Andy Laub

Andy Laub is a designer & developer in the Twin Cities.

Published Sep 09

All of These Things Are All Like the Other »

Nolan North is my new best friend.

Video games, at least those that revolve around you controlling a single protagonist (so for the most part, not sports or party games) seem to be fairly fond of depicting your character as an average joe who got sucked into the action. This isn’t universally true, but it’s common enough.

In the best examples, you’ll either feel like the hero’s actions are totally justified and he had no other choice, or at the very least the game is so good you’re able to suspend your disbelief. In terrible examples, you’ll just find yourself frustrated as you try to figure out why this person would ever even let himself get into this situation in the first place. Fortunately, I played a few good examples this year:

Prince of Persia

Yes, it’s just called Prince of Persia now. Again. Ubisoft can do that, because they decided to throw in the towel on the previous generation of PoP games (those which lived their lives on the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. I guess they had gotten a little crazy while also managing to get a little stagnant; I wouldn’t know. I only played the first of that series: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I will say that while it had some frustrating parts, the overall game was just phenomenal.

This new game, on the other hand, is a little different. At the beginning of the game you’re just an average (ripped) prince (or not; I have no idea) looking for your donkey. Then you end up meeting this princess and you have to save the land from corruption and blah blah blah. Yeah, it sounds tiresome already. And it sort of is. Unlike the previous games, this game is significantly less linear. You have to collect a certain amount items before you can unlock abilities to get to more items to unlock more abilities, which gets old quickly.

There are some really fun acrobatic elements, but they end up being repeated so frequently that by the end of the game you just want to be done so you don’t have to play it anymore. But being a prince (or not; I have no idea), you are amazingly strong and acrobatic and also a great fighter. You’re also witty and charming and have completely won over your witty female companion by the end of the game. And all because of a donkey.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I mentioned Uncharted briefly last year, when I tried the demo from PSN. Something about it just didn’t resonate with me so I ended up skipping it at the time.

Then E3 happened back in June, and all the previews of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves started to surface, and I thought perhaps I should give the original another chance. I found it to be significantly more tolerable the second time around, and picked up a cheap used copy. Basically, you play as Nathan Drake, treasure hunter extraordinaire (maybe?) and descendent of explorer Francis Drake, and you are trying to recover some kind of treasure (as is bound to happen in such an occupation). Also there’s kidnapping and stuff.

Spoiler Alert: towards the end of the game, there are zombies (or something similar). This almost completely ruined it for me. I also couldn’t figure out how all these mercenaries kept showing up in caverns that were supposedly long-lost and unexplored.

Being a treasure hunter extraordinaire (maybe?), you are amazingly strong and acrobatic and also a great fighter. You’re also witty and charming and have completely won over your witty female companion by the end of the game. And all because of El Dorado.

Shadow Complex

I’ll be honest: this post has been sitting in draft status for something like a month. For the other two games, I had a brief sentence of notes covering what I liked and didn’t. For Shadow Complex all I wrote was holy shit. That’s game of the year material right there.

Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade release from August that just totally blew my mind. The intent was to make a modern day side-scrolling Metroid (basically one big open map, but certain sections are unavailable until you find the abilities you need to access them) and they achieved that goal and more. But I wouldn’t be writing about it if it didn’t fit into the very same template.

In the game you find yourself on a hike with your hot new girlfriend that you picked up at the bar, but things quickly go awry when you stumble on a massive underground base and she goes and gets herself kidnapped. And what choice do you have but to save her? Fortunately, you happen to have some military training under your belt. And by “some”, I mean “a lot”, because you are a force, and you only get more awesome as the game progresses.

Being an awesome military hero man, you are amazingly strong and acrobatic and also a great fighter. You’re also witty and charming and have completely won over rescued your witty female companion by the end of the game. And all because of wanting to get some.

But Wait…

Here’s where it gets ridiculous – all three games, in spite of being handled by three different developers, used the same guy for the voice of the main character. Because they’re all so similar in personality and ability, it’s a little bit of a challenge to keep them all separate. So depending on which game you played first, there’s the imminent danger that that game’s character becomes the one you imagine in the other scenarios.

Still though, go play Shadow Complex. Seriously.

Urbanimals »

When nature attacks!

Speaking of raccoons, allow me to regale you with tales of urban nature this Labor Day weekend:

Tale #1

It was about 9:00 on Friday night when we were sitting in the media room. I was messing around in Little Big Planet while Abe was doing… whatever he does. We heard a noise, but didn’t think much of it, as we live in a house where noises are practically de rigeur. Honestly, I’m not even sure I heard the noise at all. I don’t really pay attention well.

So ten or fifteen minutes later, we go to the basement bedroom to find that the screen in the window has been pushed outward, leaving a much-larger-than-cat-sized opening and reducing the number of active cats in the household by one. From what we can deduce, Marshie (shown in anger mode), saw something (most likely a cat) outside that caused him to lunge at the screen. Imagine the surprise of both parties when the screen gave way and Marshie was suddenly outdoors.

By the time we got out there, he was frantic and desperate to return to the safety of the house, but so confused and upset that he ran past us several times. He finally showed up at the back door, where we were able to let him back in. He was still pretty upset, but a few minutes and some Party Mix brought back the Marshie we know and love.

Tale #2

We were driving and saw a raccoon. That was pretty neat.

Tale #3

So, it’s now 4:00 on Sunday morning. Sleep is happening, because that’s what I like to do at that time of the day, when I awake to banging on the same basement window as before. Inspection reveals two subjects: Subject A is a white cat sitting on the ledge of the window well (at ground level) – it’s the neighbors’ cat, and very likely the one that riled up Marshie the other night. Subject B is a rabbit that the cat has chased into the window well, and is now trying to escape.

This particular window well was added to the house when the previous owner started to finish off the basement. The window is probably 4′ x 3′ or so, and this well is sized to accommodate a human who would be climbing out of that window in the event of an emergency, so it’s of similar dimensions. That would be why the rabbit is having so much trouble. They are pretty impressive jumpers, but aren’t exactly practiced in the vertical leap; he’s manages to get about six inches from the edge, but then falls back down.

Let’s finish this story. I grabbed a towel and a pair of gloves and went outside. I managed not to step on the rabbit when I jumped down into the window well, and that’s pretty good considering I was only half awake. It was when he continued to run in circles that I realized getting the towel on him might be more challenging than I had originally thought, but he finally paused for a second so I went for it. Unlike birds, mammals just freak out more when you cover them with stuff, but fortunately he just kind of bumped into the window and stopped long enough for me to pick him up.

I set him down next to the ledge and uncovered him, and I think he was dazed for a minute because he just stared at me. Then he hissed (I swear!). Then, finally, he ran away, where he was probably eaten by that cat. I went back to bed.

How was your weekend?