Aug 31, 2009

God of War Collection Arrives This Holiday

GodofWarCollection

In response to feedback, Sony is publishing a God of War collection set for release this holiday season. Filled to the brim with more slaughter, the collection will feature God of War and God of War II on a single blu-ray disc. Both titles will be remastered in 720p high-definition format as well as anti-aliased graphics running at a slick 60 frames per second. Kratos and his endless supply of devastation will also include Playstation Network trophies integrated into both titles. At a mere $40, this is a perfect opportunity for newcomers and fans alike wishing to brush up on the series mythology before God of War III releases in 2010.

Microsoft Investigates French ODST Release Breach

ODST France

Prior to any game launch, there is always the chance of a broken street date. Obviously, the more places on the globe the game is released, the greater chance for a pre-release fiasco of some kind. While copies of Halo 3: ODST were waiting to be sold in France, an odd thing happened. They were sold. Microsoft, during the initial panic stated via Kotaku, “We are investigating a very small breach in our distribution process around the early delivery of ‘Halo 3: ODST‘ units. We are also investigating Xbox LIVE accounts that show activity related to ‘Halo 3: ODST‘ and will take action against those we believe have procured copies of the game illegitimately. We have nothing further to share at this time.”

While at first being very vague on the topic, leaving many to wonder exactly what the pending repercussions were Microsoft’s Stephen Toulouse had this to say, “”we will not be banning legitimate customers from Xbox Live who play early”. So, if you were able to get your hands on a legitimate copy of ODST by living in France, good for you.

Microsoft is still conducting an investigation to decipher exactly how this occurred as the amount of copies sold in roughly over a hundred. Moreover, it is refreshing to know that action will not be taken against those who obtained the copy legally. Those who obtain the copy illegally may ultimately still feel the power of the XBL ban hammer.

Aug 27, 2009

Section 8 Demo Impression

So Section 8 is coming out tomorrow and after playing the demo a few times I have some thoughts I would like to share. To kick things off, it is one of those multiplayer titles that feels like Unreal Tournament or Team Fortress. Actually, to be honest, it feels a bit like the two of them had a twisted screaming child together, had it taken away from them by birth and raised by Robert Heinlein who actively encouraged it to play with others. I think that sums it up relatively well. Granted, it was only a demo, but there were several things the little slice of the game did really great and a piece or two that felt like a spoiled pumpkin pie to the stomach.

Enough of these food allegories though, let's get down to business.

Section 8 takes place several hundred years in the future where mankind has set out to colonize the stars. However, when one of those planets rebel in the form of the Arm of Orion, mankind once again sets out from Earth to kick ass and take names. Deriving their name from the old US Army term for soldiers who are mentally unfit for duty due to the reasoning that they are essentially crazy, Section 8 gives off the same vibe at times, but it never feels like madness in the Eternal Darkness kind of way. And that's good, because it isn't what I want. Once the main cinematic rolls and the title screen appears, you're given the choice for a few options. You can begin an instant action round, which much like Unreal Tournament throws you into a match with bots, and you can literally jump right into combat. Corde's Story follows Alex Corde, a member of Section 8. Story mode sounds like it will basically be a series of Instant Actions that have cinematics spliced between levels in which you've kicked sufficient amounts of ass and taken the amount of names deemed necessary by your commanding officer. Finally, you can take the game online for some carnage against something that is being controlled by a player with a pulse. Multiple gameplay options and maps, many of which were unavailable in the demo only serve to drive my curiousity forward.

Once you've chosen a gameplay mode, be it instant action, online or story, you're presented with a screen that allows you to choose a loadout. This is where the Team Fortress feeling came into play because there are multiple character classes, none of which will feel daunting to anyone who has played a team-centric shooter in the past. There is standard Infantry, Engineer, Guardian, which functions in the same manner as heavy support, Medic, Recon, etc and each of these can have their individual loadouts modified. Therefore, no matter what class you want to play as they can customized and tailored to your particular style of play before dropping into the combat zone, which I confess is one of the coolest spawn features I have ever seen in a video game.

Prior to spawning, you will be presented with a map of the currently engaged combat area. There are red icons, signifying the enemy, as well as blue icons, which identify allies. Additionally, there are blue and red circles on the map that extend a certain radius from the bases that are currently in control of whichever side, these are the range of the AA guns. Now, dropping from the sky is hazardous enough, but when Anti-air guns come into play, it become particularly dicey. Should you choose to drop in range of AA guns, you can make it to the ground, however you're shields and possibly armor will have suffered damage and you'll have little to no breaking time before you hit the ground if you want to survive, making you easy pickings for any opponents defending their base. This won't always work though and should you drop too deep into AA gun range, you'll be getting ready to respawn even before you hit the ground. But as I said, this single unique play mechanic may be the deciding factor in what drives me to pick up Section 8.

Once on the ground, there are various locations on the map as well as different objectives that can be activated at any time. There are computer centers from which players can hack their way into controlling a facility, and taking a note from several multiplayer titles, the more players in the vicinity the faster it seems to come under the assaulting teams control. There are armories and indoor areas, but these merely serve to change up the scenery and don't really give the map I was able to play any further life. As far as objectives, there are convoys, intel and vip missions that occur at random times on the map all within the same game round, so it is always changing up. This felt confusing at first, but the more I listened to the in-game announcements, the easier it got to know when they would occur. Moreover, the combat felt very fluid and really didn't feel clunky, but it did take some getting used to at first.

After all, any title, especially shooters have a slight learning curve. Section 8 has a curve, but it didn't take that long to get the hang of it. The shooting feels a bit odd at first, but zooming in and even locking on become second nature after a round or so. Melee feels smooth as does the ability to go into a dead run before activating jump jets to do some shooting mid-air. While I was initially cynical that this would merely be a game wrapped around the sole gimmick of the drop, having grown up reading Starship Troopers, I was happy to see that wasn't the case. Overall, this does feel above average as a shooter, but I am loathe to admit that without playing against other people it could grow repetitive.

Ultimately, as with other titles, it is the little things that set them apart. Team Fortress had the team dynamic. Every class supporting the other created a stronger whole and won games, which is what make TF so much damn fun to play even to this day. Unreal Tournament is frantic arena combat that keeps on going until the score limit is reached. I would like to think that combined with the drop spawn, this could very well serve as a potential best of both worlds. However, only time and the final product, which I decided part of the way through this to follow through on and pick up. Here's hoping fortune favors innovation.

--Andrew
now how do i land on someone and kill them.

The Coolest Dad in Gaming?

diablo-3

Jay Wilson, Director of Diablo III, may very well be the coolest dad gaming has ever known. Despite working on a dungeon-crawling RPG that is chocked full of violence and gore, this hasn’t phased Wilson in his decision to allow his nine-year-old daughter to play Diablo III at Blizzcon this past weekend.

Having sold more than 18 million copies worldwide over the past decade, Diablo became a household name amongst gamers for visceral violence spanned across brutal dungeons and epic quests. Regardless of the sheer amount of blood, Diablo III is not without the features that have made it stand out as a franchise. The isometrically balanced viewpoint is back, along with a fixed camera that consistently allows the player to see the action. The dungeons and items, which are still randomly generated, have returned as well. All this combined with the new art style have many believing this could be a third coming for Diablo.

It was interesting when Wilson commented to Wired, “I feel like for every parent you have to make a choice about what kind of content is appropriate for your child and at what age. At a certain age, I wouldn’t have let her play a game like Diablo because of the violence. And honestly, I paused before letting her play. It’s hard when I work on it though, and she wants to see what I do; I don’t really want to deprive her of that. I know my daughter well enough to know that I didn’t think she’d have any problem handling it. That being said, I don’t let her see games that have any guns in them or first-person shooters that have violence. That, to me, is a little too personal. And so, that’s where I draw the line. I think it’s got to be a really personal choice that everyone makes.” Parents taking a simple step towards filtering the content that their children see in interactive entertainment is always a laudable act. But when he describes his daughter as a, “rainbows-and-unicorns kind of girl, all across the board” then it becomes fascinating knowing she is interested in Diablo III, which contains scenes depicting Monk on Demon violence of the highest Matrix-like order.

But, while there has been a minor alterations, independent of the violence, in the art style sparking some criticism the video above seems like exoneration enough as it emits a hallow glowing aura of Diablo, beckoning to potential mouse-clicking adventurers and casual PC enthusiasts alike. Clearly, you can repackage entertaining, accessible gameplay, but it isn’t too difficult to comprehend why Wilson doesn’t mind his little girl playing. Even though there are demons that stab themselves in the chest to explode, causing damage to the player, there are things that are apparently too bloody.

