content by

David Pucik

Valkyria Chronicles: A Spectacular Period Mashup in Tactical, Turn-Based Form

I have a confession to make: Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles really isn’t a steampunk game. It’s more of an Anachronism Stew; it’s got a hearty dieselpunk base (most weapons and technology), chunks of meaty steampunk (costumes, politics, other weapons) and out-of-left-field historical anomalies (the lancer class), and is garnished with a zesty, zesty sprinkling of Japanese fascination with western dictatorships.

And it is one of the best turn-based tactical warfare games of the last five years. Personally, I haven’t liked a turn-based tactics game as much as I did Valkyria Chronicles since I first played Final Fantasy Tactics on the Playstation 1 far too many years ago.

[Do alternate histories sometimes make you uncomfortable?]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Bioshock: Social Sci-Fi in a Steampunk Veneer?

I was originally going to include Bioshock in my last post about steampunk games. What ended up happening was that as I wrote about Bioshock’s steampunk aspects, the more I thought about the game’s underlying social/pulp sci-fi themes as opposed to steampunk. The underwater city of Rapture itself falls pretty clearly into mid-century sci-fi with its ambiguously-defined tech and 1940s chic. That said, it’s hard to get more steampunk in look and feel than the terrifying Big Daddies, who would look like members of Captain Nemo’s crew had Nemo also been a mad biomechanical engineer. The plot, ultimately focused around the fear of unregulated scientific achievement, is straight out of mid-century social sci-fi, but it’s not hard to see the city of Rapture, or least what it had been before the game plot began, as a steampunk technologist’s paradise.

Fair warning, there are some minor plot spoilers in here, though I’ll do my best to avoid the major ones. So here we go.

[1BR, 1 Bath for rent. Beautiful neighborhood, active community, safe for little girls.]

Series: Steampunk Month

Steampunk Gaming: Getting in the Mood

To commemorate Steampunk Month at Tor, I thought I would wrangle up a list of some of cool games in the Steampunk setting. Given the elusive definition of steampunk, your mileage may vary, but I’ve greatly enjoyed all 4 of the games on this list, and I feel that each of them has contributed to the expression of steampunk in gaming in their own ways. This list is by no means comprehensive, more to get folks in the mood, so feel free to chime in with comments about your own favorite steampunk games.

I’ll try to keep this as relatively spoiler free as possible, but readers should be prepared for minor spoilers.

[We don’t need no stinkin’ nukular power!]

Series: Steampunk Month

Interview with Dragon Age: Origins lead writer, David Gaider

Earlier this month, I had a chance to sit down with one of BioWare‘s lead writers, David Gaider, and talk to him about the story progression and interactivity of BioWare’s latest fantasy epic, Dragon Age: Origins, scheduled for release on November 3rd, 2009, for the PC, PS3, and Xbox360.  David’s previous work writing for BioWare includes Neverwinter Nights, the Baldur’s Gate series, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  Dragon Age follows the player as a member of the Grey Wardens, the first and last line of defense for the races of Ferelden against the encroaching wave of the foul darkspawn, and David kindly walked me through the major narrative structure and how it will affect player characters.  Come on in, and check it out!

[In terms of the writing, it]

Infamous: Sparking with Power and Fun

Last month, Sucker Punch Productions released their PS3 exclusive sandbox-style game, Infamous. Taking place in New York Empire City, Infamous follows the exploits of Cole McGrath, a bike-courier-turned-human-dynamo-in-a-terrible-accident. As Cole, players explore the post-accident Empire City, fighting the gangs who have taken over since the government left town, while trying to discover the the truth behind his powers. Cole is kind of like a mix of Spider-Man and Black Lightning: he scales buildings, vaults off power-lines, rides electrified train rails and zaps baddies from afar. The comic book superhero comparison is accurate; the game’s narrative cut-scenes don’t use the game engine, but an animated digital comic style. One of the most-reported features, in keeping with the sandbox nature of the city, is the ability for players to choose whether Cole is inherently a good guy or a bad guy, allowing the game world to change, depending on his choices.

Infamous is massively fun. All of the mechanics come together seamlessly, as Cole runs up the side of buildings, vaults rooftops, and drains electric power sources, often while fighting opponents. The plot, while simple, is really artfully constructed, and the missions deliver overall a lot of variety, even if the side-missions get a little repetitive by the end.

