Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ace Combat thoughts

I've been looking forward to Ace Combat: Assault Horizon for a while now. My anticipation has only been heightened by the fact that Ace Combat 6, cruelly, was an Xbox 360 exclusive that I've yet to play. (You broke my heart, Namco. You broke my heart.) This is one of those rare times in which I attempt actual commentary on a game, so you've been warned.

Some longtime fans of the series of lamented the fact that this game is set in the real world rather than the imaginary planet, Strangereal, that has been the setting of most other Ace Combat games. I sympathize with that. I've always liked the alternate world of the ace combat games, especially because it was a setting that allowed the developers to set stories in a world where military technology was mostly recognizable from our own modern day and then throw in the occasional  orbital coilgun or undersea aircraft carrier. It's harder to get away with that sort of thing in a game about modern combat aircraft that's actually set in our depressingly coilgun-impoverished real world.

Note that I haven't yet played the new game and have avoided spoilers, so for all I know the plot of Assault Horizon involves fusion-powered flying aircraft carriers that can cloak like a Klingon Bird of Prey or a lens in outer space that can set cities on fire with focused sunlight or aircraft being burned out of the sky by nuclear-pumped x-ray lasers. In which case the above is moot.

On the other hand, I think the change might be a good idea. One of the problems with having more and more games set in Strangereal is that having (mostly) recognizable modern military technology creates a fairly limited window in Strangereal's history for games to be set. With the exception of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, all of the Ace Combat games have been set between the years 1995 (Ace Combat: Zero) and 2020 (Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception). We already know the planet's geography, more or less, and so there are also a limited number of places in Strangereal for wars to be fought and a limited number of countries to be belligerents in them.

Every new Ace Combat game needs a war placed within those constraints, preferably- especially if it's in the mainline series and not some spin-off- in a conflict of respectable size that has not yet been the focus of a game so that the player isn't sitting in the shadows of previous heroes. There's a reason the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Darth Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi wasn't followed up by Star Wars Episode VII: Boring Post-War Outer Rim Peacekeeping Operation. (Unless you count the Jedi Academy Trilogy, anyway.)

The problem with this is that for each additional game you have to cram another large conflict into that same few decades. There are reasons, in the Ace Combat back story, for Strangereal to be suffering a much greater degree of large-scale warfare in its late 20th and early 21st centuries than our own has had, but the overall tone is generally hopeful. There's only so much unpleasantness you can cram into that quarter-century before the overall tone of the setting shifts from “a world much like our own wracked by conflict and upheaval as people fight for a better future” to “blood-soaked abattoir where the only escape from the unending violence and horror of existence is death,” and I'd rather see Strangereal stay on the brighter side of that line.

Oddly- because the appeal seems so obvious in retrospect- it was only just now, as I started thinking about the implications of the time frame of the Ace Combat series that it occurred to me how much I would like to play an Ace Combat game set in Strangereal's early-to-mid-twentieth century. If you're a fan of the series, just imagine it: Zeppelins. Biplanes. Triplanes. Quadruplanes. Massive bombers bristling with gun turrets as tiny fighters dart around them. Gigantic artillery. Sub-orbital bombers. Ornithopters. Autogyros. Ridiculously large tanks. Zeppelins, because they're cool enough to mention repeatedly. Rocket-powered fighters. All in the same alternate world where wars fought in the 1990s involved, among other things, batteries of railguns capable of shooting down objects in outer space and a gigantic laser that could hit targets over the horizon by reflecting off of giant orbiting mirrors.

This must happen.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Duke's in his development Hell, all's right with the world

In news that seems almost aggressive in how utterly unsurprising it is, plans for a fan-made but officially authorized remake of Duke Nukem 3-D are now on indefinite hold.

This comes as sort of a relief. Not, I hasten to add, because of any antipathy towards the guys behind the Duke Nukem 3-D: Reloaded, or towards fans of the game that were hoping to play the remake, or- I should hope it goes without saying- towards His Grace personally. It's just that the universe is back in balance now.

