Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fairway Solitaire update

It's now crashed my computer three times, or three more times than any other game has in the three years I've owned this computer.

Still awesome, though. Don't let these complaints dissuade you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fairway Solitaire

On Bill Harris's recommendation, last night I downloaded a game called Fairway Solitaire, the only computer sim that dares to combine the cerebral thrills of single-player card games with the fast-paced action of golf.

Whoops, I can't help the sarcasm sometimes. It's actually a fantastic game, to the point where the 60-minute cutoff on the demo elicited something like rage. I spent a few hours trying to resist dropping the $19.99 they wanted, but at that point it was essentially like heroin. Fortunately, the publisher is running a holiday special for 40% off. (If you're ordering the game, enter SAVEFORTY in the "coupon code" field. The offer expires on 12/31/07.)

What is Fairway Solitaire? It's set up like a golf game, with several courses to play through and a hilarious, cartoonish presentation that mimics the solemnity of a TV golf broadcast. Instead of hitting a ball, though, you play a modified solitaire game. Each "hole" on a course is a different layout of cards -- some face up, most face down. At the bottom of the screen is your anchor card, which dictates what card you can remove from the hole. If there's a 5 at the bottom, you can remove any available 4 or 6. If you remove a 6, you can then click on any available 5 or 7. The challenge is to go on long runs without drawing a new anchor card.

There are more twists, too. You must contend with sand traps and water hazards, and occasionally you can find a wedge to put in your bag. You can play a wedge as a normal number card without interrupting the run you're on. So if you've tapped a bunch of jacks and tens, but have a 3-iron in your bag, you can start removing threes or twos without penalty -- but then you might not have an iron when you need it later.

Sounds simple, and it is. Still, it's the sort of game you can feel yourself improving at with each successive round. Strategies begin to reveal themselves the more you play. Each hole takes just a few minutes to complete, but with nine holes per course, and dozens of courses, I can see this thing robbing me of innumerable hours of productivity. And I am perfectly fine with that.

With all that said, Fairway Solitaire has twice crashed my system and I've had it for less than 24 hours. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Winter games preview 2008

Putting together a seasonal games preview is always a dicey proposition. You don't have much to go on for release dates besides what Gamestop tells you -- and quite often their guess is as good as anybody's. With that said, I'm fairly certain that some of the games in my 2008 winter preview will be released on schedule, such as Burnout Paradise and Devil May Cry 4. Grand Theft Auto IV? Not so much. That's due for another catastrophic delay or two.

And if the Tom Clancy game that caps off this feature makes it out by April 1, I will eat my hat. You hear me? My hat.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Year in Review: Year-End Superlatives

All this week, we've been recapping the year that was. Today: year-end superlatives.

To finish up our look back at 2007, we're handing out accolades to the games, systems, and people who made the year so interesting.

Noble Failure of the Year: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Every year there's at least one game that should be great, and that I still kind of like in spite of itself. This year, it was Puzzle Quest. The premise -- a fantasy role-playing game in which battles take the form of a gem-swapping puzzle game -- is truly inspired. Thoughts of what the game could have been kept me playing long after it was clear that the game mechanics weren't nearly tuned enough, and my computer opponents were plainly cheating. I never went back to this after I filed my review, but I haven't had the heart to trade it in, either.

PR Knucklehead of the Year: Jack Tretton, Sony

The fine folks at Activision made a late run for this award with their monumental pettiness regarding guitartroller interoperability, but nothing beat Jack Tretton's bizarre, continued pronouncements from Bizarro World about the earth-shattering success of the PlayStation 3. His opus came in February, when he declared: "If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." Now that's chutzpah!

The Donut Hole Award: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

If I had played it in time, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin would have been a lock for my top-10 list of 2006. It may even have had a shot to place on this year's list if it had been eligible. So consider this my formal apology to a fantastic game, and a strong recommendation for a worthy addition to any Nintendo DS owner's library.

Game Blog of the Year: Dubious Quality

It is a cruel irony that the best video game writer I know of isn't really a video game writer at all -- which is to say that Bill Harris doesn't write about games for a living, and if he does any freelance work he doesn't mention it in his blog. He doesn't even run ads on Dubious Quality. The pearls he continually hands down are proffered free of charge, whether that means crunching the NPD numbers so we don't have to, or delving more deeply into the black heart of EA Sports than any mainstream publication would ever dare. No matter the subject, Dubious Quality is essential reading.

Publisher of the Year: 2K Games

With most publishers piling onto the mini-game bandwagon like it's the last helicopter out of Saigon, 2K Games this year was the paragon of where I'd like to see games headed. Both The Darkness and BioShock were thought-provoking, complex adventures that questioned the very nature of playing games (The Darkness did so implicitly, BioShock explicitly). Both games have stuck with me months after finishing them. Seeing that pitiful Duke Nukem Forever teaser only drove home how much more subtle and complex games have become, and nobody demonstrated that better in 2007 than 2K Games.

Developer of the Year: Valve

Valve had a shot at being the Publisher of the Year, too, but ultimately I decided to focus on their astonishing efforts on the development front (plus, I never use Steam for anything). Valve doesn't just develop games -- they develop talent. No game this year was more inventive than Portal, and Gabe Newell and his band of merry men deserve credit for identifying and nurturing the Portal team, which began as a group of ambitious students at DigiPen. Kudos to them also for taking the time to get Team Fortress 2 right, and for orchestrating one of the most thrilling battle sequences in history at the end of Half-Life 2 Episode Two.

Console of the Year: Xbox 360

Really, what other choice was there? The Wii had its moments, but many of its signature games fell short (Wario Ware, Metroid Prime 3). As for the PlayStation 3, it rebounded quite nicely toward the end of the year with price cuts and some strong first-party titles, but that wasn't enough to make up for all that had come before. No other system could boast the quantity and quality of software that graced the 360.

Publishers churned out fantastic games all year, from Crackdown in February, to Guitar Hero II in April, to The Darkness in June, to BioShock in August -- all traditionally dead times on the release schedule. Even with the apparently catastrophic hardware failure rate of the 360 (mine's still going strong -- knock on wood), it'd be hard to suggest another system to somebody who's looking to buy only one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Year in Review: The Worst Games of 2007

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: the worst games of the year.

Although it was an historically good year for games, 2007 had its share of stinkers. Bad games aren't always bad for the same reasons good games are good -- a game can be technically competent and still be philosophically or spiritually repulsive. In fact, nothing is more disappointing than when genuine talent goes toward creating something ugly.

That's the case with the two worst games I played this year: Def Jam Icon* and Manhunt 2. We don't like being condescended to, you and I, and yet when I played these games my overarching impression was that of a publisher saying, "You'll fall for anything, won't you?"

In the case of Def Jam Icon, EA took the opportunity to charge sixty bucks for a game that was nothing but advertisements. Ads for albums, ads for clothing, ads for the rappers themselves. I'm not naive -- I understand that making games is expensive, and I'm not opposed to a little product placement if it's integrated in a way that makes sense. But there was literally nothing else to Def Jam Icon. The gameplay felt like it was happening underwater, and the interactive environments were repetitive and uninteresting. This was the most cynical game I've ever played.

Manhunt 2 was nearly as bad in that respect. It tried to be outrageous and in-your-face for no reason other than, well, to be outrageous and in-your-face. Roger Ebert likes to say that a movie isn't about what it's about; it's about how it's about it. Violence and sexual content are only as tasteless or offensive as how they're employed. Most of the best games of the year were extremely violent, but none were as exploitative and hollow as Manhunt 2. There was no real reason to go for the most gruesome kills except to see if you could do it. Your character was largely the aggressor, and didn't act in self-defense. These are not attractive qualities in a game. It became clear late in the game that the makers intended to make some kind of comment on the nature of sanity, and in that respect, at least, they succeeded: while playing Manhunt 2, I definitely questioned my sanity.