Wilson describes a move in which the player literally hits an enemy so hard that their skeleton is knocked free of their body, “we have this cool system where we can hit a dude so hard that his skeleton flies out. It was awesome, really cool-looking. And we added several skills that did that; every time you hit somebody, their skeletons fly out. But I have to say, it got a little boring after a while! It became a little excessive. It took away the coolness of it. And so there, we felt like our overuse of it actually de-emphasized it, and we didn’t like that. We were like, “No, if we want to push the skeleton out of somebody, we want it to be a big deal.” I want to really like see it, and I want it to be a special event. And that’s probably the main way we’ve toned ourselves down, is to go back and say, let’s not go so overboard, that there’s nothing cool about the violence.”

I’m certain though that there are people who would disagree, believing that it has the potential to be cool every single time. But, it boils down to the developers and the choices they are willing to make about the content put in their game. By not toning down the violent act itself as much as the frequency in which the player is able to see it makes it that much more enthralling when it finally is shown.

Further discussing content changes required for various territories, Wilson stated, “Definitely for regions like Germany and Australia, we will have to change blood if we’re going to sell there. And that’s fine. Those are the standards for those regions, and we don’t really have a problem with catering to what they need and what they want. But China’s going to be hard for us. Because a lot of the restrictions there are really… we may not be able to do them.” which is somewhat disappointing because if World of Warcraft is any indication, Diablo III could be a huge blockbuster title there. But regardless of the content, it seems there will be a parental control in-game, opening up accessibility for parents and children alike. Therefore, regardless of the blood and gore, parents are still able to delineate between what they want their kids to see and what they do not what them to see.

Personally, I think this is a step in the right direction for games and the platforms on which they are played. Nevertheless, Wilson is the game director of a mature title and knowing the violence it encompasses as well as a parent who has made a conscious choice to allow his daughter to play it shows a conscientious effort on his part. He as a parent has judged what his daughter can handle and how it would overall affect her character as a person. So, while it may not make him the coolest dad in gaming if he one day disagrees with something his child wants to play, it will definitely make him the most responsible. I wish parents would make the effort he does when it comes to the games their children play.

Aug 26, 2009

Top 10 Xbox Games You Can Play on 360

Be it backwards compatibility or stuffed somewhere in the Games on Demand service via Xbox Live, these are titles that shouldn’t be missed, regardless of being on the Xbox or not. So, sit back, relax and get ready for a brief lesson in what exactly a classic is and why you should spend some hard earned points and time investing in them. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

10. Manhunt - Carcer City was a terrible place as it was, throw waking up there with “The Director” in your head and being tasked with snuffing out the hunters before they get you, and that just made it a downright nightmare. Coined as a third-person stealth action title, Manhunt allowed you to do what Solid Snake couldn’t, snuff people out in some of the most gruesome ways possible. Visceral in its design and utterly terrifying for the main character, a former-death row prison inmate trying to rescue his family, the game is easily discernible as a Rockstar title. Increasingly immersive was the ability for gamers to distract those hunting the main character by speaking into the Xbox microphone on the headset, effectively reminding players to pause before sneezing. Despite being somewhat eclipsed by the unwarranted controversy its sequel garnered, Manhunt is still immeasurably fun to play and shouldn’t be missed.

9. Mortal Kombat: Deception - The last great Mortal Kombat title before Midway truly started going downhill; Deception distinguished itself in the realm of replayability as few of its predecessors could ever hope to do so. Konquest mode, which follows the quest of Shujinko, gave an epic feel to the entire Mortal Kombat universe. While it was criticized for poor voice acting, the overall action and fleshed out storyline of Konquest gave single players an alternate option from Arcade Mode. Furthermore praised by several publications for its tight controls and concise stringing of combos together, Deception easily captured several “best fighting game” awards. In addition to amount of playable characters and the ability to select between various fighting styles made the game really damn fun and in comparison to some later iteration of the series, still stands up very well.

8. Jet Set Radio Future (JSRF) - Some years ago there was a game called Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast and this is as close as you’re ever going to get to it if you want to play it on a 360. Set in a future where free expression has been outlawed, playing as a skater who goes around town tagging, tripping up guards and generally causing mayhem is a lot more fun than I originally thought it could be. But it is, and it really doesn’t get old, even after the credits roll. The music is great, the art style is spectacular and the gameplay is something that I could put next to Tony Hawk’s Ride and still walk away playing JSRF.

7. Panzer Dragoon Orta - Panzer Dragoon was always an amazing series and regardless of the nostalgia factor in its favor, any self-respecting gamer has to play this game at least once. One of the best rail shooters I have ever played, the game follows Orta, a young girl who rides a dragon that can fire homing missile. Yes, the dragon can fire homing missiles. It can be expounded upon, but the basics are now covered. The mechanics are well done, allowing players to shoot to their hearts content, boss battles make the player feel a bit cramped but are overall well done. Received relatively well, there is no reason why this game should be forgotten.

6. Fable - While not the title that Peter Molyneux promised it would be, the game is still of great quality in its own right and now with Fable III on the horizon it would be interesting to go back and see where it all started. Stepping into the boots of an orphan rescued by a hero after your village is destroyed by bandits it’s clear to see that Fable doesn’t have the most original of introductions. However, what it does possess are some amazing moments and a really great time. The karma system for good and evil doesn’t exactly leave too much wiggle room on the moral gray areas, but the gameplay fills in the blanks pretty appropriates. More often than not I wasn’t concerned with being nice or not, just how many things I could kill with my lighting at once.

5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - More than just another Star Wars game, Bioware took this role-playing game and made something special out of it. Taking place 4,000 years before any of the events that have situated themselves into our pop culture in regards to Star Wars, you play a character who starts the game waking up on a Republic ship amidst a Sith attack. If this isn’t enough you get to add people to your party as you progress and the branching dialogue trees, which helped sway your alignment between light and dark, were pretty well done for the time. Combined with incredible storytelling and chained to the Star Wars universe in the best way possible, short of not enjoying rpgs, this game is vastly difficult to not enjoy.

4. Phantom Crash - Easily overshadowed by Mechassault, which unfortunately isn’t backwards compatible or available via Xbox Live, Phantom Crash was still exceptional in its own right. Comparable to a Forza except with mechs and instead of being like Armored Core was actually fun, there was little that couldn’t be had in Phantom Crash. Able to assume views from 3rd or 1st person were incredible given the detail and everything to be seen in game. The combat was fast while still satisfying along with the customization that shined in comparison to other titles at the time. Genki hit a home run with this title and I sincerely wish they would do a next-gen version.

3. Psychonauts - Nothing I can really say will do this game the justice it deserves. Tim Schafer knows how to make a fun video game. This will probably sum it up.

2. Crimson Skies - What if the United States not coming out of the Great Depression caused something really cool to occur, like say, the rise of sky pirates? Not just regular pirates, but freakin’ sky pirates. Crimson Skies pretty much nailed what a fun flight experience should be. Flying through missions, being able to land and man gun turrets on the fly, causes this game to be my number two selection if for no other reason than being one of the greatest lengths of fun I have ever had clutching an Xbox controller. Still in my collection to this day, I’ll occasionally find myself playing through the single player again at some dead hour of the evening. The storyline is something I would expect to coincide with Indiana Jones, the voice acting is spot on and the game mechanics are some of the most solid I have ever encountered. If FASA had been more spot on, they may have very well been able to collapse the universe in fun.

1. Halo / Halo 2 - Once upon a time there was a small company in Chicago named Bungie. They made a game that was so amazing that Microsoft bought them, moved them to Redmond and eventually constructed them as the main support structure of their entire Xbox experience. While Halo felt, at times, repetitive and was by no means perfect, it single-handedly gave Microsoft the legs to stand and fight in the console wars. Halo 2 added the multiplayer aspect, unforgettable and capable of staying power, even today years after even its sequel has released. But let’s face it; Bungie owed us an ending after Halo 2. Ultimately, being of the mind that there are no perfect games, there are few competitors to the paramount these two games are combined.

Bonus Round – The game Microsoft should port: Mechassault - Anyone who has played it will never forget it. Mechassault was the quintessential Xbox Live title. Yes, eventually Halo 2 would seize that spot and remain fixed as the Xbox Live game to play, but when Live was young and there weren’t as many games as there are now, you could always find a quick match in Mechassault. And yes, they were matter of the quick and dead. You either knew what you were doing or you didn’t and the single-player, while fun, was an introduction to give the player the skills to survive on live. Dear Microsoft, if you can hear me, bring this game over to Games on Demand. It wouldn’t be that difficult and I guarantee there is at least one person who would buy it.

