Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Update June 1st, 2011

Hey guys,

For all those waiting with bated breath, the winner of the review poll is Doom.  There was a 3-way tie, and my D4 came to the rescue to help me break it.  Good thing, I had a bugger of a time tracking down my dice. 

Time to clean the office again.

If you scroll down, you will also find the latest editorial, Video Games as Art.  Sorry it took so long, I was trying not to come off as a pompous git.  Oops, too late for that!

So, what's next month's poll going to include?  You'll just have to find out.  And vote.  That always helps.

Until next time, and don't drop your controller on the tile.  The tile will win.

Video Games As Art

Title: Video Games As Art
Date: May 19th, 2011
By: Nate

As of the beginning of May, 2011, the U.S. government has officially recognised video games as an art form worthy of public funding from the National Endowment of the Arts.

To the outside world, this is fairly significant considering that gaming has often been more associated with long-haired basement dwelling male nerds and young children – despite the fact that as of now, most gamers are in their thirties, and there's a large female demographic, too.

It's also significant because the movie industry has been fighting against this for years, and why not? As of right now, gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that keeps getting bigger. Hollywood would undoubtedly feel threatened by this, and we've seen this fear through the printed opinions of revered critics/pundits such as Roger Ebert. There are even people within the gaming industry who claim that video games are not and cannot be an art form.

Ironically, Kojima Hideo also feels this way . Kojima-san has worked on many series for Konami, including but not limited to the Metal Gear series – which in many ways tries to meet and exceed artistic merits. We see this with the carefully crafted storylines as well as the deep gameplay that many of the titles in this series provide.

It's not just visuals, music and storytelling that transforms a game into art. How you play the game – character abilities, interactivity with the virtual world, characters, enemies, weapons, sound effects and how the world itself is built are equally – if not more – important than how it looks. This is because a game is very different from a movie; it can contain the narrative of a novel, a museum's worth of art, a concert hall of music and on top of that, you have a measure of control as to how it all comes together at the end. It's a culmination of most of our art forms (excluding the culinary arts, at least for now) on top of technology.

I could say without any pangs of guilt that some of the programmers of a game have to be artists; they need to have a vision, and they need to be both fearless and, I think, a little eccentric.  They need to be able to think in both the practical and the abstract.  Furthermore, they need to understand the value of language; Programming languages are still languages. It takes an estimated 5 to 10 years to become a highly skilled programmer, and while the techniques are fairly similar from language to language, you also still have to a) learn the languages you will need to use - which can change from console to console, but rarely ever with PC's - and b) keep these skills up to date.  Especially when you start factoring in middleware – software engines that are independent of a core game engine, such as the Havok physics engine – and scripting languages that operate on top of a game engine to add more definition to objects within the world such as weight and density. (editied June 14th, 2011) And thus, programmers could be seen as poets.

I think a lot of opinionated gamers are champing at the bit about what should be included and what shouldn't, but being that what defines the true art of a game transcends most concepts of art, I really don't think that anything should be excluded.

From Tennis For Two to Space Wars! to Doom, there are many games that define genres, concepts and standards. It could be as groundbreaking as The Guardian Legend (NES), as mundane as Corridor 7 (DOS PC), as overlooked as Deathrow (XBox) or as horrible as Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage (N64). It can define a genre or merely inhabit it for better or worse - and all genres are evolving.

This is a necessity for an artform, too. Architecture can't live on Baroque alone much like gaming can't be a smorgasbord of first-person shooting.

Regardless of merit, video games are an accepted art form. My intention is not to rub this in the faces of the nay-sayers. I really don't have to, the American government has already done a good enough job by showcasing 80 games at the Smithsonian that they deem to be the most important titles in the industry.

My fellow gamers, pat yourselves on the back.  Whether you know it are not, we're now art afficionados - whether we like it or not.

New Article Template

Hey guys,

I have finished the template for the Series Review articles.  These can branch across multiple platforms and while some may be short, others could wind up taking months to complete (if, for instance, I were to do an Elder Scrolls feature).

These will also be much lengthier review articles, and the games will not be scored.  This isn't so much for the sake of objectivity and fairness so much as keeping it simple and straight-forward.

The Games as Art Editorial is also nearly ready.  I'll post that up later this evening.

The first game series in the Series Review will be the NES Metal Gear titles, Metal Gear and Snake's Revenge.  I have already finished Metal Gear (not like these are long games, after all), and Snake's Revenge is about the same length (having beaten it back in 1996), so I should be ready to post the prototype Series Review in a few days.