The most boring game I played was Battlestations Midway, a turgid World War II sim that combined featureless real-time strategy with rudderless action gameplay. This game was so unremarkable in every way, I'm no longer convinced it even existed.

And then there are two games that, objectively, probably aren't that bad. Two games whose off-the-charts hype and legions of devoted online footsoldiers probably did more to put me off than did the actual gameplay. I speak, of course, of Halo 3 and Mass Effect. Halo 3 is certainly a high quality product by any objective measure. But when you consider the still-boring single-player campaign and obnoxious Xbox Live community, some of the shine comes off. Why is this the game that everybody agreed on? I don't get it. I can think of at least four other 360 shooters this year that were better.

As for Mass Effect, I believe we agreed never to speak of it again.

Tomorrow: Year-end superlatives.

*Postscript: In linking to my original Def Jam Icon post, I saw that I had written this in response to a comment: "Gamespot had all the same criticisms I did, and then gave it an 8.1. I'm not always convinced that review scores are busted in general, but that made me pause." In light of recent events, it seems I was too charitable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

He's totally in my face!

I've gone back and forth about whether I should opine about that Duke Nukem Forever teaser. On one hand, what is there to say about it? DNF the biggest joke in videogame history, and the release of a minute-long video that doesn't seem to show any gameplay hardly inspires confidence. But there was one major difference between my reaction to this teaser and to previous Duke news: I've completely lost interest.

I don't mean I've lost interest in the game itself, because that ship sailed long ago. I mean the character himself is dead to me. Time has clearly passed Duke Nukem by. It's a little hard to watch. This video is a reminder that Duke is a relic from an era in which "attitude" was everything, and games really were nothing more than masturbatory macho fantasies. (Okay, I'm generalizing a bit.) Bruce Willis makeover or no, Duke Nukem is basically Poochie the Dog at this point.

Really, what response was 3D Realms expecting from this video? "Whoa, Duke is working out and smoking a cigar at the same time? He just doesn't give a fuck!" It's embarrassing. The line at the end about dropping bricks in an alien toilet only seals the deal. Poop jokes? Really? We're on poop jokes in the year 2007?

This guy doesn't care whose toes he steps on!

What's wrong with Guitar Hero III?

Chris Dahlen has a theory:
If you rock hard enough to score an encore, you notice that the crowd is roaring, and then you look over the fence and you see – a cop car! Someone called the cops! Except they’re clapping too! You’re such a hit that even the police don’t have the heart to stop the show. The long-fought war between the pigs and the kids has finally ended. This was the first in a series of wrong notes that left me with a clammy, phony feeling by the end of the career mode...

...Guitar Hero III has no message, no heart, and no edge. It doesn’t make knowing winks about old Boston rock clubs or out-of-town gig traditions; it’s more like a fratboy yell.

I think he's right, although it's not something I ever much thought about. The first Guitar Hero was the indie breakthrough -- a lean, mean labor of love developed in a short time on hardly any budget. Guitar Hero II was like Nevermind -- the shot across the cultural bow that announced the arrival of a major player.

Guitar Hero III? It's bloated, 1977-era Led Zeppelin, buckling under its own weight.

The largesse that allowed Activision to secure so many ostensibly better songs for the series' third installment also, paradoxically, led to the drop in quality. The concern was securing "cool" music and arranging the set lists accordingly, which is why the note charts vary so wildly in quality and difficulty. This was never the case when Harmonix made the game. Their goal was to make you feel like you were playing the song, and if the song was difficult, so be it.

Neversoft seems to have used a different approach. The difficulty isn't grounded in anything organic, and feels arbitrary. There's still a lot in the game for people to like, as evidenced by its massive popularity, but there's no question it's a departure. What happened to Guitar Hero, man? It used to be about the music!

The Year in Review: Honorable Mentions

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: 2007 honorable mentions.

The best games of the year were superb, every one of them. Today I want to give props to some high quality games that didn't make the list.

Two games this year belonged on the list, but were disqualified on a technicality: they were ports of games that had previously been released. They were Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition and Guitar Hero II (360). In fact, Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition would have grabbed the number one spot if not for that rule. It's the best game I've ever played. But I think it's important to give the spotlight to new games, especially since RE4 and GHII have both made past top-ten lists. (I didn't play Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PS3, but there's a strong chance that would have been mentioned here, too.)

But there were a lot of other worthy games this year that, while not up to that high standard, are still worth anybody's time. In chronological order:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- Justice for All. The Phoenix Wright series just a joy to play. Not only are the games funny and populated by a menagerie of crazy characters, there's also a noble undercurrent running through it all: everybody deserves a fair trial based on the evidence. Phoenix wouldn't be half as appealing if he were a prosecutor. I'm also looking forward to Capcom's upcoming Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law game based on the Phoenix engine.

MotorStorm. Sony's alleged system seller may not have been that, but it was a good, solid racing game that hinted at better days to come for PS3 owners. And once they released free DLC that included essentials like a time trial mode, MotorStorm's value only increased. It's now a pack-in with the 80 GB PlayStation 3 model. You could do a lot worse.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Could also have been called Tom Tancredo's Ghost Recon, what with its hilariously paranoid take on US-Mexican relations. Still, GRAW2 was a tight tactical shooter that offered tense survival scenarios and was easy enough for someone as dumb as me to play through without much difficulty.

Super Paper Mario. Super Mario Galaxy got all the press, but Super Paper Mario was just as trippy and innovative in its way. The "flipping" dynamic between 2D and 3D space consistently surprised and delighted. Paper Mario's only real problem was a slow pace thanks to some uncomfortably integrated RPG elements.

Odin Sphere. Atlus's PlayStation 2 side-scroller was like Final Fantasy meets Streets of Rage. Its gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals had an artistic flair lacking in most games with technically superior graphics. A little too Japanese and weird at times, but its unique play dynamics really worked. Who knew you could make planting seeds fun?

Sam and Max Season 1. Like Phoenix Wright, the Sam and Max games are all about using your wits to solve hilarious criminal scenarios. Although this new series doesn't reach the twisted heights of LucasArt's classic Sam and Max Hit the Road, it's a worthy successor. The streamlined, low-budget approach suits the material well.

Skate. Probably the biggest surprise of the year. Skate tried to depict a more realistic skateboarding dynamic than you usually see. Its skaters don't have superhuman abilities -- they can't jump ten feet in the air or survive massive drops. Instead, the game was all about identifying trick opportunities in a realistic city, and it was a lot more fun that that description makes it sound. Skate landed one right on the chin of the Tony Hawk series.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. The Umbrella Chronicles is a whirlwind tour through the Resident Evil canon, in the guise of a light-gun shooter. With a few deeper mechanics than you'd expect, like the surprisingly useful knife, it's got a little more meat on its bones than something like House of the Dead. And being able to experience memorable RE moments and boss battles from a fast-moving, first-person perspective is worth the price of admission. For as much grief as I've given on this blog, their description of The Umbrella Chronicles as a love letter to Resident Evil fans is exactly right.

