Category Archives: Rey's Proclamations!

Voices from the Nerdosphere pt 1: Video Game Developer Blogs

One of the reasons why we started Ninja Dog Corps was to open up our in depth, nerdy discussions to a larger audience. We’re still getting our feet wet over here, but it’s nice just casting our thoughts out into internet-ether.

Sometimes it seems like we are alone, chatting away on facebook or even loudly in public spaces about the failings of Terminator Salvation,  or the sorting out the virtues of Assassin’s Creed. It doesn’t really matter where we are, a nice restaurant, or walking down that most deviantl of streets in Toronto, Yonge Street – our various geekeries are always on the mind. I find it amusing how disinterested everyone looks and sounds as I go about my day. People idly chat away at those “whatever” kind of topics, but no one ever seems really passionate about anything.

At least, not loudly in the way the Ninja’s Dog’s bark.

It’s appropriate, although a bit of a shame, then, that so much stimulating conversation about the the nerdosphere happens on the double-you-double-you-double-you. Recently I’ve taken to reading the blogs of Iroquois Plisken, Leigh Alexander, and Michael Abbot, to name a few on the gaming side of things. There’s also a tremendous amount of good comic’s discussion going on, like Timothy Callahan, or the folks at Funny Book Babylon, to name a few. I’ve included a few on the side bar to the right of this page, and we’ll be adding more in the future as we go along, maybe citing a recommended reading post to go along with it.

Today I’d like to point out to a few game designers who also maintain internet web journals. Many of them peel back the curtain, and offer an insight into the production/development of games that communicate the struggles and the concerns of game making (and makers). Some of them make games that I haven’t played, some of them make games that I will likely never play, but it’s interesting to see the thought process behind these works. As a gamer, and one who is vocal about the potential of games, it’s cool to know that many in the industry feel the same way, and humbling to see thier struggles made bare.

Steve Gaynor of Fullbright : comes to us from 2k Marin, where I’m sure they’re busy putting the finishing touches on Bioshock 2. Recently he posted of a list, Design of a Decade , which looks at some of the most significant games from the past 10 years in terms of innovative design. I took to heart this post from 2006 about the value of keeping a notebook. I agree, it’s good for the soul.

Jordan Mechner’s blog: includes thoughtful pieces on art, cinema, and comics, all this from the man who brought us Prince of Persia. I find it interesting that he’s remained in close contact with his creation all these years, and in it’s various incarnations. He helped reinvigorate the series with The Sands of Time, wrote a comic, and is even lending a hand in the blockbuster movie from Disney. Even more impressive, Mechner displays a keen understanding of the unique power inherent in each medium.  Lastly, don’t forget to check out his sketchbook entries.

Scott Rogers of Mr Boss’ Design Lair : has worked on everything from the first God of War, to most recently Darksiders, Maximo and even way back, Pac-Man World for the PS1. I’m quite fond of his level design drawings, which have a charm and immediacy about them independent of the game they’re meant for.

Clint Hocking of Click Nothing : comes to us from Ubisoft Montreal. He’s worn several hats but most recently he took up the role of Creative Director on Far Cry 2. One of his most talked about pieces is a thoughtful critique about Bioshock.

Soren Johnson of Designer Notes: has worked on the Civ games and most recently was a designer/programmer on Spore.

There are a number of  God of War alumni: who have blogs but have remained stagnate for months or years now. Too bad though, many of them illuminate the challenges of combat design, and much to my surprise, many of them drew their inspiration from Street Fighter, of all things.

Of course, how can I forget the God of God of War David Jaffe. I love that his writing, and of course his games, come from a sincere, passionate place.

As an illustrator, I naturally gravitate towards other visual artists. I was surprised to find that many developers have some kind of background with the arts, either formally educated or self taught. Steve Gaynor took up illustration and transitioned in the sculpture, and a similar story is shared by Keita Takahashi. It’s something we should probably look into further in another post, perhaps.

I think this is a good place to stop, I’ll have to revist gaming blogs another time, next up – maybe comics!

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Dynamic Nerdosphere Interconnectivity – or how I learned to love twitter

Believe me when I say this – but I’m sick of hearing about it too. You know, that blue bird, 140 characters, inane posts from people you don’t really care about…Ashton Kutchener (and no I’m not going to bother to check if that’s how you really spell his name).

Twitter.

It seems like I can’t watch a TV show without the host trying to pimp his twitter, and even the newspapers, already losing relevancy in a world of highspeed communication, have brought themselves so low as to promote their twitter account. Of all the social networking sites that I’ve signed up for over the years, your friendsters, your myspaces, your bloggers and facebook, twitter was the one where I joined in, simply because it seemed like, society demanded it of me.

