Angry Robot

Fear and Loading at The Escapist

The failures of game journalism. It’s a subject that comes up frequently, perhaps because despite the birth of new games journalism, the usual mainstream subjects seem only to have gotten worse.

Not so, says Christian McCrea in The Escapist, because… well, I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps it’s because those who have “the inclination to make simple, human connections between technology and human truth” are already in good supply, as indicated by the links throughout the article to key NGJ writings. Those are worth checking out.

The one comment on the article (as of me writing this) takes issue with its reliance on mainstream sources, and thankfully counters with a list of good sites:

Arthouse Games
Only A Game
The Artful Gamer
The Cultural Gutter
Grand Text Auto

A couple of those are already in the blogroll, but I’ll make sure they all get there.

Marathon: Durandal

is coming out on the 360 Live Arcade tomorrow. Ah, Nas Illmatic, joints with Dave and playing this on my shitty LC 475.

Puzzle Quest

I’m in the process of trying out a boatload of DS games, so you’ll be hearing a fair bit about that. Or not, I guess. I mean, you could come back in september when there are actually games out for the 360 and whatever other consoles exist.

Puzzle Quest, which I read about a few months ago on Penny Arcade, turns out to be total crack cocaine. There are two weak spots in my brain, one which is succeptible to the character- and skill-building aspects of RPGs, and the other that, once it begins thinking about strategy and/or unsolved problems, is unable to stop. There is another part of my brain that revels in long narrative arcs, although I consider that a strength. So all of them together… How can you not love a game in which you puzzle battle against orcs and trolls?

The puzzles are like bejeweled, and involve different coloured jewels that signify different types of mana, skulls which inflict damage upon your opponent, and coins and little purple things that give you gold and experience, respectively. By collecting mana, you can then cast spells – spells that depend on your character type and level. You can also capture opponents but to do so, you need to play a different sort of puzzle game. And you can then learn spells from your prisoners, but that too requires you complete a different puzzle. Basically all the usual RPG elements are there, but other than moving around the map, speaking to characters, and buying things from the stores, the gameplay has been replaced with puzzles.

I was speaking with someone and realized that my brain was trying to figure out if it could shift their nose up between their eyes to form a three-in-a-row. Yeah, I know that makes me sound like a lunatic. Basically, at this point, if there was a restaurant that required you to solve a puzzle in order to order food, I would be there battle puzzlin’ that shit.

There’s a lot to be said about the casual vs. hardcore opposition and where this game sits in relation to that, but I’ll save it for the podcast, which we’ll be doing this week.


He starts off with a nice dodge, which is to say games can be art, but not “high art”. What is high art, and who gets to decide what it is? He says nothing of such things. Well, he does say this:

The real question is, do we as their consumers become more or less complex, thoughtful, insightful, witty, empathetic, intelligent, philosophical (and so on) by experiencing them?

This is a vague paraphrasing of a fairly old yet perfectly serviceable take on the definition of art: something that both entertains and enlightens. I can see how someone unfamiliar with games could suppose that games, like comic book movies (other than The Hulk, ahem), only do the former, as I would admit that they very rarely do the latter. But rarely is not the same as never, and there are many examples – Silent Hill, Shadow of Destiny, Ico, Civilization, Final Fantasy VII, Jade Empire, many many more – that indicate games are indeed qualifying for the High Art derby, just like any other medium.

Think even of the upcoming Rock Band, the developers of which indicate that playing the drum parts on hard difficulty setting will be essentially the same thing as actually playing the drums; i.e. here’s a game that can teach you an instrument. If that isn’t enlightening, I don’t know what is.

One of Ebert’s hangups appears to be player control of the game’s outcome, so that in his view, a player wresting control from the artist makes the game less art. This is where Ebert’s lack of experience with games gets in the way of his opinions. If he played games, he would see the difference between something like NHL 2K7, which simulates a sport and allows for an infinite number of outcomes within limited parameters (must involve pucks going into nets), and something like Jade Empire, where the player’s actions will trigger different branches of a storyline that are predetermined by the artist. It’s possible, although much harder, to argue that NHL 93 is art, but it’s fairly easy to point out the similarities between a branching storyline game and a film. Especially a film with alternate endings on its DVD, for example. And that’s all we’d need to do to to defeat this part of Ebert’s argument.

Ideally, though, we could move beyond “games can be like films and thus can be art” arguments, and get into appreciating art games that take advantage of the things that make games unique as a medium. It’s a much more interesting issue. In This Reporter’s Opinion, games are more like architecture than film – or more accurately, sportchitecture (Ebert was onto something with his “they have more in common with sports” remark). But, it’s hard to resist a troll, especially a high-profile one who could do much to help an emerging medium instead of crapping all over it.

