Gaming Steve

Feature Archives - Page 1

April 2, 2008

Madden on the PC – RIP (And Why You Should Care)

madden08-RIP

I wish I could say I’m shocked, but I’m not.

Yesterday on his blog, EA’s Peter Moore confirmed that Madden 09 will not be released on the PC, because … well, because making games solely for the console is a more efficient way to back the old Brinks truck up to EA’s corporate headquarters, I guess. Officially, it’s being called “serious business challenges in the sports category”.

On one hand, there’s a certain inevitable logic to the numbers. Sales from the console versions of Madden 08 (NPD, August 07) clocked in around 2 million units, almost 900,000 of that on the 360 alone.

Madden on the PC … well, I couldn’t even find firm figures, but Bioshock was the top-selling PC game at around 77,000, so Madden’s PC sales had to be fewer than that. When you’re talking about a platform that doesn’t break 5% of your sales ... if I’m running a business, I’m probably making that same call.

That said, if you look at the history of the franchise, it’s hard not to feel like EA’s got the blinders on a little, and are missing a bigger problem that could bite them in the ass down the road. The fact is, they’ve been charging full-game prices for expansion-pack content for years now – open a new Madden each year, and you get new rosters, some cosmetic upgrades, and one or two minor gameplay tweaks.

Even as they’re doing that, other aspects of the game remain unfixed, enshrined forever in EA’s Canton of Half-Assed Coding. And buying up the exclusive NFL license and effectively driving competition out of the market hasn’t been the best thing for public relations, even if it was the NFL who approached them.

In the console space, none of this has been a problem … yet … because new hardware has driven software sales as people switched to a new platform, and EA’s been able to shed blame for bugs and incomplete features by blaming it on the challenges of developing for the new hardware. In the PC marketplace, the customers have seen the emperor’s new clothes for a while now – they’ve watched as EA put all the development efforts into next-gen while handing PC gamers the same game as last year with a different splash screen.

And now, figuratively and literally, they’ve taken their ball and gone home. Which may be fine on a balance sheet, but ignores a larger customer satisfaction issue – what’s EA going to do when there isn’t a new console to prop up sales and they have to rely solely on the quality of their product? The PC sales figures aren’t just a blip on the radar, they’re Jacob Marley warning Scrooge that those chains itch something fierce.

OK, so why does any of this matter to you? You guys are mostly here for Spore, and the international readers probably don’t give a damn about American football. Points taken.

But consider the broader implications – Madden is one of the 800-lb gorillas of the gaming scene: it’s consistently one of the biggest releases of the year, it has its own TV show (albeit a really stupid one), it’s a game that’s “safe” for gamers to admit they like, it even mainstreamed the concept of the “Maddenoliday”.

Other game companies will be watching this move, and possibly base their own future decisions on how well this turns out for EA. So even if you don’t care specifically about the hand-wringing across Madden Nation, it should at least give you pause as a disturbing sign of possibilities to come.

Posted by Jay McDonald at 4:30 PM | Comments (10) | Posted to Business | Feature | PC |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 18, 2008

Is Gaming Really to Blame? The Videogame FPS vs. The Real Life FPS

videogames-vs-reallife

Gaming has recently been attacked yet again in the media following another terrible America school shooting. Mainly, games are being lauded as training tools for the perpetrators of these crimes, so I thought I would take my FPS skills into the paintball arena to see if games really have conditioned me to deal with shooting people and dealing with the consequences, and thus prove if they are to blame for society’s ills.

After watching FPS Doug on Pure Pwnage, who had a hard time comprehending the difference between gaming and reality, I was all set to go and test the respawn times and lag in real life.

From the beginning to the end of proceedings, it was a dangerous affair with what can only be described as a menagerie of vicious characters who would continue to shoot you when you were trying to get off the map.

Firstly, getting your friends altogether and organized is much more difficult in real life than in games, especially games with a decent party system such as Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. Our group took a whole hour to finally get together.

Moreover, getting to the indoor arena took a solid fifteen minutes, which is a massive difference to the quick loading games we experience on our consoles.

So far, I was not impressed, and this mood did not improve when I discovered that it would cost me £31 of my own money for the pleasure, and a minuscule amount of ammo that I would normally use in the first five minutes of any FPS.

The worst was yet to come, as we were all handed Killzone-esque masks, a big boiler suit, and was forced to stuff my poor coat into a locker and wear some incredibly muddy shoes. How anyone could fight in this attire, I do not know.

When I play FPS, I just wear whatever I want and sit down in front of my glorious TV; I don’t have to dress up. However, I’m reliably informed that some fanboys and cosplayers wish to dress up in the attire associated with their favourite games when they play them, which I can assure you is not my bag.

Then, just as I thought we would be going to lay the smackdown in the arena, the “Marshall” took us into a bizarre little classroom to teach us how it all works. The controls are actually pretty good in real life actually, a lot of the stuff such as jumping and getting into cover are done automatically, and there’s only a trigger when firing a gun, and now pesky grenades to worry about.

However, reloading is completely flawed, you had to actually open each canister and open the cartridge to fill it up. When I discovered this, I was suitably outraged, but carried on in the name of good journalism regardless. This “Marshall” business was not what I was expecting though, if a game tried to bark orders at me during a multiplayer showdown, I would just ignore it and dish out my own brand of justice.

