Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is "Good Writing?"

The Chicago Tribune recently ran a feature discussing the narrative power of Grand Theft Auto IV (via Kotaku). The article itself is a thorough look at what GTA IV is (after all, the Tribune is meant for non-gamers) and it does a good job of pointing out that the literature of the future could easily be video games. I love this concept and I also think that GTA IV is a great example of quality writing in games.

So I was taken aback to read some of the user backlash over at Kotaku to this story and a ton of people were saying that rather than GTA IV, it should have been Metal Gear Solid IV that was considered for such a mention. Well, I could go on to give personal reasons why I think this is a fallacy, but Kotaku user ray89 took care of that for me:

I think MGS4 had some great writing..GTA4..nothing memorable.

One of the best moments, for me that is, is when Snake and Raiden are speaking, and I think it goes like this..

Raiden: I'm unlucky, it rained on my birthday.
Snake: Your were the lightning in that rain, you still shine in the darkness.

I thought that was a great bit. I don't think GTA had anything like that for me.

I will grant you this, ray89, that visual metaphor is solid. There is a massive problem in how it is presented though. You could easily talk about a rainy birthday and lightning in poetry all day and it would be perfectly fine, but this does not make believable dialogue; especially when the character delivering the line is a quip-spewing war veteran.

The problem with MGS IV's writing isn't that it's bad, it's simply that the dialogue is over the top and forced. What makes GTA IV's writing so good (and San Andres I would say) is that all the dialogue fits with the characters and gives them believable voices. There are a lot of critics out there who complain about the writing when, in fact, they simply don't like the world and the characters. There's a huge difference.

I want to point something out: If you have an emotional opinion about a character, chances are they are well written. For instance, I think Steve Stiffler from the American Pie trilogy is an absolute asshole. I hate that guy (I laugh at his jokes, sure, but the decisions that character makes are deplorable) but that doesn't mean he's poorly written. In fact, that is exactly the character the writers were going for and they conveyed him extremely well.

Personally, I think Rockstar did a kick ass job of making all the characters real. They're not reciting iambic pentameter or coloring the winds of Liberty City with colorful pros; they say "fuck" and crack inside jokes, they chat with friends and associates that have nothing to do with your story. They are organic and real.

That is good writing.

-That Guy

That Guy at GotGame

What is up my fellow nerds?

I just wanted to mention that this past week saw the launch of a full featured column written by yours truly over at GotGame's news portal:

It's a lot of the same type of rantings that you'll find here, but they'll look a little more professional because they actually have a web design that wasn't a check box on a list of templates.

Shine on you crazy diamonds,

-That Guy

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Free Advertising!

If you've been on Xbox LIVE in the past week, you've probably seen an ad banner for a free title called Doritos Dash of Destruction. Well, the game is pretty straightforward LIVE arcade game with a remarkably simple concept: you play as either a T-Rex who is trying to catch and eat a Doritos delivery truck or you play as said truck trying to make deliveries while a T-Rex is trying to eat you.

Now, I know this game is supposed to be pure product placement for Doritos, but to imply that they wouldn't give their drivers the day off if a T-Rex was trying to eat their truck doesn't reflect well on the company.

Corporate ethic issues aside, the game itself is surprisingly not bad. It can be blown through in about 45 minutes and you can easily pick up the 200 gamer points it offers with fairly little effort. Each level is made up of various numbers of trucks, T-Rexs and fully destructable buildings. Also, the upgraded components that you recieve after each mission are well balanced and simply entertaining.

Even after the final level you're given a vestigial upgrade that you can't even use. The in-game avatar of the game's lead designer Mike Borland even points out how useless they are.

I haven't gotten a chance to play multiplayer yet since it doesn't support online play over LIVE for whatever reason but I'm sure they play very much like the single player modes since each level is a self-contained arcade-style experience.

Now here's the good news: It's free! I can safely say that I wouldn't be happy with this game at all if I had to spend money on it, not for lack of polish or enjoyment, but for how short it is and the lack of depth. For a freebie Xbox LIVE download though, it's not bad as long as you can stomach all the shameless Doritos advertising.

Also, the game was a result of a contest held by Doritos to give young game developers a chance to build a title for LIVE Arcade. Full video coverage of Mike Borland's rise through the ranks of humble contest participant to amateur game designer is available at

-That Guy

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Fantasy Draft

Here we are in the aftermath of the holiday gaming glut with countless great releases bristled storefronts and online markets at every turn. Not to mention all the great titles that released just prior to the holiday rush, many of which I missed out on, that are now all dropping in price.

