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  ‘Electroplankton DS’: First Impressions  
Posted 2006-06-26 by Tony Walsh
Electroplankton is not a game, but it can be played on the Nintendo DS handheld game console. At worst, it's a toy, and at best it's a live performance tool. Users can interact with (i.e. "play") digital plankton, each with their own musical abilities and functions. Improvised and generative musical compositions can be created through Performance mode, but not recorded (except through outside means). Generative music can also be appreciated through Audience mode--basically, you can just set up Electroplankton to play crazy electronic music all day.

While I appreciate the well-crafted, intuitive interactivity, colourful, cute graphics and animation, I think Nintendo missed the boat on this title. It's totally overpriced (roughly $50 CAD) for a toy. At the very least, I would have expected compositions to be recorded, but better yet, shared through WiFi. Unfortunately, the audio seems to be comprised of samples rather than chip-based synthesis, resulting in sub-par quality. And my final gripe is that there's no built-in way to broadcast the images from Electroplankton to a video device during a performance, but that's really a fault with the DS.
  ‘Half Life 2’: First Impressions, 18 Months Too Late  
Posted 2006-06-19 by Tony Walsh
I was able to sneak in a few hours of gaming recently, despite two critical work projects breathing down my neck, and took in some of the sights, sounds, and actions of Valve's Half-Life 2 (originally released in 2004). I'm sure everyone and their robotic dog has written about the game already, but since I'm both a misanthrope and megalomaniac, I'm going to write about it anyway.

I was substantially impressed with the presentation and game play. I could care less about the story, even though the dialog isn't terrible. While it's a pleasure to use the game's astoundingly-realistic physics to solve problems (I was able to circumvent an impassible roadblock by building a ramp for my car out of metal siding and barrels), it's intensely frustrating to be blocked from climing a small hill because of an invisible ceiling intended to prevent unwanted player actions. That's a game design tragedy in action, and it makes me crimson with rage. Crimson, I tell you.
  Holding ‘Dead Man’s Hand’  
Posted 2006-06-12 by Tony Walsh
Holding ‘Dead Man’s Hand’
Dead Man's Hand features the sights and sounds of Deadwood.
The PR folks from Canada's Fuel Games let me know that Dead Man's Hand, their latest advergame, has been launched in support of the TV series Deadwood. The series (which I saw for the first time last night) runs on HBO in the US, and The Movie Network in Canada. It's a mud-spattered, gin-soaked view of life and death in an American frontier camp.

Dead Man's Hand was developed using the Virtools software, which is capable of rendering high-quality 3D graphics within a web-browser (plugin required, naturally). At first glance, the object of the game appears to involve playing Texas Hold `Em poker with several key characters, but since I always ended up getting shot, I'm sure there's more to it than that. In addition to playing cards, you can dish out some sly taunts, or whip out your gun to lay waste to the bar. From the little I know of it, the game seems to do justice to the show, at least in terms of its look and feel--the environment and characters are faithful renditions in particular. Dialog from the characters is pulled directly from the TV show, but doesn't integrate very well with the rest of the game--some of the lines are almost Ralph Wiggumesque non-sequitors.

Continue reading: Holding ‘Dead Man’s Hand’
  ‘Seed’ Non-Violent MMO:  First Impression  
Posted 2006-05-03 by Tony Walsh
After taking the time to download, patch, and set up an account for the just-launched Seed, a cartoony massively-multiplayer online game set in sci-fi future, I am struck by how much this non-violent game makes me want to smash something. The game is beta-quality at best, with bugs and missing features so substantial that I cancelled my account only after 2 minutes of "play" time. It took me at least 45 minutes to sort out being able to launch the game successfully, only to find out I can't remap the controls for the game (that functionality is not yet complete) and can't change the graphics settings (looks mighty low-res to me).

