Let’s Give the Ninja Gaiden Games Some Love

Two ninja moonI fucking love ninja.

I grew up on the Ninja Turtles and cut my teeth on the “NES hard” Ninja Gaiden.

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My Favorite Game of All Time? Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

Ninja Gaiden II AshtarOn the surface, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is a fairly simplistic side-scroller. Your options involve running either left or right, jumping, climbing on walls, swinging your sword, and using whatever magic spell you happen to have equipped at the time. It’s not a lot to remember. That works to its benefit. [Read more...]

Once More with Meaning: Making Death Matter in Games

Death by BanksyThere will come a day when, for whatever reason, you will stop breathing, your heart will cease to beat, and your neurons will fire no longer.

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The Unspoken Dangers of Being a Street Fighter

Head Kick TaekwondoA few weeks ago, my best friend tested for his black belt in Taekwondo. On a whim, I asked his instructor if I could be his sparring partner for this.

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Divinity: Original Sin – What I Learned from a Good Deed Gone Awry

Divinity: Original Sin HeaderIt all began when arrived in the small town of Cyseal, passing its notable harbor by the necessity of proximity. As a notification popped up in my quest log, voices simultaneously shouted about a fire in the harbor, a ship set alight by the orc incursion I’d stalled on the beach mere moments before.

Feeling heroic, I thought to quell the blaze with a nearby water barrel. Unfortunately, when I tossed it on the ship, the contents of the barrel vaporized ineffectually above the flames.

Heroic hopes dashed, I felt I’d take things in the other direction and experiment, chucking an oil barrel on the burning vessel in the name of science. Could this plot-fire set off an explosion?

I never found out. One of the men at the harbor took umbrage to my manhandling of his property—the barrel, not the ship—and, after a few warnings that I ignored, went on the offensive along with everyone else gathered on the dock.

This lead to a few discoveries:

  • The townspeople were appropriately weak, their blows posing little threat.

  • An attempt to teleport-drop the oil barrel on top of them, in hopes of it exploding, instead resulted in a dock slick with oil.

  • Oil can totally be lit on fire.

  • Fire burns townspeople to a nice crisp.

  • The turn-based combat system, while terrific in small encounters, drags on in larger battles.

Townspeople be dead

The horrific aftermath

Only after I’d laid waste to the innocent townsfolk did I remember I’d retrieved a scroll of rain earlier in my adventure. I cast it immediately, putting out the burning ship with nary a fuss.

Whoops.

Interestingly, the town’s legionnaires seemed wholly unaffected by my violent rampage, with no one so much as wagging their finger at my Source hunters.

This incident serves as a solid illustration of my overall experience with Divinity: Original Sin thus far. Its morality is fluid, its combat engaging in small doses, and there’s an undercurrent of quirkiness that seems to run counter to the seriousness of the adventure.

Divinity: Original Sin Cyseal Cattle

To wit, this is Bill. Bill the bull. He stands next to Bull. Also a bull.

You’re in town to solve a murder, after all. And combat an undead plague. Perhaps fight off an orc invasion? Despite this cavalcade of responsibility, dialogue is rarely dry and serious, and each named character you address is flooding with personality. This is a game where characters can be smarmy, delusional, self-absorbed, grandiose, skittish, boorish, or illiterate, and rarely do they feel one-dimensional.

Even your Source hunters have personality to spare, and you get to decide what that entails. “Co-op conversations”, discussions between the two leads on their goings on, build character and have a measurable, statistical effect on their personalities. They can even argue and disagree, attempting to override one another on points of contention. This presumably has a pronounced effect on online play, though that has yet to be implemented in the game’s current alpha state.

The Load Screen That Never Ends

Seriously. You’ll be seeing a lot of this

Yes, this is an alpha, and yes, that means there are bugs and odd quirks that have yet be ironed out. Perhaps mass murder will eventually have serious consequences. The game’s already come a long way from earlier releases, opening up both visual and statistical customization options for the two leads, as well as a selection of classes. Skills and traits now have tool-tip text that allows for more informed decisions at character creation and when leveling.  The load times are still absurdly long, though.

The game’s most striking attribute doesn’t come from a gimmick, though, or even its attractive visuals. It’s the impression of openness, the ways in which it encourages experimentation and lateral thinking. I’m curious to see how Larian Studios will add to that in the coming months.

Say Yes to the (Treasure) Chest: A Divinity: Original Sin Marriage Proposal

Divinity: Original Sin ProposalThe video game marriage proposal is very much a thing, these days. It started with mods, enterprising young individuals hacking classics like Chrono Trigger or enlisting the Fallout 3 community in pursuit of a custom proposal scenario. Eventually, though, the practice evolved to the point where developers started to get involved. My favorite is the in-depth proposal constructed by Gearbox Software for a pair of avid Borderlands fans (the lucky lady’s reaction can be seen here). However, a more recent effort by PopCap—the Peggle 2 devs—on behalf of lovebirds Rob and Shireen, certainly has the market cornered on heart-warming.

Our latest instance of developer-facilitated matrimony comes to us courtesy of Larian Studios and their upcoming RPG, Divinity: Original Sin. The game, still in Early Access on Steam, has yet to provide players with access to its powerful mod tools. This was something of an issue for Daniel, a fan of the game who had been hoping to use the game to construct a marriage proposal for his girlfriend, Dolores. When the game was delayed, Daniel decided to e-mail Larian directly, rather than wait to propose. The developers were on board, creating a scenario in which a ring, found in a chest on the beaches of Cyseal, would activate a statue later on in the module, triggering a dialogue in which Daniel would propose to Dolores via their characters.

They manufactured an excuse to get Dolores and Daniel down to the studio to play the game and, when all was said and done… Well, see it for yourself:

Larian’s intent is that when the game editor is launched alongside Original Sin’s full release this Spring, fans of the game will be able to take matters such as this into their own hands. For now, though, it’s endearing to see them go above and beyond on behalf of a few of their fans in the here and now. Especially so close to Valentine’s Day.

The Growing Pains of Early Access: A Case Study of Divinity: Original Sin

Original Sin can look pretty epicLarian Studios was recently generous enough to grant me a copy of their latest entry in the Divinity series, Divinity: Original Sin. It’s presently in the Early Access stage on Steam, which means that any and all who are interested are able to purchase it and try it out. Of course, that comes with the disclaimer that the title is still in alpha and features only the first fifteen hours (their approximation) of gameplay. [Read more...]

Rhythm Beyond the Music: Action, Ninja Gaiden, and Batman

Ninja Gaiden BlackJust the other day, I talked in a fairly general sense about rhythm in games that focus on combat, rather than music. Now, though, it’s time to get personal and, for me, rhythm comes home to roost in action games.

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The Rhythm of Combat

Street Fighter IVWhen we talk about rhythm, the first thing that pops to mind is typically music, from drum beats and note progression to astute lyricism. Given enough time, the conversation may gravitate over to poetry, focused on such elements of the form as meter and rhyme scheme, the structural lynchpins of composition in traditional poetic constructs. In most such conversation, though, one is unlikely to discuss fighting as an expression of rhythm and flow.

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Dungeon of the Endless: Roguish, Sci-Fi Towers and the Defense Thereof

They just keep coming!Ever play Endless Space? It was a turn-based 4X game that came out in the summer of 2011. While it was narratively barebones, it did have a certain degree of atmosphere tied to its unique mythology. Lots of races, each with different political and technological leanings and their own distinctive aesthetic.

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