Posts in the Games category

The Dance Central Exercise Challenge


So based on the fact that I weighed myself a couple of days ago, and discovered that I weighed a totally awesome 199lbs, it’s time to start a new exercise regime. One that will involve a lot of dancing – and of course, a lot of Dance Central 2. Time to crack out my ballet shoes…


Announcing the Microsoft @ GDC App


So this is nice Smile My Windows Phone app just hit the Windows Phone Marketplace (you can find it in the marketplace under Microsoft @ GDC – or just click this link to install it directly on your phone). It’s a little app that gives you details on all of the conference sessions and talks that Microsoft are sponsoring, putting on, or otherwise giving at GDC this year. (more...)

Game Review: Tornado Outbreak (Konami / Loose Cannon Studios)

This review is for the XBOX 360 version of the game.


Where’s Judy Garland when you need her?

Its been quite a while since I’ve written a review for a game – ah, the heady halcyon days of being a writer for Your Sinclair magazine seem so far away in the past. (And frankly they are; that was 16 years ago, so if you remember that mag, you’re getting old). But I really wanted to write a review for this one. Especially because there don’t seem to be any out there. (I don’t want it to fall through the cracks either – a lot of people I love worked very hard on this one, and they deserve some kudos for their work).


Cumulonimbus? Storm? Vortex? I can’t tell these guys apart.

So What Is It?

You play one of a mighty band of Wind Warriors, set out to help their intergalactic friend in a story which is at best over-complicated, and at worse teutonically over-complicated. It’s probably easiest to look at it this way:

  • You’re a tornado.
  • You get points by sucking up things from the landscape.

It’s pretty much a hoover-‘em-up, in the best tradition of Katamari Damacy, and all of its spawned ilk. Except instead of rolling around a ball, you’re a little guy who carries around his own personal tornado. Kind of like having the tornado-in-a-can from Mystery Men, or Taz the Tazmanian Devil on crank.

You start out as a little dust devil, and as you pick up more stuff, you become much bigger. Wayyy bigger. As you grow, you can suck up a wider swathe of the landscape around you, like Robin Williams trying to clean up after sneezing into his lines of coke.

Small things abound to suck up at first – plants, rocks, bushes – and quickly you start moving onto larger fare, including tanks, cyclotrons, Elvis impersonators, and most of the Vegas strip. Nothing can stand in your path, and everything satisfyingly (and sometimes comically) breaks into a bajillion pieces as you strafe past it. Or gets stripped to its underwear. Depends on what you zip past ;-)

Z-Axis of Gameplay

So you’re probably thinking “OK, I get it. It’s a Katamari clone. Where’s the pizzazz? Where’s the elan? Where the hell is the new gameplay that allegedly gets gamers salivating?” (As if a well-executed game wasn’t enough in these days of very hit-and-miss titles).

Ends up that the reason you’re in the middle of all this is because some nasty mischevious elementals called “Fire Fliers” are running around causing all kinds of havoc. You’ve got to hunt them out and get them before they turn the Earth’s crust into the kind of lava-spilling soupy mess that extraterrestrials love to inflict on us. Except there’s no Will Smith coming to save the day.

Luau! Luau! Luau!

The FireFliers (which you have to collect against a time limit to make it to the next level) add a new dimension to the gameplay. Holding the right trigger lets you suck them up and hold them in place; the more you can string together, the more time you get added to your clock when you finally release it.

Ah, but there’s a catch. The longer you hold the trigger down, the more your tornado slows down, until you’re moving at a crawl, desperately trying to string together the last piece of your combo. Instead of just being a hunt around the world to find the next bigger thing to hoover up, this adds an element of strategy as you try to balance adding time to your clock with getting quickly around the level.

As you make it through the game, more moves become available to your tornado (stomping and ramming), unlocking other gameplay features.

There’s also a race mode which comes before the boss battle in a way that’s very reminiscent from the old 80s Aliens game (where you fly through the pipe to land your dropship at the start) or the chill-out mini-game in the middle of Tempest 2000.

Funnily enough, when it rains like this at MY barbeques, the tiki torches never stay lit like that.

Speaking of boss battles; it’s a button mashing frenzy as you try to take out the totems, and a kind of mini game of Frogger as you try to make your way to them across the landscape, dodging fiery missiles and patches of sunlight which will fry your tornado.

So What’s The Skinny?

All in all, this isn’t really a next-gen game. But that’s ok. It looks great even if it doesn’t have specular lighting and normal maps everywhere – and to be honest, like Katamari (there goes that comparison again), it would probably suffer from looking flashy and shiny. It also doesn’t matter, because there’s a huge amount of particles, debris and flying cows hurling through the air at any time.

The game suffers a little from having you stay in the dark the whole time (so that your tornado doesn’t fry, and also to hang a lampshade on the boundary on the playing field). So everything looks a little gloomy at times, but I can excuse that.

There’s a bit of depth of field here and there, and the draw distance is pretty cool. Audio is pretty neat, with a great bombastic cinematic soundtrack, and cool sound effects for everything that you smash and pick up.

