Unlike some video games that are out there it’s available on multiple platforms; Xbox, Playstation, and on the computer, so that everyone that wants to play the game can without having to have the right console.
The game’s main character is one of the user’s choosing, and there is a different introductory origin story for each choice that forms the basis that the rest of the game is built on.
This isn’t to say that the story line is different depending on what choices you make, because over all you go through the same storylines no matter how you interact.
The difference is how you get the tasks done; you may be able to diplomatically diffuse a situation, or you may talk your way into a fight you didn’t have to have. The right discussions with the right characters can lead to rewarding side quests.
Some courses of action will annoy your group, because each character has their own set of morals, and may disapprove of your decision to help, or not help, a certain NPC.
You can affect how the characters feel about you to the point of forming a romantic relationship with them on one extreme, to having them abandon the party on the other. Each character that can join your party has their own unique traits, and the more they like you the more likely they are to impart that knowledge to you.
The plot is the typical one for most RPGs; the world is in grave danger and only you can help save it. Each character has a rich history and a full set of character traits and personality. Morrigan is a mage that lived in the backcountry with her mother learning the art of magic in a way not taught by the Mage Circle of Ferelden. Alistair is a Templar turned Gray Warden who had an interesting childhood.
These two are particularly interesting, because Templars are sworn to hunt down Mages that don’t conform to the Mage Circle standards, but they’re both in your party for a higher purpose. This is another area that the depth of the game comes in, because as you’re walking around town, these two will sometimes start bickering with each other.
There is witty banter, non sequiturs, and comic relief all interspersed in a long and intricately developed game. If you like RPGs even a little bit, this one is a can’t miss.
The actual gameplay is good too. The combat is of a real-time style, but does allow you to pause and control your party’s actions. You can set up tactics so that your teammates will heal when they need to, or pick off a weak enemy, or use a debuff on a strong one. Movement is easy, switching between characters is a snap, and the camera control is excellent.
The best part of the game is that you can pretty much set your own pace. You can speed through things, minimize boring storyline and get to the action. You can also delve into the deep storylines, plots, and history laid out at every turn. You can interact with your party to learn more about them, unlock different abilities, or blow them off and learn nothing about them except how they can help you annihilate the enemy. The game is a long one, but when it’s over you wish there was more. Luckily all signs point to a sequel.
There is a growing trend in gaming often called free to play which is fantastic news for credit crunch stricken gamers everywhere. Talk about microtransactions, optional subscriptions and advertising has been constant in the games industry over the last few years. The aim is to find a new model for profitability and attract large audiences for games, especially MMO games which need a huge player base. With the recent news that the games industry is not recession proof after all, game sales were down 29% in July compared with last year, a new model to draw gamers in might just be the way forward.
In the Asian market the free to play model has been going strong for many years. Gamers are used to installing the complete version of a game for absolutely nothing and are often willing to pay very small amounts for additional in game content. The majority of these microtransactions offer gamers outfits and customization options for their characters. They are often purely cosmetic and offer no advantage in game terms over players who are not spending any cash. Some games have gone a step further and they offer items for sale which enhance the player’s power. Booster items, which allow them to progress more quickly, are also fairly common. The idea is to let players build up experience at an accelerated rate so they can level up faster.
This model has proven to be very successful in markets such as South Korea and Japan but debate has raged on about whether it will catch on here in the west. The vast majority of gamers who play these free to play titles will never make a purchase but a very active minority will spend freely. There is also a belief that the low individual cost of items encourages people to spend when they wouldn’t be prepared to pay a substantial monthly subscription fee.
The argument and theory can now finally be laid to rest because several big developers and publishers have embraced the idea and released titles with this alternative business model. The early signs appear positive but the results are far from in and at this stage the big publishers are leaping in to make sure they don’t miss the boat. Let’s take a look at some of the big free to play releases.
This South Korean smash hit was one of the first free to play games to be released in North America and Europe. Brought to you by a company called Nexon the game has a microtransaction model and is available to play in multiple countries around the world. It was successfully released in the US in 2007 and they estimate from a user base of around 6 million people they have brought in revenue equivalent to 120,000 subscribers paying monthly on the old business model. This was enough to encourage many companies to adopt a similar model.
This MMORPG from Sony is aimed at the whole family and it offers good, clean fun with optional combat and a focus on social interaction. There are mini-games and plenty of quests to undertake and the game allows players to share images and videos. There is also a trading card game tie-in. In order to turn a profit Sony offer optional membership which allows extra characters and access to members only quests, jobs and items. There is also a microtransactions system in the game so players can buy optional in game items. It is currently available on PC and there are plans to release a PlayStation 3 version in the near future. The game has almost 5 million registered users.
This game borrows ideas such as a persistent character from MMO games but it proves that the free to play model can be extended beyond the MMOG genre. Battlefield Heroes is actually a multiplayer first and third-person shooter with a cartoon art style and typical FPS mechanics. The majority of games are on servers with 16 or 32 players and it is intended to be a casual and accessible game. It is installed and accessed via your web browser and it is completely free to play but does include some microtransaction options.
Battlefield Heroes was released by Electronic Arts and forms part of their Play 4 Free brand. They have also released BattleForge which is a card based RTS game based on microtransactions and they have announced Need for Speed: World Online which will be a free massively multiplayer online racing game.
Dungeons and Dragons Online
This MMORPG is based on the famous table top gaming series and it was originally released with a traditional monthly subscription model. It is now set to be offered as a completely free to play game with optional microtransactions. In the FAQ on their website developer, Turbine, has billed it as the only free to play premium MMO game but in actual fact this is a misconception that has prevented many gamers from trying free to play games. The idea that because a game is free it will be sub standard is dated and the majority of new releases in this category are every bit as detailed and impressive as traditional subscription based or retail games.
We can expect to see many more free to play games in the coming months and the trend looks set to spread from the MMOG genre. This can only be good news for hard up gamers but it is still early days. While this new model has generated a great deal of excitement it won’t be signalling an end to traditional retail and subscription models but if it does start to generate big cash you can expect everyone to jump aboard.
Sony launched a major offensive in the console war this week with a number of big announcements. During a presentation at the GamesCom 2009 event in Cologne, Germany they unveiled the new slim PlayStation 3 and talked about their plans for the platform. There have been suggestions that Sony are lagging behind Nintendo and Microsoft in the battle for gamers and this package of products and updates is clearly an attempt to redress the balance.
The Wii and the Xbox 360 have been outselling the much more expensive PlayStation 3 and Sony has resisted any price drop. Back in June they claimed to be happy with their price point, which even then represented a loss on every console sold. With pressure to stimulate the market amid falling sales they have finally made a move. The new version of their popular console heralds the long awaited price drop and the 120 GB machine will cost $299 in the US, ¢â€šÂ¬299 in Europe and £249 in the UK. By comparison the 120 GB Xbox 360 Elite remains priced at $399.
The new PlayStation 3 slim is 33% smaller and 36% lighter than the old PS3. The interior has undergone a complete redesign and the console will use less energy and operate more quietly than the old model. In fact power consumption has been cut to two-thirds the previous level and as a result the machine does not heat up so much so there is less need for noisy fan operation.
The console looks sleeker and more attractive than ever and the visual redesign has also seen the logo change to lower case and a matte, textured finish instead of a shiny one. It supports Wi-Fi out of the box, it has two USB ports and you can access the hard drive from the front and upgrade more easily than with the previous iteration. In fact you can now upgrade the hard drive without voiding the warranty. The old 80 GB and 160 GB models will now be phased out.
