Word Games

I’ve been playing Scrabble DS a lot lately. The AI is ridiculous, so it is really improving my game. Then, this article came by me today about how a father was playing the game with his daughter and the word “Lesbo” came up in the anagrams minigame. (Tangent – Why is it always the Europeans that are shocked, I say, shocked when certain words come up in their video games?) I totally understand why the dad wouldn’t want his daughter to see the word – uncomfortable questions and all.

Where I come in is the quote from “Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association spokesman PA MagLochlainn” (By the way, here’s a picture of the chap. Amazing what a Google search can pull up sometimes.) He says:

I am not in the least bit surprised it is included because the young men who design these games are not taught by schools that these words can be used as a form of homophobic bullying.

So, in a press statement, Mr. MagLochlainn, you stereotype game designers as uneducated, homophobic young men? This is a derogatory stereotype that is absolutely uncalled for, especially given that it isn’t the game designers fault that the word is actually included in the Official Scrabble Dictionary. The OSD has over a quarter million entries. The fact that a single word that is seen as derogatory got through their filter is clearly a mistake, one that was assuredly done without ill intent.

The game design community and the Ubisoft team should demand an apology from Mr. MagLochlainn. But, please, use small words, our schools weren’t the best.

Gleaning the 360

Skate is the first game in what must be fifteen years where I have gotten the irrational throw-the-control-down-in-agony-because-its-the-damn-controller’s-fault psychosis. It’s toeing that line between challenging and bad. It is a manic depressive game – the ups are fantastic, but the lows are abysmal.

Your foes are dastardly. Take for instance, The Curb. The Curb may go down as one of the most frustrating video game villains in history. Let’s say you wipe out on or near a curb (as happens often) and when you restart you want to get up onto the curb to explore greener pastures. Good luck. Ollie up and you will likely be stuck on a grind on said curb. Boost and ollie and you will likely end up faceplanting into the ground and starting over. If only mankind could somehow engineer a way to get one’s self over a three inch lip in the ground without having to take a dramatic moving start.

And don’t get me started on The Steps. Seriously, guys? I know you didn’t want to fucking Lara Croft your way around town like you did in THUG, but there’s a difference between scaling a building and scaling five steps.

The difficulty curve starts you at “Do an ollie. Ok? Good. Now hug a kitten.” and then roughly forty seconds later you need to do a 720 FS Pop Shuvit lateral awesome fakey thingy while performing dental surgery. I am very sensitive to difficulty curve changes in games. I think I notice them more than others. It seems like little effort was put into assisting the player, if the curve jumps too quickly. I’ve done the “Manny Madness” photo challenge* probably three hundred times. At no point did the game offer any assistance whatsoever. I don’t expect hand holding, but most folks would give up at this point which is the death knell for a game designer. I think they made a design decision that basically says: “Well, they can always skate around the city if they get too frustrated.” It’s not a good response.

* In this photo challenge, you must jump onto a box, ride a manual into another jump with you must land and ride manual and then ride off the other side of the box. For a photo. A still image. Tell you what, muchacho, why don’t I get up on that box and pose in a manual and then we can go get something to drink, eh?

The citizens of San Vanelona are absolute nutters. If they are outside of a car, they have no sense of self-preservation. You can be screaming down a hill and they can look at you the entire time and they will still make an effort to get in your way. Just when you think you finally hit that fourteenth grind on Challenge #7000, some doofus will come wandering around aimlessly, with no goal in sight other than to get in your way. “Duhh, what’s that guy doing sliding down those twelve rails? Maybe I’ll stay and watch at the bottom of this rail!”

This is in clear counterpoint to the motorists of San Vanelona. Where most drivers will try to avoid getting into pedestrian accidents, these folks all have somewhere VERY IMPORTANT TO BE. You can be standing by a curb, lamenting the fact that you will never make your way up to the sidewalk and some car will come screaming by and give you twenty seven compound fractures instead of making a ten degree turn to avoid a wreck.

Last, but not least, I had a crash bug in one of the sponsorship challenges. I completed it three times, but it would crash each time I completed, but before the autosave. After I picked a sponsor, it seemed I could go back and complete it, which seems sort of counterintuitive.

