Episode 143: The End (feat. Go Big Or Go Home)

Following the disastrous Disembodied Voices Christmas Telethon Variety Show with No Actual Telephone and Questionable Variety (along with Bryan's failure to redeem the holiday and not die), the third and final act of this holiday special shares with the world one last moral. Stephen, Cameron, and Zachary are in for one sad Christmas as they struggle to make ends meet, but can hope be found in a future without the lovably familiar podcast everyone (or a few people at least) knows and loves? One would hope so, because this is also the final curtain call for a super fun show that has miraculously lasted almost four years. Yes, for serious, Disembodied Voices is officially shutting down and shutting up-- this is a fond, fond, fond (way fond) farewell. To find out why this dreadful day has come to pass, listen to this ridiculous episode full of audio dramas, segments, Christmas, and good memories. But don't be toooooooooo sad. After all, the DV Cast will be hanging out at Whales are Whales every darn week, including a podcast that resembles this show just a little lot.

So thanks for listening-- really, THANKS. It's been real, and occasionally, distinctly surreal. Have a life!

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Direct link to the episode yaaaaaaay!

Click here for the full Go Big Or Go Home credits.

Opening song: Chalupa Pass, from Minimap and composed by coda.

What Has Changed? song: Time Ruler's Watch, from Minimap and composed by coda.

Secret Santa Espionage Tactical Strike Whatever Song: Christmas in the Village (Silver Bells), originally from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals and ReMixed by Dale North.

Bryan's holiday madness song: Event: Strain, from Sonic Adventure and composed by Kenichi Tokoi.

Zachary answers the door song: Event: 3 Black Noises, from Sonic Adventure 2 and composed Kenichi Tokoi.

Disembodied Voices Origins ending song: 1812 Overture (excerpt), from Peggle 2 and composed by Stan LePard & Dynamedion GbR.

Ending song: The Glory Days, from The Glory Days and composed by Big Giant Circles.

New Releases song: Hillbilly Rodeo, originally from Bubble Bobble and ReMixed by djpretzel.

Smell that? Windy change is in the air...

Hello there, listener! We, meaning the entirety of the DV Cast, did our very first live streamed podcast on Twitch.tv just a few short hours ago! We gave away a Hearthstone beta key; laughter and fun filled the virtual air for nearly 20 minutes. We all thought it was a blast. So much so, that we're actually planning even more live streaming stuff! What sort of stuff? We're not telling yet! However, we can tell you where some new content is going to start to show up in the very near future.

First off, you can see the Hearthstone giveaway either on Youtube or on Twitch. 

The DV Cast's permanent Youtube channel is very simple: Youtube.com/thedvcast! Click subscribe on that channel to get all of our uploads!

Same with Twitch; just go to Twitch.tv/thedvcast and click on "Follow" so you can know exactly when we go live (It'll send you an email).

Of course, we will always announce things first, and most quickly on our Twitter page, which is simply Twitter.com/thedvcast.

And as always, our email is thedvcast(at)gmail.com. Send us whatever you'd like. Cake is preferable.

Keep your eyes peeled on all of these different sites, because things are a'changin' for the Disembodied Voices podcast. We hope to see you along for the ride!

Signing off,

Cameron

Why Did I Agree To Do This? A Star Wars The Clone Wars Republic Heroes Review

Those who listen to the podcast may have heard that my birthday was on May 4. As such, the ever oh so generous Cameron wanted to get me a gift. That gift was Star Wars The Clone Wars Republic Heroes for the PC. And that’s why we’re all here today.

Star Wars The Clone Wars Republic Heroes (try saying that five times fast) is a co-op action/platforming title developed by Krome Studios. Krome isn’t exactly a well respected developer, but they are one of the only few independent studios doing work for major publishers in Australia - so points for them I guess. That’s where the points stop though.

Krome Studios used to not be bad. They developed Ty the Tasmanian Tiger - a game that I never played, but fans swear up and down that it’s one of the best platformers of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era. I’m gonna take their word for it because it’s all I have. Anyway, their real trouble started in 2007 when Microsoft contracted them to make Viva Pinata: Party Animals. After that, LucasArts turned them into a Star Wars workhorse.

Now, enough about Krome. Let’s get on with the game, shall we?

Star Wars The Clone Wars Republic Heroes is best described as LEGO Star Wars without the LEGO. Now, that’s not inherently a bad thing. Sure the LEGO games get by with their derivative gameplay by having buckets of charm, but surely Republic Heroes has at least a single bucket of charm in it, right? Right? Maybe a cup of charm? How about a droplet? No?

OK, look, Republic Heroes apes the style of The Clone Wars TV series. No, not that awesome Genndy Tartakovsky series. The crappy one where George Lucas threw Genndy’s work into a computer and just expected it to work. It’s much the same filmmaking style he applied to the prequels and we all know how those worked out.

Anyway, the game obviously can’t look anywhere near as clean as the TV series, and that’s even with forced MSAA. All the characters look absolutely lifeless, and some are best described as nightmare muppets. No seriously, take a look at Yoda:

Nightmare Muppets

Now, I don’t believe in absolute zero badness. There’s always a redeeming factor and Republic Heroes’ visuals do have one thing going for it. The outer space shots with the planets in the background look absolutely marvelous.

Pretty Planet

Unfortunately, the environments on the planets look like somebody took the airbrush, cracked it open and just let whatever came out of it to flow all over the canvas. In other words, it's a mess.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Benevolent Zach, I care not these “graphics.” I only want to hear about the gameplay. Well, I was really hoping you would stop reading by now so I wouldn’t have to get into that. But since you insist...