It is ridiculous that Seed is accepting paid subscriptions, when the game is nowhere near finished, let alone polished. Although I had signed up for (and subsequently cancelled) my free, 14-day subscription, I regret ever giving Runestone Game Development my credit card number. The fact that the company would pass off Seed as a complete game doesn't inspire me with confidence about the safety of my user data.
  ‘Darkon’: The Movie  
Posted 2006-04-29 by Tony Walsh
Last night I attended the Canadian premiere of Darkon, a documentary that explores the live-action role playing game of the same name. The film bridged the game world of Darkon and the real lives of the game's players, shifting back and forth between fiction and reality. I was particularly struck by the respect the filmmakers had for their subjects, and by the willingness of the participants to expose their hobby to a mainstream audience.

Covering Darkon from a positive angle (apparently no negative commentators could be found), the filmmakers spotlighted the productive aspects of live-action gaming, such as the development of social skills and improvement of self-image. As a former live-action gamer (LARPer) myself, I've seen certain players blossom from meek to self-assured by being able to push their personal limits in a supportive environment. There's a reason psychologists and social workers use role-playing techniques in therapy--it really works.

Continue reading: ‘Darkon’: The Movie
  ‘Dungeons & Dragons Online’ Impressions  
Posted 2006-04-28 by Tony Walsh
I've spent about six hours playing a free, 7-day trial version of the massively-multiplayer game Dungeons & Dragons Online. I would like to play more of the game, but it crashes frequently, thus greatly diminishing any enjoyment I might have been able to get out of it (and, in fact, I've uninstalled it). If I'd paid for the game, I would be furious. The bugginess seems to be only a symptom of the larger problem--that the game was released too early. It doesn't seem like a highly-polished product, and that includes small gaffes like improper grammar in the "help" text, the fact that characters don't utter a sound after falling from a height and suffering damage, or tutorials that don't acknowledge that the player has remapped the control settings. While the characters and evironments are nice enough to look at, the feel of the game is best described as "clunky."

Dungeons & Dragons Online wasn't translated well from the tabletop landscape that inspired it. The D&D rules seem to be a burden to the online game more than a feature, but I'm the kind of video game player that doesn't want to be burdened with rules. There is a 20-sided die depicted in the interface in order to show "rolls" used to determine the outcome of actions. In tabletop play, the 20-sided die is essential. In a video game, I don't need to see it. There are a number of D&D rules that the player is made aware of in the online game version that are just not critical to online game play. I suspect this was a deliberate decision, intended to encourage online gamers to try the tabletop game, but this was executed as to make me dislike playing online so much that I'd rather play tabletop D&D.

Continue reading: ‘Dungeons & Dragons Online’ Impressions
  ‘Second Life’ Inhospitable For Some  
Posted 2006-04-18 by Tony Walsh
While the virtual world of Second Life has grown rapidly since 2005, the number of residents logged in at any given time hovers around 6,000--about 3% of the total number of accounts created--and is usually scattered across Second Life's massive, contiguous 3D spaces. It sometimes becomes difficult to find more than a handful of gathered avatars in a single spot. Combine this with frequent, required software patches for the client "viewer" that connects to the virtual world, resident-initiated attacks on the "grid" of servers that binds Second Life together, crotchety performance on either or both of the server and client end of things, an overabundance of information, sub-par search tools, and an overall lack of creative cohesion. What you end up with is a harsh environment for some newcomers to adjust to, despite the world's boom in population.

Metroblogging co-founder Sean Bonner isn't sure what to make of "Sucknd Life." Although his localblog network added the game world of Azeroth to its stable of real locales, Bonner isn't adding Second Life any time soon. On his personal blog, Bonner wrote: "Here's my usual Second Life experience - Log in. wait for everything around me to load. Keep waiting. Finally loads, Try to move, no luck. Keep trying. Keep having no luck... check the map to try and find some people. Ok, there's some. Teleport there. Oh, that's a private zone that I can't get to, so instead I've been teleported off to this other place where no one is....Finally get some place where there are other people. They are all Away or talking about scripts. I try to talk to several of them. No one ever responds."

