Archive for December, 2012

, | Game diaries

I’m not quite sure exactly what it is about wargames that befuddles people. Something about NATO symbology* which translates armored units into rectangles with ovals in them. Or hexagons. I know some people don’t like hexagons. Although Neuroshima Hex has those as well, and it does all right.

I think the biggest obstacle to playing wargames is all the weird things you have to be aware of to play a game properly, without any way to judge how important they may be. Wargames sometimes make you use tools that you often didn’t even know you had. One of those is unit breakdown.

After the jump, is your Panzerkampfwagen under warranty? Continue reading →

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, | Movie podcasts

We’re divided on Quentin Tarantino’s blaxploitation spaghetti Western. But we all agree it’s no Inglorious Basterds. And it’s certainly no Jackie Brown. At the 44-minute mark, this week’s 3×3 is all about our favorite movie posters.

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, | Games

Two horror movies due out in early 2013 are Evil Dead and Mama. Each movie is from a first-time director whose short film got a lot of attention on the internet. In the case of Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez, the short film is Panic Attack!, in which a bunch of CG robots CG through the capital of Uruguay. In the case of Mama director Andres Muschietti, the short film is Mama, in which a couple of little girls run from a freaky zombie. I couldn’t care less about an Evil Dead remake from a guy who stuck giant robots in footage of his home town. But I have high hopes for Mama, which was shepherded to the big screen by Guillermo del Toro (currently doing his own thing with giant robots in Pacific Rim).

Unfortunately, the creators of a PC benchmarking short called Catzilla (you can get it here to test your own PC) probably won’t get to make a feature length film, which is a bit of a shame. Catzilla is a great short, with a playful sense of humor, no shortage of spectacle, and a gratifying payoff. Alas for my poor copy of War of the Monsters that won’t run on the latest Playstation 3!

Oh, and I should warn you to mind the dubstep. I think I’ve had quite enough of that now. How much longer is that stuff going to be around?

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, | Game reviews

Do all boys burn their model airplanes? Or was it just me? Am I the only one who went through that weirdly destructive phase of watching with fascination as fire melted the plastic of the precious creations I had painstakingly pieced together and glued and held tight overnight with rubber bands while the glue dried and painted — all those tiny vials like a woman’s collection of lipsticks — and plastered with decals slipping wetly from my fingertips at all the wrong angles? So much time spent lining up a tiny “no step” decal, one tenth the size of a postage stamp, along the seam of an F-86 Saber’s aileron. And all reduced to sickening black smoke curling out from under an underpass near the apartments where we lived when I was a kid. There I was, willingly sacrificing something precious into my terrible newfound fascination with fire, gradually emptying my bedroom ceiling of the treasures I had carefully hung, each at just the right angle.

After the jump, I grew out of that and then years later found Little Inferno Continue reading →

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, | Game diaries

Bruce, playing the cowardly Soviets, is trying to slink his way into the liberated cities of Zhitomir and Korsun. So far, his vast advantage in brainwashed farmers and sheet metal vehicles has done little to help him take these two objectives. Tim, playing the noble Axis, with a strong tradition of discipline and excellence, is putting the finishing touches on a dramatic counterattack that is sure to be praised for decades.

Yes, there are advantages to being the one who writes the intro.

After the jump, Bruce gets me back. Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews

A very accomplished game designer once told me his best ideas were mostly borrowed, but that he made them his own in the way he arranged and adapted them to a setting. Part of good design, he said, is knowing what works in a particular situation, and why. Good ideas keep coming around in new forms for a reason. They are borrowed, adapted and thus evolve, while the bad ones are discarded.

So it always puzzled me that computer wargames didn’t seem to have this evolving pool of good ideas. Instead, too often they were races to the bottom of some massive simulation pit, at the nadir of which was presumably an infinitely complex reality modeling engine. In retrospect, it was logical: when your platform is a supremely powerful computation device, it makes sense to make it compute as much as possible.

But nothing shakes up the status quo like a new platform that behaves like a new habitat, forcing its inhabitants to adapt or die. John Butterfield’s Battle of the Bulge feels like a game designed from the ground up for the tablet and its touchscreen*, where simple rules and clean design are ambitions instead of compromises. It’s also a fascinating example of how a hobby that once strove for superlative accuracy is willing to compromise in the name of superlative gameplay.

After the jump, dance of the wargaming masters Continue reading →

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, | Games

EA’s Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a game that’s gotten more attention for its attempts to get attention than for the game itself. Which is hardly surprising. The game itself is an absolute by-the-numbers snoozefest of epically common proportions. But EA’s marketing missteps have been far more memorable than any attempt to shoot down an enemy helicopter with a conveniently placed rocket launcher.

