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December: MM Oh No! [Fukubukuro 2011]
Feb 1st, 2012 by Dan

I swore that I would never play again after I quit. With good reason, I’d say. The year I played World of Warcraft religiously I hung out less with friends, saw my personal life take a hit, and received some of the worst grades of my undergraduate career.

People who really know me know that obsessing over a video game isn’t exactly odd behavior for me. I play an astounding number of hours of video games each year, but this was past that line. We’re talking canceling social engagements to make a raid or just not leaving my room for anything but meals all weekend. Clearly not healthy behavior.

Then the unspeakable happened: Bioware announced that they would be continuing their Old Republic franchise in an MMO form. My moratorium was in serious jeopardy. I love Bioware games and I was particularly fond of the Old Republic stuff too. The ban would have to be lifted.

Of course I couldn’t just dive in. Rules have to be observed. When it came down to it, the biggest one that I was forcing myself to follow was to never let the game get in the way of my social life. That means no canceling dates or hanging out with friends in favor of playing the game. It sounds obvious, but I didn’t manage it before.

So far I’ve been doing pretty well with TOR. It’s nothing at all like WoW. I did start getting into work and going to bed later, but I’ve yet to cancel any social engagements and I’ve been actively keeping up with my friends and family. I kept myself from overcommitting by joining a chill guild that has a pretty loose raid schedule. So far we’ve made good progress in the game without too much drama at all. Overall, it’s been a much more pleasant experience than playing WoW was.

Min is Dead

5-10-15-20 [GO]
Jun 2nd, 2011 by Dan

Dan helps Tony with Pokemon

I got this idea from Kill Screen (who got this idea from Pitchfork) to talk about my gaming life in five year increments. Pitchfork does it with music and really it can be done with any media, but I’m doing games.

AGE 5 (1991)

One of my first video game memories is sitting in my parents’ living room in Hialeah watching them play a Bowser level in Super Mario Bros. I remember being scared of the creepy black castle level. This was the launch year for the SNES, but I’m sure we didn’t get it until 1992 or 1993. Instead we mostly amused ourselves with Contra, Mega Man 2, and Bubble Bobble.

AGE 10 (1996)

I’m pretty sure my brothers and I discovered the JRPG in 1995 or 1996. We would have played Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario RPG over those two years and changed our gaming landscape forever.

Of course 1996 also marks the genesis of 3D gaming for me. The N64 came out that September, but we didn’t open it until Christmas. Super Mario 64 would be the first of many great games I had for that system.

AGE 15 (2001)

Big things were happening in the gaming landscape on the PS2, but I knew nothing of that. A $400 system was way out of my price range, so I missed the launches of GTA3 and MGS2.

It was freshman year of high school and we learned partway through that we were going to be moving to Tampa. My dad got a new laptop from his job that I used to finally play the PC version of FF VII on road trips to and from Tampa. I remember breeding a Golden Chocobo and thinking that it wasn’t really all that hard. Don’t think I ever beat FF VIII. I think I also played a lot of Final Fantasy VIII that way too. More importantly, that year I got Civilization 3 and tons of Lucasarts adventure games including the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle.

We also got a Gamecube that year for Christmas and Super Smash Bros. Melee along with Pikmin, I think.

What a banner year for gaming, wow.

AGE 20 (2006)

By now I’m a sophomore/junior at university and I’ve got a job to help me pay for my video game habit. I picked up a PS2 in 2004 and started working through the back catalog of games I’d missed. Early in the year I remember playing two RPGs, Kingdom Hearts 2 and Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

They’re fun, but 2006 is a year of PC gaming for me. I spend WAY too much time playing World of Warcraft in 2006. I started the summer of 2005 and I end up quitting around Christmas of that same year, but I come back to it over the summer and it consumes a lot of my days and weekends as I try to power level my Horde character to join a raid guild with my friend Chris. It’s funny, I couldn’t remember why it was that I didn’t play so many console games this year until I remembered that my WoW habit started in force during 2006.

I also grew into the PC shooter this year with a lot of Counterstrike: Source with my roommate, Simon. We played that to fill a lot of our spare time and I also pushed through Half-Life 2: Episode 1 way too quickly.

Unfortunately I’m only 25 now, so I can’t really continue the feature until next year. I keep much better track of what I play nowadays, so it’ll be even easier.

Civ IV PBEM [Game Overview]
Jan 29th, 2010 by Dan

civilization_iv_7

It should be no surprise to devoted readers of IBNttT that I love Civ IV. Over my gaming lifespan, I’d wager a guess that (WoW aside), I’ve probably sunk more hours into the Civ franchise than any other. The series is that good.

