Last month the Dreamcast turned 14 years old. Allow me to reminisce a bit.
stories by Jason Almenas
Grand Theft Auto V Takes the Industry by Storm
After years of hype, and delays and I'm sure a death threat or two, Phil Fish's magnum opus, Fez is finally upon us. Having never seen the game in motion, I really didn’t know what to make of Fez before I started it.
Call of Duty is as close to an eSport as you can get in the gaming community. A new season comes around every year, and for the most part, the rules stay the same, and everyone just tries to get better. People win, people lose, and according to what I hear, everyone has slept with everyone else’s mother; just like the NBA.
While the Kinect has been a huge success in the West, it’s failed to capture the attention of the gaming masses in Japan. After a rough start with only 26,000 units sold in its first week on shelves, the camera peripheral managed to hit just 90,000 sales by the end of the year. Microsoft has at least acknowledged the struggle; saying sales have failed to meet internal expectations – according to Takashi Sensui, general manager of being obvious and Interactive Entertainment Business. This is indicative of how the Xbox brand has been received as a whole in Japan. The original Xbox was famously ignored by much of the video game population and went on to sell only some 500,000 units in total. The Xbox 360 has not done that much better with just 1.5 million units old in the five and a half years it’s been on shelves. This has led to a lot of talk of Microsoft cutting their loses and phasing out the Xbox in Japan. Despite what’s been said, Microsoft remains adamant that Xbox 360 is staying put, much to the chagrin of store owners everywhere. Microsoft recognized that it’s been an uphill battle but seem undeterred in trying to make headway in the console race there even if it’s the last thing gamers want. Microsoft is banking on Kinect games based on familiar IP to appeal to core Japanese gamers. Unless the familiar IP is La Blue Girl, I don’t see Microsoft standing when when the smoke clears and tallies are taken. Microsoft has proven that you can flat out lose an entire territory in this console war but still be successful in the end. Some people believe they should take that consolation prize and run.
EA really wants a billion dollar a year digital business. After shelling out $750 million for the digital savant PopCap to bolster their lineup, EA has announced plans to fleece $25 or (2000 Microsoft Points) from the hardest of the hardcore sports fans; those diehard enthusiasts that just can’t live without Madden for a few more days. Players can send EA $25 and become an EA Sports Season Ticket members, which grants access to participating games three whole days in advance via digital download; as well as a 20% discount on future DLC, a membership badge that shows up on your EA profile (we have those?), and the crown jewel in every marketing meeting – the very vague “free web content." Keep in mind you’ll still have to trek out to the store if you want a physical copy of the game; which you will undoubtedly be doing since the digital copy you downloaded will lock once the game is released to the public. And that tantalizing free web content? It can be anything EA deems fit, so I hope you’re excited for behind the scenes footage of John Madden on his porch, yelling play by plays to passing cars. Other than Madden, which is an obvious choice, members can reap the benefits of early access and discounted DLC for EA’s other sports franchises like FIFA, NHL, Tiger Woods, and NCAA. Lastly, in another obvious move, EA has named Gamestop their exclusive partner for the roll out of their new endeavor to be a digital king. If you recall, EA was one of the first – if not the first – company to employ the almost now standard $10 program; where customers that buy a used game get beheaded have to pay an extra $10 to access online multiplayer. If EA Sports Season Ticket is a success, I can expect to see other companies jumping on board with their games; regardless of not having a cohesive suite of games to include. The EA Sports Season Ticket program will begin this year and will probably go on forever, so expect to hear about it from EA during the next few E3s.
Reports are coming in that the president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata has cut his salary in half in light of posting a net loss of $324 million yesterday. This, coupled with the Nintendo 3DS dropping in price from $249.99 to $169.99, indicates Nintendo seems to be buckling down for some rocky times ahead. Poor sales of the 3DS are most likely the major culprit here. Nintendo, for what it’s worth, is trying to right their wrongs. To quell a potential uproar by early adopters, they have created what they’re calling the Ambassador Program. With this program, anyone who bought the system before the price drop receives ten free Virtual Console games on September 1st, with another ten promised by the end of the year. The only catch is that you have to navigate their eShop to get them.
