The Player

March 03, 2015 | 1:17 p.m.

Games: ‘Kirby,’ ‘Alto’s Adventure’ balance cuteness, elegance

'Kirby and the Rainbow Curse' relies on the player to draw multicolored ropes. (Nintendo)
THE PLAYER Nintendo’s Kirby returns with an adventure that turns players into amateur artists and a new mobile game spins snowboarding into one of the world’s most graceful sports. Below, a look at recent and recommended games. ‘Kirby and the Rainbow Curse’ Pink, puffy and potent, “Kirby and the Rainbow Curse” is Nintendo at its most aggressively cute. But just because Kirby looks like a piece of bubblegum, don’t write the veteran Nintendo character off as child’s play. Though Kirby hasn’t been around as long as his peers Mario or Donkey Kong, since introduced in the early ’90s he’s won a reputation as an experimental shape-shifter. Sometimes, Kirby has the power to inhale much larger foes. Other times, he can turn into a rocket. Then there was a time when Kirby was just a piece of yarn. Here, Kirby, still looking […]
Feb. 28, 2015 | 9:29 a.m.

‘The Order: 1886′ has ambitious ideas about game narratives

Galahad  gives "The Order" a leading man in the classic Hollywood mold (Ready at Dawn)
THE PLAYER “The Order: 1886” wants to be a popcorn flick as badly as it does a video game. It’s a hybrid of interactive and cinematic techniques, putting forth the thesis that someday the two media will be intertwined. The game tells old tales — the Knights of the Round Table and werewolf-like creatures make appearances — and it does so with new twists, such as transporting the medieval and the supernatural to a technologically advanced Jack the Ripper-era London. But let’s back up. Within “The Order” is a gun. This gun is special. It fires a round of bullets that leave clouds of smoke, clouds that could be ignited into gloriously bright flames. “The Order” is a lot like this gun. It takes its aim — ambitiously so — and then blows it up. Often, this story of class […]
Feb. 21, 2015 | 4:00 a.m.

Indie game ‘Paparazzi’ has fun with the celebrity hunt

It's the celebrity on the run from the photographer in "Paparazzi." (Pringo Dingo Games)
THE PLAYER Mike Longley’s first commercially released game started with an old Matthew McConaughey comment. “Cameras aren’t guns,” the actor told the Associated Press in 2005. “They can’t really hurt you.” Those words served as a challenge to Longley and his friends, who made it the basis of an all-night “game jam.” Common among game students and the independent community, game jams often function as meet-ups in which developers must explore one theme in a limited amount of time. Longley’s theme? McConaughey. “It was just something he said that was so random,” said Longley, who at the time of the jam in 2014 was close to finishing his degree from USC’s game program. “We took that and said, ‘Well, you can’t hurt someone, but you can hurt their dignity.’ That was enough to make a game about paparazzi and celebrity. […]
Feb. 16, 2015 | 5:00 a.m.

Nintendo finally gets the 3-D right with its new 3DS console

Nintendo has updated its 3DS hardware and released a revamped version of the game "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask." (Nintendo of America)
THE PLAYER When Nintendo released its hand-held 3DS system in 2011, the tiny machine packed a neat trick. It allowed for 3-D — without the glasses. I was smitten on first use. There’s Mario and Luigi, with greater depth! There’s a starfighter flying through space, and you really do need to squint to see off into the distance! Sometime around Week 2 or 3, though, I started to wonder whether the 3DS was somehow breaking my brain. Although it’s never given me the headaches that forever have me avoiding live-action 3-D films — or the nausea I’ve experienced with the Oculus Rift headset and 3-D simulators such as Disneyland’s Star Tours ride — something still felt … off. Playing the device with the 3-D turned on became akin to toying with a modern autostereogram. You needed a moment to find […]
Feb. 07, 2015 | 8:55 a.m.

Grammys soundtrack category has yet to embrace video game scores

The soundtrack to "Transistor" mixes a guitar-driven score with cabaret-like songs. (Supergiant Games)
THE PLAYER The Grammy Awards have been progressive when it comes to video games. Since 2000, the Recording Academy has allowed video games to vie against top-flight film and TV series in its visual media category. Only one problem: Not enough people vote for them. In a decade and a half since eligibility, only one video game score has been nominated for a Grammy, Austin Wintory’s 2012 compositions for the meditative independent game “Journey.” It’s not for a lack of options. This round alone saw the games “Transistor,” “The Banner Saga,” “Destiny” and more entered on the Grammy’s initial ballot. Not one got enough votes for a nomination. “I went through the process,” says Darren Korb, whose soundtrack to “Transistor” mixes breathy cabaret songs with sci-fi beats and spine-tingling guitars in five original songs and 18 instrumentals, all designed to […]
Feb. 04, 2015 | 9:07 a.m.