Tomorrow: The worst games of 2007.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gamers with Jobs fillets Gamespot

I don't read Gamers with Jobs enough. A couple weeks back, they posted a satirical memo from an unnamed video game review site to its employees. It's pretty hilarious the whole way through, but this excerpt in particular gave me flashbacks to every glowing Mass Effect review I saw:

It is important to set aside personal preference, and be able to specifically and adequately demonstrate in an objective and quantifiable manner when a game is not fun. Do not be snide, sarcastic or unprofessional in your arguments, and remember to highlight what is fun about a game first. This is what readers want to know, and they will respect what isn’t said more than a caustic and unfair analysis. For example:

Game X is terrific fun to play from start to finish. It is an action packed, third person adventure through the gritty underbelly of the modern crime world as well as a nail-biting sci-fi shooter. The controls may take some getting used to, but once it becomes clear what the designers intended by using the function keys as the primary form of movement, you’ll wish every game used the scheme. While aiming in Game X can be difficult for those who aren’t very good at shooters, the method does a good job of recreating a real-world response to an alien shootout.

Dead on.

The Year in Review: Best Games of 2007

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: the best games of 2007.

My picks for the best games of 2007 are up now at You'll have to click through to read the blurbs for each, but here's the list:

1. BioShock
2. Portal
3. Rock Band
4. The Darkness
5. Crackdown
6. God of War II
7. Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
8. Half-Life 2 Episode Two
9. Super Mario Galaxy
10. Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

There are a few possible contenders that I missed and thus weren't up for consideration, including Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and Call of Duty 4. Even so, this is an unbelievably strong year-end list. I didn't even need to agree with the consensus on games like Halo 3 and Mass Effect to build it out.

Last year's was much tougher -- I ran out of gas after about number six. This year, I feel comfortable saying those are ten fantastic games that are well worth anybody's time.

Tomorrow: 2007 honorable mentions.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Year in Review: Best of the Blog

All this week, we'll be recapping the year that was. First up: the best of Insult Swordfighting, 2007.

January: I discovered that Castlevania might just be the best video game series of all time, which permanently shook the foundations upon which my perceptions of reality are based.

March: In response to a Destructoid post called "Why Video Game Reviews Suck," I blamed scoring systems as the reason game reviews suck. Which may not necessarily be true -- it may simply be that people put too much weight on the score and not enough on the content of the review.

April: After spending a little time with the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero II, I proceeded to bitch about it. I later determined I had been wrong about everything, and it's just about the greatest thing in the world. (I didn't even realize there were USB ports on the front of the console, but, in my defense, the instruction manual didn't say anything about it.) You even get used to the jagged contour of the X-plorer pretty quickly.

May: While revisiting the awesome 2001 Duke Nukem Forever trailer, I also came across a mind-blowing 2007 trailer that was, for whatever reason, not given adequate press coverage.

June: Manhunt 2 is delayed after big box stores like Target and Wal Mart refuse to sell it. I decry this creeping fascism. Later, after I play the game, I find myself wishing the game were not just banned, but that all existing copies were paved over in the desert next to all those Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges.

August: Accusations of racism in Resident Evil 5 unleash a torrent of actual racism, not to mention sexism, on gaming blogs and message boards across the interweb. I cannot resist throwing a few haymakers. Also in August: a review of the terrific documentary King of Kong, and much about BioShock.

September: Completing Guitar Hero II on hard mode leads to a rumination on the balance between hardcore gameplay and shorter, more "casual" play sessions.

October: Continuing in that vein, thoughts on the episodic model hitting the sweet spot for those who want the hardcore experience but don't have hardcore free time. Also in October: They're playing Halo in church, and the birth of user-submitted previews.

November: Having now found our theme, and spurred on by a N'Gai Croal post, we also start to question how the definition of value might differ from one person to the next, particularly for the "hardcasual" gamer. Also in November: is terrible, Mass Effect stinks, Rock Band is awesome, and Gerstmann gets the boot.

December: Recapping December probably isn't necessary, huh.

Later this week: the best and worst games of 2007, honorable mentions, and year-end superlatives.

Consumer reports

Best Buy's weekly circular is advertising Call of Duty 4 for $44.99 this week, both online and in stores. Unfortunately, that's only for the PlayStation 3 version and not the Xbox 360 version.

Not to be outdone, Amazon is also selling Call of Duty 4 PS3(affiliate link) for $44.99, which will save you over two bucks in sales tax. 360 owners are, again, out of luck.

I'm still not sure if I'll get off my duff and pick it up, but I'm highly tempted.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Burnout Paradise demo impressions

Putting together a demo must be tricky no matter what the game is. You need to provide enough of a flavor to whet people's appetite for the whole thing without compromising either your game's quality or your business model. If you strip out too much, you may not accurately convey what your game's about. Include too much, and you may have eliminated the incentive to pay for more. This trick is doubly difficult for an open-world game, in which the experience is defined more by the user than by the developers. And that's the trouble the Burnout Paradise demo runs into a little bit.

Full disclosure: I'm head over heels for the Burnout series. They're not just my favorite racing games, they're some of my favorite games period. That's why I'm a little wary of Paradise; it's hard to imagine how such tightly constructed layouts and busy traffic patterns could survive the move to an open world. What made past Burnout games so great was its fanatical focus. Anything extraneous was excised entirely, and everything essential was revved into the red. A free-roaming, virtual world seems like the philosophical opposite.

After spending some time with the demo (admittedly not a ton of time), I'm not convinced that Criterion Games has solved these problems, but that may be due to the limitations of the demo format. For one thing, the majority of the race events are locked. Because you can drive anywhere you want in the city, the way to trigger specific competitions is to hold down the gas and brake at a traffic light. I found only one available scenario, and it was one of my least favorite kinds: a "stunt race," where the point was to earn a certain number of points in a time limit. Screw that, I want to race and smash up some jerks!

The encouraging part is that the racing and smashing do seem pretty sweet. I downloaded the PlayStation 3 demo, and it ran without any noticeable hitches in the frame rate. The sense of speed is as dizzying as it ever was. I died a little inside when the first thing the game had me do was take my car to a body shop, but it turns out that to fix up your car you just drive through a carport-like structure. Same goes for the paint shop, and if you drive through a gas station you refill your boost meter. I can see this working really well during race events.

The "aftertouch" mechanic is necessarily dropped from the free roaming portions of the game (I hope it's still in race events), but in its place is an almost pornographic slow-motion crash cutscene. You wouldn't confuse it for crash test footage, but watching the body panels buckle one by one, and cracks snaking across windows before they burst into tiny shards, is pretty impressive.

I also put a little time into online play, a mode called "Freeburn." I didn't quite get it. We were all driving around, doing our thing, and a stat sheet in the upper corner of the screen updated who had the longest jump, longest drift, longest burn, and so on. There wasn't any actual competition occurring. Or maybe there was -- after about three minutes I got a message that the session had ended. That was how I remembered I hate playing games online.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Urgent, breaking Burnout Paradise demo news

The Burnout Paradise demo is not yet in the Playstation store.

That is all.

Update, 3:49 PM EST: There it is. Maybe I actually am breaking this news now.

Eat it, Kotaku!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 User-Submitted Previews: Devil May Cry 4

The holiday rush is nearly over now, but the new year will bring a whole new slate of exciting games. One of the games I'm most excited about this winter is Devil May Cry 4. Judging by the pre-release response at, I'm not alone:
I hope this Devil May Cry is better than the others because i almost beat Devilmaycry2 so i hope that i can beat this one too and nero looks so cool and the graphics looks cool and so does Danta also

Maybe if this one is worse, he'll actually be able to beat it.

And what would a game discussion be without bizarre expressions of fealty to a single platform?

I say so what if this game went to the 360! Let it and lets show our new dmc brethren that we can master this game way faster than them! So any time they wanna think they are better just laugh and think how we've had the series for over 7 years and they haven't so it will still be our game!

I wonder how to break it to this guy that some Xbox 360 owners also had PS2s. Would it be like telling him Santa Claus isn't real?

