Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Happened to Platformers?

I had a sad, sad revelation last night. It came after playing the new Banjo-Kazooie demo freshly released on Xbox LIVE. You see, back in the N64 days Banjo was a platformer, an action-adventure game. But Rare decided to turn my beloved franchise into a action-racing hybrid. Instead of exploring and collecting while acquiring new abilities to further explore other worlds, you build vehicles to explore and complete missions. Instead of learning new abilities you find new parts which help you find new areas. An interesting idea in theory, but the execution was horrible. Controls were clunky and objectives boiled down to brain-dead racing challenges, time trials and awkward goals (nudge the soccer ball into the goal while trying to shoot enemies with horrible aim controls). The only redeeming point of the game is the only thing Rare can apparently do right these days, which is graphics and music.

The music in particular was a throwback to the old Banjo games and almost seemed to tease a "you wish it were like this" kind of message, making me want to play the old games again. It really made me wonder - what the hell happened to the platforming genre? It used to constitute a virtual majority of video games and also a majority of the good ones. If you think back to the NES and SNES days, most games had you jumping around and navigating toward your ultimate goal lurking somewhere off screen to the right. The only obstacles in your way were spikes, pits, enemies, and sometimes lava. They were a dime a dozen and people didn't seem to ever get sick of them.

As games evolved to the 3d era the platforming genre had to evolve too. Having an extra dimension gave developers a lot more places to hide things, and so shiny objects they hid. Games like Mario 64 proved how well the transition worked; while there were still some hard jumps to be had and bosses to fight, a lot of the game revolved around exploring the confounding 3d environments and searching every nook and cranny for those 120 stars and the 8 red coins in each world.

Everyone picked up on how fun this can be, and the genre had another explosive growth. Spyro had you running and gliding for gems as a fire breathing dragon, Gex had you searching for TV remotes as a smack-talking gecko, and Donkey Kong 64 had you searching for every kind of collectible under the had over 3000 individual items to collect! Of course my beloved Banjo-Kazooie also appeared; it blended beautifully crafted worlds with a move-learning system that had your characters constantly expanding their ways of getting around. In the beginning you could only run, jump, glide and attack. By the end of the game you were dive bombing, talon trotting, egg throwing, and full-blown flying your way through levels. Later levels forced you to use the abilities while previous levels often had secrets that could be found with using all of your powers. It was a great system that made you explore, think, find things, and retroactively explore some more. I was in love.

In the last generation platformers became a bit more scarce. There were some great gems but they often were more combat oriented; examples include Ratchet and Clank as well as Jak and Daxster series. Mario had a less-than-stellar followup to 64 with Sunshine, but it was still a solid game. Other games, like the underground hit Psychonauts, still focused on jumping and collecting things.

When you get to this generation, however, counting the number of good 3d platformers is pretty easy. The answer is one - Mario Galaxy. That's it. There are a number of good 2d platformers out, the spotlight of course going to LittleBigPlanet...but seriously, what happened to the 3d platformers? I feel like the genre became forgotten overnight, replaced by the myriad of FPS / TPS games we see these days. And why this has happened completely puzzles me - Galaxy proved that the genre is not only still viable, but can be successful both critically and fiscally.

It's the kind of genre that can appeal to old and young, to both hardcore and casual. Make the main game tame with some difficult parts and then put some ridiculously hard challenges to tackle for the sought-after 100% completion. Give me some creative, innovative mechanics and some huge worlds sprawling with collectibles and hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Give me an ability system, a light but entertaining combat system maybe, and a nice story to boot. It's a pretty simple formula that's universally appealing enough to make any game that executes it well successful.

The future just looks so bleak for the genre. All I have to look forward to is Mirror's Edge, which looks promising. But I'd love to see some more platforming games come out. I don't want the genre to die - it's one of my favorite ones. I frankly don't understand why it's been such a rarity these days. What do you all think?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Top 52: Metal Gear Solid (#36)

The position of this game is likely to piss off some fanboys. Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation is some people's favorite game ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this game (though, not the series as much) and that's why it's on my list. Besides, #36 on a list for the best games ever is still pretty high, I think.

Title: Metal Gear Solid
Console: Playstation
Release Date: 10/21/98 (US)
Genre: Tactical Espionage Action
My Ranking: #36

Metal Gear Solid is a perfect example of how a movie script could be incorporated into a dynamic video game. Loaded with tons of cut screens, including live footage, the story within Metal Gear solid is almost guaranteed to blow your mind, even if you have no idea what the hell is going on.

I'm not even going to try to break down the story. Take my word for it though; it's awesome. Military conspiracies and threats of a nuclear attack is pretty standard for a movie script but Metal Gear Solid takes it real deep, referring back to DARPA and dabbling with genetic engineering. The story is crazy complex, and though I didn't get all of it when I was younger, it still rocked.

Most stealth sequences in games just blow. Somehow, Metal Gear Solid managed to make a game all around that style and make it incredibly enjoyable. The map in the top-right corner of the screen showed you the line of sight of the bad guys, which made it fairly easy to avoid everyone, but still fun to do since the placement of the cameras and enemies often required you to create distraction or use special items.

You learn early in the game that fighting is definitely not the answer to get past this game. This is obvious for Metal Gear Solid players now, but at the time it came out, being stealthy was not a common tactic. You knew getting into a gunfight wasn't good because the shooting controls sucked massively. Aiming was nearly impossible with the pseudo top-down view and enemies seem to never miss. Luckily, shooting never was integral to the game and the limited aiming controls were enough all of the game's bosses.

The bosses though, surprisingly, is where Metal Gear Solid was outstanding. Of course, any person who has played Metal Gear Solid knows that I need to highlight the Psycho Mantis battle. This boss is insane since he can "read your mind." Seriously, he looks inside your memory card and if you played Castlevania, he'll say, in game, that you like that game. Creepy. And, he always seems to dodge your bullets because he can read your mind. The way to beat him though, is to switch your controller from port 1 to port 2, so he can't "read your mind." Psycho Mantis broke the fourth wall is a truly creative way, and forced you to think outside the box.

The voice-acting was also superb, especially for a game made in 1998. Snake sounds like a old war veteran. Colonel Campbell sounds like a Colonel. Meryl sounds like dumb biatch. Octocon sounds like a geeky scientist. The translation was also done well, since there was a ton of subtext going on between the characters that seemed to work well in the English translation. While sometimes the conversations were too long, the deep dialogue was unprecedented in a video game. And it worked.

