Friday, November 2, 2012

"Last year my brother was skewered by a moose."

I've started posting items on a more regular basis to the Gaming Enthusiast Press Awards blog and as result I find myself constantly flipping back through the metaphoric pages in my brain looking for "pinnacles" of good writing.

I've already added a post to Old Man Murray's classic feature "Crate Review System" which actually provided quite a bit of mirth back in 2000. Oddly enough, the Crate Review System is still valid twelve years later, possibly more so. But there are other "classics" that stand out over the last decade and one of those is a (fake) Cudgel of Xanthor game preview, penned by Jeff Green back in 2007 (in Computer Gaming World), which I've included below.

The piece does an effective job of completely skewering games writing and lampooning the extremely low bar that many of the enthusiast press aspire to. The article also manages to include just about every cliché about games writing one can find, all the while not saying anything substantive about the game even though the writer was "literally foaming at the mouth" after playing the game.

I present to you the piece in its entirety:
Standing outside the offices of Copenhagen-based Braak Studios, developers behind the acclaimed Xanthor fantasy strategy games (Blade of Xanthor, Sword of Xanthor, Dagger of Xanthor), I had to take a breath of air. As the first journalist to see their new game, Cudgel of Xanthor, revealed here for the first time in this exclusive first look, I was literally shaking with excitement. And that was before I even saw the game. Afterward, when I was certain that what I had just seen was not only well on its way to being a certifiable masterpiece, but, more important, the likely recipient of our coveted “RPG of the Year” award, I was more than shaking: I was literally foaming at the mouth. It’s not often that a computer game makes you feel that way, but, then, not every game is as amazing as Cudgel of Xanthor.

“This is the best game I’ve ever seen,” agreed Braak’s PR and marketing director Hans Schok. “It is simply astounding in terms of what it brings to the party for PC gamers. I look at this game and think, World of What?” High praise indeed.

While Braak Studios has cut its collective teeth on strategy games, Cudgel represents a giant leap forward into serious envelope pushing, expanding the series into the fertile yet deep waters of RPGs. It’s not the first time the company has taken a risk, nor will it be the last. “Last night I ate an entire block of cheese,” boasted creative director and team leader Vet “Slap” Billen, as if to illustrate the point.

With a staff of 50 full-time employees working hard on Cudgel, the effort is obviously paying off in copious spades, as the hands-on time I had with the game more than amply proved. You being the game in standard RPG fashion by creating your character from a variety of interesting classes, such as rogue, and then customize your look with a robust set of sliders and buttons to put a unique spin on things for such details as eye color. Choosing a character class further adds to the customization by letting you play as, for example, a fighter, who would use melee weapons to “hit enemies” according to lead designer Helje Bendt. This is just one example of the many different ways you can play the game, all of which will affect how you interact with the game’s unique world.

And what a world it is! Thought I don’t really want to spoil too much, I will say, as the first journalist in North America to get to play the game, it is one of the most unique fantasy settings I’ve ever seen, bar none. The first time I gazed upon the gorgeous water effects on display in the waterfall outside the starting area, my eyes literally popped out of my head. And that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Around every corner in this stunning open-ended fantasy world is yet another jaw-dropping splendor to behold, be it a magical bean field or something similarly awe-inspiring of a magical bent. It’s the type of world you wish you could just jump through the monitor and be part of, rather than living in the mundane world of today the way we are now.

Sound is another of the game’s many strong points. At times when I was playing, some of the sounds in the game seemed so “real” to me that they were more real than “real life.” I would turn around quickly to see if something was behind me, like a goblin, only to realize it was in the game all along! To make this kind of magic happen, Braak is using all the latest sound drivers and cards technologically available today, which puts them right on the cutting edge, which is exactly where they want to be. “Last year my brother was skewered by a moose,” said Billen, as if speaking to the company’s determination to move forward. To further highlight this, the game will also naturally support physics cards, which will only add to the game’s realism on yet another plane—the physical one.

Combat is similarly impressive. Different weapons will have different effects, depending on which ones you choose. Hitting with a sword, for example, will not, as in many other games, feel the same as hitting with a staff. Both will be different, in totally unique ways. In all the hours I played, almost every battle felt different depending on whether I used a different weapon or not. It’s yet another of the small details that define Braak’s ambitious approach to a genre well-worn with standards and clichés at this point in time.

Truth be told, not everything functioned perfectly during my visit. Enemy A.I. was still spotty, with most monsters usually standing around defenseless as I killed them, or more often than not disappearing from the screen altogether. Performance still needs to be tweaked, as the game came to a halt numerous times, even crashing the machine at one point and forcing Bendt to reformat his hard drive. Still, minor niggles aside, Cudgel of Xanthor looked and felt to me like nothing short of a miracle, and proof once again that the PC is the best gaming platform in the world. Hopefully, the kinks will be worked out when the game ships this winter, because I for one can’t wait to wield this Cudgel once again!

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