Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2: GT Review

"As far as weapons based combat goes, this series has no equal."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kenny Tran - The Sickest

They dont call him "Sick Call Kenny" for nothing. Amazing read.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Apple Targets The Gaming Market

Last week there was an article in The New York Times about Apple's shadow looming large over the Tokyo Game Show. Today, I see that Apple has purchased a large amount of advertising space on IGN's home page. What does Apple's emergence as a player in the videogame market mean for the gaming industry and for us gamers?

For the gaming industry, its actually kind of a big deal, with the emergence of mobile gaming as a prime revenue source for these companies. For gamers, especially the hardcore kind, its really kind of joke - except this time we are the punchline. Apple has always been the butt end of jokes by PC gamers who for years have enjoyed their platform as the primary place to play the latest and most technologically advanced games. Sure there was always Myst or even World of Warcraft for Mac, all the biggest games eventually got ported over months or years later, but for the past two decades it was basically a joke if you owned a Mac and wanted to play the latest games.

The problem was simple: not enough people bought Macs, so game companies didnt bother developing for the platform. There was an aura of superiority around Mac users that somehow the machines were so perfectly designed and so god-like, that they couldnt possibly be purposed for such a heathen activity such as gaming. Macs were, and are to this day, an elitist product. You have to be rich to buy one, and in buying one you are basically saying to everyone else "Steve fucking Jobs designed my machine, so Im superior to you." And truth be told, Macs are amazingly designed and beautifully engineered machines.

In many ways and for many years (lets call them the SCSI years), Macs really were superior machines. But, not anymore. The PC wars between Microsoft and Apple have sort of ended, despite those Mac and PC guy ads you see on TV. Thats just the playful banter of two corporate behemoths who have willfully agreed to chop up the marketplace and share in the glory of complete market domination. Dont believe me? Then please tell me who is #3 in the world of personal computing. Linux doesnt count.

So what does all this history have to do with mobile gaming? Well for years, Apple was content to sit back and let Microsoft take the lead in that sphere, in fact Apple willfully resisted having its platform be used for game development. Not anymore. This move into gaming by Apple, which currently only applies to its mobile devices, signals a new era. They see the amount of money people spend on games, they see the technological possibilities of their mobile devices, and they have decided to shift their focus into fostering game development and actively promoting it. Mobile devices first for sure, but you have to wonder what they are planning for their next generation of desktops and laptops as well.

For software makers like Konami and Capcom, Apples decision to promote game development on their mobile platforms is sort of a mixed blessing. While on one hand they welcome the extra revenue such potential growth represents, on the other it represents a departure from their style of game making and a shift of resources away from more progressive game designs and ambitious, next generation projects. Why gamble spending $25M making a new intellectual property for a next generation console, when they can spend $1M on 25 different games based on existing IPs and current mobile platform technology, and have a guaranteed return on their investment?

As bad as that sounds, dont expect Halo 4 and Gears of War 3 to come out on the iPhone. There will still be AAA, high budget titles from the major development houses and big publishers. There just wont be as many new IPs, and they wont be as big or as ambitious. Console games simply cant be developed by small teams anymore. As game development costs soar into the tens of millions, developers and publishers are constantly searching for ways to cut costs and secure new revenue streams, and mobile gaming is just the next step in that evolution.

Hardcore gamers are now a rare breed. Its not that we are shrinking in numbers, its that gaming as an activity is exploding in popularity, so even though there are still millions of hardcore gamers, now we are decidedly outnumbered by weekend gamers and casual gamers, probably by 10-1. Game companies have picked up on this fact, and the next 3-5 years will reflect this trend. Dont expect to see major console releases ever 5 years, with AAA game development time and costs skyrocketing. Now we are on a 6-8 year cycle, and the cycles will only continue to increase in length. Filling those gaps in the cycle will be a glut of mobile, handheld, and casual downloadable games that are cheap or free to play, and Apple will be one of the companies leading the way and collecting all the profits.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Assassins Creed II: Visions of Venice

This trailer came out almost a month ago, and I didnt post it because a few things struck me as odd about it. First and most obviously, the music. OK, we all know Assassins Creed isnt all it appears to be in metaphysical terms, but do we have to have our romp in meticulously crafted ancient Venice set to a thumping techno soundtrack? Im not a musicologist, but Im thinking that maybe, just possibly, somebody during the Renaissance might have crafted some good music. Now, I dont know what the actual soundtrack to the game will sound like, but this trailer music - while bumpin and grindin and phat with its slap-bass track - just doesnt fit the atmosphere they are trying to create in the trailer.

