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November 1, 2007

Re: In Cyberspace, Games Play YOU

This started as a comment over on Random-Battle, but it got a little lengthy, so I moved it over here. Cameron was writing about all of the negative coverage video games get in the news, and how little good coverage there is.

You can't really blame politicians for taking up the anti-video game banner; by which I mean it's the only logical side for a politician to take on the debate.

It's far easier to argue against violent video games than it is to argue for them. You get to tout the "protect the children" card, and gods know you don't want to be seen as not caring about "the children."

You don't even have to go all Jack Thompson on the matter. Which is to say, be a completely illogical jerk on the matter. All you have to do is say, kids shouldn't play violent video games. "Common sense" tells us that playing interactive games MUST have an effect on feeble young minds. That effect, according to some, like anyone who believes Fox News is Fair and Balanced, must be that it teaches them to kill without mercy or awareness of the repercussions. Therefore, we shouldn't sell violent video games to children under 18 without parental consent.

Aside from the murder thing, you'll notice that these are statements that gamers are also ready to get behind. I don't want any young children playing Manhunt. Not because I think it'll turn them in to killers; I feel it's inappropriate for kids to witness murders, be they real or imaginary. It's too intense. I don't want kids watching CSI either. It's just when you start regulating the sale of violent video games with legislation that we raise the red flag. You'll notice we also have the backup of the courts on this one.

Seriously, State Legislatures, stop wasting my and other taxpayers' money with futile lawsuits. The video game industry can self-regulate just like the music and movie industries. We have a ratings system. Those ratings are clearly marked on the box, and are no more or less vague than the movie ratings. There are even parental controls built into some of the latest generation consoles. What more do you want?

October 24, 2007

On the newly announced Xbox 360 Arcade and the Wii

INTERVIEW: Xbox 360 Arcade Has Landed - via Next Generation

Microsoft has announced the Xbox 360 Arcade SKU, which will replace the hard drive-less Core SKU. It's Microsoft's attempt to steal some of that casual and family market share from Nintendo. It'll be priced at $279, and come with a pack of family games, one wireless controller and a 256 MB memory card. They're backing up this effort with Looney Toons cartoons and Nickelodeon shows becoming avaliable for download on Xbox Live Marketplace. You can read the posted article for more details.

I won't lie - I've become a bit of an 360 fanboy since I bought my system about a year ago. As one of the "core" gamers spoken of in the article linked above, I've looked at the massive sales of the Wii with some joy. I think it's good for the gaming industry overall. The competition should drive other companies to make better games. I think Microsoft is making an earnest effort to capture a piece of the casual games pie, and more money in their pockets from that means more money for development of the kinds of games I like to play. Besides, the console may be marketed towards families, but it can still play the games intended for older and more hardcore gamers. When the kids get a bit older and maybe more into video games, or if the parents decide they'd like to try it out, they'll be able to play Gears of War if they want to. Not to mention that some younger parents, some of the original core gamers who now have kids, should find this to be an appealing offer. This new system has an expandability that I feel the Wii lacks for the most part.

I myself own a Wii, but I honestly wish I had my $300 back for how often I've used the thing. In fact, it may go up on Craig's List pretty soon. I could use the cash. Outside of it's value at parties and Metroid Prime 3, it's just not what I want from a game system. The "innovative controls" seem to me to be little more than a gimmick for the most part. I don't think that's Nintendo's fault, necessarily; their first party games have done a better job with using the new control scheme effectively than any third-party developer. In fact, 7 of the 10 top rated games for the Wii over on Gamespot are in-house games. One of those is Super Metroid, though, a Super Nintendo game available for download via Nintendo's Virtual Console.

It seems like most non-Nintendo games for the Wii are crappy franchise tie-ins, ports from other systems with motion controls thrown in, and mini-game compilations. I feel third-party software development for the Wii up to this point has been little more than an effort to cash in on the "family-friendly" console, not an earnest effort to create quality software. Only Nintendo itself seems to have any interest in creating compelling gaming experiences for core gamers, which they did with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

I actually lambasted MP3:C in a previous post for it's poor graphical quality based on screenshots I had seen. After playing the game, I admit I was premature in my judgment. I still feel the graphics aren't up to snuff. But the art direction, as has been noted elsewhere, is very well done. It is by far the best looking Wii game I've seen to date. The gameplay is the shining achievement of MP3:C. It has a great blend of shooter and action and adventure and puzzles blended in. Though using the Wiimote in boss battles often left my hands cramped and unable to continue playing. But MP3:C is proof that the Wii is a viable platform for core gamers. But I don't believe it will ever become one, unless third-party developers step up their efforts to create that kind of experience.

