Summer of Arcade? Absolutely yes. Plus, the Grimm games

August 16, 2008
Play the Grimm episodes for free the first 24 hours after they are released!

Play the Grimm episodes for free the first 24 hours after they are released!

Braid, Geometry Wars 2, Bionic Commando, Galaga Legions, Castle Crashers… the lineup on Xbox Live Arcade this summer has been just insanely awesome. I find my Gamefly games getting shrugged off in favor of putting in another couple of hours of Geometry Wars – and I wonder “Yikes, am I ever going to find time to play retail games again?”

I’ve also been playing the Grimm games on Gametap, which I highly recommend! They’re fantasticly colourful, the animations are great, and the gameplay is so simple that it’s easy to play through an entire episode (takes under an hour) without even noticing the passing time. You can play the entire game with only your mouse, or only your keyboard, or a combination of both, but all three control schemes work equally well. It’s the type of game that has you leaning your head on one hand, slouched in your computer chair with bloodshot eyes and a horrible backache. But hey, that means the game is pretty good, right? Plus, when each new episode comes out (weekly), it is free to play for the first 24 hours! So even non-paying Gametap users can experience these great episodes. Check them out on www.gametap.com, download the free Gametap player and support this awesome example of how episodic gaming should be done.

What I’m playing this weekend: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 (I just can’t quit…), Alone in the Dark, Burnout Paradise, Sega Superstars Tennis, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Braid. I’m hoping that I’ll like Alone in the Dark, because I’ve heard such mixed reviews for the game, and I was really looking forward to it. Also, the Braid official website says not to use a walkthrough, but I just don’t know how I’m going to get some of these puzzle pieces without one…

Check out my half-decent Geometry Wars scores, and add me on Live! I need more people on my leaderboards to be playing Geo Wars so they can push me to boost my scores!




Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, and more…

August 2, 2008
Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 on "King" mode.

Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 on "King" mode.

Hard to believe it’s been six months since I’ve posted anything here, but alas, it has! I’ll be trying to update a lot more frequently from now on, with more focus on casual “what I’m playing” type entries than anything else. So please, check back regularly and let me know what you think. Also check out the new box on the right column with links to all my micro-blogging sites. Twitter is still my favorite, so gets the most attention. If you don’t have a Twitter account already, get signed up and start following me!

This summer has been one of the best ever for the games industry – with plenty of AAA titles like Battlefield: Bad Company, Soul Calibur 4, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and On Tour being released during the usually slow hot months. Plus, hugely anticipated downloadable titles like Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, Pixeljunk Eden, Bionic Commando, Castle Crashers, and Siren: Bloodcurse keep things fresh with innovative pick-and-play game mechanics. And with PS3 games getting their trophies rolled out, the PSN is as alive as ever and quickly growing into a worthy competitor to Xbox Live.

Pixeljunk Eden multiplayer

Pixeljunk Eden multiplayer

And of course, not to be left out on all the action, Nintendo announced the Wii Motion Plus accessory at E3 this year, which will bring true 1:1 motion control to Wii games. By next year, we may finally see the end of waggle control!

But what I really want to talk about today is why $10 downloadable games like Geo Wars 2 and Pixeljunk Eden are able to capture my attention for hours and hours at a time, while many $60 games that take millions of dollars to create can barely keep me in front of the TV. What keeps people coming back to the first Geometry Wars, three years later? And what has me itching to go play the sequel, even right now? It’s the fun factor, and it’s how the developers use it in their game. I remember one of the Bungie studios employees talking about this in an interview for the Halo 2 collectors disc. He said that with Halo, they took 30 seconds of fun, and just recreated and repeated it throughout the entire game.

I think its the same concept with games like Eden and Geo Wars. The developers come up with an awesome idea, capitalize on it, and create 30 seconds of fun out it. Then if they can manage to repeat that over and over again, and keep it interesting, they’ve got a great game. Sure, 70 hour RPG’s are a whole different world and can’t really be applied to this sort of thing, but when was the last time you played through an RPG a second time? Yes, there are exceptions such as Mass Effect, Fable, and FFVII, but most of the time games that take many hours to beat are only worth a single play through. And it’s because instead of creating a single really-fun instance and repeating it, they spread out less-addicting moments through the game and put hours of side-quests and level-grinding in between.