Take care, and I'll see you all again tonight!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bionic Commando Review Is Up

Hey guys,

The Bionic Commando (2009) review is up!  You can catch it here.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Update #2, May 22nd, 2011

Hi everyone,

Some interesting news about the Wii.  Or, I should say, about hardware that doesn't concern the Wii on first glance.

Kris wanted the Wii because a Glee sing-along game (Glee Karaoke Revolution) was released for it - and only for the Wii.  Unfortunately, this game requires a USB Microphone, and we didn't have one that was guaranteed to work for the Wii.

After some research, I found out that you can use Guitar Hero and Rock Band USB mics for any system release of either series - but only the wired USB ones.  Which we had, because we have all of the Guitar Hero instruments for my 360.

What does this mean for you?  Well, if you have a hankering for a "Singing Badly" style of game for your Wii, and have an XBox 360 USB mic lying's almost guaranteed to work.  The only exception would be if it has its own buttons, then you're screwed.  So think positive!

My next project is going to be getting Kris off the Wii so I can finish my review.

Also, Kris is going to start writing reviews for us soon.  She'll be handling all of the shovelw-...I mean casual games.  Don't expect anything immediately, though; I need to train her in the art of writing a game review.  She's read a few of my reviews, so now it's time to do a world tour and show her IGN, Gamespot, Gamepro, Gamespy, 1Up and The Real Life Gamer to give her a feel for unique review styles.  And what not to do. 

She knows what I expect of her, so expect to see some quality reviews.  She'll be writing under the pseudonymn "Player_2" (heh, not obvious at all), and she'll be posting the odd update as well, and maybe even articles.  Fingers crossed.

And one final note, I'm having trouble with the anchors on the Thrown Controllers Reviews page with non-IE browsers.  If you're having any troubles, please let me know by PM, e-mail, snail-mail,or bitchy customer service call.  This is of supreme importance to me as an administrator and to you as the viewer.  As that page fills up with reviews, it'll become a mess to navigate if the anchors are broken for some of you out there.

Enjoy your evening, all.  And remember, that microphone is for singin', not swingin', throwin', or pitchin'.

P.S. I'm not going to relegate Kris to "casual" games.  If there's something she wants to play and review, she's welcome to do it, provided I haven't done it already.  And she wins the coin toss :P

Update: May 22, 2011

Hey guys, I bought a system! 

We've finally acquired a Wii. We bought it used, so my first impression was that it's a royal pain to set up.

We bought it from a Hock Shop in Orillia, ON. and it was a pretty wicked deal; $100 with 2 games and Wii-mote with the Nunchaku attachment, and we got a second for another $35, which is a steal because they go for almost $70 new.  If it were any other pawn shop, or EB Games/Gamespot, this wouldn't have happened.

So, we take it home, clean the schmutz off of a controller and then...have to deal with a parental lock, which is the reason why I thought it was a pain to set up - so this is something that's going to transcend to just about any used system after the N64.

This is significant because the parental lock can stop you from web-browsing - let alone connecting to a network to do so, and with a secure Wi-Fi setup, this is a heck of a roadblock.

This is the first used console that I've bought from the current generation, and to be honest, I thought they all just came with a master reset button.   That would be practical, but that isn't the case.

To fix this, we had to go to YouTube, krutz with the Parental Lock controls and then call Ninty to uncensor our Wii.

To anyone selling a console, I impore you, please - please - do your fellow gamers a solid and remove the parental lock codes if you've set any. You have no idea how much a pain it is getting something home and not even being able to use it because someone forgot to uncensor the system before getting rid of it.  Also, it wouldn't hurt to clean the cheese-whiz off the controllers with a damp cloth and some Lysol.  Yeah, it was just a little gross. 

Luckily, the second controller was not only clean, but in near-mint condition.

After we got the parental lock removed, everything went smoothly and I've downloaded the browser, which I used to write this update. I wouldn't recommend doing that because you can only read two lines at a time - which is why I'm editing it on my PC.

However, the browser is more than functional, and I wish I had this on my 360.  I can go to any webpage (that I normally go to, go Doomworld!) and if the text is too small, I can zoom in and out as I need to, and the Wii-mote is like a mouse.  Unfortunately, the placement of the buttons on the Wii-Mote are not conducive to everything it does and using a keyboard is not as user-friendly as it could be because the Wii does not support text highlighting and the Home and End functions don't work.  Feh.
So, yes, I'm late to the game with a Wii, and there's not a whole lot of Wii games I want. But the Virtual Console has River City Ransom and Kirby's Adventure for less than I'd pay for the cartridges.  And I can get Ys I and II for the TG16 so I can actually play the series up to the third game (which is the only one I've played, on my SNES).