Going on to talk about the respawning system, I did inquire about this to the aforementioned “Marshall”, and was informed that there are no respawns, at least not in his religion. Moreover, there was not a lot of lag during the games, but we were only playing with 10 players, and we were all interfacing over real-life connections.

Also, the rumble and force feedback seemed to be much more pronounced in real life, and you could actually tell where you have been shot, which proved to be a vocal point of discussion. “That one in the head hurt” said one person, “I’m sore after that one” proclaimed another. Is this really a good thing? Surely us gamers enjoy games because they don’t kill us.

Furthermore, there were yet more differences between FPS and real life. Did you realize that you don’t get a HUD when playing paintballing? You have no indication of ammo, no on-screen reticules, and your helmet gets incredibly dirty and fogged up.

However, the difference in graphics and definition was so pronounced that it proved gaming has a long way to go to match their real-life equivalents. I’ve heard that real-life runs even better than the 1080p 24 Frames Per Second pinnacle of technology, and the screen size is simply incredible, offering a maddeningly expansive panoramic format.

The sound was also pretty good as well, going beyond that 7.1 barrier and achieving full 3D sound. All this contributed to the amazing atmosphere, which was much more involving, scarier, and fun than that of Team Fortress 2, for example.

So what did my hundreds of hours of gaming teach me about fighting in the real world? According to the media, I should have been a fully-trained one man army, having powers akin to that of Rambo.

In actuality, I was scared, tired, bruised, and actually terrible at shooting my enemies. I was so bad that other people had to humour me after my pitiful performance. I used up all my ammo over the course of one round, I couldn’t hold the gun right, I couldn’t take cover properly, and I was shot. Jack Thompson would probably be better at paintball than me.

The media has lied to me once more, and I am quite disappointed actually, and I guess we have to look in different places for something to blame.

Posted by Chris Holmes at 9:00 PM | Comments (9) | Posted to Culture | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 14, 2008

5 Things I Love About Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

In the first of a series of articles where I detail things I love about games in the form of some lists, I decided to take a look at Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for the Nintendo DS.

The game has split opinions in the industry, with some people saying it’s become too easy and doesn’t have as many features as its predecessor (Dual Strike) and others proclaiming it to be a huge leap forward for the series in terms of gameplay and it’s much more mature storyline.

Furthermore, the new online multiplayer has taken centre stage alongside the series’ iconic gameplay. Please remember that I am still fairly new to the series, so don’t bash me if I find something interesting that may have been in the series for a while.

Without further deliberation, here are my top 5 things I love about this game:

1. It is still Advance Wars. When it was first announced that Nintendo wanted to go with a darker and brooding theme for this sequel, I was scared that the gameplay was going to be impacted to compensate for the lack of cute, young characters. However, that same old rock-paper-scissor type of gameplay is still in place and working exceedingly well with the new additions to the game. Even the new units such as the bike snap right in place like Lego.

2. The cutscenes are skippable. The much lauded new story is so bad that it makes Ugly Betty look like Shakespeare. For the purpose of writing this article, I had to endure what can only be described as the most mind-numbing melodrama present in video games to date. Nintendo should realize that making a game’s storyline “dark” does not mean “emo”. Nearly every character you meet has a tale of woe where they reminisce about how they had to survive by hiding under a load of dead bodies, and this gets incredibly depressing after a short while with the game.

3. The online mode is brilliant. My Xbox 360 has fallen off this mortal coil once more due to the incurable red ring of death issue, so thus I have had to rely on this one single game to provide me with all my online needs (I could hardly rely on my Wii, and no one was currently playing online in Wipeout Pulse). This is a pioneering online title for the DS, showing the hardcore audience that the DS can cater to them just as well as the rest. I really enjoyed fighting random people across the vortex of time and space of which we call Earth. What I like about it is that it really thinks about past mistakes games have made in this area, with players that drop out losing points, and rounds are timed so someone can’t leave it for an hour before making a move, for example. Moreover, the map centre is a great addition, allowing you to upload and download custom maps from all over the community.

4. The new map designer. This is the single best innovation of the series, and is accomplished and feature complete to the fullest detail, whilst being a simpler and streamlined experience than the map designer in Dual Strike. Building the maps is a surprisingly therapeutic experience, and to see your creation crop up in the map centre to be played by others all over the world is liberating. Custom content is the future for online gaming, and Days of Ruin is really leading the charge with something so small and simple, yet hugely significant to players.

5. The music. When I initially picked this up, I didn’t expect to be playing to the sounds of an electric guitar coming out of my DS Lite’s little speakers. The DS has generally been detached from such escapades into modern rock, immense classical scores, and haunting melodies, so it is quite refreshing to hear something different. It seems Nintendo agrees with me on this, and thus created an enhanced music player within the options menu, where there are a total of 50 small midi songs to play.

Overall, it’s clear to see that Days of Ruin is an evolution rather than a revolution of the series, and even though the hardcore purists may moan about the lack of modes such as war room and survival, there is no doubt that new and inexperienced players will not feel their loss and make do with the plethora of things to do in the game. The hardcore can now just jump on the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and fight each other, so you could say that is a replacement for the more obscure modes.

