Gaming Steve

January 2008 Archives

January 30, 2008

Mod DB's Mod of the Year Awards 2007

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With gaming being such an expensive hobby, it's nice to see some high quality mods to enhance our existing games and innovative indie games for our enjoyment. Website Mod DB has announced the winners of it's Mod and Indie game awards for 2007, all chosen through a popular vote.

A bounty of excellent games can be found here, especially if you own Half Life 2 or Battlefield 2. The Half Life 2 mod Insurgency won the award for best released Mod of 2007. The game is a highly refined multiplayer modern combat game set in the Middle East.

Zombie Panic: Source won the prize for best Unreleased Mod of 2007. Zombie Panic has actually been released since the voting started taking place, so be sure to give this unsettlingly eerie zombie/survival horror mod for Half Life 2 a try.

My highly anticipated game, Beyond the Red Line, won first place in the Indie Games category and shows excellent production values usually not seen in an indie game. None of the indie games require other games to play, so be sure to give them a try.

I myself would of course recommend Beyond the Red Line to any Battlestar Galactica fan, but I'd also like to give a shout out to 5th place winner Minerva . This mod is so ridiculously impressive, that employees from Valve actually got involved in its development. Any gamer who loves Half Life 2 owes it to themselves to pay this mod. The game is phenomenally good, you'll swear Valve made the levels for the real game and just forgot to put them in.

It's also nice to try out these indie games and show their developers support. They make these games and mods out of pure passion without any expectations of pay. Mods are also an excellent jumping point into the gaming industry, so I wouldn't be surprised if Valve and EA were looking at these developers too. Counter Strike and Team Fortress both started off as mods (the originals are still popular today) and led to fully produced sequels, so hopefully we will see some great work from these developers in the future.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 11:00 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 29, 2008

Console Friendly CryEngine 2 To Be Running on Xbox 360/PS3 at GDC

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The CryEngine2, known best as the software powering the ridiculously beautiful PC game Crysis, will be shown running on the Xbox 360 and PS3 at this year's Game Developers Conference. Developer Crytek did not confirm whether a tech demo, or specific game would be shown at the show.

Crytek will also be showing the engine running on a budget PC costing only $600 (cheap for a gaming PC) to prove the scalability of their engine. The presentation, name "Crysis in the Making", will also detail the making of both CryEngine2 and Crysis.

This is definitely a good move for Crytek, considering how much Crysis didn't sell last year. Consoles also make more sense for game publishers, seeing how they have a larger "core" audience and less piracy to deal with. I'd really like to play Crysis, and though my MacBook Pro can play some modern games well while in Windows (including Team Fortress 2 and Command and Conquer 3), I have a feeling I'd come no where near the experience the game is meant to have. Hopefully a console version will follow this development cycle.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 10:30 PM | Comments (9) | Posted to PlayStation 3 | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 28, 2008

What Was The Greatest Video Game Console of All Time?

Have you played Atari today?

A few days ago CNet blogger Don Reisinger caused a small stir when he stated that the Super Nintendo was the greatest video game system of all time. Although I don't personally agree with his choice, the question itself is quite interesting as I would say that every console, both good and bad, has contributed to video game industry as a whole.

Take, for example, the world's first video game system the Magnavox Odyssey. The graphics for this system were so basic that my analog watch has better graphics, but the Odyssey introduced concepts such as game cartridges, the ability to play video games on your TV, custom game controllers, and so many other innovations.

In fact, aside from technology improvements over the past 36 years, the basic functionality of the Odyssey is nearly identical with the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii – which is pretty amazing if you think about it. You could almost say that the entire console industry owes its existence to the Odyssey – so who's to say that the Odyssey isn't the "greatest" of all time?

So my question this week is, "What was the greatest video game console of all time?"

Personally I would have to go with the Atari 2600 as my pick. Sure I have a soft spot in my heart for every system (even the Sega Saturn), but as a kid growing up in the 1980s Atari was the system of the day. All the cool games were on the Atari 2600 (Pitfall! Adventure! Yar's Revenge! River Raid! ET! ... okay, maybe not ET), nobody else could come close to the Atari in sales and popularity, and the culture of Atari is the stuff of legends. If you played video games in the 80s you played Atari, period.

Sure times have changed and Infogrames Entertainment (AKA the "new" Atari) have done their best to destroy the once proud name. And the 2600 had it's problems, like the joystick which was built as if to give you carpal tunnel syndrome by design, but for me the Atari 2600 was still the greatest system of all time.

What about you? What system was the greatest in your opinion?

Posted by Gaming Steve at 10:00 PM | Comments (30) | Posted to Poll |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Gaming Steve Review: Burnout Paradise

Burnout ParadiseBurnout Paradise
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Category: Racing
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: January 22, 2008 (US); January 25, 2008 (Europe); February 7, 2008 (Australia)

The latest addition to Criterion's long-running, turbo-charged, truly insane race 'em up series turns the franchise on its head via a surprising new free-roaming slant, with oddly conflicting results to show for it. While Burnout Paradise is often a fantastic, truly original title that supersedes its predecessors right across the board, it just as often proves a frustrating and flawed exercise in missed opportunities and even flat-out monotony. Allow me to explain.

On firing up the game for the first time, you'll find yourself almost instantly set loose upon Paradise City minus any sort of leash. There's all but two minutes of a tutorial to get you up to speed, and scarce little in the way of unlockable content for which to work towards, with Paradise instead throwing an entire god damn world at you in pretty much one go. The idea is, you blaze around this wide-open city, pull off stunts, track down collectibles, and partake in any of its endless list of challenges and events as and when you please. It's all up to you, fella.

This is all fantastic stuff at first too. Beholding the exquisite detail of Paradise City, and the luscious fluidity in which you careen around its plush, sensual innards awards it instant love that's hard to deny. For a while, you feel as if you're witnessing the very future of racing games in fact, not just graphically, but in terms of sheer design. All of the series' landmark traits — the ludicrous speed, the demented pile-ups and the jaw-dropping crashes — come through in-tact, but this time via a seamless, less constrained and undeniably next-gen universe in which to now savor them. Wow.

Burnout ParadiseUnfortunately, the actual content within this world often fails to live up to the premise. Over time, the challenges reveal themselves to be a repetitive, cut-back and under-realized bunch, giving the game a far more hollow feeling than perhaps one would've liked. Criterion boast the presence of a new such challenge at each and every crossroad in the entire game — with you merely holding down the two triggers to enter any at will — but in practice, the majority of its 120 odd events prove a little too similar for comfort.

You've got good old "Road Rage" challenges — the pick of the litter — that see you bashing enemies to death as you navigate the streets at immense speeds. Enjoyable "Stunt Runs", that enforce gravity defying jumps and crazy drifts within a set time limit. And of course the traditional Burnout races that you'd expect, in which you go toe to toe with seven AI combatants in a blitz for the finish line ala previous titles in the series. The difference being, Paradise has much improved new car handling, way better graphics, and some pleasing new depth to its boosting system. And hey, that's great.

What ain't are the actual "tracks". An unfortunate side effect of the free-roaming world in which they're set, sees these city-based routes never feeling setup, nor specifically designed for actual racing. Grid-like streets simply can't match the cornered-off, impeccably designed circuits of similar such driving games, and the added freedom of multiple routes can make such races notoriously confusing too. Given this game's extreme speeds, it's mildly annoying having to continually monitor your mini-map in order to gauge where to turn, with you regularly heading off down the wrong street and spontaneously having to backtrack at a split-second's notice. Expect many a lost race due to this. And grinded down teeth.

With only eight potential finishing lines peppered throughout the entirety of the city, races all end in a worryingly similar fashion too. You'll return to the same roads and same locations so darn often, déjà vu becomes a prominent gameplay feature. A new "Marked Man" twist on these races spruces them up occasionally, in which you'll have to zoom to the finishing line by your lonesome while kamikaze AI drivers ram you off the road to much amusement, but even these grow old in time. A pity.

Burnout ParadiseWhat started out fresh and invigorating then — heralding the pinnacle of its genre — grows slowly stale and bland as you progress. Scrapping the challenges, hitting the streets sandbox-style, and merely seeing what crazy off-road secrets you can uncover becomes a far more gripping way to spend your time as a result, and there's plenty of nooks and crannies tucked away within Paradise City to set your sights on with that in mind. This can't hide the fact that the single player game is a somewhat short-lived affair for the most part though, and five or six hours in, I was just about done with it. Particularly in light of the city's shockingly small size that lets you blitz from literally one side to the other in about 4 minutes flat.

Thankfully, all is not lost. Paradise boasts a superb online mode you see, one that goes a hell of a long way towards filling in the blanks. A mode, oddly enough, that reminds heavily of Crackdown of all things. In the same way that game was always at its best when played online — with you and a buddy merely tearing up the town and causing as much improvised mischief as you could — Burnout is no different. Just er, trapped in a car this time out. Ignoring the plot — or in this case, the races — engaging in your own demented multiplayer stunts is where this game truly shines, only it supports a whopping great 8 players by comparison, and is choc-full of superb mini-games for you to partake in along the way.

Paradise weaves such inventive tomfoolery into the actual game design, you see. One minute it may task your group with pulling off 100 jumps between you in quick succession, the next it may have you pile every single car onto one specific level of a particular building without falling off, and so on. The subsequent calamity and group-based bundles prove endlessly enjoyable and undeniably hysterical, with literally hours dropping off the clock at a time as you work your way through its laundry list of shenanigans. The average newcomer will often be left with a, "Guh? I don't get it" look on their face on first firing it up, and given the co-operative nature of these challenges, it can be annoying when just one of your eight won't play along. Once you get your head around how it all works though, simply fartin' around with your pals starts to make up the very core of Paradise's brilliance, and with a decent host making full use of the challenges, it proves truly amazing stuff. Not to mention utterly unique.

Burnout ParadiseSure, for more traditional online fun, there are more familiar multiplayer races on offer too. You can partake in 4-round mini-leagues should you so wish, at which point the game reverts to more of a Burnout Revenge-style versus game. All the "rivalry" features of its predecessor return thankfully, with new Vision Cam/PlayStation Eye support giving such violence a new — and often mature-rated — twist, and it's pleasant enough fun I'm pleased to say. The finicky niggles and mass confusion of the single player races turn into plus points when played alongside humans, with all players regularly zooming off in the wrong direction to much amusement and giggly group banter. With no one at a distinct disadvantage, races can turn drastically at a moment's notice, right up to the very home straight, making 'em far more enjoyable and exciting than against AI. Combined with the aforementioned co-op mini-games, this multiplayer suite affords the game much needed mileage most noticeably lacking from solo play.

Burnout Paradise is an intriguing experiment all in all then, that at often times works, yet just as often fails. In addition to the plethora of negatives outlined above, a series of smaller annoyances like the lack of an instant "retry" option, the removal of the ever enjoyable "Crash" mode, and the inability to turn off the god-forsaken "takedown" cam continually grate, all culminating in far from the nutso racing classic some might have been expecting. There's no denying though, that in its first few hours alone, it's one hell of a spectacular ride, and with a server full of pals, there's no multiplayer game quite so original...nor so god damn hilarious.

Providing you have friends, I'd say it's worth the pinch.

PLUSES: Traditional Burnout car-bashing antics prove just as fun as you'd hope, while flawless graphics with a seldom-faltering 60 FPS render 'em better than ever before. Amazing multiplayer modes provide plenty of longevity.

MINUSES: Single player challenges lack variety, while the city feels small after just an hour or two of exploring. No instant retry on the events can be frustrating, as can the reliance on a mini-map for one so fast-paced.

FINAL VERDICT: 7.5 BUY IT!

Posted by Matt Robinson at 12:15 AM | Comments (7) | Posted to PlayStation 3 | Review | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 26, 2008

A Small Victory For Gamers Against Mainstream Media

Cooper 'The Expert' Lawrence

Earlier in the week, I covered the various ignorant media pieces going about, including the flak Mass Effect was unfairly receiving. I found this video to be the epitome of how the main stream media covers games ("Porn! Violence! Won't someone think of the children?!"), and how gamers should respond ("Did you actually play the game?"). Well it turns out that the mis-representative nature of the piece has somewhat been repaired by guest Cooper Lawrence admitting the following statement: "I recognize that I misspoke".

Fox news had psychologist Cooper Lawrence on the show as their "expert" to defend their already preconceived notion that Mass Effect was a pornography simulator, marketed to 15-year-old boys, and that you could only play as a male character. The host of Spike TV show Game Head, Geoff Keighley, did his best to fight these clear falsifications, and pointedly asked Cooper whether or not she had played the game, to which she giggled and responded "no".

Cooper Lawrence decided to apologize to gamers today, saying "I really regret saying that, and now that I've seen the game and seen the sex scenes it's kind of a joke". Of course, this is probably attributed to gamers hitting her back were it hurts: the wallet. During the past week, over 400 negative reviews were added on amazon.com to Cooper's book, The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace With Your Inner Overachiever, with many of the reviewers saying they hadn't read the book, but simply that they had simply heard it was bad. Cooper had reportedly just asked someone nearby before going on the show what the game was like, with their reply being "it's like pornography". That's some really expert research right there.

While it's nice to see someone apologizing to the gaming community, it's really too bad this is what has to be done to achieve it. Some might say falsely reviewing her book was unfair, but gamers only did exactly what she did to them: talk about something they knew nothing about, and act like an expert about it. Lucky for Cooper, Amazon has removed all the reviews from those who clearly didn't read the book. I also suspect many more people saw the news program and now have many incorrect assumptions about Mass Effect, than those who now have incorrect assumptions about The Cult of Perfection.

EA also responded to the news report, pointing out all the incorrect facts Fox had on the program. Fox has said they would allow EA to come on television to defend their case, but this isn't what EA or gamers want: we want Fox to say they broadcast falsifications about Mass Effect, and apologize for doing so.

Cooper got the falsifications of her book erased from Amazon, but I highly doubt Fox will do the same with their distorted reports.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 8:30 PM | Comments (15) | Posted to Culture |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 25, 2008

Grand Theft Auto Lawsuit Settlement: You Get $35, Lawyers Get "One Million Dollars"

One Million Dollars!

It's not often that People Magazine and video games have a lot in common, but in the February 4th issue (the one with Heath Ledger on the cover ... tragic) if you flip to page 50 there an interesting Legal Notice concerning one Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

Just in case you forgot in 2007 Rockstar Games proposed a settlement for a class action lawsuit concerning the infamous Hot Coffee modification. As a result any US citizen who was officially "offended and upset" by the ability to unlock this hidden content can now claim up to $35 in compensation.

The exact amount you may be entitled depends upon directly upon how much documentation you have of your "outrage":

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas First Edition Disc: Replacement Disc
Detailed Store Receipt: Cash payment up to $35.00
General Credit Card Statement or Check: Cash payment up to $17.50
Disc/Purchase Details: Cash payment up to $10.00
No Disc/Purchase Details: Cash payment up to $5.00

Full details on the program can be found at GTASettlement.com and you must submit your claim by May 16, 2008 to be eligible for compensation.

