31 July, 2008

Review: Grimm: A Boy Learns What Fear Is

So I went through the game writing down my thoughts as I had them. I'll tack the raw data to the end of the post, but I very much believe the value of writing a review is to distill the experience.

American McGee's Grimm: A Boy Learns What Fear Is (2008, Spicy Horse) is a platform game about changing fairy tales from their modern cleaned up versions back to their old dark versions that actually teach a lesson.

That's how I heard it described, anyway. In real life, it's more of a territory claiming game. Run a smelly gnome around, turning stuff rotten.

Enemies clean up after you. At first you can only stun them. Eventually you can convert them. Once you've done enough conversion, you move on to the next pristine area and do it over again and again and...




Huh? Wha? Review? Oh yeah.

The dialog is mildly entertaining. Watching the landscape change is mildly entertaining. But there's no real gameplay here, which suggests it's for kids. But the game has people being hung and people being burned alive and people being killed by cannon fire, which suggests it's not.

Final Score
2 of 5

Raw Data

- The song's sound levels are messed up. I can't hear the words.
- The art style reminds me a little of Psychonauts for some reason, but much more papery.

Pristine Storytelling
- Heh heh. The teacher said "fondle".
- Aww. The ghosts are so cute. *sugar shock*
- The king said marrying his daughter will teach the boy fear. Once I've turned her evil, I bet it will.

Scene 1
- I got a silver medal and missed two secrets.
- The ending of the corrupt version (where the dad punches his son) is pretty random.

Scene 2
- The dialog clips play on top of each other sometimes. It makes it hard to hear.
- When you leave Grimm standing still he pees. Peeing is funny. :\
- I did even worse on scene 2. I blame the boat.

Scene 3
- Using voice to tell me to butt stomp every time I approach a butt stomp target is getting on my nerves.
- What did the teacher actually do? I thought there was going to be a bigger change.
- It appears time and darkness are separate awards. Either go for max corruption or go for max speed.
- Getting bored.

Scene 4
- Grimm showed some butt crack. :P

Scene 5
- Cutest ghosts ever.
- And they don't change! I can't corrupt them!
- I thought the dogs that spawned in might be finally upping the opposition. They weren't.

Scene 6
- Yay. Wedding guests are dead. Who cares?
- Can I get a little credit for knowing that the princess turning yucky was going to be the capper?
- Oh, a big cannon doing nothing was supposed to be the capper. Fail.

Corrupted Storytelling
- He's talking about different motives for the actions in the story. That's a change.
- What? The teacher still just touched the school bell? Who cares?
- I should have just played "You Burned The Rope" again.

More Ramblings on the Dystopian Gaming Future

Okay, so I was underselling in the last paragraph of my last post. If I had the greed and the gumption, I'd probably be looking for business major to start working with me on a plan for the "New Gamer" brand. I don't know how many articles one could write on Wii Sports, but I'm sure one could make a good deal of money finding out.

Of course, balancing the content would be a very interesting challenge. What games would be suitable for review? If you'd even try to review something like the upcoming Call of Duty Wii game, how would you do it? Would you have the entire review staff (grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, and the tweenagers (provided it's not rated M)) review it? Would you have the entire review staff review every game? Considering many new gamers don't finish games, should the reviewers have to? Maybe the site would be called "Gaming Generations" instead. Of course it's hard to satisfy so many constituencies. Heck, that's a problem even today.

In reading the comments on Kotaku about the state of game reviews, I was struck by how everyone wants to the review to serve them. I like plot and characterization. Write about that in the review. I like graphics. Write about that. I want a reviewer to talk about their feelings as they play. Write about that. I like tight controls, write about that. But nobody wants to pay for their reviews. I subscribe to EGM magazine. That's it. Nothing else. Do you think my $1 a month pays for all the salaries, podcasts, online articles, and the magazine itself? Obviously advertising foots some of the bill, but the point is, how much does $1 a month entitle me to? Not too %#(*ing much, I'd say. And if the advertisers are footing the bill, why should I expect the reviews to cater to my interests?

As far as I'm concerned, GameSpot lost all it's credibility half a year ago. But it still pulls in more traffic than Kotaku, Destructoid, and Joystiq combined according to Alexa. Hell you could add in 1UP's traffic and you might get half GameSpot's numbers on the best day ever. But I'm no activist, telling gamers to use their dollars and page views to vote for better content. I'm a realist and a cheap ass. I'll keep spending the time to find whatever niche core gamers still have out there on the internet. And we'll have them. We'll gather on Quarter to Three or NeoGaf, where we get enough traffic that banner ads can pay for the server load. Hell, the core gaming niche will retreat to Usenet if it has to.

It feels weird to think of us that way. But I'm starting to. The term core gamers should probably be replaced with a term like game snobs. We've got movie snobs and music snobs. As gaming gains broad appeal (in many cases by losing what made it interesting to core gamers in the first place) the term gamer itself loses meaning. I guess it could be less insulting. We might call them game buffs. But if gaming really goes mainstream, I can't imagine it being as complicated or difficult as the stuff game buffs enjoy. Nope, those same nerds who used to be picked on for liking games at all are starting to be picked on instead for their choice of games.

I'm also feeling a strange sense of deja vu that these arguments were all made by Wii haters a year and a half ago. I mean, I essentially asked this question at the 1UP Panel at PAX 2007. Gaming is going mainstream, like movies. Most movies suck. (I actually don't go to the theater any more.) Why won't gaming suck? I didn't ask it well, and the panel basically advised me to buy a $500 PS3 to play a $10 indie shooter that when I finally did buy it on PC wasn't very fun.

I guess it's a little different now, with the Wii continuing to sell more than the PS3 and 360 combined. Although I believe both the Wii and DS are starting to lose steam in Japan. Still, I can't help but feel that Microsoft and Sony are just wishing the other would go away so they could stop fighting each other and be like Nintendo, making a game a few games a year to placate the core gamers and spending the real money on reaching wider audiences.