Posted by Chris Holmes at 4:30 PM | Comments (4) | Posted to DS | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 13, 2008

Matt Chimes in With His Fave Console of All-Time – The Super NES

An article that Steve posted recently regarding the greatest gaming console of them all has spurred me on to post some thoughts regarding that of my own. Yes siree, the good old Super NES. Please, allow me give you 20 reasons as to why it holds such a crown....

20. It Looked Fab
20-snesbest.jpgWell, the Euro model did at least. A pleasing mixture of smooth, sensual curves married with a fun and harmless toy-like feel, the Super NES was far less industrial next to its peers of the early '90s, and proved simply perfect for kitten-like pawing.

The American model looked ghastly by comparison – purple, blocky and really rather hideous – also marking an ever rare moment where PALers avoided the short end of the stick from Nintendo to boot. The happy times, as I like to think of them. Which promptly ended about five minutes later.

19. Super Mario All-Stars
19-snesbest.jpgIt wasn't enough that the big N invented a plethora of new franchises for this machine – ones that still live on to this day – but they also brought along arguably the very best games from their previous system too. Bundled together, no less.

Via the Super Mario All-Stars compilation, you not only got the original and charming Super Mario Brothers in all its simplistic box nuttin' glory, but also its demented sequel, the startlingly brilliant Super Mario 3, and even the previously unreleased "Lost Levels" collection too. Even cooler? All of the above had been remade to make use of the redonkulously ferocious power of Nintendo's new machine; flat and dull backgrounds were now gorgeously rendered parallax vistas, characters had detail and personality they could never have dreamed of previously, and damn, that vintage SMB music was better than ever also.

The whole thing looked, and indeed sounded amazing, and arguably still does ... which is a relief, seeing how often Nintendo have since whored these games out on every other platform known to man.

18. Japanese RPGs
18-snesbest.jpgNot a huge deal for me personally, but the SNES pretty much single handedly kick-started the relentless world-wide obsession with Eastern RPGs that still refuses to die 18 years on. Not only did it play host to a ton of games from none other than the big bad Final Fantasy saga itself, but also boasted a wealth of additional and much-loved titles that many similarly swear by, such as Breath of Fire, Secret of Evermore, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, Chronotrigger... hell, even good old Paper Mario was conceived here, via its great, great, grand-daddy Super Mario RPG.

Like your Final Fantasy XII? Dig your Lost Odyssey? Can't wait for White Knight Story? Thank the SNES. Chances are you wouldn't be playing 'em without it.

17. The SuperScope
17-snesbest.jpgLaugh all you will, but I for one loved the darn thing. For those not in the know, the SuperScope was the Super NES' answer to the light gun. No simple hand cannon to shoot birds outta the sky with though, this thing was a full-blown bazooka! Literally. You held it on your shoulder, aimed via a side mounted sniper scope, and blew the heck outta your TV as if an 8 year old Schwarzenegger reenacting Commando. Forget that though, I was all about holding it at waist level myself, mowing down bad guys like an AK-wielding Iraqi insurgent.

Sure, there weren't a ton of games released for it at the end of the day (Mole Patrol!), and those too cool for school simply pointed and laughed. But us true believers? AKA those blessed with rich parents? We had the last laugh. The SuperScope rocked. Hard.

16. Pilot Wings
16-snesbest.jpgNintendo's early experiment into the world of (fake) 3D hasn't aged particularly well – hence the lack of screens – and these days could barely be considered a game in all honesty, but at the time? Holy hell.

A flying sim for kids, essentially, your goal was to sore through the sky as everything from a hang glider trying to make it through floating rings, to a sky diver trying to land without going splat. It harnessed the Super NES' crazy new "Mode 7" graphics to render and distort truly massive environments though, fooling your eyes into thinking you were actually there, when in reality, it was doing little more than zooming in and out of flat 2D planes.

As an innocent young whippersnapper, you had no idea about such things though. For all you could tell, it was real. It was amazing. It was frakkin' Pilot Wings. Just don't play it these days if you value your memories.

15. The Sound Chip
15-snesbest.jpgThe Super NES' audio capabilities were flat-out insane, truly incomparable to any other home system at the time. In fact, many still look back upon its sound chip as one of the very best ever heard, with those oh so specific chimes and bllllllings just all-but impossible to emulate these days. Try as Nintendo might, subsequent systems never quite matched up.

This extended to the music, of course, which had a depth and a style to it just leaps and bounds ahead of the bleeps and boings previously associated with gaming, and about as close as you could get to full blown CD quality tunes in them there days. If that wasn't enough, the console's enhanced CPU power (a whopping great 3.58mhz) and its ludicrously insane wad of memory (128k!) made it one of the first to boast extensive use of genuine voice sampling too.

Dying in Alien 3 for the first time to hear Hudson yell, "Game over man!" was enough to melt pre-pubescent hearts.

14. Mortal Kombat
14-snesbest.jpgOne of the earliest victims of video gaming violence/censorship hysteria, Mortal Kombat marked both a high point and a low point for Nintendo's 16-bit age. On the one hand, they opted to remove all blood from the game, ironically ripping out the very heart of what made Kombat so memorable in the first place. Instead, character's emitted "sweat" when you upper-cutted 'em off bridges, and Sub-Zero's infamous spine removal finisher become a depressingly lame ice blast freeze-'n'-shatter. Worst of the bunch was Kano's ramming his hand into his opponent's chest, then pulling out their ominous grey "soul".

