Health Bars Are Red, Magic Bars Are Blue

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm



Romance in video games -- is the health bar half full or half empty?

One thing that I ask myself periodically as a gamer is, "Are video games just wish fulfillment?" When I play Fallout 3, are my adventures through the wastes a valuable collaborative story told in equal parts by me, Bethesda and Liam Neeson (playing the part of my futuristic dad)? Or is it just electronic crack for my id, a treasure-hunting, raider-killing romp through all my basic post-apocalyptic desires?

I would like to believe the former. Certainly the idea of an epic novel, the arc of which is created in part by the author and in part by the reader, is in some senses realized by modern video games. And what an idea! Books with all the wit and lushness of their author's words, but unfolding in ways that most suit the reader's sensibilities. Want to experience the terrifying twists and turns of Yossarian's combat missions in Catch-22, deciding exactly how much cowardice our embattled hero displays? Sure! Wish you got to control exactly how haughty the quips are in Pride and Prejudice? It can be arranged!

But one thing that prevents video games from ascending to this level of artistic consideration is their tendency to err on the side of wish fulfillment. Sometimes instead of depth and nuance a player is given a rocket launcher. This is not always a bad thing (let it never be said that I am anti-rocket launcher), but it is perhaps limiting.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is romance in video games.

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At Last, The Review You've Been Waiting For! [BurgerTime World Tour Review]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 at 10:00 am
By Andrew Mellick

Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has struggled with his need for food and his ability to get it. From the ancient days of cave men chucking spears at dinosaurs to today's modern man braving the dreaded grocery store, food and man have always had a tumultuous relationship. Perhaps nobody encapsulated this struggle better than Chef Peter Pepper, whose battle to create quality hamburgers despite the persecution of living pickles, hotdogs, and eggs was well documented in the classic game, BurgerTime. BurgerTime, was a simple concept, where by gamers took control of Chef Pepper and attempted to make burgers by walking across oversized buns, patties, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes, all while avoiding the enemy food in his path. If you did get cornered, you could simply pull out the Chef's trusty pepper shaker and incapacitate enemies for a short period of time. It was simple yet addicting gameplay and it made BurgerTime a classic.

Seventeen years later and developer, MonkeyPaw, looks to recreate the magic of the original title, albeit with updated graphics and game play. But do these high-def burgers stack up? Read on to find out.

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Why I Play Games

Monday, November 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm


Behold. A cave.

I seem to be one of those people who cannot resist the allure of an open cave entrance. "Is that a cave? Why, yes, yes, it is. Hmm... I know I have to get these items to the next town, but that is one yawning maw of a cave opening. I wonder what's down there. Except I have these items to deliver. But there's a gaping mouth of a cave opening... ooh... conflict... nope! Cave. Cave wins every time." And so I go into the cave, and five hours later, after finding several more caves, I finally end up in the town and deliver the goods, all the while having forgotten why I went after those items to begin with.

Does that sound familiar? Like at least 7 million[1] other people on this planet, I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the past week. Being as that I never really got too far in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and barely escaped the opening dungeon in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, this is quite the accomplishment for me.

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Gangstar Rio: City of Saints Worships Rockstars - Review

Monday, November 21, 2011 at 10:00 am
What, bitch? Play the iPad.
Rockstar Games' sandbox-style action games are so prominent in popular culture, I find it difficult to avoid comparing similar games to such Rockstar titles as Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption. So, this is a plea for forgiveness.

Gameloft's latest iOS game, Gangstar Rio: City of Saints, centers on a high-profile gang member named Raul, whose career takes a turn for the worse after an explosion. In a fashion like Niko Bellic, he starts a new life of crime yet hunts down the suspects of his deadly past. Hot pursuit abound in this revenge tale.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, the game strives for Rockstar status, but it's missing some blood and guts. You could point to the limitations of the iPad, or you could be a little harsher.

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Tags: GTA, iOS 5

Video Game Journalism Deserves A Bit More Respect

Friday, November 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

journalism main2.jpg

Hi. My name is Ryan, and I am a video game journalist.

Now, I know what a lot of you folks in the audience are saying: "Ryan, you silly goose, there's no such thing as a video game journalist. What you guys do isn't 'journalism,' dummy. All you do is copy and paste press releases."

I'm going to have to politely disagree with your hypothetical (and kind of rude) retort. While games journalism is certainly its own breed of the vocation, just because our stories aren't always thoroughly investigated pieces of written perfection, hammered out in a smoke-filled bullpen bustling with the clickety-clack of a dozen keyboards on desks cluttered with balled up pieces of rejected copy, doesn't make what we do any less "journalistic."

Let me explain...