So why the hell do I keep coming back to Madden '08?

Okay, we have the Superbowl coming up so football is in the air, and I never bothered to actually buy Madden '09 so it's not as crazy as it could be, but still.

I have a copy of Fallout 3 sitting right next to my Xbox, I've only seen maybe a third of the game's content and I bypass it in favor of an outdated, repetitive sports game I've played constantly for the past two years.

Well, the key to Madden '08's replay value is in a game mode I just recently invested in: the fantasy draft franchise mode. Basically, when you start a franchise, you click "enable fantasy draft" and then all the players in the league are put into free agency and you build your team from scratch. This works so well because the entire league has rosters that you have never seen before so the dynamic of the game is drastically changed.

Also, since draft years and scouting agencies are worthless in the fantasy draft, teams are much more balanced which keeps things interesting.

The fantasy draft should be a standard in all professional sports games. It gives the game an extra element of customization that is otherwise lacking. Sure, you can create a team, stadium and jersey, but the fantasy draft allows you to drastically alter the entire league.

Perhaps I'm terrible at being a gamer nerd, or perhaps I have a Madden addiction and should seek help, or maybe I just really want to pretend that the Minnesota Vikings made it to the Superbowl. Either way, sometimes those outdated games are just as fun as the new sexier titles.

-That Guy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The New Skate 2 Demo

Okay, I'm a big fan of the first skate. It gave players the kinetic feel of skateboarding without giving them the massive concussions that come with wiping out. So naturally, I jumped all over the Skate 2 demo that was recently released on Xbox LIVE Arcade. Well, it wasn't disappointing and you shouldn't be either.

It would appear that EA, along with basically every other developer these days, has adopted the notion that "if it's not broken, don't fix it" and decided that the sequel should be an improvement on the first rather than a whole new game. The 'flick it' controls come back and are as sexy as always and the artistic direction is nearly identical with locations and characters aspiring to look real rather than the cartoonish aesthetic of the Tony Hawk franchise.

The biggest change that got me genuinely excited was the ability to step off of your board. Never before in the illustrious single-installment history of the Skate franchise has a playable character been able to walk; a fact that the in-game tutorials blatantly point out.

"While you were gone, we learned how to walk!"

Between the ability to walk and tighter grind/lip trick controls this looks like a title that any former Skate fan should probably have on their new-release radar. The only issues were that the running controls were pretty awkward and the wheel-level camera is still there. I don't know what camera angle would have been better to compliment the feel of the controls, but I can't help but think there's an alternative that would let us see a little more of our surroundings.

If you haven't already checked out the demo, give it a run. It contains the full character editor and even some multiplayer games, which makes it one of the most comprehensive demos I've played in a long time; or maybe ever.

Skate 2 launches on January 21st, and I'm going to rent the hell out of that game :-P

-That Guy

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My First Encounter as a Stoned Dwarf

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I was recently introduced to a little tabletop game named "Dungeons & Dragons." Maybe you've heard of it.

And yes, the headline says "stoned" and it's not a typo. I got to adopt an abandoned character named David the Dream Dwarf Druid (he likes Ds evidently) and one of his vices is a conch shell that he fills with a special herbal substance which causes the other party members to hallucinate. Thankfully dwarven druids are only mellowed out by it, 'cause David was affected for the first hour and a half or so of the campaign.

Well, when most people relay their experiences with D&D they go straight into character and alienate anyone who's never played the game before. Okay, I hate it when people do that, but I have to for one moment because it was so bad ass. If you'd rather not read the literary ejaculant of my nerdgasm skip the italics.

The ashen skinned dwarf had just lived through the worst twelve seconds of his life. He had been shot straight through the jaw, straight through the gut and then was also coated in a ball of acid. He faced off against the accursed snow elf that caused so much of his greif. All he had to show for his vengeful efforts was a sizeable kink in the leather that adorned the snow elf's chest. As he pulled his hammer back again to swing again the elf seemed to dissapear from site and just like that, he felt the elf's short sword peirce through his back and come clean through his chest. The elf pulled the sword up through the dwarf's chest and as the two halves of the dwarf fell, the elf's sword came back down splitting the dwarf's helm in half. As a final exclamation point to the elf's daring feat, he kicked the remaining bits of the dwarf's head off into the distance.