Facebook and Mobile Fleecing

My GF was a vigourous Facebook refusenik – until last night, when I got a friend request from her. Shocked and appalled, I demanded an explanation. It was forthcoming, and simple; a friend of hers who has moved to Vancouver suggested she sign up to keep up with her life out there, since she “never calls”. Which is true, because it’s expensive, Lucy points out.

This strikes me as another possible reason why Facebook is so popular in Canada.

Canada’s cellphone voice plans are just as suck as their data plans. I was just reviewing the major carriers’ plans; you’re hard pressed to find a 400 minute plan from any of them. AT&T’s plans start at 450 minutes and are no extra charge for long distance, whereas Rogers hits you with 30 cents a minute long distance charge on top of the airtime fees.

So given that, and the following:

a) young Canadians are more likely to have only a cell and no landline,
b) young Canadians, especially those at university or recent graduates, are likely to have friends from all over the country,

you have a perfectly reasonable explanation of why so many more Canadians use Facebook than Americans.

Backpack Updated

The online organizer app that I tend to use, Backpack, has been updated. It now includes search (hooray!), and the ability to move things around on a page, or to a different page. The look has been refined as well. Unfortunately, the API update has broken a lot of third-party utilities that interface with it.

Virtual Vocations – The DS as Career Counselor

Probably my favourite new gig so far has been taking up a scalpel to slice and dice an endless stream of patients as a talented but troubled surgeon in the ludicrously fun game Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Admittedly, I could do without all the endless pre-op soap opera nonsense, but a bad case of verbal diarrhea is a small price to pay for the chance to chop out tumors and salvage dodgy hearts.

Defense Attorney
Real lawyers spend their days slogging through dense documents and parsing legal jargon, but that probably wouldn’t make for the most entertaining game. Luckily, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney skips the paperwork and goes straight for outlandish plot twists, tense cross-examinations and some seriously hilarious dialogue. Just don’t start a new case before bed, unless you want to be up until three in the morning yelling “objection” at an uncooperative judge.

Private Investigator
A proper PI story needs two things: a twisty-turny hardboiled plot and plenty of gritty style. And fortunately for would-be gumshoes, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 delivers both in spades. With its sepia-toned look, head-scratching puzzles and tightly written dialogue, Hotel Dusk feels less like a traditional game and more like an interactive noir novel. Twitch gamers will probably find it too slow-paced, but anyone with an interest in a mature and atmospheric detective experience should check into this seedy hotel.

Dog Trainer
Nintendogs is pretty simple. Pick out a little fuzzy friend. Teach it a few tricks. Take it for a walk. Feed and water it. Give it a bath. Toss the Frisbee around. Enter an obedience contest. Then, repeat. Over and over again. Sure, it’s very cutesy and adorable the first few times, but eventually it starts blurring together into a haze of doggy boredom. All in all, an interesting failure.

Life of Leisure
Another interesting but ultimately flawed game is Animal Crossing: Wild World. This cartoony Sims-style game plunks you down in the middle of a small village, where you can redecorate your house, make friends with the locals, design clothes, search for bugs and generally kill time. Just like Nintendogs, it’s fun for the first few hours, but the lack of depth and repetitive nature makes it hard to recommend. And as my wife said, “Why would I want to play a game where one of the main goals is to pay off a mortgage?”

Feel like whipping up a gourmet feast, but don’t want to shop for groceries, wash dishes or actually eat anything? Then you need Cooking Mama, the only game that turns boiling pasta into a stylus-stabbing frenzy. Yes, it’s basically just a collection of follow-the-directions mini-games, and there’s not much to do once you’ve unlocked all the recipes, but if you’re looking for a quick three-minute game fix (nothing beats frying octopus dumplings while sitting on the toilet) then this is the game for you.

Recent Films

You Kill Me – moderately ok Indiewood fare. The sections about alcoholism seemed heartfelt, and the acting and a number of the jokes were good, but seeing real human emotion squeezed into a romcom/violence cookiecutter was painful to the soul. The world does not need another hilarious hitman movie. The music was terrible, too.

300 – I was impressed with the action scenes; I’m a stickler for knowing what’s going on physically. Thumbs up to the CGI longshots of ramped violence, although the speed changes got pretty tiresome. Thumbs down to the loathsome politics. In 30 years this will be an extremely embarrassing movie, if it isn’t already.

Trailer Park Boys – felt like a double episode of the show – is that a good thing or a bad thing? Good because if you like the show, you’ll like the film. Bad because they missed an opportunity to paint on a much larger canvas. I wish terrorists had attacked the park.

Apocalypto – Fucking A! Leaving aside Mel’s questionable belief system, this was good times. Epic, yet refreshingly, violently different from the Hollywood norm. As it goes on, it gets a bit weaker, with classic hollywood plot contrivances and the like. Plus – again, here I go with the politics – the film sort of argues “if you are a bad society, you deserve to be invaded.”