Remember how I said that Republic Heroes was like the LEGO games minus the LEGO? Yeah, that applies to the gameplay as well. The characters can jump, swing a lightsaber and throw the force around like a belligerent drunk throws around insults in an alley at midnight. That is to say - it’s completely ineffective and doesn’t hurt anyone.

So, you ask, the combat is bad? I wouldn’t classify it as bad. It definitely works when it wants to. I just often found myself hitting the X button next to enemies hoping to slice them in two, but only finding Anakin or Obi-Wan swinging their lightsabers at thin air in the opposite direction. This is especially annoying during boss fights where there’s only one target, but these “Jedi” seem content to swing their lightsabers at anything but the gelatinous ooze monster that’s threatening to blow up the galaxy.

Speaking of boss fights, the game lacks variety. Players are forced to fight the aforementioned gelatinous ooze monster three times throughout the game. The pattern of attack only ever changes during the final boss fight, and even then, the only difference is that you're now balancing on floating platforms while fighting.

Now that may seem hard, but trust me, it’s not. In fact, Republic Heroes is insultingly easy. Sure, you can’t die, just like in the LEGO games, but those games never feel condescending. Republic Heroes makes you feel stupid for trying too hard. For example, the very first boss fight in the game requires players to force hold a robotic leg down and then climb up said leg to slash out an eye. Now, that sounds incredibly simple, but the solution to this boss fight was frustratingly ambiguous. It didn’t help that the nightmare muppet version of Yoda kept on appearing to tell me that I was doing it wrong, but never actually explaining how I was doing it wrong. In the end, it only helped me to understand Luke’s frustration with the little green guy on Dagobah.

After all this, you might be thinking - “Great and powerful Zach, is there anything you enjoyed in this game?” Actually, yes! I thoroughly enjoyed any of the levels that allowed me to play as one of the Clone Troopers. It was an excellent change of pace from the Jedi levels, and the levels themselves were actually fun. Of course, this comes from my adoration of twin stick arcade shooters, and the Clone Trooper levels deliver that kind of arcade action in spades.

Beyond that, however, there’s little in this game that I liked. The Jedi gameplay is dull, the boss fights are terrible, the environments are bland, and the game just kind of ends with no closure whatsoever.

That being said, there is one thing about this game that is truly phenomenal - Anakin Skywalker wearing an abnormally large Indiana Jones-style fedora:

Anakin Hat

Dress To Play: Cute Witches Makes The Cast Of Hocus Pocus Look Adorable - A Review

I have a small confession to make. I love playing dress up. Of course, I mean the virtual kind of dress up. I’ve always been enamored by Princess Maker, the super popular line of princess simulators that were only released in Japan. Princess Debut on the Nintendo DS is one of my favorite titles on the system. I’m not even kidding.

It’s with this deep seated love of dress up games that I was pleased to find one on the Nintendo eShop. Dress to Play: Cute Witches is a game that promises “thousands of combinations to create thousands of different little witches.” This already sounds like my kind of game.

And what luck! The game was on sale this week as part of the same promotion that has the excellent Guild01 titles on sale. As an aside, you really need to play Crimson Shroud and Liberation Maiden.

Anyway, I gave Nintendo and the publishers at EnjoyUp Games my $1.99, and I jumped into the magical world of Dress To Play: Cute Witches. Unfortunately, the magic turned out to be a case of high school students in masks tricking the FBI into opening an investigation into the occult. It was a waste of money that only ended up wasting everybody’s time.

Before we get to that, however, let’s jump into how this game works. First of all, you’re given a “witch” to customize and dress up as you see fit. The dress up menu is strangely similar to the Mii creation menu except for the addition of, well, clothes.

When you first start out, there’s an insanely appalling lack of clothing options. I could dress my witch up in a sailor outfit straight out of a Japanese anime and a couple of cat ears. There might even be a bow. The point is that there’s not much in the way of customization options at the start.

To unlock more clothing options, you must go into the challenge mode. The challenge mode is like a shmup without the shooting. You direct our lovely witch through an obstacle-laden sky full of cute creatures and copyright infringements. While you’re avoiding these obstacles, you must also collect stars that float past in the sky.

Of course, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The enemy patterns can get pretty erratic, and it actually does feel like a hardcore shmup at times. Unfortunately, the controls are just kind of terrible. You can move with the Circle pad, d-pad or face buttons. All three options are terrible, and movement feels sluggish. This leads to a number of cheap hits as you're often too slow to avoid oncoming obstacles.

Thankfully, the game is pretty forgiving with this section. No doubt as a result of trying to appeal to much younger gamers. The health bar is a fuel gauge because witches apparently sport diesel engines on brooms now. The fuel gauge drains slowly over the course of gameplay, but each hit helps to make it drain faster. You can collect hearts to restore a bit of the fuel gauge, but you will fail. In all honesty, you will fail a lot.

This is where Dress To Play: Cute Witches ceases to be a cute little diversion and just becomes an annoyance. The game expects you to play this mode a countless number of times. Each clothing item is tied to challenges that you must complete in the challenge mode. One such challenge is playing challenge mode for three hours. Another is collecting 150 stars in one run.

Look, I love dress up games, and I love unlocking outfits. I would rather unlock new outfits by wooing over princes and finding true love though.. Sure, that’s not exactly what witches do, but maybe she can just apparate into a clothing store and steal all the cute clothes next time.* It would save her, and by extension me, a lot of time.

