Kinecting with the Public

In about three months, Kinect, Microsoft’s expensive combatant in the motion controller showdown, will finally make its way to store shelves. Ever since it was announced at E3 a couple years ago, the enthusiast community has been buzzing about how the device could change the games we play and potentially bring in a new audience. The problem is, however, that as we’re now approaching November 4th, that new audience has yet to take notice.

Call me crazy, but I think this more effectively sells me on the Wii than it does on the Kinect.

Speaking anecdotally, I haven’t talked to any non-gaming friends who were aware of Kinect or any of its software. They took notice when the Wii launched, and they’re usually on board for a Rock Band party, but I know for a fact that none of these fine folks could tell you what a Kinectimal is. Sadly, polling numbers suggest that this isn’t isolated to the Justin circle, either. But I’m not bringing this up as purely gloom and doom. As Kaz and I both stated on the podcast, we both intend to purchase Kinect at launch and want nothing but the best for the device.* Rather, there needs to a be a shift in the perception going forward that this is more than just a Wii Sports/Fit clone in a pricier sell. How does Microsoft make that happen? Read on.

*Keep in mind that I’m writing under the generous perception that Kinect’s technology works as advertised and that all of the key games live up to expectations. If everything isn’t up to par, then even the most drastic steps won’t save Kinect. Read more

Game Play Wrap-Up

If you live in Brooklyn and love games as much as we do, you may have heard about Game Play, a two-week festival devoted to video game performance art. Unfortunately, the festivities concluded this past weekend, but I was able to attend two of the shows before the end of their runs. Its “Off Off Broadway” roots definitely showed a bit, but it was nice to see some local enthusiasm for our industry in the heart of Hipsterville.

The shows at the Brick Theater included “Kewl-Aid Man in Second Life,” a guided tour of the virtual world starring the famous pitcher monster; “A Short Lecture of a Different Time,”a history lesson told through 8-bit graphics; and “Theater of the Arcade,” which took several simple game narratives and adapted them for the stage. I attended “Grand Theft Ovid” and “Modal Kombat,” both of which I’ll discuss after the jump. The $15 ticket price is a bit steep for amateur theater, but I think the show could develop into something special in a few years time. Be sure to at least keep your eyes peeled next year if you’re a fellow Brooklynite. Read more

Puzzle Agent Review

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, from Telltale Games, thrusts you into the strange world of the FBI’s best puzzle research agent. Those familiar with the whimsical nature of the Professor Layton series from Level 5 will be instantly comfortable with the juxtaposition of adventure game roaming and non-sequitur puzzle solving. They will also find a game that exceeds that series in story and setting while falling short on the puzzles.

NTPA:Office

Nelson is a puzzle-solving superstar.  He is sent to the strange town of Scoggins to investigate an accident at an eraser factory that has affected the White House’s supply. The hand of previous LucasArts employees is clearly evident with such a preposterous mission given to the player, but it sets up some of the cleverest writing and animation I’ve seen in a game in a while. Creative director Graham Annable employs the same wit and style found in his Grickle animations to great effect, given this nearly impossible setup. Read more

LIMBO Review

When you first boot up LIMBO and find your nameless protagonist face-down in the mud, it’s immediately clear that something is amiss. The boy wakes up alone, probably wondering where he is and how he got there. The deep woods inspire a sense of dread, and its silence further signifies that the next few hours are going to be quite lonely.

While Braid may deal in time trickery and P.B. Winterbottom specializes in cloning, this latest puzzle platformer’s biggest selling point is melancholy. LIMBO of course has a few mechanical hooks along the way, but its shadowy look and haunting atmosphere set this apart from almost any other game I can think of, downloadable or otherwise. The swinging traps and whirring saw blades are familiar; the quiet boat ride in between is not. Read more

The Rumble Reader Episode 7: Strangers on a Raid

After Blizzard’s “Real ID” fiasco, Nick and Justin wouldn’t dream of asking you to give up your Rumble handle, but they can’t help wondering how a more open community might work. Luckily, a Gamasutra analysis serves as a worthy devil’s advocate. The guys also discuss 1up’s tribute to the ROM hacking underground and fan translations. Those English patches for old Super Famicom games are definitely appreciated, but how can future projects survive in a post-DRM era?

Relevant Links:

Kris Graft’s “Why Was Blizzard’s ‘Real ID’ Such an Issue?”

Bob Mackey’s “Found in Translation”

Tom Bissell’s “The Grammar of Fun”

Tag, Who’s It?

If you own a DS and love RPGs, I hope you picked up a copy of Dragon Quest IX this weekend. While there’s no way it’s going to become the cultural phenomenon over here like it is in Japan, the fact that Nintendo’s publishing it stateside – and appointing Seth Green as its official celebrity spokesguy – is promising. Perhaps a modest following is not out of the question. The only problem is that most of us won’t be playing it “correctly.”

 Though the Toriyama art and turn-based battles might suggest another traditional outing, IX‘s multiplayer emphasis is a significant departure. Not only does the game feature four-player cooperative dungeon crawling, but there’s also a tag mode that automatically shares data and treasure maps with other players. This mode is inconveniently tucked away in a specific inn, but the potential benefits are huge. However, we’re all well aware that American gamers just aren’t geared to this kind of play, so too bad, right?

Or at least that’s the standard line. I, for one, am going to try a little experiment for the next month. During my daily commutes throughout New York City, I’m going to “canvas” for like-minded DQIX players in the hopes that we can become accidental buddies. I suggest that everyone reading this should do the same. Let’s keep our minds open and check back in 30 days.

Goodbye, Gran Pulse: Final Fantasy XIII Parting Thoughts

I’m not sure how Square Enix did it, but somehow the storied Japanese developer managed to spend five years developing Final Fantasy XIII and still leave it unfinished. The game contains gorgeous environments, state-of-the-art CG animation and a deep battle system, but what struck me during my 46-hour play-through was how hollow the experience felt. It’s clear that FFXIII enjoyed the same lavish production values as its predecessors, but the world building and characters were short changed.

This was apparent from the very first chapter. After a stirring assault along the Cocoon highway, we are introduced to some of the thinnest characters I’ve seen in a modern RPG. Sazh just wants to get his son back,* Hope wants to avenge his mother, Lightning and Snow want to help Serah and Vanille just wants to annoy the hell out of me. I kept hoping for more character development, but most of the cast remained paper-thin. Only Vanille (yeah…) and Fang ever received some kind of pathos.

*”Waaaalt!”

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