Peeping Tom – A creepy classic. orth checking out. Rarely do you hear scopophilia name-checked in a film that’s actually entertaining. Plus, it was written by a Bletchley Park codebreaker. (hat tip to Leo for recommending this)

Five Deadly Venoms – I’d seen this before, but I watched it again, and boy is it good. Such an evocative film, with such an ingenious hook.

DS Touchscreen Innovation

I’ve got a DS-related post from Mark in the pipeline, but in the meantime, there are some interesting comments on this post on DS Fanboy about games that use the touchscreen or the microphone in interesting ways. Etrian Odyssey, a game that makes you draw your own map?

On Game Trailers

Two related items came to my attention today: this article about the growing importance of game trailers, and Narcogen’s shot-by-shot analysis of the E3 Halo 3 trailer – the latter clearly an example of the ‘forensic approach’ detailed in the former.

It is worth noting that the two examples the article gives of trailers backfiring were Halo 2’s 2004 E3 trailer, and Killzone’s 2005 trailer. The article implies that gamers’ expectations can be raised too high, and thus trailers can backfire. Sure, that can happen. But the reason for the backfire is clear, in both cases: the trailers were deceptive. The Halo trailer contained gameplay footage of levels that didn’t appear in the game. The Killzone trailer was pre-rendered, so it had no relation whatsoever to what the game itself would look like. Small deceptions abound in film trailers (different music, sound effects, severe dialogue editing), but if you made a trailer that different from the actual film, you’d likely run afoul of fraudulent advertising laws.

I can’t see how the forensic approach to video is anything but an exciting development. Perhaps it’s only coming now because the technologies required – the pause button and the internet – are relatively recent phenomena. (I think of those poor structuralist film students in the 70s and before, having to watch repeated showings of the same film before they could perpetrate a shot-by-shot analysis). Anyway, it seems of a kind with ARGs, and signifies that techniques previously only practised in ivory towers can now be done by anyone, for entertainment even. The motivation is clear, too; it’s not that “these internet losers have too much time on their hands” but rather that – as the Traxus reference indicates – the material is layered with meaning in such a way that rewards close viewing. Sure, it’s hyped-up graphics porn for the mainstream, but it’s rich with detail for the story nerds, too.


I have purchased a Nintendo DS. I’ve been meaning to for a while (there is an eight hour flight in my future), and the drought of new, good games on the 360 – which will last until september – convinced me that now is the time to strike.

I don’t have much else to say, really. I only have one game, Super Mario Bros. I like everything about the system so far: the size, weight, look and feel, the battery life. I’ve ordered a CycloDS Evolution, which enables one to run homebrew code, and to store a mass amount of game ROMs on a memory chip. I’ll write up the experience once it actually occurs, but I’m excited – there are a couple music programs for the DS that I’m looking forward to trying.

The downside, so far, is playing games in bed. I really shouldn’t be allowed to do that.

Sony's E3 Announcements

Mildly thinner new PSP; new, cool-looking black & white stick figure puzzle game echochrome, some game demos including Killzone, which looks good the addition of several buzzwords to the 3D OS Home (social networking, sharing, mobile access); gloating over the success of Blu-Ray; a new superhero-themed sandbox game, Infamous. More at joystiq, of course.

Halo 3 Nerdery Ho!

Joystiq’s trailer analysis:

Couple things I’d add. First off, we see two Spartans on screen in one shot. This could simply be an indication of co-op play and not a story element, but as we know there will be different Spartan armour models, and as Bungie tends to have story motivation for things like that, we can speculate that there will be more than one Spartan in the Halo 3 plot. Also, Nadine noticed that there’s a shot of a four-seater Warthog. It has no cannon, just two passenger seats in the back. We speculated this could be handy for the rumoured four-player online co-op.

There’s also this description of part of the first campaign level, although there’s nothing that exciting going on.

Microsoft's E3 Announcements

Scene It on the 360, new Resident Evil and Call of Duty trailers, yawners. Bungie heads will want to get the Halo campaign trailer, and take note that Marathon is coming to the Live Arcade. Sure, you can download it for free for Mac or PC, but for couch potatoes, $10 might be an okay price to pay.

Update: missed a couple things. Halo-wise, there’s a rather interesting video made by Peter Jackson’s Weta – you can find it at the bottom of this page. It’s directed by Neil Blomkamp, who would have been the director of the Halo film, had it not been shelved, and presumably the intention is not only to promote the game, but also to inspire a little thirst for the live-action film. There’s also a Halo 3 Xbox 360 model, and the Live Video Marketplace, Microsoft’s film and TV downloading service, is coming to Europe and Canada at an unspecified date.