The Head of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences is a Twit

I read about a Shacknews article (via Kotaku) where the President of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) calls game reviewers lazy. At the end of the day, I feel he's a non-gamer trying to make sense of reviews written for gamers. But if you enjoy my particular brand of condescending smack down, what follows is the full text of my comment on the Kotaku article.

All right. Let's do the rundown.

"When I just see a score, whether it's a Metacritic score or 5 stars or 4 thumbs, that doesn't tell me anything"

Actually it does. It tells you whether a game is well regarded in its genre, in the case of a Metacritic score, or what a given reviewer feels about a game if it's an individual score. As in any other art form, you learn that there are certain reviewers who share your tastes and others who don't. And as wacky as it may sound, you still have the option to read the review, even after you've read the score.

"I am never surprised when there's as much as a 40% or 50% variance between Metacritic numbers and user numbers."

Neither am I. And the user numbers are almost always higher, because they're written by people who liked the genre and concept enough to buy it. People tend to buy games they're likely to enjoy. What a shocker.

"My pet peeve is that game reviewers are lazy," ... "Not all, but in terms of the reviews [something like] 'This game isn't as good because let's compare it to that game over there and that game was great.' Who gives a, you know, bleep?"

I think I get what he's saying. Game reviewers do use shorthand a lot. But you know who gives a bleep? Enthusiasts. Hence the term "enthusiast press". Look into it. You want N'Gai's prescribed mainstream reviews, fine. But don't call other people lazy because they're not catering to people who are not their audience. Yeesh.

"How can you review a game, how can you give a comment about a game like Grand Theft Auto IV, that has 40-plus hours or more of gameplay, if you've only spent 2 1/2 to 3 hours playing it," ... "It would be like reviewing a movie but only seeing the opening, first reel. I don't think that's fair, or is it accurate,"

He's mostly right about this. Although it would be nice to know if he acknowledged the time pressures and last minute review copies game reviewers have to deal with. Regardless, he might want to look for review sites where finishing the game (or at least being up front when they haven't) is part of the policy instead of going to crappy sites and then casting broad aspersions. And this movie analogy is the garbage Dyack was spouting on the 1UP Yours poolcast, getting pissed off at people who drop playing a game in the middle. I'll ignore the movie analogy entirely as the differences in length make it obviously flawed. But even removing considerations of length by talking about books, the analogy is still bunk. Most books have more plot and character development in the first chapter than many games have in their entire story. Additionally, books often change locations, characters, and tone or pacing whereas games (especially bad ones) feel like the same experience for hours. If you were reading a book from one character's point of view, doing the exact same things for six hours of reading time with no promise of change in sight, you'd drop that steamer too.

His remaining comments about reviewers not giving "good coverage as to what a game maker was trying to do" also sound to me like he failed to understand the industry. Often PR people are telling reviewers directly, "It's like Dungeon Siege in space". What's a reviewer supposed say?

Okay, so obviously I'm torqued. Maybe the full context of this interview will make him sound less ignorant. But then again, maybe I'm the ignorant one. Maybe it's time for N'Gai Croal's "Games For New Gamers" magazine to hit the shelves. With the way we've lost core gamer publications and Nintendo is going great guns with the Brain Training Portable and Wii Sports TV Game System that might be a far larger audience. But the bottom line is, please don't blame the enthusiast press for serving their audience instead of you. This is especially true when you're being interviewed by them. :P

30 July, 2008

Quarterly Numbers: I. R. Confused

Quarterly numbers are always confusing. For one thing, companies make up when their fiscal quarters are. For Electronic Arts (EA), 2008 ended back in April, I think. :P

Not terribly confusing is that Sony made some money ($51 million) on the PS3 for the quarter. When your money losing console sales only increase .86 million (more than doubling the .7 million they sold last year) and your money gaining software sales go up 18.1 million (almost four times the 4.7 million they sold last year), it stands to reason you'll do better financially.

But EA says they made most of their Q1 money on PS3, second most on PC, and third most on 360. WTF? Are they only counting the expense of porting the game against the PS3 profits while the 360 versions have to account for the actual development costs? Checking over the June, May, and April NPDs, I don't see any EA published PS3 games in the top ten. Maybe they're doing very well on PS3 further down the chart. Or maybe the dollar is so weak that Sony's lead in Europe combined with EA's soccer games is making the NPDs irrelevant. That might also explain the PC numbers as I think Europe is still big on PCs. Regardless, I'd love to see these numbers further broken down.

For once in my life, I feel a little bad for Microsoft. They seem to have worked really hard to dominate the US just as the dollar went in the toilet. Sucks to be them. And us, I guess. :P

Update July 30 2008 02:19
It's worth nothing the actual numbers. EA made 139 million off the PS3, 86 million from PC, and 81 million from 360. We're not talking about narrow margins here. EA is selling way more on PS3 than other platforms.

Update July 30 2008 02:54
Okay. I'm still confused, but maybe this is starting to make sense. There's something called "GAAP revenues". That's what the aforementioned figures are. According to some of posts I'm seeing on NeoGaf (always the place to go if you want to see fanatics fight it out), there's some weirdness around how these numbers are generated that makes them highly suspect. Fanatics on both sides will have lots to say, but for my part, these numbers are probably irrelevant unless someone on 1UP Yours says otherwise. :)

26 July, 2008

Social Gaming: It's a Platform

I tried to break down the elements of social networks. I'll email you the little table I ended up with if you want, but it wasn't worth posting. Then I wrote another post about how huge the work around social networking management is. It basically went nowhere, so I scrapped it. But there was one paragraph that seemed to me to be the key to understanding social networking at a high level. This post is my exploration of that idea.

