30.6.11

I have to add that, although it's possible that Dini's Peyton may have influenced my decision to spell my own character's name with an "e" when I found "Payton" on this Wikipedia list of unisex names, when, in Private Casebook she is suddenly always to be found with her hair over one eye, I did have a flashback to this.

Batman: Private Casebook - Paul Dini, Dustin Nguyen et al.

An eclectic collection of Batman stories that Dini manages to always make snappy and enjoyable, even where we're clearly only getting a fraction of a larger, more convoluted story. And the further development of his character Peyton Riley, I thought, worked particularly well.

And then there's Dustin Nguyen's art, which I love. In these stories he also seems to draw an unexpectedly handsome Bruce Wayne - a little touch that makes his playboy persona suddenly seem much more believable.

I am, at this point, pretty much just picking up all of Nguyen's art I can find in my local book and comic book shops, but I have to say that Paul Dini makes this whole book work well, art and writing both, even if the stories still feel a bit piecemeal.

28.6.11

The Four Stages Of, Y'Know

Researchin'.

Prototypin'

Plannin'.

About to make the leap to gettin' shit done.

I promised myself that whatever I did or didn't get done in the first half of the year, I'd spend the second half working on a particular project. And although I may have completed a little something in May, I've been trying to lay down the foundations of this bigger thing all the while.

So, as we approach July, I will hopefully be making a proper start on the return of a couple of characters we haven't seen in a while. As a build up, I may also try and release some spin off teasers and short stories - at least, once I feel I've got a real foothold on the thing.

Now, please pretend I didn't say anything...

24.6.11

19.6.11

Psychic Teddy Bear and Bass



Just stumbled across this recent-ish trailer for a Half Life 2 mod that blows anything from E3 out of the water. If the finished product has half the ambience of this video...

There's an official site for the thing here.

18.6.11

"So you're still carrying that army .45, Cole."


L.A. Noire is an Important Game. Not, I don't think, because it is itself a masterpiece (except in comparison to previous attempts to do the same thing), but because it points the way to masterpieces that may be made in the future. This is a game that succeeds through its writing, acting and (sometimes second-hand) plotting. The action sequences are often simply less fun than searching crime scenes and interviewing suspects - although I did find the foot chases uniformly thrilling.

It's telling, to me, that the game's biggest problems - a dearth of likeable characters, bystanders who repeat the same quips over and over, and a lack of actual noir-ish sensibility - are all issues with the execution of its story, rather than issues with the mechanics it uses to tell that story in interactive form in the first place. And I was surprised to discover that the last few cases actually fix those three flaws anyway, which makes their existence either more or less of a missed opportunity depending on how you look at it.

For his final assignment at the L.A.P.D., our anti-hero detective Cole Phelps is partnered with Herschel Biggs, nicely played Keith Szarabajka (previously best known for "assuming direct control" in Mass Effect 2). Biggs is the first person Phelps actually seems to almost warm to, even as our protagonist finally crosses the moral event horizon from rude to full fledged bastard - an event which unexpectedly introduces another likeable character and turns the game into a proper jeu noir.

I don't want to spoil anything, but after completing the last three cases I couldn't help but wonder why the game wasn't like that the whole way through. Which, perhaps, does do a disservice to how much I enjoyed the police procedural aspects that made up the meat of the game until that point, but should also speak of how it found something else to do that was arguably more organic and human.

L.A. Noire's other big problem is genre confusion. Not within the game, but within players' expectations. L.A. Noire is set in an impressively detailed recreation of a swathe of late 1940s Los Angeles. In the language of contemporary video games, this implies that it's an "open world game", where you can abandon your objectives and go find fun things to do elsewhere in the city. Which is unfortunate, because there is very little to do in L.A. Noire's city at all, outside of your current case.

It's difficult to judge whether this is a misstep, because the game benefits so much from having this fantastic setting, with huge scope for interesting places to investigate, and endless streets and alleyways through which to chase and tail suspects. If you can unlearn what you've learned about large areas modelled in recent video games (perhaps thinking back to the cities of Syndicate, probably the first game to do this), then the L.A. on show here will suck you in and dazzle you. On the other hand, if you can't help but think of this as an "open world", it will seem almost comically flat, empty and robotic.


Another thing that people might dislike about L.A. Noire but which I thought worked well, is the way you can bumble through cases without really trying. Even if you mess up, other opportunities present themselves, and someone will usually end up in the slammer, if not necessarily the right person. Those who need games to be challenges that must be surmounted through blood, sweat and tears will probably foam at the mouth over this, but I really like it, for two reasons.

Firstly, the most frustrating moment in an adventure game (of which, yes, this is one) is when the whole thing grinds to a halt because you can't solve this one puzzle. It's especially frustrating in a genre historically known for its stories and characters because life doesn't work that way. If you can't find a way to do this one little thing, you're not stuck trying to do it for the rest of your life. You find an alternative way to achieve your goal, or find another goal altogether. L.A. Noire tries to model this, with the proviso that if you can't do things the best way, you'll lose out on a full understanding of the case, and may not even get a conviction out of your arrest.

