Breaking Bad As An Old-School RPG

Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 10:00 am
So, the Breaking Bad phenomenon has cooled down a bit since Season 4 ended. But not everyone is satisfied by sitting around watching other stuff until the next season arrives, and the cliffhanger is answered. For some, it is time to put all that love and inspiration into something tangible. Like a Breaking Bad 16-bit video game.

Enter the world-famous College Humor crew. They've skewered, lampooned, and comedified everything under the sun, and Walter White is next on the list. This will take you on an extremely abridged ride through the show's main plot line. Enjoy, and don't watch if you aren't 100% caught up with the show, because serious show spoilers abound!

A Couple Skyrim Subplots I Created Jointly With Bethesda

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm
Skyrim: providing a limited -- yet intriguing -- chance for player creation of odd subplots.

I know there's been a lot of talk here recently about both Skyrim and storytelling in games. And it's not my intention to beat a dead horse.

(Though I'm getting used to horse carnage. If you play Skyrim like I do, there is a lot of equine collateral damage. I treat my horse like it is a mountain goat and can hop from cliff to cliff with ease, which is not always the case.)

Thing is, Skyrim ranked ninth in Joystick Division's recent best-of list on game narratives of 2011. The reason cited for its inclusion on the list wasn't that its main quest was more inventive, compelling or fresh than other games, but that given the breadth of choice that the player is afforded concerning his or her adventures as Dovahkiin, there are myriad routes the story can take in any given play-through.

Since getting the game from a friend, I've been diving into it every chance I get. And, to be sure, I'm excited by the possibilities of Skyrim. But do my actions really interact with Bethesda's meticulously detailed world in such a way that actual, identifiable subplots are created?

Following are a couple subplots that have emerged through my thirty hours of gameplay thus far -- subplots that I've created as much as the game has. Sometimes these are created more by the programming and sometimes they're made more by my imagination based on subtle hints from the game. But they were both delightful little reminders of the continuing advancement of open-world games and also the human ability to cobble together a story out of even loosely connected elements. Here they are (mild spoilers ahead):

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Five Things We Learned From Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an exploration of whether someone is still human when they have sunglasses built into their face
As we continue the trend of expanding the "Five Things We Learned" series into this-generation territory, we now come to a game that asks important questions like, "Will Detroit still be a cesspool in 2027?" and "If you could shoot metal planks out of your elbows, would you use this power for good or evil?"

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (shortened to DX:HR because honestly, with an acronym that badass, why not use it) is the prequel to Deus Ex, which presented a vision of the future that tapped into the eerie atmosphere of those early days of the new millennium and is heralded to this day as one of the best video games ever made. I've expressed my love many times for the classic original, but did the prequel live up its roots? Can Adam Jensen adequately fill out the big coat of JC Denton?

Having just played through this game, I learned the answers to the above questions -- and much more. And even though I never asked for this, I ended up learning... a little bit about life.

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Five Things We Learned From Dragon Age: Origins

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In Dragon Age: Origins, you do regular stuff like kill arch-demons and sleep with witches.

I've been severely behind the times on this-gen games for what seems like an eternity. For a long while I had no console to call my own, only a laptop with a graphics card that kept me permanently stuck in about 2005.  Using the computer equivalent of dark sorcery (I think I put a file called "eyeofnewt.ini" in some directory), I managed to trick the machine into running some more recent games like Oblivion or Mass Effect, but the dismal frame-rates made the games more like interactive slideshows, and I usually had to decrease the draw distance so much that my character was wandering through a permanent haze.

Every so often I would remember wistfully the good old days when I was at the cutting edge of gaming, when my father had bought a Dreamcast for us and we marveled at its then-unbelievable capabilities. I have clear memories of shouting at the microphone we attached to the controller to play Seaman, trying to tell my tadpole son that he was a fuck-up and that he'd never amount to anything, all the while amazed that games were so advanced.

For a time  it seemed that those days were gone forever, that the price of New York life on low wages would preclude me from experiencing current games.

But recently a good friend purchased a newer model Xbox 360 and, in an act of gamer benevolence matched by few others, passed his still-perfectly-working previous 360 along to me. And so suddenly I find myself with all the possibilities of modern gaming at my fingertips. Mad with power, I now chip away at a seven-year backlog, devouring the games I once thought I would only be able to play come 2020 or so.

And with new games, come new life lessons. So let's get right to it, and talk about the lessons of one of the first games I popped into that sweet vertical 360 CD tray -- Dragon Age: Origins.

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Game Trailer Songs That Would've Been Weird Yet Rad

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm


Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, who is a pretty tough dude, benefits directly from a Tears for Fears cover.

​There's something about incongruity that interests the mind. Two things that don't seem to fit together being combined can be a source of fascination, humor or even awe. It's the reason we are interested in a great many things. Examples of these kinds of odd pairings are everywhere. Sweet and sour pork is one (How can one serving of pork be both deliciously sweet and also mouth-puckeringly sour? Visit your neighborhood Chinese restaurant to find out!). Gator Golf is another ("What could be greater than golf with a gator," a philosopher once mused).

Rat-cat-dog is perhaps the ultimate expression.

