The End of a Decade

This year was a curious one, and I don’t mean to refer to the VG industry alone: 2009 was, after all, the first full year of The Slowdown for us three, and boy, it sure went past real fast. For various reasons, this year has also been a very trying one for each of us, yet we were still able to find the time and enthusiasm to write and post together. Taking up writing, I’m certain, has only worked to enhance our enthusiasm and interest in the medium. As if to commemorate the very end of the decade, though, my relatively recent motherboard had to be shipped over to Germany for replacement recently.

You’ve probably also noted how we’ve yet not engaged ourselves in the “best of” discourse, at all; we enjoy making lists just as much as the other guy, sure, but perhaps unsurprisingly also tend to get over-analytical and –intellectual with the concept.

Slowdown Boys

Therefore, as our final post of the year, the three of us have jotted down our personal lists of the decade. The simple rule was not to make it too difficult for ourselves. Therefore, I have sought to paint an impression of the zeitgeist, warts and all. Very subjective. Nabeel wanted to paint a portrait of himself as gamer, and Richard hoped to be accurate and inclusive. The games listed below have not been included based on their perceived merits or qualities; instead, we selected them with the aforementioned focuses in mind.

All three free-form lists after the jump. Here’s to a new gaming decade, everyone!

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Dark Void Zero

(Stop press! PC and mobile versions of Dark Void Zero will be made available in February!)

Dark Void Zero BoxWhen I first saw the Dark Zero Void “cover art” on the left, I thought it for fan art, I really did. After all, versioning (or “demaking”… Gang Garrison, anyone?) current-gen games has been very popular as of late. Even in seeing the above teaser trailer I went through several stages of minor befuddlement, though: In context of the very real PlayChoice-10, fact and fiction blend very conveniently.

The PlayChoice-10, brilliantly suitable for a Nintendo DS precursor, was a NES housed inside an arcade cabinet that often had an extra video screen reserved for instructions (not exactly “two interactive screens” like the video suggests, but fair enough!). It’s also perfectly natural that Dark Void Zero should be another Capcom project, “buried deep in its vault,” in the vein of Mega Man 9 and 10. In this sense, they are bringing their flavour of 8-bit degradation to its logical culmination.

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Arkham Has Moved

Batman: Arkham Asylum 2Batman: Arkham Asylum wowed us this year by being not merely a decent superhero game, as we were hoping, but an excellent game further enhanced by its license, and hence a contender for Game of the Year awards. With its critical and commercial success Rocksteady would be crazy not to start immediately on a sequel, and so it came as no surprise when a teaser trailer debuted today during the Spike Video Game Awards ’09. The brief teaser, embedded below, reveals the new setting for the game, which seems to be Arkham Aslyum again – only … not quite.

The Joker is back, looking a little worse for wear but up to his old tricks again. It’s unclear exactly what new location is being shown; the first thing we see are the gates of Arkham Asylum, but the buildings that rise behind them don’t resemble anything from the first game. Instead of an old private estate we see a dense cityscape, perhaps Gotham City? The camera pans through city streets, overcome with prison inmates running riot and beating people senseless. A glimpse of a recognisable location flashes by – Iceberg Lounge, the Penguin’s high-class nightclub that fronts for his underworld dealings. Another mythos reference is in the huge sign labelled ‘Sionis’, not doubt referring to Roman Sionis, otherwise known as Black Mask. The trailer ends centered on an aged Joker hooked up to an IV drip, his frail condition perhaps due to the Titan shenanigans in the first game.

With no spoken dialogue in the trailer and no information past the fleeting images, very little is known about the game at this point. A website has gone up, entitled Arkham Has Moved, with no content other than a subtle hint of Two Face and a form to sign up for updates. While it was a no-brainer for Rocksteady to be working on the game, it is still interesting to see how soon it is being announced. It would probably be too hopeful to expect a release in 2010, but other sequels have been fast-tracked to come out within a year, so who knows. What is certain is that Rocksteady has an incredible task ahead of them, of living up to their first effort, and I am excited to see how they tackle it.

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On the PC, Only the Maximum Settings Are Canon

The eternal cycle that plagues us PC gamers is the constant need to upgrade our hardware, to keep up with the newest and shiniest games. It’s not just the fact that we need a rig that passes a new game’s minimum requirements and barely manages to run the game at all – we desire more than that. We want to play the game at its maximum possible visual settings, so that we can see it in its full glory. I’ve wondered, though, whether it really is just a craving for the best eye candy that drives that desire in me.

Maximum CrysisWhen I play a game at less than maximum settings, there is a nagging feeling I get that is separate from the disappointment in the reduction of graphical fidelity, or the dismay that my PC is getting long in the tooth. I find myself wondering if I’m really experiencing the game as it was intended by its creators. Developers speak more and more about wanting to deliver an experience to gamers, and wanting them to play it just how they envision. I think about the interpretation of what I see, and whether what I’m seeing is ‘canon’. If the object detail is down so low that I can’t tell what a character is wearing, am I missing a crucial point about that character? If I make a certain conclusion about a room that I wouldn’t have if I could only read the writing scrawled upon the walls, is my understanding of what happened ‘non-canon’? It’s a minor point but it’s something I keep thinking of in an age of games that are finally able to tell stories with every kind of narrative device available.

Of course, console gamers don’t face this dilemma at all. A console game plays the same on every unit of that console, and developers have a lot more control on how the game will look and perform without having to think about different hardware combinations and permutations. So I’m just restricting this thought experiment to PC games. There are a number of questions that follow this thought. Does it really matter if the graphics are not at the very max? Would you even be able to glean some higher level meaning or nuance from the details? Are we at the stage in game technology where this would matter, and developers can use this level of detail to add subtle enhancement to a games story and atmosphere? If so, in what games released today would it make a difference? A few games came to my mind immediately, and I’ll restrict my selection to just these few already installed on my hard drive so as not to belabour the hypothesis.

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