Tag Archives: Rambles

Death of a Corporate Mascot

The news about the “Kevin Butler” character has been pretty wild the last couple of days. I’ve been careful not to couch my stories in too much legal language, since I’m no expert and don’t want to give that impression. But speaking in layman’s terms, I can see where both of them are coming from.

From Lambert’s perspective, he’s probably playing a variation on himself. The bulk of the resemblance seems to be his physical appearance, even if one or two of his speaking roles as a Bridgestone engineer has touched on that kind of bravado. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ad writers put him that role because they knew he was good at it. If that kind of character is just how he is when in “goofy” roles, I don’t see how Sony can lay claim on it.

Sony saw their former mascot in an ad with a Wii and was understandably bristled. I tend to think if he had just remained in Bridgestone ads they would have left well enough alone, so he probably should have known better than to appear in the Wii ad. Not because it was necessarily untoward, but just to be on the safe side.

Whatever the outcome, this is a heck of a way for such a successful ad campaign to end. From a marketing perspective, Kevin Butler was one of the most successful branding campaigns we’ve seen in years, so it would have been nice if it had ended a bit more amicably. Or ended at all, really, I didn’t even realize the character was done with until this news started coming out.

I’ve been a bit busy for updating this thing as of late, between a busy release season and moving into a new house. We’re moved in now, but the busy season presses on, so I can’t promise more frequent updates. I can say I’ll make the attempt, but responsibilities come first.

I reviewed XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and it’s probably somewhere in my top 5 games of the year now. Other contenders so far, in no particular order, are Journey and The Walking Dead.


Assassin’s Creed explosion

I was away a bit last week, and today the coverage I was working on finally started to materialize. I was in Boston for an Assassin’s Creed preview event, and it (unsurprisingly) reinforced my anticipation for the game. I was most surprised at how well Liberation held up, though, since Bloodlines soured me to the whole concept. But a few reservations aside, it was pretty impressive. I would share more thoughts, but I’d run the risk of being redundant with my previews. They’re pretty extensive.

More coverage coming tomorrow, in the form of one interview, possibly two.

Whew. And in news:

  • I’m kind of curious what Borderlands 2’s other content will be. The first game just had the major packs, if I recall, so it sounds like for B2 they’re aiming for a few big packs and then some smaller content. But what do you add to this in the smaller-scope territory? It can’t be more guns.
  • A little taste of the interview coming tomorrow.
  • Buy this. It’s on my short-list for GOTY. Seriously.


I’ve been away for a bit for an event, the fruits of which will be available in the near-ish future, but while I was away my review went up for Borderlands 2. I played as a Siren, but I’m considering restarting as a Gunzerker. The Badass Points system means I’ll at least get a little boost when I start as a new character.

I felt like the Siren got a little nerfed, but maybe that’s because any character could be made into a wrecking machine in the first game if you played your cards right. The bright side of de-powering her means that I actually had a hard time choosing who to play as. My previous experience with the Siren was the only thing that really tipped me over. So maybe, if I have enough time to waste replaying the game four times, I’ll give a shot to each of the classes.

It would be nice if I could import my ridiculous ass-kicking Siren from the first game, maybe as some kind of unlockable bonus after finishing it properly. I can always hope for DLC at least. Speaking of which, I actually might try out a game as the Mechromancer too. This must be what people sound like when they talk about playing Diablo 2 over and over again.

  • This seems ambitious as hell.
  • Hey, maybe Nintendo will–nope, still looks dumb.
  • I have to think that the Collector’s Edition gets a distinct advantage for Company of Heroes 2, considering so much of the game looks to take place in snowy landscapes and you get vehicle skins called “Whitewash” and “Winter Cobblestone.”

“Writing Samples” now available

One of the nice things about going to events like PAX is meeting up with fellow freelancers and swapping ideas. This time some compadres suggested the (in hindsight, extremely obvious) notion of compiling a Writing Samples section on my blog. This should make it easier to show editors my work, and to have a running tally of some of my favorite pieces.

The new Writing Samples section isn’t anywhere near comprehensive, but I tried to pick my best and brightest. Plus I’ve included a handy link along the top menu, so you can always click there to keep up with pieces in case you miss them in a blog post or tweet. I’ll be adding new samples as I write the ones that are worth being put in the pantheon.


