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.