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Brandon Erickson's blog

Gaming pet peeves

Metal Gear Solid 4

In an effort to prepare for Metal Gear Solid 4, I've recently been playing some of the earlier Metal Gear Solid games. And while it's been really fun for the most part, it's also brought to mind some of my gaming pet peeves, not just related to MGS but to games in general.

What triggered this for me was being reminded that MGS doesn't allow the player to pause during cut scenes. I was at the end of MGS2 when I suddenly found the need to pause the game. I think I knew at that point that I couldn't actually pause, but I had no choice but to try. So I hit the start button and suddenly the game fast forwarded to another section, apparently bypassing a whole bunch of end-game exposition. As a result, I had to reset the game, load my most recent save, and fight a whole bunch of enemies and go through a long boss fight just to get back to the cut scene that I missed. It was absolutely maddening, and it baffles me that the developers wouldn't include such an obvious feature, or why any developer wouldn't include that feature, especially in a game that is so heavy in cut scenes.

Has LittleBigPlanet lived up to its promises?

LittleBigPlanet

Having received LittleBigPlanet as a Christmas gift from my dad, I've finally been able to experience the game that many have been touting as the first must-own PS3 title. Now that I've sunk a significant amount of time into Media Molecule's little opus, I thought I'd share some of my impressions.

First and foremost, LittleBigPlanet is a thoroughly charming, feel-good game. It's almost impossible not feel at least somewhat upbeat while jumping around with the cute sack people. The snappy soundtrack, the funny expressions of the sack folk, the playful toy box-style aesthetic, the humorous tutorials, everything comes together to form a remarkably charming package.

What is the best Christmas game?

Christmas NiGHTS

For the past couple days, I've been pretty much snowed in here in Seattle. And looking at all this white stuff has got me thinking about all the different incarnations of snow-themed levels that have been appearing in games for basically forever. The slippery snow levels in the original Mario on the NES. The icy dungeons in Zelda. The ice-themed levels in almost every RPG ever created. So are there any games that stand out as being particularly Christmassy or winter holiday appropriate?

Picking apart the Resident Evil 5 demo

Resident Evil 5

With Resident Evil 4 being one of my favorite games of all time, it probably goes without saying that I've been eagerly anticipating Resident Evil 5 ever since the first teaser images appeared in the summer of 2005. Now that I've had the chance to spend some time with the new RE5 demo, I thought I'd share some of my impressions, both positive and negative.

Is Gears of War 2 a tearjerker?

Gears of War 2 

I finished the main campaign in Gears of War 2 last night after chainsawing my way through hundreds of locusts and being sprayed by about a thousand gallons of blood. It was a pretty kick-ass experience on the whole, filled with over the top set pieces and so-bad-its-good dialogue. Given the extreme Gears of War-ishness of it all, however, I was taken aback by two surprisingly dark turns in the story, including one moment that nearly brought tears to my eyes. How could this be possible? Let me explain.

Home vs. NXE: Can Sony's virtual dystopia overcome Microsoft's hollow commercial machine?

Now that I've had the chance to play around a bit with the New Xbox Experience (NXE) and Home, here are my impressions.

Overall, I think the New Xbox Experience is a big improvement and offers a lot of advantages to Xbox 360 owners, provided that they have: 1) a Gold membership; 2) a Netflix account; 3) a sufficiently fast broadband internet connection for streaming "HD" content; and 4) a 120gb hard drive. Unfortunately, I have none of these things.

Being in Home, on the other hand, makes me feel like I'm in some vaguely dystopian future filled with vacant, plastic-looking faces, where everyone's thoughts are controlled by Sony and there's nothing to do other than absorb commercials and play stupid mini-games.

I hate movie-licensed video games

Prince Caspian

I'm gonna go ahead and admit straight out that I have an almost unshakable dislike towards movie-licensed games. In the same way that certain people are (often unfairly) judged by the legal system as guilty until proven innocent, I look at movie-based games as bad until proven good. I don't know exactly how this notion got cemented in my brain, but there's no denying it. I've tried to trace it back to some specific experience, but I just can't come up with anything. All I know is that I have a universally negative knee jerk reaction to movie-licensed video games.

I haven't played very many of them (mostly because I assume they'll be a complete waste of my time), so my stance isn't based on much experience. Let's see how many movie-based games I can think of right now. Aladdin for the Sega Genesis. I really enjoyed that game at the time. Back to the Future for the NES. Fantastic Four on the GameCube. Batman Begins. The Da Vinci Code. Played it, hated it. That's all I can think of. So far this doesn't really account for my position, because in the case of the last three games mentioned, I actually recall carrying a pretty strong anti-movie-based-game bias going in. As for the really old stuff for the 8- and 16-bit systems, I was much younger, and those were different times.

Dead Space and the evolution and elimination of HUDs

Dead Space

As far as the video game part of my life goes, last week was all about Dead Space. Well, I also finished up the original Metal Gear Solid (After the credits rolled, my mostly non-gaming wife aptly summed it up as "very Japanese.") but I digress. I rented the PS3 version from Blockbuster and played it steadily through the week until finally beating it on Sunday night. My wife was actually backseat for the entire duration, so props to her for sticking it out.

While I wouldn't consider Dead Space a truly great game, I do think it's a very good one. The graphics and sound are top notch, the zero gravity gameplay is quite cool, the story is decent (enhanced by watching the six downloadable video comics), and the game as a whole just does a great job of delivering the scares. Oh yeah, and I really dug the way the game handled being in a vacuum with no sound. Rather than talk about that stuff, however, I'd like to focus in on something that really stood out to me about Dead Space: the absence of a HUD.

My first experience as a playtester

Playtest Lab

Back when I was a little kid in the late 1980s, I had this idealized vision of how awesome it must be to play video games for a living. I knew that there were people out there who played games for the purpose of quality testing and so on, and for whatever reason, my little kid brain thought it must be the greatest job in the world. I probably saw it as at least on par to working at a candy factory. It all comes down to that fact that I had no understanding of the law of diminishing returns and therefore believed that being able to do a thing that I like all day every day must be nothing short of bliss.

Back in the game

So it's been 143 days since my last blog post. Back in June I made sort of a semi-pledge to "take a little time each week to keep this blog updated." Well, that obviously didn't happen, and I'd just like to apologize to all of my regular readers (all three of you) for my lack of follow through. Not that I don't have a good excuse.

According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, the last five months have constituted a "moderate life crisis" with "50% chance of illness such as: headache, diabetes, fatigue, hypertension, chest and back pain, ulcers, infectious disease, etc." That's probably pushing it, but the point is that with graduating, moving to Seattle, starting a new job, and getting married, I had a lot on my plate.

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