Mario’s gold rush and mobile bleed-over

I’ve been playing a good bit of New Super Mario Bros 2 on my 3DS, and couldn’t help but notice something missing from the general internet reaction. Most reviews and the general consensus seem to agree that the game is fine, serviceable, but nothing special. And oddly enough, “nothing special” for a Mario game is unique, because we’ve been trained over the years to expect Mario games to be new and fresh and exciting every time. Nintendo tends to knock it out of the park, so a base-hit is jarring.

But I think at least some of the reaction has missed what Nintendo was trying for here. The level design itself isn’t crackling with new ideas, but the base premise of the game does exactly what the company has been pressured to for years. It takes notes from the mobile market. The standard stages are just a precursor to the much longer-term goal of collecting a million coins. The primary method of pulling that off is in Coin Rush mode, which gives short time spans and multipliers. The game is meant to be played, over and over, in short bursts, over an extremely long period of time. Maybe even months.

Sound familiar? Think about mobile hits like Jetpack Joyride. It’s a quick pick-up-and-play experience with a near infinite number of goals. You aren’t expected to play for very long at a time, but you are expected to play it over a long period of time. After years of analysts telling Nintendo they need to get into the mobile market — and going into convulsions at the slightest hint that they will — the company took some pages from those ideas.

Now, granted, taking from another platform isn’t really innovation, and it’s certainly not the kind of creative new gameplay concepts that the company is known for. But the parallels seemed so immediately obvious to me that I have to wonder why it’s been missing so much from the dialogue. It’s not that the game is just more of the same ol’ Mario. It’s actually trying something incredibly different, structurally speaking, from the standard Mario franchise. The differences just aren’t very clear within the level design itself.

(As a side-note, this model lends itself to microtransactions. Frankly I’m surprised Nintendo didn’t take it the extra step and sell a 24-Hour Double Coin Bonus for a buck or something. It would fit perfectly. But that might be too on-the-nose, and I’m sure gamers would revolt even more than they already have.)

  • I do like all the efforts to get the youth vote this year. Xbox 360 is a natural spot for it.
  • I continue to be baffled by why Sony keeps undermining its Vita platform exclusives.
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The Walking Dead: A Lesson in Game Choice

Thanks to my PlayStation Plus membership, I finally got around to playing the first two episodes of The Walking Dead. And quite frankly, I am blown away. This game (taken as a set) has rocketed into my top five games of the year so far, possibly even my top three. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why it blew me away so much. I hesitate to pin it down to just one thing — the puzzles are smartly designed to create thought without ever feeling like you’re stymied, the voice acting is pitch-perfect, the characterization is varied and complements itself well, the art style is appropriately gruesome without ever overstepping. But more than any one factor, the choices have made the difference.

To point out why, I’ll compare it to another series famous for its choices.

I’m on-record loving Mass Effect, to the point that I didn’t even hate the ending of the third installment. I think it’s a great AAA series and its choices carry some serious impact. But Walking Dead is equally impressive, in an entirely different way. I’ll call it breadth instead of depth. The Walking Dead seems to have less variation in the story based on your choices. The Trophies, for example, are just chapter markers and they remain the same no matter what choices you make. You clearly can’t impact the direction of the plot in any serious way. It will hit its beats one way or the other. But what it lacks in in that quality, it makes up for by having each and every choice totally ambiguous, with no wrong answer.

Mass Effect, and BioWare games in general, present a lot of choices — but one is usually the moral one. We’re presented with a nice option, and a mean option, and we roleplay according to how which side of the likability spectrum we want our Shepard to fall on. Even the choices that are meant to be a little more ambiguous fall into very clear lines between the perspectives. Everything is clear-cut, and choices that dip more into the ethically gray are still ethically gray for very different reasons. We always understand exactly where the line is.

The Walking Dead doesn’t do that. It constantly presents you with impossible situations that have no right answer, and then it brilliantly places a time limit on those choices so you can’t over-think it. It’s all gut instinct based on your moral values. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll dip into very minor, very vague spoiler territory regarding the end of second episode.

