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Gaming Companions

The digital shoulders we lean on

Australia’s best gaming -zine FULLY INTERACTIVE magazine

ISSUE 13

JANUARY 2011


Letter from the editor looking forward to

Marvel vs Capcom 3

Capcom have done a great job building hype for this one with their gradual character reveals. I’m still holding out hope for Dead Rising’s Frank West, but either way this is going to consume the lives of fighting game fans come February. Developer Capcom Publisher Capcom Platform PS3 / 360 / PC Genre Fighter Release February 17 OFFICIAL WEBSITE

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Don’t Hold Your Breath

My New Year’s Resolution? To stop caring about getting an R18 for games in Australia. The SCAG meeting on 10 December 2010 felt like a now-or-never moment. Brendan O’Connor had stated that the Labor party were officially in support of the rating, Galaxy polls showed a vast majority of people in support of the rating. Even mainstream media outlets were being generally supportive. Everyone waited, everyone held their breath. But we were let down. No agreement was reached, except to consider guidelines of what the effect of an R18 rating might be on the MA and RC categories. In other words, more consultation and more delay. The next SCAG meeting will be in March. I expect that meeting to yield only further consultation, further delay, further inaction. I expect the same to occur again at the next meeting too. I hope I’m wrong, but won’t be in the least surprised if I’m right. As contributor Ken Lee predicted in PixelCast 29, don’t expect an R18 rating in 2011. And so I’ve decided to simply stop caring. My position will always be in absolute support of the rating, but the emotional investment and passion I once had in following the debate has dissipated. Others have responded with more optimism than I, saying that the December 10 meeting was a small but positive step. That we’ll get the rating eventually, it’s just taking a while. I have no doubt they ’re right. But I feel sorry for those who have worked and campaigned so hard to promote and raise awareness of the issue, only to have it continually held up. I’ve come to accept that as much as we need this rating, gamers aren’t overly affected. It’s rare for a game to be refused classification, and even rarer for it to be a game anyone cares about. And when it does occur, importing is an easy option, as is making friends with a Kiwi. In the face of so much delay and inaction it’s hard to stay enthusiastic on the subject. The amount of articles I’ve read on the subject goes beyond saturation, and I’m sorry to contribute to that further with this editorial, but I promise it will be my last word on the matter. Until we actually get the rating that is. I’m thinking 2013 looks pretty good. If we’re lucky. Michael Pincott | E-zine Editor JANUARY 2011


contents ISSUE 13

JANUARY 2011

COVER FEATURE GAMING COMPANIONS

Publishing Editor Dylan Burns E-Zine Editor Michael Pincott Website Manager Matthew Williams E-Zine Production Aaron Sammut Advertising Contact the Editor if you would like to advertise with Pixel Hunt dylanb@pixelhunt.com.au Contributors Dylan Burns, Anthony Capone, Tim Henderson, Annika Howells, Brendan Keogh, Jahanzeb Khan, Patrick Lang, Ken Lee, James O’Connor, Michael Pincott, James Pinnell, Alex Walker

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT NIER

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FEATURE STEAM

COVER: Daniel Purvis Subscribe: at www.pixelhunt.com.au Follow: www.twitter.com/PixelHunt DONATE: If you’d like to show your appreciation for each issue, please donate via PayPal at www.pixelhunt.com. au. All proceeds will go back into making Pixel Hunt the most up-to-date, honest and (we hope) fun gaming zine available.

NAVIGATING THIS -zine WHAT IS A PIXEL HUNT?

Pixel Hunt is actually a term that refers to video games that use a point and click interface like in so many adventure games. As such, Pixel Hunt the magazine is also interactive. Try clicking on items, such as the icons to the bottom of the page to turn to the next or previous page, the arrow to the top of each page will take you back to the contents page where each individual story is linked. Give it a go. Australia’s best gaming

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THE GAME DOCTOR

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feature Wii Don’t Need No PS4

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KILL DEATH RATIO ASSASSIN’S CREED BROTHERHOOD

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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS WITH PROFESSOR PIXEL

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WHAT WE’RE PLAYING WITH THE PIXEL HUNT STAFF

OPINION multiplayer levelling

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creative AN ALAN WAKE STORY

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OPINION WE GOT (TO MUCH) GAME

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www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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PRESS START TO PLAY

NOT THE NEWS The latest non-happenings in video games are brought to you by our intrepid reporters DYLAN BURNS and JAMES O’CONNOR.

Brisbane Man Wins Prize for Saying “lol” Out Loud for the One Billionth Time Unbenownst to most of us, both Xbox Live and the PSN network have secretly been keeping track of vocal patterns during online multiplayer sessions. It seems that one of the keywords being looked for is ‘lol’, short for ‘I’m a complete dickhead’. Brisbane man Glen Jackson got the surprise of his life when a local TV news crew knocked on his door and informed him that he was the one billionth person to utter ‘lol’ online. “I say lol all the time,” gushed Glen in the televised interview, “even in place

of actually laughing. I think that this particular time Josh had farted while eating corn chips and I said ‘lol’. Either that or it was when I was fragging some noob’s arse and he was screaming like a stuck pig! Totally lol-worthy.” Glen’s prize for being awesome was a framed LOL statue with his name engraved on it, and a lifetime membership to Xbox Live. Rumours are circulating of a possible film project to do with Glen’s rags to riches story. Mark Wahlberg has denied casting rumours.

Rockstar Games Admits Bad Working Conditions In recent months it’s been uncovered that working at Rockstar is no walk in the park. In a frankly amazing admission, Rockstar big knobs have recently released a press statement admitting that times in the office can be tough. “There were days,” says an annonymous source, commenting on the release, “when you’d come into work, and that fat bastard Pierre from animation would have taken the last chocolate-iced

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donut. I mean… how were we meant to function?” The release itself doesn’t name names, apart from listing possible bad things that future whistle blowers might whinge about on blogs. Here are some of the stand-out ones: The CEO would often come and stare over workers’ shoulders. Sometimes without saying anything and sniggering softly… or maybe playing with the employee’s hair.

Double parking did happen, but only that one time on Tuesday and that was because the dump truck was in the way. Dress Like a Cowboy Fridays did get cancelled, but only because several programmers refused to shave or shower over the space of weeks, and the word ‘cocksucker’ started to get used too much in office banter. The male members of staff, on the other hand, behaved wonderfully. JANUARY 2011


Garbage Tips Around the World Appeal for People to Keep Plastic Drum Kits

Only a couple of years after the emergence of plastic drum kits and guitars for Guitar Hero and Rock Band, garbage tips worldwide are experiencing a deluge of thrown away kits, as people grow tired of repeatedly hitting the multi-coloured pads for hours. “We just don’t know what to do with them,” says Jerry, manager for a major city tip shop. “They’re in fine working order but we can’t even give them away. We tried donating them to homeless people but they ended up having nightmares about Green Day. Then there are the problems of guitars getting stuck in truck hydraulics. The publishers need to do something.” Pixel Hunt encourages the responsible disposal of unwanted gaming paraphernalia. If you have a spare drum kit or three taking up too much space, why not make a social event of it? Gather some friends, stoke a bonfire and offer your kits to the gaming gods.

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Games Journalist Accepts Honourable Plaque for His Super Original Article on the R18+ Situation

Super games journalist and all round nice guy James O’Pincott-Burns was last week awarded with a commemorative plaque by the Federation of Awesome Australian Games Writing for his groundbreaking research into the R18+ situation. When asked about his inspiration, he had the following to say: “Basically, I realised that there was this huge void in games journalism, the 300 pound white elephant in the room. No one was tackling the R18+ issue and telling it how it is.” James’s piece, entitled ‘R18+ Gaming F***ing Rocks’, will be cast in gold and displayed at the National Museum of Literacy. His previous works include ‘Girls Play Games Too, You Know!’, ‘Why Indie Games Are Just Much Better Than All Other Games’, ‘The Big Question: Are Games Art?’ and ‘Guess What Everyone: Games Are Supposed To Be Fun!’ www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

nIer enough is close enough TIM HENDERSON is so Nier and yet so far.