I can’t quite remember what sparked the most recent return by my brother to the game, but he started playing it again, sparking my interest yet again. If I didn’t already have Mass Effect 2 to sink time into, I’d be playing Civ IV like mad right now, I’ll tell you that. As a compromise I decided to start some Play By E-Mail (PBEM) games with him instead. Three games, to be exact. I plan to make weekly reports on these games and our status, hopefully without giving too much away to my enemies (I’m looking at you Eric). This can either be a terrible idea or a great one, depending on how well I do, so I’m pretty excited about it. Since we’re still at the once city stage with all three games, I won’t go into any detail today, but I might take some screenshots for tomorrow or next week and put some up.

Amicitia sans oris [Mr. Digital]
Jan 7th, 2010 by Dan

Last month I found myself worrying about a friend of mine who was going through a tough time. Kim had just lost a friend and was headed to Louisiana for the funeral, so I wouldn’t be hearing from her for a week. I told her I was sorry and that I was there for her and then she left. Funny thing is, I’ve never met Kim. I only know her because I love to play Left 4 Dead. I’ve never even seen a picture of what she looks like and I’m only 98% sure that Kim is even her name. With all those layers of abstraction, you’d think it would be difficult for me to call her a friend, but I’ve come to realize that there can be value in the tenuous, ephemeral online friendship, so long as it doesn’t replace the ones you have in your physical life.

The first friend I ever had who I never met was back when I was about twelve. My family had moved back to Florida a year prior and I had finally overcome the intense social barriers of being the new kid and starting a new level of school at the same time. The circle of friends I had developed was, oddly enough, composed almost entirely of people who used to torment me at every turn the year prior. One of those friends, Josh, had an elementary school friend who had moved away to Connecticut right before middle school started. I don’t remember the circumstances behind it, but I somehow because friends with Abbe (that was her name) through an e-mail chain and eventually started chatting with her on a regular basis.

It wasn’t the great friendship that defined my life and I don’t think I’ve talked with her since I was 14, but for someone who I’d never actually met in the flesh, we had a pretty decent friendship. She and a friend called my house and we talked on the phone once or twice (she told me once my voice was sexy (for a 13-year-old)), but beyond that most of our conversations took place over AOL Instant Messenger. I don’t remember much about what we talked about, aside from a particularly strange health teacher she had, but I do know that she was an interesting friend in my life who I’m surprised I’ve never forgotten, considering I have no idea what she looks like anymore (I saw a picture once).

I don’t think I made any strictly online friends again until I was 20 during my junior year at Cornell. At the encouragement of my friend Chris, I started playing World of Warcraft again (I had quit the year before the first time Ashley broke up with me) on his server with the intention of hanging out with him and his roommate in-game. My character, Torvalds (named after the Master of Penguins himself), was able to power level up to level 60 during my fall semester and start attempting to join guilds not long after. I eventually managed to make my way into my guild of choice, Revelation (which, sadly, no longer exists on Cenarion Circle), and started working working on the last bit of endgame content before the expansion pack, slowly building up a group of friends on the way.

After winter break, the expansion pack came out and, as one of the junior warlocks in the guild, I was assigned to the B team, which also happened to be the West Coast team. Thanks to my luck, this meant that I was raiding Karazhan twice a week starting at 2300 and going to 0300 the next morning on days when I had an 0800 class. Needless to say, I missed a lot of class that semester (and my grades suffered from it), but the crummy conditions and B-Team status combined to form a strong sense of camaraderie. We used to get yelled at for not completing the dungeon fast enough, but that’s probably because most of our nights were filled with laughter and jokes instead of serious boss planning as we cleared our way up to our weekly boss wall.

Whenever I think about going back to WoW, it’s because of these guys: Moonsbreath, a school nurse from California by day and a Tauren Resto Shaman by night, Samuwen, our Orc Hunter team leader and a copy store employee by day, and Emil, our Undead Warrior tank whose profession I did not know, but whose infant child often made nightly cameos during our raids. On nights when we were mixed in with the entire guild, you could bet that we’d still be joking around with each other either over Ventrilo (we were easily the most talkative bunch outside of the guild leader) or through the in-game whisper system. The night that our guild leader, Athen, disbanded the guild to leave WoW was a devastating blow to everyone. We all tried to hold it together for a few nights, but the loss of direction caused our merry band to disperse to the winds. More than one of us quit the game, myself included, which spelled the end for our friendships since none of us knew each other in real life.

When thinking about these virtual friendships, it becomes clear that the worst part about them are their delicate, ephemeral nature. Their very existence often relies on the medium within which they are created. Just like that, our guild disbanded and I lost three cool in-game friends. When I returned to WoW for a month or two last year, some of these guys were still around, but the construct which formed our relationship was gone and it just wasn’t the same.

