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 Gamestop.com 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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My anecdote is better than your data

Bill Harris says:
I checked Wii availability today and it's as low as I've seen it in months in the U.S. Nintendo has said both that they've greatly increased inventory shipments to North America AND that they still won't meet demand.

Counterpoint: I finally saw Wii units in stock just this past Sunday. It was at the Target in Leominster, and there were at least two in the case. This is the first time I've seen a Wii for sale anywhere, save for the time I got in line at 6:30 AM to buy one. Obviously this doesn't actually mean anything, particularly because the Wii probably will be no easier to acquire this holiday season. I just thought it was fascinating that it's taken nearly 11 months before I randomly encountered a Wii. Contrast that with the Xbox 360 (five months) and the PS3 (two months). And the only reason Target had the units in stock is because most people probably aren't thinking about Christmas shopping yet.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Father, the Son, and the Master Chief

Ryan sends along an article in yesterday's New York Times about a nationwide trend: churches using Halo as a recruiting device. It's fascinating stuff, and a little difficult for me to get my head around.

On one hand, it seems like a distasteful bit of bait-and-switch. As one person quoted in the article says, "If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it." I don't necessarily agree with the comparison, but the difference between games and those other vices is, in this case, a matter of degree. The M-rated Halo has been deemed inappropriate for kids under 17 by people who (mostly) know what they're talking about. It almost seems lurid, like the holy flipside of luring a kid into the back of a van with promises of candy. Give them what they want -- and then get what you want. (In some industries, this is known as "marketing.")

On the other hand, the church officials behind the Halo congregations have their heads on straight when it comes to games. The stereotype of the foaming-at-the-mouth games censor in my head is certainly that of the far-right Bible-thumper (even though the facts don't bear this out -- some of the most stridently anti-games politicians in recent years have been Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton, and Illinois Governor Rod "The Bod" Blagojevich). Instead, the pastors quoted in the article take the pragmatic approach: "We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex." As someone who spent all of his teen years playing video games, I can confirm that such a lifestyle definitely does not lead to drugs, alcohol, or premarital sex.

Who knows? Maybe these types of church programs will even help to turn down the heat under some of the more excitable culture warriors. As a general rule, I think whatever starts a dialogue is a good thing. If a kid has to defend Halo to his parents on theological grounds, then he's probably looking at the game more critically than most professional reviewers do. And if this is merely another fissure in America's ever-crumbling religious foundation, then we godless gamers will achieve final victory!

Wait, scratch that last part.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Krpata to gamers: Screw you

I'd like to say a little more about the Halo 3 review.

To some degree, this review criticizes the hype and the culture surrounding the game moreso than the game itself. That's for a couple of reasons. One is because I like to take a different angle than you get from the bigger publications, if I can. The other is that the hype is as much a part of Halo as the plasma pistol at this point. Between the soda cans, the fast food promotions, the MIT hacks, and the endless media coverage, well before last week it was obvious that Halo 3 was going to break all kinds of sales records. Which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.

What bothered me was the sense of inevitablity I was detecting on various game blogs around the web. So much muted criticism accompanied by a shrugging admission that people were going to buy Halo 3, and buy it the first day it was out, as if they had no choice in the matter. In reading some reviews of the game, it seemed like a lot of critics were copping out -- admitting that they didn't love it, but assuming the public would and scoring it accordingly. The glut of pre-release scores of 9.0 and above only added more fuel to the fire. If you were a gamer, it was pre-ordained: you were buying Halo 3.

Now, the critics may be right on one point. The public does seem to love it. But how could the press have known? They played the game before it was publicly available! Tycho of Penny Arcade said he was not willing to reject something just because idiots like it, but when consorting with idiots makes up a primary component of the experience, I'll reject the shit out of it.