It doesn't seem to me that they will. Why would they?

I think game developers know that if they want to reach core gamers, they should develop for the PC, 360, and PS3. But development costs on the Wii overall are cheaper than the 360 and PS3 to begin with, since it essentially uses last-generation hardware. It doesn't make good financial sense to put any sort of substantial time and money into developing a hardcore game for the Wii, when they can put out what amounts to little more than a compiation of polished tech demos (a la Wii Sports) and sell enough copies to turn a profit.

Anyway, there's still a lot of time left in the current generation Console Wars. I don't see any reason all three systems can't co-exist; like I said above, the competition is good for the industry.

The PS3 is still a punchline, though.

August 22, 2007

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - OR - Why my Wii sits idle whilst daily I pleasure myself with other systems

Today I read a great preview of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on IGN. It actually got me really excited for the game, as I've been looking for a compelling single-player core-gamer experience to renew my interest in the Wii. It mostly collects dust while I play Oblivion or Bioshock on my PC or Tiger Woods '07 or Gears of War or Overlord on my 360. When I have people over, the Wii shines, but otherwise... I was especially excited since the IGN folks wrote about how it's the crowning graphical achievement on the Wii.

I'm an admitted graphics snob. Don't get me wrong; it's not the only thing I focus on when I play a game. The gameplay definitely matters to me. That's why I recently played through Deus Ex and God of War II despite their being non-HD. I mean, Deus Ex is seven years old, and frankly looks awful by today's standards. But the flawless blend of FPS and RPG and the pretty compelling story line kept me playing.

A screenshot from Deus Ex for PC

The graphical quality of the games on the Wii has always bothered me. It's fine for the casual games that I currently own for the system, like Wario Ware and Mario Party. But anyone who says that Nintendo hasn't left the core gamers out in the cold just isn't paying attention. I often wonder why Nintendo didn't go the multiple sku route and offer an HD-capable version of their "next-gen" system. I understand that "next-gen" doesn't always mean improved graphics, but some kind of visible upgrade would have been nice. I've played a number of games on the Wii (Call of Duty 3, Red Steel, Super Swing Golf), and the Wii just doesn't cut it. Especially when I can get an amazing gameplay experience, and outstanding graphics on other systems.

So back to MP3:C - you can imagine my excitement when I read through this preview and about how awesome this game is to play and how it's the best looking game for the Wii so far. I crave an awesome experience on this machine that I purchased above cost on eBay and so desperately want to love. So you can further imagine my utter disappointment, nay, disgust when I saw this:

This is next gen? Seriously?

Notice the lack of definition on the face, the lack of life in the eyes, and the blocky sausages that I'd assume are fingers. But, hey, maybe this is an android! That'd explain the blocky look of her, right?

Another disappointing screenshot from MP3:C

Nope, still looks like crap. It's full of jaggies and the textures are washed out. It lacks the definition that should be a standard in a game intended for core-gamers.

The bottom line is, this game falls tremendously short of my standards for graphics in today's gaming market, just like every other game I've played on the Wii. A lack of refined visuals can really take me out of a game. It sounds like the gameplay and story are tremendous enough that I'll probably play it anyway. I know there probably won't be any backlash for the low graphical quality of this game. People will still turn out in droves to buy it, and it will be critically acclaimed, I'm sure. But don't we have a right to expect more in the visual department from the company that essentially resurrected the American video game market? Especially when they're supposedly not abandoning the core-gamers?

NOTE: Sorry about the images not being resized. I was lazy.

August 3, 2007

Rockstar continues its downward spiral

Take-Two Interactive, parent company to Rockstar, announced yesterday that they will be pushing back the release of Grand Theft Auto IV by a whole six months. Originally slated for an October release, the game won't see daylight until Q2F 2008. Take-Two execs made the decision after spending time with the current build of the game. As reported by Gamasutra:

Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick pegged the delay on its multi-platform release, saying, "Certain elements of development proved to be more time-intensive than expected, especially given the commitment for a simultaneous release on two very different platforms.�

I honestly don't see how Rockstar can expect to stay afloat with two major failures in the last six months. First the Manhunt 2 debacle, and now they're pushing back the latest game in their most popular IP. The gaming community is loyal, but impatient. We understand that development takes time. The greater issue here is Rockstar's name and credibility as a developer.

