Sunday, December 21, 2008

What you should be playing in Little Big Planet.

Someone must have posted this one already considering the recent outcropping of web portals charged with sharing user levels in LBP, but I'm posting it anyway. ;)

That, and it isn't half bad for a very condensed version of a full 3-D game. If you loved "Ico", then dive in and see what this does for you.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Brief Chat with Alex Evans Courtesy of

Sam Kennedy, site director for, speaks with Alex Evan regarding the future of Little Big Planet at the Spike VGAs..

Game Diary: Left 2 Rot...

**This is a post from a few weeks ago that I sat on for a while, mostly because I've been focused on other stuff.**

I did a horrible thing my first night playing "Left 4 Dead".

I followed my self-preservation instincts and ditched my teammates, leaving them as fodder for the infected horde.

It should never be over stated that some choices, especially tough ones, aren't simple. Take our situation for example. We were surrounded on the hospital rooftop, engaging in the final rush, a final crescendo moment where waves of infected attacked us from all corners of the rooftop . Worse, we already failed three times before and although no one was frustrated yet, there were small bouts of in-fighting on th team.

But this time things were going much differently. We survived the first wave of zombies without a problem. The next obstacle came in the form of a Tank, a special infected that can take large amounts of damage and deal high damage as well. We took him out quickly. In fact, everything was looking great until the middle of the third wave. Special infected zombies managed to up our team, making us a group of desperate men. I managed to hold my own, dropping as many infected as I could.

And then the helicopter came, and along with it the pivotal choice: save my friends or make a run for the rescue copter.

The tension in this moment was palpable, the choices distinct and very clear. As much as it made sense to stick it out, grab more ammo, and save my friends from the horde, I chose the easier goal. I chose the copter and what would be my first level completed achievement.

So maybe my decision was influenced by outside achievement-whoring urges. Or maybe it was the feeling that I didn't want to chance restarting the level for the fourth time. Regardless of the initial factors I made my choice, and the results were exhilarating and still troubling for me all at once.

Yeah, the "Left 4 Dead" has a few flaws - not enough weapons, needs more maps, special infected could use a little more variety - but the experience as a whole is still amazing.

Simply said, Left 4 Dead is incredible (probably more worth it for PC owners than the way I played it, on 360) and worth your time. It punishes you relentlessly with infected hordes, it manages to be engrossing without a connected story-arc, and it presents you tough choices similar to the one I faced. I may have chosen to save myself, but who knows what you'll do given the same choice.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'm Back on the Wii Fit Bandwagon!


A few months ago, I made an ambitious promise to myself - that I would spend at least a month or more exercising to Nintendo's self-help/feel-good game of the year, Wii Fit. But between spending way too much time reading and working a retail job (plus school), my Wii Fit time had all but diminished.
I suppose the same thing happens to anyone that joins a gym, as those ambitious fitness promises are all too slowly broken. Missing my "Wii Fit" fitness regimen still filled me the same self-loathing you feel after weeks of skipping my workout, and then realizing that 'this time' might not have been the 'right time'. Still, I'm glad Wii Fit managed to make me more conscious of my very unhealthy diet/ lifestyle, and that's something that no other game this year could do.

That's right. Regardless of how cool it felt to parkour, I'd stand little chance scaling my house and executing graceful jumps over to my neighbors' rooftops. But getting myself to get up and stand on a scale to do Yoga poses and other stuff worked like a charm. It might lack some focus and polish (like the ability to follow a set regimen of workouts to burn fat in certain areas of the body - i.e. like my gut), but its still a good experience.

Its easy to complain that Nintendo has lost focus with the people that made their products successful. And as betrayed as core gamers have felt, there is something I feel is right with products like Wii Fit. It's a different experience and one that I welcome next to all the space marine driven shooters and open world games. Something like Wii Fit or Wii Sports is unique in and of itself. Sure, those hi-def games were much more entertaining and sported higher caliber presentations than most of the stuff on Wii, but simple fun - a.k.a. most of the stuff Nintendo's put on the Wii - is still a good thing and its still manages to be just as fun.

Its what manages to make a friendly game of Boom Blox multiplayer shift into a tense free for all. And that feeling is still alive on the Wii, despite the negative sentiment out there.

So, I for one, am glad to be right back on the scale giving it another try and slowly become more invested in my physical health. I've already admitted to myself a long time ago the affects of Wii Fit are more placebo than anything else, but I still desire something to get my physical fitness ego rolling, and for a gamer like me, making it a game is a good place to start.

(Images courtesy of and

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

Prince of Persia is my most beloved franchise from last gen. The three prior Ubisoft games were true milestones of game design featuring grand storytelling, inspired art and engine design, and a great musical score (Yes, even the emo-inspried sequel to the original Sand's of Time continued the tradition). As the player, you deftly guided the nimble Prince past a series of twisting puzzles and dark foes trying desperately to save his homeland from the darkness affecting his world. And lets not forget the principle gameplay mechanic of the series, the actual Sands of Time - a system designed to reverse ill platforming and combat decisions to give players a second chance, a do-over to set poor choices right.

As amazing as those games were times have changed. It was only a matter of time before Ubisoft revived the Prince franchise for this console generation. Of course, few expected a complete series reboot, but it's happened. Thankfully, this new Prince is still quite nimble. He just isn't surrounded by the same old sand. Those powers are gone, replaced by this game's biggest addition - Elika, your adventure/ platforming/ combat partner in crime.

Elika's chief goal is to help the Prince. Think of her as sort of like Yorda, that silent girl from the Ico series, minus the tedious babysitting. The Prince can't advance without here. She's playable, in a sense - her attack moves are mapped to your controller, but that doesn't stop her from competently keeping up with the vaulting prowess of the Prince - in fact, she helps him double jump. Elika's focused attacks weaken enemies, putting the Prince in a prime attack position to defeat powerful creatures. As much as Elika's design makes her more of an assist character, she also shares an agenda with the Prince - her main purpose is to harness spirit orbs that unlock her powers to rejuvenate the corrupted land.

The inclusion of an assist character in the new Prince of Persia game represents a major shift in the series' design. The focus seems to be on making the game accessible and remove the punitive measures commonly associated with the adventure/ platforming genre. It affects this game in slightly unusual ways; there aren't many ways to die in this adventure. Miss a jump, and Elika extends a hand, saving you from a terrible demise (and putting you back on the platform you jumped from). Elika will also come to your rescue in combat, saving you from a potentially lethal blow.

As much as this makes her the opposite of a damsel in distress, the results left an uneasy feeling for me.