When I met Kim I thought it was actually going to be kind of different. My roommate, Darek, and I liked to play Left 4 Dead online with an old friend of his from university named Eric. One day Eric invited Darek and I to join a game that Kim was in. Her general friendliness with Eric and Darek, both of whom seemed to know Kim, made me assume that she was also a former classmate. Since she was associated with real people I knew, that made her a more “real” friend than the other ones I had made online. I later found out (nearly a year later) that Kim randomly met Eric playing a different zombie video game and that they’d been playing together since.

I wouldn’t say that Kim and I were best friends or anything, but we’ve got enough of a rapport that people who play with us for the first time assume that we actually know each other in real life. We both know what the other does for a living, but beyond that, I’d say that the only two things we know about each other are our personalities and how good we are at Left 4 Dead.

Thanks to the more robust communication tools available through Steam, I don’t worry so much about losing touch with Kim if I were to stop playing Left 4 Dead, but it does worry me that, should she decide to quit games forever, I’d probably never talk to Kim again. That’s where the other boundary with online friends rears its ugly head again. I don’t even know her name, so I couldn’t just friend her on Facebook. If I were to visit Texas (where she lives) would it be normal to hang out with her?

It’s clear that the world of online, anonymous communication can be socially interesting and rewarding, but it’s also full of strange perils and confusing social conventions that seem like they could be just as paralyzingly complex to the socially inept. The lack of real life contact is perhaps the most pressing issue with online friendships. Sure, I can hear the voices of all my friends thanks to fast, cheap VoIP, but with no real way of contacting each other, we could, I dunno, die, and no one would be the wiser. We’d just assume that the other person left our online space for greener pastures.

That’s no way to have real, lasting relationships, in my book, but as the relationships with my former classmates become increasingly digital due to distance, it’s becoming clear to me that many of my relationships are facilitated primarily through 1’s and 0’s, not any kind of human contact. It’s mostly thanks to her job that I find myself seeing Kai so often, but 75% of our interaction comes from blogs, tumblr, and twitter. Some of my other friends, like Lee, Yin, and Duffy, I see far less often and talk to only through gchat. I’m kind of losing my way here with respect to any point I might have, but suffice it to say that I’m infinitely glad that technology has allowed me to make and keep all of these friendships.

Best Video Games of the Decade [Game Overview]
Dec 30th, 2009 by Dan

You may notice some games that are missing from this list and are on every other list. Well, I didn’t play everything because I didn’t have the time or the money, so that accounts for some of the big misses like Pyschonauts or Resident Evil 4. Other games are deliberately omitted :cough: HALO :cough:

This list is also way long, but I didn’t want to limit myself to an arbitrary number like 10 or 20, so here it is:

Half-Life 2 (2004, 2006 – Episode 1, 2007 – Episode 2)

There are two divergent paths for shooters in the aughts. Halo and Half-Life. In the first corner you’ve got everything on the consoles since then: Regenerating health, aim assist, silly physics, and general jackassery. In the better corner you’ve got everything that’s come out of Half-Life and the Source engine: more realistic weaponry, realistic physics, and a much better legacy. Say what you will about the future of shooters and the PC market being antiquated, but this is a damn good shooter. I’d call it the best I’ve ever played. Valve has completely mastered the art of environmental storytelling and player manipulation. They can make you look where they want you to look and feel what they want you to feel all without ever wresting control from the player or relying on cutscenes. This game has brilliant pacing and amazing characters that you actually care about. Who’s ever heard of an NPC sidekick that you don’t hate? H-L 2 and its episodes are among the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Rock Band 2 (2008)

Ok, so rhythm games are kind of saturated now, but Rock Band 2 is the pinnacle (only because The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t let players bring their dlc in) of music gaming. It hits at just the right sweet spot, four players, and its filled with music from all kinds of genres. Better yet, the interface and note tracking isn’t sloppy like that other franchise and it’s a fantastic way to get people together for a fun time and even grow as a person. It’s probably the game I’ve played the most since 2008 and a ridiculously fun time.

Left 4 Dead (2008) and Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

There are a lot of Valve games on this list. The Left 4 Dead series is on it because it has done cooperative, first-person multiplayer right in a way I’ve yet to see done better elsewhere. Everything about these games is top notch, tons of fun, and worth returning to time and time again. Beyond the mechanics, the games also feature great environmental storytelling and fantastic voice acting putting it at the top of my list for the best games of the past two years. Zombies may be getting old, but this series will always feel fresh.

Braid (2008)

Jonathan Blow didn’t revolutionize video gaming when he released Braid last summer. What he did do was bring indie games (and XBL games, in general) firmly into the spotlight for consideration. A self-funded and self-made game, Braid proved that one man (and one hired artist) could still create a top-notch, professional caliber game. Braid is deep and complex and tons of fun to play, especially when you’ve figured out a tricky puzzle.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)

OBJECTION! This game should be higher on the list. Overruled, this list has no numerical ordering.