If you are looking for a downside then perhaps you could point to the lack of backwards compatibility for PlayStation 2 games, although it can run PlayStation 1 games. You also can’t store the PlayStation 3 slim vertically unless you buy a stand and they have ditched the option to install another operating system.
Sony didn’t rest there and the announcements continued with a big firmware update for the PlayStation 3 platform. PS3 Firmware 3.0 adds some useful menu updates which make navigation on the console a bit smoother with easier access to the store and a redesigned friends list. There are a few new cosmetic updates as well which allow animated themes and the option of new avatars for your profile. Most exciting for UK gamers is the support for BBC iPlayer. There is also a new video on demand movie rental service offering HD and SD movies due to launch in November.
These new developments look set to take advantage of the superior capabilities of the PS3 and technically speaking it is by far the best console of the current generation. The PS3 supports Blu-ray playback, it offers 1080p HDMI output, integrated wireless, free online support and a 120 GB upgradeable hard drive. The firmware update will combine with a big redesign of their online Home space where companies are now looking to establish an online presence.
The new offensive was not limited to the console space and Sony had news for the handheld market as well. The PSP Go was unveiled back in June. It is a smaller, slide open version of the PSP handheld. At GamesCom Sony announced that they will be launching a mini-game store for the machine and gamers will be able to download casual games which are under 100 MB in size. They also plan to launch a reader for the PSP which will allow people to read full length novels on it and the video on demand service due to launch in November will be extended to the PSP as well. To round things off it will be available in some funky colors.
There are obvious moves here to beat Microsoft on price and also to challenge Nintendo on accessibility and the casual gamer market. Sony is uniquely placed to capture hardcore and casual gamers and their PS3 console is truly an entertainment center. If consumers were to shop for a Blu-ray player with internet surfing capabilities and access to streaming video on demand they would be hard pressed to find a device cheaper than the PlayStation 3 and it offers gaming as well. Perhaps with this new design and all important price drop we’ll see the console really take off at last.
With Activision’s announcement of the upcoming release of DJ Hero, featuring Jay-Z and Eminem, it looks like we are finally reaching the conceptual limits of the real-instrument-as-a-toy rhythm game, which is an exciting prospect for people who take joy in witnessing events of almost pure absurdity.
Even for those of us who love games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, there’s always been something just a little bit ridiculous about playing a fake guitar along to real songs. While the common internet troll’s cry of “get a real instrument” has always been an aggressive, narrow-minded view that ignores the fact that rhythm games are fun, there is perhaps a nugget of truth in their vitriol: learning to play songs on a real instrument is also fun, and everyone will think you’re cool if you can bust out a John Mayer song or some junk at a party. No one will think you’re cool if you bring your special edition Slash Guitar Hero controller to your friend’s get-together and start to fake-wail.
So with Guitar Hero we have replicas of instruments that can be used to simulate playing music. Kind of weird, but reasonable enough. DJ Hero on the other hand takes that dull point of weirdness off in the distance and makes it into a full-blown, retina-melting supernova. No longer will rhythm game players be using a replica of an instrument, but rather will be using a replica of a device used to play already-recorded music in the first place.
Let me elaborate. Want to play a song on guitar? You learn how to play a guitar. The mechanics of this are difficult, and so making a game that allows even the musically illiterate to simulate playing guitar is significant.
Want to play a song on a turntable? You put a record on the turntable and it plays the music.
I can’t stress this enough. In order to play a song with a turntable, all you have to learn to do is turn on the turntable. By playing DJ Hero, we are simulating the act of playing music on a record player. This is truly absurd, and also fantastic. As such, I predict that it is only a short matter of time before we start to see the most ridiculous of all instruments become the subject of rhythm games. What bizarre new depths will Activision bring us to with future instrument peripherals? The answers may surprise and disgust you!
So join me as we look at The Future of “Hero” Games!
Appeal: The piano is a widely popular instrument used in everything from classical to jazz to pop, and as such the Piano Hero game is sure to be a success. But unlike guitars, which require strumming, and drums, which require hitting things, pianos only require that the player push a bunch of buttons. As far as I can tell, this is exactly how a normal videogame controller is used, which doesn’t exactly make a piano game controller sound too appealing. So, Piano Hero is going to need something to differentiate it from both normal videogame controllers and other rhythm game controllers.
How will Activision do this? That is a great question, fine reader, and I’ve got an answer coming straight at your question-hole right now: more buttons.
The standard guitar controller only has a wimpy five buttons, making it at best a dull abstraction of an actual guitar, and most drum controllers don’t even have cymbals or a high hat. The Piano Hero controller on the other hand will include a button for every key on the piano. Actually, scratch that. Piano Hero will just include an actual piano with the game.
That’s right, Piano Hero will be the first game with the balls, guts, and other anatomical stuff to push the rhythm game to its logical conclusion by going ahead and forcing the player to just learn how to play piano in order to play the game.
Too difficult? How about too awesome!? What could be a more immersive gaming experience than playing a game about playing piano with an actual piano? Nothing, that’s what. Well, except actually playing piano, I guess. Anyways, the goal of Rock Band is to make you feel like you’re a guitar player for once in your pathetic life, which is fun, so Piano Hero will maximize that fun by just making every Piano Hero player an actual piano player!
Even better, the programmers won’t have to fuss around with scaling every song down to an abstract level, because there will only be one difficulty setting: actual song.
Audience: Kids whose parents forced them to take piano lessons. Church ladies.
Tracks: I know we said that classical music and jazz are popular, but let’s face it, nobody who listens to that stuff would lower themselves to being anywhere within a 100 foot radius of a videogame. So, it looks like it’s going to be all Elton John, all the time.
Appeal: The theremin is a bizarre instrument that is played by not touching anything. This truly unique form of playing is the sole reason for this unusual instrument’s esoteric appeal, since it sounds about as beautiful as an air-raid siren.
Unfortunately, this is a game, so it has to have buttons to press. As such, players will press a series of buttons on a normal videogame controller to manipulate a set of virtual on-screen hands, which will then move around within an actual 3D representation of a theremin. This a truly incredible advance that gives all the fun of playing a theremin while still being able to touch something!
But we couldn’t just stop there, oh no. The truly groundbreaking feature of this game is that it will require you to hold the controller in a theremin while you press buttons to manipulate the virtual theremin, giving the game an unparalleled true-to-life feel!
Audience: People who read Boingboing and like stuff that is weird for the sake of being weird, even though it is actually kind of awful.
Tracks: The sign-off tone of your local cable TV station.
Oh wait, this just in: the theremin has already been used by some nerd to play Rock Band. Ignore everything I just said.
Appeal: Bongo Hero will be the first Hero game to allow you to tap into the exciting and visceral world of being that one guy on stage that doesn’t have a microphoned instrument, because why did we let him in the band again?
In contrast with most instrument peripherals, the Bongo Hero controller will only include one button: a bongo. But this game will make revolutionary use of that one button. Rather than encourage players to go along with the song, Bongo Hero will reward players for a-rhythmically smacking the bongo controller while bobbing up and down and swaying around with their eyes closed, just like a real bongo player!
On second thought, this has no appeal at all.
Audience: Smelly hippies who always show up to the show incredibly stoned then bang on their authentic African bongos that they got in Capetown during their “humanitarian aid work-term,” where they were really just trying to pick up girls who wear hemp and have dreadlocks.
Tracks: Whatever music is being played where more than one person wearing a Che Guevera t-shirt can be found.
Appeal: It’s a freaking organ made out of cats. The end.
Audience: Renaissance-era ADD patients, dog-lovers, the deaf.
Tracks: Jingle Cats.
