Gray. Dingy darkness as far as the eye can see. The sky is gray. The mountains are gray. Even the snow looks as though Mick Jagger tried painting it black and got bored half-way through. A gruff voice struggles to be heard through a radio, practically clawing its way out of the speakers. “I'm in position! I won't be able to hold it for long!” Helicopters swoop in as orchestral music swells in the background. This should be big. This should be epic. But it isn't, because you're a gamer, and you've been here a million times before. Oh, and here's the kicker: the thing I just described? It's the sequel to a colorful, over-the-top snowboarding game.
Announced during last weekend's Spike TV's Videogame Awards (a whole other can filled with equal parts worms and disgrace), SSX: Deadly Descents is pretty much everything that's wrong with big-name, triple-A game development these days. It's gray! It's edgy! It's realistic! It's... so damn boring that I'm going to stop describing it for fear of falling asleep mid-sentence. Most depressing, however, is the fact that it's certainly not alone. The grand majority of big-budget mega-games – almost regardless of genre – seem to be pandering exclusively to the testosterone-fueled manly man who thinks Michael Bay's filmography is the height of human achievement.
Creativity may not be dead, but it's whistling an all-too-merry tune while digging its own grave. Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor, Killzone, Gears of War, Resistance, Halo: Reach -- what do they all have in common? They're the same stinkin' game! But their wide variety of three whole character stereotypes, two level patterns, and one color palette is where the money's at, and when budgets are this over-inflated, one wrong move will make the bubble burst. The bottom line? Caution. No unnecessary risks. Applying the same old formulas to new products over and over and over and over and, well, you get the point.
But hey, there's a silver lining here – and a big one at that. Find out what it is after the break!
If you've ever played a Diablo game before, you pretty much know what to expect from Diablo III. There will be hacking. There will be slashing. Enemies will drop piles of gold upon death because apparently hell doesn't have a bank. Been there, done that. Shamefully walked into Hot Topic and bought the T-shirt.
When we went to BlizzCon, we were pretty much in the same boat. But the devil's in the details, and Diablo III's newly announced PVP Arena system is a detail the size of the big red guy – no, not the Kool Aid man – himself. Better still, in some ways, it legitimately surprised us. How? Well, let's run down the list.
1. The chaos – Sure, we expected three-on-three Diablo matches to be pretty wild, but we were still a bit taken aback when our tiny four-sided arena exploded into an ocean of fiery wizard magic, witchdoctor hell hounds, and barbarians hopping around like steroid-fueled, axe-wielding bunny rabbits. Basically, there were more than a few moments when our character keeled over, and we just paused, blinked, and said, “wait, what just happened?” However, confusing though it may occasionally be, it's also wildly exciting. Matches have their share of tactics, sure, but this is no chess match. If you get bored while playing this game, you might want to check your pulse, because you're probably dead.
Have you ever listened to yourself talk and/or think while you're playing videogames? We like to think it's akin to hearing William Shatner read a comment on any given Internet message board: it comes at a breakneck pace and doesn't make a lick of sense. And if it's a game or level you've never played before, turn that into a crowd of William Shatners all reading different spam emails simultaneously.
So, while taking Diablo III's brand new Demon Hunter class for a test drive during last weekend's BlizzCon, we decided to play Rosetta Stone and translate our sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled spill of Brain Soup into a real human language. The results were... amusing, to say the least. Also, surprisingly informative! 1. “Sh** sh** sh** sh** sh** sh**!” – The Demon Hunter – battle-hardened and thick-skinned though she may seem – is actually quite squishy. She's a ranged fighter, after all, so she doesn't take too well to pointy objects making shish kabobs out of her internal organs. As a result, seeing a horde of bulky demons, shambling zombies, and other hell-born riff-raff booking it straight for your Demon Hunter will have any number of four-letter words spewing out of your mouth as you make the necessary split-second precautions to intercept them. On the upside, it's utterly thrilling to be constantly walking such a thin line between life and death. On the downside, though, make one misstep and you''ll probably go splat.
I wish I could say this was unexpected, but, well, let’s be honest here: My reaction to EA’s last-minute act of self-censorship was less of a “WHAT” moment and more of a dejected sigh followed by the shocking realization that, holy moly, the sky is blue today. And the grass! It’s green! When did that happen? The pieces were in place, after all. There was a controversy, subsequent knee-jerk reactions on all sides, and an unfortunate precedent left festering on the shelf for years. Sad to say, it was only a matter of time before this happened:
“We have also received feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers who have expressed concern over the inclusion of the Taliban in the multiplayer portion of our game,” said EA producer Greg Goodrich. “This is a very important voice to the Medal of Honor team. This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about. Because of this, and because the heartbeat of Medal of Honor has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers, we have decided to rename the opposing team in Medal of Honor multiplayer from Taliban to Opposing Force.”
GameStop’s military base locations – which formerly refused to sell the game -- are now engaged in a “thorough review to fully understand the extent of the modifications."
Which means everything’s peachy, right? Well, no. Not at all, actually.