Even now, months later I’m not entirely sure I’m using it correctly, but a week ago I happened upon an interesting phenomenon that makes me believe that twitter still has a purpose yet. For lack of a better term, let’s call it Nerdosphere Interconnectivity, to which you might argue, has existed since the early days of the internet, it’s called links, and so we’ll further add *science* to my newly invented term and call it, Dynamic Nerdosphere Interconnectivity.

My Twitter account is populated by a smattering of various representatives from different fiefdoms in the Nerdosphere – from “Internet Jesus” Warren Ellis (the comics Planetary, Nextwave), videogame creators like David Jaffe (God of War, Calling All Cars), to artists/illustrators like Paul Pope, critics like Roger Ebert, and even more off the beaten track – architecture site BLDGBLOG‘s companion account, or mixed martial artist Joe Lauzon, and ring girl Arianny Celeste.

The interesting little bit here is how these seemingly disparate elements sometimes converge. Like the time Gears of War designer Cliff Bleszinski (and yes I bothered to check the spelling on that one) posted about reading a certain comic:

Cliffy B: Reading “Old Man Logan” – Mark Millar always delivers. 32 minutes ago from txt

A comic that I had just gifted to my brother for Christmas. And Marvel.com editor Agent M (who I also follow) picked up on this:

Agent_M: @therealcliffyb If you’re a @Marvel Comics fan, we should chat. Maybe do an interview with me for Marvel.com?

I haven’t bothered to check up on this if anything has actually come into fruition, because I’m not very thorough, nor am I a journalist – but it does point to the (dynamic) interconnectedness of our Nerdosphere. Afterall, why wouldn’t Bleszinski be a fan of Wolverine or Mark Millar? In the same way that many FPS games model themselves after Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, or if you’re in the sci-fi mode,  James Cameron’s Aliens. Unlike the call-and-response dialog that would happen before, where George Lucas creates a work decades after being inspired by Flash Gordon and Lord of the Rings, the “lag” between the creator/creation/inspiration cycle is in many ways shortened. George Lucas may have never actually spoken with say, JRR Tolkein, and I never had the chance to meet Jim Henson, but today in our twitter age, you can comment on Iron Man director Jon Faverau’s twitter (and he used to be fairly into myspace, back in the day – weren’t we all…), or David Jaffe’s account, and potentially even expect a response – so long as you aren’t a total internet asshole about it. In the case of Twitter, creators can exchange thoughts amongst each other with something approximating an actual conversation.

You might think my geekier pursuits have little in common with the macho world of Mixed Martial Arts, and yet Joe Lauzon proudly proclaims in his profile “Guy from Boston that fights in the UFC and plays a ton of video games.” Former UFC Heavyweight Champ Josh Barnett‘s account has a painting of the Warhammer 40k universe as his backdrop, you know, Space Marines in impossibly clunky armor, Space Orks, the tabletop board game you play with painted miniatures?

We live in a world where inspiration comes from the most unlikeliest places, and it’s application even more unusual.

Famously, current Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva  watched Ong Bak and became obsessed with Tony Jaa’s reverse-elbow uppercut. Even though it was a move performed in a movie, Silva spent extra time – on his own  outside of his regular gym – perfecting the move. Come fight night, this happened.

Twitter might not inspire someone to achieve a fantastic KO (or a elegant piece of music, or a thought provoking film), but as a vehicle for connecting artists, martial or otherwise, it can help generate dialog, and when all the disparate kingdoms of the Nerdosphere are talking, we just might see something fantastic.

For now though, I’ll just post about Chanukah.

Dante’s Inferno: The Video Game: The Demo: The Review

I've decided to display images from various illuminated texts, rather than screens from the actual game. Gustave Dore, Canto 31

Last night, my bro informed me that the Dante’s Inferno demo was available on the PSN, and while I’m not a big fan of game demos, I decided to grab it.

I guess Visceral Games loved the PS3 enough that they released the demo to us weeks ahead of the 360. Additionally they announced the other day that the Sony version would be essentially the definitive version, with tons of Special Edition like extras (artbook,soundtrack, even a digital copy of the epic poem) all in the normal ed of the game – no need to preorder or to shell out extra dough for it. The 360 version lacks these frills completely, bummer.

So with that much Sony love, I thought I should at least give the demo a go. After watching two movies (The Prince of Tides and The Four Feathers) I was good to go on EA/Visceral Games action epic.

Broadly speaking, I’ll say that I enjoyed the demo, having played it twice now, but I do have some concerns…

First of all, lets get this out of the way, the game is nearly straight out plagiarizing God of War. I don’t know if they had access to the source code or anything, but everything from the control set up, to the opening of treasure chests (fonts in this game) and the red and green orbs is GOW.