And why is there no Prima strategy guide for this? I could use a reference that shows me the key areas in the city to try certain videos and strategies on how to defeat certain set pieces. Instead, nothing. Prima makes guides for every retarded licensed linear shoot-fest that comes out, but when someone with an IQ above 90 wants their product, they shrug?

That said, there is plenty to like.

The control system makes sense. Although many tricks are very close together in their motions (which haunts you in S.K.A.T.E. minigames), the motions make intuitive sense and become second nature quickly, even if you are Tony Hawk native.

The opening cinematic is one of the most fun I have seen in any video game ever, let alone a semi-sports game.

The integration of web and game features is impressive. I can get lost watching other people’s clips for hours at a time.

The city’s architecture is widely varied. The city isn’t gigantic like in a GTA, but they make up for the lack of size by density of interesting elements. There are very few areas where I feel like the curb is the only skateworthy object within the block. Kudos to them on this.

God bless the session marker feature. In an open world skating game, this is probably the thing you want to be simple and solid above all else.

I wanted Skate to be a distraction until Halo 3 hits next week and it looks poised to do that. That is, if I don’t have a complete mental breakdown from frustration in the meanwhile. If anyone has any links to good strategy guides online besides GameFAQS.com. Let me know.

XBLA has Braid, Games Where You Shoot Things

So we finally will get to see if Braid can live up to the hype (“one of the greatest artistic statements ever made with any medium” – Arthouse Games) because it is coming to XBLA. I have a problem with pretentiousness, so I generally shy away from the big talkin’ indie game guys. And anyone that uses the term ‘ludology’. But I have heard many good things about Braid, so I plan on giving it a chance. And while he gives off the sanctimonious “indie” vibe, I really enjoyed his ‘Raspberry’ prototype and his discussion of his failed ‘Oracle Billiards’ prototype. I really and truly hope that he is an independent developer that talks a big talk and actually backs it up, rather than just riffing on nostalgic game ideals from the 70s/80s.

The aforementioned Arthouse preview said it stuttered on a 1.9ghz box, so I hope the optimizations have it chugging along on the 360. I’d hate to see it at less than 60hz. The concept is sound. I hope it is fun. The hype already earned Jon the 800 MS bux.

In addition to Braid, XBLA will be getting infuriating hardest-of-hardcore shooter Ikaruga, Ebay-favorite Rez (which looks very pretty) and Q’s other shooter: the alliterative Every Extend Extra Extreme. I’m curious of the last in that list, but I have played the first two and just don’t have that shmup-touch that folks need to really get in and enjoy the titles. I can admire their design from afar and think that they will be quality additions to XBLA as long as they don’t pierce the 800 point veil.

On top of that, there is the intriguing EXiT from Taito, the long awaited Castle Crashers and some shooter looking thing from Jamie Fristrom’s group called Schizoid. This is also in addition to the quality games we know are coming to XBLA such as Puzzle Quest.

I’m really and truly glad that the claim that MS had original content in the pipeline is coming true. Honestly, most of us out here expected retro ports (like the Wii has given us) and shovelware. The fact that there are reasons to buy a $400 system for some $10 games is remarkable.

In a related note: In my post-partem Bioshock depression I bought Paperboy on XBLA this past weekend. I completely forgot how addictive and difficult the game was and wondered aloud to my roommate how Midway hasn’t taken this coin-op license and burned it to the ground like they have with Gauntlet. GTA: San Andreas made riding bikes and breakin’ shit chic. As long as it had the ridiculous number of things to interact with that Paperboy did (What a busy neighborhood!), it would probably earn the $5 preorder.

Easy Access

I window shop home listings on various sites when I’m bored. I found this one on Craigslist, emphasis mine:

This home has everything new from wood floors to a new roof. A large kitchen with new cabinets and countertops and a new sink, stove and over range microwave. The full and half bathrom are completely new. Brand new A/C and Heat with all new duct work and R30 insulation in the attic. This home is on a qiuet street with a lake view. Low taxes make this home affordable. It is the perfect family home setting on a street with two dead ends.

Two dead ends? How do you get there? At least you’ll have privacy.