child of eden

Few games have had as powerful a combination of sight, sound, and action as Rez, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s music-driven shooter, so when Mizuguchi demonstrated its spiritual successor at last year’s E3, I was sold on it instantly. Child of Eden plays much like a Rez sequel, but with its Kinect controls, it feels like a very different experience.

It’s a very pretty game, of course, and with a controller that would probably be about the end of it, but the Kinect controls not only work well, but they feel great. You sweep across the screen with your right hand to target groups of enemies, and then push your hand forward to fire; there’s also a rapid-fire attack that you can target with your left hand. Firing in time with the music gives you a scoring bonus, and with many sequences calling for rapid switches between the two firing modes, you start to feel like some bad-ass Jedi conductor.

Or rather, a bad-ass Jedi conductor that’s tripping balls.

The Kinect controls do suffer from the odd mis-detection, but once you get used to how it works it’s easy to keep them to a minimum. I had the best luck holding my right hand fairly close to my body, giving myself plenty of room to push it forward to fire. I also found it important to keep my inactive hand by my side, to prevent any accidental firing-mode switches. You can play it with a controller, and I’ve no doubt I’d score better that way, but it wouldn’t be as much fun.

Like Rez, Child of Eden isn’t a long game — the main game takes no more than 2-3 hours — but there’s a lot of fun to be had in replaying the levels for higher scores, or just for the experience. However, it does lacks some of the sense of mystery and wonder that came from playing Rez. Playing through Area 5 in Rez is a powerful, chilling, and uplifting experience, and while I’m glad Child of Eden doesn’t try to simply replicate that experience — you can’t go home again, as they say — it does feel like it’s missing some of Rez’s emotional highs.

Despite that, it’s still a brilliant game, and perhaps the best demonstration yet of Kinect’s ability to deliver precise, responsive controls.

waterfall rescue

My good friend Switchbreak produced another game recently — Waterfall Rescue, a Flash game with a great single-button control mechanic that’s a lot of fun to play. He wrote the game in 48 hours for Ludum Dare 20, which is a solo competition, but he spent some time after that working on the graphics, so I whipped up a quick theme tune for it, too.

You really should check out the game, but if you just want to check out my music, here it is: I’m feeling lazy, so I’m including this as an embedded player from my Bandcamp page instead of uploading it again and using my usual HTML5 player.

damn it feels good to be a (pc) gamer

It’s no secret that, when it comes to gaming, I prefer consoles to PCs — it’s just easier to have a nice black box under the TV that I can shove discs in to without too much hassle, especially when your PC isn’t running Windows anyway — but there’s still the occasional PC game (sometimes with a Linux port, no less) that I would like to run. Unfortunately, my PC hasn’t really been up to scratch, despite being mostly decent (with 4GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo E8300), but thanks to a few recent upgrades it’s once again capable of playing actual games.
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sketchbook: bouncy game music

Here’s another quick piece done quickly for a purpose: my friend Switchbreak spent the weekend developing a short Flash game for the So Many Rooms game jam, where each developer had 36 hours to produce a game that challenges the player to get from a starting door to an ending door, using whatever obstacles or gameplay mechanics they like. Switchbreak’s game is full of bouncing balls, so when he asked me to produce a quick tune for him, I made sure that it was appropriately bouncy.

This was whipped up on Sunday night mostly in Qtractor, with Hydrogen for the drums, and my Blofeld for all the other sounds. I’d normally record everything in to Ardour and mix it there, but I stayed in Qtractor for this one, and it did a fine job; I had no trouble replicating my usual trick of running the drums on to separate tracks so that I can apply individual effects to each, for instance. The result is a bit trite, but it’s fun, it loops pretty smoothly, and I think it suits the game well.

mp3 | vorbis | flac | 1:18

november games

I’m aware that all of these games came out in October. I’m playing them now, though! I can’t be bothered with proper reviews, so here are a few quick notes on each:

Costume Quest — this is Double Fine’s latest, and it’s exactly as funny as you’d expect. It’s basically a cross between Zelda-style questing and adventuring and JRPG-style turn-based battles, and while there’s nothing much new to speak of in terms of gameplay, it’s all executed well. The art direection really steals the show, though — the Halloween setting is super-cute, and the use of costumes to gain abilities add an extra layers of charm. I do wish it was voice-acted (I assume that budget constraints prevented that), and I thought the combat dragged a little toward the end, but it’s still a great little game.