It makes me wonder if these two very different types of games can ever be merged, or switch roles. Can a game like Geometry Wars ever warrant a $60 price tag? (and yes, I know about Galaxies, but it wasn’t the AAA blockbuster I have in mind) And is the XBLA or PSN capable of putting out a quality epic-scale game like Mass Effect or FFXIII without demanding an enormous chunk of your hard drive and/or your wallet?

With current-generation hardware finally starting to be taken advantage of (think Halo 3’s multiplayer or Little Big Planet’s user-generated content), the lines between genres are merging, but the line between casual games and “hardcore” games is getting bigger and bigger while the fanboys bicker. I suppose only time will tell how things are going to evolve, but at the moment I am happy to see games like Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 and Pixeljunk Eden be so successfull.

What I’ll be playing this weekend: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, Pixeljunk Eden, Devil May Cry 4. I’m also going to be getting some PC time in with Civilization 4 (is it bad that this will be my first time playing a Civilization game?) and going oldschool with the Descent series so I can bust out my flightstick. Reading up on Jumpgate: Evolution news has gotten me nastolgic for some old-school space flight sims!


Geometry Wars may be old, but you know you still play it

January 29, 2008

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After playing Geometry Wars for about an hour tonight, I found my thoughts drifting away from the game to escape the monotony of the first few minutes of play.

Why are these green squares after me? What did I do to them? Does my character have a back story? Actually, what the hell even is my character? Am I in space? Am I in a Geometry teacher’s nightmare?

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If Geometry Wars has you thinking about the souls of the shapes you’re blasting to hell heaven, then you’re probably looking for your next fix of Bizarre’s masterpiece everywhere you go. Have Windows Vista? Buy Geometry Wars from MSN games and play on your PC, or even take your Vista-powered laptop with you on the go.

Looking for a different Geometry Wars experience? Try Grid Wars 2, easily the most popular and arguably the best Geometry Wars clone. It’s fast, it’s pretty, and it’s free. Not close enough to the original for you? Then try Grid Assault, an almost exact recreation of GW. However, you can only play for six minutes because the creator stopped development to relieve legal pressure from Bizarre.

If you want a whole different experience, but something with familiar controls and a simple premise, check out Mono, a strikingly unoriginal game by the developers own admittance. Mono is a blend of Ikaruga’s color-swapping gameplay with GW’s destroy-everything-that-moves gameplay that has you trying to change the color of the entire game arena from white to black, or from black to white.

All three of these games are completely free, and can be played with a duel-analog controller, a la Geometry Wars. Heck, you can even play with a USB 360 controller if you want to. So try them out – give them a download and see if you like any of them better than their inspiration! You may be pleasantly surprised.


Gaming with energy, when you want something healthy

January 28, 2008

 

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It’s after midnight, but you just started the raid. You’re tired, but you know if you drink one more Red Bull, you’re going to crash and burn in an hour or so, much to the dismay of your fellow guild members. Sound familiar? Maybe you’re at a LAN party, dawn is breaking and you’re hungry again, but can’t stomach the idea of one more piece of pizza. As ridiculous as it may sound, there are better ways for gamers to get energy than eating greasy foods that play hell with controllers and keyboards, and drinking energy drinks that give us terrible caffeine headaches!

Here’s three great foods that aren’t nearly as bad for you as pizza and coke, but will work a hell of a lot better at giving you the energy you need, long after the sun’s gone down.

Fruit and Nuts

Oranges, apples, cherries, berries, kiwis and raisins – fruit has a lot of vitamin B and C. Nuts and even some fruits have a lot of fiber, and when your body is getting vitamins and fiber, your blood sugar levels stay stable and you’re able to produce energy more efficiently. Never had dried limes before? They’re delicious.

