Five Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Fantasies

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Mass Effect 3's Extended Cut DLC -- will it provide closure?

So today marks the release of the Mass Effect 3 "Extended Cut" DLC. I was going to say "much-anticipated," but to be honest the absolute, undiluted passion that many gamers felt on this issue seems to have cooled to either apathy ("I don't know, I've sort of moved on...") or a vague, almost existential sadness ("I thought Shepard mattered to the universe. Clearly he didn't. I'm playing some Skyrim again, that's helping me... fill the void..."). Once the information on the Extended Cut came out, it became clear that Bioware wasn't fundamentally altering any of the much-complained about ME3 endings, but instead adding additional content that they hoped would provide dissatisfied fans with a greater sense of closure. This placated some people, and just sort of sapped the willpower of those fans who wanted a complete ME3 ending overhaul.

But I, for one, am very excited to get home from work today and grab the DLC. I think there are many different avenues that Bioware could take that would be really interesting while still staying within the bounds of the endings already laid out in the pre-Extended Cut version of ME3. Here are a few (somewhat unorthodox) ideas about how ME3's different finales could be thrilling, touching and resoundingly complete.

MANY spoilers ahead for the original ending(s) of ME3.  I haven't played the Extended Cut yet, so everything besides the basic facts of the launch-version endings is pure conjecture, as will become apparent.

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Civ II: The Eternal War and Chaos in Gaming

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm
We all knew Civilization II was fun -- but ten years fun?

I've got a soft spot in my heart for Sid Meier's Civilization II. I discovered Civ II's simple, elegant approach to strategy gameplay in high school, when my social life consisted of hanging out with my cat and playing computer games. I had played strategy games before, but something about Civ II drew me in and kept me in a strange, micro-managing trance like nothing I'd experienced before. I went off to college, and it became a more communal experience -- I'd play with a buddy and a forty of Smirnoff Ice (this was part of the ritual... I don't know why...), and we'd stay up developing technologies and building roads so late that sometimes we would only leave our Civ world when dawn was upon us.

So I was delighted when Civ II burst back into the spotlight during the past week, thanks to a Reddit post gone viral. Turns out that redditor Lycerius started a Civ II game ten years ago that he still plays today.  The resulting post-post-post-Apocalyptic scenario has ignited the imaginations and nostalgia glands (what? I'm not a doctor) of gamers across the web, to the point where the story has been covered by such major news outlets as CNN.

Why is this such a big story? Well, I think people are interested in it for two reasons. For one, it's just a fun news story about the longevity of good video games. But I also believe that the tale of "The Eternal War" has connected with people because it displays one of the most fascinating things about video games: the potential for a video game to create its own self-sustaining environment.

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Necessary Elements of a Perfect Party Game

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 8:51 pm
Can party games be more than this?

(Editor's note: Sorry...scheduling error! Little re-post if you don't mind!)
The other night marked the birthday celebration of a good friend of mine from college. The gathering began at a restaurant and bar, but as the evening wore on we all went back to an apartment and fired up a Wii. The first game decided upon was Mario Party 9.

I know I work in the video game press, but I had no idea we were up to Mario Party 9. Mario Party apparently has become the Nintendo equivalent of Now That's What I Call Music!, which now has about five hundred versions? Right? I feel like there have been enough editions of Now That's What I Call Music! that literally anything that anyone has ever called music has been featured on a Now That's What I Call Music! CD.

Anyway. I had not played Mario Party 9 before, but I quickly understood that it features the same type of micro-game-laden, frenetic, chance-based gameplay that is so common in party-oriented titles that aren't Rock Band.  Before long we were knee-deep in stars and toadstools.

But while Mario Party's board game / mini-game feel is certainly one way to make a video game meant to be played in a party setting, it's not my ideal. The party game of my dreams is a game that both emphasized each party-goer's individual skills while also exposing to the party which players are hyper-competitive dicks. It is half hopscotch and half gladiatorial deathmatch. It is both hilarious and unfailingly logical. And it adheres to the following guidelines.

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Rendered Unwinnable - If History Was an Adventure Game

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm
Adventure games -- the cruelest form of video game.

