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2010 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2011 by Dan

The Super Potato Exterior in Akihabara

Super Potato in Akihabara

As is typical of me, I played a ton of video games this year. Here’s a listing of what I played along with a few short (or long) words on each game. For the most part, this list is restricted to games released in 2010 unless I did not play them until this year. It’s also mostly in chronological order, with some skips here and there.

Mother 3: Definitely did not come out in 2010. I reviewed it already, but let me say that there is significant beauty to this game. Affecting and heartwrenching, this is easily among the best games I played this year. Do not play this on an emulator because the music-timing of the battles is deliciously fun and the time lag of emulation makes that impossible to experience.

Mass Effect 2: The first AAA game of the year. My review trended toward disappointing, mostly due to the way that story was handled in this iteration compared to part 1. Still, an undeniably great game whose heist-story mechanics and plot are unique and interesting in the gaming landscape. I can’t wait for part three in November.

Heavy Rain: Almost as exciting as actually doing the chores your imaginary wife forces you to do in real life. The execution just missed with this one and its plot twist was asinine and felt cheap. If you’re allowed to hear the thoughts of the protagonists, but you fail to provide a logical reason as to why that person is lying to us (himself?), you’ve lost me.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2010): My baseball game of the year. I love taking the Carp to the Japan Series each year. I spent countless hours developing my franchise. This game was worth every dollar I spent importing it.

Final Fantasy XIII: Thoroughly disappointing. Expect more from me on this (edits from the future!), but SqueEnix really dropped the ball something fierce here. A game that suffered from complete lack of creative direction. Final Fantasy XIII is the head of the snake eating its own tail that has become SqueEnix.

Yakuza (1, 2, )3: Did not put that much time into this one, but I did play its prequels to completion. Fiercely Japanese in design, I just haven’t found the time to get deep into this gem. I’m sure it’s actually pretty great.

Mega Man 10: It lacked some of MM9’s magic (partially by being easier), but still a razor sharp example of why the Blue Bomber captured our hearts in the first place. Pump Man’s power, while heavily reminiscent of Leaf Man, is deliciously fun to play with. Using it again Solar Man was also tons of fun for me.

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilve: It was fun to go back to the best two games in the series. The Pokewalker was stupid, but I have high hopes for Black & White. These games are easily dismissed as rehashes, but they’re still white-hot proof that JRPG design doesn’t have to be needlessly complex to be addictive and elegant.

Alien Swarm: Valve gave me this game for free. I played it maybe twice. Decent fun, but I’d rather play Left 4 Dead 2.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: Never beat this game. SMT continues to be ridiculously tough and legitimately mature in their presentation of mankind’s eternal struggles against its darker tendencies. Maybe it’s the first-person dungeon crawling, but something about this game prevents me from ever picking it up most days.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse: I’m lumping all five episodes into one entity. I find TellTale adventure games to be workmanlike in quality. With the exception of the last two or three episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, they lack the extra oomph that could make them truly great. That said, The Devil’s Playhouse was the most hilarious Sam & Max iteration yet. From Sam & Max’s insistence on pronouncing General Skun’kape as skunk-ape to their episode-wide fight over what to call the menacing Sam clones (Samulacra or Doggleganger?), these games were absolute riots. Now if only TellTale could figure out how to make them great games as well…

Monster Hunter Tri: One gaming session. The sword swipes pack so much friction it’s beautiful. Despite this, never picked it up again. Got a sick black classic controller out of it. Now if only I played Wii more often…

Super Street Fighter IV: Played the hell out of last year’s iteration. Opted to play other games since it was structurally similar to vanilla Street Fighter IV. Kind of wish I’d played it a lot more this year.

Green Day: Rock Band: Played it once, exported the tracks to Rock Band 2/3, never felt the need to boot it up again. Despite only 1 hour of playtime, unlocked an achievement. Fixing the ‘D’ rank that came as a result on Giant Bomb is the only reason I will ever boot this up again.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies: Practically perfect in almost every way that a JRPG should be. I understand why the story was left more generic than years past, but the lack of an interesting narrative is what kept me from finishing.

DeathSpank: Played the demo once. Bought it on PC to support Ron Gilbert. Might actually play it one day. It seemed funny.

Comic Jumper: Hilarious in a juvenile way, I slogged through the repetitive, mediocre gameplay just to see more of this game. I think Min “played” this the right way. He watched me beat it and got to enjoy the presentation without having to touch a controller.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: Am I the only person who hates what they did at the end of this story? Sure, it has legitimately far-reaching consequences for the sequel, but I think they’re also legitimately less interesting. Still, as perfectly constructed a game as they come. I fell out of playing it, but it definitely feels like I could pick it up at any time and have fun with it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game: A loving tribute to River City Ransom wrapped up in a franchise that I really enjoy. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Loads of fun, but, like most middling brawlers, starts to wear on you toward the end as there’s not enough variety introduced in later levels.

Worms: Reloaded: Love Worms. Loaded this up once and never did it again. I’ve hated all Worms interfaces since Worms 2, mostly because they obfuscate and hide customization options more and more as they transition toward console friendliness. I wish they’d put more effort into their PC version.

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, Dead Rising 2, and Dead Rising 2: Case West: I’ll lump these all together since they are mostly the same game spread out into chunks. The prologue and epilogue (Zero and West, respectively) are just small and feature-gimped enough that they lack the oomph of the full retail release. Dead Rising 2 itself was everything I wanted it to be. A more robust co-op system would be all it needed to be top tier, but I still had loads of fun with it. As a bonus, Min and Dead Rising 2 taught me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em this year.

Civilization V: You probably saw my review where I hated on the terrible AI. I haven’t played since they patched/fixed it, but if they did it right, this game could totally fall back within my good graces. I do sincerely love this game, it’s just not what I hoped it would be and, in its present form, not as good as IV.

Rock Band 3: Harmonix went and made a perfect Rock Band game. Now all I’ve got to do is get my hands on a pro-guitar and I might actually learn something practical from a game that lets me indulge in all my favorite music.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale: Ever wanted to run a JRPG item shop? This indie game translated from Japan is charming and fun, but I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it yet in 2010.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: So good until the end. Can a stupid ending mar an otherwise good game? Yeah, kinda. I still loved it for the great acting (weird to say, right?), but stupid ending + sub-Uncharted 2 traversal-style gameplay mires this one in the mediocre bin. The fighting system could also have used a little less frame-lock in its animations (is that what this is called?). Can’t count how many times I died because I was stuck in a seconds-long super attack aimed at the air.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Unparalleled artistic vision ties this game together. I haven’t put too much time in, but it seems super easy. I want to play with a friend to get the most out of this. What do you say, Min?