Curious about this lawsuit I actually went through the trouble to download the many long and detailed legal documents when I came across this little gem on page 11 of the Motion for Preliminary Approval document concerning the attorneys' fees:

E. Attorneys’ Fees, Costs and Disbursements. Finally, as mentioned above, only this past Friday, the Parties agreed on an amount to compensate Plaintiffs’ Counsel for attorneys’ fees and costs and disbursements in the amount of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000), the entire amount of which will be paid separate and apart from any amounts made available for payment to the Class and Class Representatives, as set forth above. This agreed upon amount includes approximately Forty-Five Thousands Dollars ($45,000) for costs and disbursements and approximately Nine Hundred Fifty Five Thousand Dollars ($955,000) for attorneys’ fees, a highly reasonable request and well within the range previously approved by this and other courts. A full and formal application for attorneys’ fees and costs and disbursements will be made prior to the proposed final fairness hearing for approval of this Settlement.

So to sum up, you can get a brand-new Hot Coffee-free version of GTA: SA and, at most, $35. While the lawyers who are representing you, me, and all the other "little people" damaged by this outrage on humanity are getting a mere "One Million Dollars ($1,000,000)".

Of course I couldn't help but think about the upcoming class action lawsuit against Microsoft concerning a few days of downtime for Xbox Live in late 2007. In that suit three angry Texans are asking for $5 million dollars from Microsoft ... but it's not really about the money.

As the plaintiffs' lawyer, Jason Gibson, explained to MTV News, "These are not guys looking to get rich". "They are college-educated. These are not young kids who just turned 18 and [want] to sue for the fun of it. This is, to them, a real issue." Gibson went on to explain, "They're not going to get a windfall or anything like that."

No, it seems that "windfall" would be reserved for the lawyers...

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:00 PM | Comments (10) | Posted to Business | PlayStation 2 | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

From Console to Tabletop: First Steps

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While the RPG has been having a very nice year, with the release of Mass Effect for the 360 and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS, there are still thing to recommend a good tabletop roleplaying game. The main thing is that gaming is a much more social activity even than a MMO or other type of multi-player game.

There’s just something fun about inviting a bunch of friends over to your house for some beer and pizza.

Still, if these are your first steps into the world of offline gaming, it can be a little daunting. This article will cover the basics of what you’ll need and where you can get it. If you have previous experience with gaming on the tabletop this will be stuff you already know but we’re going to begin from the beginning.

What You’ll Need

So you've decided to jump into the world of tabletop RPGs, what game should you pick? Below we'll look at some of the most popular RPG franchises and which game you will most likely be attracted to. Basically, if you liked the console game, then the RPGs I recommend will likely be your cup of tea.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: For me, this is a simple choice. If you like KOTOR, you should check out the new Star Wars Saga Edition from Wizards of the Coast. It's a great game system and one book gives you everything you need for countless adventures in the Star Wars universe.

Baldur's Gate: Another easy one, mostly because Baldur's Gate is actually based on the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game, though a slightly older edition. So here's the sitch, the latest version of D&D is a great game and provides a tremendous play experience, so you can't go wrong there.

However, if you want to emulate this classic game mechanically, you need to look for 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While these books are out of print, you can find them used online and at most gaming hobby shops relatively cheaply. You can also download digital PDF copies of these books for a cool $5 a piece from the leading e-book retailer, www.rpgnow.com

Elder Scrolls: Another fantasy game, and again you can't go wrong with Dungeons and Dragons. Another choice I will throw out here is Fantasy Hero. This is an excellent game system, produced by Hero Games, and is one of the best fantasy games out there.

Final Fantasy: This will require a bit more work. There's no game that directly captures the FF experience, and believe me I've looked. Two games that are flexible to handle it, with some elbow grease on your part, would be Fantasy Hero and another great game called True20, which is a simplified version of the system that drives Dungeons and Dragons.

World of Warcraft: Though there are a lot of choices here, I think, again, our old friend Dungeons and Dragons would be the best choice. At its heart, to me anyway, WoW was always something of an "action RPG" in the tradition of Diablo and I think D&D does that tactical RPG combat and dungeon delving better than anyone else.

Mutants and MastermindsCity of Heroes: If you want to get your super-hero on (no capes!) the game I recommend is Green Ronin Publishing's Mutants and Masterminds. It's the best combination of depth (allowing you to make YOUR hero YOUR way) and ease of play. Whether you want something totally wild and new, or just want to rip off your favorite comic universe, this game gives you the tools to do it in one book.

Fallout: Maybe my favorite computer RPG of all time, the best game to replicate the Fallout experience is Darwin's World, produced by the company I work for, RPGObjects (though I've written very little for this particular game myself). This might seem a little self-serving, but it's the best support post-apocalypse game out there.

Pokemon: This is a toughie. Like Final Fantasy, there's really nothing that captures the spirit of the Pokemon games as an RPG, which means again, I'm going to recommend games that are noted for how flexible they are, Fantasy Hero and True20, both linked to above. Again, you'll have to do some prep work, but those two games are flexible enough to let you do your own thing with the least amount of pain.

Mass Effect: Here, I'm going to go with Star Wars Saga again, by Wizards of the Coast. While Mass Effect doesn't have "the force" it does have the next best thing, and I think the force powers with the serial numbers filed off would be the best way to emulate the experience of Mass Effect. Also, no frame rate issues in your imagination when you pretend to be a Spectre, so that's a bonus.

Diablo: As before, I'm going to recommend D&D because Diablo is a hack and slash, dungeon crawling action RPG like no other. While this isn't the ONLY thing you can do with D&D, it is one of the things the game handles very, very well.

Of course, you can't play your game by yourself, you'll need to perform a few more steps to get up running. Next you'll need to get together a group.

A Group: While there are other ways to play traditional RPGs, such as Play by Email and even online services such as Open RPG and Wizards’ upcoming Virtual Tabletop, these experiences won’t give you the different experience you’re looking for to find out if offline gaming is right for you. In short, while there are plenty of ways to game online, if you’re reading this, we’ll assume for now that you’d like to not stare at a glowing, light-bulb-like screen for several hours.

In short, you’re going to need 3-4 real human beings willing to try something out for an evening. If you don’t already know a group of guys and gals that you think would be willing, there are ways to seek them out.

Message Boards: If you go to any tabletop RPG forum, there will usually be a forum for gamers seeking gamers. This is a bit like online dating and the usual caveats apply. Meet the person for the first time in public, etc. etc. The best forum for tabletop RPGs is www.enworld.org, the single largest fansite on the net for tabletop rpgs. They have a large and active gamers seeking gamers forum where gamers from all around the world meet and schedule games.

Star Wars Saga EditionThe Local Gaming Store: Many Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) have tables where people can play. This might be the single best way to get into tabletop gaming if you’re new to it, or have been away for awhile and want to get back in. You could just watch a game to get a feel for it, buy the books and materials you need (dice, lots and lots of dice) and just hang out and meet some folks who might share your desire to get their game on.

Game tables are also handy for that first game, where you can game with new people, ensure that they aren’t jerks, before moving the game to someone’s house.

Even if they don’t have tables (but really, this is what I recommend and you can probably find at least one store near you that has game tables) most stores will let you post a seeking gamers flier as well. One advantage this can have over posting to an internet forum is that you can always meet prospective gamers at the game shop, then go to a neutral diner for coffee to make sure they aren’t crazy.

College/High School Club: If you are a student, especially if you’re a college student, there is a really good chance that your school has a gaming club. While the quality of gaming at such clubs varies wildly, it’s usually a good first step and a great place to meet fellow gamers. In fact, even if you don’t attend the local college, posting fliers there is also a good way to meet gamers.

Materials: Once you have your stout posse together, you’re going to need some gaming materials. At a minimum you’ll need game books, dice, paper and pencil. You can get these things in a variety of places. Amazon.com is a good place to find the books, and for dice there are places like www.rpgshop.com which is a great place to pick up dice online.

Many games will only have one core game book that you’ll need, while other games will require you to buy as many as three. In both cases, your total startup costs will usually be less than the price of a single console game (60-75 bucks is typical).

When you consider that these game books will allow you to play for decades, this startup price is very modest.

Finally, you’ll need one more material, covered below.

Adventures: One of the biggest differences between console games and tabletop games is that the game ends when you want it to, not when the dev team runs out of time and is told to ship the game. Once you’re familiar with the game, you’ll be making up your own adventures in no time, which is one of the real joys of a tabletop game. In the meantime however, especially if you’re new to the game, finding adventures is going to be key. There are lots of adventures online and in stores, with some of the online adventures being free but many are pay products.

Since these adventures vary wildly depending on what game you pick, I’ll cover those in future installments where we get into the nitty gritty of picking just the right game for you based on your console interests.

Until next time.

Posted by cwrice at 9:30 AM | Comments (6) | Posted to Culture | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 24, 2008

Doing It Yourself – The History and Future of the "Level Editor"

Where have the editors gone?

It’s a very old concept, the level editor. Lode Runner, a game that will soon become another enhanced and updated classic on Xbox Live Arcade, had the first level editor I spent a lot of time with. Level editors were a bold new idea: take the tool the developers use to create the content, hand it over to the users, and see what happens. Not only did it add tons of content to the game, but it created a community of sharing.

The level editor was most common in grid-based platform games, because platform games were the majority of arcade games since Donkey Kong. So Lode Runner was a big deal. It continued on with some games being mostly a level editor like Pinball Construction Set. I found one of the most open-ended platforming game level editor to be Ultimate Wizard, where you were encouraged to even add your own programming code. Today, games like Marble Blast Gold (PC), Alien Hominid (PC/PS2), GripShift (PSP), and even Dance Dance Revolution (all systems) have editors.

The fringe benefit to the developer when they include the content creation tool with the game is they get free content they can use in future updates and releases. The user created content levels often reveal certain exploits of game elements the designers never thought of.

Unfortunately, there are some negative side effects, too. First, everyone has a natural tendency to make the hardest levels they can think of. The creators know how to solve their own hard levels because they practice them over and over. These levels are typically tedious and devoid of fun. Second, someone with crude humor or bad taste has to create what I’ll call the “Fudge” Level, except I really mean the F-star-star-star word! Equally tasteless is what happened with Forza 2 (Xbox 360) with a user-created detailed car containing hateful and racist symbolism.

Lode RunnerConsidering that these editors have been around a very long time, you’d think they would put them in any game that could logically use it. I mean, Band of Bugs (XBLA) has a terrain and scenario editor, 3D Ultra Minigolf (XBLA) has a level creator, and DDR Supernova 2 (PS2) has the step-editor. Yet, the next-gen versions of Alien Hominid (XBLA), GripShift (PS3/XBLA), and Marble Blast Ultra (XBLA), have the level editors removed! I want them back, please.

Luckily, many hit games have thrived on the creation concept and the community of sharing user-created content. The monster of all these is of course The Sims. Every level of detail in the game can be directed by the player. Create the people, create the homes, create the furnishings, jobs, foods, manipulate their lives, share your creations with the community, and choose to be a benevolent or vengeful god. And that’s all before you try out any of the additional content. Heroes of Might and Magic, a cross between a feudal society sim and turn-based strategy, with its 100+ hours of scenarios, had a scenario editor for impressing your other HOMM-crazy friends. The new Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is also allowing you to create your own scenarios and share them over WiFi. Halo 3 (Xbox360) is also cashing in on the level editing with its Forge and the DLC Foundry level in the Heroic Map Pack. You can edit the other multiplayer maps as well.

Games coming out are also embracing this idea of user content. What would Gaming Steve be without all of the Spore information, where you create life, edit it, give it worlds, and ultimately send it into space? In fact, the user creation is the core of the game, much like The Sims. Future Pinball (currently available freeware) will pull the creative pinball designer out of you! Metaplace is a developing new entry into the MMORPG genre, except it is customizable from the ground up. If ever there was a reason to game on the PC, open-ended games with user created content are all of the reasons you need.

Little Big PlanetSo far I’m only talking PC games, but on consoles, LittleBigPlanet on the PS3 with its incredible graphics, physics engine, and reliance on player-created levels has all of the ingredients of a huge hit. Little Big Planet also promises an intuitive editing system based on play-style. This one is my personal most-anticipated of the year 2008. Although not a game, Playstation Home promises to feature much of the customization available in The Sims. The remake of Lode Runner (XBLA) approaches, I hope it includes the level editor. All of my previous Lode Runner games have it, including the terrible NES version (available on Wii VC). It’s not just tradition, but rather an integral part of the franchise.

There are also many other resources for the game-mod enthusiast. The Internet houses many sites that have the tools to reskin, edit, and otherwise adjust your gaming experience. Garry’s Mod is a very popular Half-Life 2 mod tool. There’s a robust community of World of Warcraft Mods.

Level editors, user created content, and mods add extra spice to the gaming experience, build community, and add concepts and content to their games. For the developer, it may also help the game profits, create brand loyalty, and extend the game life cycle. For the gamer, it is a deeper connection to the game. In fact, if you look at the most popular games, Like The Sims or Half Life 2, they continuously thrive from all of the additional content. When many of the next-gen console games have the editors removed from their games, I believe they should look at the success of the games that have them.

Posted by Robert Gauss at 10:00 PM | Comments (12) | Posted to Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 22, 2008

World of Warcraft Now Officially Successful – Passes 10 Million Subscribers

World of Warcraft

Some may have doubted it, thought it had reached a plateau, but today Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft has officially hit 10 Million subscribers. With 2 million in Europe, 2.5 million in North America, and 5.5 million subscribers in China, Azeroth now has the 80th highest population of the 221 countries in the world.

Blizzard was also happy to remind us that the Burning Crusade was the highest selling PC game in North America in 2007, as well as the record for the fastest selling PC game ever, at 2.4 million copies sold in one day. Because they so totally earned it, here's a quote of Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime "gloating" over the news:

"It's very gratifying to see gamers around the world continuing to show such enthusiasm and support for World of Warcraft. We're always pleased to welcome new players to the game, and we're looking forward to sharing the next major content update with the entire community in the months ahead."

Blizzard also clarified that this subscriber number counts only those who have paid a subscription fee in the last month, use a prepaid card in the last month, or are using the free 1 month trial that comes in the box. Those using free trials or promotional codes, as well as expired subscriptions and prepaid cards, are not counted in this total.

I think it's appropriate to use the phrase here: Wow. 10 Million people all playing the same relatively hardcore game, all at the same time is really quite mind boggling. I myself have played World of Warcraft as much as possible for as little as possible (2 free trials and the 1 month that comes in the box), though I have always considering going back in if any of my friends would be willing to join me. The game really does have an addicting quality to it, one that I would probably have continued if I hadn't got my Xbox 360 just as the trial was ending. How many Gaming Steve readers and listeners count towards this incredible number?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 6:00 PM | Comments (23) | Posted to MMORPG | PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Mainstream Media Still Doesn't Understand Video Games (Surprise, Surprise)

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There has been quite a bit of flak going around from the main stream media about video games the past few weeks. I didn't really want to give each one of them another soap box, but I suppose I'll summarize all their ignorance right here: Mass Effect is interactive porn, video games are like crack for kids, and Bully just won't stop destroying our children.