Appeal: Do you suck at rhythm games? Of course you do! Your hands have been permanently locked into wretched, clenched claws from carpal tunnel-inducing videogame playing and masturbation. As such you are never able to join in on the fun of a boisterous game of Rock Band, and are instead forced to sit back and make a feeble attempt at drinking a beer with your horribly disfigured appendages.
But have no fear, because Hero-Game Hero is here! (Oh.) With Hero-Game Hero, players will get to experience all the exhilaration and thrill of playing a set, without the need for any of that physical proficiency stuff!
The gameplay mechanics are simple: just choose the difficulty you want to play the song at, then enter the skill level at which you want the song to be played. Want to experience the excitement of completing Through the Fire and the Flames on expert difficulty? Simply set your playing skill to little kid phenom and watch the points roll in! Want to suck really bad at Bark at the Moon? Just set the song’s difficulty to expert and your playing skill to toddler chewing on the controller and experience the agony and tears of defeat.
The game will even include a selection of playing strategies to highlight the tactical aspects of Hero-Game playing. Strategies will include: know the song before you played it in the game so you don’t screw up until you get to the bridge that no one cares about, try to get overdrive to go off by tilting the guitar as violently as possible multiple times only to have it not respond, making you scream at your TV when you fail, and hit the right notes at the right time instead of the wrong ones.
The ultimate goal is to become the best Hero-Game player ever, giving you the skills and talent to beat any individual rhythm game ever created!
Audience: People who like the idea of rhythm games but not rhythm, people with no hands, fans of meta-irony.
Tracks: Every song ever made! (Due to licensing fees, the game will cost 849 million dollars.)
In case you haven’t heard, Tony Hawk is releasing yet another video game based on his extreme skateboarding franchise. I’ve played a few of them, and found them very much the same. This new one, simply known as Ride, comes with a very unique accessory.
The board peripheral is motion-controlled, which would make it a more advanced version of the WiiFit Balance board. There may not be any wheels on this board, but the player can manipulate it as if it was a real skateboard. More advanced stunts, such jumping and grabbing the board, are accomplished by kneeling and touching the buttons on the side.
Tony Hawk: Ride is planned to be released later this year for the Xbox 360, Ninetndo Wii, and Playstation 3. There is supposed plans that the board peripheral will be used for other games like snowboarding and surfing.
This seems to be a trend among video game peripherals to be used for more than one game. For example, the WiiFit Balance Board can be used with other games where balance is important, and has recently been incorporated in the Wii version of Punch-Out. So not only can the player use the Wiimote and Nunchuk like boxing gloves like in WiiSports, but this new version of Punch-Out allows the gamer a chance to dodge blows by shifting weight on the WiiFit board.
Perhaps we are seeing a dawn of a new age of video games where the accessory is a heavy part of the action. After all, Guitar Hero and Rock Band were simply complex controllers that were in need of a game, and they have swept the nation. The soon-to-be released DJ Hero will have a turntable peripheral that could be just as popular.
Sadly, this was not the fate for Steel Battalion. This was an X-box game which required an advanced peripheral with two control sticks and forty buttons. Granted, it completely immersed a gamer into playing a vertical tank, but sales of units were quite limited due to its complexity. The high price didn’t help it, either.
I would like to suggest other games that would come out, though it would require a huge peripheral.
Starbucks Barista: The game comes with a very complex controller that can make virtual coffee, espresso, lattes, in many forms. Players must compete as the morning rush comes in, and points are given as they meet all the orders exactly.
Folk Hero: Imagine that you are mythical American heroes Paul Bunyan, John Henry, or Johnny Appleseed. It is easy with the axe, hammer, and seedbag peripherals.
Crazy Climber 2000: I realize that we are long past the year 2000, but an update of the old-school Crazy Climber video game is long overdue. Of course, this version requires the user have their own climbing wall and a Virtual Boy. Now the question you have to ask yourself is: which is harder to obtain?
Rifle Squad: This game is made for all the cadets at the academy that have to do those rifle drills like at the beginning of A Few Good Men. Some of you might not remember that film, and I suppose it would not help to mention the film Stripes. Maybe you should catch the end of the Hillary Duff classic Cadet Kelly. Anyway, the motion-controlled rifle peripheral along with the game will make you feel like you are a part of the spinning and stepping rifle team.
I can’t really think of any more of peripheral-based games right now, but I am certain that the video game developers will. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if similar ideas are under development.
So does this age of peripherals do to the video game industry? It will encourage more gamers to get off the couch, and immerse themselves in the game. In short, it is preparing us for virtual reality gaming.
Recently I had a chance to conduct an email interview with Jason Rohrer. Jason is the creator of the much talked-about indie title Passage, as well as the new puzzle game Primrose, which we wrote about before.
Jason has made a name for himself as a primary figure in the growing movement of art-games. Passage garnered a great deal of attention from all corners of the Internet when it was released, and his fifth game, Between, was hosted by Esquire magazine in conjunction with a biographical article about him.
Jason’s latest game is Primrose, a compelling puzzle game that departs from the games-as-art debate.
How would you describe Primrose, for anyone that hasn’t heard of it?
Primrose is a tile-clearing puzzle game. It’s in the same family as Tetris, but it has completely new mechanics that have never been seen before.
How long did Primrose take to complete?
About two months.
Primrose’s visual style is very simple and appealing, yet effective. What was the inspiration behind this style?
When I began testing Primrose’s mechanics, I saw some pretty complex behavior emerge. It felt like the output of some kind of alien computer, and I wanted the game to feel and sound like you were poking at such a device. I looked back to how computers were depicted long ago, with grids of glowing, pulsating lights and bleeping sounds. There were also linear elements in the display like the grid, the text, and so on. I wanted these to all look like something that was actually being drawn on an old vector display. Everything fades in and out very smoothly, and overlapping colors blend together at the edges.
Especially on the iPhone, I thought it would be nice to hold a computer like this in the palm of your hand. I wanted people to look over your shoulder while you played and ask, “What’s that?”
Primrose is a bit of a departure from your other games, in that it isn’t obviously “about” anything. What made you decide to make a straightforward puzzle game like this?
I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to push myself outside the area that I was comfortable working in.
People often talk about Tetris as being a perfect game or one of the best video games of all time. They also describe it as a mysterious stroke of genius, never to be equaled or surpassed. I wanted to try my hand at making a game like this—not a copy of Tetris, but a game with captivating, deep mechanics that could have a very long play life.
I also wanted to make something that was more appropriate for extended play on an iPhone. My art games can each be played a handful of times at most, and though they might inspire interesting thought, the majority of people do not feel that they’re worth paying for. The market really values games based on total playtime.
Do you plan on making more games like Primrose?
To make Primrose, I started out with an in-depth study of existing puzzle games to figure out what makes them work. I came up with a pretty simple list of key design principles that they all seem to follow. Primrose was the first game that I made using these principles, but there’s a huge space of other possible games out there. I have at least one more in mind that I would like to make at some point.
Are you currently working on any new projects that you would like to let people know about?
I’m currently still perfecting Primrose, with input from the public as they hammer away at the leaderboard servers. I have no idea what I will work on after that.
Your games often have a simple graphical style that is pixelated but also soft; the far left and right sides of the screen in Passage illustrate this style well. Where does this aesthetic come from, and why did you choose it?