Super Meat Boy: Juxtaposing Kirby and Super Meat Boy is wrong on so many levels. One is like chamber music. Beautiful, complex, but not so complex it’s tough to listen to. The other is kick-you-in-the-teeth, bite off a squirrel head, make you a man heavy metal. Super Meat Boy is so deliciously crunchy in every way that it might be the best game game on this list. Where Starcraft II is perfect with a Beatles-type polish, Super Meat Boy is The Clash; unabashedly punk rock. I love this game. It’s so addictive and fun.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: Did I say Super Meat Boy was perfect? Pac-Man CE DX (PMCEDX) is video gaming distilled to its primal essence. Eat a whole train of 30 ghosts and I dare you not to feel primitive fun stir deep within you. Words cannot express how great this game is in bite-sized chunks.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: Is it cheating to count a re-release? This is probably the greatest adventure game ever now with a commentary track recorded by the big three: Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer.

Poker Night at the Inventory: Strong Bad is unbelievably annoying, but banter between Max, Heavy Weapons Guy, and Tycho are always a joy. The second half of this year’s poker lessons were learned here. Now if only I could get straight flush and four-of-a-kind hands so that I can 100% the achievements in this game!

Back to the Future: The Game: The voice acting and atmosphere in this game are both spot on. Unfortunately I hit a game breaking bug and had to start over. That sucked.

Limbo: First played this on 31 December, so it still counts. Deeply atmospheric, but darkly disturbing and difficult for me to stomach more than once a day. I want to go more into that in another post. Unfortunately for the game, I think the controls are a touch floaty, which I mostly find frustrating because I need to beat it dying fewer than 5 times for an achievement.

And that was 2010 in video games (for me). I missed some huge ones (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops), but I think I got a good spread in there. Here’s to another great year in gaming for 2011.

VP of Realistic Movements [ER]
Mar 25th, 2010 by Dan

Kevin Butler is at it again making not-so-subtle jabs at both the Natal and Wii. I love these commercials.

On Tim Schafer, Apotheosis, and Video Game Rockstars: A Brütal Legend Review [Game Overview]
Nov 20th, 2009 by Dan

Apotheosis -
1. The fact or action of becoming a god; deification
2. Glorification, exaltation; crediting someone with extraordinary power or status.

Do you know who Tim Schafer is?

When I still lived at home, my dad used to ask me, “When are you gonna grow up and stop playing video games?” He tells my mother that he’s sure I’m addicted to the medium. It’s true that I spend the vast majority of my free time playing games. I can name developers, producers, writers, designers, and even composers for games from my favorite series of games. This vast information age enables me to know everything about a game, down to its minutia, just by checking an online database. If there’s not enough information there, I can almost guarantee there are five or six fansites devoted to uncovering every last detail. It must be daunting for developers nowadays to produce in this environment.

My dad says these things, but I’m not sure he understands that this is just the nature of hobbies nowadays. Not too long ago we could almost justifiably claim an unhealthy obsession with the works of Deepak Chopra and transcendental meditation. Eric’s life revolves around photography nowadays almost as much as mine involves interactive entertainment. This is what hobbies are like now. Think of an obscure hobby, like stamp collecting, and I’ll guarantee you that someone out there spends a couple of hours a week producing a podcast for tons of people to listen to.

The point is, there’s a growing number of people who actually know just who is behind the games they play, a huge contrast to the early Famicom days.

It’s not exactly the fault of the developers that we had no idea who was behind our games back in the day. Standard process for Famicom-era games was to credit oneself via a pseudonym to prevent talent poaching. How would you be able to tell that seeing Gondamin credited as a composer meant you were listening to Junko Tamiya’s music? Famed Mega Man creator, Keiji Inafune still goes by INAFKING in some games.

Now that games are actually credited properly, it’s not uncommon for people to know that Bioshock was the brainchild of Ken Levine or that the wackiness of Metal Gear comes from Hideo Kojima. Nintendo actually keeps Shigeru Miyamoto’s hobbies on the down low because they don’t want people to speculate on what ideas his brilliant mind will come up with next. We’re talking a complete 180° shift here.

Eddie Riggs: “Ever feel like you were born in the wrong time – like you should have been born earlier, when the music was… real?”
Roadie: “Like the seventies?”
Eddie: “No. Earlier… like the early seventies.”

Embedded within all enthusiast cultures is the cachet that comes with either “being there first” or experiencing a unique experience that the ignorant masses overlooked. Go to Brooklyn, grab the first guy with crazy hair and skinny jeans you can find (protip: you won’t have a hard time finding one), and ask him what his favorite bands are. Chances are, unless you’re from the Brooklyn scene too, you won’t have heard of any of the groups he’s mentions. He will consider you a barbarian for liking commercial music and you will consider punching him in the face.

I think it’s clear where I’m going here, so I won’t belabor the point.

Have you ever played Grim Fandango?

We arrive at the natural conclusion: these developers, thanks to the power of the Internet and rabid fans like myself, are now legends in their own right. When Miyamoto talks, everyone listens and when Tim Schafer makes a game, I buy it (we’ll ignore the fact that I don’t own Psychonauts or Full Throttle). All this devotion and dedication to one man is based on the strength of four games: The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango, the last of which is the only one solely under Schafer’s artistic control (the true Monkey Island games were made by the holy trinity of Gilbert, Grossman, and Schafer while DotT was a Grossman/Schafer collaboration). When I played Grim Fandango for the first time in 2002, it was on the strength of Schafer’s Monkey Island reputation, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you his name until 2007 when I started listening to video game podcasts.

The press gushed and gushed about how good Schafer’s games were and how Psychonauts was criminally under appreciated and created the image of a brilliant game designer whose games featured great comedy writing and stories, but mediocre gameplay. Think about this for a second: Tim Schafer is famous for being a commercial underdog whose games are only hampered by mediocre controls. Before Psychonauts, Schafer’s only games were adventure games. Controls are irrelevant in that context, so Schafer has a reputation based on one game.

What’s worse is that I totally bought into the hype. I found myself thinking, I hope poor Tim Schafer isn’t underappreciated yet again. Really? After one game? This is the industry. This is modern, enthusiast society. This is madness.

Did you buy Psychonauts?

I can’t say that it started there, but the first time I ever saw an editorial campaign intended to raise a game’s sales was back around 2003 at IGN. Matt Casamassina, a fellow fan of Eternal Darkness, was bummed about the lackluster sales of what was actually a really great game, but its downsides were twofold: it was a new IP and it was a dark, mature game launching on the Gamecube, clearly the wrong platform for the game. The point of the campaign was that mature games would not continue to launch on the Gamecube if no one bought it, so everyone should take one for the good of the team and play this game. As you might expect, the plan failed and, for all I know, Casamassina still does his best to drum up sales of mature games on Nintendo platforms (he was back in 2008 when I still listened to IGN podcasts) with the same results. The Internet’s a tricky place. Everyone will agree that these games are criminally underrated by their sales numbers, but no one is willing to actually open up their pocketbooks.