The Mass Effect hubbub started when a conservative blogger on townhall.com made multiple incorrect assumptions about the game that include players being able to control sex acts and the game being marketed to 15 year old boys. The blogger later apologized to the "gaming universe" saying he didn't play the game (obviously) and only saw some clips of the sex online, though he still thought the game was offensive and should be kept out of young peoples hand's. I think Penny Arcade summed up this "incident" fairly well.

More recently, a writer from timesonline.co.uk wrote in an attention grabbing headline how the "Xbox is crack for kids". The ill informed "reporter" goes on through the classic anti-video game talking points about obesity (oh right, McDonalds figured that one out), the rotting of children's minds, and how hard video games make it for parents to raise their children. She then goes on to make the one of the most ridiculous assumption about video games I've ever heard by saying that even the "crappiest cartoon or lamest soap teaches a child about character, plot, drama, humour, life" while video games do not. She doesn't specifically say in the article whether she has played any games with her children but I highly doubt it.

The last foible of the media may sound a bit familiar. But wait, don't go away just yet, these reporters are not completely treading over the same ground as last time! They don't try to position Bully as a graphic bullying simulator as opposed to the satire of life in a boarding school that it really is. I mean, these guys point out that their are motion controls for the Wii version that make the game much more interactive and violent, and this will certainly lead to the collapse of society. Just like last time.

Their really isn't much to say about all this that hasn't been said before. It's obvious that these reporters are trying to get their name in the news buy criticizing an easy target. I wouldn't be surprised if none of these people had ever even touched a game, let alone tried to understand them. But just keep hope, because every once in a while the media lets us make our case, and when we do, we can at least make a couple of them look totally foolish.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 4:00 PM | Comments (11) | Posted to Culture |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 21, 2008

What Game Would You Like To Be Turned Into A (Good) Movie?

Bioshock

With the release of Uwe Boll's latest masterpiece it had me thinking of what games I would like to see turned into a movie (a good movie – let's just assume it would be good).

So my question this week is, “What game would you like to be turned into a (good) movie?”

It is rare that a movie will improve or surpass their source material, but it is possible as seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. (Yes I know that the books are still better, but seeing Tolkien’s world come to live on the Sliver Screen was something to behold … and Gollum was incredible.)

This question is pretty tricky because I have to honestly say that most games I think are probably better than any movie they could make. The recently released Mass Effect and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune I could argue are interactive movies. However, one game I would love to see turned into a movie would be Bioshock. Not only do I think this could be a great movie with a rich story, interesting characters, and the fantastic Rapture, but it’s actually “normal” enough that I can see a mainstream Hollywood director taking it on. In fact, if Spielberg released a movie which took place in the Bioshock universe – and the game never existed – I don’t think anyone would find it any stranger than his past films.

Of course, what I would really love is to see someone take on Guitar Hero (how would they do that?) or Tetris (ditto) or even Super Mario Galaxy. Hum, on second thought, maybe I wouldn’t want to see that. I still have nightmares about the last Super Mario Bros. movie.

What about you? What game would you like to be seen turned into a good movie?

Posted by Gaming Steve at 10:30 PM | Comments (37) | Posted to Poll |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Battlefield Heroes to be Free, Online, and Cartoony

Battlefield Heroes

The next chapter in the Battlefield series was announced today, Battlefield Heroes, and it seems that EA and DICE are taking a page from Chinese MMOs and Team Fortress 2. Battlefield Heroes is scheduled for release this Summer, will online-only, and completely free to download and play – could this "casual" FPS that is immune to piracy be the new direction of multiplayer PC games?

Although free to download ads will display within sections of the game, but will not appear within the game itself. According to Ben Cousins, senior producer at DICE, the ads "wouldn't work inside the fictional world".

Battlefield: Heroes will also allow people to purchase new items and content within the game. Cousins also promises that these micro-transactions will not include weapons and be mostly cosmetic, although both these comments sound contrary to other reports about the game.

As long as Ben Cousins is the one with the correct information (and I don't see why not), this sounds great. Leaving the ads out of the gameplay and making the micro-transactions only cosmetic is the best way to implement these features. I know some gamers have a problem with ads in games, but I've always been of the mind that as long as they are actually make the game cheaper (or in this case free) and don't impede gameplay that they are completely welcome. Micro-transactions also seem to be handled well since they won't allow a wealthier player to simply buy better a better character.

The exaggerated graphics are also a nice touch. The game will reportedly run on "grandma's laptop", meaning just about anyone with a computer can play, plus stylized graphics also don't get outdated as quickly as games that try to look as "realistic" as possible. Team Fortress 2 proved that having exaggerated characters also helps to identify characters, which is a perfect combination for cosmetic micro-transactions. I can also see how EA is interested in this model because it both prevents piracy while also lowering the barrier of entry.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 9:00 PM | Comments (3) | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 20, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4 Demo Coming to PSN In February?

Metal Gear Solid 4

Playstation 3 owners looking forward to what is arguably the console's biggest release of this year will be getting a reward for all their patience: a Metal Gear Solid 4 demo in February.

This shocking news is from poster TomEmo12 on the gametrailers.com forums where he posted a picture of the British magazine PSW stating a fairly straightforward remark that a demo will be on the Playstation Network in February.

Details are extremely sparse, and Konami has yet to confirm anything, but it appears to be one single player level from the game. If true, this a complete turn around for Konami, who was quoted at TGS 2007 as having no demo planned. Being that the game has become quite the poster child for the console, it would probably be in both Sony and Konami's best interest to get a demo out as soon as possible.

I personally look forward to playing this game, having really enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 3 (and the tactical card game on the PSP) and as long as it doesn't come out for the Xbox 360, it will probably be one of the games that convinces me to purchase my own PS3. Releasing a demo would also be both great publicity for Sony and, so long as the demo is good, a sales boon for Konami. Apparently, that's something they really need for this title.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 4:00 PM | Comments (7) | Posted to PlayStation 3 | Rumor |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Scandal! Corporate Greed! The Truth Behind The Red Ring of Death?

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A source deep within Microsoft has given an interview to the website 8bitjoystick.com (who successfully predicted Bungie's departure from Microsoft) about the real story behind the Xbox 360's infamous Red Ring of Death. Reportedly understaffed departments, the need to beat Sony to market, and corporate arrogance led to the Xbox 360's abnormally high failure rate.

The insider reported that the test, quality, manufacturing, and supplier management departments were all understaffed and unable to cope with the problems at hand. He then went on to describe how in their determination to beat Sony to market, Microsoft wasn't willing to stop production and get the problem fixed, rather just continue shipping will also trying to fix the problem. He pointed out that Microsoft saw it as a numbers game, that even the first million or so being defective was worth getting ahead of Sony in the market.

The interview also details a few other interesting aspects of the problem. For instance, the insider states that the failure rate for the Xenon (the first Xbox 360s) was at least 30%. He also details how the repair process works, and that it's very unlikely you will get either a new Xbox 360 or your own repaired. In fact, it's very possible to get your new more "reliable" Xbox 360 exchanged for a repaired Xenon.

I may not be an expert in console hardware, but this is what I'd do if I where Microsoft: release a "new and improved" redesigned Xbox 360, just like Sony did the the PS2 Slimline. A slightly different shape and/or color, quieter DVD drive, and compatibility with the current hard drives ... oh yeah, and no Red Ring of Death. This would help to erase the current perception of the Xbox 360 as a highly fallible console, because this is really going to hurt them in the long term.

Of course Microsoft sort of did this already with their more expensive Xbox 360 Elite, which is supposed to have fixed the Red Ring of Death. So you can either buy an Xbox 360 and wait until dies on you, or you can purchase the more expensive Elite version which works like it's supposed to ... I think it might be time for a lemon law for gaming consoles.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 1:00 AM | Comments (5) | Posted to Business | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 18, 2008

Gaming Steve Episode 68 - 01.18.2008

Culdcept SagaThe first new show of 2008 and it's a fun one! This week I have Nobu Taguchi from Namco Bandai Games on the show to chat about the very cool Culdcept Saga.

And make sure to check out this week's Show Mail where I'm giving out four free copies of Culdcept Saga! Enjoy the show!

Gaming Steve Episode 68 Program

  • 00:03:33 Game News:
    • Bioshock prequel in development?
    • Star Wars in Soul Calibur IV ... what?
    • Over one million get Wii Fit.
    • GoldenEye to appear on XBLA? Don't count on it.
    • Assassin's Creed DS leaks info and the Internet explodes.
    • Xbox Live lawsuit muzzles Microsoft.
    • Surprise! Smash Bros. Brawl delayed again ... okay, nobody is really surprised.
    • Spore and Call of Duty 4 confirmed for Macs.
    • Uwe Boll returning to low-budget projects ... or is he?
    • Nintendo to explode with new releases in 2008.
    • Master Chief not starring in Halo movie? Why is everyone so surprised?
  • 00:43:31 Interview: Nobu Taguchi, localization producer for Culdcept Saga from Namco Bandai Games.
  • 01:09:33 Name That Game: I'm giving away four free copies of Culdcept Saga, find out how to win yours!
  • 01:11:51 Show Mail: I answer your audio and text questions.
  • 01:35:40 Final Thoughts: Everyone all rested up after the holidays as here come the glut of games!
Download the show (102 minutes): Gaming Steve Episode 68 (MP3).

Subscribe to the Podcast directly in iTunes (MP3).
Add the Gaming Steve Podcast feed to your RSS aggregator.
Digg the show? Then Digg it!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:00 PM | Comments (93) | Posted to Interview | Podcast |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Free Undertow for All Xbox Live Members

Undertow

It was first reported almost two weeks ago that Microsoft was going to compensate XBox Live members with a free game because of their server outage issues.

Today it was announced that the game Undertow will be available to download for free starting next Wednesday at 2:00 a.m. PST up through Sunday, 11:59 p.m. PST for all Xbox Live Members worldwide; this includes both gold and silver memberships.

I actually recently downloaded the trial for Undertow, and it was quite fun. In fact, I even considered purchasing it when I had an extra 1600 points, but decided to download Psychonauts instead. Overall I'm rather happy with the game they selected – at least it's better than Uno.

Posted by Steven Mills at 8:00 PM | Comments (1) | Posted to Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

December and 2007 NPD's Released: Everybody Wins!

Today the December video game NPD numbers were released and regardless of what each company says, they were good for the entire industry. With an industry total of 17.94 Billion dollars (not counting PC games or hardware), video games broke their previous sales record. This was a 46% increase over 2006's already high sales.

Microsoft spun the NPDs in their favor by saying that 45% of the money consumer's spent on video games was on the Xbox 360 and its games. Microsoft also rubbed their 3rd party sales in Sony's face: Rockband, Call of Duty 4, and Assassin's Creed all sold at least 2 copies on the Xbox 360 for each copy sold on the PS3. Overall, the Xbox 360 had 11 of the top 20 games sold in 2007, and of course, Halo 3 was sitting at the top of that list.

Nintendo gloated over the continued sell out of the Nintendo Wii and the astonishing 8.5 Million DS's they sold in 2007 (2.5 Million in December alone). Nintendo had 15 of the top 30 games of 2007, withWii Play taking second place at 4.12 Million. Mario Galaxy took second place in December sales at 1.40 Million units sold.

Sony found light at the end of the tunnel because the PlayStation "brand" sold $714 million in December, more than either Nintendo or Microsoft. Sony also pointed out that the PS3 had its best month since its launch in December, with 798K units of hardware sold. Sony was also happy to point out that upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Devil May Cry 4, Burnout Paradise, and HAZE will continue this momentum.

As for 2008, here's what I see: Sony is going to have a great year because of their exclusives, though I don't think they'll surpass the Xbox 360 just yet because Microsoft is getting the lion share of 3rd party sales (specifically Grand Theft Auto 4 on day one). Home however, could really have an impact considering how popular social networking websites have become.

Microsoft on the other hand should be able to continue sitting atop Sony by just relying on their 3rd party sales, though they'll need to prove why we should buy their consoles instead of Sony's. Being cheaper than the competition is good, but they really need some top notch 1st party titles to stay competitive. They also need to prove their online service is the best there is, considering what Sony plans to do for free and with all the trouble Live has had recently.

And Nintendo can pretty much just ignore the other two companies and continue sinking their teeth into the casual market, though it's pretty safe to say that exclusive 3rd party developers will soon abandon the Wii. Games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Mario Kart will still keep them in the eye of the hardcore crowd. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm completely wrong by the end of the next year, considering how surprising this console war has been so far.

THE NPD GROUP's 2007 US GAME INDUSTRY SALES

Category / Total / Change
Video Games: $17.94 billion +43%
Video Games Hardware: $7.04 billion +54%
Console Hardware: $5.12 billion +73%
Portable Game Hardware: $1.92 billion +19%
Video Games Software: $8.64 billion +34%
Console Software: $6.64 billion +39%
Portable Game Software: $2.00 billion +18%
Video Game Accessories: $2.26 billion +52%

Hardware Sales (in units sold)
Nintendo DS: 8.50 million (17.65 million LTD)
Wii: 6.29 million (7.38 million LTD)
Xbox 360: 4.62 million (9.15 million LTD)
PlayStation 2: 3.97 million (41.12 million LTD)
PlayStation Portable: 3.82 million (10.47 million LTD)
PlayStation 3: 2.56 million (3.25 million LTD)

Game Software (in units sold)
1) Halo 3 (360, Microsoft) - 4.82 million
2) Wii Play with Wii Remote (Wii, Nintendo) - 4.12 million
3) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360, Activision) - 3.04 million
4) Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS2, Activision) - 2.72 million
5) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, Nintendo) - 2.52 million
6) Pokémon Diamond (DS, Nintendo) - 2.48 million
7) Madden NFL 08 (PS2, Electronic Arts) - 1.9 million
8) Guitar Hero II (PS2, Activision) - 1.89 million
9) Assassin's Creed (360, Ubisoft) - 1.87 million
10) Mario Party 8 (Wii, Nintendo) - 1.82 million

THE NPD GROUP's DECEMBER 2007 US GAME INDUSTRY SALES

Category / Total / Change
Video Games: $4.82 billion +28%
Video Games Hardware: $1.83 billion +17%
Console Hardware $1.3 billion: +21%
Portable Game Hardware: $525,700 +7%
Video Games Software: $2.37 billion +36%
Console Software $1.8 billion: +47%
Portable Game Software: $574,900 +11%
Video Game Accessories: $621,600 +37%

Hardware Sales (in units sold)
Nintendo DS: 2.47 million
Wii: 1.35 million
Xbox 360: 1.26 million
PlayStation 2: 1.1 million
PlayStation Portable: 1.06 million
PlayStation 3: 797,600

Game Software (in units sold)
1) Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat (360, Activision) - 1.47 million
2) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, Nintendo) - 1.40 million
3) Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PS2, Activision) - 1.25 million
4) Wii Play with Wii Remote (Wii, Nintendo) - 1.08 million
5) Assassin's Creed (360, Ubisoft) - 893,700
6) Halo 3 (360, Microsoft) - 742,700
7) Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day (DS, Nintendo) - 659,500
8) Madden NFL 08 (PS2, Electronic Arts) - 655,200
9) Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (360, Activision) - 624,600
10) Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii, Sega) - 613,000

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 9:00 AM | Comments (11) | Posted to Business |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 16, 2008

Writers Guild of America to Honor Video Games; Snub Portal, BioShock, and Mass Effect

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The Writers Guild of America has been in the headlines this past few months for their on going strike against their Producers, but even on the picket lines the guild has listed its first winners for their "Videogame Writing Award": Crash of the Titans, Dead Head Fred, The Simpsons Game, The Witcher, and World in Conflict.