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.

Aside from the in-character nerdery, the night was certainly an eye opener. I don't know that I've ever played a game before that has a list of rules and characters that are completely dependant on one person's interpretation of them. Also, I completely understand the joy of a natural 20 after rolling one on a spot check. By the way, to the guys that were there Friday, you're welcome for telling you the details about that gate patrol.

The part about the night that blew me away the most was that D&D was nothing like he nerd gatherings that comedians and television shows portray it as. No one was dressed as their characters, and while we were chatting about fighting dwarves and flinging fireballs, it was over a dirty thirty of Icehouse with a lit hookah. Basically, D&D was just an excuse and a vehicle with which to host a party, and it was actually a bitchin' time.

Actually, it being such a good time is the reason it took me until Monday to get this post up. Hangovers are a bitch.

I think I'm going to take David the dwarven druid (and artisan of alliteration) out for another spin this upcomming Friday and hopefully he'll hit third level, who knows, there might be another nerd-splooge moment then too.

-That Guy

Thursday, January 8, 2009


If you're reading this then I'm going to go ahead and assume you know the basics of modern-day text chat like the acronyms lol and brb. If not, this post isn't for you, and to be honest, this blog probably isn't for you.

So why are you still here?

Seriously, the back button is up there, shoo.

For the rest of you, if you're like me and pride yourself on being the one kid in your neighborhood who knew how to set up an IPX connection back in '95 you probably know a little acronym that goes by AFK. It's recently come to my attention that kids these days have no idea what the hell this means anymore.

I spend a lot of my time on Facebook, because where else is stalking not only socially acceptable, but encouraged? And I find myself chatting with my college friends a lot in that lousy little flash app on the bottom of the page. Well, when I need to excuse myself from the conversation to go clog my toilet, I often type AFK out of habit and thing nothing of it. After the half-hour of plunging I come back to something like this:

ThatGuy: AFK
RandomFriend##: AFK?
RandomFriend##: Dude, where'd you go?
RandomFriend##: Dude?
RandomFriend##: Alright, fuck you man.

RandomFriend## is offline.

I guess this is just my way of being the crotchety old man who doesn't want to accept change, but to all you text-crazy punks who speak in letters rather than whole words:


The only reason I point this out is because AFK is a standard in text-chat for games, so if you're not a gamer but have gamer friends who use it, that's what they mean. Remember, text shorthand was around long before your phone had text messaging.

-That Guy

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Electronic Gaming Monthly, We Hardly Knew You or How UGO Pissed on Our Parade

Big news in gaming today. No, 3D Realms hasn't released Duke Nukem Forever yet, but we do get to watch as some of the finest words within the industry get sucked up by a "publishing platform" that is nothing more than a poor man's IGN. Okay, 1Up and UGO isn't actually a bad pairing on paper. 1Up focuses on producing great content with a unique voice that is both entertaining and informative while UGO focuses on cramming a bunch of content into an environment that's friendly for advertisers.

1Up and UGO together are fine, whatever. What really gets me frayed around the edges is the fact that this buyout will result in the cancelation of Electronic Gaming Monthly. EGM was the last bastion of unbiased gamer news that existed in the print medium. GameInformer and GamePro are great in their own right, but they write in a language that needs to be decoded.

These days, a gaming journalist can't say that a game isn't good. When you read a review in GameInformer or GamePro, you have to ask yourself, "Does the publisher of this game have any ads in this magazine?" If the answer to that question is yes, you probably have to take the review with a grain of salt and be overly sensative to negative criticism. One of my favorite examples is Andrew Reiner's review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men over at GameInformer. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to Mr. Reiner (since his job could easily be on the line if he didn't do this) he cites a ton of game-breaking flaws and mentions one positive moment and ultimately gives the game a 7. If you actually take the time to read the review, the game sounds closer to a 5 or even a 3, yet it got a 7.

EGM never had that issue, if they believed a game was bad they didn't sugar-coat it, and their scores accurately reflected their opinion even if that article ran right before a two-page splash for that exact game. Their brutal honesty was a high point in gaming journalism that you just don't see that often anymore in mainstream publications. Sure, you can find blogs all over that give you the bitter truth, but EGM was on the news rack! This was worthwhile writing from fellow concerned gamers that you could pick up alongside your copy of Newsweek or the Weekly World News, if that's what you're into.

