Archive for December, 2011

, | Game diaries

The stakes are fairly low in Suikoden V. The whole game is about a botched coup in a single country. Godwin’s forces don’t even look like Death Knights. They look like some third world army with their fruity berets. And like other Suikoden titles and real world wars, it’s clear the Godwins are going to lose near the end. The final battles are more like suicide by protagonist. Though in keeping with JRPG tradition, the final boss always ups the stakes in the last battle by transforming into a monster. Suikoden V is kinda like Hamlet, because you duel the usurper’s son before going on to kill the usurper. If King Claudius turned into a dragon for a final boss fight at the end of Hamlet, they would be even more similar.

After the jump, the prince and Lyon: will they or won’t they? Continue reading →

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, | Features

About a year ago we started featuring levels from the game LittleBigPlanet 2 that were designed by players of the game, levels which the designer of the game, Media Molecule, dubs Community Levels. We posted daily levels for a couple of months, and then shifted to featuring a level a week, often with an extended column about something else after the jump.

To say the community of LBP designers is a robust one is to grossly understate. I would not have imagined the game’s fans could support a year of such scrutiny, but it did. Easily. Along the way we found some dreck, to be sure, but by and large playing the publically designed world of the game proved an adventure, and a lovely and rewarding one at that.

After the jump, ’11 levels that made us squee Continue reading →

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, | Game diaries

Getting a headquarters for your army is a Suikoden series tradition. The HQ is where all the recruits hang out, each with his own one or two line spiel that reflects his personality/backstory and changes in the plot. As you see your army grow, the HQ always goes from an empty warehouse to a bustling town, with new sections added in stages. All the non-combat recruits earn their keep here, even if their only job is to be an inn keeper. Each game has a recruit whose only function is to — no joke — install an elevator.

After the jump, what Suikoden characters do in their downtime Continue reading →

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, | Games podcasts

Bill Abner joins us this week, bringing a report from the front on the war against MMO fatigue, where Jason McMaster is still valiantly fighting and Tom Chick is engaged in a mostly successful flanking maneuver. Casualties are heavy all around.

Our posts of the week are as follows: Bill picked this canny evisceration of the MMO model, Tom picked this personal tale of an Advanced Squad Leader module, and Jason picked this furor over a customer service nightmare.

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, | Game diaries

From a gameplay perspective, saying there are 108 characters in a Suikoden game really means there are 60 to 80 benchwarmers once you subtract non-combat, non-support characters who are just there to serve as shopkeepers and other RPG jobs for your army. Some have common jobs like innkeeper. Some have uncommon jobs like elevator bellman, gardener, or the orchestra conductor who’s the music playback menu in disguise. Some such as series vet Jeanne do double duty as party member and vendor. Though Jeanne was already doing double duty as rune vendor and sex object. Story wise though, every character contributes at least a bit part. There are quite a few characters with subplots and character arcs. Everyone else at least has unique dialog and portraits, making this one of the few RPGs where the merchant peons have personality. The merchants that are part of your army, that is.

After the jump, why I love the beavers Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews

The first rule of writing for a videogame should be “do no harm”. If your writing, characters, dialog, and plot actively make me not want to play, you have done the worst you could possibly do. For instance, the follow-up to Zombie Apocalypse, called Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone, features writing so sophomoric, so unfunny, so stale, so trite, and so unskippable that it all but kills the game underneath. It squats obscenely in front of and often on top of every level. I have seen a lot of awful horror movies, and I have rarely encountered characters so grating that I wanted them to die as quickly as I want the Canadians in Never Die Alone to die. Sorry, Canada, but this Canadian themed game isn’t doing you any favors.

