Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Brink: Choir of guns, gameplay and class videos

I'm looking forward to this game. Coming out on May 10th. PS3, 360 and PC. Picking it up on the 360 myself.
A nice melody of gunfire.

General gameplay and the use of the SMART system

Quick glance at the classes with mission related objectives.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Game Dev Story, one of the most fun, amazing and unique games on the iPhone

A full in-depth review

I’ve been meaning to write about this game for a long time. Funny enough, this is what really gave me the oomph and interest to give writing and reviewing video games a chance. Now, how can a little niche iPhone game give way to such passion? Simply put, the game made me ask myself “How can this simple little game be so complex, full of depth, yet so simple and fun?” It also made me say to myself “Oh my god! I can be a game developer without having to learn all of that bloody coding? Sold!”

As the title of the game goes, Game Dev Story is pretty much what it sets out to be, minus the story. There is no story script per say but the game does contain rpg elements which I’ll talk about later. The story is more of an adventure: you create the story yourself by giving your company a name, hire the staff you like and create just about any combination of games that you can discover.

Like any good company, you have to have a plan. You can’t just throw your money into anything and expect to make money. Contracts will be your bread and butter at first as you’ll need it to fund your games, hire new employees and pay their salaries. It also generates research points that are used for other things. So make sure you stock up, as you will need plenty to give your company a good chance to succeed early. These contracts are simple, leave little room for error and take the least amount of time to complete. Just ensure you don’t accept tasks that may be too much for your rookie staff.

As an rpg fan, I really got a kick out of the stats and roles each employee has. Coders are best at programming (an all-around good skill to have),Writers with the Scenario (story and style baby!) Designers with graphics (you want it to look good right?), Sound Engineers with Sound (Hire Daft Punk imo) and Writers for game proposals (which are a necessity if you want to begin making ANY game). Stats can be increased through training and levelling aka promotions, but that can put a hole in your pocket as their yearly salaries will rise with their level. At the same time, new game genres, types and roles can be unlocked by training, i.e.: Lv3 Producer unlocks Action RPG genre and making a Writer “train” by watching movies unlocks the Samurai type game. It is highly recommended you play around with the training options. Not counting the starting game options, there is 15 genres and 68 types of games you can unlock. As you progress and use more expensive methods of hiring, you will find people who’ll have high marks in more than one skill and have several jobs under their belt, ie: a Director is good at coding and writing and the Hardware Engineer which is needed if you ever want to create your own console.

Speaking of genres and types, combining them rightly together is where the real fun begins. Use enjoyable examples of games like Action + Rpg or Romance + Simulation. You can try more unusual combinations but the game lets you know if you’ve picked an odd one.

As any good video game company knows, fans are important and there are various age groups. Depending on what type and the popularity of the games you make, you will gain fans of a certain age group. As your company ages, so will your fans. Be sure to think ahead so you’ll always have lots of people buying your games. Throwing money into various types of advertising helps attract particular groups and helps future sales.

Now here’s a description on how things work when making a game. Skip this paragraph if you want to figure it out yourself. First, pay a one-time fee for a licence on the console you want to work with. Two, pick a genre and type. The popularity of them plus the choice of console determines the starting cost. The more experienced you are in these areas also lets you allocate points in which direction you want the game to go in which can affect the type of fans you attract. Thirdly, they’ll prompt you to pick someone to write the game proposal, graphics, sound and fun. Pick whomever you feel would be the best, some are obvious and some aren't, though be mindful that picking the same person who did the previous game might suffer a penalty. Taking chances can pay off or create bugs in your game which will take more time at the debugging phase. Randomly during the creation phase, your staff will make a proposal, for a price, to boost a random stat (Fun, Creativity, Graphics or Sound). The success rate depends on their skill and how many research points you invest in it. Advertising, fans, fame, hype and high points during the creation phase are factors that determine your sales and success of the game. Lastly, the game is thrown to the wolves aka the reviewers. They will give you scores which will boost your sales (sorry, there’s no option to lavish them with free stuff in order to get a better score lol). If you score well, that particular game will be placed in the Hall of Fame.  You’re now allowed to make a sequel of it which generally creates an instant best-seller.

The game doesn't stop there, oh no. To make things harder and more exciting for you, you have competition from other companies. Don’t dismay from not doing as well in the first few years, especially at the annual award show. Be smart with your capital, even if you really want to hire that “celebrity” during the games own version of E3.  Set your some goals, save your money for the write game and hire the best staff with high marks in their specific fields as it will all help with making better games and win.