Gearbox's success (for a certain value of “success”) in actually making and releasing Duke Nukem Forever shattered one of the fundamental law of  nature, without which a comprehensible or even coherent universe would become impossible. Nothing can travel faster than light. The combined internal angles of a triangle on a two-dimensional plane always equal 180°. The Chicago Cubs will not win the World Series. And, last but by no means least, the next first-person Duke Nukem game is always trapped in an endless series of production delays from which it is doomed to never escape, forever bound in unbreakable adamantine chains of iron and copper and abandoned code made unusable by engine changes. And yet, somehow, back in June, Duke Nukem Forever actually came out.

But now the natural order reasserts itself, and the world makes sense again.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cliff Bleszinski responds to Gears of War 3 reviews: “Is worship as a living god somehow too much to ask for?”

(Note: The original version of this article- which is fictitious, just in case that somehow isn't obvious by the point where Cliffy B demands a formal apology from the Queen and the delivery of a severed human head to Epic headquarters- appeared at Kuribo's Shoes, so if you liked it be sure to check them out.) 

Epic Games designer Cliff Bleszinski has recently become the target of a storm of criticism over his complaint that reviewers at Eurogamer were “haters” for giving Gears of War 3 a rating of 8 out of 10 in its recent review. After an initial response insisting that the “haters” remark was a joke taken out of context,  Bleszinski has now issued further clarifications on his remarks. In a recent statement to the press, Bleszinski said:

I don’t expect everyone to like every single thing I do. But when a major publication like Eurogamer says that much of the game “shines,” that the game’s weak moments are “rare” and greatly outnumbered by “superbly judged action sequences,” how could I not be offended? When [Eurogamer reviewer] Johnny Minkley said that the single-player campaign is “a mostly rousing and memorable spectacle,” called the multiplayer “all you could have reasonably asked for,” and gave a score that the Eurogamer scoring policy defines as merely “Very Good,” I was aghast. The time is not long past when men fought duels to the death upon the field of honor over insults like that.

I firmly believe that Gears of War 3 is the best game in the series to date, and that the game and the people who made it should be given the recognition they deserve. I don’t believe I’m being unreasonable. I’m simply asking for a few simple acknowledgments of the work Epic Games has put into creating the most exciting Gears of War experience yet, such as:

An official written apology from Eurogamer editor Tom Bramwell, the owners of Eurogamer Network Ltd,  Her Britannic Majesty Elizabeth the Second, and Mr. Minkley himself.

The establishment of a new rating scale to replace the 1 to 10 format commonly used at present. Changes in this new scale are to include raising the minimum possible review score from 7 to 9 and expanding the scale through the addition of a new possible score representing games that surpass the current maximum score of 10, which will simply be called “Cliff.” Even higher scores, such as “Double Cliff,” “Treble Cliff,” and “Cliffgasm” will also be possible.

The delivery of the severed head of the calumniator Johnny Minkley, impaled on a pike or some similar sharpened implement, to Epic Games headquarters no later than October 1st.

The construction of a solid gold statue of myself,  at least 40 feet in height, depicting me as the almighty Zeus enthroned upon Olympus. The statue is to be unveiled at E3 2012 and prominently displayed at all significant gaming industry press events thereafter, where mortals shall be permitted to offer burnt sacrifices unto it that they might seek my favor.

All members of Eurogamer’s senior editorial staff shall don sackcloth and penitential ashes and embark on a pilgrimage in which they shall walk barefoot from Eurogamer headquarters in the United Kingdom to Epic Games’ office in Cary, North Carolina as a mark of their contrition. No, I don’t know how they’re going to walk from Europe to North Carolina. They should have thought of that before they let some loose cannon say that Gears of War 3 had “occasional moments that sag in addition to the many that soar.”

None of the persons named by Bleszinski in his demands could be reached for comment at the time this article went to press.

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