And despite the derivative gameplay of Quantum of Solace (one of my two free games - what can I say, the selection sucked), I REALLY like using the Wii-Mote for first-person shooting. That alone is a wicked-sick selling point, and from the Wii games I've played over the last couple years, I know it's been squandered.

So I'll be getting a few games on the VC, maybe get the Goldeneye remake, and I will definitely be holding out for New SMB Wii (it's a little too expensive for me at the moment).  And probably Super Smash Brothers Brawl.

The Real Life Gamer also recommended The Conduit 2, and apparently Sangoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is available in North America, so there might be some more titles I'll be checking out.  And remember, it's all free game for reviewing.

Being that it also plays NGC games, I'll also eventually be getting Super Smash Brothers Melee, Phantasy Star Online and maybe Viewtiful Joe.

And now there's a new system to add to my Now Playing articles.  I'll also be adding my DS to that feature, too. I've had it for a couple years, but I hardly use it. And now I'm working through Breath of Fire 2 again.  Go figure.  Long story with that, and I'll tell you when I run the next feature, so you'll want to stay tuned for that.

I'm still working on the Games as Art article, it needs a lot of editing, plus I'm still in the process of tracking the graphics down, so I hope it will be done within the coming week.  As far as reviews go, I'm more than 3/4 of the way through Bionic Commando, so that review will be ready in a week or so.  You'll definitely want to stay tuned for that.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!  Happy Victoria Day to my fellow Canucks, and if you have a Wii, don't use it to write blog posts. Even as a lark. Oy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Review

Hey guys,

The Serious Sam 2 re-review is now finished.  Catch it here!

Next review that I'll be working on will be Bionic Commando for the XBox 360.  So, finally something a little modern, eh?

I'm also considering doctoring up all of my older reviews, including placing screenshots and anchors on the page for easier navigation.  What do you think, would you guys like to see that?  Maybe I'll even edit some of them, too, bring them up to the same quality as the new ones?  What would you guys think of that?

By the way, don't forget to vote on the next game to be reviewed.  A word to the wise, ignore Snake's Revenge.  It's guaranteed to be reviewed in a new type of review concept that I will be planning, called Series Reviews.  These will focus on games in a series, although not an entire series.  For instance, I'm planning on doing one for Ninja Gaiden on the XBox and XBox 360.  This will exclude Ninja Gaiden Black, Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma.  It will also be excluding the NES and arcade versions, as well as console ports of the arcade game.

The Series Review is an article, so it will not have its own page, but instead will show up on the main page.

If my own reviews are an indication of anything, these will be just as deep, so expect lengthy articles when these guys hit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Podcast News

Hi everyone,

Some of you might have noticed/read that I would be on a podcast panel with Russell Carey from The Real Life Gamer about violence and censoreship in media.  Give it a listen, have a laugh and a cringe!

Winback Review Done

Hey guys, the Winback: Covert Operations review is ready and rockin'.  Get it here!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Update - May 11th, 2011

Hi everyone,

I think it's about time for an update.  This week has been pretty interesting.  I've been helping Russell Carey, the owner of The Real Life Gamer, edit his works.  Yeah, yeah, yuck it up. 

On top of that, I had to postpone the Winback reviewing first because my memory card fried and then I had to by a new N64 controller because the stick sensitivity was too reduced to play past this one point.  I got the new controller yesterday, and I got past the part I needed to with bells on.  First try at it.  Now I'm more than half-way through and I've killed 4 of the bosses so far. I think.  Meh.

I'm also about half-way through Serious Sam 2, so hopefully I'll even have a review up for it, too.

I'll be putting together another editorial soon, and I may be involved in a podcast about violence and gaming (as well as other media) with Russell and one other.  I guess I'll just have to see if I can find a mic. 

So, stay tuned, lots ahead.  And keep your controller in-hand.

Update May 15, 2011

Hey everyone,

As you all know, the next review that I'm putting up is Winback: Covert Operations for the Nintendo 64.  No, I'm not posting to remark on delays.  In fact, I'm almost done writing the review, so expect it up by Tuesday, if not before.

I'll also be putting together a new editorial on the topic of video games as an art form, and I'm hoping that Russell over at The Real Life Gamer and I can get that podcast on media censorship done soon.  When it's done, it'll be available over at his webpage.