*The DV Cast does not endorse theft or apparition. Save the latter for when you’re a seventh year.

Games To Scare Stephen With On Halloween

Greetings, boils and ghouls, this incredibly archaic introduction is brought to you by The DVCast.

In fact, this particular post is written by none other than Zachary Walton, the self-proclaimed horror master of the group. Since Stephen is too scared to tackle the task, I have taken it upon myself to create a list of the scary games you can play during Halloween this year.

To be included, the game must follow these strict standards:

1. It must have been released in the last two years. That means no perennial classics like Resident Evil will be on this list. You all know Resident Evil is a classic horror game, so why bother?

2. The game must be scary. Of course, scary is strictly subjective. Take Stephen for instance - he’s scared of awesome things. Those scarecrow things in Thief: Deadly Shadows? They’re super cool! This list will be comprised of titles that I think are scary.

3. Special consideration will be given to games that might not be scary, but rather exude pure malice in their design. These are games that don’t intend to scare, but can be extremely nerve wracking in their design.

(As an aside, it should be noted that these titles are not in any order whatsoever. They are all quality titles and deserve your time. Don’t take their placement on the list as a sign of their respective quality.)

Now that we have that out of the way - let’s dive in!

Silent Hill Downpour (Xbox 360/PS3)

Resident Evil and Silent Hill both received a main series entry in their respective franchises this year. Resident Evil 6 isn’t as bad as some critics would have you believe, but it is not scary. Silent Hill Downpour on the other hand is a major rebound after the last few titles failed to live up to the series’ pedigree.

Downpour casts you in the shoes of Murphy, a convict with a troubled past. He’s the perfect candidate for interment at Silent Hill. As you make your way through the famous town, much of Murphy’s history is dug up through excellently crafted areas and, in a first for the series, side quests. It’s a shocking, and often times depressing, journey through the psyche of a man who lost everything and gave up his humanity in return for solace in nothingness.

Lone Survivor (PC)

Speaking of Silent Hill, Lone Survivor could be considered its 2D doppelganger. It even lifts some of its sound effects straight out of Konami’s horror series. Much like the previous entry, Lone Survivor is all about psychological horror. It puts player in the role of a nameless character who is the only survivor amid what appears to a viral outbreak that turned the populace into flesh-eating zombies. Think I Am Legend, but far more disturbing.

The game is a side scrolling 2D adventure game with limited combat. That doesn’t make the game any less threatening though. The enemies that are present can easily spot the player and will make short work of the player’s character if they’re not too careful. The player also “dies” if they run out of ammo. It forces one to think creatively and avoid confrontation if at all possible. It makes every encounter, even with the weaker enemy varieties, incredibly tense.

Corpse Party (PSP/Playable on PS Vita)

The next entry on this list is a bit different from the rest. Corpse Party is a Japanese adventure game that looks like it was made in RPG Maker. The visuals are incredibly basic, even more so than Lone Survivor, but it’s by far one of the more terrifying games to be included on this list.

The key to Corpse Party’s success is its use of audio. This is the kind of game that requires headphones as the audio moves within your head. It creates the illusion that the player is really inside the haunted schoolhouse. The interweaving stories that take place over five chapters also serve to alleviate the pain of having to sit through some particularly awful visuals.

A fair bit of warning here - the game is incredibly graphic. There are CG stills throughout the game for important scenes which include the brutal murder of high school-age children. I don’t want to spoil these scenes, but they are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever seen in a game. I’m actually kind of glad they aren’t animated.

Home (PC)

The player awakens in a darkened house. Why are they there? What’s going on? These are the questions that the player must ask themselves as they venture through the highly stylized 2D environments of Home.

Home is an indie horror project created by one person - Benjamin Rivers. He did all the art, programming, writing, etc. This is one of those personal pet projects that lots of love was poured into and it’s obviously shows. It’s one of the most stylish 2D games to hit the indie scene with expressive pixels forming the landscape that the player wanders as they search for answers.

The big theme in Home is choice. Everything is decided by the player through simple yes or no answers. Are you going to pick up that gun? Are you going to open that door? Every choice has a consequence somewhere down the line as the player slowly realizes the true horror behind their actions. A word of warning: the game is super ambiguous and the non-ending may turn off some players.

The Binding of Isaac (PC)

Remember how I said in the rules that some games may not be “scary,” but rather exude malice in their design? The Binding of Isaac is one of those games. Much like Super Meat Boy before it, The Binding of Isaac hates you. It will do everything in its power to belittle and destroy what little self-esteem the player had left.

Beyond the game design, I think the game could be classified as fitting nicely into the horror genre due to the varied, and often times grotesque, enemy design. Many of the boss monsters are pus or acid spewing monsters that look like they’re straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmares. Scary? Not really. Unsettling? You bet.

Anna (PC)

I’m not going to lie - Anna is my favorite of the list. If it was numbered, Anna would be number one. It’s an extraordinary first-person adventure game set in a dark sawmill where the supernatural comes alive. You can feel the presence of something malicious, but it never truly manifests itself until you least expect it. It’s the kind of game that uses its atmosphere to the very best of its ability.

Anna, much like Home, is very ambiguous. It may be a detriment to some players in Home, but I bet that many players will come to appreciate the ambiguity in Anna’s design. It doesn’t use it to make the player confused, but rather uses it to further stir their curiosity for repeat playthroughs. There are multiple endings, and the game constantly hints at this. There’s more to be done and seen in the solitary sawmill in the middle of the woods. It just waits for the player to find it.