At the end of the second episode, you’re presented with a choice to commit what would ordinarily be a moral wrong — a crime, so to speak, even if crime doesn’t really exist in this world anymore. Clementine, the little girl that serves as the major emotional center of the game, doesn’t want you to do it. Everyone else is in favor of it.

I chose to take a moral stand, because I had recently justified another moral wrong by explaining that I had done it to protect us from bad people. In my mind, Clem needed to see a clear line between committing a crime because we needed to protect ourselves, and committing one simply because it would be convenient or helpful to us.

When I talked to my friend Bryan, he had gone against her wishes and done it. In his mind, protecting Clementine is his first and only priority, and if that means committing a crime to make sure she’s healthy, then so be it. The game even presented him a dialogue option to reassure her afterwards.

Neither of these answers are wrong or right. They’re both purely instinctive and morally defensible. It led to an amazing conversation in which we talked about our motivations for prioritizing the emotional or physical health of a little girl who does not actually exist. And this choice is just one of a myriad that are equally complex. How many video games can you say that about?

Absolutely amazing. Bring on episode three.

  • I can’t say online co-op excites me, but I’m up for more Dragon Age. The second game was maligned a bit too much, and people still remember it as worse than it actually was.
  • The comparison between the PSP and Vita is admittedly a little unfair, but it’s one way of highlighting how much the device is struggling. Which is a shame, because as a Vita owner it really is a fantastic device with some great games. I love mine.
  • I don’t particularly see the problem with a video game ending, but inasmuch as Diablo 3 ends, this patch seems like it should sort out that problem nicely.

The home-buying process (in meme)

It’s House Buying Eve, and tomorrow everything is official. Since it’s already a bit late, I thought I’d do something a little simpler for tonight’s entry.

(By the way, I missed yesterday’s comic wrap-up due to an internet outage, but Avengers vs X-Men was the only book out, and it was unremarkable. Not bad, just not noteworthy.)

So presenting, the thought process of buying a house in four acts.

Deciding I’m sick of my apartment:

Searching and making offers:

Finding the house:

Making the final offer:

– Fin –

  • I reviewed Darksiders 2 and Dust: An Elysian Tail this week. One more to go!
  • Sony may be right that it’s too early to cut the Vita price from a business perspective, but waiting out this holiday season is also a pretty big gamble. Unless they get some sales, third parties aren’t going to hop on-board, and that creates a vicious cycle.
  • Man, I don’t even know anymore.
  • Jack Lumber looks a little too Fruit Ninja for my tastes, but that said, the trailer is worth watching. I’ve seen more than one person compare it to the old Ren & Stimpy cartoons, and it makes sense that people creating content now would have been raised on that stuff.

Shameless Self-Promotion: PAX Prime Edition

Those who have followed me for a while probably already know that I was on a panel at PAX East, on my birthday no less. It was called “Borders Bigotry and Body Dumps: International Games Controversies.” We had a pretty good crowd for (Easter) Sunday morning, and even though I’m pretty sure most of us were relative rookies on stage, I think we pulled it off pretty well.

If you missed that panel, or really love it and plan on hitting both PAXes, you should come our New and Improved* panel at PAX Prime. It’s titled “Beyond Borders: Global Game Controversies,” and it will be taking place at 5 PM in the Unicorn theater. We plan to touch on a few subjects that we talked about last time, but also to tackle new ones that we either didn’t have time for or have cropped up since then. I’m particularly excited to talk about the Ollie North controversy, and to bounce around ideas about Spec Ops: The Line.

So if you’re in the Seattle area and want to spend an hour with some chin-stroking commentary, some of which you are almost certain to disagree with, come to our panel! And if you are going to throw tomatoes, please only use fresh ones.

* May not actually be new or improved. I mean, probably? But we’ll see.

  • Dishonored looks like it has a pretty impressive set of actors, but as some commenters observed, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be impressive voice actors. I can hear all of their voices by thinking of them, though, so that’s a good sign. You want unique qualities in that kind of work.

Amateur Foodie Revue

As I mentioned before, I tried out a few different restaurants this weekend in and around the Baltimore area. This was our little way of doing something less expensive but still special for our anniversary, since we didn’t want to go off on a vacation as we prepare to finalize our house purchase. I’m anything but a foodie, but I figured I’d give extremely amateur impressions of our experiences.