I’ll try and leave it at that , as far as GOW comparisons to go ( and fail miserably, as you’ll soon see) – this is going to be discussed endlessly when the game comes out, and then brought back up again once GOWIII arrives. Instead lets talk about Dante’s Inferno.

Bottecelli - Map of Hell

Back at Sheridan, I was supposed to read the original poem, I didn’t. At least not thoroughly – so I can’t talk about how exact a representation this game is. My gut reaction is that it isn’t.

What I can talk about is the stylistic choices Visceral has made, many of them feel shallow, or at the very least, ill considered. Already, I find myself breaking my promise and thinking about that other game, where on the graphically limited PS2, legibility was a primary concern. Bad guys in DI are hard to discern amongst the murky browness of the stages, but as a rule of thumb, I simply starting attacking at the nearest thing that moved. Still, even the grand Boss of the demo, Death incarnate, seems to be an amorphous black shade, and not intentionally so.

I have a hard time trying describe the look of the titular character – he’s bare chested, yet his arms are heavily protected. He wields in one hand, Death’s scythe, and the other, a holy cross (that shoots out glowing crosses, like a divine care bear stare). On his head he has what seems to be a iron crown of thorns, and facially, he reminds me of my  barber.

Oh, and about that chest, he has some kind of magical tapestry stitched onto it, the art constantly shifting around – it’s bloody and makes squishy noises when he pokes at it, and I don’t really know why he should be this way.

Sometimes, the game goes into a 2D animated cinematic, which to me, evoked those McFarlane/Korn music videos from the years ago. I was later told that they were supposed to resemble stained glass windows, which I think missed it’s mark by a wide margin. Other times, the game uses CG cinemas, and other times, it uses in game graphics, and regardless of the style, you’ll frequently see bare breasts. All of this seems kind of inconsistent and poorly paced…but bear in mind we’re dealing with a demo here, so we’ll let that slide.

It’s as if Rob Leifeld, Todd McFarlane and an army of Metal album cover artists collaborated on this game, which is to say that it’s kind of cool in a hollow sort of way. Then again, that other game isn’t all that different – but DI has a weird image (Image?) within an image effect, as if a game was made through the lens of GOW and then filtered and distorted.

So basically, the game looks kind of stupid, but somehow I’m ok with this. You get a glimpse of further stages at the end of the demo (each one patterned after the “levels” of hell, and modeled after the deadly sins), and while it all looks kind of samey – I could see myself getting used to DI’s skulls and guts and blood aesthetic.

Gustave Dore - The Flaming Spirits of the Evil Counsellors

At the end of the day I want to just beat the shit out of hell’s minions, and on this, DI delivers.

The demo doles out a new set of abilities every few minutes, which interrupts the game-flow, but when you do get down to the berserker action, it is incredibly satisfying. Halfway through I found myself wailing on hordes of bad guys, sometimes grabbing and tossing them, other times jacking them up into the air, mixing in a magical ice dash attack or using my care-bear-crucifix-stare. The breadth of your moveset, even in this brief demo, is varied enough, and the controls solid enough, that you can creatively mix and match attacks and feel confident enough that you’ll connect with them. That’s a key ingredient in these types of games, and with the promise of tons more moves in the full game, I’m sure that at least in terms of combat, DI is a very solid effort.

Lastly I’ll mention that DI calls upon another gaming fixation that seems to have cropped up in many games in recent years, the morality system. You can choose to either “punish” or “absolve”, your foes, punishing them powers up Death’s Scythe, and saving them powers up your Care Bear powers. My main concern here, is that like inFAMOUS, it impacts your powers, but not necessarily the world or the story in any meaningful way.

If DI is an echo of GOW, I would hope that it copies one thing above all else, crucially, which is “that moment”. And I can’t really describe it more than that, but GOW I (and II in some ways) had “that moment” which elevated the game beyond a frivolous action romp, and actually gave you a moment of pause. “That moment”, which we often attribute to more artsy games, like Ico, or SOTC, or even something like Flower, and in some ways is expected for those games, was  a nice surprise in GOW. The dev’s at Visceral, if they’ve truly done their homework, would do well to keep that in mind, but I fear that emulating this aspect of GOW might be harder than the other more salient aspects.

Willian Blake - The Whirlwind of Lovers Canto V "The Carnal"

Willian Blake - The Whirlwind of Lovers Canto V "The Carnal"

Dante’s Inferno: The Game: The Demo feels like a guilty pleasure, perhaps that might be enough for some, and maybe even appropriate given it’s sin-filled content. When the full game comes out, we’ll know if the game aspires to be more – shouldn’t the Divine Comedy deserve that?

New Header Image

Check out our super sexy new header image, curtosy of Eshwin. So long, generic urban streetside, hello vicious ninjitsu canine!