I think this game is going to be one of the actually good PS3 games. But one thing that makes me wonder is that why some people think Vergil is coming back. If you remember that in DMC 3, setting was before DMC 1. And in DMC 1 Vergil was controlled by Mundus and went by the name Nelo Angelo. The one guy you have to fight like 3 times. Then he exploded leaving his half of the amulet. So he is probably dead.

Actually, the injury report given to the media lists Vergil as "Probable (explosion)." He's a gladiator, that one. And deceptively quick!

I like this next one because it starts on such a high note before dive-bombing into self-pity.

devil may cry kiks so much ass that it should be made into a movie oh wait i think that they are in japan....i think...anyway devil may cry 1 and 3 are the best games ive played my entire life 2 eh not so much i mean heck yea the moves guns swords and graphics are awsome but it laked that punk-asss-i aughta bitch slap you -rocker-cool attitude of dante but other than that its for devil may cry 4 when i heard that it was coming out i pissed in my pants of exitment (not really) but when i heard that its only gonna be for the ps3 my exitment whent down cuz i only have the ps2 and no i dont have any money to buy a ps3 or a 360 so im screwd but still DEVIL MAY CRY FAN FOREVER!!!!!!!!!/\_/\

It's a good thing he slipped that disclaimer in there. I really thought he peed himself! Made me want to call him a homo over Xbox Live. But he didn't, so it's cool.

this game is so hot .I saw the new trailer and it was killa man i hope this not going to be short like cod4 .this is probably going to be the game of the month.

That's a pretty bold statement to make in a month when Pimp My Ride and History Channel: Battle for the Pacific come out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Faint praise?

You may get that impression from my review of Super Mario Galaxy. But anything would sound that way when you're talking about the second-highest rated video game of all time. It's good. Very good. Maybe great. But it's not even the best 3D platformer to come out this year. That honor goes to a certain Lombax and his robot pal.

Recommended reading

Several smarty-pants writers have convened over at Slate to have a highbrow discussion about the year in games. N'Gai Croal, Stephen Totilo, Chris Suellentrop, and Seth Schiesel are participating in the inaugural year-end "Gaming Club," and if you've been looking for some deeper criticism than where a game plots along the graphics-sound-control axes, it's the place to be. It also provides Totilo another venue in which to advocate for Desktop Tower Defense.

On the Totilo front, I have only recently begun to read the MTV Multiplayer blog, and I like it a lot. It's a group blog that follows the Kotaku/Joystiq/Destructoid formula, but -- how to put this -- is interesting to read. They're currently running a series about women in games that I highly recommend.

One of the dark secrets of the game playing community is the way the prototypical male player really does seem to jealously guard his hobby. It's not exactly a "no girls allowed" club, but any woman in the industry, from Jade Raymond back to Killcreek, is always judged as much by her looks as what she produces. Most men don't have to deal with this. When Jack Tretton says something idiotic about the PS3, the reaction may be rude and crude, but the criticism is aimed squarely at the content of his comments -- not his hair, fashion choices, or inherent frailty. (Cliff Bleszinski is the exception that hilariously proves the rule.)

As always, the solution isn't to preach or moralize, but to provide a dialogue just as MTV Multiplayer is doing. Good stuff.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Like nothing you've ever seen before

You could make a decent argument for the PlayStation 3 at this point. There's a handful of good games in the library, including Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted, and Resistance (even MotorStorm is a better bet since they actually, you know, finished it). $399 is a reasonable enough price considering you also get the Blu Ray player and a free copy of Spider-Man 3. The Xbox 360 is still probably the best choice for most people, but it's no longer a no-brainer (plus, as great as Xbox Live is, not having to pay $50 a year for online play is nice, too).

Not sure how to feel about Sony's latest commercial, though. The current ad campaign has been doing a good job of showcasing the PS3's games, and nothing but the games. Last night I saw one that featured such highly available titles as Burnout Paradise and Metal Gear Solid 4. No, it's not dishonest to advertise a system on the basis of what will eventually be available. But overpromising and underdelivering has been Sony's M.O. with this system since it was announced, and every time you think they've learned their lesson they prove you wrong. Why not focus on what's available now? There's something I want to tell them. Something about birds, hands, and bushes. Can't quite recall it just this second.

Friday, December 07, 2007

In good company

Here's a silly end-of-the-week post. Game|Life ran a bunch of gaming blogs through a readibility tool and posted the results. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most scored at the "junior high level," meaning you need at least a junior high education to understand them. Both Ars Technica and N'Gai Croal's Level Up scored "genius," which must make them feel good.

Insult Swordfighting scored at the "college" level, equal to powerhouse blog Joystiq. I guess I'll take it, even if I haven't blogrolled them yet.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sometimes it is that simple

Gamasutra is running an excerpt from the book Inside Game Design that features an interview with Guitar Hero dev Rob Kay. There's a lot of interesting stuff there for people who want to know how games are made, but I thought the most interesting part was this almost throwaway bit about Guitar Hero's appeal:
It was pretty fun; the controller really was the kind of magic sauce for what we wanted to do. It's very difficult to make games attractive and accessible, and I'm sure that 90% of what draws people into Guitar Hero is that plastic guitar. They instantly say, "I get it! I pretend to be a guitarist!"

Obviously this is much like what Nintendo was getting at with the Wii, but it can be easy to forget that when non-gamers look at somebody playing a game, they don't see those virtual worlds we get lost in, or the infinite calculations passed back and forth between our brains and the system's. They see some guy holding a remote control and staring into space.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

N'Gai speak

You listen.

Since the Gerstmann thing broke, I've been waiting for Mr. Croal to weigh in, as he is so often the most measured and reasonable voice on these matters. Alas, he had seemed to turn his attention to more empirical matters like the Activision-Vivendi merger, which is part of what makes him a real journalist. It is why I respect and fear him in equal measure. But now he does have something to say about the relationship between publicists and media, and as usual it's a doozy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another Orange Box review

My review of The Orange Box has been posted on Paste's website. Not that I imagine anybody's still on the fence about this one, but you need to play it.

They've also posted their best of 2007 list, which I contributed to before I'd had a chance to play at least three worthy entries. As a result, I submitted a couple of ports that probably shouldn't have been eligible (Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition and Guitar Hero II, specifically), and padded the bottom of the list with the good-but-not-best-of-the-year-good Super Paper Mario. My final year-end list, which I think I'll be compiling soon, will look a bit different.

Now let's never speak of it again

The Mass Effect review is up. One point of clarification: It does read a bit like I'm criticizing the game based on what the previews said it would be, which is neither terribly fair nor my intention. Rather, the point is that every game has to cut stuff out in order to ship, but it's not usually so obvious.

You stay classy, Eidos

On the heels of the Gamespot controversy, now comes word that Eidos is fabricating review quotes in ads for Kane and Lynch. Actually, fabricating is the wrong word. I'm not sure I have a problem with publishers excerpting preview copy in their ads. Those quotes are barely taken out of context, even if they are talking about an early build of the game. If this practice bothers game critics, perhaps the solution is to stop publishing such fawning previews.

What does bother me is the company slapping fake ratings on there. I can't see any justification for that. But you know, for all the sturm und drang in Blogistan about conflicts of interest in game publications, the same thing happens in Hollywood. Even Earl Dittman hasn't killed the movie industry.

Monday, December 03, 2007

They grow up so fast

Hard to believe it's been a year to the day since I acquired a Wii.

Harder still to believe that they're still going for twice market value on eBay.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Define irony:

Dave Jaffe, lead designer of God of War, bitching about the difficulty of an action-adventure game.

