Thursday, June 29, 2006

We're nearing Q3 2006

Still no Street Fighter II for Xbox Live Arcade. This was supposed to some out in Q1. What gives? What could possibly be taking so long?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

My review.

Pink DS Lite

I find it hard to believe that the secret to cracking the elusive "girl gamer" market is something as simple as releasing your system in colors like pink and teal, but here we are.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 user stats

Looks like I'll be reviewing Half-Life 2: Episode 1 for the Phoenix, so no impressions just yet. I did want to pass along this link, which shows gameplay statistics Ep.1 collects and sends back to Valve over Steam. That the data collection amounts to someone watching you play the game is a little creepy, but also fascinating. For one thing, it's strong evidence that all the blowhards who claim to play games only on hard mode are dirty liars -- only 6.68% of users played Episode 1 on hard. (Despite my own well-known love of winning without effort, I didn't play on easy -- I'm one of the 74.22% of users playing on medium difficulty.)

There's a jump in user deaths for the map called "ep1_c17_02." The average completion time for the game is 4 hours, 56 minutes, but the average play time is only 2 hours, 48 minutes. Does that mean that part of the game is too hard? The average user is playing for about 3/5 the time it takes to beat the game. The spike in fatality rate seems to occur about 3/4 of the way through the game. That could mean people are abandoning Ep.1 when it gets too tough.

On the other hand, the "Highest Map Played" bar graph shows a linear trend downward. There's not a dip in level completion corresponding to the spike in deaths. Map "ep1_c17_02" loses about 4% of users from the prior map, and a loss of just over 3% to the next map. Most likely, people take a break during a difficult part and then come back to the game later. Additionally, the data show that it's taken at least one person ten hours to beat Ep.1, so they could just be wrecking the curve.

By the way, the stats go deeper than what Valve has chosen to share. Here's Gabe Newell, as quoted in a Eurogamer interview:
Essentially playtests create a proxy for what will happen when the game is being played, but with Episode One we're saying let's stop using the proxy and watch how people play. Rather than having hundreds of playtesters, there are eight million Steam accounts right now, so we'll have eight million playtesters. It tells us which weapons they're using, so we can say "they're not using this weapon, why not?", here's where people are getting stuck "huh, ok, they're not supposed to be stuck here". Here's the stuff they like, here's the stuff they don't like.
I picture some guy in a labcoat looking at a clipboard and saying, "This one guy in Boston really seems to love crouching behind things and letting Alyx do all the shooting."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Do the Mario

It's important to note that this did not seem strange to me at all when I was eight.

Maybe custom soundtracks are awesome

I've yet to try out custom soundtracks on the 360, although I know at least one internet person who refuses to play any game that doesn't fully support the feature. I think I was just convinced, completely by accident.

I'm playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories on the PS2. I had the TV muted and was listening to "New Noise" by Refused on the computer (you can listen to it here if you've never heard it). About 3/4 of the way through the song, there's a soft interlude, which coincided exactly with my taking a car off a huge jump. You know the type of GTA jump I'm talking about: slow motion, multiple camera angles.

But it gets better. There's a slow build-up back into the main part of the song, which culminates in four percussive blasts. The first one hit at the instant my car hit the ground. It was amazing. I'll never be able to replicate it. But that's probably what custom soundtracks are for.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


My take here.

Let's look ahead to the future

The future, Conan?

That's right. In the very near future, I'll be firing up Half-Life 2: Episode 1. It's downloading now. I hope to share some impressions within the next few days. This is also my first real experience with Steam, since I bought Half-Life 2 at a brick-and-mortar. I love the tangible sense of ownership that a box confers, but the ease and swiftness of digital, on-demand delivery makes a lot more sense. It's environmentally friendly, too. No big losers here, except for retailers and cardboard manufacturers. Hey, it's a brave new world.

For the longer term, Jim sent along this link. It's a tease, really, about Red Octane's plans beyond Guitar Hero 2. While there are no specifics, it seems reasonable to assume that within a few years it will be possible to assemble an entire GH-style band, with a couple of guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. I'll up the ante even further: once that's done, I bet we'll see clubs hosting competitions in which groups of gamers get in front of a crowd and rock virtually. At the very least, people would participate just for the chance to get onstage under the auspices of some truly bitchin' band names.

