Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Game of the Year

This year… has been interesting… at least from a personal perspective. But I digress, let’s talk about the games that I have played.


Catching Up on Classics: Partem Deum <—(I likely butchered that)
Last year, I picked up a Playstation 3 and set to work playing and reviewing a multitude of modern classics. I’ve continued that trend, albeit on a much larger scale, extending it to the current generation of games. In this year alone, I have played both Mass Effects, Red Dead Redemption, Oblivion, Minecraft, LIMBO, Splinter Cell, half of the Call of Duties, Dragon Age: Origins, Super Meat Boy, Jamestown, Portal 2, Resistance 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Vanquish, Terraria, Torchlight, inFamous, fl0wer, Bioshock 2 and Heavenly Sword. That barely scratches the surface.

I borrowed Red Dead Redemption from my friend Devan, and I had limited time to spend with the game and barely scratched the surface. I completed the campaign up to the <SPOILER> death of John Marston, but never played the postgame missions with Jack </SPOILER>. Nonetheless, the 20 hours that I did enjoy with the game were memorable and satisfying. Going into the game doubting that a New Mexican desert could make for an interesting environment, I was shocked to discover that Red Dead Redemption had one of the richest and liveliest game worlds to be seen in a game. Its a game that I regret not owning myself and an easy recommendation to anyone. tumblr_ll7075Bxkf1qgtc21o1_r1_1280

I bought Super Meat Boy at a Steam Sale approximately one year ago, and I have not yet beat the second world. Nonetheless, the intense difficulty and low punishment-factor not only makes SMB one of the most challenging games of the year, but one of the most consistently playable. Your reflexes will be challenged, but not your patience. This is a fine casual game that anyone should have on their hard-drive for the time between classes.

I liked inFamous. While I felt that Empire City was a bland and uninteresting place, the game redeemed itself with excellent action, buttery-smooth controls and fun powers. I wasn’t that pleased with the jarring storytelling, but was entertained through the entire duration of this flawed classic.

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I hated Modern Warfare 2, the scattershot plot, rage-inducing multiplayer, cliffhanger-story and agency-robbing set-pieces failed to carry over what made the first Modern Warfare one of the best shooters ever made. That said, I did have fun with Black Ops. The conspiracy-laden story was entertaining, clear and understandable. While still linear and filled with hand-holding,the game was not as egregiously unreplayable as the previous game. For all the bashing I put on this series for spawning an unsustainable trend of copycat shooters, Zombies makes this game a guilty pleasure of mine.

My Personal Game of the Year

I have not yet played Skyrim, Battlefield 3, Arkham City or Skyward Sword, so I cannot include them in this part of the post. But for the sake of thought, here are my three top games of 2011.

Minecraft was the second 5/5 I awarded on this blog, and for good reason. It holds shocking emotional impact and touches the player’s2011-12-24_20.29.51 soul in an unexpected way. The lonely freedom the player experiences is liberating in its childlike gleefulness. It is a brilliant game filled with brilliant ideas played by brilliant people. Don’t let the allegations of an unintuitive tutorial dissuade you, running the game in windowed mode with the Wiki available in the background completely alleviates this problem. The possibilities, like in life, are endless.

I love the Mass Effect games, while a mixed bag from a moral me2-ps3-boxperspective, the endearing characters, epic narrative and lovable world work together to make a remarkable impact on the player. Mass Effect 2’s release on the PS3 early this year brought this brilliant series and its varied denizens to a new audience. I grew attached to a certain Scientist Salarian named Mordin, his caffeinated manner of speaking, affable dialect and homicidal humor ingrained his character into my heart. The same can’t be said about a certain Miranda Lawson, I didn’t shed a tear when that pretentious and unsympathetic douchebag was left for dead in the center of the galaxy. 

Portal 2 is the best puzzle-game ever made. The apotheosis of a movement initiated by the first Portal and expanded in Braid and portal_2_box_ps3_thumb1LIMBO, the game exemplifies the positive trial-and-error aesthetic. The game is unspeakably difficult, but the intelligent construction of the puzzles promote rigorous experimentation and never fails to be fresh. The game is reinforced by genius writing, hilarious characters and a unique cooperative mode requiring the use of two brains. Portal 2 is great, and that does not even touch on the deep and involving feminist subtext that got even my Ethics teacher interested.

And the Winner is…

And this is what makes any Game of the Year decision so difficult. Portal 2, Minecraft and Mass Effect 2 are all great fun, intellectually and emotionally gratifying and vastly different. One is a the apotheosis of intelligent play, another is a immaculately detailed fantasy world and another is, like life, what you make of it. All I enthusiastically recommend to all and consider to be immaculate examples of brilliant game design and if I could, I would give trophies to all the studios responsible for the games and knit sweaters for their respective producers, but I can’t. So, with a smidge of regret, I declare that:


Portal 2 is my personal game of the year. The choice was difficult, and while Minecraft kept me awake through the wee hours of the morning and I will never stop loving Garrus, only Portal 2 transcended its ludic constraints to become something indescribably moving and impactful. Portal 2 was, unlike the other games, perfectly paced and never repetitive. This was an important year in gaming, and while the medium does suffer from the repetitious annual releases of gratuitously and self-indulgently violent multiplayer shooters, Portal 2 shines among these games as a beacon of hope for the medium. Play it, and look to the wide-open future with optimism.

Thank you and Merry Christmas to all!

~Kevin

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Code Jamming for Dark Deception

Here’s one way to do a dev diary, recording an internal conversation between developers. Leaking this kind of stuff at any other studio is grounds for expulsion, not here, not at Team Corsehead.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday Sites 100

Achievement Unlocked! We’ve hit a century of Sunday Sites with one for each year. We will celebrate with… a pretty normal selection of links.