Social networks are platforms, like consoles, operating systems, browsers, instant messaging clients, internet video services, and games like Rock Band. Platforms provide an environment for interaction and achievement, and tools to facilitate it. The goal is getting people to invest themselves in relationships and activities that exist on a specific platform. There are three main ways to encourage this: compelling content, low barriers to entry, and personal investment.

Getting compelling content usually comes down to money. Employees are paid (if necessary) to seek out and / or generate interesting content, and content creators are paid (if necessary) to put it on the platform. If a platform achieves critical mass, enough content is created by the community that the platform developer can focus on keeping it organized, pulling inappropriate content, and keeping people interested by pointing them to the most interesting content and creators and by educating them, so that they develop a deeper appreciation for the content.

Low barriers to entry are fairly self explanatory. The lower the cost in time and money to get to what feels like valuable, personalized content, the quicker a community can be built. Allowing users to import content from other platforms can drastically reduce the barrier to entry for users of those platforms.

Personal investment comes down to what individual users value. Exclusive content that speaks to them, enough friends on the platform that they don't want to leave, the feeling that they "own" their presence, and a lack of time and money to invest in multiple platforms are all ways for a user to become bound to a platform.

So that's my foundation to start talking about social gaming. It's still super simplified and will need to be fleshed out and expanded, but hopefully it will give me a base to intelligently discuss from.

It was hard get to partly because the platforms are nested. A game is a platform running on set of network services which are also a platfrom, which are running on a console which is also a platform. (And the consoles have operating systems, but I'm ignoring them. LA LA LA LA LA!)

24 July, 2008

Social Gaming: Not There Yet

Okay, so I'm coming down from my "revelations" about social networking invading gaming.

First off, I tried a game application of Facebook. It sucks hard. I thought I'd remembered people who said that the social gaming sites were catching up to the quality of commercial games quickly. If the most active games on Facebook are any indication, that is not the case. Urban Dead is better. Kingdom of Loathing is better (or was the last time I logged on). Maybe I just have to try more games, but jumping in and playing the most active game (Mouse Hunt), was terrible. You bait a mouse trap, then check in a few years later to see what you caught. Urban Dead had me constantly checking in to see if it was time to run away. With Mouse Hunt, I just need to do the math to figure out how many hours it will be until my cheese runs out and check back in that many days. What's the point?

At least with the vampire / zombie / werewolf applications, they actually take advantage of the social nature of the system. I bite someone, they become a monster. I get that. So far the only thing Mouse Hunt has going for it is that you can win real life prizes. But to actually catch the best mice, you have to pay real money to get the best cheese. How much money would you pay to win a $10 Amazon gift card? Probably more than $10. Oh well. Vegas wasn't built on the populace's math skills. And evidently this game isn't either.

Also, the pace of people's updates is pretty slow. Apparently none of us are doing anything on facebook. The service really needs to compensate for that. If my friends aren't doing anything interesting, there should be some other goings on on facebook featured, because when the site just looks dead, it kills the addiction, and it's boring old MySpace all over again.

At some level, it's a good thing facebook isn't slick enough to provide a truly addictive experience. But neither is WoW (World of Warcraft). I'm just worried that these companies will eventually create something legitimately life consuming. And if it's done very well, Little Big Planet may be that thing.

More tomorrow.

23 July, 2008

Social Gaming: Probably a Big Deal

I meant to go to sleep after my last post, but it started a lot of thoughts tumbling around. I eventually fell unconscious after writing the first eight paragraphs. Then I had to get up and keep writing and thinking. I never finished, but this is a blog, not a magazine, so I felt I needed to post this stuff and work on refining in subsequent posts. I knew gaming was changing, but I thought it was just making multiplayer a little more convenient; adding some cute but ultimately pointless stats. Now I'm beginning to think there are bigger things afoot.

Cheapy D and Wombat recently asked all CAGcast listeners to join the CAG group on facebook. I made a MySpace page (which I never visit) because theatre folks asked me to, and I figured facebook would be the same thing. It wasn't.

The big difference was the "news". It tells me when anyone I know does anything. Wombat's baby is home now. Someone (it says her name) who knew Cheapy in school added him to her profile using the classmate search feature. Ed (a theatre person who added me almost immediately) has an iPhone. These feel like things I shouldn't know, making them irresistable.

Every time someone I know makes a friend, I know it. Every time they take a survey, I know it (and am invited to take the same survey to see how well our results match up). Every time they decide there's a movie they want to see, I know it. I feel like I have a better idea about what's going on in these people's lives than I do in the lives of people I actually spend time with.

And I'm compelled to keep up with it. What are they doing today? What's new? I'm compelled, but at the end of the day, none of it matters to me. I might ask Ed how he likes his iPhone, or what he thinks about Dr. Horrible (since he just joined the fan club for it as I was typing this). But outside of that shallow exchange, it's mostly just novelty and voyeurism with no quality or substance.

And at some level I also feel that this is big business co-opting normal human interaction. Every page is serving ads and collecting data, while the content is largely provided by the users. Is it just me or is that kind of wrong?

Then I look at games like Little Big Planet and think it could be the same thing. There could be stats delivered on what levels your friends have played (including if they did it better or worse than you), what new items they've unlocked; what content they created or bought. It's like 360 achievements, or PS3 trophies, or WoW's armory, only way better because the users create the new levels and items for you. And once a game like that (maybe LBP, maybe a successor) gets integrated into a full social network like facebook, it's over. You think I'm just being dramatic, but hear me out.

Nintendo sells Wii Sports machines. There are a few million gamers out there who bought Mario Galaxy or Super Smash Brothers Brawl. But there's what, two Wiis without a copy of Galaxy for every Wii with one? That ratio isn't improving, either. People are buying the Wii to play Wii Sports.