My band will be called "Days Inn Golgotha."

Hot blog on blog action

I wanted to flag this entry over at Slop Culture, in which the authors call out Gamespot readers for being idiots. I'll defend Gamespot readers to the extent that "best of" lists based upon a wide sample always seem to elevate mediocrity, but the larger point of the entry is totally valid. Is Duck Hunt a great game, or merely a game that was widely played? Surely it's not a great game. It's barely a good one. To quote Gertrude Stein, there's no there there. As a tech demo for the Zapper, it was pretty sweet. Otherwise, it was nothing more than a neat bonus on the Super Mario Bros. cart.

On the other hand, it was necessary to seek out more rewarding titles back in the day (not that I did, really -- I was playing through Contra and Mega Man 2 eight hundred times each*). If not enough people voted for River City Ransom as the best NES game of all time, then my guess is that it's because not very many people played it. Everybody who got a Nintendo, on the other hand, got Duck Hunt. No wonder a good number of rubes lived to vote it the best game of all time. Does it even compare to the greats? Not hardly.

*This should in no way be construed as criticism of either game. They're both among my favorites. I just meant that I tended to play a few games over and over, rather than play as many games as possible.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How much is $600, really?

The folks at have been kind enough to post the E3 Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer in HD. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it. There's no gameplay footage, naturally, which renders any judgment premature. Still, it's hard not to be impressed on many levels. I don't think I've ever seen a shaky-cam effect done right by a computer before, even though they've been trying since Doom. The physics of the helicopters and bipedal robots seem like a step forward. They've even made Raiden cool.

The trailer ends by promising a 2007 ship date, which means there's no reason to spend the money on a PS3 this calendar year. Prove me wrong, Sony.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

DS Lite

My good friend and roommate Ryan just came home with his brand new DS Lite. I've wanted one since I heard they existed -- being the good Nintendo fanboy that I am -- but I did not realize how much I wanted one until I saw it myself. Sure, it's smaller. Sure, the stylus is bigger. You don't need to see the thing to understand why these are improvements. It is, however, impossible to internalize the difference in picture quality until you see it with your own two eyes. We placed them side-by-side. It's not even close. It's as though the original DS displays only in black and white.

Must... acquire... DS Lite...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Xbox Live Arcade is a tease

Under "New Releases" in the Xbox Live Marketplace was listed Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting. I've been saving my Microsoft Points for months just for this. Sadly, it was not to be. All they seem to have released so far are a theme and a couple of image packs. What's the freaking hold-up?

And is it strange that the game I want the most on the most cutting-edge system is a port of a game that came out over a decade ago?

Rockstar Table Tennis

The actual review.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Quality vs. Quantity

On The Phantom Gourmet, a restaurant's rating is derived equally from the quality of its food and its location. This means restaurants that serve great food can suffer for being in a lousy neighborhood, whereas places that give you lukewarm poop in a bowl are rewarded for having a downtown address. This doesn't make sense. Sure, location matters. But what's more important to you when you're trying to decide where to eat?

Apropos of the general reaction to Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, I've been thinking recently about a similar flaw in the traditional game criticism metric: the idea that more game equals a better game. In the broadest sense, I do not care how much of a game there is -- only how good the experience is. Sure, it's great when a game like Resident Evil 4 takes 20 hours to complete. Burnout Revenge took me over 24 hours of play to complete 90%, which I did gladly. But those are exceptional games. We all remember when Bo Jackson was kicking ass in both baseball and football -- that doesn't mean we should penalize other athletes for playing only one sport. Nor does it mean that anyone should have encouraged Michael Jordan to try his hand at baseball. Yet reviewers, while generally praising Table Tennis, apparently can't make it through a review without tsk-tsking Rockstar for not including a career mode. Why?

The original Tetris had two modes. Two. It didn't have a story or even require a tutorial. Yet people played it until their Game Boy batteries died, and almost twenty years later Nintendo is still profiting off of the core design. On the other hand, EA Sports keeps force-feeding their already bloated properties every year, and the games are starting to burst like the gluttony victim in Seven. In EA's case, more is too much. Table Tennis, in a sense, is the anti-Madden. The point of the game is to replicate the one-on-one table tennis experience. That is the standard by which it must be judged.

Monday, June 05, 2006