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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.

Video game helps disabled people learn life skills

A ScienceDaily article from May profiles a video game that helps people with disabilities learn to shop at a supermarket. The game's development team was led by three 2008 graduates of the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, and is part of the CapAbility Games Research Group. The game is called Casual Shopper and its supermarket is based on a local brick-and-mortar store called Price Chopper, right down to the blueprints:

A computer monitor set up directly in front of the user simulates the layout of the store, and a second monitor to the left displays a virtual shopping list. Users start the game by selecting a meal they’d like to make—such as a spaghetti dinner, a holiday ham, or even rotini with alfredo lobster sauce—and complete it when they’ve found all the items on their list.

I think simulating an actual place in a video game is a really neat project. Of course, I'm biased.

Computerized toy helps autistic children learn language

Helma van Rijn, a graduate student at the Delft University of Technology, developed a computerized toy to help young autistic children learn language. The project is called LINKX. A person can say a word (e.g. "fishbowl") into a kind of pictogram called a "speech-o-gram"; they then attach the speech-o-gram to the object it names. Kids can link special blocks to the speech-o-grams, which light up with colors and play sounds. Here's a video of LINKX in action:

(Note: While the video's spoken language is Dutch, English subtitles explain the action taking place).

Video game as screening, therapeutic tool for people with fragile X syndrome

Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited cause of mental retardation that we know of. (Down Syndrome is more common, but only 3-4% of cases are inherited). Nevertheless, fragile X can take a long time to diagnose properly, because many doctors aren't familiar with its features. According to an article in last month's newsletter of UC Davis's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Dr. Randi Hagerman of the M.I.N.D. Institute is teaming up with media artists Greg Niemeyer and Kimiko Ryokai to create a video game that will not only help screen young children for some of the weaknesses associated with fragile X syndrome like visual-motor and visual-spatial skills, but could help kids improve those skills as well.

The Horror Geek Presents: EA Announces Dead Space Upgrade Packs

 

According to Kotaku, EA has announced that its popular survival horror game Dead Space is getting some premium upgrade packs. Like all things EA, expect these new "enhancements" to cost you (to the tune of nearly $30 if you wanted them all--which is half the retail price of the entire goddamn game...) and that some of them will be useless "graphical upgrades" as opposed to things that would actually warrant shelling out cold hard cash. In their defense, there are some upgrades that change the game experience--upgrading weapon power, mostly--and no one's holding a gun to your head to force you into shelling out cash for these things. Your copy of Dead Space will still work just fine without them.

Trailers & Demos

I just finished Fallout 3 a few minutes ago, and I've got to say that it's miles ahead of the competition when it comes to picking what's going to be my game of the year. It's a pretty fantastic title, and if you haven't played it yet you should run out and get a copy immediately...

With that out of the way, the wife and I ran through a few of the demos and clips I had downloaded onto the 360. Here's a few words.

Voice of Marcus Fenix, John Dimaggio interview at TheFukerton.com

My good buddy Chad Dukes (who co-hosts the Big O & Dukes show at WJFK FM-where you can hear my movie review segment every Friday afternoon) landed an exclusive interview with John Dimaggio that's up over at his site TheFukerton.com.

Who's John Dimaggio? Only the guy with one of the coolest gigs in the world. Not only is he the voice of Futurama's wisecracking robot Bender, but he's also the voice actor responsible for Gears of War's Marcus Fenix. Check out the two part interview here.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Quickie: Meaningful Play 2008 conference proceedings online

Last month, the Meaningful Play conference was held at Michigan State University, sponsored by MSU's Serious Games department. Papers from the proceedings are available online, including John Richardson's paper "The Social Construction Model of Interactive Gaming for Disabled Users." The abstract states:

"Though some pragmatic thought has been put into making computer and video games as accessible to the disabled as such media as film and music, there has been a paucity of research and discourse on the social construction model as it applies to interactive games. With this model, such media impacts the self-identity, social spheres, and coping mechanisms of users with mobility, orientation, and/or neurological challenges. I explain how, on a high-level and conceptual basis, this model emerges out of the generative experiences and inherent feedback components of the interactive game medium, and attempt to frame both the importance of and challenges in implementing greater accessibility from a development perspective. The intent is not to merely state how the industry is overlooking an important demographic, but also to explain how interactive games can play a supportive role in the enrichment of the lives of those within it."

Eye-gaze software for people with disabilities demonstrated using World of Warcraft, Second Life

PhD candidate Stephen Vickers and his team at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK are designing software for people with disabilities who use eye-gaze control to be better able to play video games. Here are videos of Stephen demonstrating the software, called Snap Clutch, in World of Warcraft and Second Life.

In a paper Vickers co-authored for the 4th Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology ("Gaze Interaction with Virtual On-Line Communities: Levelling the Playing Field for Disabled Users"—available in his list of publications), eye gaze was compared to mouse control in the game Second Life. While eye-gaze performed comparably in moving the avatar from place to place and in manipulating objects, it didn't do well for using applications within the game (thanks to the applications' tiny buttons) or communicating in-game via an on-screen keyboard.

Fanboys exacting console vengence through MetaCritic reviews

Anyone with a gaming magazine, website or blog knows the wrath of fanboys. No opinion, no matter how well thought out, matters except their own and damn anyone who thinks otherwise. We have had our share of "negative reaction" from the occasional negative or overly critical review, but thankfully, have never witnessed the pathetic lengths MetaCritic users have stooped to. 

'We contacted (MetaCritic games editor Marc) Doyle for clarification, and he told us that the issue of unbalanced user reviews "hasn't been a systematic problem" on the site. According to Doyle, it's only really popped up recently and mostly for console-exclusive titles. Two other strong examples exist: Resistance 2 has a Metascore of 89 with a user score of 5.3/10, and Little Big Planet has a Metascore of 95 with a user score of 6.1/10.

Doyle says the issue stems from the site's foundation. User reviews were allowed to be entered before a game's release because they "wanted people who had legitimately played the game ahead of its release to post them." Stacked on top of that was a desire for an easy sign-up process. "The founders were really interested in not having people sign up for a really huge registration process just so they can participate on the site," Doyle said, adding, "Obviously that's been exploited."'

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