Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Far Cry 3 (Impressions)

December 4, 2012
PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Developed by Ubisoft Montreal

Published by  Ubisoft

The bow and arrow makes my little Predator heart sing for joy. Far Cry 3 (2012)
Far Cry 3 has a strong narrative and sense of character along with solid game-mechanics that aren't difficult to master.

Far Cry 3 is a worthy addition into the critically acclaimed series. It is fun and offers a variety of gameplay however, it doesn't match the brutality of the second game that made it a classic.

The first hour of the game I found myself rather disappointed that it wasn't a different game, I wanted it to be more survival oriented. You play Jason, a twenty-something rich-boy who is kidnapped and in a pretty bad spot, he is shocked at the prospect of killing people, skinning animals and the like. I felt fear at first about survival, this guy isn't some invincible navy-seal or high-tech nano-suit, he's just Joe-schmoe. I was ready to have to worry about thirst, hunger, sickness, etc. but even on the hardest difficulty setting it's not overly challenging and is not really a survival game at all, it's just an open-world FPS. Once I got over the comparison to it's predecessor and what I wanted/thought the game was going to be though I started having a lot of fun.

There are some similarities to Just Cause 2 (2010) except this is less playful and insane but on a positive note, the missions and side-missions feel more purposeful than in JC2. There wasn't a real point or reward in doing side-missions there whereas here, every side-quest has an adequate reward for the player, either allowing fast-travel, more weapons, map of the terrain, etc.

Far Cry 3 has a strong narrative and sense of character along with solid game-mechanics that aren't difficult to master. There is a good 30 hours of gameplay with side-missions in the single-player campaign. The multi-player has a co-op mode with its own narrative but I've only played a few times because it wasn't as engaging as single player.

It's a fairly straight-forward FPS with open-world aspects but you also spend time hunting animals (or being attacked by animals while trying to do something else) which can be challenging and sometimes humorous. While playing in-game I was about to attack a group of soldiers who had a bear in a cage. My brilliant plan was to shoot the cage and release the bear who would then dispatch the guards for me and the guards would weaken the bear for me so I could harvest its valuable pelt. Right as I was about to shoot the cage undetected, a leopard attached me from behind which pushed me right into the guards path. I shot the cage to release the bear but that just meant I was being attacked by guards with assault weapons, a leopard and a bear. Needless to say I died fairly quickly.

You will learn to hate Komodo Dragons, Tigers and most of all: Deer; they are fast buggers which seem to be nearly invincible.

The bad aspects of the game is that dying is painful because the game only saves in certain places and often I have lost 20 minutes of gameplay because of this poor design.

One of my biggest dislikes of this game is that you are forced to use Ubisoft's UPlay which is their distribution, DRM and social platform. Personally, I hate having to install these garbage pieces of software the likes of which include Rockstar Social Club, Origen, Games for Windows Live, etc., and having to create yet another online account just to play. I'm ranting about this in particular because I re-imaged my machine half-way through playing this game and while I copied my game-saves, when I moved them to my new computer they wouldn't work. I opted out of Uplay's Cloud Save Sync as many people weren't able to access the game when their servers were down. This means I lost about 12 hours of game-play that I really didn't want to redo (but will).

I recommend a buy or rent if 30 hours of single-player gameplay isn't worth the full retail price. Personally, I can't see myself spending too much time in the multi-player.


Words by Trent Allgood

Far Cry 3 IRL

Guys, guys, check out this fan-made (though clearly Ubisoft sponsored) tribute to Far Cry 3, the last blockbuster of the year that's hitting store shelves today! It features our first-person protagonist storming an enemy camp, rescuing a pretty prisoner, and then making a daring escape... all in live-action. Sure, the green screen effect is overly apparent, but the long takes they had to set up and pull off are undeniably impressive. Gamers are well aware of YouTube producers FreddieW and possibly Warialasky. Well, now you can subscribe to devinsupertramp as well. He's done a lot of extreme sports photography, but starting with last month's Assassin's Creed III IRL it's clear he's one to keep on the TTWCVG radar. (Speaking of FreddieW and Far Cry 3, check out Far Cry Vacation.)

Oh, and I think we can all agree that this is loads better than Uwe Boll's vision of "Far Cry."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Crew Post: Story vs. Gameplay

What is more important in video games, story or gameplay? The question is simple and the conversation may be endless (or maybe it will just be monotonous)... Nonetheless that is the query we're thrusting upon the Crew this week. Read some of their thoughts below and please add your voice to the matter in the comments below.


I am going to go ahead a pick a side for the sake and the fun of argument and go with gameplay. I'm a writer (pretentious alert!), and to me stories and storytelling are one of the most important matters under the sun, so you do not need to tell me how crucial it is, but you simply cannot have a great game without the gameplay to match it. Hell, you cannot even have games without it!

