Oh Right, A Blog

Sorry for only updating roughly every two months. I got myself a job writing for Videogamer.com so when not dicking around in an office and pretending to be Kieron Gillen I’m passed out in a train on my three hour commute to glamourous Croydon. I have one or two more secret Games Writing projects coming your way though which should be quite good, so if you want to read more rubbish of mine then I’ll post a link when everything is up and running. Or alternatively if you don’t want to read Gera-tat then you’re in luck because these projects involve people who are far more talented than myself.

Anyway, feel free to take a look at videogamer.com. It’s full of people who are so funny it almost depresses me.

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My Dinner with Kudo

Lead Designer of Kinect takes you on a one-on-one night-out in his living room

Hey queers, Internet famous Kudo Tsunoda here.

Oh and hi, button-pressing fans. I’m sorry, I didn’t bother to learn your names or even identify you as individual human beings because buttons are worthless. Less than worthless. I hate you. Do you see my eyes glittering from your closet like two wet spheres of hate? I don’t even need to see you, I can smell your piss-pants terror from half a yard away. You reek of impotence and the past. I am going to unhinge my jaw and swallow me up a couple of long-pigs. You are going to be a part of me FOREVER.

KRANG! You hear that? That’s the gong of change I’m ringing and it’s reverberating through these musty halls with the force of ten typhoons and a hundred bears. KRANG. Kudo is ringing in the Future New Year. One day you will be able to open up a browser window by rotating your pelvis at exactly 8 cycles per second. Get off your ass, asshole, I’m coming for you. The future is coming for you and I love the future. Sometimes I love it so much I get a hard on and pass out. Sometimes I’ll wait outside a Safeway for hours until a girl comes out just so I can show her Kinect in my living room, to expand her mind. That’s why I love the future.

Oh yeah, change is coming. You know, people are always asking me, “Kudo, how did you go from making Fight Night: Round 3 to being creative director of Kinect?” and I tell them “Cliffy,” because I’m usually talking to my friend Cliff Bleszinski, “It’s because I’m qualified.” We have a good laugh, but you’d really have to be there if you know what I mean. I’m creative director of Kinect because I can kick your ass. I have a six foot vertical leap.

Hey weaksauce, I also have sex all the time with girls. I’ve done it over 60 times, easy. Here’s a picture of me with my girlfriend Biancla. Bam. She’s an amateur boxer at Kato’s Punch N Chew so I invited her to star in photos with me while I promoted Fight Night: Round 3. I found her next to a DDR Machine in 1998 and I’ve only seen one girl better looking than her and that was on a forum. Her face reminded me of the time I beat Cliff Bleszinski’s high-score on Def Jam: Icon, which was also beautiful.

Biancla comes to my house on Mondays to spot me while I do rude push-ups. Working out is important for three things: the ladies, lifting things, and video games. Any sexual dynamo will tell you this. Biancla and I practice all three by making love while I play Street Fighter IV. I’ve got my Vega impression down and Biancla’s been studying Chun-Li to train in some moves. She wanted to be Balrog but Kudo’s not down for that, girl. Afterward I take her out to Applebee’s, my treat. Kudo’s got a lifetime coupon to Applebee’s, buy three frozen margarita’s and the chicken fingers comes free. She barely speaks a word of English, which gets embarrassing when she keeps trying to order a passport from the bar.

Together we’re going to rule the future like Tina Turner in Thunderdome. And from the future I’m going to come to your door and punch your controllers until their buttons spill out and you won’t be able to stop me because your thighs have atrophied and melted to your couch from pressing buttons all day, then I’m going to distend my gullet and eat every keyboard in your house. Hey what’s that sound? Wrong answer, shitlegs, it’s my meaty quad in your face.

Runes of Magic – Chapter III

Runes of Magic: LECH FOR FREE

All this talk about WoW-killers and who’s going to overthrow Blizzard in a bloody office coup, then Runes of Magic bypasses the whole conversation by basically just remaking WoW as a F2P clone. In a tradition that stems back to Pac-Man clone Munch Man, game clones are prone to being utterly shit. As a general rule of thumb you can pretty much measure how a clone will hold up to the original by watching the Devito/Schwarzenegger showpiece Twins, then stretching that metaphor far enough until you can decide which of the two is tiny, joke of the Gods, Danny Devito. Similarly, F2P games have a bad reputation gained from the South Korean MMOs you see in the graveyard of ads on Farmville‘s sidebar.

