pause for a moment and consider the same growth that gamers have been seeing for decades now. Of course for that to truly work, the game must not just impact film lovers in that way, but gamers as well.

“L.A. Noire” came close, as did “Beyond Two Souls” predecessor “Heavy Rain.” Before that, “Grand Theft Auto IV” and as host of others.

However, “Beyond Two Souls” may be the first title that truly needs to be that game. It doesn’t want to be that game because it can, and it doesn’t dream about being that game because it may, but rather it needs to be that game to be considered a success by all parties involved.

And what a coup that would be if it was. While gaming doesn’t necessarily need that game to continue to exist, just imagine the world that would be left in its wake. Just imagine what the world of video games would be like if a game was released that would both satisfy the creative desires of the fans, the financial needs of the industry (like “Heavy Rain” did in a big way), and make people who couldn’t give a damn about either suddenly take notice, and be forced to really look at a video game with artistic respect.

It would be gaming’s Trojan horse. A rebel to even games themselves, under the guise of an expected appeal to the so considered higher authorities.

Then again, it may not be. It’s entirely possible that “Beyond Two Souls” will be a flop, or worse nothing at all. Even if it isn’t the game that shifts the perspective of video gaming though, it is a harbinger that a day is coming where even the most resolute of gamers must question their expectations regarding the capabilities of the medium. A day you could argue hasn’t been experienced sine “Grand Theft Auto III.”

Of course, much like that 2,000 page script, that day may come as soon as “Beyond Two Soul’s” October 18th release date when that very game will be delivered, to the amazement of all, right at the doorstep.

Why Are You Here, When You Could be Playing “Guacamelee!” ?

In a perfect world, there would be no need to tout the virtues of a game like “Guacamelee!” because you would already be hopelessly obsessed with it, and relaying your experience to others with conversations no more elaborate than “Dude!” and “I know.”

Instead there’s probably a pretty good chance you haven’t heard of “Guacamelee!,” and don’t know that you should be playing it, and not reading this, right now. Since you’re already here though (thanks by the way), let me skip the traditional review and just give you five quick reasons to experience the brilliance of a game where you play a dead peasant turned Mexican professional wrestler super hero, on a quest for revenge and love (actually…make that six reasons).

Style…Now In Color!

It takes all of a glance at “Guacamelee!” to notice that this game is a looker. Its Mexican culture and folklore motif is rarely used in major games (the great “Grim Fandango” is the only other that jumps to mind), and here is gloriously captured in every single aspect of the title, right down to the font. It makes every frame instantly recognizable, and turns the game into something truly great. If you cut “Gucamelee!,” it would bleed style and charm.

More importantly it would bleed it in vibrant colors. We’re still in the black, brown, and gray age of video game color palates, so when a title like “Guacamelee!” comes along and presents an already creative style in full Technicolor, it’s worth considering a purchase just to experience the brilliance that transpires when 16 bit art philosophy meets the hardware power of the modern age.

It’s Actually Really, Really Funny

It’s not all classic day of the dead style though, as the world of “Guacamelee!” also sports nods to cartoons like “Samurai Jack,” video games like “Mega Man,” internet programs like “Homestar Runner” and much, much, more. Nearly all of these references are well hidden in the game’s art style, and recognizing them is sure to lead to uncontrollable grins for anyone in the know.

Yet the game’s best jokes come from its own devices. Whether it’s your ability to morph into a chicken to get into small spaces, or the lamentations of a gun toting villain who realizes he’s wasted all of his bullets shooting the floor for emphasis, at its best, “Guacamelee!” feels like a lost golden age Disney movie when it comes to accessible, yet genuinely funny, humor.

Challenging, Yet Rewarding

As much as I love a game like “Dark Souls,” it’s hard to ignore that at a certain point the risk/reward factor becomes painfully uneven. However, even though “Guacamelee!” pays tribute to many classically challenging games like “Dark Souls” does, you never feel like you are being cruelly punished.

