Who shot Kinect? … How ‘The Gunstringer’ went awry

‘The Gunstringer’ infuriates, dissapoints and charms all at the same time. A difficult feat to achieve.

As the poster boy for the only valid pure Kinect mature experience, ‘The Gunstringer’ is the mature breakout hit on the platform that wasn’t.  The fundamental issue for Twisted Pixel was outside of their control, Kinect. Kinect artificially restricts the freedom given to game designers by a control pad. Microsoft would claim this as an oxymoron, as freedom was a central pillar of the Kinect experience.

Ironically, giving freedom to gamers has tied the hands of game designers.

The best Kinect games take gesture based input, or control schemes based upon familiar actions. Finesse and accuracy aren’t fundamental to Kinect (yet); and as such a game based upon aiming and shooting was always going to struggle. Even so, in ‘The Gunstringer’  the reticule is astonishingly forgiving, a little like playing CoD with a bazooka where every enemy is the size of a barn. The most imprecise gesture summons a rewarding lock on. The main problem? It feels hollow and unrewarding. Leaning  from cover is a flick of the left wrist. Is this immersion? Nah. The basics of this game would have improved a thousandfold on a controller. Twisted Pixel nailed the 2D platformer (Ms Splosion Man) with precise, infuriating level design that was punative and rewarding all at once. At no point do you ever feel frustrated by the controller input, just your ability. At every point ‘The Gunstringer’ feels like shadow boxing the Stay-Puft man. However, it’s nowhere near as amazing as that sounds.

‘The Gunstringer’ shines in terms of characterisation;  the premise of  a demented marionette hellbent on revenge is impossible to resist. Sadly, the gameworld is inconsistent. In a world based on the bizarre, its still a mish mash with some levels looking like they were ripped straight out of Little Big Planet, some created from a splash of Monty Python, and then within the game universe itself;  a lack of internal consistency, that manifests in oversized kitchen cutlery and water made from hand-sewn blankets. Its not odd or eclectic … it just feels half baked. Breaking the fourth wall is, simultaneously, the games greatest achievement and folly.

The game feels as though its been stretched to justify a packaged release. Originally slated as an XBLA title the game morphed into a packaged title, its painfully apparent in sections such as a steamboat ride where only the left hand is utilised, or the endless waves of paper enemies who explode into confetti in a dark cardboard environment. The latter feeling so sparse on content that it felt like the scenery would fall over at any moment to reveal the developers sniggering in the background drinking tea. Publisher pressure feels like it influenced the game design for the worse. The reason is simple, ‘mainstream’ Kinect games don’t buy XBLA titles, to broaden the games reach it had to be on a disc. This is incongruous as all of Twisted Pixel’s previous titles had been digital only.

As a digital developer at the vanguard, a packaged release felt like betrayal.

‘The Gunstringer’ feels like the kernel of the right game, botched and rerubbbed then released on the wrong platform for the wrong motives. And that’s a real shame.

Quote: Shigeru Miyamoto on the Internet

We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the Internet until people have played the game – then we pay a lot of attention to whether people liked it. We read through it and see it, but we don’t take it into consideration. … [The Internet] is not going to dictate the direction of where the game goes

Is Crysis 2 Pretty Vacant?

Crysis 2 has attracted attention for two primary reasons. It looks amazing but has badly implemented A.I.

What Crysis 2 looks like is largely irrelevant. I’ve heard it dismissed as a tech demo and I’ve been told it’s the best looking game on console. It doesn’t make my jaw drop. Maybe playing on 360 doesn’t mean I get the benefit of the extreme PC specs. Crysis 2 envelopes you in 5.1 with an immersive bubble that wraps around you and subliminally pushes you eyes front and centre. The gun sounds are sublime. Its orchestrated chaos. Does it look better than other games? At this point who cares … We are so far into the console cycle that HD gaming has become a homogenous mass with jaded players difficult to astonish.

Only one game I own does that. Uncharted 2 and I haven’t even finished it. I was a graphics whore (as we all are) but the jump to HD satiated my desires. What I want now is photo realism.

Forget the looks. How does it feel?. Playing Crysis 2 makes me feel like a predator, empowered by tech and a gruff voiced nanosuit that has pimped my DNA just enough to push me into the category of Official Badass™. Crysis 2 gives you a couple of options. Disappear or stand and fight. It’s best when it encourages a chaotic mix of the two. But how does it empower? Primarily by making your abilities overwhelm your enemies. This is where the A.I. argument kicks in.

Nobody wants A.I. that is actually more intelligent than they are. That would be a game that kicks your ass, learns how you think, outwits you and then kicks your ass ad infinitum. Playing a game like that is like Nigel Short playing Garry Kasparov.