Now consider the most expensive and successful MMORPG of all time. Blizzard has had a vice-like grip on the MMO market since the Noughties; the sort of grip that makes SOE look like it sent gold-plated champagne to its competitors when Everquest was still leading the market. It’s an impossible barrier-to-entry as well as the leading cause of death for any up-and-coming MMO, made out of the cubic ton of Warcraft titles that have been continuously and successfully selling since the Nineties.

In a cold, bargain-basement shadow next to the biggest selling MMO, Runes of Magic had every reason to live out a short life shackled to the kind of people in Seoul who play Maple Story and Free Realms, but a year after its release we’re already looking at two expansion packs and over three million registered users and growing.

This isn’t the poor man’s WoW. God knows it’s not a WoW killer. But you’d be pretty hard pressed to even say it’s WoW‘s hapless twin. Because eight months after the release of Runes’ first expansion, Chapter II – The Elven Prophecy, we’re already looking at Chapter III. The game’s developer, Taiwan-based Runewaker Entertainment, has the work ethic of a studio with an original IP. They’re trying to make legitimate improvements on the game, establishing Runes amongst the husky turds of clone games by developing new material from out of the cloney foundation of its mother Warcraft.

The story of Chapter III goes something like this: the young King Callaway rules a new continent, Zandorya. A huge alliance, consisting of six factions, has broken apart, and now the king gets to deal with the fallout. He asks the player to help bring back peace and harmony to Zandorya. Bring the peace and harmony back to Zandorya.

It’s a bread and butter MMO narrative, but if we’re being honest it’s legitimate no worse than that of a multi-million dollar plotline. In fact, that’s the mantra underlining most of the game we’ve played “Not much worse, really”, “Close enough”. If you’re ever near Runewaker HQ go check to see if they’ve made those out on employee t-shirts yet.

It’s a sensible ambition and as Runewaker try to perfect their impression of WoW we’re given a look at Thunderhoof Hills, the mirror-image equivalent of WoW‘s tauren capital city Thunder Bluff, as well as social hub and Stormwind look-alike Dalanis. Amongst the check-list of upgrades is a raised level cap of 60, three new zones, 9 new dungeons, a new PVP component, a healthy 300+ quests. No new races this time around, however in a twist of romance-slash-tragedy Runes has now incorporated an in-game marriage system that lets players marry.

Forget that this is a clone. Runes is a legitimate sign of the times, a visual example of If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em, while still managing to subvert WoW’s death grip. Because in a market where the sheer weight of Blizzard sucks everything else into its bizarre gas giant belly Runes is a Robin Hood that recreates a subscription-based multi-million dollar game and offers it for free.

Havisham & Morrissey: Part 2

In the last episode of our Sim epic Havisham and Morrissey, I introduced the story’s sulking kitchen boy, Morrissey. Morrissey was the struggling Northern artist-cum-father of about twelve Kenyans adopted over the phone.

Today I introduce Havisham.

Havisham is Morrissey’s horrorwife.

Havisham is like what you would get if you crossed The Penguin with a sticky theatre curtain from Nevada rockabilly club, or like Beth Ditto if she had a flaccid cock hanging from her face. Her personality traits were meant to make her the worst person imaginable: a sort of venomous, black eyed widowmaker who is too lazy to cook actual meals so she just eats fly-laden leftovers that were never thrown out because I forgot to buy a sink. She briefly worked as a cook when I accidentally clicked something.

As far as I can tell, once your sim has a job you’re automatically given a weekly allowance as some kind of child care policy worked in to the game once you decide to have or adopt your little bundle of pixels. Also part of the EA adoption rule-book is that baby-ordering takes roughly the same amount of time as ordering a pizza and that all babies are black:


Out of Africa

Other useful true-facts:

  • Babies don’t eat!
  • Babies can’t die!

From Will Wright’s jewel-encrusted brain comes a soft, padded world where you can wall in your neighbour until they die of exhaustion but babies are given a break from mortality. As it turns out, babies have no  actual health bar and can therefore pretty much be left next to the fridge for a few weeks without any human contact until its toddler years.