Friday, November 30, 2007

People believe what they want to believe

Since it's "late to the party" day here at Insult Swordfighting, I may as well mention the Jeff Gerstmann/Gamespot/Eidos flap. Briefly, Gerstmann was let go from Gamespot after something like a decade of service, and sources within the company are saying it's because he panned Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, a game that was heavily advertised on the site.

The problem with a controversy like this is that people already believe what they want to believe, and everyone's going to say what they're supposed to say. Unnamed sources will swear up and down that Gerstmann was sacrificed on the altar of ad revenue. And they have. Executives at C-net (Gamespot's parent company) will say that he was fired for reasons unrelated to his Kane and Lynch review. And they have. People who already thought enthusiast publications were corrupt will claim vindication. And they have. I don't know if it's worth discussing until somebody who is willing to be named steps forward with actual information. Otherwise, it's just rumors and speculation. And even if Gerstmann himself comes out and says he was fired to please Eidos, he'd hardly be an objective source.

I will say this: Gerstmann did not pan the game. He gave it a 6.0, which his own site defines as "fair." And if the issue is his tone, as some have suggested, then it's certainly not evident in the review itself. It reads as objective and fair, criticizing what doesn't work and praising what does. It's hard to imagine what else Gerstmann was supposed to do. I'm not a habitual reader of Gamespot, so I can't say anything about the rest of his body of work.

The accusations being levied at C-net are powerful ones, and that means that we have a responsibility to make sure we have proof before accepting them as fact. If they are true, it's a chilling indictment of Gamespot, particularly considering that it has a reputation for being tougher than many sites. I'm not sure how many people count on the big sites for game recommendations in the age of blogs and message boards, truthfully. Probably fewer people today than yesterday.

Rock Band impressions

Better late than never, I suppose...

We put a few hours into Rock Band last night and I came away feeling that it had met my lofty expectations -- although, strangely, I was not as awesome at playing the drums as I had been in my dreams the night before. It's that damn kick drum: either I hit it every time I hit one of the pads, or I forgot about it all together. Hitting the correct pads with the sticks is not too difficult to pick up. (What's a good synonym for "hit" in this case, anyway?) I can imagine the drums being more rewarding to master than the guitar parts, because it's more of a transferable skill. You will have to develop a sense of rhythm to play them well, and play them using much the same mechanics as playing real drums. I want to do a lot more of this.

Playing the guitar required a bit of an adjustment, thanks to the new peripheral itself, and the different design of the note charts. The biggest challenge for me was the lack of any space between the fret buttons. I usually use those to orient myself when shifting my hand position up or down the neck. The strum bar is much different, as well: without the obtrusive "click" of the Guitar Hero strum bar, I found it hard to tell if I was doing it right. It was a bit like driving an unfamiliar car: you need to orient yourself to the little things, but you're not in danger of veering off the road. And there's no question that the Stratocaster design is the most aesthetically pleasing of all the plastic toy guitars.

Singing was the most problematic aspect, and here's why: it was the place where it was the hardest to lose myself in the rock fantasy. When you play the guitar in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, your input doesn't result in something that sounds like the guitar part -- it is the guitar part. The drums are a bit worse in this respect, because even though you hear the correct drum sounds on the soundtrack, you also hear the click-clack of your sticks hitting the pads. While singing, I was aware only of the limitations of my own voice. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it, or that I didn't throw myself into it (particularly the optional yelling parts). Just that of everything I did in Rock Band, singing was when I felt the least like I was rocking thousands of worlds in a packed arena, and felt the most like I was in my friend's living room playing make-believe. Still better than any other karaoke game I've played, by far.

Better than a certain other recent guitar game, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Note to reviewers: It's broke. Please fix it.

Apologies if this stuff is only entertaining to me, although I'm starting to suspect that it's also amusing to the Metacritic editors. I was poking around for more examples of's grammatical pratfalls -- and they are legion -- when I encountered the best example yet of lazy clichés multiplying like Tribbles. The game is Guitar Hero III. gives it an 85, and writes:
Guitar Hero III abides to the "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" approach by sticking to the tried-and-true formula established in the first game and honed in the second.

In the very next excerpt, also an 85, Electronic Gaming Monthly writes:

The "ain’t broke, don’t fix" approach is evident.

As is the "short deadline, tired critic" approach.

Not to rip off Magical Wasteland or anything

I was just reading the Metacritic page for Assassin's Creed and came across this gem from, which was also flagged a couple weeks ago by Magical Wasteland:
The first half of Assassin’s Creed is a truly clairvoyant experience. You’ve never played anything like it. The sagacious story, incalculable crowd interaction, and unprecedented freedom to traverse the environment how you choose are landmark moments. Over time, repetition rears its ugly head, combat becomes a necessary routine, and dimwitted foes snatch you out of the third crusade and remind you that you’re playing a game. The potential here is undeniable, but there’s been some dust swept under the rug that places a blemish on an otherwise beautiful piece of art.

I cannot even fathom what the author meant by calling it a "clairvoyant experience." Perhaps Assassin's Creed was reading his mind -- sort of a modern Taboo: The Sixth Sense. Also, "sagacious story?" "Incalculable crowd interaction?" I do not think these words mean what the author thinks they mean.

On the cliché tip, check out these consecutive sentences: "A confrontation ensues and Altair ends up on the short end of the stick. Returning to his master with his tail between his legs..."

No wonder there's no byline.

Big Tools 4 U

The Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction review is up now. It's just what the PlayStation 3 needed: a fun, breezy game with colorful visuals and plenty of jokes, and few attempts to be groundbreaking. Great controls, too. Just an awesome game.

The culprit

A site called Magical Wasteland takes a look at Mass Effect and determines that most of its problems probably stem from a hard ship date -- meaning that the game wasn't necessarily done, but BioWare was committed to a November 20 release. It's a fascinating, measured look at the compromises that often must be made in order to put a product on the shelves (and of course the writer loved the game, despite the problems he elucidates). A few of the writer's observations:
There is no loot other than finding more weapons, and these automatically get better (in a completely linear progression: Assault Rifle I, Assault Rifle II, and so on) as you advance. Because they’re the only thing you can find, you’ll soon have piles of pistols and shotguns, which you can sell for cash to buy– what? The only thing you can buy is more weapons.

Not to mention that you can only carry a limited number of these items, but the game doesn't tell you that. Nor does it tell you how close you are to the limit. So all you can do is sell them, or melt them down into omni-gel.

One of the first things noticeable in Mass Effect is the tremendous amount of texture-popping that goes on as the player enters new areas. Occasionally, even just running from place to place results in a loading message appearing while the disc spins wildly inside. It’s clear that the popping wasn’t something the artists knew in advance to work around, since there are often shots in cutscenes that don’t even last as long as it takes for the texture to pop in: by the time the texture has actually loaded, the camera isn’t even on the object any longer.

This last part really bothered me, even though in theory it's the sort of thing that shouldn't matter. Quite often, a camera angle will shift during a conversation or cutscene and a character will be smooth and featureless, and then suddenly his face will "pop" onto his head. For a game that is so largely driven by conversation and story elements, this is distracting. Like so much of what happens in Mass Effect, it's like a developer shouting at you, "Hey! Don't forget you're just playing a game!"

Playing normally, I got stuck on geometry several times, with no way out but to reload an earlier save. I flipped my supposedly un-flippable Mako vehicle. A step that I had not yet taken was registered as completed in my quest log. None of these bugs severely impacted my ability to enjoy the game, but they do affect the "fit and finish" of the final product.

And here, again, is where I seem to depart from most other people who've played Mass Effect. These things do affect my ability to enjoy the game. I want to get lost in the game. I want to forget I'm even holding a controller. Mass Effect does not allow for that possibility.

