Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Reboot: Dig Dug!

For this week's reboot, I wanted to look at a classic game that I'm sure a lot of people remember fondly, but really hasn't been touched for a very long time: Dig Dug.

The idea behind Dig Dug was to dig tunnels and defeat monsters by inflating them. This is one of the first games that actually incorporated an element of stealth gameplay since what players usually wanted to do was attack the creatures from behind. Much like Donkey Kong, there wasn't a whole lot to it other than playing level after level until you reached the "kill screen."
With such a simple premise behind the game, it lends a lot of freedom to the developers for a new generation so let's get started.

Dig Dug was about digging tunnels and tunnels are what you'll get, but the reboot should expand beyond that. Dig dug needs to include an element of exploration where players are free to discover new areas just by digging in any direction. It can help create a puzzle element to the world and allow for extended gameplay with players having a whole world to discover outside of the story elements. This can be related to power-ups, unlocking new gadgets, or a sort-of open world approach to the game which brings me to my next aspect.

Stealth and digging work together like peanut butter and jelly. What better way to surprise an enemy than dropping down from above or sneaking up from behind with tunnels hidden all around a cavern? For example, one of the most enjoyable elements of Batman: Arkham Asylum dealt with the stealth take-downs a player could use while hanging from above or crawling through air vents. This seems like a natural fit with Dig Dug, the exception being the player is free to set traps of their own design.

What better way to add to the player designed traps than giving Dig Dug more than just the bike pump of old. It would diversify the mechanics of the game to avoid repetition and include elements of strategy. The gadgets can range from different weapons to destroy monsters to new elements of cave exploration like grappling hooks, rocket packs, and wall walking boots. These lend themselves to a more whimsical style of game rather than the hyper-realistic, violent theme of shooters, but when you're a guy who digs holes, I think you can't take things too seriously. Dig Dug whould bring back classic memories and fun rather than the adrenaline pumping style of Gears of War.

Although the game would have a light hearted feel to it, that doesn't mean you have to have a nonsensical story. Games like the Oddworld franchise, Ratchet and Clank, and Jak and Daxter have shown that you can have a serious plot without sacrificing some of the fun. The setting could be a post-apocalyptic world living underground, offering fun surprises for exploration. Another idea is a more science fiction feel to it with exploring an alien world underground and dealing with a more extraterrestrial threat looming in the shadows. It's not hard to express some freedom in story telling when the original premise was "dig and pop." I'd even recommend giving him a side-kick, but that's only because I'm a sucker for the Clanks and Daxters of the world.

The point is Dig Dug is a classic game that can be rebooted to be something for everybody. The original design could translate into a brand new 3D world full of challenges for players to solve and secrets to explore. Throw in some impenetrable rocks to keep the player in a manageable space with the tunnels and you have a retro game with a brand new appeal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Fan Service Becomes Rotten Easter Eggs

SDCC 2010 wrapped up on Sunday and the convention brought about a lot of announcements, whether it be in movies, comics, TV, or video games. I'm always happy to see with the panels and announcements that the experience is really for the fans. It's great to be able to celebrate fandom and show appreciation for one of the biggest contributors to the industries. But the appreciation doesn't stop there. It continues on with Captain America's shield in Iron Man 1, Harvey Dent posters in Arkham Asylum, and the thousands of quotes of "IT'S A TRAP!" It's all part of the repayment known as fan service.

But when does the mountain of fan service take away from the content? Marvel Studios had panels to discuss the Thor and Captain America movies coming out next year but threw in announcements for what they and Iron Man have been working toward, the crossover film event of the Avengers. If anything is a monument of fan service, this is it. So far the actors mentioned to be in the movie are Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), with rumors of Nathan Fillion (Ant-Man) and Eva Longoria Parker (Wasp) also included. That's 10 heroes and 1 villain so far.