Ah, the classic story of the paddle and the ball who loved her. Pong (1972)
Games themselves began without regard for story, I'm talking about Pong and the 20+ years of possible precursors. They are called "video games" because they require an interaction between a player and what they are seeing on a screen, or, to put it simply, gameplayWe don't/didn't want games to remain in those prehistoric states, so the medium progressed over the years until we were bringing narratives to the experience which also brought the comparison to it's distant cousin, film (the other medium of moving pictures). It's gameplay that sets games apart from animation.

A rather promising title marred by its infuriating controls. True Crimes: Streets of LA (2003)
Specific stories, and their virtues, are entirely qualitative. They are an art and are therefore infinitely open to opinions. Gameplay is much less so. Sure, Joe might not have a problem with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's controls while they are so infuriating to Bob that he'd rather spend his weekend milking a cow, but you will find far more people agreeing upon the poor controls of True Crime: Streets of L.A. than whether it's narrative is any good. Gameplay is far more quantitative. It deals with facts from the controls (e.g. "you push 'A' to jump and push 'B' to shoot") to the objectives (e.g. "you jump over the pits and shoot all the Nazis to beat the level"). They are basics and will never be as interesting as the boundless extent of storytelling, but they are required for the experience and the medium itself. I have been mostly vague here with only a few examples, but hopefully I have set some of the groundwork in place for the rest of the crew to share their thoughts on the matter. Let me conclude by telling you about two very different games I play:

With no story to speak of this game is a blast to play! Cut the Rope (2010)
I play Cut the Rope on my iPhone every so often. The drama of getting a piece of candy into an adorable toad's mouth makes for a very dull chronicle, but I play because the gameplay works so well, frequently introducing new wrinkles to puzzles. I recently and finally started playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It is a glorious adventure with striking locales, stand-out characters, and yes, an entertaining story. If the gameplay (including the shoot-from-cover mechanic) were not in place as is, this would be a disaster of a game that had me only pushing forward to see the next cutscene, which is where games cease to be games really. Obviously the best of video games excel in both story and gameplay. Hopefully we will continue to have experiences that blend the two so well that this argument will dissolve over time. I am in part referring to emergent narrative, something I would love to talk more about but I am four paragraphs in and ready to pass the baton of this Crew Post.


I agree with the end of J.S.'s post. A good game requires both great gameplay and a great story. The two need to compliment one another. Yes you could definitely play a game that didn't really have a good story if the gameplay was good (i.e. Angry Birds anything), but without that story the replayability of a game goes down significantly. I've had this opinion for most of the time that I have been a gamer. But at the same time, if a game has gameplay that you can't stand but a great story it makes it that much more difficult to get through, and I have been known on occasion to give up on such games (i.e. the Assassin's Creed series).

With it's frustrating stealthy gameplay, I've never played through an entire game in the Assassin's Creed series.
Assassin's Creed III  (2012)

However, that being said I recently been more converted to the ways of a magnificent game called Minecraft! It truly is the shining example of a game proving that you do not need a story. I'm sure I have spent endless hours on the game that has no story to speak of. It's just a free world roamer where you can do almost anything you could think of. I've built my own waterfall, a giant log cabin on a mountain top, a castle, and even a portal to Hell. There is not one other game that I can think of that you could say that about.

Some great examples of the amazing things you can do in the game. Minecraft (2011 PC, 2012 Xbox)
With my conversion to Minecraft, I have to throw my hat in with J.S. completely. Without gameplay a game just isn't worth it. You just have to have an open mind capable of imagining all the things that the game doesn't give you, which gives you more of a feel of being a kid and playing make believe. Except in this case you can truly make anything. Now I'm off to play some more Minecraft after finding these inspiring images! Now on to the next member of the crew on this Crew Post.


While I won't argue story isn't important, it obviously is. Think of your favorite games ever and likely they all have amazing stories and characters e.g. Portal, Skyrim, Bioshock etc. However I think gameplay is far more important. While not limited to this, games are meant to be fun and if the gameplay isn't fun, it's not going to get a lot of love. I thought Mafia II had a compelling story and good gameplay but it quickly grew tiresome and I never ended up finishing it. Whereas the original Borderlands had fun and engrossing gameplay in spades with a very poor and unimportant narrative. Which game do you think got 50 hours of gameplay and which got 10?

Why is there a giant worm attacking you? It's not part of the story and it really doesn't matter Borderlands (2009).
The Worms series, Team Fortress 2, Counterstrike, most RTS (yes, they have campaign modes but that's not the fun part), and any sports game have basically no narrative and yet they are great and unique games which have provided countless hours of entertainment. What's more, multiplayer isn't a narrative driven event, it's solely gameplay. Those countless hours playing the original Halo weren't because of the worth of the singleplayer story it was because it was ridiculously fun. I'm not going to dismiss storytelling, but it is clearly backseat to gameplay in my opinion.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Humble THQ Bundle: Save Money & Save a Publisher

Earlier this week The Humble THQ Bundle was announced and launched. This was somewhat a surprising for two reasons. 1) We usually get months or more to breathe from the last Bundle being sealed; this time it was only a couple weeks. 2) Humble Bundles are typically a batch of independently developed games; after all, it used to be called Humble Indie Bundle. Well, this time they've teamed up with far-from-indie developer /publisher THQ to push six A-list titles, and a seventh (Saints Row: The Third) if you beat the average. (Note: Two of the games in this Bundle are stand-alone sequels to Company of Heroes).