A differing interpretation of the UC Davis Incident which has garnered infamy around the world. The full story and the ensuing debate on whether or not civil disobedience can be protected speech.

http://news.yahoo.com/asians-college-strategy-dont-check-asian-174442977.html Affirmative Action at its most ineffective.

http://kotaku.com/5864783/herman-cain-quotes-pokemon-as-he-suspends-his-campaign He wanted to be the very best, ‘cause nobody ever was. Well, evidently, he couldn’t catch them all.

http://www.joystiq.com/2011/12/02/eff-working-to-make-console-modding-legal/?a_dgi=aolshare_facebook Woot, too bad the announcement of an American version of Xenoblade Chronicles negated the entire purpose of hacking my Wii. Still Homebrew channel is sick, especially with WiiMC.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sites 99

Survived a week full of college apps. No rest for the wicked.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2011/11/23/wary-of-sopa-reddit-users-aim-to-build-a-new-censorship-free-internet/ Resist!

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fn%2Fa%2F2011%2F11%2F24%2Fnational%2Fa233955S49.DTL&tsp=1 Food for Thought: If Occupy Protesters get pepper sprayed and beaten for camping in public space, why don't Black Friday Shoppers?

And… that’s it for this 99th Sunday Sites. It’s been one hell of a week for me and I’ll have more next time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Sincere and Honest Demand for Copyright Reform

Dear Representatives Speier, Pelosi and Senators Feinstein and Boxer

Who do you stand with? The ludicrous idea of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP reaching actual discussion within Washington has given citizens rationale to question the authenticity of our elected officials. Do you serve to protect the rights of American citizens or the sanctity of the profits of corporations? SOPA is treasonous, evil and the single greatest affront to American freedom since the institution of slavery.

In discussion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which would have criminalized displaying “indecent” material to minors, Judge Steward Dalzell wrote “As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion”. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision in Reno v. ACLU, acknowledging that government-based filtering of content was contradictory to the First Amendment.

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We have entered the twilight weeks of 2011, and SOPA and its cousin PROTECT-IP have garnered massive outcry from 95% of Internet users. Under the terms of the bill, “rouge sites”, web sites located on servers in other nations with more hospitable copyright laws, will be blocked from access in the United States. This will be accomplished through a method called DNS filtering; the very same censorship tool utilized by authoritarian states such as China, Syria and Iran. SOPA effectively erects the Western equivalent of China’s Great Firewall.

Since the advent of mass use of the Internet, public discussion has been sorely needed to reform archaic copyright laws that restrict the intellectual freedom of content producers everywhere. The rise of user-generated content hosted on media-sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr and Bandcamp has created a new form of art based on modifying existing work. Derivative works, such as covers, remixes, image macros and mods are the pieces of this amateur movement. An example of such memetic art that has received widespread media attention is the infamous “Pepper Spray Cop”, in which Lt. Pike’s nonchalant visage is Photoshopped into famous works of art. In the spirit of the hackers of the 1980s; media like “Pepper Spray Cop” is released for free online under open licenses like Creative Commons. Blocking such media on the grounds of copyright infringement is proof positive that traditional copyright is incompatible with the freedom of the Internet age.

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Furthermore, the Internet has revolutionized content sharing and communication through startups like Facebook and Twitter. Private entities will be forced to censor and redact copyright infringing links and content at the brutish command of both bill’s parameters. The practice of downloading an amusing picture to one’s hard drive to share on one’s Facebook page would cease to exist. As a result, private communication between individuals becomes heavily monitored. Our privacy is invaded not out a tenuous concern for national security, but out of concern for the profits of media companies like VEVO, Sony and Warner Media Group. For these corporations, it becomes clear which half of “Intellectual Property” takes greater precedence.

My sincere and honest demands are threefold and are listed below.

1. Kill PROTECT-IP and SOPA in their respective branches when the time to vote on their passage comes around.

2. Reaffirm the government’s role to protect the interests of individual citizens rather than the corporations that have destroyed democracy and freedom through their insatiable greed.

3. Enact active discussion to reform the restrictive copyright law that has restricted the freedom of derivative artists everywhere.

I am certain that PROTECT-IP and SOPA will die in Congress, however, the mere fact that such an act was even brought into consideration necessitates a critique of our current copyright laws and the extent the government should be involving itself with corporations. The Internet has been a boon to free-speech everywhere, I thus implore you to side with the citizenry of the United States and protect the integrity of online communications and the hope that the web’s decentralization will pave way for a more participatory culture.

Thank you

           Kevin Wong

A Sincere and Honest Demand for Copyright Reform by Kevin Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to remix, redistribute and modify this work as you see fit under the conditions that the license remains the same.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Sites 97

After a few weeks of special features, here we return with regular Sunday Sites blogging.

http://thinkprogress.org/special/2011/11/18/372361/rep-deutch-introduces-occupied-constitutional-amendment-to-ban-corporate-money-in-politics/ Rep. Deutch is listening to the Occupy movement, actual change might be happening.

Sign the petition at: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/!/petition/support-rep-ted-deutchs-occupied-amendment-order-end-corporate-personhood-and-restore-civil-rights/5xFXKzL4#thank-you=p to support the potential constitutional amendment to redefine corporate personhood. (Thanks Roger!)

Also, frickin’ awesome stuff: http://www.aagneyam.com/blog/?p=551 How to use Google for Hacking (Thanks Demetri!)

http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/index.html Map of European political borders, year by year since 1 AD. Cool stuff.

http://pc.ign.com/articles/120/1200450p1.html Why I play Minecraft: A game with spiritual and therapeutic value.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/congress-pushes-back-on-h_1_n_1094764.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 wtf am I reading. Pizza is a vegetable now?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Minecraft Review

There’s a certain, magical sense of childlike wonder permeating throughout every moment of Minecraft that few of us have experienced since the cessation of our childhoods. It is a memory marked by the wondrous sense of innocence that we took for granted before our lives became inundated with the harried strife of reality, a memory of a time when every day brought with it a joyful new experience, a time when every nook and cranny of the enchanted world could have been a cave filled with forgotten treasure, a world where monsters lurked under the bed every night and we cried to our parents to protect us. For all of us, it has been decades since we last experienced that euphoric sense of novelty accompanying every moment of our existence, the very next morning becoming something we perpetually dread. Childhood has been lost forever to the insatiable maws of tomorrow, innocence is shattered forever while we desperately try to put together the shards, be it through our first breakup, our first job, or even the rite of passage of entering Elementary School.


