In the interest of condensation, we're going to post new episodes here in blog format. That way, you can access all of Eric's written recaps and other musing related to the podcast. The RSS feed will stay exactly the same, so you and the other millions (and millions) of Flap Jaw Space listeners do not have to update your aggregators and such. As always, thanks for listening to our idiotic blathering.

Despite the fact that we promise a free copy of The Witcher 2 (PC) at the beginning the podcast this week, we forget by the end. (I promise we'll do it next week.) Aside from that, we're talking updated Power Rankings this week, with special respect to Steve's perspective on Fez. Also making appearances this week are the awesome Awesomenauts, Pushmo, The Darkness II, Super Monday Night Combat, and a little mop up duty from 2011's backlog. Don't forget your $200 sunglasses this week, because we're shining the light of our untrained and unrefined idiotic opinions once again.

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I've always (unjustly) assumed that the communities surrounding popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games such as League of Legends are about as receptive to outsiders as groups frequented by characters portrayed by Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. Defending lanes of ever-progressing AI drones, smashing turrets, and new-player griefing seemed to be the common threads. But why the hell are they called MOBAs anyway? Isn’t everything that is both online and competitive considered a multiplayer online battle arena?

Degrees of specificity in game genre nomenclature notwithstanding, developer Ronimo Games has hybridized the console-unfamiliar concept of the MOBA with the 90s-style 2D action game that resembles Metal Slug with a Saturday-morning cartoon motif. Think of it as team-based, multiplayer Mega Man. In fact, Capcom would be well-served to take notice, rather than murdering the Blue Bomber and all of eighty of his robot buddies.

MOBA-style games are apparently about pulling your weight for the good of your team (lest you be called something racially insensitive). Awesomenauts is more than smart about fostering teamwork – and Ronimo didn't concede to plop it out into the digital distribution ether, either. Instead, our late-twentyish, early thirtyish collective man-child brains have been treated with something familiar to teach us something foreign. The lone wolf seeking the best kill-to-death ratio at the expense of his teammates is destined to hate this game.

It is obvious that Awesomenauts respects balance (though it doesn’t quite always achieve it without incident), but it also simultaneously allows customizable loadouts that give the player freedom to add his own personal touch (or stroke his propensity to min/max everything he comes in contact with). They probably do all these things in League of Legends, but League of Legends isn’t a goddamn fake cartoon.

Outside of fighting games, competitive multiplayer games that exist on two-dimensional planes have been largely irrelevant (or non-existent). As with anything competitive, there's a certain grammar required to completely understand underlying principles.

So thank you, Awesomenauts, for teaching me how to play as part of a superhero squad and not piss off my internet friends.

 

Flap Jaw Space: The DigitalChumps Podcast finally hit Episode 50 last week (well, it was really our 57th recording, but 50 official episodes). Up until Episode 48, the bulk of Flap Jaw Space followed a fairly standard podcast model of three hosts (and an occasional bonus character) discussing all of the games we had played since the previous podcast. Flap Jaw Space also used to feature special segments like "Steve Plays a Game He Should Have Already Played," "Retroactive ShitStorm," "How Much Do You Realize," and "Burn this Mother Fu**er Down," but eventually all of that eroded into a catch-all of profanity, countless stories that were tangentially (if that) related to gaming, and a verbal deluge of ideas and/or critical theories that almost made sense.  We still plan on doing all of that, but to add some focus and relevance to the 2012 gaming landscape Chris Stone developed a better organized and perpetually interesting vector for discourse dubbed the Flap Jaw Space Power Rankings (formerly The G.O.T.Y. Ladder).

Basically, every episode is now the Game of the Year episode. Some might say that Game of the Year podcasts are only special because they happen once a year, and that doing that every two weeks would ruin its charm. To them I say look at other inconceivable triumphs of the human spirit, like Chrono Trigger, when Captain Crunch went Oops! All Berries*, or the formation of the 1992 Olympic Basketball Dream Team.** What I'm trying to say is relax, we have a plan in place.