The troubling trajectory of THQ stock. (Source: Hard Core Gamer)
It's no secret that THQ has been in trouble lately, even on the verge of bankruptcy. As one of the top commenters for the above video on YouTube said, "In this case THQ is the charity." There is a actual charity to select in the payment sliders, but the default is giving most of the proceeds to THQ. This remarkable Bundle has only been running a few days and it is passing the $3 million mark.

I have no animosity towards THQ even though they've published plenty of real commercial clunkers over the years. The game industry is an industry. By the same token I have personally spent hours upon hours with some of the games they've brought to light, their recent partnership with Double Fine is particular noteworthy. I guarantee any gamer who looks over the list of their published works can say the same, for better or worse.

The metros of a post-apocalyptic Moscow is but one of the gaming experiences available. Metro 2033 (2010)
You've got until December 12th to pay what you want for a handful of games, including Darksiders and Metro 2033. You also get the soundtracks for the included games which is worth the price of admission alone, unless you're feeling particularly generous. You will never find a better buy than this and you can directly aid a desperate game company. Yes, it's the games themselves we care about, but somebody has to create them and sell them. For consumers the Humble THQ Bundle is a winning situation no matter how you slice it, I cannot say the same for the company at hand, but this will surely help.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Are These the 10 Best Games of the Last Decade?

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Half-Life 2

World of Warcraft

Shadow of the Colossus

Wii Sports



Mass Effect 2

Red Dead Redemption

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Red Dead Portal of the Colossas... I would play the hell out of this game!
Are these the 10 best games of the last decade? Maybe. It's a very well-rounded list in my opinion, even if they are all triple-A titles, with the possible exception of Wii Sports. I'm not sure what you'd call that one... These are the 10 choices that make up the new poll up on Entertainment Weekly that simply asks, "What is the best video game of the last ten years?" It's immediately clear that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is missing from this list, and not a single Grand Theft Auto, but I suppose Red Dead Redemption fills that void nicely and then some. The Big 3 (Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony) and the PC are represented, though not a one is an Xbox exclusive. No Halo to be found. But what else is missing from this list? The unprecedented emergence of indie games this last decade has truly been a life-force for hardcore and casual demographics alike. Minecraft, Braid, Cave Story? Is there one worthy to represent all of them? And even then, why just one? And what about hand-held gaming including the iOS and Android explosion of downloadable titles? To be fair, Darren Franich mentioned most of these things in his accompanying article: "In the end, we picked 10 games that represent an industry simultaneously hitting its peak while staring down a brave, scary, fascinating new era." There's all very well, but Minecraft still needs to be on here. 

Which of these 10 would you vote for and which game can you not believe they left off?

Baby Hands Sammy Jackson: the host of this year's Spike Video Game Awards.
Franich announced that the results of this poll will be revealed at the 10th Annual Spike Video Game Awards next Friday (December 7th).  I think I'm one of the only people I know who has actually watched those. They're no Oscars, that's for sure (and that's doubly damning because of how many people hate on the Academy Awards), but they are the biggest ceremony of its kind that the medium currently has. I just wished the producers cared less about celebrities and more about the bloody games. Samuel L. Jackson will be hosting the Awards this year... Yep, it's going to continue to be about the celebrities and not about the games isn't it?

The nominees for Game of the Year...
At least this year's nominees for Game of the Year had some variety, including two downloadable titles: Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, Journey, Mass Effect 3 and The Walking Dead: The Game.

I'll attempt to watch the "ceremony" again this year and will likely blog about the winners of the poll (decade) and the top prize (year).

Words by J.S. Lewis

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (Preview)

Spring 2013
Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Windows

Developed by Ubisoft Toronto

Published by Ubisoft

Join Sam Fisher again as you protect the country from terrorist scum in Splinter Cell: Blacklist

The Splinter Cell series has been one of my favorite game series for awhile now.  I love being stealthy, even in games that don't focus on stealth, and Splinter Cell has always done a great job with stealth gameplay.  The most recent entry into the series, Conviction, focused more on mobility and stealth rather than the pure stealth of earlier games, and this new entry into the series is continuing that theme.

This latest foray into the Splinter Cell universe has the previous covert organization that Sam Fisher, the protagonist, worked for dissolved only to have a new organization created with Sam as the boss.  A new terrorist threat called the Blacklist has emerged in which twelve terrorists have created a deadly countdown of escalating terrorist attacks, and the President has given Sam and his team full freedom to stop this threat using any means necessary.  I've loved all the other Splinter Cell main plots and this one sounds very promising too. 