The second reason I'm fine with L.A. Noire doing this is because it has a little trick up its sleeve called the star rating. At the end of each case you get a stamp with stars on it numbering between one and five. The number of stars you are awarded is basically dependent on how good a detective you are: how many clues you find, how many lies you disprove, how much you don't drive like someone playing a video game (I have problems with that last metric). If you are the right kind of person, the satisfaction of getting five stars is beyond words - as is the shame of getting just one. Of the three cases where I got a one star rating, I replayed two of them immediately - and I'm really looking forward to replaying the remaining one after I've had a little break from 1940s detecting.

Perhaps, finally, L.A. Noire's problem is that it really is that important milestone game, trying to do things that haven't really been done this way before. Because of that, it doesn't know how best to signal its intentions, sowing seeds of confusion among players looking for familiar landmarks. It looks like an open world game, but it's not. It looks like a game about the One Good Cop defeating the bad guys, but it's not.

This is the surprisingly small and personal story of a self-righteous man trying to readjust to civilian life after experiencing traumatic events at war, and the surprisingly small and personal stories of the crimes he investigates as a police officer. In today's market of big budget games, this is unexpected and weird and inevitably not done as well as it could have been. But its success in the video game charts is hopefully a sign to publishers and developers that in this direction lies fertile ground.

16.6.11

Thursday Comic


Batgirl: Kicking Assassins - Andersen Gabrych, Alé Garza, Pop Mhan et al.

Sent by Batman to Gotham's neighbouring city of Blüdhaven, separated from her mentors and friends, Batgirl Cassandra Cain has to face up to some enormous challenges by herself. Yes, of course, there are the usual murderous psychopaths in strange costumes. But even worse for a girl raised from birth to be a merciless killer is the prospect of having to interact with other people at the local coffee shop...

Let me get this out of the way first: the worst thing about this book is the plotting. Maybe I didn't read it carefully enough, but a couple of times I stumbled over what looked to me like out-and-out plot holes. That doesn't matter, though. What Gabrych does do extremely well (aided by some bold artwork) is characterisation. Cassie treads that thin, but compelling and often unexpectedly cute line bordering damaged, dangerous and naive. Alfred is portrayed as protective of her, but confident in her abilities and never patronising. And Cassie's friendship with coffee shop owner Brenda is amusing and touching - the moment where Brenda realises Cassie is illiterate is probably the best in the book.

So, yeah, I really dug this thing, but it still has problems particular to superhero stuff. At one point I realised that something bad had happened to Cassie's close friend Stephanie Brown, so, to get the background, I Googled the answer. "Oh right," I discovered, "it was that." I mean, I knew about it, but how was I supposed to know that this book was from just after that event?

11.6.11

Germs!

I got them. Been wiped out for a few days now.

7.6.11

So, superhero comics.

I'll be the first to tell you that DC superhero comics have a problem. Plots spill over from one franchise to another, ostensibly to attract readers between books, but actually just making the stories inaccessible to newcomers and casual readers (of which I might be either the former or the latter); complex mythologies weigh down what should be punchy, action-packed stories; the periodicals take ages to be collected into incomplete, unnumbered books...

So yes, DC, looking to clear out the crap and focus on good, readable stories is exactly what you need to do to turn your fortunes around (especially compared to the kind of head-in-sand thinking you were engaging in a year ago).

But, for fuck's sake, you don't do it by destroying the best character development and backstory you have. Especially not while still leaving in a load of useless cruft.

You don't do it by taking pretty much the only consistently disabled superhero and subjecting her to the most tired and offensive disability trope in speculative fiction.

And most of all, damn it, you don't do it by getting rid of my favourite superhero. ;_;

5.6.11

The Reflexive Engine XI

[Chapter List]

Fission

The birds chirruped happily in the morning light, flitting from branch to branch and plucking cherries with their bony hands. Cathy lay against the tree's gnarled roots, chewing a straw and watching the activity above.

“What is it, Boyo?” she said, without lowering her gaze.

He approached her, cap in hand. “You should come, Cathy. We're in trouble.”

She considered a flippant response about how they were always in trouble, but something about his tone made her think again. “The egg?”

“Just come see.”

*

Joe stood by their wagon, hands on his hips. From beneath his straw hat, his cold blue eyes fixed on Cathy as she looked in the back.

Her first instinct was that they had been robbed. And then she started to understand. The floor of the wagon was littered with wood: axes without heads, knives without blades, muskets without barrels or locks or triggers. And behind all this, glinting in the light of the low sun, were not one, but two golden eggs.

“Now,” Joe said, running a hand over his grey stubble, “you've done a lot of good for this caravan, so I'll let you make the odd mistake. Fact is, we needed those tools and arms.”

“Right. We should keep metal away from it. I mean, them.”

“Tools are one thing, Cathy. Is it safe?”

“I... Yes, I...”

Joe sighed. “Cathy, here's what we're going to do. We're going to tell everyone you got rid of these eggs. And if you have any sense, we won't be lying.”

He pulled down the brim of his hat and walked away. The other people of the caravan glanced furtively at Cathy, trying not to meet her eye.

Boyo said, “It ate the tools.”

Cathy stared at the two golden eggs. “Right.”

“And made another one,” Boyo went on.

“Yeah. It must have.”

“Can it eat wood?”

Cathy closed up the back of the wagon, hiding the eggs from view. “I really, really hope not.”

1.6.11

"One way or another."



Just call me Hypey McHyperson.