Every 2012 game that we have played is eligible for the flux of ten games known as Flap Jaw Space Power Rankings. For its first iteration the sheer lack of potential candidates resulted in certifiable crap like Amy as well anything Steve Schardein liked defaulting into the ranking order. Over time, as the quality of titles has increased, so has the potential for chaos and melee in the verbal sparring space. With new and (sometimes!) better games coming out every week, the idea is for the Flap Jaw Space Power Rankings to foster arguments concerning which games definitely belong and which games certainly  or kind of maybe don't in an effort to derive the ten best games of the year. It's all completely subjective and mostly just for fun, but it's also a neat way to internalize the impact left by some of our favorite games, and whether or not it stands up against titles released months down the road.

In any case from Episode 50 on the Flap Jaw Space Power Rankings will have a companion story posted for every episode at DigitalChumps. Basically its intent is to function as a recap of two hours worth of discussion in case you zoned out while we were trying to explain the difference between Tommy Tallarico and Timecube.com

So, without further delay:

THE FLAP JAW SPACE POWER RANKINGS 

Going in to Episode 50:

1 - Journey, as played on PlayStation Network by Chris and Eric

2 - Twisted Metal, as played on PlayStation 3 by Eric

3 - Mass Effect 3, as played on Xbox 360 by Eric

4 - Syndicate, as played on Xbox360 by Chris and Eric

5 - Gothom City Impostors, as played on PlayStation Network by Eric

6 - NFL Blitz, as played on Xbox Live Arcade by Chris

7 - Ghost Trick, as played on an iPhone 4S by Chris and generally accepted by Eric

8 - Super Stardust Delta, as played on PlayStation Vita by Eric

9 - Ziggurat as played on an iPhone 4S by Chris and Eric

10 - Quell, as played on an HTC EVO by Steve

Up for Nomination: World Gone Sour, Fez, FIFA Soccer (Vita), Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, Trials Evolution, Tribes Ascend, Xenoblade Chronicles, Escape Plan, The Pinball Arcade

Going out of Episode 50:

1 - Journey, as played on PlayStation Network by Chris, Eric and (somewhat begrudgingly) Steve

2 - Fez, as played on Xbox Live Arcade by Chris and Eric

3 - Xenoblade Chronicles, as played on Wii by Eric

4 – Mass Effect 3, as played on Xbox 360 by Chris and Eric

5 – Twisted Metal, as played on PlayStation 3 by Eric

6 - Syndicate, as played on Xbox 360 by Chris and Eric

7 – Trials Evolution, as played on Xbox Live Arcade by Chris

8 – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, as played on PlayStation Vita by Chris and Steve

9 - NFL Blitz, as played on Xbox Live Arcade by Chris

10 – Ghost Trick, as played on an iPhone 4s by Chris and generally accepted by Eric

Recap: The greatest disruption took place when Chris, in an unprecedented power move, wiped Gothom City Impostors off the list and replaced it with Trials Evolution. Typically new entries are ranked where appropriate and the last in line falls off the list, though no rule indicates this as the only course of action. We had been looking to remove Gothom City Impostors for a while and Eric, who seemed puzzled that it was there, chose not to stand and fight for its existence in the Power Rankings.

Ziggurat was also instantly deleted from the list when it was revealed, via listener email from Graeme, that it was created by Action Button Dot Net’s Tim Rogers. Eric finds Roger’s writing style to be infuriating and thus wiped Ziggurat out of principle.

With both Chris and Steve getting a Vita since Episode 49, it was a bit surprising to see Super Stardust Delta fall off, though it was essentially replaced with Mutant Blobs Attack, another and apparently better Vita game.

