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Siren: Blood Curse! Or, how to make your game appeal to an American audience

Hey, North America! Today’s the big day! Siren: Blood Curse is about to hit the Playstation Store. You can instantly download all twelve episodes of the survival horror game to your PS3 for a reasonable US$40. Instead, though, I’m thinking about splurging and getting the Japanese version on disc for $60 at play-asia.com.

To clarify, Siren: Blood Curse and Siren: New Translation are the same game. Much of Siren: New Translation, the Japanese version of the game, is in English, since its main characters are from the United States. The game is subtitled in Japanese.

The original Siren is easily the most frightening game I’ve ever tried to play. Originally released for the PlayStation 2, it had impressive graphics for the time. The face-mapping seems comically dated now—photo-realistic faces are grafted onto subpar models—but in 2004, the uncannily human adversaries were positively shit-yourself terrifying. Wikipedia explains:

Rather than employ traditional facial animation methods with polygons, images of real human faces were captured from eight different angles and superimposed on the character models. This eerie effect is similar to projecting film onto the blank face of a mannequin.

Siren was, above all, a stealth game—you had to slip past the zombie-like shibito undetected—and in that regard, its utter lack of combat broke the survival-horror mold. In terms of plot, the subsequent Capcom title Resident Evil 4 owes a lot of its essence to Siren: these villagers aren’t exactly zombies, and good luck with solving the village mystery! But Siren more closely resembles the original Silent Hill. No surprise there; the two games share the same director, after all.

The nurse, revamped for the new gameAlthough it is remembered as arguably the scariest game for PS2, and although the game received generally favorable press, Siren never quite achieved commercial success here in the United States. It didn’t help that the game was notoriously difficult. Worse, the controls were fairly complicated, a bit much to master from the get-go. In some ways, the troublesome controls deepened the fear factor—a lot of survival horror, the Retronauts crew once agreed, relies on the sense of helpless panic only mushy controls and a crippled camera can bring. Siren’s gameplay innovations—and its unyielding commitment to those design choices—made it tough for anyone but a totally dedicated survival horror buff to play the game from start to finish.

Siren: Blood Curse is not a wholly unique work. Rather, it attempts to rework the original Siren plotline into a more navigable, accessible game experience. And although Blood Curse is being released to multiple markets, including Japan’s, I think it’s safe to say this revision largely targets gamers in North America. The original Siren lacked any real combat; in Blood Curse, you can creep up to the shibito and brutalize them from behind. Incorporating more action makes Blood Curse, well, not breakneck, exactly, but surely not as plodding and ponderous as its original incarnation was. But in playing through the demo, it’s clear that Blood Curse disposes of the very patient puzzle gameplay that made the original Siren (and its Japan-only sequel**) so frightening.

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Fact: PR frequently mails weapons to games journalists

In videogame journalism, it is totally normal to receive weapons in the mail. I am not making this up.

So I was a little surprised this morning when my friend at Hearst sent me a link to a Popular Mechanics blog entry, in which a Hearst writer is shocked—shocked!—that someone at Rockstar Games would be so stupid as to send a bat! In the mail! To the office!

Lady Marmalade

Perhaps most damningly, someone in Rockstar’s PR really gored up the swag by smearing it with, that’s right, orange marmalade! Ugh! Disgusting!

I was strangely offended by the time Kotaku picked up the story. Seriously, isn’t this Rockstar at its least confrontational?

After the cut, Scott Sharkey lists different weapons sent to his office as promotional tie-ins for video games!

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Identity in Second Life: part one

A few weeks ago, I loaded up Second Life. It was the first time I’d touched the game in about a year. I halfheartedly installed all the updates.

If you’ve ever tinkered with Second Life, this probably comes as no surprise: the service manages to hemorrhage almost all of its potential new customers, quickly. In fact, most new users are alienated by the whole experience within their first hour, thanks to an unnavigable interface loaded with super-cryptic nomenclature.

Perhaps the most unwelcoming aspect of the initial user experience is your avatar’s own appearance. It is textureless, low-tech, doll-like, and it brands you as a Linden newbie (until very recently, the default avatars were just terrible). And although the character creation tools are actually great, they take time to learn. I remember it seemed every attempt at designing a realistic body resulted in a bubble-ass. And at any length, the default hair is a she-male’s pompadour.

How could I have known during my very first hour of play that I was able to purchase not just clothes and toys, but also hair and skin and eyeglasses? The average new user has no idea how mutable his appearance really is—and by extension, how mutable his sense of identity is.

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Remembering Theresa Duncan

I am going to tell you what I just told them.

I was waiting to blog later, but I just dropped everything. It fell out of my hands. I have been punched in the heart and brain.

Last night—yesterday—my friend MJ and I were hanging out. I don’t know how I got on the subject of my favorite game designer, actually. But I was showing MJ one of the greatest, most important games I’ve ever owned, Chop Suey, which actually I’ve told you about before. And then I was showing MJ this interview in an issue of Shift, probably Fall 2000, “Theresa Duncan: Silicon Valley’s ‘It Girl’.” And I was like, isn’t she beautiful? Can you believe she made this game? Because it was a little like holding up War and Peace and then revealing that it was written by, I don’t know, just someone really unexpectedly pretty, instead of Tolstoy.

Do people know who this is? Theresa Duncan? Why don’t more people know who she is?

I’d looked everywhere for that game. I’d been trying to locate a copy, if you can believe this, since I was 15, when I first read in a then-new magazine that it was the greatest videogame you could ever give a girl. And I found a copy ten years later, and I downgraded my QuickTime and ultimately discovered that Chop Suey—a storybook game with painted scenes, hilarious characters, and a narrative driven by the warm, twee crack of David Sedaris’ voice—was maybe one of the most enthralling and meaningful game experiences of my adult life.

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