The Japanese sensation that brought visual novels and a resurgence in adventure games to America may have a niche audience and play real loose with the legal system of the real world, but it’s tons of fun. Just think quirky anime and you’ll get the idea of what playing this game is like. It just feels right to present a damning piece of evidence while Phoenix screams OBJECTION!

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

I have yet to beat Shadow of the Colossus, but I absolutely love what I’ve played so far. Ueda is among the genius game designers in how well he understands presentation. The game world feels absolutely empty, as it should. All you come across, as the player, are the giant Colossi and man, they are wild. Each one is a dungeon/level to itself and the player is tasked with taking them down to save his love. But what have these giants done to you? Each one I take down makes me feel sad inside and a little empty. I usually find myself thinking What have I done? What did he ever do to me? The best art makes you think.

Final Fantasy XII (2006)

I had my choice of any Final Fantasy game between 9 and 12 for this spot, but I really couldn’t go with anything but the best. X was definitely a close second, but there are just so many things that XII did right in its evolution of the series that I couldn’t pick anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with the world of Ivalice, but everything about this game just grabs me in a way I hadn’t been grabbed since VI. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being assaulted by too many belt buckles and leather by Nomura. It was probably because the story was mature, the characters way less annoying than before, and the battle system was finally revamped and moved into the 21st century. In any case, the best FF game of the decade.

Portal (2007)

Portal really does everything right. The game gets you acquainted with its mechanics quickly, gets you doing neat things with them right away, and then finishes up with a climactic and cool boss fight all comfortably within the span of 5-8 hours, if you’re slow. With mechanics and dialogue that are beyond brilliant, the only thing that could make this great game better would be to give it a hilarious end credit song penned by Jonathan Coulton. Oh wait, you’ve gone and done that already, haven’t you Valve? Bravo.

Burnout Paradise (2008)

Realistic racing games are kind of boring to me. Until Burnout Paradise, I would have said that I only enjoyed Mario Kart games, and those were starting to wear on me too. Then Criterion put out the first open-world racing game (that I can think of). Burnout Paradise would be tons of fun if all we had to do was run into walls and other cars. The fact that the game is so easy to get online and play (and purchasable as a digital download on the PSN) is brilliant and makes for tons of fun.

Mass Effect (2007)

Shepard. Wrex. It’s brilliant. It really is. Hard science fiction is always tons of fun to me, but when you go and flesh out this world to the nth degree, you’ve got me drooling already. Add in characters I genuinely cared about and enjoyed having in my party and a morality system that was finally free of cheap moral choices and I’d say that Bioware had a genuine hit on their hands. I anxiously await the sequel in January.

Eternal Darkness (2002)

I’m really not a big scary games guy. It’s simple: I’m too jumpy and I’ve got an overactive imagination. Those things don’t combine to make a pleasant gaming experience. Now you want me to play a game that’s actively trying to mess with my head to freak me the hell out? I’d normally say “No thanks,” but I was eventually convinced to try this Lovecraftian horror game and I found myself loving it. The plot is interesting and the characters are neat, but the insanity effects are what stick with me to this day. I can still see that image of Alex lying dead in a bathtub filled with her own blood when I think about it and it still gives me the chills.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

You know what? I really loved the old-school Mario games. Those 3D ones are way too easy. This game does it right. What makes it even more awesome is that you can play it with four dudes, making it both infinitely harder and easier while also making it more fun and frustrating. Use the multiplayer mode at your own risk, it may start fights.

Rhythm Heaven (2009)

Scratch-O, HA! The Rhythm Heaven (Paradise in Europe) series is loosely based on the bizarre Wario world, which is totally obvious after three minutes of play, which is great, because that series is brilliant (if stale by now) too. This game features simple rhythm mini-games, but man are they fun AND catchy. As I write this I’ve got the Moai statue song stuck in my head. Go play this.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, Subsistence – 2006)

I love this game. MGS 2 may be the biggest practical joke (and most significant of the four), but this is undoubtedly the best. The epic cycle of the Metal Gear universe is made clear in this game that does its best to subvert war in every way possible. I do truly find it significant that in a Cold War game focused on stealth action, you can make it through from start to finish without killing one person. Well, almost. Metal Gear Solid 3 is almost heartbreaking when you play it non-violently and the ending still has a strong effect on me to this day. Definitely Kojima’s finest work.

World of Warcraft (2004)

I would give anything to get the time I spent playing this game back, but I definitely can’t deny how truly great it is. We’re talking about a bona fide phenomenon here. The absolute refinement of social engineering to such a degree that escape is nearly futile. Blizzard has truly outdone itself with this one.