Super Meat Boy — I haven’t played a tonne of this yet, but it’s already thrown me over a barrel and beat me senseless, and yet I keep coming back for more. This is simple, old-school, tough-as-nails 2D platforming at its best. It demands precision, and often rote memorisation, but the levels are so short (tens of seconds, usually) that it doesn’t take long to learn them, the penalty for death is light (just restart the leve), and the controls are not just solid, but forgiving. Dying never feels cheap, and finishing a tough level always feels like an accomplishment.

Rock Band 3 — this really deserves its own post, but since I’m too lazy to give it one, here it is! On one level, Rock Band 3 is the Rock Band 2 you always wanted to play, with a far more flexible and intuitive UI that makes it much easier for each player to manage their instruments and preferences. On another level, it’s an entirely new experience, with the addition of a “Pro” mode for drums, guitars, and the game’s new addition: keyboards. I’ve been having a tonne of fun with the keyboard, but the cost of instruments for the other Pro modes may be a bridge too far. RB3 draws a line in the sand for older content, too — older tracks don’t have keyboard parts, or Pro Guitar parts.

halo: reach

It’s almost uncool to admit it these days, but I’m quite a fan of the Halo games. I wasn’t always — in my earlier years I was quite the GameCube fanboy, so I hated Halo with a passion — but when I got my 360 I found the first two games on eBay and finally discovered what all the fuss was about. When Bungie announced that it was working on one last Halo game before partnering with the devil Activision, I hoped for something great, and I’m glad to say that Reach delivers; it may even be the finest of the Halo games.
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super mario galaxy 2

If you’re like me, the experience of playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 can be summed up by the words you’ll find yourself involuntarily muttering again and again:

“Haha, what? No way! That’s awesome!”

Following up Super Mario Galaxy was always going to be a hard task; it turned 20 years of platforming tradition on its head — sometimes literally — with its mind-bending, gravity-defying spherical worlds. Rather than trying to reinvent the genre once again, Nintendo has simply taken the shell of the original game and stuffed it to bursting point with an incredible wealth of crazy, inventive, and unique ideas.

It’s hard to understate just how imaginative this game is. Just about every time you enter one of the game’s dozens of levels, it throws some new gameplay mechanic or concept at you, and as soon as you’ve mastered that, you’re thrown off to the next level and the next crazy idea. Incredibly, with just a couple of exceptions — Spring Mario, which makes a (thankfully brief) return from the original, and some motion-controlled gliding levels — all of those ideas are not just brilliant, but brilliantly executed as well.

The result is, simply put, one of the finest, most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. If you’ve ever been a fan of platformers, you need to play this game.

the misadventures of p.b. winterbottom

Can you believe it’s been nearly a month since the last post I made that didn’t have an MP3 attached? I blame the convenience of Twitter, which lets me dispense with random thoughts and witticisms without all that harrowing long-form writing business. Nevertheless, I’m back, and with a perfect topic — a delicious little Xbox Live Arcade game called The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.

Winterbottom, as it will hereon be known, is a time-travelling puzzle platformer, so comparisons to Braid spring to mind immediately. Really, though, it’s more like The Incredible Machine games, or Bill’s Tomato Game, an old Amiga game that I’m sure no-one’s played. In Winterbottom, you record yourself performing actions, and then watch as clones of your character are brought to life to play through your recordings.

The aim is to collect pies — a very worthy goal — and there’s often a limited time that they must all be collected within, so completing a level often involves setting up complex, choreographed sequences, where clones run around flipping switches, jumping on levers, or even kicking the player or each other, so that you can get to every last pie in time.

Winterbottom started life as a student project at the University of Southern California, and it’s a perfect example of the kind of game that there’s now a place for in the market thanks to the likes of XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare. It’s 2D through-and-through, though like World of Goo and Braid it has a highly developed art-style, taking its black-and-white cues from early silent movies. The sound design is similarly silent-era, with honky-tonk piano tunes and few sound effects.