Nintendo's E3 Announcements

Man, I love Nintendo. They gave out a lot of stats about how well their systems are doing and how they are expanding the market, and it’s hard to disagree with that. One interesting stat: on other systems, women are 20% of gamers; on the Wii, they make up 33%. A few game release dates are given (Super Mario Galaxy: Nov 12th). There are new controllers: the “Zapper”, which is a gun for shooters, a little steering wheel for Mario Kart Wii, and a frickin’ mat for the fitness game Wii Fit which is a great idea.

The Simulation Argument

This is a rather good list of existential risks facing humanity, including the usual suspects, but also the unusual “we’re living in a simulation and it gets shut down” risk:

A case can be made that the hypothesis that we are living in a computer simulation should be given a significant probability. The basic idea behind this so-called “Simulation argument” is that vast amounts of computing power may become available in the future, and that it could be used, among other things, to run large numbers of fine-grained simulations of past human civilizations. Under some not-too-implausible assumptions, the result can be that almost all minds like ours are simulated minds, and that we should therefore assign a significant probability to being such computer-emulated minds rather than the (subjectively indistinguishable) minds of originally evolved creatures. And if we are, we suffer the risk that the simulation may be shut down at any time.

While that may seem ludicrously sci-fi, the argument to consider it a distinct possibility is strong (there’s a good summary here). The happy ending? Even if we are all simulated, it makes no difference – you might as well go on living your life as if you were real. OK then.

The Future of Angry Robot

The robot only gets angrier.

Nah, basically I wanted to say what the plans are for the site. I’m opening it up to other writers, notably Nadine and Mark. I’m not expecting daily posts from them, but at least we will expand the gaming coverage beyond the 360, a weakness of the site at the moment since that’s the only console I have. That said, I will get a DS before year’s end and a PS3 when the price drops. But I mean Nadine has every console.

The podcast will continue at some point, although we’ll have to do it a bit more live. The biggest constraint on the site, of course, is time. I’d love to make multiple posts a day, do a video podcast, etc. but life and other projects get in the way. But I’ll continue to post about whatever interests me, and at least the links will come fast and hard, like angry robot sex.

$100 on Live Arcade

1. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

This is a spinoff game! It was originally a minigame in Project Gotham Racing 2. This is a must-have; Microsoft should really include a key for it with every 360. It feels like the classic arcade version of a logarithmic plot: a) things are okay to start, b) they gradually get more hectic, and then c) suddenly you can’t believe you’re still alive, and bam! d) You’re dead. The period between c) and d) gives you a visceral rush; you feel like your instincts are working faster than your eyes.

2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

This game is not a 10-minute pick-up-and-play sort, but rather a platform RPG that was well ahead of its time, and well worth playing now. Will keep you busy for hours.

3. Doom

It plays Doom. So yeah, you can get Doom on just about any device nowadays. Still though, a long single player campaign that you can do co-op locally or on live, and online multiplayer. And you’re playing a piece of history.

4. Pac-Man Championship Edition

Awesome. I’m not just saying that. It’s designed by the original Pac-Man designer, Toru Iwatani, and the changes from the orignal are few but perfect – like master strokes.

5. Alien Hominid

A beautiful hand-drawn 2-D shooter from an indie developer, this game is packed with entertainment and features (minigames in a $10 arcade download!). I don’t like the amount of repetition required to take down the level 1 boss, but other than that this game macks.

6. Assault Heroes

Modern version of a top-down shooter, in jeeps with different, upgradable gun types. Lots of fun, and good for co-op games.

7. Prince of Persia

Like Pac-Man: CE, a perfect modernization of a classic. It’s still hard as hell, but the addition of checkpoints makes it a lot more palatable. Looks beautiful, too.

8. Band of Bugs

Bite-size tactical gameplay. It’s a turn-based strategy game along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics. Given that real-time strategy games don’t work so well on console controllers (despite what you might have heard), the only choice for strategy gaming is turn-based, and the 360 has NONE OF THEM except for games on live: this, or the card game ports (Catan and Carcassonne). Single player will last you maybe 4-5 hours, after which I can only presume it makes a good game to play against your pals.

9. Marble Madness

Looks pretty stupid at first, but has a good blend of puzzle and twitch. Fun on live in groups.

10. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

I sleep well at night knowing I have a classic fighting game waiting for me should I ever want to pick it up.

Honorable Mention: Double Dragon, Contra, Catan, Outpost Kaloki X. I haven’t played Wik & the Fable of Souls yet, but it sounds like that’s original and well-made. I also haven’t mentioned the amazing Hexic HD from the creator of Tetris, since it comes free with every 360.

New Halo 3 stuff at IGN

A content embargo must have just dropped, as IGN has a writeup of a few new Halo 3 details, and new screenshots. Details include the maps Shrine, Epitaph, and Last Resort (Zanzibar); the armour variants, the Brute chopper, and implementation of the saved films feature, which I can’t wait to see. Oh, and an interview.