Even though it’s not exactly the most difficult game ever created, “Guacamelee!” does sport sections that require above average skill and patience. However, as long as you are willing to develop your skills and creatively explore the extent of those abilities, you won’t get hung up on too many sections due to unfair play. Even if you do though, the payoff always equals the effort. It’s difficult to find a game that can hit the mark when it comes to a balanced, yet progressive challenge, but that’s exactly what “Guacamelee!” offers.

 

Fresh Combat, Classic Adventure

“Guacamelee!’s” biggest gameplay feature would have to be its Metroidvania 2D adventure style, where a large map becomes more and more open to you as new abilities are earned. Yet that classic 2D trope isn’t the only familiar concept, as the better part of the gameplay is largely just a creative tribute to a video game age gone by.

The one aspect that feels like much more than an homage though is the combat. It’s a combination of Mexican lucha-libre and old fashioned brawling, all based around a fighting game combo system, and at its best produces moments previously unseen. Most enemies require you to use a variety of maneuvers to best them, and exploring the destructive potential the system is capable of is just as fun as exploring the levels themselves.

It’s Basically this Year’s “Journey”

Alright, so it probably won’t be nominated for a Grammy, and it’s potential to make grow men weep at its beauty is slightly less than “Journey,” but when playing “Guacamelee!” you get the same distinct impression that you’re playing something that exists well outside of the norm, and is artistically significant for the medium.

Though to be honest, “Guacamelee!” also resembles “Journey” in that it is very short. It’s not quite as short as last year’s indie sensation, but even if you are going for 100%, you’ll maybe get 10 hours out of it. While that is a little heartbreaking, considering the game’s bargain $14.99 price, it shouldn’t prevent you from playing “Guacamelee!”, and this year be the one who recommends that great indie game to everybody, and not the one who hears about it from everybody else.

An Entirely New Way to Enjoy “Bioshock Infinite”

Can’t get enough “Bioshock Infinite?” It’s hard to blame you really, as along with being one of the most stylistically complex and intellectually rewarding games of all time, it’s also somewhat short.

Though the game’s developers are promising a bountiful amount of DLC add-ons for the title, if you really need your “Infinite” fix in the meantime, you may want to consider the somewhat intriguing upcoming board game version.

In production by board game creator PlaidHat Games, “Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia” will share the rough timeline of the video game, as players choose between warring factions and vie for control of the floating city of Columbia, all while rouge elements Booker and Elizabeth carry out their own adventure, and possibly disrupt or aid yours.

Details concerning the game’s rules are still coming, but it’s meant for 2-4 players, contains 52 impressively detailed miniatures, and sounds like a mix of “Risk,” “Monopoly,” and, thanks to the skyhook system of rails, even “Chutes and Ladders” (yeah I haven’t played a board game in a while…). On an aesthetic level, everything from the board and pieces, to the cards and papers are incredibly well designed and capture the creative spirit of the source material perfectly. Also given the amount of pieces shown so far, and the company’s usual style, it’s likely this will be a pretty in-depth and complex board game that should provide the same level of outside the box thinking fans have come to expect from this series.

While a board game version of a video game may seem like a step back technologically, this is actually a smart complement to “Infinite.” The revolution was one of the game’s biggest themes and plot points, and getting to explore it further (along with everything else about the world of “Infinite”) through an active means like a board game is an enticing proposition. Also considering it is so hard to incorporate multiplayer into the “Bioshock” video game world without it coming across as cheap (see “Bioshock 2”), this may be the perfect alternative.

Available at a pre-order discount price of $59.95, there is no firm release date for the set as of yet, but given the level of care that has seemingly been put into it, this looks to be the furthest thing from a cash-in attempt, and may be worth any serious “Bioshock” fan’s attention.

What does “Earthbound”, the Vice President of the World, and a Homeless Guy Have in Common? That Would be New RPG “Citizens of Earth”

It’s not uncommon for good ideas to not translate into good video games. However, even in instances where creative games bomb spectacularly, they can still lead to very memorable experiences.