There are a couple of reasons why this isn't higher on my list. Though the gameplay was outstanding and the story crazy good, the game was too short. I remember beating this game in a about a week and about 50% of that time was spent only watching or reading. I get that Metal Gear Solid was designed to be plot-heavy and cut scene-heavy but it's just not my style. Luckily, the music was amazing, so when you were just watching, it was still aesthetically pleasing.

Also, as I said before, the controls needed some tweaking. Running up stairs and shooting waves of enemies shouldn't be as annoying as it was. All in all though, Metal Gear Solid felt so different from any other video game I had played up to in that time, and I knew once I finished it that I had played something that pushed gaming in a different direction, and succeeded.
My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)


Monday, October 27, 2008

Real Life Achievements

As I've mentioned before, points motivate people. Even if aren't actually used or redeemed for anything. Xbox 360 took this logic, and made achievements in all of their games. Brilliance.

What if real life had achievements which motivated us to do things? Sure, there's motivations like fun, advancing your career, etc, but I want something more immediate; I demand instant gratification!

Suicidal Failure - Skydive successsfully
Poultry Pouncer - Kick a pigeon
Guardian Angel - Walk an old lady across a street

If things like this appeared in life, I feel like I would do more exciting, random things. I would ideally like them to somehow appear in my line of vision. (Want to make your own?) I realize this would require some sort of ocular implant, or awesome contact lenses, but this would be worth it:

Here's some more entertaining ones. I'm definitely not the first person to think of this type of idea. (Examples: here and here.) There are sites like 43 Things which allow you to create and complete goals, but I want something more Xbox360'esque.

Walking Tall - Create a 4 person piggy-back
Doublespeak - Invent a new language
Wild Card - Jump out of a car after cutting the brakes

Some sort of website where you go and sign up, then you can select packs like you play games, so you would select a certain set if you worked in an office job, another type if you were into extreme sports, if you were a scientist, etc, etc. You could then compare games like you can do on Xbox Live, and you'd see what achievements your friends had done.

This would have to be on the honor system, or maybe even accompanied by photographic evidence, but then again, when you're collecting gamerscore points on XBL, you only really compare yourself to your friends, not random strangers, so just don't be friends with assholes who cheat the system and say they've done things that they haven't.

(Bonus points to the first person to get the 'Wild Card' reference.)

Photo: Flickr


Where all da big manuals at? (or Why's the box so small?)

Forgive me, but I do so enjoy editorializing and it’s a hard habit to shake. Kinda like politics or heroin. My next post will be a review but for now there is something I must get off of my chest.

With Fallout 3 about to hit the shelves on Tuesday and already up for purchase and download on Steam (Hah I say, hah! Digital is the future!), it’s manual was let loose a bit early. Turns out that if you preordered it on Steam they let you download the manual early. And while it’s at least a well written and designed manual it is, sadly, very short. It’s just big enough to explain the controls, vaguely explain the setting and that’s it. While some might expect that in a manual, I believe I am entitled to something a bit more impressive.

In my youth, I remember games with great and mighty manuals. Massive paper bound books that dared you to read them. If you mock me or doubt my veracity, then I say to you look upon this and cower!!

But they weren’t just massive books that explained everything about the game in painful detail. Some were cleverly written and disguised as everything from FBI reports to company presentations. And in some cases the developers actually included additional material. In the case of X-Com: Terror from the Deep, they included a booklet of interviews with soldiers from the first game describing their battles and the horror of intergalactic war, newspaper clippings from the events of the first game leading up to the second and even a couple of pages from the X-Com soldier’s handbook (complete with a soldier’s notes and doodles in the margins).

In the original Fallout, the manual included a section on surviving an atomic blast and a rather comprehensive explanation of the effects of an atomic bomb going off nearby (the vacuum created by the blast forcing out all the air followed by the sudden crushing pressure of the air rushing back in sounds rather nastier than the wall of fire).

And code wheels. Once, long ago, RPG designers would include these little paper discs, riveted together and covered in runes, letters, words, symbols and holes cut out. It was a method of copy protection but it was also kinda cool. You’d come across Dwarven runes in a dungeon and you had to use the code wheel to translate the riddle needed to continue on. It was oddly interactive and I mourn their passing.

But it seems that manuals just get smaller and smaller every year. I still remember the dark day when I noticed PC games coming in smaller and smaller boxes, eventually equaling those of console games.
In the case of Oblivion, for $10 bucks extra the "collector’s edition" of the game came with a fake coin (the currency in the game) and a book explaining the setting. The coin was not worth $10 and the booklet was the kind of thing I’d expect to get for free. However the normal version of the game came with a rather small leaflet.
Now I hear some of you saying, "But what about maps? Many RPGs come with pretty poster maps of their worlds." No, you are correct, but these are for the most part crap. Pretty crap, and I applaud the effort, but sad all the same.

What’s worse are the tech tree posters. Starcraft or Command and Conquer are great examples of this trend. They give you a chart that outlines which units each building produces and what upgrades each can receive. An interesting idea but it’s info that you have at your fingertips when you’re actually playing the game. It is the thought that counts, but the same can be said for getting socks on x-mass. (In Starcraft’s defense, the manual was nice and big and showed off all the units in game and their possible upgrades.)

There are many trends in the gaming industry that sadden me but this is one that I feel cheapens the experience for us all. And sadly, as we see digital distribution gain popularity I doubt the situation will improve. Though there are a few brief and wonderful exceptions to this decline. And to the lazy and cheap developers who have slowly strangled I say
Dotted line, #1,

10 Old School Gamer points if you can translate that one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Flashy Friday: Poke the Penguin

Flashy Friday? Isn't it already Saturday? Shhh. Best not think about these things. This week's segment features a classic flash "game" called Poke the Penguin. Thanks to Lima for reminding me about this one.

There's really not much to say about this one. Poke the penguin at your own risk. Hilarity ensues.

Click here to play Poke the Penguin right now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Top 40 Most Memorable Games #37

I know, I suck.

Lima's Top 40 Most Memorable Games!
this week, YOSHI TOUCH & GO!