--Andrew

i miss that huge controller

Microsoft “Destroyed” FASA Development Culture

Microsoft FASA

FASA was once one of the most notable game development studios in the industry for creating numerous titles based on original, noteworthy intellectual properties. Founded in 1980 by Jordan Weisman, the company published various tabletop games until getting into computer games in 1989 by licensing their Battletech franchise to Dynamix who published Mechwarrior that same year. FASA became distinguished in the industry for IPs such as Shadowrun, Earthdawn, Crimson Skies and Battletech among others. However, following acquisition by Microsoft in 1999 the development culture of FASA was, according to Weisman, “destroyed”.

Regarding the acquisition and transition into the Microsoft Game Studio culture, Weisman commented, “When Microsoft bought FASA Interactive and incorporated it into Microsoft… the two reasons they bought us was, one, they wanted the catalogue of intellectual properties and, two, they felt that we had developed a really good development culture. And the reality is that, pretty much from the day we moved to Redmond, that development culture was destroyed.”

Mechassault and Crimson Skies were both critically praised titles FASA developed for the Xbox. Given a track record for excellence, FASA ceasing operation in 2001 may confirm Weisman’s comment.

Aug 25, 2009

Perfect Dark on Xbox Live Eclipses Original

Perfect Dark 360

Created by the same team that had cobbled together the exceptional GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark didn’t exactly stumble out of the gate on to the Nintendo 64. A distinct, futuristic science fiction setting overlaid with a plot of corporate espionage set the title apart from other titles of the time. Requiring expanded memory for the N64 in order to take advantage of many of the games features, it introduced several game mechanics that have become common place in the industry. Co-op for instance allowed two players to play the entire campaign together, while an opposing forces mode gave the campaign a cleaver clever head-to-head atmosphere. Now that the game is being updated and released on Xbox Live Arcade, it may stand to overshadow the original embodiment.

Able to run in gorgeous 1080p at 60 frames per second should be enough to keep any Perfect Dark fan holding out with some Microsoft Points. To sweeten the deal, it is being released on Xbox Live with full online multiplayer.

Comparison screenshot showing the Nintendo 64 version against the Xbox 360 after the jump.

Perfect Dark 1

Halo 3: ODST Skulls ViDoc

Halo 3: ODST will be released on September 22, 2009 and is set to flesh out the details of what transpired back on Earth while the Master Chief was away battling the Covenant. Before you step into the boots of a rookie Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, the venerable Sergeant Major Avery Johnson would like to have a word or two.

Anyone who remembers the skulls from Halo 3 will immediately recognize them here. Skulls essentially are ways to add some spice to the gameplay with a twist of difficulty. Some when activated, ramp up the difficulty significantly causing players to wonder why they would subject themselves to such torture. However, skulls such as Catch merely change it up by challenging the player to recharge their health by beating the snot out of the enemy with melee attacks. Keeping things new and fresh is difficult enough for game designers, however the skulls add a layer that allows for success to feel all the more rewarding.

ODST Skulls

Instead of merely inducing difficulty in a static sense such as Easy, Normal, Heroic and Legendary, this allows for players to mix and match the challenges they will be prone to facing. While simple in design, this layer further adds a significant amount of replay value when multiplayer as well as the varying degree of skill for those involved is taken into account. Therefore, ODST’s Firefight in concert with the use of skulls acts to keep players constantly challenged by consistently keeping them in a state of feeling unsafe.

Where'd the Good Guys Go?

If you haven't noticed lately, the definitive good guy is seemingly being slowly shifted out of the gaming pop culture as we know it. Gone are the days of Link, Mario and the heroes we knew were definitely good, the white knights that would always do the right thing, even if it meant something terrible in store for them simply for a belief. They've been replaced with the anti-hero, the character that does what they have to do, because they know they have to do it. They don't do it for the sake of being good. They do it for peace, revenge or by sheer moral ambiguity, they do what they wish.

From a narrative perspective, maybe video game characters are just too good to be considered evil or just too bad to be considered saints. John Milton said in his tale Paradise Lost, "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" so are we to infer that being good is equitable to servitude? Take Captain Price from Call of Duty 4, an SAS operative and life-long soldier. His character is ingratiated with the knowledge that sometimes bad things have to happen and overall he possesses the qualities we would expect from any hero. He is brave, succinct in word and deed, and able to go above and beyond the call of duty (excuse the pun). But when he has to rough up a prisoner or ultimately execute them in what some would call cold blood, he isn't exactly hesitant about it. Perhaps in his years of military service, he has come into the understanding that his enemies wouldn't hesitate to do the same to him. Therefore, it can be argued that Price, as with many characters influenced by military backgrounds, isn't out to rule the darkest pits of Hell nor is he a white knight by any stretch of the imagination.

Solid Snake is another prime example of this mentality. Being genetically derived from Big Boss the 'Greatest Soldier to have ever Lived' Solid Snake prescribes to the same military beliefs and traditions such as honor and courage. However, there is a small difference. When the Metal Gear, a walking tank capable of launching nuclear strikes from anywhere on the planet, is introduced into the equation Snake has a change of heart. In a world where every soldier is apart of a greater Paramilitary Corporation, Solid Snake stands alone to stop the Metal Gears to ultimately safeguard the world from nuclear annihilation. Through every shred of espionage and tactical combat, Snake believes and excels in hand to hand fighting as well as small arms, but differs on the use of nuclear armaments. So while not completely evil, as Liquid Snake is, but not completely good in the sense of playing all sides to achieve a goal, Snake stands as yet another anti-hero.

Why then do players accept a role where their objectives are not clearly defined as good or evil and are to play, in a sense almost forced, to make difficult moral choices for their characters? Because moral ambiguity and ultimately the anti-heroes are best left undefined until players come along to define them. The main character in Bioshock, for instance, was faced with the choice of harvesting little girls to become more powerful or helping them. The possibility seems trivial at first as helping the Little Sisters could mean being underpowered later in the game, but this is what set Bioshock apart from other titles, the ability to decide what to do with that character.

Choice.

Some heroes such as Kratos, of God of War, may not have a choice. Bargaining with Ares to spare his life, he becomes a slave to evil, so to speak, and in his rage not only decimates his village, but kills his wife and child as well. Thus, Kratos begins a quest to slay Ares as vengeance consumes him as the way to atone for his sins. Maybe under different circumstances, Kratos would have returned home after being all slaughtered out. However, since he continued his conquest, his fate was sealed before the player even presses the start button.

Touching on Infamous and Prototype, both open world titles that have stood comparably well side to side offer the same prospects, despite the narrative of either title, both characters have the choice of ultimately using their powers for good or evil and that is truly the basis of the anti-hero. Very much like Batman was portrayed in the Dark Knight, it has become trendy for developers to create a hero that isn't quite good, isn't quite evil, but all around badass and I think that is what gamers want. They don't want to be enslaved to saving the princess, rescuing orphans and getting the kitty out of the tree. They want the chance to kidnap that princess, punch those orphans in the face and cut the tree down while laughing with glee about the cat. I'm not saying gamers are inherently good or evil, but the same could be said of these anti-heroes. In order for gamers to feel like Alex Mercer, who really just wants to know what exactly has been done to him and what he is becoming, they have to feel disoriented and given a clean slate for their choices to have some impact. If you give players a sandbox that already has sand castles built in them, they can then choose to work around them, build more castles or lay waste to the entire neighborhood. This exists in parallel with Cole McGrath’s world of Infamous, where the player is face with multiple choices and avenues to go about being good or evil as they see fit.

So are the characters really the anti-heroes or have we as gamers simply grown tired of being the savior that everyone looks to for rescue when the world comes crashing down? As previously stated, soldiers get called upon to face the grim realities of war. However, sticking to the pillars of courage and honor are ultimately what separate them from their actions and principles. Even the noblest soldiers, such as Captain Price, can be called upon to do the worst of deeds. Likewise, Vengeance is another factor that drives the anti-hero forward, to atone for a horrible deed that can never be forgiven as Kratos has done and will continue to do right into God of War III. Conversely, some characters such as the main character of Bioshock and Alex Mercer of Prototype merely want to know what has happened to them, why they are there and how will they survive. But truly, it comes down to choice for us as players. If we choose to make that character commit an evil act or stand by while evil occurs that is our choice as much as if we decide to level a city block. So, who then is the real anti-hero, us or them?

--Andrew

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’

– Edmund Burke

Aug 24, 2009

Don’t Panic, Starcraft 2 is Playable Offline

star-craft-2

Rest easy gamers, you can play Starcraft 2 without an internet connection. Blizzard has addressed concerns following the Battle.net panel at Blizzcon over whether or not players would have to have an internet connection in order to utilize single player content. Rob Pardo states, “You don’t technically have to [login to battle.net], but you’ll want to. You can play in offline mode if you want – I just don’t think you’re going to want to. You’ll be giving up lots and lots of features, and why would you want to be giving up features?”

