Multiplayer Archive: Week Twelve

Multiplayer: The 'Metal Gear Solid' Movie (DICE Day Two)

Are big-screen versions of video games a good idea?

02.09.07

HENDERSON, Nevada — Jockeying from conference to interview, barely uttering or hearing a word that doesn't relate to video games, I haven't had much time to actually play anything in the last 24 hours at the DICE gaming convention here on the outskirts of Las Vegas. But one of the big pieces of unscheduled news coming out of the event involves another game-related activity that won't involve play: the forthcoming "Metal Gear Solid" movie.

On Wednesday evening the reporting team at GameSpot broke the news that Sony will bring the legendary "Metal Gear" series to the big screen. Sony Pictures Digital president Yair Landau let the news slip during an interview with the gaming site. On Thursday, a more formal announcement was hastily assembled. Stories announcing the movie were placed in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, indicating that "Metal Gear" creator Hideo Kojima will serve as the film's executive producer.

On Thursday morning I happened to get an e-mail from some old friends about the old "Super Mario Bros." movie, a live-action bomb that starred Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. The friends wanted my input. The problem is that I may know video games, but I don't know video game movies.

I covered reports of the "Halo" movie last year, with the due diligence of a journalist safely assuming that a movie version of one of the most popular game series of all time matters (see "Microsoft Announces 360 Games, Nabs Peter Jackson For 'Halo' "). But if you asked me, I wouldn't even know how to begin forming an opinion on what would make for a good gaming movie. I don't even know if the so-called bad ones could have been much better. After all, how could someone make a compelling movie about Mario fighting through a mushroom landscape, trying to rescue Princess Peach?

I have seen "Mortal Kombat" in movie form and watched scenes of the Nintendo gaming-competition road movie "The Wizard." But that's about it. I've avoided the rest and never heard a good word about any of them. I know that people involved with the "Metal Gear" movie were hoping for a grander announcement than this week's, and I am sure that Kojima has been incubating concepts for a film for years. That speaks to a grand ambition and possibly a grand execution. "Metal Gear," unlike "Mario Bros." is a game for which plot and character development is essential, so it may prove a natural fit.

For all the popularity of games and a film, combinations of the two have rarely been successful. Last year the Peter Jackson "Halo" announcement was supposed to change that, and unlike the "Metal Gear" announcement this week, it came with a big splash. But the ripples have stilled. The funding has been pulled. The movie is on hold. Maybe this quieter announcement allows the creators to skip the stage of believing outside hype and will let them focus on content rather than a publicity carnival.

Hideo Kojima told me last year that he used to want to make movies before switching to a career in game design (see " 'Metal Gear' Mastermind Imagines Games That Use Smell, Touch"). He's getting his wish. Now the question, as it always has been with video game movies, is whether gamers are getting what they want? What really makes for a great video game movie? I've yet to meet a person who can tell me.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Trying Not To Get Caught (DICE Day One)

Our gaming expert rushes to finish PSP game before running into creator at Vegas convention.

02.08.07

HENDERSON, Nevada — I arrived in Las Vegas mid-Wednesday for a three-day video game convention held for a few hundred captains of the gaming industry. The DICE convention (that stands for Design Innovate Create Entertain) was a good place to meet game developers last year and report some stories. I hoped this year's would be the same. Arriving in this town the same time as last year, stationed at the same hotel, I felt a wave of déjà vu. Except last year I don't remember feeling guilty.

I had spent my flight in seat 18D, ignoring the couple making out next to me. I worked on my computer, finished a review copy of "Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters" for the PSP and checked the DICE conference schedule. That reminded me that game designer Michael John is scheduled to deliver the final talk at DICE, on Friday at 2:15 p.m. Vegas time.

I met John at last year's DICE, and we had a good chat. I talked to him for a few stories I reported, and we wound up returning to a favorite topic of mine: the ends of games (see "That's It? Graphics Improve But Video Game Endings Still Come Up Short"). He acknowledged that game designers didn't pay as much attention to them as they should. I boasted about all the games I finished. Somehow we never got to talking about the game he most recently designed, last year's "Daxter" on the PSP, and maybe that's because last time he and I spoke, I hadn't finished the game. As of the make-out session in row 18, I still hadn't finished the game. Surely I'd run into John at DICE. What would I say? And how wouldn't he be insulted that I never wrapped up his game — me, of all people?

Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack "Daxter." Flying for work always gives me time to catch up on portable games I neglected, and "Daxter" had been thrown in a catch-up pile for this very trip. When I arrived at my hotel, I checked into my room, saw I had a couple of hours to kill and popped the game in the system. According to my save file, I hadn't played the game since March 26. Now I liked the game; I just got distracted. I had cleared 61 percent of the game. I was diving back in.

I've heard a lot of gamers complain about losing their spot in a game. They take a week off from playing, then they log back in and can't remember where they were. A lightning bolt on the "Daxter" menu pointed me to my next mission, but 11 months had wiped my memory of why I was going there next. I had forgotten the controls. I got back the running and the fly-swatting attacks pretty quickly, but I couldn't remember how to jump long distances. And I couldn't remember if I'd beaten the Saw Mill mission or if I was supposed to focus on the Mines. Both missions were, after all, marked by the same lightning bolt. I think I've got all my "Daxter" knowledge back, but then I don't know what I don't remember. Who's at fault — me or the developer — when I can't pick things back up immediately after a 309-day gap? I'm guessing the fault lies with me this time. By the time DICE was officially beginning, I'd crept up to 63 percent.

When you cover games for a living, you actually have to talk to these game developers about their games and somehow not sound like, A) a fan, B) an angry guy from a message board, or C) a clueless poseur. It's not always easy. At the DICE party Wednesday night, I didn't see John. I did see Keiichi Yano, whose company, iNiS, developed the Nintendo DS' "Elite Beat Agents." I told him I liked his game. He dug a story of mine that mentioned it (see "GameFile: Testing Violence; Nintendo Prez Talks Wii Batteries & More").

Somehow we got to talking about the completely hypothetical merging of rhythm games and real-time strategy games. We fancied some sort of battle of the marching band. Instead of spawning armies of tanks, you'd marshal a drum line. I'm sure I came off a bit as category A, as did a fellow reporter whose excited gesticulations to Yano accidentally caused my drink to wind up on that reporter's clothes.

I spotted Lesley Mathieson, design director at High Impact Games, which made the "Ratchet and Clank" PSP game. I charged over to her and let her know I finished her game on the plane. I got to ranting to her and a developer at Insomniac about the problems with random battles in role-playing games. We talked design for a bit. I was fired up. I hope I wasn't too much of a category B.

Mathieson's game isn't even officially out yet. What would John have thought if he'd overheard my talk with her? Me, a category C? I'm writing this Thursday morning (February 8). I'd crawled a little farther ahead in "Daxter" after the party Wednesday night. But I have little downtime for the rest of the day. And John could be around any corner. I don't want to let the guy down. Then again, his game won awards. This is my guilt. I'll deal with it.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: The PS2-Wii Connection

Consoles will co-host Rockstar's 'Manhunt' sequel.

02.07.07

The oddest news yet about the Nintendo Wii may have come in a press release Rockstar Games e-mailed to the media Tuesday. In a surprise move, the bad boys of game development announced that a sequel to the company's macabre snuff-movie stealth game, "Manhunt," would be coming this summer to PS2, PSP and the Nintendo console currently associated with harmless, armless Miis playing tennis.

That shocked me. I've played "Manhunt." You'd remember it if you did — it's hard to forget sneaking a character through a darkened yard, killing people with guns, knives or even a plastic bag over the head, while a perverse offscreen operator cackles demands for ever-more gruesome murders. This is what the Scottish team at Rockstar North made in between "Grand Theft Auto" games. You wouldn't expect a sequel on the Wii.

And yet the oddest part of Rockstar's announcement may not be that a Nintendo once dismissive of "Grand Theft Auto" would sanction "Manhunt 2" but that it is the Wii and the PS2 that will share console-hosting duties for the title. A year ago, the safe bet was that major publishers releasing games on multiple machines would offer their best new games on the similarly powered Xbox 360 and PS3. The weaker Wii would be left out, required to thrive or wither under the nourishment of games made just for it. Publishers would likely see more potential in going for the two stronger machines.

The Wii, however, is hot right now, and that success is compelling publishers to put more games on it. One option is to downgrade and tweak 360 stuff for the Wii, as Ubisoft has done several times already. But a new technique is coming into play: Both "Manhunt 2" and Electronic Arts' "Medal of Honor: Vanguard" are being made for PS2 and Wii. (An entirely different game, "Medal of Honor: Airborne," is slated for Xbox 360 and PS3). This could be the birth of something between an old-generation and new-generation console, the establishment of a "generation good enough."

