The 7 Most Groundbreaking Games You've Probably Never Heard Of

Monday, May 6, 2013 at 6:00 am

Everyone knows that Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy and Barbie's Horse Adventures revolutionized the gaming industry. But not every influential game is a smashing success - some games quietly shaped industry trends despite being ignored by all but a few developers that recognized their innovation. You probably haven't played the following games, but you owe them thanks for paving the way for those you have.

7. Kill Switch

Modern video game battlefields are littered with chest high concrete blocks and other seemingly random barriers, presumably put there by bored urban planners in the hopes that an intense firefight would break out and liven up their day. You have Kill Switch, a mediocre shooter that invented the modern cover system, to thank for this literal shift in the landscape.

Released in 2003 to a collective shrug from critics and fans, Kill Switch was later cited by the developers of Gears of War, Uncharted, Killzone and other series as an inspiration, which is a polite way of saying that they stole the cover system and built a less bland game around it. While technically not the first game to feature a cover system (see also: 1999's WinBack), it was the first to make it a core gameplay component, and it also introduced the blind fire feature for gamers too wimpy to poke their head out and take proper aim. So the next time you're chainsawing a locust in half or killing a zone (I haven't played Killzone, but presume that's what you do in it), remember that your experience was brought to you by some dumb game about a remote controlled super-soldier.

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"Back in my day, there weren't no random slabs of concrete to take cover behind. You had to hope there was a car! You young punks have it easy."


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Science Fiction's Top 10 Alcoholic Beverages

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:00 am

For fans of inebriants, Cinco de Mayo this coming Sunday is one of the most exciting days of the year; a day when excessive alcohol consumption is not only expected, it's encouraged (Mexicans, like the Irish on St. Patrick's Day, often regard it as "Amateur Night"). In some of our favorite fictional worlds of the future, alcohol still provides a welcome distraction from the universe around.

No matter what evolution alcohol goes through, there is something about human nature that will always looks for some type of distraction. Utopian and dystopian futures alike all seem to still have a simple human requirement for release of cares and worries. Orwell's Victory Gin and Huxley's Soma are just a few examples of dystopian alcohol use, but booze still exists as recreation in the futures of Star Trek and other, happier societies. Rather than shun or shy away from human nature, I say let's embrace the need for diversion, because if there are two things we like here at Topless Robot, they'd be science fiction and booze. The following are ten of the most memorable intoxicating beverages from the sci-fi lexicon. Some are just beverages, some replace meals, but they all could accomplish one thing: fuck you up good.

10. Ambrosia - Battlestar Galactica

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Alcohol advertising of the past always liked to point out how cleanly the beverage was made. Crisp mountain waters, the finest barley and hops all hope to give an image of purity and cleanliness. Then there is Ambrosia, the chief export of the Twelve Colonies Penal System. That's right, the beverage of the Gods is manufactured in jail by sweaty, nasty convicts. Of course that's before the Cylons decide to go all Skynet on their parents, nuking the shit out of the Twelve Colonies and all of their spirit-producing prisons. It's safe to say, especially since the Galactica crew builds a still in the hangar bay, that any alcohol is good alcohol after Armageddon, regardless of where it was made.

Apparently there are many different kind of Ambrosia, with one of the rarest being Scorpion Marsh Genuine Ambrosia, a variety that is generally snubbed by Capricans for its strength and that fact that it smells like swamp ass. While its green color would seem more appropriate for Saint Patrick's Day, frak it, color shouldn't get in the way of a good buzz...So Say We All.

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The Ten Creepiest Fictional Cults of the 21st Century

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Every few years, a shift occurs and the media highlights new or different movements in popular culture. The war on terror and "say no to drugs" weren't just used by politicians; they also seeped into our movies and television programs. We're never exactly sure just how it happens, but right now we're in a new age of cults. At least fictional ones.

Is there any correlation between a cultish figure and which party runs the White House? Who knows, but from the Clinton era came that one club with the first rule not to talk about it. Bioshock's citizens of Rapture (the ones with plasmids, anyway) might have been a comment on the Bush administration's fondness for Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy. (The leader of the underwater dystopian city was named 'Andrew Ryan.') This year, the CW had a short-lived series literally titled Cult, but there are far more successful and interesting leaders to follow. We're not entirely surprised to see so many made-up groups popping up during the Obama years.

Here's my list of the creepiest, sometimes most seductive but purely fictional cults of the 21st century that I've experienced in films, TV, and videogames. Many of them are almost convincing enough to make me want to drink the Kool-Aid. Almost.