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ou know, for all of the horrible X-Factor snippets and terrible R&B music videos that litter the world of YouTube, I still love the place. You see, if you enter the words ‘Nier OST’ into a search on YouTube, you will be greeted with a list of awesome, and really rather unique, music tracks. Mostly reworking a core theme in an amazingly varied number of ways, the music from Nier brings to mind sweeping adventure and lush 6

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green fields, ages of gentle Gods and towering temples made by men, water that sparkles like sand and sand that flows like water, battles as fierce as thunder and an embrace as soft as clouds, cliffs like wounds in the earth and bridges that cover them like bandages. It’s powerful stuff on its own, and it only becomes amplified in-game. Mixing a variety of instruments, stylistic inspiration, and sweetly sung lyrics of a fictional

tongue, the music of Nier is a tightly-contained example of its host’s greater mission statement: to stack familiar ideas together in ways that nobody has thought of before. Nier’s soundtrack is far and away the greatest success born of this mentality. The only musical downside is that there’s not enough of it. Melodies blend and evolve beautifully, lyrics fading into the game’s hub town background music when Nier himself walks within earshot

of a minstrel strumming the very same tune. But Nier is a game that has all the technical merit of a powered-up PS2 title. Any and all visual appeal can be attributed to the art. Stylistically, Nier’s sunscorched aesthetic borrows heavily from ICO, much of its world architecture from Panzer Dragoon, and the character designs appear as misfits from a Final Fantasy game – too restrained and imperfect in appearance

to appease the tween demographic crossover. The limitations placed upon the engine are not just visual, either. Character movement and world interaction comes with familiar limitations; Nier’s is not a world where advanced physics are breaking open new gameplay boundaries. This is understandable: the aging father of a gravely ill daughter, Nier himself is hardly the most sprightly and youthful of videogame JANUARY 2011


NIER

Developer Cavia Publisher Square Enix Platform 360 / PS3 Genre Action/RPG OFFICIAL WEBSITE

While other games are happy to borrow ideas from outside genres, Nier is routinely bold enough to become them.

Australia’s best gaming

protagonists. But let it not be said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. If there is one triumph to be found in the overall experience of playing Nier, then it must surely be the reminder that technology and innovation need not be exclusive bedfellows. Although it never fails to feel familiar, even dated, trying to pin Nier into a genre is troublesome. Predominantly a mixture of Zelda and roleplaying formulas, it nonetheless cherry-picks from multiple -zine

other genres, plucking and choosing as befits the mood of the narrative, to a point where it fundamentally defies classification. While other games are happy to borrow ideas from outside genres, Nier is routinely bold enough to become them. This is why you should check Nier out. Not because it was ever a realistic Game of the Year candidate for 2010, but because of its unfettered, almost flippant approach to experimentation: it sets

out to provide an interactive adventure, and in order to do so it staples gameplay elements from bullet hell shooters, classic survival horror, isometric dungeon crawlers, and even text adventure games onto the core experience. The pacing flounders around at times, and the graphics, in particular, betray a modest development budget, but Nier is a game with a fierce heart – an imperfect yet ferocious experiment with Japanese role-playing concepts, complimented by a story and

cast of characters stronger than many of its brethren. It’s a game that does remarkable things within the restraint of having one foot shackled in the past and, much like the recent Persona titles, radiates a conceptual beacon of light for what JRPGs may as yet become. It may not be a great game, but it is one of the most interesting ones of recent years. Better to be left only part-satisfied by something like that than by Final Fantasy. TIM HENDERSON www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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COVER feature

A Player’s Best Friend BRENDAN KEOGH investigates the characters that accompany us in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part: NPC companions.

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uperheroes have sidekicks, comedians have straight men, and videogame protagonists have companions. They have accompanied us in our adventures to save kingdoms/mankind/the universe and to slay monsters/demons/aliens for as long as video games have been around. Link had Navi, Donkey had Diddy (and Diddy had Dixie), Ico had Yorda, Mario had Yoshi (and Yoshi had Mario), Master Chief had Cortana, Gordon had Alyx, Jade had Pey’j, Wanda had Agro, Marcus had Dom. The list goes on and on. There are good reasons why so many games rely on companions, and it is no coincidence that some of the most memorable, most critically acclaimed games are those that rely heavily on an NPC following the player around. When implemented properly, a 8

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companion can immerse you deeper into the game world and give you something within the game to care about, such as your trusty canine in Fable II. Conversely, a bad companion is at best forgettable and useless, such as B-Company in Battlefield: Bad Company, and at worst has you double-guessing the game’s logic and yelling at the screen in frustration, like when your party medic in Final Fantasy XIII refuses to heal you. Simply put, companions are capable of making or breaking a game. A good story-focused game will hide the game’s rules behind a layer of fiction. The simplest example: an impassable mountain range is more immersive than an invisible wall at the end of the map with the on-screen message, ‘You cannot go this way’ (I’m looking at you, Bethesda). It is

NAVI

DIDDY KONG not so much about forgetting that you are playing a game as it is about participating in what feels like a complete, coherent world. Companions play a crucial role in forming this coherent fiction by tying the player to the world and giving them something to care about. Few seem to understand this as well as Fumito Ueda of Team Ico, responsible for the Playstation 2 classics ICO and Shadow Of The Colossus as well as the upcoming Playstation 3 title The Last Guardian. Both ICO and Shadow Of The Colossus (and The Last Guardian if we can judge from the trailers) create minimalist worlds with little story and even less dialogue. Yet, Ueda’s titles are among the best-received and most critically acclaimed games of recent time. The critical success of Ueda’s

LUIGI

YOSHI JANUARY 2011


YORDA

If the player is to care about Yorda, she must be convincing as an individual entity but must also do exactly what the player wants. games comes down largely to the central relationship between the player and a consistent, significant companion. In ICO, you control a boy trying to escape a large castle prison. The gameplay is relatively straightforward platforming and puzzlesolving with one unique addition. Almost immediately after the game starts, you encounter Yorda, a girl also imprisoned in the castle. You soon discover that Yorda is in danger and needs your help. On the flipside, you cannot hope to escape without Yorda’s mysterious door-opening powers. The relationship between player and Yorda is one of co-dependence. As the skills of the player and Yorda do not overlap, neither steps on the other’s toes. Yorda will not rush off and do something the player doesn’t want her to do, but neither will she rush forward and do Australia’s best gaming

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something the player was about to do. The relationship between Ico and Yorda is pivotal to the entire game. This is a ballsy gamble by Ueda. If she glitches up and gets the player killed even once, the player will be furious. There is nothing players hate more than feeling cheated by the game. If the player is to care about Yorda, she must be convincing as an individual entity but must also do exactly what the player wants. For Yorda specifically and all gaming companions generally, she can’t be god-like and invincible, but neither can she be stupid and placid. Instead, she must be humanly flawed and humanly intelligent; she must be smart enough to make mistakes; she must be imperfect and ‘real’. Yet, she also has to do exactly what the player wants her to do. If she shows too much free

will, the player will get frustrated that the game is not doing what they want it to do. But if she just follows the player mindlessly, the player won’t be able to care about her as a human being and, by extension, won’t be able to care about the game’s fiction. So many conflicting conditions! So how did Ueda manage to balance them all? With one very simple addition to the controls: press R1 to hold Yorda’s hand when she is close enough or to call her when she is far away. When left to her own devices, Yorda will wander around the map, run after birds, look over edges, and sometimes, if you watch her for long enough, maybe even discover a solution to a puzzle. Yet the moment you press R1 and call her, she will come back to you and hold your hand. Instead of mindlessly following

you, then, Ico pulls Yorda along in a charming, enthusiastic run, like a younger brother eager to show his older sister the fortress he built in the lounge room. By tweaking her animations and behaviours just right, Ueda has managed to balance Yorda perfectly between free-minded and obedient. It’s hard not to care about her and her plight as you play ICO. After not too long, you find yourself not being concerned about Ico or Yorda, but about Ico and Yorda. Later in the game, when the two of you are separated, it is akin to having all your weapons removed halfway through a first-person shooter: you feel naked, exposed, vulnerable, and most crucially, alone. So many emotions evoked just by the absence of a NPC! This is how you know a companion has been done well: you don’t just notice www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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COVER feature