If Sony can hook people on an endless stream of content, made shiny by novelty and social instincts, the PS3 becomes a LBP machine (plus an internet movie & TV service, plus a Blu Ray player). Get the price down to a level average consumers can afford, and the world is yours. Seriously, video rental stores and cable and satellite TV providers were already concerned about NetFlix. Now Sony and Microsoft are both selling set top boxes, piping movies and TV over the internet. No wonder Sony's so "generously" upping the storage on the PS3. If you only buy $4 worth of programming because of the extra space, they've instantly made that money back.

Jonathon Blow gave a presentation called Design Reboot. I only read what other people took away from it, so I don't know everything he said, but I do know that he discussed the insidious power of WoW to keep people addicted to shiny fake things. I'm sure I'm just overblowing the threat because all the ideas are new and scary to me, but I see combining this with user created content and facebook friend tracking as something of an apocalypse.

If every time I friended someone in WoW, it kept me updated on all the quests they completed, all the new gear they were picking up, and all the PvP rewards they were getting, that would be bad enough. But what if it was actually integrated into something like facebook, so I'd also be finding out about their tastes in movies, music, etc. "This guy I met in WoW turned me on to this great nerdcore rapper and this awesome Japanese DS game I never heard of."

This sort of thing already happens with chatty people, but automating it takes it to a new level. First off, some people don't like chatty people, but when they can feel like they're spying on them, will spend hours online doing so. Second, that information is always available, so the chatty people don't have to even be online. Third, even people who aren't chatty but have interesting tastes will become more interesting because that fact won't have to be pulled out of them in awkward conversation.

I'm still confused about this because I'm trying to tackle new, complicated ideas here. So I'll just spit out some random bullet points and wrap up for now.

I'm new to social networking, but it's power is obvious.

Ever since arcade games had high scores, competitive social interaction has been a key part of games.

Ever since MUDs, user created content has also been a driving force for a much smaller population.

Services like Steam Friends and Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network seem to be putting gaming into a social networking context.

Adding these things together, marketers don't even have to ask us what we want, then sell it to us. We make the products and sell it to ourselves, while they take a percentage.

Addiction to novelty, addiction to appearing well informed, and addiction to consuming seem to be driving forces here. As someone who scans a few hundred items from gaming news RSS feeds daily, I think I know something about these things. Oy.

Little Big Planet Concerns

A lot of the folks on the 1UP Yours podcast seemed to be voting for Little Big Planet as game of the show. I love platformers. I'm a huge fan of user created content. Why am I not excited about LBP?

2D platformers past the Genesis / SNES era seemed to get worse, rather than better. (I guess this would be a good time to shout out to Patrick Klepek as the one person on the podcast who voted for the ultra retro Mega Man 9 as the best game of E3 2008. This is somewhat surprising when you consider that when the first Mega Man games were coming out he wasn't even in kindergarten yet.)

The more realistic graphics of later 2D platformers often made it harder to judge jumps and attacks. The gameplay generally got more complicated just to have bullet points on the box. It wasn't actually more fun. And once physics get into the mix, things tend to get even less precise. This lack of precision means that levels have to be more forgiving, or the player has to be more cautious. While this might work for a horror platformer (as horror games are mostly action games with hobbled controls), I don't see it being fun for the lighter image of Little Big Planet. (Yes, I know one of the people who works on the game is looking forward to the horror maps users will create. I'm not basing a purchase (of a console) on some potential content.) So while I usually trust Garnett and the 1UP crew's taste, my experience with the genre keeps my hopes in check.

I'm also curious about the hands on time the press has been given. Was it all co-op? Co-op can make up for a multitude of flaws. It can also be hard to organize once players actually get the game home. And it can also lose its luster in an hour or two of play.

I'm also very concerned about people getting really excited over user created content. Quality game design is a huge amount of work, and perhaps more importantly, rework. Having to throw out large amounts of stuff you thought would be awesome can quickly become demoralizing. There'll always be a few geniuses with too much time on their hands. But content needs to be a steady stream to really hold people's attention.

If Sony and Media Molecule are smart, there'll be as many or more people supporting LBP than worked on it. If they can add a lot of social networking features into the game (so you can see what levels your friends have been playing, when they change outfits, when they create new content, when they've uploaded new gameplay videos to YouTube (which was already announced to be a feature of the game), etc.) and do a really good job of finding and promoting not just the best content, but also the best content creators, so that people start subscribing to their content feeds and talking about who's cool and who's not on forums, then the game could have a very long tail, even if the gameplay is only mildly amusing.

Additionally, Sony announced that users can charge other users real money for their content. I don't care how good a level designer is, I can't imagine I'd rather pay for LBP content than buy a new game. It's not like there's an LBP level grind or some other persistent reward to keep people hooked, is there? There probably is.

I don't know. I just feel alone and out of it for being a LBP doubter. Hopefully it'll be at PAX and I can be converted, or at least know that I genuinely disagree with most of the gaming press.

22 July, 2008

Kaz Hirai Annoys Me

Kaz is the top muckety muck for Sony's game division. As a Sony executive, it's apparently part of his job description to make up nonsensical spin and lies. As such, I should probably just ignore him. But I didn't and thought that taking a rage dump might help me get his nonsense out of my head.

He's been trying to cast Sony as benevolent for phasing out the 40GB PS3 and replacing it with the 80GB unit at the same price. I checked out the appropriate 40GB and 80GB drives on newegg. At the time I checked, there was a four dollar difference between a 40GB and 80GB drive. We are apparently supposed to be grateful that he worked so hard not to raise the price of the system ONE PERCENT!

&*#@ing moron.