Yoshi Touch & Go is a game for the Nintendo DS, a system I don't own. In other words, at some point Rich was watching The Sport and this game was nearby. It's pretty basic. Yoshi is constantly moving across the screen carrying baby Mario or baby Luigi (I guess the adult versions would have been too heavy) and your job is use the stylus to draw bridges and kill enemies by way of bubble. Also, if you want Yoshi to help out with his...egg laying *shudder* you can feed him the occasional piece of fruit. If you do all of this successfully, Yoshi changes color and you you do it again. Faster.

This game is AWESOME.

Honestly, I have no idea why I loved this game so much, but I did. It's essentially an arcade game. No plot, no progression. Just the same premise, steadily increasing until you die and start over.

I don't like dying. And I don't like arcade games. I have no idea why someone would play Pac Man more than twice. But I lost sleep over this game. Had to burn it out of my system like a fever by borrowing Rich's DS and playing at every spare moment for a week until the itch subsided. Some one on the Touch & Go Team either knows voodoo or sold their soul because I have no other explanation for this game's near narcotic addictiveness. Between the voodoo and the pederas-tastic title, this game gives me the creeps.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Top 52: The Orange Box (#37)

I was surprised that I enjoyed the The Orange Box so much. I’m not a shooter fan, but Valve has consistently made amazing shooters that they alone have given me much more faith in the entire genre. Upon playing through the games in The Orange Box, I could tell that the Valve developers were obsessed with the quality of their products.

Title: The Orange Box
Console: Playstation 3
Release Date: 12/11/07 (US)
Genres: First-Person Shooter, Puzzle, Compilation
My Ranking: #37

Five games. One box. This is how the developers at Valve have been promoting this game since it came out. They didn’t need to say much more than that either, since the five games within this orange box are all phenomenal: Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 & 2, Team Fortress 2 and the surprise mega-hit Portal.

I played through Half-Life 2 and, wow, that game blew my mind as is. Half-Life 2 is a complete shooter with an intriguing storyline, scary as all hell enemies, excellent boss fights, amazing gameplay engine and crazy weapons. The gravity gun, for example, allows you to pick up virtually any object and propel it at enemies. The most fun way of doing this is picking up an exploding barrel and then chucking it at enemies.

I could write so much more about the awesomeness of Half-Life 2 (Crazy stat: HL2 received 35 Game of the Year awards in 2004) but, that’s not why The Orange Box is on my list. The other games, Team Fortress 2 and Portal are the reasons why I love this game.

TF2 is an online-only shooter, where you can play in different maps that vary from capture the flag, maintaining control points, and attack/defend. There are 9 classes to choose from, like the slow-moving but hard-hitting Heavy, the healing Medic, or even a flame-thrower wielding Pyro. All the classes have great advantages and disadvantages and there is a great balance between all of them.

TF2 uses the same engine as Half-Life 2 so the shooting is really smooth. However, what really makes the game, surprisingly, is the cel-shaded kiddy graphics that are just hysterical. Blowing people up with rockets is oddly cute and it’s always great to hear a Scout screaming “Fire, Fire!” when he’s being burned alive. Ah, good times. I still actively play this on my PS3, despite not having any of the updates that the 360 or PC versions get.

Portal is the main draw of The Orange Box; there is no doubt about that. Portal, for those who don’t know, is a first-person shooter puzzle game where you can shoot two portals with your gun that you can walk through. For example, you shoot one Portal on the ceiling above you, then you shoot one below you, and now you are constantly falling as you go through one portal and come out the other, which leads to the portal on the floor again.

The puzzles in Portal are crazy. In one level, you need to somehow get over a glass wall that is blocking your path. You can’t shoot portals above and over the glass wall so the easy solution is eliminated. The trick is to put a portal near the ceiling of the wall opposite of the glass wall, then put a portal on the floor. Upon walking into the portal on the floor, you shoot out of the Portal that’s near the ceiling. Then, as you’re falling, you need to shoot a portal on the floor so that you’ll go through the floor portal at a high speed, and then that speed will carry over to the portal near the ceiling, which gives you enough propulsion to shoot up and over the glass wall. Sound confusing? It is. That’s why Portal is awesome. It messes with your head and your normal video-game puzzle solving skills. That and, as you can probably tell, the physics engine is amazing.

A lot of people have gone crazy over the ending Portal song, since it is legitimately hilarious. The computer voice that speaks to you throughout the entire game promises you a piece of cake after you done completing the various levels. However, instead, the computer tries to send you into a fire pit of death from which you can just barely escape, find the computer, and defeat it. That same goofy computer then sings a song to you, which is undeniably cute.

The Orange Box is rated so high on my list since all of the games included in it were spectacular. Most “anniversary” collections feature games from decades ago, but The Orange Box had games that were still pretty recent and popular. The Orange Box is the best (legitimate) deal in gaming since all the games in the box could have been sold for somewhere around $40 - $50 and be reasonable.

The only gripe I have with the game is that the Playstation 3 port was awful. Frame rate and loading time issues were minor annoyances that grew into bigger annoyances over time. And, I’m still annoyed that I’ll never Meet the Sandvich. *Sniff*. Still, this is the version I own, and in retrospect, I should have gotten the PC version but, it still rocks.
My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*

*- Denotes highest rated game for that console

Fable II: "Story Lasts Thirteen to Fourteen Hours"

I just found an recent interview with Peter Molyneux, lead designer of Fable II, and one quote he said jumped out at me.

"So in Fable 2, the story lasts thirteen to fourteen hours and by the end of that story what you are like, what you look like and how the world treats you is completely up to you."

Really? Thirteen to fourteen hours? For an RPG? That's almost as bad as most campaigns for fisrst person shooters. If Fable II is touting itself as an RPG, the character development must be important to the game, hence the the distinction of role-playing. Choosing between good and evil in the first Fable was not a good example of character development and a thirteen to fourteen hour story is really depressing. If this is Peter Molyneux's views on gaming, then I will never buy a game from him, even if he does eventually develop for systems that I own. Here's some more crap from him:

"Now for me, as a designer, if I hear 'sixty or seventy hours', then in my mind that is the equivalent of giving me a book that is twenty thousand pages long. And if I said to you, here's a fantastic book, go and read that... Are you likely to finish a twenty thousand page book? No."

Personally, I love sixty to seventy hour adventures; it's not even close to a twenty thousand page book. That gives time for the story to go places, for the characters to truly grow and the length alone make the game worth purchasing, especially with games as expensive as they are now.