Keep your eyes peeled and controllers in-hand.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Now Playing May 8th, 2011

Currently Playing: Winback: Covert Operations


System: Nintendo 64


I first played Winback back in...I dunno, maybe 2001, 2002? I thought it was pretty cool for its time with its cover system and combat. It was also pretty innovative for it's time, and it's clearly influenced the gunplay in many tactical third-person shooters from Kill.Switch to Gears of War to Mass Effect.

What is in my other game systems:

Old Windows PC (P3 1Ghz): Diablo

I've already gone over this guy. Originally thought to be the next review, but due to a tie and a coin toss, that changed to Winback. I'm currently on level 5 using the Warrior class.

DOS PC: The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall

I haven't played much of Daggerfall since the last iteration of the article. I'm going to build a new character because I tend to go with pure combat, and frankly, that's a pretty boring way to play this game.

XBox 360: Mass Effect

Mass Effect is BioWare's latest sci-fi series. It's a combination of a third-person squad-based shooter and a Role-Playing Game. It takes place in a universe where humans have discovered how to travel to other worlds, and how that has introduced them to alien species and the events following this. You take control of Commander Shepard, a human soldier who finds himself sucked into intergalactic intrigue on a mission that will not only jeopardise the fate of humanity, but all sapient life in the galaxy.

While many of the story concepts are ripped off from the Star Trek, Star Wars and Revelation Space universes, the story is told very well through the characters that inhabit it.

Unfortunately, Mass Effect and it's sequel (and just about every RPG developed by BioWare now) is subject to planned DLC being released “along-side” the game instead of actually being put in it, which is why I no longer buy their games new. The next and final game in the series, Mass Effect 3 is said to be scheduled for release sometime next year.

XBox: Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2 was developed by Croteam for the PC and Xbox. It's a first-person shooter that sort falls into a similar gameplay vein as Smash TV or Total Carnage in that you fight off waves of opponents in what might be perceived as open arena after open arena.

Unlike the first Serious Sam game (which was split into two parts, The First Encounter and The Second Encounter), Serious Sam includes not only several powerful weapons, but new vehicles, too. While The First Encounter garnered much critical praise, Serious Sam 2 did not. In fact, my own initial reaction was pretty hostile, and I wrote an equally hostile review to reflect that. After a second play-through, though, I developed a new appreciation for it, and I actually like it very much. But it still doesn't compare to the original.

SNES: Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys

I haven't actually even touched this one. I'm still in the first dungeon, and I'm probably no further along than level 2 or 3.

What can I say, I've had more compelling titles to attend to. Furthermore, I've actually been testing some stuff on my 360, and I've learned that the Megaman Anniversary Collection for the XBox is supported.

NES: The Guardian Legend

Like Ys 3, I really haven't gotten anywhere with this guy, although I'm much further along in it. I think I'm on the 8th or 9th boss fight. I've kind of lost track there, but I have my password saves! Hopefully I can get back to this one soon as I actually like it quite a bit.

“Why It Matters” Columns – Do They Matter?

Date: May 6, 2011
By: Nate

A lot of gaming sites like to write columns about the different aspects of games and why they're important, be it story, music, visuals or some other concept that might be viewed as superficial. You read their arguments and you think “yeah, that makes sense”. Well, sometimes. But you have to wonder if it's being written a) to kill time; b) to appear sophisticated; or c) both.

So, what's the big deal? Well, there's a faction within the gaming community that believe that games are art – or at the least, can be. Far be it from me to say that they're wrong – especially since I agree that games can indeed be art. But what is it that makes games art?

As an art form, games are fairly unique because they don't just interact with you and elicit a response; you interact with them, too. That isn't to say that there aren't forms of conceptual art outside of the gaming world that you can't interact with. Unfortunately, I'm only drawing up dolls and action figures of meticulous design and detail. But even some automobiles are considered art; think of the aerodynamic forms of supercars. And I would definitely consider many buildings to be art; the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario is a perfect example of this, as is just about any museum.

And like these items, games can only be interacted with on a limited field – that which is defined by the designers. So, to compare a game with architecture and design is not a far-fetched notion. This is especially true since games often require a working knowledge of functional architecture; levels don't design themselves and the greatest levels are rarely a collection of random structures littered with random objects.

On the flipside of this argument, though, comes another question – and it's a very important one: Does all of this high-falutent BS make the best game? In a simple answer, no. There are games with brilliant design, amazing music, awesome graphics – the whole nine – that just fall flat. Usually because the gameplay – the ways in which you interact with the world – are not enjoyable enough. But it certainly makes a game “cooler”.