One of the delights of studying history is looking back and wondering what the world would be like if the great figures throughout the ages had been a little wiser, or a little crueler, or a little drunker. The events of the past are full of circumstances that, slightly altered, would result in a completely different present for us all. History is rife with close calls; things that, if they didn't go exactly as they did, would have spelled calamity. To be a world leader is to walk a narrow path -- one false step, one missed opportunity, and it can mean that you will never achieve your goals.

Modern video games, where autosaves and adjustable difficulties all but ensure a player's eventual success, usually don't have these kinds of stakes. But there is one type of video game that mirrors the stark calculus of history, that will give you no quarter if you fail to do everything exactly right:

Old-school adventure games.

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The Life Vicarious

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 9:19 am
Do I live too much of my life in imaginary worlds?

While games and game culture have become more and more prevalent in our society, the echoes of old mockeries still exist. Some of these are shallower than others, but I've realized over time that most of them come from a single source of contempt.

For instance, what are some of the meanest things that have been said to you over the course of your life as a gamer? Most of the usual insults center around the gamer's supposed inability to get laid, or the gamer's assumed permanent residence in their parents' basement. Depending on how these jokes are told and how much painful truth they uncover, these can range from annoying and hurtful to actually legitimately funny (after all, if you can't laugh at yourself, you're doomed).

But, when I think about it, these jokes are really about one thing: the amount of time a person spends in a world that is not our own.

Because what is the shared implication of these kinds of insults? That serious gamers are so involved in their in-game universes that they don't have the time or the real-world skill to do things like date or earn a living wage. All these littler jabs are smaller versions of a bigger idea, perhaps the bigger one directed at gamers by disapproving authority figures -- "You're wasting your life on those things."

As an actor, reader and avid gamer, I spend huge portions of my life in the creation or consumption of fiction. So this idea -- that I've forsaken the real world, the only world that matters, for a life of fantasies and make-believe -- has the potential to really bother me.

How far is too far through the portal to Pretend?  How can I justify the time I spend on the other side?

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The Element of Surprise

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm
In Webster's Dictionary, this photo is shown next to the word, "surprise."

There's nothing like being surprised. Having something sneak up on you tends to amplify whatever emotion you'd regularly feel given any situation. For instance, how would you feel if you saw a grotesque, slimy squid-monster crawling toward you slowly from a great distance?  Probably a little freaked out, maybe generally uneasy, perhaps a little confused.  But what about if, instead of gradually inching closer , it fell out of a hole in the ceiling right in front of you?  You'd feel all those emotions you felt before, but way more!  You'd be extremely freaked out, superlatively uneasy, and monumentally confused.

This works for good emotions as well. If as a young child you were politely informed by your parents that you would be receiving that Lego spaceship you wanted for your birthday, you would be pretty happy when your birthday rolled around and that gorgeous box of blocks and grinning yellow space-dudes emerged from the wrapping paper. But if your parents kept their mouths shut and waited, you would have no idea that instead of a big box of underwear and socks, that present was actually your ticket to outer space adventure. And instead of a calm drawn-out period of happiness, your joy would be a sudden, violent explosion, much like the explosion of a Lego astronaut without a spacesuit in a terrible pressurization chamber accident.

My point is that Lego space-faring is nasty, dangerous work, but somebody's got to fucking do it.

Wait, no! I don't think that was my point, actually.

Right, my point was that usually the games I feel strongly about are the games that are capable of surprising me in some way or other. When I know what a title is going to do and it does exactly that, even if it's a very effective game, I'm left without that burst of emotion, that shock that stirs me from the button-mashing trance. Alternatively, when it happens, there's nothing quite like it.

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Adventurers and Ailments

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm
Adventure and deathly illness go hand in hand.

Adventure is a double-edged sword. I mean, sure, everybody loves adventure in theory. It sounds so thrilling and sexy, a word that signifies the kind of endlessly exciting lives we all wish we could lead. We imagine adventure as a crazy series of high-stakes events that helps our true selves to emerge, that makes all the powerlessness and pettiness of living in a nice, boring society drop away, that reveals the stoic hero underneath. Therefore, we all kind of wish we could drop everything and go on an adventure.