If you'd just told me where the bathroom was, we wouldn't be in this mess. Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013)
Watching any preview for this game, players of any previous Splinter Cell games will notice an immediate difference, namely that Sam Fisher has a new voice actor.  The previous voice actor, Michael Ironside, decided he should "pass the torch" onto a new actor with Ubisoft choosing Eric Johnson to reprise the role.  Now, I am saddened that Mr. Ironside will no longer be voicing Sam and I will forever feel that he is Sam's "real" voice, but I understand that these things happen and Eric Johnson does a good job, at least in the material I have seen.

The gameplay footage above shows a very mobile, combat-heavy run through of a demo level.  A lot of fans have been up in arms about this because it seems like stealth has been sacrificed for action (which many fans also complained about in Conviction but still enjoyed it anyway).  While the game can be played this way in many instances, this is not a valid criticism of the game as demonstrated in the video below.

The developers decided to give the player a lot of choice in how to play the game.  You can either be very stealthy and slip by without disrupting anyone, or you can go in guns blazing and leave corpses as your call sign.  It's your choice and I'm glad the developers gave players that option.  Now whether there are any benefits or bonuses to being stealthy we will have to wait and see, but I wouldn't be surprised if they included some just to encourage people to play more stealthily than they otherwise would.

I'm looking forward to this game and am definitely putting it on my watch list. We still have several months before the game comes out so expect more videos, news, and screenshots to be released.  I hope they show off improvements to the NPC's AI and whether the player makes any story choices like in Double Agent, but so far it looks fun and it will be great to take control of Sam Fisher again.

Words by Josh Matern

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grand Theft Auto or: How I Learned To Steal Cars and Love the Series

Last week I posted another preview for Grand Theft Auto V. After basking in the new trailer I am more excited than ever for Rockstar's upcoming game in the (in)famous series. With this latest (and I predict greatest) installment of Grand Theft Auto approaching, I've thought about the games that brought it to where it is today and my personal relationship with them. What follows is my love letter to the GTA games. There will be some (constructive) criticism, but mostly this is exploring how the series has evolved over the years and the experiences I have had playing several of them.

You could run down the sidewalk with an assault rifle and body armor from the very beginning. Grand Theft Auto (1997)
This year we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the original Grand Theft Auto developed by DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North). It was first released on computer in Europe. From the series' top-down roots, it had the same sandbox feel that that attracts so many players to its shores even to this day. It was always a game where you were a thug on the streets who could work his way up the ranks of gangsterdom through "missions" or you could just run amok throughout the city, blowing up cars, running over pedestrians, and getting the attention  of the police. And of course, hijacking a car was just a button-press away. By always having a control devoted to stealing vehicles, it's no wonder the series has always kept the name Grand Theft Auto.

Exploding cars was a class back in "old school" too. Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999)
I did not have a PS2 when so many were ranting and raving about Grand Theft Auto III, though I realized the number on the end must mean there were at least two before it (how about that assessment Sherlock?).  Plus, I am somewhat of a completionist as a gamer. I like to play from the beginning of a series (as we almost always do with literature and film) to see firsthand how story, game mechanics and technology progresses.  And so my personal devotion to the series goes back to Grand Theft Auto 2, but even after that I've gone back to sample the original and even its British-based spin-off, London, 1969. The phone-booth based missions of these earlier games are easily overshadowed in my memories of a nighttime street strewn with the smoldering remains of Beamers and taxi cabs. Years before Grand Theft Auto 2, a friend and I used to cause pile-ups in imaginary intersections on the living room floor with our Hot Wheels. This game let us cause similar havoc in a fully simulated sandbox. We had grown up, but so had our toys. Even today it's fun to play.

Aerial views, animated frames for cut-scenes, and touch controls. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)
In recent years they revisited their own past with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. It is somewhat of a callback to the earlier games with its aerial viewpoints, though it brought along plenty of change to the experience. For one thing thing, you use touch controls to perform any number of tasks, including jacking a car (see above). Also, for the first time you get to assume the role of an Asian protagonist, Huang Lee. Chinatown has frequently appeared throughout the series, though this time it is all the more meaningful. GTA: Chinatown Wars is widely considered among the best handheld games of the last generation.

You play as silent protagonist Claude on the streets of Liberty City. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
I will always consider Grand Theft Auto III to be one of the most influential games of all-time. It appeared on the PlayStation 2 (where the next two games would debut before better versions would later appear on Xbox and PC) back in 2001. GTA III set a new standard for open-world (though "open-city" is far more appropriate a term in this case, more on these semantics in that future post that I will reference at the end) and sandbox game experiences. We were no longer an omniscient yet distant player looking down at ant-sized action, we were down and in the game leading a character around though intimate third-person perspective in a city that seemed to function whether or not we were there. Does a falling member of a forest make a sound if no one is around to hear it? Does Liberty City keep on keepin' on when I'm in the corner of the map, inside a building, or even have the game turned off? A decade ago this New York-esque city was alive, vibrant, and exciting. Games have come so far since then, but I see this as trailblazer for countless titles and I am not just referring to the large array of GTA-clones (though many arise above this stereotype, see the Mafia series for example). Once we've reached greener pastures we ought not forget the bridge that brought us there.