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And thus is the beauty of Minecraft. It is through the simple joy of exploration through which a long-forgotten facet of our each of our individual histories is recalled to life. This is an incredible game recalling a time when everything was new and hope bled through our fantasies into reality. It thus goes without saying that this is not a game for the decade, but one for eternity.

Gameplay
In simplest terms, Minecraft is a sandbox/RPG in which every component of the gameworld can be modified by the player and used as a tool. The goal of the game’s RPG component is to collect resources and build structures during the day to survive the night, during which the monsters roam. This is an extremely open-ended style of play and the game’s infinite range of possibilities becomes immediately perceptible. There is a goal to Minecraft and there is a final boss and end sequence, but the game’s already open-ended main quest is easily eschewed when one realizes the creative potential the game’s construction system offers. In short, the player must collect arcane materials buried deep in the earth to create a portal to another dimension to slay the “Ender Dragon”. It’s a childlike set-up that could have been conceived in any number of Kindergarten recesses and perfectly appropriate for the imaginative nature of the game.
Beta
What happens between the player’s initial spawn and the defeat of the Ender Dragon is totally up to the player. This freedom, shockingly enough, does not feel overwhelming, but liberating. Within moments, a single thought implants itself in the player’s mind: “I can do anything in this game!” Roaming the procedurally generated gameworld guided only by the built-in achievements guide is an exercise in glee. That cave over there? Grab a torch, let’s go spelunking in it! The grassy meadow over there? Go ahead, pick some flowers. The islands in the distance? Not a hard swim, I even see smoke rising from an NPC village there. All the resources you discover from deconstructing the gameworld can be used in the single most robust crafting system seen in gaming. Within minutes, the gameworld becomes a playset for your imagination, a kind of modern-day LEGO set. The trees, rocks and caves become the components for your tools, weapons, armor and houses, you begin to see the world around you differently.

That is until nightfall. Despite the joyously hyperactive imagination of the daytime, night in Minecraft is greatly reminiscent of a child’s dread of bedtime. The monsters of Minecraft are brutally persistent in their tenacity to chew on your brains, zombies will moan from unseen dark corners and skeletons will fire arrows at you from a distance. None of these enemies compare to the terrifying onslaught of the Creeper. A quadrupedal mass of wrinkled green skin, the Creeper is perpetually haunted by a sad, mournful frown. The most advisable thing to do when encountering one is to run the hell away. The Creeper can explode for an instant kill, causing the player to lose all progress, resources and equipment, respawning him at the game’s start. Watch out for these enemies, as they are terrifying to encounter. Night in Minecraft effectively becomes as horrific as enduring nights as a young child, the perpetual threat of monsters lurking inches below your mattress. Its a brutally haunting game to play and beautiful in the memories it evokes.

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A memory that will always stay with me originates from a few hours ago as I emerged from my safehouse prior to the break of dawn. Armed with a newly crafted stone sword, I beat down the zombies that were knocking at my door throughout the night and saw some cows and sheep across the strait on an island. I swam across the strait and slayed the animals for meat, wool and leather, the intent of weaving a warm jacket lurking in my mind. I heard an unfamiliar moan and raised my head to see, staring from about twenty feet away, a Creeper. I backed away, turned around, and made a break for it, sprinting as fast as I could go. I jumped into the strait and splashed my way across, thinking that the water would separate us because it could not swim. I emerged on the opposite bank and turned around, wading, already halfway across the river, was the Creeper. Terrified, I dashed away, fumbling over a hill, turning my head periodically to observe its progress as it quickly gained on me.

Not looking where I was going, I fell into a crevasse and injured myself. Looking up into the hole through which I fell, I saw that I rolled down about a hundred feet… losing the Creeper in the process… Wonderful… Getting back to the surface and back to the safehouse is going to be so much more of a bother. I lowered my head and saw, jutting out from the cobblestone of the mouth of an extensive system of interweaving caves and catacombs, a cache of glittering diamonds. Like in life, one downfall opens up a host of new opportunities. I picked up my pickaxe and set to work. When the diamonds were gone, I ventured deep into the cave system, eagerly seeking out an adventure.
Minecraft’s second game mode is called “Creative Mode”, and removes the constraints of hunger, experience, health, resources and gravity to allow the player to construct anything he can imagine freely. With the available mods and texture packs, incredible stuff can be done. Just look at some of the things the community has conceived.
Further proving the LEGO comparison: Minecraft has already been popping up in art and computer science classes all around the country. Its an exciting proposition with the potential to do a lot of good for society

Graphics and Audio
Minecraft, running on the same Lightweight Java Game Engine, of whose components I am using to power Dark Deception, suffers from scattershot performance. Despite the minimalistic and attractive 8-bit aesthetic the game adheres to, only on minimal settings is the game playable at an acceptable frame rate, at least on a common laptop. To run the game at its best, you’re going to have to turn off fancy graphical features such as ambient lighting and high-render distances. Its a shame, since Minecraft isn’t supposed to be visually awe-inspiring to begin with. It nonetheless channels the first moments of any Bethesda game at all times. A strong incentive to keep exploring is to see what incredible natural structure the procedurally generated world will come up with next, the vastness of valleys and mountains constantly pushing the player to go further.

From an audiovisual standpoint, it would appear that Minecraft is still under construction even this late in its release cycle. C418’s piano orchestrations sound great in the game, and the simple piano and synth soundtrack frames the game's theme well, adding great emotional ambiance. Sound effects have been vastly improved since the game's beta and now apply to all the game's objects. The high dynamic range of the audio gives night time a palpable sense of creepiness as zombies and creepers moan right outside the door.