Also, I can't even remember the last time I heard a gamer complain that a game was too long. The only "long" reference I can think of in regards to video games is people complaining that, in World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI, it took too long to get anything done. Long in that sense, is complaining about the needless repetition and grinding. As long as the game's story is advancing and pushing itself, I can't imagine a gamer complaining that a game is too long. Sure, less people will finish it, but just because someone doesn't finish a game doesn't mean that the gamer didn't like it. Maybe something else came up, but they still cherish the experience they had with that game. (An example for me would be Okami).

One commentor on kotaku (where I first found the story) gave a decent point as to how 13-hour RPGs, if done well, could be worth it:

"Its a 13 hr rpg that you will play through several times. I prefer this format better, specially if what he says is true and each play through will be different according to what decisions you make. " -Sweetsauce

It's a fair point but, thirteen hours feels rushed to me, no matter which forking storyline you take. Regardless, though your taking a different path, the world, environments and game engine will all be the same, so there will be a lot of unnecessary repetition. Why not make a 40-hour RPG with the same forking path choices? Is that really difficult? And why not have more than just good and evil? Hasn't that become a cliche already?

And please, don't give me the argument that the Zelda series is an action RPG and that it's just as long as Fable. There are two distinct differences between games like Zelda and games like Fable. Fable is focusing on character development. Zelda does not. Zelda is essentially an action-adventure game that has a lot less dialogue than a RPG and hence doesn't need the sixty to seventy hour time frame. Besides, Zelda games have never disappointed me in quality gameplay. So, thirteen hours is at least reasonable since I know those hours are going to be quality hours. The first Fable did not earn that trust, at least from me, so thirteen hours is more of an insult to gamers' wallets.

Tell me though, guys (and gals). Do you think a 13 hour RPG is okay? I think games under that format will slowly kill the entire genre.

Monday, October 20, 2008

5 Reasons I Love Jenga

The idea behind this column is that every game has it's pros and cons, and everyone loves lists. This won't be restricted to board games, or any type of game in general. Also, all games will have five pros and two cons. If there's not five reasons to love a game, it's not worth writing about it. If there aren't two things to hate about the game, you're probably too enamored, and should leave it someone less biased.

Here are five of the reasons I love Jenga, and two ways it could be better.

1. Psychological Warfare
The act of physically removing blocks and placing them on the tower only makes up about 10% of the game. When an opponent is removing a particularly dangerous block, how do you get the edge? Make them laugh, make them cry; anything you can do to physically jostle them, mentally. You're a standup comedian on the side? Tell some jokes. Know some embarassing stories about your opponent? Tell them as he plays. Make sure that you're emotionally ready though, you better expect the same to be done to you.

2. The Money Shot
How fun is it watching the construction of a building over the course of months? Unless you're an architect or engineer, probably not that much fun. What about destroying a building? There are people out there whose jobs it is to make buildings implode safely, for millions of people to watch, both in person and on television. Building a card house? Not that much fun to watch. Impressive, but not to watch every second of. You should be getting the idea of this now, people love destruction in any and all forms. Here are a couple from PLAY.

3. Gimmicks
If you're too good of a Jenga player, and you want to spice it up, it's easy. Wikipedia tells us of some offical Hasbro variants, such as: Throw 'n Go Jenga, Truth or Dare Jenga, and Casino Jenga: Las Vegas Edition. These aren't too hard to think up, just combine a couple games and you've got a gimmick. Write numbers 1-6 on all the blocks, then roll a die before you play, to determine which block to remove. The possibilities are really endless.

4. Simplicity
I love complicated games with oodles of rules, such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Axis and Allies, and Riskopoly*. However, many people don't, and getting them to play a game with you is going to be harder if they're resistant while you're trying to explain page 86 of the rulebook. If they can't understand Jenga, they're too dumb to be hanging out with you. And if they can't appreciate Jenga, they're probably not human. Teaching the rules of Jenga will take about 15 seconds if you talk really, really slow. If you don't use any punctuation, you could probably explain it in about 4 seconds.

5. Speed
This is pretty similar to #4, but there are differences. With many games, if you take the hour or so it takes to learn a game, you can play it in about 30 minutes. Those games are fast, but not simple. If you learn how to play Monopoly, Risk, or Trivial Pursuit, which aren't all that difficult, it's still going to take a while. Even if you're playing with expert, emotionally stable (see #1) players, there are a limited number of blocks, and the tower can only get to be so tall.

a. Tedious Setup
The process of setting up Jenga is pretty tedious. It doesn't take too long, but removing blocks from the pile of wreckage (see #2) can take time. Then you have the flimsy piece of plastic that came with the game to help you line up the blocks right. Unless you take really good care of your games (i.e. don't bring them back and forth to different places on a weekly basis) your box and plastic straightener are probably broken. I don't have a solution to this problem, but I can imagine something that worked like a coin sorter would be helpful, and entertaining, but wouldn't be worth carrying around with you, since it would take up more space than the game itself.

b. Wait Time
Wait time? You should be focusing, even if you're not the person playing at the moment! (See #1.) If this doesn't work for you, play a non-time based game on the side, while you wait. Make sure you can pay attention to both games at once though, you don't want to be the annoying guy that people have to keep reminding to take your turn. Also, remain aware of your surroundings, you don't want to miss the money shot, or get hit in the face by said money shot.

Someone actually wrote a Masters thesis about Jenga; Richard, you must top this.

*I haven't actually played Riskopoly yet, but I really do think I would love it.

Photo: Flickr
Photo: Flickr


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ken Perlin's Lab

I visited this awesome professor named Ken Perlin at NYU the other day. The whole 12th floor of the Gallatin building seems to be his laboratory where he has a bunch of students working on new computer and gaming technology. Perlin himself has been working in advances with technology for decades now, and he is still ahead of the curve with his ideas.

He was one of the first people to make a responsive, emotive (and believable) face on a computer screen. The demo can be seen here, though this probably won't look to amazing now considering how far with have gotten with computer graphics. Keep in mind that this technology was made in the early 1980's. To put that in perspective, Final Fantasy VII came out in 1997 and the in-game polygonal faces didn't have noses or mouths for any facial expressiveness.