A look at the cluttered interface on the iOS port of Grand Theft Auto III (2001/11)
I recently purchased GTA III for the iPad during a Halloween sale and had a hard time putting it down. For a game that worked so well on the controller I was pretty shocked by how well implemented and easy-to-use the touch screen controllers actually were. Even driving is very doable! Rockstar released GTA III for iOS last year in a special 10 Year Anniversary edition. They've announced a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City port to iOS as well, which should release sometime next month.

Tommy Vercetti, reporting for duty Vice City. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Speaking of which, here is a far-and-wide favorite of the series, Vice City, first seen in 2002. You play as Tommy Vercetti who is not only fresh out of jail but fresh out of Liberty City. Vice City is a Miami-inspired island setting and pink and blue color scheme. This entry took leaps and bounds in the story department with a colorful character and cinematic cut-scenes. I cannot talk about Vice City without talking about its music (even though I already did so in last week's Crew Post). This is the single greatest mix-tape soundtrack of all-time with 100+ hits from the '80s, from Michael Jackson to Nena's "99 Luftballoons" and including Rockstar's own Lovefist, the seven iconic radio stations are an instant classic in whatever you're driving in the game to whatever you're driving in real life.

Runnin' and gunnin' through South Central. Grand Theft Auto: San Andrea (2004)
Two years later (2004) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas changed the game again. You're Carl Johnson (CJ), a young and insignificant gangbanger who has returned (once again from Liberty City) to his ghetto hood  in Los Santos (Los Angeles) after the tragic death of his mother. Calling it Boyz n the Hood: The Game is not far off. On the surface it appears full of "life on the streets" complete with gangsta rap and all the disrespect that seems to come from it, but it turns out to be a game all about respect. Most of the early missions are about sustaining a reputation amidst your own before improving your monetary situation is even an option. As our first African American protagonist in the series we experience his plight especially how "the Man" (in the embodied form of crooked cops) keep pushing him down. 

It seems to me that San Andreas is one of the more divided games in the series. Some felt there was too much going on that distracted from what these games were initially about. However, if I had to choose a favorite of the GTA games this may be the one. There is so much to do in the game that is spread out over three full cities and all the countryside in-between. All the car-stealing, mob-hunting and racing you've come to expect from the series is in tact if you want it, but I see the dozens of other activities (from basketball to base jumping) as more toys in the sandbox that are there if you want them. San Andreas even brought some Sims-like light-RPG elements to the table where you had to keep an eye on your body fat for example.

The Liberty City skyline in the richest detail yet. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
Four years later and with a new console generation well underway and we were treated with the highly-longed-for release of Grand Theft Auto IV, which brought us back to (surprise, surprise) Liberty City, this time looking more like Manhattan and company than ever before. Speaking of looks, we were finally able to get a game that approached realism in its graphical design. GTA IV is a solid and polished game with the series' richest storytelling and protagonist. You are Niko Bellic, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who has shipped himself to American to find his cousin and join in the American dream. When he arrives he finds a city that is cold and unwelcoming. His cousin's emails were pleasant exaggerations and Niko, an experienced war veteran, finds himself mixed up with wrong crowd and wondering how now to improve his situation. 

With impressive physics and tight controls (including the long-needed cover mechanic) this game continued the tradition in improving upon what had come before it. Many extracirricular activities from San Andreas were shed, though more true-to-life elements were added: a usable cell phone, email, and a vastly improved relationship system. Those who were just looking for a good action-packed time found these to be annoyances as well. Regardless, I think anyone who has experienced any of the game's vast multiplayer modes is thankful for its addition.

Bicycles return in a gloriously looking Los Santos. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
This was not a comprehensive history of all the the games in the series (though I would love to write one someday when I am more qualified), just lightly touching on the standouts and what stood out in each. From everything I have read and seen about Grand Theft Auto V, I truly expect it to be both the best and my new personal favorite in the wildly popular franchise. 

In these months before the game, I will publish more posts about the series here on These Things We Call Video Games. Besides previews, reviews and other features, the Grand Theft Auto games themselves will surely be referenced in explorations and analyses of open-world/sandbox games. This may very well be my favorite variety of game and GTA put that "genre" on the map. Furthermore, there is much to discuss about morals in video games. Has GTA gotten a bad rap over the years? Yes, but in many ways it merits and calls for that status. More on these pertinent topics to come, though you may have already sensed whispers of them in this post.

Words by J.S. Lewis

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Grand Theft Auto V (Preview II)

Spring 2013
PS3, Xbox 360

Developed by Rockstar North

Published by Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto V is the best way to end a console generation.