Secondly, this is a game called Assassins Creed. Unsurprisingly, its a game about assassinating people. As in, murdering them in cold blood. But, look at the trailer. Wheres the blood? There is none. Now, maybe, possibly, this is just an accidental omission and the guy making the trailers for Ubisoft forgot to turn gore on in the menu options. I really hope so, because I was actually looking forward to playing this game and having it be that hugely immersive, amazing experience that the original game strove for but never quite attained. Killing people with no blood? Please, Ubi, dont insult me.

Im starting to become a bit skeptical that the people at Ubisoft actually know what they are doing with this franchise. They completely fucked up the telling of the story in the first game, it had more bugs in it than an entomologists laboratory, and the overall mission and world design seemed to have been crafted by highly trained chimpanzees or small children. The fact that despite these flaws it still managed to be a good game is a testament to the power of an open world in allowing the player to create their own game within the game. Just running from the guards across rooftops or hiding in crowds while stalking a target was a revelation we had never seen before in videogames.

But we are really expecting a lot more from this game. My expectations are extremely high, and my tolerance for poor design choices or a lack of immersion is extremely low this time around. In my book, Ubisoft (or any game company) gets a pass the first time around on a new franchise. Ubi made a fun game with Assassins Creed but it wasnt a great game by any means, and if you argued that it was horribly repetitive or broken by glitches, I couldnt really defend it in objective terms. But I would still recommend playing it, because I want game companies to take risks in making new games, I want to see new characters and new intellectual properties. Nobody is expecting perfection when you debut a new franchise full of new ideas.

But the second time around, Im going to be much less forgiving. Ubisoft needs to deliver a great game with Assassins Creed II - not a good one. It doesnt need to be perfect, but it needs to be damn close if they want me to hang around for a third installment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Will Start Playing MMOs When...

The animation, combat, and bosses are on par with Ninja Gaiden.

They wont do it though, because a certain percentage of the MMO userbase would not be able to handle the difficulty of real time combat.

Anybody with a one eyeball, one finger, and a 14.4K modem can play World of Warcraft and just click on an enemy and watch their character walk over and start bashing them, and eventually reach the level cap.

Dont get me wrong, I understand that high level MMO play, especially on big Raids and PVP servers, requires skill to play properly. Sure its mostly logistical skill, managing all your items and powers, but there is an element of manual dexterity involved to pull off certain combos and spell chains. Sure. I get that.

But in Ninja Gaiden and God of War, the combat most closely resembles a fighting game - not an RPG, like most MMO combat.

How much damage you can do and how long you can survive in combat is not premised on how many months you have been playing or how many items or powerups you have collected, but rather on the skill of the player.

The reason we wont ever see an MMO that requires razor like reflexes to defeat the hardest enemies and bosses is simple: money. These companies make more money by having more people subscribed. If the limit on how quickly you can reach the apex of power in the game is player skill, rather than time invested (in months), people would be able to beat all of the content in the game within weeks of it coming out. A certain percentage would not even be able to beat the game at all without help from more skilled players.

Someone has to say it: the quests, combat, and leveling up system in World of Warcraft and most MMOs are designed to SLOW YOU DOWN. They are designed to hand you one tiny breadcrumb at a time, and keep that carrot dangling in front of you. You could be the best World of Warcraft player in the world, but when you start at level one, you suck. You cant do anything. You cant explore the whole world, you would die. You are boxed in by your low experience and lack of items. All of that talent you have isnt worth anything, because your character has a jock strap and a club that barely scratches the hide of the sewer rats that you need to need to kill to reach level 2.

Ive ranted enough, so lets not even talk about graphics, animation, enemy and boss design. God of War vs World of Warcraft? LOL.

MMOs are still in the 20th Century in all those regards.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wet: GT Review

They tried to remake Stanglehold with a female lead, and failed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Contra Rebirth GT Review

The sequel to Contra Hard Corps, Contra Rebirth doesnt disappoint.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Majesty 2 Launch Trailer

Sometimes, you watch a videogame trailer, and you just say "Man, what the hell were they thinking?" Such is the above Majesty 2 trailer. This isnt a teaser trailer, this isnt a joke trailer, this is the Launch Trailer they want you to watch and then go buy the game. Seriously, if I didnt have some inside info from notorious PC gamer Ajax999 that the game is actually pretty freakin sweet, I definitely would not pick it up based on this trailer! I mean really, I thought the recent Champions Online and Dragon Age trailers were bad (thats why I havent posted them), but this sets a new low. In fact, this is positively one of the worst game trailers I have ever seen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves IGN Review

IGN's Chris Roper says its "absolutely phenomenal" and scores it a 9.5

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Halo 3 ODST: Gametrailers Review

I will be picking up ODST ASAP, and jumping right into Firefight.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Could Have Been

Which 2 games have the same flaw in the box design and what is it?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ken Block Hits The Fast Button: Dirt 2 Promo