Uh huh.

Strangely though, with all the hilarious violence removed, Kombat was forced to rely almost solely on good old fashioned gameplay instead, and as a result? I became mildly obsessed with it. Believe it or not, a fab 2D beat 'em up was buried deep down beneath all the splodgy red paint. Matches were fast, skillful and satisfying, while blocking and specials proved deep enough to give it some surprising tactical value as well.

And cripes, how about them graphics?

The Sega Genesis muppets laughed at us with our sweat covered Rayden merely scorching dudes instead of blowing their heads apart – while they enjoyed full-blown violence and decapitations as the Mortal Kombat gods intended. But hey. You know what, guys? At least our version was playable.

Oh no he didn't...!

13. F-Zero
13-snesbest.jpgA futuristic racer boasting the most insane jolts of adrenaline and sheer sense of speed ever seen in a game, any who played F-Zero fell instantly in love.

For me though, pace, excitement and good old gameplay took a distinct second place to simply the sheer style of the thing. Taking those aforementioned Mode 7 capabilities to the next level, F-Zero was truly stunning to behold. The courses – set high above everything from Blade-Runner style metropolises to massive desert canyons – were 100% epic in every sense of the word. It may look blocky, low-rez, if not down-right ugly these days, but back then ... this was the future. Hitting a jump at the wrong angle and going hurtling over the edge into the great abyss thousands of miles below had never been so much fun.

It didn't hurt that this sucker had officially the best music ever heard in a game either, hinting back once again to the aforementioned killer sound capabilities of this demented beast of a machine. No F-Zero since has touched it; could the Wii perhaps remedy that?

12. Actraiser
12-snesbest.jpgA dinky little bundle of joy most probably never touched, but one that unquestionably marked a genuine highpoint for all games of the pre-CD-ROM era. Actraiser was beautiful, inventive and incredibly rich, in a way seldom seen these days, let alone in 19-bleedin'-93.

A great grandfather to Black & White of sorts, you played a god watching over a typical medieval fantasy land here, but you did so through a variety of different means. On the face of it, it looked like any other old god game, one where villager's needs had to be met and peace constantly maintained as you'd expect. Yet while tending to structures, building houses and leveling forests for the growth of civilization took precedence, evil flying meanies would continually rain down havoc upon your towns, resulting in a constant need to shoot the little mongrels outta the sky with your cupid-like avatar. As a result, Actraiser became the first – and indeed last – god-game-slash-vertical-shooter ever. T'was an ingenious way of intertwining proper action into an otherwise somewhat slow and more thought-provoking genre, and made the hours simply fly by.

But wait. That was barely half the game, as particularly nasty monsters and lairs could only be destroyed by actually traveling down to Earth yourself, taking over a full blown human body, and kicking ass mano a mano. Just like that? The game became a side scrolling beat 'em up, with your sword-wielding Barbarian tearing up enemies like a crazed Conan.

It was truly inspired stuff, full of variety and invention, with no doubt its baseline premise of melding a ton of these different games and genres together proving a blue-print for future such genre-benders for generations to come. As a bonus, it too had the best music ever.

11. Prince of Persia
11-snesbest.jpgQuite simply, the Super NES boasted the greatest Prince rendition of them all. Forget the original PC game. Forget your squillions of ports and sequels. Forget even the recent 3D re-imaginings. Nope, this was the one.

Has there ever been a game quite so atmospheric?

A ludicrously enhanced take on the original, SNES Prince was not only twice as long as its PC counter-part, but also came totally revamped from top to bottom to harness true next-gen sound and visuals on top. The Prince himself looked better than ever, animated and detailed gorgeously enough as to pass for real in those days, but it was the levels themselves that saw the true fruits of the upgrade.

Not content with mere character-less corridors and nondescript platforms here, now we had beautifully extravagant palace interiors and stunningly epic caverns to behold. Exploring the game's every nook and cranny took on a whole other level as a result, one bulking up and adding immeasurably to the otherwise somewhat simplistic trial and error puzzle-based gameplay at its core.

Many cite Flashback and even Another World as the classics of both this genre and system, but as ace as those games indeed were ... Prince was the one for me. Unless I'm mistaken, it too had the best darn music ever.

10. Multiplayer Gaming
10-snesbest.jpgAll the way back to the Atari 2600, home systems have boasted multiplayer of some form, but I'd argue the SNES was the one to truly sculpt it into the work of sheer brilliance it always deserved. From co-op games on Contra III to edge of the seat rivalries with your best buddy in NBA Jam, gaming suddenly sprung to life in a whole new way as a result. Clearly, this was the future of not just consoles, but video gaming as a whole.

Killer Instinct, Zombies ate My Neighbors, Sunset Riders, Smash TV, Turtles in Time...not to mention the various others mentioned on this here list that I'll resist spoilerating for now, all proved alarmingly fun and utterly hysterical with a pal by your side.

But it didn't end there. A copy of Super Bomberman with the oh so sexy Super Multi-tap adapter provided instant 4-player craziness in your very own living room. And you know what? The world would never be the same again.

