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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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 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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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

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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Five Things We Learned From 3D Movie Maker

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm
3D Movie Maker -- before the Xbox, Microsoft gaming looked like this.

Last week I tried to get myself to understand the mechanics of adapting movies to games and games to movies, and I got in a little over my head. Or, to put it in more vivid terms, I wrote down so much concentrated nonsense that I could actually feel my brain melting, and over the next few days my hair began to fall out (I guess certain types of high-grade nonsense are radioactive). So this week I decided to take it easy, play it safe and go back to my old standby -- the "Five Things We Learned From" series, where we revisit video games we've played in the past and speak about what gems of wisdom they imparted to us.

The trouble is that I usually look to the games of my childhood for material when writing these articles, and I've done everything from Super Mario World to Goldeneye to Bubsy. And Bubsy wasn't even really a part of my childhood; he was like a distant cousin I saw only rarely and didn't much care for. I realize now that I've kind of already turned all the influential video games of my youth into Five Things articles.

Except for one.

3D Movie Maker is an old-school computer game that allows the player to create short films using pre-rendered scenery and 3D characters, props and effects. You can use stock dialogue and music cues, or you can import your own. It looked impossibly goofy even by 1995 standards, but god damn it did I love it, and it taught me many things about my own creativity, the art of storytelling, and a strange, terrible humanoid creature named McZee. Things like...
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Dorkly Bags Super Mario & Toad

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Ah yes, our reliable friends at Dorkly. This week, they've tagged the tumultuous relationship between Mario and Toad.

One would think that since these two dudes are on the same side, Toad would do everything in his power to help Mario, right? Wrong. Toad is kind of an asshole, I guess.


Tags: Dorkly, Mario, Toad

Adapting the Adapted: an Exercise in Insanity

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm
mario bob hoskins.jpg
Can a man consider what it is to turn a video game into a movie and not lose his mind?

If you were ever six years old (and most of you have been at one point), you've played the game Telephone. This is an important game that reveals to each participating child whether they are boring, deaf, or an asshole. Everyone sits in a circle, and a message is passed around the group by each kid whispering to their neighbor. The boring kids will pass the message on dutifully ("Mr. Reynolds looks like my grandpa."). The deaf kids will garble the message unintentionally ("Mr. Reynolds shook Mike's lamp. Ha!"). The asshole kids will pass on whatever they god damn feel like ("Mr. Reynolds kisses donkeys all day long!").

The same basic Telephone archetypes apply to people adapting a work of art from one medium to another. Sometimes the original vision will be preserved faithfully. Sometimes it will be somewhat distorted or marred in adapted form, despite good intentions on the part of the creative team. And sometimes the original vision will be so horribly disfigured by that process of adaptation, so mutilated beyond any bit of its former self, that you have to wonder if somebody somewhere is just having a laugh.

But I realize that a lot of times I don't appreciate how tough it is to take a story meant for a completely different form and make it work in a foreign medium. Maybe it's not that people don't get it or don't care; maybe it's just really, really hard. I feel like this is a point I don't instinctively grasp.

Which is why I came up with this exercise:

What better way to really distill what makes adapting video games difficult than forcing myself to adapt the same source material over and over? So, to better understand how challenging it is to switch a story from one medium to another, I've decided to theorize about what would happen if Super Mario Bros. was repeatedly adapted from game to movie and back again, on infinite loop.

Interested? Follow me! Frightened? Me too! Confused? You're about to be more confused!

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Five Hilarious Licensed Games and What Could Make Them Great

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm
cool spot.png
Licensed games -- source of occasional brilliance and common hilarity.

Last week I reviewed the new XBLA game South Park: Tenorman's Revenge, and it brought a lot of questions to mind. Some of them were personal questions, like, "When was the last time I watched the Chinpokomon episode of South Park?" Some of the questions were deeper questions, like, "Do I think the idea of door keys made out of poop is funny?" (The answer is yes.) But mainly it got me thinking of video games based on already-existing creative properties: how wonderful they are when they succeed and how miserably disappointing they are when they fail. Tenorman's Revenge, for me, is the rare licensed game that falls between these two poles -- not depressingly bad but not especially good, either.

Usually when a licensed game converts its source material to game form in an effective way, it's near-phenomenal. The best licensed games take characters that you know and love and put you directly in their shoes; they take the indescribable tone of a movie, TV show or book and somehow transplant it into an experience that you, as a gamer, control directly. When it works, it's quite a trick. Not to mention an almost guaranteed cash cow.

But for every really amazing licensed game, there are four hundred that are horrifying bastardizations of the source material, interesting ideas that have been brutally jammed down into something resembling a video game to make an easy buck.

I thought I knew about most of the licensed games out there. The great ones, like Arkham City and Goldeneye. The hellish ones, like E.T. and Superman. But after having my interest piqued and doing some research, there are a feast of crazy licensed games that I never had any god damned idea existed. I hand-picked the five licensed games that most frayed the portion of my brain that controls reason and logic and listed them below. I haven't played these games, but I've included the traits that I think could make each one superlatively good or abjectly terrible. I will now list them in ascending order of dumbness.

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