So why isn't everyone quitting their day jobs to comb the ocean floor for shipwreck salvage or to collect rare rainforest spiders? When I tell my friends a story about an "adventure" I had recently, the end of the story usually less like, "And then I sunk my sword deep into the traitor's heart!!" and more like, "And then it just scrambled off into the night... if it wasn't a possum, it was a really nasty-looking cat, you guys." Why is that?

Well, it's because real adventures are fucking dangerous.

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Tags: Adventure

Five Great Alternative Video Game Weapons

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm
Bow and arrow -- regular weapon, regular violence. But some of these other things...

If there's one thing I've learned from playing a lot of Minecraft over the past few days, it's that bashing heads isn't always the best way to deal with your adversaries, even in video games, where bashing heads is almost always a good option. Sometimes the best way to deal with an angry horde of foes is to simply lock your doors, take a nap, and hope they're gone by the time you wake up again.

But even when complete nonviolence isn't an option, weird violence is. Weird violence is like regular violence in that it harms people, but it's like nonviolence in that it warms the human heart. How does it accomplish both of these seemingly diametrically opposed goals? Well, weird violence causes injury in ways that are so goofy or dumb that it's impossible not to smile.

In video games, the available weapons are usually mainstays like firearms or swords. But sometimes a game will give you something different, something a little kooky that still manages to neutralize your enemies. Weird violence ensues! Hilarious!

The following are five indisputably odd ways heroes of video games have destroyed their adversaries.

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Tags: Weapons

Singularity of Purpose -- "Go Right" and the Power of Platformers

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 5:00 pm
"Go Right," a video posted by YouTube user RockyPlanetesimal, is just about the most inspiring two-minute montage of platformers that you'll ever see.

My good friend and JD contributor Drew Paryzer sent me a YouTube clip last night.  It's titled "Go Right," posted by YouTuber RockyPlanetesimal (full video after the jump). You may have come across it already, as it's been going fairly viral.  If I were to explain it simply, I might say that it's a very well-edited montage of different sidescrollers throughout the ages of gaming. But that explanation does not mention that fact that this montage has a possibility of making you weep nobly like Odysseus on Ogygia looking out to sea thinking of his distant wife and son.

Why A part of it is certainly the gorgeous, sweeping Michael Nyman music that the video is set to. It makes the sight of goofy heroes like Darkwing Duck and Rayman seem downright portentous.

The other obvious reason that this might tap into gamers' emotions is the nostalgia quotient. And it is certainly fun to see so many old standbys in one video, patched together so seamlessly. But seeing old favorites from systems past is no new thing -- you can watch a playthrough anytime you want.

So what about the imagery of "Go Right" is so entrancing and, ultimately, so moving?

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Five Fighting Games That Are Creeping Me Out Right Now

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am
Some fighting games seem less concerned with action and more concerned with haunting my dreams.

Fighting games satisfy a very specific corner of the mind. They don't provide the same type of gaming experience as Heavy Rain or Mass Effect 3; they affect me on a much more basic level. If I were to take a CAT scan while playing Soul Caliber, I imagine it would prove that fighting games engage the same parts of the brain as activities like binge-eating Doritos or watching porn. There is no clearer expression of my id than Mitsurugi in a ready-stance with his daikatana out.

I don't play fighting games often, but they're part of my history as a gamer nonetheless. When I was a kid, my brother and I would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for the SNES for huge stretches of time. For the uninitiated, this is a game where our turtle pals compete in vicious bare-knuckle brawling tournaments in order to win stacks of gold.  I also have fond memories of playing King of the Monsters at a friend's house and button-mashing until the controller had actually inflicted a wound upon my thumb.

But there is a dark side to fighting games. Perhaps it's because they serve that very basic part of us that wants to use punching as a solution to every problem, so sometimes they come across as oddly hostile.  Or perhaps it's just because I'm not as familiar with fighting games as I am with RPGs or FPSs and so some of them seem foreign, strange... wrong somehow. Whatever it is, there are some fighting games that freak me out.

They just kind of make me uneasy, okay? Something about them gives me the willies. Not all fighting games, obviously I don't have nightmares about Super Smash Bros. or anything. Just a few of them...

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