In fact I tried it in a previous saved game and he only seemed to come out of it looking like a lightly unhinged version of actor Steve Buscemi:

The game forces you to love. Even though Havisham was programmed to hate babies her character  automatically coos and picks up your nearest  dead eyed Victorian doll-faced adoptee she’d see when it would begin to cry. So regardless of how the character’s traits were formulated all Sims are identical in how they react tenderly to the endless deathpit of baby screams. What resulted was a pointless treadmill of coddling and forcefeeding immortal highlander babies over 18 hour stretches. Pushed by the game’s inherent pro-baby protocols, Havisham and Morrissey would soon meet a tragic end.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE…!

Preview – Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Two years ago Polish-based studio City Interactive gave us the budget production Sniper: Art of Victory, a little first-person Nazi shooter that sold in stores for about a fiver when it was first released. Even with a bargain price-tag it got a solid thumbs down on the review circuit, which you could blame at least partially on the game’s ability to take the classic Nazi shooting genre and bring it to its most generic and buggy.

Sniper: Art of Victory gave us such memorable wartime moments as “that time the dead soldiers were floating mid-air,”“the bit when I shot a Kraut in the face at point-blank range and missed,” and “Hi, did you hear the one where I tried to shoot through a window with a pistol but the glass didn’t break and I died?” So the fact that City Interactive’s follow-up Sniper: Ghost Warrior is at least using an updated game engine, the same used for last year’s Call of Juarez prequel in fact, is already a step in the right direction.

Actually, the game is littered with updates. If we’re looking at its environment, the grey, luger-riddled towns of Germany have been replaced with a modern, leafy Latin America in the middle of a coup d’état, and we’ve switched from the standard historical realism of WWII to the fictional country of Isla Trueno.  And there’s you, then. Ghost Warrior has you as part of a special ops unit attempting to take out hostile forces that have overthrown the country’s democratic government.

As a tip-of-the-hat to Art of Victory, City Interactive has included one of the featured selling points out of their original Sniper title: realistic bullet movement. It sounds pedantic but in a game with gameplay that often comes down to making a straight headshot, having bullets that will actually react to wind direction brings a nice level of depth to the act of shooting enemies in their faces.

It creates a surprisingly realistic experience, especially when you force your character to hold his breath just to take a long-distance shot and keep the screen from bobbing every time he inhales. So realistic are the bullets and the breathing, in fact, that our little studio calls this “[t]he most realistic sniping experience in a video game ever”.

Unfortunately in the world of PR any statement that’s fed down from a studio sounds like it borders on “my mom thinks I’m handsome”, and you can’t help but be especially cynical of Ghost Warrior‘s claim when you take into account sniping elements beyond bullet trajectory.

S: GW‘s selling point is that gameplay isn’t just a simple process of point-and-shoot, which is pretty much realistic enough until it turns out every last Latin American rebel is better with a sniper rifle than a special ops team, and they all have the unholy skill to spot you miles out in the depths of the jungle without using binoculars or scoped rifles, and will let the bullets tear before you have time to go stealthily hide in a bush.

But despite the name, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is only sort of about sniping.  The other half of the game is dedicated to traditionally styled run-and-gun and assault scenarios, with levels that will have you sprint through hostile terrain while getting drenched in a hail of bullets. In a game marketed for its sniping it offers a bizarre blend of passive sniper-rifle shots under the cover of a bush and aggressive mano a mano shoot-outs.

The problem with Sniper Ghost Warrior is really just the company it keeps. The Military FPS genre has churned out clutches of great games since the mid-nineties, and kept gaining stride throughout the Noughties with big-budget, cinematic set pieces. The quality and massive popularity of Modern Warfare, ArmA, even Bad Company 2 are the main barriers-to-entry for any little Polish studio trying to claw their way out of Tesco’s bargain aisle and make a name for themselves within a sniper genre. You can sense that in the game. Sniper: Ghost Warrior would be the kind of guy that tries to fit in with jocks by showing up to school wearing their Varsity jacket; only he’s made it himself, out of felt.

It’s an unfortunate situation for any studio to be in, particularly if the game hasn’t distinguished itself from the bigger and the better by, at the very least, trying to innovate on what we’ve been playing for over a decade. For that reason this is the kind of game that, intentional or not, will feel like it’s windsurfing on the coattails of every FPS from the last five or ten years.