And today he's talking about how the PS2 is still going strong, while the Xbox and Gamecube aren't on shelves anymore. First off, the Wii actually has backwards compatibility, so it is on store shelves and outselling the PS2 and PS3 combined. Second, if the PS3 gets creamed as badly as the Xbox and Gamecube did, you'll drop it just as fast, if not faster.

Considering you already dropped PS2 backwards compatibility, we know you have no respect for history, just money. And that's fine. That's your job. You don't have to be a bad person to do it well.

20 July, 2008

And One More Thing

Dr. Horrible probably would have been fine if they'd just filmed it all hand held and embraced the cheesiness. I'm just sayin'.

19 July, 2008

Dr. Horrible

So I just watched Dr. Horrible. There was a twist at the end. I didn't get it, so it's running again in the background. Hopefully I'll catch it this time. Regardless, at the end of the day, it probably couldn't have met my unreasonably high expectations. I wish someone had adjusted them for me. I suppose I could have if I'd read more about it, but I wanted to be surprised.

Oh well. It was great to see Nathan Fillion, David Fury, Marti Noxon, and Mike Massa again. (Not that I could tell it was Mike until the credits, of course.) Oh, and seeing the Mutant Enemy logo again was nice too.

Okay, it ran again. It wasn't really a twist. It was just indicating a character's feelings in a jarring way. But since I already knew that's how he felt, it was confusing.

Part of me wants to talk out my feelings (which is the part that will win, but hear me out), and part of me wants to leave it to the rest of the internet. They're smarter than I am, after all. They'll see things that I don't, and express feelings I forgot I had. But that doesn't stop me from having them. And writing makes my feelings go away. Sweet, sweet, oblivion.

I'm guessing the main problem was schedule. Rehearsal schedule as well as shooting. It just seems like a lot of people didn't understand how their characters were supposed to feel or what the gag was supposed to be. It felt half hearted. I know it wasn't. It was the opposite, a labor of love. But love, poorly expressed, can be very off-putting.

This is where I would start getting more specific, but Joss Whedon knows what doesn't work. The actors know what doesn't work. And the truth is, Firefly made the fans so die hard that they'll hold sing alongs and live events that will be far better than the film itself. In a better world, Joss would always have a series (or two) on the air. In this world, I just get a little sadder. Meh.

16 July, 2008

E3 2008: Post Press Conference Quagmire

Okay, so it sounds like the add on for Nintendo's new motion controller is a gyroscope. By pulling together accelerometer, infra red, and gyroscope data, the Wiimote will give much better tracking data. How much better remains to be seen. And since the thing will be sold with Wii Sports Beach Games next spring, there's really nothing to care about yet. Microsoft or Sony could still eat Nintendo's lunch.

Sony put up their video on demand service. I know Xbox Live had some video on demand, but I honestly have no idea how the services currently stack up or will stack up after Microsoft's other partner deals go through.

For me to care about video on demand, there'd have to be something I want to watch. Battlestar Galactica is far too bleak to own. I have no tolerance for fiction that's stingy with details (Robert Jordan's corpse, I'm looking at you.), so Lost is out. And Heroes might be worth seeing. But I know they had two crappy episodes before the writers strike, and that's the last I heard. I guess I'm veering off topic, but the truth is, the biggest part of E3 is done.

With the press conferences over most of what I'm doing is reading impressions of game demos. There are a million trailers, too, but anything can look good in a trailer. I want gameplay footage or the written impressions of someone who spent time with the game. And even then, things change. The demo for Uncharted I played at PAX last year was awful, but reviewers (who also hated that demo) say the game was extensively reworked and turned out great.

Still, it's always scary to see stuff like this Resistance 2 demo. The events feel painfully contrived. The demo player anticipates an event that doesn't look like it could be survived by anyone who didn't have prior knowledge. There's a lot of boring jogging through uninteresting environments (that's probably supposed to be suspenseful), and the player gets hurled for absurd distance. There's no falling damage in the game ever, right? Because if there is, this sequence is so reality breaking as to be offensive. You are not Kojima! Do not pretend you are!

Considering Resistance 2 is the PS3's big shooter this fall, Insomniac will undoubtedly be earning its name, working all hours to get this game ready. Here's hoping.

Borderlands had a similar poor showing, at least as Shawn Elliot and Jeff Green described it on the GFW Radio podcast. Gearbox is apparently still trying to sell the fact that the game has a random gun generator. I would like to sing you the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (with a tip of the hat to Billy West and John DiMaggio).


Anyway, Giant Bomb just put up another podcast of E3 impressions. The sacrifices I make for you people. :P

14 July, 2008

E3 2008: Microsoft Press Conference

These are my impressions based on Chris Kohler's Live Blog of the event.

It looks like Microsoft is making good progress in this area. NBC, Universal, and Netflix now all have deals to provide content. They made it sound like Netflix subscribers will be able to download anything they could download on the PC to their 360 instead. This must be why their clearancing 20GB units to replace them with 60GB ones. 20GB don't hold much movies.

Microsoft has copied Nintendo Miis. Apparently you can have them stand around, chat, and share photos. Since Nintendo is scared to death of child predators, Microsoft may be able to do a lot more with Miis than they were. They may actually show up in 3rd party games, for example.

They announce "Xbox Live Primetime", where people can play game shows for real prizes. There's also a Scene It (movie trivia) game.

There's an Eye Toy like app called "You're In The Movies" where you can use the Xbox Vision Cam to put you and your friends into ridiculous situations and make silly movies of it.

And Banjo-Kazooie cart building and Viva PiƱata 2 round out the family friendly offerings.

There's also all the music games (Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and the new karaoke game Lips).

I must say, Microsoft certainly appears to be making a better effort in this space. I don't think this will help them catch up with Wii, but it may be enough to help them regain the lead over the PS3 in the US and maybe catch up somewhat in Europe.

Game News
Resident Evil 5 will have online co-op. That's pretty awesome.

