Semi-informed tech ramblings, tons of gaming, and more acronyms than you can shake a stick at.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Decline and Fall of the Sony Empire

Amazing. Every time you think a higher-up at Sony can't say anything dumber, or more arrogant, than a statement like "$600 for this console is a bargain", they get interviewed again.

This time the issue was the availability- or not- of launch titles. With most of them getting pushed back to '07, is there a chance that the lack of games to play on a 600 dollar system will hurt Sony's chances? No way, says Sony Computer Entertainment Europe CEO David Reeves. Via 1up:

"We have built up a certain brand equity over time since the launch of PlayStation in 1995 and PS2 in 2000 that the first five million are going to buy it, whatever it is, even it didn't have games," Reeves told Computer and Video Games in an interview.


Nice. Sony admits that it could package golden dingo dung and ship 5 million units because they slapped their name on it. Problem is, is that really true anymore? Will gamers really respond to this "let them eat cake" anti-marketing?

Monday, May 22, 2006

This Week's Games

2006 FIFA World Cup (PSP)
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis (XBOX360)
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition (PC)
Field Commander (PSP)
Heroes of Might and Magic V (PC)
Jaws Unleashed (XBOX, PS2)
Lemmings (PSP)
Monster Hunter Freedom (PSP)
Puzzle Challenge: Crosswords & More! (PSP, PS2)
Rogue Trooper
(PC,XBOX,PS2)
Steambot Chronicles (PS2)
Teen Titans (GCN, PS2)

Nothing too terribly exciting this week, which is fine since I'm taking time off from Oblivion to play any 360 games I missed and continue grinding away with my shiny new Warlock alt in WoW. Table Tennis looks... like table tennis, which I assume is the idea. Field Commander is so close the Advance Wars I'm almost tempted to file the lawsuit myself, just to have something to do. The Jaws game was at last year's E3, and it was semi-entertaining. The idea of playing the shark and eating everyone you can is not without it's appeal, to be sure.

The PSP is also getting Monster Hunter Freedom and FIFA 06. FIFA looks nice and promises cutting edge load times and shitty emo music courtesy of EA's overworked/underpaid music scouts. Monster Hunter has been universally trashed by reviewers and looks to be an "avoid at all costs" clunker.

Friday, May 19, 2006

OMFG: Tier 3 Armor Sets

The "official" guide to the Tier 3 epic armor set for WoW, complete with item stats. Whoa. The armor and stats on these sets are insane, which is good since they're going to be difficult to get for quite some time. They're coming in patch 1.11. Of course, the new instance's difficulty level is supposed to dwarf AQ 40's, which means it's gonna be damn hard.

One interesting point on the armor sets- no resistances. Some have speculated this is for the benefit of PVP. The resistances in the patch- namely frost, required for Naxx- comes on the new player built items.

You can start drooling right about here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

1UP's Best of E3

You know what's missing from the internet? E3 coverage. And best of lists. I passed over Next Generation's best of page because I thought it was, well, stupid. 1UP's is more comprehensive and entertaining and offers the best cross-section of everything at the show.

The game of the show went to Spore, with Mass Effect, Assassins' Creed, Gears of War, and Quake Wars in the runners-up.

They've got a slew of categories and a purdy presentation, so go check it out.

1UP's BEST OF E3

Kaplan on the Burning Crusade

Lead designer Jeff Kaplan gave an interview to Gamespot discussing The Burning Crusade. Some talk about the new alliance and horde races, as well as more detail on the jewelcrafting profession and socketed items. He also discusses the size of Outland, the new continent accessible through the Dark Portal, and the dispersion of the population into that realm. And yes, the flying mounts.

Anyone that's played the game recently can attest to the growing swarm of level 60s running around everywhere. The Burning Crusade is coming at a point where those players have almost hit critical mass in the existing universe- Molten Core has been taken down by every major guild, as has Zul Gurub, and Blackwing Lair is being pounded on daily. AQ 40 remains formidable, and the upcoming instance in patch 1.11- with it's Tier 3 epic armor sets- should keep everyone busy for a couple months. But the time to expand is definetly upon us. I've been waiting almost a year to yell "DING! 61" in general chat, and I know I'm not alone.

The whole interview is right here.