Previously, the excitement of the new powerful consoles killed many game makers' — and many gamers' — appetites for games designed for machines being left behind. The allure of a PS2 eliminated the sexiness of even the flashiest PSOne games; the promise of the PS3 could have been expected to make old PS2 favorites about as exciting as 10th-birthday presents to a 15-year-old. But the popularity of the relatively weak Wii negates that. The stigma of a game being a PS2 game — an old game made for an outmoded console — can now be alleviated by that same game going to the Wii, the very machine on the cutting edge of 2007 gaming. At least that's a theory. A new one. And it makes me think back to March, when Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told me that one of his hopes for the GameCube-compatible Wii is that it would make neglected GameCube games seem relevant again. Now I'm thinking it could do the same for neglected PS2 and Xbox titles.

Since Multiplayer is first and foremost a means for me to talk about interesting games I've played, let me kick off some guesswork by suggesting three PS2 games I enjoyed that I'd like to see get a new chance by being brought to the Wii:

· "Gradius V": Konami's side-scrolling PS2 outer-space shoot-'em-up epitomizes the old-school love of pure gameplay that the Wii has seemingly reignited. The absurd amount of aliens and space-stations that can be shot with a dazzling array of blue laser attacks made this the most frenzied game I played on PS2 and one still beautiful enough for today. There's little need for a motion-control tweak. A straight port would do.

· "Bully": An early play-test I got with EA's Wii version of the "The Godfather" proved to me that the complex controls needed to navigate an open-world game could be mapped to a Wii remote and nunchuck. "Bully" sold decently but was a bit lost in last fall's new-console hype. A port to the Wii would give the T-rated romp through a rough boarding school a second chance.

· "Okami": This critical darling about a wolf's fight against demons plaguing medieval Japan reminded some of "Zelda." I thought it was good for other reasons. It didn't sell well at all, and the development studio behind it was shut down by parent company Capcom. The game's main combat gimmick — an ability to pause a fight and paint patterned attacks with a giant virtual brush — might be too complex for Wii remote gestures. But controls rigged to a wireless-connected DS might do the trick.

Game companies don't typically offer reruns of recent games. They stick to brand-new stuff and the old classics. But the Wii has already broken several industry conventions. Why can't it crack another? Rockstar is betting that a game made for a last-gen machine can find a welcoming audience on the newest console on the market. Could the rest of us get used to that idea as well?

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Real Life As A Video Game

Beware: 'Crackdown' can lead to hallucinations.

02.06.07

I stepped out my front door on Sunday afternoon and forgot I wasn't in a video game. I stood on the steps of my brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, looked across the street, saw a three-story building and thought: I could reach that in one jump.

I had just been playing "Crackdown" on the Xbox 360 for a couple of hours. Maybe it was even a few. It was definitely long enough for the sound effects to keep buzzing in my ears even after I switched off my Xbox 360. Serious gamers know the deal: You shut the game down but you still hear it, you still see it, you still think about it. The standout "Crackdown" gimmick lets you jump the main character, a super-cop, from a standstill to a two-story rooftop in a single leap. With a little more effort, you can pump up the hero and he can span an intersection in one step and play hopscotch with the tops of five consecutive skyscrapers.

When you play the game, you get attuned to spotting windowsills, air conditioners, billboards and anything else that might provide a handhold at the crest of a running leap. You can climb a tower in a few hops. How'd I feel doing that? To quote Denzel Washington in "Training Day": "King Kong ain't got nothing on me."

When you start looking at a virtual world this way, it's hard to turn the antenna off. Out on my stoop, I didn't see my normal Brooklyn neighborhood. I saw "Crackdown" jumping opportunities. I could visualize a leap over the basketball court, onto the firehouse, over and across Dean Street, down a row of apartment buildings, up a few ledges and onto the top of Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower.

I could see myself making the jump the same way a baseball player might see himself hit a home run. He's been in the batter's box before. He knows what it looks like. And he can visualize what it could look like again. I'd just been watching a behind-the-back camera view of a man leaping atop buildings. I could see it happening on my street. I could see the ground dropping away, the cars getting smaller, the buildings getting closer and the horizon opening up. The only problem is I can't really jump like the guy in "Crackdown."