And... that’s it. I can’t add anymore games to this list, even if I wanted to, thanks to the rules imposed by myself. I would like to ask any and all readers to add their own favorite horror games in the comments. My rules do not apply to you so bust out that recommendation for “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.”

The QuakeCon

It took a delayed podcast, a four hour drive, and awaking at an unearthly hour, but I made it to this year's QuakeCon! It was my first time attending, and perhaps my former absence had something to do with my aversion to competitive online games (particularly shooters) and never having played any of id's lineup beyond the Commander Keen series; however, with my brother heading down there to offer the internet some of his insightful coverage, I figured I may as well come along and see what I could glean both for my own benefit and that of Disembodied Voices. (Plus, he required a cameraman, and through intensive training I've gained the skills required to hold an iPhone and tap the record button; still figuring out how to hold it properly, though.) You are now presented with a choice. You can either read ahead through the variety of anecdotes and commentary I'll provide or skip the rambling and find the wonderful video we put together documenting our journey; it's like a really low-rent choose-your-own-adventure! If you chose option #1, then allow me to share with you some of what I came upon during my quest to QuakeCon... The Drive

Living in Houston like I do, my trip to QuakeCon is decidedly shorter than for many of the attendees, I'm sure, but nevertheless three to four hours in the car is an appreciable span of time. I spent the majority of the trip listening to the freshly-downloaded soundtrack of Bastion. Hearing the rustic, western beats while rolling through Texas' drought-ravaged farmlands was delightfully thematic and served as an excellent pastime. Throw in a milkshake from Jack-in-the-Box and healthy amounts of Kard Kombat (a thoroughly worthy iPhone game), and the drive was not a chore but quite a pleasant experience.

The Venue

Given my cramped and poorly ventilated experience at GDC Online, I was hardly expecting much from QuakeCon's choice of settings. Color me surprised (pleasantly so) when I pushed through the shiny revolving door and entered the Hilton Anatole, a place rife with soft carpets, classy decorations, and plenty of room to spare. The hotel looked to have a Japanese theme about it, which made it a refreshing change of scenery in addition to being visually pleasing. While the temptation to wade through the perfectly-kept koiless koi pond or combat the stone samurai was great, I managed to make it through the day without causing irreparable harm to my surroundings, and of that I am proud. Despite the convention being spread rather erratically throughout the expansive grounds, each location seemed perfectly tailored to its hosted event, quickly making you forget that the given room had a vast library of other purposes. I don't know if it was QuakeCon's usual pick for locations, but if it's going to be a returning factor next year I'll head down again just to get another look at that pond.

The Elder Scrolls

The first thing I did after speeding through registration was weave my way into the main stage to get a seat for Skyrim's public unveiling. (Unfortunately, this was met with something less than success, so I made do with standing at the very back.) As Todd Howard took the floor, 360 controller in hand (making the obligatory apology for forsaking the PC version) my excitement level began to climb rapidly. This only continued as menus were navigated and a save was loaded, hooking me within seconds upon revealing the barren, snow-covered landscapes and majestic mountains. Impressive as it was, bear in mind little of what was shown was new, as I had seen much of the same demo shown via E3 coverage. Given that this was hardly fresh material, I won't be writing up a preview of what I saw, rather I shall relay a few scattered thoughts regarding the demonstration.

To begin with a summary, I came away from the presentation both encouraged and excited. Even when shown via a guided demo, the scale and detail of Skyrim's world are made clear. Every part of that world is infused with a strong theme and vision, making it feel like a successor to Morrowind's rustic, alien world of Vvardenfell rather than Oblivion's unfortunately bland Cyrodill. What struck me throughout the tour was that this clear and immersive direction went beyond the composition of the world and into the mechanics underlying it all. As Todd Howard introduced a group of bonus-granting standing stones atop a chilly mountain peak, which replaced the constellation system from previous entries, I began to see how systems once relegated to character sheets were being gracefully woven into the vast tapestry that is an Elder Scrolls game. While Oblivion spent its time stripping away the more arcane mechanics present in Morrowind, Skyrim looks to be reintroducing complexity, though not by returning to the text-heavy mechanics of a bygone era, but rather in ways that contribute to immersion. It's, to use the word once more, this definitive vision, which was sorely lacking in Oblivion, that looks to be underlying every one of Skyrim's strengths, and seeing the mastermind behind it all demonstrate this live drove home my belief that Bethesda has really got it this time. When the dragon was vanquished and the brief journey came to a close, I believe the roaring crowd was of the same mind: November can't come soon enough.

The Show Floor

With thoughts of Skyrim's barren, snow-beaten mountains on my mind I decided to contrast things wildly by heading off to QuakeCon's show floor. I stumbled my way through the bass-pounded room in something of a bored daze, passing by a gregarious truck for raffle, a bevy of gamestations featuring solely, of course, competitive shooters, and some sort of energy-drink swigging contest... thing. I made a hasty exit, wondering why I was even attending the thing as thoughts of Skyrim were left drifting away in the sea of dull frenzy.

