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inFamous 2 Delivers on its Predecessor’s Promises (Largely-Spoiler-Free)

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inFamous 2 Delivers on its Predecessor’s Promises (Largely-Spoiler-Free)

inFamous 2 is, like the first game, one of the best arguments that sandbox games can be more than crime sprees or player sociopathy for laughs.

Had the game been precisely what it seems to be for around three quarters of the playtime, inFamous 2 would still easily merit every bit of admiration its predecessor earned.  But, as always, there’s more to it than meets the eye. By the end, players will understand precisely why the villain of the first game felt Cole MacGrath needed to be tough enough to make impossible choices.

It’s some time after the first game, and our favorite gravely-voice electrokinetic (now having acquired a mildly Southern accent) is scrambling around trying to find any power boost he can find in preparation to face his foretold nemesis, the apocalyptic Conduit (AKA “superpowered mutant”) known as the Beast. Except, wait, he’s shown up early! There goes New York Empire City.

Cole and his friends, repentant goofball Zeke and chilly (ultimately in more ways than one) NSA agent Kuo, flees down south to New Orleans Marais. Here in the flooded town (having never been cleaned up properly in the inFamous-verse), Cole hopes to find a means to boost his powers and recovery from his unceremonious drubbing in time to stop the Beast before all is lost. But the city is under de-facto fascist rule courtesy of Bertrand, a Southern-fried politician in the midst of a witch hunt against all Conduits (whether activated or latent) as abominations against God,  drawing support from his efforts against a siege of feral swamp monsters.

Meanwhile, the Beast carves a path of devastation down the coastline, utterly unstoppable, the pause screen helpfully reminding you how many miles he’s got to go for a rematch. Better hurry up.

(This article is a spoilers-free review of the game as a whole; stay tuned for a spoiler-heavy discussion of the game’s unusual narrative merits.)

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Why The Kinect Isn’t Innovation

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Why The Kinect Isn’t Innovation

It’s the Kinect’s first anniversary, and doesn’t Microsoft want you to know it.

Our favorite mummery-based-interface device was undoubtedly front and center at Microsoft’s E3 booth; ensconced in its own private booths and orbited by a constellation of lesser stars. (You know, the AAA titles and the best of the Xbox Live aimed at those of us whose reaction to a Fable rail shooter was polite bewilderment.)  Then there was the press conference, which may as well have been headlined: “Microsoft Changes Name to Kinectosoft Inc., Makes Kinect Ownership Mandatory.”

Sure, there were mentions of other titles, some remarkably promising (Tomb Raider origin story, anyone?) but Microsoft even felt the need to couple Mass Effect 3, a title which should merit a presentation all on its lonesome, with highly-publicized Kinect functionality that amounted to “shout at the screen and weird your roommates out late at night.” And that’s saying nothing of the new-and-trumpeted interface for the 360’s new television support.

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[E3 2011] Elder Scrolls: Skyrim gameplay demo

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[E3 2011] Elder Scrolls: Skyrim gameplay demo

Bethesda has recently displayed a gameplay demo for their upcoming RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The demo’s showing off a number of features, including a positively gorgeous engine and world design, dual-wield controls allowing the player to manipulate spells or weapons in either hand, and wandering, apparently unscripted and unpredictable dragon encounters. The demo video also features an informative inteview.

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Lawful Good: Altruism through duty

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Lawful Good: Altruism through duty

In the forgotten past (which is to say, February), my esteemed colleague Bob wrote an impassioned piece in support of Chaotic Good. He hailed Chaotic Good as the least selfish and most human of the altruistic alignments, contrasted against its imperious and robotic Lawful counterpart.

Now, Lawful Good has something of a reputation. The alignment is infamous for being a killjoy — the law-abiding stick in the mud with delusions of authority trying to impose their rules on a party of (loosely) altruistic brigands. Nobody likes a moral busybody telling them what to do, and most D&D players resent the implicit, self-proclaimed position of the LG character (often a paladin or cleric, but not always) as the voice of Authority, rarely a friend to the adventuring party.

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Role-playing is not stat-grinding

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Role-playing is not stat-grinding

The role-playing genre has begun to stagnate.

It’s hardly crippled. Some giants still garner worldwide attention, such as the Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Fallout franchises. Even after the massive spectacle of genre excess that was Final Fantasy XIII, people still anticipate the next title. But these and lesser-known RPGs are islands in a teeming sea of shooters and action titles, often on the verge of being swamped.

And yet “RPG elements” have proliferated to the point of an industry standard. Most games include at least a token narrative executed with varying degrees of proficiency. Many also include some form of level-based advancement, perks, and/or equipment. Some even include the dreaded moral choice system. In a very real sense, the original niche of role-playing games has become the dominant paradigm.

Yet role-playing games, particularly “classic” role-playing games, continue to define themselves by rigid accordance to traditional mechanics. This conservatism probably represents the greatest handicap to the genre. Just as other games have begun to adopt “RPG elements,” perhaps it’s time for RPGs and their fans to seriously consider abandoning some of their own.

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Cause of PSN outage remains disputed after six days

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Cause of PSN outage remains disputed after six days

Six days into the ongoing outages on the Playstation Network, the exact cause of the outage remains in dispute, and no one knows precisely when PSN will get back online.

Sony spokesperson Satoshi Fukuoka has blamed an “external intrusion” into its system and announced that a “thorough investigation” was ongoing.

While Sony pins the blame on unspecified outside hackers, not everyone believes it.

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In Defense of Quicktime Events

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In Defense of Quicktime Events

Apologies for my recent silences, ladies and gentlemen. But have no fear, because it’s Pontification Hat time again! This time, rather than attacking a tired-out trope, the topic is instead the defense of a device that’s become an industry standard, even in the face of severe criticism.

I speak, of course, of the dreaded quick-time event, that now all-but-ubiquitous gameplay device where a cutscene can only be completed with the right button combination.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “James!” you protest, “aren’t quick-time events a cheap gimmick thrown in by unimaginative developers to cash in on a fad? What can they offer that the core gameplay shouldn’t already be providing, except for the chance to trip the player up with gruesome consequences for missing the specific button prompt?”

It’s manifestly obvious quick-time events are sometimes inserted when there’s no earthly reason for them to be present. It’s also obvious that there are many examples of bad QTEs, where the player’s survival depends on hitting the right randomized button at a given moment. But criticism of execution isn’t the same as criticism of concept.

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