10. Living on the Compound, Martha Marcy May Marlene

What better place to start then a good old-fashioned, rurally isolated male-run cult? Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) is Marcy May "a leader and a teacher" who's just fled from an unincorporated barn run by charmer Patrick (John Hawkes) located in the Catskill Mountains. The story goes back in time to show how MM fell under Patrick's spell while also zipping to the present where she's reunited with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson) who knows her as plain old 'Martha.' (The name Marlene is the one all the women on the compound use whenever answering an old rotary-dial phone.)

The hook of the story is the back and forth between M's brainwashing and her struggle to leave all that behind. That we never think she really can leave it all behind is a testament to Olsen's performance. She embodies M with a hint of arrogance that runs right below her timid smiles. What makes MMMM so compelling is how we're almost always tethered solely to M's point of view.


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The Eight Strangest Japanese Video Games You've Never Heard Of.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Look, we all know Japanese video games are a bit... well, weird. Starting with a plumber who fights a frog/turtle/monster thing, to a pink bubble that eats people, to whatever the hell Catherine was, Japanese games aren't your typical fare. Just how odd does it get, though? We're here to resoundingly tell you... pretty fucking odd. From ornithological dating games and LSD simulators to something involving Michael Jackson, we've compiled a list of the 8 weirdest titles in Japanese video game history.

8. Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire

THE GAME: Who doesn't love a good fighting game (besides pacifists, and they don't count because they are weak willed and soft)? Jackie Chan may not, as evidenced by this bizarre sequel to the arcade game The Kung Fu Master: Jackie Chan. Fists of Fire is your typical fighting game fare with one very odd distinction: an army of Jackie Chans. Not one, not two, but THREE playable Jackies (not including the final boss) make this game one of the stranger offerings from the land of the rising sun.

THE WEIRD: To win the "story mode", the gamer (as Jackie Chan) must defeat four "variant costume edition" Jackie Chans to finally face off against the main boss, who shockingly enough just happens to be Mrs. Chan's beautiful baby boy. It's weird enough that a man known for "prop fighting" is front and center of a Mortal Kombat style, uber traditional fighting game; add in the Chan-Clones, and you've got a uniquely Eastern title that we almost don't deserve to get to play.

WHY YOU HAVE TO PLAY IT: Jackie Chan vs. Jackie Chan vs. Jackie Chan vs. Jackie Chan. And we hear the soundtrack isn't too bad either (we're lying).


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The Ten Best Things About C2E2, in Words and Pictures

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:00 am

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There aren't too many people who realize this, but every convention has to go through its test phases before it turns into the perfection many attendees find it to be. Comic-Con, Anime Con and other popular entertainment conventions took a few years until they understood what kind of event they would become, and in some ways they still change over the course of time.

C2E2, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, has been around for merely three years but has gone through some major revamps throughout that time. The Windy City contains a number of entertainment conventions, the most notable being Wizard World, but residents must have figured that wasn't enough. This past weekend, a section of the McCormick Place convention center played proud host to C2E2, as an exuberant amount of geeky fans and creators took over the place.

Now I've been to my fair share of comic-centric entertainment conventions, and they don't always work. Thankfully the only weird part about this entire event is that kooky name, which tricks people into thinking it's not a comic convention at all. Seriously guys, you may want to consider altering that a bit. Now I could have inserted regular, slightly boring pictures into this list but in the convention spirit of self-expression, I decided to sketch out each one of my highlights from show. What are you waiting for? Start reading...and looking.

10. The Cosplayers

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First off, can I just say that I'm happy I didn't see any Furries out at C2E2. I can't stand people who dress up as those characters, because it's kind of creepy. They've always been a weird combination of mascots mixed together with fan fiction that borders on bestiality (I know, for some of you that's a plus...eww). Anywho, a number of the outfits were really inventive, and while there may have not been a huge number of cosplayers, compared to what we see in the bigger conventions, it was made up for in quality.

I'm also really happy to see that not everybody was dressed up like a Doctor Who character. Now don't get me wrong, I love the show to pieces, but there are too many women out there who dress up as the Matt Smith. Did they forget that there's ten other incarnations they can pick? At least the guys in the picture above used a little imagination to mix together characters with each of the Green Lantern universe colors.

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11 Noteworthy First-Person Shooters With Female Leads

Monday, April 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Like many of us in the gamersphere, I recently read Penny Arcade Report's piece on the upcoming Phillip K. Dick-esque thriller Remember Me and was angry (though not at all surprised) to hear that the game struggled to find a publisher simply because the main character is female. Somehow, this is still seen as gamer-money repellent by the Powers That Be, even though there are a) reportedly more women playing video games than ever before and b) several examples of successful titles with ladies in the lead.

You'd think that publishers of first person shooters would be less leery to embrace this, seeing as how you typically spend most or even all of that kind of game not even seeing the face behind the weapon. Are we seriously approaching a world where women can finally serve in combat roles in the military but can't hold guns out in front of them in order to mow down aliens, zombies, robots or some combination of the three? Come on! This is supposed to be the future we're living in!

