Friday, May 27, 2011

Snapshot Friday!

After being lied to by two different Gamestop employees concerning purchasing a damn magazine within the hallowed halls of their strip mall temple, I finally was able to get my hands on the newest copy of Game Informer with Ezio gracing the cover. Sadly, my week has been so chock full of socializing and LA Noire-ing that I haven't had a chance to crack it's shiny cover open with a tiny pair of tweezers in a airless room while wearing hypoallergenic gloves. *wink* Luckily, a holiday weekend is looming on the horizon, with plenty of time to bring peace to Los Angeles and savor the juicy Revelations teasers. I am still resolved to stay positive about the future of the franchise-not reacting the same way I did last year concerning Brotherhood, all huffy and nervous about the quality of the single player content in relation to the multiplayer hype. Of course, you could say my sudden change of heart is due to the fact that they are showcasing the single player environment almost exclusively this time around, with only an aside here and there noting that the multiplayer will still be included. So...yeah, I won't lie, the focus on Ezio and Altair's ongoing plotline is pure seduction. I am just going to assume Ubisoft got my letter.

Truth be told, I am actually ridiculously excited about the new Assassin's Creed release. Instead of avoiding the press in fear of serious spoilage, I am going to spend the next six months wallowing in beautiful screenshots, listening to Ezio's gravely romance novel voice-overs, and joining my fellow fans on message boards and blog sites, tossing my two cents in when they speculate about how the franchise is going to pursue it's eventual progress toward present day building structures and weaponry.

And one day I am going to sit down and unravel an utterly compelling argument about how the series is really just an interactive love affair with art and architecture from ancient to modern times in Western Civilization. *double wink*

Friday, May 20, 2011

Screenshot Friday!

A disturbing image, to be sure, but one that represents just how fearless L.A. Noire is with its depictions of grisly murders. The one thing about attempting to achieve hyperrealism-it really has to sell itself as such, bloody noses, bruises and all. I peeked into the achievement list for the game and found that the highest rank you can aspire to is Arson Investigator, which is awesome. I like the homicide division because it seems like bloody weapons are everywhere, crimes of passion are frequent, and the suspects are all super shady, but all of these brutalized ladies are making me a tad sick to my stomach.

If they are going to base all of the characters on living, breathing people, I think I would prefer that they be completely unrecognizable instead of using semi-famous actors. It’s akin to watching an animated film where all of the actors voices are incredibly distinct and you can’t help but imagine them as their public persona instead of the character in which they are depicting. It sort of breaks the fourth wall. Plus I find myself being slightly disturbed by the fact that unless you are interrogating someone, people often forget to blink. In other games this minute detail would not matter in the slightest, but when you are sitting on your couch marveling at eyelashes and perfect half moon fingernails, the unblinking stares are unnerving.

Another thing that seems a little off is the head versus face shapes. Occasionally the neck movements of the perps during the investigation process slide the facial features into the shadows of their jaw lines. It appears almost as if the faces are being projected onto balloons, and any jerky tilts or shakes put them slightly off their perspective centers. Luckily, the lead detectives were built with sturdier stuff and this oddity only seems to occur on the mugs of the various suspects and interviewees. I know it seems like am being excessively nitpicky, but it's difficult to find the line between where the designers are attempting to achieve something cutting edge and where the whole uncanny valley theory comes into play. But it truly is remarkable, and I really don't want to take anything away from it's progressive and innovative qualities by being overly critical.

I have progressed to the point in the narrative where it’s not as obvious whether the people being interrogated are lying or telling the truth. Sometimes the evidence doesn’t place a flashing neon arrow in the air, and even when someone is lying they could be doing it with a calm and straight gaze. These little details are so compelling that you can’t help but end up in a case loop, telling yourself that just one more street job won’t take much time, no matter how long ago the sun went down and what time your alarm clock is set. I watched the moon make a full trek around the my living room from east to south last night before I reluctantly trudged off to bed.

And amazingly, sometime during the evening my index fingers and my brain made some sort of connection and I mastered steering the lugging vehicles in a straight line, as opposed to the erratic snake shapes I am famous for on the streets of Los Angeles. I may not be able to take a corner without crushing a mailbox or the occasional bench, but there appears to be hope for me yet.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Since birth, my life has pretty much revolved around airplanes. My father was a pilot, my mother is currently in aviation and I work in the travel industry with an emphasis on airlines. When I hear the roar of an jet engine flying overhead my first instinct is to shade my eyes and look up to determine what kind of craft is soaring above my head. I learned the phonetic alphabet about the same time I was stomping Goombas in the original Super Mario Bros, and can indicate where contrails stream across the heavens with merely a peripheral glance. I notice weather patterns in relation to air travel and can visualize the earth's topography as seen from 30,000 feet when I shut my eyes. I imagine that most of you can relate to this sentiment, replacing ‘airplanes’ with some other trade or passion, and if you are reading this, you may also have considered at some point the role that video games has played in the shaping of your life and how you see the world. I know that other than seeing the world through the eyes of a pilot, I occasionally find myself seeing the world through the eyes of a lifelong gamer.

