Games

Last night my roommate and I downloaded the demo for the upcoming game Dante’s Inferno which is (loosely) based of the epic poem of the same name. While not the longest demo I’ve ever played it did have a far amount of content, and gave a good idea of what the game will be like.

The demo opens with a cutscene with a man, Dante the protagonist, sewing a tapestry into the skin on his chest. As he finishes with a scream of pain the cutscene moves to a flashback of the Crusades. King Richard promises to absolve the crusaders of all sins, and Dante begins to wreck some fools. After fighting through some Arabians or whatever they are supposed to be Dante moves into a courtyard where he is stabbed in the back. Death rises before him and proclaims Dante to be guilty of some seemingly horrible sins. Dante gives Death the finger and proceeds to kill him with his own scythe. It’s fairly impressive. Dante then returns home to find his wife(?) Beatrice dead. As he weeps over her, presumably, still warm body her spirit appears and is subsequently dragged to hell by Lucifer. Dante follows a trail of hellspawn to a creepy church on a hill where more hellspawn appear. Eventually Dante kills enough creatures for a portal or something to open to hell. Dante jumps right in. He fights his way down to the gates to limbo where he kills more stuff and opens the gate with the help of a giant beast he tames with the help of a scythe to the head. Then it ends. Just when it was starting to get good.

Graphically the game looks quite good. The transitions from cutscene to gameplay is fairly seemless. The movements controlled by the player look cool. Although some of the elements seem to be borrowed from another popular game *cough* god of war *cough*. The combo counter, some of the movements the health bar and other info in the upper corner of the screen. I don’t consider this a bad thing, God of War was a great game and we could use more that follow its already successful mold.

The concept behind the game gets a giant thumbs up from me. Dante’s Inferno is a poem I like to reread every couple of months, and the way they take the elements of the story and change it to fit the gameplay seems, from what I’ve seen, to be excellent.

This will definitely be a game to look for when it is released in February of this year.

It’s happened to any devoted follower of a fictional universe: you’re watching the latest movie, reading the newest book, or checking out a developer interview for the forthcoming video game. And then you realize: something’s wrong. “Everyone knows that they didn’t have those weapons when this game takes place,” one fan cries out. “How come we’ve never seen these aliens before, let alone heard a mention of them?” another asks on forums.
Authors of fictional works often take pains to make a self-consistent universe, but invariably there are mistakes or slip-ups. A character appears where they shouldn’t be, or another mentions something they couldn’t possibly know, or the dates for a key event are given two different ways in the span of a page or a book. Generally, the more creatives involved in developing a universe, the more likely that these sorts of inconsistencies and errors are going to crop up. Every type of media can suffer from these issues, and often the solution is something called retroactive continuity.

Retroactive continuity or “retcons”, as Wikipedia defines it, is “the deliberate changing of previously established facts in a work of serial fiction”. Basically, this means that for whatever reason, the creators or handlers of a work decide to change what was established or assumed for a variety of reasons and using a variety of methods. For example, one form of retcon is simple addition, in that previous gaps in stories are filled in with new information, often to aid the current story.

An excellent example of this is the (non-canonical) Star Trek novels penned by Greg Cox that detail the backstory to the 20th century dictator and superman Khan Noonien Singh. On the Star Trek episode “Space Seed” in which Khan appears, background information is scant, but the Cox novels offer an explanation of the character’s rise to (and fall from) power.

Other form of retcon is alteration; for example, many comic book villains would die or be exiled, only to return some number of issues later; in this case the very facts were clear but altered, generally relying on some heretofore unrevealed knowledge (for example, the Marvel Comics character Green Goblin had a healing factor that allowed him to survive his apparent impalement, and he resurfaced years later.) A final, radical form of retcon is simply removing facts entirely; this is often used in the sense of reboots of comics or movie series (like the recent Star Trek film).

While retcons are very frequent, video games bring their own issues with dealing with continuity. The majority of video games, especially successful franchises, are the result of dozens, if not hundreds of development staff, and often several writers and directors crafting the game’s story. During the development of a game sequel, new staff might arrive and old ones leave, leading to a desire for alteration to a story. Because games are such a graphic and evolving medium, canon discrepancies can arise due to technological updates as well. For example, a character wears a different costume due in part to increases in graphic fidelity; he or she might have only worn the blocky suit in the previous game because there wasn’t the horsepower available to make something slimmer.