What eludes me to no end is how big name releases like BioShock and Mass Effect were kept off the list, despite one having a totally original story, place, and character, and the other containing nearly a full books worth of dialog and back story. And perhaps most grievous is to leave off the critical darling, Portal. Part of the magic experienced the first time you play that game is the darkly hilarious writing spouted from the GlaDOS. The game didn't even require the story to be great, but Valve created one of the most memorable game experiences in years because of it. I suppose Steve was right about it being overlooked.

I am also amazed that Half Life 2: Episode 2 was also left off the list. Perhaps disqualified for being a direct continuation of the story, the latest episode has some of the most emotional scenes in the series, and perhaps in all of gaming. If I could nominate a best female performance in gaming, it would definitely have to go to Merle Dandridge, who performs Alyx's voice in the series.

While I'd agree that The Simpsons Game and The Witcher have great writing, what I can't understand is how the WGA thought Crash of the Titans had better writing than all the other games I mentioned. I mean ... did they play the game?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 6:00 PM | Comments (7) | Posted to Business |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Clayton's Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of the Next 3 Months

2007 was a fantastic year of gaming, one filled with games I still have yet to play. But 2008 is already looking like a another great year for gaming, one filled with many potential triple-A titles. I was prepared to write up a list of my 10 most anticipated games of the whole year but I quickly found 10 coming out before April that I'm dying to play.

10. Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360, Wii)
Bully: Scholarship EditionI have always appreciated Rockstar's ability to make interesting characters, witty dialog, and deep stories more than anything else they do. The Grand Theft Auto games always had an entertaining, well written story beneath all the prostitute killing and car jacking, so I'm really looking forward seeing what Rockstar did with Bully.

I missed Bully back on the PS2, so I'm happy for its re-release on the Xbox 360 and Wii, with added content and updated graphics. Mostly known for its media backlash before even being released, the original game focused on tough kid Jimmy Hopkins, who's been sent to Bullsworth Academy after being expelled from seven other schools.

Consisting of the sandbox style gameplay known from the GTA games, Bully takes you through high school culture using a wide variety of gameplay including schoolyard combat, bicycle riding, childhood crushes, and school pranks to name just a few. Jimmy interacts with five groups at the school, ranging from preps to jocks to nerds, while teachers and adults outside the school also give Jimmy missions to complete. While the gameplay looks varied, what I'm really looking forward too is the excellent voice acting, story, and interesting characters, something I wish more developers would spend time on.

Release Date: March 4, 2008

9. Devil May Cry 4 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Devil May Cry 4I'll have to admit right up front: I have yet to play any games in the Devil May Cry series. From what I have seen an heard about Devil May Cry 4, I know it's going to be my first. The game will let player use both the series star demon slayer Dante and new comer Nero, whom players will use for the majority of the game. Using his “demonically enhanced” right arm, Nero will be able use enemies as shields, tear them in half, or use it as a grappling hook in between combat.

Devil May Cry 4 promises to continue the story of the series (Devil May Cry 3 was a prequel), and at least on the PS3, the game allow players to watch a summary of the series story so far, while the game installs a cache onto the hard drive to eliminate all loading during game. Perhaps my favorite new feature is the addition of both a more balanced difficulty level and an actual tutorial to teach you the combat. With this and Ninja Gaiden 2, 2008 looks like a good year for action games.

Release Date: February 5, 2008

8. Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (PC, Xbox 360)
Command & Conquer 3: Kane's WrathAnyone remember the previous Command & Conquer game, Generals? While an interesting diversion for the series, it didn't really find its place until the excellent expansion pack, Zero Hour. By dividing up each faction into three sub-factions led by specific generals with specific concentrations, the game really found its footing. This is what Kane's Wrath intends to do, by dividing up the three factions of Command & Conquer 3 into specialized sub-factions which will have unique special units, upgrades and support powers designed to cater to more distinct styles of play. Find yourself using NODs stealth abilities often? Then maybe you'll enjoy "The Marked of Kane" sub-division. Love GDI's incredible fire power? Then "The Steel Talons" are just for you!

In addition to their new regular units, each side will be getting unique hero-type “Epic Units”. The idea of hulking monstrosities that can single handedly “turn the tide of a battle”, from the Scrin's Eradicator to NOD's Redeemer, just fills me with joy. Of course, it also helps that the original Command & Conquer 3 was a fantastic game in it's own right, but with new units, abilities, and a Risk style “Conquer the World” campaign, where can you go wrong? And don't worry, there will be plenty more of the fantastic cut-scenes featuring Joseph Kucan as NODs messiah, Kane.

Release Date: March 13, 2008

7. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)
Advance Wars: Days of RuinPerhaps my favorite DS game of all time, Advanced Wars: Dual Strike was a fantastic turn based strategy game with cartoony graphics and larger than life characters. Days of Ruin bucks the previous games style (and the annoying DS naming acronym Nintendo apparently forced on developers for the DS's first couple of years) in favor a darker and more serious tone.

An entire new cast of characters and therefore new CO powers means a fresh new set of strategies to try. CO powers have also been toned down and tag team powers eliminated so that the game can't be won in a single turn, something that greatly annoyed me during Dual Strike's campaign. The units have been rebalanced and some new ones have been added, but the biggest improvement is the Wi-Fi multiplayer. Players will be able to play games over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service, complete with voice chat and map sharing. Another added multiplayer feature that is conversely low tech is the ability to simply pass the DS each turn for local multiplayer, something every turn based game on a portable should have.

Release Date: January 21, 2008

6. Rez HD (Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Rez HDI'll have to admit I never got the chance to play the original Rez, but hearing it on so many peoples top ten games of all time lists, I feel I need to at least give it a try. In the simplest terms, the game is an on rails shooter where your “weaponry” adds to the pulsing soundtrack. The game is said to put you in a trance and even give you a mild sense of synesthesia, meaning you “hear colors” and “see sounds”.

Perhaps I am looking at this game too pretentiously, but since I loved Lumines, a game also created by Rez's creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, I know that there is some real creative talent behind the game. Whether I like it or not, it's one of those games I feel I need to play for myself. Updated HD graphics and an 800 MS Point (10$) price tag only sweetens the deal. You'll also be able to use your extra Xbox 360 controllers as “Trance Vibrators” to... well... “enhance the experience”.

Release Date: January 2008

5. Burnout: Paradise (Xbox 360, PS3)
Burnout: ParadiseI'm not a big fan of racing games. Any time I play Gran Turismo I just end up turning my car around and trying to run head on into the competition. However, the Burnout series tapped into my inner need to smash cars together, making Burnout 3: Takedown one of my favorite PS2 games of all time. Burnout: Paradise looks to take the frenetic car crashing gameplay the series is known for into the current generation, while adding in an improved free roaming city in the style of Need for Speed: Underground 2.

What do I mean by an improved “free roaming city”? How about absolutely no front end. As in no menu screens or server lobbies to navigate through in order to find races or jump online. Just pull up to any stop light in the game and press accelerate and reverse at the same time to start an event. The game also allows players to join their friends in their own version of Paradise City to crash and compete all without stopping their driving, an impressive technical achievement in its own right. Gorgeous graphics and an extensive collection of super destructible cars will make this the racing game to beat in 2008. A demo is available on both consoles, and I highly recommend playing it online to see what makes that game so great.

Release Date: January 22, 2008

4. Condemned 2: Blood Shot (Xbox 360, PS3)
Condemned 2: Blood ShotThe sequel to the Xbox 360's best launch title, Condemned 2: Blood Shot will probably be the scariest game of the year. The original was a creepy, atmospheric First Person Shooter ... although "First Person Shooter" doesn't fully describe its gameplay. Using melee weapons found in the environment such as wrenches, locker doors, and fire axes, you used timing-based combat to attack and counter enemy attacks. Gunplay was extremely limited as you couldn't reload your guns, so it was literally "fire and forget". The close combat gameplay, limited ammo, and a deviously small flashlight beam combined to created an overwhelmingly tense feeling throughout the entire game – where a crazed hobo or junkie could jump out and attack you at any time.

Bloodshot looks to add to the melee combat with defensive and offensive moves, as well as extensive combo chains. More than 40 brutal finishing moves, and “upgrades” including brass knuckles and steel tipped boots (I can only imagine the carnage those will cause) have also been added. An interesting multiplayer option has also new the the sequel, with a “Hobo Fighting Arena” and traditional Death Match where you unlock more weapons after finding them in the single player game. The game will also continue the story of detective Ethan Thomas, one year after the mysterious events of the first game. Cool forensic investigations and paranormal occurrences from the original created one of the more interesting stories in an FPS in a while, one I look forward to continuing soon.

Release Date: March 11, 2008

3. Culdcept: Saga (Xbox 360)
Culdcept: SagaXbox Live demos are perhaps the best feature the service has to offer besides multiplayer gaming. Without them, I would never have found the inexplicable joy of the Monopoly and Collectible Card Game concoction that is Culdcept: Saga. With dice rolls, property upgrades, magic, and monsters, Culdcept: Saga is definitely not what you expect to be released on the Xbox 360.

Consisting of a game board made up of four distinct elements where you summon monsters to protect you territory, and a deck of magic, monster, and weapon cards you get to build, the gameplay is unlike anything else you might have seen on the console. You win the game by obtaining a set amount of gold, which you have to gain by moving around the board, capturing territory, and forcing your opponents to pay a toll when they land on your territory. However, instead of hotels and motels you collect rent using demons and dragons.

When one player lands on another's territory, battle commences where you use monsters and additional armor, weapon, and magic cards to avoid paying the toll (and steal their territory). With the added randomness of dice rolls, the gameplay takes on a very unique feel, where a game can be completely turned around by a lucky roll. And nothing is more satisfying that having you opponent land on your thrice upgraded territory and beaten down by your ax-wielding minotaur. Always wished you could do that in Monopoly, don't you?

Release Date: February 5, 2008

2. Sins of a Solar Empire (PC)
Sins of a Solar EmpireLove Homeworld 2? Also love Galactic Civilizations 2? Then have I found the dream game for your! Featuring epic real time space battles with extensive 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) style strategy, this game should be high up on any strategy gamers list. Being published by Stardock, makers of the excellent Galactic Civilizations series (think Sid Meier's Civilization series, only in space), and developed by new studio Ironclad Games, the game aims to let players control massive galactic civilizations spanning multiple planets and controlling numerous spaceship fleets.

With research trees, colony improvements, and diplomacy, everything you expect from turn based strategy games is to be found here, but lets not forget the giant spaceships are so awesome: the epic, cinematic, and explosive battles. Combat takes a page out of Homeworld 2's book and presents some interesting ideas, including Capitol ships that gain experience, battles taking place within the gravity wells of planets, and helpful AI that knows which ship to attack and which it has no chance against. This game has the chance to replace Homeworld 2 on my laptop hard drive.

Release date: February 4, 2008

1. Beyond the Red Line (PC, Mac)
Beyond the Red LineBeing the huge Battlestar Galactica fan that I am, I couldn't help but to list this one here, even if the release date is technically “when it's done”. And even if you aren't a fan of Battlestar Galactica, here's another reason to be on the lookout for this game: it's completely free. A stand alone total conversion for the PC space flight sim Freespace 2, Beyond the Red Line puts you right in the cockpit of the Viper Mk II, Viper Mk VII, Raider, and possibly more as the game nears release. Weaving in and in between the events of the excellent show, you'll be hunting down Scar, defending the Galactica from Cylons Basestars, and securing Tillium ore for the fleet.

While it doesn't have the exacting Newtonian physics from the show, it does have a pretty good alternative that allows you conserve your inertia for some tricky maneuvers. Oozing quality, from its excellent graphics, spoken dialog, and a soundtrack both from the show and originally composed, it's amazing that this game is just being given away. A demo is available with three single player missions and multiplayer mode and I've found it works really well with an Xbox 360 controller plugged into your PC.

Release Date: Pray to the Gods it is soon!

Honorable Mentions

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – I never got into the previous games as much as my friends, and their being so much better than me makes it a pretty unfair (and unfun) fight. Maybe with Brawl I can concentrate my time into one character (Solid Snake!) and at least have a fighting chance.

Left 4 Dead (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) – I originally had this game in the list at number 3, since it had a tenuous Q1 2008 release date. I thought it was funny to point out how notorious Valve is for delaying games and I guess I just tempted fate: the game was pushed back to the summer before I finished my article.

Castle Crashers (Xbox Live Arcade) – A beautiful looking arcade games that has been delayed multiple times now, I just hope we can play it before the end of the year. Awesome looking multiplayer action from the people that brought you Alien Hominid, Rez HD faces stiff competition for my Microsoft Points.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 10:30 AM | Comments (21) | Posted to DS | Feature | PC | PlayStation 3 | Preview | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 15, 2008

Infinity Ward Stunned by Number of Pirated Copies Being Played

piratebooty.jpg

Their will always be those predicting the coming death of "hardcore" PC gaming. While we all know it's not coming anytime soon, one serious problem the platform does face is rampant piracy. Fourzerotwo, the Community Relations Manager for Infinity Ward, wrote this on his blog:

"We pulled some disturbing numbers this past week about the amount of PC players currently playing Multiplayer (which was fantastic). What wasn't fantastic was the percentage of those numbers who were playing on stolen copies of the game on stolen / cracked CD keys of pirated copies (and that was only people playing online). It blows me away at the amount of people willing to steal games (or anything) simply because it's not physical or it's on the safety of the internet to do."

Lucky for Call of Duty 4, the game sold well on both Xbox 360, PS3, and to a degree, the PC. A less fortunate developer, Crytek, suffered relatively low sales last year of their critically acclaimed game Crysis. A quick look at a few unscrupulous websites shows over a thousand seeders available for just one of many torrents of Crysis.