As impressive as this design goal might be - less frustrating platforming, seamless in-game checkpoints whenever you misstep -, but how will removing death for the player affect the final game? See, taking away penalties is fine to an extent, but the unfortunate side affect is that it makes this game feel way too easy. Yes, dying/ losing in games is an artificial consequence, but it's still a consequence or more importantly, an outcome. The penalty forces players to learn what killed them, or what not to do. It contributes to a game and adds a certain amount of risk. Miss that jump, die, and go back to the beginning. As boring as loading screens can be, this formula is something that we're used to, and removing it (while helpful) is quite jarring.

It can also be argued that using the Sands of Time removed any sort of punitive consequence, but I'd argue that while it did in some respect, the mechanic is slightly different because you controlled that system directly. If a certain amount of time passed, you'd be unable to rewind time and die. If you ran out of sand - the fuel that makes time manipulation possible -, you'd die. Maybe my whole remove-death and-game-is-easy-mode argument is invalid, but it's still worth considering.

The new Prince of Persia game really has the potential to be many things. It's again a visual graphic benchmark and the platforming mechanics are quite solid; sporting fluid animation and some great new tricks. If it can mimic the strong presentation of the last trilogy, then Ubisoft has another chart-whopping hit on their hands. But it'll be interesting to see what the fans think of the new game. After all, what happens when a game takes away the ability to lose?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Only On Xbox 360?

"Gears of War 2" is finally out at retail to equal amounts of both hype and rapturous rejoicing.

Okay, so I haven't played Gears 2 yet, but plenty of evidence suggests how awesome it is. But ignore that user score, that score is bogus ;).

But the bigger take away for me is this: Now that Epic has released a proper Gears of War sequel on the Xbox 360, what will happen to the future of the intellectual property? According to Epic's deal with Microsoft, they retain intellectual property ownership after the fulfilling their contractual agreement. Will Epic take one of the most notobale franchises of this console generation multiplatform? Or will they ignore the potential multi-billion dollar sales, and submit to another exclusive agreement with the boys at Redmond?

Honestly, Epic can go either way, but the wait for their next big announcement will be tantalizing, and the end result will still undoubtedly surprise.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Can We Learn From Little Big Planet?

Sackboy is the undisputed hero of 2008

So how awesome is "Little Big Planet", really? It's fair to say that Sony's burlap-fabric-laced world is easily one of the most ambitious console games this generation. It boldly attempts a seemingly impossible mission - to inspire players to be game creators and slowly cultivate their design ambitions. Despite the launch of LBP being anything but smooth, the potential for the design platform is unprecedented in the console video gaming industry.

But can we expect much from the growth of the LBP community now that the critical darling of GDC 2007 is finally available at retail? The rather obvious answer is, yes. Each week we'll see uploaded creative content, and a metamorphosis of community as they accept their new role as judges, sifting through the sea of material to find the best stuff the community has to offer.

Despite my own reservations of ever being a successful video game creative, I can definitely admire the little things that "Little Big Planet" does so right - namely, it's charming presentation and deep tool set. In fact, it's the tool set specifically that makes the designers at Media Molecule so incredibly genius. They conquered the one thing that so many previous D.I.Y games like "Fighter Maker" and "RPG Maker" struggled with - easy access tools lumped together in simple and understandable categories. If it's mechanical, the player knows to examine the tool box portion of the "popit". If it's a scenery piece, then they look in the goodie bag. This marvelous design choice makes the tools so light and easy to use, yet the near endless tutorials in the game emphasize the importance of choosing the right part for the job.

But prior game creation tools on console made another fatal error in that they were too technical, and focused on very niche genres like fighting or RPG's. Well, to be fair, maybe fighters were more mainstream, but that doesn't make them easier to design. In fact, the average fighting game takes months of proper balancing and animation work. On the other hand, RPGs need strong narratives, character development, and battle systems. Set pieces need to be carefully orchestrated to guide the player through a world of possibilities.

The D.I.Y. model of games is not new. The PC has seen way too many mods come and go, but this genre has stumbled by failing to understand the importance of simplicity. Little Big Planet rewrites the D.I.Y. rules for a very different console audience. This is an audience that doesn't memorize dozens of hotkey combinations or menus. It's an audience that just wants to dive into simple tools and make charming and visually impressive content. Simply put, Little Big Planet is the right product at the right time, and in the coming months we'll bear witness a dearth of content, a growing community of designers, and the real start of D.I.Y. games on console.

Fast forward ten or twenty years, and we'll see the fruits of Little Big Planet's labor, a game designer who claims he got his start designing levels in Media Molecule's incredibly deep burlap world.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Did I miss something, and why is it titled "Soundtrack from the Motion Picture"? Strange, I thought the movie was still in production.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For the Love of Dead Space

Although I had briefly admired some of the preview coverage for "Dead Space" - EA Games' descent into horror based survival games - I expected little from the final product. Maybe these low expectations seem harsh, but the reality is there hasn't been a new IP from EA that excited me in years (Army of Two = epic fail). Granted, "Mirror's Edge" holds some of my interest this year, I'm still not convinced its a game I really want to play - at least not lieu of the swarm of high quality games due this fall like "Gears of War 2", "Fallout 3", and "Left 4 Dead".

So how'd Dead Space managed to slip under my radar? Honestly, I don't know. But in light of everything (now that I'm nine chapters into it), it's the best game to kick off this holiday season, and the swarm of games coming into retailers.

By now you must've seen all the positive reviews filing into the internet. But the biggest question on anyone's mind is: How scary is Dead Space, really? But the answer depends on your experience with this sort of material. The beginning of the game isn't very scary at all, or it might be for a brief moment. But the overall tension doesn't rise until about mid-way through the game, where the ammo and health packs start to become real scarce. It's at these points that the suspense level truly rises, because no ammo means you're pretty much screwed. And judging from the sound of things, only God knows what's coming around the next corner.

The overall ambiance also contributes to why, in the end, Dead Space is pretty amazing. As you wander the ship, the empty halls will not only feel dead and devoid of any living thing, but occasionally you'll hear whispers and heavy things being knocked over in the distance. The incredible sound design really put me on the edge of my seat, even though the average enemies at the start of the game do very little to freak you out of your seat. Instead the designers find clever ways to mess with your head - One particular case of this happened after a quick trip to the Work Bench - a part of the game's weapon upgrade system. Right after I finished the transaction, the camera pulled back to reveal a snarling necromorph standing right over my right shoulder.

If that doesn't freak you out, I really don't know what will.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Obligatory Halo 3: Recon Fan Post

This generation has been chock full of changes for both hardware and software manufacturers. We've now lived through the metamorphosis of console pricing, with a number of different flavors (a.k.a. SKU's) to choose from. On the software side, we see a persistence among developers to keep iterating on a working engine, rather than rebuild with each new title in development. This recent shift has also led developers to experiment with the episodic model - smaller, focused game releases promising high quality entertainment at lower prices.