Impact and Community
Minecraft’s creator, Markus “Notch” Perrson, expressed interest from an early point in making Minecraft open-source after sales died down. Already a vast amount of the game’s codebase is open and modifiable, giving the game an unforeseen educational and creative value. More importantly, the game’s openness has spawned a mammoth mod community unseen since the hacker culture of the early 90s. If playing the core game gives the illusion that anything can be done in Minecraft, editing the game’s source and installing modifications proves that anything can be really done in the game.
Minecraft_Portal
The game’s empowering truly comes to life in the various community mods for the game. Portalcraft, for one, turns the entire game into a reimagining of Valve’s subversive puzzler. An upcoming Zelda mod promises to build another entry in the venerable series, complete with functional items, environmental puzzles, dungeons and bosses. Pokemob, nearing a state of completion, recreates the entire Kanto region with complete character models for the original 151, and, oh yes, all the gameplay functionality of the original game, such as inventory, battles and Gym Leaders, will be implemented in the mod. Sadly, no word on Missingno.
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Minecraft’s openness has had a social impact on my community. I witnessed several people from my school who had no interest whatsoever in video games become enthralled by the idea of learning how to program in Java and build character models. Despite a lockdown on modifying school computers, Minecraft executables began to pop up on desktops like weeds. School bandwidth plummeted as multiplayer servers were clandestinely run on the community network. Its an easy game to become instantly obsessed with, and the extent of community mod support extends the value of an already infinitely replayable game to Olympian heights. A new generation of independent game developers is being incubated right now, and they are supported by the freedom that Minecraft’s code base affords them.

Conclusion
If there is one game you purchase this year, let it be Minecraft. Minecraft touched my soul in a way that I never imagined possible after my tenth birthday. This is a pioneering game and the embodiment of the values of freedom upheld by computer hackers that have been drowned out since corporations began to encroach on the medium. Notch and Mojang have effectively captured lightning in a bottle: the childlike playfulness that drew us to gaming in the first place. As we became entrenched in shooter after shooter, fighting game after fighting game, we have forgotten the youthful joy we so desperately sought after. How fitting is it that the original wonder of childhood would manifest itself in a world that, much like our own, is procedurally generated, be it through science or the rule of God. Minecraft shines as a beacon of hope, not just for gaming, but for mankind. Play this game… and tremble. 5/5

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Dark Deception Developer’s Diary #3

It has been a good few months since the last Developer’s Diary for Dark Deception, and a lot, A LOT, has happened in the time since the last update.

For one, we now have a great new programmer. Bard Soedal of Mandal, Norway has been a Minecraft modder for several months now and has authored several Pokemon-themed character models such as a blocky Nidoking and an even blockier Pokemon Center. Awesome stuff. He’s now our new world-engineer and will be contributing his incredible talent to Team Corsehead until he returns to Norway next summer.

In terms of development, I have progressed to begin building the ESA Power Plant, the game’s first dungeon and the location of a critical story event driving the entire game’s action. It has been a long process of individually designing tiles pixel-by-pixel and laying them out. The content that you see below is pre-release content and will never reflect the look of the final version of the game.

balcony breakroom entrance infiltration - Copy  infiltration_destroyed tankhangar upstairsoffice

All pretty cool stuff, the boards above collectively took about two months to construct.

I’ve been taking AP Computer Science since the start of the school year and in the few months I’ve been studying Java, have learned enough to put together a pretty basic computational prototype built out of a bunch of if statements, a lot of void methods and a few arrays and classes. The battle loop is fully functional as are special move-systems and damage and spoils calculation. However, a lot of functionality has yet to be implemented, including a modularity system so that the same code for the battle loop can work with any given enemy, character, equipment set or move-“deck”. Furthermore, the game’s most unique characteristic, a set of three offensive and defensive stances that any character in the battlefield can take for damage mitigation and bonuses, remains under construction.

Programming has been quite a joy to learn and has the lovely effect of putting one in a meditative state as one contemplates a variety of creative ways to solve problems. A great deal of imagination is needed to code effectively. Computer Science is a language that all should have the chance to undertake. Really cool stuff.

developing dd

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pokemon

I tried exporting the demo from Eclipse as a .jar file, but the program crashed on launch. I’ll be working on finding a way to make the demo playable to anyone who wants to try it out in the coming weeks.

Peace
Kevin

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Resident Evil 4 Review

Quick quiz: name the top five most influential games from the last generation.

Good job, Resident Evil 4 has been lauded universally as one of the most important games of the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era, having pioneered third person shooting while bringing in a new era of graphical fidelity and gleeful violence. It currently retains a position comfortably as one of the highest-rated games on Metacritic and has been ported and remade multiple times in its six year lifespan. There is no doubt that Resident Evil 4 is a great game, but whether or not it has stood the test of time remains up to debate. re4_box

Story and Atmosphere

It is a cloudy afternoon in a remote Spanish mountain pass. My pistol drawn and ammuntion low, I inch forward through the woods, dry leaves crushing beneath my feet, into an empty shack on the side of the road. I find medicinal herbs and unused clips on the table. As I turn around to exit, I see a ghastly sight: the decapitated and decomposing corpse of a local woman impaled onto the shack wall. My nerves tense and I continue towards the village I was ordered to investigate.

Three villagers sit around a campfire atop a cliff. They catch sight of me as I walk down the path and immediately run away, not even taking care to extinguish their fire. My spine begins to tingle and I cross the rickety rope bridge to the village gate.

Taking cover behind a tree, I bring out my binoculars to scout out the village. There are about twenty or so farmers roaming about the square, circling a flaming stake. I peer towards the stake and see the charred corpse of the police officer that drove me here. I clench my teeth as my hand inches toward my pistol. I make a run for it.