That's all in the past though. What he is working on right now in NYU is a paper-thin touch pad that is multi-touch and pressure sensitive. I tried playing with it myself. The touch pad is extremely responsive and I could see the digital rendering of my pressed fingers on the computer screen. This technology will be especially useful to game designers, as they'll be quickly able to create 3D maps with their finger.

He also showed us a game where you can fly as bird. Doesn't sound that creative, until you see the controls. The controls are two handles suspended from a wire in the ceiling. By holding a handle in each hand, you have to flap your wings to go fast, and lean back and forth for altitude. In addition, the game is also connected to three fans, so the harder you flap, the faster the fans blow to simulate the wind. It's intuitive, and the weighted restriction of the wire really adds to the aerodynamics.

Lastly, I asked him after we had our class discussion if he would like to demo some of his software or hardware at one of PLAY club events. He sounded legitimately thrilled at the idea, at said he'll contact me when he has somthing he wants our gamers to beta-test.

My thoughts: Awesome!

Digital New Media Timeline (#3 - #12)

I've been reading my textbook for my Digital New Media class, slowly going through all of the advances in new media over time. I made a timeline post before, and this post continues upon that one.

#3- Computing Machinery and Intelligence
Alan Turing, 1950
--Began the famous (and still active) Turing test, which judges whether or not a computer is capable of thought.
--Turing's codebreaking ability helped England against German U-boats.
--His work influenced the creation of high-computing languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL.

#4- Men, Machines, and the World About
Norbert Wiener, 1954
--Questioned the responsibility of technology for a social standpoint.
--Argues that the during the 1950's, the world was undergoing a second industrial revolution by replacing low level human thought with machines.

#5- Man-Computer Symbiosis
J. C. R. Licklider, 1960
--Saw computers as something that could be more than just "computing machines."
--Believed that men and computers could reason together and solve more complex problems.
--Predicted advancements in computers such as desk-surface display, wall display and speech recognition.

#6- "Happenings" in the New York Scene
Allan Kaprow, 1961
--Coined the term "Happenings," which refers to interactive art.
--Happenings are usually unconventional theater plays, but they can refer to any interactive art, even brief events.

Response: My professor gave us a scenario that ended up with one person thinking of a happening. My professor gave us a hypothetical situation where we were all spies, like in the Garden of Forking Paths. She told us that we had to somehow get the name "Lafayette" out to our spy group without having direct contact.

My suggestion? Get a street sign that says Lafayette in the city and then wrap that around my body as a belt. Then, just go on a killing spree on Lafayette Street. I would get front page on most news publications the next day, and surely the belt sign would get a ton of attention. Hence, the spy group I work for would see it (and me) and understand the message. This is NOT a happening, as the only involvement other people would have with my "art" is dying.

Another person in the class actually thought of a Happening. Her idea was to have a ton of people play dead in a park spelling out Lafayette in big letters with their bodies. This is an example of an interactive art project called a Happening.

#7- The Cut-up Method of Brion Gysin
William S. Burroughs, 1961
--By cutting out pieces of music or text and rearranging them, you can create new and interesting art; this is the cut-up method.
--Burroughs is a writer who used this method; a more contemporary example would be remix artists.

#8- Augmenting Human Intellect- A Conceptual Framework
Douglas Engelbart, 1962
--Argued that when computers gained more tools, we would adapt and become smarter ourselves and then make smarter computers, and so forth.
--However, he also warned that computers can cause of loss of basic skills, resulting in a possible de-augmentation.
--Engelbart invented the computer mouse.

Response: I referred to Engelbart's ideas when I talked about Helvetica and typeface.

#9- Sketchpad- A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System
Ivan E. Sutherland, 1963
--First invention to break the barrier of computer screens only replacements for paper.
--Allows users to draw and create objects that would be impossible in physical media.
--Sketchpad laid the foundation for GUI (Graphical User Interfaces, i.e. Windows)

#10- The Construction of Change
Roy Ascott, 1964
--Distinguishes between interaction and participation in new media. Inaction is a two-way street while participation has a spectator and a set art piece.
--Some argue that Ascott's essay is the first to bring new media art to the educational public stage.

#11- A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate
Theodor H. Nelson, 1965
--First paper to use the terms hypertext, hyperfilm and hypermedia.
--Proposes an organizational structure that allows people to jump from one idea to another.
--Combines the ideas of both Bush's MEMEX and Borges' literary style.

#12- Six Selections by the Ouilpo
Various authors, 1961, 1973, 1981
--The Ouilpo consists of potential literary works that can challenge conventional literary works.
--Founded by Francois Le Lionnais, the Oulipo methodology encourages the growth of experimental art.
--The Ouilpo was one of the first areas that allowed for the combination of computer science, literary creation and connectivity with other writers/artists.

Don't worry if you don't get what most of this means; it's just meant to show the progression of new media and technology over time. If you are interested though, check out the hyperlinks provided for more info. And just to let you know, that makes this blog post a hypertext post.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Flashy Friday: Mastermind: WC

This flash game popped up on Newgrounds a couple of weeks ago. I was actually one of the people who voted on it before it was officially accepted into Newgrounds, so I got a protect point out of it. What's also cool is that it's the #1 flash on Newgrounds right now.

Mastermind is part real-time strategy, part simulation. You control Mastermind, a character who wants to take over the entire world. You can buy minions, henchmen, businesses and the like. The main goal of the game is to steal knowledge that will make you scientifically powerful enough to take over the entire world.

The game engine is amazing. From a top-down view you gain control of your army and the controls are very responsive. You can also buy equipment and partake is special world events within the game that can help you make a lot of money. You have a ton of choices throughout the game, and you'll expand out quite quickly.

The voice acting is also superb, which is extremely rare for a Flash game. Make sure you listen to the tutorial thoughl as the controls can be confusing. They break it down nicely though, no worries.

Click here to play Mastermind: WC, right now. (It's not up on Kongregate yet Will!)

Top 40 Most Memorable Games #38

Gah, late again! *flogs self* Best not waste anymore time...

Lima's Top 40 Most Memorable Games!
Prince of Persia for Playstation 2 wasn't half-bad. I bought it used as a bonding experience with a gamergirl friend (with whom I've played at least half the games on this list). Lots of climbing, jumping and mirror arranging. Playing around with time was fun even if it's not an entirely new concept. But what stood out the most for me was the Prince's female cohort, Farrah.
Female characters in games are a bit of a fixation for me (aforementioned friend's influence) and there simply aren't a lot of good ones out there. I liked Farrah. She was armed, she never got kidnapped, and would occasionally strike out on her own simply because she thought the Prince was going the wrong way. Sure she falls in love with the Prince but he spends most of the game without wearing a shirt. These things happen.

