Katie Couric isn’t wrong, just not right.

Apparently Katie Couric doesn’t like Manhunt 2. She was obviously displeased with the idea that the murder was realistically portrayed with knives, glass shards, and other realistic killing devices (as opposed to sci-fi shooters, I guess?) And she particularly didn’t like the idea of combining this with the Wii’s control method. She warns it could not only be dangerous to your kids, but to others as well, indicating it could make the more easily-impressionable kids run out and kill people. Though she read the piece as a toothless parental suggestion with no bile, she came across as having the same level of disgust as she did on her opinion piece of General Mukasey’s possible OK-ing, despite his refusing to rule out torture (waterboarding.) Hey, at least she mentions you have to be seventeen to buy it, even if she does point out ‘some retailers sell it to kids anyway’.

My problem is that she targets the game, and the method of input. I disagree with the priorities of people that consider particular games like Manhunt 2, or movies like Saw, to be problems, but not aspects of the culture in general. My problem isn’t the existence of games where you can kill others (in this case, it’s even self-defense!) Hell, I don’t even care if someone does make Murder Simulator 2020. My complaint is the culture of gaming (game developers and gamers themselves,) that is so dependent on violence as content that it’s largely retarded growth into other areas that games could gain from. And of course this is because after graphics, physics are the next easiest part of programming to improve on. Games are just advancing along the path of least resistance.

Y’know, I just hope that in the end, games can drive people to kill, to love, to loathe, to orgasm, and to regret. Not due of repetition and warping of the player’s sense of ‘normalcy’, but because of passion and persuasiveness. Because after playing the game, the player actually cares enough to act, in some way. Of course, I’d rather players try to save the world…

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Cannibalistic Media

There’s little theme to this, other than I’m unhappy with how most games handle zombies. It’s mostly a dump of three separate posts I never bothered finishing.

So, Cannibalistic Media. No, this isn’t about my disregard if my favorite comic or game is ruined when made into a movie; good or bad. Screw films. This is about something far more controversial, yet less talked about: zombies in games, and how game developers are ruining zombies with their adaptation of the zombie menace. Why the double standard? Simple. I care about games. Movies? Not as much.

And I love zombies. We all do. They’re us, and we’re the ultimate villain, mindless machines of consumption, bottomless stomachs, followers, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. You know all that. But what you may or may not think about is the use of zombies in games versus other mediums. Traditionally when talking of zombies, we think film, as in George Romero, right? (Possibly Shaun of the Dead, but it’s inspired by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and following films.) Even zombie movies without zombies (Signs, 28 Days Later,) do a better job than games of making their ‘zombies’ something to fear. So the question is begged, where do game developers go wrong in making “zombie games?”

Games make zombies cheap targets, and some games exploit that. The closest any game has come to using zombies as something to fear is Resident Evil, and even then only when you were worried about running out of ammo because, let’s face it, otherwise you were never really worried about a zombie killing you. Dead Rising tries to overcome this hurdle by letting zombies do what they do best, organize better than any union me and my fellow twenty-somethings will ever see in our lifetimes. By traveling in hordes, Dead Rising’s zombies properly overcome their weakness of slow movement by using the classic tactic of ensuring there’s a zombie almost everywhere you go, therefore they don’t have to travel fast. It’s just enough to evoke a tiny bit of dread when you have to jump on a platform unreachable to zombies just to chug some milk and get some health back, and then you look over the sea of rotting flesh you have to contend with to reach your real destination… But the problem with Dead Rising is the mass killing of zombies by its Mall-of-America-Made-Rambo, Frank West. Zombies themselves don’t present much of a problem for the player, and that’s by design, making killing zombies is as easy as hitting the attack button until they die, or when finesse is added, a few extra buttons for sake comedy or gore.

For another example of zombie gameplay that almost works, Halo 3’s implementation of Infection gameplay (created by gamers as a metagame in Halo 2’s multiplayer,) succeeds in a few places after a little fine tuning. Without radars, players often have to fight one zombie for his life, while another zombie comes from behind and takes a slice of the player, or with proper fine tuning, players have radar, but any time a zombie is near, the players radars are swarmed with red dots, indicating zombies everywhere, helping to add to suspense. By working together a group of players can hold off the initial zombie for some time, but eventually someone gets too cocky with a boring game of ‘everyone slaughter the green guy,’ and they slip, becoming a zombie themselves. As the tide turns, players begin to die and turn into zombies, and eventually you reach the end game of the zombies hunting for the last survivor. Of course, the games inevitably end when either the last player alive survives a time limit, or is killed by the zombies.

The element of players working together, when it happens, is probably the purest element of a zombie game put to play, but again it lacks numbers of zombies needed to make it worthwhile, and the ability to not fight, when the player knows he’s going to lose. The player doesn’t have the ability to plan at all, as the Infection mode is just a afterthought in the game. Looking at these examples, what we’re playing now aren’t “zombie games” as in a correlation to other zombie fiction, but “games that feature zombies.”