For as long as I’ve been developing games, I’ve been interested in visual anesthetics that look computer-generated in some way. My early games used procedurally generated graphics, which gave them a very unique look. With Passage, I tried my hand at pixel art, and I really liked the results. Here was something that clearly looked computer-generated, but was still representational. The characters and other sprites in Passage had just enough detail so that you could tell what they were (a man, a woman, etc.), but they were abstract enough to leave lots of room for imagination and personal connection. The guy in Passage didn’t look like anyone in particular—in fact, he could be you. This is like a kind of digital cartooning. Scott McCloud talks a lot about the emotional power of abstract cartoons in his famous book Understanding Comics, so I don’t need to go into more details about it.
As far as the softness goes, that is like my modern, high-tech take on pixel graphics. Historically, on systems with very limited color palettes, pixel sprites had a static look. Modern systems have huge
color palettes, and that makes smooth color blending and other effects possible. The pixels are still sharp, but the colors on the pixels can vary smoothly. It’s a bit like zooming into a 32-bit photograph: sharp, blocky pixels, but with lots of smooth color variation from pixel to pixel.
You often include an interesting musical aspect in your games. Between and Gravitation in particular use music in an interesting way, by giving cues and adding layers as the player progresses. How important of a role does music play in your game-design?
Almost all of my games have had dynamic music of some kind. Passage was the only game that had a static musical score.
I’ve been playing and composing music for my entire adult life, so I have the ability to create my own music for my games instead of outsourcing that task. However, static music does not fully exercise the capabilities of our dynamic medium. We expect the graphics to tie into the gameplay, so why not the music?
My first game, Transcend, had you composing a novel piece of music as you played the game. From there, it was natural to try to figure out how music could be dynamic in my subsequent games. Passage was made on a tight schedule for a specific event, so I simply didn’t have the time to do something more elaborate with the music.
I found that Passage and Gravitation both presented me with at least one particularly powerful moment, but I imagine that other people who have played your games have had very different experiences than me. For example, while playing Gravitation, a friend of mine did something with the blocks that I never considered, and I’m still not sure whether they were meant to be used in that way. How much do you intentionally plan the player’s experience, and how much is left up to the player to determine as a sort of unintended, happy accident?
In games like Passage and Gravitation, I tried very hard to limit the possibility of too many happy accidents. The problem with accidents is that, though they may be interesting, they might mesh with the interpretation of the game in a strange way.
With Gravitation in particular, I designed the entire map with a specific kind of progression in mind. It’s like a series of small lessons that helps you learn about various consequences of the game mechanics as you go along. For example, you first encounter a single block by itself, and this gives you a chance to see what happens with one block without needing to tackle the more compensated interactions of multiple blocks just yet. Later on, as you jump higher and higher, you encounter more blocks in different configurations. What happens when you drop a stack of four? What about a stack of six? There are a bunch of interesting consequences, and all of them hopefully have meaning in the context of the game.
Your games often include very basic game conventions, such as scores and time limits, but they aren’t the main focus like they would be in a game like Pac Man. What’s the reasoning behind including mechanics like these?
I want to make it clear to everyone that I am indeed making games and not some form of less specific interactive art. To be a proper game, you have to be able to win or have some other metric of success. Score is a simple way to do this, and it is also a way of directing players toward a certain style of play. It’s like me saying, “I was hoping that you would consider playing in this particular way.”
A time limit was very natural in Passage, but was less so in Gravitation. Still, I found a timeline to be a powerful design tool, since the balance could change subtly as time in the game progressed, highlighting different features of the mechanics and new shades of meaning.
Many of your games are very challenging, but not in the way games are traditionally challenging. They aren’t difficult in the way a game like Contra is, for example, but rather ask a lot of the players conceptually and force them to figure out things on their own. For example, Between demands a great deal of consideration on the part of the players in order for them to make any progress at all. Do you worry that this might scare players away, so that some might not ever even get an impression of the game?
Passage was meant to be accessible to almost anyone. Between was designed with a completely different audience in mind: for the people who really liked and understood my previous games and wanted to see me really push the boundary hard. I hope that these people will give me the benefit of the doubt. First of all, they will need to spend about an hour with Between before they get much out of it. That alone is a huge barrier for most people. After that, they might need to think pretty hard before they can piece together the parts into a meaningful whole. A handful of reviewers have done this successfully, so I know that it’s possible, and that’s all that matters to me.
As for everyone else, well, Between probably just isn’t for them. For example, I still have not shown the game to my spouse. She is generally not interested in games, and I can imagine the experience just being frustrating for her. Also, I never agree to play Between with someone who is looking to try it. Playing with me would spoil the experience. So if someone like my spouse really wanted to play, she would need to find our own play partner—yet another huge barrier to entry.
Many of your games, such as Passage and Gravitation, are very quick, only taking up a few minutes of the player’s time. Is this a conscious decision, or just a result of material limitations? Do you plan on ever making a longer game?
Between is my take on a substantially longer game. Note that it does not last longer because I chalked it full of “content,” but simply because the gameplay takes longer. Most video games waste substantial amounts of the player’s time, repeating the same thing over and over again, and padding the experience with cut scenes.
With Passage, I could express everything that I needed to express in only five minutes. I originally planned on making Gravitation five minutes long also, but as the mechanics developed, I realized that five minutes was just not long enough for players to encounter everything that I wanted them to encounter. I tweaked this a lot, and found that eight minutes was just enough time to try all of the interesting block configurations yet never see anything boring or repetitive.
Braid is an example of what I see as the upper limit of how long the game should be without any filler. Four hours, five hours, that’s pretty long.
You’ve given explanations for the inspiration behind games like Police Brutality, Perfectionism, Passage, Immortality, and so on, and those games seem to draw directly from your experiences. Your latest game, Between, is a bit more mysterious. Can you give an explanation of its inspiration, or would you rather it remain mysterious?
With Between, I really wanted to tackle something more difficult and subtle. All of my previous games were pretty simple both in terms of their interpretation and in terms of what they were about. If I wanted to, I could describe what they were about on paper pretty easily. Immortality is the only one on the list that tries to reach a bit higher.
After playing Braid and thinking about it a lot, I came to understand that Jonathan was reaching for something huge with it, something that he couldn’t quite get his arms all the way around.
That’s an interesting thing to do with art, and almost a necessary thing, because if you can easily put it into words, what’s the use of making the art? We really need art to help us express these things that
we cannot express in any other way. That seems to be purpose of art. So I set out to make a game about something like that, about something that I couldn’t quite corner and collar.
I came up with what I wanted to express pretty quickly—it was something that I’ve been thinking about for most of my life. It touched many different areas of human experience, like a many-tendriled manifold of ideas and emotions. The hard part was turning this manifold into a game design, and I really struggled with it for a long time without any lightning bolts. Finally, I forced myself to go out in the woods, and I sat on a rock with my notebook, determined to come up with a design. Fortunately, I was able to channel lightning that day, and I came home with a design for Between in my notebook.
I read that Between was influenced by the philosopher W.V Quine. Is philosophy an interest of yours, and do you find that it influences your games?
Yes, I have been interested in philosophy for a long time. Between was the first game of mine that really addressed some more difficult philosophical issues directly. Of course, it’s not hard to see that the rest of my games have a kind of existential bent, but that is more like pop-philosophy than anything else.
What sort of videogames did you play growing up? Have any of them stuck with you, so to speak? Is there any you would consider your favourites?
Like most 31-year-old males in America, I played a lot of videogames when I was growing up. From the Atari 7800 through the PlayStation 2, I had love affairs with almost every system that was released.
After all that, a game that still sticks in my mind is the first Legend of Zelda—something about the mood was very special.
What games, if any, do you play now?