The Panel

With Stephen still off demoing Rage in the all-too-exclusive press room (he said I wouldn’t be allowed in; I was his cameraman!), things took a dramatic turn for the better as I entered the panel concerning id's 20 year history. Four of id's top performers took the stage and shared their experience, the culmination of which was nothing but interesting and insightful. High points came when hearing of their comical censorship issues with Nintendo or letters warning them against referencing the supernatural, but what stood out from all the rest was getting to hear John Carmack for as long as I did. His is a name I've heard bandied about gaming circles many a time, but being only a casual observer of id at best, I'd never learned much about him. That made hearing his wide ranging pontifications all the more interesting, as they spanned a delightfully wide range over the course of the panel. The man is obviously still one of the great minds of the industry, and being introduced to him in such an entertaining and engaging method was quite the treat. Much to my amazement, the panel was such a pleasant surprise that it garnered my "best of show" award; I'm sure it's most honored.

The Crowd

First with Skyrim and then later with Prey 2 (another game demoed that shall, unfortunately, not be receiving its own section), an attention-grabbing element was the audience participation. As Todd Howard was introduced and Skyrim unveiled the gathered attendees seemed ordinary enough, cheering with enthusiasm for a long-awaited showing. Nothing seemed mentally unstable about the good-natured bunch; nothing particularly troubling, either. That is until a wolf passed by. A cry rent the air, calling for blood. "Kill it!" This was met by another, then another; soon there was something resembling a cohesive chant demanding the wolf's imminent demise. Todd Howard's delayed reaction came too late; he doubled back to search for the marked creature, but found nothing but frozen wastelands, devoid of life. The disappointment was palpable, but things returned to a normal, civilized state as the demo continued. The beast had been awoken, however, and when a city was approached, things became ugly. Shouts to burn the place and massacre the townsfolk arose; the violent uproar eventually culminated into Todd Howard flatly stating: "I'm not going to kill the civilians." Nevertheless, chants for blood and death were commonly repeated throughout the duo of demos, and any act of even remote violence or destruction was met with wild cheers. The killing of a helpless alien here, the slaying of a dragon there; each spray of blood was met with an equal or greater wave of applause or bevy of hooting. I believe it felt akin to what it would've been like to attend a gladiatorial arena, witnessing a riotous crowd whipped up into a frenzy by their bloodlust and screaming for a sacrifice to satisfy their wild demands. Fortunately, this event lacked the critical component of *actual* violence occurring, but the similarities were hard to ignore nevertheless. Was it annoying? It became so, yes. Humorous? Sometimes, quite. Disturbing? Yes, I must admit it was this as well. I'm perfectly aware none of this bloodshed was real, of course, (do not take me for a whacko, despite the evidence) but despite this, I do wonder... is it really healthy to cultivate such violent tednencies? The amount of fervor the crowd managed to display was... a bit unnerving. I'm sure it's all in good fun though... right?

The Ballerinas?

It seems QuakeCon wasn't the only event taking up space at the Hilton Anatole that weekend. Some traveling troop (is that the correct term these days?) of ballerina-esque dancers was putting on a show of some sort, and the culture clash that ensued was both confounding and comical. Within a few paces you could pass both a man sporting a Black Mesa labcoat debating the importance of SSDs for disc speed and a group of six-year-olds dressed in colorful garb and practicing for what looked to be a gymnastics routine. It added that extra dose of oddball flavor that every good convention needs; unless it's taking place in Japan, in which it needs triple the dosage, if not more.

The End

My journey brought me from dragon-sieged plains to headace-inducing show floors (actually, there was just one of those...), and I had a plethora of thoroughly enjoyable experiences (including a fantastic breakfast the following morning). All of these must culminate to something, however, yet the moral of this winding tale is still an enigma; I believe it has something to do with the ethical conundrum of rocket ships, competitive shooters, koi ponds and bloodthirsty loons, but I'll be darned if I know how.

--- Bryan

The Games of E3 2011: Stephen

It's funny how caught up we can get in company strategies and the unveiling of new technology when, honestly, those things serve as nothing more-- for the non-industry game player-- than means to an end. And that end is, naturally, games! To echo Bryan's sentiments, I haven't had enough time to rattle on about those very things during 2011's E3, but that's all about to change. Even with the questionable wave of shooters and motion controls, a sizable horde of games caught my eye this year, many of which are returns to classic series that were previously looking pretty hopeless. Hope, however, abounds in this place; just browsing through my list of anticipated releases is enough to spark the ember that lights the fire which roars into a blazing display of video game radness!

Sonic Generations

If there's one game that taps into my inner Being a Kid During Christmas Morning, it's Sonic Generations. I've been a Sonic fan for many years; Sonic CD was one of my first games, I played all the Genesis and Dreamcast installments over and over again (excluding Sonic Shuffle, which I promptly used as a coaster to hold drinks that I hate), and I continue to keep up with the series. It's been fascinating to watch Sega tinker with the nuts and bolts of 3D, trying to nail the sensation of speed without messing stuff up. The gameplay style of Sonic Unleashed was close; Sonic Colors was closer; Sonic Generations looks to be the best attempt yet. Not only that, but half the game consists of the classic 2D style, which, by all appearances, is convincingly accurate. Of course, everything will be displayed in beautiful HD, so let's hope the frame rate holds up. Taking trips back to zones like Green Hill and City Escape is a nostalgic, fun-filled offer I shall not refuse. We can only pray for a remix of the latter's groovy music! Actually, I'm not sure I can think of one improvement for Sonic Generations so far, which... actually seems kind of suspicious. Ah well. Realists are dumb.