Final Fantasy XIII will be simultaneously released on the 360. That's huge. Well, it would have been huge if Final Fantasy fans hadn't already bought PS3s in preparation. Still, losing exclusivity on Final Fantasy is a big enough deal to actually weaken the PlayStation brand. I wonder how much it cost them?

Microsoft didn't talk about price, but as I alluded to earlier, they're clearancing 20GB units at $300. Once those are gone, it'll be $350 to get an Xbox worth owning again. (Of course, with the red ring problems of the older units, I personally don't consider the clearanced units worth owning either.) Since both MS and Sony are losing money on their games businesses, we may not see price drops for a while. And neither one is at the price point that allows for mass market adoption. This is gonna be a long console cycle.

Update 14 July 2008 16:44 PST
Giant Bomb mentions that you will now be able to install 360 games to the hard drive. You need the DVD in the drive to verify you still have the game, but after that the whine of the DVD drive should be gone, and load times will be far quicker. Does that also mean less pop-in for GTA IV? How many bugs can we expect from this? This'll be interesting.

E3 2008: Microsoft Motion Controller Superiority Disconfirmed

Wow. Is my face red. Not only did Microsoft not announce any new motion controller, Nintendo did.

What the #%&*?


It tracks arm position? What does that even mean?

We won't find out until Nintendo's press conference tomorrow.

After last year's E3, when nothing I cared about happened, it's nice to see it as a venue for big announcements again.

13 July, 2008

Review: Blacksite: Area 51

3 of 5

<Farnsworth>Ho hu wha?</Farnsworth> But people hated that game? You yourself bought it for five dollars and it hasn't been out for a year yet! And that's the same score you gave to Stalker! You pig!

All my belly aching and indignation aside, I enjoyed Blacksite. The gameplay is straightforward FPS fare. Guys pop up; you shoot them. Occasionally they shoot back enough that you have to take cover. Blacksite is another victim of its own hype (see Jericho). It was billed as being edgy and topical, but it's really a standard conspiracy plot. The government did some bad stuff that blew up in its face, and you have to clean it up. It's just an excuse to shoot stuff and doesn't get in the way, well, mostly.

See this guy? He's showing you a picture of his daughter. Plus he's black. Plus he believes in the government. I would have preferred it if he'd just worn a big neon sign that said "I'm going to die."

Plus look at the ridiculous lighting. The highlights have nothing to do with where the light is coming from, and if you look at the full size version you can see that the shadows on the ground and the self shadowing on the white guy's face are being done on a low res grid. I find it distracting. Of course, this game was made using the Unreal engine, so almost everything in the game looks like it was "pooped out by the Vaseline Monster" (to steal a phrase from 1UP's Shawn Elliot).

It's amazing the vehicle gets any traction at all. :P

So, as per usual, I'm my own worst enemy. I'd like it if games were more innovative, but I really didn't mind it that Blacksite wasn't. Then again, I bought it for five bucks off of GoGamer, so my standards are lower, and no game company is licensing the Unreal engine to pursue the five dollar game market.

11 July, 2008

Microsoft Motion Controller Superiority Confirmed

by this Wired Game|Life article. Basically, Johnny Lee, the mad genius who released YouTube videos on how to use the Wii Remote for crazy stuff like Minority Report style interfaces and 3D displays is now working at Microsoft. I'm actually not certain they have anything ready to show at E3, based on Lee's comments, but between Patrick Klepek's initial story on MTV News and the recent Banjo Kazooie promo video that shows Ken Lobb saying you twist the controller to use a wrench, it's looking like it's only a matter of time.

At the end of the day, all I'm saying in this article is that I have tremendous faith in Johnny Lee and dearly hope that a quality motion controller on one of the more powerful consoles will finally get some developer love.

And speaking of people I have tremendous faith in, Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible will be coming out in three installments on July 15, 17, and 19. It will be awesome. And it will be taken down on July 20th! If you miss it, you suck. But be honest, secretly, we already knew you suck, right?

(Yes. I am baiting you. Just watch the damn thing when I tell you to.)

08 July, 2008

Review: Stalker

3 of 5

Why so low?

I'm not sure. I'm not convinced it doesn't deserve a four. Well, obviously I am. I posted the three. The thing is, I still admire a lot of what the game tried to do, what it did. The atmosphere was truly impressive. The wrecked environments were fabulous. Check out this screenshot.

Half-Life 2 (also big on post cold war style decay) wishes it had as many flavors of cracked, crumbled, stained, warped, and rusted.

The outdoor environments are less interesting, but computers suck at plants, so that's to be expected. The occasional rains and winds (made visible with clouds of dust and leaves) helped some.

And what happened in those environments was pure apocalypse. Different factions of bandits would vie for control of structures and territories. Packs of mutated animals would take down lone humans or fight each other. Bizarre anomalies pulse, glow, shimmer, and crackle ominously, catching unaware animals and bandits alike. And when nothing was going on, people would talk or play guitar to pass the time. Various fixers and factions provided missions of dubious morality. And since the guns and armor in the game would constantly degrade and a Stalker has to eat (literally, you have to intake a certain amount of food or starve), these missions held a definite attraction. And your highly limited carrying capacity, meant that if you wanted to sell all the gear that dropped off of enemies, you'd have to make multiple long trips. It also meant that running out of ammo or medical supplies or anti-radiation drugs or food were all risks that had to be managed. I could go on, but if this doesn't establish the setting of the game for you, probably nothing can.

Yet it was undercut with weirdness like magical hiding bushes, enemies never using grenades but frequently dropping them as loot, enemies wearing all kinds of armor but never dropping it as loot, painfully artificial enemy spawning, arbitrarily timed missions, combat that revolves almost entirely around head shots, and enemies that spawn on top of you when you load a saved game. All of these things left me frustrated and disappointed. But at the end of the day, the feeling of being both predator and prey in this harsh world was an experience worth having.