The SNES brought multiplayer gaming to my life with that in mind, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

9. Super Tennis
9-snesbest.jpgThere's no better example of that than good old Super Tennis in fact. Make no mistake, there'd be no Wii Sports without it.

As an early launch window title that experimented with taking simple, every day games, then sprucing 'em up and re-branding them as home-grown Nintendo titles, Tennis revamped an arguably somewhat dull and lifeless concept into one so full of character, charm, and sheer fun that I'd even go as far as saying was one of the coolest games on the system.

Needless to say, when played with friends – either on the same team, or in cut-throat versus matches – it took on a whole other life of its own. Simply amazing stuff, that's still a blast here in 2008.

8. Super Mario Kart
8-snesbest.jpgAs far as multiplayer titles go, I think few would argue that this was indeed the pinnacle of the SNES' library though ... if not gaming full stop. The original Super Mario Kart was so freakin' mind-blowing in fact, one could argue that in spite of its endless sequels and dreary rip-offs over the years, it took well over an entire decade to finally better it.

Gotta love that DS rendition.

Of course, with Crash Bandicoot, Star Wars, Diddy Kong, and even Mortal Kombat all jumping on the cutesy go-karting spin-off bandwagon in more recent times, the concept as a whole has dropped to depressingly sad at this point. All it takes is one single lap of Mario Circuit 1 to remember just why we all fell for it in the first place though. That's right; pure, adulterated fun.

I love you, Mario Kart.

7. Sim City
7-snesbest.jpgWhat the? What's this doing here? Give it a whirl, non-believer, and you'll soon see.

Sim City marked another fab Nintendo-ization of a comparatively bland game. Don't get me wrong, I was a huge Sim City PC guy, but what Maxis did for its console port is deserving of wedding night bliss.

You still had your residential, commercial and industrial zones to build. You still had to contend with power supplies, traffic, and mass transit systems. You even had earthquakes, fires and Godzillas running rampant around your beloved city. But the whole thing had been blessed with personality at last. There was a nutty professor guiding you through the game now, your citizens regularly blessed you with amazing
(Nintendo-y) gifts, and best of all, Godzilla had been replaced with good old Bowser. More than anything, the sound once again rocked, allowing Sim City to boast, quite possibly, the best music ever.

For those who missed out on it first time around, this title was quite rightly one of the very first SNES games to see its way onto Nintendo's Virtual Console service, and as a result, needs a purchase right now from each and every one of you.

6. Shadowrun
6-snesbest.jpgI mentioned the amazing breadth of Japanese RPGs the SNES played host to earlier, but far more deserving of love in my book was the very American, very futuristic roleplayer calling itself Shadowrun.

Cast all memories of the recent cross-platform FPS from your mind, SNES Shadowrun was a far more divine and stylish works you see. In fact, you could call it Deus Ex before it was even a whisper of an idea in Warren Spector's oh so young head. Fusing cyberpunk grittiness with quasi-real-time combat and an expert conversation system that I've still to see beaten, it holds up wondrously to this very day. Trust me, I'd know; I play it through at least once a year!

Undoubtedly one of the finest RPGs ever made, I still lay awake at night crying over FASA's ill-conceived, 14-year late follow-up. Is redemption on the cards?

5. The Controller
5-snesbest.jpgDiscussing the glorious nature of each and every one of these games and genres, it's easy to forget just what made them all so special in the first place. Yep, the control pad. The sheers guts to chuck positively tons of buttons onto a controller next to the comparatively few seen on all systems previously, is quite possibly the single most important gift the Super NES ever gave to the world of gaming. Without it, you wouldn't have your Xbox pad, your Wavebird ... even your Sixaxis (although some might cheer such a concept). Quite simply, it influenced console gaming forever.

The fact that the SNES pad also proved ever so comfy to hold, looked amazing, and boasted the sweetest D-pad of them all didn't hurt either. Wisely Nintendo trademarked the cross style design itself, resulting in minor alterations on all other pads since as to avoid copyright infringements, none of which have ever thus matched up.

More than anything though? It was all about them triggers. So clicky, they were. Without 'em, Halo would nay exist.

4. Super Street Fighter II
4-snesbest.jpgThe perfect test for that controller in fact, turned out to be this game. What could have been a disastrous home-port of the arcade classic surprised pretty much the entire world as a result, in a pixel-perfect reproduction that might well have been the single, defining title that signified the beginning of the end for arcades as a whole.

I mean heck, now you could get that same hardcore fighting experience in your very own home, and it didn't cost 20 pence a go either. Forget putting on clothes and leaving the house!

Street Fighter II really took console gaming up a notch with that in mind; clearly we were now entering a whole new age. Graphics were arcade-quality, sound was phenomenal, and you had the first real glimpse into just what these machines were gonna be capable of in the coming years.

Incidentally, I remember paying a whopping great £75 for an early import copy back then. Which in them there days ... was about 500 zillion dollars.

3. Star Fox
3-snesbest.jpgIf the laundry list of accomplishments listed above weren't enough, Nintendo managed to dabble in the world of true 3D merely a year or two into the Super NES' lifespan as well. Although blessed with zilcho in the way of polygonal capabilities outta the box, the brilliance of those age-old cartridges meant additional new hardware could be thrown in on a game-by-game basis you see. As a result? The Super FX graphics chip was born.

