Thursday, December 31, 2009

Steampunk Lego Star Wars

This may be one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Slither in 5 seconds

Yes, I'm aware that this is longer than 5 seconds. My friend Clayton and I made this as fans of 5 Second Movies (most of which are also longer than 5 seconds...), my personal favorite being Return of the King in 5 seconds.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Emo Haiku Generator

Hmm, turns out I didn't need to write that.

An Emo Haiku (based on true events)

Box of Lucky Charms

Puzzle's answer: "Lucky Charms"

I weep for mankind

Saturday, November 7, 2009

EA Rickrolls Yahtzee

As part of their "seven deadly sins" promotional campaign for the upcoming Dante's Inferno videogame, EA has rickrolled a bunch of game journalists, including the Escapist's Ben Crowshaw, by way of a music box that had to be smashed with a tiny hammer. The sin being showcased this time around was, unsurprisingly, wrath.

I'm not sure how to feel about all the publicity kerfuffle surrounding this game. Some of the stunts so far have been more than a little unsettling (like staging a fake religious protest!), and I feel a little dirty even posting about it since this is clearly what EA wants. So I leave it to you: if you vehemently disapprove of these sorts of over-the-top marketing tactics, stop buying their games and write a firm letter; if you find this sort of thing entertaining and want to see more, go buy Mass Effect or something; and if you're sort of on the fence like me, press 5 then the # key. If you'd like to hear all this again, I expect you won't be waiting around very long.

And for those who've just been cryogenically unfrozen or something, a helpful guide about what rickrolling is can be found here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rev Rants

I approve of this guy's rants on videogaming.

Monday, October 26, 2009


The fellows at Naughty Dog have suitably demonstrated that they understand how to make a game that feels like a movie. Rather than weigh the action down with interminable cutscenes as has been the tradition of games with cinematic aspirations, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves embraces it's interactivity and gleefully plunges the player into setpiece after setpiece without worrying that we'll muck things up. The result is a 12+ hour thrillride that feels like both a game and a movie without the sense that anything was sacrificed in the amalgamation.

The pacing and atmosphere is solid right from the start where you are thrown into an opening tutorial/action scene that is one of the better I've seen since Eternal Darkness. From there the game skillfully segues into a series of cutscenes that instantly demonstrate the striking level of direction and voice-acting present. Nearly everything about Uncharted 2's presentation just feels classy, from the way plot-points are presented, to the excellent musical score and the lavish graphics that feature numerous breathtaking vistas and make use of some absolutely astonishing water and snow effects.

The gunplay and exploration is a whole lot of fun, with intuitive controls and an abundance of awesome and memorable setpieces involving collapsing buildings and speeding trains. There's rarely a dull moment, and the game is just a whole lot of fun to play, bringing to mind similar games I've enjoyed such as Tomb Raider: Legend and the oft-overlooked gem Everything or Nothing, which also features the single-button cover mechanic popularized in Gears of War and used to good effect here. In fact putting aside the cutscene quality and the nifty snow effects, there isn't much in Uncharted 2's actual gameplay that we haven't seen plenty of times before. Luckily everything gels together so well that what Uncharted 2 lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in sheer fun and style.

That's not to say the game is without it's problems. The enemy sprites get to feel repetitive, and their AI can be quite thick at times and will sometimes do things like stand in the open during a gunfight or fail to notice commotion that should be in their field of view. One spot I felt the AI really shined though was the way enemies behave behind cover. Rather than simply popping out to shoot at regular intervals, they vary their timing and position and now and then seem to display a genuine sense of self-preservation.

Climbing about the impressive locales is fun and intuitive, but it is not always evident what can be climbed on or jumped to. This is exacerbated by the fact that much of what Nathan Drake, the series' protagonist, does acrobatically is ridiculous even by the standards of Hollywood physics. The game is also rather inconsistent about how far you can fall without dying, and falling as little as two meters can sometimes be fatal if you weren't supposed to be going that way. Luckily your deaths can be rather humorous, and the game is quite generous with its checkpoints, on occasion starting me ahead of where I had actually died. Once I stumbled off a ledge and somehow managed to skip past an entire cutscene without even being asked to retry. That said, the game does offer some decent challenge in its enemies later on, but because most battles tend to play out differently each time, having to retry them is rarely frustrating.

Though a fair amount of the environment is destructible, it tends to destruct due to scripted events rather than by your own doing, and the physics can feel a bit lifeless at times. Rockets and grenades don't always send enemies flying the way they should. The hit detection also sometimes feels a bit wonky. We seemed to differ on what constituted a headshot, and though I consider myself a fairly competent gamer, I was surprised to find myself unable to complete the challenge of getting five in a row after considerable effort. Luckily there are plenty of other challenges one can complete to earn the amusing bonus features like the sepia filter, or the "next gen" filter (which makes everything drab and generic). It's also pretty fun to watch a morbidly obese "Doughnut Drake" swing about on streetlights and climb like an acrobat, stealthily tackle enemies from behind, or float languidly into the distance like a flabby dirigible.

All things said, Uncharted 2 is more fun to play than it is to nitpick. It may not have the most groundbreaking gameplay (though there is a fair amount of environmental destruction), and you shouldn't go in expecting a deeper experience than what you'd get out of a good summer blockbuster, but everything the game does blends together very well, and it respects your time as a player by being consistently entertaining with little filler. The plot and dialogue is well above the usual standard, and though the last 20 minutes or so is a little anticlimactic in light of what's come before, the overall experience manages to remain engaging from beginning to end, which is no small feat. This is helped a lot by the ongoing banter between Drake and his entourage which, while not always gold, is frequently fresh and fun, and really makes the whole experience a lot more immersive. I must confess that I have not yet played the original, though the consensus seems to be that this game improves upon it in basically every area, and I have also not had the chance to try the multiplayer component, so I don't know if that aspect warrants a purchase. Just for the singleplayer though, I can heartily recommend this to nearly anyone as, at the very least, an awesome weekend rental.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Escapist News Network

I'm enjoying The Escapist's new segment ENN. A proper comedy news show seems like something the videogaming industry needs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Star Wars the Old Republic Trailer

Holy frak is this trailer awesome.

Too bad it's an MMORPG and the gameplay will be nothing like this whatsoever.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Brutal Legend Will Rock

I'm calling it now: Brutal Legend is going to be awesome. You've got Tim Schafer of Day of the Tentacle and Psychonauts as Designer/Creative Director, and Jack Black and a number of what Tim has referred to as "Rock Gods" narrating. I will be both surprised and disillusioned if this game somehow manages to suck.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

God of War I/II Review: Deicide, Ribaldry and Quick Time Events

Greek mythology encompasses an enormous treasure trove of ideas that can be culled for various media. Its characters and creatures are evocative, well known and, better yet, in the public domain. Greek myth may be particularly well suited for action/adventure videogames due to the simple but resonant plots, the larger-than-life personalities, and the items and upgrades the heroes get along the way. This was suitably demonstrated with the critically acclaimed God of War back in 2005, and again in 2007 with God of War II, seen by many as the bittersweet finale of the PS2 era. Having recently played through both titles for the first time, I'd like to continue my series of reviews on games that everyone has already played by sharing my opinions on the franchise, and by-proxy some of my thoughts on the genre in general.

