Todd Martens

March 22, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

‘Infamous: Second Son’ review: Art is a weapon

Neon light is one of the slick superpowers in "Infamous: Second Son."  (Sucker Punch Productions / Sony Computer Entertainment)
Sony’s new superhero fantasy “Infamous: Second Son” opens not with a bang, but with the hissing sound of a spray paint can. As a work of comic-book-inspired fiction, this PlayStation 4 video game aims high, asking right from the start if art can be weaponized. If sulfur bombs and pink and blue lasers count as art, then the answer is yes. Conflicted antihero Delsin Rowe, whom “Infamous” players will control, is a rabble-rousing Banksy wannabe who discovers his hands can conjure smoke and set the world ablaze. His stenciled graffiti art pokes fun at a police state set in a Seattle of the future. Fear brought on by the emergence of humans with superpowers has crippled a nation, turning the Pacific Northwest into a society where segregation and surveillance have run amok. Rowe is thrust into the role of unlikely […]
March 07, 2014 | 2:37 p.m.

‘Titanfall’: Xbox One is gunning for next-gen dominance

Vince Zampella is the game mastermind spearheading "Titanfall," due March 11 for the Xbox One. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
It was Valentine’s Day, and I was afraid someone was watching me die. On a night when most are finding ways to celebrate (or curse) romance, I had opted to spend the evening curled up on the couch with a game, a first-person shooter. At least I wasn’t alone. I was one of many worldwide who were playing “Titanfall,” a game in beta testing that Microsoft has declared the showcase title for its recently released home console, the Xbox One. Connecting to strangers via Microsoft’s servers, many of whom were engaged in midgame conversations, I was outgunned, anxious and nervous about letting down my new teammates. In eight minutes, I would be killed 11 times by people I will never speak to. Once, a giant robot stepped on me. Moments later, a giant robot fired a rocket into my chest. […]
Feb. 26, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.

Review: ‘Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’ springs ape to action

A scene from "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze." (Nintendo)
For the last three decades, one of the video game world’s greatest antiheroes has been a barrel-throwing ape. He’s arrogant, ornery and not nearly as dexterous as he thinks he is. A kidnapper whose jungles were construction sites, he’d steal your girlfriend and trap her atop a skeletal steel structure. But as males-behaving-badly became a pop-culture norm — and an unfortunate requirement of most video games — Donkey Kong softened up. The once attention-desperate gorilla shed his hostage-taking ways and settled into a more healthful lifestyle with the launch of “Donkey Kong Country” in 1994. Now five iterations of the game later, he’s morphed into a rather lovable grump who just wants to enjoy a slice of cake with a frosted banana on top in peace. “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” released last weekend for Nintendo’s home console the Wii […]
Feb. 08, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.

Video game designers go to next level with real-world problems, nuance

"Thralled" creative director Miguel Oliveira at his Los Angeles apartment. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times )
Miguel Oliveira is developing a video game in a tiny apartment near USC, worlds away from the high-tech studios of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. He works on a laptop surrounded by folding chairs and red plastic cups. The spare surroundings belie his ambition: to design a game that changes the way we play. In Oliveira’s game “Thralled,” set in 18th century Brazil, players explore jungles and ships to help a runaway slave reconnect with the life that was stolen from her. The Portugal native grew up on games where guns played the starring role. Now, he wants something more — to create work that has the same cultural resonance as the best in film, literature and music. “What’s blocking interactive media from being considered art is that most video games focus on primitive feelings of aggressiveness and competitiveness,” said Oliveira, […]
Jan. 09, 2014 | 5:45 p.m.

‘The Last of Us,’ ‘Tearaway,’ ‘Gone Home’ lead prestigious GDC noms

Naughty Dog’s survival horror title “The Last of Us,” Media Molecule’s folkloric “Tearaway” and The Fullbright Company’s domestic narrative “Gone Home” lead the nominees for the 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards, with each game generating five nods across a number of categories. The industry-voted Game Developers Choice Awards, held in conjunction with the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, are widely regarded as one of the industry’s most prestigious honors. This year’s ceremony will take place  March 14 at San Francisco Moscone Center. “Gone Home” is the only independently released title to compete for game of the year honors and was the first title released by the four-person Fulbright Company. The downloadable title is up against the PS3′s “The Last of Us,” Nintendo’s Wii U title “Super Mario 3D World” and cross-platform blockbusters “Grand Theft Auto V” (Rockstar Games) and […]
Dec. 27, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

