Sunday, August 30, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Will and I finished Arkham Asylum tonight (well, finished is a relative term. There are still Riddler secrets to discover and challenges to complete, but we stumbled upon the final boss encounter kind of on accident).

This is really a fantastic game! It is well polished and a lot of fun, and it really leverages its IP to make the gameplay suit the story. Spiderman games, for example, mostly feel like "GTA except you're Spiderman," to me, but this game was very well matched to the Batman franchise. I'll rattle off a few of my favorite things...

1) The property itself. This game combines the wonderful storytelling of the animated series (along with most of the voice cast) with the dark, violent world that the new movies portray so well. It uses the lore from the comics as a pillar, I think, on which the whole story is rooted. You can see influences from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the technology (like Batman's detective cowl vision) as well as in the musical score. And there are even homages here and there to the Burton films. Basically, the game pulls from just about everything the entire Batman franchise has to offer, and ties it all together really well (a complicated task, considering the multitude of sources). Everything in the game feels like it belongs in the world.

2) The freedom in gameplay. I really feel like this game gives a lot of freedom for the player to approach situations in different ways. The custom upgrade unlocks really help with this, since you can sort of focus on your own play style when choosing what to unlock. This was really fun when playing with Will (we traded off here and there) - I really enjoyed stealthing and setting traps and sneaking about, but Will is a better brawler overall. As far as the overarching gameplay, I felt like there was a great balance between the objective-driven story and the opportunities to explore (and find all those Riddler challenges - they can be a little addictive, I'm not gonna lie)

3) The setting of Arkham Island. I'm really glad that they limited the play space just to Arkham, because I feel like it helped give the world a grander sense of scale. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but if they'd had the game such that you could go all over Gotham city, it would inevitably feel shrunken down. They were able to stick to Arkham and still get a fantastic variety in play spaces; I think it was very cleverly done.

4) The Scarecrow moments. OMFG, Scarecrow gives me nightmares.

Well done, Batman! You were made into a great game. And well done Rocksteady Studios! May you reap in the many rewards you deserve from the experience you created.

I'd say anyone should give this game a shot, Batman fan or no, but some of you in particular would really love it (I'm lookin at you, Ken).

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Okay, see, this is what happens when Josh points out to me that the paint buckets in Half Life 2 splatter paint on impact...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What It Is: Part 1

Jesse gave me a book called What It Is by Lynda Barry, as a spontaneous gift. He said that reading it felt like talking to me, and I can see that, because for me reading it feels like being inside of my brain. It's the sort of book I'll have to read twice: Once to absorb it all, and the second time to put into practice the questions and exercises.

There is a part that touches on things we wish we could do, often as children, wishing we could draw, or sing, or dance, or write stories, or act, and so on. Barry questions the reader, "Do you wish you could draw? What do you think it would be like?" Similarly, what do you imagine being able to sing would feel like? I answered along as I read through, and noticed a similarity that I hadn't before.

"I would feel free," I thought. I think that being able to sing, or to dance, would make me feel a certain, unique freedom. I think that many people who wish they could draw imagine that it would feel the same way. Isn't that interesting? What's that all about?

I remember riding on the ACTS bus with Monica Hardin as a sophomore in high school, and we would badger her to sing for us. I remember thinking, "if I could sing like that, I would sing all the time!" I also remember stopping suddenly after that thought, and remembering all the times people had complimented my drawing, saying "if I could draw like that, I would draw all the time!" Interesting.

There seemed to be a disparity in the reality (my being able to draw already) and the perception of what it must be like to be able to (probably similar to my perception of what it would be like to sing). I think it's similar to the idea of not being able to fly. We often wish we could fly, and dream about it, and yearn for it, but I think it's important that we can't. The feeling of yearning is an experience in and of itself that can be appreciated and taken for granted. If we COULD fly, it would mean something different to us.

I feel like I'm scratching the service on some insight or another, and that there is deeper digging to do. I haven't pieced all these thoughts together quite yet, but I have them all in the same net.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crawfish and other fun

Today was a fantastically social day, by my standards, seeing as I normally spend my weekends napping. Rob and I and some others were commenting about how the older ETC alums know very little of the current first-years (or rising second-years at this point), so we decided to organize a brunch for the LA alums and students who were interning in the city this summer.

A healthy crowd turned up, and a fun time was had by all mingling and chatting and such. I got a really tasty drink, which was essentially water infused with lemons, oranges, and cucumbers, with a large amount of each floating about in it. It was cheap and refreshing, and I'd like to attempt making some myself at some point.

After the ETC Brunch, Ben and I headed south for the Long Beach Crawfish Festival, which is supposedly the largest festival of its kind out of New Orleans. The buzz had been spread around Insomniac about the event, and we were all for it. I'm certainly glad I went, for the crawfish were DELICIOUS. They scooped up a giant pile of steamed crawfish onto my platter, along with some red potatoes and corn, and it was all seasoned very well. I also picked up a plate of jambalaya from another booth, and it too was fantastically made.

We sat down in the shade with a multitude of other people and listened to some great live Cajun music, including one band featuring a washboard played with spoons. Fantastic! The atmosphere was great all around, as there were tons of people decked out in fancy hats, dresses, and parasols (much to my delight, as I was carrying my own). Everyone was having a great time, and I couldn't help but snap up some photos of people dancing and enjoying themselves.

After our crawfish feast, we met up with Josue, who lives in the area, along with his wife and friend, and went to an arcade. Normally I am not one to pass up on playing arcade games, but today I was content to watch Josue and his amazing skills at the old school Star Wars game, as well as some crazy sword game on which he got the high score for the day (some other girl was doing quite well playing after us, and Josue eyed her intently, thinking he may have to defend his sword game title, but she only got 2nd place. Fortunate enough, as we may have been there all day, otherwise).

We parted ways at last and Ben and I returned to Burbank, where I was quick to catch a nap upon arriving home. Today was a delicious adventure, for sure. I think I'm going to have to make a pot of shrimp creole before too long.

Fat Princess

So I downloaded Fat Princess tonight and gave it a whirl, and it had its pros and cons.

Overall I'd say it was enjoyable to play, especially since Josh and I worked out a system for playing through the single player story. I really enjoyed resource collecting as a worker, and he enjoyed fightin, so I'd resource it up in the beginning of the battle and upgrade the units, and he'd do the fighting necessary to finish it off. It worked out splendidly and was quite fun!

There are some things about the game that are very hard, as though they didn't get enough noob-testing in. We gave up on the lava level after trying again and again to make some headway and failing each time. I feel like it's the kind of game which, especially in online play, can end up being like old school Alterac Valley, in an endless stalemate. Though, even in the long games where little was made towards the end goal, I still noticed a lot of little gains and advances and retreats going on throughout, so that was pretty cool.

I was actually surprised at how little the Fat Princess gag actually comes into play, as most of the time is spent as different units - gathering resources, capturing holds, killin dudes and whatnot. The time for actually capturing the princess seems very short and swift, regardless of how many people it takes to carry her. It didn't feel like the focus of the game, but I guess the gimmick helped sell it a lot more than a generic capture the flag theme.

Anyway, I loved the ease with which you could change units, and the theme of putting on a new hat makes you a new unit was delightful. I also loved that each unit is rewarded with points for doing its job, so the worker is rewarded for cutting down trees and mining ore. It helps make those players feel valuable and rewarded.

In the end, I feel like I would like to finish the story mode for this, and like it's the sort of game I may drop into online play for now and again. Once you understand all the units, it's easy to pick up and get going, in a very "Castle Crashers" sort of way. I'd say it's worth a try for sure.