Taste Takes a Holiday

I'm always wary of developers that release "controversial" games with the defense of "promoting a dialogue". From suicide bomber games to Postal, the "dialogue" defense is often used as a cheap facade by publicity whores. Give Rockstar credit for this, at least- they've never pretended that Grand Theft Auto was anything else but what it is.

Whether or not Super Columbine Massacre RPG falls into this category is, I suppose, up for debtate. Maybe it really was made as an ironic discussion piece (since, after all, videogames shared some of the blame for the tragedy), but I don't know. The bottom line is, with games already taking more than enough flack for the corruption of youth, games like this hardly bring positive attention to the community. But, of course, making a game called Holocaust Action Adventure will get you on the news, where making a quality independent title like Darwinia will not.

From the article in Next Generation:

Although the game has been online for many weeks, and well covered in the gaming press, it's suddenly making news. Some relatives of victims have expressed their disgust at the game, although others have welcomed its attempts to highlight some of the issues surrounding the 1999 shootings in which Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 12 classmates and a teacher before committing suicide.

Columbin told Rocky Mountain News that the game is designed "to promote a real dialogue on the subject of school shootings." He added, "I was a bullied kid. I didn't fit in, and I was surrounded by a culture of elitism as espoused by our school's athletes."

Richard Castaldo was paralyzed from the chest down in the attack. His view on the game? "Parts of it were difficult to play, but overall, I get the feeling it might even be helpful in some ways. I don't think it's bad to discuss."

Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Daniel, was killed in the attack said, "It disgusts me. You trivialize the actions of two murderers and the lives of the innocent."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

HDTV Buyer's Guide

Buying an HDTV can be confusing, to put it lightly. To put it... heavily, it can be a huge pain in the ass. Different resolutions, terminology, etc. etc. can make even the usually tech-savvy consumer go blank.

Found a good guide to get started with at Bright & Sleek, and another solid one from Sound & Vision Magazine . Take a gander.

If you're running a next gen system- or thinking of buying one- you absolutely have to own an HDTV to get anything close to the best experience possible. The difference in gaming is huge.

Viva Vivendi

Vivendi Games, parent company of Blizzard Money Printers, released their first quarter earnings today. Up 109% from Q1 last year. Now, I'm no economist, but that sounds like a solid performance. The earnings are due almost entirely to World of Warcraft which, as it turns out, is insanely successful. Who knew? Oh, right. Everyone.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

April Industry Numbers Rosy

The NPD group just released it's figures for April. Bottom line- a 15.5 percent increase in software sales over last year. The industry as a whole is off from last year's numbers: $1.597 billion this year vs. $1.654 billion last year.

PS2 software sales picked up from their downward trend, due almost entirely to Kingdom Hearts 2, and sales of the 360 have been steady at 300,000 per month.

From the horse's mouth:

NPD analyst Anita Frazier told Next-Gen.Biz that she expected the recovery to be more gradual than the April figures indicated. She attributed the improvement to greater availability of Xbox 360 hardware as well as "the outstanding performance of Kingdom Hearts II on PS2 and GRAW on 360."


Whole article is right here.

Review Roundup: New Super Mario Bros.

Release day! Whoo! Two releases put up on EB today- MLB 2k6 for the Gamecube, of all things, and the highly rated, eagerly anticpated New Super Mario Brothers for the DS. Ignoring MLB 2k6, because who cares, let's look at the SMB coverage.

From IGN, heaps of praise culminating in a 9.5 score:

"This game marks a brilliant return to Mario's side-scrolling environments, with a look, feel, and play that feels unbelievably classic, with new elements that do a fantastic job advancing the design."


1up.com gave it a very respectable 8.6/10, but was more restrained in their praise and vocal in their displeasure at the game's lack of innovation, saying:

"For the most part, NSMB lacks that inspiration, the ability to defy your expectations and make you gasp in surprise... Nintendo has taken a weirdly conservative approach to NSMB, stepping back from the quirkiness of Super Mario Sunshine to provide a game everyone can enjoy. But in the process, they've undermined Mario's tradition of innovation."


And finally, Gamespot says... nothing. We can assume that they'll give it an 8. Since, you know, they give everything they like an 8 and everything else a 6.5.

So go out and buy it. Shame the DS Lite didn't drop along with it, but oh well.