Remember, you don’t have to be online for play single player nor do you have to pay to use Battle.net. However, should you wish to play LAN then you may have a problem.

Blizzard Plays Trump Card(s)

Alright Blizzard, we gotta have a little chat. I was doing okay until you started this whole, "let's take LAN out of Starcraft 2" because ultimately, as long as I got a finished product in hand, I was going to be pretty okay with it. Then, I get out of WoW after hitting level 70 with my Death Knight and having a few mid-sixty characters. That was okay because I needed to get outside since I was forgetting exactly what color the sky and that big glowing orb that floated there was. But now with Cataclysm, Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 next year, you never want me to go outside ever again, do you?

Don't you realize I have a family?

You knew I would want to play as a Goblin, I know you did. The leveling experience is just fine, but now that you've given me the incentive to shoot for the moon and move through until I hit level 85, well that's just cruel. Okay fine, I bet there's a whole new area I have to expl...wait, there's not? Well then I bet the starting area's are going to be shoddy for the two new rac...they won't? Hold on a second. What's this whole reshaping the face of Azeroth? What do you mean that several territories will be changing hands? The Barrens is getting split in half? The Horde is getting Southshore? I know these are a lot of questions Blizz, but all of this information is staggering.

I admit, that I didn't have the desire to have a flying mount because, why fly if I can't fly in Azeroth. It wasn't rewarding enough for me to just be able to do it in Northrend or Outland and oh, I see, I can do that now too. Well haven't you just thought of everything. I was happy when I got out Blizzard, but being able to play as a Goblin or Worgen and the supposedly streamlined experience from 1-60, I'm going to come back. But you'd know I would come back, because nobody gets away from Blizzard, do they?

I admit that the overall proposal here is rich and worthwhile, and yes Blizzard, I admit that I've missed you sometimes when I'm on Xbox Live alone, but this is madness I can't come back to Azeroth. I'm already going to be playing Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 and unless you can make a time machine a pre-order bonus or pack it in with the collector's edition, where am I going to find the time. Granted, once the world ends, I don't think my generator will have enough power to keep my computer going and the floodlights that'll keep the legions of the undead at bay.

But we'll see what happens I guess.

In the meantime, I'll say it straight that Blizzcon 2009 looked to be something amazing this year and hopefully, as always, next year will be the same. But this year will be a hard act to follow. It would be like me going on stage after Trent Reznor, and all I had was an accordion. Somehow I get the feeling the audience might be a little disappointed.

In an unusual deviation from my regular posts, I felt this was necessary. It isn't exactly an open letter to Blizzard. More or less, its a lamenting for the time I know I'm going to lose next year to these games. I'll place the bare details at the bottom of the post for what you absolutely should know that came out of Blizzcon, but I will say this for my sake, I'm really pulling for that time machine.

WoW - Cataclysm Expansion announced for 2010.
* Two New Playable Races: Adventure as one of two new races—the cursed worgen with the Alliance or the resourceful goblins with the Horde.
* Level Cap Increased to 85: Earn new abilities, tap into new talents, and progress through the path system, a new way for players to improve characters.
* Classic Zones Remade: Familiar zones across the original continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms have been altered forever and updated with new content, from the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens, which has been sundered in two.
* New High-Level Zones: Explore newly opened parts of the world, including Uldum, Grim Batol, and the great Sunken City of Vashj'ir beneath the sea.
* More Raid Content than Ever Before: Enjoy more high-level raid content than previous expansions, with optional more challenging versions of all encounters.
* New Race and Class Combinations: Explore Azeroth as a gnome priest, blood elf warrior, or one of the other never-before-available race and class combinations.
* Guild Advancement: Progress as a guild to earn guild levels and guild achievements.
* New PvP Zone & Rated Battlegrounds: Take on PvP objectives and daily quests on Tol Barad Island, a new Wintergrasp-like zone, and wage war in all-new rated Battlegrounds.
* Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards.
* Flying Mounts in Azeroth: Explore Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms like never before.

Diablo 3 - Monk class announced.

Starcraft 2 - Single and multiplayer details announced. Spoilers here, spoiler-free here.

Battle.net - updates and an impending revamp.

Forgive my rant, but maybe Blizzard had it coming.

--Andrew
spawn more overlords

Universal Considers ‘Bioshock’ Director

bioshock28dayslater

As Gore Verbinski, director of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy steps down from his role as director of the film adaptation of Bioshock, Universal has picked Juan Carlos Fresdanillo to tentatively take the helm. According to Variety, Verbinski resigned from his role as director when the production studio revised the film’s budget abroad in order to take advantage of favorable economic circumstances in the form of the current exchange rate in addition to tax credits. Unable to commit to a schedule that would take him out of the country because of his current work on “Rango” with Johnny Depp, he had no choice but to remit to his role as producer.

Fresdanillo is taking over production due to his prior experience on 28 weeks later. While he won’t have the $160 million dollar budget Gore Verbinski was hoping for since Universal is determined to make the movie for less, all parties involved are determined to not see “Bioshock” go the way of the “Halo” film. Fresdanillo will be taking over once final approval is granted by Take-Two.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Details: Goblins Now Playable

goblin

For those players familiar with World of Warcraft, Goblins have become quite a fixture in the world as the traders and inventors of Azeroth. However, as a playable race several of their inherent abilities are being announced. In conjunction with abilities derived simply from being Goblins, they are also endowed with the intrepid Goblin “All-in-1-der-Belt” to give them quite a mix of talents:

  • Time is Money: Cash in on a 1% increase to attack and casting speed.
  • Pack Hobgoblin: Call bank servant for 1 minute. 30 minute cooldown.
  • Best Deals Anywhere: Always get best gold discount regardless of faction.
  • Better Living Through Chemistry: Alchemy skill increased by 15.
  • Rocket Barrage: Launch belt rockets, dealing fire damage. 2 minute cooldown, 30 yard range.
  • Rocket Jump: Jump forward, instant on a 2 minute cooldown. Like a reverse of the Hunter’s Disengage

Aug 23, 2009

Beatles: Rock Band at Best Buy Today

beatles-rock-band

If you can’t wait until September 9th to play Beatles: Rock Band, today is your lucky day. On Sunday, August 23rd at Best Buy stores across the United States, gamers who can’t wait to get their John, Paul, George or Ringo on will have the opportunity to play.

800 Best Buy stores will be hosting the demo and many will be having special events between noon and 3:30pm (Eastern time) in which people can not only play the game, but ask questions and learn a few tips and tricks.

It won’t be long until Beatles: Rock Band is released, but today is still a fine opportunity for many to garner a sneak peek.

Aug 22, 2009

Blizzard Announces Battle.net Renovation

As Diablo III, the first installment of Starcraft II and the recently announced third expansion to the World of Warcraft loom ever closer, Blizzard has taken steps to ensure that Battle.net becomes a one stop shop for gamers looking to play online. Launched in 1996 following the release of Diablo, Battle. net became the centerpiece of the Blizzard online experience. Seamlessly integrated with titles allowed for simplicity in account creation, as opposed to external online services. Additionally, an absence of membership fees would poise Battle.net to become a major selling point for Diablo and subsequent Blizzard titles. However, having existed in its current form without changes since 2003 has begun to call for some updates.

Announced at Blizzcon 2009, Battle.net will be revamped to become a premier online service. Continuing to be a full-featured experience built around Blizzard titles, it will be set to offer a plethora of services to those playing online. A modernized matchmaking system, achievements, options for structured competitive gameplay, a marketplace and a social networking element are all on the to-do list of Battle.net updates to create an environment that reflects the future vision of Blizzard Entertainment. Ultimately, Blizzard is hoping to situate themselves as the ultimate location for social and competitive online gameplay.

More information after the jump.

Despite the impending major renovations, Blizzard will not be discarding the basics components that made Battle.net great. While planning on keeping the service free for all to use, there will be the addition of the marketplace. While not specifying whether or not there would be a charge for the content, users will be able to download user-generated content in the form of single scenarios, multiplayer maps, challenges and themes among other things. In an attempt to allay any previous frustrations some gamers discovered while playing competitively, Battle.net will receive a new and improved auto-matchmaking system. Conversely, advanced skill tracking will greatly assist in matching players of even skill. Competitive players never fear, league and ladder systems will also be added to keep the competition clamoring for a new challenge.

Ever watchful to improve without reinventing the wheel, Blizzard will be doing their best to improve communication across all titles utilizing Battle.net. Real ID, which will serve to connect gamers to real life friends, is perhaps the most ingenious of these implementations. By tying the various characters and names to one person in the real world, this will allow for users to connect with friends, old and new, across all Blizzard games in a way never thought possible. While it is totally optional, Real ID stands to make chat and message broadcasts across various titles extremely easy.