Well, there is at least one. At some point I got it into my mind that if I wanted to keep seeing good games, I should support the ones that are trying to innovate in the field, regardless of whether I want them or not. It’s why I own Zack and Wiki and Little King’s Story, despite having no real interest in either. I just wanted to support good, non-minigame collections on the Wii. Lucky for me, nine times out of ten the stance that I want to support means that I’m supporting a game or series that I do truly love. Paying for the Day 1 DLC in Dragon Age: Origins is a hot issue for many who are morally opposed to content appearing on Day 1, despite the fact that this stuff probably wasn’t ready for a Day 1 launch. Regardless, I own both packs because I love Bioware as a developer and I want to see them continue to make good games. Likewise, it might have been a few parts my completist nature, but I used to buy every bit of DLC offered by Harmonix for the Rock Band series because I wanted to support their philosophy on music gaming over Activision’s (I also don’t buy used games for a similar reason).

It’s an attitude not limited to games either, I no longer pirate anything and actually buy CDs, .mp3s, and DVDs to support the artists that I treasure. It’s kind of foolish and I get burned sometimes with mediocre stuff, but I think it’s still worth it.

The take home message here is that my purchase of Brütal Legend comes from a complicated place. Tim Schafer, a man elevated to game-god status, a rock star, if you will, being the primary catalyst while the rest of my logic amounted to a combination of wanting Double Fine to find success in their game releases for once and rewarding EA for picking up this title after Activision so unceremoniously dropped it.

Was that a good idea?

It may not be the truth, but it’s the better story.

Brütal Legend is the worst kind of lie. It’s singing love songs with the girl of your dreams on a road trip, but you’re the only one who means it, while your best friend is sleeping in the backseat, blissfully unaware of the metaphor. That’s not to say it’s an evil, insidious lie, it’s just pretending to be one thing while slowly guiding you toward another. Boot up the game, watch Jack Black, go to the Land of Metal, and you’re expecting a 3rd person action brawler. Not too long into it it’s become an open-world brawler, complete with vehicle sections. An hour or two after that and you’re partaking in a hybrid RTS/3rd person action brawler/open-world driving game. It’s bait-and-switch executed marvelously. You might hate the RTS portions, but you’re already hooked on the story and you’ve got to begrudgingly see the rest of it through.

I’ll guarantee that most players didn’t even know that their game had RTS elements before purchasing it. How would they have when all the advertising campaigns featured only the 3rd person combat? Was this an evil move on EA’s part?

As a supporter of Tim Schafer, I say no. It’s a lie, no doubt, but it serves a greater purpose. This game cannot be distilled into its distinct parts in a 30 second action reel. Why not bring in the sales on the game on this promise? It’s not like it’s a total lie, it’s more like a half-truth. You will be fighting in the 3rd person for majority of the game, you’ve just also got to manage your troops well or you will lose. Then again, I have a hard time defending deception to the consumer on such a grand scale. Did Brütal Legend lie to all of us? No one went out and outright said it was one thing, but gave you another. There was even a demo out there. Is it really “Buyer Beware” to give the impression of one thing in your advertisements and deliver a slightly different thing? This isn’t like giving top billing to an actor who only appears for three minutes of a movie, is it?

“We say, over and over again, that the default player actions in a single-player game should be compelling enough to make you believe with all your soul that a two-player deathmatch situation using two player character clones and said default player actions would be at least as compelling as the actual game.”

– tim rogers in his Bionic Commando: Rearmed Review

tim rogers makes a point in countless reviews that a game’s core mechanic should be good enough that you can play it in multiplayer ad infinitum and have just as much fun with it. Brütal Legend takes that just a touch too literally. Double Fine so desperately wants you to love their multiplayer that the entire singe-player campaign is a training mission to prepare you for multiplayer. The final units and mechanics are all finally nailed down for the player in the penultimate battle. I’m not kidding, you can’t do everything until right before you fight the final boss. It goes against everything that “we,” the player, knows about games. When you play the campaign in StarCraft, haven’t you gained access to the entire tech tree after maybe four of the ten missions in the campaign? Maybe I’m wrong and this isn’t true, but it’s certainly not right before the final boss.

I see what the intention is. Strong multiplayer drives down the resale of games. Pre-owned game purchases are money lost to the developer. We’ve seen this trick already, EA, it’s why Dragon Quest made you grind for ages and why DLC and special pack-in unlocks are so prevalent in the games of today.

Back on message, the problem with this structure is that I didn’t want to play multiplayer once I finished. I’ve yet to boot it up once. That’s not to say that the game is terrible, it’s just not mechanically sound (and, lo, we now have a pattern that we can apply to Schafer).

“The road is fuckin’ hard,
The road is fuckin’ tough-ah”

-Tenacious D – “The Road”

Before I dive even further into the mechanics, perhaps a look into the raison d’être for Brütal Legend, its story, is in order. I should start by saying that the most surprising thing about this game is that the player is controlling Eddie Riggs, not Jack Black. Despite his tendency to be Jack Black in almost every role he plays, credit has to be given to Tim Schafer and Double Fine for writing him as someone completely different. There’s not one “skedoosh” uttered by Riggs in the whole game and even the part where Jack Black is Jack Black is decidedly restrained and non-Jack Black-like.

So the player controls this guy, Eddie Riggs, who is a roadie for a fictional metal band, Kabbage Boy, that’s all kinds of terrible in the modern, faux-metal, emo kind of way. The intro has this great part where the band starts off with an appropriately epic power cord, only to have a DJ break in with some scratches while the song devolves into a pop-nonsense song about the lead singer’s girlfriend. After saving one of the band member’s lives due to some reckless climbing (all while staying out of the spotlight), Eddie is crushed by some of the stage and his blood lands on his belt buckle, summoning the Metal god Ormagöden, who kills the members of Kabbage Boy and transports Eddie to a mystical world of METAL (if I could make flames burst out of this review, I would). For a guy like Riggs, this is a dream come true since the entire landscape looks something like the album cover to the metal records of old. Demons rule this world and enslave humans, but there is a small resistance group led by a man named Lars that Eddie joins to get closer to Ophelia, a woman he meets when he first teleports in.

The beauty of Schafer’s tale comes from the heavily enforced role of the roadie. Eddie Riggs is not out for glory and, despite the fact that he is the resistance and the main character throughout the entire game, he is not the hero. Maybe it’s Eddie’s personality, but he is firmly devoted to being a roadie and unused to the spotlight. It’s so ingrained in his character, that the narrative only addresses the discrepancy between what Eddie does and what he gets credit for maybe twice and both times he quickly brushes off. The story isn’t about Riggs becoming a hero in a world in which he belongs, which is strange, because it clearly features him uniting humanity and freeing mankind. Instead it’s a (METAL!) love story between Eddie and Ophelia and a damn good one at that.

Both the characters of Eddie and Ophelia are believable and both the dialog and voice acting between Eddie and everyone else is among the best I’ve seen in any game (top marks also go to the Uncharted series, the second of which I played right before Brütal Legend). The metal legends chosen to make cameos (Ozzy Osbourne, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister among others) do fantastic jobs of being both themselves and (especially in Ozzy’s case) fucking metal. Even the professionals like Jack Black and Tim Curry do some of their best work while industry veterans Jennifer Hale continues to prove that she’s one of the best in the business (don’t believe me? Check out her gameography).