Team Fortress 2 (2007)

What a surprise, more Valve. The Orange Box was a groundbreaking offering in value and Team Fortress 2 continues to be a huge part of that. I bought this game at launch back in 2007. Since then they have added achievements for nearly every class, new weapons for nearly every class, new game types and maps, hats, and an item crafting system. I’ve never seen so much free support for a game in my life. It’s no reason that Valve is my favorite developer of all time. They really know how to treat their customers and put out a great game.

The Sims 2 (2004)

Yes, I did create Sims of my friends and family. You’d better believe I killed some of them, turned one into a vampire, another into a werewolf, one into a zombie, and bargained with death to revive another. The Sims certainly don’t feel as relevant as they did at the start of this decade, but man were they a success and tons of fun. Sure, I should feel a little guilty that I spent so much time in what amounts to a digital dollhouse, but I really don’t. It was fun.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

If you don’t think that this is the best in the series, you’re wrong and you’re clinging to the past. Tons of characters, great level design, fantastic music, and all the right refinements to the battle system are what makes this great. The fact that I can listen to Snake Eater or the Love Theme from Mother 3 is just icing on the cake.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

I know most of you saw that Spaceworld Zelda trailer and expected another realistic LoZ on the Gamecube. When you saw that it would look cartoony did you A) Claim that you would never play it or B) Realize that maybe you should give it a chance. If you were an ‘A’ person, you’re too impulsive and need to lighten up a bit, because you missed out on the best Zelda game since Majora’s Mask (another one that most people hate). Celda, as it became known, was a great retelling of the Zelda story and actually kind of explained the world somewhat. It was also really fun to sail around and hunt for treasure.
MLB Power Pros 2008 (2008…obviously)
For some reason I really can’t get into the next-gen baseball games. The pitching and hitting just don’t make sense to me and I’m overall just not that fond of it. Lucky for me, the Japanese are still keeping it real with their Pawapuro and Pro Spirits line of games. I wish I actually had gone and picked up the 2009 editions in Japan, but I’m sure these will come out in the states again someday.
Mother 3 (2006)
Masterpiece. Shigesato Itoi really outdid himself with this game. It’s dark and serious, but also lighthearted and funny. It’s a game that has actual authorial control and, therefore, is a game that is actually art. Itoi’s fingerprints are all over the scenario and the little quirks. It’s no wonder that anyone who’s played a game in this series instantly falls in love with it.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
I really credit Amy Henning most for the great decisions behind Uncharted 2, a game whose characters are so fully realized that they’re almost real people. It’s not that surprising to me that hearing Nolan North voice other characters makes me wonder why Nathan Drake is moonlighting as a voice actor. Everything about this game is just fun and every aspect of it was polished and enhanced from the previous version. The showcase came for this generation.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002, The Frozen Throne – 2003)
WCIII was the last great RTS I played. I don’t expect to play anything better until StarCraft II comes out later next year (if it comes out). While the story seems mostly lifted from StarCraft, it’s still quite good and an innovation in the way that RTS stories are told and plotted. It also lead right into the most successful game of this decade, WoW.
Dead Rising (2006)
The first game I ever bought for my Xbox 360 and the best (non-L4D-related-) zombie game I’ve ever played. Trust me, I’ve covered wars, you know.
Street Fighter IV (2009)
When you’re reviving the most loved fighting game franchise in history, a lot can go wrong. Do you stray too far from the original and innovate too much or do you go back, reevaluate what was good, and make incremental changes? Sure, the latter is a bit more cowardly, but I love Capcom more for it. I’ve never been much of a fighting game guy, but the instant familiarity of SFIV made it the perfect game to try and break into and I really got into it. My twitter became a repository for my win percentage after each day of play and I devoted hours upon hours of time into developing my Cammy playstyle. In the end, I’m still pretty bad at the game, but I also have tons of fun with it and I’m awaiting Super Street Fighter IV in 2010
Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (2005)
The best series I’ve ever played, bar none. I mean, the number of hours I’ve sunk into Civilization has to dwarf any other game, I’m sure of it. The number of days and nights spent completely developing one civilization is ridiculous. My favorite part of this fourth incarnation was the loose competition Eric and I developed as we would send each other save files intended to compare winning scores against each other. One more turn syndrome got its start here and this is a game that I find myself returning to at least once every year.
Persona 4 (2008)
Remember the days when I was posting every episode of the Giant Bomb Endurance Run on this blog? That series motivated me to finally finish this fantastic RPG and to really get into its characters and events. I’m especially proud of the review I wrote because it feels like my first foray into New Games Journalism, but this game is great for more reasons than that. A fine return to the world of hard RPGs that should be on every person’s queue to play.
Back to Business for a Bit [Game Overview]
Aug 28th, 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 was originally just going to post another video and not write anything, but then I realized that there was Left 4 Dead 2 news this week and I couldn’t let another week go by without mentioning the game (did you know I’m excited about its release?).