I'm estimating here, but I think it's possible that Crysis may have missed out on more than 10% of its sales due to piracy, and realistically much more. On the 1up Yours podcast, John Davidson mentioned talking to EA about their being over 14,000 illegal downloads of Crysis on day one alone. Considering Crysis' last reported sales were only 86,633 copies sold that is a terribly high number of illegal downloads.

Many gamers were outraged at BioShock publisher 2K Games using some extreme methods of anti-piracy last summer, but with this kind of rampant piracy, is it not reasonable?

Then again, Galactic Civilizations II managed to sell 50,000 in it's first week, despite having no piracy protection and being a relatively unknown series. Is this piracy problem going to continue to hurt PC gaming, or will new subscription based models or anti-piracy features stop it?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 6:30 PM | Comments (16) | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Gaming Steve Review: In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Director: Uwe Boll
Cast: Jason Statham, John Rhys-Davies, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Lillard, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 127 minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2008

Science tells us that air expands to fill a vacuum. This weekend, I was able to witness the cinematic equivalent of this phenomenon, as Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale attempts to fill two hours of screen-time with the best Lord of the Rings ripoff money and a B-list cast can provide.

Anyone who follows these movies closely knows that the Boll business model revolves less around box office, and more around video sales and exploiting German tax loopholes to make the movies on the cheap. Still, when you go to a movie on opening weekend and there’s 14 people in the theater, that can’t be a good sign. Especially when one of them brought a newspaper.

In a superficial way, the movie is based off the 2002 video game Dungeon Siege, but the phrase “A Dungeon Siege Tale” is code-speak for “the video game never had much plot to begin with, so we’re gonna be winging it”. Jason Statham plays a farmer named, conveniently enough, Farmer. To move things along from farming to ass-kicking, the Krug (orc wannabes, even in the original game) attack Farmer’s hometown, killing his son and kidnapping his wife. Farmer embarks on his Revenge-n-Rescue Road Trip, which soon intersects with the broader policitcal intrigue of the realm – the Krug are part of a plot to get the King of Ehb (Burt Reynolds) off the throne, so that his moron nephew (Matthew Lillard) and the evil mage Gallian (Ray Liotta) can take over. Technically, there’s other pieces to the puzzle – wizards, Amazonian tree women, the requisite grizzled sidekick for comic relief, the serious military guy who disdains the hero at first but grows to respect him -- but you get the general idea.

So where do you go with this? It seems like you’d play to your strengths: you’ve got a proven action lead in Statham, the magical elements give you plenty of opportunities for CGI spectacle, and you’ve assembled a quirky cast (Reynolds, Liotta, Lillard, Ron Perlman) that’s probably more geared to action-adventure than serious drama. If you’ve already got a boomerang-wielding farmer, Kingdom of Ehb ninjas, and a villain who dresses out of the Johnny Cash Warlock Collection (including the only leather jacket in the Kingdom of Ehb) – well, dammit, set course into the winds of lunacy, and full speed ahead!

But that wasn’t the movie Boll he wanted to make. What he really wanted to make was, well, Lord of the Rings. Superficially, you get things like surrogate Ringwraiths, an Eowyn subplot, or a big battle in a rainstorm because, well, that’s how it looked at Helm’s Deep. This would be forgivable, but the movie also insists on making the characters speak in pseudo-profound quotables; everyone’s fishing for Gandalf-ian nuggets of wisdom, and it’s pretty mind-numbing after about the first 20 minutes.

Yet at the same time it’s being pretentious, it’s also infected with the stupidity common to bad movies where people say and do completely idiotic things to keep the plot moving. This is a movie where a character will get two arrows shot at him, and wait around for the third because he’s supposed to die; a movie where Liotta makes the typical madman speech about how there’s no good and evil and rules are irrelevant, but then decides to fight Farmer hand-to-hand instead of just zapping him off a cliff or something. Sun Tzu would so not approve.

There are some additional technical sins against the cinema gods, including some scenes left hanging due to curious editing and the overall level of the acting – for example, Farmer’s reaction to his son’s death is more on par with the irritation you’d associate with a parking ticket. But let’s also give it credit for a few of the things it does right. The combat choreography is usually pretty good, as you’d expect from a Jason Statham movie, and the magic effects were fairly well-done, though I found myself wishing they went a little further with the CGI mayhem.

There are probably other things to complain about, but to do so would miss the larger point -- the ultimate failing of In the Name of the King is that it’s tough to sit there for two hours and be beaten over the head with memories of a much better movie. It’s sort of like going on a date with someone who does nothing but talk about their ex. There will probably be a collective knee-jerk reaction to proclaim it among the worst films ever, just because it’s Uwe Boll, but that seems a little unfair to me. If I had to grade it by the five-star system, I’d probably put In the Name of the King around 1.5 – it’s not awful in the same way something like Deuce Bigalow is awful because it tries to be more than that; then again, “tedious” and “derivative” certainly aren’t compliments.

Posted by Jay McDonald at 1:00 PM | Comments (6) | Posted to Review |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 14, 2008

Run Out of Games to Play? How About 101 Free Games?

101 Free Games!

Is your wallet still hurting from the frenetic holiday season? Already played all the biggest hits and overlooked games? Then look no further than 1up.com's excellent list of 101 Free Games, the third in an annual series of free game features.

From shooters, puzzles games, RPGs, and strategy games, their's something here to fit everyone's taste. It's also a chance to try out some really innovative ideas that would never find their way into a retail game . And if you have any interest in making games yourself, maybe you can find some inspiration in this massive list of games, or just see what other small developers are doing.

There's even a couple of previously purchasable games (TrackMania Nations and Sam & Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die) now free to play and a couple great mods for Half Life 2 and Battlefield 2. I haven't had a chance to play many yet, but Crayon Physics is great (especially if you have a Walcom Tablet ) and so is the Geometry Wars like Echoes.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 9:00 PM | Comments (7) | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

What Games Do You Feel You Have Completely Mastered?

How To Master THE Video Games!

Over the last few weeks there has been some videos featuring video games so mind-bogglingly hard that I wouldn't even classify them as "games" but rather vehicles to drive you insane. And this made me remember when Halo 3 came out last year and shocking amount of review said, "sure the game is fun but if you don't play it on the Legendary difficulty then don't bother playing it all!" It made me think that these reviewers weren't really reviewing the game but simply boasting at their "video game prowess" or some such thing.

Of course this is not a new topic – difficulty level of games and who is and isn't a "real gamer" – but that is not the nature of my question this week. My question deals with those rare games that you feel that you completely and utterly mastered. Those games which you could play at the very highest difficulty level and not even break a sweat.

My question this week is, "What games do you feel you have completely mastered?"

Everyone has a few games that they feel they are simply "the best" at ... those games which for some reason "spoke to you" and that you were compelled to completely own at every level possible. Games which weren't difficult even at their hardest levels, games in which you felt you needed to augment the difficulty level with your own set of rules and challenges.

Personally my list is not huge but I am proud of the ones that have conquered and broken into tiny little pieces of screaming mercy. Dragon's Lair was probably my first and favorite game to break. Not only could I finish the game without dying once but when Dragon's Lair back in the days of "arcade culture" there was nearly always a large crowd watching when I played. So the pressure was always on play the game perfectly.

It was also the only game in which other people used to pay me to play so they could watch the entire game uninterrupted – which was a big deal when the game cost 50 cents to play!

Other games I felt that I totally mastered was Space Ace (I could finish the game while turning into Ace at all junctions, including the "hidden" area in the refinery), The Legend of Zelda (finished the complete game the first week it came out without any help or "walkthroughs" ... as they didn't really exist back then), Soulcalibur (competed in daily tournaments for years where you had to fight with eight randomly assigned characters), and No One Lives Forever: The Operative (finished nearly the entire game with a single crossbow bolt that I continuously reused throughout the game).

I have a few others but those mentioned above are probably my favorites. Of course as I get older and have less free time my priority has gone from mastering a single game to just playing as many games as possible, but I have to admit there is a certain sense of pride in knowing that you completely mastered a game that you loved.

What about you? I'm sure you all have no shortage of games that you would like to brag about!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 3:00 PM | Comments (39) | Posted to Poll |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

What Lies in Store For Mass Effect 2?

Mass Effect 2 future squadmate?

Humongous Mass Effect fanboy that I am – with two full play-throughs under my belt at this point – I've been pondering its upcoming sequels somewhat heavily this month. Developer BioWare is reasonably tight lipped on the subject, detailing precious little info other than the fact that there are two more games stenciled in for release throughout the 360's lifespan, but behind that, nuggets prove scarce.

That doesn't mean we can't hypothesize though, does it? Perhaps do a little sleuthing of our own? Maybe even throw a few random theories into the mix. To do so will require the discussion of major spoilers, of course, so if your copy of Mass remains incomplete at this point in time, for the love of Ashley Williams, TURN BACK NOW.

With that out of the way...

One concrete slab o' info we do know for definite – straight from the horse's mouth, no less – is that Mass Effect 2 will let us port across our characters from the previous game. The ability to play through such a rich and epic adventure with a persona of our own creation – from meticulously designed physical attributes, to the far reaching political decisions he or she subsequently had to make – was certainly one of the core traits that stood out with Mass Effect, so to see said decisions hopefully return to haunt us in the game's follow-up(s) most definitely excites in theory.

That said, I wouldn't get too carried away on this front if I were you. To prowl internet message boards – or partake in the average pub-tinged round table – sees the majority of fans expecting a little too much from this in my experience. Weapons, armor, money? Its doubtful such material possessions will survive the journey I'm afraid. Sad news for the trillionaire loot addicts who quick-timed their way into every crate known to man, but at least they'll have something to do in the sequel. In fact, I'd be surprised to see choice of class, skills, or even character level pop along either.

Physical attributes and plot decisions are most likely all that'll remain constant between games, if I were to hazard a guess, but this alone should prove riveting enough regardless. With the fate of the council held in the player's hands on game's end for example, BioWare'll need to create entire cut-scenes, dialog trees and even plot-points both involving, and ignoring the terrible trio for the game's follow-up. Because let's be honest, 90% of us probably killed 'em off in those dying minutes with a demonic grin plastered across our face.

Combined with the player's choice of a fourth, and very much human elected council member, means such scenes could house a multitude of varying outcomes and tones right across the board. BioWare certainly have their work cut out in terms of covering all bases of these multiple tangent universes.

Even more so in regards to the Normandy's crew. What of the fates of Kaiden, Ashley and Wrex for example? The optimist in me hopes to see the next game tailored to the decisions we made, thus dictating each of their presence and subsequent attitude towards you – adding much to the previous game's more emotional moments in the process – but the realist within me scoffs. Given next-gen development time and cost, it seems fruitless for a developer to include entire characters and plot strands that many'll never even see. Sad but true.

We love Wrex!
I would however place bets on some minor name-dropping of the above deceased, and the possible inclusion of at least Liara and Tali. They were, after all, the two mandatory party members whom everyone was not only forced to recruit, but also survived through game's end. A pity, given Wrex and Garrus were arguably the more interesting of the bunch.

Hotty female aliens, and good old hollow-boned Joker aside, I'd place bets on a brand new Normandy crew for the most part however. A Salarian (aka the Area 51-esque skinny looking fellows) would be a no-brainer, given their lack of presence first time around. Perhaps a soldier from Shepard's battle on Virmire would prove a pleasing throwback? I'd personally relish the chance for a Volus sidekick more than anything however, given their undeniable similarity to cute, cuddly teddy bears with which to snuggle. It gets lonely in space, after all.

I'm almost more curious about locations above all else though. No doubt the recently redecorated Citadel will make a reappearance – along with the previously seen council chambers and such – but looking out at of that view down in the Wards of the last game, brain running amok with all the endless possibilities contained below, certainly makes one eager to explore some of the construct's more far-reaching and dingy locales. Presumably we'll get to do just that.

In terms of additional planets, I'd hope Caleston gets a resurrection first and foremost. For those not in the know, this was a beautiful yet seedy underworld environment originally designed for the first game, choc-full of gritty bars and dodgy bounty hunter types. It was heavily reworked mid-development, with its city section scrapped completely, and eventually renamed Therum (thus housing Liara's dig site). Concept art found on the first game's bonus disc looks amazing though, where BioWare themselves even hint of the planet's resurrection in sequel form or DLC.

One hopes such populated planets have a far greater presence right across the board, in fact. Compared to previous games from Canada's finest, Mass Effect could be accused of lacking much on that front. Asari and Turian home worlds could be particularly interesting to "Renegade" your way across, given the various customs and histories they each poses. Have human/Turian relations improved in light of the events in Mass I wonder? Or now more than ever, are they on the verge of breaking point.

Finally we have to question the extent of the Reapers' involvement in the next game. Sovereign required quite the battering to put down in the game's climactic battle; but just how many more of these things are out there exactly? More importantly, will we uncover some hints as to what their ultimate goal is? A Matrix style "human-battery" setup would be a colossal let-down, given such a beautiful setup, but it could well be one mystery not fully answered 'til the final installment of the trilogy. If we were to stumble across Sovereign's buddies out in the furthest reaches of space though, my one, true hope for the sequel would be real-time space combat sequences; potentially a far more appropriate and action packed mini-game next to the previously monotonous, if still (mildly) enjoyable Mako segments.

The good news of course, is that we'll need not wait year upon year to secure answers to some of the above questions and theories. The second Mass Effectnovel – Ascension – touches down this summer, supposedly bridging the gap between games, while downloadable content is also reportedly very far along too. Given Mass Effect's lack of an Oblivion-style world in which to mess around with long past the game's credits, it'll be interesting to see how BioWare plan to "plug" new missions in exactly, but even in their own words, downloadable content has been a huge part of this series' blueprint since its very earliest conception. Which presumably translates to; expect much improved results compared to KOTOR's depressingly meager efforts.

On a more technical level, BioWare have also talked briefly about improving upon the disastrous lifts seen in the last game, tweaking the heavily maligned UI, and even working in some of the scrapped real-time conversation features they originally trumpeted back amidst the first game's development. Whether these much needed upgrades find their way into the sequel or not remains to be seen, but I for one just hope the ruddy textures show up next time...

Posted by Matt Robinson at 11:30 AM | Comments (52) | Posted to Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 13, 2008

The Bleeding Continues, Alex Navarro Leaves GameSpot

Alex Navarro

As reported by Kotaku, Alex Navarro has left GameSpot. He was one of the site's longest tenured review editors and contributed numerous video reviews to the site.

Of course, no one wants to mention the elephant in the room, so I will: this has everything to do with the firing of Jeff Gerstmann.

Let's sum up what's happened since that infamous event: Tim Tracy has left; freelancer Frank Provo, who had contributed over 750 reviews to GameSpot (slightly more than Navarro) has left; and now Navarro.

GameSpot is a site that I have been a paid subscriber to in the past. It was one of those gaming sites that I felt I could count on to turn a critical eye on games, as well as the home of one of the best (and funniest) gaming podcasts anywhere.