Pro rally car driver Ken Block takes some Dirt 2 fans for a ride.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: IGN Review

Overall they give it a very positive review, while noting that the game design hasnt changed too significantly from the original. The graphics and animations look awesome, its got huge bad ass bosses, and it has 4 player online coop. What more needs to be said?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Osmos: Debut Trailer

This beautiful indie game came out Aug 18th on Steam for $10.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some Thoughts About Trials HD Extreme Tracks

So I have been playing and enjoying Trials HD over the past few weeks. After replaying the tremendously enjoyable Beginner, Easy, and Medium Tracks a fair amount and getting almost all gold medals, the pace of the game began to slow down when I made it to the Hard tracks. The tasks I was being asked to perform were no longer a question of how long it took me to complete, but rather, could I complete them at all? After a bit of practice, and with some patience, I completed all the Hard tacks, albeit with few gold medals. Finally, I had made it to the Extreme tracks. Then, I actually tried them, and nearly passed out from exhaustion before hitting power button on the 360.

While the Extreme tracks are cool in theory, and serve a purpose in practice, I feel like they are a development boondoggle. The developers simply spent too much time on them, and too little time making more "normal" tracks which are actually fun to play and to replay. Trust me, if you do manage to finish an Extreme track, the last thought on your mind will be replaying it.

90%+ of the people who buy the game will never finish all of the Extreme tracks, so why spend 25% of the development time making and testing them?

The developers should have devoted those resources to building and testing more fun tracks and skill games that more people will actually play, and then want to replay. The Beginner through Medium tracks are faster and easier to develop and test, and they are by far the most fun to play and replay.

So what is the actual purpose of the Extreme tracks? Simply put, to satisfy the developers own tastes, and the tastes of a few sick Moto-Trials-fanboys. They have absolutely nothing to do with the majority of gamers, 90%+ who will get turned off by the endless restarts and quit in frustration long before finishing.

N+ had the same problem - too many restarts breaking the flow of the fluid gameplay - but Trials HD actually has it worse with these Extreme tracks. At least with N+, the level was over in a matter of seconds, maybe a minute at most. It was torture, but it was brief. The Extreme Tracks in Trials HD will take most gamers 10-20 minutes to beat, with hundreds of restarts, unless they practice them for days on end, like the guy in the video above, who actually just happens to be a developer. What a co-inki-dink.

Personally, rather than practice on a single track with endless restarts for days on end, I would much rather be playing simpler, easier tracks, and trying to best my own time and my friends top times on the leaderboards. Or just trying to do as many crazy flips as possible. Or, just trying to break as many bones as possible. On all but the Extreme tracks, its easy to have fun with this game no matter how you play it.

One day, I would like to finish the Trials HD Extreme tracks, but Im not sure if that day will ever come. The game is undeniably great and manages to be incredibly challenging while being still a lot of fun - for the entire experience up to the last 4 levels. Thats where the development team went off the rails into Sisyphean territory, and somebody at RedLynx or Microsoft should have had the wisdom and foresight to reign them back in.

One Extreme track, or a pack of Extreme Tracks as DLC? Sure. But FOUR?!? If building these epic torture machines took 25% of the total development time and money for the game, and will only be finished by a handful of players, how can anybody invloved with the project justify that as a responsible allocation of resources?

Id love to see the real numbers on how many players worldwide have actually finished the Extreme tracks. The game has been downloaded over 300,000 times; Id be very surprised if 30,000 of those people actually finished the game. Sure, its possible. But it just isnt fun, which is a true shame, as you only wonder how much bigger and better the game could have been if they hadnt wasted a quarter of their development budget on impenetrable nonsense, and instead spent it on "fun" levels.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Launch Trailer

The launch trailer shows off lots of new characters and bosses.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

50 Games for $5 @

Game download service Direct2Drive turns 5 years old this month, and to celebrate they are selling 50 games for $5 each. Great games like Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Civilization IV, and GRAW2 are available this week, and the lineup will change over the next 4 weeks. If you havent checked out Sid Meier's Railroads, do so now. Its slow, glitchy, and the economy doesnt even really make much sense. But if you have even a passing interest in trains, American Rail History, or logistics, you wont be able to pull yourself away once you start. These arent throw away XBLA arcade games that might be fun for an hour - these are full featured, complete games for $5 a pop, and many of these classic games run perfectly on older computers, so dont miss out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ion Assault Trailer

New 2D twin stick shooter coming to XBLA later this month.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Contra Rebirth: WiiWare Trailer

Today, Contra is reborn on WiiWare for only 1000 Wii points.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Halo 3 ODST: Live Action Trailer

This trailer is just a taste of what a Halo film would look like.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mr. Consistency

New York Yankees shortstop and captain Derek Jeter is about to pass Lou Gehrig for the most hits all time as a Yankee. After getting a hit in the 8th inning of todays game against the Blue Jays, Jeter is just 6 hits away from being the all time Yankee hit leader.