Right from the start, it's clear that the main aspiration of God of War is over-the-top awesomeness. The first level pits you against a massive Hydra and a legion of undead soldiers on a sundered ship, and the action rarely lets up as you travel through a beautifully realized fantasy vision of ancient Greece beating the crap out of all manner of mythological creatures. The combat is polished and visceral, but after your titanic clash with the Hydra (get it, 'cause you're on a sinking ship, hehe), there is a conspicuous lack of of epic boss battles, though this is mostly remedied in the sequel. I might have preferred if some of the more generic enemies were weaker and more numerous, but this may just be personal taste.

It is good that the combat is solid, since this is strongly the games' centerpiece, though the gameplay in God of War is actually surprisingly diverse, throwing in bits of platforming, exploration and puzzle-solving to keep things interesting. Predictably these other elements aren't as polished as the combat, since that was what the controls and camera were designed around. Some sections that involved pushing heavy blocks or statues around grew rather tedious, but I was actually surprised at how clever some of the puzzles were. The designers wisely refrained from trying to incorporate physics-heavy puzzles, and the solutions tend to rely more on logic than skill. They also didn't seem to repeat themselves. I was also surprised at how little the fixed camera got in the way compared to some newer titles. The climbing and swinging bits got decidedly amped up for the better in the sequel. It was clear that a lot of effort was put into these ancillary sections, and I appreciated the variety despite occasional frustrations. The game presents the option to lower the difficulty after the player has died one too many times at a particular checkpoint, and I appreciated the thought, but what was rather annoying was this only ever came up after I'd screwed up one too many times on a tricky platforming section, and the option clearly stated that lowering the difficulty would only effect the combat. This is rather like offering to lend a blind man a city map after he has just walked into another signpost.

This is essentially the videogaming equivalent to 300: disposable testosterone-fueled mindless entertainment. It's edutainment in that you might be influenced to learn more about some of the mythological personalities depicted, but that's sort of like saying S.T.A.L.K.E.R. teaches you about Russian cinema, or that The Lord of the Rings: Conquest teaches you 20th century literature. It doesn't come off as particularly mindless when compared to other games in the genre, which should tell you something about the general level of videogame plots. In this case, as with 300, everything is clearly meant to be over-the-top and larger-than-life. No punches are pulled, gleeful violence abounds, and that's a large part of what makes the games so fun to play. You are a man on a mission, you will let nothing get in your way no matter how much stuff you have to break, and the game lets you revel in that. Frequently the game actually forces you to kill innocent civilians who have gotten in your way or who must be sacrificed for the greater good. There's no namby-pamby moral choice here; you are a selfish, violent bastard, and your goal is to bust heads.

This pervading theme of violent retribution provides a necessary balance to the often frustrating challenges you are faced with. You will frequently be irritated with the tasks you are trying to perform between or during bouts of enemy attacks, but these very enemies also provide you catharsis. It all fits with the theme of fighting back against the uncaring Gods who mistreat you, though here "Gods" can be replaced with "Game Designers." It may sound like I'm giving this game an unwarranted pass on its frustrating segments, but I honestly felt everything fit together nicely most of the time, building up frustration and then giving you monsters to satisfyingly unleash that frustration on. The liberal use of checkpoints didn't hurt either.

A couple of parts did go over the line for me though. As with Castlevania, I found one or two sections involving gorgons exceedingly aggravating since they can temporarily turn you to stone, and if an enemy so much as sneezes on you while you are in this state, you shatter and die (yet it takes considerably more to shatter a stone enemy). Also, never jump near a Gorgon, since a three-inch fall when turned to stone is enough to shatter you. (Unlike the myth, averting your eyes doesn't help either.) This game is also one of the first to use the much-beloved quick time event, though here I find it fun rather than frustrating because, unlike the gorgon stare, it seldom means instant death should you screw up. Other developers borrowing the "press a button!" mechanic should note this important detail(!)

The relentless feeling of the game did also get to me at times. In the vaguely similar Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince is frequently conversing with himself or his female companion Farah, and these bits of dialogue did a lot to hold my attention and make me want to keep going. In God of War, the protagonist is silent, and you are forced to contend with seemingly herculean tasks before each tidbit of story is begrudgingly unraveled. This helps the overall theme, but it also makes the experience feel oppressive at times. You will be frequently presented with fresh new challenges, perhaps more so than in Prince of Persia, but you will be alone. It works with the theme they were aiming for, but at times I was tempted to pull out my iPod. Luckily the games’ music is excellent, and I particularly liked the score for the sequel.

There are some RPG elements here: different weapons and a few magic spells that can be powered up, which introduces the familiar issue that the experienced players will find all the powerups that make them stronger while the noobs face an increasingly difficult uphill battle, but then they can switch to a lower difficulty or play “tea party” or something. I also would have like the option to downgrade weapons and spells since for me the fun is in trying different approaches and combinations. It’s good that there is some long-term reward for killing things (experience orbs) since you’ll be doing it a lot, and the limited number of enemies, as well as the relatively modest change in your abilities, prevents grinding from becoming an issue. Aside from some nifty spells that can summon lightning or legions of the undead, there’s also a nifty rage mechanic which I feel works much better in the sequel since they included an off-switch.

If you look past the flashy combos and fine motor control, God of War’s combat can be seen as a game of resource management. You are attempting to preserve your health through an uncertain number of enemy waves, and you have a number of resources at your disposal to help with this. You use your magic and rage meters to deal with enemies in ways that are less hazardous to your health, and you pick up orbs from fallen enemies to replenish your meters. Treasure chests will completely refill one of your meters (depending on the type), but in battle these can only be opened if there is enough of a lull in the action, so when to go for them might be key. You want your magic and rage to get you to the end of the fight, but if the meters are left at full, then the corresponding orbs you pick up will go to waste. There are also the questions of which spells or abilities to use on which enemies, and which enemies to fight normally in order to recharge your other meters at the potential cost of health. It’s all a delicious balance, assuming you’re willing to go in expecting more than a button masher. (On the other hand, when a chest had the option of refilling health or magic, in the first game I invariably chose health due to higher spell costs.)

There are many other games that I’d look at in resource management terms, but this aspect of God of War is quite polished, and more importantly a lot of fun. The basic job of hacking up foes is great fun as well since it’s less about mastering combos and more about using the right maneuver at the right time against the right opponent. If you like action/adventure games and haven’t gotten around to playing these, I heartily recommend you give them a shot. I thought the sequel was a little better overall though a few aspects of the first game felt more polished to me, but with either title you can’t go wrong. They were on the cutting edge in a lot of ways when they were released, and they still hold up solidly today.

Alternatively the whole franchise was a big ripoff of Hero of Sparta for the iPhone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000

Insert one thrupenny bit.

With Lyrics 2

Here's another awesome video from brentalfloss. If you're an old-school gamer, I heartily recommend you check out his other stuff. If you aren't familiar, he takes mostly classic videogame songs and adds hilarious lyrics to them.