I'm sure plenty of fans out there are dying to see the real life renditions of the characters, but even if it were to be a 3 hour movie, what kind of story can be told that doesn't put some of these stars into a walk-on role? With the X-Men films, the characters had pretty much the same understanding for all of them being there; other people didn't like them. Even with those movies, many of the characters had but minutes of screen time. Spider-Man 3 was weighed down heavily with its 3 villains with none of them really feeling fleshed out. Dark Knight slipped by with its 2 villains, but even so Two-Face felt more like the story of Harvey Dent, which isn't bad but that story ended abruptly. The Avengers' director, Joss Whedon, has the geek background to show some real appreciation for the characters and put together a great story, but most of his experience is in TV. He's shown he can handle a handful of entertaining characters over a series, but his first film, Serenity, suffered as a stand-alone piece. Without viewing Firefly, the TV series leading up to Serenity, the large cast felt more like place holders rather than a mix-matched crew of scoundrels. Maybe Whedon has picked up some tricks in the last 5 years, but I think it's a monster for even some of the greatest actors to tackle.

Will Marvel Studios be able to pull of the giant pile of fan service that is The Avengers or will it just be another kind of pile? We've got a few years before we find out but I'm going to hold off on my excitement. Secretly, my inner Akiro Kurosawa fan hopes Whedon makes it as much like Seven Samurai as the Magnificent Seven, but I can only dream.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is Kinect Too Late?

There's been a lot of animosity coming since E3 toward Microsoft's Kinect, a peripheral that was highly talked about a year ago. Recently, Xbox Live's Stephen Tolouse made the statement that hardcore gamers have been wrong for the last 10 years, referring to the surprising success of Nintendo's Wii. I blame the sudden switch in gamers' attitudes to the weak performance by Microsoft at E3 this year, taking almost a step back as far as showing off what Kinect can do. With it Microsoft looking to take away Nintendo's lunch money, it makes me wonder if Kinect is just too late.


One of the criticisms about Kinect is the rumored price of $150 for the unit. A lot of people are commenting that it is too much of a buy in when you can get a Wii for $200 and have everything you need. But the problem the Wii has faced with many gamers is it's pretty much just a machine for party games. Most people I know who own one have it collecting dust and just get it out whenever a group of people get together. Since the Wii only comes with one controller, you end up having to buy or borrow 3 more. With Motion+, that comes to $70 a bundle, making the cost of the Wii $410 without a new game. So far Kinect has been shown to recognize two players and if it can pull off 4 that's even better. The potential cost for a new Xbox 360 and Kinect comes to $400. Even if it is only 2 players at a time, it's still not bad for a system you'll actually play any other time. If some parent asked me which one I'd recommend for their kid, I'd go with Microsoft based on it being the better value, but that's partially because I've always related the Wii to Apple, being a trendy electronic that's built on hype. I'm sure they're finding out now though they're not invincible.

Another aspect I like about Kinect comes from the buzz around it when it was first announced, the potential. Sure, Skittles didn't seem like much except fulfilling a secret fantasy to be Mike Tyson and own a tiger, but there's more to it than that. By recognizing hand gestures and finger movements new doors can be opened up with brand new elements of gameplay. It could be something small like in a game similar to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where the player would have to memorize finger placements to play a song, or it can be more involving like dribbling the ball in a basketball game. There's also the added advantage of returning to my youth and flipping the checkers board when I was going to lose. It gets to a point where a peripherals failure may not be so much on the manufacturer or console as it is developers not leaving their comfort zone to develop new software.


Microsoft's real enemy in all of this has been time. It's been years since the Wii was released and there have been enough purchased that I'm sure most of the people interested in motion control already have one. Their saving grace is the probability that any Wii that isn't in a retirement home or bar has another console with it. If they can launch Kinect with a strong line-up of games, then it stands a chance to dethrone Nintendo. They need to stay away from the piles of shovelware that has created 90% of the Wii's library.

Microsoft may think hardcore gamers have been wrong, but they still need them to succeed. Just look at the sales for non-Nintendo Wii games and you see where the strength of the industry lies.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kids Like Collecting Stuff, Right?

Want a cheap way to extend gameplay? Try adding something to collect!

With the recent release of Crackdown 2, with its orb-collecting fun, I thought I'd take some time to talk a bit about collecting in a video game. For some games, it's a way to add a few more hours for those die-hards out there that have to complete 100% of the game. Other franchises, like Pokemon and its numerous knock-offs, have it at the center of the gameplay. Like an OCD obsession, people getting all of something... so long as that something has value.

