Friday, May 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad (Ass), and the Ugly

I've been a fan of Rockstar games for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed Max Paine (one of the few PC games at that time that I played through to the end--ignoring family that had come to visit during Christmas). But what really got me hooked was when I picked up GTA: Vice City back in the summer of 2003 for the PC. The sandbox feel, the music, the missions, the gritty story with lots of dark humor. This was my type of game.

GTA San Andreas really expanded on the notions that I loved in Vice City, with three distinct cities to unlock and explore. The sheer size of the state of San Andreas was mind boggling but awesome. There were many nights where I'd simply get into a car and drive, just to find random things to jump off of and listen to the fantastic variety of music.

GTA 4 came out 2 years ago and I was again drawn back into the new world that had been created. So much time was spent re-creating a living breathing video game version of New York City, that you couldn't help but want to spend time just messing around with all of the various modes of transport. Car, truck, motorcycle, helicopter and to even some extent subway cars. The city was vast and ripe for exploring and exploiting. I've played through the game two times (the first time I played through without trophies and a second time more recently to try and earn what I could before the next big Rockstar title would consume my play time).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Big Planet 2 announced!

I have been getting back into the groove of Little Big Planet. Recently I have created a new level that recreates the events from Fallout 3 that earn you the gold trophy "The Bigger They Are..." where you have to kill 4 Super Mutant Behemoths.

This morning Media Molecule has released the trailer for Little Big Planet 2.

After playing so many hours of the original, I can't help be be excited for this new sequel. The video says that all of the original user created levels work with the new one. That is good news.

Personally I'm more curious to see how much more they have put into the creation tutorial side of things. While there are plenty of user forums and home made videos giving explanations on how to create the more complex stuff, I can't help but wonder how much Media Molecule will add of their own.

The video also highlights how users can create whole stories. The original Little Big Planet tried to do this with the Community Key that you can create and add to each level. My experience with this though is that user generated levels tended to lump all of their keys in at once instead of stringing levels along. Maybe this new implementation will make that more intuitive.

One of the best "upgrades" to come to Little Big Planet is the ability to see each created level in it's own webpage. The ability to view information about levels while away from the PS3 and add them to your own queue to play at a later date is a huge success. One of the biggest disadvantages to the current Little Big Planet is the fact that once you create a level you are at the whim of the community to find the level in game. Sure you can promote the title on forums etc, but the ability to link to each level individually is probably the best thing that could happen to user created content in this game. Hopefully the initial deployment of this infrastructure doesn't buckle as soon as the new game is released and everyone rushes at once to see their own levels on line.

I'm sure that more of this game will be revealed at E3 next month. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 7, 2010

And now for something completely different

As some of you readers know I used to work for Barnes and Noble.  You could even say that was my first career.  Starting my way in the company as a receiver for the Evanston, IL store, moved to the Grosse Pointe, MI store, transferred to the Scottsdale, AZ store and then eventually back to the Grosse Pointe store.  In each store and throughout the years I held several different jobs titles.  Receiver (or as some have likened it, the SSRD--Supervisor of Shipping and Receiving Department), department lead for Religion, Art, Travel, Business, and Computers, lead cashier (such a horrid job) and then my final role, Magazine lead.  The last role was great.  Each day was like Christmas.  New boxes of magazines to open and sort and put out onto the shelves, old ones to strip and count and send back.  My own little ecosystem of magazines.  Stuff you'd never think was out there would end up in a box for me to put on the shelf.  With all the love I had for the job I could never find enough time to read the stuff I wanted to read.

I'm a gamer so of course I'd read through a ton of gaming mags.  I love movies, so I'd also dedicate some time to a handful of movie magazines that weren't Entertainment Weekly or Premiere.  I'd even spend some time with the guilty pleasure of Maxim or FHM (for the articles of course).  The one type of magazine that always made my list of intended reading was fiction.  That was always the complaint while working at the Pit--er Barnes and Noble.  So much to read and so little time to read it.  While I've read some of the bigger names that fall into the genre of fantasy and science fiction, I know that I'm also not the most well read.  I've read some of the greater works, Tolkien, Clarke, Moorecock, Zahn and in the last few years Martin's Song of Fire and Ice.  