At the end of it all, it’s clear what Schafer’s true strength is: world-building. Grim Fandango takes place in a wholly unique, single-serving world inspired completely by the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico with a dash of hell, demons, and the 1920s mafia. Psychonauts takes place within the brains of its cast of characters, with each mindscape inspired by psychology featuring wildly different neuroses, themes, and ideas. Brütal Legend, as you know, is inspired by heavy metal and creates a world where bass notes can heal, guitar strings are crafted by metal spiders, and guitar solos have the power to literally melt faces off. In each case his brilliance and creativity shines through and the player never wants to leave. He is unparalleled in this respect.

Brutal Legend draws itself up proudly. “I am a bastard child of the schizophrenic postmodern age. Know only that I am metal, and that I was forged from the raw materials of innumerable genres. No single acronym can contain my all. I am pure hybrid.”
-Chris Clemens. “At the Gates of Genre

Should Tim Schafer give up on games? I refuse to go on the record as saying that Brütal Legend is a bad game. Trust me, it’s not. On the other hand, it’s also not very good. It’s wild hybridization of multiple game styles and mechanics don’t combine for the better and the game winds up a jack of all trades, but, well, you know the rest. No one aspect of the actual game mechanics make me want to boot the game up again. Melee fighting is shallow because only two buttons can be allotted (you need to be able to control your troops and play guitar with the others). Driving is just a faster way of getting from point A to B and feels unsatisfying.

Quick Aside Time

I understand that this is hard and that resources are better spent elsewhere (not to mention that invisible walls serve to keep the player within them), but we, as gamers, need to take a stand against the goddamn trees in video games. How many fucking metal :throws up horns: nitro boosts did I waste because a thin, pathetic looking tree turned out to be The Epic Tree of Arrested Momentum. Seriously, if you’ve got small logs that I can drive through at low speeds, then why can’t I drive through a thin bit of underbrush? Then again, my car can fall thousands of feet and take no damage, so maybe my car and the trees are made of the same mystical, physics-distorting material.

Back to the review…

I can go on ad infinitum about every system in the game: the guitar solos are shallow, the RTS-style mechanics are frustratingly imprecise, the quest structure is repetitive, and the collectibles are annoyingly difficult to track and collect. Tell me Schafer, if I’ve got a map that automatically draws itself as I discover new parts of the world, why can’t it have a toggle switch to show me which collectibles I’ve already found? Ask my friend Ian how many hours I spent searching for the last (of 120) Bound Serpent in the game. It’s MADDENING.

At the end of the game, when evil has been vanquished and all the credit and accompanying hero worship has fallen on Lars and his sister, Lita, we see Eddie drive away, content to be a mere footnote in history, despite being the only reason that the history of that world continues. I return to the question, should Schafer stop making games himself? Wouldn’t he be a much better world designer for other projects? Isn’t Tim Schafer a better Eddie Riggs than a Lars? On one hand, I want him to continue to have the freedom to make his own full, artistic visions come true, but with two consecutive commercial failures under his belt (Brütal Legend has reportedly sold only 200,000 or so copies in Rocktober, but we’ll see what Christmas brings), will the industry keep giving him a chance?

Lars: “What do you do with a bunch of kids that just wanna bang their heads all the time?”
Eddie Riggs: *tears in eyes* “You start a revolution Lars…”

Tim Schafer is a rock star. There are few people in the industry who get what it means to craft a world, but the staff at Double Fine, Schafer-included, need to sit down and think about game design a little more. It’s got to be hard to reign in Schafer’s monstrous creative energy, but it would be a good idea to try to focus on getting fewer things perfect in their next game. The sad truth is that they haven’t got many more chances. Most of them could probably find jobs elsewhere, but the only member of their team with absolute job security is Tim Schafer. He will always be a Lars in the industry. Developers would be nuts not to give him top billing of some kind (note that the boxart for Brütal Legend explicitly states “A Tim Schafer game” above the title) and he deserves that kind of praise. So, to answer my previous question, Tim Schafer should absolutely make games, but perhaps he needs to narrow his sights a little bit and focus more on his core mechanics. Less can be more when you have to sacrifice quality.

Furthermore, have I learned anything about hero-worship in the industry? If anything, I think that writing this review has caused me to reevaluate the stances I take for granted on game companies and the artists I love, in general. I still think that the most effective way to lobby for anything in this industry is with consumer dollars, but I’m finding myself increasingly disenchanted with how little the sales from a small, dedicated fanbase amounts to. I mean, look at what my money did for the MLB Power Pros series in America? Given the decision again today, I would still go out and buy Brütal Legend. I like it that much, game mechanics aside, but with only 200,000 in sales, I’m pretty sure it will be a while before Double Fine is able to round up as much capital as I’m sure they did for this game (which may be to their benefit). On the other, Dan-has-learned-something hand, I’m pretty sure that I’m no longer giving everyone a carte blanche license to earn money from me. Metal Gear Solid 4 was such a disappointment to me that it will take some prodding for me to really trust Kojima again. Nintendo has flip-flopped around so much with Mario that I’m unsure where I stand. Mario Galaxy was not the breath of fresh air I thought it would be, but New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a masterpiece of sharp, 2-D game design combined with the brilliant addition of 4-player co-op. I no longer buy mature titles for the Wii. DVD box sets of shows that I casually want to remain on the air no longer get bought. Some things have been learned.

Take Home Review Message:
Brütal Legend is a definite rental, but I don’t feel comfortable recommending that you buy it until you’ve tried out the multiplayer.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XIV: The One Where We Miss Darvish [II]
Oct 20th, 2009 by Dan

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?

Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.

My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).

Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.

Maybe its just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I cant read.

Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.

Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Whos that Pokemon?!

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!

It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.

On a scale of 1-10 Id rate it pretty good.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.

At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)

With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.

There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.

Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.

I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.

Theyve got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.

After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but its still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.

The best shot of the field Ive got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that its difficult to get a good picture that isnt ruined by the super strong lights.

The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.

Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.

One of the stadiums employees.

One of the stadium's employees.

Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever youre supposed to call them.

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.

This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

Tetris [GO]
Oct 7th, 2009 by Dan

Eric came up with an idea to write parallel reviews of the same video game to see how similar our reviews came out. You can see his at Eric’s Binary World 2.0

Tetris is…”video gaming distilled to its core

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

A Tetris Review (In Four Lines)

Tetris is a game where you try to clear lines from the screen using six different shapes.
The highest number of lines you can clear with one shape is four (called a Tetris).
There is no narrative reason for you to clear lines.
The reason for you to clear lines is because it is fun.