Just as it's rare to find someone collecting Pauly Shore movies, it's also rare for gamers to complete a collection in a game that isn't going to reward them. Pokemon offered new abilities with each critter you found, InFamous increased the electricity the character could hold by collecting blast shards, and Crackdown increases gameplay abilities with the orbs collected. Each of these offers some kind of reward for the added effort to play the game, an incentive that could make the game a bit easier as you go on. Other games may use the collections as a way to unlock characters, like Ratchet and Clank, or even vehicles. The point is it in some way changes the gaming experience.

However, there are times when it just feels added on as an afterthought. Prototype offered many challenge missions aside from the plot to keep people entertained, but the added aspect of collecting around the city just seemed so pointless. They amounted to nothing more than something to fill time for the trophy/achievement whores out there. Even the web of conspiracy, with its 100+ people, didn't offer much of a reward. The point was to absorb the memories of various people around New York City to learn more about the outbreak. What players were given was a shoddy cut-scene of still photos with voice work lasting 30 seconds with no real revelation. Sure, once somebody collected all of them, they could piece it together by replaying the scenes in order, but it didn't offer anything new that wasn't part of the overall plot.

What ultimately makes collecting work is the reward. Whether it's unlocking new areas, completing missions, or added abilities, when collecting works it can add some extra fun to the game. I love messing with the physics of a Spider-Man game, swinging around the city, and it adds to that experience when a game like Web of Shadows adds the collecting to it. Not only does it offer the reward of increased abilities, but it gives me something to do when exploring the city. Collecting is like any other element in game development, it needs to be respected and used properly. It can't just be added on to any sandbox game without offering some sort of payback. When elements of gameplay aren't respected, it leads to piles of shovelware like the bullet time games that filled the 2000s, and that's not a place I want to go back to.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Reboot: Godzilla

Back finally with another Friday Reboot. This time I'm going to look at a franchise that already had one try in America and ended up as one of the most hideous bastard children of the 1990s, but for some reason Hollywood is going to give it another go, Godzilla.

1998 was America's first try at bringing the giant lizard to America with Mathew Broderick as the unlikely hero scientist to battle the beast. It was dumped on by critics and to this day, even among the tradition of summer blockbusters lacking any substance, it is still seen as a different kind of monster than intended by almost everyone. Yet for some reason there has been talk within the last year of trying it again. I'm a bit pessimistic for it yet I really want to see something beyond a foam rubber suit on the silver screen, and nobody knows how to blow a budget on a movie like America. But to do a proper reboot, you first need to see what went wrong the first time.


The biggest complaint about the 1998 movie was it just wasn't Godzilla. You had a giant iguana with spikes on its back and had it breath fire. In a very vague way, they got it, but at the same time they were way off the mark. It's almost like they were trying to create Jurassic Park in a way. You see it often with video games but from time to time it happens in movies, somebody has an idea they want to sell and they shoe-horn it into a licensed property to make it look more promising. The 1998 film wasn't Godzilla, it was "Giant Lizard Attacks New York." It just didn't have the soul that Godzilla typically has in the Japanese movies, that feeling like when Optimus Prime finally shows up in Transformers and you know things are about to get awesome. The 1998 film built to that point with the partial reveals of the monster, but then instead of seeing Optimus Prime, you got a Go-bot. One of the key ingredients to pull off the reboot is to really make it feel like Godzilla. In Japan, Godzilla wasn't just some giant monster who happened to come across Tokyo, he was an unstoppable force of nature bordering on chaotic animal and god-like protector.


One thing that stands out about what Japan has done with Godzilla is the movies aren't really about Godzilla. There's always been some underlying theme for the most part, whether it has to do with genetic experimentation, nuclear weapons, or cultural discrimination. That was usually the purpose of the other monster involved, a product of our own evil with the unstoppable destroyer turning into our savior. Sony's 1998 Godzilla was man versus beast, a nerdy scientist becoming a hero and saving the world from a giant monster. There was not much else going on. What could have been a statement about the military, environmentalism, or any number of additional topics was boiled down to a crappy B-movie plot.