Alyx Vance 10

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when they are beside you; you notice when they are not. A similar relationship also forms between Shadow Of The Colossus’s Wanda and his trusty horse, Agro. Just like in ICO, the player can call to Agro and he will come running, but he will wander off freely otherwise. Agro is a well-behaved steed, and the game can get away with making him more obedient as he is a tamed animal and not a free-willed human. But he still behaves convincingly, rearing when a colossus stomps nearby or refusing to leap over certain crevasses until pushed. The times that you must leave Agro behind, you really feel his absence. For me, it is in the echoing tap-tap of my feet compared to Agro’s hearty gallop that really rubs it in. A companion can still be convincing and meaningful without such detailed free-will, however. Alyx Vance in HalfLife 2 accompanies the player for much of the game. In Episodes One and Two, you could even argue that she is the main character and the player’s character, Gordon Freeman, is the companion. Alyx’s actions are more scripted than either Yorda or Agro. On every playthrough she will follow a practically identical path through the levels and will say the same things at the same times. Nonetheless, she is animated and written in a way that is both

convincing and human. Instead of just following the player, Alyx has her own paths through the level, which means she will often be leading—a rare feat among gaming companions. That these paths are scripted hardly matter. Instead, they add to the game. Alyx can be shown to engage with her environment in a more convincing style. Instead of awkwardly running through a level like any old NPC, she will jump over guardrails and climb fences like a human being, making both her and the world more believable. Once the player cares for Alyx, her most important role is in justifying Gordon Freeman’s existence, and by extension the player’s. As Gordon is a silent protagonist, one of the main criticisms levelled at Half-Life was that he was practically a non-character—just a gun floating on the monitor. Alyx Vance changed this. By constantly acknowledging Gordon, making eyecontact, having discussions, remarking on his actions, Alyx makes Gordon more real. We still never see Gordon ourselves, but we see that Alyx sees him. The actions are miniscule, but they add a significant level of detail that makes Half-Life 2’s story and world more accessible that Half-Life’s ever was. Sadly, though, there are occasions where Alyx tips the wrong way and becomes a frustrating NPC instead of a friendly companion. One particular

stage in Episode One frustrated me immensely and shows how even the best implemented companions can go wrong and nearly break a game. You are underground and trying to get to the surface. In a pitch-black room, you must fight swarms of zombies while you wait for an elevator to arrive. The player has no weapons save a torch and the gravity gun, but Alyx has her pistol. However, she will only shoot at zombies that the player is pointing the torch at or has lit flares nearby. I couldn’t help but feel Alyx wasn’t pulling her weight. Why couldn’t she pick up a flare herself? Why did I have to stand dumbly with my torch pointed at a zombie for her to shoot it? Clearly, Valve were trying to strengthen the relationship between Alyx and Gordon by forcing you to cooperate to survive, but the result was the opposite. Alyx couldn’t look after herself and she was holding me back. Instead of being a companion I could work with, she became a bit of programming that I had to second guess and exploit. While her actions in the rest of the game added so much, it was almost all destroyed for me in this one stage. Using companions truly is a precarious, dangerous thing. There are more interesting companions—both good and bad—than could be covered in any one article. The more-or-less invisible companions JANUARY 2011


like Cortana in Halo, the dependable, self-sacrificing buddies of Far Cry 2, the bromance of Delta Squad in Gears of War. But where would a discussion of gaming companions be without a mention of Portal’s weighted companion cube? Quite justifiably, many of you will be sick of hearing about Portal by now, but the amount of stuff that it just got so right can’t be denied. The weighted companion cube, while only a minor part of the entire game, works as the ultimate meta gaming companion. It does everything all good gaming companions must do. Firstly, the weighted companion cube’s abilities complement the player’s abilities, they don’t overlap and conflict. Just as Ico and Yorda rely on the other’s abilities, so do the player’s and the weighted companion cube. The weighted companion cube relies on the player’s portal gun, legs, and strong hands, and the player relies on the weighted companion cube’s stability as a stool, sturdiness to sit on buttons without flinching, and strength to withstand loose balls of energy that could vaporise the player on impact. Without the other, neither will get to the end of the level. Secondly, and more importantly, the weighted companion cube is a non-living object that the player knows is not alive yet is still able to Australia’s best gaming

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have feelings for. Just like Yorda, Alyx, Agro, and all other companions, the weighted companion cube is just a bunch of 0s and 1s somewhere inside the game. But unlike these other companions, on the outside, too, the weighted companion cube is just an inanimate object. Yet, largely through the words of GLaDOS, the player still cares about the weighted companion cube. When GLaDOS congratulates you for destroying the weighted companion cube in the emergency intelligence incinerator faster than any other test subject, it is darkly funny, but some of the guilt you feel is legitimate and taps into the same part of your mind as all gaming companions. And that is the ultimate contribution all gaming companions make: a legitimate reason to care about the world. The player’s reward for helping Yorda is not ten achievement points, but helping Yorda. When Yorda holds your hand, she pulls you deep down into the game’s world where your actions are their own reward. But if they don’t act the way the player expects, any immersion in the game world could be ruined as the player is forced to double guess what they must do in order to tempt the companion to action how they want. Just as your companions can pull you in to the game, they can just as easily push you out. BRENDAN KEOGH

...where would a discussion of gaming companions be without a mention of Portal’s weighted companion cube?

COMPANION CUBE www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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FEATURE

Going Up In Steam

When it comes to pricing on Steam, different publishers take different approaches. JAMES PINNELL brings us a rundown on which publishers are the friendliest to your wallet.

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he Steam Christmas sale has been and gone, and many of us are playing catch up with quite a few titles that we otherwise would never have bought. While digital distribution is building in popularity, Australians still face some hefty mark-ups on the Steam store, due in part to regulations that prevent publishers undercutting brick and mortar competition. In an attempt to solidify our frustrations, we decided to take a stroll through the Steam Store and critique publishers on their ability to charge fair and equitable prices to Australian users. All prices are correct at time of writing, although things can and do change quickly online. (All prices listed are $USD). 12

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BIOSHOCK 2

FALLOUT NEW VEGAS

STEAM Report Card

STEAM Report Card

2K Games

Bethesda

Comments: The guys behind Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls have picked up their game as of late. While their original Fallout 3 pricing was a little silly, they have moved back towards the centre and matched price parity for most titles between the AU/US stores. The main exception is Fallout: New Vegas, which sits at a rather expensive $89.95. Of concern is that New Vegas initially appeared on Australia’s Steam store at $49.95, equal to the American pricing, only to receive a $40 bump close to release. Bethesda’s two main upcoming titles, Brink and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, are both $49.99 to pre-order. If you’re interested in either we’d suggest you pre-order them now, as the same price bump is likely to occur closer to release. Grade: B A

C D

E

F

Comments: 2K is one of the bigger players on Steam and takes full advantage of its market position, with some significant price differences. While Americans can purchase Civ V for $49.99, Australians pay $79.99. While Americans pay $29.99 for Mafia 2, Australians pay $79.99. While Americans pay a paltry $19.99 for BioShock 2, Australians pay $49.99. Discounts are few and far between, except during Steam-instigated sales. Release date differences are also a cause for concern, with those who purchased Civ V at retail in Australia unable to play the game until it was unlocked for Australians the next day. 2K is easily one of the worst performers on Steam. This kind of pricing gives the consumer little reason to lay down their credit card. Grade: A B

C D

E

F JANUARY 2011


TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON

STEAM Report Card

Activision

C D

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STEAM Report Card

Sony Online

Lucasarts

Comments: A Veteran MMORPG develope r, Sony has released their entire set of still currently running MMORPG’s for downloa d on Steam. Sony always group AU based acco unts with their US counterparts, and as a resu lt, there is no difference in price, or release date. Feel safe in your purchase of the upcomin g DC Universe MMO, for you will not be ripped off. Grade: A B C D E F

STEAM Report Card

Comments: Although nowhere near as bad as 2K Games, Activision won’t exactly have you running for your credit card. James Bond: Blood Stone sits at the same price as retail, whereas Modern Warfare 2 is still on $89.99, at least $20 above retail, more if you don’t mind buying second hand. Other titles like Transformers: War for Cybertron and Prototype thankfully match US store pricing. Despite being an unpopular player, Activision isn’t too bad. However, their offerings are slim, and they tend to hold onto higher prices for popular games. Grade: A B

STEAM Report Card

E

F

Comments: Capcom have definitely improved their stock over the past year, dropping their pricing back to US standards, running fantastic periodic discounts and generally presenting as a poster child for a fair go. Almost all of their games match their US pricing, and are cheaper than retail – nothing in the store is more then $40, including games like Street Fighter IV, Resident Evil 5, Bionic Commando and Dark Void. Even the fairly recent Dead Rising 2 sits pretty at $39.99 C D

E

Grade: B A

C D

E

F

STEAM Report Card

Capcom

Grade: B A

Comments: Lucasarts had a shaky start on Steam, with many of their games originally locked out to AU players. But, since a lot of publishers began re-evaluating their digital catalogue, all of their games have been released to users and price parity is spot on. They also offer some great periodical discounts and have some great packages available.