The site's credibility takes a hit with each departure and the editorial section of the site is losing more and more talent as time goes by, talent not easily replaced. The most telling line of the Kotaku story is Ricardo Torres' repeated statements that GameSpot is trying to "move forward".

But the site seems unable to move forward for now, as each departure reminds readers of the scandal and reminds them that the site might still be getting pressure to soften its tone and become more advertising-friendly.

Is GameSpot destined to die a death by 1,000 cuts? I don't think so but the site clearly has a huge fight on its hands to regain its editorial integrity. It will either take a long time or a complete reinvention of the site's image.

And the worst thing is, it's not GameSpot's blunder, it's CNet's (and possibly Eidos'). But GameSpot is paying the price, again and again.

Posted by cwrice at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to Business |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Assassin's Creed DS Details & Screens Emerge

Assassin's Creed DS

It's been known for quite some time now that Assassin's Creed was coming to the DS, but would it just be a port of the next-generation assassination game, or an all new game itself? Details have begun to emerge and it appears as if Assassin's Creed in handheld form will prove to be a somewhat new experience.

The game is being developed by Gameloft, a studio widely known for their mobile phone games. This version of Assassin's Creed is set prior to the console versions of the game, and will still include acrobatic moves, stealth assassinations, interrogations, sword fighting, and combos; all in a 3D environment. You'll also be able to use the stylus for interrogations ... whatever that means or entails (that should be interesting).

I personally was a huge fan of Assassin's Creed, and despite the repetitive gameplay, found it to be a great game. I hope the DS version of the game isn't too watered down and simply trying to sell based on the now-known Assassin's Creed name. Either way, I'm sure I'll be giving it a shot; how about you?

Posted by Steven Mills at 6:30 AM | Comments (3) | Posted to DS | Preview |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Nintendo Power Reveals Bioware's New Sonic RPG

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

I think I actually had to read this one three times before it sunk in — the French gaming site JeuxFrance.com has early scans of the next issue of Nintendo Power and it appears that Bioware is developing a Sonic the Hedgehog RPG for the DS named Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. They write (translated from the original French via Babelfish):

"Nintendo Power has just diffused in its last edition the very first images of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (in the past Sonic RPG) developed by Bioware which one knows especially to have occupied of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. The play thus seems to approach a style closer to the drawing animated Sonic while proposing engagements with the turn by turn in 3d with special blows with the Elite Beat Agents. It will be possible to compose a team of 4 on the 11 characters available whose Sonic, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Rouge, Shadow or Big the Cat. Each one of these characters will have a particular ability, Tails for example will have the possibility of flying to the top of objects. With the manner of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the play will be controlled exclusively with the stylet, moreover it will not have there random combat since all your enemies will be visible with the screen. As very good RPG one finds of course the possibility of increasing level, its competences and to acquire new attacks. Concerning the history it will be a question this time of a removal of Knuckles and emeralds but Eggman will apparently not be the principal enemy here even if he will have a role to play. The play will make you pass between the usual world of Sonic and the world obscure. It will unfortunately be necessary still to wait to have a little more information on Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood envisaged on Nintendo DS."

You can view the rest of the images after the jump.

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Posted by Gaming Steve at 12:30 AM | Comments (17) | Posted to DS |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 12, 2008

New Team Fortress 2 Maps, Gameplay Options, and Achievements Coming Soon

Team Fortress 2

Valve has confirmed that within the next two months, the PC version of Team Fortress 2 will be getting two new maps. Also coming before those maps is a Medic-centric achievement pack. Valve intends to add an achievement pack for every class at some point, and using these achievements they intend to make a "large scale" change to the gameplay. Valve's Robin Walker said this in Shacknews' scoop:

"It's a large scale modification to the core of the game. It'll debut in a limited fashion through the Medic first, but it'll be affecting all classes eventually. We're really looking forward to the community reaction. We're really excited about where TF2 will be going over the next year."

One of the new maps is a remake of Badlands from Team Fortress Classic. The map will focus on more vertically-oriented battles because it's control points are located at the top of spires. The other map has yet to be announced and unfortunately for console owners, neither of these maps has been confirmed to be coming to either the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360.

Knowing Valve, I doubt these maps will be anything but free, though I'm basing that on the fact that Valve is so good at giving stuff away. The "friends" service added to Steam is many times more competent than Microsoft's Windows Live, and comparable to Xbox Live all without costing users a dime. Team Fortress 2 is easily my favorite online multiplayer shooter, it's only problem being the limited amount of maps. I can't wait to prance about these maps with my head full of eyeballs, how about you?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 11:30 AM | Comments (6) | Posted to PC | PlayStation 3 | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 11, 2008

Gaming Steve Review: MapleStory iTrading Card Game

MapleStory Starter SetMapleStory iTrading Card Game
Developer: Wizards of the Coast
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Price: $9.99, Starter Deck; $3.99, Booster Pack
Platform: PC (MMORPG game)
Category: iTrading Card Game
Release Date: November 6, 2007

Gaming Steve first introduced me and a lot of surprised Americans to the biggest MMORPG in the world, Nexon’s MapleStory.

MapleStory is a free-to-play MMORPG and is cute — super cute in fact. You couldn’t ask for a more family-friendly (E10+ ESRB Rated) MMORPG, all of the monsters look like stuffed animals, the characters look like children dressed up for make-believe, and the reading level is pretty easy. The game mostly "free", however it does make money by selling the best armor, weapons, quests, and items for "real money" via micropayments at the Cash Store. That’s pretty much it except for some special events or quests you can discover by talking to the NPCs.

Of course this super-cute game was not satisfied with simple video game world domination, so it teamed up with Wizards of the Coast to try its hand at the Collectible Trading Card Game (TCG) market. Taking full advantage of the MMORPG, the MapleStory card game ties directly into the online game by providing your online characters items from the cards themselves. Hence, they also renamed the genre as an Interactive Trading Card Game (iTCG ... everything must have that little “i” letter these days). Although relatively simple, I found the game refreshing and fun.

The MapleStory iTCG is also cute — dare I say “super cuter?” The game is as cute as the Pokémon TCG, and a little easier, I think. This game was intended for all ages, so it lacks the complexities of Magic: The Gathering and is simple for little kiddies to pick up and play.

You play by having your main character duel another character ... that’s it, what could be simpler? The duel is won by leveling up your main character, playing monster, item, and tactic cards, and reducing your opponent's hit points to zero. Quick, simple, and fun.

As for the cards, there are only three types — tactic, monster, and item cards. Tactics are actions which take place immediately, monsters will defend you and attack the opponent, while items will enhance your monsters. The ingenious mechanism of the game is that each card can also be used to level up your character.

MapleStory Job Cards

Hence, the key gameplay mechanic of the MapleStory iTCG is that you can either use the cards in your hand to play immediate actions, summon monsters, and equip your monsters with new items, or you can sacrifice your cards in order level-up your main character. So throughout the game you must always make a choice — do you sacrifice the cards in your hand in order to make your character more powerful or do you use the cards in your hand to strengthen your position?

Of course the iTCG ties directly into the MMORPG game. All characters and items are taken directly from the MapleStory MMORPG and anime (yet to be released in the USA) and each card is either a regular or a "super-special" silver card. Silver cards have special online code which will earn you items from the cash shop at no extra cost, so essentially a small part of the cost of a 9-card booster pack goes towards one or two items on the online cash shop. Barring certain character, level, and job restrictions, you may use these new items right away. For example, I got a red lounge chair which increases my health recovery rate which I was able to use in both games.

MapleStory iTCG is perfect for anyone who plays card games like the Pokémon TCG. The starter set comes with a CD to install the MapleStory MMORPG client software, two mini-decks and a booster pack. The starter set is a great way to discover both aspects of the MapleStory universe, and they complement each other nicely. See the Wizards of the Coast official site for more information on the MapleStory iTCG, including a game play demo.

Posted by Robert Gauss at 11:00 PM | Comments (4) | Posted to Review |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

You (Not Uwe) Oughta Be In Pictures – When Will The "Video Game Movie" Be Taken Seriously?

Citizen Freeman?

How is it that creating a successful movie from gaming-related source material has proven to be more difficult than mapping the human genome?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently – perhaps more than a sane man should – about the upcoming release of Uwe Boll’s newest gaming-themed project, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. Not so much about the movie itself – I’m pretty sure anything that involves the casting of Burt Reynolds as royalty has the makings of a spectacular crash-and-burn. What’s really on my mind is the overall history of movies based on gaming properties: for the most part, they’ve taken a beating from critics and at the box office, and it’s reached the point where the so-called “conventional wisdom” says (cue the invisible booming voice from on high) “YOU CAN’T MAKE A GOOD MOVIE OUT OF A VIDEO GAME!".

Sorry, but I’m just not buying it. I’m willing to concede that history hasn’t been on the side of the gaming movie ever since Oscar so cruelly snubbed Bob Hoskins for Super Mario Bros. almost 15 years ago. And Uwe Boll in particular seems to have a death-wish for the gaming movie, shooting the reputation of the genre in the foot with every release. All of that said, when it comes to the overall state of affairs, if anything, conditions have never been better for creating the Citizen Freeman many of us are waiting for.

Certainly, the technological distinctions are melting away as CGI becomes a bigger factor in movie-making. Yes, when it comes to raw eye-candy, Pixar’s GPUs can take our PCs and consoles out behind the woodshed for a whupping. But that’s a difference of magnitude -- boil away the advantage in visual spectacle and the action unfolding on the silver screen is moving closer to what we’ve been playing, not further away.

As I watched Voldemort and Dumbledore throw down in Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, a little voice in my brain was muttering “boss battle” and waiting for the inevitable button sequence to flash. Sentinels attacking Zion in the final Matrix movie … a really well choreographed Zerg rush. Except for the Frank Miller art direction, 300 could’ve been an expansion pack for Rome: Total War. Darth Maul? Not only a corpse-camper, but I’m pretty sure that double-bladed light saber was twinked gear.

Another argument I hear from time to time is that the source material in video games is too shallow to support a full-length movie, but I think that’s condemning the genre for past sins instead of looking forward. OK, when Street Fighter was put together, the “script” was probably written on the back of a bar napkin and handed over to the infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters to be fleshed out. But that was then, this is now, and gaming has reached a point where it’s equally capable of creating compelling stories and engaging characters. For those searching for a litmus test, I’d ask: would you rather be stuck in a room with Jar-Jar Binks or HK-47?

If there is one thing that truly does need to change, it’s how these movies get made in the first place.

It starts with the studios snapping up video-game properties for, creatively-speaking, the wrong reasons: the game had good sales volume, the rights were fairly cheap, Angelina Jolie will look good in a tank-top and shorts. I’m not saying those things don’t matter at all, but somewhere in that process, somebody needs to kick the tires on the storytelling aspect of the game before they pull the trigger. They need to ask the fundamental question: “What about this game would be interesting to the general public?”, and if they can’t answer it adequately, keep on walking.

That said, the game companies themselves aren’t blameless. Face it – a gaming company makes games; most of them (other than maybe LucasArts) don’t see a movie adaptation as part of their core business, so many of these projects are tossed blindly over the wall for a quick cash infusion and some free publicity, good or bad. At some point, if game companies truly want things to change, they need to look in the mirror and be more protective of their properties – if you want your game to become a good movie, you’re going to want to hold out for some creative input, not just another zero on the check. (And if the signature on that check is Uwe Boll’s, tear it up and run screaming from the room.)

Lastly, there needs to be true passion for the material once it gets the green-light. Surround the project with people who actually want to be there, not just people looking to add another line to their IMDB entry. Dare to think big – step beyond the confines of just “bringing the game to the screen” and dare to make a movie, not just a 100-minute regurgitation of the game. Think about the recent success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – it’s not just a success story of CGI or box office, but of a guy who clearly loved his material, surrounded himself with other like-minded people, and dared to make his vision happen. Granted, it’s probably harder to generate that same level of enthusiasm for Nintendogs: The Movie, but the underlying need to believe is still key. Professionalism can get you so far, can probably even upgrade “bad” to “mediocre”, but passion is what drives excellence.

The good news is that ultimately, it has to change for the better. We might luck out in the short-term and see some perfect storm of good decision-making, or more likely it’ll come to pass over time as game and film continue to converge and gamers infiltrate the Hollywood apparatus. The raw materials are there, and if the right people unleash them, who knows what could happen? Maybe that game you’re playing today becomes the movie everyone’s talking about on Oscar night some year down the road.

Am I living in a fantasy land? Maybe so. But at least it’s one where the king doesn’t wear a cowboy hat and drive a black Trans Am.

Posted by Jay McDonald at 9:30 AM | Comments (5) | Posted to Culture | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 10, 2008

CES Video Game Announcements in Review

CES

For those not in the know, the Consumer Electronics Show has been taking place over the last few days in Las Vegas. PCs, Consoles, and even portable game machines can easily be brought under the umbrella of consumer electronics, meaning interesting new hardware related announcements have come from the Expo for every major platform, except oddly Nintendo.

The PSP rumors of the addition of Skype have turned out to be true and Sony will be implementing the Voice over IP service to only the new thinner PSP later this month. The US PSP will also be getting the GPS, camera, and keypad accessories. Another interesting addition to the PSP is the ability for PS3 owners to copy a lower resolution version of any Blu-Ray movie to their PSP's memory card, an addition Sony promises to implement in 2008.

Speaking of the PS3, Sony has promised that the most asked for software update will be coming out this year: the ability to use the XMB in game. Taking a page out the Xbox 360's operating system, this Cross Media Bar (XMB) update could potentially allow users to see what their friends are playing and join their online games, all without quitting out of their current game.

Getting the least attention this year, Microsoft announced that the Xbox 360 will finally be getting Internet Protocol Television (which they announced last year), starting out on the European service provider BT Vision. Unfortunately, Xbox 360 users will not be able to use this service to record or pause live TV (which is what I thought IPTV was for). Microsoft did not announce the fabled "Xbox 360 Ultimate" with internal HD DVD drive, which is probably a good thing considering HD DVD's recent loss of Warner Bros. as a content provider. At least there is the potential of a Blu-Ray player for the Xbox 360.

PC games weren't left out, with Microsoft's announcement of many more "Games for Windows" games including: Alone in the Dark, Bionic Commando, Conflict: Denied Ops, Empire: Total War, LEGO Indiana Jones, Microsoft Train Simulator 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, Space Siege, and Tomb Raider: Underworld.

Hardware announced for the PC includes Alienware's awesome looking super wide screen curved display, which is the equivalent of two 24 inch monitors stuck together . iZ3D showed off their innovative 22 inch 3D computer monitor, which unfortunately isn't compatible with SLI or Crossfire, Dual Displays, OpenGL, or 64-bit applications. The idea of truly 3D games is intriguing though.