For the reboot, the easiest way to solve the problem with the story is to not make an origin movie. So much is spent in American films explaining the monster. We have to know why there is this monster, yet it is this very attitude that ruins zombie movies. Part of what makes the first Living Dead movies so great is George Romero didn't care about explaining the zombies. He has even said he just wants to make movies about people and zombies help him get the funding. In a way, that's how Godzilla should be treated. J.J. Abrams was successful in telling a compelling story with Cloverfield by treating the monster as more of a natural disaster than an enemy. It was a story about a guy trying to get to his girl and there just happened to be a monster tearing up the place while he was at it. It is said that all good science fiction stories have very human problems. The new Godzilla can take any number of approaches with this. The story could be about global warming, an environmental disaster like BP is currently part of with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, over-consumption of natural resources, and yet still keep to the original origin of nuclear testing. The key is to make the story about people, not the monster.


As it seems to be the theme, the problem was man versus Godzilla. Another antagonist would help to add that more human of a story. Typically it came in the form of another monster, something I would really like to see Hollywood do just because I think it would be awesome to have two CG monsters tearing up the city. It doesn't have to be though. Depending on the story, it could be an evil corporation, government agency, mad scientist, or even some kind of super weapon. Personally, I'd be leaning toward having the giant monster and one of the others. It would be an easy story to have a statement on genetic manipulation and have Godzilla fight a giant monster created using a sample of his DNA and offer an explanation for why this monster is suddenly attacking. The company finds possibly a dead infant Godzilla, takes it for samples bringing the real deal to attack the location, and the company then creates a monster to stop the destruction it unwittingly caused. The monster goes wild and the people end up needing Godzilla to take care of the problem. The human feature could come from the hero of the story having a relative who could benefit from genetic manipulation, whether it be in the form of a disease or any other illness and this could be the main focus of the story, the hero's struggle against the evil company.

In 1998, Hollywood found out people come for the monster, but stay for the story. Unfortunately they didn't have much of a story. True, Godzilla is a giant monster, but at his heart that's not what Godzilla is about. Let's just hope Sony gets it right this time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

E3 Day 1: The Big 3's Big Sells

After a bit of hiatus I'm back for possibly my favorite week of the year, a week I look forward to more than Christmas or birthdays, the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3.

Although E3 didn't officially begin until today, there were already plenty of press conferences and announcements on Monday. Although a majority of the week is filled with updates and suprises on new games, each year the Big 3 of Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are always the most anticipated. It's the console developers that ultimately shape the future of the industry. Usually at this point we'd be seeing announcements of new consoles in development, but with the state of the economy and the price of current systems, nobody expected to see that. The current generation is finally becoming affordable and Blu-ray is just becoming the mainstream standard. So with no new consoles, what did they have to show?

The simple answer: HARDWARE


The big announcement from the Xbox 360s proud parent is was already announced last year, but this time around it had a new name and more to show for it. Project Natal is now known as Kinect and shows promise to be the next phase in gaming. Kinect's motion capture camera allows stronger interaction with gaming by making the player the controller. Showcased this year was new titles featuring the hardwares ability to recognize different actions and its possible implementation. I think Kinect is what Nintendo wanted the Wii to be, that fully immersive gaming experience. Personally, I hope they can achieve more than a collection of crappy carnival games. There's plenty of promise for Kinect to reshape gaming but ultimately it's up to developers to create something people will enjoy.

The other big announcement in hardware was the new Xbox 360 Elite with a 250GB hard drive with included wireless internet. Honestly, I can't believe it took this long. There's been more rumors flying around about an HD Wii being in the works than the 360 having wireless included yet you'd think once the PS3 came out as wireless, it would have been the first hardware change to implement. But then again, they did have that whole overheating problem to work out.


Oh Reggie Fils-Aime, where do you get your ideas? I'm not saying the President of Nintendo of America is a creative developer, but more of a creative salesman. I've long had a real disdain for Reggie because of how he comes off when selling the Nintendo brand. Sony and Microsoft give the others credit for what they do and show some honesty, but I've never really noticed Reggie really acknowledging successes of the other two or Nintendo's own short comings. What has me so riled up this year is his statement that NPD data shows the Wii is the most played system by its owners over any other system. Anybody I know who has a Wii has it collecting dust. Now I'm not saying Nintendo is lying, but just being creative with statistics. I've got a background with conducting studies and experiments so the first explanation that came to mind was who owns a Wii. I give them credit for having a huge install base, but I think that skews the data. How many grannies and college girls actually own a PS3 or 360? I want to see a study done by people who do own more than one system and see what that data says.

