Holden Link

Navigation Menu

What I Played: 2011 Edition

What I Played: 2011 Edition

Posted on Jan 27, 2012 in Blog, Feature, Now Playing | 3 comments

I’m a little later than usual getting my “year in review” list up this month. 2011 was my first year working full time in the games industry, and I expected the idea of “making games means playing less games” to apply. It didn’t apply all that much in the end – maybe I played games for less time, but I still played a lot of different ones. If this is your first time reading one of these lists, let me preface it like I always do: I’m not an expert critic, and this is mostly an exercise for me to analyze my own gaming habits. I share it publicly so my peers can better frame my background and biases as a designer/producer/geek. With that, onward! Anomaly Warzone Earth (PC) Nifty take on “tower offense.” The formula grew a bit stale for me on PC because I felt like I didn’t have enough to do while I was waiting for my troops to reach the towers, but that might feel better on the iOS version where touching and panning is a bit more action-heavy than dragging a mouse. Atom Zombie Smasher (PC) The first of many Humble Indie Bundle pickups on this list, Atom Zombie Smasher is a charming top-down defense game. The presentation value sells the experience, much like in Firemint’s Flight Control. It’s a fun time-waster, worth the price of admission, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre so I don’t think I learned much from it as a designer. Barkley: Shut Up & Jam Gaiden (PC) Fantastic indie RPG that took me way too long to get around to playing. It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish and features a battle system that rivals the Paper Mario games. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate an epic drama in which the events of Space Jam are considered canonical. Batman: Arkham City (PC) It’s like Arkham Asylum, but more Batman-ier in all the right ways. Arkham City was probably my “game of the year” in terms of moment-to-moment joy while playing it. Again, like Saboteur and Assassin’s Creed, it gave me a map with a ton of dots on...

Read More

Why I Can’t Finish Skyward Sword

Why I Can’t Finish Skyward Sword

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 in Now Playing | 4 comments

Skyward Sword’s biggest fans and many members of the press believe that the motion controls make the game what it is – you have to put extra thought into every sword swipe and the 1:1 connection makes it feel more personal than any Zelda game before it. I have a very different opinion. I really wanted to like it, but Skyward Sword will be the first Zelda game I don’t finish. Here’s my attempt to articulate my problems with the game. Good implementations of motion controls make you feel more connected to the activity you’re doing through a series of smoke and mirrors. Dance Central, for instance, is really just a game of Simon Says that makes you feel awesome. You see the dancers on stage doing crazy routines, and when the game says you did well, you think you look as cool as the dancers. In reality, the game was just looking at an approximation of your movements, and if you were close, it’ll give you positive feedback. Anyone who has played Dance Central in a party setting knows that the game usually tells people they look better than they actually do. That’s part of the fun, though, and it isn’t a bad design. It is distinctly different from other dancing games before it and shows the promise of its platform. Wii Sports before it was even a well-designed game. Even if it was mostly waggle, it enabled players to mimic real bowling or boxing motions and get better results than they would in real life. They weren’t accurate, but they offered a very different experience compared to everything in the genre before it. Guitar Hero didn’t make its name with motion controllers, but still achieved success by offering a new way to play music games that allowed players to feel like they were living out a fantasy. All of these games had their critics. Some professional musicians hated Guitar Hero. I recall Pearl Jam’s singer performing one of his songs in Rock Band on a talk show and getting a failing grade. Some people felt like it trivialized learning an actual instrument, while others embraced it as...

Read More

Thoughts on Limbo

Posted on Jul 30, 2010 in Blog, Now Playing | 3 comments

I haven’t been away from the game long enough to write a formal deconstruction, but I’ve been talking to a lot of friends about Playdead’s Limbo recently. My opinion differs from the majority (not to say I’m on my own), and I think writing it in the blog is the best way to articulate the angle I’m coming from. In doing so, I hope I’ll be able to get some feedback on why the things that bothered me made the game better for everyone else. Art Style The first thing everyone talks about when they see Limbo is the unique minimalist art style. It’s looks absolutely beautiful in motion, and it creates an incredible mood for the game’s world. It evokes all sorts of emotions without the use of language, and it undeniably leaves an impression with the player. Unfortunately, I found a huge drawback to this art style in the context of Limbo‘s gameplay. It’s not always clear what the player can and can’t interact with in each area, and the VFX often work against it. The majority of the times I got stuck in the game were because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be interacting with (i.e. pushing buttons on signs that change the direction of gravity). I’m all for a cool look, but it’s a design failure when it interferes with the player’s ability to understand their environments. It’s not “clever” or “innovative” to confuse the player about what they can and can’t interact with in the game world, and a few too many puzzles fell into that category for my taste. Death Like Another World before it, Limbo has an obscene number of graphic death scenes. It’s no secret that, no matter how attached to their characters, players love seeing them get mangled in creative and unexpected ways – take a look at Dead Space or Resident Evil, for example. There are “all the ways to die” videos on YouTube with millions of hits, and artists clearly put a lot of effort into making sure players are satisfied. The difference between deaths in Dead Space and Limbo is that the player doesn’t always...