An entire year has passed since the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto V. Today we got the second. I have watched it several times including the shot-by-shot study session with the analytic folks responsible for IGN's Rewind Theater and I am immensely and thoroughly impressed. The presentation is pristine, the writing on par with Rockstar products of late (Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3 for example), and most importantly, it looks like it is going to be a blast!

December cover for GameInformer, first look at the three protagonists.
There has been so much news for GTA V as of late that even attempting a preview at this point is overwhelming. With the GameInformer cover story (art above), word that it would be the first in the series with a full orchestrated score (of course this is addition to the  music on the radio), and explanations as to why they did not hold it over for next gen. Gamers, expect the industry's spotlight to remain focused on this game for the next several months until its colossal release.

Jets are back baby! Grand Theft Auto V (2012)
We are returning to Los Santos this time around (the city we start out in in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) but will also have access to the surrounding countryside. In fact, Rockstar announced that the world in Grand Theft Auto V is bigger than those of GTA IVRed Dead , and GTA: San Andreas combined. Combined! Some are concerned that it is going to be too big for it's own good. Such a thought never enters my thinking, but it is a point worth bringing up. Dan Houser (co-founder of Rockstar) revealed plain and simple that the map was this big to better support the flying the player would inevitable be doing. And how about that scene in the new trailer where Trevor, it looks like, takes a jeep out of a plane only to eject himself and free-fall... This could be the most fun of its kind since Just Cause 2!

Left to right: Franklin, Trevor and Michael: the three playable protagonists. Grand Theft Auto V (2012)
Possibly the highlight of this trailer, recent demo discussions and news is that you will play as three different characters throughout the campaign. Sometimes they will be together, sometimes each doing their own thing. Each are distinct in their situations and skills. You can get a glimpse of them above, but watch the trailer for more. Michael seems to be the main character, a middle-aged man who has come to Los Santos to stay out of trouble, but obviously that is not what happens. While watching the trailer I got a strong Breaking Bad vibe from the scenarios our characters got themselves into and the relationships between them. That's not a good bad influence to have. Off the top of my head I cannot think of another game that has done something quite like this character system, certainly not on this large a scale. This is something they first explored in Grand Theft Auto IV with Episodes from Liberty City. And not to give too much away but your campaign was not limited to the main character in either Red Dead Redemption or L.A. Noire, the latter being published by Rockstar. I am eager to see the character-switching in action.

Don't worry, helicopters return to. Also, take in the view of "Vinewood" Hills. Grand Theft Auto V (2012)
Finally, we are all terribly curious as to what the game's multiplayer is going to entail. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption brought something new to open-world multiplayer, these are experiences I still throw in to my system today. No doubt Rockstar is going to deliver the high quality gameplay series preview they've become known for to both inform and further intice us, though it's not like they need to... This is hands down the game I am most anticipating from this point forward folks. Likewise you can anticipate to hear more about Grand Theft Auto V before and after its Spring 2013 release! Next year will likely be the finale for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, games like this are pushing the systems for all they can muster. I cannot think of a better way to close the curtains.

Oh, and just for the fun of it, here's the Adam Sessler discussing the trailer.

Words by J.S. Lewis

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

There's A New Game Music Bundle

The Game Music Bundles are packages of joy.
Hot off the heels of our explosive "Crew Post: The Power of Music" I received a most welcome piece of mail in my inbox yesterday morning, a notice that the Game Music Bundle 4 is up and running! Not unlike the Humble (Indie) Bundles that I praised to high heaven last week, this is a package deal where you choose the price (starting as low as $1.00) for five original soundtracks. You may want to note that if you go up to $10 you will unlock the second tier with five additional scores!

For the first time a film's soundtrack is included in the Humble Music Bundle: Indie Game: The Movie (2012)
Included in the bundle are some of the top indie games of 2012: Spelunky (currently my favorite XBLA title to release this year), Dear Esther, and Retro City Rampage (one I am patiently waiting for its XBLA release, it is currently available on PSN and Windows). This bundle also comes with soundtrack for Indie Game: The Movie! This is one of the best documentaries of the year and surely one of the best films about video games I have ever seen. Jim Guthrie, the virtuoso behind the music for Sword & Sworcery, composed the climate-controlling score for Indie Game. Seek this film out folks (currently available on Netflix Instant by the way), but also seek out the music of Jim Guthrie.

If you collect game soundtracks this small purchase is a no-brainer. If you haven't been paying attention to the OSTs of what you play then there is no better time to start. Head over to the Game Music Bundle site and check out the goodness that be. This current bundle looks to end on/around Monday, November 19th, so make sure you tell the gamers in your life!