The stellar tech and games reporter Clive Thompson once wrote about this. Sadly, not only can I not jump as high as the "Crackdown" guy but I can't Google as well as he probably could. I can't find Thompson's article. But I remember it. He was playing racing games — aggressively — and then having a little time adjusting when he'd jump into the driver's seat and get on a real road. I don't remember how long he said his gaming senses would intrude on his real senses. I know that my "Crackdown" hallucinations only lasted a few minutes.

This kind of thing makes you think. Some people believe violent games spark violence, that games teach the behaviors they simulate. Others say that's nonsense. In my experience with "Crackdown" and other games I've binged in, I can confidently say that games quite literally — if briefly — changed the way I looked at the world. Buildings became springboards. Please don't tell my insurance company, but in the past, real-life cars have looked like the tempting targets from "Burnout." I never jumped a building. I never smashed another car. I never even ate a row of yellow dots. But sometimes the world looked like it would let me. I would if I could.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Hitting A Wall

When enough's enough, our gaming expert bails out. What do you do?

02.05.07

I can't name the game I was loving/hating this weekend. I'm under embargo, and online comments about the game can't appear for another several days.

In a way, it doesn't matter. My hate steamed forth only after I had had hours of fun. So the game was good. Then it just got too hard, smacking me into a brick wall of difficulty, crashing my progress, jamming my momentum and leaving me perplexed.

When a game is good enough for its first several hours to keep you charging through, but then wallops you with an impassable hard part a quarter of a day in, is it worth getting? Or is it an avoidable waste of time that will never satisfy you with a sense of closure? Is it a bad game just because the going gets absurdly tough? How about a more basic question, one that defines many players' tastes: How much of a challenge do you ever want your games to be?

I can name several games that stunted my fun with a vengeance. I was breezing through the GameCube role-playing game "Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door" in fall 2004. I was clearing dungeons, beating bosses, leveling up, nearing the end of the game without more than a handful of Game Over screens, and then I hit it. I fought some creature who I think is the final boss enemy of the game. I died. I tried again. Died. Retried. Again and again. RPGs are games of statistics, and after thinking about the math a bit, I realized I'd never beat this creature — not without backtracking through a significant portion of the game. I couldn't be bothered. Bitterly, I bailed out.

The same thing happened when I played "Final Fantasy X" a couple of years earlier. I breezed for hours. I hit a wall near the probable end. I gave up in frustration. A more recent offender was 2005's "Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" on the PSP. One friend quit on a mission early in the game that involved raiding a boat full of thugs packing powerful machine guns. That one almost broke me too. I pushed on, only to hit my own wall a couple of missions later. The GameCube version of "F-Zero" includes a race set on a course full of 90-degree turns and expert opponents. I'll never beat it. I'll never see the rest of the game.

My complaint is partially one of pacing. With good pacing, a brick wall is almost forgivable. "Yoshi's Island DS" concludes with some of the most difficult levels I've played in a couple of years, and a first-time clearing of the game unlocks bonus areas that are even more trying. But the game introduces those challenges at the end of a long, steady incline in difficulty. The game's earliest levels are a cinch. Its middle levels present a mild challenge. Far in advance I could see that the game makers were paving my barefoot path with wood chips, then hot coals, then broken glass. I could tell what I was getting into. The unnamed game above offered no such hints. Neither did "Paper Mario" or "Final Fantasy."

In general, I don't like my games to be hard. But that's me talking, someone who gets his games mailed to him from game publishers and doesn't have to worry that breezing through a title has just wasted my $60 and left me with nothing else to play. Back when I was a single-console owner and a paying customer, I certainly wanted the games I bought to last. I'm sure I had a better appreciation for a good challenge back then. Still, I've encountered too many parts of too many games that just felt punishing.

The reason some difficulty-oriented games persist is because it's all relative. A mountainous challenge that blocked me could be an easily traversed molehill for another player. Nevertheless, I doubt my frustrations are unique. In fact, I know they're not. Many gamers I know have hit the walls — just not all in the same games.

Are you someone who thinks hours of effort should guarantee a player a chance to see a game's end? Is there actually an argument for late-game brick walls? I've hit enough that someone must think there is. I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, I'm not compelled. When the going gets too tough, I think I'll quit.

— Stephen Totilo

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About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.