There’s absolutely no reason to review Tetris. The game has existed longer than I’ve even been alive. Most everyone who’s played video games has played it at least once. Everyone I know who has played it loves it. What is there to say about a game like that? I could write about tetrominoes, but I’m pretty sure most anyone who reads that word will say, “What the hell is a tetronimo?” (protip: it’s what the individual Tetris shapes are called) or I could talk about Tetris syndrome, a repetitive stress symptom resulting from endlessly watching these blocks fall into place to clear lines.

None of these actually express the point of Tetris.

The Game Boy launched in 1989, only three years after my birth and too soon for me to experience it until far later. The system sold on the market until 2001 and the original iteration came bundled with Tetris. I don’t remember the year that my older brother, Eric, got his hands on a Game Boy nor do I remember the year that I got one, but I know that we had one in 1992 and I know that I played the hell out of that game, both alone and with Eric and David. I have distinct memories of straining my eyes in the car, playing a few seconds at a time between the streetlights in Miami, probably causing the severe vision problems I’m beset with today.

Before we get any further, I think it’s time for a digression.

For the first time since 1978, the entire oeuvre of The Beatles became available again for people to buy. Just about everyone who was alive during the brief seven years that the band released albums went out and paid what former 1UP editor Jeff Green affectionately called the “60s tax” to relive the blessed music of their youth. While I’m definitely not a flower child in any sense of the word, I happen to be a pretty big fan of The Beatles. I went out and paid my dues to nostalgia to bring home the works of The Greatest Rock Band of All Time. With deliberate caution I opened up the packaging and began systematically ripping and listening to the catalog in strict chronological order. I discovered something that I already knew, but had neither the equipment nor the resources to effectively conclude: The Beatles are fucking amazing. Note that I didn’t use the past tense there, there is something undeniably timeless about their beats, their beautiful bass lines, those perfect harmonies, and the sublime percussive talents of one Mr. Starr.

I’m no audiophile, I’m no serious student of music, I’m no musician, but I fancy myself a true lover of music. It’s rare for me to entirely dismiss a genre of music, I’ll listen to it all and I do my best to collect music from as many different sources as I can. Music is something that resonates with the basic, primal, inherently human parts of me. Before there was society, before there were cities, before there was an Internet (mind-boggling, I know!), there was music. Before we knew how to rock, there were The Beatles.

The first track on Please Please Me is “I Saw Her Standing There.” Within that short, 2:54 song, a pure, simple, but complex sound bursts from speakers. From Paul’s frenetic bass line, to the clean, non-threatening vocals, the harmonies from John and George, and the pure perfection of the backbeat, it’s clear, at least from my vantage point in 2009, that I’m listening to a group that had so mastered their medium that the only logical progression was for them to take music and irreversibly change it. The Beatles may have started with a medium that was established, but they would go on to create early forays into almost every modern genre. Just glancing at the bits of trivia contained within The Beatles: Rock Band shows a group unafraid to experiment with technology and push the medium to its furthest reaches. They found ways to implement the new until they ended with Let It Be sounding almost nothing like when they started.

It’s the astute reader who already sees where I’m going with this.

A Tetris Review (In Haiku)

Four lines disappear
A never-ending supply
The fun never ends

Pong is a simple game. Its spartan simplicity was necessity. When it comes down to it, it’s really just two lines at the edge of a screen bouncing a pixel back and forth. You couldn’t really do more than that, but it was the 1972. Comparatively, Donkey Kong is a ridiculously complicated game released in 1981. As Jumpman, you’re required to scale ladders, hop over barrels and fireballs, possibly smashing them with a hammer, and go toe to toe with a gigantic ape to save a damsel in distress. In 2009, I’m a huge fan of Left 4 Dead, a game that requires me to keep track of my health, the health of my allies, maintain situational awareness, know how to deal with six different types of zombies, each with unique attack/AI behavior patterns, navigate huge, 3D environments, and be able to aim and fire eight or so different weapon types. Tetris requires me to manage six shapes (two pairs of which are mirror variations on the same theme) and arrange them into lines. It’s not Pong, but it’s not even Donkey Kong complex. One joystick and two buttons that ostensibly serve one purpose.

There’s a reason almost everyone alive today has played Tetris and that people who don’t play video games still love Tetris. The barrier of entry is so low that anyone can play, but, thanks to the complexity created by the interplay of these six shapes, (WARNING: cliché approaching) very few can truly master it. When you combine that with the pure joy of taking that line piece you’ve been waiting almost twenty blocks for, while your tower sits mere millimeters from the top of the screen, and slamming it as hard as you can into place, generating that happy little sound effect while instantly eradicating four lines, well you’ve got yourself some magic there, don’t you?

Eric has a house, a wife, cameras that probably cost more than an unfortunately large proportion of the population makes in one month, multiple, powerful computers, a High Definition (TM!) television, a Nintendo Wii, and countless other distractions, but, inevitably, when I ask him if he’s watched this box set I lent him or had a chance to check this or that out, he’ll tell me, often enough that this isn’t that big of an exaggeration, that he didn’t get much done on a given night because he was busy playing Tetris online against his sister-in-law. It’s just something that calls to people, gamer or not, to play and try to master. It is timeless. It is a force of nature. It is rock. It is video gaming distilled to its core.

A Tetris Review (In One Word)

Perfection

Buy One Game, Get One You Don’t Want Free, Beatles: Rock Band Track List [Game Overview]
Aug 14th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Microsoft made a very intelligent move last Friday by introducing PayPal to Xbox Live for US users. From Friday onward users could use the online service to add points to their Xbox Live accounts. Those of you who don’t have credit cards rejoice. Things just got easier for you.

The Numbers Keep Climbing

As of last Friday, sales of Wii Sports Resort hit 600,000 copies. It’s also racked up at least 500,000 in the US and 350,000 in Japan, again, as of last Friday. We’ve got a big seller on our hands here.

I Really Wish They’d Stop Doing This…

Square Enix announced last week that they would be announcing the release date for Final Fantasy XIII in the coming weeks. Instead of rejoicing, most people said “Yeah, ok…How about you just tell us the release date when you know it?” Popular opinion is that the date will be revealed during Tokyo Game Show 2009.

Your Mother Lied, There’s Only So Much Love to Go Around

Ever wonder why you’re limited to a scant 100 friend on your Xbox Live buddy list? The answer lies where it always lies with Microsoft: legacy support. Keeping Halo 2 on the roster of games played over Xbox Live requires that the 100 person cap be met. Since tons of people still play Halo 2, the artificial limit continues.

Really?!

Nintendo has announced that the DSi outsold the DS, DS Lite, and Wii in its first three months of sales. Since the buzz seemed to be so muted, I was personally way shocked by this news. Who knew the new iteration was so popular?

Exclusivity

Xbox continues to lock down Netflix by getting exclusive movie streaming right to the service. PS3 users are out of luck as are Wii users in the USA, despite similar streaming services being available in Japan.

Pre-Buy One, Get One Free

In a move that screams lack of confidence, Activision has announced that anyone who pre-orders the upcoming Guitar Hero 5 will get…a free copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen.