Eventually though, players were going to wonder when they could edit and create their own maps. This has been addressed by Blizzard who will be releasing the tools to do so along with the Starcraft II beta. Also, for those curious about whether or not Warcraft II will run on the new Battle.net, Blizzard will eventually get the site updated to handle those, but had no plans as to when exactly.

Attention World of Warcraft players, you will eventually be forced to transition to Battle.net. It won’t be so bad for the newcomers though as Blizzard has offered quite a bit to please the citizens of Azeroth. By actualizing features such as cross-realm, cross-faction, and cross-game communication, you will never be out of touch with fellow players.

Blizzard was not prepared to comment on the topic of Diablo III and how exactly it will further fit into the mosaic of titles and Battle.net. However, they do plan to customize features and tailor them to suit Diablo III in order to continue expanding while continuing to keep Battle.net as a permanent fixture in the Blizzard online presence.

Aug 21, 2009

Getting Wii Fit - Update 01

So, I have this problem, you see. I usually choose the worst weeks possible to start things. It seems that on the occasion when I do make a resolution of some kind, the stars, moon, sun and planets all align and like the quacking of a duck on the other side of a planet causes Swine Flu on a continent, so too does my starting new things cause the Earth to haphazardly shift. But it never hurts to adapt, overcome and well, do what has to be done, right?

Below I have organized the data to the best of my ability for the first week of Wii Fit use. Overtime, you will notice that I may or may not change the formatting depending on how well it is received by the gaming community. Conversely, I may alter the information based on how well I deem it conveys the scientific data I believe it should, based on my original hypothesis. As I stated, I would be recounting the foods I consumed, along with any outside exercise garnered in addition to my time with the Wii Fit. Noteworthy though, as I stated above in regards to natural disasters, I did hurt my back and neck this week while moving furniture - it was a pleasant reminder that I am not He-Man and I shouldn't be bucking for a shot a Skeletor quite yet - so for the past few days I didn't push too hard, relied on Advil and of course, left Castle Grayskull undefended. So, having a slightly improved outlook on next week helps keep me warm and fuzzy, but so would a soda, which I haven't had all week. Damn.

Day 1 - August 17, 2009
Morning: 1 cup oat bran cereal, 1 cup organic fat free milk, 40 oz water
Lunch: 20 oz water, 1 bag Act II Light Butter Popcorn
Dinner: 1 cup chopped potatoes (grilled), 1 cup green beans, 1/2 green pepper, 1/2 cup cooked ground beef, 48 oz water.

BMI: 40.25 (Obese)
Weight: 287.5 (-2 for light clothing)
DOB: 10.20.1985

Basic Balance Test:
Round 1 - 4.42
Round 2 - 3.00
Round 3 - 5.38
Round 4 - 8.10
Round 5 - Incomplete
Total - 30.00

Wii Fit Age: 31
Actual Age: 23

Goal: -22.0 Pounds (265.5)
-3.09 BMI (37.16)

Deadline: 3 months (-3.4 pounds / wk)

Exercises:
Torso Twist: - 2 min
Push-up / Side Plank - 2 min
Deep Breathing - 2 min
Half - Moon - 2 min
Warrior Stance - 2 min
Soccer Heading - 4 min
Basic Step - 12 min
Hula Hoop - 2 min
Ski Jump - 1 min
Ski Slalom - 1 min

Outside activity: Walked 2.6 miles

Notes: I'm fairly convinced that while I unlocked some pretty cool games, I'm rediscovering muscles I forgot I had.

August 18th was the date I injured myself because I was trying to be a help move a piece of furniture and it didn't turn out too well.
Breakfast: 30 oz water (Propel), blueberry bagel (plain)
Lunch: 16 oz water, lowfat shrimp spaghetti
Dinner: 1 cup of ground beef (sloppy joe) on wheat bread

Outside activity: Walked 2.6 miles

August 19th stayed home from work, lounged around in pain.
Breakfast: Bagel (plain), 20 oz water
Lunch: Asleep
Dinner: 2 cups pasta, 2 tablespoons ground Parmesan cheese. 30 oz water (Propel)

August 20th
Breakfast: Wheat toast, plain. Fat free organic milk 16 oz.
Lunch: None - swamped with work
Dinner: 1 grilled chicken breast, 2 cups green beans, 30 oz water (Propel)

BMI: 40.21 (Obese)
Weight: 284.5 (-2 for light clothing)
DOB: 10.20.1985

Basic Balance Test:
Round 1 - 4.44
Round 2 - 2.21
Round 3 - 6.28
Round 4 - 9.32
Round 5 - 8.75
Total - 30.00

Wii Fit Age: 39
Actual Age: 23

Goal: -22.0 Pounds (265.5)
-3.09 BMI (37.16)

Deadline: 3 months (-3.4 pounds / wk)

Exercises:
Warrior Stance - 10 min
Soccer Heading - 7 min
Basic Step - 9 min
Hula Hoop - 4 min

Outside activity: Walked 2.6 miles

August 21st
Breakfast: Bagel, plain. 16 oz orange juice

Outside activity: Walked 1.3 miles


And I won't be playing Wii Fit until late tonight. So, while I'm not totally satisfied with my first week out of the gate I'll grant myself extenuating circumstances in this case because I was stupid enough to injure myself. In the meantime, I'm feeling mediocre out of the fact that I really haven't worked out aside from my commute walking through the city of Chicago. However, I think that altering my diet is a step in the right direction, but I feel like I'm going to shift my diet to five smaller meals a day as opposed to the traditional three. Taking a page out of body for life couldn't hurt. And of course, taking vitamins is always a plus unless you do it wrong, in which case that's some expensive urine you just expelled.

Overall though, progress in any direction except back is progress all the same and I'm not going to belittle what little I've made. I should be able to garner more time next week and this weekend as my back improves more and more. Although it does still hurt at times, I'm stretching and getting the kinks out as any old man should.

--Andrew
going to pump you up!

Aug 20, 2009

Demo Impression - Shadow Complex

I was going to originally write today about the decline of music games in the industry and among the gaming community, but instead I have decided to gush further over the joy that is Shadow Complex. Besides, discussing music games would have still let me around to the fact that I'm still probably going to end up getting the complete Rock Band Beatles edition. But, I sat down to play Culdcept Saga yesterday and noticed on the dashboard that Shadow Complex was up for download and being 400 points short, I opted to get it and at least scope out the demo.

I wasn't disappointed.

Starting off in the role of a fully-armored character, very much like starting off Metroid and Castlevania with all of your abilities at full power, you are repelling an assault against Secret Service agents from unknown enemies. After shooting down a Blackhawk helicopter, the suit locks up and after some very disturbing dialogue about assassinating the vice-president as well as chess and many pawns being in play, the game cuts to the title followed by the intro cinematic. The first thing I enjoyed about Shadow Complex is that you start with nothing but a flashlight. You also are not a space marine or some badass out on a mission. You play a guy in the woods with a girl and you stumble on an underground facility from which a secret group hopes to destabilize, sink the US into civil war and seize control. Not bad for a nature hike if you ask me.

After playing through for about fifteen minutes, I noticed something. I was having fun. A lot more fun that I remember having recently with arcade titles, barring Monkey Island of course, and I was immediately seized by a feeling I hadn't had since I was a kid. There was a time when I was more excited to explore a game as opposed to find something else to kill. Shadow Complex gave me that feeling again. I'm not saying the combat wasn't something I started looking forward to, but it was slightly beaten out by the urge to explore that the game gave me. Every single time I was crawling through vents or ducts I was interested in what I might find and caught myself saying, "ooooh" more than once when I shambled upon a health upgrade.

The upgrade aspect in definitely something I found myself sincerely enjoying. To put it candidly, I haven't been that excited for simply getting a pistol since I played Wolfenstein 3D when I was little. And it just stacks on and on from there. Every time the map filled in a little more, I had to remind myself that this was just the demo, but I haven't stopped remembering the potential exploration once I have the full game unlocked. Suffice to say, it definitely bleeds Metroidvania and will remind anyone who enjoyed those games of the downright great time that was had when playing them. Sincerely though, as soon as I picked up grenades, and got passed how cool that felt - I was confronted by a giant mechanical spider with a machine gun. At that point, as you can imagine, I was sold. Yeah, spiders are okay as enemies, but giant mechanical spiders? Well sir, that's just appealing to the weakness I have for damn awesome boss battles.

Whittled down to its core though, its nice to see that the Unreal Engine can be used for something else besides, say, Gears of War. And while I do love the exploits of Marcus and Dom, I think that Shadow Complex touches a nerve that I forgot I had. Sure, maybe it is a blend of nostalgia, the dazzling beauty of the graphics along with the succinct controls. But if that's the case, it's a blend I can serve up with a large pizza and a weekend kill. Be sure to keep watch for the full review once I've had a chance to get through the whole version, though after visiting the demo more than once, the whole thing may be worth the same time investment.