Words by J.S. Lewis

Monday, November 12, 2012

Crew Post: The Power of Music

Music has been in video games since, well, at least Donkey Kong.  That is to say, a long time.  It is as much a part of the industry as graphics.  But how important is it?  How does it affect the gameplay experience? What are some of your favorite (and least favorite) soundtracks or songs?  The crew weighs in with their opinions:


Beautiful music is becoming a key factor in many games and for good reason.  They add to the gameplay experience.  Whether it is a powerful rock song as I blow apart buildings or a soothing lullaby as I put farm animals away for the night, music helps me be more immersed in the game and intensifies my emotions.  Some songs are fantastic by themselves and I love buying them just to listen to them whenever.

Some of my favorite games are well known for their music.  The Halo series has beautiful music done by an excellent composer.  The Halo 2 soundtrack was the first soundtrack I ever bought.  Prince of Persia used music to influence the feel of the game.  For instance, The Sands of Time has amazing Persian influenced music that adds to the mysticism while Warrior Within has heavy metal to emphasize the brutal attitude of the Prince.  And anytime I hear the Super Mario Bros. theme, I smile with memories.

Persian influenced rock always makes slicing up sand creatures more satisfying. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) 

Of course not all games have good music and it can detract from the game, but I will admit that I will keep playing a game that has great gameplay even if the music is terrible.  However, very rarely will I consider a game a favorite if the music is bad and it definitely detracts from the experience.  I respect any studios that go the extra mile and spend the extra money to include wonderful music in their games because without it the game will always feel like it is missing something important.


Music is an integral component in all forms of media, it can heighten or break tension, it can add emotional resonance or establish time and mood. Great examples of the use of music that immediately come to mind include Halo 2, Half-Life 2, and Skyrim. The first two are linear games and the music comes in at the exact intended moment every time, it is used to great effect but with Skyrim, it is an open-world and certain events trigger the music. When you start battling a dragon, the music is right there with you to increase the intensity and adrenaline and it is immensely satisfying. The three examples above are all scores written specifically for the series by very talented individuals but often music groups are featured in video games and enhance the experience as well.

One of the biggest influences in my musical taste occurred because of a video game. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines featured gothic-rock artists such as Lacuna Coil, Type O Negative, and Darling Violetta among others. Because of this game I fell in love with this genre which I still enjoy today. Fallout: New Vegas is also a game I cherish because of its great score but also because of its in-game music featuring such talents as Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and The Ink Spots. This music solidifies the 1950's & 60's feel it is going for.

The Ink Spots lull us into a false-sense of security and time with music. Fallout 3 (2008) 

I think it's an easy thing to under-appreciate but it would be a grave error for game-designers to overlook the music aspect of a game, even for simple apps.


Obviously this is a huge topic to attempt to tackle in one sitting, but I want to play along! My abiding love of video game soundtracks stems from the late '90s when I started building my personal library of film scores. The feelings I felt while watching the movie could be taken with me wherever I went. Overtime I paid more attention to the soundtracks of what I was playing and found the reserves to be just as rich. Harnessing the power of music is an ineffable tool for accessing memories and the emotions that accompanied them. But of course hearing them in their element (i.e. while playing the game) is where the magic is complete.

This plays at a crucial moment during the single-player experience. Red Dead Redemption (2010)

It is no coincidence that my favorite soundtrack of late comes from one of the best games of this generation, Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption. Like the game itself the original score is clearly influenced from nearly a hundred years of Western movies, most notably those scored by genius composer Ennio Morricone. It instantly elevated itself to legendary levels, praise be to composers Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. I could gush about any given track from the game, but listen to "Far Away" by Jose Gonzalez. Most of the game has a classic instrumental score, but when this lyrical Southwest lamentation plays when you first reach Mexico... the effect left me awe-struck. You can watch this moment of the story-driven game above.

One of the many great songs you can here on the car radio. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)

Speaking of Rockstar, I would be absolutely amiss if I didn't mention the "mix-tape soundtracks" of their Grand Theft Auto series. Starting with Grand Theft Auto III every time you "commandeered" a car you had access to the radio and several different stations. The songs, (some familiar, some new) became dear friends. Whether it was "All My Exes Live in Texas" as heard on K-Rose in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or the iconic "I Ran (So Far Away)" on Wave 103 in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, my tastes and horizons were widened as a result. Not to mention it created a needed diversion from the rest of the gameplay. The 7-disc Vice City soundtrack is something I still play in my car to this day. Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night" (above) plays great as your cruising around in Vice City or where you drive in the real world. This brilliant mechanic was duplicated to fine results in Mafia II and even this year's Sleeping Dogs.

An old-school styled soundtrack helps set the stage and breathe mystery into the game world. Sword & Sworcery (2011)

Video game themes are now just as iconic as those of films. Halo, Uncharted and even Angry Birds are recognizable in the first notes. Then you have something like Sword & Sworcery trailblazing a new route and creating a unique ambience that is iconic in its own way (above). The resurgence of 8 and 16-bit (chiptune) soundtracks in today's indie games is also quickly worth noting. Check out an example from VVVVVVChristopher Tin's Grammy-winning score for Civilization IV is downright inspiring. Listen to it in its entirety here, makes for excellent background music while you surf the web. There are many more soundtracks I want to spotlight, but I will have to find occasion to do so in future posts!