Tokyo’s Akihabara district is a never-ending electronics-geek carnival, drawing in tech enthusiasts to check out stores brimming with both vintage and cutting-edge electronics. All manner of otaku come to purchase anime, manga, and other items to feed their nerd obsessions, and hordes of tourists come to raze duty-free shops and gawk at cosplayers.
But Akihabara—the geek-culture center of Japan, if not the world—hasn’t always been such a tourist draw, nor an otaku enclave. Since its origin as a black market for radio parts in postwar Japan to its current incarnation, the shopping district has always reinvented itself. Most recently, a push to sanitize the area has done much to change the feel of the neighborhood, leaving many to wonder if corporate interests and a freewheeling vibe can coexist.
Last year, IBM announced that it had built a computer that exceeds the neural capacity of the cortex of a cat.
My first thought on hearing this news was that the world does not need a computer that is snotty, stubborn, and coughs up hairballs on the couch. (I already have a computer like that, including the hairballs—one of these days, I just gotta clean the fan.) But fortunately, that was not IBM’s goal.
That same press release went on to say that IBM eventually wants to build a computer that simulates and emulates the abilities of a human brain for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition.
And once they accomplish that, why stop there? If you can build a machine that matches the cortical ability of a human, why not keep going and build a machine that exceeds that by ten times, or a hundred, or as far as you can go before the limitations of the physical universe kick in?
If you’re a fan of conspiracies about the Illuminati, the Stonecutters, and how George Lucas died in 1981 while shooting Revenge of the Jedi, then you’ll appreciate me blowing the lid off an even bigger cover-up that cuts closer to our technology-obsessed hearts: The media’s secret pro-Apple bias.
Don’t believe me? I’ve got proof.
In 2008, Apple held a press conference to announce its new unibody MacBook Pro. Now, in my 18 years as a journalist, I’ve been to plenty of press conferences. Technology press conferences (especially product launches) are generally snoozefests, and the only way to get reporters to even show up is to offer free food and booze. Apple’s press conference, however, had to be held in an auditorium that could accommodate 200 or so journalists from around the globe—journalists who had willingly, voluntarily gathered to see the new MacBook Pro.
QuakeCon may be named after, you know, Quake, but this year, a different multiplayer shooter stole the show. Yeah, Brink’s always sounded great on paper, but so did the N-Gage -- and then it was a taco. So obviously, we walked into our hands-on session with some trepidation. Watching a game stand on the – oh, what’s the word – cusp of greatness, only to fall backward into the Mortal Kombat-style spike pit of mediocrity is generally enough to brew up a tiny storm cloud over our heads, and we wanted so dearly for Brink to be awesome.
Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed. Put simply, Brink works. It’s ambitious, yet practical – complex, yet incredibly accessible. We got to play a couple matches in an area called Container City, and here’s why – days after the fact – we’re still aching to play more.
When you're at the forefront of an emerging trend, you're bound to have imitators. Such is the case with Fallout, a series that's been wandering wastelands and mutilating mutants since long before videogaming came down with an incurable case of post-apocalypse fever. Imitation's a sticky subject, though. Sometimes, it's just a sh**-eating grin away from outright flattery, but other times, it's a lawsuit and a career-in-tatters away from bold-faced plagiarism.
So, the question arises: where, exactly, does RAGE stand? Well, we saw the game in action at QuakeCon, and we decided to run a little DNA test on the post-apocalyptic shooter in order to find out how it stacks up against its closest living – and also Bethesda-published – relative. So, without further ado, let's see what makes RAGE tick.
It's pitch black, and your teeth are chattering so loudly that you barely even notice the three simultaneous heart attacks you're having as you creep through the tall grasses of an open field. Suddenly, the bushes behind you rustle. You jerk your head so quickly that your body nearly doesn't get the chance to follow, as the hulking, foreboding figure of a baby bunny hops out from the bush. Phew. Heart attack number four averted. For now. You wipe the sweat from your brow – which, at this particular moment, is the world's most accurate model of what would happen if the polar ice caps actually melted – and continue onwards.
For about two feet. That's when you see it. Yep, there it is – right in front of you. Oh sweet mother of mercy. No, no – not the sprinting, groaning gray guy who's licking his unhinged chops and eying your neck. I'm talking about the thing behind him. That's right: a thermos full of coffee! Finally! Awesome! Sorry Mr. terrifying zombie man; just a second. You see, I need that coffee for an achievement.
The game in question? Alan Wake, a game quite capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment it spills hot coffee all over your lap. And it's certainly not alone. For the longest time, triple-A games polished their graphics and tweaked their ambient bunny-in-a-bush sounds in pursuit of a holy grail known simply as “immersion.” Gamers wanted it; game developers wanted it – for everything around the player to just melt away. To be utterly, hopelessly, and completely lost in the game world, without even the thinnest bread crumb trail back to reality. These days, though, immersion is about as prized as an airplane seat surrounded by screaming babies with no nearby emergency exit to fling yourself from. Or at least, it certainly seems that way.