This generation we've seen Burnout Paradise and Half Life 2 (and the perfect model this gen: Tell Tale Games) embrace this new theory in AAA design, with a number of studios following suit.

As the title already suggest, yes, this is a fan post about my favorite franchise, Halo 3. The Tokyo Game Show may have been the most awkward place for the announcement, but both Bungie Studios and Microsoft have decided its time too reveal the biggest secret since E3.

Some of us could guess this standalone model was coming, but what can we expect from the new Halo project, subtitled Recon? Here's a small list of thing's that has stood out to me amongst all the coverage we've seen and the trailer debut:

* This is an entirely new campaign experience in Halo 3 that focuses on a much more fragile hero, the ODST (Orbital Drop Shop Trooper). These high caliber marines fought next to the Chief briefly in Halo 2, and then again in Halo 3. But Bungie has teased that this hero won't be identical to a certain super-powered Spartan. If the gameplay of Halo 3 is any indication, these super bad marines have been just as disposable as the regular marines, their only visible advantage being ultra cool black garb. So with Halo 3: Recon, we'll finally see the ODST at work, proving once and for all why they represent Robin compared to Master Chief's Batman.

*Bungie has already cleared the air (and quickly) that this is not Ghost Recon: Halo, or Gears of Halo, or Halo Gear Solid. And they were quick to point out that the weapons of Halo 3 won't receive any major changes (so don't go hoping for that original Halo pistol to make a reappearance in Halo 3: Recon). Instead, fans can expect the same weapons currently found in the Halo 3 sandbox (for better or worse).

However, the ODST that emerges from the drop pod in the trailer is carrying what appears to be a silenced variation of the SMG. Can we expect more slight variations added to the marine class weapons of the original?

*The multiplayer component of Halo 3: Recon will be an exact copy of the multiplayer that shipped with Halo 3, last year. That means no ODST will substitute the familiar deadly hallways pf Halo 3 multiplayer. Instead, we'll see the retail disc version carry the same (and some currently unreleased) maps, with the same outcomes. There will be no separate multiplayer component added to Halo 3: Recon.

*But many websites have all agreed that this campaign could be the content players unanimously felt was missing from Halo 2 - the bulk of which was expected to take place on Earth. As such, Halo 3: Recon could plug a familiar gripe of the design team since Halo 2. And the presence of a mysterious A.I. only reinforces that we'll some interesting level design and navigation queues (hopefully, anyway).

I've been a major fan of this series, despite my gripes with Halo 2, so this announcement is huge for someone like me (and like you, if you're still reading this). It might be cool to hate on Halo these days, but one thing is certain: Halo is still one of the largest IP's this generation, and a brand extension like Recon could potentially be another blockbuster notch on Bungie's belt.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ahead of its Time?

That's right! That game is "Steel Battalion", a game that could have been three years too soon. It was an X-Box exclusive from Capcom that baffled both the press and mech fans alike, mainly because of the $199 price tag.

I still remember when I walked into Toys R' Us in Times Square, NYC to drop my well earned Christmas cash. Years later I could reminisce that the game was only okay at best. Thankfully, I'll always have a reminder courtesy of YouTube.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Incredibly Edible Contraptions, Or Things That I Read Today

It's funny, I just don't read books anymore. And I bet I know what you're thinking, "Well, how is that funny." Well dear reader, it just is (or maybe a better position is ironic). Actually it's because there was a time, a very long time ago, that I did read books instead of repulsive, grammatically incorrect articles and poorly written blog post. In fact, everyday I find new subscriptions for my RSS Reader and I try, vainly, to keep up with a ridiculous amount of content.

Today, I decided to stray from my typical web surfing routine, and I started a fascinating book edited by one of my favorite writers, the one and only Clive Thompson.

Clive's been featured in many relevant science and culture compilations as one of the best technology writers in the business. He's submits stuff all the time for Wired and the New York Times. The book, titled, "The Best Technology Writing of 2008", is really a who's who of some of the most talented science writers. These diligent folks record the effects of technology on our daily live, and then feed it back to us without the tech speak that invades so much science writing.

"What can we do with our strange new powers" is an interesting position Clive takes when he describes some of the articles featured as part of the introductory chapter.

Now before you start getting antsy, I can assure you this isn't a book review or some personal critique on the book. I get to do that sort of thing at a different job. Plus, I'd never try to waste your time that way, or mine for that matter. I just like to look back at the stuff I read, or experience. Just like I do with games.

The first chapter introduced me to Dave Arnold, a master engineer that builds some of the coolest culinary gadgets in the restaurant business.

David helps master chefs experiment with new and exciting gadgets that can introduce a plethora of tasty experiences the next time you visit a fancy restaurant in New York City. He works mainly with the extraordinary Wylie Dufresne.

Check out the video below for more on the type of work David does.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ending the Silence

Sadly, it's been weeks since I've posted anything on this blog.

My recent silence was for two very specific reasons: a) I've been trying to figure personal things out, and b) I moved to a much nicer (a.k.a. bigger/cleaner/incredible) space. Remember folks, I've been out here on the west coast for over a year, so it was due time for an upgrade from my previous misery-filled cubby hole of a room. Plus, my new roommates are fabulous! Even though they are all non-gamers, they've adapted to my quirky habits, eventually joining me on a few occasions.

I have to say that taking time off did me a whole lot of good. I got to enjoy "Too Human", despite the enormous amount of hate the game received two months ago. I also finished Quantic Dream's "Indigo Prophesy" - a game that sounds like a much cooler experience when you replay it, or if you share your experiences in some sort of group discussion. I've done neither, and the game's ending did disappoint like most games do, but there were still plenty of things I enjoyed in this game, particularly the character development.

I didn't expect to enjoy this game when I discovered you can control four central character's in the story. Blame other games I've played where it ended up as very cut, copy, and paste. Surprisingly, this system lead to some interesting discoveries for me. It felt like I was trying to play mental chess against myself. The game forces you would hide the evidence from yourself, and then try to find it again.

Take the opening murder sequence, as an example. You can choose to clean up the mess and hide the murder weapon, only to return an examine the crime scene later as a completely different character. You're role is transferred, as you attempt to catch yourself, if that makes any sense. I'm not sure if I'm just getting too old for this sot of thing, but I have to admit that I found this story-telling mechanic astounding, even if it felt very point-and-click-adventure-ish (an obvious influence for the design team).

I'd like to write some more about it one day, but my recent obsession with RockBand 2 stands in the way. Here are a few other notable things that happened (either to me or on the web) while I was away:

- Variety's Ben Fritz spoiled the shit out of one special enemy in the Force Unleashed. Great article, but shame on you Ben. Shame.