I guess what one could only compare to perhaps buying a new PC game and having it come with its own built-in 3D card, the Super FX imbued the SNES with incredible new extra-dimensional graphic capabilities. Now it could render full 3D models and even entire games with startling beauty and razor-sharp crispness.

Star Fox proved the first such title to make use of this technology, and seeing it for the first time was to behold a sight unlike any other. Wow. These were actual spaceships. Those were real buildings. You could look around and see an entire bloody city. One could say it practically set every other SNES game back an entire generation by comparison.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Star Fox itself – or Star Wing as us Euros bizarrely called it – was a dynamite game in its own right. A genuine, epic space opera brought to video gaming for the first time. Like the Star Wars game we'd always dreamed of, mixed with a zany, Japanese twist. Crazy talking animals and insanely brilliant gibberish speech brought it all to life particularly well, the latter being a feature in fact, that I wish the subsequent sequels hadn't scrapped ("MY EMPEROR!
I'VE FAILED YOU!!").

Between blazing through asteroid fields, skimming along planet surfaces, and weaving in-between massive space armadas along the fringe of space, it left your jaw-gaping open wide from beginning to end. It's truly odd how successfully Nintendo captured that exquisite, galaxy hopping sci-fi atmosphere in fact, compared to how disgracefully they since fumbled it in all subsequent sequels and systems that followed.

There was a SNES-boundStar Fox 2 incidentally, but it found itself canceled towards the end of development and its better ideas set aside for use in the upcoming N64 sequel. Leaked screens and even half-finished roms of that game litter the internet's seedier corners, but I for one would rather not. No doubt it'd just gimme a lump in the old throat over what could have been ... as opposed to what this series has instead since become.

I have to mention incidentally, that this game has the best music ever.

2. The Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past
2-snesbest.jpgAs we rapidly approach some of the greatest video games ever made, I think few would argue that A Link to the Past deserves a spot in the hall of fame next to just about any other classic on any other system that you could ever possibly imagine.

None of its relentless follow-ups – as highly praised as they all were by pretty much the entire gaming world -–have ever really knocked it off that top perch for me; it's just an ever so rare marriage of sheer perfection right across the board. 100% faultless gameplay. Cartoony, yet timeless graphics. And the music? Quite simply ... the greatest ever heard.

Unforgettable moments. So many housed within one meager game. Waking up to Zelda's cries of pain. Grabbing that lantern and setting off into the rainy night. The death of your uncle before your very eyes. Taking his sword in your hands. Your first spin attack. Beating your first boss. Nabbing the Pegasus boots. Battling Gannon. Saving Zelda. Perfect snapshots from a perfect journey.

Go on. You know you fancy a replay.

1. Super Mario World
1-snesbest.jpgPipping Zelda to the post by all but a hint of a fart though is, understandably, good old Mario himself. Don't feel bad though Link old buddy; it's only the best dang console game ever made.

No I'm serious. It is. I can prove it, in fact. Quite easily.

Just play it.

See?

Super Mario World truly revolutionized what to expect from a video game. No simple platformer like its predecessors, what Nintendo admirably nailed so spectacularly well this time around was the concept of having a huge, gargantuan, and truly enormous world to explore. Split into literally dozens of different areas – including underground caverns, beautiful forests, and lava filled dungeons plucked straight outta hell – Mario felt truly unleashed at last.

Yeah, you still had linear(ish) levels to complete, a central goal to accomplish, and a very clear – if ludicrously long – straight path with which to get there, but you were also free to splinter off and explore to your heart's content if you so desired. And my god, the game sure as hell rewarded you if you did.

The sheer volume of secret passages, hidden levels, even entire unlockable worlds was so ludicrously alien and new, I honestly didn't know half this stuff was even in there 'til years later. I worshiped this game back in its day, you see, but it took a more recent replay via its GBA port – one in which a far older and more experienced Mr. Robinson was able to revisit it with a fresh outlook – to really explore and uncover just how much sheer game it contains. That's a true sign of a title made ahead of its time. It's enormous. It's daunting. It's epic. 96 full-blown levels so.

Of course, Mario 64 went on to define 3D gaming years later, and is thus the one many look back on as the more pivotal and revolutionary title. Fair enough. But make no mistake. The blue-print was forged here. The underlying concept, the wealth of content ... heck, just the pure vision alone? All present and correct. 64 simply made it 3D.

Super Mario World is the ever rare golden oldie that holds up just as well today as the day it was released, if not more so. To replay it here in the new millennium is to see it instantly spring to the top of your fave games of all-time list, and then some. Not only was it the single title to make the Super NES the most important and downright greatest machine of them all – regardless of the wealth of additional classics mentioned above – but that this baby came out on day one of the system's life? Wow. What a stark and alien concept next to more recent console launches.

SEGA were cool. I love my 360. And I hope Sony aren't destined for doom as many have trumpeted these last few years. Ya know what, though? Compiling this list, I've come to the conclusion that deep, deep down ... ignoring swishy next-gen graphics and HD-TVs ... with age and "wisdom" and jaded cynicism aside ... I'll always be a Nintendo guy above all else.