After the jump, does this game really want to hurt me? Continue reading →

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, | Game diaries

One of the reasons I prefer the PS3 to the 360 is that I can copy saved games to and from the system with a USB stick, no need for some third party doo-hickey (caveat emptor: PS3 games won’t let you use other people’s saves, sans hacking them to work on your system). There’s also the fact that Blu Ray lets me play Assassin’s Creed with Italian dialogue, and play Uncharted 2 with the leads talking in French so I don’t have to hear the smarmy American voices, but let’s save that for another time. It’s one of the reasons I prefer the PSP to the DS too, aside from the non-tiny screen. I was able to expedite my playthrough of the Scott Bakula-Agent Smith inspired action RPG The Third Birthday with cleared game data, sometimes referred to as New Game+.

After the jump, what does any of this New Game+ business have to do with Suikoden V? Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews

I honestly can’t tell you how I ended up watching Pitch Black on Netflix. It’s one of those things that just happened, not unlike waking up in Bangkok with a tattoo on your face or a shaved head. I might have mistakenly remembered that it’s a cult classic and that my sense of disappointment from seeing it in theaters over ten years ago was misplaced. That way lies madness. That way lies rewatching things like Soldier, Dune, or Stargate.

Pitch Black is awful. The writing is terrible, the production design is cheap, and the dramatic tension is entirely artificial. The cast mostly flounders, particularly poor Vin Deisel under the misguided notion that he’s the most bad-ass intergalactic criminal since that guy who didn’t like Mark Hamill either. When Deisel goes nose-to-nose with a space bat, lunging left and right to stay in its blind spot as it turns its head, Pitch Black loses its last faint shred of credibility. The worst sin any movie can commit is to betray its own conceit. Here is a movie about terrible terrible space bats that will eat you if you venture into the dark, except for all the times various characters venture into the dark and don’t get eaten.

It’s kind of cool seeing Claudia Black considering how much I hear her in videogames like Uncharted, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. And I’ve always liked Radha Mitchell, who somehow seems to rise about the various genre stinkers she’s been in. Which reminds me, hey, she was in that Silent Hill movie! That wasn’t so bad, was it? Maybe I should watch that again, since I actually ended up with the Silent Hill DVD somehow, which is a bit like waking up in Vegas with a missing tooth and a tiger in the bathroom.

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, | Game diaries

Wait, is this one of those games where androgynous teenagers save the world? Yes, thank you, wise ass. We’ve all heard that joke a million times.

Suikoden V does have a pretty-boy teenage lead. Freyjadour Falenas, as he’s officially known in the wiki. But he has a good excuse for being in a position of such importance: he’s the prince of Falena. His porcelain features reflect his good breeding. He gets his snowy white hair from his mother, the regal Queen Arashat, and his washboard abs from the consort of the Queen (but not the King, more on that later), former barbarian Ferid. And it’s not him and his high school pals leading the charge against chaos. It’s him and 108 other named characters, plus an army of thousands. And they’re not saving the world, they’re quashing a coup in a civil war against usurpers of the throne. And he’s not even the brains behind the war effort. That distinction belongs to Lucretia, the strategist or Tenki Star (the star of wisdom). Because this is an entry in the mostly defunct Suikoden RPG series, where the gimmick is that you recruit 108 possible party members (the stars of destiny) and raise an army.

After the jump, nothing about Skyrim, but plenty about marrying ten year old girls Continue reading →

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, | Movie podcasts

The director of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull paid an extended visit to Weta’s motion capture studios. The result, Tintin, is exactly what you’d expect from Polar Express meets a Belgian comic book. This week’s podcast also includes a fair amount of talk about Hugo, Young Adult, and more than you’ll ever want to know about the alien invasion yarn The Darkest Hour, from the writer of Ridley Scott’s upcoming Prometheus! The 3×3 of our favorite fake movie products starts at the 58-minute mark.

Next week: our picks for best movies of 2011

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, | Games

Happy holidays from all of us at Quarter to Three to all of you on the other side of this monitor! Here’s me hanging out in front of one of the holiday decorations sprung up around the world of Rift. You’ll even find Christmas trees smack dab in the middle of swirling rifts spitting out monsters. I don’t want to be all bah humbug, but how long are those going to be there? At least in Space Pirates and Zombies, I can turn off the Santa Claus who flies around and drops candy-filled presents.

