March 2009

Hall of Classics: One

Sometimes I wonder whether or not ambition is a good quality for game developers to have. While it's apparent that innovation keeps the gaming industry from going stale, there's a big difference between actually being innovative and just really wanting to be innovative. In the worst cases a developer can start to sound like a blowhard, promising things that will never actually come to fruition. Take Peter Molineux, founder of Lionhead Studios and perennial promiser of the sky. He began as one of the true pioneers of video game design with imaginative titles like Populus and Magic Carpet. But by the time his much-maligned god-game Black & White came out, no one actually expected his games to be everything he'd cracked them up to be. Molineux isn't alone in talking up games that don't deliver. The nature of video game design lends itself to overreaching.

Hall of Classics: Tales of Phantasia

I don't really enjoy MMORPGs. I've played and observed a lot of the big ones and even a few small freeware creations that don't have much of an audience outside of Korea. Still, I find their sudden ubiquity to be fascinating. Even if I don't get a kick out of them myself, I have a sort of academic love affair with MMOs because the path of their evolution is like a museum of gaming innovations. I enjoy deconstructing this recently pervasive machine to see where it got all of its parts. That's why it's kind of a shame that today's entry in Hall of Classics always seems to find itself low down on every list of top RPGs. Tales of Phantasia is something of a labor of love that went through the usual grinding-by-gears of any delicate project put through the corporate system.

New York Times Writer Discovers Second Life

The New York Times has a surprisingly long (six pages) article on artists in Second Life. The requisite time is spent explaining Second Life to presumably clueless New York Times readers ("Avatars communicate with one another through typed instant messages or through computer-enabled voice chat"). The article follows real life artist Jeffrey Lipsky, who quit his day job to sell art in Second Life using his avatar, Filthy Fluno. Some potentially disturbing conclusions can be unpacked from the fact that Lipsky, who is "a short, white Jewish man" chose to appear in Second Life as a "short, snaggletoothed black avatar" with an enormous afro. The author of the article brushes against this topic, but - perhaps sensibly - quickly veers away. Lipsky has two art galleries, one in real life and one in Second Life. He uses his Second Life space to promote his real life art, which has become a profitable venture.

Hall of Classics: Project Overkill

Every now and then, a game that didn't get much attention in its time deserves to be re-examined. Perhaps no era in gaming has more of these overlooked classics than the beginning of the 32-bit console market. The Sony Playstation hit the North American region in the latter half of 1995 amid the stormiest competition in the history of the gaming industry. The market was flooded with new consoles and each one was, especially compared to the 16-bit machines that had dominated the scene, very impressive. In that first year, a lot of games got lost in the tumult. One of those games was an isometric shooter from Konami of America called Project Overkill. PO is, to be curt, little more than a Crusader clone. It took a slightly less nuanced approach to the same "shoot guards, fight robots, get keycards" variety of gameplay. Players take four heavily-armed mercenaries through a series of increasingly brutal levels on fetch quests and assassination missions.