It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a company outright give away a brand new game should the consumer commit to buying another game. It’s a move that’s got me scratching my head and wondering just how bad the projected Van Halen sales are supposed to be, but it could easily be a response to the nosediving sales numbers of rhythm music games.

Open SD

Nintendo has finally opened up the SD card slot in their system for booting DLC, allowing Guitar Hero and Rock Band fans to cry out in joy. No longer will players have to leave space open on their hard drives to swap data, they can now launch and play DLC directly from the SD slot. The new feature will debut on 1 September concurrent with the launch of Guitar Hero 5

A Good Old Fashioned Competition

The latest iteration of the classic Wolfenstein series will launch next week, a mere four days after August behemoth Madden NFL 10, which launched at 0000 today. Manveer Heir, a designer at Raven Software, would like to make a deal with you involving these seemingly disparate events.

If Wolfenstein outsells Madden in August, he will personally pay for any and all copies of Wolfenstein sold that month.

Good thing for his wallet that it will never happen. Like Kotaku said when they reported the story, he may as well just use that cash to buy copies of the game for himself to drum up sales.

Sgt. Soul

Harmonix has announced/confirmed that The Beatles albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul will be among the first albums released as DLC for the upcoming The Beatles: Rock Band (09/09/09)

While we’re on the subject, Game Informer Magazine has announced 44/45 of the track list for the upcoming game.

Singles
I Want To Hold Your Hand
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Paperback Writer
Revolution
Don’t Let Me Down

Please Please Me (1963)
I Saw Her Standing There
Boys
Do You Want To Know A Secret
Twist and Shout

With the Beatles (1963)
I Wanna Be Your Man

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love

Beatles For Sale (1964)
Eight Days a Week

Help! (1965)
Ticket To Ride

Rubber Soul (1965)
Drive My Car
I’m Looking Through You
If I Needed Someone

Revolver (1966)
Taxman
Yellow Submarine
And Your Bird Can Sing

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Good Morning Good Morning

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
I Am The Walrus
Hello Goodbye

The Beatles (White Album) (1968)
Dear Prudence
Back In the U.S.S.R.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Birthday
Helter Skelter

Yellow Submarine (1969)
Hey Bulldog

Abbey Road (1969)
Come Together
Something
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun

Let It Be (1970)
Dig a Pony
I Me Mine
I Got a Feeling
Get Back

Love (2006)
Within You Without You/ Tomorrow Never Knows

Most surprising to me is that last entry, Love. This album is from the remixed Cirque du Soleil show Love and it’s interesting to see that such modern additions are being made to the game.

Almost Nothing Creepier Than a Carnival

You really didn’t think you’d get through an edition of Game Overview without mention of Left 4 Dead 2, did you?

Gabe Newell announced on Gametrailers last night that one of the new campaigns for L4D2 will be The Fairgrounds, an amusement park-style level. All I can say here is that I’m already decently terrified by clowns. Please don’t make me cry in the corner Valve. Please don’t make clown zombies.

I’m going to go not think about zombie clowns for a bit. Have a week.

No MLB PP 2009 Again, Cheaper PS3, and More L4D Campaigns! [Game Overview]
Aug 7th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

I get tired of saying it guys, but, really, MLB Power Pros 2009 is not coming to North America. Nintendo has, yet again, released a list of upcoming titles for 2009 (seen here, from Kotaku)

Seriously guys, it sucks, but we’re not getting the game.

Gamestop Getting Paid

Hey readers, surprise! Gamestop likes to make money. Since they like making money so much, they’ve launched their own digital download store for casual games.

Considering that digital download retail will be the death of the traditional Gamestop, it’s rather forward-looking and a wise business move to get on track with this.

Cost Reduction

Sony has managed to drop the production cost of the PS3 by 70%, a huge margin that can only mean great things for a console manufacturer who was selling at a pretty major loss per unit. With rumors abound about the PS3 slim swirling around and a drastic need for a price reduction, it seems Sony is right where it needs to be to pull the trigger and make something happen to increase sales. Whether or not they do so will remain to be seen.

Trailer Break!

You’ve seen the Uncharted 2 trailer, but have you seen it…in Japanese?

I don’t know about Japanese characterization, but it seems that they’ve lost the lighthearted, scoundrel-like voice for Drake while both Elena and Chloe have voices so similar that I can’t tell them apart. It’s really bizarre to see something so distinctly American with a completely different audio track, but I like it.

New L4D Campaign!

Valve stated that there was a reason that L4D2 was coming out when it was and claimed that they weren’t done supporting Left 4 Dead (obligatory L4D2 reference on this week’s GO). They made good on those claims this week with the announcement of a new campaign for Left 4 Dead called Crash Course.

Our latest adventure for our heroes has been slated as a connecting mini-campaign that bridges the end of No Mercy, in which our heroes escape via helicopter, to the beginning of Death Toll, which begins at a camp site.

It’s a strange shift in philosophy concerning the first game, as the developer commentaries mentioned an overarching narrative idea that they trashed in lieu of just having four independent campaigns. I’m not saying I mind connecting the two games together with one narrative, but the about face is a bit jarring.

Can’t complain about free (on PC) content, though! Go Valve! I can’t wait for L4D2 in November!

Big Money for EA and Other Sales Data

Guess what guys? The Sims 3 sold. A lot. The numbers are somewhere in the 3.7 million copy range for everyone’s favorite life simulator. What’s more, EA’s brilliant idea to cash in on the fitness craze with the more western-focused EA Sports Active has earned them great sales numbers to the tune of 1.8 million copies sold to date.

Other big sales winners obviously include Nintendo, who has already sold 500,000 copies of Wii Sports Resort in America within eight days of launch. Japan has seen a cool 828,000 copies leave the shelves proving that Nintendo still hasn’t lost its edge.

The other two big franchises of Japan, Dragon Quest and Monster Hunter, have seen recent releases. DQIX has hit 3.39 million copies sold this week with 3.5 million copies shipped and the new release of Monster Hunter Tri has already sold 520,000 copies this week. A few games can’t exactly revive the entire industry, but it’s nice to see that the juggernauts are still selling like hot cakes.

Delays

For the first time in ages, titles have been backing out of the holiday launch window to head for the greener pastures of Q1. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have gotten the same memo and not talked to each other, because so many games have been delayed to 2010 that it’s starting to get too crowded out in January and February.

One game whose delay has nothing to do with the aforementioned information is Blizzard’s Starcraft II. Many of you remember Blizz stating that Starcraft II would require a four-to-six month beta test to determine that it was ready. Guess what, we’ve passed the point where six months can still fit comfortably within 2009. As a result, we’re looking at a 2010 release.

I hope none of you were surprised by this, we all knew it was going to happen.

The best news of a game not delayed will come from the lawsuit settlement between Activision Blizzard and Double Fine Productions. Brütal Legend is free from legal limits to its release this fall. Rejoice all ye fans of Tim Schafer.

Seacrest out!