But alas, This would not be a proper post if I simply liked Prince of Persia. What place does a "pretty good' game have here? None. Therefore, I will reveal the hidden quirk. Farrah is HOPELESS in battle. There is a particular segment that those who have played the game will undoubtedly remember where you must battle a swarm of monsters on a bridge...with Farrah and her trusty bow right beside you. If she dies, It's Game Over. And trust me, she'll die. Again and Again and Again. This helpless bint will stay in one place (instead of backing away from the melee like a smart archer should) and will only shoot enemies a fair distance away from her (not that she does any visible damage). The monsters have no such qualm, and will often ignore you to take out the hot one in a few swipes. I struggled (and watched my friend struggle) through this bit at least 50 times. And I grew to hate spunky little Farrah. Hate her not because of her ineptitude, but because of all the banter and pleasant qualities that made me love her beforehand.

It is this love, and it's bitter decent into hatred that brings Prince of Persia: Sands of Time to the prized 38th spot on Lima's Top 40 Most Memorable Games.

Fuck you Farrah.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

X-Com and the Angry Man

When Rich initially invited me to write here my first question was “what’s the limit on cursing?” Actually that’s a lie. My first question was “So what’s this site about again?” Anyway the point is that I cuss…a lot. No really, A LOT. I cuss so much I get worried when around children and in religious institutions because I might slip. That being said I’m also a generally angry person where gaming is involved. I’m usually a kind and gentle person but when my eye starts twitching, either run or get ready for a long fucking rant.

So I’m also an avid PC gamer above all else and the console leanings this site’s taken have begun to raise my ire, especially the retro angle. Now I know that retro gaming is all the rage because modern game developers have their heads up their asses and are constantly confusing graphics for quality. Yeah, yeah, fine, so you got Kasumi’s breasts to flow about her torso in ways that go beyond realistic physics and are now something akin to flubber. And yes it’s nice that they’re in HD and best only on a 1080p screen and you can make out every sensuous drop of sweat that rolls across ‘em. But what about making the god damned volley ball game actually fucking work, or the game longer than 4 hours!?! My god people, I remember when we mocked “The Bouncer” for being so short you could beat it in the time it took to make a baked potato! When did it become the industry standard!!

Point being I became a PC gamer because console retro gaming sucked while it was new. Yea Super Mario 3 was Da Shit, but that’s all you had. And Megaman 2 is a long arduous game of pain and suffering when there was no casual alternative.
(On a side note, I hate that Mother fucking, dolphin-licking, chimp $%#@ing, ass of a syphilitic orc’s $#@%gobbling, #@$^#$@ son of a @##$%@ Dragon!!!)

And Crash Man can (2 paragraphs deleted for content).

At that time, the PC brought us amazing games. Games that could be modded, and cheated on. Games that were long and full of varied and interesting content. Games that filled the dark hollows left in my heart by Castlevania 2.

With that in mind I would like to introduce to you an old, old friend of mine. X-Com: UFO Defense. One of the top PC games of all time.

X-Com: UFO Defense is based on the premise that at some point in the present era, UFO sightings rise at an unbelievable rate. As do abductions, animal mutilations and general probing. Well someone starts complaining, probably Switzerland or Uruguay or one of those other small countries (I'm Texan, if it can fit in my state it's a small country). A proper country would cover it all up and start threatening its own citizens to keep quite, or at least blame it on the commies… Anyway the UN gets involved and creates the international military organization known as X-Com, which is short for Extraterrestrial Combat (yeah I know, but appearantly E-Com had already been taken).

As the commander of this organization it’s your job to build it up, recruit soldiers, intercept UFOs, kill aliens, steal technology and generally do all the stuff Mulder and Scully were too pansy to do. Things involving grenade launchers, machine guns, and cold steal, electrical probin’ for starters.

Now while you are granted a near endless supply of new recruits from the armies of the world. They don’t provide you with a single damned clerk. So the game is divided into 2 parts. But it starts with you picking any spot on the damned globe to build your base. And given the limited range of your starter Radar equiptment, and jet fighters, where you put that first base can influence the rest of the game.

In the first part, you are the CEO of X-Com and it’s up to you to micromanage every facet of the company from base design, to manufacturing, to research and budgeting. There’s enough detail to let you realize that you are in TOTAL CONTROL of this organization, but not so much detail that you get bogged down in flowcharts.
On the downside you get monthly funding from the UN and it’s based on how happy each country is. Fail to shoot down that saucer over Bolivia. Whoops, they’re cutting funding. You learn to hate the UN as they seem to forget that your job is to SAVE THE WORLD and they go about nit picking your every failure via your pocket book. However as with the real world, you can tell ‘em all to go fuck themselves and do just fine catering to the whims of the USA, China, and the EU. And if that fails you can sell alien weapons and corpses on the black market. No really. There’s not a single bit of regulation going on. Muahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!
So you can build much needed bases and pay your scientists and soldiers from your sideline selling advanced bone melting energy weapons to 3rd world countries. If El Presidente isn’t willing to fund your efforts, then there’s probably a Generalissimo under him who will. ^_^

The second half of the game takes place once you locate a UFO with your radar stations. You send off some jet fighters to shoot it down, and one minigame later you either have a downed “weather balloon” or a dead fighter pilot (hint: invest in more pilots and better missiles). Well then you toss a team of soldiers on a transport, equip them with weapons and send them on their way. When they land the game enters a complex, turn based tactical war game. X-Com’s original manual included a section on squad based tactics. Fail to learn the lessons and your soldiers DIE. Well actually, learn the lessons and they die as well. Hell, really there’s no reason to pay attention to them until they survive 10 missions or so. You can hire ‘em by the truckload and each has a page full of stats and abilities and his/her very own randomly generated name. But on most missions expect to loose about 70% of your men, so don’t get too attached. Aliens have plasma rifles, robot tanks, snakemen, psychic powers, antimatter grenades and this thing called a Crysalid (don’t ask…just don’t ask). While you have…a M-16 and a pistol. This isn’t helped by the fact that the AI is a cruel, merciless bastard who will mock you with ambushes and sniper tactics. It’s a rare game that’ll let you loose half a squad to a sniper you can’t see. But then that’s the point of a sniper isn’t it.