A game about surviving a zombie apocalypse cannot be based on combat. The aforementioned zombieless zombie movies do a better job than games that feature zombies because the movies’ faux-zombies present a constant threat that is rarely imminent. Even when the threat is imminent, it’s not the threat of ‘a’ zombie. Anyone can avoid a few zombies they can see from across the room, but being surprised by a zombie calls for a different tactic. The more zombies there are, the harder time protagonists typically have unless they either make a plan, or have help. There we touch on three key factors in beating zombies that are directly relatable to gameplay elements: Evasion, Intelligence, and Teamwork.

Evasion is key in that zombies, generally slow and stupid, are their most effective when in large numbers and constantly pressing the protagonist(s). If the protagonist is constantly killing zombies with abandon while up close to them, then why should they fear the zombies? They obviously pose no threat. So zombies should be tough to kill unless players are attacking from a distance or have very strong weaponry (explosives, mass-attacking weapons such as flame throwers, etc,) and even then sheer numbers should make surviving against the zombies for an extended time (on equal ground) a difficult task. Any time the protagonist fights zombies, he needs to be aware that the fight could cost him his life.

Protagonists also need to be able to gauge the chances of their survival for not only narrative purposes, but to honestly have a chance of survival. Protagonists will need to be able to determine when methods of brute force will obviously not work, and they will need to figure out alternate methods to achieve their goals. Jumping into battle and constantly dieing until you think to look around defeats the purpose of trying not to die. In this respect the save system in *Dead Rising* ‘almost’ made sense. Sure people complain about it, but compare the fun in playing from your save point in *Dead Rising* to the cheapness you felt when you realized dying in *Bioshock* carried such little penalty. The ability to resolve situations where attack means certain death is a very important point of difference between humans and zombies. I know some gamers just like to run and gun, but that’s not what a ‘zombie game’ should be. That’s for ‘games that feature zombies’.

The most important difference is the ability to work together. Sure zombies gather around people and chase them, but that’s hardly conscious teamwork, it’s happenstance at best. (Let’s not get started on smart zombies from movies like Land of the Dead.)

Knowing that zombies don’t work together, are not smart, but can easily overpower a protagonist in most situations are the exact reasons that zombie fiction is so popular. To apply the typical game mechanic of killing numerous enemies to zombies, anything that makes zombies unique is lost. By sheer force of unstoppable will until a precise death, and numbers that alone should make them unbeatable, zombies captured the public imagination. By making them goombas, video games have made them boring.

Players should fear zombies. Players should fear death.

The obvious question is, how do you go about addressing these differences if one were to make a ‘zombie game’ with the more traditional zombie roles in place, and what kind of game would that be? Let’s partake in a mental exercise.

First, let’s assume that we’re dealing with, at most, two types of zombies. I’m sticking to fast and slow types, both only killable when the brain is injured. A key factor in making players fear death, is making death a truly bad thing. I’m against the school of thought that a player shouldn’t die, I just think that a careful player, acclimated to your world, should be given reasonable cues to see dangerous situations, and be able to differetiate between danger and certain doom. If they still act like they’re Mario with a star, well, let them die. That’s okay. What’s important in making a zombie game is that proper fear of zombies is maintained while the only methods of success are by using the three key factors.

While I enjoy a good rampage as much as the next person, my main assertion that zombie games can not be based on combat with zombies is one I stick by. *Dead Rising* provided many slapstick gimmicky laughs, but at the end of the day if I want to rampage, I stick *Grand Theft Auto* in, or possibly even *Oblivion*. By making zombies disposable bad guys, rather than a near-unbeatable multi-bodied entity for consumption of flesh, we get rid of the very reason for making them zombies. There is no fear, or worry, or even dread… You simply pick up your shotgun and run. Zombies as a group shouldn’t be so easily stopped, or even stoppable at all when numbers add up, and that’s what Bungie taught us with their adoption of proper zombie gameplay in *Halo 3* under the name Infection. For people to indefinitely hold off zombies for any extended period of time is impossible. Eventually a player slips, and the zombie scores a victim. Soon, a few more are converted, and eventually the tide turns with zombies outnumbering and killing the humans.


Rushing into a fight like you’re Rambo trying to save downtrodden Taliban P.O.W.s is pretty much ‘out’, in most cases. That’s not to say a mad dash for safety isn’t an option, just probably not the safest one, and it’s important for players to be able to gauge if that’s a plausible action or not. If the typical player is wrongly convinced that the only option for survival is running and gunning you’ve either made a few bad decisions in game or level design, both by allowing that to be seen as the most likely possible solution, and by allowing it to be a completable task.

The Caveat: I’m no dummy. Now’s a good time to point out that hardcore players will insist on doing everything their own way. If that includes killing all of your zombies, and they’re able to do it, it’s okay to reward badasses, just make sure they truly earned that reward. Killing ‘a’ zombie is as easy as shooting him in the head. Killing a dozen surrounding your character with a machete should either be a miracle on damn clever playing.