There's one other point that this article raises, as well. Given that Mass Effect wasn't even finished when it went gold, it casts some serious doubts on the early reviews. Game Informer magazine, in particular, ran an extremely early review that scored the game a 9.75 -- while still making excuses for patchy AI and a terrible interface.

My question is, what was Game Informer reviewing? The Mass Effect in front of them, or the Mass Effect they expected to arrive in stores months later? Were they willing to overlook certain problems to secure the exclusive? Were they willing to furnish a certain minimum score? Do I have any evidence for these assertions? Is that why I'm writing them in an annoying "could it be" style, allowing me to make inflammatory accusations without taking responsibility for them?

The answer to that question, at least, is yes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here!

First, I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.

Second, I have never felt more out of step with the public than I do with Mass Effect. The full review will be posted next week, but for now I want to make a couple of observations -- with the help, as always, of Metacritic.

Planet Xbox gave this game a 98, while noting:
Other than the AI issues, graphical glitches, and insanely confusing equipment screen Mass Effect is the perfect video game.

Oh, other than that. How often do you even have to contend with AI, graphics, or the equipment screen? Just, oh, every ten seconds or so. The perfect video game!

A site called Gamer 2.0, scoring Mass Effect a 92, has this caveat:

It may be difficult for some to overlook the new combat system, but once you get a grip on it, and look past the shoddy vehicular combat, you’ll find a game worthy purchasing.

So if you're willing to look past, er, a gigantic component of the game that is horribly and irretrievably broken, you'll find a game "worthy purchasing" [???]. And this excerpt doesn't even mention the menus!

Da Gameboyz [???] observe:

But in the end it really is the gameplay and story that counts here, and Bioware has wonderfully combined both in such a way that any of the minor complaints can be ignored.

The thing about minor complaints is that when there are so many things to complain about, as in Mass Effect, they stop seeming so minor. It's like death by paper cut. How can you enjoy the story when it's such a chore to get from plot point to plot point?

The excerpt from Hardcore Gamer Magazine most accurately captures my feelings, although again their review is largely positive (an 80):

As it is, it's merely very good on several different levels, and is more or less a must-play for RPG fans. It will drive shooter fans completely up the wall, though.

Up the wall and out through the ceiling.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Maybe it's time for some new clichés

Metacritic is an invaluable resource. Even if we agree that game scores are generally inflated, aggregate scores provide an accurate way to compare different games. A ten-point difference in a Metacritic score is definitive and often correct -- consider a score of 89 for Ratchet and Clank Future, and 79 for Heavenly Sword. Will anyone argue that those should be reversed?

There's just one problem. I don't know how painstakingly the Metacritic experts choose their excerpts for each game, but they tend to reflect horribly on game criticism in general. Here's the excerpt from Gametap's review of Ratchet and Clank Future:
It's rare that a game critic feels the way I do about this game, but in all honesty, I find it really difficult to find something that's not to like. The controls feel great. The graphics look great. The score sounds great. The weapon selection alone make me want to play the game over and over again, just to test out all the cool offered.

You've got the useless appeal to authority (Really? A game critic feels this way? Wow!), repetition of a fairly meaningless accolade, and, to top it all off, the grammatical abortion in the last clause. "Cool" is not now and has never been a noun. This stuff wouldn't pass muster in a high-school essay class. Maybe the full review is better; I didn't click through to see.

We're all guilty of employing clichés now and then. It can be unavoidable when you're on deadline. But it's rare that you see two reviewers employ the same cliché to make opposite points about the same game. It happened in the reviews for Uncharted. IGN's review, good for a Metacritic score of 91, declares that "The final sum is far greater than the individual parts." But EGM, doling out a pitiful 85, ruefully admits that "Everything's fun and exhilarating, but it never builds to more than the sum of its parts."

Hilarious, yes, but it speaks to the utility of the site that even such disagreements still contribute to the conclusion that Uncharted is a pretty good game. That's what I like about Metacritic: it's the sum of its parts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Still interested in BlackSite

Wired's Clive Thompson takes a brief look at BlackSite: Area 51. I've been interested in the game for awhile, but it's going to be drowned out by the season's heavy hitters. It's too bad -- I'd like to support the team that made it. There really should be more games that are politically aware, even if the allusions are as blunt as Thompson makes them sound. But games have to be fun, too, and on that score it doesn't sound like BlackSite fares too well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The soapbox

I sure hated Manhunt 2. This is the rare review where I feel like it actually says what I meant it to say, and have nothing else to add here.

I'd also recommend Ryan's feature article about Rock Band.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Uncharted demo impressions

Last week, Sony graced us with a demo for their upcoming PS3 action/adventure, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. This is the second of their two-pronged holiday attack, following the excellent Ratchet and Clank Future. Although it's necessary to withhold judgment until the full game is out, it seems unlikely that Uncharted is going to live up to its end of the bargain. The short demo certainly isn't bad, but its flaws could be fatal over several hours of play.

What should be one of the game's greatest strengths actually makes it creepy to behold. Half the time, it's a marvel to watch Nathan Drake scramble over fallen logs, leap gracelessly from one pillar to another, and slam up against a wall like a sack of potatoes. The developers have opted to make him a rough-and-tumble hero from the Indiana Jones mold, and it works especially well when he fights -- instead of the same identical, telegenic punches, Nathan throws off-balance haymakers and throws his weight into vicious tackles. I can't think of another video-game hero who behaves quite this way.

But there's also something a little unsettling about it. The lifelike animation places the characters deep in the uncanny valley. While playing Ratchet and Clank Future, one of the most visually appealing games I've ever seen, it occurred to me that graphical horsepower is better used for the fantastic than the realistic (take a spin through the asteroid belt in R&C and try to tell me otherwise). If developers want a grittier aesthetic, there's still a way to render a world with verisimilitude without plunging into zombie territory. Gears of War is a good example of this. As fluid and convincing as this animation is, a computer can't render life in a character's eyes -- at least not yet.

As for the gameplay, Uncharted is a strange mix of the cover-shooting mechanic of Gears of War and the environmental swashbuckling of Tomb Raider. The demo showcases wide-open jungle environments with lush greenery overgrowing crumbling, ancient architecture. There are only a couple of scenarios, and each is the same: clear out some foes, climb and jump your way to the next area, repeat. But there are some indications that it could end up more fun than it seems. At one point, I rushed an enemy from his blind side and hit the melee button, fully expecting to throw a punch. Instead, Nathan leaped onto the guy and broke his neck. I like when a game can surprise me like that. A wide enough variety of attacks and animations could keep the game fresh throughout.

One other point: the island is just littered with exploding barrels. They're everywhere. I'm not going to pretend I don't enjoy wiping out a group of opponents with a well-placed exploding barrel shot, but it'd be nice if there were at least some half-assed attempt to explain their presence. Who brought them there? What are they for? I could buy that the mercenaries needed to bring demolition with them, but dozens of unwieldy barrels just strewn evenly around the jungle? It would make more sense, say, to have a truck loaded up with them. Or to have them grouped around the exterior of a cave. Not lying on their side on top of a low wall. That shit makes no sense!

Thursday, November 08, 2007 User-Submitted Previews: Mass Effect

I pre-ordered Mass Effect today, and I thought I'd check in with my fellow Gamestop customers to see what the buzz is.
I believe this game is going to revolutionize the rpg and maybe even gaming as we know it. What other game is melding shooters with rpgs.

Let's see... nope, no other game is doing that.

This game is gunna be sick. it is oblivion, but in space and with guns.