A scream pierces the air and I double take looking for its source. One of the villagers points at me, teeth bared and the look of venom in his eyes. The chill of death shakes my bones as farmers burst out through every door, dropping their tasks and rushing towards me, teeth bared and tools ready to stab me. I bolt into an empty house and slam the door shut, pushing a dresser to barricade the door. Rushing up the stairs, I discover a shotgun. I rush towards the window and begin to open fire from above. For now, everything is alright.

I hear a knock from the balcony behind me, the villagers have pulled up a ladder. I vault through the window and throw down the ladder, hearing the sickening thud of the man’s bones crushing into the ground. But it is too late, the villagers breach through the downstairs door and the terrifying screech of a chainsaw revs into existence. I swing around the banister and fire a shotgun blast directly into the torso into the fat man with a bloodied bag over his head and the chainsaw in his hand.

But he barely flinches, the force of the shrapnel, enough to blow a normal man in two, hits him with the force of a thrown pebble. I fire again and again as my ammo runs dry, and nothing happens. He raises the chainsaw above his head and swings it into my neck. The vibration of the blade shakes my bones as my head separates from my body and I die. Behind the screen, my controller sits dropped on the floor and my mouth agape in shock. resident-evil-4-20050516000049172_640w

If the narrative passage above hasn’t yet convinced you, let it be known that Resident Evil 4 is a scary and atmospheric game. Its opening sequence consistently engraves itself into the memories of all who play it. Permeating throughout all of the game’s environs is an overwhelming sense of hostility towards the player, the feeling that the player is not welcome into its bleak, dark world.

 

For all of its atmospheric glory, Resident Evil 4 features a rather weak and silly story grounded in conspiratorial clich├ęs spoiled by forced presentation elements. The creepy atmosphere is all but broken when the hero discovers in the enemy base a document, helpfully titled, “OUR PLAN”. Furthermore, the game’s atrocious voice acting, holding the quality of the background voiceover of a Disneyland ride, oftentimes turns the creepiness into ridiculousness. 

Gameplay

Resident Evil 4 has been universally lauded as the catalyst for the birth of the modern third-person shooter. Games as diverse as Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect owe their mechanics to Resident Evil for their over-the-shoulder perspective, which included modes for quick moving and accurate shooting switchable at a moment’s notice. This allowed for a more fluid and action packed method of navigating the games environments, thus making third-person shooting precise and accurate. Audiovisual impact makes the use of each item of Leon’s arsenal extremely fun.

Some have derided Resident Evil 4 for not featuring a cover system, a gameplay mechanic that would make its way into many third-person action games to come. Frankly, this argument is invalid: Resident Evil’s enemies do not shoot at the player, thus negating the need for a cover system. The infected villagers, monks and industrial workers of the game shamble slowly like zombies, closing in for melee attacks. This forces the player to alternate between move and shoot modes as he tries to distance himself from enemies as they close in, thus establishing a rhythmic pattern of run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot. Its fun stuff and establishes the game’s theme of constant terror, flight being a constant response no matter how well armed Leon may be.

And well-armed you may be, Resident Evil 4 features a RPG-like system of item acquisition and upgrades. Scattered throughout the game’s environments are treasures, which can be sold to merchants for gold. Gold in turn can buy new weapons, health upgrades, medicines and weapon-attachments. These items and upgrades are all placed in Leon’s invisible lockbox.

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Managing the lockbox is again, an RPG-like system of recognizing the slots each item takes up and rotating them, moving them and removing them to squeeze a maximal amount of ammunition, medicine and weapons into as small a space as possible. It’s a process as stressful as packing.Thankfully, lockbox upgrades are available as the player progresses throughout the game, alleviating the frustration while making the player more powerful than the enemies of the game, thus making the game’s later levels far less frightening than earlier ones.

Its not all stylized ultra-violence, in fact, quirky puzzles and treasure hunts are interspersed between sections of combat, thus giving the game a needed cerebral facet. Unfortunately, the puzzles aren’t based in the gameworld and are not based on the same mechanics that ground navigation and combat. Oftentimes, the player must enter a separate screen to solve a slider puzzle or other minigame to pass through a locked door or access a hidden treasure. These puzzles are oftentimes frustrating and break up the game’s brisk pace.

Graphics/Audio

From an auditory perspective, Resident Evil 4’s sound design perfectly grounds and enhances the game’s hostile and creepy atmosphere. The quiet moan of an enemy around the corner, the clanking of metal chains and the wind quietly howling from beyond a cave are all strongly atmospheric. Tense music, unlike the voice acting, works well to improve the game’s creepiness.

Resident Evil 4 has aged relatively well over the years. While the game’s textures have abysmal resolution, beautiful lighting and character models still look great. A fantastic art style grounds each of the three environments Leon will explore, and each chapter is visually and thematically distinct. From the overwhelming hostility of a remote European village to the mysterious secret passages of a monastic castle and the crazy experiments of a island laboratory, the game’s worlds are memorable and fun to explore.

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Conclusion

Resident Evil 4 may seem dated by modern standards especially in terms of its graphics and shooting mechanics. Nonetheless, the historical impact of this game is immediately perceptible, it having spawned the modern third-person shooter and introducing a new precedent for gameplay control. In spite of some forced storytelling, Resident Evil 4 maintains its shine and remains one of the finest adventures of the last generation. 4.25/5

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Sites 96

Stay strong

http://anonops.blogspot.com/2011/10/this-rebellion-will-not-stop.html Twenty thousand and more

http://occupywallstreetcarepackages.tumblr.com/ I urge everyone to get involved, I myself plan to puts together guides on building gas-masks in case of tear-gas use

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bioshock 2 Review

Having not played the first Bioshock before delving into its sequel, I can attest that the game is inexplicably weird. The game is unlike anything I have ever played, the closest precedent to it would be the incredible Metroid Prime. Amazingly ambitious, the game attempts to tell a story with the depth and breath of an RPG through the lens of an action-based first-person shooter. Its an interesting experiment in the vein of neoshooters like Portal.