Obvious, but nice to hear…

When releases are imminent, people get impatient and want to know what’s coming next. When asked about Harmonix’s plans for next year, the question revolved around whether it would be another iteration in the Rock Band series or another band-style game like The Beatles: Rock Band. In typical PR fashion, Harmonix reps said that both were in the works and both might see the light of day next year. Way to be specific guys! You mean you’re working on another project that would capitalize on the success of your previous projects? Where do they get some of these questions?

I answer my own question with the excitement I feel in hearing about new games in the franchise.

I’m like Tiresias!

Ok, so I didn’t really predict these things and I heard them from the rumor mill, but I was right about all the WoW rumors I reported on last week. Go me!

Starcraft II News Bundle

Blizzcon was last weekend and, naturally, we have a lot of Starcraft II news to report on (we also have plenty of Diablo III and WoW stuff to say, but I don’t really care about those games, so…). The biggest news, for me, involved the new Battle.Net and the innovations behind creating one of the most interesting backends for games since Steam.

Rather like Steam, the goal of the new Battle.Net is to integrate Blizzard’s multiple properties and keep players connected. An instant messaging client will be a part of this new service and it will allow you to see what people on your friends list are doing in other Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft, allowing you to chat from within the game with people playing Starcraft or Diablo. The WoW achievements are also due for a slight upgrade to sync with the more general Blizzard achievement system that’s being created so that every character doesn’t have to go out and earn achievements on its own.

Another interesting innovation has to come from Activision. The aforementioned monetization of the service will make its debut as a Custom Maps marketplace. No more will players play free mods like Defense of the Ancients and love them. Now they’ll be forced to buy certain custom maps to enjoy their non-core gameplay.

In non-B.Net-related news, it was announced that the new voice for Sarah Kerrigan will be Tricia Helfer, whose last work was the little known project Battlestar Galactica. The former Cylon will be taking up the mantle of Queen of Blades for the foreseeable future, which is pretty awesome. She’s really got the commanding, scary voice down when she was Six on BSG.

Last, but not least, Blizzard has announced that Starcraft II can be played offline. Not the multiplayer, mind you, which requires an internet connection, even if played locally, but the single-player. You’ll be able to opt out of logging in, but you’ll lose out on all of the B.Net goodies. Your choice.

Did you really expect anything different?

Wii Sports Resort has crossed the million sales mark in Japan…and America…and Europe. It’s only been a few weeks, but man, that’s incredible. Way to go Nintendo!

Shepard?

If you love Mass Effect as much as I do, then you’re probably super excited to see the latest DLC, called Pinnacle Station, added to the game.

In what will probably be the last DLC pack for the series, you can now head to a space station and battle against the clock to set records, etc. and earn achievement points. Combat is nice, but it’s not really the focus of Mass Effect, is it?

Glad to see more content added to the universe! Can’t wait for ME2.

Another ban story

Out in Venezuela they don’t like objectionable content hitting the eyes of their children. Despite the violent and damn near despotic and tyrannical things that come out of the mouth of Hugo Chavez, the government is concerned with the sale of toy weapons and violent video games.

Should this ban pass, Venezuelans would have no access to toy weapons, which can be used to fake robberies, etc., nor would their people be subject to the corrupting forces of video games. Way to go guys, you’re really focusing on what matters.

You asked for it! Well, I did…

And here’s your weekly L4D2 news! Valve will make playable the creepy fair level, now called Dark Carnival, at PAX next week! Yeah, I wrote the previous 800 words just to talk about a playable level. What can I say? I love L4D2!

If that’s not enough, you can check out some sweet concept art at Kotaku.

Let’s close with another recent obsession of mine, The Beatles: Rock Band!

It’s Good to be Nintendo [Game Overview]
Aug 21st, 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.

July was an interesting month for sales. It seems that if your name wasn’t EA or Nintendo, you didn’t even crack the top ten list for game sales. In fact, Nintendo’s month of dominance is even more astounding when you consider that the top sellers included New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS, games well past their prime. This tough economy is making it rough to be anyone but Nintendo, but I’m sure that the holiday season will bring other games to the forefront. There’s lots of good stuff in the pipe.

Speaking of dominance…

Pokémon Platinum launched about a year ago in Japan (September 2008). As of right now, lifetime, worldwide sales of that title have reached 5.66 million. That’s a lot of pokémon. Even more ridiculous are the lifetime sales figures for the franchise, which stand at 193 million units. It’s astounding to see just how well this series has done.