With my game design work and my responsibilities as a parent, I have very little time to play games these days. I try to keep up with what is going on in the art game scene as well as I can. Other than that, I usually wait for mainstream games to become classics before I spend time on them. I recently played Shadow of the Colossus, for example.
I still play German board games whenever I get the chance, which is unfortunately not very often. I also dream of beating my cousin at Age of Empires 2 someday.
How did you get into making videogames?
I’ve been programming actively for the past 12 years. A video game is actually one of the more difficult things to program, so it took me a long time to get to the point as a programmer where I felt that I could really pull it off. After programming a relatively elaborate and successful peer-to-peer system (MUTE), I felt like I was ready to make a game, so I made Transcend. I submitted it to a few festivals, and it got rejected. A few years later, I work on Cultivation, which was more ambitious. It got rejected by one festival and accepted by another.
A year after that, I made Passage, and I got swept up by the tide. The last year and a half of my life has been spent doing nothing but game design.
What made you decide to start making videogames as art?
I was interested in making art from the beginning, because it felt like there were very few videogames that were that ambitious, but I really didn’t know where to start. Transcend looked very “artistic,” but it really wasn’t a vehicle for any kind of expression. After that, I read Raph Koster’s book A Theory of Fun, where he discusses how games can be art. That book was hugely influential for me, and with my next game Cultivation, I pretty much applied his formula directly: permit more than one right way of play and encourage players to reflect about the choices that they make. Along the way, I discovered that meaning could be carried directly in the emergent behavior of game mechanics, but I didn’t recognize the potential of this capability at the time.
After I played Rod Humble’s game The Marriage, I began thinking more about using expressive mechanics directly. That lead to the creation of Passage, and I continued pushing in that direction all the way through Between, my twelfth game.
On your Arthouse Games site you have people like Rod Humble and Danny Ledonne giving their definitions of art. Could you give us a one-sentence definition of art?
A work is art if expression is its primary reason for existence.
With that in mind, what would you say it takes for a videogame to be art? What makes one game art, and another not?
Taking my definition and applying it to games differentiates them pretty well, I think. Which games are primarily about expression? Which games are primarily about entertainment? But even among those that are primarily about expression, there are different places for the expression to lurk. If the expression is primarily present in the cut scenes, then the expression is not very game-like. I’m much more interested in works that express things in game-specific ways. Other mediums found their artistic legs by honing their own expressive strengths. We should too.
Are there any other videogame designers that you would consider artists, or games that you would consider good examples of art?
My short list these days is Jonathan Blow, Rod Humble, and Daniel Benmergui.
The definition of art in general, let alone the definition of videogame art, seems difficult to pin down. Even on the Arthouse Games site the few definitions range from the wildly inclusive, such as Nick Montfort’s citing of Scott McCloud’s definition, to the very particular, such as Raph Koster’s definition. Is our difficulty with agreeing on what exactly counts as art in videogames impeding progress? Or does it even matter?
Lots of people like to dismiss arguments about the definition of art as ridiculous, but I think that these discussions do matter. I think they matter a lot. Some people say, “Humanity has been arguing about a definition of art for centuries. What makes us think that we will come to any consensus now?” So they want to give up. But if humanity has been arguing about art’s definition for centuries, that must mean that definition is really important and that the discussion is really worth continuing. It’s like arguing about love, or death, or God—the most difficult topics are always the stickiest, but I don’t see how ending the discussion is going to help.
So, let’s keep hammering on that definition of art. Let’s try to make progress where others have failed.
And yes, I think that games have been hurt by not having a very clear direction to point when they want to be art. A lot of designers say, “Art? What is that, anyway?” and then just go back to making
meaningless, shallow games.
One interesting difference between videogames and other art forms is public presentation. You can go to a gallery to look at paintings, go to a show to watch a band, or go to a theatre to watch a movie. Even novels and poetry, which are usually solitary experiences, have libraries and public readings. At the moment it doesn’t seem obvious that videogames have a counterpart for this; there isn’t a lot of opportunity for public, social displays of videogames. Do you think videogames need public presentations like this to develop as an art form?
I actually think that video games don’t perform very well, compared to other mediums, in public settings. Every “exhibition” of games that I’ve seen has been awkward at best. Games are interactive, so you really can’t do a screening. You have to set up terminals where people can walk up and play. What do other people in the room do while one person is playing? Watch over the player’s shoulder? That’s not an ideal experience of the game either. We can watch a movie together and look at a painting together, but we can’t really play a single player game together.
There are other options for massively-interactive exhibitions, but they are pretty heavy in terms of technology requirements. For example, you could convene an audience in a theater setting, but require that each person in the audience bring their own laptop. Then you could pass around a portable hard drive with the game on it so that everyone in the room could install the game and play it in parallel. Jonathan Blow tried something like this a few times with his Nuances of Design session at GDC. But even this solution isn’t perfect, especially when you’re dealing with a longer game. Are people really going to sit there for four or five hours to play a game like Braid? Imagine going to a film festival and only seeing part of a movie.
Thus, I think games are best experienced on our own time, and not in a public setting.
And that concludes the interview. Many thanks to Jason for answering so many questions!
All of Jason’s games are available for free on PC, Mac, and Linux, and Jason’s newest game, Primrose is also available on iPhone for $2.99.
As we go about “realizing” our New Year’s resolutions were maybe just a bit too stringent, I’m going review the top five games in Linux. Once the great downfall of the platform, gaming can now only be considered a strength, in the hopes you take up this guilty pleasure and wait for 2010 before you give up on gaming. May I present the premier Linux gaming software with the best from each genre.
This FPS (first-person shooter) game is portable on all main operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac) and is built using the Quake engine.
Players choose between two races: aliens and humans. Both have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and both are opposing teams on the same map. Whilst uncommon for an FPS, Tremulous allows you to build working structures that serve many functions, the most important being “respawning,” whereby if a player is killed, he reappears at a respawn site. Kills for your race earn you credits. For humans, this means better weapons or upgrades; for aliens, kills enable them to evolve into more powerful beings, the most powerful being the “Tyrant”. The objective behind the game is to not only kill all players of the opposing team (i.e. race) but also to destroy their “respawning” site(s), so that they can’t reappear. With an average of 400 users online at a time, there won’t be a moment left in the day to regret the amount of time you spent playing.
According to SourceForge statistics the game has been downloaded over 1,000,000 times as of 16/10/2008. It was also voted Player’s Choice Standalone Game Of The Year in the Mod Of The Year 2006 competition.
Like all great software, it’s open source and can be readily made available to you from the follow link: http://tremulous.net/
Meaning “roast meat” in German, this C++ written FPS runs on the main operating systems (Windows, Macs and Linux) and is built using the rendering engine Cube 2, for those of you who aren’t keen followers of the Quake movement (as with Tremulous). The main distinction to make between Tremulous and Sauerbraten is the ability to edit the geometry of the map ingame. Coupled with an emphasis on 6-directional gameplay, this dynamic is going to keep you hooked. It supports both Singleplayer and Multiplayer modes, and the latter of the two offers three possible gameplays: Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, and Capture (whereby teams fight over certain areas of the map). For the Singleplayer mode, there is plenty to keep you busy, unlike in Tremulous. You have the option to play scenarios split into episodes, Deathmatches with bots ganging up on you, and the game even goes so far as to provide levels where you can fight in slow-motion.
MacWorld UK gave it four out of five stars, whereas Games For Windows: The Official Magazine mentioned it in Issue 3 with the reference “perfect for both stingy and creative gamers alike.” But now for an organization whose opinion matters… Phoronix, a purely Linux-orientated hardware and software reviews gave it a positive rating due to “several enchancements to its underlying “Cube 2″ engine”.