Now down to the hilarity or should I say punnery? The game is full of puns and inside jokes, from character names like Lady GooGoo and Gilly Bates, to company names like Nintendro and Campcon and consoles like Play Kid and Microx 480. Just about every name is based off of people and things related to the industry or their craft. God knows the silly, profane and awesome ones you come up with as you’re allowed to name your company, games and consoles you create.

Overall this game kept me glued to my phone for longer than any time wasting app I’ve had. I laughed at the terrible names, I cursed at my opponents for doing better than me, grumbled as my employees botch proposals and fist pumped like a frat boy as I watch my sales go through the roof. Honestly for any self-respecting gamer out there looking for a good game to play on their iPhone (Android support is underway), get this game asap. It’s well worth it.

*side note, The first Game Dev Story actually dates back to 1996, while its sequel debuted on PC roughly10 years ago. The company Kairosoft is a Japanese game company that has made several simulation games already, sadly only two have been translated so far so if you enjoyed this one then keep an eye out for others. I personally like the looks of the sushi restaurant and cruise ship sims.
Homepage to Kairosoft: 11 iPhone games including the two that we have in English
Here’s their page featuring the two English iPhone games that they’ve made

Monday, May 2, 2011

In L.A. Noire, you ask questions first, shoot later

Read this at work and wanted to share it as Rockstar keeps impressing me with their daring ventures in gaming along with the use of different technology and style.

Artful game is a risky move for Rockstar

Seven years in the making, L.A. Noire (due out May 17) is the latest release from Rockstar Games, the company forever associated in most people’s minds with its blockbuster Grand Theft Auto series.

Seven years in the making, L.A. Noire (due out May 17) is the latest release from Rockstar Games, the company forever associated in most people’s minds with its blockbuster Grand Theft Auto series.

Photograph by: Handout photo, Rockstar Games

Aaron Staton is used to being in front of cameras. But it wasn’t until the actor best known as ad account executive Ken Cosgrove on "Mad Men" starred in the video game L.A. Noire that he acted in front of 32 of them.

On a winter morning in a warehouse in Culver City that has been turned into a makeshift acting and game development studio, Staton was wrapping up his last day on the job. Sitting alone in a small room surrounded by the dozens of cameras and pupil-shrinking lights that eliminate any hint of a shadow, he worked his way through one gritty line after another - the type most people haven’t heard since the days of, well, noir.

"A 15-year-old girl told me she was drugged and molested at a casting house with a mermaid out front," Staton growled. On the other side of a thin white wall, Brendan McNamara talked into a headset. "Make it a little more urgent," the game director said with his Australian accent. "This guy throws his rival off a roof."

By the next day, a bank of servers helped transform the performance into Det. Cole Phelps, an animated character who isn’t so much based on Staton as possessed by him. Every dart of the eyes, tilt of the head and crinkle of the skin caught by those 32 cameras can be seen in the game, making for an eerily lifelike performance.

It’s not uncommon for video games to feature professional actors doing voice work and even motion-captured movement. But McNamara was searching for something different in L.A. Noire: a video game in which players spend less time shooting people and more time interrogating them. "People hear about this game and they wonder what buttons they press, but it’s not about that," McNamara explained. "It’s doing what your brain has been doing for millions of years: Reading faces."

Seven years in the making, L.A. Noire (due out May 17) is the latest release from Rockstar Games, the company forever associated in most people’s minds with its blockbuster Grand Theft Auto series. However, the New York publisher has long struggled to find another series that could stand behind it, with titles such as Bully and Manhunt falling well short. Rockstar finally hit the jackpot in 2010 with Red Dead Redemption, which sold 8 million units and swept industry awards.

It also revived the Western at a time when it was virtually dead not only in video games but the larger pop culture. The company has mined different angles of the crime drama with its GTA sequels and is now looking to do the same with noire. "This is a very risky game, but it’s also consistent with what they are known for," said Adam Sessler, co-host of the video game news show "X-Play" on cable network G4. "There’s no other game developer with Rockstar’s interest in mining American mythologies."

L.A. Noire shares traits with GTA and Red Dead such as a huge, open world - in this case 8 square miles of 1947 Los Angeles, from downtown to Hollywood, faithfully re-created with the help of a cadre of historians. But it stands out from most big-budget games for one simple reason: It’s not a shooter or a fantasy role-playing game or any of the other industry-standard genres on which publishers are typically comfortable spending tens of millions of dollars. Action, in fact, is minimal, and there’s no online multi-player, a de rigueur feature for most big-budget games nowadays.