Expect that 193 million to increase by two come spring 2010, since Nintendo has announced that HeartGold and SoulSilver will be launching then. I’m a sucker for catching them all, so I’ll be picking both copies up, probably in the mail to spare myself some embarrassment at the store.

Expansion!

My most recent WoW relapse occurred around the launch of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. I can safely say that I’ve been cured of the need to grind in Azeroth, but that doesn’t mean I’m disinterested in rumors pertaining to the game’s expansions. While we’ll probably get most of this confirmed or denied at this weekend’s Blizzcon, there’s no harm in talking about proposed changes.

It’s MMO 101 to raise a level cap and open up classes to races to loosen restrictions and bring in more players and it’s MMO 201 to add in new races, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the level cap will supposedly be 85, classes will be available to more races, and there are rumors that the Worgen and the Goblins will become the next playable races, but it’s most surprising to me to hear that they might remake classic Azeroth. That would be a monumental undertaking and it would seriously alter the way that people play the game to start. It would be cool to see them shake things up a bit.

I’ve also heard they’re buffing Onyxia so she’s less of a joke. Good on you Blizz.

Quick Update

While we’re talking about Blizzard, the Starcraft II LAN petition has reached 100,000 signatures. Unfortunately, 99,000 of those people (maybe more) will still buy the game when it launches, regardless of this petition. My guess is that Blizzard still doesn’t care. With how much money WoW makes them, they can easily shrug off a few lost purchases.

1776 Grudge?

Everyone loves when a company starts to talk price changes. Who wants to spend so much money on those consoles, right? I’m sure that the UK was thinking it was a good day when they heard that they were going to be changes to the MSRP of the 360, but it turns out that Microsoft is raising the price. By £30. That’s about $50.

Sorry England, I don’t know why M$ is treating you so poorly. I still like you guys.

OBJECTION!

Phoenix Wright is getting an UDON art book! Those guys are responsible for the fantastic Street Fighter comics and the new sprites in the HD Turbo Remix and they do fine work.

You can see images from the book here.

OVER 50%?!

It’s hardly scientific, but a Game Informer magazine survey suggests that the hardware failure rate for Xbox 360s over their lifetime has been over 50% (54.2%). This was revealed based on a survey of 5,000 of their readers and it’s kind of alarming. To be fair, the new hardware boards are supposed to have fixed this, but it’s still at a highly unacceptable level.

Also unacceptable, Microsoft is planning on cutting HDMI and component cables out of their packaging, forcing users to buy cables that used to come bundled. Thanks for being cheapskates guys, but I guess the economy’s pretty bad right now, so I can’t complain too much.

PERSONA!

I think it’s fair to say that I love the Persona series. A lot. I love seeing new games in the series announced and I’d love to see a remake of Persona 2 (both games). That’s what makes the announcement of a PSP version of P3 so strange. That game came out nearly two years ago and it’s getting a remake that allows the player to play as a female? More details as they become available, but I think I’m just bitter because I don’t have a PSP.

The Real Slim

After months of leaks and speculation, Sony finally confirmed the PS3 Slim at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. The new hardware SKU will replace the older hardware and retail at $300 with some slight changes.

There will no longer be a power switch on the back and the power and eject buttons will be actual buttons instead of whatever tech they had there before, the system is obviously slimmer and smaller, there are only two USB ports, no media card slots, a new, faster disk drive, and, unfortunately, no custom OS (no Linux!), and no backwards compatibility.

Still, it’s a great deal for a blu-ray player and a fine system for gaming. Good to know it’s for real.

There you have it, the biggest news (to me) of the week. To those of you keeping score at home, yes, this is the first week I’ve gone without a Left 4 Dead 2-related story since forever ago and I’m devastated about it.

Remixed Objection, No Yakuza 3?, L4D2 (Again), and Pokémon Cosplay [Game Overview]
Jul 31st, 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.

Guess what guys, it’s the slow season. Not much is going on…at all…

Let’s celebrate the start of this week with some Phoenix Wright!

The folks over at OCRemix have put out some mixed versions of the songs from the soundtrack.

Man do I love this series. OBJECTION! Classic.

No Yakuza?

In some seriously sad news, it seems that Yakuza 3 won’t be making its way to Western shores. SEGA smartly cites the 40,000 units of Yakuza 2 as a valid reason not to bring the sequel stateside. Can’t blame them, I guess.

EDIT: The interview where this was stated has been amended with claims that SEGA America’s statements were not an “official SEGA statements”

The Examiner further said

SEGA still hasn’t made any mention of an upcoming release or revealed plans to release it stateside.

Minor News

Fat Princess finally came out this week. I’ve yet to try it out.

Dragon Quest IX is up to 3.2 million units sold in Japan. Keep on rolling, you can hit 5 if you really try Squeenix!