Even though we don’t have much to go off of regarding it at this time, it still seems like recently revealed indie RPG project “Citizens of Earth” is guaranteed to at least be a memorable experience as it has not one, but several very interesting ideas forming its basic blueprint.

It comes to us from developer Eden Industries who crafted one of those aforementioned brilliant, but flawed, games with their first title, “Waveform”, and has players taking the role of the Vice President of the World in his quest to rid his small home town of various weirdos and presumed evil doers. Now being a politician, and not wishing to get his hands dirty, the VP takes on a “team leader” approach and recruits denizens of the town to fight his battles for him. The character types range from body builders, to baristas, to homeless guys, and each not only brings unique attributes to combat, but when left out of your party, can provide certain abilities based on their character type with services like discounted items in their shops, town expansions, and exploration rewards.

Few specifics are known about the game, but it is confirmed that it will be much in the style of a classic JRPG, only with no random encounters (enemies will be viewable on the game world) and a combat system that will allow for battle restarts for party member swaps. Other than that, the games creator’s are sooner to talk about the broadstrokes and style of “Citizens of Earth”, and it’s easy to see why, as the game uses concepts from some of the greatest games of all time. It’s party leader influencing combat mechanic is straight from “Pokemon”, the expanded party, and their unique abilities, are reminiscent of the “Suikoden” series, it’s got a hyper Americana sense of character and environment design that reminds me of the artwork from “Fallout”, and best of all the entire game, from the humor, to the enemies, to the  basic design, borrows heavily from my favorite game of all time, “Earthbound”.

No a great idea doesn’t always mean a great game, but when you are taking your cues from games that are both some of the greatest of all time, and in some cases the most criminally underappreciated, and using them to enhance what is already a unique story concept, you come away with something that stands on its own, and looks to be an always welcome breath of fresh air for the medium. In any case fans of classic RPGs, and bold games in general, should set aside time to keep an eye on “Citizens of Earth” as it progresses, and aims to start a Kickstarter campaign later this year.

A Blue Collar Genius, His Twitter Using Daughter, and An Impossible Labyrinth Puzzle

Don’t attempt to adjust your computers folks, this is still a video game site.

But just for today, I don’t want to talk about video games. Instead, I want to share with you an interesting story about…well…just a game.

If it makes you feel any more comfortable, it comes from Japan, like many video games do, but it’s an extremely detailed hand crafted maze that fits on a 35 X 23 inch piece of paper. It’s already being considered perhaps the most complicated maze of its type ever designed, and is not only impossibly detailed, and impossibly beautiful, it may actually be impossible to beat.

That little tidbit comes to us via the Twitter user Kya7y who introduced this maze to the world, along with the fact that, so far as she knows, there is a good chance that the maze cannot be beaten. That’s not just because it is so mind boggling complex, but because a winning scenario may not even exist within its confines. She would  know too, as her father is the inventor of the maze, and he spent 7 long years working on the design, without even being sure if it is possible to finish.

While not much is known about the inventor, we do know that he is not a mathematician, architect, or graphic designer, but rather, in a moment of “Good Will Hunting” imagery, is a janitor at a public university. Who, it’s worth pointing out again, spent 7 whole years designing this maze almost 30 years ago, without the aid of quite a few modern technological conveniences.

Which brings us to an interesting point. There are 50 copies of this maze available at the moment, and a rumored second, alternate maze in existence, and already there is a bit of a craze as people formulate ideas on how to try to solve it. While many theories involve computer scanning the maze and using algorithms and programs to see if it is possible, I say to hell with that. If anyone wants to solve this, they need to do so with the same tools available to the creator. If that means we never know if it is possible, then that only means that this incredible design will forever maintain the mystique it so greatly deserves.

Kind of makes “Contra” seem like a walk in the park huh?