Antrim – This is actually in a nearby town outside Baltimore, but we had heard of it and wanted to try it out. It’s more known as a bed and breakfast, but the food service was very prim and proper. The atmosphere was excellent and it was certainly a long and engaging experience, but the food didn’t blow either of us away. It was also the most expensive one, so that says something about price to value ratio.

Petit Louis – A couple of friends recommended this French restaurant, and I’m glad they did. It was a little crowded (probably due to restaurant week sales), but the service couldn’t have been nicer. I went with the restaurant week menu, which meant choosing from duck or sausage. I’ve not had duck and didn’t particularly want to, but I don’t like sausage much either. (I find the skin creepy, to be frank). I settled on the sausage, and it was good as that dish goes but still didn’t change my position on the food. I did like the dessert, and they brought around a great cheese cart. Our waitress even picked a cheese and wine pairing for us, and she was right. It was fantastic.

Fogo de Chao – This was the only chain we attended, and it was more for my sake than my vegetarian wife. It’s an all-you-can-meat buffet, so she just ate the salad bar. But the hook of the restaurant, letting you turn a green card over to request cuts of meat from the passing chefs, was pretty satisfying. They come at you with ninja speed as soon as that green card is turned over. I tried at least a bite of all 11 cuts, and my favorite was pork loin. I never liked pork loin much, but they prepared it really well and changed my mind on it. Also, they made our dessert complimentary when they found out we were celebrating our anniversary, which they really didn’t have to do.

  • I pressed on my Summer of Arcade reviews with Deadlight, and it looks like I wasn’t too far from the critical consensus. I think the story is especially problematic, but I couldn’t go into detail in the review since spoiling is bad form. Maybe I’ll make a spoiler-edition blog post that outlines my problems in more detail.
  • None of these rumored PlayStation All-Stars leaks sound particularly unrealistic. If it turns out to be legit, I think my character of choice would still be Sly Cooper initially. That’s not to say he’ll stay my choice, since I tend to go with the character that complements my style after I try them all. My Smash Bros. Melee character is Roy, for example. Not my first choice by any means.
  • I wanted to try out Walking Dead, but I was busy and I figured it’d go on sale eventually. I didn’t have to wait that long, and I’m glad I’m a PS+ subscriber.

Breaking the Bat

I’m enjoying my romp through handheld RPGs, but I had planned to put some more time into Lego Batman 2 recently. Unfortunately, it’s been tempermental, and I’m not sure how to deal with this particular problem.

I was in an early mission — the multi-villain maze directly after you meet Superman — and I was getting a bit tired. So I shut it off, figuring I would have to repeat some of the mission but needing to get some sleep. The next day I turned it back on and simply couldn’t find the mission start point. I was sure the prior night I had accessed it from the computer in the Batcave, but I pinged all over the map and didn’t see any mission prompt. As far as I can tell, I’ve run into some kind of error, but it’s entirely possible that I’m forgetting some crucial step in triggering the mission since I was tired to begin with. If anyone else knows what to do, or has run into a similar problem, lil help?

Bryan suggested he should call me Bane.

My six-year anniversary is this weekend, and since we bought a house we’re going for a cheaper option. Instead of going on a trip for our anniversary as per usual, we’re just trying some different (pricier) restaurants in the area. Sort of a restaurant tour. Luckily this happens to coincide with restaurant week, so a few of them are offering discounts anyway. Tonight was the first such adventure; I might feel inclined to compare and contrast once I’m finished with all of them.

  • OnLive seems like a good deal for OUYA, but I’m not very impressed by the mock-ups of the box or controller. The handles look a bit uncomfortable, and just in general they both have a brushed metal look that seems out of fashion. I know it’s just basically a sketch, but still.
  • I hadn’t heard much about Retro/Grade, but it looks like a pretty nifty concept. I never had much skill for console rhythm games, though.
  • This Penny Arcade Adventures update sounds cool, but more than anything I want more battles. The combat puzzles in that game were just flat-out fantastic. Removing the random battles and level grinding meant that you knew every battle was possible to complete, you just had to find the right strategy.