Author Archive


Short Takes

June 16th, 2009 Posted by Matt Jett

I’m coming at you guys with a few short blurbs this week. I’ve got a few things on my mind that aren’t really topics for longer think-pieces, but we’ll be back to the normal 4thletter! format next week.

In both the comic book community and the video game community, the release of monthly sales figures is a newsworthy event. One look at the comments on Newsarama or an NPD thread on the NeoGAF forums reveals the incredible level of importance that fans give to the raw data, even without any sort of analysis from journalists in their respective industries. What I’m stuck puzzling out, though, is what these numbers mean to people who aren’t invested in cheering on one company or another. Are they worth anything beyond a passing moment of happiness when you see that something you like sells well?

It’s tempting to just write off sales figures as nothing more than fanboy bait, mere fodder for endless arguments about which consoles, characters, and companies are better than others. That’s mostly what they’re for, after all, when you’re just looking at the commentary that follows the postings. Let’s not let the fanboys ruin things for us, though. There’s important information to be found if you’re a huge nerd about industry trends, success stories, and the difference between products that are immediate blockbusters and those with “long tails” (things that become successful, sales-wise, over a long period of time).

Admittedly there’s not a lot there for someone who isn’t invested in either comics or games, but don’t write sales off as something boring. Sales figure data is what leads to really interesting stories and analysis, enabling discussion about why nobody but Nintendo can sell games on the Wii, or why Justice League of America is still a top 15 book, or why Chris Claremont keeps getting his own series (brand recognition, name recognition, and built-in fanbases, respectively and collectively).

David and I have both been replaying Final Fantasy 7 since its release on the PlayStation Network last week. It’s got me thinking a lot about how RPG design, or at least Japanese RPG design, hasn’t really changed significantly since its original release in late ’97. Final Fantasy 7 was a watershed moment for me, the first RPG I ever played through, and since I was 12 at the time I did it, the game left a lasting impression on me. This impression, I think, is what makes me feel like just about every JRPG I’ve played since has just been a refinement of that “modern formula,” with everything post-FF7 and post-move-to-3d playing incredibly similarly.

This is clearer to me in the current generation of games than it has been in a long time. Games like Eternal Sonata, Infinite Undiscovery, Tales of Vesperia, and Star Ocean: The Last Hope, once you get past the novelty of their respective combat systems and graphical styles, all feel like variation on the same tired themes. They’re not bad games, for what they are, but there’s nothing innovative about them at all, to my eyes.

Am I completely wrong about this? In the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 era, RPGs were the games that I cut my teeth on, the genre I delved into more deeply than any other. It might just be that I’m jaded, but outside of, say, Final Fantasy 12 and the recent Persona games, it’s like the quote about there being “nothing new under the sun” is actually completely true for the genre. Please, someone tell me I’m wrong about this. I’d love to be able to play a new game instead of going through Final Fantasy 7 for the 5th time, no matter how fun it is, and how nostalgic I am.

I know I talked about this last week, but how good is inFamous? I’ve played more of it since the last time I wrote, and despite warnings that the missions would get repetitive, it hasn’t lost a single bit of its charm. I know people don’t want to read me harping on this game again and again, so this’ll be the last time I mention it, but it’s the best game I’ve played all year and anyone who has a PlayStation 3 and 60 bucks to spare has no excuse for not playing it. It’s got good combat, great platforming, and a story that’s engaging

Finally, I want to conduct an informal straw poll of the 4thletter! readers… Video games are a new topic for 4thletter! (longtime readers don’t need to worry about it taking over, It’s just me and my weekly post), so I really have no idea what kind of things you actually want to read about. So far I’ve just been winging it and assuming that my audience isn’t one full of enthusiasts, and I’ve been trying to aim my thoughts accordingly. If this is the wrong assumption to make, leave a comment or send me an e-mail. Let me know what kind of articles you guys want to read, enthusiasts or people who could not care less about games, and I’ll get to work filling that niche.

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Great Unlicensed Comic Book Games

June 9th, 2009 Posted by Matt Jett

Matt Jett is a guy I know who I talk about games with. He expressed an interest in writing about games a little here on 4l!, so I figured I’d give him a weekly on Tuesdays.

It’s not much of a secret that licensed tie-in games usually suck. The vast majority of them aren’t given much of a chance to succeed, their budgets low and their development cycles rushed so they’re released at the same time as a film or new television show. Games based on comic books tend to suffer the same fate, coasting on their licenses instead of quality to generate sales.

So, what about the other kind of comic book games? Ones that aren’t based on any existing superheroes, that invent whole new settings? Some might argue that to be a “comic book game,” a game necessarily has to be based on a comic book, but I disagree. To me, any game that adopts a comic book feel in its design choices is a comic book game, no matter who the game stars. Many of these games have been forgotten by the current gaming audience, or aren’t known as comic book games at all. In the interest of correcting this grievous oversight, here are two that I really like, games that have enough crossover appeal to make both comic readers and gamers happy.

freedomforce2Freedom Force & Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich: The PC-only Freedom Force games are the most blatantly “comic-book-style” games I’ve ever played. The series puts you in charge of a fictional superhero team and has you fight supervillains in a very straightforward manner, using a clicking interface similar to Baldur’s Gate or Diablo to make controlling a team of characters intuitive. The things that make Freedom Force stand out are its presentation and its attention to detail. The art style, while still using 3d models, looks like it’s straight out of a comic book. Loading screens are even fashioned to look like comic book covers from the Silver Age, with the game’s fictional superheroes replacing the likes of Superman and Batman. Characters’ dialogue is put in speech bubbles, and sound effects are put on the screen just like they are in an issue of Greg Pak’s Hercules or the old Batman TV show. The games are available as a bundle through Steam for $7.50.

infamousInfamous: Infamous is the best example I can give of a comic book game that hasn’t, to my knowledge, been recognized for being one. The cutscenes are crafted to look like pages from comic books, with caption boxes and different “panels” of action on the screen. The protagonist, Cole, is clearly patterned after a superhero, his electricity powers eventually granting him the ability to float around, almost flying like the prototypical superman, and his character arc follows a clearly defined pattern that goes back to Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider. Beyond its comic book pedigree, Infamous is just fun. The controls are solid, the story is interesting, and the open-world gameplay allows you to play for hours or for 20 minutes and still feel like you’ve made significant progress through the game’s content. It’s a solid recommendation for anyone with a PlayStation 3 (all ten of you).

I’m not saying licensed comic-book games are universally terrible. I played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance until my thumbs cramped up, after all. There are just so many other games to consider when looking for a superhero fix, so why not go outside the safe zone of Wolverine and Batman? Try one of the games I recommended, or if I missed a great one, tell me and I’ll try it out.

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