Warning: occasional blue language, but only when it's comedically appropriate.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The REAL Mario

What if Mario were real?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Videogame ABCs

A’s for Atari the first of its sort

B is for BloodRayne who’s movie fell short

C is for Capcom with zombies about

D’s the Duke Nukem that never came out

E is for EA who think they’re your wife

F’s for FF which takes over your life

G is for Gradius, more guns came next

H is for HD for reading the text

I is for Infocom eaten by grues

J is for Jumpman whose name he did lose

K is for Kremlins who walk back and forth

L is for Link who plays tunes to a horse

M is for Myst which was somewhat surreal

N’s for Nintendo who switched up their seal

O’s for Okami a dog in reverse

P is for Playstation’s high-budget curse

Q is for Q-Bert, like Pac-Man but not

R is for Racecars, you see them a lot

S is for Spoony the bard and the show

T is for Tales and Sonic’s lil' bro

U is for Unreal Tournament pros

V is for Virtua Fighter combos

W’s for WoW and the fans who don’t move

X is for Xbox and Xs on roofs

Y is for Yahtzee who gave Portal cred

Z is for Zero Suit Samus, ‘nuff said

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

BioShock Review

As a gamer, I primarily like to play boardgames. I like the face-to-face interaction with other people, and I find the gameplay to be fresh and interesting much more often than with videogames. But between games of Amun Re and Crocodile Dentist, I occasionally like to return to the console world on which I was raised. Often I'll play retro games, partly for the nostalgia factor, and partly because there are a lot of old gems; but every once in a while a game will come along which piques my interest... and sometimes it's a game from two years ago which I never got around to playing until my roommate let me use his 360. Enter BioShock.

Now some of you may question the value of a review on a game which everyone has already played, finished, and written extensively about. To that I say: sod off, this is my blog, and I'll review what I like. There will also be mild spoilers, but nothing to get your knickers in a twist about, unless you like that sort of thing.

For the uninitiated (you're welcome, mom), BioShock takes place in a (I hope) fictional underwater city called Rapture which was built in the 40s by a visionary businessman named Andrew Ryan. Ryan ascribes heavily to Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (even their names sound alike), and the entire game is basically about the hyperbolic consequences of such a philosophy to the point where the last boss is made to resemble an Atlas statue. Personally I want to see it face off against the Lenin statue with the missing buttock.

Now I admire a videogame for tackling ideological concepts which haven't been previously explored much in the medium, but frankly the bad guys end up coming off as cartoonishly evil, and the game kind of seems like it's just condemning the idea of an unregulated market in order to seem sophisticated, rather than presenting multiple facets of a complex issue. Granted most of the inhabitants of Rapture are supposed to have gone batshit insane by the time you show up, but a little less mustache-twirling would have been appreciated.

That aside, the general atmosphere of the game is exquisitely well done, and the opulent art-deco style and early 20th century music meshes excellently with the foreboding horror atmosphere to create a really unique and memorable experience. Sadly the "horror" part sort of wanes once you get used to Rapture since after the first couple of hours you've seen most of what the game has to throw at you, and there's really nothing but the same creepy ambiance to frighten you. That's not necessarily a bad thing; one of my favorite horror games is Eternal Darkness and it's not overly scary... except that one part. The atmosphere for BioShock is unique and well done, but after an unnerving encounter with a mad surgeon about an hour or two in, I found myself wishing for more by way of frightening opponents and setpieces rather than the continual stream of generic mutants who began to remind me of the disgruntled zombie-mutant-vampires from Vincent Price's The Last Man on Earth (in a good way, mind you). The problem is with all the nifty abilities and weapons you can acquire, you start to become much more frightening than anything else you're likely to come across in Rapture.

One of the other things that tamps down the horror-factor a bit is the way death is handled. When you are killed, you immediately respawn in the nearest "Vita-Chamber" at full health with no real consequences except sometimes a bit of a hike. What's more, enemies don't recover any health (everything is as you left it), so you can essentially defeat any foe by continually respawning and beating it with a wrench, assuming you have the patience. Now I can understand peoples' gripe with this mechanic, and it does make the enemies a little less threatening, but how to handle death in this sort of game is always a real challenge, and I much prefer this method to the Mass Effect you-have-to-load-when-you-die-but-we'll-quick-save-for-you except-at-times-when-you-really-need-it-thereby-lulling-you-into-a-false-sense-of-security mechanic, but we'll get into that another time. The way it's handled here isn't perfect but I'm not sure how one would improve it. It's actually rather similar to the death system in another highly admired game, Planescape: Torment.

The story is cleverly presented through in-game radio transmissions and recorded audio-tapes, and the plot is quite interesting and well-constructed. However I didn't feel as emotionally drawn in as I have in some other games such as Mass Effect, and I never really got caught up in the story despite some interesting ideas. Too often it turned into "you need to go through this door to chase after someone, but first would you kindly wander around and collect fifty boxtops." The ending is also far too abrupt: you get a quick 2-minute wrap-up that paints you as either a saint or a monster depending on whether you saved the Little Sisters, and then rather than fading to the credits it just boots you back to the main menu. Imagine if in Star Wars the heroes get presented the medals, and then the movie just stops and the lights in the theatre go on. I feel like I'd have a much more favorable impression of Bioshock's story if it had given me a little more time to savor my victory.

This game also has the same misunderstanding of moral choice as the Fable expansion. In that game, you could be evil and take the evil sword, but if you don't, you instead end up getting the good sword, which is just as powerful. In BioShock, killing mutated children called "Little Sisters" helps you upgrade your abilities, but if you cure them instead, they reward you by helping you upgrade your abilities. It's not a moral choice if the good choice and the evil choice both benefit you in pretty much the same way! It seems the lesson in both of these games is that being selfless sometimes involves mild inconvenience. This is a stupid way of handling moral choice, both dramatically and philosophically.

I also found that the Little Sisters fell right into the "unlikeable" section of the uncanny valley even after you cured them, and the other characters were similarly unsympathetic (though occasionally rather entertaining).

This review might sound fairly negative so far, but I'm really just searching for things to gripe about since in most respects BioShock is an excellent FPS/RPG that is more than worth playing, and technical-wise it's near flawless with enthralling environments, excellent water and particle (and hornet) effects, and a solid framerate on the 360. The battles often play out in very interesting ways due to the wide range of powers you can spec yourself out with, and the game is forgiving enough that you can screw around and try out different strategies. My favorite ability (or "plasmid") is the one that creates a target dummy for enemies to attack, and a ploy I used a couple of times was to hack the security systems and then place one of these dummies in view of the cameras to lure in unsuspecting foes. There are quite a number of possible approaches and combos, and the game encourages you to come up with plans other than the standard "walk in and shoot everybody."

There are also some good memorable moments both emergent and intended. My favorite was after a lengthy sequence where a crazed artist forces you to kill a number of individuals and then take their photos to add to his "masterpiece." When you do fight and kill him with triviality, you can then snap his photo for the Xbox achievement "Irony."

In closing, I thought BioShock was good, and it made me want to play the System Shock games to which it is billed as a "spiritual successor." I didn't enjoy it as much as Mass Effect, though I'm not sure why I'm comparing the two games as they really have fairly little in common. It sure knocks the pants off Crocodile Dentist though.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dark Knight at the Roxbury

This made me laugh.

More relevantly to anything, we've put out a free novelty app called the FUBAR Detector. It beeps depending on how you tilt the device, and you can change the text and use it to "detect" whatever you can think of such as which of your friends are commies, which ones are being sarcastic, and which ones are about to hit you for making annoying beeping noises at them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The First Level

Well, it's bloody taken long enough, but we've finally received our first user-submitted level for ThreadBound. Thanks Landon Du! I haven't tried your level yet, but chances are good that it will make it into the next update since user-content has been a lot scarcer than we expected so far.

So send us your levels everyone; the chances of them making it into the game are inordinately high!