Xenoblade Chronicles’ inclusion of the list was a topic of hot debate. It's sole nominee, Eric, had it as his Game of the Year in 2011 (via an imported copy), but wound up reviewing it and squeezing out an additional 70 hours in 2012, which Chris decided qualified it for inclusion in our 2012 list. Also, it's awesome.

Fez coming in and placing as high as it did should surprise no one, though in the time since this podcast Eric and Chris have cooled on it a bit, while Steve just started playing.

Quell? Does anyone miss Quell?

* The core reasoning here is obvious, but also note that Oops! All Berries stealthy solved the fundamental and quite universal issue with Captain Crunch; it didn't rip your mouth to shreds

** This was a positive experience for everyone on the planet except Isiah Thomas and (possibly) Christian Laettner. 

“Free to play” games don’t usually strike my interest. That particular business model, which prices the base game at little to no cost and then offers upgrades or time savers for additional fare, has been embraced by almost every modern MMORPG along with the more recent DOTA-style competitive experiences. The rationale seems sound when applied to customization; cosmetic accessories are mostly inconsequential to gameplay and don't serve to diminish the experience of another. The free to play model starts to slide into a moral grey area when it offers quick access to items that would otherwise require hours grinding. That particular method could be employed purely to exploit players by creating unrealistic goals only possible through needless tedium, but good games often err on the side of catering this method to the casual or lazy and, thus, gaining acceptability.

Run Roo Run!, 5th Cell's first ground-up iOS offering, is where I'd like to draw the line. I bought Run Roo Run! based on 5th Cell's stellar work on the iOS version of Scribblenauts, along with a general interest in creative director Jeremiah Slaczka's approach to game design (gained via a handful of interviews and features at Gametrailers). Run Roo Run! is an adorable one button, single screen platformer. Roo runs automatically, and you tap anywhere on the screen to make her jump over a myriad obstacles. The game's breadth content, a total of 420 levels spread across twenty segmented worlds, is staggering. The first fifteen stages in each world are relatively simple and serve to introduce players to a new mechanic while the last six, which are completely unnecessary for progression, are incredibly difficult and make full use of every skill learned up to that point.

If you hit a wall, there are two options for assistance. First is a gadget that slows down time, making precise jumps over moving obstacles much easier, and there other is an unabashed level skip. You begin Run Roo Run! with two of each of these and, to the best of my abilities (through world 10 presently), I have found no way to earn more in the game. Instead, after you fail a couple times, a corner of the screen with a shopping cart icon makes a noise and flashes. Tapping that takes you to another screen where you're encouraged to buy timers in quantities of ten or sixty for .99 and $4.99, respectively. If you're really having a tough time, you can also opt to purchase ten or one hundred full level skips for $1.99 or $9.99, respectively. Run Roo Run!, on its own, is only a .99 cent game.

Worse, Roo seems to be constantly pushing the player to engage either of these options. Gold medals can only be earned by completing a level in one shot. Skipping a level with the bus pass defaults the player to a silver medal (which is probably fair). This only seems nefarious when one considers the only obstacle in separating a one-shot gold run from the lower tiers of medals is a reset button; when you fail, the level will either reset itself, keeping the timer going, or you can opt to push a button and start fresh. When one takes into account the frequency at which the game prompts you to buy help, the brevity of levels (most are only two seconds), and the annoyance at having to push a button at every failure, well, it sure as hell seems like 5th Cell put careful hooks in place to transform Run Roo Run! into a money generating machine.

That's 5th Cell's right as a developer and certainly in their best interests as a business, but I can't shake the nagging suspicion that Run Roo Run!, an otherwise innocent delight with an infectious aesthetic, is little more than a money printing machine designed to take advantage of those who choose to play it. The normal levels are pathetically easy, and the challenging 120, the only point where the game becomes demanding enough to occasionally require assistance, are sure to only be engaged by those who legitimately enjoy the game. It makes me think of how much better Run Roo Run! could have been if the current business model favored feature-complete games for $5 that everyone pays rather than glorified starter packs with outrageously priced additional content burdened to the select few whom actually like playing it. In any case, it's all a little uncomfortable, and a sad state of affairs if good ideas are being corrupted for a cash grab. 