So, I did a little research, and I collected some examples of games (or game series) in which women point and shoot. There aren't as many as you might think, and I'm guessing you don't even think there are that many, but it's kind of compensated for by the fact that some are very famous and important to the history of the medium. Be advised that as a ground rule, I'm only counting games in which the central avatar is - or can be - definitively female, and a specific character, so those with customizable protagonists that can go either gender do not qualify. Also, I'm just considering games that feature this as part of the main campaign or "story mode," so don't complain about Goldeneye not being on here because you totally schooled all your friends as Natalya.

And while I'm happy to be informed of titles I missed, let's keep our eyes on the bigger picture: I don't want to bring out the battle trolls so much as get everyone thinking about these particular games and what their use of a player character without a shaved head and a five o'clock shadow says about them, our great virtual pastime and ourselves.

11) Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2

We'll start with a couple of "ensemble shooters" in which a female character is one of a list of possible options. I tried really hard to find a suitable YouTube clip for this one without getting buried in the mountain of pervy fan slashvids and machinima...trust me, it was nearly a fool's errand. Both of the Left 4 Dead games contain a token woman (Zoey in the first, Rochelle in the second) probably inserted for diversity points more than anything else, or because these games ape cinematic conventions and that's what Hollywood would do anyway.

While there aren't extensive opportunities for their personalities to develop, these two do have unique backstories: Zoey is a horror movie buff and Ro a former TV news producer who apparently has a thing for Depeche Mode (we have yet to hear her opinion on Delta Machine, though my hunch is she's more of an old-school Violator fan). Both seem to fill a function as being the sole female on their "team", but beyond that are relative blank slates. In the second games' DLC "The Passing," the two do get to finally meet but don't seem to have much interaction other than to be relieved that there's another woman left on earth. I guess that means L4D2 passes the Bechdel Test, if only just barely.


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Five Ways the New Star Trek Game Fails, and Five Ways it Succeeds (or at Least Doesn't Fail)

Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:00 am

Since the dawn of video games, developers have always sought out the rights to valuable television and movie properties, particularly titles that belong to the science fiction genre. After all, what child in 1977 didn't want to fly the trench run with Luke Skywalker? Science fiction has always inspired technology, and you would be hard pressed to find a franchise that inspired more in technology and video gaming than Star Trek. But there is an underlying problem to licensing movie and television properties: TV and movie based video games typically suck.

As bad as most games based on series are, the simple fact is that they sell. The biggest licensed turd burger of the year, Aliens: Colonial Marines has sold excellent numbers despite being a broken mess of a game. But companies know they can get away with this: a trip to my local Gamestop will have my kid reaching for the latest Ben 10 or Power Rangers game rather than a title that has much more potential to be a good game. In fact, he has a pile of DS games based on movies and TV that have been played for a matter of hours before being forgotten. It's a way of life for developers, who will continue the practice until people stop buying these games; and face it, that's not going to happen.

Star Trek is a franchise that has been used time and time again for video games, going back so far that fan and studio made Trek adventures could be played on some of the earliest home computers. Sadly, many of those attempts at interactive adventures have fallen short of the mark, with the latest installment landing between poor and average. Here are five of the biggest things it gets wrong, and five that it actually gets right.

The Bad

1. Uncharted....IN SPAAAAAAAACE!!!!! (Or Diet Mass Effect)

Nathan Drake's adventures have become a shining example in recent years of how to make an adventure game, so much so that the reboot of Tomb Raider borrowed heavily from the Uncharted format to great success. Star Trek also borrows from the Uncharted format, with cover-based gunfights, climbing sequences, puzzles and more. The problem is, it just doesn't do it that well thanks to uninspired action, dated graphics and abysmal controls.

The game tries to shake things up by allowing you to choose either Kirk or Spock, and the cooperative multiplayer (seemingly inspired by Portal 2) can be a hoot if you find the right partner (or bring your own), but none of this makes up for how it plays. While the game is described by creative director Sheldon Carter as "...someone spliced Metroid Prime into my Uncharted", it feels more like Digital Extremes saw how cool Uncharted was, replaced Nathan Drake with Kirk and Spock, and blatantly stole Detective Mode from the Arkham series. Taking good ingredients from some of the best game of recent history, throwing them into a pot and mixing them does not necessarily make a good cake.