As a kid who grew up on these kinds of print magazines, it hurts to see you go EGM. You will be missed.

-That Guy

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons

I've been a huge fan of Western RPGs ever since my first session of Morrowind despite the fact that I had to buy a new monitor because of the streaks I left on my old one from that fateful day. Between my love of interactive storytelling, my overactive imagination and all my failed attempts at tabletop gaming in my youth it's really surprising that I've never truly been introduced to D&D before.

Well, last night I got to play my first few turns in a rather unorthodox D&D campaign. A friend of mine is hosting a campaign with his younger brother and a couple of kids from his neighborhood. I guess their regulars didn't come out last night so I was called to sit in on the game. I arrived late into the evening because I thought it important to watch my beloved Minnesota Vikings get dismantled by the Phillidelphia Eagles which took longer than I had hoped. In the end, I only played a couple of turns, but those couple of turns really opened up my eyes.

When I say this game was unorthodox, that's an understatement. Instead of swords, sorcery, and the aforementioned dungeons and dragons, this campaign was designed around the American south west after the zombie apocolypse. So instead of dungeon crawling or hiking through enchanted forests, we were clearing zombies out of a drug lord's mansion in southern California.

In most game worlds, rules are the key to maintain order, but D&D is run purely by the imagination. This is a concept that everyone knows, but it doesn't really dawn on you until you have this interaction:

DM: "It's your turn."

Me: "What can I do?"

DM: "Well, what do you want to do?"

Me: "I want to kick that zombie in the face."

DM: "Roll to hit."

I think I could grow to like this game.

Another thing that I just need to throw out there: Why is it that D&D players are believed to have no friends when the game is designed to be played in groups? Just a thought.

-That Guy

Friday, January 2, 2009

Getting Back into PC Gaming?

I've all but sworn off PC gaming forever. Well, not really. I always liked the notion of gaming on my PC, but since I haven't had any money in the past four years I figured the notion of having a PC powerful enough to play anything more demanding than Solitaire was out of the question.

I have a history of PC gaming, most notably a two year Everquest addiction that left me in a pasty vampiric state and I had been so isolated that my friends had actually forgot who I was. I spent a similar stint on WoW, but since it was so recent my sponsor says I shouldn't talk about it.

A few years ago I invested in an Xbox 360 with the little expendable income I had. After all, most of the games I felt like I was missing on the PC (The Orange Box) were cross-platform and I'd have to sell a kidney to get a PS3, and if I was going that far I would have just upgraded my tower.

As the years went on and I spent more and more time on Xbox LIVE, I found my social skills waning. My brow extended, I started growing hair in odd places and I found myself calling random objects "fags" right before teabagging them. I had willingly degenerated into a console fanboy, which I still am to this day, but last night I saw a revelation.

For Christmas this year I received a new laptop. My folks basically took pity on me since my old one was so bad its frame rate actually dropped when using Microsoft Word. So I decided to put this new, sexy machine to the test and I logged on to EA's Crysis homepage to see if my machine could handle what is easily the benchmark in punishing system requirements.

After running a quick diagnostic, the laptop actually passed! I took the hour and a half to download and install the demo and was quickly whisked away to a tropical island in a really bad ass suit of power armor. Okay, I know this game is old news at this point, but from the perspective of a console-tard, I was blown away.

Well, not at first. I was impressed by the visuals but I hated the controls. What PC gamers boast as "precision" felt (to me) like a clumsy system. Well, it turns out that those were just my growing pains. After all, when you've been crawling for so many years you have to relearn to walk.

After about an hour of getting shot up and failing miserably, I finally found my stride and realized that Crysis was best played if you ignored the Halo-style Rambo instinct and actually thought out situations before barrelling in balls first. I had completely forgotten that tactics actually existed in first person shooters special thanks to my limited outings in shooters comprised entirely of Left 4 Dead and Halo 3.

I'm probably going to go out and pick up the full version of this game at some point. And I'll probably grab a few real time strategy titles while I'm at it, just to see how much of my young PC gaming self still lies dormant within me.

In the mean time, I need to go spread the word to all my gaming friends that I have a computer that can run Crysis. After all, I am "that guy."