So… any complaints?

Well, yes. But they’re not dealbreakers.

  • The sound on the very first opening screen is… well.. scratchy. It sounds like they put the Wii music in there by mistake, or overcompressed it.
  • There’s a bit of slowdown here and there, but it’s only very occasional, and doesn’t affect gameplay.
  • When the camera’s far out from the tornado (because it’s big), it feels like the tornado is moving a smidge too slow for my taste.
  • Sometimes the camera angle is a little off – like when you’re a HUGE tornado.

But all in all, these really don’t matter. You’re not going to sit on the title screen for long anyway, and everything else just melts away as soon as you start playing the variety of levels and go on a destructive frenzy.

Ultimately – and most importantly – this game is FUN.

Go on. Pick up a copy. You owe it to yourself – and your kids.

Tornado Outbreak
Platforms: XBOX 360, Wii, PS3.
Studio: Loose Cannon Studios
Publisher: Konami
Price: $39.99
ESRB: E10+ (Cartoon Violence)
Overall Rating: 85/100


What makes games fun?

It's an interesting question. A better one, though, might be... what makes play fun?

Bet you've not made one of these since you were a kid...

There's a lot of psychology being worked on right now on why games are fun, but some of it is common sense. Here's a quick laundry list I put together of what's fun and why.

  • Are you emotionally engaged?
    That's fun... or at least, it's engaging. It makes you feel something.
  • Are you narratively engaged?
    (Do you want to see what happens, or how the story ends?)
  • Are you physically engaged?
    Are you pressing buttons and getting feedback? Are the buttons consistent? Is there room to learn a new motor skill?
  • Are you learning?
    Learning is fun, provided that there is feedback and reward.
  • Are you projecting?
    Do you feel attached to the character you're interacting with? (eg. move your mouse to the top of the screen, and smack it there. You'll feel a little psychomotor feedback, as if the mouse is "sticking" on something. That's projection. It's what lets you feel the tip of a screw when you're using a screwdriver).
  • Are you learning new projection-related skills that are unlike things you do in everyday mundane life?
    eg. Rolling things up in Katamari Damacy, jumping 3 stories in Crackdown, dreaming about tetris blocks, creating Portals. You can tell if you're doing this right, because you'll look around your mundane everyday world, and think about how to do those things within it...
  • Is there direct feedback in the system? Are your actions connected directly to the actions you see on screen? Are the consequences mostly immediate (ties to physicality) or long term (ties to narrative).
  • Are you competing with another player, human or otherwise?
    Humans are competitive animals, and a lot of play in animals is to lay down the rules for territory and battle.
  • Are you collaborating with another player, human or otherwise?
    Humans are societal animals, and a lot of play in animals is to lay down the rules for cooperation and collaboration.
  • Does it provide a change in state for the player, preferably into a "flow" state? (eg. Rez/Geometry Wars/Zuma = Trance/Flow state)

Ultimately, a fun game requires:

  • Feedback - actions have consequences, preferably immediate (unless narrative)
  • Progressive induction - that is, start easy, get progressively harder. Challenge the player - but at a rate appropriate to them so that it causes frustration, but not too much.
  • Rewards - doing something cool must provide a reward.

Fun may or may not require:

  • Narrative engagement
  • Physical engagement
  • Emotional engagement
  • General learning
  • Competition
  • Collaboration
  • Projective learning
  • Induction into "flow" state

... but usually a fun game will require at least one or more of these ancillary categories to provide depth and engagement. The most powerful of these are Flow, Projective Learning, Competition and Emotional/Narrative engagement, in roughly that order. And they're also that difficult to attain, in that order. clip_image001

That's my take on it anyway.


Note that I'm only listing the dominant traits of these games. For example, Crackdown has a small narrative element, but it's really really small - certainly nothing compared to GTA4's storyline.

Panzer Dragoon Orta - a game which involves a lot of General Learning (to get the patterns right), Physical engagement, a smidge of Narrative engagement, and some gorgeous graphics

Physical engagement, General Learning, Induction into "flow" state

Physical engagement, General Learning, Competition & Collaboration, Projective Learning

Indigo Prophecy
Narrative engagement, Physical Engagement, Emotional engagement, General Learning

Narrative engagement, Emotional Engagement, Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning

Project Gotham Racing
Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning, Competition

The Suffering
Narrative Engagement, Physical Engagement, Emotional Engagement, General Learning

Physical Engagement, General Learning, Competition, Collaboration

Physical Engagment, Projective Learning (hugging the walls), Induction into "flow" state, General Learning

Rock Band
Physical Engagement, General Learning, Projective Learning, Collaboration

So what's the Upshot?

If you're designing a game, see if you're missing any of these elements, and try to figure out how to get them in. You don't need all of them, but most games will involve some kind of General Learning (ie. they're not totally random because that's unfair - even Minesweeper won't let you click on a bomb on your first move) by default. Identifying which elements of your game correspond to each of these categories can also help you to refine those experiences.