06 July, 2008

Scope the Ennui

I'm pursuing the following activities to shake the ennui (boredom).

1) I bought my airline tickets and reserved my room for PAX.

Last years PAX was a revelatory experience. I forgot how much fun it was to be around gamers. The fact that I also got to get hands on time with unreleased games, hear Wil Wheaton's awesome keynote, listen to nerd bands, and see Gabe and Tycho were all secondary benefits. I suppose I should just get some proper gaming friends, but that's never gonna happen.

2) I'm looking to see what E3 is bringing.

Here's a rundown of everything in Next Gen's top 30 I currently know enough to care about.


Seriously. There are two games we might play at a future LAN party (Left 4 Dead and Borderlands). The rest of it might be wonderful, but until it's in my hands, it's just the same empty promises all over again. Let's review.

30. Rise of the Argonauts
Another beat 'em up.

29. High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance

28. Borderlands
Mad Max on an alien planet. With so many guns that it's guaranteed I'll never get one that suits me perfectly.

27. Mortal Kombat vs. DC
Plumbing new depths in stunt casting.

26. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
A game I'm already bored of, only prettier.

25. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
No Jedi Knight game has been good, so far. Only tolerable.

24. Beyond Good and Evil 2
Won't be out this year.

23. Lock’s Quest
An RPG that lets you reshape the world. Will it be as fun as Rocket Slime?

22. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
I got bored with the first Puzzle Quest by just playing the demo.

21. Crysis: Warhead
I got bored with the Crysis by just playing the demo.

20. Tomb Raider Underworld
I tried to play Tomb Raider Anniversay on GameTap and got bored.

19. Sonic Unleashed
Sonic died to me a long time ago. If after a decade the best you can hope for is that it will be as good as a game which wasn't as fun as Mario back in the early 90s, what's the point?

18. MadWorld
God Hand developers do a Sin City styled beat 'em on the Wii. At best, I'm hoping for it to be as good as God Hand. I'm not holding out hope, though.

17. Animal Crossing Wii
Nintendo hasn't even said they're going to announce this. And I let my original Animal Crossing town go to seed a long time ago. Games that require me to play them are not games, they're jobs.

16. Left 4 Dead
Since we enjoy Zombie Master at the network parties, I'm guessing we'll like Left 4 Dead. I don't expect to play it at any other time.

15. Resistance 2
I loved the Ratchet and Clank games. I hope Insomniac does well with this one. But nothing I've heard makes me want to play it, and I listen to the friggin' Insomniac podcast.

14. Killzone 2
Everything I've read about this game is graphics focused. The gameplay videos I've watched are bland.

13. Fable 2
It's from Molyneux, so it's automatically overhyped. And Fable 1 made me feel empty and alone, not an experience I want to pay for.

12. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
I've never been into C&C. I tried the FPS because I love FPS, but it was crap.

11. Far Cry 2
Between Crysis and Stalker, my enthusiasm for open world games has been well crushed.

10. Prince of Persia
I've had the third of the new Prince of Persia games sitting on my desk for what, two years now? That's epic scale apathy.

9. Final Fantasy XIII
Oh please. I still can't believe I finished FF9. I haven't played an FF game since. And I haven't missed them.

8. Street Fighter IV
Maybe if Dan's in it I'll fish it out of the bargain bin to play through his wacky story.

7. Rock Band 2
I bought Rock Band cheap on Amazon and, thanks to a crappy mic, never finished the single player on Medium. I can't imagine why I should care about the sequel.

6. LittleBigPlanet
A platformer that supports custom avatars and user made levels. It looks like a powerful tool, but none of the gameplay has actually looked fun yet.

5. Halo Wars
I'm bored enough with Halo that I often forget Halo 3 ever got released and that I should maybe play through it someday. On the other end of the spectrum, I found my old DVD with I Love Bees burned on it and had a hard time tearing myself away. It might be a decent console RTS, but not having a 360 makes it extra hard to care.

4. Spore
I'm not sure this is even a game. Make a creature. Help it thrive. It sounds like another one of those building games I might enjoy once in a blue moon. I dinked around with the free creature creator and was immediately bored.

3. Gears of War 2
kill.switch again, huh? I don't know. I only just barely touched Gears on PC, but it immediately felt awful. kill.switch was actually better. Maybe it was just the wrong platform, but it made me lose all enthusiasm for Gears.

2. Resident Evil 5
Meh. RE4 was solid, if clumsy (as all horror games are). But the game won't be out this year, and I probably won't buy it until the year after that.

1. Fallout 3
Oblivion, despite it's promising start, devolved into another boring grind. This game, from the same developer, has made a lot of big promises. Considering one of my main problems with Oblivion was that its grand vision made it feel like no game elements were honed enough to be fun, I'm not holding out much hope for Fallout 3.

There you go. The most anticipated games for E3 and I'm so jaded I can't care about any of them. Part of me says I just need something crazier, that fortune 500 companies don't release the kind of madness I need to get me out of my rut. But I've been following the indie releases (at least the ones Game Set Watch post about) and they don't do it either. To bastardize a quote of dubious origin, "Your [game] is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

I think I need a vacation from gaming.

Embrace the Ennui

I've been embracing the ennui (boredom) by playing Wurm. Even using the word playing seems completely out of place. Wurm is more like a boredom simulator. The developer has created this giant virtual world where you basically start with an axe a shovel and a mining pick. Now go create a civilization.

A player starts with virtually no skill in anything, so everything takes forever. Since some Penny Arcade folks have a civilization, I figured I'd go bore myself into oblivion doing some grunt work for them. I moved thousands of pounds of dirt for a temple foundation. I tried my hand at cooking and pottery. I only once managed to make one dish my character would eat. But then my character refuses to eat hand picked berries when he's starving, so he's apparently some kind of food critic caveman. I hacked a few trees into logs, then sawed the logs into planks and performed maintenance on some buildings.