And BioShock was Oblivion, except underwater and with guns. Need for Speed ProStreet is Oblivion, except in modern cities and with cars.

this game looks really fun. in a weird way, it kinda looks like halo..shooting, adventure, ya..killing is fun...but thats all u want from a shooter game, right? good graphics, kick butt online play, and cool player customization is all i need to have fun in a shooting game! so yeah...looks like alot of fun

Yep, kick-butt online play is all you need. If only Mass Effect had any!

I'm so excited for a game that really knocks my socks off this year as I was so sure that Jericho was gonna hold that mantle because I spent so much time obsessing, but apparently I was wrong. this one I've been careful about only to obsess on it a little. OMG i cant wait!!!

This guy is way off-base. Since it didn't work on Jericho, the solution to make Mass Effect great is obviously to obsess even harder.

This game is going to be awesome. It has Gears of War like combat along with a KOTOR style combat system where you can change at will.

I thought it was like Oblivion, except in space and with guns.

And like this

My high-school classmate Leigh Alexander has written a deconstruction of Portal over at GameSetWatch that does a nice job of exploring the role of player choice in the game. She also psychoanalyzes GLaDOS for good measure. It's a lucid and thoughtful piece, and if you don't fear spoilers you should check it out.

Predictably, the first couple of comments on the column are haughty and dismissive.

More like this

I've had The Escapist over there in my links for quite a while, but I'm not a habitual reader of the site. I think I like the idea of The Escapist more than I like the end product. The world desperately needs intelligent games criticism that doesn't focus on how good a game is, but what a game means. Usually, Escapist articles don't go far enough in pursuing an argument. They leave threads dangling.

That's not the case with "Slouching Toward Black Mesa" by Tom Rhodes, which attempts to contextualize the Half-Life series within the archetype of the hero story, and does so convincingly. Rhodes does a couple things well in this piece: he draws parallels between the game and Yeats's poem "The Second Coming," and he also examines the relevance of both to the modern world. It's sober and thoughtful stuff, showing great respect for Half-Life and for games as a medium. If gamers want to argue that games are art, then the way to convince skeptics isn't to nag at them -- it's to keep producing insightful criticism like this.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Call of Duty 4 -- who knew?

With several precincts reporting, Call of Duty 4's Metacritic score is a robust 95. More convincing still is Tom Chick's review, which praises CoD4's "engrossing, even astonishing single-player campaign," and calls it a "must-have game." I wrote this game off when it was announced, and haven't followed its development at all. Now it's just another on the long list of good holiday games that I'm missing in order to bring you reviews of dreck like Manhunt 2. (To be posted next week.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hardcasual: The Groundswell

That would be a great name for a fantasy fiction trilogy, wouldn't it?

Anyway, a post on Level Up today addresses something that's come up in this blog a few times: the incompatibility of the hardcore gaming experience with the time demands on your modern adult. Nintendo talks a lot about recapturing people who fell away from gaming. But there's another huge swath of us who never gave it up, who started playing games as young children and kept it going right through college. The games didn't leave us -- they didn't stop being fun, or become too complicated. It just turns out that when you work a full-time job and have a family, gaming in six-hour sessions becomes less appealing, not to mention impractical.

Often, I read complaints that a game is too short. This is a value consideration: if you spend $60 on a six-hour game, that's only $10/hour. If you spend $60 on a forty-hour game, that's a piddling $1.50/hour. Objectively, it's clear to see which is the better deal, especially if the gamer in question is, say, a college student with unlimited time and extremely limited funds. On the other hand, I'd think it's worth the extra money for the salaried professional whose time is at a premium. $60 isn't cheap, but it's not back-breaking either. And let's say that, realistically, you can only squeeze in an hour or so a night of game time. This six hour game now takes almost a week to complete -- or about as long as it used to take me to plow through a 40-hour game in college. Both of these straw men spent $60 on a game that they completed in a week, using most of their free time to do so. They come out even!

This isn't to say that there isn't a place for both types of games. But I would hope that publishers understand that there's a large, well-heeled segment of the market that actually does want short games, or games that can be played in bursts, without sacrificing complex gameplay or mature themes. If "hardcasual" is to be the term, then so be it. Just don't confuse lack of time with a lack of interest.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Uncharted: The reviews are in

I think I could spend the rest of my life reading the user-submitted previews at and never get bored. Today, we're looking at some advance reactions to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the PlayStation 3. It sounds like a winner!
  • 5 star game from what i seen. i seen all the videos made for this game from the playstation network, from how they made it to the gameplay and i got to say i like what i see nice graphic excellent storyline and great gameplay. i got to say this is a top notch game. In my opinion they should of somehow added some online play but hey the game is already perfect as it is.
  • from the trailers ive seen it looks pretty damn good i just its not a disaster like heavenly sword which was about a 5 hour game and no weapons just a stupid sword uncharted has everything you can dropkick your enemies give them a a floy mayweather haymaker punch and to mention all the weapons the graphics look reaaly good
  • Uncharted Drake's Fortune is a action sort of thing. On the Playstation 3 with its Blue-Ray drive it offers the best graphics yet. If you were in to action and adventure games I would recomend you get a PS3 ( if you dont have one yet ) and get this game. About the game, it is a very action pack thriller like James Bond. If I were you I would spend 5hours playing the game. But it doesn't come out till next month. I am asking E3 please don't dissapiont all of us.
  • gotta be honest with ya, at first, i thought this game was gonna be gay!! but the more and more info im seeing is changing my mind, im actually getting kind of excited for it, it looks pretty sweet!!! so ill just see how it is when it comes out!!!
  • This game is obviously very good, but microsoft will probably buy this game of sony like it did with all the other games. Face it the ps3 has no exclusives. This game will be Alot better on xbox the ps3 is a dreamcast with no chance of getting any excusives and this will be another xbox gain. Way better on xbox.

Guitar Hero III multiplayer impressions

We put some time into multiplayer Guitar Hero III last night, and as I'm not reviewing it for the paper I'll just share some thoughts here.

To put it simply: the game is a blast. My understanding is that Neversoft didn't get any of the code from Harmonix, and had to build their engine from the ground up. That makes it all the more impressive that they've delivered, on a short timetable, a game that plays just as well as its predecessors. I've heard some complaints that the hammer-on/pull-off mechanic is more forgiving this time around, and while I agree that it is, I don't agree that it's a problem. You already have real guitarists getting elitist about Guitar Hero; let's not have expert-level players getting elitist too.

The tracklist is as good as I'd hoped, with the usual amount of bad songs that are surprisingly fun to play and good songs that are surprisingly lame to play. I wasn't expecting to be thrilled by the bassline of "Reptilia," but there you go. Metallica's "One" was worth the price of admission. Our biggest complaint in playing through the co-op campaign was that the final encore is a song called "Monsters" by a band called Matchbook Romance. The guitar part was ordinary, the song was boring, and coming as it did on the heels of songs by Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Living Colour, it was almost a cruel joke.

The new "battle mode" was a disappointment, at least from the brief time we spent with it. The idea of power-ups doesn't bother me per se, but it seems antithetical to the idea of Guitar Hero that a game can end within about thirty seconds. Any competitive mode ought to encourage more rocking, not less. As it is, we found that whoever sprang the lefty flip on the other guy first tended to win. Not really my idea of a good time. Fortunately, it's optional except for a couple stages in the single-player mode. I am willing to believe that battle mode is more fun when you get good at it. Still can't imagine it's worth playing over co-op or pro face-off.