Declining Rock Band sales have accounted for an 8% drop in revenue for Viacom. If you recall from last week, Rock Band and Guitar Hero sales are down almost 50%, resulting in this huge decrease in revenue for Viacom.

If you’re the type of person who cares (I’m not), Uncharted 2 will not have a mandatory install.

World of Warcraft sales are reported to be somewhere around 8.6 million. Just in the US! That’s insane.

L4D2

Obligatory L4D2 mention of the week!

Common Uncommon (or are they calling them Uncommon Common?) will feature bulletproof horde or zombies who were cops in riot gear before they were infected. Since they will be bulletproof (thanks to their riot gear), you’ll have to melee them down and then shoot their exposed backside.

On a totally different note, Rochelle can be seen in artwork wearing a Depeche Mode t-shirt. Why? The band asked to be in the game (and probably shelled out some cash). Not a bad idea. The whole story is that Valve was soliciting a few labels and bands and DM came through in a big way, allowing the use of their music, likenesses, and merchandise. If we get to shoot Depeche Mode zombies, I’m going to call this one of the greatest games of 2009.

Who am I kidding? This will probably be my game of 2009 like L4D was my game of 2008.

20 Years of Mother

The Mother series is 20!

It’s a terrible shame that we haven’t seen more than Mother 2 hit US shores. Perhaps I’ll pick up a Mother 3 cart while I’m abroad…

Comic-Con Cosplay!

Who’s that Pokémon?

Jessie Nigri Hot Pikachu Cosplay San Diego Comic Con 2009

It’s PIKACHU!

Speaking of Pokémon, Platinum players will be able to get the Member Card through Wi-Fi gift from 3 August to 13 September. Be sure to get it or you won’t be able to catch Darkrai!

And that’s all he wrote for this week folks! See you next week!

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.

Misc. News [Game Overview]
May 22nd, 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.

King of Fighters XII, yeah that’s still coming out. I’m having a hard time caring without Mai :hint hint: See the episode below to catch the trailer.

Explosive

Remember last week when I told you all about that Giant Bomb achievements feature? Seems I’m not doing that well. I’ve only got ‘A’s in Mass Effect, Castle Crashers, and Lost Odyssey and a good chunk of my rare achievements are World of Warcraft achievements available only to those who were playing the game way back in the day. That being said, I do have a lot of Lost Odyssey and Mass Effect rare achievements and I think I’m going to ignore the DoA 4 rare since it’s probably the anti-achievement I got for losing tons of matches.

If nothing, this has inspired me to start hitting up those achievements harder. The easy targets would be more Mass Effect, Rock Band 2, and Lost Odyssey for the S-Rank. but I think that I will be playing Fallout 3 once I finish Persona 4 next, so it might have to wait a while. That’s a respectable endeavor too, since I only have a C in the game.

It’s raining, but is it heavy?

The oddly named Heavy Rain promises to bring mature, serious gaming to the PS3. I’ve heard much about the game’s merits, mostly from Shane Bettenhousen back when he was on the 1UP crew, but I’d yet to see any footage of the game in action. Lucky for me, GTTV, or Gametrailers TV, is featuring Heavy Rain in their latest episode:

(Sorry about some of the stupidity of the interview, I don’t write the immature questions)

As the episode mentions, Heavy Rain is developed by the same folks who brought us Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophesy back in the day. That game had a narrative that quickly fell apart near the end, but was an otherwise solid piece of storytelling. Heavy Rain has serious promise not to fall into that trap.

How cool is it that if one of your characters dies it becomes part of the story. You lose control of that person and the game continues. Seriously, all they have to do is not get stupid ridiculous like the end of Indigo Prophesy and they already have me as a customer.

Wii Secrets

Guess what? You can export Miis to the DS!

The previously hidden feature doesn’t do much for games that don’t support it, but it’s crazy to learn this little secret. Pressing A, B, 1, and then holding 2 will bring up the export dialog. Useless, but cool for the future.

Do me a Solid, will ya?

New Metal Gear game announcement at E3? Seems likely. The teaser site is apparently flashing [email protected]…Seems pretty self-evident there.

The Pigs are keeping us down!

First Capcom, then Koei, and now Square Enix have restricted all Japanese travel to E3 this year citing the H1N1, or swine flu, pandemic as the reason they are limiting their travel. Considering that Japan is actually facing quite the problem on its shores, you’d think that the execs would want to get out of the country sometime soon, but then again, I guess it’s the ethically responsible thing to do not to have them travel around. That being said, I’m sure the last thing Japan is doing in this case is worrying about US safety. All jokes aside, hopefully this swine flu pandemic slows down and goes away soon.

[Thanks to Kotaku and Gametrailers for the links]

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