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Gameplay
Bioshock 2 is far more combat oriented than its predecessor, featuring an entirely revamped combat and character-upgrade system. Players can now dual wield Plasmid Powers and weapons, allowing for simultaneous combo-attacks such as freezing an enemy solid and shattering him with a shotgun blast. Plasmid powers are still acquired and upgraded with ADAM, the acquisition of which is revamped.

As a hulking Big-Daddy, the player has the option of participating in a minigame where he must protect a Little Sister as she collects ADAM from corpses as waves of splicers attack. Its a fun and integral part of the game wielding a multitude of rewards. The binary “Bioshock-Morality” system is still present and unchanged, allowing the player to greedily harvest Little Sisters or restore them to uncorrupted girlhood. “Power to the People” stations, which appear once a level, allow for permanent upgrades to be made to guns, allowing for such gleeful weaponry as incendiary shotguns and freezing speargun bolts. While this constant character progression is indeed fun and rewarding, it does throw off the balance of the gameplay, as the game’s first hours are exponentially harder than its later hours.

One of the major concerns about the first Bioshock was its lack of online multiplayer. Bioshock 2 remediates this flaw by including a multiplayer mode unlike that of anything else in the shooter-market. Like in the single-player game, players dual-wield plasmid powers and guns, and the same strategic combinations still stand. Unique to the mode are hackable turrets for strategic defense and “corpse-research”, which allows for a substantial damage bonus to be acquired if one photographs a fallen-enemy’s corpse. Much like Call of Duty, a persistent system of unlocks is available giving the player reason to continue playing. Much unlike Call of Duty, combat is not frustrating and always balanced. Unfortunately, in my experience with the game, the only playlist that is consistently populated are for the Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch gametypes.

Story
Bioshock was lauded for having one of the most impactful narratives of any action-game to date. As a gameworld-exploration of the moral ramifications of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, it ventured into territory unknown to most gamers.
bouncer
Taking place over ten years after the events of the first game, Bioshock 2 returns the player to the dystopian world of Rapture. The underwater city has been overrun by drug addicted splicers led by the cruel-Collectivist/Altruist Sophia Lamb. The player takes the role of Subject Delta, the original Big Daddy, who had his protectorate, Eleanor, stolen from him by Lamb and was forced to commit suicide. One day, he finds himself brought back to life and begins a quest to rescue Eleanor.

Unfortunately, Bioshock 2’s narrative is far less impactful than that of its predecessor. The new Rapture of the 70s, in its glorious ruin, is far less visually impactful than its predecessor. It is still beautiful, especially in its underwater areas, but the world itself does not support the game’s main theme of the dehumanizing aspects of collectivism. Sophia Lamb is not as charismatic or deplorable an antagonist than Andrew Ryan, and her influence in the gameworld is not as pronounced.

The game features a series of moral choices that will influence the story’s conclusion. Most of these amount to the decision to spare or kill a key enemy, and it becomes immediately clear what the game considers good or evil. This binary approach to morality is problematic given the comparative depth of the game’s philosophy. I chose to rescue every Little Sister I encountered and was equally rewarded as if I were to harvest them.

Graphics/Audio
Graphically, the game is gorgeous from an artistic and technical perspective. The dystopian 1950’s-era Art Deco world is pronounced, richly unique and starkly believable in its bleakness. The underwater city is collapsing, and evidence of decay is omnipresent in the world as water leaks in through cracks and breaches in the windows and wood begins to rot.
bioshock-2-debut-gameplay
Excellent use of light and shadow strongly improves the visual impact of the game, setting forward the bleak mood of Lamb’s version of Rapture. Great sound effects lend an appropriate visceral rush to combat, and a 40’s era soundtrack grounds the setting nicely.

Conclusion
I greatly enjoyed my time with Bioshock 2, and while it may not be as unique as its predecessor, it remains refreshing and absorbing to those jaded by identical military shooters. The wonderful graphical style, realized gameworld and deep combat win the game the commendable score of 4.25/5.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Occupy Wall Street – Police Brutality

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you may be aware that Wall Street has fallen under mass protests against corporate corruption and an imbalance of power. Anonymous has covered the protests extensively, calling them out as a beacon of social justice in an increasingly bleak world. Check out the below video, its the 60s of the 2010s.

From the above post, this is what Anonymous believes.
  • Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy; (always has been Anon’s strong suit)
  • Exercising personal and collective responsibility; (Varies amongst the members of the collective, many do not act accountably for their actions) 
  • Recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions; (The voice of the internet generation)
  • Empowering one another against all forms of oppression; (What the world needs)
  • Redefining how labor is valued; (Humans are not assets) 
  • The sanctity of individual privacy; (Needs work, Anonymous, as a hacker collective, needs to solidly define ethical uses of hacking and protecting data)
  • The belief that education is human right; (Protip: Government Education isn’t reliably funded)
  • Endeavoring to practice and support wide application of open source. (What about piracy? That’s an issue that should be discussed from all sides. Interesting topic given the GeoHotz case and the Great Playstation Network Outage of 2011)
Incredible stuff is happening here, stay tuned.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Sites 93

After a hell of a week, here are the Sunday Sites for the past two weeks.

http://cs.nyu.edu/trackmenot/ Firefox extension that floods search engines with random queries so companies cannot create an accurate profile of you.

http://forums.whyweprotest.net/threads/what-has-anonymous-done-for-you.15421/ Fascinating thread on the sociology of Anonymous members.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20111162-71/man-spontaneously-combusted-coroner-says IT’S REAL!

http://news.yahoo.com/protesters-march-manhattan-criticizing-wall-street-020846594.html The result of Camp Wall Street is shocking in its effectiveness.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2041574/Facebook-New-feature-allow-users-know-doesnt-like-them.html Nope. Keeping anonymous defriending protects real-life relationships.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories of a 7-Year-Old of 9/11

The following is a draft of an article slated to appear on the round table.