 

SSX

After that bizarre smattering of darkened peaks and military-style action that served as the trailer for SSX: Deadly Descent, my expectations were at, roughly, 0%. Maybe 2% because of the flying squirrel suit. It sure was a relief when EA took a step back and revealed "Deadly Descent" to be one of three modes from a much more upbeat game called simply SSX. While dropping subtitles and numbers for a reboot isn't anything new, this one has me genuinely excited. I'm hesitant to see the previous lovely-but-unrealistic environments exchanged for real-world mountains, but the freedom and expansive trick possibilities that comes with satellite data sound promising. After spotting some highly SSX3-ish footage, I've become convinced that they have a real chance of knocking this game out of the park. Admittedly, it looked somewhat unfinished, but they've been letting people glimpse at gameplay since before the textures were in place, so in this pre-alpha stage and a launch window for early 2012, I'm staying optimistic. Besides, Kaori's coming back!

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Here's a real shocker! Who would ever think to put this game on a list like this? It's clear that Sony is proud of their talented developer, and darn well they should be! It's a terrifying task, topping Uncharted 2, but Naughty Dog are a terrifying bunch of people-- terrifyingly genius, that is! I already expected big things from this game, but some of the setpieces they've shown have been mind-blowing. When a leak sprung and water started leaking into the cruise ship's interior, sloshing around and slowly filling the room in real-time, it was impressive. When the entire boat flipped over, the floor became the wall, and everything (water, crates, cars, an unfortunate Mr. Drake) went with it... has something like that ever been done in a game before!? The trailer got me even more pumped, displaying the signature Indiana-Jones-type movie setting and a large gathering of awesome moments. This Katherine Marlowe seems to be a refreshing change from the two-dimensional villains of the previous games, and I'm so very pleased to see Sully in a leading role. Finishing off with Nathan clutching a fluttering tarp strapped to the back of an airplane (currently taking off, quite naturally) sealed the deal: I can't wait for Uncharted 3. As long as it continues to dish out superb gameplay along with its explosive setpieces and story, I'll be ecstatic.

Luigi's Mansion 2

I didn't think anyone cared much at all about Luigi's brief stint as a very thorough house cleaner, and now Nintendo is creating a sequel? How cool! I sort of wish it was coming out on the Wii U (I can only imagine what it would look like with all that power and HD sheen), but I've got to say, the trailer on my 3DS looked exceptionally good; the fixed camera treats the 3D effect well. It brought back memories, watching Mario's younger brother shuffle his way through dusty rooms as he fought both terror and ghosts (and usually both). All the same, I can't help but wonder if the original game's spirit (HA!) can be reproduced. It was the little things that made that game memorable: Luigi's tepid whistling when the lights were on and his fearful cries for Mario when they weren't, the goofy use of the Game Boy Horror, and the wonderful theme song that always comes to mind when I see a handheld vacuum cleaner. By all that is haunted and infested with gold coins, that song needs to come back!

Rayman Origins

Speaking of goofy cartoon characters making returns that I didn't see coming, here we are with the large-nosed man vegetable thingamajig we've come to love. Although, I must admit, there hasn't been much to love about him as of late. Whether you throw your lot in with the rabbids or not, Rayman himself has been entirely overshadowed by the screaming freaks. Having an entire series hijacked and taken over by mutant side characters is a fascinating and weird turn of events (just like Sonic the Hedgehog, ZING, am I right?). That's why it's so joyous to see an all-new platformer hit the scene, free of bunnies and rich in straight-up fun. It wasn't long before the demo I watched had me smiling along with the stupidly exaggerated Rayman and Globox as they hopped around and slapped each other. Why, the whole game seems bursting with life and energy! I have a feeling the co-op will be delivering plenty of grins come this fall.

Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary

I much prefer the original Halo trilogy to ODST and Reach, as fine as those products were. It's that part of the Halo universe that grabs me; that story, those vivid landscapes, those fishtailing warthogs, and-- perhaps most of all-- the always awesome Master Chief. I have my doubts about Halo 4 extending the fight that was promised to be finished four years ago, so I can't wait to revisit those good times all over again. I originally thought Combat Evolved: Anniversary would be the original game with some sharper graphics, but not! No, not at all! To my sheer delight and surprise, the entire package will get a total overhaul, replacing the aged visuals with material that sits comfortably in the Xbox 360 library. Also, with the press of a button you can switch between the old and the new-- and that's really cool! Online support is another bonus, but even considering the integration with Reach's multiplayer, I'll miss skidding warthogs across ice and sniping with the beloved pistol. Without the original engine, it just won't be the same. Even so, I'll take any excuse I can to replay this genre-defining classic, and this seems like a darn good one.

Journey

This is something that focuses on one of my favorite video game aspects: exploration. In the vast expanses of sand and more sand, a mountain alighted with some mysterious glow catches your eye; you must get there. That's more or less the setting in its entirety, and that's what intrigues me. You need simply wander, and that's the game. Even if you bump into another player online, he or she (or whatever they are under those concealing cloaks) won't jolt you out of the experience. There's no voice chat or gamertags or any of that rubbish to get in the way, which somehow goes against natural tendencies to put multiplayer games into categorized boxes.

"Ah, two players, you say? It must be co-op?"

"No doubt certain areas can only be accessed with multiple people, eh?"

"I've got it! You can fight each other! The multiplayer is killing other dudes!"

But no, as far as ThatGameCompany has revealed, other people are just... there. I'm sure you can interact with them in some fashion, but it comes down to whether you wish to wander with them or wander alone. Either way, you're still wandering, looking for that mountain. Unlike so many games these days, there isn't a dotted line to follow. It's the sense of open lands to explore and the tinge of mystery that interests me so much. The fantastical visual style of flowing deserts and characters that glide with a smooth elegance doesn't at all hurt its appeal. The aesthetics and gameplay philosophy are combining to create the atmosphere of a very tiny person lost in a very large world, and that should be worth seeing alone.