F

Codemasters

Comments: A relatively large UK based publisher, Codemasters has a mixed record when it comes to fair pricing; F12010 is more expensive on the AU store, by about $20, but the majority of their popular back catalogue (GRID, Dirt Series, Overload, Op:FP2) are more fairly priced. Credit where credit is due, their AU levy is lower than most on new releases, but the fact it happens is still poor. Grade: A B C D E F

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FEATURE

MASS EFFECT 2

STEAM Report Card

Electronic Arts

Comments: EA is one of the big gest games publishers in the world, and next to 2K and Activision, one of the wor st per formers when it comes to pric ing. Almost every single major release is overpri ced or has a significant AU levy sitting on top. For example, before the recent sales, Dragon Age, which came out almost a yea r ago, and Mass Effect 2, which came out in Januar y, both included a $40US levy, sam e with C&C4 and Bad Company 2. Most of these games have dropped in price now , so it pays to be patient, but still, you should n’t have to wait so long to see depreciation seep through to the digital storefront. Grade: A B C D E F 14

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STEAM Report Card

STEAM Report Card

Sega

Square Enix & Eidos Interactive

Comments: Almost all of Sega’s steam catalogue, from their console releases to their PC published fare, are subject to a price premium for AU. As with EA, there existed quite a few higher priced titles before the 2010 sale – Aliens Vs Predator smacked you with a $15 levy, Napoleon: Total War a chunky $30, while the slew of old MegaDrive games had a small but still irritating 50c increase. Prices have dropped slightly in the new year, but the cycle is likely to repeat for their 2011 releases. Grade: B A

C D

E

Comments: Another publisher that has recently undergone some changes, this strange coalition has introduced price and catalogue parity across their AU and US stores. Let’s hope this stays in place with the upcoming release of the next Batman title. Grade: F E C D B A

F

STEAM Report Card

Ubisoft

STEAM Report Card

NCSoft Comments: This MMORPG powerhouse, publishers of Guild Wars, Aion and City of Heroes, have always been very straightforward and upfront with their releases. Worldwide unlock dates, fair and equitable pricing, great pre-order incentives and regular discounts. If only a few other of the big boys followed their example. Grade: A B

C D

E

F

Comments: Ubisoft’s case is surprisingly positive, considering the performance of the other major developers. Assassin’s Creed 2,Prince of Persia: TFS, R.U.S.E, Settler’s 7, H.A.W.X 2, and Splinter Cell Conviction all carry price parity with the US store. They’ve been pretty good with lowering the price of older titles and tend to not separate release dates between regions. Well done for bucking the trend, Ubisoft. Grade: A B C D E F JANUARY 2011


STEAM Report Card

STEAM Report Card

Paradox Interactive

Valve

Comments: A strategy behemoth, Paradox pumps out the deeply detailed software that their legions of fans crave. They also don’t discriminate on pricing, all of their titles have pricing parity, fair release dates and there are a number of well priced packages available. Grade: A B C D E F

Comments: Another giant willing to finally drop some of its 2010 mark-ups. Darksiders, Metro 2033, and the Dawn Of War II expansion pack all came with a $20-30 levy, but have fallen to quite acceptable price points now. Surprisingly, some games were LOWER in price than on the US store, such as Saints Row 2, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor and Titan Quest Gold. These strange price discrepancies are pretty confusing, but it’s encouraging to see lower prices in any case.

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E

C D

E

F LEFT4DEAD2

... & The Rest

Warner Bros.

THQ

C D

Grade: A B

STEAM Report Card

STEAM Report Card

Grade: B A

Comments: The company behind Steam has always, and probably will always, stick to pure price parity and worldwide releases. Shame about the whole Left 4 Dead 2 censored thing, though.

F

Comments: Our last candidate is one of the worst performers of the lot. Not only are almost all of their games more expensive, but by such a significant amount, considering their age. F.E.A.R. 2, Terminator Salvation and Wanted: Weapons of Fate all released over a year ago but sit at $44.99, $25 more than the US store. While the dollar levy figure isn’t significant, other developers are selling titles that old for almost half the price. Grade: A B

C D

E

F

1C Company, Big Fish Games, City Interactive, Epic Games, Focus Home Interactive, Her Interactive, Id Software, Interplay, iWin, JoWood/ Dreamcatcher, Kalipso, Majesco, Meridian 4, MumboJumbo, NovaLogic, Prima Games, Popcap, PlayFirst, RailSimulator.com, Sandlot Games, SouthPeak Games, Strategy First, Tilted Mill, Topware. While the companies listed here are generally casual, indie or back catalogue based (no new titles, just a depot of their Good Old Games), all of them share the same principles: price, release date and catalogue parity. Good prices, packages and extras provided by this bunch show that you don’t need to rip off a vulnerable section of the market to make money. Grade: A JAMES PINNELL www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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THE GAME DOCTOR One Man’s Quest to Earn A PhD By Wanking On About Games He Likes...

The Doctor Is (Almost) In JAMES O’CONNOR takes a stethoscope wherever he goes. No, we haven’t had the heart to tell him yet…

...the praise Enslaved attracted in 2010 baffled and saddened me.

Y

ou don’t propose to offer an analysis of scholasticism, then, I take it?’ The question illustrated exactly why Dixon felt he had to keep Michie out of his subject. Michie knew a lot, or seemed to, which was as bad. One of the things he knew, or seemed to, was what scholasticism was. Dixon read, heard, and even used the word a dozen times a day without knowing, though he seemed to. But he saw clearly that he wouldn’t be able to go on seeming to know the meaning of this and a hundred such words while Michie was there questioning, discussing and arguing about them. -Kingsley Amis, ‘Lucky Jim’.

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This is – at least, I hope it is – the beginner academic experience, boiled down into a single paragraph of comical frustration and seeming incompetence. All this year, I’ve used terms with definitions that terrify me. If I say ‘cognitive poetics’ I can more or less get away with admitting I need to do more research (because even my basic knowledge puts me well ahead of most people in this area, although potentially not you, my beloved reader), but other terms are a hassle. I can tell you the difference between narrative, story and plot, but two sentences in I’m out of words. For some people, higher research is an easy fit, but many of us spend our days dreading the moment when something clicks and the higher-

ups realise that the smartest thing we’re able to do is convince other people that we’re smart. I recently had to justify my ‘PhDabout-games’ project, which I’m ostensibly ten months into, through a 5000 word document, a 20 minute presentation and a similarly long Q&A session. I got what is apparently the most common response: ‘things are going well, but it’s too big, you need to clarify stuff in your written proposal, etc.’, along with about 2000 words of notes on what to fix. It’s a terrifying process, and I’ve been drinking more than I usually do lately. I tend to write and discuss largely on instinct. Aside from the occasional misguided mention of Lacan’s ‘mirror

phase’ or citing of proper literary theory, most of what I hypothesize comes from playing games and reacting to them. It’s the same when I digest literature and cinema. My Twitter and Facebook feeds abound with academics who are always linking to new research, and my e-mail inbox is filled with chain discussions on all sorts of crazy game-related topics, with familiar faces popping up and offering reading advice to anyone who will listen. The idea of backing everything I say up with meticulous research, not to mention absolute certainty, is difficult to comes to grips with. But you didn’t download Pixel Hunt to hear me whine about my First World Problems - I’d like to awkwardly segue JANUARY 2011


Always call ‘shotgun’ in

MAFIA II

into some game discussion now. First up, let me just say as someone who loves great narrative and story in big blockbuster games, the praise Enslaved attracted in 2010 baffled and saddened me. Please, people – simply not hating characters doesn’t immediately make them good characters. Solid facial animation doesn’t equate to personality. The characters here manage to be both illogical and yet utterly predictable at the same time, and the three primary protagonists are as archetypal as they come. The Journey to the West riffing was weird and undercooked, beyond the initial ‘I see what they’re doing here’ phase. Enslaved is an awful example of ‘OMG games CAN tell stories!!!!’, and Australia’s best gaming

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I’m damn sick of reading half-baked arguments on the contrary. I’d also like to briefly discuss an interesting moment from Mafia II: a game with great ambition and design, but so-so (or bad) writing and incredibly awkward racial stereotyping (the game’s portrayal of the Chinese is flat-out disgusting). Mark Smith called it “the best and most immersive interactive cinematic experience (he’d) had in 25 years of gaming”, which is an insane statement that cannot possibly be true. There’s one moment in the game that really sticks out to me, though, in terms of awful narrative design. Mild spoilers follow, but I’ll avoid being specific. Late in the game, a character dies.