Today marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, a day forever engraved into the collective consciousness of the generations that lived through it. For America, it served as a rite of passage into the annals of world history, marking a new era of diplomatic relations. It served as the catalyst for rampant Islamophobia, an increasingly chaotic global economy and greater militarization of national security.

On the local level, the September 11th attacks have made their mark on the memories of every member of the Stuart Hall community. I myself remember clearly the day of the attack. I was abruptly woken up the morning of the attack by my mother. She seemed panicked, telling me that the Twin Towers had been attacked and destroyed. I was incredulous and thought she was joking.


When I arrived at school, it became bleakly clear that she wasn’t. Half the kids of Mr. Bertrand’s Second Grade class were missing. My carpooler was reticent to drive me, fearing that a similar attack would transpire at school because “that’s where all the tall buildings are”. That night, Nick News interrupted standard programming to hold a special episode explaining the incident to the confused and puzzled children of the world, their innocence, like that of the nation, shattered prematurely by the tragedy.

Ten years have passed since that fateful day sent ripples through the world, and a solemn sense of reverence permeates through the populace. Senior Joe Hildula says that “I believe it is a time to mourn, but it is definitely not a time to throw invective around or take sides and put blame on Muslims”. Andrew Fejt commends the service-minded spirit surrounding the anniversary, “It’s awesome that people are being constructive about it”. Devan Patel adds that “It will forever leave a mark on history, as the generation that experienced it, I don’t think we can see it through a historical perspective, but rather a personal one.”

America is a much changed nation ten years into the 21st century. Technological innovation has turned the internet to the mainstream and communication has hence changed. Two Bush administrations and one Obama administration has left the nation wary of surveillance and corruption. What has not changed is the indefatigable sense of love and reverence towards those lost on that day.

Note: if you please, please observe an online “Moment of Silence” by removing your profile picture today as I have. Thank you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sign of the Times

Sign of the Times by -Marlith-
Sign of the Times, a photo by -Marlith- on Flickr.
Goodbye Borders, you've done well to show us that the only thing that's going to get the nation to read is a "Going Out of Business" Sale. Thank you also, for giving comfy chairs to sit on as I demoed books before buying them off Amazon.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Sites 92

Busy as hell this week, hoping to upload a review of Bioshock 2 if I’m lucky

http://dazzlepod.com/cable/ Wikileaks browser, all cables in a easy-to-navigate, searchable format
http://www.postitwar.com/ Frickin’ awesome
http://indiegames.com/2011/08/trailer_mass_effect_-_dark_cor.html Thought you might like
http://www.cs.rpi.edu/academics/courses/fall00/ethics/papers/bironj2.html Essay on ethics of piracy
http://matpalm.com/blog/2011/08/13/wikipedia-philosophy/ Fact: I won six clicks to philosophy in 2 turns.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Sites 90

Again, sorry for the delay. Its mid month and here is Sunday Sites 90

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_changes_in_Star_Wars_re-releases +1 for violating WP:NOTABILITY

http://www.mithral.com/~beberg/manifesto.html Speaks volumes about how the fabric of technology has evolved over time

http://www.nohighscores.com/node/1371 Btw, your morality sucks

http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/12/why_caltech_is_in_a_class_by_i.html Brilliant article about how Affirmative Action, Legacy Applicants and Athletic Scholarships have dampened the meaning of edification. (Thanks Daniel!)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Song of Healing

Out of procrastination, I was unable to complete a blog post for this week. So consider this video my apology.

Ehh… Not too impressive? Try this.

Really, sorry. I’ve been working to complete Mass Effect 2 for review and will have something cool out next week.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Review

I have discussed my dear Mass Effect series before on this site from a philosophical/moral perspective and praised it for pushing morality beyond binary norms of good and evil, instead critiquing player’s actions from a deontological and teleological perspective. While that stood as more of a critique of the game as a literary work, here I will discuss the game from a more traditional, “review” standpoint.

Yet, before we begin, I must make a single, absolutist statement. Buy Mass Effect 2, the game is a wondrous journey into a richly imaginative universe populated with interesting characters and incredible worlds. me2-ps3-box

Gameplay

From a gameplay perspective, Mass Effect 2 is an amalgam of third-person shooter and role-playing game tropes, its main gameplay sections being divided into combat and conversation. Fighting is done in semi-real time, allowing the player to pause the action at any point during a battle to assign commands and cast “spells”, when played in real-time, Mass Effect 2 operates very similarly to a cover-based shooter, forcing the player to dance in and out of cover with visceral grace. Upgradable powers and experience points level out the game’s RPG elements, adding the strategic depth of character development to the game. Ultimately, Mass Effect 2’s combat engine creates a perfect marriage of RPG and shooter elements, and as a result, what we have is a fluid cover-based shooter with enough tactical depth to recall classics like Diablo and Knights of the Old Republic. While it is true that Mass Effect can be considered to be a “casual-ized” and “dumbed-down” RPG, this works to the game’s benefit, having fewer opportunities to level-up and fewer points to allocate makes upgrade decisions more meaningful.

Nonetheless, combat is marred only by questionable friendly AI. While there are squad commands for holding positions, advancing and retreating, these do not necessarily work, and when left to their own intuition, oftentimes fail to use cover. It is truly jarring to see your feeble, mage-type character vault over a barrier to engage a horde of Krogans using his weak pistol.

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Where it comes to conversation, Mass Effect 2 radically simplifies discussion through its “Paraphrase System” and its dialogue wheel. Up to six dialogue choices can be chosen from a radial menu, each of them summarized in brief on it. While this does reduce the amount of reading one has to deal with, it does create some awkward moments when the paraphrased choices fail to embody the tone and nature of the inherent dialogue choice. And as a result, Mass Effect 2’s conversations are imperfect.