Music in games... Where do I even start? I could write a book- no no no, I could dedicate my life to the impact music has on games. But seeing as I'm only given a few paragraphs I'll just brush the surface. Seriously though, I advise every crew member to write their own feature on game music, the topic deserves it.

Music is probably my most important component of games. Seriously! I value good music more than gameplay, more than art direction, more than level-design, more than dialogue, more than EVERYTHING. I am willing to play a game with broken controls, repetitive gameplay mechanics and a predictable plot, as long as it has damn good music. Does that mean I play games like that? No, because there are plenty of games with flawless controls and gameplay PLUS fantastic music. Most of the games I choose to play are games whose soundtracks I've been listening to over and over weeks in advance. Half of my music library is filled with game soundtracks... and that's over 100Gb of music. I think I've proven how much I love game tunes. 

I'm not going to list what games I think have spectacular soundtracks because I don't feel like writing an encyclopedia; I'm not even going to list my favorite composers (but I will mention Koji Kondo is a god).  Instead I'm just going state a bunch of random things about game music I feel is important.

Koji Kondo being a god. Mario Galaxy (2007)

Music is the one aspect of games you can appreciate outside of games themselves. You can't take a game's art or gameplay with you to the store. But music? Music you can enjoy anywhere. Game tunes are perfect for when you're studying, driving, and obviously, playing games. 

Game music is almost its own genre. Sure, in recent years the big-budget games have been sporting more orchestrated soundtracks, similar to what you hear in movies. But at its core, game music is built around something more simple: melodies, buckets and buckets of melodies. Memorable game soundtracks have a memorable melody. Something catchy. Something you can hum and just can't seem to get out of your head. 

Chrono Trigger (1995)

Back in the dawn of games, technology didn't allow for high quality sounds, so composers had to resort to low bit forms or music. And the main method, really the only method, a composer could make a good tune for a song was by making it more melodic. Stringing basic sounds together to make  tune that could both fit in a game's memory and stick inside a child's head all day. THAT is what game music was. But as technology advanced games were allotted more memory to dedicate to music; tunes didn't have to be melodic or catchy to be good anymore. Games could have tracks that were more ambient/moody. Or they could borrow popular music of the time. The type of music completely depends on the type of game. The Silent Hill games need those dark, ambient tracks; anything else just wouldn't be setting right mood. Likewise, games like Guitar Hero and FIFA really benefit from using songs from popular musicians. 

Not the most catchy tune, but its not supposed to be. It's meant to set a mood. Minecraft (2011)

So game music isn't limited to melody heavy soundtracks anymore. The technology isn't holding it back and the shear number of game types allow for any genre of music to be used, so long as it fits the game. But I still have a sweet spot for those melodic tunes that stick in your head. They really make games just that much more memorable.


I wish I could talk about every game that I loved because they all had a soundtrack that swept me off my feet and carried me to a love hotel, but we'd be here for hours. So I'll just talk about a few.

Music has always been a huge part of my "immersion factor". For me, a game without quality tunes might as well be garbage. I have been known to even play bad games just because they have good music. NieR for example, that was a confused game. NieR was trying to be a "bullet hell shooter" and an action-adventure RPG. More importantly though (to me), was the music it had; the music made it all come together, making me not care one bit about it's flaws. The music in NieR immersed me to the fullest.

I still have a gameplay save just to boot up and listen to this now and again. NieR (2010)

Okay so maybe NieR isn't a "bad" game but it is confused and definitely one of the underrated games of the last few years.

Square Enix sure knows how to make a good soundtrack. Back in high school I played a lot of Final Fantasy XI (FFXI for short) which is an MMO that game out before World of Warcraft. FFXI had, hands on, the greatest MMO sountrack I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand. In fact, to this day I feel it was the music that kept me enthralled for years of my life. Until FFXI, there was very little music in MMOs to make you feel as heroic as a player in Vana'diel.

FFXI is filled with music like this. Final Fantasy XI (2003)

I'll end on a couple of my top moments that has to do with the music bringing it all together. They are both in Metal Gear games. As a huge fan of the series I have been playing these games since I was a tiny man. I feel as though Snake's battles were fought in good places in my life. When his struggles reached an end I felt an empathetic relief, you know what I'm saying? The first scene is from Metal Gear Solid 3 near the end.

(Spoilers) Watch until 2:15 if you don't want to see the cutscene:

Another moment I keep a game save for. I love to play this fight over sometimes. Metal Gear 3 (2004)

(Spoilers) The other is from Metal Gear Solid 4:

Brothers face off at the end the same way it began. Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)

The beauty in that last video is how as the fight progresses it changes the music from Metal Gear 1 to 2, 3 and finally 4. This moment of closure brought together by music!

As you can see music plays a huge role in my gaming experience, and I don't see that ever changing. My name is Casey Holt and I am a video game music addict.