‘That Dragon, Cancer,’ ‘Silent Enemy’: Game designers to watch in 2014

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The Times asked its reporters and critics to highlight figures in entertainment and the arts who will be making news in 2014. Todd Martens focused on a few video game designers who could have gamers talking in the new year. Ryan and Amy Green The setting is a hospital. A father is exasperated, a child is crying and it’s your job to find out why. But any victories will be small, as “That Dragon, Cancer” explores the ups, the downs, the everyday terror, the sudden miracles and the dreaded inevitability of caring for a loved one with terminal brain cancer. So … wanna play? Ryan Green, his writer-wife, Amy, and a small team near Fort Collins, Colo., are in the early to middevelopment stages of “That Dragon, Cancer,” a narrative-driven game they hope to complete and release by the end […]
Dec. 23, 2013 | 5:20 p.m.

‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Hobbit,’ ‘Hunger Games,’ Batfleck: 2013 in review

The year was a gift for fans of genre entertainment.  Click through the images for a detailed look at some of the most memorable moments of 2013. (Photos, clockwise from top left, by BBC; Warner Bros.; Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Lionsgate)
2013 was a superb year for fans of genre entertainment. Major comic book heroes celebrated milestone anniversaries, as did “Doctor Who.” “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” continued to demonstrate that fantastic tales, both grim and transporting, can make for compelling, compulsory viewing. Dragons, female warriors and Tom Hiddleston stormed the multiplex in blockbuster fashion, while next-generation gaming consoles arrived, just in time for Christmas. There was plenty of big news about 2015 projects as well — namely, that J.J. Abrams will direct the first live-action “Star Wars” film since 2005, and that Ben Affleck will take over the role of Batman from Gotham City’s previous Caped Crusader, Christian Bale. Following are the Hero Complex picks for some of the most memorable moments in film, TV, comic books and games, in no particular order. Feel free to share your […]
Dec. 19, 2013 | 2:19 p.m.

‘Doki-Doki Universe’: Video games make a play for emotions in 2013

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“Doki-Doki Universe” begins with heartbreak. A robot is left alone on an asteroid, dumped there by his human family. The robot has only a sentimental, hug-happy balloon as a companion for the next 32 years. Then things get abstract. The game, released this month across numerous Sony platforms by the Bay Area’s HumaNature Studios, has one main objective — to make players feel as much as to challenge them. Like many of the most intriguing of 2013 games, the bright, colored-crayon-like world of “Doki-Doki Universe” wows not by being a technological showcase. Instead, in a year that brought us fancy next-gen game consoles from Sony and Microsoft, “Doki-Doki” impresses by illustrating how a still-growing medium can provide a moving, affecting experience via simplicity. (Check out our picks for the top 10 games of 2013 in the gallery above.) “Specifically,” said […]
Dec. 19, 2013 | 1:59 p.m.

‘Last of Us,’ ‘Super Mario 3D World’: 2013′s 10 best video games

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In this time when news is disseminated ever more quickly, The Times asked its critics to list the best of entertainment and culture in 2013 in tweet form. Here are Todd Martens’ selections for the best video games of the year, presented in 140 characters or less. “Gone Home.” (PC, Mac) The family is away, but their secrets are hidden throughout the home. A reminder that everyday drama makes the best fiction. “Papers, Please.” (PC, Mac) Overworked, stressed-out, underpaid, disrespected. The grind? Familiar. The Eastern Bloc immigration setting? Gripping. “Super Mario 3D World.” (Wii U) Mario, only weirder. Here, sport a cat suit to claw, meow and pounce through a crazy, colorful world. Cats! “The Stanley Parable.” (PC, Mac) An ordinary cubicle life is thrown upside down. Imagine if our lives were narrated and directed by Spike Jonze. “Fire Emblem: Awakening.” (3DS) Dragons, swordsmen, wizards. […]
Dec. 09, 2013 | 10:52 a.m.

‘Game of Thrones’ video game: Telltale, HBO partner for episodic game

Telltale Games will in 2014 release the first chapter in a "Game of Thrones"-inspired video game. (Telltale / HBO)
Telltale Games will in 2014 release an episodic video game inspired by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” the hit series based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. Confirmed for release on PC/Mac and mobile devices, the game is the first unveiled as part of a what was described in a release as a multi-year, multi-title partnership between Telltale and HBO Global Licensing. Plot and characters were not yet revealed, but Telltale principals Dan Connors and Kevin Bruner said the game will take its lead from the television series rather than Martin’s books. “The book is a great resource to understand the decisions that they made on the show and how rich the world is,” said Connors in unveiling the game on Spike TV’s “VGX” program on Saturday. “VGX” is a retooled version of the station’s video game awards […]
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