If there’s any major critique to this game, it’s that the moral choice feature, so talked up in the advertisements, really has very little overall effect on the story or even the game environment, and while not really bringing the game down, it’s disappointing to see such a major feature fall short of what it promises.

[If a handhold comes along, you must grab it]

Resident Evil 5 Review: Visually-stunning and explosive

This past March, Capcom released the “final” chapter of the Resident Evil game series, Resident Evil 5, for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. RE5 is the first game in the survival-horror shooter series to adopt the new infected-killing standard of play set by the franchise-kickstarting Resident Evil 4 in 2005, and acts as the final chapter in the long-running Umbrella storyline. Long-time fans finally get to see dangling plot threads addressed, and RE4 fans will recognize the new gameplay as a revved-up version of the kind that made RE4 such a mega-hit.

[Working together, a.k.a. where’s my ammo?]

Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun Li

The first Street Fighter live-action film was an absurd parody. Jean-Claude Van Damme was barely able to express himself clearly, the costumes looked like they were bought at a Ricky’s costume outlet for $50, I don’t think there actually was a script, and the martial arts were…well, definitely not art.

Going to see video game films is an iffy prospect, because anyone who has been paying attention knows its probably $10 and 2 hours you’re never getting back, but if you’re a gamer, you’re waiting for the video game film that will justify to everyone what you’ve been saying about video games for years.

Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li is not the film you’ve been waiting for. It’s better than its predecessor, but that’s not saying much. It doesn’t stand well on its own, and in many places it’s simply not enjoyable to watch. That said, this is probably the most serious attempt I have ever seen to make a workable movie out of a videogame.

[Plot-holes, decent fights, and Chris Klein]

1st Annual Global Game Jam NYC – Days 2 & 3 (1/31-2/1)

I was originally going to split these two days into their own posts (like my first post on the event), but when I wasn’t sleeping I was at the Jam. I was updating game design docs, making timeline designs, fixing the digital versions of our creative assets, and desperately trying to keep my team members, who were doing the real work without sleep, from passing out. I needed a day to recover before I could do anything else, and I just can’t separate out the blur properly enough for each day to have its own post.

After a multi-hour braining session and a little sleep on the first night, the design of our game had changed a great deal. What was originally a free-stylus defense building game had turned into a one-button (aka “twitch-play”) game where players tried desperately to defend the last remnants of humanity from mutated cockroaches by dropping random bits of civilization in the way of the oncoming beasts. The twist was that the bits were delivered via a moving pendulum that had great possibility of dropping them right on top of the humans’ heads (and killing them). The object of the game had morphed from building a bunker to save humanity from an onslaught of fiends to haphazardly dropping stuff from the sky to save humanity without killing them yourself.

[Programming the Apocalypse.]

1st Annual Global Game Jam NYC – Day 1 (1/30) Recap

The Global Game Jam is a worldwide event lasting 48 hours. In that time period, volunteer game developers, including students, amateurs, and industry professionals get together in small groups (usually 5-6 team members) across 52 worldwide locations and create video games. Not just parts of games, proofs of concept, or model art. Whole. Games. The event is organized by the International Game Developers Association and is an excellent opportunity for industry professionals and hopefuls, to network, brainstorm, and just generally have fun doing what they love.

Each location has a set of not-necessarily-the-same constraints that developers need to apply to the games they create. The idea is that by being forced to work within those constraints (including the short time limit), developers need to quickly identify only one or two key gameplay mechanics they want to build their game around. There really isn’t time for plots and deep storylines (though many developers try anyway); quick, fast casual games are the flavor of the day, and developers need to be able to walk the line between spending too much time on the background of the game and not having an atmospheric hook with which to grab interest.

[Everyone loves the Jam…and Kitties.]

Prince of Persia: Fun, beautiful, and n00b-friendly

Released in mid-December 2008 by Ubisoft Montreal (publishers of the hit Prince of Persia: Sands of Time series and Assassin’s Creed), the new Prince of Persia (available for the 360, PS3, and PC) is a marked departure from the franchise-launching Sands of Time. Major gameplay elements like the time-rewind control are gone in favor of a simplified control scheme that is friendlier to new players, but may be a little too hands-off for veterans. There’s even a new story, unrelated to the original, with brand new characters and a different focus for the protagonist. While I miss the old prince and more intense combat, I really like the new direction for the series. This is definitely the best time for new players to jump in.

[A friendlier, less involved prince]

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