Like all great software, it’s open source and can be readily made available to you from the follow link: http://sauerbraten.org/
Warzone 2100 (Strategy)
If you liked StarCraft, you’ll love this. The “3-D cross-platform real-time strategy” denotation doesn’t do justice to this once-proprietary program. This game is highly customizable, allowing everything from a wide array of camera angles, to the ability to customize drive systems (e.g. wheels/track) of your units. Warzone 2100 follows an episodic gameplay structure, following a sequence of scenerios whereby you have a time limit to complete the objectives stated using construction, upgrading, recruitment, etc. for the availability of the manpower required for the task. The latest stable version was released January 12, 2009.
Warzone 2100, once developed for the PlayStation (rating of 76%) and Windows, is now praised by the likes of IGN and Gamespot, which had the following to say about the game:
“Warzone 2100′s highly navigatable 3D engine, unique campaign structure, and multiplayer gameplay should please most real-time strategy fans”.
Like all great software, it’s open source and can be readily made available to you from the follow link: http://wz2100.net/
This Spanish game, developed using Glest Advanced Engine, is basically a cross between Tremulous and Warzone 2100. It imitates the 3-D, real-time strategy idea of Warzone 2100 but with a medieval theme. It mimics Tremulous in that there are two opposing factions, Magic and Tech, both with their own strengths and weaknesses, both fighting each other on the same map. The Tech team is composed of conventional warriors with medieval weapons at their disposals, with their own unique set of units, buildings and upgrades. The Magic team is targeted at more experienced users where most of their army is “morphed” or “summoned.” Whilst lacking close combat skill, it makes up for it in brute power and versatility. For those of you who loved StarCraft on Windows – this is the game for you.
Like all great software, it’s open source and can be readily made available to you from the follow link: http://glest.wikia.com/wiki/GetGlest
For those among us who miss hearing the upbeat music of Level 1 SuperMario, may I present SuperTux. It’s the classic side-scrolling adventure game we all played in our childhood, only now, instead of Mario you have “Tux”, the penguin mascot of Linux. With “Penny” captured by bad guys, it’s up to Tux to rescue her.
Receiving Game Of The Month award by HappyPenguin.Org when it first came out, SuperTux went on to celebrate eight version updates and the SuperTux Development Team and Blizzard Entertainment are eagerly working to bring you Supertux 2. The beta release reiteration of SuperTux really brings back memories of SuperMario with multiple “Worlds”, a variety of monsters and a complimentary, childlike plot.
I hope these referrals introduce more users to the variety of games on the Linux platform. While much remains to be accomplished, we can at least revel in the progress made up to 2009, and look forward to what this year will bring for us.
By Mihai Marcas
With the news that UC Berkely has gone completely insane and is offering course credit for having StarCraft LAN parties and eating Cheetos, it seems worthwhile to look at what other games would make good university classes.
So join me for 8 games that should be the subject of university classes!
CALL OF DUTY 4
Syllabus: Call of Duty 4 101 is a study of many interesting phenomenon in Call of Duty 4, such as: complaining about how much your team sucks, complaining about how cheap the other team is, voting to skip every map that isn’t Shipment, complaining about how much the maps that aren’t Shipment suck, complaining about every weapon you are killed by even if it’s a Skorpion, and watching your teammates die so you can figure out the position of the enemy and get the experience from the kills so you can reach another completely pointless prestige rank.
Essays must be typed, double spaced, and printed in 12 point Times New Roman font.
Teacher: A frat guy who only uses a golden AK (because it’s “pimp”) and leaves his headset mic on while he talks to people who are in the same room as him.
Evaluation: Students will be graded on their ability to get 19 kills in a row with a helicopter while hiding in some place that is only accessible through weird jumping exploits, all while completely ignoring the fact that the other team has every capture point.
The student showed an enthusiasm for the subject matter, but had difficulty with basic class material such as stabbing people. Hand writing nearly illegible, most likely due to the amount of time spent playing Call of Duty instead of writing important essays.
Syllabus: This course will focus on many of the important skills required in Mario Kart such as: using the power slide boost to gain more speed, using strategic placement of bananas to give opponents difficulty with certain corners, and learning the obstacles on each course so that heavier characters with a higher top speed can be used.
The student is also required to attend labs every Friday. During labs the student will learn the important lesson that all of the key skills they have acquired are completely useless, which will be imparted to them when they lose almost every game they play to people who have no idea what they’re doing, because so much random crap happens in Mario Kart that it’s impossible to actually be good at it.
Teacher: Your friend’s girlfriend who doesn’t even play videogames, but is way better than you at Mario Kart for some reason.
Evaluation: Students will be evaluated on their ability to lead the entire race in 1st place until the last five seconds when you get nailed with fifteen blue shells and end up coming in 7th, barely in front of the functionally retarded, computer-controlled Koopa, and way behind your little brother who drove backwards for most of the race trying to get into head-on collisions with everyone.
Grade: Before the class even starts the professor gives everyone a C, because no matter how good anyone is they’re going to lose fifty percent of the time anyways. (This also ensures a consistent mean and median grade.)
WORLD OF WARCRAFT
Syllabus: Topics include, and are limited to: ganking, getting ganked by the friends of the guys you just ganked, logging on with your 80 to gank the guys that just ganked you for ganking them, camping the graveyard to gank them as soon as they come back to life, realizing they probably went to a different graveyard, and finally ganking anyone who walks by because you’re in a bad mood now and are already logged in with your 80.
Teacher: Some guy who is constantly screaming over Ventrillo about every single mistake the healer makes during the Onyxia raid, but who hasn’t noticed that his girlfriend just left with all the furniture.
Evaluation: Students will be graded on their ability to perform incredibly mundane, repetitive tasks for hours on end in order to get a different coloured horse.
Final exam requires students to play WoW for 63 hours straight and become the first person on the server to reach 90 when the next addiction-perpetuating expansion is released.
Marks will be deducted from the final for not showing your work, incorrect grammar, saying “Leeroy Jenkins” at any time ever, and dying of caffeine and sleep deprivation-induced heart failure.
(Dean’s note: Using real money to buy gold from a Chinese gold farmer is considered a violation of the university’s academic honesty policy, and will result in an automatic failure and potential expulsion.)
Grade: A+ in grinding for more hours a week than a full-time job would require, F- at sustaining a meaningful relationship with another human being.
METAL GEAR SOLID
Syllabus: The Metal Gear Solid course is a two semester, full year course. The student will be required to memorize every character’s name and role, map the relationship-connections between each character, and understand the entire plot of the game, including each incredibly minor side-story.
The only evaluation will be a final paper, minimum 573,642 pages, single spaced, 4 point font (zero kerning.)
Teacher: Some guy who refuses to buy any console besides a PlayStation 3 and gets into arguments at parties about the quality of the PS3′s game selection. (“Every game is great” is his position.)
Evaluation: Students will be graded on their ability to endure five million straight hours of melodramatic cut scenes. Those who cannot are encouraged to enrol in the Games That Don’t Require Popcorn and a Bathroom Break course.
(Oh, it’s just a box.)
Syllabus: Prerequisites: Students must have 3 full credits in FPS-related courses, must record a B average in FPS-related courses, and must have absolutely no ability to act like a decent human while on the Internet.
Teacher: A twelve year old kid whose entire vocabulary consists of the word “noob” and a variety of pejorative terms for homosexuals.
Evaluation: Students will be graded on their ability to remember where the good weapons spawn and camp those areas.