Everything in the game (tools, structures, even piles of dirt) deteriorates, so it's not enough to build houses and temples and weapons and tools. Then you have to maintain and improve your houses and temples and weapons and tools. And roads. You have to maintain roads, too. And carts so you can carry all of this stuff around. And boats because we live on an island and may need resources from the mainland.

There's a certain sense of accomplishment, I'm sure, from being able to point and say "I did that! I made that from nothing!" And I appreciate that. It seems like once every year or two, I'll enjoy picking up a building game like Roller Coaster Tycoon and try to make some virtual people happy. One of the nice things about Wurm was that I was able to make some real people somewhat pleased. That was good. It was something of a palette cleanser. Now it's time to see if I can't get interested again.

03 July, 2008

Profoundly Bored (Stalker)

I've still been playing a bit of Stalker. I have some issues with the game, but I'll probably still dink around with it because I don't have anything else I feel like playing. I mean, I've got a pile of games to play. I always have a pile of games to play. But none of them interest me. If someone handed me a copy of GTA IV (for the PC), I'd play it, but I wouldn't be enthusiastic. I'm just burned out right now.

I'm still keeping up with gaming news and various podcasts, but I'm getting a feeling I haven't had for two years. Two years ago, just before E3, I was depressed about gaming. Everything felt the same. Once E3 showed up, the Wii announcement gave me hope. But publishers, and more disappointingly developers, didn't care. I don't blame them. Publishers go where the money is, and third party Wii games, even highly acclaimed ones like Boom Blox, don't do great sales. And hardcore developers are interested in technical challenges, not user interface ones.

But as a result, I find it really hard to care about what's going on in gaming. Admittedly, there are a couple specific examples that have really highlighted exactly how much I don't care recently. Maybe I just need to talk them out to put them in perspective.

First off, Diablo 3 was announced. This is pretty huge news as Blizzard doesn't announce games very often. They built up a lot of hype. They showed off gameplay. People on the internet were so into it they started up petitions to argue whether the game was "too colorful".

I don't care. Diablo felt like a mindless click fest, and I never got past the demo. I didn't hear anything that sounded like Diablo 2 would change that, so I didn't bother. Titan Quest was called a worthy successor, but after the initial stages, I quickly tired of it. Diablo 3 actually looks like it might be a significant improvement. The special moves the character was pulling off made it look like there might actually be action. But with the way Blizzard makes games, it's probably at least two years off. Who cares?

There's a sequel to Stalker coming out soon. That's just completely depressing. I looked at a video showing off the better graphics. I just looked at and said, "It's the same game." I mean, it could be exactly the same game, tree for tree, building for building. Sure, it looks a little nicer, but what's the #%&*ing point? I'm not having fun with the original. I just got a new shotgun, and it couldn't kill a single enemy with four shots to the body. It's like the game has become entirely about head shots. Headshotty McHeadshot in the Land of the Eggshell Skulls. Again, I wouldn't mind a silly game like that, but this game isn't supposed to be silly.

I guess my problem is that the sequel appears to be addressing the element of the game I cared the least about. But I understand why. Everyone can see and have an opinion about graphics. But nobody knows about the gameplay until after the game is released. People sometimes dismiss a game by saying it looks like more of the same, but that's reserved to cases where they didn't enjoy the original. Because we generally accept and are happy with more of the same, there's not much incentive to innovate.

And I am still profoundly bored.

01 July, 2008

How Come You Don't Post? (Stalker)

Since I got back from vacation, I haven't been playing much. The promise of Oscuro's Oblivion mod wasn't being fulfilled and leveling the skills was boring. The same for AoE3: Asian Dynasties. The same for Rise of Legends.

I'm currently playing Stalker. But it's not really exciting either. It's actually surprisingly similar to Oblivion in the sense that it's a fairly large area to explore. But there are no skills or attributes to level. There's just better equipment.

It's better than Oblivion in that I can go back to the newbie areas and clean house. But that's a complete waste of time, as they don't drop good loot. They don't even drop ammo I can use. My guns are too awesome for their wussy bullets. Plus my guns degrade every time I fire them. The newbie enemies are literally not worth the bullets it takes to kill them. Maybe it's not that much better than Oblivion, come to think of it.

But that's kind of the point. Stalker is supposed to reflect a very harsh environment. You actually have to eat fairly often to keep your strength up. You have a fairly small amount of equipment you can carry at one time. I only have one main gun (which is wearing out, but I'm having a hard time finding a good replacement) and one backup (which is in desperate need of an upgrade). I finally use a scope, so I can actually fight at a decent range. It does a good job of making me feel that I'm always behind the eight ball, trying to keep it together in a place that wants me extra dead. There is much saving.

To balance it out, the AI is completely incapable of dealing with green foliage. Brown foliage they can see right through. #%& brown foliage. But the green stuff. That stuff is magic. My favorite is the dead guy Xmas tree. At one of the checkpoints I had to pass in the game, there was a fir tree nearby. I was seen by the guards and hid under it. They walked to where they had last seen me. I shot them. I had to go by that point many times.

When I'm in a bush, with a dozen guys circling like sharks, I'm very aware of how ridiculous the scenario is, but fighting a dozen guys straight up is suicide, so I hide in a bush.

I feel like I should love that. It sounds like my kind of crazy. If there was a game about taking out dozens of guys while hiding in bushes, I would put down my money in a heartbeat. But it undercuts the grittiness of the rest of the game, so it annoys me instead. Maybe when the bad guys get grenades (or finally think to use the ones I keep looting off of their corpses), it will stop being a viable strategy. I'm not looking forward to that. But we'll see.