I am not the biggest fan of racing games. With the exception of some wheel-gripping San Francisco Rush and OutRun marathons in the arcade with friends, I am a terrible virtual driver. I am the Queen of the Oversteer, thumbing the analog stick in a painfully erratic way, taking out lampposts and innocent citizens in my wake. Thank goodness L.A. Noire gives you the option to let your partner drive. Carmageddon was probably the last car-centric game I connected with, for obvious reasons. Yet I’ve watched plenty of friends cruise gracefully around the racetracks in Forza, and now can’t help but take on the mountainous roads surrounding Seattle with the panache of someone keen to reach the finish line. The feeling increases exponentially when I glimpse a sign warning of a tunnel ahead. Nothing makes me feel more like I am living within a racing game than the shadowy horseshoe entrance to a hollowed out mountainside. In my imagination I stomp on the gas and veer around the other cars in pure darkness, reckless and unafraid. In real life I take the curve into the tunnel smoothly and smile-I know when I get home I can potentially take that same turn via a controller and feel totally satisfied.

Anything underwater now reminds me instantly of Rapture. While cruising through a curio shop over the weekend we came across the old diving helmet pictured above and immediately thought of a loveable Big Daddy and I had to take a picture. I can't watch oceanic documentaries without foolishly squinting into the distance to perhaps get a glimpse of Andrew Ryan's dystopian city, and anytime I hear scratchy music from the 30s and 40s I am instantly transported. While watching movies set in the Italian countryside I study the architecture of the ancient buildings, searching for the handholds of an assassin (and often finding them!). I see a winking Bayonetta in every colorful butterfly wing. I often hear the trickle of music drifting down from hidden speakers in stores and restaurants and think of countless Guitar Hero and Rock Band sessions with friends and family. Being a video game enthusiast means that you see a score challenge in every highway sign reading “Warning: Speed Multipliers Ahead”. Reminders are everywhere, influencing the way I see the world in a giddy and enthusiastic way. It's my own personal fantasy aspects, come to life.

It’s been awhile since I last felt comfortable playing a Rockstar game. GTA games are always a little too thuggish and rarely hold my interest; and although I liked RDR conceptually, I couldn’t quite master the mechanics. I adore Bully, but have yet to hear whispers of the sequel that would make all of my mischievous high schooler dreams come true. But L.A. Noire is glorious. Nothing says modeled after real life like the beautiful expressions and movements strolling arrogantly around the City of Angels post WWII. I am absolutely fascinated with walking up and down stairs in the game because the movements are so realistic. It motivated me to put the same spring in my step while traversing my own stairway today. I am currently working on a case called "The Red Lipstick Murder", which is a copycat killing based on the infamous Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947. As you can see from the photo above, I had a morbid interest in the case a few years ago, so adding this little bit of history is downright captivating. I love mysteries, I love clue gathering, and I love seeing real life and video games connecting in such an obvious and captivating way.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Video Games in the Wild

Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to attend the concert at Chop Suey last weekend, but since he is a Seattle native, I am sure the occasion will arise again soon.

See more about The Icarus Kid and his Nintendo-inspired, 8-bit musical styling here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In the News...

I suppose it would be terribly irresponsible if I didn’t mention that Chrono Trigger has been slated for release on the Wii’s Virtual Console on Monday. If you’ve never played it, you should. I’m not too hot on JRPG’s anymore, but when I was a teenager Chrono Trigger was the dreamiest dream come true. I remember the awe I felt the first time I saw the shadow of a winged beast against a beautifully rendered moon, and can still hear the slight mew of Chrono’s kitty prowling around his bedroom before he heads to the fair. My relationship with Square (Enix) was glorious, and I played round after round of Chrono Trigger, FF3 (SNES) and FFVII. Sadly, the formula no longer holds my interest now that Western games have seduced me into their adventurous arms, but I am considering another go around purely for nostalgia’s sake.

Time travel? A chivalrous frog? Giant mechanical robots? The beat of a tribal drum? An awesomely nerdy girl named Lucca? What’s not to love?

Link to neat picture above, used without permission.

Recently, I’ve been having some trouble playing video games. This is a very discouraging sentiment, considering one of the things I have listed in my life bio under general interests is ‘video games’. March was a glorious month full of Dragon Aginess and I was extra cozy with my wicked skills to slice, dice, min & max-I wielded that dialogue wheel like a goddamn professional. But after my second playthrough, my gaming life turned dull and slightly lifeless. I was anticipating the glory of Portal brimming on the April horizon and mindlessly Clashed some Heroes in the lull between titles. The disc for the RDR add-on, Undead Nightmare, and Dead Space sat collecting dust on top of my entertainment center while I made some lame excuse why I couldn’t play them yet. The truth is, between all of my available titles, I had a hunch that I was going to be skirting the line where my aforementioned mad skills are not so proficient. Having previous given up RDR due to constantly being killed by wolves and my tendency to frantically shoot the tops of trees instead of bandits, my eyes were bigger than my thumbs when I acquired RDRUN, convincing myself that maybe the novelty of headshots and horror wouldn’t be as challenging. Yeah, I actually said that to myself – that headshots wouldn’t be as challenging. Hey, at least my faith in myself is resolute.