Two months ago, seven active duty Navy SEALs were formally reprimanded and docked two months’ pay for divulging classified information when they were hired as consultants by Electronic Arts. Four former SEALs were under investigation for the same charges. EA uses “written by actual U.S. Tier 1 Operators while deployed overseas” as a bullet point in selling the game (“Tier 1 Operators” basically means any of the US special forces such as Delta Force or SEAL Team Six). The Navy reprimands aren’t EA’s fault, of course. Navy SEALs violating their NDAs has been the otherwise secretive group’s main claim to fame these days. But it got Medal of Honor: Warfighter far more attention than the game’s Metacritic score of 53.

More recently, Medal of Honor: Warfighter was featured prominently in a New York Times article that examined the link between videogames and firearms manufacturers.

Among [EA’s] marketing partners on the Web site were the McMillan Group, the maker of a high-powered sniper’s rifle, and Magpul, which sells high-capacity magazines and other accessories for assault-style weapons.

Links on the Medal of Honor site allowed visitors to click through on the Web sites of the game’s partners and peruse their catalogs.

How did EA react to criticism of the direct links? They pulled the HTML links from the site. Not the logos. Not the partnership. Not the explicit relationship between the videogame and the real-world companies. Not the header that “EA is proud to partner with the following brands”. In other words, not the actual link. Just the HTML link. Now, instead of one click, it will require a Google search for someone to follow-up on Electronic Arts’ explicit connection to real-world hardware.

I don’t mean to get into a debate over gun control — suffice to say I believe precious few people have any business carrying a device whose sole purpose is to kill another person — but it’s disturbing that Electronic Arts goes beyond the fantasy of gunplay and into the realm of actual real-world gun ownership. I love firing pretend guns and I can dig on some hardcore virtual gun porn as much as the next guy. But I have as much interest in real world guns as I have in real world level-3 fireball spells, and it’s irresponsible for a videogame company to explicitly promote a firearm manufacturer. Videogames are fantasies and verisimilitude is no excuse to throw your lot in with the real-world gun industry. Electronic Arts should do the responsible thing and take their relationship with firearms manufacturers no further than whatever licensing deal it takes to keep their shooters from being legally actionable. Leave the business of selling guns to the companies who make guns.

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, | Game diaries

This game diary exists to make a joke about the name Red Turn. This multiplayer report exists to make a pun on Tom vs. Bruce.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. I enjoy reading everything Bruce Geryk writes about wargames. I’ve wanted him to write something about Unity of Command since it was released. I knew that if I challenged him to a game, he’d be unable to resist.

We’re playing the Korsun Pocket scenario. It’s a dynamic battle of encirclement and counterattack. Bruce, playing the Soviets, will use his superior numbers to cut off as much of my army as he can. As the Axis, I’ll use my veteran armored units to punish overzealous attacks. The scenario states that the Soviets need more than 150 points to achieve victory. But victory points start ticking down quickly, and the Axis can cut into that margin by taking their own objectives.

Click any of the images for an expanded view of the battlefield. Check the first image for the names of the objectives.

After the jump, maneuvering begins Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews

Asylum Blackout was originally called The Incident. That title could apply to literally any movie. Now it’s called Asylum Blackout. You kind of have to admire that it’s so upfront, because it’s a story about a power outage in an asylum. Imagine One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest gone horribly wrong. Well, more horribly wrong.

I wouldn’t recommend this in-your-face disturbing movie to anyone who isn’t hip to the French new wave of beyond-gore horror. Inside, Martyrs, and Irreversible don’t just stop at physical violence. You’re going to be subjected to psychological violence as well. This will not end well. Maybe you should watch something a little less unsettling.

But these movies aren’t just raw shock value. They are refined shock value. Asylum Blackout has a great John Carpenter feel to it, but with a grim modern sensibility. It’s a tightly made movie with style, characters, and seriously enduring ick factor. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I should also warn you that although it strives mightily at Washington State grunge rockers — it’s a French production, but it’s an English language movie — the main actors can only hit the accent about 85% of the time. It’s kind of endearing. This must be what us Americans sound like when we assay English accents.

Asylum Blackout is available on DVD. You probably shouldn’t watch it.