Students are encouraged but not required to: constantly screech in a high-pitched, pre-pubescent voice if a headset is available; say as much racist stuff as possible; give themselves incredibly stupid clan tags (ie: TITS, PWNS, 8==3, etc.)
Student quit course to play Call of Duty 4 after three and a half seconds of watching a kid simulate sex on a corpse while making fart noises over the mic.
SMASH BROS. MELEE
Syllabus: Course material required: A single (1) Gamecube, four (4) Gamecube controllers, and three (3) friends who you are close enough to that your relationship with them is not ruined by the incredible hatred you feel towards them after they steal all of your kills with Marth’s fifteen foot long sword or Fox’s laser.
A graphing calculator may be useful for some of the tests.
Teacher: Your roommate who schools you with meteor smashes constantly, even when he’s using Yoshi.
Evaluation: Tests will be multiple choice and will measure the student’s knowledge of which characters are most overpowered. Bonus points for complaining about overpowered characters as much as possible.
Example: Which of these characters is most overpowered? (Using the number 2 pencil provided, choose only one)
- A) Ganondorf
- B) Captain Falcon
- C) GOD DAMMIT YOU BASTARD THAT WAS MY KILL MAN YOUR CHARACTER IS SO CHEAP ALL SHE DOES IS FIRE ROCKETS FROM ACROSS THE ENTIRE MAP AND GET FREE KILLS I HATE YOU GUYS AND WE WILL NEVER BE FRIENDS AGAIN
- D) C and A but not B
- E) D and not C unless C is the right answer
(The correct answer was F) All of the above.)
Everyone loses when a group of people get together to play Smash Bros.
KING’S QUEST 1
Syllabus: This class will focus on topics such as: being crushed by a rock 12 seconds into the game.
Required text: Rocks and Being Crushed by Them (4th edition)
Teacher: A rock (that crushes you.)
Evaluation: Students will be graded on whether or not they have been crushed by a rock.
Grade: The moving rock rolls downhill… and right into you. A crushing defeat. (A+++)
Syllabus: The student’s grade will be entirely dependant on his or her ability to chat up avatars that are definitely more attractive than the people controlling them, because this is literally the entire point of Second Life.
Teacher: A 43 year old guy named Gary who celebrates every holiday exclusively at the Casa del Gary resort that he created, where him and all his friends that he’s never met in real life hang out and wear squirrel suits.
Evaluation: The student will be graded on their ability to make plug-ins that give avatars genitalia, allow avatars to have sex, and turn avatars into giant squirrel-people. Then through some inexplicable and utterly mysterious process, the student will make money off these creations.
If a student manages to make a plug-in that gives giant squirrels genitalia and lets them have sex with each other, then the student will not need to bother with a grade because he or she will be a millionaire, somehow.
I have no idea what is even going on. How do I get the epic mount?
Taste in music is always a touchy subject. What is a masterpiece to one man is often nothing more than another man’s vile ear-garbage. What I like, you might find worth listening to only as a bizarre form of self-flagellation, bringing yourself to let its slimy, musical tendrils into your ear-holes exclusively as a form of punishment for some mortal sin.
Nonetheless, there are songs that one can imagine are just objectively bad; songs that have literally reached the maximum level of crappyness (that level is somewhere around one Air Supply, I believe) and cannot be considered by any rational human to be any good. No enjoyment can be gotten from these songs, because they have been proven by science to be perfect examples of audio despair, which no person should have the displeasure of experiencing.
Likewise, no person should ever have to simulate the playing of such terrible songs in a video game format; forcing someone to merely listen to bad music is cruel, but forcing one to actively engage in the execution of bad music is an act that may actually destroy an important part of that person’s soul.
With the news that Harmonix has made the somewhat insane decision to release another Grateful Dead song pack tomorrow, with six whole, meandering, pointless, hippie anthems to absent-mindedly sway back and forth to, it seems fitting to go over what songs should be in Rock Band, and which ones have no place being anywhere near any person’s XBox, Playstation, CD player, iPod, 8-track, gramophone record player, or any other physical music medium for that matter.
So join me for the 10 songs that Rock Band needs to get, and get rid of!
SONGS ROCK BAND NEEDS TO GET RID OF:
I know, you can’t actually get rid of songs from Rock Band, mainly because they are written permanently onto the disc via some sort “burning” process.
So we’ll just look at this list as a lesson for future generations. The soul-searing pain we have felt as a result of having to listen to and mock-perform these songs will be our gift to those people down the line who will never have to sing lyrics like “because it’s nice in the afternoon” again. We are taking a rock and roll bullet to the audio processing portions of our brains, so that generations to come will not have to do the same.
Or you could just be selfish and try to literally scratch these songs from the surface of the disc, as I have tried many times.
Panic at the Disco – Nine in the Afternoon
Forget for a moment that the afternoon does not extend until nine o’clock, and in fact turns into something called “night time” several hours before nine. Forget for a moment that this song’s lyrics border on being nonsense due to the redundancy and blatant obviousness of their subject matter. You could, ’cause you can, so you do? I have absolutely no idea how you managed to use so many words there.
Finally, try to forget that this song is like an inescapable specter, haunting every appliance you own, including your TV, radio, and even your copy of NHL 09, a game that should by all rights be as Panic at the Disco-less as possible.
Even if you manage to forget all of these things, you will not be able to escape the fact that this song is the audio equivalent of a massive worldwide recession wrapped in a pink bow: it is the cheeriest looking thing to make you want to kill yourself in the last year.
Interpol – PDA
When you think about rock and roll, what words come to mind? If boring, repetitive, incredibly long-winded, and no redeeming qualities are the first things you think of, then Interpol’s PDA is for you.
But if you are not insane, then this song will make you wish you could build a Rock Band-playing machine to automatically perform it for you while you sit in a sound-proof room, preferably thousands of miles away.
Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf
When did the 80s become cool again? In the 90s all anyone ever did was make fun of the 80s. It was basically a full time profession back then. And the reason everyone made fun of the 80s in the 90s was because everything in the 80s sucked really really bad.
Duran Duran is no exception. It’s just that Hungry Like the Wolf is one of those songs that has somehow permanently burrowed itself into the soft, fleshy mass of our collective consciousness, where it resides to this day. Once inside it released its alien pheromones, modifying the chemical balance of our brains so that its horrible true nature was hidden from us, making us think it was actually a good song.
But you can’t trick me, Duran Duran. I know this because every time I have to play this song I have the sudden urge to shove a screwdriver up my nose into my frontal lobe, proving that your vile demon-larva are lodged in all of our craniums, just waiting to be reamed out with hand tools.
Ratt – Round and Round
I mean, are you kidding me?
If Winger ends up in Rock Band 3, please shoot me in the face.
Miranda Cosgrove – Headphones On
Okay, this is actually a download, so its not necessarily part of Rock Band. But it is a free download, which means there is a very high percentage likelihood that you will download it because its free, and why the hell shouldn’t I download it when its free? How much could that hurt?
Oh it can hurt, in so many ways. I made the mistake of downloading this song, and I repeatedly punch myself in the face every day as punishment for my folly. If you enjoy the current state of your face, in which it isn’t being punched by your own furiously clenched fist all the time, then don’t download this song.
Sonic Youth – Teen Age Riot
Maybe I’m just prejudiced against Sonic Youth because of how much I hate them for needing three guitar players to make every one of their songs sound like a mess, but this song should not exist in Rock Band. “Noise rock” is pretty much the least fun sounding genre imaginable, and playing this song in Rock Band proves it.