Manhunt 2 is off the table, and I think that pushing GTA IV back could have a detrimental effect on its sales in the end. Not to mention that sandbox games as a whole are suffering from stagnation. Rockstar may have perfected the sandbox game with GTA 3, but what have they added that's truly innovative since then? Flying vehicles? Girlfriends? It's not enough. I had more fun playing Crackdown than I had playing any GTA game.

They've stood on the back of GTA and an anti-establishment ideology for a long time. But now that the ESRB has made clear that there is a line that shouldn't be crossed, even for Rockstar, where will they go from here? If Rockstar doesn't do something astounding with GTA IV, especially after pushing it back, I think they're in a lot of trouble.

July 25, 2007

Video Game Voters Network Video

If you're not already a member, I suggest you join up.
Video Game Voters Network

July 9, 2007

Rock Band Set List

Here it is: my dream set list for the new game Rock Band. For those of you who have been living in the untamed wilderness for the last 6 months, Rock Band is the upcoming game from Harmonix and MTV Games that seeks to do what Guitar Hero has done, but adding drums and a vocal track as well. Anyway, I'm figuring on about 48 songs divided into six-song groupings. Here's what I'd like to see:

Tier 1
1. Song 2 - Blur
2. Creatures (For A While) - 311
3. Good - Better Than Ezra
4. Nice Guys Finish Last - Green Day
5. Alcohol - Barenaked Ladies
6. Sunset Strip Bitch - Eve 6

Tier 2
1. Learning To Fly - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
2. Kitty - The Presidents of the United States of America
3. Get Over It - OK Go
4. Summer of ’69 - Bryan Adams
5. Counting Blue Cars - Dishwalla
6. Seven-Nation Army - The White Stripes

Tier 3
1. Leaving Song Pt. 2 - AFI
2. The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows - Brand New
3. Simple Design - Breaking Benjamin
4. My Own Summer (Shove It) - Deftones
5. This Time - Depswa
6. Down - Fuel

Tier 4
1. Walk Away - Mad at Gravity
2. Rock You Like A Hurricane - Scorpions
3. At The Speed Of A Yellow Bullet - Head Automatica
4. Coming Back to Life - Blindside
5. Perfection Through Silence - Finch
6. Make Yourself - Incubus

Tier 5
1. The Outsider - A Perfect Circle
2. Do You Call My Name - Ra
3. Poem - Taproot
4. Let It Bleed - The Used
5. Shine - Sevendust
6. Rise - The Cult

Tier 6
1. And The Hero Will Drown - Story of the Year
2. Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm
3. Narcolepsy - Third Eye Blind
4. Belief System - Doubledrive
5. Gimme Stitches - Foo Fighters
6. Hotel California - The Eagles

Tier 7
1. Ghost Of The Sun - Katatonia
2. Thrice - Under A Killing Moon
3. Dead Eyes See No Future - Arch Enemy
4. Layla - Derek and the Dominos
5. Tears Don’t Fall - Bullet for My Valentine
6. Kashmir - Led Zeppelin

Tier 8
1. Fixation on the Darkness - Killswitch Engage
2. Cliffs of Dover - Eric Johnson
3. Bleeding Mascara - Atreyu
4. Act of Contrition - Shadows Fall
5. Welcome Home - Coheed & Cambria
6. Master of Puppets - Metallica

Comments welcome and encouraged!

June 19, 2007

A short treatise on the banning of violent video games in the UK.

Breaking: Manhunt 2 Banned In UK

From the article:

Today, the British Board of Film Classification, the UK's independent regulator of film, video and gaming, announced that it has rejected both the PS2 and Wii version of Manhunt 2. Manhunt 2 was developed by Rockstar Games and is the sequel to Manhunt, a game that was banned in several different countries and linked to the murder of a 14 year-old boy. With this announced ruling, Manhunt 2 cannot legally be sold anywhere in the United Kingdom. This is the first game to be rejected since Carmageddon in 1997. We just got off the phone with BBFC's Sue Clark, who said, "We took a lot of time in examining Manhunt 2. Banning is not something we take lightly." She added that the regulatory board examines video games closer than its counterparts aboard.