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The Ten Sexiest Superhero Costume Makeovers (for Better and Worse)

Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

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In mainstream comics, superhero characters get sexy make-overs on a rather regular basis. It's not rocket science, really, as the majority of the target audience for these books is young men, and often young men of the, shall we say, lonelier variety. Some of these looks cross the line of good taste and vanish after a brief while, and yet some of these racy revamps stick around for the long haul. Here are ten of the most notable, for good and ill:

#10. Namor, the Sub-Mariner

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Usually when we think of something or someone becoming more sexy, we tend to think "less is always more." And that usually is true...except when it isn't. Case in point: Marvel Comics' Namor the Sub-Mariner, ruler of Atlantis as well as Marvel's first mutant hero. Namor has been sporting a pretty sexy costume in the form of a little green speedo since he was first created way back in 1939. He's been showing his lean, hot body off to everyone and anyone who ever wanted to take a look and either lust after him, or simply be jealous of him.

So what's sexier than almost naked? How about some head-to-toe black leather? (or possibly vinyl; it's not like we readers are privy to just what materials are being used here.) The black costume, with a big opening down the center so he can still show off that chest and those glorious Atlantean abs, has it so Namor is now ready for whatever underwater version of a kinky S&M leather fair Atlantis has to offer. This costume was introduced way back in 1973, a year or so before his comic was cancelled, and was therefore not around too long in its original inception.Nevertheless, in more recent years the black leather-daddy-of-the-seas costume has been making a comeback, and he has been wearing a variation of that look in issues of Uncanny X-Men. While this look may cover his body up more, the black leather has certain connotations in our culture that make this an even sexier costume than his usual pair of little green trunks.

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The Top Ten Strongest Non-Superpowered Women in Comics

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:00 am

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Many women over the years have commented how difficult it is being a woman in their generation. Women in comics have it just as difficult than ladies do in the real world, especially those not possessing any sort of superpowers, but there are many great qualities about this select group of women that make them unique. These girls are the perfect combination of brain and brawn. Sure, some of them may be hot and heavy with a cape-wearing crusader or a super villain, but that doesn't mean they can't handle whatever strange things life throws at them. Now let's acknowledge and honor some of those regular comic book women who are extraordinary in their own cool ways.

10. Moira MacTaggert (X-Men)

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Moira is one of the most intriguing characters in the X-Men universe for a variety of reasons. While Moira doesn't possess any mutant abilities, her knowledge on genetics has aided them around the world as they're faced with multitudes of enemies. She stands as one of the key figures when it comes to human-mutant relations, making it her duty to advance the world's knowledge on mutant genetics by opening up her own facility focusing on mutant research on Muir Island. The gifted doctor even went so far as to find a cure for the Legacy Virus that threatened to wipe out mutant kind as they knew it. It's just a shame that her efforts were in some ways useless thanks to the events from House of M, during which most of the mutant population one day woke up powerless.

Okay, so she's kind of dead in most of the X-Men comics right now, but they're notoriously known for bringing many folks back to life. They could do the same with Moira and let her cure the mutants once again.

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The Ten Nerdiest Modern Shakespeare Adaptations

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

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Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare! Well, maybe, anyway. The Bard was baptized on April 26, 1564, and the guess is that this would have taken place about three days after his birth. Plus, Shakespeare is recorded as having died on April 23, 1616, and there's a fine sense of cosmic symmetry, of coming full circle, in the idea of a great man dying on his own birthday (much like Mark Twain both coming into the world and leaving it during flyby years of Halley's Comet). PLUS, April 23 is St. George's Day, so, you know, England. Happy St. George's Day, by the way.

Pop culture has always stolen shamelessly from Shakespeare, and indeed pop culture has not the slightest need to be ashamed of doing so - Shakespeare was pop culture, and he stole more shamelessly, industriously and eclectically than just about any literary artist in history. He transformed what he stole into a canon of lofty yet accessible works that has provided a resource, almost like a database, to generations of artists of all kinds in the centuries that followed, not least those who create horror, science-fiction and fantasy. Here are ten of the many, many co-optings of Shakespeare's work into nerdish pop culture.

10.) Forbidden Planet (1956)

It's a safe bet that most of the little kids who lined up for this, one of the first big-studio, big-budget space opera spectacles, didn't notice that it followed (and not really all that loosely) the story of The Tempest, with the distant planet Altair 4 standing in for Shakespeare's island. Walter Pidgeon as the inhospitable Dr. Morbius stands in for Shakespeare's deposed and marooned Prospero and his fabulous daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) for the play's innocent Miranda. The play isn't echoed only in its plot, but also in its psychology symbols: Caliban, here, is the invisible, unstoppable "Monster From the Id" (the source of any monster worth its salt) manifested from the Doc's subconscious by an ancient alien technology, and lethally pissed off by the daughter's interest in Earthmen, especially a pre-buffoon Leslie Nielsen. This one really holds up awfully well; if you've never seen it, or not in a long time, check it out.

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