Kirby Mass Attack

This little game was tucked safely away in the virtual shelves of the internet, and I didn't notice it until after the whole trade show was packed up and ready to trundle off. A new Kirby game for the non-3DS piqued my curiosity, so I watched the trailer that nobody knew existed and instantly became enamored with it. The hungry hero has seemingly been cloned, and there's a gaggle of Kirbys running amok! They're akin to Pikmin in that they can be tossed about as well as coordinated to bypass tricky areas and take down foes of hefty size. The pleasant sprite-based graphics and SNES-esque music brought warm bubbles of happiness from the pit of my inner being (which isn't half as disgusting as it sounds), and the music-- oh my goodness, the music! Let me tell you, it's positively adorable in every way. Mass Attack promises to be a pure, joyful video game that has me in eager anticipation.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Okay, enough cute. It's time for mountains. Dragons. Skyrim! I'm not sure I can describe my excitement for this colossal game, but I suppose I'll have to try. Otherwise this portion will consist of me typing "skyrimskyrimskyrimskysrimskyrimskyrim" ad nauseum. Every time I watch the gameplay trailer for the fifth Elder Scrolls entry, it starts with my enthusiasm rising, rising, rising, until... the dragon shout! Then I literally get goosebumps and the rest is incredible. Jeremy Soule has struck gold with that song like he hasn't done since Morrowind's theme. Todd Howard and his fellow Bethesdanites (that's what they call themselves, isn't it?) are making practically every smart move I could think up: a Nordic setting, dual-wielding weapons, dynamic sidequests and NPCs, a minimal HUD, less straightforward terrain than Oblivion's, improved third-person, and so much more. The only bit I'm worried about is the effort to streamline the series, and while that can be a good thing, these days it often translates to "dumbed down". But I trust Bethesda with this, and Skyrim is coming along gloriously. At this point, I know about as much as I want; the true adventure begins when I insert the disc, lean back, and enter a world of blustery winds laden with ice and endless adventure on the horizon. What I do next is up to me!

And that, directly above, is my Official Favorite Game Featured at E3 2011.

11.11.11. Just you wait.

But really, all of the games up there look wonderful, and I can hardly wait for them to come out. For a tad of clarification, this list is not a precise guide to my "most anticipated" releases or whatnot. They're simply games that caught my eye during E3 and made me markedly more pumped to try them for myself, and I'm sure there are some that I missed. Some runners-up include Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Paper Mario 3DS, and Tomb Raider. I'm highly interested in these games, mind you-- perhaps even more so than the ones on display-- but I either have my doubts about them or the show didn't highlight anything special enough to warrant inclusion. But yeah, that's it. Games! Games that I want to play!

The Games of E3 2011: Bryan

This marks my first entry on this blog. Actually, this marks my first entry on Wordpress in general. In fact, this marks my first entry... in any blog... ever! How Murlocs and Musings came to exist is an enigma to this day. Now before you go running off to read that at the mere mention of its name, you should stay and read-- actually, never mind. Go and read Murlocs and Musings. All of it, in fact; you can come back and read this later. Now that you're done (which I know you aren't, but I'll just have to make do) I can continue. In this short opinion piece I'll run down my list of standout games from the show of three "E"s this year. Why keep the topic so limited? I've gone from predicting the Wii U's failure to making exaggerated mocking of Sony's apology to accusing Microsoft of running child labor sweatshops, and I figure the negativity is about played out by now. Just like motion controls! Now the negativity is played out. Also, something I've neglected this E3 is just old-fashioned jawing (or written jawing, which is quite an art form, you know) about the games. With that in mind...  

Far Cry 3

I'll admit I don't know much about this game, and maybe the rose-colored tint of ignorance is what's keeping me so optimistic, but what I have seen looks, in a word, spiffy. Both the premise (being stranded on a remote island with a population of insane people) and the presentation (gorgeous sunny-island themed visuals and immersive sound to boot) pique my interest, which is a rarity for shooters these days. I appreciated how Ubisoft showed the game off, leading with an atmospheric description of your character's dire situation and jumping straight into the action without even announcing what title they were showing off. Sure, the observant viewer would've heard the rumors beforehand and would catch on after seeing the lush tropical landscapes, but the sense of mystery and immersion helped to better showcase the work, the actual content of which was promising. The shooting looked sharp, the scenery was more than impressive, and the action was exhilarating, but what better to top it off than a monologue from one clearly insane captor? I guess having that clearly insane captor kicking you off a cliff with a rock tied to your feet would qualify. My qualms with the game so far are minor, though there isn't enough known to really rant about anyway. Their promises to simplify and streamline the experience is unfortunate, but if I wrote off every game that mentioned that, the lineup for me would be very small indeed.

 

 

(Note: From this point on all this stuff is re-written. For some reason Wordpress ate my entire post except for what's before this. Am I angry? Yes. Will this affect my writing? Probably so.)