We’ll be back next week with a couple of new contributors doing game diaries for games that I guarantee you aren’t expecting. Seriously, go ahead and guess. You’ll be wrong.

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, | Features

The full name of the level is The Virus: Chapter 4 – Part One – Forgotten Dreams. I don’t know, maybe this is an homage to the goofy title formatting of the Mission Impossible movies. The good thing about having a title as clunky as that one is that it prepares you for the awkward sack dialogue to follow, and such preparation is necessary because there is a lot of awkward sack dialogue to follow. Way too much.

Still, I’m a sucker for a level like this that feels like it’s part of a larger work. Probably The Trilogy conditioned me for that early in life, or perhaps Tolkien. Whatever did it, The Virus colon Blah Blah dash Flibberty dash Gibbet gets good once you slog past the opening dialogue, and that makes me want to explore more of the parts of this little world.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet.

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, | Game diaries

There are two kinds of cards in Ascension: non-monsters that you buy to put into your deck, and monsters. When you beat a monster, it’s banished from the game and you earn some victory points. In the basic Ascension cards, the most powerful monster was a fellow called Avatar of the Fallen. I have no idea who the Fallen is or why he’s sent an avatar in his stead, but I know card was as bad-ass as enemies got. I had a friend maintain that if you could beat the Avatar of the Fallen, you were going to win the game.

After the jump, Sam he is! Continue reading →

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, | Games

Here I am, nearly a year after first hearing about it, finally giving Minecraft a shot. My first attempt didn’t go so well. When night fell and the zombies came out, I retreated to the back of a cave to hide until dawn. Of course, it’s dark in caves, and even darker in caves at night, and zombies are persistent. So when I heard zombies coming and I was unable to see anything, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I attacked the darkness. My inventory consisted of 8 flowers, 3 mushrooms, and 9 blocks of dirt. Of those three things, I figured the blocks of dirt would make for the most powerful projectiles. So I equipped them and right-clicked to throw them in the general direction of the moaning. I threw them until I didn’t have any more to throw.

I don’t think I killed any zombies. But I did succeed in walling myself in so I couldn’t move. Or see anything. I tried jumping, right-clicking, punching, crouching, to no avail. There’s apparently no crouching in Minecraft. Having Cask of Amontillado’ed myself, I think my only recourse is waiting until I starve to death and respawn. So, yeah, game one of Minecraft. So far, so good.

My second (and final?) game, after the jump Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews

With The Sitter, Director David Gordon Green obviously intended a latter-day Adventures in Babysitting. Take a charismatic lead, add a handful of adorable kids, and send them out for a night on the town where they run afoul of criminals. The twist? A hard R-rating, which Green undercuts with one safely sappy facile redemption after another.

If there’s any reason to see The Sitter, it’s to re-affirm that Max Records is a kid to watch. In Where the Wild Things Are, he was easily as fascinating as those enormous weird puppets, and whatever payoff that movie offered came from how good he was in his final scene with Catherine Keener. Records is one of those rare expressive child actors with a very adult grasp on what he’s saying, and how to express it even when he isn’t saying anything.

In The Sitter, when it comes time for Jonah Hill and Records to have their convenient redemption scene, you get good writing, two lovely performances, and surprisingly delicate subject matter for such an obtuse movie. It turns out Records’ character, a 13-year-old kid with psychiatric issues, is merely gay. Hill explains this to him, and Records lashes out and says he doesn’t want to be a “faggot”. “Don’t say shit like that,” Hill admonishes. He then explains to Records that, look, high school is really going to suck, but once he gets to college, no one will care that he’s gay. And then he’ll get an awesome job in the entertainment industry. Facile? Sure. But it’s the sort of scene that deserves a far better movie.

Also, The Sitter is a little fascinating for Sam Rockwell hopelessly miscast as a vicious drug dealer. No one handles being miscast with as much enthusiasm as Sam Rockwell.

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