--Andrew
giant metal spider!

Aug 19, 2009

First Encoutner: Culdcept Saga



So I bought a game about a year ago, and it has been sitting on my shelf all this time, while I thought I wouldn't have a great time with it, yet I would still give it a shot. Holy crap, Culdcept Saga is amazing. Granted, I'm aware the game won't be for everyone as it appeals to a certain type of gamer, hell let alone a certain type of nerd. The best way I can really describe the game is a combination of Monopoly, Magic: The Gathering and a slight flavor of Mario Party even seems to be present. I can tell you that normally, this type of game wouldn't appeal to me as I long since grew out of Monopoly, feel Mario Party is only fun when utilized as a drinking game and Magic: The Gathering, well, I could still play Magic, I just need to find someone who has a deck. My point is, this idle freakin' gem was sitting on my shelf and for a very long time, I forgot I even owned it.

The game begins predictably with your character having a dream. After a bit of droll dialogue describing how special you are, your character is bought by a slave trader. After some very minor character customization, and by minor I mean imagine Fallout 3 and toss ninety-nine percent of that out the window, you'll be led out of town by this slaver only to have a young woman stop you both and begin offering to buy you as your value is quite immeasurable apparently. During this conversation a woman dressed in black and red, with a clearly evil persona, stops everything so you can battle. This is where the mechanics of the game begin to shine.

Aside from the storyline, which I've been skipping as much as I can, only really serves to play as a vehicle to the real meat of the game and that is the board, cards and the actions therein. The game takes place on a board, which consists of four colors (red, blue, green, and yellow) reflecting the four elements (fire, water, earth and plains). For anyone who has ever played Magic, this will make sense to some degree. To the people who haven't, prepare for a learning curve that will feel like scaling the Matterhorn. Players start their turns by drawing a card and may never have more than six cards in their hand at any given time, as drawing a seventh will force the player to discard. Prior to moving, a player may cast a spell card, which can help themselves, hinder their opponents or somehow benefit a creature in play. After casting, players are free to roll the dice and move. Depending on where they land a couple of actions are possible, which brings in the Monopoly elements.

Say you land on one of the element spaces, you can usually deploy any drawn creature to it unless the card specifically prohibits it. However it will always be beneficial to place a creature on an elemental space that share a common trait, such as a blue ogre being placed on a water space, which grants additional hit points and strength making the creature stronger as it digs in on that space. Furthermore, there are forts scattered about the map that the player must land on before returning to the starting space, where a castle is located. Conversely, landing on the fort spaces as well as the castle grant the player magic in order to purchase upgrades to spaces under control as well as activate creature abilities. Ultimately, the goal of every game I've played so far has been the gathering of total magic. Upon gathering enough magic and reaching the beginning castle you win that particular match.

Like I said, it feels a bit complicated at first. If it makes you feel any better, I didn't even start writing this until I clocked at least ten hours with the game.

Overall, I think there is something worthwhile here, but that doesn't necessarily go for everyone. Keep in mind, I grew up playing D & D and Magic along with the wicked amount of video games I found the time to play. Yeah, kind of a geek, nerd, or social outcast - really I just call it as I see it. So, if you are, in fact, into this kind of game and want to give it a while it should be able to be procured pretty cheap or rented somewhere, if you can find it. Otherwise, I'll do my best to make more sense of it once I've clocked a far more notable amount of time into it.

--Andrew
hitpoints, mana!

Aug 18, 2009

Gaming Community Financing Future Titles?

I regard Gabe Newell with a sense of awe because when it comes to game designers, he ranks up there with some of the best in my humble opinion. However, he recently postulated on the future of the game industry as well as theorized on the possibility of games financed by their respective fan bases stating, "What I think would be much better would be if the community could finance the games. In other words, 'Hey, I really like this idea you have. I'll be an early investor in that and, as a result, at a later point I may make a return on that product, but I'll also get a copy of that game." In essence, while this may not immediately be feasible, it does pose a refreshing prospect and concurrently proposing a troubling conundrum.

When all is said and done all gamers want at the end of the day is a great game to play. The problem however is it can be incessantly difficult to create an incentive, let alone a working build of a title that would make a fan base finance to see the game through to completion. Take for instance Left 4 Dead 2, the sequel to Valve's runaway apocalyptic hit Left 4 Dead. When the title first appeared at E3 this year, internet petitions and message boards were immediately aflame with insults and aggravations. People felt that Valve was betraying them, that Valve was abandoning support for the original, that the amount of people available to play would be too small when split between the two titles and that Left 4 Dead 2 should simply be released as an add-on or expansion for Left 4 Dead if Valve knew what was good for them. Eventually, Valve is seems satiated a certain amount of that population of their fan base by promising to continue support for L4D. However, Gamers feeling betrayed by Valve is a bit asinine and odds are some wouldn't have paid for Left 4 Dead 2 were it up for debate pre-development. Ultimately, and I'm looking in the direction of Activision here, if a company wants to produce a title and has the financial backing from a publisher as well as developers willing to continue creating then they can really do whatever they want. As a gamer, the loudest voice has and always will be the dollars and credit cards in our pockets.

To a different degree, Starcraft II has had LAN support removed from the title. This may not be important to some who don't mind playing over Battle.net, but to the 100,000 who have signed the petition to try and get it back into the game prior to it shipping (hopefully) in 2010, it's pretty important. Again though, it goes back to the very simple principle that it's a Blizzard title and while they have listened and done the best they can to appeal to their communities, they don't give them free run of the design process. That's simply not how it works. If you were trying to draw a picture and you had a crowd of 100k standing behind you screaming that the kitty's whiskers you were drawing are lopsided, it would get very hard to get anything done, let alone finish that drawing. Same basic principle here. Yes, I'm excited for Starcraft II and I will decisively pick up the game when it is released, despite having signed the petition asking for LAN not because I'm upset about a lack of LAN but because I don't want to miss out on what the rest of the package has to offer. But it boils down to financing. I didn't finance Blizzard or Starcraft II so the way I see it, in regards to signing the petition, I'm merely requesting that Blizzard takes a step back in the final stages of development and if they can eke LAN into there, then I'll be all the more happy. But if not, it won't rain on my parade. And even if it does, it's not like they're twisting my arm to buy it.

So what's the solution?

Community financed titles could work, if they have the financial support they need. If they don't, then they just end up a failed pipe dream or get picked up by a publisher who may demand to change the prospective game from its original incarnation. What's the average budget of most titles currently? Gabe Newell stated between 10 and 30 million dollars, so we'll use that figure. Hypothetically, let's say that the game is well thought out and has the possibility of being a really great title, something you, mom, grandma and all the neighborhood kids believe is really worthwhile. It would take 6 million gamers investing 5 dollars each to get the 30 million start up cost. However, I admit, that is at the far end of the spectrum. But how do developers appeal to gamers so they can share the potential financial burden and go from simple end-user to investor?

Zero Point Software showed off proof of concept in 2006 for Interstellar Marines. The game was supposedly going to be a completely community financed product. They sold memberships on their page and offered incentives to those who gave more money such as avatars, customizable properties in-game such as special patches / armor, as well as first dibs, so to speak, on demos, playable builds and free copies of the game in the proposed trilogy of titles which I further discussed here. While the trailers, teasers and then remastered works were something interesting to see, the problem became a lack of funds. Devoid of the money to pay the licensing fees for the engines they proposed to use for the games, ZPS was forced to file for bankruptcy per the last post on their website dated about a month ago. But what fascinates me is that those gamers who have invested their money and time in the community, when offered a refund for the money they had invested many, if not all, declined a refund. Personally, I think it was because they believe in the product they had been shown as many investors would. More cynically though, maybe they just didn't see a sinking ship. But recently on the ZPS twitter feed, there is supposedly an impending site update - perhaps bringing the lauded title back from the dead once more. It seems the Interstellar Marine community is waiting with baited breath. Here's hoping they aren't disappointed.

Maybe Zero Point Software was dreaming too big, maybe the team needs to be smaller and the project smaller or is it really so impossible to defeat the beasts that are the publishers? Cave Story was an independently developed title that is one of the few free games I have played that I would have honestly paid for and had I seen a proof of concept or had it pitched to me, odds are I could have seen my way clear to throw whatever money I could to invest. World of Goo is another independent title that had I seen on the PC though, I would have passed on, but on the Wii I still believe it was worth every point and penny. So maybe it is time for the developers to appeal to their fan base or potential fan base and ask for a donation if not a flat out investment. After all, if the game is a success I wouldn't mind a bit of a return on top of knowing that game sitting on my shelf was possible because of a bit of the money I threw into it. But it all boils down to a different kind of choice and that is what separates gamers from investors.

