July 26, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER “Hey,” the kid said. “I can get you out of jail.” I politely said no. Standing in lockup, after all, was a rare photo opportunity. The kid shrugged and walked off, and there I stood alone in my cell, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in front of me, the Mark Twain Riverboat docked to my left. Welcome to the Legends of Frontierland, Disneyland’s wacky new live-action role-playing game running daily inside the theme park. Legends of Frontierland pits guest against guest in a battle for control of a fictional town — in this instance one that’s set inside Disneyland’s vision of the Old West. Or something sort of like that. Even for a resort with wench-auctioning pirates and hitchhiking ghosts, the recently launched Legends of Frontierland is often absurdly nonsensical. To play Legends of Frontierland is to partake in […]
July 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER About a year ago, hip-hop’s enduring crank Eminem rapped what many interpreted as a jab at the increasing complexity of video games. “All these buttons,” Eminem scolded modern tech kingpins. “You expect me to sit here and learn that?” The man had a point. For those not yet converted to video games, the controller remains a potential barrier to entry, this even as the medium more regularly explores relatable topics. One may have been intrigued by the paternal existentialism at the core of last year’s survival horror game “The Last of Us” or curious about this year’s Chicago-set techno-thriller “Watch Dogs,” which explored the concept of hacking as a weapon, but the idea of learning a rules system before exploring a virtual world can be something of a language barrier. What a godsend then has been mobile and […]
July 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER I had only known Eline Muijres for a few minutes before our first dance, and it wasn’t long before I became scared our movements were going to lead to more physical contact than is likely appropriate for near-strangers. So I let go of her iPhone. Muijres is a producer on “Bounden,” a mobile game that aims to teach players ballet — or maybe just inspire them to get closer, awkwardly. Either result is a win. Most dance games, such as the popular “Dance Central” or “Just Dance” franchises, have players moving in front of the TV, working off a sweat solo or goofing off at a party. “Bounden” is far more intimate. And potentially more revealing. Developed by Netherlands-based three-person studio Game Oven in conjunction with the Dutch National Ballet, “Bounden’s” challenge — the difficulty of being in […]
July 05, 2014 | 6:30 a.m.
THE PLAYER A tale of World War I, inspired partly by letters exchanged by soldiers and loved ones, “Valiant Hearts” is the rare video game in which military action evokes sympathy rather than aggression. Combat and the regrettable ways it touches the lives of a middle-aged farmer, a teenage student, a new father and an American widower make for the game’s backdrop. The emotional torture of warfare is the game’s center. Helping a bruised and battered soldier simply find a clean sock is treated as an act of heroism, and puzzles are fashioned out of the daily drudgery of a soldier’s life on the supply-barren Western Front. “Valiant Hearts” can wring great drama from the task of helping a lonely heart snare a feather from a bird so he can write a letter to his daughter. No, you cannot shoot […]
June 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER In late May, Mario and Luigi were sitting on a couch on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Not the real Mario and Luigi — they aren’t real, of course — but caricatures of the Nintendo brand icons. The joke that afternoon was that the famous video game duo were not brothers but were, in reality, gay. Their true relationship had remained a secret, revealed only after an online campaign forced Nintendo to apologize for not including same-sex marriage in its just released game “Tomodachi Life.” You can, however, create a character in your likeness — a Mii, in Nintendo parlance — or the likeness of your boss or your ex or Daenerys Targaryen, and you can write them an opera song that is an ode to gay marriage. They will also fall in and out of love, sometimes with […]
June 21, 2014 | 9:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Is it possible to hold hands with a video game character? That is, in many ways, a ridiculous question, but is one posed by the developers of “Murasaki Baby.” Players are asked to guide an infant through a world fashioned out of a childhood nightmare, where safety pins are transformed into deadly birds and wooden ducks are one’s last refuge. “Murasaki Baby” isn’t the next big thing. A small team in northern Italy from a company called Ovosonico is putting the finishing touches on the game with ambitions to reshape the way we connect with virtual characters. But it’s not exactly a fringe title either — Sony will publish it this fall for the company’s touchscreen-enabled PlayStation Vita. The game does, however, emphasize fragility in an industry that broadcasts machismo. Two or three years ago, a game in […]
June 12, 2014 | 12:06 p.m.
After spending the better part of four years working on the pensive fairy tale “Ori and the Blind Forest,” Thomas Mahler was relieved to reveal it at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Now he just hopes people don’t think it’s “artsy-fartsy.” The “Ori” trailer makes a play for gamers’ hearts. A mystical, spritely little creature falls from the heavens, landing near a furry and plump bear-like animal with a softly glowing face. This is Ori’s mother, and we watch as the little guy, Ori, is raised in a fantasy forest straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki film. All seems idyllic until a monster of an owl enters the picture. Lightning flashes, the owl takes thunderous steps toward Ori and we catch glimpses of Ori bounding around the forest with light-footed quickness. What happens next in the teaser could bring on the tears. […]
June 11, 2014 | 11:36 a.m.
Electronic Arts studio DICE is best known for its “Battlefield” games, titles that have sought to hone the video game art of humans destroying other humans. Today, however, the Stockholm-based studio is deep into the development of some of its most ambitious projects in its decade-plus existence, including a new “Star Wars” game, and studio principal Karl Magnus Troedsson says the company is starting to grapple with bigger topics. In working on a sequel to its 2008 game “Mirror’s Edge,” a futuristic thriller in which its female protagonist Faith is always on the run, DICE is using the time away from its multiplayer-focused “Battlefield” to create a more character-driven-story. “DICE is perhaps not that well known for games with a strong character. In ‘Battlefield,’ it’s usually a bunch of guys. Multiplayer has very little focus on character,” says Troedsson, DICE’s VP and group general manager. “We are very intrigued with […]
June 11, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
With the Electronic Entertainment Expo in town through Thursday, there’s lots of media attention focused on what’s next in video games. None of it, however, involves a man sporting vintage virtual reality headgear while being held to a chair by a mechanical cat. That vision is hanging on the wall at Echo Park’s video game consulting firm-art gallery iam8bit. The Sunset Boulevard storefront space on Tuesday launched an exhibit dubbed “The Future of Gaming,” which features 13 works that see artists interpreting the dreams — or sometimes nightmares — of noted game designers. Participating developers include Warren Spector of “Deus Ex” fame, “Grim Fandango” creator Tim Schafer and a co-founder of the local studio thatgamecompany, Kellee Santiago. The kid-friendly exhibit even features some of those making a splash at E3 this week, including Insomniac Games chief Ted Price, whose company’s […]
June 10, 2014 | 11:19 a.m.
Nintendo, amid the news Tuesday of new games coming to its Wii U console for its beloved “Zelda” and “Star Fox” franchises, took a bold step away from tradition. Princess Peach, the oft-kidnapped damsel in distress at the core of its “Super Mario Bros.” series, received an apology. “Hey, look, I’m sorry about kidnapping you 80+ times, but my bad,” said a cartoonish, clay-like rendition of Nintendo’s main villain Bowser. Peach said nothing, offering the sullen bad guy little more than a cold shoulder as she swiped his last doughnut. Bowser’s response to such non-regal behavior? “I deserved that.” Who can blame her? One of Nintendo’s most formidable characters, with a jumping and gliding ability most of her non-dinosaur male pals could never muster, Peach has often been relegated to the role of the hostage. Yet time and time again over the course of a […]