(Disclaimer: I promise not to include any levels in the next update which are unfun, unpolished, or in which the designer has used game objects to spell the word "poop.")


And now it's time for Unfunny and Comicaly Mispelled Meta-Humor!

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Yo mamma’s so fat, she brushes her teeth with mayonnaise!

Well, actually she’s not particularly fat. Apparently she suffers from an injury she sustained as a child which impairs her sense of smell, consequently causing her to occasionally mistake the tastes of radically dissimilar substance. It’s rather unfortunate really.

She is kind of fat though.

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How many economists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Well, since the average grownup has little trouble screwing in a lightbulb themselves, and economists are likely to be adults who have reached a level of education at least marginally above that of the general public, the odds of such a task requiring more than one economist seem minimal at best.

They just don't know jack about the economy :P

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Voice *Hack*ting

If you find the voice acting in some of today videogames to be stilted or downright bad, that's nothing compared to what we had to live with about a decade ago. At least now developers usually try to find some actual "actors" rather than just borrowing one of the code monkeys from down the hall. For some reason, zombie games seem to be particularly prone to bad dialogue, as though the actors are infected with the virus just to the level where their lines become completely bland or bizarre. Example:

This guy's taken some already ridiculous lines from Resident Evil 1, and swapped them around for hilarious results:

The moral: be thankful for the voice acting we have today, regardless of how shoddy it may often be, and be particularly thankful if you're a boardgame player like myself. At least the meeples don't try to speak.

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On an unrelated note, here's a trailer for the ThreadBound 2.0 update which is currently in review.

What's that? You say this is a related note? Well screw you!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dim Waiters

Here are a couple of comics for a webcomic I'm considering starting, titled either Dim Waiters or Waiters of Los Tart. I'm using eyeballs in darkness because I can't really draw, but these still took a surprising amount of work, so I might just give up out of lazyness anyway.

Enjoy :D

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Open Feint

I'm officially announcing here for the first time the upcoming release of our first update: ThreadBound 2.0! It will have more polished graphics and animation, and we're currently in the process of integrating it with Open Feint, which is sort of the iPhone equivalent of Xbox Live.

There are a couple other options such as Scoreloop, but Open Feint has a nice community feature which might help us get the word out about our game, and they also have the largest user base at the moment. It also has an achievements systems that works very much like on Xbox Live, and we're adding a whole whack of achievements that can be unlocked that range from trivial to nigh-impossible (such as beating my score >:D). You'll be able to submit your scores as well.

Up until a couple of days ago, Open Feint was charging developers for the service based on number of users (and we were going to go with it anyway; like Mr. Hammond, we've spared no expense). Now they've decided to make the program free for independent developers, which is great news, assuming the community doesn't consequently get flooded by a bunch of iFart players.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Terminator Salivation

Some of you may or may not be familiar with a little series of indy films called Terminator. It follows the wacky exploits of a man named John Connor all the way from fetus to Batman through four movies of varying quality. The latest of these films doesn't have a number because they're frowned upon by today's discerning movie-goers, and is instead called Terminator: Salvation. Frankly I'm happy they didn't just call it Terminator again, as is the zeitgeist.

Having recently watched the fourth installment (though admittedly I dozed off a few times between explosions, having been up late the night before, or at least I'll assume that's the reason), I will now give a very brief review and once-over for each individual film simply so as to collect together in my own mind the various fragmented elements of an iconic sci-fi series which has so amply explored the spectrum of quality. Yes there will be spoilers, and also you were adopted.

Let's start at the beginning. Or is it the end? It's all a bit muddled since Terminator's protagonist, Kyle Reese, shows up in the '80s on a mission that he won't be sent on 'till after the fourth movie. He's sent back so that he can protect (and knock up) Sarah Conner, who will one day be mother to the hero of the human resistance against machines in a post-apocalyptic future littered with an implausable abundance of human skulls. Wow. As movie concepts go, that's as mind-blowing as the first Matrix, and considerably more mind-blowing than Ghost Dad. By now it's all old hat, but can you imagine going into a theatre in 1984 without knowing anything about it ahead of time?

The film starts as a fairly ordinary thriller with Arnold Schwartzenegger killing off everyone in town named Sarah Connor for reasons that are at first unclear, and which are later explained by one of the most awesome backstories in movie history. Sure some of the effects are a bit outdated, and everyone already knows the story by now, but Terminator easily deserves a rental, and is still the optimal movie by which to be introduced to the franchise, particularly if you've been living under a rock and have no idea what the films are about.

Next is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Awesome. I won't argue with the consensus that this is the best in the series as it showcases great action, an awesome villain, a dark yet compelling plot, and the perfect role for Arnold. However there are a number of things that begin to bug me at this point. Arnold's T800 allegedly has to be sent back in time buck-naked and without any weaponry because only organic matter can be sent through time (why?). "But hold on," you may ask yourself, "isn't the T800 a robot? Surely it's made of metal." Aha, but the T800 is living tissue over metal endoskeleton! (and don't call me Shirly) So they couldn't have given him a futuristic energy-blaster inside his forearm why?

And then we have the T1000, which is made of liquid metal and can take any form. I'm willing to believe that a blob of mercury can function as a living organism, and even that it can refract light to take on different appearances, but how can a blob of metal become living tissue in order to be sent back through time? Living tissue is fairly complex. If it can do that, then why can't it turn it's forearm into a futuristic energy-blaster? Or a nuclear warhead, just to be on the safe side? Luckily Sarah Connor is wiser and more jaded than in the previous film, and she has a T800 to protect her rather than a normal dude, so she is able to defeat the T1000 and escape SkyNet's wrath once again. Which makes me think... why didn't they send the T1000 back to deal with her in the first film? They could have sent him alongside the T800 they sent, and finished her off then. If SkyNet had the resources to send back exactly 3 Terminators (4 counting Summer Glau), why send them to different points in the timeline? And why not at least send your most advanced Terminator to the point when the enemy is at her weakest, and not to when you've already given her 11 years' warning?!

Alright, next we have Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and here is where the series begins to go downhill. There isn't anything particularly bad about T3, and personally I rather enjoyed it, it just doesn't really bring anything new to the table. In this installment, SkyNet sends back Bloodrayne to fill in for Silver Surfer, and she inexplicably has a futuristic energy-blaster inside her forearm?! It might make sense that SkyNet is figuring out new tricks with their Terminators except that they're all presumeably being sent from the same point in the future, not to mention this incarnation seems considerably less powerful than the T1000 (who easily could have survived getting smooshed a little). She's referred to as the T-X, which means she's either 80-times less advanced than the the T800, or SkyNet fell victim to the Hollywood formula for naming sequels.

Again, why wasn't this model sent back to help out the T800/1000? If SkyNet wanted to cast their net wider or something by sending the Terminators to different points in the timeline, why send your most primitive model to the point when you have the most chance of success? And if SkyNet sent back the T800 before it had developed the T1000, and then realized later that Arnie hadn't done his job, then why not send another Terminator to help him rather than sending it to a different point in the timeline, or at least split the difference and send the T-X back to help the T800 and the T1000 to some other point? I'm probably overanalyzing all this, but none of it compares to the intense tomfoolery displayed by SkyNet in...