I'm most excited about the PS3 getting in game XMB, yet another addition that will tempt me into purchasing my own and Alienware's drool worthy curved computer display. Anything catch your interest at CES?

Oh yes, and here is some video of Alienware's swanky new curved display ... I want that:

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 1:30 PM | Comments (4) | Posted to Business | PC | PlayStation 3 | PSP | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 9, 2008

Gaming Steve Review: Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XIIFinal Fantasy XII
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Price: $19.99
Platform: PlayStation 2
Category: Role-Playing
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: October 31, 2006

Hi everyone, Chuck here, on board for my first review at Gaming Steve. For my first time out, I thought I'd touch base on a slightly older game that's gotten a bit lost in the shuffle of all the shiny new consoles hitting the market in the last year or so: Final Fantasy XII.

It was asked about by a caller on the most recent podcast, and as I am playing through the game for the third time by chance, and am supposed to be covering the console RPG beat, it seems fate has decreed this is where I should start, sort of like a spiky-haired androgynous young man who stumbles on a huge adventure.

The Final Fantasy series is one of the most venerable console RPG franchises whose roots extend back to the original Nintendo console. The series is known for three main gameplay elements: a long, deep RPG experience that can last 100 hours or more if all the optional sidequests are performed; a large cast of detailed and interesting characters; and numerous, super-pretty cutscenes that blur the lines between game and interactive movie.

Final Fantasy XII delivers on all these fronts and adds an element new to the series: a single-player RPG experience informed by the latest trend in RPGs, the Massively Multiplayer RPG.

Pluses
Final Fantasy XIIWith that out of the way, let's look at the game's positive qualities, which I have given the stunningly original name of "pluses".

First, the game has really stunning cinematics that tell a great story through the game's cut-scenes. These cut-scenes really show just what the PS2 is capable of in the hands of a technically proficient game design crew that knows the hardware they're designing for intimately. Final Fantasy XII ranks with God of War II as the best-looking games ever to grace the best-selling console of all time.

Second, the game has a really solid mechanical structure that make it a joy to play. Combat is interesting, requires a lot of tactical management and can be intense, both visually and in that "if that doesn't work I'm dead meat" sort of way.

Similarly, the game allows for interesting and varied character advancement, that follows a more freeform path than other offerings in the Final Fantasy series. You can tailor your characters to the way you like to play the game. While generally speaking a balanced party is most effective, the game doesn't force you to play that way. If you want to have an entire party of black mages blasting away with damage dealing spells, an entire party of tough fighters wearing heavy armor, or a party of lightly armed skirmishers, you can.

The world of the game, Ivalice, is an enormous, fascinating backdrop for your adventures and feels like a living, breathing place. Some NPCs will only be in a given city for a short while, while others are permanent residents you can visit again and again and whose dialogue changes as you advance through the game. For a series not known for true sequels, the Final Fantasy franchise has now visited Ivalice three times, in Final Fantasy Tactics (an original Playstation classic which has been remade for the GameBoy Advance and soon for the Nintendo DS), Final Fantasy XII and FF XII: Revenant Wings. The creative folks at Square can't seem to get enough of Ivalice and I'm inclined to agree.

Then there's the story and especially the characters. Final Fantasy XII lags a bit behind FF X in the quality of its story, but that game had the best story of any console RPG, ever so matching it would be a bit tough. Where the story really shines, and the writing behind it, is in the characters. Each main character of Final Fantasy XII (6 in all) and several of the minor characters are interesting and detailed enough to carry their own game. They're people you want to root for (or against) and that you're interested in enough that you want to see how it all turns out for them.

Finally there's the overall feel of the game, which I really like. It's a very old school RPG. There's a lot of killing things and taking their stuff, treks through unexplored deserts and jungles and dungeons. Lots and lots of dungeons. Tombs, mines, cave complexes, temples, ruins and star destroyers ... err, Imperial Dreadnought-class Airships.

Minuses
Final Fantasy XIINow for the game's drawbacks, which we'll call "minuses" for the sake of consistency. Most of these drawbacks fall under the "too much of a good thing" heading.

For example, while the cut-scenes look amazing and have the fine voice-acting, cinematic direction and dramatic musical score we've come to expect from the series, there's too many of them and they tend to come in waves. When the story advances, for example, first there will be a cut-scene about our heroes. Since we know them well, have been playing them for the entire game and since they're interesting characters, these tend to be extremely interesting.

These are usually followed, however, by touching base with the villains and their machinations. These aren't nearly so interesting. For starters, the villains are much less interesting as the heroes. They don't have motivations you can sympathize with or understand. They're eeeeeeeeeevil. 70's comic book evil.

Also, unlike many other Final Fantasy games, the villains aren't even anyone you've interacted with. Seymour, one of the main villains of Final Fantasy X, was someone you came to hate gradually, as you fought him again and again. The villains of FF XII are characters you get to know through repeated cut scenes, but don't ever actually interact with before you fight them and kill them. For the main villain of course, this is the end of the game. Meaning you'll have spent hours watching the exploits of someone you don't particularly care about, even in a "man I really want to kill that guy" way.

Often, this second cut-scene is then followed by a third cut-scene. In all it becomes too much, it's too long a break away from the action and if you hit a wave of cut-scenes at 4 a.m. at the end of a marathon game session, dozing off during the cut-scenes is a distinct possibility.

Next there's the grinding and camping. These are terms familiar to any MMO player and likely familiar to most RPG players. Power levelling is a great thing in an RPG. It's that happy time when the monsters are powerful enough to be really challenging, you're gaining levels regularly but you're not being overwhelmed by the opposition. That's as close to Diablo-esque RPG perfection as you're going to encounter.

Final Fantasy XIIGrinding on the other hand, is when you really need to be higher level to fight that next boss but the monsters that give you the most experience aren't particularly interesting, or challenging. While there are several side missions that can help mask the grinding, or at least make you feel like you're doing something (other than grinding), the middle of the game especially has long periods where you are either grinding for experience or grinding for gold to upgrade needed equipment. The difficulty curve of the bosses spikes well beyond the typical monsters, meaning you need to kill lots and lots of them in order to be an appropriate level for the bosses.

Finally, there's the fact that the game's two main drawbacks, the grinding and cut-scene waves, show up at different times. Early and late in the game, when the gameplay is just about perfect, you're going to be sitting through waves of cut-scenes. In the mid-game, the cut-scenes are relatively rare, but you're going to be grinding for XP or cash. At least they help you out if you're playing the game for a second time by letting you skip the cut-scenes.

So what's the final verdict? FF XII is an excellent game with some serious flaws. The gameplay ranks with the best of the series and delivers a compelling old-school RPG experience that feels more like Final Fantasy III for the DS than Final Fantasy X. The middle period of the game can be a tough slog at times but if you watch for areas you like, that give you good XP or loot and spend a little more time there, you can minimize the pain and breeze through areas you find boring.

The characters are first-rate and the writing is superior. The cut-scenes are just grouped together in waves and focus a little too much on a group of villains that weren't worthy of the amount of screen time they were given. Either seeing the villains less or giving them a point of view other than "I want power so I can conquer the world, duh" would have made a huge difference in how interesting the story was. A little more Magneto, a little less 70's Lex Luthor would go a long, long way here.

Still, despite its flaws, Final Fantasy XII is a worthy entry for the franchise and a game worth keeping your PS2 plugged in (and off eBay) to play.

PLUSES: Super-pretty cut-scenes; great characters; rich, compelling old-school RPG gameplay.

MINUSES: Too many cut-scenes focusing on stock villains; level grind occasionally feels forced.

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5 BUY IT!

Posted by cwrice at 12:00 PM | Comments (9) | Posted to PlayStation 2 | Review |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 8, 2008

Rumor: GoldenEye, Other Rare Games Headed to Xbox Live Arcade?

Goldeneye 007

Citing “very reliable sources” and “seeing evidence themselves”, Xbox Evolved is claiming that Rare's Goldeneye 007 will appear on Xbox Live Arcade. Originally for the Nintendo 64 and remembered nostalgically as one of the best (and first) multiplayer console first person shooters, Goldeneye is reported to come with updated graphics and Xbox Live multiplayer support.

Xbox Evolved also reported that through a complicated agreement between Microsoft, Rare, MGM Studios (the owners of the Bond movies), and Activision (new owners of the license to make Bond video games), Goldeneye 007 will be released shortly before Activision's first James Bond game. Even more interesting is their evidence that Rare will be releasing more of it's back catalog from the Nintendo 64, including Bango-Kazooie and Perfect Dark.

What I find most intriguing about this rumor is that if it is true, more Nintendo 64 games could find their way to the Xbox 360 Arcade, so long as their developers and/or publishers are not owned by Nintendo. Less interesting to me is the actual game, Goldeneye. Truth be told, I can't stand some of the first 3D games from the Playstation and Nintendo 64 platforms.

Detailed 2D and stylized 3D graphics from older consoles are fine by me, but those first attempts at 3D look so jaggy and rigid, I find it hard to stay interested. With the likes of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 to “compete” against is a game like Goldeneye still worth playing?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 10:45 PM | Comments (17) | Posted to Classic | Rumor | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Xbox Live Class Action Lawsuit Worth Pennies, Not Millions

Sue Microsoft: Collect $5 million dollars

A few days ago three angry Texas gamers filed a class action lawsuit against Microsoft for holiday Xbox Live outages to the tune of $5 million US Dollars. I was going over the case, examining their potential damages, and determined that this lawsuit makes absolutely no sense to me.

Okay, so maybe Microsoft had unexpected downtime, but demanding 365/24/7 service is expecting God-like powers from Microsoft. If it were quantified into actual lost funds, Microsoft’s announced free game offer is very generous.

When you join Xbox Live, you agree to a contractual Terms of Use that you must agree to in order to join. Those terms include downtimes as necessary and paragraph 16, where you accept limited liability and no warranty. Here is that portion of the document:

16. WE MAKE NO WARRANTY We provide the Service "as-is," "with all faults" and "as available." The Microsoft Parties give no express warranties, guarantees or conditions. You may have additional consumer rights under your local laws that this contract cannot change. To the extent permitted by law, we exclude the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, workmanlike effort and non-infringement.

Xbox Live users are subject to downtimes, regardless of reasons or causes. Basically, if Microsoft provides the service that you pay for, you have no other say in the matter.

And even if Microsoft is liable for the downtime, the actual refund amount may shock you.

If you are a Silver member, or one on a free trial offer, Microsoft owes you nothing as the service provided is cost you nothing. If you are a Gold member, you can divide up your yearly fee to a daily fee. $50 US Dollars for an annual fee is approximately 13.7 cents a day. The downtime was about 6 days, which ends up being 82 cents.

So as compensation for the downtime Microsoft is offering a free XBLA game to Xbox Live users. This offer will most likely be a game worth $5 USD. Not only do they owe Live users nothing, but this offer is generous! If you accept the game, you cannot participate in the class action and lose your claim of your 82 cents. I advise you to take the game offer.

Lawyers have a bad reputation for frivolous lawsuits. This class action suit is just one of the many reasons for that negative stereotype. It is obvious the lawyers taking on this case have not done their homework and are showing their inexperience in an embarrassingly public way. After all, what do you call a lawyer who graduates last in his class? You call him “attorney.”

Posted by Robert Gauss at 1:15 PM | Comments (17) | Posted to Business | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

First Post! Meet New Gaming Steve Contributor, Robert Gauss

EtherlordsII

Hello! I’m a new contributor to the Gaming Steve site and as you can guess my name is Robert Gauss or “Robbway” on the forums. I’m a lifetime gamer and have been following video games since they were commercially available (think Telstar, not Nintendo) and I play almost every type of game there is. I also have very strong opinions on games, ratings, and censorship, as well as a pretty good BS meter when it comes to online PR“news” stories.

My games interests are vast and varied. I like classic old arcade games, new games, shooters, tactical, pinball, rhythm, casual, and a few genres that aren’t even around anymore. I don’t particularly like sports titles, but I make an exception with racing games and I play on every system currently available (and a few that aren't). All of this, plus I have non-video gaming interests such as cards, board, and pen & paper games.

In addition, I'm a member of the Entertainment Consumers Association since its inception in 2006 and I have high hopes for that organization. I’m against governmental regulation of gaming, blaming video games (or any other single influence) for societal ills, and censorship. I’m a very pro-personal responsibility gamer.

As you can tell I'm fairly opinionated and I plan on giving my opinions on practically everything. They are often very biased views of current events, but that’s the nature of blogging. If all you read on the internet was unbiased, it would be a very dull place, indeed!

Posted by Robert Gauss at 12:00 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 7, 2008

What Game From Your Childhood Would Like To See Re-Released?

StarTropics

In the latest Gaming Steve Podcast during "show mail" I was asked which game I would love to see come out for the Nintendo Virtual Console / Xbox Live Arcade / PlayStation Network. It was a tricky question as there are so many games I would love to play again from my childhood, but right at the very top of my list was one of my favorite games of all time, StarTropics.

StarTropics was a near clone of the The Legend of Zelda but with a linear storyline and a a "modern" setting – instead of a boomerang you wield a yo-yo, instead of a sword you swing a baseball bat, and so forth... Sure it was a complete rip-off of Zelda (I prefer the term homage) but if you are going to rip-off from anyone it might as well be the best!

So imagine my shock when I heard that Nintendo was releasing StarTropics for the Virtual Console ... today!

That is one freaky coincidence.

Which brings me to this week's question, "What game from your childhood would like to see re-released?"

However this release now has me questioning if I should download this game or not? Would playing this game nearly 18 years latter holds up to what I remember?

Should I try to hold on to my fond childhood memories and leave them untarnished? Or should I download the game and try to recapture those memories? A quandary.

Bonus after the jump ... video of some dudes re-enacting the game StarTropics in "real life". Quite humorous.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:30 PM | Comments (39) | Posted to Poll |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

First Post! Meet New Gaming Steve Contributer, Chuck Rice

Call me Chuck

Hi my name is Chuck Rice and I've been a freelance writer working in the field of tabletop RPGs professionally since 2002, mostly for RPGObjects, though I also did a tabletop adaptation of the Two Worlds Xbox 360 game that was released with the game's collector's edition.

As a fan of Steve's video game coverage and console RPGs generally, I jumped at the chance to cover the RPG beat when he issued a call for contributors.

I'll be covering RPGs, primarily on the DS, PS2 and PC platforms, as well as providing guidance for those who are fans of both console and tabletop RPGs, or would like to take the plunge from one to the other and experience the best of both worlds.

Posted by cwrice at 11:00 PM | Comments (3) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 5, 2008

Gerstmann-Gate Isn't Over Yet: GameSpot Writer Quits Over the Debacle

All of Gamespot's Men

While GameSpot and Eidos all wish we would just forget, the impact of Jeff Gerstmann's "complicated" firing still lingers over the industry. The latest development of the debacle is Frank Provo's departure from GameSpot. A freelance writer with over 7 years at Gamespot and who wrote 751 reviews, his reasons for departure can hardly be called respectful. From Provo's Gamespot blog:

"I believe CNet management let Jeff go for all the wrong reasons. I believe CNet intends to soften the site's tone and push for higher scores to make advertisers happy.