Rob the Prez-O-Dent – That Handsome Devil
File this song under Makes Absolutely No Sense. The production of it is such that you can’t actually hear what’s happening. I have no real problem with that; some of my favourite bands have recordings that sound like crap. Its just that when I’m trying to play a video game version of a song, sometimes it helps to be able to tell what the hell is going on.
Add to that the fact that some of the drum parts you have to play in it are essentially just a jumble of coloured bars mashed next to each other, and this song basically turns into a screwed up game of Simon with a bad soundtrack, interspersed with random gun shot sound effects.
Linkin Park – One Step Closer
I don’t know why they called it “nu” metal, cause playing this song is getting pretty old! Haha.
God I want to kill myself.
Abnormality – Visions
I know, I know. Death metal (or black metal, or doom metal, or sludge or goop or crud or gunk metal or whatever the hell it’s called) bands have a lot of technical skill. They use weird time signatures like 15/Pi, play at tempos in excess of nine million beats per second, and are known to breathe fire on innocent civilians when they’re not playing at shows attended entirely by other bands.
That’s all well and good. I get it. But please don’t make me play their songs in Rock Band. Their riffs were not made for normal human appendages, my plastic guitar controller probably can’t even register notes as fast as these guys are playing them, and this song has all the musicality of the dying groans of a goat being crushed by a flaming boulder. That unique sound only means “party” for people who wear white makeup all the time and use real sheep heads as stage props.
Every Bonus Song - All of Them
We know that you guys at Harmonix are, like, real musicians and everything. We appreciate it, a lot. Your musical experience lends the game a very authentic feel, we are glad you know what you’re doing, etc. etc.
But that having been said, we have to tell you something: your friends’ bands are kind of a downer.
They always show up at our parties and get really drunk and start talking too loud and then get in the way when we just want to play songs that we actually like, and it gets really annoying.
I mean, it’s gotten to the point where I intentionally avoided downloading the 20 extra songs for Rock Band 2, even though they were free, because I didn’t want to dilute my song selection with their incredible mediocrity.
Oh, and don’t try to sneak your friends into the next party by taking away their “bonus” tags like you did in Rock Band 2; we know which ones they are (they’re the ones that suck that we’ve never heard before) and we’ll have a door man waiting. You’ll thank us when you give in to peer pressure and are too cool to even look them in the eye any more.
SONGS ROCK BAND NEEDS TO GET:
It’s nearly impossible to whittle this selection down to ten songs, to the point that even choosing seems almost blasphemous, but what must be done must be done, in the name of Rock and Roll.
Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
The game is called Rock Band, yet Led Zeppelin is not in it. This is essentially a logical contradiction in its most fundamental form. It is like explaining to someone that 2 plus 2 equals 4, then asking them to tell you what 2 plus 2 equals, and when they tell you “It is 4,” you punch them in the throat with a pair of brass knuckles.
I’m sure there’s some petty legal reason why Led Zeppelin hasn’t graced the Rock Band disc yet. But if you are reading this, Jimmy Page (which you are definitely not) then know this: putting your songs in Rock Band can never do as much damage to your reputation or credibility or any other aspect of your career as did the raping of Kashmir called “Come With Me” featuring Mr. Sean P Puffy Diddy Daddy Combs himself.
Dio – Holy Diver
Okay, I take back what I said about the 80s; everything except Dio (and all the other songs in this list that were released in the 80s) sucked. Three important facts to know about Ronnie James Dio: 1) He pioneered the use of the devil horns as a uniquely metal form of non-verbal communication, 2) He played the role of a rock and roll God in the Tenacious D movie, which required no actual acting on his part, and 3) He has rocked like freaking mad for every minute of every day of his entire life.
In fact, the entire Holy Diver album should be made available for download.
Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
Hey Rock Band, guess what? Guitar Hero: World Tour has this song, and you don’t.
By not having it in Rock Band you are literally urinating all over Randy Rhoads’ long-dead, plane-crashy corpse.
Green Day – Basket Case
You can love them or hate them, but it is undeniable that Green Day is one of the biggest bands in the world.
Their absence from Rock Band is strange, to say the least. Even Metallica (who at one point sued everyone on the planet for thinking about downloading Napster to maybe download copies of Metallica songs) are in Rock Band and are even being featured in their own game, so there’s really no legal reason why you shouldn’t be, Green Day. Get on it.
The Band – The Weight (or Cripple Creek, or really anything by them, because everything they did is fantastic)
If you’re going to put country music in the game, why not try putting in country-influenced bands that aren’t marketed towards people who think that Reagan’s trickle-down economic plan is fantastic, follow a policy of carrying one gun per article of clothing during hunting season, and actually think Brad Paisley is good?
Queen – Another One Bites the Dust
While Bohemian Rhapsody may well be one of the most rocking songs of all time, I decided against it because the game is called Rock Band, not Epic 10 Minute Piano Song Game.
Another One Bites the Dust is recognizable, rocking, and full of killer riffs and awesomeness, making it perfect for Rock Band.
(PS: No AIDS jokes will be made in this article.)
Van Halen – Hot for Teacher
Hey Rock Band, guess what? Guitar Hero: World Tour has this song, and you don’t.
By not having it in Rock Band you are literally urinating all over Eddie Van Halen’s crazy, double-tapping, soon-to-be-dead-of-cancer-or-alcoholism-or-something corpse.
Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City
While we’re on the other games have this song so why don’t you train of thought, let’s hit up some GnR. Burnout Paradise, a game about cars or heroin withdrawal or something, has this song in it, but all Rock Band could get was a song from the Axl Rose and Some Other Guys edition of Guns N’ Roses?
Shame on you Rock Band.
(And yes I know one of those other guys was Bucket Head. Please don’t send any letters.)
Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
There is a surprising lack of Jimi Hendrix in Rock Band, which is, frankly, inexplicable.
Simply put, All Along the Watchtower is chock full of riffs and drum beats and notes and other rock and roll stuff that would be incredibly fun to pretend-play. Plus it would do double duty by getting more Bob Dylan into the game.
(Note: Make sure to open all your windows before setting your controller on fire, as plastic fumes can cause all sorts of rock and roll-inhibiting ailments.)
Thin Lizzy – The Boys are Back in Town
There are plenty of fantastic Thin Lizzy songs that would absolutely kill in Rock Band, but I went for the easy one, because everyone already knows it, whether or not they know that they know it.
The problem is that very few people know who actually wrote it, nor do they know that Thin Lizzy was one of the best rock bands of the 70s, nor do they know that there is a life-size bronze statue of the lead singer Phil Lynott in Dublin Ireland.
If having a bronze statue of yourself is not rock and roll enough to get you into Rock Band, then I have no idea what is.
And that concludes the list! I hope I have done a service to those of you who have yet to play all the songs in Rock Band, and cherish the integrity of your ears.
(Commence rabid, vitriolic insult-throwing about other people’s musical taste… now.)
The controller, which will be available for the PS3, includes a joystick and a host of buttons that will emulate the style of old-school arcade controllers.
And in true old-school fashion the XCM Dominator comes with a turbo-fire mode, which will no doubt soothe the carpal tunnel-afflicted wrists of anyone who uses E. Honda.
Also included are four programmable buttons that can each save a series of up to 20 steps of button presses, which are then ready to be unleashed with a single button press, meaning you don’t have to do any of that boring trying if you want to pull off any complex moves.
And to top it all off, the Dominator comes in a translucent case with built in LED lights, so that you can impress all your friends with some sincerely bomb ground effects. (No word on whether a spinning rims mod will be available in the future.)
The Dominator can be pre-ordered at any XCM official retailer, and it will only cost $89.99 to buy your way to arcade-fighter success.
This article was featured on Buzz Newsroom.