Fiction in a magazine always felt like a chore or an after thought for some reason.  Why read a magazine for a story when I had literally thousands of books at my disposal?  Perhaps it was the company layout I had to follow that sort of helped to cement that idea as well, with the fiction magazines relegated to the smallest, lowest, hardest to access section in the whole Periodicals display.  One title that always struck me as a something I should read but never got around to reading was Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Well after three years of no longer working for at Barnes and Noble, I finally have had my opportunity to read the magazine.  Hilary Goldstein from IGN had posted on Facebook that he was going to have one of his stories published and the magazine was offering free advance copies for those who wanted to read and then write about it.  As the folks who read my blog with any regularity know (and those who know me personally) I'm not the fastest reader (or rather I find other things to do before I allow myself time to read).  I received the May/June issue and told myself that I needed to read as much as I could right away or I'd never get around to finishing it. Well I've read several of the stories and I'm now finally get around to writing about them.  Since I heard about the offer from Goldstein I flipped through the magazine to read his story first.

As his comment on Facebook stated, "Spoilers: Snow White has an orgasm. How can you pass that up?" I was intrigued.  "Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves" is a new spin on Snow White running from the huntsman tasked with killing her, and her finding and living with seven dwarves.  When I read Maguire's Wicked I found that book to be a very interesting new take on the whole Oz story but my biggest problem with Maguire's retelling was a lack of humor.  Because of that lack of humor I have given up on wanting to read any of Maguire's other fairy tale re-imagings (included Mirror Mirror).  That said, Goldstein nails the humor.  Dark humor pervades the story.  The line "If ever a bond between girl and dwarf could be forged, it was with moderate nudity" got me chuckling in the dark way that the rest of story unfolds.  The dwarves are not the cute Disney fluff, rather they are ugly, grimy, untrusting souls bent on one task that they refuse to explain to Snow.  Goldstein creates a fantastically morbid new view of the dwarves and Snow White.  As Snow begins to clean and pick up after the dwarves she finds that each dwarf has a locked chest in front of their beds.  Snow is drawn to one in particular and is tantalized by whispers and sensations emanating from the chest.  The dwarves rush in to find Snow mounted over the particular chest in the throws of ecstasy in what could be described as her first introduction to the equivalent of an archaic Sybian (if you want to know what that is, look it up yourself).

Snow quickly realizes that each chest contains the demon embodiment of the original Seven Deadly sins.  Through confrontation between Snow and the lead dwarf Unus, Goldstein weaves a wonderful explanation of vanity and hubris between human and dwarven kind.  With each section in the tale, Goldstein unveils more and more details to deliver a thought provoking tale on the origins of the seven deadly sins.  My only complaint is the world that Goldstein creates is so rich but so tightly focused on Snow and the dwarves that I want to see more in additional tales.

Another favorite story in the May/June issue "Why That Crazy Old Lady Goes Up the Mountain" by Michael Libling.  Libling crafts a tale of God and reliving past lives in such an amazing world.  His characters Sarah and Kevin clash and love at the same time in such a great way as they discover their own pasts.  The key to the story however is how Libling kills God and puts such a beautiful burden on Kevin and his family.  The abilty to obsorb souls that are damned to Earth after God has died  and are drawn to the burial ground is pure magic.  As Sarah learns from Kevin how he knows everything about her past, she discovers her own addiction to allowing the souls to overtake herself to relive other lives.  The conceit of God dying and trapping souls would only go so far without the danger that Libling deftly weaves in between the tale of Sarah and Kevin.  Sarah is first depicted as an unobtainable, cold young woman who dealing with the death of both parents, but by the end of the tale, I felt love and sorrow for all that she learns and endures.  Her eye opening worldly embrace of Kevin in such a short time is believable and works on levels of joy and sadness when the danger of their lives being torn apart becomes real.  Libling writes a wonderfully magical tale that, like Goldstein, makes me wish they would write more in their respective worlds.  

But that is what is so magical about the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Each story is so completely realized in such a focused tale that they are perfect for the format of the magazine.  My only regret is not reading the magazine sooner.  Will I be picking up future issues?  You bet.  Do yourself a favor and go to your favorite bookshop now and get the latest issue.  Read it and if you think I'm wrong, let me know.