Dr. Feelgood: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Gaming [GO]
Jul 16th, 2009 by Dan

This was a piece I wrote for Gamers With Jobs to try and score a writing gig. They ended up going with two other writers, so I figured I’d post what I wrote here. Enjoy.

It was last month when I realized that something had gone terribly wrong . There were fifteen people in my apartment, maybe a tenth of them lifelong gamers, and they were all here to play video games. Most strange of all: there I was, microphone in hand, belting out “Don’t Stop Believing” in front of my friends. As my voice cracked on the high notes I wondered how I reached this point. Wasn’t I the same guy who refused to go to karaoke bars to avoid singing in public? Weren’t these people the same ones who scoffed at Final Fantasy and Halo?

I still remember what social gaming used to be, back when I was a kid. A mere ten years ago it was some combination of me, my brothers, my cousins, and my buddies all crowded around our tiny television set playing Goldeneye. If we weren’t cackling at our proximity mine craftiness, we were smashing in dunks while setting the net on fire, boom-chaka-laka. There was one constant and it was that we were all boys of various ages playing simulations of things that boys love. Shooting spies, hitting home runs, killing monsters, hand-to-hand combat, all of the social gaming conventions out there catered explicitly to teenage males.

Those times are over. The success of the Nintendo Wii has all but erased the teenage boy stereotype from general gaming. All Nintendo had to do was keep toeing that same party line that dated all the way back the days of the Famicom: make gaming fun and uncomplicated and they will come. In droves, apparently. The Wii went and did what we all thought impossible. All of a sudden grandma was playing. Wives, girlfriends, kids, old men, they were all playing and it was more than socially acceptable, it was cool. I didn’t have to force my girlfriend to pick up a controller, she wanted to come over and play tennis. It’s still kind of crazy, when I think about it.

Ignoring the power of the Wii when considering other social gaming phenomena like Rock Band is naïve, at best, so we must consider that the Wii created the culture of social gaming that enabled the success of Harmonix’s band simulator. After Nintendo convinced everyone that swinging a remote around and pretending it was a golf club was cool, getting them to jam to music they already loved on fake, plastic instruments seemed trivial. So it came to pass that I pre-ordered a copy of Rock Band and threw the first of many Rock Band parties the day it arrived in the mailroom of my dorm.

A former electrical engineering student like myself is easily able to cultivate a large group of friends who love video gaming in general, so rounding up gamers to try out the latest video game was a trivial ordeal for me. The real trick was rounding up the non-gamers. Word of mouth spread slowly at first, but it wasn’t too long before the people who had last played a video game in 1991 started to outnumber those who could recite the Konami Code on command. The moment it should have dawned on me came that January.

I had returned for my final semester, classes had yet to start, and I had rounded up two of my buddies who were similarly in town early to play some of the DLC that had come out over the long winter break. As the three of us rocked out, a very confused face peeked into the open doorway, clearly wondering what all the commotion was all about. Her name was Allison, she was a transfer that semester, and she was super cute.

“You wanna play?” I asked

“I don’t really know how to play…” she protested, clearly not wanting to embarrass herself.

“It’s easy, all you have to do is sing the words.” I was doing my best, but I was losing her. Singing in front of people she hardly knew was not on the agenda for the day.

“Come on, it’s house rules, everyone has to sing. We’ll all go too,” my friend Lee chimed in. We had no house rules, but he was a genius because she picked up the microphone and a friendship was struck up with a pretty girl. It later turned out that Allison had transferred to Cornell to be closer to her boyfriend, but the point was that my gaming that day was social.

I think it’s perfectly fair to say that Rock Band is responsible for me growing out of my shell that last semester at school. My guitar skills developed to an expert level and I soon stopped worrying about failing in front of the weekly attendees of Rock Band night. When I picked up the guitar I started thinking of myself as a performer and I began singing and dancing. Whenever I picked up the microphone and embarrassed myself, I laughed it off and developed confidence in front of my friends. The only thing I feared more than singing in front of people was dancing, but thanks to those parties, I found myself cutting loose on the dance floor more and more, even sans alcohol. Still, the revelation had yet to sink in.

We’re back to last month and I’m belting out “Don’t Stop Believing” on expert, my voice cracking on the high notes. I can’t believe that I’m singing in front of a girl I’m actually trying to impress, that it’s not even crossing my mind to be embarrassed, and that I’m actually passing the song.

A lot of criticism is levied against Nintendo for diluting the player base and creating the hard/softcore schism. After E3, the Wii Vitality Sensor was trumpeted as proof that Nintendo had lost sight of the goal, but, as someone who has grown as a person due to social gaming, I can’t stress enough that they’re among the few who have got it right. Gaming should be allowed to be social too. Who knows, you might end up someone.

-Dan Mesa is just a city boy, born and raised nowhere near south Detroit.

BlazBlue, Twitter x WoW, Lucasarts Back Catalog, Ueda vs. Miyamoto, and More [Game Overview]
Jul 10th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

I figured I’d start with BlazBlue today, since the game just came out and I sunk an evening in playing it. I don’t have all that much to say about it yet, but it’s intriguing in a very not Street Fighter way. The fighters are all insanely detailed and designed in an intricately anime fashion, leaving no moe niche unserved and the fighting system is deceptively simple, but actually WAY complicated, as most of these things are nowadays. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to sink into it, especially because Street Fighter IV has nabbed my attention yet again, but I will keep posting impressions as I play.

Get BlazBlue!

Get Street Fighter IV!

Indie Darling Gets on XBL

Fez has been confirmed for 2010 release on XBL, according to Giant Bomb. I don’t know much about the game other than that the press loves it and you play as this little white dude with a block head. I’m sure someone out there is jumping for joy, but then crying a little bit because it means the 2009 release date has been pushed back. There, there.

Brilliant Game Design

Giant Bomb reports that Tekken 6 has finally gotten it right. The game will ship with all of the characters unlocked. Honestly, this is some of the best news that could have hit for a fighting game and I hope that other developers take up this and make it a trend. There’s no reason why players who just want to get playing online should have to spend hours completing menial tasks against the AI just to get access to the hidden players. Heck, if I didn’t bother with that I would never have unlocked Cammy, my Street Fighter IV main. I know there are legitimate reasons for doing this, namely to increase the longevity of the game that a consumer purchased, but how about making things like costumes or colors (the second of which is already a SFIV unlockable) the real secret content. Extra stages are also acceptable, since they have no real gameplay significance in, say SFIV. Either that or include an option, like in Rock Band 2, where you have all of the content unlocked, but achievements are disabled. This would be far preferential to the current methodology currently en vogue.

Get Rock Band 2!

Now the world will know about your phat lewt

I know what you’re thinking: I love to tweet and I love to play WoW, but goddammit, it’s far too difficult to do both at the same time. I have to Alt-Tab and everything! TweetCraft has got the solution for you, an in-game Twitter client. With Peggle already integrated within WoW, I’m starting to wonder what other apocalyptic life-distracting measures are going to be added in the future.