Do a barrel roll!

Posted by Matt Robinson at 10:30 AM | Comments (23) | Posted to Classic | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 12, 2008

What Constitutes A True "Murder Simulator"?

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As Grand Theft Auto IV approaches release everyone’s favorite lawyer, Jack Thompson, has made his usual unspecified legal threats against the release of the game. In these threats he once again refers to any Grand Theft Auto game as a “murder simulator."

I’ve been working with simulator programs for the US Army for about six years now, which I believe makes me an expert on exactly what a simulator is, what a simulation does, and the goals of these simulators. Comparing these simulators to GTA it cannot in truth be called either a “murder simulator" or a “murder simulation" in any sense.

"Simulators" are devices used to mimic the actions and functions of a real thing, a real situation, or both. A flight simulator will typically have a mock-up of the interior of the aircraft being trained, and usually involves some sort of realistic motion. This is because they need the skills in the simulator to map to the actual skills being trained, including certain motor skills when finding and adjusting instruments.

With this in mind, what kind of simulator would be a "murder simulator"? Something which actually put you within the role both physically and mentally to become a murder? First and foremost to learn the role of the murderer, you would have to have a life-sized, anthropomorphic dummy that would react like the human being murdered. Another way is to simulate the weapon with realism, but use a trained human to portray the victim. A third way is to simulate the murdered person using an accurate "human analog" – you need look no further than some of the more elaborate humanoid representations on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Mythbusters where they often use dead pigs to simulate the size, weight, and reaction of human body.

Looking at these basic requirements to create an accurate simulator, the games GTA, Crackdown, or Saint’s Row are definitely not simulators, let alone murder simulators.

"Simulations", on the other hand, only attempt to demonstrate how devices and/or situations are realistically. Simulations are best thought of computer programs and software. Our sandbox gang-related games are definitely software, very complex software. Simulations also tend to be very specific.

Gran Turismo is a driving simulation, with its primary focus being realistic handling of licensed car models on realistic terrain. In this respect, Gran Turismo games are simulations with a ton of game elements added on so that doesn't become too boring.

How well does GTA simulate murder? Just even a cursory look can see how GTA fails this test:

  1. Everything is presented via a 3rd person view, meaning you are “outside" of your avatar.
  2. The weapons auto-load and auto-aim.
  3. The computer people mostly walk and drive around aimlessly and helplessly in the shadiest parts of town.
  4. The computer people don’t fall down until they are killed or act in a realistic manner when attacked.
  5. The bodies disappear and respawn — hardly like murder if they keep coming back to life.

Our "gang games" mentioned above do not even represent murder, but rather a cartoony environment where you have all the time in the world to take on the tasks built into the game to entertain the player.

It’s not just unfair to call Grand Theft Auto a “murder simulator," it is laughably incorrect. It is best described as a fantasy world and can't even be classified under the more forgiving "murder simulation". Aside from all of the inaccurate ways it handles violence, the physics are only barely related to the real world, the psychology of the computer people is totally wrong, and apparently gang members are infinitely patient with no concept of time at all – the sun always shines in video games. Even the "realistic" graphics in GTA are cartoony at best, and if translated into the real world, we’d all be plastic and look like the Burger King.

However, all of the games that have kill-or-be-killed type plots or actions are rated "M" for Mature by the ESRB and intended for ages 17+. These are games which aren’t made for children or marketed for children. Though not murder simulators in any understanding of the phrase, the animated violence is generally considered inappropriate for young children, just like cinematic violence is rated "R" for ages 17+ in the movies. Young children simply cannot separate fantasy from reality very well, and may overreact or misunderstand any medium, not just video games.

In the end, games cannot be labeled "murder simulators," but fantasy violence or any other mature theme depicted in games can be difficult or confusing to children. Depending on the individual child, even seemingly simple topics can be scary, like deers escaping from a fire in Bambi, virtual pets getting sick in Neopets, or believing that little Pikmin are infesting the nooks and crannies of their house.

Ultimately, it is the job of parents to watch, monitor, and participate in what their kids see and play and be there for the child when a they have questions, and understand that kids don’t always comprehend situations in the same way as adults.

Posted by Robert Gauss at 11:15 AM | Comments (8) | Posted to Culture | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 5, 2008

Top 10 Funniest Video Game Humor Websites

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Over the years video games as a medium have become a larger and larger force, soon infiltrating nearly all aspects of our popular culture. Video games were soon poked fun at on late night talk shows, various sitcoms, and nearly any movie that contains the titular "hacker nerd". But being so involved with video games we "hardcore" gamers have multiple outlets of our own self referential video game humor. Our complex and multi-layered games are ripe for satire in the form of comics, videos, podcasts, and written word.

Here's my list of the top 10 funniest places for video game humor on the web. Also, because humor is so subjective I'm not going to rank these in any specific order, especially since at times one can easily be funnier than another.