But anyway, on to their big sell. This year it was about returning favorites from Nintendo's classic games, including Kid Icarus, but their main feature was on the next handheld, the 3DS. The promise from Nintendo is the 3DS will offer 3D gaming in the palm of your hands. I've already expressed my opinion on 3D as being the wrong direction for entertainment but the 3DS comes off as even more of a gimmick. The inclusion of a camera in the DSi seemed a little unnecessary for me since I already have that with a phone, but the 3DS claims to be able to take 3D pictures. Ultimately, I'm not against Nintendo handhelds. I enjoy my DS for it offering a solid experience in 2D gaming but I don't see the need for 3D. How immersive of an experience can you have when it's on a small screen between your hands? Nintendo also has the difficulty of trying to impress people without actually being able to show them something. The 3DS is something that needs to be experienced in person and I can see it being a challenge to convince cautious consumers. However, if 3D is the future, I think the 3DS is the way to go with technology offering an experience without headache inducing glasses.


Sony didn't really bring anything new as far as their main feature this year, not even a new name. The Playstation Move is a motion controller utilizing the Playstation Eye with a 1:1 movement ratio. Most of their conference was demonstrating the new peripheral with gameplay styles and expressing its potential. Although not earth-shatteringly impressive, it looks like the Playstation Move is what the Wii wanted to be. It has more precise motion control and the lollipop-like light on the end offers new gameplay options on top of just waving your arm around. I don't see the Move having a place in every household, but again, it is up to developers to make software that will define its success.

Another matter of Sony that let me breathe a sigh of relief was the clarifications made of Playstation Plus. Rumors had been circulating about Sony going with a paid system for their PSN services similar to Xbox Live. The concern was much of the paid services of Xbox Live were free for PSN. The question was were these free services suddenly going to have a fee. I was happy to see that the free services were not changing. Instead, premium services will be offered with beta access, faster downloads, and exclusive demos. I'm not sure if I'll go for the Playstation Plus, but I was glad to hear the current services wouldn't be changing.

Oh, and one more thing...


Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Black Spider-Man? Wasn't That the Third One?

The internet has been roaring with the call for Donald Glover as Spider-Man, but the reason for the attention is when most people picture Spider-Man, I doubt they picture this.

I wasn't a fan of Tobey McGuire but some of the ideas being thrown around by Hollywood are up and coming teen pretty boys like Logan Lerman. However, what can really restore the Spider-Man movie franchise is someone who can really fill the character, not just eye candy.

One of the things that irritated me about Tobey McGuire was his portrayal as Spider-Man. He was great as Peter Parker, the nerdy school boy who couldn't get the girl. He had a certain awkwardness that was comical at times as audiences rooted for the underdog to finally come out on top. However, his costumed Spider-Man was anything but the arrogant jokester fans would expect him to be. His jokes were dry and sounded like they were dubbed in as Mcguire read from a script.

Glover has the potential to do so much more than McGuire as Spider-Man. For starters, he's a comedian. He's already great on Community and could easily adlib some lines in to give the character that witty punch that would capture audiences. One of the things that has made Spider-Man so relatable to audiences is he's a guy that never really wins. The first movie really showed it with the ending where even though the bad guy was beaten, it came with a cost. But it's the light hearted nature the character goes about life that keeps it from being so depressing.

But the likeliness of Glover landing the role is pretty slim, mainly because Peter Parker isn't black. But hey, what better way to tell audiences it's a reboot than to drastically changing the lead role? It's frustrating being the geek who knows a movie is a reboot and having to explain to a non-geek why the previous movie doesn't matter, although I'm sure we can all agree everyone will be better for forgetting Daredevil. For some, Punisher and Punisher: Warzone coming out relatively close to each other created some confusion for the non-geeks. A black Peter Parker would be an easy way to say to audiences "look, this is going to be something brand new." I hope Hollywood is listening because Glover is ready to jump into the blue and red spandex.