Video Games

July 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

Mobile games keep it simple and smart

The princess in 'Monument Valley' never says a word. (Ustwo)
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 touchscreen gaming. […]
July 17, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon': Dan Abnett talks game

GuardiansGameFeatured
When Disney Interactive wanted to make sure Star-Lord and the gang seemed like themselves in “Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon,” it got Dan Abnett. Few, if any, know more about the truly out there outer-space superteam: The prolific Englishman co-wrote the 2008-2010 comic book series that inspired the lineup found in the mobile game, out Thursday, and the upcoming Marvel cosmic adventure film, out Aug. 1 — as well as this spring’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude” comics that tie in to the movie, and penned, on his own, the just-released novel “Rocket Raccoon and Groot: Steal the Universe.” Abnett worked with art director Yehudi Mercado on the game’s story line, advising on characters’ behavior and distinct voices. So how consistent are the roguish Star-Lord, assassin Gamora, rampaging Drax, well-armed critter Rocket and tree-like tough guy Groot across […]
July 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.

The balletic ‘Bounden’ is a pas de deux with Player 2

Players will dance while connected via a mobile phone in "Bounden." (Game Oven)
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 07, 2014 | 2:17 p.m.

Anime Expo 2014: A chat with Fuminori Kizaki, director of ‘Bayonetta’

"Bayonetta: Bloody Fate." (Sega/Gonzo)
“Bayonetta” is well known among gamers and those who attended this past weekend’s Anime Expo, but the Japanese franchise doesn’t enjoy much mainstream popularity in the U.S. The action game-cum-movie could get a boost with the stateside release of the animated adaptation “Bayonetta: Bloody Fate,” due in October on Blu-ray/DVD. A mix of magic and gunplay, the feature-length film is based on the video game’s original story about a witch who awakens after a centuries-long sleep. Outfitted with magical hair and gun-boots, she tries to piece together her history while battling creatures of light and dark. The film originally debuted in Japan theaters in November 2013 and a few months later on Blu-ray/DVD. Fuminori Kizaki, director of “Bayonetta”and other anime favorites like “Afro Samurai: Resurrection” starring Samuel L. Jackson,  was happy to lend his vision to the film. “Originally, I was […]
July 05, 2014 | 6:30 a.m.

‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’ upends the combat video game

"Valiant Hearts: The Great War" highlights the horrors faced by normal people in extraordinary circumstances. (Ubisoft)
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.

Nintendo keeps the video game industry weird

The courses are as crazy as ever in "Mario Kart 8," including one in an airport. (Nintendo)
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.

E3 2014: Games that make a play for diversity

"Murasaki Baby" wants players to hold hands with a digital character. (Ovosonico)
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.

E3 2014: ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ finds a challenge in sadness

Mysterious, fairy tale-like creatures are found in "Ori and the Blind Forest." (Moon Studios / Microsoft Studios)
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.

E3 2014: ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Battlefield’ developer makes character push

Early concept art for a new "Mirror's Edge" game. (Dice)
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 10, 2014 | 11:19 a.m.

E3 2014: Nintendo tips new ‘Zelda’ and wacky squid-shooter ‘Splatoon’

An early look at Nintendo's Wii U entry into "The Legend of Zelda." (Nintendo)
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 […]
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