Sometimes, video game trailers will rely on this to draw potential players in by matching game footage with music that is both totally unexpected yet somehow extremely effective. The most famous example of this to date is the masterful trailer for the original Gears of War, which featured an armored mega-badass running and gunning against a terrible, alien foe in a bombed-out cityscape to the sleepy, melancholy strains of Gary Jules's cover of "Mad World." It's a dynamic that has worked in other trailers since, including the Bioshock Infinite trailer recently released

I can't help but wonder if this same trick of amazing game footage paired with gorgeous yet unexpected music would work for other upcoming releases as well. So I took the trailers of a few of the most anticipated games coming up in the future and thought about what music might have that "this is ridiculous... wait, actually, this is awesome" effect. 

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Ten Slimiest Politicians in Video Games: Part 2

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Because gamers need to know if their politicians are crooks.

Welcome to 2012, everyone! We hope you've had a nice two days of recovering from the furious hangover with which you invariably ushered in this new year, but now it's time to get down to business. CAUCUS BUSINESS.

That's right, people. It's time to huddle together in mobs and talk loudly about who we would like to be president. It's the 2012 Iowa Caucuses today. The outcome of these caucuses will be scientifically analyzed and a winner will be selected. This candidate will then go on emboldened by his (or her, but let's be honest, it's not going to be her) victory and then may or may not be immediately forgotten.

But while this event of clear national importance takes place in a state of dubious national importance, let us all -- Iowan and non-Iowan, American and non-American, the fervent among us as well as the apathetic -- yes, let us all ask the pressing questions about video games and the politicians within them. And let us be thankful that none of the figures mentioned below can be elected to any form of real-life office.

This is Ten Slimiest Politicians in Video Games: Part 2!

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Ten Slimiest Politicians in Video Games: Part 1

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm


Press up on the D-pad to indict!

My friends, my fellow gamers, it's the most magical time of the year.

That's right. That magical time when people can smell the pine needles and the general lust for power in the air. That season where everyone seems nicer than usual, and those nice people show ads on your TV telling you exactly who wants to destroy America. It's that wondrous, festive time when folks wait with bated breath to see if Santa's left them the most precious gift of all: a functioning democracy.

It's primary season! In a little over a week the ponderous, silly wheels of American presidential politics will begin their quadrennial trundle down the hillside of freedom -- beginning with Iowa's caucuses on January 3rd.

So, in honor of another cycle, we're compiling a list of ten of the slimiest politicians in video game history. They take bribes, they kill for influence, and sometimes they are actually huge monsters taking a human form simply for convenience (OLD GAME SPOILERS AHEAD). But whatever their deal, you wouldn't want them in the Oval Office.

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Adaptation: The Delicate Balance

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm



"Literature? In MY video games?" It's more likely than you think.

We all know that adapting a video game into a movie usually turns out poorly.  The leap from video games to books happens for the big blockbuster games sometimes, and usually the resulting literary product is a pretty niche-market kind of thing, meant for existing fans who want fuller immersion in the game's world (can you imagine reading the Halo novels if you didn't own an Xbox? It would be like buying collectible horcrux miniatures without reading Harry Potter. It just wouldn't happen).

But adaptation of a movie or a piece of literature into a video game is a different matter.  The history of video games is dotted with these strange hybrids, who bear the storytelling genes of film or prose or sometimes even poetry, but have mutated to fit the needs of electronic gaming.  These games are sometimes very bad.  Occasionally they are good. And there will invariably be more to come.

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Freddie Wong Thinks Master Chief Is A Prick (And He's Right)

Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Mr. John T Spartan is known for doing the three most noble acts in video game epics: saving the world, saving the virtual girl, killing the baddies. He's a hero, a man the whole universe can count on to come through in a pinch and deliver in spades. Right?

Wrong, according to comedian Freddie Wong. In this video, Wong points out the great many dickheadish things that Master Chief does on his journey to end the intergalactic war. I won't ruin the gags for you by going into any more detail, but I found myself saying "yeah, what a butthole" over and over. Take a look at it, enjoy it, and laugh your little butt off.

In Defense of Both Simulated Violence and Parental Supervision

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 10:00 am
What's off-limits in games? My dad, circa 1994, would argue that this is.

When I was probably nine or ten years old, I hijacked a relative's birthday party and made everyone in my family take a vote on whether or not it was okay to play video games where it was possible for a male character to hit a female character. My father had enacted a ban on such games, and I felt the limitation was unnecessary and condescending. So we both stated our cases.

My dad was sort of mortified that his son was taking a pro-abuse stance, even concerning virtual confrontations, and was also sort of mortified that we had taken the spotlight from the birthday celebration in order to hash out a petty parent-child dispute. However, I had forced the issue, and he had to defend his side.

I remember my dad's reasoning being very straightforward -- you're young, you're impressionable, and there are some things you shouldn't even pretend to do.

Since I was nine at the time, my argument (which I laid out with the seriousness of fucking Sam Waterston in a sweeps week Law & Order) involved several tangents ("Sometimes the girls start the fight in the game, then it's self-defense, DAD"), but the main idea was this:

It's just a game.

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