That’s expected – mafia fiction, no matter how good it is, has a bad habit of never letting anyone live. The setup: your character, Vito, and his best friend Joe, are on their way to meet up with this character. When you reach them, you’ll presumably all get into the car and drive to a second location, such is the game’s structure. But from the moment you meet up with Joe and get into the car, you know the guy you’re about to meet won’t be coming with you – that his death is but a cutscene away. Why? Because the mission gives you a two-seater car for the mission. There’s no room for your friend to come along – so obviously he’s about to die! What a terrible piece of scripting that was – and yet so obvious, and so

easily avoidable! It’s shit like this that makes the road ahead of me both difficult and interesting. My studies are focusing on big blockbuster games – exploring narrative in a big-budget explosionfests seems to me far more worthwhile than explaining how games that are primarily narrative focused succeed. And yet these are the games people are going crazy over, while the games I’m interested in are dismissed as Michael Bay handjobs and constantly called ‘overrated’ because of this industry’s bizarre case of Tall Poppy Syndrome. And now, I need to go and replay Grand Theft Auto IV. JAMES O’CONNOR www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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FEATURE

TIME OF THEIR LIVES

Wii Don’t Need No PS4 DYLAN BURNS and MICHAEL PINCOTT look at the state of the seventh generation of video game consoles and why we don’t need an eighth generation any time soon.

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e live in an interesting gaming age. For so many years, the industry has been growing at an exponential rate. As more people came to gaming, demand has fuelled the development of new consoles, new technologies and has allowed new companies to try their hand at jumping into the development and publishing pool. Where once you could analyse the industry and chart specific development timeframes – particularly in relation to console life cycles – we face, with the 360, PS3 and Wii, an era of 18

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elongated shelf life, with no side truly ready to invest in a new console. The reasons for these are varied: games are still selling well on these systems, graphics and the technologies behind them have reached a certain level of fidelity and stayed there, and, predominantly, the sheer cost of developing and marketing a new console in an established market is almost unimaginable. Indeed, Microsoft and Sony are still recouping the costs of developing and manufacturing the 360 and PS3. Only Nintendo can claim

to be making a profit on every console unit sold. Then there’s the PC, once considered a lofty, exclusive peak of quality gaming, upon which PC gamers could look down at their console brethren like ants below and laugh heartily at the fact that their games looked better, ran faster and were generally superior. Undoubtedly, the PC is still considered the ultimate gaming platform by many, but the gap between PC and console has shortened considerably. The current generation of

SONY

1994 Sony Playstation 2000 Sony Playstation 2 2006 Sony Playstation 3 consoles have adapted to mimic the PC, sporting large hard drives, capable online play and robust communities. The online connectivity of consoles now easily facilitates updates, patches and extra content. Consoles are even attempting to match the PC as a media hub. What once was exclusively the realm of the PC is being hotly contested. Console gaming is still PC gaming’s little brother, but it’s growing up fast. The need for consoles to catch up is greatly reduced; some might even say negated completely. JANUARY 2011


Only Nintendo got it right, offering total compatibility for Gamecube titles and ensuring that the Wii had ports for both Gamecube controllers and memory cards.

NO GAME LEFT BEHIND Does a new console generation mean that the current generation of games get left behind as those before them did? The precedent is poor for both Microsoft and Sony, thoroughly botching their opportunities to support their strong back catalogue. The 360 would play some Xbox titles with a patch, but eventually Microsoft simply stopped providing them, leaving plenty of games either unsupported or broken. They then started offering Xbox titles as downloads on the Marketplace but, due to high prices and low sales, this was short-lived. The Playstation 3 shipped with more substantial backwards compatibility, supporting most PS2 titles without issue, until Sony made the mind-boggling Australia’s best gaming

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decision to no longer include the Emotion Engine chip that made backwards compatibility for PS2 titles possible. We’re now seeing an interesting consequence of that, with Sony releasing a spate of HD collections of PS2 series like Prince of Persia and God of War. Only Nintendo got it right, offering total compatibility for Gamecube titles and ensuring that the Wii had ports for both Gamecube controllers and memory cards. FUTURE SHOCK Which brings us to the topic of the NEXT generation of consoles. The very cogent question being, do we even need them? Simply put, developers, publishers and gamers all seem rather content exactly where they are. A level of mutual

TIME OF THEIR LIVES

NINTENDO

1983 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) 1990 Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) 1996 Nintendo 64 2001 Nintendo GameCube 2006 Nintendo Wii www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

19


FEATURE

The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 still, it seems, have unexplored power left to tap.

TIME OF THEIR LIVES

MICROSOFT 2001 Xbox 2005 Xbox 360 satisfaction has been reached where everyone’s demands are being satisfactorily met. Incremental improvements in visuals have been gradual but consistent. Uncharted 2 lifted the bar for console graphics in late 2009 and, arguably, no other developer has reached that bar since. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 still, it seems, have unexplored power left to tap. Even the Wii is turning out some very pretty games, such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Developers are still playing catch-up, 20

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finding ways to squeeze more out of each console, while new technologies such as Euphoria and Digital Molecular Matter are still being explored and hesitantly implemented – the Force Unleashed titles didn’t exactly send a shock wave through the industry, although GTA IV’s use of Euphoria was much more impressive. Each consecutive console generation offers a bigger, deeper sandpit for developers to dig through. We haven’t hit the bottom of this generation’s just yet. With graphics somewhat levelled

out (particularly in terms of a small number of engines such as Unreal Engine 3 being used across many/ most titles) and the upgradeable nature of online connectivity, the current console generation is in a position to extend their lifetimes far beyond what was previously possible. A rather encouraging trend has emerged of gameplay becoming a renewed focus. The video game industry has an unfortunate tendency to pay more heed to the prettiest games, but increasingly we’ve seen art direction take precedence

over graphical power. With most developers on a level playing field in terms of visuals (see our Unreal Engine boxout) gameplay is again becoming king. The likes of Minecraft and Super Meat Boy have proven to be popular not because they look good but because they offer excellent gameplay. NOT TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT The question of the successors to the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii has barely been raised, despite the fact that we have the 3DS coming JANUARY 2011


Cell Shaded Masterpiece

BORDERLANDS

For our money, this console generation has plenty of life in it yet.

TIME OF THEIR LIVES

SEGA

1983 Sega SG-1000 1985 Sega Master System 1988 Sega Mega Drive/Genesis 1994 Sega Saturn 1998 Sega Dreamcast and, apparently, the PSP2 in the works. In a way, we’ve already got our new generation. Microsoft has treated Kinect as almost a console unto itself, while Sony to a lesser extent has looked to expand with Move. If the Wii can get hold of a magical HD chip we’ll be just about level again. We are also still engaged solidly with our console(s) of choice, and this generation of machines bring with them some features that give new meaning to the term ‘brand loyalty’. Microsoft and Sony are Australia’s best gaming

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each invested in their meta-score game tracking, with Achievements and Trophies solidifying the social gaming space. Moving across to a new console in the future will require the maintaining of current gaming badges, lest they risk the ire of players the world over. There’s no doubt that come E3 2011, pundits will speculate on the likelihood of a new major console release from one of the Almighty Three. For our money, this console generation has plenty of life in it yet. Back in 2006, Sony Computer

Entertainment America president Kaz Hirai predicted that the Playstation 3 would have a lifespan of ten years. So far he’s spot on, but we’re only halfway there. We can’t say for sure whether we’ll be playing Heavy Rain 3: Gentle Downpour on our not-yet-obsolete Playstation 3 in 2016, or whether we’ll be unwrapping a new Bluray drive Xbox, but whatever the case, we’ll continue to enjoy what has been a bountiful period for consoles and console gaming. DYLAN BURNS | MICHAEL PINCOTT

Unreal Engine 3 Roll Call

Cliffy B must be dry washing his hands constantly, grinning nefariously as those millions in royalties roll in from every game and his dog using the Unreal Engine 3. Here are some of the more surprising ones: DC Universe Online Hail To The Chimp (:S) Alpha Protocol Mirror’s Edge Enslaved: Odyssey To The West Zumba Fitness Borderlands Lost Odyssey Shadow Complex Batman: Arkham Asylum Mass Effect (all titles) www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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KILL DEATH RATIO