I'm not sure I'll end up buying Guitar Hero III, if only because I don't know how much time I can devote to it. Plus, I'm still fairly convinced that Rock Band will be better. But it is pretty great, and the highest praise I can give it is that my wrist is hella sore today. That's rock and roll!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The walls came tumblin' down

Really too bad about Jericho. It's an ordinary game, executed ineptly. Not much to recommend it. Clive Barker seems really excited about games in general, though, so maybe he should steer clear of Metacritic for awhile.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rock Band video!

Again I lament that I was not able to partake of the Rock Band excitement after watching the Phoenix's video recap of their day. How great does this game look?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guitar Hero III demo impressions

I had been anticipating Guitar Hero III: Legend of Rock with some trepidation. Harmonix is staffed almost entirely by musicians, so they really nailed the first two Guitar Hero games. Without knowing much about Neversoft, my fear was that they'd have less of a feel for the subtleties -- that they wouldn't know if what they were making accurately simulated the sensation of rocking out. On the basis of the demo, I needn't have worried. If there is a difference in the control, it's not even as dramatic as the tweaks from the first game to the second. And playing a master track of "Even Flow" was about as great as I'd hoped.

There's no denying that Neversoft has sexed the game up quite a bit. I'm not concerned about character models or anything, because that's not what I'm looking at when I'm playing. The display functions the same, although with brighter colors and funkier fonts -- again, it doesn't affect the gameplay at all, so it's hard to feel strongly one way or another. The only thing I actually didn't like was the constant text notifications in the center of the screen. Getting a "Star power ready!" message is one thing. But seeing "50 note streak!" is just distracting, especially since it bounces around a bit before disappearing. I'm trying to look at something here, dudes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rock Band interview

Due to some last-minute scheduling issues, I wasn't able to make it to Harmonix to play Rock Band. Ryan did go, however, and he interviewed Sean Baptiste about song selection, licensing, what the team learned from making Guitar Hero, and a lot more. My favorite part was what seemed to be a subtle dig at Neversoft and Guitar Hero III:
There are a lot of musicians working at Harmonix, how would you say that helps the game as an experience to gamers?
Given that the people here are in bands themselves and are musicians, their desire to show the authenticity of rock and to show how awesome it is to make music and how rock and roll it is – that’s first and foremost above the excess, sort of cartoony aspects of it, and that’s huge for them.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Okami, my pick for 2006 game of the year, is coming to the Wii. This follows up the mind-blowing Resident Evil 4 adaptation that Capcom released earlier this year. I'd still like something new on the Wii, but it's not the worst thing if people want to keep improving on already great games.

Sony gets agro on pricing

The rumors were true: the 40 GB PlayStation 3 drops in America on November 2, for the low, low price of $399. This may just be cheap enough to convince people to start buying the damn thing. The Spider-Man 3 Blu-Ray pack-in is a nice touch, too. And with the 80 GB model dropping to $499 -- which still includes a fairly decent pack-in game -- Sony is very quickly putting themselves in a tenable market position. Remember, this all happens less than a year after the 60 GB model launched at $599. That's probably the fastest price drop in history.

The problem, of course, is the 40 GB model's lack of backwards compatibility. For all the bad will generated by the initial launch price and Sony's various PR pronouncements from Bizarro World, you'd have thought a simple price cut would turn gamers around right quick. Instead, they have to go and neuter a fairly important feature to the PlayStation brand. I won't go so far as to say that backwards compatibility is essential -- the Xbox 360 seems to have done just fine with its own, uh, unique interpretation of BC -- but it's a hell of a lot more important than, oh, SIXAXIS control.

Is it a dealbreaker? I don't think so. I think the price is the single biggest thing people have held against the PS3. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we hardcore gamers -- we who read and comment on gaming blogs, for example -- really don't represent the majority of consumers in this market. We are the most vocal and most visible, but your average holiday shopper just wants the shiny new thing. And now it may nearly be affordable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Your very own Weighted Companion Cube (contains spoiler)

Folks who have played through Portal will be delighted to learn that a Weighted Companion Cube desktop toy will be available for the holidays. Sounds like the perfect stocking stuffer!*

*Provided you don't have to throw it in the incinerator.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In praise of the episodic model

Kotaku commenters are making much hay about Nintendo's proclamation that gamers were "bored" before the Wii came along. I don't know what Perrin Kaplan actually meant by her comment, but there's one way to interpret it that makes sense to me. When you settle in for a serious gaming session, which I'd define as more than an hour of continuous play, you do eventually reach a zone where it'd be hard to say that you are having fun in the traditional sense. Instead, it's about accomplishing the goals the game has set before you. What enjoyment you derive is from the satisfaction of victory, not so much the moment-to-moment action.

Consider some of the more robust single-player experiences of recent years, like Oblivion or the recent Zelda. Both contain long sequences where you're not actually doing anything. You're walking across a field, or engaging in a meaningless fight with a weak and inconsequential enemy on your way to doing something that will advance the story. Or take one particularly silly task in Final Fantasy XII, in which you have to run around sowing the seeds of revolt by proclaiming the resurrection of Captain Basch. Is this fun? It may be satisfying or addictive, but it's not fun in the way that Nintendo has defined the term. It seems that hardcore gamers are after something else entirely.

That doesn't necessarily mean that we're bored, either. In a recent post, I lamented that I can't devote as much time to games as I used to. I enjoy playing the Wii with my friends because it's something we can start and stop as the flow of the evening dictates. I can't do that with a more hardcore single-player game. The flow of the game dictates when and how I will play. (This is the reason why I've started Metal Gear Solid 3 three times in the past year and never gotten more than an hour into it.) It means, unfortunately, that when I do get to play something, it's more about plowing through to the end than enjoying the journey.

Enter Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Like the first two Half-Life games, as well as Episode One, it's a honed, focused action-adventure that represents the apex of the genre (full review to be posted next week). But unlike so many games, it's only five hours long. This has been the sole point of contention in reviews of the game. But is there any better way to split the difference between the immersive experience I want and the "pick up and play" dynamic that suits my lifestyle? Episode Two's clearly delineated chapters made it easy to find a stopping point, but its expert pacing and ridiculous setpieces ensured that I kept coming back. And the short length made sure that it was never -- not in any tortured sense of the word -- boring.

Maybe it's not ideal for everybody, but that's my idea of fun.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Critics are irrelevant

I was poking around the "Coming Soon" section at and stopped to check out the PS3 shooter Haze. Although the game doesn't ship until after Thanksgiving, that hasn't stopped some enterprising citizen journalists from weighing in with their thoughts. Here are some choice selections from the user-generated previews.
  • Pre-purchased Haze just now and I've already booked 5 consecutive vacation days off from work with the first corresponding with Haze's realease date. I will be romping on you all when you get online. Watch out for the proffessional gamers lurking the big corp downtown; we watch everything you do and I'll teach ya a lesson about online gaming.
  • This game looks to be pretty decent about 8 out of 10.
  • This game is not another far cry because it doesn't take place on an island it goes from citys to the South America to dessert. The scenery changes and so this will be better than farcry.
  • this game is gonna keep us glued to our seats. i read all the previews for it on mags and stuff and they played some demos of it and it looks big. so pre-order now guys and c'yall online
  • The graphics are incredible and gameplay will be awesome. This(although it seems to be a normal FPS) will be different from the rest. I just know it will.

With insights like these available at no cost, I'm not sure if eggheads like Tom Chick have much of a future in this industry.

Board is life

EA's Skate is a solid, mostly non-flashy game that's a lot of fun. It reminds me in some way of Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis -- the emphasis is on depicting the core sporting experience, and not so much on bells and whistles. This being an EA game, there is of course a "rise to prominence" storyline, but it's not so lamely executed as in some other games I can think of. And Skate doesn't lose anything if you ignore the story aspect completely.