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, | Games podcasts

Chris Hornbostel joins us to close out the year by helping us answer questions such as how is it that Battle of the Bulge on the iPad has better multiplayer support than Hot Shots Golf on the Vita? How could any self-respecting fan of League of Legends and all things hobbit hate Guardians of Middle Earth? How do you pronounce the “Eador” in Eador: Genesis and why would you play it instead of a game with a much more pronouncable name like Heroes of Might & Magic? What do Spec Ops: The Line and Sonic Transformation Stars All Racing have in common? What will War Z be called when it can no longer be called War Z? And when you get back into Skyrim, should you play on the PC or the 360?

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, | Game diaries

I know that the hunter’s camp I’m looking for is around here somewhere. Twain, budding assassin that he is, has a Brotherhood contract and the fellow he’s supposed to kill is at that camp. As ever with directions, it sounded easier to get here in theory than in execution, and I swear I’ve been all over this riverbank looking. Honestly, I’m almost wondering if I’ve got Twain at the wrong bend in the river entirely. It didn’t use to be this difficult to find quest objectives, after all…

…and I love it.

After the jump, greater than the sum of the parts Continue reading →

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, | Movie podcasts

Zero Dark Thirty isn’t just a sharply observed procedural about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s a chronicle of one of this country’s most important decades. Kathryn Bigelow has achieved one of those rare movies that is instead an experience. If you haven’t seen it yet, skip forward to this week’s 3×3 for lighter fare. At the 59-minute mark, we consider our favorite stammers in movies.

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, | Games

I’m not one to make universal pronouncements, especially when it comes to matters of personal preference. For instance, I don’t generally say things like “turn-based is better than real-time”, “mouse and keyboard is better than gamepads for shooters”, “MMOs are a waste of time”, or even “QTEs suck”. Or at least when I do say those things, I use enough words to confuse the issue and leave myself some wiggle room.

However, after trying for far too long to get past the third event in Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, a very very good kart racing game that I feel should have at least two colons in its name, I want to go on record with the following comment:

There has never been — nor will there ever be — a drift racing challenge, event, or mode in any kind of racing game — arcade, sim, realistic, sci-fi, serious, comical, or anywhere in between — that isn’t godawful and that shouldn’t be cut from the game.

Controlled drift is something that simply doesn’t translate well into videogame driving. I understand it’s an important mechanic, particularly in a kart racing game that ties drifting and boosting. But it’s always going to be a seat-of-my-pants thing where I’m just as likely to plow into a wall as I am to take off down a straightaway. I’m okay with that, just as I’m okay with rolling dice in a strategy game. So racing game developers, please stop trying to make me get good at drifting by putting mandatory challenges in my way, because it’s simply not going to happen. I will no more be able to drift like Ken Block than I’ll be able to dance like Mikhail Barishnikov.

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, | Games

It’s a sad day for us owners of Brian Reynolds’ Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. The complete version, not the incomplete basic version without the notoriously hard-to-find Alien Crossfire add-on. You could easily get a copy of the base Alpha Centauri, one of the last century’s classic strategy games, from a variety of places. But that meant you were playing without several of the cool new factions. No Data Angels, Cult of Planet, or Pirates for you. Your version of Planet was missing the fabled Borehole Clusters and Manifold Nexus. You would never stumble across the wreckage of the Unity. You would never launch Geosynchronous Survey Pods over your cities. You would never find a Battle Ogre. Is there any occasion so joyous as an early Battle Ogre on the field? Perhaps most importantly, the Planet you were trying to tame was never the stage for a war between powerful alien factions that gave Alpha Centauri unique shape as a strategy game. And, of course, you could never take control of one of the warring alien factions.

The Alien Crossfire add-on has been difficult to find and/or expensive to buy. So guys like me with our own copies, complete with the vast fold-out tech tree poster, were sitting on a potential gold mine. Today, Good Old Games ruined all that. Today, Brian Reynolds’ Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri includes the Alien Crossfire add-on when you buy it from Good Old Games. Today, Alpha Centauri, one of the finest sci-fi experiences you can have in any medium, is finally available in its complete form. Today, I’m a little poorer, and strategy gamers everywhere are considerably richer.

(Thanks for the heads-up, Scott!)

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, | Game reviews

Super Smash Bros. Melee and specifically Brawl are such generous, enthusiastic, and ongoing donnybrooking arenas that you’d think imitating them would be a great way to make a game. Who wouldn’t want more of that?

So Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale starts the comparison early. As soon as you boot it up, an announcer enthusiastically bellows the name of the game in the exact same voice that introduces a Super Smash Bros. The only difference is that he’s saying different words. That sense of familiarity, the forced imitation, the shamelessness of the homage, never lets up. Neither does the sense that you aren’t playing a Super Smash Bros.

After the jump, the sincerest form of imitation Continue reading →

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