- I finished "Bionic Commando: Rearmed", my personal favorite downloadable game of the year (so far, anyway).

- John Davison made a critical statement about the relevance of reviews to an average consumer over on his personal blog and What They Play.

- I went to PAX 2008 and saw a lot of games and even more gamers.

- The new season of the 1UP Show has a very creative opening title segment you can't help but love. Seriously kids, you should be watching this every week. This week, the crew checks out Bionic Commando (not Rearmed, the other one), Spore, and a possible late great title from Sega, Yakuza 2.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Catching Up

I've got a bit of catching up to do as its been a while since I posted anything in this space. It isn't for lack of trying, I've just been really busy.

But I will be posting some stuff from my hotel. Possibly a last hurrah, but I'm still uncertain (conflicted or whatever).

More information coming soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trimming the Fat

My video game shelf is getting a bit crowded. Maybe it's all the darn peripherals (Wii Wheel, Wii Fit, Wii Zapper, and Rock Band), but its time to weed out the crap that's slowly slipped into my collection. So this month the axe is comes down and seven games are on the chopping block (perhaps eight).

Goodbye and Good riddance!

On the Way Out:

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (Xbox 360) - I reviewed this controversial title last year for, back when we did reviews.
Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360) - Completely mislead by my nostalgic love of the PS2 original. Although gamers everywhere cried foul when this up-rezed port showed plenty of freezes and gameplay hiccups, the later patches Rockstar and Mad Doc released corrected those issues. The port still looked bad, with inconsistent art direction and served as proof positive that developers can't just up the resolution on a next gen game and consider their job done.
Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360) Played it last fall, finished it and slowly realized I'll never play it again. The magic wore off this one pretty quick.
Timeshift (Xbox 360) Sadly, still wrapped in shrink wrap. Never played it.
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii)
Resident Evil masquerading as House of the Dead. Not a bad game, but not a very memorable one, either.
Frequency (PS2)
As a fan of all things Harmoix, I bought this game hoping I could revisit the magic of the 'old days'. But playing Frequency through an upscaled PS3 on an HD television was not a formula for success. Instead, the timings on the notes were impossible thanks to unfamiliar HDTV refresh rates. There's no way to fix it either.
Animal Crossing (Gamecube) I bought the DS version, and I'd rather play it on the go.
Devil May Cry 4 (PS3) Completely heinous emo-swordplay wankery at it's finest. Fun for five minutes and then it's gone. I'm only sad because I really wanted to love this one. Oh, and dice games as a prelude to the final boss equals fail.
Unreal Tournament III (PS3) The first console game to support custom user generated content. But I kept hoping I could use the Gears of War mods in single player so I could fool myself into enjoying this bloated shooter. Oh, and playing as Master Chief (thanks mod community) didn't save it for me, either.

Mario Kart Wii (Wii) "Mario Kart: Double Dash" was better. Really, it was.

Every few months I'll focus on making this a regular practice. Who knew spring cleaning in August was so refreshing.

Balancing Act - Or Day One of Playing with Wii Fit

It's 4 a.m. in San Francisco, and while I struggle with yet another sleepless night, I can't help but marvel at today's turn of events.

As I found myself awake last night (again), I spent most of the night reading up on Nintendo's leap into the world of family fitness. This leap is something that I've always been curious about both a gamer and a guy who likes to try interesting things. But alas, it seems that the older I get, the more i become agitated with my lack of healthy habits. I don't like jogging, I hate sweating, and I've been blessed with a fast metabolism that's slowly slowing down the closer I get to 30. Instead of fruits, salads, and the occasional jogs, I wallow in my unhealthy state, blindly convinced that it will never get the best of me.

Who am I kidding? But maybe the fact that I dwell on it is proof that it's affecting me, right now. But rather than get all esoteric and bore you with some psychoanalytical thinking, I'll just get to the point - I bought "Wii Fit" today.

There, I said it.

Now before you close this browser and stamp off, convinced that I've finally lost my marbles (or the few that I had to begin with), here me out: First, I don't believe that Wii Fit is designed to make you more slender or physically fit than I do any other contraption that you see on late night television. You know, the pills, clothes, or DIY workout stations that fit in your closet, guaranteeing new ways to lose weight, or your money back (incidentally, I wonder if anyone has ever actually sacked up and confessed that one of those products didn't, demanding their refund and scowling with contempt for their delusional short-comings). Anyway,...

The reason that I bought "Wii Fit" wasn't for the promise that I'll lose weight (or get fit), but the motivation to try and be more conscious, and hopefully do something about it. Maybe this is the same thing that motivates people to sign up for the nearest gym, or read tons of books on healthy practices they can enjoy during their everyday life. Regardless if this over priced bathroom scale becomes nothing more than a $90 dust magnet, it still one step closer to me actually doing something about this gut that's growing between my chest and my mid-section (you know, the area formerly known as my stomach).

Plus, I've got bigger regrets than a measly $90 bucks. Like the time I bought "Steel Battalion", and slowly watched my geek cred rise like it was inflated stock (that thing sat in the closet for months after I played the game for a two weeks straight). Was it awesome? Yes, but was it worth it? Absolutely not.

It just feels so bizarre to me that I even own this product. I mean just read how awkward my gaming tonight was: I returned to "Soul Caliber IV" and vanquished another three floors of computer generated scum and villany. I fired up a quick session of "Halo 3" co-op campaign, and relived my favorite moment battling the four-legged Scarab Tank. Oh, and I started my first night of "Wii Fit" at 2:30 a.m.

See what I mean. It sounds so bizarre!

But even if I know the concept of Wii Fit helping me lose weight is a placebo effect at it's best, I'm still curious enough to give it a shot. Yeah, it's a lot different than the stuff I normally seek from my games, but isn't that why I play games in the first place - to try new and exciting things that I normally don't do. That could be solving mysteries as the curious Professor Layton, terrorizing the busy street of Paradise City. These are still fun things to me, and maybe I can weave Wii Fit into that gaming diet.

But what really concerns me right now is: Is anybody playing Wii Fit, right now? June sales data shows that "Wii Fit" sold half of what it did in May, that's the debut month in case that seems unreasonable. But my concern is that I hardy see any of Wii Fits impact in the stuff I read daily.

Are supply problems holding this back because the Wii system is still averaging insane numbers mother to month?

Couch Potatoe, Confirmed

Maybe a month from now I'll still be playing "Wii Fit"? Or maybe I'll just give in to real excercise and get a bike?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Game Diary - August 9, 2008

Shamefully, I haven't had a single entry in this game diary for weeks. And that isn't due to a lack of playing games. I've just been a little too burned out to write about them. I'd try and play catch up, but there really isn't a point to focusing on the games I've played in the past few weeks. Instead, I'll just focus on today.