Havisham & Morrissey: A Sims 3 Story

Once you get bored of playing the Sims the standard way, usually you’ll set up personal goals to pass the time. For some people that means bedding your maid, for others it means bricking your guests into a side-room.It’s an Xtreme sport of the bored and jaded, but apparently just leaving your Sim in a pool and deleting the ladder is passe and the only way that can get you thoroughly wanked over by gaming virtuosos is by creating a blog based around watching Sims develop a thick crust of piss fumes around their torsos over the course of months.

Imagine the magic spawn of Xtreme sports enthusiasts and guys with proto-aspergers and you basically get Robin Burkinshaw’s Sims drama “Alice and Kev”. Alice and Kev is in a sense a hardcore playthrough of Sims 3. At least, hardcore in the way that not giving change to buskers is hardcore.  Burkinshaw decided to create a Sims-human interest story about fake homeless people while playing the game as passively as possible, not lending a hand to any of her Sims at any point. Imagine it as a smart and in-depth look into Sim free will. Now imagine Sims competing to see who can stand around idly for the longest without inevitably dying from insufficient waffle intake or something. It’s pretty much the same kind of thing.

I figured while I’m scratching the bottom of the barrel for Geraface topics I may as well make a weird, desperate grab for attention by repeating more or less the exact same thing.

So hey Robin Burkinshaw. I see your Alice and Kev and I raise you Havisham and Morrissey. Yeah! And the pictures on your blog loaded a bit slowly for me one time. How does that taste? (To be fair it’s a great little blog, although it looks like it hasn’t been updated in eons.)

HAVISHAM AND MORRISSEY: PART 1

Like any Greek tragedy Havisham and Morrissey is a multi-layered story about adopting fifteen babies and succumbing to exhaustion and disease after I briefly walk away from the computer. On its deeper level it is a commentary on socio-economic issues in Northern England and therefore much better than whatever is happening here. Unlike Robin’s in-depth study of the harsh realities of eating spaghetti out of a bin, Havisham and Morrissey was an attempt to see what effect class fatalism had on the game’s pre-programmed SimSuccess so I built a house with three rooms and forced Havisham to repeatedly order babies from the adoption agency to rack up unemployment cheques.

Our two characters in this epic are influenced by hilariously insulting class stereotypes, all based on my neighbours. The main protagonist of this story is really Morrissey: a struggling musician who, like the real Morrissey, is probably quite good but it’s impossible to tell through his thick veil of twat. Because Sims 3 lets you choose out of a wide array of personality traits I set Morrissey to be incredibly ambitious yet so desperate for love he’ll spend most of the game crying. On the other side of the spectrum is his wife Havisham: mental, lazy, and hates children.

For the most part Morrissey spends his time standing about and looking like a bit like a 13 year old Winona Ryder while his wife uses her free time to loiter up against the kitchen counter for the three hours that’s required to make an Orange Shake.

Because I started the game by giving him the ambitious and musically-inclined loner traits this basically forced his reptile brain to pick up a guitar the minute he entered the house, then spend the rest of the afternoon strumming for 15 hours to get to the end of one verse of Hot Cross Buns. In fact for the first three days he really just spent his time standing in a corner creating rubbish rock tunes while speaking to no one at all, only stopping occasionally to agonisingly piss himself, also like the real Morrissey.

Had I not soon intervened by trying to order thousands of babies on the telephone Morrissey would be destined for stardom instead of spending his last days mopping his and Havisham’s piss from in front of the lounge chairs. But naturally this was all just part of the Gerablog XTREME social experiment to see whether family life would cause his dreams become dashed on the rocks like a tiny baby seal. The answer, poetically, was actually that he would starve to death in front of a herd of toddlers who wouldn’t move out of the way of the fucking fridge.

Stay tuned for more on…Havisham and Morrissey!

Art Games and You! But mostly Coil.

Back in 2005 Rod Humble came out with The Marriage which has since become the card up the sleeve of everyone in the Are Games Art? debate as an out and out art game. He did the blog circuit and wrote something or other on The Escapist about it. The draw was the use of formal game rules as a tool of representation, which he detailed over here, making it one of the weightiest examples of conceptual art in video games.