 

Ok, so this obviously isn't a Best of 2012 list a full year in advance. I've only actually played two of these games and there's a lot that could happen in a year, but this is more like a fun guess over what has the potential to make my list come this time next year. I estimate that two or three will actually make it through. If all ten appear unchanged then I'll promptly quit writing for Digital Chumps and seek employment at a bacon factory or something equally ridiculous.

Journey (thatgamecompany – PlayStation Network) Journey knocked my socks off at E3 and set my hair on fire with the beta a few months later, mostly because it openly explained almost nothing and was increasingly better for it. Journey looks to be a game about discovery and about creating a series of abstracts for the player to decipher. I'll be surprised if there is ever even a line of text in the game, or if it bothers to cater to the American institution of explaining every last detail. Journey's allure is its relative ambiguity, and its risk is trusting the player to appreciate and enjoy it. Sign me up, because I can't wait to see what else is out there. Read Chris' E3 impressions. Read my beta preview.

BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games – PC. 360. PS3.) Irrational Games is home to some of the most talented minds in game design and they've now funneled five years of their time into building BioShock Infinite. The hands-off E3 demo was one of the few times I’ve witnessed everyone in a room being wide eyed and speechless over the events that were transpiring on screen. Ripping open temporal rifts and avoiding a jealous mechanical antagonist, all set against a steam punk, ultranationalist backdrop sounds like fertile ground for interactive entertainment. Wouldn't you agree? Read my E3 preview.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance (Platinum Games – 360. PS3.) I was disappointed when Rising emerged with a comeback trailer at the shitty videogame award show. The trailer looked amazing and was cause for celebration, of course, but there was virtually zero crowd reaction when the Platinum Games logo flashed across the screen at the end of the trailer. That rumor had leaked out of NeoGAF six months prior, but seeing it there, literally confirmed, was like a wish coming true. With Vanquish and Bayonetta under their belt (and Mad World, yeah yeah), Platinum can do no wrong in my eyes, and I'm insanely curious to see what the guys there can do behind the wheel of a Metal Gear game.

Mass Effect 3 (Bioware - 360. PS3.) Despite advertising that seems to be campaigning directly against my interest in the series, I still think Mass Effect 3 is going to be something special. Mass Effect 2 was one of the two games I've given a perfect score at Digital Chumps. Its RPG aspects were certainly toned down, but its mood, atmosphere, and characters were second to none. Knowing that Bioware has vowed to restore some of Mass Effect's RPG foundation has me waiting with baited breath, in spite of its idiotic trailers.

Twisted Metal (Eat Sleep Play – PS3) Twisted Metal was the reason I bought a PlayStation in 1996, and anticipation for the sequel reached nuclear levels for my precious fourteen year old mind. With series' creator David Jaffe and his team at Eat Sleep Play back on board for a long awaited follow up, I can't not be insanely curious over how it's all going to turn out. The bits I got to play at E3 2010 felt great, and I can only imagine what else they've managed to do nearly two years later.

Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio – Vita) Ever since Mega Man V, playing with gravity is a mechanic I'll never get sick of. Hopping around Gravity Rush's apparent open world RPG will no doubt quench that thirst, but honestly my interest in the game began with absorbing its crazy visual style. Gravity Rush looks distinctive, memorable, and downright dreamy. Along with Sound Shapes it's the only other game I plan to buy with my Vita.

Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North(?) – 360. PS3.) Grand Theft Auto V's sole trailer was as vague as it was impressive, which is pretty much business as usual for Rockstar. I have no doubt that they're aiming high, but I'm super anxious to learn what kind of game GTA V will be in a 2012 landscape. The amount of time between San Andreas and IV was even shorter and those two games were wildly divergent in terms of theme, narrative, and gameplay. On top of that Red Dead RedemptionJust Cause 2 and Saints Row The Third have done open world bigger and better, and I can't wait to see what GTA V will do to, once again, redefine itself.