Though to be Fair I Still Haven’t Beaten That One Without Cheating

As Details Emerge About the Next Playstation, I say Goodbye to the DualShock Controller

There has been a recent flood of information leaking the technical aspects of the new Playstation (and Xbox), that suddenly has everyone realizing that the official unveiling of Sony’s new system is indeed imminent. While we’ve learned a lot more about that new Playstation in the last week thanks to those leaks, there is still a great deal of the unknown as gamers eagerly await to see what Sony’s next gen system will bring them.

One thing that is becoming clear though is that the classic DualShock controller will not be part of that unveiling, as several sites, citing internal sources, are now reporting that Sony will be ditching their tried and true DualShock controller design and coming up with a fresh model. While it is unknown if the new Playstation controller will maintain basic elements of that old controller, already there are rumors of new features like a built-in touch LCD screen, and biometric sensors in the controller that would allow for readings of player’s certain physical properties such as sweat and nerves that could affect things like the character’s aim.

Obviously with Nintendo going bonkers with the Wii U remote (and redefining what a controller meant to a system with the Wii) every other company was going to have to step up their designs, and so this announcement is a bittersweet one, due in large part to the DualShock controller being the greatest video game controller of all time.

Even if you ignore the most basic features of the controller like it’s smart layout and curvy features that just naturally felt right in your hands, it’s the dual analog sticks and vibration ability that secures that lofty title for the DualShock. It’s easy to forget that the re-design from the original Playststion was a response to the analog stick on the N64, as it became quickly evident that the traditional four direction D Pad was not going to be enough to properly handle a new generation of 3D gaming. Humorously though, with the original dual analog controller re-design (minus the rumble feature) Sony still included a little button that would turn the analog feature on and off so gamers wouldn’t feel overwhelmed or burdened by the new technology. They in fact wouldn’t make a game that fully required its use until the brilliant “Ape Escape” which made considerable beneficiary use of the new design.

Slowly though, the gainful advantages of the dual stick design became immediately evident as it allowed for an unimpeded 360 degree movement system that was still as precise as any single direction direct input. Just imagine trying to play a modern FPS on a console without the dual stick layout, or a third person action or platform game without the freedom of movement and camera control at the same time. As for the built in rumble feature, you just need to recall “Metal Gear Solid“, and that moment where “Psycho Mantis” moves your controller by activating the rumble at a high capacity. It was an all time classic moment in video games that wouldn’t have been possible without the feature, and is just an example of the new level of interaction that the device was capable of providing.

It all came together to form the perfect gaming controller. When you look back at certain controllers, they’re often too simple, too cluttered, or too specifically remembered for their value in certain titles (the N64 and “Goldeneye” or the original Xbox controller and “Halo” for instance). Games always found a way to smartly use just about every button on the DualShock, and it worked for every style of game, not making itself noteworthy for one title above any other. It’s why Sony felt there was no need to change the design for the Playstation 2 or Playstation 3 (slight modifications and wireless functionality aside), and truthfully if they wanted to, it could still hold up for the next generation some 15 + years after the original design’s retail release.

It’s hard to fault Sony for reconsidering the controller for their next system, but even if they don’t maintain the design of the DualShock, we can only hope they remember the spirit of it, and engineer a controller that doesn’t strive to change gaming, but instead accounts for the natural evolution of the medium and inadvertently does so in the process.

Great Games! (That Didn’t Get Good Until Halfway Through)

When I think back to some of gaming’s greatest beginnings, I think of “Uncharted 2“, “Batman: Arkham City“, and “Bioshock“. They’re great games that let you know from the very start that you are in for an experience like no other.

But not all games have that luxury. In fact, the only way to appreciate games with truly great beginnings, is to play games that struggled to get started. If you’re looking for some suggestions, here are some of the greatest games of all time, that took a while to really get good.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

One of the top 5 Star Wars games, and one of the most underrated games period, “Jedi Outcast” was an absolutely brilliant tale that saw retired Jedi Kyle Katarn (who went through some absolute hell in the earlier game to want to give up being a friggin Jedi), wrapped up in the newest plot to take over the galaxy, and forced to go back into the Jedi life to solve it, while taking a little vengeance along the way. Sound pretty bad ass? Oh yeah, it is.