So downloadable games have my undivided attention thin month. And I'm totally fine with that considering the quality level. Last week, mentioned how infuriating it was for me to play Geometry Wars 2. But instead of seeking out anger management classes, I just took some time off and played it today for the first time since. Kyle Orland, of Joystiq, is still beating the crap out of my scores, but I'll live. And I even came close to topping him today, twice.

The mode that did manage to mess with my blood pressure wa Pacisfism - the mode that everybody is talking about these days where your object to avoid the blue diamond-shaped enemies, and fly through gates that will blow them up when they get close.

While listening to an awesome 1UP Yours, I reached my new best of 35,000,000. Kyle's 44,000,000 is just within reach, an he's my only target since no one on my Xbox friends list has bought the game yet.

"Braid" is only other game keeping me busy, and it's worthy of incredible praise. This is truly a magnificent experience that draws from every traditional platformer I've played since my Super Mario Bros. days on the NES. The water colored art, the thematic play mechanics of each level, and the carefully crafted puzzles have helped me to really appreciate smart game design.

I finished it today, collecting all the puzzle pieces (and I feel quite sheepish that I had to cheat to get one of them). I don't know what I think of the ending yet, it was... not something I understand right now (it's 5 am on a Saturday) so I'll have to dissect it in my head tomorrow when I can be more coherent.

Next week: Signing up for a second semester at Bullworth Academy for Bully: Scholarship Edition.

The Summer Crop of Downloadable Games

In gaming circles, August is typically known for only one release, John Madden Football two-thuosand-and-whatever. Naturally the great gridiron simulator returns both new and improved, but this is usually the only big release we see in August, as the summer months come to an inevitable close and the rush of quality holiday titles begin to storm into the release calendar year.

Last year was more of the same, Madden was on the way. But one thing was different. 2K Boston (or Marin, whatever) and Take Two released Bioshock, a game that rocked the emotional storytelling boat like no other in the genre (or about as well as System Shock II did years prior). Wave of enthusiasm and praise swept across our industry, as more and more people the unprecedented depth of BioShock.

Both Madden and BioShock were the prelude of the incredible lineup that was released in the fall of 2007. That year will stand out as a remarkable year that included a list of marquee games including: The Orange Box, Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Uncharted, and more.

But fast forward to August of 2008, and there is a much different picture in place. The release calendar for August might be missing a game as rich as BioShock, but there are a plethora of quality downladble games - a much different picture indeed from 2008's usual fare.

This month the downloadable games just keep coming, each presenting another unique take on the concept of smaller focused games with lighter financial risk. "Braid", "Bionic Commando: Rearmed", "Castle Crashers", "PixelJunk Eden", and "Geometry Wars 2" (along with Siren: Blood Curse) represent a new growing market in the game publishing buisness - the self-published downloadable games sector of the video game business. These are the projects that might not survive as a retail disc, or would become dismissed or bloated and unoriginal by the traditional standard of retail packaged games. They are lighter on content, but more focused entertainment experiences. They deserve your attention and your dollars because of their unique nature.

This year, you won't find a smarter platformer than "Braid", or a more soothing graphcal aesthetic than "PixelJunk Eden".

Ladies and Gentlemen, digitally distributed games are here, and their quality stock is only getting better.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Quick Ramblings

I've been playing catch up with a lot of things right now, so I've got a slew of things to talk about.

iPhone games aren't living up to the quality that I hoped they would. For better or worse, more and more clone games are finding their way to the device (Like thirty versions of Sudoku); and it's makes me worry every time I browse the App Store. However not all is lost, I have been playing Aurora Feint thanks to media guru (and veteran) John Davison's recommendation on his twitter feed.

I believe John is an incredible resource for quality assessment in video games, and I trust his opinion completely. He's the founder of Whattheylike, and - a parent's resource on gaming and online entertainment for kids.

Aurora Feint plays a lot like Panel De Pon (a.k.a. "Planet Puzzle League"). It reminds me of what "Puzzle Quest" did for traditional puzzle games like Bejeweled. The adventure aesthetic is part of the leveling system that the developers added to the already familiar gameplay (especially if you liked PPL as much as I did).

I've also got "Critter Crunch" and the abysmal "Super Moneky Ball" on my iPhone right now. Instead of being a breakout success, the mechanics Monkey ball dropped the ball big time. But it's probably not that bad for Sega. This was the number one downloaded app for weeks after the App Store launch, and at $9.99 a pop it must have made them money. I just hope they put it to use and develop better games for the platform. My crystal ball bets we'll see a Sonic game (with iPhone wankery) soon*.

I guess it just seems inevitable.

Geometry Wars 2

I liked the first "Geometry Wars" enough to purchase "Geometry Wars Galaxies" on the Nintendo DS. After all, this was the first title to really push Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360, when it launched back in the Fall of 2005.

So after all the praise on this weeks 1UP Show, and 1UP Yours, I knew it was only a matter of time before I jumped into "Geometry Wars 2". And although I'm glad I did, I'm not better for it.

Now, I should preface that I'm never easily angered by a game. I always keep my cool and just retry a level, whenever I fail. I don't throw controllers or smash stuff; That's just uncool.

I say this because "Geometry Wars 2" is bringing the opposite out of me. Now I get mad.

Maybe it's a combination of age and bad luck, but GW2 is really bringing out my bad side. The leaderboards make me uber competitive, the difficulty makes me easily agitated, and despite loving the sequel, I find myself frustrated before I hit continue.

*P.S. Sorry, I really don't have a crystal ball.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Flashback 2007: 1UP Yours Live at PAX

In case you've never seen it, now you can. Can the 2008 version possibly be better?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bittersweet Choices

Tonight is an interesting night, and it's full of unique decisions (actually just one decision, really). Instead of the usual, "what game will I play tonight" routine, I've got a bigger choice to make.

Do I go to Seattle for my first ever Penny Arcade Expo?

First, let's start with why not? Well, its up north in Seattle, WA - a place I'm not even remotely familiar with, and it's expensive. The ticket is and easy $45 bucks, but the plane ticket is about $288 for a round-trip. And that's not including hotel. I'd be happy with a shack made of straw, but it's never that easy. Even if a hotel bill can inflate the price even further, I'd feel worse if I didn't go.

I mean, For all intents and purposes PAX 2007 was the shit! It was a real convention for gamers, filled with unique surprises like The Mini-boses, (and even Freezepop). Halo 3 was playable, Rock Band rocked the house, Eye of Judgment, great swag, and the halls were filled chatter about the type of stuff we gamers love to talk about: games.

Oh, and 1UP Yours Live was awesome! Heck, it's still awesome. The fans loved it, and Garnett's already confirmed that they'll be back again with another live show this year.