Case-in-point: XIII. XIII is a game that is, from an artistic perspective, frickin' awesome. It's based off of a very hard-to-get graphic novel (that's not in English, as far as I remember) about a guy who was framed for the assassination of the president of the United States. The game is presented with cel-shaded graphics and even has scripted panels that come up when you get a cool kill (usually a long-range headshot)


There are even some gameplay elements that I thought were pretty nifty, like the grappling hook. But all of this stuff had already been done, and all of the cool stuff was audio and visual. As much as I love the game, I know that the level design is mediocre and the multi-player does nothing more than any other shooter at that time. The game was received with mixed opinions because of this. However, due to the artistic elements of the game, it feels like you're in a graphic novel, and that definitely counts for something. Unfortunately, it feels more like a graphic novel than a game.

As far as I can tell, the Viewtiful Joe series for the Gamecube and PS2 did this much more effectively; the game was more or less a unanimous critical success with a fairly large cult following, so it was a commercial success, too.  Viewtiful Joe, released by Capcom, was simpler in its execution, and in fact it was more an experiment and training exercise in it's creation - at least it's how it started out.  It's a side-scrolling brawler, but it clearly was better designed and, as a final product was generally more enjoyable.

Another more artsy game that didn't really kick off commercially (at least in North America and Europe) was the Otogi series by From Software and released by Sega.  Like Viewtiful Joe, the games in the Otogi series are brawlers.  Unlike Viewtiful Joe, the Otogi games are 3D brawlers with as much focus on horizontal combat as vertical.  And destroying the environment is part and parcel with the Otogi series.  The Otogi games are not cell-shaded, but their visuals are very unique.  The soundtrack is mostly based off of Japanese classical music, and many of the art and concepts are taken from Japanese mythology.



Unlike XIII, while neither Otogi was a huge commercial success, both titles were very successful from a critical standpoint.

And there are plenty of other examples I could dive into; Capcom's Okami, Sega's No More Heroes series, as well as Capcom's Killer 7; they're all very unique games with unique visuals, design, audio and concepts, but many of them cater to niche audiences - even if the gameplay is stellar, too.

One has to ask, does it matter if a game is a work of art? I can't honestly answer that with a yes and keep a straight face.  Not by a longshot. All it takes is one bad design decision - usually in terms of gameplay - to take a game from "stellar" to "average".  Unless you value art over the whole packag - and I don't truly think that many people do - I honestly think that a game as a work of art is a moot point in terms of being able to actually enjoy it.  That isn't to say that most gamers don't have their pretenses, but I honestly believe that few would know artistic design if it painted an abstract world on their behinds.

So, do the technical arts matter when it comes to making a game?  To a certain extent, yes. While sound is not necessity to make a great game, it certainly enriches it. The visuals don't have to be stellar, either. But it does help that they're clean and colourful. 

Consider iD Software's groundbreaker, Doom.  Even in its time, Doom had good graphics and sound - but not amazing.  However, it had an awesome soundtrack, variable lightly and excellent level design that took advantage of this to, at the time, downright creep you, the player, right out.  Furthermore, the core gameplay is considered by many designers to be very sophisticated because of how well balanced everything is.  Doom has very large bestiary in comparison to other games of its kind - and the bestiary is, for the mostpart, unique.  The weapons are excellently balanced, and the multiplayer is extremely fast and frenetic, even wit h a limitation of only 4 players.  The gameplay has still has never been completely imitated in a modern capacity; the closest another game has ever come to duplicating Doom's gameplay is Raven Software's Heretic, which also uses the same game engine.  There is more, though; Doom does contain a great deal of "relevent" imagery such as gruesome corpses and tortured souls, and it's this art design that shapes an atmosphere that very well could have been non-existent.  But this atmosphere isn't what makes the game; the whole package is.  The sounds (even if the original Doom engine could only loop one sound at a time), the lighting, the weapon and player mechanics, the level design, the creature behaviour - this is what makes the game.  Not just the story, visuals and music and the pretentious past they may or may not be based off of (and in fact, Doom's soundtrack is mostly based off of heavy metal songs written by bands such as Metallica, Black Sabbath and Pantera).
So coming back to the original point, what really matters, then?  You don't need to make the best sound effects to make an awesome game, and you don't need to have the best graphics.  You do need to have an excellent concept of design in a practical sense and you need to make gameplay that people will want to come back to.  So, the high-minded BS doesn't really matter because it's superficial.  Then what really matters? 

I'll tell you what really matters: love of the game.  Playing them for the sake of playing.  Sharing them for the sake of sharing because, let's face it, everyone loves to play something.  It doesn't matter if it's
a shooter, a life sim or Trivial Pursuit (Canadian content, eh!).