Where the game’s conversations do excel at, though, is the narrative impact that each interaction has. Relationships between characters can be built or destroyed, and the choices that the player will make will have far reaching impact far beyond the scope of the immediate games. As a result, the Mass Effect trilogy feels less like a series of self-contained games, but rather a single continuous story meant to be played from start to finish. Indeed, the narrative power afforded to the player by the game justifies the name, the player has a Massive Effect.

That said, Mass Effect 2 suffers from a few technical faults. One such problem comes in the form of load times, which, while not monumental, are still annoying in environments that require many map-transfers or reloads. This is especially problematic in the multi-leveled Normandy. Crew member reside on each of the ships different floors, and suffering a 45 second load time to converse with each floor of characters remained a severe turn-off to the game’s best aspect.

Furthermore, a few technical problems, such as slow-loading textures and glitchy collision detection on vehicular levels are inherited from the game’s predecessor. This however is rare and occurs only during a few select DLC chapters.

Story

Mass Effect 2’s story ties directly into the events of the first game, thus, it comes as highly recommended to experience the tale of the first game before plunging into Mass Effect 2. (The PC version is $20 on Steam and has relatively tame system requirements for an action-RPG, I was able to run it on a 2.0 GHz Pentium Laptop with an integrated graphics card.) That said, Playstation 3 players can download a beautifully drawn interactive comic book summarizing the events of the first game. What tames this prospect is the fact that the comic does little to emphasize the moral weight and impact of the game’s choices and characters, and thus, while the player might understand the first game’s story, little in way of emotional connection is established.

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That said, Mass Effect 2 takes place approximately two years after the events of the first game. Protagonist Jane Shepard is killed by a passing alien ship before her charred body is captured by Human-Supremacist organization Cerberus. Aliens called Collectors from deep space are abducting human colonies and Shepard, now a galactic hero from her exploits against the Reapers of the first game, must investigate the problem and assemble a team to deal with it. What follows is an epic and very personal saga involving a multitude of realistically written characters. Surprising plot twists keep the story interesting with every mission, and the battle to attain each crewmember’s loyalty is both moving and entertaining. A wonderfully realized universe is filled with imagined histories and lore. One of the best aspects of Mass Effect is its “Codex”, an encyclopedia of lore so well written that the game’s optimistic sci-fi universe seems to be a viable place to spend one’s imagined life.

Calling the character arcs “interesting and realistic” does little to describe the depth and care put into their creation. Characters are exceptionally well written and feature incredible voice acting. Through idle conversation and active “loyalty missions”, the player must develop a relationship with each of them, and by the game’s conclusion, the player will feel like he has made a lifelong friend of these virtual characters. Particularly memorable is the saga of Garrus Valkarian, a Turian operating his own version of justice on the crime-ridden planet of Omega, his long-ingrained memories of revenge and injustice characterize him as one of the game’s most interesting characters. Mordin Solus, a hyperactive Salarian doctor, who initially comes off as a source of comic relief, contributes strongly to the game’s extensive lore by his regrettable involvement in the Genophage, a synthetic disease that severely damaged the galaxy’s population of Krogan. While the game may be dark in tone, intense drama and self-referential humor are done with such great care that exploration is fun and rewarding.

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One of two problems that can be said of Mass Effect’s narrative is that the paraphrase system occasionally creates moments where the player does not feel in control of the conversation. This is especially apparent during conversations with potential romantic partners, where Shepard will invariably open a conversation with a flirty line whether or not the player wants to participate in a romantic subquest.

The second problem comes in terms of the game’s morality system. While eschewing a single, sliding-morality meter in favor of two meters for respective “paragon” and “renegade” choices. The two are meant to symbolize the player’s tendency to adhere to either deontological and teleological ethics in given situations, which, in theory, is a great idea that will eliminate binary morality. What makes this problematic is that situational choices are still binary in nature. Players who adhere to the deontological path are portrayed as noble, kind and heroic, whereas players on the teleological path see their Shepard’s behave selfishly and cruelly, forming Sith-like facial scars. This reduces what was intended to be a multifaceted and realistic version of morality into a binary one.

Graphics and Audio

From a graphical perspective, Mass Effect 2 is an artistic and technical triumph. Alien races are convincingly portrayed and go far beyond the “Muppets in Space” the original Star Wars was decried for. Even more striking is the diverse variety of worlds that the player will traverse through. The Asari colony of Illium evokes Coruscant’s skyscrapers with saturated blue and purple to create a very cosmopolitan-feeling planet. Similarly, the red and brown streets of slummy Omega work wonderfully to showcase the decrepit imagined history of crime-filled ghettoes and gangs. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of Tuchanka is impressive in the scope of destruction it has suffered, and the memories of a previous civilization are evident in its Varren-infested surroundings. Each planet is artistically unique and impressive, making for an imaginative diversity of styles unheard of in most games.

594px-Illiumcity

Technically, Mass Effect 2 is far improved over the first game. Facial animation is incredibly detailed and bridges the uncanny valley with grace. Lighting, particles and textures realize the artists’ vision with skill and finesse, and Mass Effect 2 is one of the prettiest games on consoles… at least when its not hit by one of its exceedingly rare graphical glitches.

From an auditory perspective, Mass Effect 2’s cast of skilled voice actors is a treat for the ears. An inspired performance by Jennifer Hale as Jane Shepard is a highlight, her tonally intense yet open style connects the player to her actions wonderfully. Seth Green’s “Joker” and Martin Sheen’s Illusive Man also give wonderful performances, conveying respectively the character’s sarcasm and mystery with finesse. Sound effects and music set the emotional tone well for combat and conversation, adding to the intensity of the game’s battles.

Conclusion

Mass Effect 2 is one of those games that will take over your mind and inhabit your thoughts and daydreams. With a cast of lovable characters, an inspired universe and visceral-yet-strategic combat, Mass Effect 2 surpasses its predecessor with aplomb and solidifies its place with RPG-greats like Chrono Trigger and KOTOR. Play this game. 4.75/5