Crash Override offers relief from harassment in the gaming world

Independent game developers Zoe Quinn and Alex Lifschitz started Crash Override, a self-funded online firm dedicated to helping victims of online abuse. (Crash Override)
THE PLAYER It isn’t difficult to get a glimpse of harassment in the video game industry. Simply follow the Twitter feeds of a few prominent female game critics or developers. In late January, a handy cheat sheet was provided by Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent cultural critic whose site Feminist Frequency charts the too-often sexist nature of mainstream video games. Sarkeesian revealed on Tumblr what amounted to “a week’s worth of hateful messages”; that is, she posted every despicable missive that was directed at her via Twitter. Many of the comments ask Sarkeesian to, in one way or another, commit suicide. Glimpses of just a few are enough to make anyone want to put down a controller forever, especially those that carry a fatalistic, it-comes-with-the-territory tone. An example, with cleaned-up grammar: “Death threats and rape threats are in the culture of […]
Jan. 24, 2015 | 7:30 a.m.

Game designer Tim Schafer’s ‘Grim’ path tracks adventure genre’s growth

Tim Schafer has been a pioneer when it comes to narrative-driven games. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
THE PLAYER Before an interview via video conference even starts, game designer Tim Schafer jots down a message, then holds the note up to the computer screen. “I killed a guy,” it reads. Schafer’s games are laced with humor, and so are his interviews. The independent designer hasn’t of course killed anyone, but he has been accused of killing an entire genre. When Schafer released “Grim Fandango,” a Day of the Dead-style noir, in 1998, its disappointing sales were blamed for dooming the adventure game, a plot-driven field that once had believers thinking games were the new cinema. Yet “Grim Fandango” was so ahead of its time that its time may be now. Today it’s celebrated as one of gaming’s greatest moments, and the title is on the verge of being re-released Tuesday in high-definition for home computers and Sony’s […]
Jan. 24, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Gravity Ghost': The spirits moved game designer Erin Robinson

The solar system is your playground in "Gravity Ghost." (Ivy Games)
THE PLAYER The hero at the core of the independent game “Gravity Ghost” is in fact an adolescent: 12-year-old Iona. Even more unusual, she’s dead — an apparition who haunts the solar system, looking for lost souls to save. Far from a ghost story, this title created by Erin Robinson takes a fanciful eye to the afterlife, turning the high-flying spirit into something of an outer space superhero. She treats the cosmos as a giant intergalactic plaything, toying with planets as if they were bouncy balls and turning globes into gelatinous, fish-tank-like orbs. Underlying it all is the sadness that comes with knowing a young life was lost. How Iona died and why she’s on an intergalactic quest becomes the title’s central mystery, lending an air of emotional complexity to a game that explores the wonders of a girl in […]
Jan. 17, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Elegy for a Dead World’ prompts gamers to write life into the story

The deep space worlds of "Elegy for a Dead World" can be used as a cure for writer's bloc.(Dejobaan Games)
THE PLAYER You can battle an Orc king. You can steal a car or maybe a boat. You can even rescue the princess in your plumber overalls. Actions and story arcs are plentiful in most games, but the underlying narrative, malleable it may be, is almost always pre-written. “Elegy for a Dead World” puts forth a different theory. Maybe you, the player, can write the story. Maybe a blank page can be turned into a game. Part writing exercise, part teaching tool and part sci-fi story generator, “Elegy for a Dead World” aims to turn players into budding Arthur C. Clarkes — or at least amateur poets. It’s a high-minded goal, one reflective of the game’s haughty title, and meeting it can be more daunting than facing off against a barrel-throwing ape. Here, the only enemy is a blinking cursor, […]
Jan. 10, 2015 | 5:30 a.m.

‘Bloodborne’ designer wants to challenge, not coddle, players

"Bloodborne" designer Hidetaka Miyazaki wants his games to be imposing. (From Software / SCEA)
THE PLAYER Broadly speaking, games today are becoming easier to play. New formats, such as mobile and downloadable titles, are making games more affordable and more accessible. But at least one veteran Japanese game designer doesn’t care to follow the trend. Hidetaka Miyazaki wants his games to be imposing. He wants players to struggle. He counts on it — relishes it, even. Sure, he wants players to win, but not before they curse him out. “That’s not to say I don’t want to create a product for the masses, but I want something that will be appreciated by the core,” he says, referring to the most die-hard of gamers. His approach is elegantly old school but modernly (some may say maddeningly) unconventional. During a recent interview, the dapper and bespectacled game director arrived in a suit and discussed the joy […]
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