BOYS IN THE hood KEN LEE and MICHAEL PINCOTT have been getting acquainted with stealth and stabbing in the multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

M

P: Multiplayer games typically involve, but are not limited to, headshots, grenade spamming, teabagging, deathmatches, capture the flag, whiny pre-pubescents, and players abusing whatever the latest exploit happens to be. Though we can’t guarantee an absence of whiny prepubescents, the multiplayer of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood spares us the majority of that paradigm to offer something rather fresh and different. Bombast is replaced with subtlety and stealth. The satisfaction of a headshot replaced by that derived from an exquisitely stealthy kill. It’s a perpetually tense game of cat and mouse combined with the kinetic rush of rooftop 22

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parkour. Ultimately, I love Brotherhood’s multiplayer because it emphasises strategy over twitch skills. Where my FPS skills would best be described as average, Brotherhood is an avenue for me to (attempt to) employ cunning and stealth instead of twitch gameplay. Would you agree, Ken? KL: The emphasis on strategy is definitely a high point for me. There is huge benefit to planning the perfect kill, and the game actively rewards that. I mean, I could choose to run wildly over roofs stabbing every target I get. But the meagre points awarded for those kills reflect the lack of thought and decision put into them. I can get far more points JANUARY 2011


ASSASSIN’S CREED BROTHERHOOD

Developer Ubisoft Montreal Publisher Ubisoft Platform 360 / PS3 / PC Genre Action/Adventure OFFICIAL WEBSITE

You feel totally in sync with what’s going on and totally like the badass assassin the game wants you to feel like.

if I take my time, approach my prey stealthily, and walk away calmly after sliding a knife into their backs. The rewards for that one quality kill greatly outweighs quantity. Your references to standard multiplayer games are right on the money. After several rounds into AC:B, those other multiplayer games almost feel somehow base and vulgar. The deliberate nature of AC:B, and the precision it requires make each session feel a little posh and gentlemanly. Another thing that I like very

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much is how the game prompts a sense of urgency into each kill, making the game move along at a quick pace. Despite being encouraged to plan each kill, the window of opportunity is constantly growing smaller as my prey gains more pursuers. As such, I can never just hang back and hope to get the one perfect kill to win the game, lest my target gets poached by others. MP: We should probably touch on some negatives as well. For one thing, the matchmaking leaves a lot to be

desired. Though patches have improved things, getting into a match can be a frustrating affair. If it emerges that in a few months time nobody is playing Brotherhood’s multiplayer anymore, it won’t be because the multiplayer wasn’t good – it will be because too many people were turned away by the slow, broken matchmaking. Another thing that became apparent to me the more I played was how much luck plays a role in Brotherhood. Ten minute rounds would

pass by with nary a kill on the scoreboard, but then everything turns to gold. Targets run straight towards your waiting blade. Your hunter gives themselves away and you net yourself some tidy stun bonuses. The points seem to rack up without even trying. You feel totally in sync with what’s going on and totally like the badass assassin the game wants you to feel like. Does it even out in the end? Probably. Just don’t feel too bad if nothing’s going right. A lethal killing machine one www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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KILL DEATH RATIO

Five Ways To Not Suck At Brotherhood Multiplayer

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moment, guy wearing a dunce cap and running with knives the next – it’s the assassin way. Ken, Ubisoft have already said there’s going to be another full blown Assassin’s Creed title by the end of 2011, and it’s likely that multiplayer will be a part of that game. What improvements would you like to see? KL: Getting the matchmaking working would be great, of course. Like you, I spend as much time waiting for a game to start as I do playing it. I’d like more variety in maps and level design. I’d like to see more open maps, with multiple height levels. At the moment, the maps tend to closed in, and don’t have much verticality. The controls are identical to the single-player, so the camera and mobility are merely serviceable. If any changes to the map are to be made, the controls will need to 24

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be modified accordingly to allow for quicker tracking and chasing of prey. I’d also love to see less emphasis on character levelling. While levelling in Brotherhood hasn’t been too tedious, it is compounded by the difficulty of getting into a game in the first place. Plus, there are a few perks that have a substantial effect on gameplay that are awarded at widely differing levels. Getting a better balance between the levels and its associated rewards will help to keep dedicated gamers engaged while still remaining accessible to more casual players. Brotherhood has offered quite an innovative and refreshing take on multiplayer, and I hope that it’ll keep its unique identity. For a game in which I originally dismissed the potential of multiplayer, I’m now really eager to see what else it’ll offer in the future. KEN LEE | MICHAEL PINCOTT

Kill With Style: The points you earn comes down to the quality of your kills. You can go for the cheap and nasty kills that net you 100 or 150 points, or you can be patient and pick up anywhere from 400 to over 1000 points. Sometimes a messy kill is the best option if your target is being difficult and you just want to move onto the next contract, but where possible, it’s worth that bit of extra patience and time to pick up those Incognito bonuses. Watch Your Back: It’s bloody difficult to track your target and evade your hunter at the same time, and basically impossible when you have multiple assassins on your case. Still, it’s wise to play defensively when you can. Escape and Stun bonuses are a good source of extra points. Hunters who give themselves away will be marked with a red icon above their heads. It’s a risky move to take them head on, but a well timed Mute or Smoke Bomb will give you the upper hand. Time Is Of The Essence: You’ll always be on a timer in Brotherhood multiplayer,

2

3

no matter the mode. Your target may well be on the opposite side of the map to you, so the subtle and stealthy approach isn’t exactly efficient. At the same time, running will make you a dead giveaway to anyone hunting you. The rooftops are quick, but they will leave you exposed. Pay attention to the hunter markers - if none are lit up, you can run around as much as you like (as long as you’re not spooking your target). Know Your Loadouts: You can have up to five profiles with different loadouts. It’s helpful to customise these according to what mode you’re playing. Manhunt, for example, is split into a hunter stage and a prey stage - defensive abilities aren’t much use when you have nobody after you, and vice versa. Play Manhunt: Of the three modes, Manhunt by far yields the most XP, for the simple reason that instead of chasing one target at a time as you do in Wanted, or two in Alliance, there can be up to four targets waiting for your blade. More targets means more chance of getting a kill, and more kills means more XP.

4

5

JANUARY 2011


QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

PROFESSOR PIXEL We keep him well supplied in cocaine, virgins and donuts and in exchange Professor Pixel answers your most fiendish gaming questions. Got a question for Professor Pixel? Fire it off to professorpixel@pixelhunt.com.au

Q

really is. For some reason, developers start to get a bit embarrassed when the numbers get too large, so they throw in a subtitle instead. See such titles as Fallout: New Vegas (Fallout 5), Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Assassin’s Creed 6) and Call Of Duty: Black Ops (Call Of Duty 7). I just don’t understand why

they wouldn’t want to boast about how efficiently their prolific sequel machine is operating. Don’t they know that the ladies love the big numbers? Why isn’t Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock given its rightful title of Guitar Hero 12? The only series brave enough to show off its double digits has been Final Fantasy, but they’re

holding back more than anyone - if you counted the spinoffs and remakes they’d be well into the hundreds. I’d like to see developers and publishers embrace the fact that they shamelessly churn out sequels to games every other day. I won’t be satisfied until I see Halo 21 and Need For Speed 34 on the shelves.

wobble about like a big girl, oh no I fell, better pull myself back up so I can act like a bitch some more. When will we get an action hero who can cross wooden beams without wetting themselves in the process? Angry John

plank of wood before so I can’t personally attest as to the difficulty of such a task. But I do acknowledge your point – the wooden beam seems to be of tremendous difficulty to the gaming heroes we so respect and adore. Perhaps they have inner-ear deficiencies? Perhaps they wear narrow shoes? Perhaps upon looking down they’ve noticed a stain on their outfit, distressing

them to the point of losing their balance? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact nature of their problem, but might I humbly suggest to video game villains of the future that they construct their lairs and dungeons entirely out of wooden beams, hoisted high above some fiery and unpleasant doom. The poor darlings won’t even make it to the front door.

Dear Professor

Most sequels have numbers in them, but some sequels have subtitles instead. Why do you think this is? Regards, Percy The Second

A

Professor Pixel

Well Percy, this is a handy trick for when you want to pretend your game isn’t a sequel when it

Q

Hey Professor P!