Gamers do invest in games whenever they shell out money for a title, a final product after it has been created, Investors do it based on what the game could be. But if a gamer chooses to invest their money into a game during the pre-production and development cycle, then do gamers get more of a say in what they see in their titles? I hope so because woe befall the developer that bites the hand that feeds them, so to speak. I'm not talking about financing another Ion Storm, I'm talking about one day a site posts a proof of concept, storyboards and the forms to make me, as a gamer, a fully-fledged investor so that if I put money into that game, I've just become apart of that titles creative process, albeit in some small way. But, who knows how long until we see a model that truly works.

In the meantime, what would you as a gamer like to invest in? What games would to play more of if you invested in it? Would you invest? Would you not? What games in recent memory can you think of that you would have paid to help be developed?

Every little bit does count and if a game is good enough, I have a feeling the gaming community would pay to see it completed. But, they won't just pay for anything - I have a feeling the world doesn't need another Army Men title.

--Andrew
good as gold.

Aug 17, 2009

Piracy - Wenches, Rum and Games

Piracy has always been apparent in many societies, however digital piracy has always been a rather sensitive issue, which is what garners it the most attention for both good and bad. Being the first to admit it, I believe that if something is worthwhile, then it should be paid for. That being said, I'm not about to go didactically White Knight and preach to the choir about what they should do because simply said, the line between the pros and cons of piracy are still very blurred in my opinion. On one hand, you have those who believe it is perfectly okay to download individual games, movies or songs as well as those who torrent albums or collections of games. Conversely, there are those who believe that when a product is worth more that the effort it would take to acquire for free, that's when it becomes truly worth while. In the age of information, it has seemingly become exceptionally difficult to decipher what true value of digital information is worth.

Take Nintendo DS games. Retailing in the United States for roughly $10 to $40 dollars, the price barrier isn't especially high or out of reach for many. This is considered true by many, especially during this economic situation of ours, which I am obligated to mention. The Sony PSP is even better at it, allowing gamers to play Playstation 1 titles amongst the many other classic games that can conveniently be emulated by even the most non-technically savvy. But for the time being, let's stick to the Nintendo DS. For a relatively cheap price, a gamer can pick up a flash cartridge and a mini-SD memory card allowing for a virtually unparalleled collection of games on one cartridge. With one EDGE or R4 card and a 16gb mini-SD card, it becomes possible for gamers to carry what some would regard as an entire collection of titles in their pocket. Some are relatively content with this and it has sparked outrage in one capacity or another. But from my personal experience piracy, in regards to games, has always been around.

The first time I played Doom, it was off floppy discs that friends had "borrowed" to me along with Close Combat, which was off of a copied CD with the key written on it. And the ball rolled downhill from there. The Pirate Bay allows for access to entire series, collections and franchises of titles. Alternately, as early as this weekend, it is possible to go on to certain sites and find Nintendo DS Roms. But with attempts to combat piracy, it seems like developers and publishers are locked in a constant arms race to try and stay one step ahead.

The Nintendo DSi is a quirky little machine, I'll give it that. The camera's are okay and the access to the DSi shop is interesting, but it isn't enough for some to warrant those who already own a DS to purchase it, so why did Nintendo create it? To combat pirates of course. At least at first it worked, but that was quickly overcome. However, as new firmware updates are now able to be downloaded to the system this could be a step in the right direction for Nintendo to battle pirates. Simply said though, many people who utilize the DS and DSi for homebrew as opposed to piracy are simply not downloading the updates and the pirates just as easily follow in turn. No matter what fix a company believes they have that can stop piracy, I'm firmly convinced that the nerds and geeks out there will, if they want to badly enough, find a working solution around whatever may be standing in their way.

After I stopped working at Gamestop, I was related a story from a former fellow employee who found it funny enough to convey to me. A woman had purchased a DSi for her child and less than an hour later had returned to the store to complain. Apparently, she wanted to make a return. When he asked if the system was broken or not working properly, she simply replied her dismay that the DSi wouldn't play pirated games and that she'd like to return it. I applaud the employee for not reaching across the counter and giving the mother a dose of reality, but speaking candidly, if you're going to pirate something, you don't exactly broadcast that nor use it as a reason on a return. That's just dumber than jumping into a tub of ground beef before running through a police dog training facility. Granted, I laughed at the anecdote, but something stuck with me about that.

So what is the answer? DRM? I have a problem with companies, corporations or anyone who believes that when I pay for a product, that product really isn't mine. Sure, I like to see the boxes of video games nestled snugly on my shelf for the world to see, but what if without warning, a company decided that the build of a game I had wasn't good enough for me to have? Or what if they decided I simply shouldn't have access to content I have already purchased anymore? This is when piracy becomes the only option. That's the flipside to the entire argument. Where does a company end and my rights begin? And what if there is no way a game can be found anymore?

Blurry lines, huh?

Let's take an alternate approach. A gamer wants to play the original Legend of Zelda, but doesn't have access to the cartridge for one reason or another, but has an internet connection. So he/she downloads the rom from a website as well as the emulation software to play it and gets about an hour in and stops. This goes on for a few days until by a dice roll of the cosmos, be it eBay, a garage sale, etc, this gamer finds a copy of the cartridge, throws down the money and goes home to play - deleting the rom and the emulation software off their machine in the process - immediately going on with life.

Additionally, what about about someone who spots a DS title that they want to play, but aren't sure about dropping the $40 dollars to play it. They head to a website, get the rom, and play it on their DS for a while before deciding that the final product has the wherewithal, via replay value and overall package, to be worth their hard earned money. Upon purchasing the game, they delete the rom off their flash cartridge, but repeat the process. Is this then okay?

As I've said, I'm not here to make judgment calls on piracy as it seems everyone has done so at one point or another in their lives. But how does it stop? This boils down to either allowing for total and complete flow of information for free or make the product worth more than the trouble to get it for free.

Case in point, Xbox 360 games. Let's use Modern Warfare 2 as our primary example. Releasing on November 10, 2009 it is supposed to be a media juggernaut for Activision. However, Bobby Kotick has found it fitting to raise the price on the title in certain regions of the world as he feels the game has a "AAA-title" status (a phrase/label I hate) that can be exploited to garner as much money as possible to pad the financial outlook of Activision. Well, without much speculation, I can haphazardly guess that there will be quite a few gamers who wait in line at midnight for this title to release, along with others who will pick up the title in the subsequent weeks. However, there will be those unable to afford Modern Warfare 2. Some will most likely wait until the game makes it's way to resale and purchase it used. Alternately, I have a feeling that if some were able to pirate the game for play on the 360, it most certainly would be done. But how much trouble is that for the average gamer, let alone the average consumer? While the game may be worth the cost, and to many it is, others may opt not to purchase it in favor of other titles or not even purchase it at all as the recession may hit those in particular harder. Please pardon my candor though when I say that, in regards to free information, I don't think Bobby would part with Modern Warfare 2 for free. No. Not even to a house full of orphans.

But Chrono Trigger on the DS. Now that is a game worth playing. I'm aware of no less than five people alone in my small circle of friends who pirated the game. Why? Because they'd played it on the Super Nintendo and didn't feel that they should purchase the same game at such a premium. And believe it or not, for many people, $40 is a premium price to pay. Frankly, I can't bring myself to blame some of them as the reasoning is somewhat sound. But wouldn't this hurt developers in the long run?

Maybe, maybe not. I haven't heard of a developer or publisher going down the tubes because of piracy just yet, but it all boils down to how widespread piracy is and remains to be as well as the overall quality of the title in question. You can have the best game in the world, and if it is worth paying for, then people won't mind shelling out the dollars and cents to get it. But if it is available for free and a rather mediocre title at best, then people won't mind going through a few hoops to make sure they aren't wasting their money.

So what do you think is the answer? Do we really own the media we're sold or are we just licensing it from a company and are paying for the privilege to simply use it? Is the DMCA, DRM or any other form of security the right way to go or are people inherently good and not out to just get something for nothing?

I'm interested to see where the arms race goes, because it has been a cold war between creators, consumers and pirates for a long time. The static defenses of keys and codes only work so long, while active defenses merely aggravate the established fan base.

I'm intrigued to see how crystal clear those lines eventually become.

--Andrew
Avast ye scurvy dogs.