At the end of the day, it's not only what matters - it's what keeps gaming culture alive and healthy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

PSN Pooched

Date: May 2nd, 2011
By: Nate

As of this morning, 11 days have passed since Sony's major security breach and the Playstation Network was taken down. On day one, they shut the network down and declared an investigation. It was shortly after this investigation that they declared a security breach, and I believe six days had passed before they disclosed that credit card numbers may have been compromised.

So far, the American and Canadian authorities have gotten involved to both figure out how to catch the hackers and possibly to put the screws to Sony.

And things have just gotten worse: Sony Online Entertainment has suffered the same fate as the Playstation Network, and Sony has stated that thousands of credit card numbers may be compromised.

Now, before I continue with this, I will tell you right now that I am not a corporate apologist. Quite the opposite, in fact. Aside from the facts or, what Jean Chretien would call “Da proof is da is da proof”, my analysis comes from IT experience.

So, what's to be said about all of this? First; Sony did the right thing: They pulled the plug on the first sign. Now, with the plug pulled, the users should have gotten a clue that something was wrong with the network.

Second, Sony released information after they knew what was going on and not before. In IT, this is all you can do. You don't want to speculate or assume, especially in the face of potential identity theft.

After Sony initially announced a security breach, users that have credit cards on their accounts should have taken the appropriate measures to protect themselves. They didn't. I'm not saying that the customer is wrong. However, we were all made aware that a security breach took place; we shouldn't sit idly by waiting for the worst to happen and we have a responsibility to be proactive when a service which contains our identification is broken into. Even when Anonymous broke in, we should have been alerting our banks and creditors.

And finally, the government agencies initially went after Sony instead of the organised criminals who broke in after Anonymous initially broke the system. I realise that this probably has something to do with a six-day wait for this information, but again, IT guys don't cry wolf. Unless they want million-dollar servers, then it's okay (no, it's not). Thankfully, this has turned around, but the knee-jerk reactions from the supposedly calm and collected individuals that are supposed to represent us was both premature and immature. As others have said, “stop blaming the victim(s)”.

This debacle is a right mess, but I'm glad that it is being handled, as slowly as that may be. Undoubtedly, Sony will compensate its users, and hopefully you guys who are aware of this breach have already contacted the financial folks that you need to.

Breaches happen, no matter how secure your network is. It doesn't matter if it's cheap wi-fi or a multi-billion-dollar fiber network, it can and will happen. All you can do is shut things down, assess and rebuild. Sony's got a huge network and they have to work around not only the size of their network, but any red tape imposed by Japan's most recent natural disaster. It can't be easy.

I hope that they can resolve this as quickly and painlessly as possible, and I hope you, the customer, remember to protect yourself from identity theft.

When it happens, all you can do is stem the tide.

Thrown Controllers Undergoing A Few Changes

May 2nd, 2011
By: Nate

Hi everyone, the Thrown Controllers blog page is going to be undergoing a few changes this month.  First is that I will be launching my business of the same name within a few weeks.  Second, the page will become less personal.  I've removed my favourite games list because it's pretensious and it's also a waste of space.  I've also removed the part about the owner of the page (me, obviously).  You can view it on my profile, so it's also a redundant waste of space.

In their place, I've posted information about what Thrown Controllers is; who we are and what we would like to be to you.  I've also posted a section of links dedicated to local small businesses.  I believe that local small business is a very important part of the community backbone, not only because it's what community's are often built on, but because they help define a community's culture and "local colour", if you will. The first link in there is a business called All That Jazz, located in Cookstown, Ontario.  All That Jazz is a really unique business; part stereo store, part music store and all Audiophile community, it's a really neat place to check out.  These kinds of stores are very few and far between, and you usually have to go to a major city to find one, so I strongly recommend you check it out.

And finally, the post format is being changed again.  At the least, all posts will be headed with an author name, unless it's an article.  All author names will have an e-mail link in case you have personal questions or comments about the ideas expressed therein - you can post them here, but if they're unhinged in any way, they will be moderated.  However, we at Thrown Controllers believe in freedom of speech and would like to know if you were offended in some reasonable way and how we can fix it.

On that note, please drop us an e-mail if you have any in-depth questions or comments and we (at the moment, I) will get back to you promptly.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Editorial: The Decline of the Brawler

The Decline of the Brawler
May 1st, 2011
By: Nate

I got thinking about Brawler titles and how generally underappreciated they were last night when I was writing about Dynasty Warriors 7. Poor example, I know – but I am going somewhere with this, and I hope someone at Tecmo-Koei reads this because it presents arguments that they can learn from.