Photo courtesy of Doug Bonham's blog

Man, if only this decision was easy. Then again, none of them are. Hell, I remember when I boarded a plane with all my belonging and flew to San Francisco, last year. That was the ultimate one way trip. And it wasn't easy, but I'm better for it. And even if this choice isn't as challenging, it's still hard.

Spend upwards of $500 dollars and attend one of the most unique conventions left on the West Coast (since E3 = .....), or sit home and watch all the fun on my PC (or Mac)?

Man, I wish these things were easy.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

So Sick With It

A random search on Youtube for "Street Fighter III" led me to these videos. I really hope the SF community will turn come out with some sick videos to top these masterpieces.

Latest Gamevideos SF IV trailer (sorry for the bad voice-overs)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Endless Days of Summer

It's like clockwork, really. Every summer I get bored with the games on my shelf. It happens every time. I've got three Colossi left to slay, but I'm not in the mood for mountain climbing. I've started a city in "Animal Crossing" ironically called Cali, but I don't feel like paying a visit. Thwart the zombie invasion in "RE 4"? Pass. Continue my comic mishaps through "Penny Arcade's Slick Precipice of Madness"? No.

Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I hate the games of summer.

But I might be alone on this one. Madden fans will rejoice in August, and some other releases in-between will surely rouse the gaming masses (Two Human, perhaps?).

It's times like these when sifting through the pile-o'-shame feels appropriate. And what do I spy on my shelf next to Persona 3? Kingdom Hearts 2, a game that scared the bejesus out of me in the Little Mermaid level, when Ariel burst into song. I loved the original Kingdom Hearts, but I quit playing after that. It just didn't seem worth it at the time.

After my fears subsided, I started thinking about the current crop of consoles and their battle for exclusives.

"Kingdom Hearts"
is a franchise that holds significant weight in the gaming business. The second installment of the Disney/Square Enix crossover sold very well two years ago. But after this E3, I wonder if Square is considering the amount of money that a cross platform Kingdom Hearts could earn? Picture it on Wii: This version would hold instant interest with Nintendo's new audience. A Disney game, cutesy characters, are irresistible and marketable, but simplified controls are a must. Making it mass market accessible could make it a massive success.

But what about PS3 and 360? Well picture this: whenever Final Fantasy XIII comes to retail (in 2012, lol). Square Enix will then likely look at the sales numbers. If the game sells better on 360 (and it very well should given the install base), what would stop the RPG titan from publishing the game across multiple platforms? This also falls in line with Microsoft's recent image shift to attract more attention from the Nintendo's audience. Microsoft has to realize the potential they have to wrestle yet another exclusive from Sony.

But Sony can't be foolish, either. Yes, they have closed their checkbooks and refuse to pay for exclusives, but look at the recent NPD. Sony outsold the 360 by a decisive margin, thanks in part to "Metal Gear Solid IV" - a great game that continues to stay exclusive, and demonstrate the retail power exclusives still maintain in the console space.

Enough with the Time Wizardry, I'll revisit "Kingdom Hearts 2" this week. 1UP FM is playing "Psychonaughts", and frankly I'm not interested. Hopefully, I can withstand the Little Mermaid level instead.

In the meantime, I'll post my final thoughts on "Shadow of the Colossus" on Friday.

Ha, looks like the genius at Square planned on the success of KH in the first game, afterall.

**Keep in mind that Square is already developing a PSP, and cell phone version of KH for release later this year. Nothing has officially been said on current console exclusivity in relation to KH III.**

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight Awesome

This will probably be the most spoiler-filled piece I have ever written. If you haven't seen "The Dark Knight", then stop reading and head to straight to your local movie theater. You won't regret it, I promise you.

"The Dark Knight" is an excellent film. There, I said it.

I'm sure there are plenty of other people saying the same thing, so it doesn't surprise anyone that I'm such a big fan. It feels like as much as people believed in the promise of Batman Begins sequel, more and more anticipation circled around Heath Ledger's last performance before his drug overdose months ago. So much could be said of his performance (or the Ledger/ Nicholson debate), but I believe the greatest strength of this film is its story, and that comparisons between the two actors, while interesting, are irrelevant.

"The criminals in this town used to believe in honor and respect."

The beginning to this story seems obvious: Now that the Batman has swept the streets of Gotham City, its criminals have turned to more demented men. But the introduction of the Joker is much better in this film than the original Batman film, and it carries though the remained of the movie. This Joker is a criminal genius, as he should be. He's a foil to the Batman, a character that is so often revered as the world's greatest detective. And that's one key specific that the Burton films missed.

"This town deserves a better class of criminal."

Sure the Burton Joker was somewhat diabolical, but it didn't hit as close to home as the current incarnation. This Joker is an urban terrorist. He creates panic and pandemonium. He uses twisted social experiments (the kill Coleman Reese bit was genius) and turns people against each other. The opening bank robbery scene sets this up nicely, and throughout the remainder of the movie its evident that this is a new kind of criminal, a demented creature who can influence others to struggle with psychotic choices. Alan Moore, the author of "The Killing Joke", would be proud of this Joker, given the writer's unique input on the character's comic book renaissance.

This Joker is out to crush men's souls, and Harvey makes the ultimate victim. He's the symbol of hope Gotham needed, an elected official that's pledging to make a difference. And the Joker tears him down, pushing the former white knight to madness.

"We're what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object"

I love the way this movie also focuses on the unique relationship between Batman and the Joker, especially in the prison scene where the Joker reveals that he doesn't want to kill Batman. He enjoys toying with, instead. Poking, and prodding the Batman, all in an effort to make him break his rules. The rules Bruce set for himself in "Batman Begins" that he isn't an executioner. These are the tenets that keep Bruce in check, and keep him sane. Its the line he won't cross. And the Joker savors every second that he can get him closer and closer to breaking one of them.

"You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
Besides the incredible story, and the powerful performances by all the actors in this film (and great pacing), the thing that wrapped this movie together so well is the ending. Batman is Gotham's whipping boy. He can't be a savior, he can't serve and protect. Yes, he deserves a medal, but he's still a vigilante. A man operating outside the law, and worse: the Joker's killing spree is partly a result of his actions.

The cops hunting the vigilante know as Batman makes sense, and its a much better fit than police cooperation.

I could go on and on about this one all night. If you haven't seen it yet, you need to. Its a great summer movie, and the best ten bucks you'll spend all year.

And thank god a shitty game didn't get coupled together with this movie. It would have really made me sad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Backlog: And Then There Were Seven...

My Colossi killing streak continues now that I found number four. I quickly moved on and slayed numbers five and six, soon after.

I find the proportions and sense of scale, in "Shadow of the Colossus", simply amazing. Every Colossi feels huge, but as they get progressively bigger you really appreciate not only the way they look and move, but the way they interact with the world. I'll use Colossi number five as an example.