What happened first, however, was that I finally downloaded Swarm. And wow, I am really awful at playing Swarm. I know one of the objectives is to kill tiny swarmites in order to gain multipliers, but I’m so good at offing them that there are none left to progress. I made it to chapter two (!!) before I got a massive fail-ache (re: actual growling) and stopped. And all of my good intentions to go back in are merely that, intentions. Fail Diagnosis? Controller/button combination issues. Either the analog stick movement is very sensitive or I am guilty of over steering. I’m going to chalk it up to my thumbs.

Lucky for me, Portal was released soon after. I had high hopes, considering I have now mastered control over the first person aspect that used to plague me in the past, keeping me from progressing through the rooms because I was always too clumsy for the quicker portal changes. This time around I am having a ball, flinging portals with ease, dancing across faith plates, sliding effortlessly through orange goo and grabbing companion cubes in mid-air. The rooms, although puzzling to be sure, haven’t stumped me in the slightest…until Chapter 7. After flying through the previous few rooms with ease, I became stuck trying to puzzle out how to get a cube off of a hanging platform and my brain started to ache. I’ve felt this in the past, chalking it up to the motion sickness I tend to feel while playing, keeping me from going full on Marathon with Portals. But this is a much different feeling. Maybe it was a late night, maybe I am just not intelligent in the same way a chess player is, but I’m feeling a little glassy eyed. Unlike Swarm, I absolutely intend to head back in and solve it, but during these moments when I start to doubt my own abilities, I tend to get cranky and frustrated, turn off the game and sit on the couch with a petulant pout scrolled right across my little girl face. Fail diagnosis? Temple-throbbing idiocy. Curable, but the symptoms are sob worthy.

It was during one of these ‘Migraines with Portals’ moments that I decided to finally untuck RDRUN from its sleeve and give it a try. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you how that went, but I will say one thing: having a melee weapon (a torch) was delightful. I burninated dozens of zombies in town, then headed out into the big bad world to light up some more. But just as I started to think that everything was going to be okay, I ran into the woods…the darkest woods you’ve ever seen…and got caught in a hoard. My torch with its three hit per kill minimum was zero help (and I'm pretty sure I accidentally tried to light my horse on fire), so I died, respawned, charged back into the fray (or the empty forest, it was so ridiculously dark I am unsure) and got killed by a pouncing mountain lion. I give up. Red Dead Redemption and I are not fated to be. I tip my hat to its obvious beauty and grace, but officially bow out for good. Fail diagnosis? My utter inability to manage the mechanics. Once again, I don’t know why I thought adding zombies would make the game easier for me, but between the wolves, mountain lions, bears and dusty undead, the Wild West is nothing but a Jessica kill fest.

Back to Portal 2, where a giant ibuprofen should aid all that ails me. You can read a little bit about my experience with the co-op mode via an interview I did on's GeekDad blog here. I may not be a dad, or even a parent for that matter, but I'm awesome, so it counts.

Next, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, because sometimes a girl deserves a sure thing.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ezio's Sudden Trilogy

"Delivering the final chapter of the Ezio trilogy is an important milestone in the Assassin’s Creed franchise for us and for our fans," said Ubisoft Montreal creative director Alexandre Amancio, in the announcement. "Assassin's Creed Revelations includes lots of new features and some significant surprises. We can’t wait to show our fans what we have in store at E3 this year."

The Ezio Trilogy? Since when? Ah, but Hagia Sophia and the Fall of Constantinople? And Altair? I have to admit, the combination of all of these elements could be sublime. And the visual of Ezio heading toward his winter years paints quite a distinguished picture.

I resolve to stay positive about Revelations. I spent a lot of time wringing my hands about Brotherhood, and in the end it was all for naught because I was absolutely transformed by every bit of it's juicy goodness. That being said, just as I was unhappy about the aggressive campaign for the multiplayer last year, I am not fond of this new marketing machine that forces fans to spread the word via social networking sites like an unholy plague in order to savor small bits of information. I like the mystery element, but not the digital littering. Once again, I am less interested in the 'community' aspect and more in touch with my personal relationship with the final product.

In the end, however, I know that once I put the disc in my machine in November and see the DNA sequence striations blipping across the screen I will fall headfirst back in love. I think during the summer lull I will replay all three games in a row to immerse myself in the now rather sprawling storyline and character development. A new summer challenge awaits...