Beef Jerky

Fact: beef and chicken contain a lot of protein. This protein contains something called tyrosine, which is an amino acid that helps your brain produce all sorts of things to enhance mental function. Jerky is easy to pick up at 24-hour gas stations or supermarkets, unlike pizza. Also, mental function is commonly considered a good thing, and will keep you on top of your game. If you’re feeling particularly healthy, pick up some USDA organic jerky.

Seaweed

Ok, so it’s not the easiest snack to find, and it’s not exactly traditional here in America, but you can’t ignore the health benefits, let alone the energy boost you’ll get after snacking on some. Seaweed has a broad range of vitamins and minerals, and containts two of the B-vitamins your body uses to make energy. My favorite are these seaweed-wrapped rice crackers – crispy and delicious! And if you’re not keen on buying snacks off of the internet, try a local Asian market, they’re sure to have several varieties.


IGF Finalist: Audiosurf – “Ride Your Music”

January 25, 2008
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With the 10th annual Independent Games Festival right around the corner, one of the IGF finalists I’ve been playing a lot of lately is the bizarre puzzle-music-rythm-hybrid-game Audiosurf. Currently still in a beta phase, the game will be available for purchase online very shortly, but check out screenshots and videos of the game at its website now if the idea of racing a la F-Zero to your own music gets you blood pumping.

Audiosurf lets you select any song you’ve got, in a variety of formats (MP3, even OGG, etc.), then pre-processes the musical “track” for you into a sort of race course with a distinct geometrical shape – much like a roller coaster. Fast songs are going to have you racing faster as the track leads you downhill, while songs with many tempo changes are going to have you crawling uphill and then rushing back down multiple times until you finally reach the end of the course, and also the song level.

If you want to just sit back and relax while watching your chosen character cruise along, the game doesn’t really punish you for it, but the real gameplay is in the multi-colored blocks that you grab in color-specific groups of three or more to gain points. If you grab too many different colored blocks in a row, your ship will disappear for a short time, not allowing you to gain any points and so hurting your score.

Several different game modes offer a different and unique approach to the same gameplay, in a twist that reminded me of all of the refreshing new game modes in Tetris DS. And while playing your favorite song over and over again to top your own high score is great, the real fun comes into play when you create an account and are able to log-in and post your scores online with the game’s built-in leaderboards. You can even search for any song to see if someone out there has already played it with Audiosurf!

My favorite songs to play have been mostly techno songs, but almost everything results in an awesome gameplay experience that’s completely unique. From Portal’s “Still Alive” to Metallica to my 8-bit chiptune collection, Audiosurf charmed me with its amazing ability to make me feel like I was really playing my music in a way I never have before. So when the game comes out (probably February), do the growing rhythm-music game genre a favor by purchasing Audiosurf – it’s sure to be cheap, and as long as you don’t post your scores online, no one will know when you can’t help yourself but race along in digital bliss to some Kelly Clarkson or Hilary Duff.


Spotlight: Passage, “A Journey Through Time”

December 14, 2007

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Whether you’re an avid gamer who spends 20 hours a week on Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, or a casual gamer who gets plenty of excitement out a good game of Bookworm, you need to play Passage.

The latest game from Jason Rohrer, Passage was designed for the Kokoromi “Gamma 256″ contest which challenges independent game developers to create small, artistic games that defy video game normalcies and stand on their own as individual artistic achievements.

In all of these ways, Passage succeeds. Lasting only 5 minutes from start to finish and being constrained to a pixel-limit of 256×256, the game can definitely make an impact on the player the first time through. However, just as it may take several trips to the art museum to finally understand the message behind a sculpture, Passage may take several trips through the game for its meaning to hit home.

The artist, Jason Rohrer, is just as interesting and inspiring as his game. He has committed much of life to living vegan and with as small of an ecological footprint as possible, all while developing several freely distributed games, fascinating essays and other writings. He lives in Potsdam, New York with his spouse and child. Please check out his full list of works here.

If you enjoy Passage, you’ll probably enjoy at least a couple of the other entries in the Gamma 256 contest, which can all be found here.