Now this might not seem like a great combination of game styles at first, but you’d be wrong. The two play styles merge to create one of the most addictive old school PC games of all time. The micromanaging of the Base modes influences the Combat mode and what you do there influences the Base mode. You eventually have to start trying to take aliens alive in the hopes of interrogating one and learning something of their evil plan. You’ll find yourself planning complex strategies involving raiding alien ships for fuel and ammo while selling off the rest to the highest bidder. You have to plan attacks on massive alien bases and defend your own from random revenge attacks during which you fight in the base you just designed. Put a choke point in every base you design and you might have a chance. And that’s all before you learn you can activate your own troops’ psychic powers. This is one of those games where you can easily log in over 100 hours and not realize it.

Well X-Com: UFO Defense was a critical success, so much so it’s still being played avidly today. And it was soon followed by X-Com: Terror from the Deep, an undersea version that was more of a full conversion mod of the original but HARDER.
And then X-Com: Apocalypse, which just lost the whole point of the series. You were in a city and it was real time and…you know what? Never mind, it’s just not worth it.

Sadly Apocalypse opened the door for a lot of really crappy sequels. X-Com: Interceptor (a bad Wing Commander rip off) and X-Com: Enforcer (which was so bad it’s wanted for statutory rape in Tennessee). And so the series went the way of all old greats. It’s promised “Great Sequel” that would fix everything got delayed and delayed, then canceled, resurrected, and canceled again. And now it’s dead.

If you’re interested in giving it a go, the original X-Com games are available for purchase via Steam. There are a few other “spiritual successors” to the series (any PC game titled “UFO: Whatever” but in general they all suck mightily. Both X-Com: UFO Defense and Terror From the Deep are old enough that in some cases they can be downloaded for free online depending on the site. However these are DOS games and the one thing that makes buying the Steam version of either worth it is that they come with all of the patching required to get them to run on windows, which is well worth the price (ie: $5 per or $15 for every game in the series).

Then only gleam of hope/joy in this miserable existence of X-Com fandom is that the X-Com IP is currently owned by Take-Two Interactive Software and Bioshock creator Ken Levine is rumored to be working on a new game based off of the series. This falls somewhat under the heading of "Oh sweat and merciful god please let it be so!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Metroid SR-388

In lieu of Rich's pick for his Top 52 this week, I was reminded of this amazing Metroid fan game in the works. The game, Metroid SR-388, is shaping up to be one of the most well done fan tributes I've ever seen. This is no remake or re-imagining of the 2-d's an entirely new game. New story,new maps, new powerups and moves, new bosses, new music, etc. For a fan game the production values are really high - the graphics and sound look and sound very authentic. While it has no definite release date right now, this is one game I'm going to keep a very close eye on until its release.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Top 52: Super Metroid (#38)

The position of Super Metroid on my Top 52 is sure to piss some people off. Some people view Super Metroid as one of the best games ever. Regardless, this game is awesome and it's on my list for that reason. However, I played this game late; I know I played it after 2000 at least. So, I never really got all into this game when it came out out, but after I had finished it, I had wished that I did.

Title: Super Metroid
Console: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 04/18/94 (US)
Genre: Action Adventure
My Ranking: #38

The Metroid series is famous for having an open environment that the player can explore in. The original Metroid for the NES was the first (at least, for me) to turn 2D platformers into fully explorable worlds. Super Metroid followed in suit except this time the environments were so much more beautiful, the interface was flawless and the boss battles are some of the most memorable experiences in video game history.

Unlike platformers like Mario and Mega Man, Metroid didn't have a linear mindset. Sure, there were areas you could not explore without first obtaining some sort of special ability but, you always felt as though no entity was pushing you in a particular direction. The order in which you could obtain most of the items was completely up to the player. Speed runs (one is shown below) therefore, could be really hard to map out, adding great level of replay value.

The interface and controls is really what made Super Metroid for me. Shooting was easy and by holding L, Samus could shoot diagonally, which made hitting enemies a really tactical venture. Your health, missiles, super missiles, power bombs and a mini-map were all displayed on the top of the screen so that you really ever needed to look at the actual menu screen. You were always involved directly in the action with every piece of information only a glance away.

For the most part, Super Metroid didn't have traditional music. Every area you went into had atmospheric music. Norfair's music exuded the feeling of fire, for example. The music was bit creepy however. Walking through Planet Zebes, I felt a little bit on edge, in part because of the music.

There is virtually no text in Super Metroid either. Samus interacts with no one throughout the entire game, so what you see is what you get. Don't quite get why a flying bony dinosaur named Ridley is trying to eat you? No time to worry about that, since he's coming right after you. There is a story behind Super Metroid, but you will likely forget it as you wonder in the world.

This isn't a problem with the game, by no means. I like it better this way. No instructions, no help. Just pure action. Who doesn't remember pelting Ridley with dozens upon dozens of missiles while he grabs onto you, slowly draining your health? Gunpei Yokoi and the developer of Super Metroid knew that their audience wanted to just play the game, so they made every attempt to make sure you were always playing and never stopping.

The weapons were also awesome, and all of them worked well within the environment. The wave beam allowed you to shoot through walls; the ever-important ice beam froze enemies; and the screw attack made you nearly indestructible while jumping. Every upgrade you got was immediately useful and stayed useful throughout the entire game.

I don't know why I didn't love this game more than to be ranked #38 on my list. Maybe it was because none of my friends were into it, despite me raving about it years after its release. Either way, if you haven't played it, download it for your Wii right now; it's on the Virtual Console. Super Metroid showed that you could create immersive environments in a 2D setting while being incredibly fun to play.
My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)

*- Denotes highest rated game for that console

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Little Big Planet Beta Impressions

First off, kudos to Will for finding and then giving me a Little Big Planet Beta code. I have been playing this game like mad since I got the code and all I can say is... wow.

The beta opens up with a knitted up character named Sackboy appearing out of a chamber. As you move to the right of the screen, you begin to see pictures of the various Little Big Planet developers pop up everywhere. It's cute seeing all of the people who worked on the game as you are running through this very basic jumping platformer level.