Terminator: Salvation (seriously, spoilers). Now here's where I think the whole franchise runs off the rails. It's not that this is a bad film, and the craft is definitely there. The problems only really start to emerge in the last act. In this film we have Batma- er, John Connor heroicially leading the remnants of mankind by shooting stuff and getting injured, and we have Kyle Reese as his extremely young father, which is slightly unsettling. We also have Marcus Feni- er, Marcus Wright as a sort of half-terminator who thinks he's human and has been sent to lure John into a trap. This trap involves having Kyle captured and brought to SkyNet HQ, and then having Marcus disable the defenses so that John can go in and be murdered by UNARMED-NAKED-CG-ARNOLD! As evil supervillain plans go, that's pretty retarded.

What's more, after Marcus has done his part, he is filled in on the plan by SkyNet's representative, Helena Bonham Carter (who I actually quite enjoyed in this film, and who I think could have totally pulled off the Borg Queen). After realizing he's been a pawn this whole time (which should have been bleedingly obvious due to the fact that he's half-terminator), Marcus predictably yet stupidly rips the control-circuit from out of his head, and runs off to save John Connor. A sign of a bad movie is when there are plotpoints which are both blatantly nonsensical and also painfully predictable, and this film has these in abundance. A better list of plotholes can be found here, but allow me to go into a few of the reasons why T:S makes no freaking sense.

Now it makes sense that the SkyNet in 2018 knows that John Connor is apparently vitally important in the future since I'm assuming emails can be sent back in time if living tissues can (or they could send back a post-it note made of skin), and I'm even willing to accept that they know Kyle Reese is important, but considering the fact that they can mimic human voices, why not simply kill Kyle Reese and pretend you have him held hostage? If he never gets sent back in time, then logically John Connor shouldn't exist at all. (In fact, John Connor shouldn't exist at all since Kyle never would have gone back in time if it wasn't for John, but that's another issue.) And if you're going to go to all this trouble to lure John into an elaborite trap 15 years in the making, couldn't you at least give CG-Arnold a gun? Or, like, a switchblade? Or a pointy stick? You're not sending him back in time this time people! By this point, the only rationalization I have for these movies is that SkyNet's AI chip was severely damaged somewhere along the way, and it just happened that the bit that researches time machines was the only part left unscathed.

Now all the perimeter defenses have been shut down because of Marcus, but if this was part of the plan, then couldn't you just pretend they're shut down until John walks in. I'm not a programmer by any means, but this sounds like something I could code up, and we already see that the machines are capable of playing dead because they do so in response to a magical signal that the resistance is testing out to see if it will disable them. A perfectly sensible plan would have been to have Marcus think he's deactivated the base's defenses, and then when John walks in turn everything back on and blow the crap out of him. An even better plan would have been to outfit Marcus with some of those nuclear power cells (which SkyNet conveniently leaves out on tables in the middle of their headquarters), and have him detonate as soon as he meets John Connor. In fact if Terminators have explosives inside them and can detonate Predator-style, then why not do this in the previous films?:

"Hey kid, c'mere a minute." Boom!

I guess the answer to that last one is obvious: because then we wouldn't have a franchise. These movies are best enjoyed by turning off that voice in your head and just going with it. Sure the whole thing begins to unravel if you look at it too hard, but that can be said about a lot of films (like The Matrix), but the point is to enjoy the high concept, and half of that comes from making fun of it. I just wish they had been willing to explore the ideas more fully. Like so many Sci-Fi franchises before it, all the interesting ideas are presented in the first film, and the rest just start to feel like cash-ins. There are so many interesting ways you could take a story that involves time travel and the apocalypse. There were numerous rumours floating around the internet about how the fourth film was going to end, and each of them was far more interesting than the way it was actually handled.

In the actual ending, John Connor is injured by getting thrown around a lot, but is saved by a heart transplant. I'm not even going to go into how stupid that is. Once again money triumphs over artistic merit, and another potentially interesting series is lost to the unwashed masses, or at least to the Hollywood producers' vision of them. But me, I have a little more faith in humanity. I feel that as long as you have an acceptable quota of explosions and giant robots, you can still tell a proper story.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to some proper Sci-Fi. Doon's calling, and the demonic martian sandworms are running amuck in the spice reserves again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First Reviews

We're hoping to see more and more reviews pop up in the next little while as we sent out a whole lot of promo codes, but here's our first official review, published in 'iPhone in Canada,' and it rocks! We've already made it into the top 30 puzzle games in the Canadian store, and some kind German guy says you should "KAUFEN!"

In the US market things aren't so good though, probably because the only review in the American store is a 1-star from someone who didn't seem to realize you can adjust the control sensitivity:

"the game is cute it's just im having a hard time turning the butterfly stick to keep the bug guy from walking off. wish there'd be an easyer and faster way to turn and move it!" [sic]

That doesn't sound so bad, but a 1-star rating is pretty effective at turning people away. That's why we need you Americans to start buying our app (c'mon, it's only 99 cents. I know the economy's bad, but c'mon!), and more importantly to start leaving us some decent reviews so we can get out average rating back out of the toilet and onto the top lists like we've managed everywhere else. You're our biggest market, so please lend us a hand. If your friend has an iPhod, forward this to him/her. If he/she doesn't, buy him/her one (they're neat!), then forward this to him/her. We're all counting on you!

Aw c'mon, craZcat says it's cute!

Monday, June 15, 2009

ThreadBound - Approved!

I am now proud to present to you the game which I have been helping develop for the past nine months, and which has just been released on the apps store for iPhone and iPod Touch. The game is called ThreadBound, and it's a puzzle/platformer (or "puzzle/adventure" on the apps store since Apple doesn't have a "platformer" category) which, if I may toot NeverBored Studios' collective horn, is very unique and unlike anything you've ever played before.

The basic idea is that rather than controlling Spindle, the anthropomorphic blue spider- er-thread bug who wanders around like a character in a regular platformer only without any regard for personal safety, instead you play as Stickler, a stick bug tasked with the difficult job of protecting these creatures which by all rights probably ought to be extinct, but they're just so cute! You may be reminded of the old classic Lemmings, though gameplay here is significantly different, as this trailer will attest:

The game has 54 levels now, but the built-in level editor allows you to send your own levels to us, and we will be periodically updating the game and including those submissions which we feel are the most awesome.

Best of all, the game is only $0.99, so get it now before we change our minds! If you start sending us tons of great levels, the value gained from your dollar's investment will only go up!

And for anyone who cares, my official roles on this project were Game Designer, Level Designer, and Music Composer, though as with any startup, there were a lot of other nitty-gritty things which I ended up taking care of, such as the above trailer.

In future, I'd like to try and give more information about projects that are in development, but obviously the amount I can reveal early on in development is somewhat limited, and as projects near completion, it will be my time that ends up being limited. Nevertheless, I will try and give out enough details during future projects that it will be worth your time to come here and get the inside scoop straight from the designer. And if you find the quality or quantity of information too paltry, please feel free to write something up about us yourself.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


We've finally submitted our app to Apple. Huzzah!

Admire our beautiful thumbnail:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Further Gameplay Footage

Here's part 2:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

TechVibes Article

It's been a while since I've posted, but for good reason. We've been working overtime putting the finishing touches on the iPhone game we've been developing for the last nine months, and we'll be submitting it to Apple as soon as they get around to updating our account! (You hear that, Apple? You're impeding the enterprising businessman! It's stuff like this that's put the economy in the state it's in! Not to mention too many people listening to iPods while on the job! And another thi- ooh hang on, I love this guitar riff, Niew-niew-neener-braaakow!)