Sad Half Year for the Japanese Bottom Line

Gamasutra reports that the Japanese gaming market is down a scary 25% in the first half of the year so far. Dan reports that perhaps we’re prematurely worried? Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, as of 8 July, has sold some ungodly 3.5 million or so units in the country while this Saturday will see the monumental release of Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS (forecasts say there are already 2 million pre-orders put down for the game), and the recent release of Wii Sports Resort has seen major success as well. I think it should be a healthy year for Japan, it’s just been stacked toward the second half.

L4D2…Kinda Sounds like a Droid, no?

In unsurprising news, Valve has announced that players who pre-order Left 4 Dead 2 will have early access to the demo. This is pretty much exactly what happened with Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2, so no surprises here.

Other neat news claims that players will have access to a cricket bat a la Shaun of the Dead.

Also reported was a rumor that L4D players might be able to interface in a meaningful way with L4D2 players, meaning a less fractured player base. I hope they get it worked out; online games live and die by their player base and dividing it is never wise.

Bonus Left 4 Dead Sackboy Images!

Get Left 4 Dead!

Look! A Three-Headed Monkey!

Ok, so it doesn’t include that game, but Lucasarts is releasing a classics collection via Steam that includes seminal adventure titles such as The Dig, LOOM, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It’s great news to see that they’re finally capitalizing on their adventure game library and it, combined with the re-release of The Secret of Monkey Island, gives me some confidence that we might see other HD remakes. Day of the Tentacle remake, anyone?

Mega Awesome

Tired of adorable Mega Man videos? I’m not. Enjoy.

That kid’s little brother sure is a pain…reminds me of my childhood.

BONUS ATARI REMAKE MEGA MAN VIDEO:

Music Was Better in the Past

I’m not sure if there’s actually a re-release of the Chrono Trigger Soundtrack imminent in Japan, but this recent trailer sure seems to suggest something of the sort.

If it is being re-released, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out in September when I head over to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Get Chrono Trigger DS!

It’ll Soak Up Water!

I’m pretty sure you all know that I adore the folks over at Giant Bomb. Here’s their hilarious commercial for their iPhone app. I won’t be getting it (too much $$ for my tastes), but the commercial sure is funny.

Critical Much?

Says famed game designer Fumito Ueda regarding news that Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired by Shadow of the Colossus and built a level around that:

Yes I have played it, it was hard to not to since it was rumored that Miyamoto-san was inspired by me. But I had expected more, that segement {SIC], was like the rest of the game not so fun as it could had been. I think the fans made a big deal out of nothing when they said Miyamoto had stolen from me. The thing I am critical over isn’t that they didn’t borrow anything that isn’t unique for my game, but that they didn’t make more fun stages out of it.

To clarify, the level in question is the boss fight on the small planet where Mario must guide Bullet Bills to sensitive spots around a giant robot to defeat the boss. Way to be a jerk Ueda. I mean, your games are held to ridiculous artistic plateaus that Miyamoto’s have never been elevated to. It’s like comparing pop art to Picasso or something. I’m not saying that Miyamoto’s not a genius in his own right, but rather that the man doesn’t need to ape Ueda to make a fun game. The boss fight was a homage, not a direct attempt to bring Shadow of the Colossus to Super Mario Galaxy. There’s no need to get so pretentious!

Bonus Fact: Picasso’s full name is: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. I guess it makes sense that he only went with the first and last part, that would be hell to sign on all of his works.

Get Shadow of the Colossus!

Back Away From That Sun

Speaking of Miyamoto-san, he had this to say about all of the people clamoring for a new Kid Icarus sequel:

Wait, please.

There you have it. Chill out guys, it’s coming.

Nobody Likes a Guy Who Plays to Win

Professor David Myers, under the guise of science, played City of Heroes for a while to find out about the psychology of social groups. His account, published as Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt came to a predictable conclusion.

It seems that when Myers PvPed and fought with what are considered “cheap tactics” he was alienated and hated by everyone on the server, including people on his own faction. Myers stuck harshly to the rule set, but took the whole Heroes vs. Villains thing way too seriously for most, choosing not to adhere to social conventions within the game. To be fair, it’s pretty lame to have these accepted “Let’s not fight” zones in PvP areas. I mean, it reeks of grade school playground, doesn’t it? Anyway, it confirms what we already know about MMORPGs, the prevailing culture within the server trumps in-game rules and some things just become conventionally taboo. It’s the same with real life. For more interesting reading, check out Malcom Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker entitled How David Beats Goliath. It’s brilliant reading and conveys a lot of the same points without being a thinly veiled excuse to play City of Heroes for hours on end.

Whoops! Here’s More Work!

Back to Shigeru Miyamoto. It seems that he accidentally forced the Wii Sports Resort developers to include Golf within the game.

Says Takayuki Shimamura

“Right after getting back to Japan, he suddenly said: “You know we’re including golf now.” Apparently he’d stated in an interview that this time round golf shots would be determined by the backswing, even though at that time a golf game didn’t exist in any shape or form!”

How’s that for an origin story?

Houston…Well, I guess you can guess what comes next…

Battlefield 1943 came out this week! Kind of. The game is unplayable as of right now (as of when I write this). Servers are clogged and some users can’t even launch the game. Money well spent, I guess…

EDIT: It appears to be up and working properly now.
EDIT 2: Whoa, I’m wrong. Still wonky for the most part.

This is terrible news for a small, online arcade game like this. Games like these live and die by reputation and first week experiences, unless the Battlefield pedigree will carry it until they get it fixed.

Bold Words [Game Overview]
Jun 26th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

They have to cut the price, because if they don’t, the attach rates are likely to slow”, he continues. “If we are being realistic, we might have to stop supporting Sony…When we look at 2010 and 2011, we might want to consider if we support the console – and the PSP [portable] too.

Those words were uttered by Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, last Friday and made huge waves in the gaming world. For the big boss man of the largest video game company in the world to try and throw his weight around like this is certainly surprising.

Everyone agrees that the PS3 is too expensive. It’s a topic covered on almost every podcast and Sony knows it’s what everyone wants. Still, their console is expensive to make and someone in their company thinks that price must not be the limiting factor in their sales. Then again, the recently announced PSP Go was priced at $250, proving that Sony might not quite understand that pricing a new portable at the same price as the Wii (and higher than the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU) might not be the best choice to launch a system reboot.

I can honestly say that no huge publisher has tried to make such a statement as this. For Activision to outright threaten to stop supporting the system and essentially hold Sony hostage is huge. Will they ever make good on this promise? That’s where things get hazy. It’s clear that they must make more money on the platform than it costs to develop for it, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So it would seem like a stupid business choice not to develop on the system. No, I’m pretty sure that Activision, the new Evil Empire, is simply trying to garner goodwill from gamers. “Hey guys, look at us, we want you guys to be able to buy this system for cheaper. We’re the good guys!”

After that suit over Brütal Legend, all I can say is you don’t fool me Activision.

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