Oct. 30, 2014 | 4:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER The ridiculousness in “Sunset Overdrive” borders on anarchic. There are rules, like any game, but long before players discover a gun that fires a stuffed kitten — a plushy that’s used to send a robotic dog on a killing spree — “Sunset Overdrive” manages to excitedly toy with many of them. None of it should work. The look is cartoonishly crass (imagine a mash-up of every West Coast city, remade in the blunt architecture style of a rock festival), the music out of date (see the Warped Tour, circa 1995), the plot simple (humans consume too many energy drinks and turn into giant monsters) and the sociopolitical targets obvious (as for those sugary drink peddlers, yes, they’re probably insidious, but we learned that from Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy”). There are also guns. Lots and lots of guns. “Sunset Overdrive,” […]
Oct. 25, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia” opens with a series of bold, inventive proclamations. Audiences are welcomed to a “new form of entertainment,” one in which the animation isn’t afraid to veer toward the abstract and the music isn’t concerned with what’s on the charts. But as the British narrator early in the new “Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved” says, “Let’s see how you handle something a little more contemporary.” Words that sent a shiver down the spine of this stubborn “Fantasia” loyalist. Indeed, the first voice we hear in “Fantasia: Music Evolved,” a just-released interactive interpretation of the experimental but venerable brand, is that of Lady Gaga. This is dangerous territory. Beethoven is timeless, but “Applause” is already dated, its glittery melodic tendrils firmly gripping 2013. Of course, those who own the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One are […]
Oct. 18, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER On a recent Tuesday evening, more than 50 current and former students of USC’s game design program gathered to talk video games. Student projects were shown and critiqued, but soon students were debating what it means to be labeled a “social justice warrior,” a suddenly trendy term in the video game world thanks to the ongoing battle in the player population known as “gamergate.” Consider gamergate an ownership tug-o-war. Do games belong to their growing audience, or will a broader reach destroy all that’s pleasurable about them — the sex, violence and profanity? You know, the fun. But framing gamergate as only a debate is too kind. From the moment the term emerged as a hashtag in mid-August, it was ugly, messy and convoluted. Female game designers and critics who spoke out about the medium’s future experienced harassment, […]
Oct. 16, 2014 | 8:25 a.m.
Some of the most creative and innovative work in the video game industry is coming from independent developers working alone or in small teams with limited budgets. Many such games were on display this weekend at IndieCade, the annual expo held in downtown Culver City. The festival attracted video game designers, publishers and fans worldwide who came to showcase and play games that veer from the mainstream. Hero Complex spent a day in the arcade, playing games and talking to creators. Here’s a look at five video games that caught our attention. ‘Gemini’ Playing “Gemini” feels a bit like the scene in Pixar’s “Wall-E” in which two robot lovers dance and twirl in space, trails of light tailing behind them. In this single-player video game, an NYU thesis project from designers Nick Zhang and Atlas Chen, the dance is between […]
Oct. 13, 2014 | 8:23 p.m.
THE PLAYER Imagine, perhaps, you’re a die-hard football fan. Now imagine someone comes along and says, “Hey, football isn’t so smart. It can be played better, team names don’t have to offend an entire community, and what’s with all the abuse scandals?” Maybe you don’t react too kindly to the suggestion that your Redskins should change names. Maybe you’re offended that the game you’ve held dear since childhood is facing criticism. A similar theory was recently applied to video games at IndieCade, the gaming conference and festival that concluded its seventh year over the weekend in downtown Culver City. It went something like this: While big-budget games with guns still rule, independent developers are opening up new avenues with games that tackle police brutality, explore the perils of dementia and address the difficult conversations parents have — or don’t have […]
Oct. 10, 2014 | 12:55 p.m.
THE PLAYER Gaming culture today stands at a crossroads. Games are regularly being studied and critiqued as the cultural force they’ve long claimed to be, and some in the community aren’t reacting well, to put it mildly, to the newfound microscope. Those attempting to intellectualize the medium — “social justice warriors,” as they’ve been labeled by their online disparagers — are portrayed as destroying all that’s been great about the medium, namely obscene violence, scantily clad women and the idea that games are for play and not social commentary. Granted, interactive entertainment is still a relatively young medium and therefore one not immune to struggling with issues of maturity. But credit the annual IndieCade festival, now in its seventh year this weekend in Culver City, for its part in slowly leading the community into adulthood. IndieCade has long been a […]
Oct. 04, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Though she’s long considered one of the great cinematic heroes, Ellen Ripley has generally been a forgettable one when it comes to video games. Steely in her beliefs yet unafraid to show emotion and a friend to felines, the character made famous by Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” films possesses as much thoughtfulness as action-star bullheadedness. It’s a combustible cocktail of very human emotional traits that until recently were not easily translated into action video games. But is it any wonder the video game industry has struggled to turn “Alien,” especially the 1979 sci-fi horror film of the same name from Ridley Scott, into a notable game? After all, it’s a story in which firing a gun at the enemy, one that bleeds corrosive acid, is essentially suicide. So guns, the favored weapon for nearly all interactive heroes, […]
Sept. 27, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER The very name of the game is like a glove slapped across the face. “Smarter Than You,” released this week for Apple’s mobile devices, is a taunt and a challenge. Bold words for a game that, on the surface, is essentially a virtual match of rock-paper-scissors. And yet “Smarter Than You,” a free game with a minimalistic presentation that asks little of its players, manages to carve its way into a rather complex psychological head space. That’s because it’s partly a game about the little ways in which we casually lie — to strangers, friends and loved ones. So maybe, depending on your level of cynicism, “Smarter Than You” is also a game about the ways in which we communicate. “You don’t have to tell the truth,” the game tells us in its opening tutorial, spelling out what […]
Sept. 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER The opening moments of “Destiny” are mesmerizing. It’s a Mars landing, complete with sparkling views of our galaxy and crystallized red space dust. It’s a vision that looks lifted straight from photographs sent in by NASA’s Curiosity rover. It’s immediately inviting — optimistic, even. This is “present day” Mars, the game tells us, and considering that manned spaceflight isn’t a top legislative priority anymore, watching an astronaut leave a footprint on the surface of Mars is a reminder that a venture into the unknown can be downright inspiring. Then out come the rifles. What’s the fun, apparently, in looking for life on Mars if we can’t kill it? For all the innovation and sci-fi-meets-fantasy overtures here, “Destiny” ultimately doesn’t feel all that futuristic. It’s a refinement, rather than a reinvention, of the dominant video game genre on home […]
Sept. 08, 2014 | 4:46 p.m.
It’s official: “Batman: Arkham Knight” has a release date — the game will become available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on June 2, 2015. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and DC Entertainment announced the new date Tuesday. The follow-up to 2009’s “Arkham Asylum” and 2011’s “Arkham City,” “Arkham Knight” is set one year after the conclusion of “Arkham City” and will offer players a chance to lead the Dark Knight on a mission through Gotham and take on the Scarecrow, who has united with a familiar crew of rogue’s gallery regulars. The game, developed by London’s Rocksteady Studios, will be released with two collector’s editions: “Batman: Arkham Knight” Limited Edition, and “Batman: Arkham Knight” Batmobile Edition. Both versions come with an art book featuring concept art from the game, a comic book, character skins from DC Comics and a statue of […]