The deity in the great temple warned me about Colossi number 5. "Blah, Blah, He's no body's fool," he (or it) said. I rode off to find the beast, and while I expected him to be smart, I didn't expect him to be fast. This one was fast, indeed. Number 5 ran through big stone walls, about as high as his abdomen, trying to crush me. This Colossi isn't taller than the third one, but he makes his presence felt and chases me into a small crevice - a place where I can hide and wait to strike.

And strike I did, toppling the large creature despite his attempts to shake me off.

I can't help but notice how well this game immerses players with so little gameplay. The space that the developers have provided is as big as a GTA (maybe), but minus the population. This world manages to feel alive without the pedestrians or the open mission structure. Instead, Shadow of the Colossus deliberately chooses to be linear, and it retains a majority of what GTA manages to provide. The world of the Colossi might feel lonely in comparison, but it still feels alive.

It would be interesting to see Team Ico's next project now that they can develop on more powerful consoles (presumably the PS3). I'd even be interested in their next game if it were developed for PSP.

Game Diary - July 16, 2008

I find that I might have given up on "Alone in the Dark". As much as I want to love this game, I just can't bring myself to play it again. The very cheap one hit deaths have made me scorn the game I was most eager for this summer.

I went looking for the fourth Colossi in "Shadow of the Colossus" today, and that's about as far as I got. The bugger was no where in sight. You think it would be easier to spot a foe the size of a skyscraper, but somehow my massive adversary managed to evade my sword. It would help if the directions to get to each lumbering adversary weren't so cryptic. I mean the whole sword glowing thing is cool, but it doesn't direct me as well as I'd like.

Spoilers contained herin, be warned!

Since I was still in the mood for some epic adventures, I returned to "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" for the first time since forever. I toppled the villain Zant with my powerful Master Sword and resumed an adventure that's been in progress since I bought my Wii back in June 2006. Unfortunately, the quest is not over and you-know-who lurks at Hyrule Castle. I barely find myself up for one more dungeon, but I'll consider returning to this one. I just might finish it before the next one comes out.

Compare the Wii version of Animal Crossing to the DS and see for yourself.

I also played some Animal Crossing: Wild World on DS and felt a vague sense of deja' vu. The presentation is very similar to the recently announced Wii version, a little too similar in fact. My gut tells me that we can expect another Nintendo title with zero innovation attached, another game that's more of the same. I only hope that I'm wrong.

The Death of the Exclusive

The fight for console exclusives rages on

On Monday morning, Microsoft made the surprise announcement that "Final Fantasy XIII", formerly a Sony Playstation 3 exclusive, would be available day and date for Xbox 360 in North America and Europe.

It was possibly the biggest "surprise" announcement at the E3 Business & Media Summit in Los Angeles, but it also signifies another exclusive title shifting camps since the next generation of consoles were announced back in 2005.

"Assassin's Creed", "Grand Theft Auto IV", "Devil May Cry 4", "Ace Combat 6", "Virtua Fighter 4", "Resident Evil 5"* are all titles that Microsoft has secured over time, bringing once hyped "only-on-Playstation" franchises to their console.

Multi-platform development seems like the only answer large publishers can come up with now that budgets on their major titles are soaring to unbelieveable heights. Yet, as many were sure that Final Fantasy XIII would never jump ship and assume multi-platform status, the announcement shouldn't really surprise after the Game Developers Conference announcement that any game created using Crystal Tools could be ported easily to PC and 360.

To be fair, Sony has attempted to turn the tables and seek prior Microsoft exclusives but without the same impact. Timed exclusivity of Unreal Tournament 3 and Haze have not influenced hardware sales, instead being met with mixed reception by critics. Although "Bioshock" has recently been released from Microsoft exclusivity, it was no where to be seen during the Sony Press Conference. As last year's near unanimous Game of the Year, it would have been impressive to highlight some of the new features for the PS3 version, yet Sony didn't take the opportunity to do so.

The only major exclusive (by a third party publisher) left in the Sony bag belongs to Konami as "Metal Gear Solid 4" remains the tactical espionage action adventure of the year. But as the year continues to progress, and the final sales numbers of MGS 4 come out, we could only wonder if that exclusivity will continue.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Inspiration and Taking Risks

The question Dave was asked, on his very insightful interview on "Inside the Actor's Studio", was how does "he deal with people who feel that he's crossing lines (with his comedy) that he should not necessarily be crossing?"

A Quick Note

The iPhone 3G and 2.0 software update both launched today!

A brief note on the current state of the App Store on the eve of day one:

Entertainment Apps: 269
Games: 197
Utilities: 101

Games are in second place, people! Possibly the most ever on a brand new product/console/jesus-phone.

Let's just hope developers are focusing on doing this right.

Dear Nintendo, Can We Please Have Zelda: Four Swords Adventures on Wii Ware...

I can get quite hysterical at times, especially regarding things that I believe in. For a while now, my foul mouthed rants and raves have centered around many different things. And I can be a very clueless joe at times, I know. But I have a bone to pick with Nintendo tonight, and it's been building for quite some time.

Of course every hardcore fanboy and fangirl out there is already concerned with the obvious point: Where are my hardcore Nintendo games, Reggie? Why aren't you giving hardcore gamers what they want. And the whaambulance continues to roll on.

For the record, I'm over that one. It's clear to me that Nintendo does what Nintendo wants. Period. But rather than piss and moan over the point everyone seems to make (and remake), I want to offer a suggestion, a possible idea. Something that I would love to see, if Nintendo would deem it fit to give.

The game idea I'd like to see is, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures for Wii Ware.

Talk about a game idea that was ahead of its time. Think back and soak in those clumsy link cables (each sold separately), the mandatory multi-Gameboy setup for multiplayer, and the chance that your friends were probably too poor to play the intricate and competitive (and only console) co-op Zelda ever. If "Zelda: Four Swords Adventures" managed to sell well for the Gamecube in 2004 (Wiki guesstimates over 400,000 copies) no one has the right to complain about the recent growth in the and-you-need-this-peripheral-in-your-living-room-too market.

Zelda: Four Swords in 2004 (again, on Gamecube) may not have made much sense, but a Zelda that's supported by an online infrastructure like Wii Ware does. And you can keep the graphics the same Nintendo, really. Those sprites were just fine the way they were. But then you could spruce up the place a bit, add some 3-D, and really make it shine. A boss here, some DS support (if you must), and violla! a game that anyone in the masses can enjoy (and that hardcore types can go nuts for). Multiplayer Zelda in cute downloadable form (with decent netcode, please). A grand Hyrulean adventure, indeed.

I don't find my request unreasonable. In fact it's entirely do-able, if Nintendo is up for it.