What’s with these hardass dudes who can rip fools in two and eat them for breakfast but turn to jelly when it comes to walking across a wooden beam? Kratos from God of War, Gabriel from Castlevania and the Prince of Persia all can run, jump, climb, swim and fight like it’s nothing, but whoooooaaa, it’s a wooden beam, I’m gonna fall, I better

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Professor Pixel

Thanks for your query, Angry John. I’ve never tried walking across a narrow

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caLL OF DUTY 7

Would this have been that bad?

Gabriel

castlevania www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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ON THE HUNT

WHAT WE’RE PLAYING Believe it or not, the Pixel Hunt staff actually play some video games now and then. Here’s what has tickled their fancies of late.

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KEN LEE

Dance Central

I got the Kinect as a birthday present from my wife, and getting my dance on seemed the most natural and obvious thing to do. Dance Central is really quite impressive. There’s a huge list of songs, and a huge variety of dance moves to emulate. And the game’s Break It Down tutorials are very effective in teaching those moves to a beginning player. It’s not quite a killer app, but it’s a must-have if you’ve got a Kinect.

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JAHANZEB KHAN

Final Fantasy XIII

(International Edition) This is pretty much Final Fantasy XIII with an Easy difficulty option. I’m glad Square-Enix finally decided to release FFXIII for the Japanese Xbox 360 because after spending 15 hours with it, I realise that this is truly the next-generation RPG I dreamed about back when the term ‘next-gen’ was still hip and the PlayStation 2’s Emotion Engine was considered to be godly.

MICHAEL PINCOTT

Donkey Kong Country Returns

I’ve been super impressed by this game. It looks great, plays smooth as butter and sports some fantastic level design. It feels as though developers Retro Studios paid a lot of attention to Super Mario Galaxy in terms of constantly throwing fun, new things at the player. Even the motion controls, which have caused some people to gripe, work quite well.

ANNIKA HOWELLS

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

I was addicted to Assassin’s Creed II, and this one is pretty much exactly the same, so why am I not enjoying it? Maybe it’s because it’s exactly the same. I’m looking at a massive map of icons, but instead of fun opportunities all I can see are chores to be repeated; complete special platform puzzle areas and find hidden hieroglyphs. Didn’t I already do all of this only a year ago? Screw this, I’m going back to Minecraft.

JAMES O’CONNOR

999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

Easy puzzles, awful writing, hammy dialogue, messy cliches and enormous logic leaps all combine to create....a surprisingly compelling and enjoyable game, actually. The overarching ideas and story are good enough to elevate what should have been a bit of a mess into a real ‘take it to the toilet with you because you don’t want to put it down’ DS affair.

JANUARY 2011


ON THE HUNT

PATRICK LANG

Deadly Premonition

(Import) An open world actionadventure thriller that appears to have escaped from the brain of David Lynch. PS2-era graphics, awful controls, yet utterly, utterly brilliant in its oddness.

Australia’s best gaming

DYLAN BURNS

Everything

A lot of catch up. I’ve spent my holidays going back to BioShock 2, Dragon Age, The Witcher, Dante’s Inferno, Nier and heaps more. I’m loving Bad Company 2: Vietnam and I still have the urge to swan dive back into Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and get those last few secrets. But more than anything I’m just enjoying this small period of game release silence, a reprieve from the weekly avalanche of truly great games. 2011 looks like it will be just as crazy, so get ready! -zine

ALEX WALKER

World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm

So far, I’ve enjoyed spending the last week exploring the changes that Deathwing has wreaked upon Azeroth. My first encounter with Armageddon involved me dying from his burning fury while selling items to a vendor inside a building. I enjoyed the surprise, but hopefully Blizzard won’t overuse their new trump card.

BRENDAN KEOGH

Just Cause 2

I’m a bit late to the party, I know, but this game is incredible! It’s one of those rare games where you think “I wonder if I can do this...” and 9 out of 10 times, you can! When I used my grappling hook to tie that first speeding jeep to the road and made it forward-flip and explode, I knew I would be playing this game for some time.

TIM HENDERSON

Darksiders

I’m playing the PS3 version, despite how insanely cheap this was in the Christmas Steam sales. It’s the sort of game that should be played on a larger TV while reclined on a sofa, even if it feels a bit flat in the visual department. That bit that rips off Shadow of the Colossus is awesome. Shameless, but awesome.

AARON SAMMUT

NBA 2K11

I can not put this game down. After completing the amazing Michael Jordan career highlights mode, which you can play out the most lauded of his Airness’ defining moments on the court. I have moved on and started creating my own legacy: Aaron Sammut is a 5”8”, 220 pound shooting guard with a field goal average of 15% and is currently hired by the Orlando Magic to warm a seat for Dwight Howard.

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creative

Charlie Loses His Cool (An Alan Wake Story)

I

’d been lots of places to chase women over the years, but none of them had been quite like Bright Falls. Leaving the sunshine for something approaching the Canadian border was bad enough, but this place seemed to have escaped wholesale from a David Lynch movie, with people to match. Except for Rose, of course, who was responsible for bringing me to this shit heap in the 28

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first place. I got a letter from her one day – she’d read one of my books (one of the better ones) and wanted to meet me. “I’m your biggest fan,” the letter had read. “I know people say that all the time, but I really am!” Also enclosed was a Polaroid that I can’t adequately describe without breaking several of this hick state’s ‘decency’ laws. Needless to say, JANUARY 2011


it was enough to make me fling a hip flask into the car and coax it onto the highway. I hadn’t realised how long the trip was (a tip for anyone wanting to Kerouac across America: don’t) and I fell asleep at the wheel 10 minutes out of town, hitting a goddamn deer in the process. I was quite a sight when I finally got to Bright Falls, bloody from a cut on my forehead, stinking of booze and slightly embarrassed that I’d killed the town’s favourite animal with a Volkswagen. It didn’t matter to Rose though, who took me back to her weird trailer-home-thing, bathed my cuts, found a fifth of whiskey and then bedded me like a wild animal. This girl was hot for writers, and I was suddenly seeing the appeal of being able to string a sentence together. The next morning she said I could go with her to work – after all, there was precious little else to do unless you wanted to join in the communal anticipation for the upcoming Deer Festival (I really, really didn’t). So I tagged along. The place was called (seriously) the Oh Deer Diner, and it didn’t belong in this or any other century. Still, it kept the autumn chill out, so I installed myself in a corner while Rose kept cups of thick, hot coffee coming my way, which I would generously top up with my hip flask. The people in the joint had to be seen to be believed. Two gnarled old Australia’s best gaming

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metal heads sat in a corner, lording it over the jukebox, which they insisted on using to play Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ over and over again. Hmph, I thought, suits my mood – I do feel like going a bit Reservoir Dogs on the whole damn town. Every once in a while one of the hick locals would drop in to get their morning coffee and poke their nose around. Every single one of them fixed me with a look of distaste, and why shouldn’t they? I had come up from less than nothing and made

A bigger, wealthier writer than I’d ever be, and a complete fuckwit to top it all off. I’d quizzed Rose about the cut-out when we came in, but she professed ignorance, claiming she’d never seen it before. A claim, I noticed, which made even the burnt out derelicts in the corner roll their eyes. Something was very fucking rotten in Bright Falls. I was busily topping up my coffee cup when one of those huge, ridiculous four wheel drives pulled up outside. You know the kind; urban

Holy shit. It was Alan Wake – the real Alan Wake - and he was coming in the door. a living out of arranging words on paper, of course they hated me. Still, it was starting to feel a little too Deliverance meets Stephen King for my liking. The diner had only three other occupants. One was a local landlord, Carl Stucky, a world-class small-town asshole in a boiler suit who had thankfully hidden himself in the john for the better part of the morning. The second was a vacuous looking cop in a sheriff outfit who was clearly a parody of himself. The other made my blood boil – a cardboard cut-out of that sycophantic loser Alan Wake.

assault vehicles driven by edgy housewives on their third drink of the day. Someone emerged. I squinted through my mildly drunken haze. Holy shit. It was Alan Wake – the real Alan Wake - and he was coming in the door. I grabbed my coffee and quickly (though somewhat haphazardly) dove into the kitchen. I had no intention of encountering Alan goddamn Wake, and I didn’t trust myself not to land a punch (and no doubt an assault and battery charge) if I did. He was talking to Rose, mooching around with that ‘I’m such a tortured artist’

look on his face. Millions of dollars will do that to you. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I sure heard what Rose said to him. “Mr. Wake?” she enthused. “Alan Wake? Oh God! I am your biggest fan! I know people say that all the time, but I really am!” Bitch. I didn’t stick around to hear the rest of their discourse. Instead, I acted like the adult male that I am and snuck out through the back of the kitchen. I ended up in the rear of the diner, near the john. It was dark, and all the fuses seemed to have gone. A hand touched me on the wrist. I jumped in the air, dropping my hip flask in the process. Looking around I saw a creepy old woman, dressed in black with a veil on. Christ, I thought, if this is what Deer Fest is going to be like I’m glad to be getting out of town. “Jesus Christ, lady!” I exclaimed. “Just what the fu-“ “Carl couldn’t make it,” she interrupted, “he was taken ill-“ “Listen,” I said forcefully, “I don’t know who you are or what horror movie you escaped from, but you better back off.” She merged back into the shadows. I found the door and got the hell out of Bright Falls. Patrick Lang www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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OPINION

BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2

Bar Fight KEN LEE on why multiplayer levelling unlevels the playing field.