 

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

There wasn't a dearth of sci-fi shooters being shown at the... show. You've got Gears of War 3, Resistance 3, Star Trek, Starhawk, Dust 514, and Halo 4, just to name a few. (Actually, that's more than a few. But less than a gaggle!) Even with all these, it took that special magic of a distant decade that is Halo: Combat Evolved to get me truly excited. It's not that all of the mentioned games are bad (One may say some of them do look that way, though. Not me, necessarily, but One... he's a pretty mean guy), but rather that Halo is just so good. And their treatment of it is no half-baked re-release; rather, it is a fully baked cake with a texture that is both moist and firm. (And tasty.) The frosting on this delicious treat is the ability to toggle between the old and new versions of the game on the fly. As one obsessed with comparing the graphics of games between versions, this is quite a boon that will save me the trouble of hooking up my old Xbox and driving Stephen crazy as we try to make it through the game. (Plus, it's just cool.) But who starts by expounding upon the frosting? One who does not know the meaning of good article structure. Hm. I guess I qualify, so this all makes sense. Onto the cake, then! Halo Anniversary (which is what I'll be calling it for short) went all out with this package, not only updating the graphics and music, but also putting the whole multiplayer mode into Reach's engine and gameplay structure. This part is a double-edged sword for me, as I loved the balance of Halo one, despite its quirks, and I'm not dying for more Reach. However, it's looking like it may be possible to revert to original settings for the multiplayer, and the ability to use the maps with the rest of the Reach multiplayer experience is quite the boon. So now that this cake has been properly examined, I shall just await the moment when I can consume it. It will be a happy moment.

 

 

Luigi's Mansion 2

I don't even own a 3DS and this game still manages to make it on my list! Part of this is because of just how great it looks, and the other part is I figure I'll be able to mooch of Stephen's enough to play through it anyway. When Luigi's Mansion 2 first made its showing during Nintendo's press conference I was mildly jazzed (a specific state of mind that's very difficult to explain) but not yet pumped (which is what comes next). I meandered into Stephen's office and found him watching the trailer for it on his 3DS and it was then that I made the shift up to being officially pumped for it. The fixed camera showed off the mansion's rooms with a distinct and vibrant depth that was the best I've yet seen in a game. If the theme music will just make a return I might even jump to the next level. (Hyped.)

 

 

Rayman Origins

This game is a necessity for any "Best of" list for the year's show, and if it's not on yours I'd suggest getting your head checked, because your sense of funness is out of whack and needs to be fixed which can probably be done by having your head checked. The colorful demo at Ubisoft's conference bounced from one brilliant moment to the next, showcasing both stunning visuals and sound with seamless style. The highlights were many, and one (in the general sense, not that jerk who hates shooters) couldn't help but smile at the Tetris sequence or frantic platforming action. But even with all that, my personal standout moment was the slapping.

 

 

Sonic Generations

There's no better example of the mildly jazzed/pumped/hyped sequence than Sonic Generations. When the early teaser trailer surfaced I was indeed mildly jazzed. A combination of Stephen's amiable chatter and the release of more info (namely gameplay footage and the introduction of Green Hill) led me to graduate to "pumped". It wasn't until this E3, and the showing of their latest work that I've become hyped and possibly beyond. (Which we won't go into now. It's a lot to take in all at once.) City Escape was shown. Through all of gaming's wonderful history there isn't a level that holds more nostalgic value for me than this classic stage from Sonic Adventure 2. (One of the seminal games in my early introduction to the medium and still one I hold to be one of the greatest games of all time.) I've easily played the level hundreds of times, and mastered just about everything these is to master in it. Seeing Sega at last recognize it once more and bring it back does me good, and I can't tell you how amped I am to play through it all again with both the gameplay styles being showcased in Sonic Generations. Yes indeed, Sonic Generations has leapt right up there with my most anticipated games. I'm a sucker for the series even when it's iffy, so what do you expect when it's looking rad?

 

 

SSX

After On Tour and Blur I was about ready to write of the series for good, and the early look at "Deadly Descent" only compounded that desire. Things have done a 180 for the series, however, and they're pulling off old tricks that I thought were relegated to the past. SSX is gearing up with all the conventions that made superb arcade sports games in the past, like Tony Hawk and SSX3, thrive, and looks to be doing it all with style. They're merging realism (taking topographical maps of mountains) with crazy (throwing half-pipes, ramps, giant spotlights on mountains) and coming out with a product that looks more than promising. Whether they can ride this ramp of potential and get some air is something that has yet to be seen, and though they may pull of some nifty tricks, time will tell if they just end up wiping out.

 

 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

This is the game that truly surpasses all measurements I could give: mildly jazzed? Foolery. Pumped? That is a wild understatement. Hyped? Closer, but still inadequate. There are few games that bring as much raw potential to the table as Skyrim does, and they're on track to not squander it. While I could run through a laundry list of my hopes and fears for the game, it can all be pretty easily synthesized, and for the sake of brevity and my rapidly diminishing time, I will do so: The game looks awesome. The game also looks streamlined. While I am bursting with thoughts about all the specifics, I will restrain myself. But the dragon fights really do look awesome. The spectacle of them descending upon a field and plucking giants from the ground is leagues beyond what I could imagine seeing in Oblivion and light years ahead of shooting at cliff racers back on old Vvardenfell. But that is all!

 

 

While there are other games worth mention that made appearances at E3, such as Paper Mario, Uncharted, Journey, and many others, none of them really struck me with their actual showing enough to bear mention. Either that or their positive aspects were tempered with enough negative ones to make it too complicated of a process to wholeheartedly endorse them. But enough excuse making! My list is a weird one, yes, but it is finished, and it is not changing. I'm just going to be stubborn about it at this point. I have had to write it twice, after all. That's a lot, you know! It's more than once. I think it was the better for it, don't you? (Just say yes despite having no way of knowing. Thanks.)