Read More

What I Played: 2009 Edition

What I Played: 2009 Edition

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 in Blog, Feature, Now Playing | 1 comment

For all the time I spent working, I still managed to play a lot of games in 2009. I’m late on the decons, but in the meantime I’ve put together a list of (almost) every game I played this year with a couple thoughts on things that stuck out to me about each of them. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney – Capcom, Nintendo DS I was hesitant about the series ditching Phoenix, but in the end, I still got to yell “OBJECTION” at my handheld and that makes everything in the world OK. The updated investigation phase mechanics weren’t all that compelling even though they made good use of the DS. Maybe I was burnt out from the previous three games, but this one couldn’t keep my attention long enough to make it past the third case. Finished: NO Auditorium – EA, iPhone I played it first on PC, so buying the iPhone version was a no-brainer for me. It’s a great mobile game. The puzzles lend themselves well to the touchscreen, and levels can played in two or three minutes while waiting for a bus. I found the gameplay to be addicting enough that I finished it before I had the opportunity to play while waiting for a bus, opting to play it over Thanksgiving when I should have been socializing with family. EA offers more levels, but you have to feed the microtransaction monster to get to them. Finished: YES Batman: Arkham Asylum – Rocksteady, PS3 As most of the mainstream reviews have already noted, this one was a pleasant surprise. It’s one of the best stealth action games out there, even if the AI is fairly predictable. The combat system was intuitive and fun despite being so repetitive. None of the mechanics would have meant  anything if Rocksteady hadn’t done such an amazing job with the game’s presentation. It truly makes the player feel like Batman, and even the collect-a-thon elements (Riddler trophies) were rewarding with Bioshock-esque tape recordings and backstory that went far beyond the genre’s usual offering. It’s a licensed game, but it’s also fun and innovative. What a concept! Finished: YES Boom Blox Bash...

Read More

Game Deconstruction: FarmVille

Game Deconstruction: FarmVille

Posted on Oct 8, 2009 in Decon, Feature, Now Playing | 7 comments

“FarmVille? That stupid Facebook game that clutters my news feed all the time with random messages about lost pigs and ugly ducklings? Really?” When I decided I was going to do these deconstructions, Facebook games were the last thing on my mind. This time last month, I had never even played a Facebook game. I thought the very concept of Facebook games was backwards – I have Steam to play games on my computer, after all. Facebook should be strictly for staying in touch with friends. But after hearing that FarmVille has over 11 million active users on a daily basis – even more than World of Warcraft – I figured that there must be something about the game that the average Facebook user finds attractive. And in always trying to expand my knowledge of games, I finally gave in and started playing. FarmVille Developer: Zynga Genre: Simulation Metacritic: N/A Price: Free / Optional Microtransactions Length: Indeterminate Background FarmVille is Zynga’s answer to Farmtown, another popular farm simulator for social networks. Gameplay FarmVille is designed to be played in short segments of five to ten minutes every day. It’s a never-ending cycle of planting crops, waiting for crops to grow in real-time overnight or throughout the day, and then harvesting the crops before they whither. The objective of the game is highly open-ended, but players can progress by gaining experience points and “leveling up.” Each level unlocks a new set of crops for players to plant worth more than the previous ones. The game uses two types of currency: “coins” and “farm cash.” Players earn coins by planting and harvesting crops, but farm cash is much harder to come by. To get more than one farm dollar per day, a player has to spend real money through Zynga’s payment system. In the in-game marketplace, some things can only be bought with coins, some things can only be bought with farm cash, and others can be bought with either. Players can also earn “ribbons” (achievements) that reward them with coins, experience points, and gifts. There are four tiers for each ribbon, each more demanding than the previous. For example, the...

Read More

Games of 2008 Wrap-up

Posted on Dec 28, 2008 in Blog, Now Playing | 0 comments

Since Audiball finished development, I’ve had a lot more time to play the games I’ve been buying over the past few months. Hit the jump for some quick impressions. Fallout 3 – Didn’t care for Oblivion so I came into this game not expecting much. The “VATS” battle system makes it a completely different gameplay experience even though it’s the Elder Scrolls engine. Tons of character, tons of stuff to do, but I was disappointed with the rather limited scope of the endings. Dead Space – Excellent game. As others have said, “Resident Evil 4 in Space,” and that can only be meant as a compliment to EA Redwood Shores. The focus on dismemberment is unique and somewhat refreshing in a genre that has always been about headshots. Left4Dead – Speaking of zombies, this is the multiplayer game of the year. Versus mode is a wonderful change of pace from deathmatch and CTF. Lips – Disappointing to say the least. The microphones are of awesome quality, but despite the addition of gesture controls, I’d pick Singstar or Karaoke Revolution over this any day. Of course, Rock Band still tops them all. Biology Battle – A fellow Xbox Live Community Game, and easily the best one on the service. Although it’s $10, it’s a Geometry Wars clone that manages to be better than Geometry Wars in every way. Mother 3 – Finally got around to playing the fan translation. I last played through Earthbound about a year ago, and I’m enjoying this just as much. Still clueless as to why it’s not being released on the other side of the pond. Tales of Vesperia – At least as good as Tales of Symphonia so far, which was previously my favorite game in the series. The voice acting doesn’t make me want to shove forks in my ears, so that’s better than most JRPGs right off the bat. Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 2 – Better than Episode 1, at least. This is turning into a better-than-average RPG, so anyone who had any interest in the first one owes it to themselves to check this out. If you like Penny Arcade and...

Read More
Page 1 of 212