That was a few years ago and whether games can be art or not is old news. Of course they can be; you’d be hard-pressed finding anyone in the industry saying otherwise these days. Art Games, News Games, Serious Games. The independent game industry is swimming in genres and games that are trying to legitimise the medium, and it’s fraught with the potential to make valuable artistic statements in strikingly new and engaging ways.

But there is a dark cloud, a shadowy gorilla that we’ve refused to acknowledge: A lot of Art Games suck. For every talented game Auteur of our generation there are the leagues of screaming idiots waving their Computer Science degrees around, continuously spamming Gambit’s mail pool with that bit of concept art they once drew where they replaced Chung Li’s face with Ayn Rand; A lifetime’s collection of weird brother-in-laws rattling on about how the world needs a game about the plight of Esperanto speakers or something just as nebulously poignant.

If you follow the blog circuit you’ll notice how often Art Games will get slack for ideas that don’t seem as well-rounded as they probably should be.  Braid’s bizarre Atom bomb/broken romance idea that Blow refuses to explain, most of Tale of Tales’ work. The modern Art Game feels like the product of a flawed critical standard in an industry that laud ideas, any ideas, more than well-developed artistic talent. An industry that perpetuates the philosophy that on a long enough bell curve even unintelligible ideas look impressive when you’re comparing them to Wet.

And with that in mind here’s Coil.

Coil is an example of a game that is quite interesting for as many legitimate reasons as it is for just being almost pointlessly incomprehensible.

This is the 2009 IGF nominee for Innovation by designer Edmund McMillen, the guy that did Super Meat Boy. It’s a short flash game made up of six mini-games that are all held together by an ongoing prose story which carries on between every segment and it looks like this:

It’s fitted in a kind of slow and sombre style, full of dark organic artwork and a kind of broken music box soundtrack.

The gameplay is filled with a number of interesting bits. There are no actual instructions given at any point in the game, so discovering what exactly you’re meant to be doing each level, let alone what controls you’re meant to use, is part of the appeal. You’re essentially dealing with a set of traditional minigames throughout, from shooters to basic puzzle games. However without instructions the aim of discovery in the game becomes the primary aspect of gameplay and that really helps invigorate the fairly bog-standard minigame tropes you’re working under. In fact for many of the levels it took me a good five or ten minutes per level before I recognised what sort of game I was even playing. Beyond that the resonating aspect of the game is the atmosphere throughout which feels incredibly foreboding as if you’re committing some kind of terrible act when you successfully make it through each level.

It’s also has this thing in it:

WTF ARE YOU

This is McMillen’s self-described experimental, autobiographical art game. More than the gameplay itself, the focus turns to the symbolism and plot that’s been integrated into the game. The storyline, from what I can tell, follows the rape of a woman and its aftermath. At least I think that’s what’s happening. Because where the prose seems to suggest a woman hitting a metaphorical bottom, the visuals invoke the story of sperm that shoot each other in the face with arrows when they’re not too busy turning into some sort of flying squid.


The interpretive difficulty of the game is no fault of the prosey story woven through out. In fact that’s only reason I have any clue of what’s happening at all; the language in the game is the best figurative tool McMillen has to work with. Unfortunately for him I’m not sure that’s something you’d want in an interactive, visual game when the visual cues the game gives you feel impossible to even begin to interpret.

Without the short story tacked on throughout the actual premise of the game is so impenetrable it feels like McMillen is guarding it like a fucking Templar secret. I noticed that particularly once I hit level four and the aim appeared to be to manoeuvre a giant sperm thing by repeatedly clicking on a picture of a spleen.

There’s a thin line in the world of art between quite interesting and deceptively rubbish and Coil sits somewhere between the two. The consensus has been that the genre is just too affected, hell even Anthony Burch thought The Path should tone it down a notch. But I don’t think pretension is really an adequate critique in this situation. Pretension is the kind of thing that needs to be reserved only for Vice parties or guys who brew their own hemp lager, not the sort of people who can script in Python.  What makes a bad Art Game isn’t necessarily the designer with delusions of grandeur; it’s that Art Games become exempt from criticism on the basis that the baffling and indecipherable might just be art.