The Brawler genre started in the late 1970's with a boxing game made by Sega called Heavyweight Champ.

This was a Vs. fighter – which the brawler ultimately spawned from – but like Wolfenstein 3D to Doom, this didn't really kickstart the genre. That didn't happen until Kung-Fu Master was released in 1984 by Data East, and from there, things started to evolve.

In 1987, Technos released Double Dragon and the rest is pretty much history. Right?

Golden Axe

Not exactly. Hot on Double Dragon's heels were Golden Axe, Ninja Gaiden and Final Fight. These all offered new takes on the genre; Golden Axe changed the scenery from urban to fantasy and incorporated attack animals, dynamic combos and a selection of characters. Ninja Gaiden included new ideas, such is using the environment (you could hang from stuff and kick at the baddies). And Final Fight...Actually, Final Fight did a lot less than it was given credit for. It stole a crapload of my quarters, though.

The original Ninja Gaiden

Final Fight

To be honest, I view Final Fight as point where the genre was starting to decline, as it has nothing on Streets of Rage (which actually borrows heavily from it). In retrospect, even the sacred X-Men cow wasn't much to sniff at – nor were most comic-based brawlers aside from perhaps The Punisher (which wouldn't be released until the 1990's).  But I didn't put this together to insult peoples' taste. The point is actually to demonstrate a cyclical effect. Final Fight streamlined the genre that Double Dragon had actually made so deep. This is mostly due to the fact that there are fewer moves per character. This would be rectified in the early 90's with Knights of the Round, which borrows a little from Golden Axe. There are a few other points, though. Most of these games have something in common – lack of perspective. No matter the scenario, it always felt flat and two-dimensional – graphics aside. While you could move up and down, there was rarely a variation in height. River City Ransom changed all of this and more, but it was such an odd duck because it included everything but the kitchen sink, so it didn't influence the genre at this time at all. Which is a shame.
X-Men Arcade 4-Player Cabinet
Streets of Rage - Sega Genesis


Knights of the Round

The Punisher - Arcade

River City Ransom - NES
As the 90's moved into the 2000's, the games became 3D, but before they did, they started to get a lot deeper. Jaleco released brawlers that incorporated multiple characters, unlockable characters and multiple mission paths. The Peacekeepers would be the culmination of the best ideas of their brawlers.  And sprite-based arcade brawlers would reach their pinnacle with Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons titles Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara which would incorporate multiple charactes, special abilities, multiple paths and even the ability to buy equipment.

The Peacekeepers - SNES

Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom - Arcade

Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara - Arcade

Die Hard Arcade - Arcade

As the 90's came to a close, Die Hard Arcade hit with a vengeance just as arcades were getting hit with vacancies and Dynasty Warriors had hit the Playstation, although it was a fighting game in its infancy. Dynasty Warriors 2, however, was pretty much a very rough version of the Dynasty Warriors we all know and (sort of) love, and it incorporated a lot of ideas from River City Ransom – upgradeable characters, environments with varying degrees of height and perspective – and introduced tactical combat to the brawler genre. And this is just the cherry on the cake.

Dynasty Warriors 2

Devil May Cry - PS2

Devil May Cry came out in 2001, and brought the adventure element to the genre. In 2004, Ninja Gaiden was remade for the XBox. This is very significant because Ninja Gaiden incorporated the Dead or Alive 3 fighting engine with platforming, puzzle solving and combat that really made you think (it was hard as hell until you figured out when to attack). God of War was released for the PS2, although this really didn't add much new. It was very well received because of its intelligence, brutality and reduced linearity due to multiple possible endings.
However, things started going downhill from this point.

God of War - PS2

Ninja Gaiden - XBox

Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance - PS2 and XBox

Capcom started releasing redundant brawlers – first Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance which is as numb as its title, and then Final Fight: Streetwise. While the gameplay of each was competent, the games felt very two-dimensional and the story elements were questionable at best. And neither game was very polished. To make matters worse, Capcom licensed music for Final Fight: Streetwise in a pithy attempt to make you feel like you were in the “ghetto”.

Final Fight: Streetwise - PS2 and XBox

Samurai Warriors 2 - PS2 and XBox 360

Koei started expanding the Dynasty Warriors universe by first creating the Legends expansion (which added some more characters and missions) and then creating the Empires expansion. Expansions are nice, but when you start making them after each iteration (which was being released almost yearly), your habit gets expensive and you start questioning the point when the gameplay receives few upgrades. An exception is the Empires expansion because it adds some strategy elements (think Risk with battles in real time). Furthermore, Koei spun off from their strategy series Nobunaga's Ambition to create Samurai Warriors. The second title in the series actually makes it worthwhile, but it's a lot of the same. While I don't mind that, it does kind of halt progress. Just a little.