Sarcastic GamerSarcastic Gamer
http://sarcasticgamer.com/wp/
With a good singing voice, excellent musical talent, and spot on writing, Sarcastic Gamer is home to the best in Video Game musical parody. From the overwhelming hype of Halo 3, to the dearth of games available to the PS3 (written in early 2007), and the terrifying sight of the Red Ring of Death, Sarcastic Gamer is easily on par with artists like Weird Al. Sarcastic Gamer is also home to other great humor, including their recent lampooning of a Facebook page as a terrorist from Call of Duty 4, to their deft mockery of Microsoft's "Surface". Also check out their great weekly podcast.

Mega64Mega64
http://www.mega64.com/
How good do you have to be to land a commercial for Spike TVs Video Game Awards where you get to point out how terrible they are? Apparently this good. Mega64 is probably best known for the various reenactments of video game characters in real life. Whether it's the Resident Evil 4 shop keeper pushing his merch in a strip mall, or the real life Mario Bros. meeting their creator, Mega64 is simply one of the best in video game humor.

Sony Defense ForceSony Defense Force
http://www.sonydefenseforce.com/
Fanboys are certainly an annoying and incurable plague on all of gamerdom, but at least their ripe for parody. The Sony Defense Force acts rather like a political pundit, seeing only the good of their "side" and only the "bad" of the other, always to ridiculous extremes. At times you can almost believe the website is actually taking itself seriously (like the depressing majority of those who post and agree with their articles), but some digging by PS3Tag.com shows the owner of SDF is also the owner of Wii60.com, making it pretty obvious what the websites intent is. Especially hilarious are their reviews of Super Mario Galaxy (1/10), BioShock (5/10 - needs the power of Blu-Ray), and Ratchet and Clank Future (10.5/10).

Red vs BlueRed vs. Blue
http://rvb.roosterteeth.com/home.php
The kings of Machinima, Red vs. Blue has turned the art form into a legitimate business proposition, with DVD's, promotional videos, and a bit part in Halo 3 and this all spawned from their incredibly funny episodes placed in the Halo universe. I'm not even a huge Halo fan, but these guys deliver consistently hilarious content, whatever it is their doing. I just hope a series set in Team Fortress 2 or the Half Life universe is in their future, especially since the G-Mod would make it so easy.

gfwradioShawn Elliot
http://www.1up.com/do/minisite?cId=3148397
Unless you've listened to the Games for Windows Podcast, you have probably never heard of this guy. Well I suggest you give a listen to the the January 23 podcast to hear of his hilarious travels through Second Life to understand his genius (warning: it's Second Life, so it is extremely not safe for work, or kids, or the easily offended). Shawn Elliot has also perfected the art of griefing, though probably not the kind you normally think of. Rather than just cheat and attempt to ruin the game for other players, Shawn creates hilarious characters and gets equally hilarious reactions out of the other oblivious players. Here's one that took place in Team Fortress 2.

JoystiqJoystiq Comic Wrap Up
http://www.joystiq.com/tag/webcomic
You can call if a cop out if you want, but this is the best way to get in everyone of the great video game comics you can find on the web on my list. Whether you love VG Catz, PVP Online, Dueling Analogs, or Digital Unrest, all you favorites appear here from time to time. This is also a great place to discover smaller and less well known comics, and for truly inspiring comics to get a spot in the limelight.

SeanbabySeanBaby
http://www.seanbaby.com/
Perhaps the best reason to subscribe to EGM, SeanBaby's hysterical monthly column, The Rest of the Crap, about the worst games (and sometimes their movies) is easily the funniest. Having reviewed the worst in gaming on his own website for quite some time, no one is better suited to describing the pain and suffering of having to play something like Spy Muppets - License to Croak. With incredible wit and painfully hilarious reviews, I'll never end my subscription to EGM so long as he's writing his article.

Penny ArcadePenny Arcade
http://www.penny-arcade.com/
Everyone has their favorite webcomic out their, and while it may be the most well known, I simply can't leave out the genius duo over at Penny Arcade. Not only is their webcomic one of, if not the best around, Penny Arcade also has the funniest gaming podcast (also one of the most inconsistently updated), the largest Video Game convention in America, and their own video game in development. Penny Arcade also creates some of the most witty non-video game related humor as well, proving their superb handling of all that is funny.

Video Game ArticleVideo Game Article
http://www.somethingawful.com/d/video-game-article/
Somethingawful.com's well known Photoshops are no where near their best source of video game hilarity. The side-splitting bi-weekly Video Game Article has some of the most witty, hysterical, and dead on video game humor I've found on the Internet. I've read Video Game Article since the very beginning and have never found one of them not to be absolutely hilarious. With a wide ranging style, from strategy guides, to in game parodies, to the fantastically accurate one sentence reviews. Video Game Article back catalog is easily worth looking into.

Zero PunctuationZero Punctuation
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/ view/editorials/zeropunctuation
The video game humor sensation that has swept the nation (or maybe just the blogosphere), Yahtzee's fast talking, furiously honest, and uproariously funny video reviews have quickly become a mainstay of Wednesday afternoons. With his normally negative attitude towards the big name releases, Yahtzee is also a perfect foil to figure out how well a game can stand up to extensive review (the only game he couldn't criticize was Portal after all). Even if he hates the game you prize above all else, you'll still find his rantings hilarious.

Also hilarious:

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 3:00 PM | Comments (15) | Posted to Culture | Feature |  Add this story to del.icio.us  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 25, 2008

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 16, 2008

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 11, 2008

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!