However, before you even get to use the force young padawan, you must slog through the game’s first few missions using nothing but guns, as the early moments are nothing but a first person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. This is actually a trademark of the series, since the second game, but you see the thing is that at its design worst, “Jedi Outcast” features horrible flip switching puzzles, bad jumping sections, and aimless wandering. The first half of the game exemplifies all of these flaws, and doesn’t even give you a lightsaber or force powers to help ease the pain. It’s not like it’s the worst first person shooter ever, but it’s fairly far from the best and takes some time, and patience, to get through.

But here’s the thing. Without the dullness of that first half, that moment you meet Luke Skywalker, grab your lightsaber, use the force, and hear that beautiful “Star Wars” music swell wouldn’t be near as sweet. Earning the right to that moment is what makes it, and the game in general, so incredible. Even on subsequent playthroughs though, when you know the reward, it is still difficult to force yourself through that first half.

Deus Ex

I hate to admit this, but embarrassingly I never found the words to adequately describe “Deus Ex.” Instead, I’d refer you to the mounds of accolades and awards it accumulated, and confirm with you that it was indeed a revolutionary breath of fresh air that’s influences wouldn’t be properly noticed for years to come, as even leading developers seemingly couldn’t appreciate exactly what it was.

The average gamer may have never gotten the chance to experience that though. “Deus Ex” was a first person game, but it wasn’t really a first person shooter, and trying to play the game like that, as many at the time surely did, only led to a swift demise. That’s because while you can play the game guns blazing, in that first mission you’re forced to take a more stealthy, very careful approach as you worked though what was essentially a tutorial of the game. What hurt is that it lacked many of the character enhancement options and various tactics that made “Deus Ex” so much of what it would be. Your methodical approach towards liberating the terrorist controlled statue of liberty is the game’s lowpoint, and doesn’t lend much encouragement to seeing the rest of the game through.

Even after that lengthy intro, it takes a mission or two for the game, and plot, to find its groove and for the series RPG and strategy elements to kick in properly. Once it all comes together though (which occurs around the time of a major plot twist), its inescapable brilliance is a constant onslaught to your senses. You can retrospectively laugh at gamers that didn’t stick through the beginning of “Deus Ex”, but really the game did itself no favors in immediately making itself welcome.
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Valve’s 400 MB Sized Problem

So Valve has been busy updating some games recently to include support for their “Big Picture” mode that will allow Steam to be used on TV. It’s a welcome update for those with the capabilities and, for most games, is taking nothing more than a 70 MB update to help incorporate.

Except for one game though. For some reason “Half-Life 2: Episode 2” is requiring a 400 MB update. This being the internet, suddenly everyone started having a theory of how this would lead to “Half-Life 2: Episode 3” or even “Half-Life 3”. Nobody has any real idea about how this works, but hey, since 400 is a way bigger number than 70, it can only mean the release of one of the most anticipated games of all time right? The madness surrounding the update is so consuming, that a completely unrelated video from Machinima featuring  a series of binary code, and vaguely “Half-Life” music playing throughout, was thought to be part of the conspiracy, and players are now feverishly scouring “Half-Life 2: Episode 2” to find any changes.

The “Magic Bullet” Of the “Half-Life 3″ Conspiracy

Of course, the whole thing is nonsense to the sane mind, but it does bring up a very real problem for Valve, in that the next “Half-Life” (in whatever form it may take) is slowly reaching some pretty unrealistic expectations. Whenever an extra 330 MB of unspecified, probably insignificant data can bring the entire PC gaming community to a furor, the hype meter has definitely spiked, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Valve’s exhibited an uncommon level of craftsmanship over the years, but even they are setting themselves up for a scenario where gamers are having years to craft their own game in their minds that even Valve might not be able to match. While this doesn’t mean they should rush the development of a game, it may be time to give gamers something (anything) regarding the next title in the beloved series before the hype machine claims another victim ala “Diablo III”.

Or….Well You Know

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