Aug 14, 2009

First thoughts - Operation Anchorage



Fallout 3. I'm relatively sure I haven't shut up about Fallout 3 and when it stops giving me an engrossing experience, I'll stop. After pointing out several observations previously, I found myself getting closer to the end of the main quest. In my haste, I diverged quickly and started exploring all over the map again, in any direction I could find because I didn't want the fun to end. I know, it can almost be delusional on my part to think that the game can last forever and the fun won't ever stop, but I'm making peace with that fact and have begun looking into the downloadable content a bit deeper than I was previously. Being aware of the general gist of the content available my choices were spread pretty well among the five bits of DLC. So, purchasing a 1600 Microsoft points card, I sat down in my little corner of the Xbox Live Marketplace and began debating what I should add on first.

Despite there being five though, I felt like I had to weigh it pretty heavily. After all, I want my exposure to the DLC to be good exposure. Operation: Anchorage looks interesting to say the least and freakin' awesome to again say the least. I'm not opposed to more content or storyline, but my decision somewhat fell to what I wanted most at the time, and I think my analytical thinking got the best of me. Having played through much of the side stories on the original disc, I had easily reached level 20 and I admit that I wanted more power. There were still perks I had to have. So I made the decision to download Broken Steel first. Granted, it is somewhat of a waste as I don't play any of the content therein until I've beaten the main quest. But I think those ten additional levels will keep me warm and fuzzy enough to carry on through until I get there. I also downloaded Operation: Anchorage though, saving The Pitt, Point Lookout and the incredible looking Mothership Zeta for a night when I'm feeling more sci-fi tha
n Mars Attacks!

I had a feeling it may be a cop-out that I've downloaded content I may not be able to get to yet, but the trade-off is that I have access to additional levels and additional creatures to kill to gain experience towards those levels. And that's not bad, not bad at all. The Operation: Anchorage content I'm tempted to cut and run towards now, abandoning any previous objectives or locales I was currently exploring. Taking place in a training simulation of Alaska prior to the atomic annihilation of much of the Earth's surface, the DLC follows the virtual reality scenario that up until then had been narrative fluff in the Fallout-verse of the United States fighting China for control of Anchorage. Stepping into the boots of a soldier tasked with fighting the Chinese, I get the distinct impression that there is a far, far greater emphasis on combat here than in other aspects of Fallout 3. And I'm more than happy to oblige. Upon hearing there are a ridiculous amount of references to various war films, books, etc, it made me even more anxious. But, I suppose the content might sit for another day or so while I buck up and finish Fallout 3 so I can finally roll out a comprehensive review.

In the meantime, I'm still convinced that if Bethesda continued to make DLC for a game that is already, for lack of better terms, monstrously freakin' long and stuffed fat and full of content, the game could very well subsist forever. But, seeing as how I might be nearing the end of my journey on the disc alone, I will certainly be relishing the new experiences the downloadable content has to offer and look forward towards more forays, by anyone, into the Fallout universe.

--Andrew
simdeath? real death? Aw crap.

Aug 13, 2009

The Coolest 10-Inch Monkey Island Statue You'll See Today

I hate to encourage or even feel like I'm encouraging something to be sold. But this is just damn cool. Apparently, people are excited for this adventure game that was done a couple of years back. It was really well done, or so I hear, and everyone is just going freakin' ape now that it is being released again as a remastered version to various gaming platforms.

Seriously though.

Monkey Island is coming back and in a pretty big way. The rise of the adventure game once more perhaps? Well, that's too early to tell as a significant amount of the gaming populace still prefers more twitchy gaming such as Call of Duty, the pacing of RPG titles like the looming Final Fantasy XIII or the casual glimmer of titles like Geometry Wars. And none of that is a shame in the least because all of those franchises have been able to stand pretty well on their own and contribute to the medium in one way or another. But, if I had to say there was a digital safety blanket, or several of them, I wouldn't mind confessing that the Monkey Island titles have kept me pretty warm.

Not only is the writing solid, but the game just bleeds fun from every possible twist and turn. The dialogue is well written, the adventure elements are solid and truth be told, its one of the finer adventure games in my opinion. Sure, there are plenty of alternate adventure titles like King's Quest, Space Quest, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle, just to name a few. However, the remastered version of Monkey Island may just be capable of reviving the genre in a strong way.

And maybe it is time for the adventure genre to come back. It has been several years and the time just might be right. But that also goes hand in hand with whether or not the developers want to create or remaster older titles and the demand is there from the gamers. That's ultimately what it boils down to because if people remaster titles no one is really interested in seeing, then no one is going to play it and it'll end up being a waste of time. Silently hoping though, a next-gen adventure title, a true adventure title would be interesting to see if done from the ground up. I'm not talking about something like Heavy Rain, because while that looks very, very pretty, it doesn't exactly strike me in the same way as Guybrush talking to a dog in a pirate tavern. Fancy that.

So, what adventure games should be released again? Would it be even viable? And is the audience out there old enough to remember them or even young enough to take a chance and be receptive to something completely new? Like I said, I'm not dripping rancor on the other genres, this is just one I would actually like to see come back.

--Andrew
Woof. LeChuck.

Aug 12, 2009

Getting Wii Fit

Wii Fit has been out for a while and I've been pondering as to how viable it actually is as a fitness utility. I'm aware that it exists for fun as well as healthy activity, however, I wonder if it is possible for someone who is a bit heavier to use it and actually become somewhat heartier and stronger as a person as a result. I have seen various news outlets and websites have their shot at it, but after reading through everything and not seeing it remotely taken from the perspective of a gamer, I became dissatisfied and decided to give it my own go.

So, starting Monday, August 17, I'm going to give it a 3 month go on my own Wii Fit program. I will be documenting my weight daily as well as what I eat and when. I will also be documenting any outside exercise to keep things fair and honest. Every Friday I will post a cumulative update of the activity from the week prior as well as what games I unlocked, duration of the games played previously, and anticipations for the following week.

I'm not saying this will work and I'm not saying this is the brightest idea I have ever had, but I best give it my shot because so far, every other attempt I have seen really hasn't done anything to make me believe it would work. Also, I don't believe that anyone else should try this. I consider this an experiment and have no problem exposing myself to it, but have extreme issues with media figureheads who say this worked for me, so it'll work for you. This is going to be an experiment. I want to emphasize that specifically in the same way Frankenstein resurrected a dead man. I don't know what is going to happen. I can only document things as best as I can and publish them in an open forum for any interested.

In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions or thoughts on the topic matter, feel free to drop me a message or a comment.

--Andrew
stand back, trying science.





Aug 11, 2009

Borderlands releases October 20

This year it seems Gearbox sees fit to give me quite the pleasant birthday gift. Borderlands is being released on October 20 and if you ask me that seems like something to peak my interest. Now, I haven't been exceptionally happy about a lot of the news coming out of Gearbox recently. I would be a lot happier if Alien: Colonial Marines actually had a release date. I would have been ecstatic if Brother's in Arms: Hell's Highway hadn't completed deviated from the formula that had made the prior installments so much fun. But in hindsight, Gearbox has come a long way.

Currently, I'm in love with Fallout 3. Bethesda has, as they have done in the past, proven that they know how to make a title that makes me feel like God has drunkenly kissed me. Borderlands, from all current appearances, seems to be borrowing all of the best shooter qualities from Fallout 3 and combining them with the RPG elements of the title. For instance, if you utilize a weapon the dice-roll of the shot seems to still occur, however it isn't as significant as Fallout 3 where it is virtually impossible to shoot from the hip below level 20. Granted it takes some practice in any title to anticipate the reaction of any weapon and where the shot will land, but more often than not, even at level 20 I'm still inclined to use VATS in Fallout 3. Furthermore, I've noticed from watching the gameplay that the shooting in Borderlands seems more welcoming, especially to players who may find this their first outing in the first-person-RPG-shooter. Additionally, the ability to expand outwards in whatever class the player chooses in a definite draw.

As in any role-playing game your character ultimately stands to level up significantly. Additionally though, through the utilization of weapons and technology, not only will the character proficiency increase with the said items, the items themselves will level up. The turret, which takes on various configurations, levels up overtime in the same way as the turret in Too Human. Granted, it isn't finest comparison, but the point is understood. Ultimately there is one thing that'll set this apart from the rest of the herd in my mind and that is the ability for co-op.

Co-op isn't just a feature or even a bullet point on the back of a video game's box anymore, to most gamers it has become an expectation and I'm pleased that this is no difference with Borderlands. Four player co-op will be implemented and there is no limit apparently on the character classes in-game. For instance, should four players all want to play as soldiers, they can. I think the potential there for a good time is ripe and the possibility of an exceptional title really is in the works that can be played in its entirety with up to three other people. I think this is worth at least a try, if not an entire playthrough.

After all, what's the worse thing that can happen? The controller bites my hand? Here's looking towards October 20th and a full summary following therein.

--Andrew
just keep shooting.