Back in Black

I use my iBook for everything, and I love it dearly. It wasn't perfect out of the box- sure, I had to throw another gig of RAM in it to get it to run WoW effectively, but no big deal. I've had it for almost 2 years now, and it looks like it might finally be time to retire the old boy.

Sadly, I was unimpressed with the integrated graphics setup- I was hoping to see an ATI Mobility 64 meg card. But I would imagine that's one of the reasons for the Intel partnership, as well as the somewhat reasonable price.

Witness: The Spankin' New Macbook

Monday, May 15, 2006

Spore Stuff

One game I neglected to mention in the E3 posts due to my sensory overload was Will Wright's Spore. Having graced the cover of a recent Wired and interviewed with every gaming site on the planet, there's no chance of this game being underexposed.

Via Digg, Totalspore.com's E3 coverage. The game will be on the PC as well as gracing all the consoles, and that's a good thing, as it looks fantastic and Will Wright is the Da Vinci of the gaming world. No, that doesn't mean he puts incindiary info about You-Know-Who in his games, it means he's a genius.

Next-Gen Blues?

When the big 3 announced their respective consoles for this generation way back when there, it was impossible not to be impressed by what was under the hoods. Multi-cored processors, graphics cards loaded with video RAM, the ability to connect to almost any media peripheral you could throw at them... the list goes on and on. There’s no doubt the technological leap was real- more than a matter of increasing polygon counts and tacking on another hundred yards to the draw distance.

But these treats came with a trick, and the trick was that to utilize these shiny features required serious development. More money, more time, more everything. Projected game budgets began creeping up, and some people worried that only the EAs of the world would be able to effectively hawk their wares. Similar to the Hollywood studio system in many respects already, this generation pushed them in that direction harder than ever. Gamers worried that, like movies, games would become total committee projects. Why make something as unique as Ico and take a chance that you wouldn’t recoup the budget, when Madden 2008 is ready to go, with a target audience already built into the packaging? Sure, the reward might be higher- to go back to the movie metaphor, there could always be a Blair Witch Project or My Big Fat Greek Wedding- but the risk is so much greater. Whereas, of course, Spiderman 3 would clean up no matter what happens.

I’m generally optomistic about the future of console & PC gaming. I think that, to some degree at least, gaming companies have seen the decline in film’s fortunes and noted the causes of that dropoff- a main one being the quality of the product. There comes a point when people just stop giving a shit about being trapped with Robin Williams in an RV, or watching Ice Cube take his family to wherever the hell they were going in Are we there yet?, or following yet another Rob Schnider “I’m a dumb as hell underdog” crapfest. The prices of the tickets have gone up, while the quality has gone the complete opposite direction. Which is down.

So it’s a reasonable concern that the game prices will go up, the core players in the market will eventually monopolize any intellectual properties worth snapping up, and we’ll all be stuck buying Sam Fischer’s Cart Racing for our Nintenbox 720.

That said, at this point in this gen’s lifecycle, I’m satisfied. Sure, there have been some clunkers, but the good thing about these high prices is that it forces people to do some modicum of research into what they’re buying, and if it sucks, it stays on the shelf. Anyone remember Enter the Matrix? Oh, right, you didn’t buy it. Me neither. Probably for the same reason- you read it was shit, heard it was shit, or played it at an EB and saw for yourself that it was shit. Or all three. Gamers do a much better job of separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to building their libraries or choosing their entertainment. There’s also no exclusivity time- there’s no window in which you have to buy the came to play it (as with movies in their theater runs). It’s out for rent when it’s out to buy. It’s up at demo stations in every retail store. You’ve got ample opportunity to try before you buy.

Thus, as I take time to write this after a session of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, before I head out to Obvlivion, and while checking my World of Warcraft guild's website for the time of our next raid, I’m a happy man. E3 further bolstered my belief that there are too many talented people doing too much great work for videogaming to go into the Downward MovieSpiral anytime soon.

Monday Time Killers

You may have already seen the premier "game" listed on this mini-directory of clever time-wasters, Falling Sand. The name pretty much sums up the whole thing, but don't be dissuaded from trying it out- it's actually a very elegant experience, and the things you can do with it are literally endless.

There's about a dozen other webgems listed on the page, some better than others, but each one guaranteed to waste at least 5 minutes of an already wasted day.

Enjoy, from Web Zen.