Perhaps the best case example of an enormously successful story-driven video game franchise is that of the Halo series. The franchise began with a single first-person shooter and “killer app” for the Xbox console, Halo: Combat Evolved (for more information, see “Video Game History: Halo: Combat Evolved”). The success of Combat Evolved paved the way for fives sequels and spinoffs with a sixth on the way, as well as bestselling novels, graphic novels, limited comic series (and all that associated merchandise). Considering the franchise’s relative youth (Combat Evolved was released in 2001), it’s already amassed a staggering backstory and rich fiction deeply explored. Whereas Star Trek novels and anything not in films or episodes is not canon, however, in the Halo series every expanded universe book is officially part of Halo lore. This creates major problems.

Take, for example, the Brutes. In Halo’s story, 26th century humanity comes under attack by a hostile collective of alien species known as the Covenant. In Combat Evolved, there are several types, designated by monikers such as “Elites”, “Jackals” and “Grunts”. In the 2003 novel Halo: First Strike, however, the human protagonists come across a new and dangerous opponent in the Covenant Brutes. They make their first video game appearance in Halo 2 (2004), and thereafter become the main enemies players face after the Elites leave the Covenant in Halo 3 (2007). Simple enough, correct? Unfortunately things are more complicated. As the novel Halo: Contact Harvest (2007) explains, humanity’s first contact with the Covenant in 2525 (almost 30 years before the events of Combat Evolved, Halo 2 and Halo 3) was actually with the Brutes (yet all material before this suggests that they were unknown). Furthermore, the visual appearance of the Brutes changes; in Contact Harvest they were ornate armor, but in Halo 2 they are more like half-naked gorillas, while Halo 3’s depiction is essentially what is described in Contact Harvest, but the media products chronologically take place in that order. Why did the Brutes undergo such changes and essentially “devolve” then return to their previous state?

This is an example of where canon takes a back seat to gameplay. In Halo 2, the developers faced severe time constraints, and a more covered Brute concept was stripped down to a bandolier-bedecked ape. In Halo 3, the Brutes became principal enemies, meaning that they had to be more interesting and tougher to fight. The more ornate and slightly more civilized Brutes were essentially retconned to become the de facto representation of the race by Contact Harvest. Fans are left to somehow reconcile the strange appearance of the creatures in Halo 2 (and the fact that they didn’t have any of the weaponry that appeared in Halo 3 just months later, and once again featured in Contact Harvest.)

Rather surprisingly, the issue of retcons in games isn’t well-covered. One example of other pitfalls of retcons, put forth by Matt Keller at Games.on.net, concerns the Metal Gear series, known for its cinematic approach and dense backstory. Keller writes that bowing to pressure following the release of Metal Gear Solid 2, maestro Hideo Kojima and his team decided to shed some light on the antagonistic Big Boss. It was a big success, and the developers followed it up with Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Much like the headaches created by the introduction of the Brutes in Halo or the Star Wars prequels, Keller writes, “…the story had far reaching consequences on the Metal Gear fiction, far more than you’d expect for a handheld spinoff. In a number of ways, I feel the series would have been better off if Portable Ops had never happened.” Much like how Star Wars I-III turned Anakin Skywalker into a whiny complainer, Portable Ops weakened the presentation of the Big Boss character and added too many poor plot explanations to tie together the disparate story threads.

The moral of the story is that while players are accepting of certain changes (a shiny coat of paint on that old character model, and perhaps the introduction of a new weapon or two,) video game creators, by the nature of the medium, have additional responsibilities in crafting a story that retains its sensibilities and logic. And the less retcons, the better.

The Mario franchise has made Nintendo a lot of money over the years. Almost game staring the plump princess rescuing, gorilla battling, green dinosaur riding, mustache having Italian dude has been a success. This is s list of the top five Mario branded((As in, they must have his name in the title to make the list.) video games as I see it.
Top 5 Mario Games: 6 Golden Coins.
The second Mario land Game for Nintendo’s highly successful Game Boy system was the debut of both a new power up, and alternative star within the company. Only one of these was good enough to help this game crack the top five.By touching a carrot on screen, Mario acquired a set of rabbit ears that enhanced his air time while jumping. It’s basically the poor mans version of raccoon Mario. Wario made his official debut as a boss character, and later went on to star in his own series of well made games.

Top 5 Mario Games: Mario 64.
As the grandfather of platform mascots, Mario makes perfect since as the one character able to prove that a great 2 dimensional franchise can fair well when introduced into the third dimension. Mario 64 was an example of what 3D platformers should play like. It was fun watching the pudgy plumber scamper around the Mushroom Kingdom, jumping off walls like a parkour expert, and riding turtle shells like they were skate boards. Butt sliding up and down stars was a little weird, but everything else about the game was pretty neat.