Sorry. Anyway we've posted another video on YouTube, now with much-updated art.

And we were also recently featured in the electrozeen TechVibes (thanks for the kind words, Henry!):

NeverBored Studios Set To Launch ThreadBound For The iPhone

Posted by Henry Finn on Sat, May 23, 2009 9:42 AM

Waterloo based startup NeverBored Studios is days away from submitting their debut title ThreadBound to the Apple App Store. The game will cost only .99 cents when it hits the app store yet provides unlimited entertainment with hours of game play, multiple challenges and even a level editor.

Unlike most games where players control a character, ThreadBound lets its users control the platform. In the insect themed game you control a 'stick bug' that assists a 'thread bug' trying to work its way across each level. You can also interact with several other elements in the games environment, for example; coat your 'stick bug' in honey to make it stickier or use it to swat away enemies.

ThreadBound offers a huge amount of value for its low price. The game is incredibly sophisticated for a casual iPhone title. For only .99 cents the game includes 54 levels with over 4 hours of game play, additional challenges for the hard core gamers and NeverBored has also included an option that allows users to listen to their own music while they play. Another innovative aspect of the game is the level creator. Users can create their own levels, submit them to NeverBored Studios and the best levels will be included in future updates.

NeverBored’s members Jimmy Ho, Thomas Ang, Orin Bishop, Morgan Hall, Steven Truong and Chris Killoran are primarily former University of Waterloo students working with several artists based out of British Columbia. The team has a great mix of talented individuals with some solid game industry experience. Jimmy Ho formely worked for Microsoft and Electronic Arts on Xbox and Wii titles. Thomas Ang another former EA employee gained experience developing sports titles and is responsible for ThreadBound’s physics engine. Orin Bishop brings a different kind of gaming experience to the team; he has been actively developing board games, including Nameless Island published by Steve Jackson Board Games.

If you enjoy gaming and own an iPhone keep your eyes peeled for ThreadBound’s launch.

NeverBored Studios
(and check us out on facebook as well)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Midi-chlorians: My View

Alright, so I realize I'm about a decade late, but as a geek and a Star Wars fan, I feel it my duty to at least voice my opinion on this divisive issue.

Now let me start by saying that I was quite young when I first saw Menåce des los Phantasms, but at the time the concept of midi-chlorians didn't really have an effect on me. I was old enough to understand it logically (to the extent that there is logic to be teased out from Qui-Gon's somewhat feeble explanation), but I guess I wasn't yet at the age where one needs to actively seek out wonder and mystery in the world.

Now that I'm a little older and wiser and jadeder, I believe I can understand some fan's ire at the concept of trying to explain a mystical and omniscient force away with microscopic organisms (though ironically if you turn that around, you get religion). It still has never got to me though. I agree that the midi-chlorians explanation is kind of lame, but it is also so hand-wavy that I find it impossible to be particularly disillusioned by it. In my opinion, the whole thing speaks to how quick we are to assume something is understood once we have applied a name to it. How does the force work? Midi-chlorians. Why do things fall? Gravity. Why am I afraid of chopsticks? Consecotaleophobia. How are the Rolling Stones still performing? Spackle. You get my drift.

The truth is that midi-chlorians explain practically nothing about the Force, they just raise more questions. Why do microscopic organisms in my blood allow me to send an object flying across the room? Do they send a telegram to it's molecules in the preferred format, politely requesting a relocation? Do they fly out of my hand in an invisible cloud and manually carry the object away? Do they all just wish really hard? No, I'll tell you how it works: Magic. The same way it has always worked.

Now I guess Lucas wanted to use midi-chlorians partly as a plot device, so he could explain why Qui-Gon was so insistent on bringing Anakin along, and also so he could explain Anakin's divine conception without getting sued by that guy who wrote the Bible. Personally though, I feel that the whole thing would have been better and more interesting if he'd instead had a conversation with Obi-Wan that paralleled and foreshadowed Vaders ominous talk with the Emporor in Strike-Back des los Impériosøs.

OBI-WAN: What is thy bidding, my master?

QUI-GON: There is a great disturbance in the Force.

OBI-WAN: I have felt it.

QUI-GON: I just met some kid -- Anakin Skywalker.

OBI-WAN: Yes, my master.

QUI-GON: He can race pods.

OBI-WAN: He's just a boy. I disbelieve his ability to race pods.

QUI-GON: The Force is strong with him. I totally believe he can race pods.

OBI-WAN: If he could be made a Jedi, he would become a powerful ally.

QUI-GON: Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?

OBI-WAN: He will join us or else have to make Jingle All the Way 2, my master.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stupid Internet...

I can't believe someone's already used my idea!

Monday, April 20, 2009

NeverBored Studios - YouTube Channel

We now have a youtube channel.
More to come soon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Car

There's a distinct lack of ads here at blogger, so this will have to do: I absolutely loved Friday's xkcd comic.

...oh, and Gene Wilder wants you to buy this terrifying baby.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Uncomfortable Plot Summaries

"Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again."

-Marin Independent Journal's Rick Polito - synopsis for The Wizard of Oz.

I stumbled across this delightful list of "uncomfortable plot summaries" of various movies and tv shows (spoiler warning obviously). Here are some highlights:

BATMAN: Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF: Amoral narcissist makes world dance for his amusement.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Peasant girl develops Stockholm Syndrome.

ROBIN HOOD: Disgruntled veteran protests taxes.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: American yahoo murders soldiers and desecrates religious artifacts for money.

FIREFLY: In an analogue of the post-Civil War west, a white man on the losing side bosses around a black woman.

V FOR VENDETTA: Dystopian government overthrown by faceless conformity.

STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE - Religious extremist terrorists destroy government installation, killing thousands.

STAR WARS: EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Boy is abused by midget, kisses sister, attempts patricide.

W.: Unspeakable disaster afflicts America. Then terrorists attack.

GROUNDHOG DAY: Misanthropic creep exploits space/time anomaly to stalk coworker.

ALIENS: An unplanned pregnancy leads to complications.

TERMINATOR: An unplanned pregnancy leads to complications.

TITANIC: Crazy old widow disregards lifelong memories of husband, children, and grandchildren in favor of that one time she fucked a bum.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: Mel Gibson fulfills fantasy of showing a Jew beaten to a bloody pulp and killed on-screen.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS: Critique of Catholicism upstaged by polar bear fight.

LORD OF THE RINGS: Midget destroys stolen property.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Be Fruitful and Multiply

It's time to address some shenanigans which I feel have been allowed to continue for far too long. I'm speaking, of course, about RPGs. Now don't get your controllers in a knot, I'm not bashing every RPG, and I'm definitely not bashing every game that has "RPG elements" (though for the record I find that term rather silly, but we'll talk about that another time). What I want to talk about now are those games about inflation, where the goal is to achieve ever-higher numbers to keep up with the enemies. Where the gameplay at level 1 is fundamentally indestinguishable from the gameplay at level 55 except that you're dealing 6000 damage per attack instead of 8. Now I know what you're probably saying: "The bigger numbers make me feel like I've developed my character and really come a long way." Well that's stupid because the game is exactly the same.