Making a game centered on investigation is inherently a chancy proposition. Players raised on a diet of fast-paced shooting and epic action sequences might struggle to stay interested with the more methodical tasks of investigation and interrogation, no matter how stylish the backdrop is. With the exception of sports simulations and a few long-lasting and well-known brands such as Super Mario and the Sims, hit games in the U.S. not centered on shooting, stabbing or stomping are rare. Other games that emphasize style over action, like last year’s murder mystery Heavy Rain, have been modest sellers.

"This is a very bold move in that most people won’t really be able to understand what it is until they play it," said Andy McNamara, editor in chief of the gamer magazine Game Informer (and no relation to the game’s director). "I don’t think it could have gotten made at any other company."

But Rockstar, about to kick off a significant marketing campaign for its latest creation, believes L.A. Noire can be a hit among an audience much broader than the typical young male gamers. They’re going after people who watch police procedurals like "Law & Order" and "CSI." "I think it’s going to appeal to a very broad audience that is familiar with this type of thing in television or movies but never before in interactive entertainment," said Jeronimo Barerra, vice president of product development for Rockstar.

And Brendan McNamara said that if nothing else, he’s confident L.A. Noire takes his chosen art form in a much needed direction. "If the future of games is only about body count," he said, "then it’s not a very interesting future."

McNamara and his core team of developers previously worked on Sony’s racing video game series the Getaway. In 2004 they formed their own studio in Sydney, Australia, called Team Bondi and set to work on L.A. Noire. As a fan of Humphrey Bogart films, the books of Raymond Chandler and the man he calls "Mr. Ellroy," McNamara thought the then-in-development PlayStation 3 could for the first time create the genre’s foreboding shadows in a video game.

Developing the story and setting was the easy part: In 1947 Los Angeles, a World War II-veteran-turned-police-detective is haunted by his actions at the Battle of Okinawa while he investigates crimes based on infamous real events, most notably the Black Dahlia murder. From music to lighting to case names like "the silk stocking murder" and "the red lipstick murder," L.A. Noire was designed from the start to embody its title.

The problem was what the gameplay would be. McNamara knew he wanted to center it on interrogations but wasn’t sure how to translate that into something compelling for the player. Verbal sparring was too technically complex, and letting players beat the truth out of suspects resulted in almost comical barrages of smacking.

At the same time, however, McNamara had begun working with researcher Oliver Bao, who was developing a system called MotionScan to more accurately capture facial movements. Starting with two cameras in a shed, Bao’s dream was to re-create every nuance of the face in digital form without the help of an animator.

McNamara’s intention had been to use Bao’s technology for the narrative scenes in between the action. But he eventually realized that lifelike facial performances could be at the heart of it - players would analyze suspects’ facial tics and attempt to determine who’s telling the truth, who’s lying and where to take the investigation.

"The first half of developing this game was basically stick figures and texts," recalled Barerra. "When the heads started coming on-line, it was a ‘Hallelujah!’ moment."

Those heads were portrayed by Australian stand-ins until late 2009, when video production began in Los Angeles. More than 400 actors performed in the game, first by acting out their characters’ movements on a stage and then in the Culver City offices of Depth Analysis, where Bao is head of research.

It has taken more than a year of on-and off work to make it through a script that weighs in at a staggering 2,200 pages because of the multiple paths each investigation can take. The game features 20 cases as Phelps works his way through the Los Angeles Police Department’s traffic, robbery, arson and homicide desks, investigating crimes. In one, a boxer goes missing after winning a fixed fight he was supposed to lose. In another, a young woman comes to Hollywood with dreams of stardom and ends up raped and nearly dead.

On Day 82, according to a call sheet taped to the studio’s white walls, Staton was one of several actors wearing orange T-shirts who were going through hair and makeup before sitting in the blindingly bright room with the expensive cameras. Bao was proud to show off his technology but also paranoid about letting strangers get close. The last time someone accidentally tapped one of the cameras, he explains, it took nearly four hours to recalibrate the system.

Reading a teleprompter and staring at a mini-"Mona Lisa" as his eye line, the 33-year-old Staton rattled off lines like the video game pro he has become, though McNamara occasionally had to remind him to stop blocking his face with his hands. Speaking later on a bench outside, he acknowledged it has been a bizarre process as an actor and not at all what he expected when, in November 2009, he was offered a part in a game code-named "Hard Boiled."

"With a television show or a movie, you have an idea of how it’s going to look because you were there," he said. "In this, you feel very removed because the physical process was separate from the line reading. I have no idea how it will look when it all comes together."

McNamara has a pretty good idea after all the time he and his colleagues have put into the game. The question is how many consumers will be as fascinated as he is in the underbelly of L.A. in the late 1940s. "The detective story has always been great in literature; it’s always been great in films," he said."We’re asking: ‘Why hasn’t it worked in video games?’"

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