If only E3 2008 could give me that. My decade would be set. And I'm not arguing that this is the only thing Wii Ware needs, its just the thing I'd like to see most of all. Pray, you the reader do the same.

**Yes, I realize Zelda: Four Swords Adventures was originally part of the GBA port of The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (my favorite, by the way), but I really would prefer this on home console than a DS remake.

You're protests, if any, are duly noted**

Yesterday's News

There are some days where I am convinced that I live under a rock. I believe this theory since I have maintained a pretty consistent record of missing timely news stories. I didn't know when they caught (and charged) the infamous Alabama Sniper. I didn't know that the Godfather of Soul died until after my Christmas Break was over.

My record seems to be consistent at being the last to know anything in mainstream news. And that could very well be a bad thing.

Following my routine habit of browsing, I found an old interview with Dave Chapelle that discussed his flight from Comedy Central, despite being offered $50 million dollars to create a third season of his hit show.

I never knew why the Chapelle Show was canceled, but now I do. If you've never seen it, enjoy. And if you have: see it again. I just wish more interviews I watch felt this genuine.

Christ, I need to read the newspaper more often.

Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone Games And What They Could Mean For You!

There are certain restrictions to the things I can and can't say about Apple, and their related products. Some might take this opportunity to decry this admission as a petty sort of bias. To be quite clear, it isn't.

If you know me personally, then you know why I can't go into greater detail here (sorry). But after spending today with the latest iPhone software 2.0, I can't help but express my glee at the wonderful app store, and its amazing potential.

And quite clearly that's all the store is right now: a potential opportunity for interesting and exciting game projects (and apps, too). Take a look around the console side of gaming and you'll find mass budgets, scared publishers, and a rise in the casual games market. These three factors have hamstrung development companies, as they try to leverage projects that can pay the bills with projects that will. No publisher can afford a retail bomb these days, and who can blame them for being anything but cautious, as they plot the future of their companies into the fiscal unknown.

Everyone wants to make money, and that's a fact.

So how does iPhone fit into a publisher's future plans? Its the fastest growing smart phone competitor to R.I.M.'s Blackberry. It runs a native version of everyone's favorite operating system: Mac OS X. It's truly a remarkable lifestyle product that's both cool and hip.

Now, clearly I've never been into anything the hip crowd deems worthy. But I am impressed by their toys every so often, and today is one of those days. I sat down and browsed the App Store today, and downloaded my top five most important applications on my last gen iPhone: 1) AIM 2) Facebook 3) A sports tracking app that forgot the name to 4) Super Monkey Ball 5) NetNewsWire.

So since this is my space where I usually pass judgment on game related products, I'll reflect on my brief time with Super Monkey Ball.

I should point out that I've had very little exposure to the series. Of course, I've heard of it. I think i even played it once or twice. Super Monkey Ball, to me, has always been a sorta cool, but I'll pass thing for me. I got the challenge to it, but the franchise always stuck in my mind as a masochistic gamer's fantasy. The type that person that emphasizes perfection in all movement and is wildly driven by that sort of challenge. It's someone who can enjoy the immense pressure of a clock counting down as you quickly steer a trapped monkey wildly through a wide-open, and deadly maze.

See, even saying that much clearly helps you understand that it aint easy. And you know what, it really isn't.

An iPhone version is pretty impressive, and it earns Sega some props. The levels are fully rendered in 3-D, although the main avatars are not. The developers have a 2-D looking sprite at the center of the screen. As you tilt the phone to steer or monkey friend, the avatar rotates with the camera, to a degree. Its all using the wonderful accelerometer that's built into the iPhone. The action is amazingly responsive, but the game does a terrible job of helping you learn its balancing nuances. There is no proper training level to teach player's a neutral position for the iPhone to keep the ball from rolling.

Could an on screen indicator have helped this? Possibly.

I've spent the majority of this afternoon falling off ledges, getting visibly frustrated, and completely annoyed with my first game-related purchase. Now before I give off the wrong impression, Super Monkey Ball is not a bad game. It's average at best, even for a cell phone game (although its visibly remarkable compared to some other iPhone launch games). But this game is aimed at a market that clearly won't understand it. The consumer mass market that uses iPhone won't know what to do with Monkey Ball. They'll get frustrated and move on because its a really challenging game, even on easy mode.

I hope developers use the iPhone as more than just an opportunity to cash in and provide pretty games with bad controls. A consumers iPhone game experience could segue to other products, or even interest in games in general. Development on iPhone can introduce people to amazing innovation, it can re-introduce them to a former favorite pastime, and most importantly it can make cell phone games relevant, and inspire publishers to pursue smaller budget experiments with mass market success. it resembles the same promise that downloadable games on console seem to be pushing as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Game Diary: July 9, 2008

After one hour, I've got three Colossi down and thirteen left to go.

The thing that strikes me most about revisiting "Shadow of the Colossus" just one week before E3 is that I'm convinced this game was only successful because of the huge marketing push that Sony put behind it. That's not to say that the game isn't art, but I recall a number of two-page ads, a commercial, and similar endorsements created to generate buzz for the obscure sounding game (and I only hope that they eventually learned this).

My first experience came with a demo sent to me in the mail (prior to that, i never knew what a Colossi was). And what a demo indeed! It captured the first battle with a Colossi (I think it ended actually before you even fought him). You look up at this lumbering creature roughly the size of a five or six story house (actually he's petite compared to his comrades) and BAM! Demo over. End Scene.

But what is it that specifically makes this game feel enormous, even by today's standards? Is it the immense proportions of scope and scale as you battle enormous creatures that can, and will, kill you if they land a blow? Is it the connection to your horse, the only character in the game you'll interact with during the eight to ten hour game? Or is it the futility of the Wander's mission, as he is fooled into believing that his sacrifice will reunite him with the woman he loves?

People on the internets continue to argue that "Shadow of the Colossus" is a sheer representation of games as art, and that's fine. But I argue that if "Shadow of the Colossus" is art, then "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" is our Mona Lisa (and forget the constant comparisons to film, as if nothing ever existed before Citizen Kain). I make this argument because as much as Shadow does so much with very little, it's really a minimalist version of the stuff Link has done for decades. The only detractor being that Zelda bosses never appeared as complex on the surface (they didn't make you feel anywhere as pathetic as some of the Colossi can).

However, Nintendo's constant refinements to the franchise (without introducing anything really new) are slowly making the series lose its luster.

Besides rolling around and cutting up some Colossi, I managed to sneak in some time in Animal Crossing. I named my town Cali (for obvious reasons), and my character doesn;t have enough money to pay the rent. I'll try to stick with this one for as long as I can, but i have a feeling its not going to last.

Maybe I should invest in the DS version instead.