Character growth and development in fiction is something that must come from more than mere combat prowess, but it is a common element of fiction that a character will grow more experienced at whatever they do over the course of the story, be it slaying goblins, baking bread or baking goblins. The thing is, their increasing expertise at this task usually has some ramifcations on the story. Harry Potter figures out how to summon a patronus and is able to repel the dementors, and Zoolander figures out how to turn left and is able to finally open a centre for kids who can't read good (and who wanna learn to do other stuff good too). In a good game like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (to pick a hugely underlooked installment), finding the hookshot allows you to do new things, and it appreciably changes the gameplay somewhat. In an ultra-conservative design like World of Warcraft, you will never find anything other than a sword or a helmet or a breastplate which gives you bigger numbers. Then you can travel to some strange new land with different scenery and fight enemies that have bigger numbers, but you'll be prepared because of your bigger numbers.

Now, to be fair, part of the difficulty here is with the open-world design of a game like World of Warcrack-*cough*-craft. Zelda, being a much more linear experience, is able to lay everything out so you find your hookshot at the right time, rather than finding it too soon and errently pwning a bunch of noobs who were minding their own business. WoW on the other hand involves gaining items and skills pretty much at random (at least as far as the developer's concerned), so very little plot or gameplay ends up being built around particular skills or items unless they are special McGuffin quest items. (On the whole, WoW is a very conservative game. Things like the Corrupted Blood incident illustrate how entertaining the game could be if the designers ever decided to start taking some risks. But I'll get back to the many reasons why I don't play WoW in a future post.)

Games that have even less of an excuse are single-player RPGs which may be as linear as Donkey Kong yet still refuse to confer anything to you that results in anything more than bigger numbers. Sure, as in WoW, there will occasionally be a semi-interesting ability which perhaps stuns an enemy or heals your party, which should change gameplay dynamics a bit, but you are likely to have something of every type fairly early on, at which point the game just starts jacking up the numbers. "You can already heal? Well now you can heal twice as much! You can already encase a party member in a protective field of energy? Well now you can do it for 1.3 times as long! Hooray!"

The worst of all this is that in many games, the abilities have no bearing on the story or the gameplay outside of the battles. Again, the problem is that the game may not know exactly when you will have gained a particular ability, but why in the bloody hell can't you cast cure or use a phoenix down on a wounded ally outside of combat? I'll tell you why. Because, in the words of Yahtzee, "the story and gameplay are kept either side of a rought-iron fence made of tigers."

Anyway, I don't mean to give the impression that I hate all RPGs (just most of them). I have no particular problem with numbers in games going up, just as long as I don't have to waste my time grinding through uninteresting battles in order to get my character to the level at which he can defeat the next boss. This is called filler, and it has long been one of the vilest scourges of the gaming industry. But rather than get totally derailed, let me get to the point of today's ravings: in-game purchases are a load of bull. You shouldn't have to waste valuable time or money just to get big enough numbers to play a game properly. It's like if you went out to have a good game of tennis, only to discovered that your opponent had bribed the judges into letting him use a Maxim gun instead of a racket. That may be a poor example, though, because it would appreciably change the gameplay.

The only ethical way I can see of doing paid content is if it actually opens up new parts of the game to you. Paying to download new levels or areas seems fine, as you are getting more of the game. Paying real money for a digital sword that does x2 damage goes against everything that I stand for.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Noir to Hide - Film Adaptation

Well, the bigwigs in Hollywood apparently took a liking to my short period piece, and they have already released the theatrical version. Obviously it doesn't hold a candle to my original, since you don't even have read it or anything, but I do feel it to be quite a faithful adaptation, all things considered.

I was hoping they might get Sam Raimi to direct, and maybe even Bruce Campbell as the lead. I feel Raimi might have shot the film more provocatively, and I'm sure Bruce could have added that extra touch of charm. Sadly, they seem to have left this sort of intricate drama behind in favor of more surreal, arthouse-style films, and were both tied up with this other project:

(Bruce Campbell is playing the tambourine in this scene. He is expressing the transient irony of reactionary postmodernism.)

(Or he's just shaking it randomly.)

All in all, I feel that Noir to Hide the movie was a solid effort, but I'm not sure if I'd want more of my work to be adapted. I feel that some of the subtler messages are inevitably lost in translation, and there's simply a technological limit to the number of banana slugs that can be rendered simultaniously.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Noir to Hide

The following is a short novella I wrote in the irreverent style of Marcel Boulestin, or perhaps the late Thomas Keller.

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Noir to Hide - Ghostwritten by Orin Bishop

          "That's some office," I mused loudly as I decried the Mesopotamian wallpaper and crocheted egress. I regretted leaving the keys inside.
          That's when I saw, for the first and third time, the dame who would change my life so tangentially. She didn't seem to regard it as an egress, and strode through it with something resembling the character of someone who was once confident, but who lost it all one day to the blind yammerings of lady liberty. She opened her mouth loudly to speak, but I already new what she was going to say.
          "You want me to find the man who killed your husband." I absentmindedly tipped my ashtray out the window to the familiar and comforting screams of the city. She looked at me with surprise, her flawless features diminished somewhat by her sad eyes and dripping gun wound.
          "No, my husband's fine; he's been dead for weeks. I want you to find the man who nearly shot me."
          Apparently I hadn't known what she was going to say.
          "Ma'am, I think he more than nearly shot you." I indicated her charming laceration.
          "This? No, I tripped on the stairs on my way up here. The man who shot at me was..."
          She paused, scanning the room with the air of an ardent quadruped. After several hours, her gaze fell upon the shadowy figure atop my desk.
          "That's him! On your sofa!"
          "It's a desk," I pointed out, with the manner of a tollbooth operator who has just been refused parole... again.
          "I'm not a desk," said Bob.
          "Look," I offered, attempting to lighten the mood by hurling a Molotov cocktail, "perhaps we can discuss all this over some cold jazz and a warm martini."
          "Alright," acquiesced my bleeding client as she loosened her sombrero, "but I must warn you that I like mine practically scalding."
          I took this as a sexual advance, and called the police on speed dial. It seemed I needed an adult.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

ThreadBound Footage

Here's some footage from an iPhone game currently in development by a small team, NeverBored Studios, of which I am the lead designer. I toot my own horn in you're general direction!

Obviously a lot of the art is placeholder, and the audio also has a ways to go, but we are hoping to release it on the apps store in late-April or early-May, and at a limited-time discount. Buy it now! (or rather, then!)

(I'm the one playing, my friend Thomas is the one trying to centre the iPod in front of my laptop's camera. Just pretend this is Blair Witch or something.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I knew I was learning something.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jean Reno?

There's this relatively new series over at the escapist called Unskippable where these two guys make fun of videogame cutscenes MST3K style. I particularly enjoyed their latest one, partly because I thought the humor was really spot on, and partly because I remember that my friend Dan and I thought this cinematic was totally freaking awesome back when we saw it in the Onimusha 3: Demon Seige trailer years ago.

I also remember that we were totally smacked upside the gob when the trailer declared - and this may count as a spoiler if it's possible to spoil a trailer - that Jean Reno was a character in it. I mean, he doesn't just add some voicework, they've got his likeness in there and everything, fighting alongside a ninja in feudal Japan against an army of, uh, demons apparently.

Um - setting aside for a moment the fact that Jean Reno kicks ass - why?
Well, because apparently the demons are invading present-day France as well as Feudal Japan, so we need a French guy. I guess I'm just dissapointed the demons aren't also invading Mars and Krypton so Superman and Marvin can join the fray. Actually I don't see why they couldn't join the fray, but apparently Jean Reno is just a prick who doesn't care about Feudal Japan and only cares when his own Jerry-loving people are in peril.