I am the Keymaster


Overlooked in most coverage for patch 1.11 in WoW is the addition of something gamers have been clamoring for since, well, forever. Yes... the KEYRING! No longer will 8 different keys take up 8 of your precious bag slots! No longer will you, having made space in said bags by leaving keys in the bank, find yourself stuck outside Scarlet Strat because you forgot to bring that damn Crimson Key!

Yes, I have pictures, straight stolen from wowguru.com, who straight stole them from a Chinese WoW site. Why do the Chinese have access to this zaniness? If I bothered to do the research, I'd let you know. But I haven't, and I won't.

Drool for the keyring... drool...

Nintendo Shares Up

From the BBC:

"Nintendo shares have soared after its new console stole the show at the E3 games expo in Los Angeles.

The Wii (pronounced "we") grabbed attention with its controller based on motion sensors rather than buttons.

The positive reaction, coupled with news that it will hit the shops before Christmas to compete with the Sony PlayStation 3, encouraged investors.

Nintendo shares climbed 6.2% to 19,710 yen having gone as high as 19,890 yen - its highest level since April 2002."


19,710 yen... that's like, I don't know, fifty bucks? Maybe? Regardless, they're reaping the financial benefits on their strong showing at E3. Still no news on the price point- they speculate between 200 and 300, just like everyone else in the world. Of course I'd like to see it drop at 199- and, considering that the 360 will most likely drop 100 by the time Wii launces, it's completely possible.

Wii shall see. God, I crack myself up sometimes.

Full article here.

NCsoft Fights For Their Right to Party

I alluded to the NCsoft booth in one of the e3 posts, basically saying that Tabula Rasa may have been a dog or a masterpiece, but that the fire eating strippers and rock band on the stage in front of the screen made me lean towards the latter. You hear that, PR teams? Fire eating strippers = good impression. I'll let you jot that down before I continue. Got it? Cool.

While I was more than happy to watch intimidating women twirl spears of fire around metal bikinis for thirty minutes, apparently other e3 business attendees weren't too tickled by the NCsoft Circus. Namely Sega, who apparently monitored their adjacent booth-buddies with decibel readers and were none to pleased with the result.

Bottom line is, NCsoft seems to be considering a playing Slamdance to E3's Sundance. Says NCsoft VP of strategic development Fred Schmidt:

"We're not sure we're on the same plane with this organization… We have been harassed for three days straight, and I'm not sure we're coming back here, but we are going to have a party next year--real near here--and we hope you all will come."


He then went on to say "So suck it, mom and dad. We're totally getting our own place". Crazy.

You can read the whole article at Gamespot here.

WoW Insider's Breakfast Topic: Favorite Fight

Good topic this morning over at wowinsider- favorite fight in WoW. They mention the last section of Zul Farrak (Divine-o-Matic), where you get swarmed at the top of the temple steps for about half an hour and, even after beating the bad guys, have the guys that you went to recover turn on you. Good stuff.

As for my personal favorites, a couple stand out in my mind. I'll throw my top 3 out there, in no particular order:

1. Van Cleef

Maybe it's the sentimental value, but the first instance in the game still stands out in my mind as one of the greats. It was early on the game, before level 60s were running twinks through it every two minutes, and our first runs were total disasters. No one knew how to play their class, the paladin ended up playing about four roles for the group (those were the days...), and the whole event basically turned into a fiasco. Nontheless, it was all worth it once we got to the pirate ship in the cove and uttered a collective "whoa". Finally taking down Van Cleef, the first real challenge of the game, was immensely satisfying.

2. Onyxia / Vael

My first 40-man boss kill, the Onyxia encounter was nothing short of awesome. The size of the mob, the controlled anarchy of the fight plan... the whole battle really is a rush. I put the Vael encounter in here as well because the fights are similar in their intensity and, obviously, both involve dragonkin. The scripting in the Vael encounter is especially cool, and the incessant wiping that was done before her demise made the victory all the sweeter.

3. Baron Rivendare

I still think that the Baron Run is the best designed instance romp in the game. Beatable while still maintaining a bit of a challenge (especially now, with the 5-man cap), the Baron fight and the bosses leading up to him are just pure fun. Not to mention the fact that the whole thing can be done in less than an hour which, in WoW time, is almost nothing. Good loot, good graphics and effects, and a nice sense of accomplishment.