Babe Ruth. Joe Dimaggio. Mickey Mantle. Titans of baseball history. Jeter currently has more hits than all of those legendary players, and he about to pass The Iron Horse himself, Lou Gerhig, whose career was cut short by the disease named after him. The most famous and winning franchise in all of sports history has had hundreds of players pass through its ranks, but only one Yankee player will ever attain 3000 hits, which Jeter will be able to achieve in the next 2 years if he stays healthy. And that, is the crux of this achievement: consistency.

Jeter has never been considered the best overall player in baseball. Although he hit very well from 1996-2000, during that time his hitting ability was somewhat overshadowed by Nomar Garciaparra from perrenial Yankees rival The Boston Red Sox, who hit .357 and .372 in consecutive seasons in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki came over from Japan an immediately became the best hitter in baseball - which he remains to this day - he is currently hitting .360.

His defensive skills, while certainly good enough to win him several gold gloves at shortstop, have never been considered by scouts and baseball statistics experts to be extraordinary. His baserunning abilities, while not flashy like base stealing experts Carl Crawford or Jose Reyes, are good enough for him to be a threat anytime he gets on: his caught stealing percentage is always below 20%, the cut off where the statistics dictate it is no longer profitable to steal. Beyond Jeter's physical skills are his often cited intagibles - the mental qualities that cant be quantified. From players to coaches to analysts, everyone agrees Jeter has these intangible winning qualities in spades, more so than perhaps any player that plays the game.

But what wraps all this ability and talent together into a Cooperstown worthy package is a singular quality: consistency. Derek Jeter takes the same approach to playing the game of baseball game in and game out, year in and year out. Whether he is 100% healthy, or playing hurt, whether its a meaningless game in late September or game 7 of the World Series, you know Jeter is going to bring total focus and intensity to every at bat and every play in the field.

Every single time in my entire life I have seen Jeter hit a routine ground ball out to an infielder, he runs with 100% effort down the first base line. I cant tell you how many extra hits he has gotten that way, and how many extra hits other players who dont run as hard miss out on by simply not playing the game correctly. You play to win the game. You play, to win - the game. Every single thing that you can do to help your team win, you do and you do it every single time. Its amazing to me how many extremely talented players - some even more talented than Jeter - I have seen that simply dont play baseball correctly, they simply dont play the game to win. They might be playing for stats or just trying to stay fresh or stay healthy, but they arent playing to win 100% of the time. Derek Jeter is one of the few players I have seen in my life that always, even if hes hurt, even if he doesnt have his A-game, he always plays the game of baseball to win. Thats why he is special, thats why he is different. Thats what makes him one of the very best players in the game, and one of the greatest of all time.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Muramasa Demon Blade: IGN Review

So IGN has posted their review of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and its extremely positive. Overall they give the Wii exclusive game an 8.9, calling it "a work of art," "stunning," and "one of the most beautiful games this generation on any console." They also praise the fast and fluid ninja combat, RPG elements and Super Metroid style exploration based 2D gameplay. Also of note, the developers decided to keep the original Japanese voice acting in the Western release rather than redo it in English, which is a welcome decision from my perspective. Overall, it looks like a must buy for Wii owners.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

God of War 1 & 2 Remastered for PS3

MD, you sir are one very lucky fellow. Not having played the original God of War 1 or 2 simply because you didnt own a PS2 or a backwards compatible PS3, you now have the chance to play a graphically superior version of the game on your PS3. The remastered version will run at 720P native, with 2x antialiasing, at a rock solid 60 frames per second. Apparently, the developers were going to upgrade some of the textures, but after looking at it closely and doing some tests, decided that the original textures looked good enough at 720P to keep them in there.

But really, resolution aside, how many current gen games really look as good as God of War 2 did on the PS2? Not many, in my experience. Textures and resolution only make up so much of a games visual impact, and for me, art design, framerate, and character animation are the top priorities. Although God of War 1 & 2 ran at 60FPS, the framerate wasnt locked and sometimes there would be slowdown or vertical sync issues - my only complaint about the game. That has all now been fixed, and the game will run perfectly and look beautiful.

The only thing left for gamers to whine about now about is the "kick in the balls" difficulty of the games, something personally I cherish and wouldnt want to see changed. Perhaps at the suggestion of some higher ups at Sony, the development team actually considered lowering the difficulty of certain sections, before laughing for a bit and spraypainting "fuck casual gamers" all over the box for the game.