(It's interesting how in this context, Jerry could refer to either Jerry Lewis or Nazi Germany, and they're conveniently both offensive.)

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Speaking of irreverent mashups, there's a new book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which is exactly what the title implies. There is also a similar-sounding movie coming out called Pride and Predator, produced by Elton John. That's like if...
...nah, I got nothing.

All I can say is, I'm gonna feel really jipped if they doen't have the actual Predator in the movie. And zombies in pre-Vctorian literature are awesome. If you have doubts, read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

To be academicaly honest, I learned about both of these lovely Jane Austen butcheries at Wondermark, one of the very few webcomics I read. This guy David Malki swipes pictures he finds in 19th century periodicles and combines them with word balloons for surreal and often hilarious results. He also has an enlightening and sobering section called The Comic Strip Doctor where he valiently tries to fix the zombie-like abominations that are todays newspaper 'funnies.' This was where I found out about the wonders of the Garfield Randomizer, but that's a post for another day.

Seriously, read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Jean Reno demands it!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bugdom 2 isn't good...

I realize that the technical realities of the iPhone are somewhat limiting (being part of a team who are developing for it, I'm learning more about the various constraints all the time), and frankly the graphical aspects of Bugdom 2 are quite impressive. It looks about the same as the original Bugdom on the iBook lo these many years ago. It's just a shame that the game itself is... not good.

First, let me start with a disclaimer. Many studios have been good about fixing the various problems in the games they have released by way of updates, and it is quite possible that many of my criticisms have in one way or another been rectified by now. What I am about to review is the Bugdom 2 that I played. Your mileage may vary.

I will start where the game does, with the bee; the big bully bee which comes down and steals the hobo-stick from our protagonist who is, by the way, one of the dumbest looking videogame characters I have ever seen in my life, but that's just my opinion. Anyway, this stupid bee keeps appearing throughout the game, and often flies right next to you, and yet you can't touch him. Run up and kick him, and he completely ignores you. This wouldn't be so frustrating if he wasn't significantly smaller and less threatening-looking than many of the enemies you defeat on a regular basis.

Anyway, let's move on to some more valid criticism; the controls are awful. Now I respect Pangea for trying something new and different, but tilting the phone to move a character in 3D just doesn't work very well. You have no precision, so trying to complete a simple task like picking up an acorn or hopping onto a box becomes an infuriating chore. You can adjust the sensitivety, but then it becomes impossible to run, so your choice is to either slowly meander everywhere or dash around like a maniac on Ritalin. What this game needs, more than anything else, is a RUN BUTTON!

Anyway, the control scheme is at least interesting; that's sadly more than I can say for the rest of the game. Let's list some of the other crap that is wrong with this game.

Everyone in Bugdom 2 is a jerk. Seriously, everyone you meet either wants to kill you with rusty bottlecaps, or they want you to do some stupid fetch quest so they'll give you a key or a checkpoint. The really dumb thing is that the acorns, which the squirrel always wants you to bring her, are literally everywhere. Often they're within arms-reach of the squirrel. Bringing her an acorn is not so much a fetch quest as a stand-still-for-three-seconds-while-managing-to-face-the-right-direction quest which, believe you me, is harder than it sounds. Oh, and the 'friendly' characters' voices were evidently engineered by the US military to be the most painfully irritating voices possibly. Seriously, these guys could easily be weaponized.

Demon-Squirrel: "If ya brring me an acouorn, I'ul give youou this checkpoient."
Irritated stereotypical-terrorist: "Sweet Allah, reach down and pick one up yourself! They're frigging everywhere!"

Speaking of fetch quests, the entire game feels like one long fetch-quest. All you are ever doing, it seems, is wandering around trying to find some arbitrary McGuffin or another. Sadly, draw distance has been sacrificed for graphics and framerate, so the whole thing starts to feel like groping around in the fog for your contact lens. Navigating the world would be significantly more entertaining if you could hover around everywhere, but sadly you are provided with a 'hover bar' which depletes surprisingly quickly. You can replenish it with blueberries, but this involves tackling hundreds of butterflies (don't even ask). I don't understand why the bar is limited. Sure, hovering everywhere all the time would make some of the enemies less threatening, but surely that could be resolved by changing their behavior. And anyway, I see no reason why the bar couldn't steadily replenish on its own, rather than you having to find blueberries. You know a game is bad when it makes you hate blueberries...

And speaking of the enemies, all the battles in this game are super lame. Your only attack (other than launching bees, the non-hobo-stick-stealing kind that is) is this stupid little kick thing that has no range and requires you to be correctly facing your target (which, as I've stated before, is harder than it should be).  This attack does, as you might expect, very little damage, but it does stun the enemy for a while and push them back a little. Therefore, most of the 'battles' in the game degenerate into me repeatedly kicking an enemy who is hunched over in the corner. It looks quite ridiculous, and makes me want to play a different game.

Let me retail to you my experiences with a level that took me 90 minutes to complete. 90 minutes! Keep in mind this game is intended to be played on a phone, and if you were to receive a call during that time, the only thing you'd be able to salvage is a name for your to-kill list. Yes, the last I checked, there was no way to save your game and quit in the middle of a level. Sure there are checkpoints, but a save file only brings you back to the beginning of a level (though as I say, they may have rectified this with patches by now). This game takes commitment; if you start a level, you're in for the long haul. No matter how much the game begs you to hurl it against the wall, you've gotta stick it through 'till the end, or else start over from the beginning of the level. You'll never get the time back, but you'll never have to play that horrible level again (just the next horrible level, and then the next, and so on, until you grow old and die!).

Anyway, somewhere during this well of madness they call level 5, I came across the absolute worst racing section in any game I have ever played. It's not because the controls were broken, it's that, well, all you had to do was tilt the phone forward because the car was on a freaking track! I had to race against another toy car by... tilting my iPod at an angle and waiting until the race was over. It would basically be the equivalent of a quicktime event which required you to hold the A-button down for four minutes. The really sad part? This was by far the most entertaining part of the entire level.

Now don't get me wrong, Bugdom 2 has a few highlights, one of which is rolling around on baseballs. These baseballs were liberally scattered around this particular level, I can only assume as an intended means of slightly quicker transport for its vast corridors, yet some bug (no pun intended) prevented me from riding any of the baseballs, and so I was forced to walk everywhere. This was particularly exasperating because about two-thirds of the level was devoid of anything at all. It almost felt at times like I was playing World of Warcraft, but luckily the combat was much more enjoyable (zing).

The music in the game is decent, but when any song is looped for 90 minutes, it gets rather irritating (with the exception of this one). The game also doesn't let you play your iPod's music during the game unless the sound is turned off, and you need the sound in order to hear the annoying characters tell you want they want you to fetch next.

At a few spots in the level, I was required to push some crates around in order to hop over obstacles (always everyone's favorite part of any game), and I discovered that if you walk about 30 bugfeet away, the crates reset themselves to their original position, forcing you to position them again. Getting the crates in the right spot wouldn't be so hard if the controls weren't such a broken mess!

You know what? I'm done with this game! Life's too short, and I could derive more pleasure from shoving my face into an anthill! I don't recommend you get this game no matter what the price is. I got it for 2 bucks, and I want my time and dignity back! Augh!

Oh, and Nanosaur 2 is pretty good.