The first thing I did was play the Garden level included with the beta. The in-game tutorial within the Garden shows you how to jump, run, grab things and even kill yourself if you get stuck. The controls are all very simple and the menu interface is very easy to navigate. Square opens up a tiny menu where you can customize your Sackboy, put stickers on objects, etc.

There was only a small selection of objects to use for customization when you start; there were a few hats, shirts, and pants to choose from. Throughout the course of the game, you obtain more. I gave my Sackboy a hat with a feather in it, a big mustache and no pants. I dislike pants.

After playing around with the customization tool, my girlfriend woke up from her slumber and decided to play along with me. She grabbed another controller and upon activating the controller, a new Sackboy appeared at the next checkpoint. We immediately learned how to control our facial expressions and our arms, which happens to be one of the highlights of the game.

By holding L2 and R2, the corresponding control sticks then control your arms. You can make your Sackboy do Saturday Night Fever moves if you want but, clearly the most exciting thing was slapping my girlfriend's Sackboy. Actually, she slapped me first, but that's besides the point. The sound of a slap is satisfying and it causes the Sackboy who received the slap to go spiraling into the ground. It's fun; especially when you're waiting for a moving platform or something.

All this and I haven't even talked about the gameplay yet. The Garden levels I mentioned before are pretty simple; by jumping over a series of pits and grabbing onto semi-controllable pendulum objects floating in the sky, you can make your way across the levels.

The graphics look and feel as though you're walking across a scrapbook; different pieces of what seems to be cel-shaded fabric comprise the entire environment of Little Big Planet. The graphics themselves are not cel-shaded, as you can tell by seeing the detail of the stitching in Sackboy but, the same kid-friendly emotions comes through with this game's style.

The Garden levels were simple, but the game really shined when I started playing the user-created levels with my roommate Garrett and my buddy Chris. One of the best levels I can remember was a God of War inspired level where we had to hop over spikes avoid flaming logs and transport a demon skull to a sacrificial chamber. We had to carefully jump and stop on a dime just to make it through all the obstacles.

I then remembered that this level was made by a gamer, not a developer. Every wall, objects and timing of the rolling logs was created by a player. Though it's a cheap to use God of War as a muse, it does take quite creativity to mimic the God of War style and create a challenging level to entertain the player.

Surprisingly, most of the user-created levels were fun to play and it was especially easy to tell which ones were the good levels since you could "heart" the ones you liked and see how many people played on a certain level. I never had to randomly pick and hope that the level was good. In addition, load times were minimal, even though the levels were downloading from the internet.

Not all the levels were platformer based either. I found the famous working "calculator" (shown below) and Garrett and I found a drum machine where you can jump on switches to make the sounds of cymbals, snares, etc. The best one though, was when Garrett and I found a level that just has two rocket-powered cars going full speed on a straightaway, right into a wall. The angle causes you to flip out of the car and into the finish line. At least, that's what happened to Garrett's Sackboy. Mine got crushed between the car and the wall.

A general problem I had with the user-created levels is that during multiplayer, if characters spread too far apart, one of the Sackboys would only have five seconds to get back on camera, or else you die. This is annoying when one of you has made it past a pit and needs to go back just to prevent your partner from dying. I guess on multiplayer you really need to work together to survive, but sometimes, the camera follows the person who is not ahead, making it difficult to figure out what the camera is going to focus on when you do eventually separate.

I did try to make my own levels, but I simply did not have the time to make a long, complete one. The object creator looks like it can really diverse; there's seems to be no limit on what I could create. The nice thing I noticed however is that if you make an object, you can put an item version of that object in your level. This means that if you pick up that item, the game would save that object and you could use that in your own level designs. Some people are already really good at using the editor.

The only problem I had with the level creator is that I did not have complete control over the camera, so it was hard to tell, at points, how wide or thick my objects were. This was only a minor frustration, but I'm sure if I played with the level editor more, I might find a way to work around it.

There's plenty more I could say about this game, but I rather stop here and do a more formal and complete review once the game comes out. After playing the beta however, I am sold on the awesomeness (and potential) of Little Big Planet, and I eagerly wait its release.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

VG Advanced Strategies: Super Mario Bros. 3

This week's VG Advanced Strategies will show you how to get two quick whistles in Super Mario Bros. 3. The whistles will allow you to skip entire worlds, and if you have two of them, you can use both of them to instantly reach world 8, the final world in the game.

This won't be the last time you see Super Mario Bros. 3 in an advanced strategies segment. There are plenty of speed run tricks I can show. But, for now, I will just show you how to get the first two whistles.

Just get through the first two stages as fast as possible. They aren't that difficult. Try to get a feather leaf though, so that Mario can fly with his raccoon tail (does that many ANY sense?). Regardless, enter stage 3 for the first whistle.

This screen shot is towards the end of the stage. Once you are here though, jump on top of the white box and hold down. Eventually you'll go behind the box and the level background (WTF!?). Don't turn around though, as that will cancel this secret. Also, enemies can still hurt you, so don't run into them. From there run to the right to end the stage and you'll go behind the black background.

Ah ha! The first whistle! Wasn't this a cleverly hidden secret?

From there go straight to the fortress. The next whistle is placed here. Make sure you are flying raccoon Mario as you're going to need it for this trick.

You'll see this part of the level as soon as you see the first skeleton koopa. The ? block has a feather in it, so if you accidentally lost it, you can get it back here. Jump on the skeleton and then quickly run from all the way from the right to the left. While flying (tap B quickly to gain altitude), and fly over the ceiling. Yes, it can be done.

Once on top of the ceiling, run all the way to the right and press up to go through the door. You'll then go to another screen.

Hey hey! A second whistle!

Now that you have two whistles, press B to open up the item window and use the first whistle by pressing A. You'll travel to the warp zone.

Now that you're in the warp zone, open the item window again and use the second whistle. You'll be transported to the warp zone... again!

Now you have access to World 8. Don't whistles rule?

Oh man, there's fire and tanks everywhere. World 8 doesn't look as happy as World 1. Maybe this wasn't a good idea...

This is the fastest way to get to World 8. People who do speed runs of this game always use this technique. The only problem with this method is that you don't get a chance to build up a healthy stack of lives and items to use. However, once you already pwn at this game, you don't even need items or lives. And, knowing this trick brings you one step closer to pwnage.