Multiplayer (MP) works for the super users as their rote learnt knowledge of maps and the failings and innate errors of humans make them easy prey. The ones who don’t enjoy MP are the ones who haven’t invested enough time to learn how to execute the stupid. To that end the skilled MP player is playing against stupid irrational A.I. that is human-powered. That’s the kicker for the trash talking mainstream fuelled by braggadocio, Mountain Dew and Cheetos dust. They scream ‘pwned’ into headsets with no hint of irony, crying out for ‘noob juice’ like fevered hyenas feasting on the weak.

The A.I. gamers claim they want is a lie. A.I. lies to you, fooling you into thinking you have outwitted the machine. Machines are cleverer than we are, with the ability to preempt and predict a multitude of variations.  That’s why we use excel to do our sums. Gamers complain when they don’t understand the dimensions of the experience they actually enjoy, everybody wants to feel empowered,  Officially Badass™.

Why does A.I. fail? Because it’s created by humans, game A.I. fails as it’s an entertainment experience not a simulation where life and death are absolute.

Creating Moral Panic: Bulletstorm in a Teacup

Conversations about Bulletstorm usually start with a criticism about the banality and puerile nature of the subject matter. A friend discounted the game as the product of a 10 year olds over active imagination. EA were #winning. EA had been happily fanning the flames of moral panic for close to a year in order to give Bulletstorm a USP. The panic had started at E3 2010 when EA distributed burgers outside allegedly made from human flesh. A cheap shot that wouldn’t  be the last.

CNN described the core game mechanic (skill kills) as ‘grisly’ and Fox described it as ‘The Worst Videogame In The World’. Carole Lieberman inferred a direct relationship between Video Game violence and rape. She attributed it to sexually explicit scenes in Video Games. It is a this point that one has to wonder if she had even played the game, or even knew how to turn on the X360. Lieberman has made a point of criticising video games over the years and that supported by the all too readily available, highly polished PR shot seem to infer she’s ready at the drop of a shotgun cartridge to denounce the games industry. An agenda was clearly at play on behalf of both Lieberman and Fox.Courted, encouraged and solicited by Epic and EA.

Cliffy B took great pleasure in proclaiming “I made a video game where you can blow out a mans ass-hole”. This was frat-boy marketing 101. The Bulletstorm circus created instantaneous folk devils. The Parody-Generator had gone into overdrive, lines were becoming blurred, and the media and publisher we creating exactly what they wanted moral panic. If sex sells, so does controversy. PT Barnum would have been proud.

This followed the all too familiar path that Stanley Cohen had set out in the early 1970s. The Mods and Rockers had created panic, Dungeon and Dragons has been a lightning rod on many occasions and yet again the games industry had deliberately created a panic for column inches. Hard to believe these sensationalist Smoke and Mirror tricks could still be so effective in 2011. The speed, velocity and communication of the panic was web-based and would evaporate quicker that you could say “Yesterdays news is tomorrows fish and chip paper”. The panic had been so quickly and deftly executed, it was a shock and awe case study. By the time the consumer was at the counter cash in hand it was forgotten.

So, was it right to drag games reputation through the mire again for the sake of one game? In an industry built on Groundhog Day thinking it’s expected. Inevitable to happen again … oh wait … Dead Island trailer anyone? Its time for fresh thinking, this shit is just getting old.

Around the wretched rock the ragged Raskull ran

From the outside looking in you could be mistaken for thinking Raskulls is fun. The cutesy characters and vibrant art style infer a boisterous world of frivolous joy destined to put a smile on your face. Not so. It’s a miserly and punitive experience that seems at odds with itself. As a collection of mini-games it lacks depth, primarily built around speed runs and collection challenges, that more often than not end in defeat.

Am I the only person who thought this was a platform game? It’s a racing game not a million miles away from The Club, that’s been bolted to a version of Tetris with vertical swimming sections. It delivers a joyless experience.

I want to like it but I can’t. It doesn’t give me anything, completing a challenge delivers no reward and the banal jokes aren’t funny. Halfbrick created Raskulls with XBLA in mind, for an audience that isn’t there and doesn’t get the joke. Halfbrick also delivered Fruit Ninja to the iOS platforms which also had an odd dure tone. Reasonless chopping fruit interspersed with random exploding bombs. Fun for about 20 seconds but stunning popular on the App Store. Does that define the iOS platform game experience? … ‘Nasty, Brutish and Short’ or a truncated psychadelic Cooking Mama for the MTV generation with the attention span of a gnat.

Halfbrick exhibit talent and imagination I only wish their games weren’t like the unwrapped candy at Halloween that your parents told you never to eat.

Raskulls is available on XBLA now.