Prey 2 (Human Head – PC. 360. PS3) I didn't expect much from Prey 2. I walked into the demo area at Bethesda's E3 booth only because it seemed ridiculous to have three of us covering Rage. I sat down to watch a live, hands-off demo and was, in a manner of speaking, blown away. Human Head is apparently making Blade Runner, because Prey 2 appears to have discarded 95% of the nonsense from Prey in favor of creating a dark, interplanetary mercenary simulator. It felt like I had the opportunity to wreak havoc on Mass Effect 2's Omega or go completely nuts in environments so wrought with detail you'd think they were a prerendered background. My interest in Prey 2 went from zero to sixty in about fifteen minutes, so who knows what sitting down with the full game could do. My E3 Preview.

Amy (VectorCell – PlayStation Network) Regret isn't usually a character-defining trait for videogame characters. And yet that was the first emotion I noted in my time brief with AmyAmy is a survival-horror game where the player character Lana becomes infected with a zombie plague and spends the game's opening moments coming to grips with her fate. She's screwed, and she knows it, but knows there is still time to guide a little girl, Amy, to safety. Amy could be a giant escort mission with a few cool gimmicks, like Lana gaining powers as she tries to delay the inevitable transformation, along the way, or it could evolve transcendent experience along the lines of the much loved Ico. History isn't in its favor, look at how many games feature terrible escort segments, but Amy could be something very special.

Quantum Conundrum (Airtight Games – PC. 360. PS3.) This one is a bit of a risk. On board are Kim Swift, auteur of Portal and its pseudo predecessor Narbacular Drop, and Airtight Games, the folks behind Crimson Skies and (gulp) Dark Void. Everyone is expecting another Portal-like experience and the team certainly isn't shying away from those claims (they would be stupid not to, after all). What's actually presented looks categorically insane, like some sort of mash up between a furry party, a copy machine, and Back to the Future. I can live with that.

Others that I’m really looking forward to:

Sound ShapesEveryday Shooter made my Best Of 2007 list and remains one of my favorite PS3 games. Super excited to see what Jonathan Mak has learned over the last five years.

Borderlands 2 - My friends and I dumped dozens of hours into exhausting Borderlands content. Can't wait to do it all over again.

Papo & Yo – Because how often are adventure games used as metaphors for dealing with an alcoholic father? My E3 Preview

The Last of Us - Naughty Dog introducing a new IP this late in a console life cycle merits interest. Bonus points for the Enslaved vibe.

The Last Guardian - lol

Starhawk - Rumored to be in existence forever, I was glad to see it finally announced and I'm anxious to see what it's like.

Lollipop Chainsaw - Sold on concept alone, which I’m deliberately ripping from the Wikipedia article: Lollipop Chainsaw focuses on zombie hunter and cheerleader Juliet Starling who, along with members of her family and her boyfriend, a disembodied head, fight hordes of zombies in San Romero High School, where Starling formerly cheered. The enemy zombies are led by "a group of zombie rock and roll lords. I sort of can't believe Grasshopper keeps getting funding, and I mean that in a good way.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Look, I liked Final Fantasy XIII, and hearing that Kitase took fan criticism to heart when building XIII-2 gives me hope for something cool.  

Prototype 2 – Haven’t seen much beyond some aggressive Heller vs Mercer marketing drips. I am intrigued when a game makes its former protagonist its chief antagonist, though I’ll be surprised if that holds true to the end-game.

The Witness – Jonathon Blow’s long awaited follow up to Braid.  Brief previews started popping up a few months ago and mostly suggested that my brain isn’t educated enough to properly engage what he’s planning. Or maybe I didn’t understand the previews. Either way it’s the next game from the guy who made Braid, man.  

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