No matter what you think about the Manhunt games, or Rockstar as a company, you have to admit that censorship of any kind of flies in the face of that most important (in my opinion, and that of the author's of the Constitution) facet of a free society: freedom of expression.

Yes, Manhunt 2 and its predecessor are violent, gory and wholly inappropriate for children. I'm not suggesting that we make these games readily available to children. In fact, I wouldn't be opposed to putting particularly offensive games in a special store or section of a store accessible only with a valid ID, like other materials that a lot of people find objectionable. And yes, some kids will get at them, just like you found your parents' porn collection when you were a kid. If you don't want the risk of your kids finding and playing these types of games, don't keep them in the house, and make sure their friends' parents don't keep them in the house. But, you can't protect children from every little thing every moment of every day, short of keeping them locked up inside the house.

I'm not suggesting that we legalize all kinds of offensive media. I'm not suggesting that depictions of child or animal pornography (computer-generated or otherwise) are appropriate for anyone. There are obvious victims in those types of media: children and animals don't have the capacity to understand what's going on or to truly say "no." There are all kinds of media (movies, music, video games, etc.) that depict events that are obviously direct violation of the laws already established. Those media should be distributed with a great deal of discretion, but not banned outright.

But I challenge you to find a real victim in the Manhunt games, when the player is an able-minded adult. Yes, murder is essentially the object of these games. Yes, the killings are over-the-top executions. It's not my cup of tea, either. But I don’t have to play the game or watch anyone else play the game if I don’t want to, and neither do you. Remember, it’s not any of your business what the adults next door do behind closed doors, whether it’s BDSM or playing violent video games, so long as it isn’t impinging upon your rights or the rights of others. If you're offended purely by the fact that material that offends you is available, then you should probably turn the sensitivity knob down a couple of notches. Or move to China.

As a legal adult in a free society you should be able to choose what media you wish to consume without governmental interference. Banning media, no matter how inappropriate (with the above exceptions), violates the right to free expression. The government is now deciding what is appropriate for you to view, that you're too ignorant to be able to decide for yourself. I feel that's a level of control that a government should never have over its people.

The regulatory body even points out that it's not just about protecting the children, which, by the way, isn't a valid argument anyway. Video games aren't just for kids, folks, and they haven't been for a while now. I despise the idea that any government would insult their adult (allowed to fight in wars, buy porn, and get pissed whenever they want so long as they don't drive home) constituents by implying they aren't intelligent enough to make a judgment call about what media to consume. If you're a citizen of any government that allows this (which, I guess is just about all of them), and you're not insulted by the fact that your government is treating you like a child, well, I guess there’s no hope for you.

May 29, 2005

It's me, Mario!

So, I rented Paper Mario - Legend of the Thousand Year Door for GC a little over a week ago, and it wasn't until yesterday that I spent my spare time doing anything but play the thing. I was a huge fan of Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo, and so, when I went to Blockbuster last Friday looking for a game to soak up some of my spare time, I picked up the second Paper Mario game in good faith that it would at least be in the same league as the game that I played for so many hours so many years ago.

Honestly, I've been completely blown away. The graphics are gorgeous and they really show off what the GC can do when developers utilize its processing and rendering power. The little 2D characters moving around in a 3D world is a cool concept (Mario and his friends flip over when changing directions). Mario can even fold himself into an airplane or boat, turn sideways to fit through tight spaces, and roll himself up into a tube. The story, although somewhat predictable, is nevertheless engrossing, and gets the player eager to move the plot along. The battle system is relatively simple, featuring timed controller functions for extra power when executing moves. The battle sequences all take place on a stage in front of an audience, so getting the timing right and doing "stylish" moves are a necessity, as filling your Star Power gauge for Special Moves depends on your appeasing the crowd. This can make battles a little tedious after a while.

There are a few things that I don't like about the game. For instance, when you level-up, which doesn't happen all that frequently, you have to choose whether to increase your Heart Points (life), Flower Points (magic), or Badge Points (allow Mario to equip badges with a wide array of special moves and enhancements available). Mario's HP and FP doesn't automatically increase with a level-up. Also, you can only increase your partners' (of which, you can only use one at a time) stats with Shine Sprites, which are strewn about Mario's world.

All in all, it's an excellent game, especially if you were a fan of the first Paper Mario or Mario RPG. If you've got some time, be sure to pick it up or rent it.