I won't lie to people and tell them a game is good when it isn't. I won't downplay negatives that readers have a right to know about."

All I can say is ouch. With only unconfirmed rumors that Gerstmann's firing from GamesSot was the result of advertisement pressure over his unflattering Kane & Lynch review, this will only deal another blow to GameSpot's reputation. Provo also directly targeted the management of GameSpot and CNet in order to defend his fellow writers at GameSpot by saying, "The GameSpot staff did not fire Jeff. The GameSpot staff are NOT corrupt. GameSpot itself is NOT the problem. CNet is. CNet's management is."

The video game journalism industry, like any industry that reviews and covers a medium, has only its reputation to rely on. Review readers rely on the integrity and taste of the reviewer, and if you feel you can't trust them, you won't read their reviews. I can easily see why the writers at GameSpot would want to leave, because whether or not Gerstmann was fired for his review GameSpot can not be a pleasant place to work these days.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 1:45 AM | Comments (6) | Posted to Business |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 4, 2008

A Winner is You! Gaming Steve Podcast Winner Gets His Booty

A Wiiner Is You!

Last month I ran a contest on the Gaming Steve podcast where you could win a free game console of your choice. All you had to do was write me an email and tell me what your favorite game was in 2007.

On last week's show I announced the lucky winner – ARogan, a long-time listener and first time winner, who obviously isn't a very punctual listener as didn't know he won until several days after the podcast was posted (the nerve!).

But I did find it quite amusing to see ARogan on Xbox Live before he knew he won. Just knowing that he won and he had no idea ... I guess I would have told him eventually if he didn't listen to show within a week or so (or would I have gone "Renegade" and not tell him? I guess we'll never know!)

But he did listen to the show a few days later and promptly contacted me, informing me that he wanted a PlayStation 3 as his grand prize. I was more than happy to fulfill his request and yesterday he got his prize.

ARogan did a nice little write-up and photo shoot of the unpacking and setting up his prize (what's up with those two Xboxes I wonder?). Make sure to check it out and give him a little pat on the back for wining a prize without having to much of anything! (By the way, his game of the year for 2007 was Crysis.)

Congratulations again ARogan!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 3:00 PM | Comments (1) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Xbox Live Subscribers to Get Free XBLA Game

Xbox Live Compensation

Anyone who has a membership to Xbox Live and has tried to play recently will be able to agree on one thing; the servers have been about as unstable as Brittany Spears. No, Bill Gates hasn't shaved his head or danced mediocrely with a bit of extra weight flying around – at least I sure hope not – but the Xbox Live servers sure do have some sort of problem. If anyone has even been lucky to connect to the servers while playing an online game they will notice the lag is certainly unbearable.

Fortunately Microsoft's Xbox Live General Manager Marc Whitten has released a statement regarding this issue, acknowledging that a high volume of users created new accounts to experience Xbox Live over the holiday season causing the servers to lead to connection problems for all users.

Do not fear though, because compensation ensues. Microsoft will be offering all Xbox Live members around the world access to a free download of an Xbox Live Arcade game in the near future in order to soothe our hardships from the lack of gaining that extra XP on Call of Duty 4 or fraggin' through countless games of Slayer in Halo 3. What game they will be offering us as well as when this will be available has not been announced yet, but details will be announced shortly.

I sure hope the game is a fun one. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved would be a good choice; but please, no more free download attempts for Carcassone! (Gaming Steve: Hey, I love that game!)

Posted by Steven Mills at 9:15 AM | Comments (5) | Posted to Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Watch All of the Cut-Scenes From The Simpsons Game

I am a totally crazy die hard Simpsons fan – I've seen every single episode and listened to all the cast commentaries for every single episode currently out on DVD ... yeah I know I have a problem – but yet even I couldn't get through The Simpsons game. The whole "point" of the game was to make fun of the entire video game genre as a whole, but yet in the end the gameplay ended up being everything they were making fun of to begin with.

In fact the only reason to play the game was to see the hilarious cut-scenes, which were written by same writers as the show. And without watching those cut-scenes I always felt like I was missing an episode of the show and my "collection" wasn't complete (yes, once again I know I have a problem!).

But thanks to the miracle of YouTube I can finally watch those fantastic cut-scenes without actually having to play that pesky game (and now I can sleep at night knowing my "collection" is complete ... please don't judge me!).

But wait? You say that you're not a Simpsons fan? Why on Earth should you waste your time to watch these clips? Well all I have to say is this, they feature "the nerdiest nerd in the computerverse" ... Will Wright!

Yeah ... I thought so.

The remaining cut-scenes can be seen after the jump.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 12:15 AM | Comments (5) | Posted to Culture | PlayStation 2 |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Xbox 360 Sales Surge Ahead (With A Little Help From Halo 3)

Xbox Loves Halo

Today Microsoft announced the number of Xbox 360 consoles shipped to date and it's a pretty staggering amount. In total they've shipped 17.7 Million total consoles with over 4.4 Million consoles shipped during the holiday season. Keep in mind that by "shipped" they mean "sold to retail", so while Microsoft has its money, that doesn't necessarily mean that nearly 18 Million people currently own an Xbox 360.

Another impressive number touted by Microsoft was that nearly half of all Xbox 360 owners also own Halo 3, which shipped 8.1 Million copies since its release at the end of September. Mass Effect also showed impressive numbers with 1.6 Million shipped during the six weeks since it has been released.

In comparison, Sony has shipped 5.59 Million PS3s and Nintendo has shipped 13.7 Million Wiis (up until September 30th). Both Sony and Nintendo are expected to report their holiday sales in the coming weeks so we won't know who is leading the "console wars" just yet.

It's pretty amazing that two years since the release of the latest "next-gen" console we're still right in the middle of a dogfight between all three companies. This is fast becoming one of the most interesting console wars to date, with the previous underdog shooting to first place, the previous champion falling to the bottom, and the newest contender jumping up to a strong second place. With so many variables to account for it's hard to predict what will happen this year: without another Halo for Microsoft will they be able to keep up the sales? Will Sony's popular exclusives give it the boost it needs? Will the Nintendo Wii become a gimmick or continue to sellout in record time?

Which console do you think will "win" in 2008?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 12:05 AM | Comments (2) | Posted to Business | Xbox |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 3, 2008

Chris Taylor's Next Game Announced: Demigod

Demigod

The next game from Chris Taylor's Gas Powered Games (makers of Dungeon Siege and Supreme Commander) has just been announced, and it's another one of those new-fangled "cross genre" games – an action/RPG/RTS hybrid to be precise. Demigod takes inspiration from Warcraft III and its mod Defense of the Ancients, and attempts to put you right in the thick of an epic RTS battle.

For those not familiar with Defense of the Ancients it concentrated on hero units while taking out base construction and resource management entirely. Instead players controlled a single Hero unit with a variety of powers, and by killing AI units scattered around the map your hero would become stronger and level up until you were eventually strong enough to take out the other player's base.

Demigod seems to have taken this idea and expanded upon it even further. According to the scoop on 1up:

"You control one of 12 'demigod' heroes – some of which survive solely on the strength of their own powers, others of which thrive on building smaller units and structures of their own for support. The guy on the left in the screenshot below is one such hero, 'The Rook,' a former king whose spirit now animates an anthropomorphic castle. Demigod is, as you'd expect, a multiplayer game at heart, with an emphasis on co-op play. There's a single-player mode, too, though Gas Powered Games says it will serve mainly as a 'training ground' for the multiplayer."

Being that I actually love the multiplayer FPS/RTS hybrid Command and Conquer: Renegade, this piques my interest. Demigod appears to be more RPG centric, but with Chris Taylor at the helm, I'm sure they can pull off a solid game. I only worry that by making it mainly a multiplayer game (single player is mostly for training) that this title might be doomed from the start. Games which tried this in the past haven't exactly seen great sales (or reviews) and it's the rare gem of a game that can get away with solely a multiplayer experience.

Maybe I'm only interested because of my fond memories of playing Renegade's multiplayer with my friends, but does this game interest anyone else?

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 9:00 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

First Post! Meet New Gaming Steve Contributer, Jay McDonald

Pfellah

First of all, Happy New Year to all of you at Gaming Steve. I'm Jay McDonald, though in most corners of the Internet, I go by "Pfellah". Unless you're with the RIAA, in which case that was a totally different guy. Honest.

I'm going to be one of GamingSteve's new contributors, so hopefully you'll be seeing more of my scribblings popping up as the days go by. I've worked with and for GamingSteve on some past projects, and we share similar tastes in gaming, so when he announced he was looking for contributors to his site, I jumped at the chance. Though we're still negotiating on whether I get my own cartoon head at some point.

To give you a little background, I'm first and foremost a PC gamer, though I do have a toe in console and handheld waters. Genre-wise, I'm all over the map, though as a Tolkein/D&D geek growing up, I can be easily lured with pretty much anything that's got sword-swinging, bow-shooting elves in it. Now if they can just add elves to Madden, so you can cut down an opposing running back with a volley of fire arrows…

My goal for this soapbox is to "explore the studio space" of the gaming experience. What happens when you turn your WoW character over to your three-year-old for an evening? Which game's character creation tool can create the most accurate "me"? (Though I'm totally OK with a slightly more svelte me that can grow real facial hair instead of the Chia variety.) Why is it that when you tell people "gaming" is your hobby, people look at you like you just started talking about alphabetizing your extensive cheese collection? In the course of my travels, I might touch on traditional game review, but it'll tend to be more by accident than on purpose.

In closing, enjoy whatever it is you're playing, and keep an eye out for more from me as we grind away the days until Spore and beyond. Later!

Posted by Jay McDonald at 1:30 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

Download Complete DS Games onto Your Wii?

DS Wii

With the Nintendo Wii outselling every console in existence at the moment and the Nintendo DS selling every handheld in existence, why not make the two a little more integrated with each other? Eric A. Taub of the New York Times recently caught up with Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's President and Chief Operating Officer, who certainly had good news for the future of the DS.

It would appear that Nintendo is going to release yet another DS model which will allow both complete as well as demo DS games to be downloaded to the Wii and then played on the DS via the built-in wireless service. Not only will this sort of service allow you to get the latest DS games without leaving your house, but popular games will (of course) become much easier to get.

Does anyone else hope this feature is actually utilized as opposed to announced and then hardly used? I'd like to see new titles as well as popular ones thrown up on the Wii Network, not just old and third-party games that are fun to play for about five minutes ... until you remembered how boring most older games used to be.

I know Mario Party DS was hard to come by this holiday season and this service would have made getting this game a lot easier. Of course, what do you actually "give" as the gift? A picture of the Mario Party DS and a little Wi-Fi antenna? Heh, I'm sure Nintendo will come up with something to alleviate this "problem".

Posted by Steven Mills at 1:00 PM | Comments (1) | Posted to DS | Rumor | Wii |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

First Post! Meet New Gaming Steve Contributer, Steven Mills

Steven Mills

Greetings everyone at Gaming Steve! My name is Steven Mills and while I would love to allow you to call me Steve for short ... well that would just get complicated!

If you want you can call me by my forum name, SoulVision. Or "Steve 2" could work as well. Hum, this could get tricky...

Anyhow, I'm happy to tear myself away from the controllers and styluses at my disposal to bring you all intelligent and dedicated gaming discussion on an active basis. Sometimes, however, I do sleep. When I'm not engaging in this action known as sleep be sure to know I'm scanning the web for the latest gaming news and hot stories.

I look forward to writing for you all. Happy new year and may 2008 bring many nights of gaming and game discussion!

Posted by Steven Mills at 12:30 PM | Comments (4) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

CES Video Game Rumors Abound: HD DVD 360 and PSP Skype?

xbox hd

The annual Consumer Electronic Show has attracted a few interesting rumors this year. Brier Dudley of The Seattle Times is predicting that Bill Gates himself will unveil a new Xbox 360 SKU with a built-in HD DVD drive.

Dudley is also predicting that Microsoft may be licensing out the Xbox 360 architecture to companies such as Toshiba, to make their own branded consoles, perhaps with DVR functionality too. Of course this rumor is rampant with no real evidence to support it, plus we've heard it before. But it would make sense for the Xbox 360 to make a big splash with the Wii getting so much attention this holiday season. And with this being Gates' last year at the helm.

The other big rumor is that Sony will announce a Skype program for the PSP and, unlike the Xbox 360 rumor, this one is is all but confirmed. A picture found by ubergizmo.com in a Sony press video meant for CES shows two happy PSP owners with the words "Make Calls With Skype" plastered in the middle.

Is anyone looking forward to either of these improvements? While new features are always a great addition, I'd really like to know when Sony's going to take advantage of their Sony Ericsson division and make a full fledged PSP Phone.

As for the Xbox 360 rumor, I already have the HD DVD drive and actually like having one drive for games and one for DVDs. But still, having everything integrated into a single unit would defiantly help in their "format wars" with Sony.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 9:10 AM | Comments (2) | Posted to Rumor |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

First Post! Meet New Gaming Steve Contributer, Clayton Ashley

Clayton Ashley

Hello denizens of gamingsteve.com, it is I, Clayton Ashley, yet another one of the content providers Steve has hired for the website. I'm a new face in the industry, I have followed the gaming scene quite extensively for many years. I'll be contributing news stories as often as possible and game reviews/impressions when I get the chance.

I try to keep my gaming tastes as diverse and open as possible. I play every genre in gamerdom, from hardcore RPGs, to casual webgames, and even a German style board game or two. While I don't often stray into sports games, I'm always willing to try out new innovations (such as the surprisingly fun Skate). In that vein, I'm always trying those genre busting games (A Monopoly style Collectible Card game? Count me in!) and I'll attempt to cover those as often as possible.

I'll play on any console, handheld, or PC platform (so long as I can afford it). And despite what Ebert says, I believe and will staunchly defend video games as works of art so you'll be seeing that aspect of my gaming tastes in future posts.

So hit me up for a game if you want to play a game or two – my forum name, gamertag, and Steam ID is "Rax Dakkar". See you out there.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 8:30 AM | Comments (9) | Posted to Stuff |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 2, 2008

The History Of Mario Power-Ups

History of Mario Power-Ups

One of the Gaming Steve readers just sent me this picture which I file under my "this is just freaking cool" category. As you can see it depicts the history of Mario power-ups throughout the years. The picture isn't perfect in that it's missing some of the newer ones, it does have the extremely rare 3-up moon found in Super Mario World. Awesome.

I have no idea who made this picture, where it came from and where I can purchase this, but I want this picture for my office. Now.

After the jump is the video evolution of Mario from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Galaxy set to the Zelda theme. Thanks for tip Doug!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 6:00 PM | Comments (6) | Posted to Classic |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!