Also, I’m largely against allowing a player to control a zombie after converting from a human, as this no doubt leads to people intentionally dieing. Isn’t it better to just allow that express action, to let player(s) be a zombie, rather than to set up a game for multiple humans and have it botched by meta-gameplay?

But regardless of what you decide to do post-death, eventually players will die, and expect their characters to become zombies. How do you handle that? My opinion:

Player to Zombie Conversion Possibilities:
1. Instant conversion:
1a. ‘One bite converts’ zombies, players instantly convert on death.
1b. Zombie attacks/bites do damage amounts, players instantly convert on death.
2. Extended conversion:
2a. After a player is bitten (or dies) they are given a time limit during which they still retain control of their body. Over time the player (due to stress factors, availability of the easy kill, or other factors,) loses control, attacking other humans until they are completely a zombie.
2b. Players have two health meters, a ‘current health’, which determine their life (and/or a host of other stats,) and a ‘max health’ (the total amount of health they can possibly have in their peak form.) Typical injuries affect current health, while zombie bites affect both. ‘Max health’ could theoretically be raised to normal levels by a ‘zombie cure’ while the player is still alive. The player turns into a zombie when their ‘current health’ is depleted.


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The first rule of “skate.” club?

Okay, there is no “skate. club,” but there should be.

I feel the need to preface this by saying that I loved the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. LOVED. Of course, being as I loved them, I didn’t care for THUG, and didn’t play THAW or Project 8. Pointing out my love of THPS (and rebuke of its later iterations) is required because I feel like I’m cheating on it’s spirit by enjoying the skate. demo so much.

The game by EA Black Box (Black Box Games) has a demo on Xbox Live. I was impressed that someone, even EA, would challenge Tony Hawk for this crown. I was even more impressed by the fact that this game may just do it. I think the new control method presented in Skate is far more intuitive. While it has some problems, it seems likely that they will disappear with more time playing the game, like timing exactly when I should stop pushing and prepare for my ollie, or occasionally tweaking my board doesn’t go where I expect it leaving me feeling like I’m button-mashing.

What I loved was the presentation of the game; you’re a new guy learning to skate at the skate park, and that the entire purpose is to put together your own tape. Even the gameplay camera seemed to be through the lens of a viewfinder, though that would’ve worked better if it were explicitely stated. Maybe establishing a ‘friend’ carrying the camera and speaking to you, shouting words of encouragement/mock as he skates behind you, recording and instructing you?

I’m nit picking there, but it comes from the fact that I really enjoyed that in-game tutors explain things in mostly in-game terms. They tell you why the given instructions work as a skater, in addition to explaining how it works on an Xbox controller. I enjoyed it so much I think they could’ve taken it a bit farther and not had the in-game tutors explain how to manipulate the controllers at all, rather solely using in-game explanations like “put pressure on the back of your board, and then pull up quickly, causing the board to go airborne.”

When they introduced a new skater, a short “In your face! I drink Mountain Dew and eat Doritos!” style clip is shown, and while I didn’t mind a small clip to show him skating (it could’ve been used to add character,) I do think they squandered a tiny bit of goodwill by taking it overboard. Showcasing that skater’s board brand surprised me, his wheel brand puzzled me, but his shoe brand? Instantly annoyed me. Watch any skate show and they’ll occasionally mention who the guy’s skating with, but his shoes? Come on, we’ll never hear Sal Masekela say “Those Nikes are really holding him back this year!”

The tape editor that lets you creat your own ‘skate tape’ is a great thing, even if it isn’t what I’d call the most user-friendly thing in the world. More than once I found myself confused as to what the hell button I had just pushed, but I’d imagine most problems with it would be cleared up simply by spending more with it. I love that making tapes is apparently “what it’s all about,” but I do have one major complaint against it. There is no movable camera; you’re able to cycle through a few fixed views, and this hurts the feature. I’m not sure if the decision to not include free-range was by design (nah,) or technical (my guess, they were running out of time,) but I think the decision was wrong. In the real world tapes are often not only about kick-ass tricks you pull in crazy-ass locations, but about the way you show them to people. A movable camera is truly missed.

Overall I was very impressed. The new control scheme is exactly what was needed in a skateboarding game and they pulled it off (largely) just how you’d imagine it would work. Sure it’s not easy, but it shouldn’t be easy. It’s challenging in a correctly-fun way. In fact, I’ll go so far as to call it the Guitar Hero of skateboarding. Skate was built from the ground-up to to emulate skating as best possible with a controller, rather than being a video game first with a skating context added later. Proving Ground may have the big name behind it, but that doesn’t guarantee anything after playing this demo.

If this game were not published by EA, I would be buying it on the demo alone. Yes, I’m one of those people who sticks to a boycott. I suppose it’s time I reevaluate my years-old position as I already know I’ll be buying Spore… I mean, we haven’t had any more EA Spouse-ish stories for some time… Though, EA were dicks about removing that from their Wikipedia page

Electronic Arts

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