Top 5 Mario Games: Mario Kart.
If it weren’t for the lack of corporate sponsorship, cart racing would be one of the worlds most popular automotive sports. Mario Kart games should be seen as a template for potential professional cart organizations. Natural hazards such as oil slicks, banana peels and projectiles that seek out the leader of the race to knock him out, should all be embraced by the governing body. Some people would say those would all be examples of cheating. Those same people probably think Mario is Missing deserves to be somewhere on this list.

Top 5 Mario Games: Super Mario Bros. 3.
If someone walked up to me and asked which Mario game should they play on the original Nintendo, I’d say skip the first two and just play Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s truly the best Mario experience on Nintendo’s 8-Bit console. Mario 3 Has everything. There’s ice levels, lava, light levels, man eating plants, frog suits, dudes that throw hammers at you for no good reason, and you can fly with the raccoon and tanooki suits.

Top 5 Mario Games: Super Mario World.
Mario World may as well be called Mario 3: Super Duper Expanded Edition. The Mario formula was pretty much perfected with Super Mario Bros. 3. Super Mario World is just a slightly better version of that game, but available on Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System.. My reasoning for ranking this above 3 lies in the amount of content and extras within World. The multicolored Yoshis found in Mario World all have their own little special attributes and advantages, Beating the secret levels unlocks an alternate graphical skin for all levels and enemies., and it’s more fun kicking Bowser’s tail in this game than in Mario 3.

No one will accuse Konami of missing out on the retro gaming trend. Over the years, they have released some of their most classic titles through either compilations or through Xbox Live. One of the most eagerly anticipated releases for Xbox Live last year was the original Contra. Players were looking forward to blasting aliens with futuristic weaponry along with a friend in one of the premier co-op titles of the 8-bit era. But with the Xbox Live release widely looked upon as a disappointment, players began to look to the Wii’s Virtual Console to satisfy their urge for the Contra series. What they got was a pleasant surprise.
Rather than release the original Contra, Nintendo and Konami have decided to bring the heralded Contra III: The Alien Wars, originally released on the Super NES, to the Virtual Console. Not only is this game considered among the best launch titles of the 16-bit system, but it is still considered the best game of the Contra series. It’s also the first to be made exclusively for console play, as the original Contra and its later sequel, Super C, were both arcade ports. If that’s not enough, it’s also one of the first to fully demonstrate the Mode 7 graphics engine for some dynamic effects.

The game plays similarly to the original. The first stage sees one or two players on a 2D side-scrolling level full of aliens and zombie dogs. While armed with mere shotguns, players later pick up trademark Contra artillery like the Spread shot, Lasers, and Homing Missiles. Unlike previous chapters, this time players could dual-wield weapons, making for interesting and destructive combinations.

Two levels stand out, however. They take place from an overhead perspective and gamers guide their soldier through eight different directions attempting to solve the level’s puzzle that would lead to the boss. Co-op play here takes a delightful turn, as two players can split up and go their separate ways and keep track of each other through split screens, a la Toe Jam amp; Earl. Players could either attempt to unify their power, or attempt to go separately in an attempt to finish the stage quicker.

Level design in general in this game is unlike any seen in the previous two Contra games. One stage sees players bikes while firing away on foes. That same stage will pit players in a harrowing battle in which they must navigate their way by jumping and clinging onto missiles. Yes, missiles! And still, there’s another level where players proceed by climbing walls and taking out incoming enemies. It was a lot of fun in the early 90’s and it still holds up today.

One of the best qualities of the Contra series has been the larger-than-life bosses. Konami upped the ante in a big way with their Super NES outing. Bosses were still big, bad, and ugly. But this time, thanks to the Mode 7 graphics, they also came right at the TV screen. Bosses, and mini-bosses also, would occasionally pop up from the foreground to the background and back again. The imagery was astounding and gave off the Apocalyptic atmosphere that the game was shooting for.

The game’s biggest negative remains a glaring issue today. For as much as Konami brought to the fold this time around, the game was over far too quickly. The game only contains six stages and gamers can breeze through those in an afternoon. While this installment was beautifully done with state-of-the-art (for the time) graphics and sound, the previous two games were able to pack in more levels filled with more fun. Graphics are great and all, but it’s never a good idea to focus on them at the expense of fun and gameplay.

Still, many will say that this is the best Contra of the series. Which is unfortunate, because it’s also considered by many to be the last good Contra of the series. After this, Konami attempted to take the series into 3D. The games were horrible and the series was left for dead afterwards. Which is part of the reason why gamers will be happy to see this game hit the Virtual Console. For 800 Wii Points, Contra III: The Alien Wars proudly displays one of the best gaming franchises of yesteryear. It’s short, but it’s still well worth the purchase.