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First Person Shooter Stories Matter: Modern Warfare 3

Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm
Military first person shooters are only allowed to be so smart by the marketplace, but that doesn't mean they have to be, or are, stupid by default

This may be the most self-indulgent thing I've written in a long time, but I really care about first person shooters, and I can't stand it when they aren't taken seriously whether it's by developers, critics, or fans. First person shooters do not have to be exercises in meatheadedness. Valve and Irrational Games have proven that first person shooters are perfectly valid vehicles for solid narrative.

The military-FPS sub-genre takes a beating by critics for playing host to stupid stories, and that grates on me as well. Developers have tried to plan for more serious mil-FPS tales and had their projects altered or shut down (look up Six Days in Fallujah). Attempts at serious consideration of the nature of war in mil-FPS games don't seem viable in the marketplace for the time being. Mil-FPS games are therefore limited either to historical reference, or Tom Clancy-esque plotlines.

The Call of Duty franchise has done the latter quite well since the fourth game in the series, and considering all the talk I hear from video game journalists and pundits about wanting more criticism in their game reviews, I'm plenty disappointed that no one called out Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's campaign for the banal exercise in stupidity that it was.

Spoilers here, there, and everywhere.

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Review Roundup: Handheld and Action

Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 9:00 am
We get a lot of games sent our way, and we try our best to cover each and every one of them. Sometimes, especially this time of year, we just can't get to them all. But we try to check out each and every title that arrives at JD Central, so here are some quick mini-reviews and impressions of a few of the games that we haven't had a chance to write up a larger review for. This first edition of Review Roundup features several handheld games, but also a few full-fledged console action games.More >>

Dragon Age 2 Leaves A Lasting Impression

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm


I have now beaten Dragon Age 2 once, and after beginning another, I've come to a few conclusions about it that make me think that, despite the intense divide among fans of the franchise, this is a very good game. Aside from it being a very tightly made, virtually bug-free RPG with a superb combat engine and an engaging conversation system, it also has one of the most compelling narratives I have ever encountered. The story is simple: Hawke (who can be male or female), a refugee from a war-torn country, arrives in the ancient city of Kirkwall with her (since this is my character, Hawke is a woman) family and tries to start a new life. Instead, political and religious tensions drag Hawke and her new found companions into a war for the city, with greater ramifications for the world at large.

Ultimately, it is a story about religion. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, but it is. In the world of Dragon Age, the Chantry dictates the words of the Maker and the Prophet Andraste. In the Chantry's eyes, mages are dangerous, susceptible to demons and possession, and so are locked away in specially secured towers, called Circles of Magi, to keep the rest of the world safe. Ultimately, there are mages who rebel, who flee, and some turn to darker forms of magic in order to fight against the Chantry and its sanctioned guardians, the Templars. 

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Do We Jet Ski or Scuba Dive? A Gamer's Dilemma

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 9:00 am
When I play Modern Combat: Fallen Nation, can I multitask?
A few years ago, I found myself neck-deep in a pool of self-loathing when I read Nicholas Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," and I drowned when I came across this passage: "My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

My writing and gaming habits are similar. It's true that I rely too much on the Internet; in fact, thanks to distractions such as news tickers, interactive ads ("Click here for your free iPhone!") and Google chat, I admit that errors have made their way into my work. Distraction - that's the keyword here. [Update: In fact, I looked at this again and noticed a few typos. Damn!]

From a gamer's point of view, I've looked at Carr's article once again and thought about how it relates to our discussions on video game narratives. I think I'm turning into a Jet Skiing gamer, skimming over long-form narratives and touching lots of different areas in the sea of the video games.

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If Video Games Could Feel Your Pain

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Biometrics may one day allow your Xbox to awkwardly attempt to cheer you up.

In prognosticating things that are to come, often would-be predicters of future technology confuse what will probably happen with what they want to happen. Thus we have all been waiting in vain for jetpacks since man first dreamt of strapping a rocket on his back and wildly careening into the heavens. Some dreams of the future are borne more of desire than sober analysis, and the dream of having a video game console that adapts to your emotions sure seems like one of these cases.

This dude, however, thinks otherwise. Through biometrics, a bevy of ways in which the human emotional condition can be analyzed, industry experts are already measuring which parts of video games put people on edge, which parts make their hearts race, and which parts make them put the thing on pause and go for a piss. And according to the author of the linked article, it's only a matter of time before biometrics become not a way of interpreting a game experience, but a way of shaping the experience itself. Hence -- a game that knows when you are exhilirated. A game that knows when you're nervous. Maybe even a game that knows when you are sad.

Whether you believe that this is a stunning vision of what games may eventually become or a 2001-esque idea that would invariably lead to PlayStation 8s saying creepy stuff like, "It looks like you're not feeling so well today, friend," I have one question. In terms of gameplay, how would it work?

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