God of War never really changed, and neither did Devil May Cry, but both series maintained a great deal of polish.

The Warriors - PS2 and XBox

A movie-based title also came out during the PS2 and XBox Generation, The Warriors. This was made by Rockstar, and it's more in a similar vein as Final Fight Streetwise, except the 3D world actually felt three-dimensional.  The game's structure is mission-based, but I personally found the content to be uninteresting.

Ninja Gaiden 2 - XBox 360

Ninja Gaiden took a turn for the worse with its sequel. This is more because of lazy design, which I really think is the recurring theme here.  The reason for this is because after the level design keeps getting more and more two-dimensional as you progress through the game, and parts of it begin to feel as lackluster as Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance - which is quite a condemnation.  To compensate, the designers made the game much more violent and gruesome.

Bayonetta - PS3, XBox 360
Bayonetta, by SEGA, seems to have scratched this itch for many gamers and was well received not only as a great game, but a breath of fresh air. Since its release, developers seem to have gotten the message that the brawler genre needs as much TLC as any other.

Warriors Orochi - PS2, PSP and XBox 360

The first case in point is Dynasty Warriors. Dynasty Warriors actually became even more shallow after the fifth game. This is because the combat system was horribly simplified as a pathetic attempt to shut reviewers up. Then, Koei put out three spin-offs – Warriors Orochi, Dynasty Warriors: Strike Force and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam - PS2, PS3 and XBox 360
Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce - PSP, PS3 and XBox 360

And if that didn't make matters worse, everyone was trying to clone Dynasty Warriors after the fifth one despite the critical panning. So, you have 99 Nights and its sequel, Sangoku Basara and its sequels (Japan only), Dead Rising and its sequels and spinoffs, Onechanbara and its sequels and finally, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, Heroes and Circle of Doom.

99 Nights - PS3, XBox 360

Sangoku Basara 2 - PS2, Wii

Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes - XBox

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders - XBox

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom - XBox 360

Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad - XBox 360

Dead Rising - XBox 360

Dynasty Warriors 7 - PS3, XBox 360

Some of these titles are good while others not so much. The quality of them is not the point so much as the fact that the market is flooded with a specific subgenre, and has been for quite some time. So much so that even Dynasty Warriors is starting to change; for instance, you are now able - and often required to use siege weapons, and the characters are now much more customisable.

Spikeout: Battle Street - XBox

About time, too. There are more brawlers in the same vein as Dynasty Warriors than there are like Ninja Gaiden. Heck, I think even a return to something like Double Dragon might be welcome as it would pull the genre in a slightly different direction. I do remember liking Spikeout: Battlestreet very much; it was pretty much what Double Dragon might be like if it were in 3D.

Bladestorm: The Hundred Year's War - PS3, XBox 360
Unfortunately, Spikeout was critically panned.  Maybe the critics themselves are trying to say something; in the pretensious world of video games being perceived as art, 32 year old genres have to put more effort into being seen.  And it isn't to say that there's no versatility when it comes to brawlers, because that's a cop-out. You can have all sorts of characters, there's dozens of existing martial systems, all sorts of different melĂ©e weapons and plenty of time periods to choose from.  In fact, Koei tried this (another critical failure, however) and placed a game during the Hundred-Years War.  The sky's not the limit here.

But I think Koei had it right. I mean, maybe that's what the genre needs – a new historical or fictional shot and the arm. It could be the Volsung Saga or it could be a whole new fantasy altogether. Heck, it could be based off of A Song of Ice and Fire, Wheel of Time or Krondor. It could be a sci-fi property (a little risky, there, with the guns and all), or it could just be an urban brawl.

A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1

Wheel of Time Book 10

Artistic representation of the Volsung Saga

Krondor Riftwar Series Book 1

And I think I can safely say that we're still waiting for a proper River City Ransom sequel.

So Tecmo-Koei, Sega, Konami and Capcom:  Show us what you've really got.  We're tired of your old franchises and older ideas.  And to Bethesda, iD, Activision and EA - get into the game!. Koei clearly got it when they finally redesigned Dynasty Warriors.  You guys need to read the reviews to learn your technical mistakes and listen to your fans to figure out what's cool.  Then maybe you can come up with titles that do this genre justice again.