It’s definitely not as cerebral as Braid, and I don’t think it’s quite as fun as World of Goo, but it’s unique, it’s beautifully presented, and it’s refreshingly challenging — some of its levels are really quite taxing. Unless you’re easily frustrated by precision platforming, I’d highly recommend it.

new mario, new music

There’s an overwhelming number of new games coming out right now, but despite the pressures to buy Modern Warfare 2 or Borderlands, I caved in to my inner Nintendo fanboy and picked up New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Well, I’ll admit, Toys ‘R’ Us selling it for $70 helped. Either way, it’s time to talk Mario!

NSMBW, much like NSMB on the DS, is a straight-up 2D Mario game, with all the usual trimmings and a smattering of new stuff thrown in. After getting it home I quickly played through the first world-and-a-half, and while it was fun, it was tough, and actually frustrating in a way I hadn’t seen in a Mario game before. A lot of that frustration came from the D-pad on the Wiimote, which seemingly isn’t ideal for pushing diagonally.

Fortunately, NSMBW adds one significant spin to the Mario formula that elevates it far above its minor problems — four player co-op gameplay. Like MediaMolecule’s LittleBigPlanet, Mario’s latest lets four of you run across the map simultaneously, but the character interactions you can perform in the Mario universe multiply the hilarity and confusion of LittleBigPlanet ten-fold. It also avoids some of LittleBigPlanet’s issues by giving players a variety of options for getting through the tricky bits.

This game should come with a warning, though — do not play it with casual acquaintances, or people who might get on your nerves. With the thousands of ways you can end up killing, or just generally griefing, each other mid-game, you might never speak to them again.

In other news, I’ve been working on a new track; in fact, I think it’s nearly finished. Everything’s recorded, but the drums need more work to add a bit more variety. Once it’s finished I’ll be sure to post it!

october games

I have half a long post about Brütal Legend kicking around on my laptop hard drive, and I may finish that one day, but it’s getting less topical with each passing day so I’ve decided to sum it up quickly instead. I think it’s a great game despite a few flaws, and I think it’s well worth checking out, but opinions on it are definitely mixed. I loved the world, and the story and characters, and I enjoyed cruising around in my hot rod listening to rockin’ tunes while soaking in the environment and looking for hidden treasures. I even enjoyed the vaguely RTS-style battles that make up much of the campaign’s latter half, even if many others didn’t.

One thing I’ll definitely say, though, is the Brütal Legend does a terrible job of teaching you how to play. It spends a lot of time teaching you traditional RTS moves, such as issuing orders to individual squads of troops, when what you should really be doing is building an army and head-long in to the jaws of hell right along with it, using your weaponry, your killer guitar solos, and even your kick-ass hot rod to gain the advantage. Meanwhile, it completely neglects to teach you some very basic abilities, like how to find Motor Forges, the game’s shops.

Despite those problems, I absolutely loved the game, and no trip to work in the car is now complete without cranking up a few tracks from the game’s phenomenal soundtrack, which have conveniently found their way on to my MP3 player.

Speaking of driving, Forza 3 is out, and it’s exactly what I wanted (and expected): Forza 2 with more content. A number of the cars and tracks are carried over from Forza 2, but they all look better here, and the new tracks and cars are great, particularly the point-to-point rally tracks that run through Italian sea-side villas and winding Japanese mountainsides. The new career mode is also a nice addition, giving the game’s sheer bulk of content a nice, easy-to-navigate structure.

Gameplay-wise, it’s actually improved more than I expected. The physics model is very impressive, and the developers have done a great job of tweaking the controls on the standard 360 controller; so much so that I’m playing without the ABS and traction control assists that I always seemed to need in Forza 2. The other big feature is rewind, which lets you stop the game and rewind it at any point in the race, ostensibly to undo the kind of horrible mistake that would otherwise have you restarting the race. Maybe it dulls the game’s tension a touch, but so far, rewind has been a godsend for me.