Continue reading: ‘Second Life’ Inhospitable For Some
  ‘Balloon Express’ Delivers Package of Fun  
Posted 2006-04-14 by Tony Walsh
‘Balloon Express’ Delivers Package of Fun
Amelia's balloon over Venice. I didn't make it this far :(
Menara Games suggested I take a ride with their debut title Balloon Express, and I'm pleased to report I've got a new appreciation for heights. With Balloon Express, the two-person team delivers highly-polished casual fun exclusively for Windows-based computers. In the game, players control a hot-air balloon to help globetrotting courier Amelia in two interesting game modes. I sampled each mode in a free, one-hour trial of the game, which can be unlocked for only $19.95 USD.

Story Mode puts Amelia to work, floating above a cartoony Ireland to drop packages to waiting customers. Other real-world locations are unlocked as Amelia's career progresses. This is a top-to-bottom scroller that requires matching available payloads in the balloon's inventory to package-requests on the ground. Each successful delivery pays out, with bonuses if you're quick on the draw. Succeed, and you'll pass to the next stage. Seemingly simple at first glance, subsequent levels add more inventory items to match, and more package requests to uncover. It soon becomes an enjoyable clicking frenzy.

Continue reading: ‘Balloon Express’ Delivers Package of Fun
  Living In Adamsvil  
Posted 2006-02-28 by Tony Walsh
Living In Adamsvil
Joe Fourhman's Animal Crossing town Adamsvil. Image credit: Joe Fourhman.
Joe Fourhman is an Animal Crossing documentarian with a shady past. His early exploits in the original Nintendo GameCube game cast a darkly humourous shadow upon its typically-bright world.

"I'm on the run," his first journal entry, posted in September, 2002, begins. "New name, new town, new life. They call me JoeForever (spelled J-o-e-infinity symbol) and I have just moved into Adamsvil, a town in Animal Crossing… I left the big city and began to melt into the countryside. On the train to Adamsvil, I met a simple cat named Rover. Already I am suspicious... a cat with a dog's name?"

Fourhman recalls that he was the first blogger to portray the kiddie game in a decidedly adult style. "It's funny," he says, "because back then, nobody was doing that with Animal Crossing. The game was still such an unknown property. Since then, I've seen a lot of Animal Crossing weblogs that put a dark twist on it. Which is, I think, a pretty natural thing when you stick 20-30something gamers in front of a game that contains absolutely nothing dark in it. It's an easy thing to poke fun at."

Continue reading: Living In Adamsvil
  Doubting Xbox 360 Graphics  
Posted 2006-02-26 by Tony Walsh
Wired gamesblog author Chris Kohler, whose book Power Up is proving to be somewhat enjoyable, has posted his impressions of upcoming Xbox 360 RPG Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Of most interest to me was his account of the apparently sub-par graphics used in the pre-release version of the game: "As you walk around, the ground teems with individually rendered blades of grass, bushes, mushrooms, all sorts of stuff. But only a small radius around your character is fully realized -- the rest of it is drawn in, quite visibly, as you move around...At one point I was heading towards what I thought was an empty forest clearing, when big-ass chunks of building started magically appearing...At some points, I keep seeing the 'Loading Area...' message pop up every couple of seconds, which brings with it another framerate stutter. It's herky-jerky-all-over-the-place as I climb up the hill to the gate of Oblivion."

While it would seem the Xbox 360 is either underpowered or the game is too demanding for the system, many gamers who commented on Kohler's writeup defended the quality of the graphics on the basis that the game is not finished yet. With Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion due out this spring, I doubt the game's graphics will be sufficiently improved in time for its release. I was generally unimpressed with the graphics of the Xbox 360's first-day launch titles, and it seems that this highly-anticipated RPG isn't--at this point--looking much better. Perhaps if my expectations hadn't been inflated by Microsoft's PR efforts, I'd be less disappointed.
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Dinozoiks wrote:
Wow! Thanks for that Tony. Just posted a bunch of other tips here... Hope it helps someone... Dino...
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in More iPhone Gestures, Please

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in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?

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in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy? get what you pay for, you know? I actually bought Trism based on early buzz, and it's truly a novel mechanic. I've been…
in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?

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in Free iPhone Games Are Awful: Strategy?

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