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here’s a trend in online multiplayer games that I’m gradually getting tired of. I’m not sure how much longer I can deal with games that have persistent character progression and levelling. I’m not talking about MMOs, but rather games in the same vein as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. When Modern Warfare was released in 2007, it felt like a breath of fresh air. It depicted war in a modern era. There were locales that mirrored current real-world places, and you could use current weapons. But the persistent character levelling in multiplayer was one of the

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most innovative things that Modern Warfare accomplished. It was one of the first games that combined an online shooter with character progression in an accessible manner. You could jump in any selection of game modes, and earn experience towards unlocking better weapons, gear and perks. There was nothing like this before. I was excited about this brand new way to play. Suddenly, all those deathmatch sessions meant something. There was something to achieve, something to strive for. It wasn’t just about your score or kill/ death ratio in inconsequential games

that were forgotten once the timer ran out. You worked and earned your way upwards, and you had the trophies to prove your veteran status. But every innovative idea eventually gets co-opted by everyone else, regurgitating it over and over until it dies a million deaths. Or so it felt to me, when other games started to incorporate persistent character progression into their online multiplayer components. Games such as Medal of Honor, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Transformers: War For Cybertron and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood all copied the Modern Warfare model.

This trend of character progression normally wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve taken my fair share of enjoyment out of these games. I’ve spoken at length previously about the number of hours I’ve sunk into Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I can also understand why game companies implement such features. The second-hand game market is one that publishers and developers never directly benefit from. Encouraging gamers to not only buy first-hand, and hold onto those games is in the best interests of the developers. But it does mean that each game demands a huge time investment JANUARY 2011


ASSASSIN’S CREED BROTHERHOOD

MEDAL OF HONOR Australia’s best gaming

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from gamers. It requires a loyalty that I believe many gamers won’t be able to commit to a single game. Sure, there are people who only play one game religiously. But for someone who loves all manner of games, there’s just no way that I’d be able to put that amount of time into a single game. I’ve spent close to 40 hours in Bad Company 2, and I’m only at Level 22 (it goes up to 50). I’m an average gamer with average skills, and it’s likely to take me at least another 40 hours before I get to the end. I’m at level 17 in Modern Warfare, and level 7 in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. How many more hours do I need? But what I find most frustrating is how these games commonly lock better weapons and gear until you hit the higher levels. I know these weapons are an incentive to stick with the game. It can be very rewarding to finally get that high-powered rifle after hours of sweat and toil. But the fact that the weapon was locked away means that people who are either jumping in brand new, or don’t have the time to commit those hours are penalised. I only just unlocked the smoke bombs on AC:Brotherhood, which substantially changes the game. It’ll be a long while before I can gain access to the second ability slot (level 10), the throwing knives (level 19) and the poison blade (level 29). While most games try to maintain a balance

between the higher and lower level unlocks, some games are woefully unbalanced. In Front Mission: Evolved, the higher level weapons grossly overpower the weapons you start with; some guns deal more damage in a single shot than I could with a full clip of ammunition. Needless to say, I didn’t stick with that game for long. I don’t have anything against persistent character levelling and progression. I understand the appeal, and I enjoy it myself most of the time. There have been a number of games that I’m willing to throw away hours

I’ve spent close to 40 hours in Bad Company 2, and I’m only at Level 22... for. But with so many games now incorporating this same mechanic into their multiplayer, I’ll never be able to get round to ‘completing’ those games. I just don’t have the time or dedication. But most frustrating is that some of that content will be locked away from me forever. Ultimately, these games require a lot of loyalty and commitment, but when you’re somewhat of a gaming slut, it doesn’t feel good to miss out. KEN LEE www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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OPINION

Make It Stop! DYLAN BURNS on the seemingly endless barrage of game releases.

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ven before going through a fairly comprehensive Wikipedia list of all the major game releases of the last ten years for one of our PixelCasts, I’d had in mind a rant on the subject of how many games are getting released each year. Perusing the list for 2001 through to 2004 or so didn’t take that long, but as I kept going, it was taking longer to process each year, with more and more great titles jumping out at me. By the time you read this, our debate will have already taken place on the podcast. I hope it was fun to listen to. I’ll leave my personal picks out of this and concentrate on the main topic of release volume. Actually, ‘release volume’ sounds pretty dodgy… how about ‘game flood’ or ‘title torrent’? You know what I mean, right? The sheer amount of games that are getting released across all platforms is just crazy. So crazy that it’s actually getting stressful to try and keep up. You think being a games reviewer is fun when you’ve got multiple reviews due of multiple awesome games, each of which you’d rather take a long time to play? Okay, 32

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it is still cool, but as far as first world problems go it’s right up there. I’m sitting here in a lovely holiday period of the New Year and my catch-up list extends back into 2009. In fact, I’m probably just going to have to write off some of the larger titles and reconnect with their impending sequels. Obviously, making more games makes sense. It’s a growing industry and there are big bucks to be made if you are a publisher of consistent quality. It’s strange that I would complain about there being too many good games, but as I look over 2011’s upcoming releases I just know that it’s going to be as bad this year as it was in 2010. Games are getting deeper, longer, more complicated and their tails stretch out vastly thanks to the implementation of steady streams of DLC content. My personal problem is that as soon as I finish a game, its first batch of DLC is already in my face. I’d much prefer a break, to move on to another game or three, but something within me feels compelled to continue the adventure if I really enjoyed the base game. JANUARY 2011


When I say that games are getting longer, I mean in an investment sense. We are faced less often with epic 60 hour adventures, but there is still an 8-10 hour expectance from full priced games. Add to that the time-sink possibilities of a well-implemented multiplayer mode and stand alone games have the potential to occupy you for weeks or even months at a time. But of course, we live in an age where nearly every week brings at least one new title, and for the most part they’re all worth getting. I know last year I was getting games and not even playing them. Or buying two or three games on a Thursday and having to choose which one to play first. It’s both awesome and crazy at the same time and my poor brain just can’t deal with it. Which brings me to my 2011 gaming resolution: to try and be more picky/ selective with the games that I play, and to try and push down those anxious feelings as titles slip by without being experienced. With hundreds of games clamouring for our attention, I only have time to enjoy the cream at the top. This will, of course, mean that I miss many very good games, but come the end of 2011 I’ll no doubt have a list in my mind of titles that I’d like to track down at a bargain price. Steam also seems to be turning its Christmas sales into a regular thing, so I’m sure I’ll pick up some savings there. There are rumblings in the industry Australia’s best gaming

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about slowing down and releasing fewer titles. Late last year EA said as much, hinting that they may plan to reduce their yearly output but still concentrate on quality. Surely the flood of games must be impacting on sales; it may be a booming industry but even so, the main consumers who regularly buy games can only spend so much on it. The Guitar Hero series, once a billion dollar open cheque, has fizzled, a result of market saturation.

With hundreds of games clamouring for our attention, I only have time to enjoy the cream at the top.

I have no illusions as to my effect on the industry. Too many games will continue to get released around me, but perhaps if we all band together and start being more selective, that activity will show up as a blip on publishers’ mega-secret, sale-tracking underground lair computers. I’m going to do my best to stick to my resolution. I’ll let you know how I go. DYLAN BURNS www.PIXELHUNT.com.AU

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