After playing the Sonic Generations demo for the 40th time, I began to think about the Sonic franchise and it’s meteoric rise and epic fall from grace in the industry. I credit Sonic, Sega, and the Genesis system for making me the hardcore gamer I am today. Of course, I had game systems before the Genesis but they weren’t exactly mine. I played the family Atari and my older brother's Nintendo. The Genesis though, that was all mine. It came packed with Sonic the Hedgehog and when I first popped in the cartridge, I remember thinking – no – knowing that this was something altogether different. The Badniks felt almost life-size, the cacophony of sound that came out of my television was surreal; and how about that “waiting” animation Sonic performed when I let the controller sit for too long? All were, at the time, utterly mind blowing. What made Sonic such a compelling game back in the 16-bit era was not just the speed the game moved at. Sonic games were great because the amount of exploration the levels offered for a platformer were at the time, rivaled only by Super Mario World. Sure, running through them like a hedgehog out of hell was fun; but the option to stop, let Sonic catch a breath, and explore or backtrack in the world for a hidden Special Ring or Goal Post for bonuses was half the fun. That exploration is what’s been missing from Sonic games since Sonic Adventure came out for the Dreamcast. Don’t get me wrong, Sonic Adventure was well received, but that probably had more to do with the the shiny new Dreamcast than the actual game. Ever since Sonic travelled into the 3D realm, the Sonic Team has thought it wise to remove exploration from the franchise. I’m not entirely sure who thinks the racetrack levels are good, but they’re not; they’re actually sort of terrible. For reasons, the Sonic Team seems to think that improving Sonic simply means "make him go faster". The poor guy has been running for the last ten years at top speed with no where to go. Let’s pretend the first ten years were like the last, where all you did was simply press forward until you hit the finish line. Forget about finding hidden Special Rings, forget about branching paths within levels, and forget about the excitement of finding just enough rings to turn into Super Sonic. It would be transformed into the monotonous activity of running forward until you turned gold, only to then fly forward even faster. If that sounds exciting to you, then you’re in luck; Sega has a catalog of recent Sonic games you're going to love. For everyone else that grew up on 16-Bit Sonic; Sonic Generation might just redeem the franchise. From what I've played, the game looks like it will finally give the blue dude with a ‘tude (sorry, before I wrote this up, I bet myself I couldn’t work that into a sentence; I won) somewhere to go. I can ignore the contrived reasoning behind two Sonics in my game because Sega looks like they finally have the level designs right. They go up, they go down, they let you backtrack a bit for hidden rings and power ups. This is literally the most excited I’ve been in years about collecting rings. That is as sad as it sounds, but I don’t care because as a Sonic fan I’ve been put through the wringer for the Blue Blur (yup, again) and it looks like I can finally hold my head high. Keep in mind, the disclaimer here is that the demo showed off only the 2D side of Sonic; but contrary to popular belief those same "press forward pitfalls" have tainted the last portable 2D Sonic games also. This is still a marked improvement over those; and in my opinion, I can forgive some bland 3D level design if the rest of the 2D gameplay is solid (I’m all about baby steps). If you’re wondering, I’m purposely avoiding anything about Werehogs, Excalibur swords and Evil Hedgehogs with guns. As bad as those ideas are, they’re not the most egregious offense Sonic Team has made with the franchise. Of course, I haven’t played the full game yet and knowing how Sonic Team likes to throw dirt in a perfectly good martini, there is always reason to worry. This is just my opinion from playing the demo over, and over again, but it seems like Sonic Team finally got it right.
EA is no stranger to buying companies whose acquisition may be a benefit in the long run. In the last ten years they’ve managed to purchase no less than 21 different developers; ranging from small mobile teams to well established franchise carrying companies. EA has bought more companies in the last decade than you’ve probably bought pants. You can add another notch to the belt now that EA recently announced they are buying PopCap for a whopping $750 million. This is a big move by EA, who is looking to bolster their digital presence in the light of Facebook games taking off and casual touch games becoming more and more popular. So what does $750 million buy EA? Some really respectable games actually, Peggle and their smug little Unicorn for starters. Everyone's favorite gem-murdering sim Bejewelled and the historically accurate Zuma come along with it. As if that weren't enough, there is also the biggest PopCap release to date – the award winning Plants Vs. Zombies; which has made over $1 million from the iOS version alone. While EA is gaining plenty with this acquisition, PopCap is getting quite a bit of money in exchange; and with more promised in the long run. The deal has EA paying $650 million in cash as well as $100 million in shares of EA common stock to select PopCap employees – with another $550 million promised if PopCap can meet their earnings target by 2013. Altogether, the deal has PopCap potentially earning $1.3 billion. Time will tell if acquiring PopCap will prove to be as lucrative as EA hopes, but all signs point to yes.
I wake up at 7:00 a.m. every day and brush my teeth like everyone else. I put my pants on one leg at a time just like you, but this next part is where we differ.
On the Weekend Confirmed podcast last week Garnett Lee and Jeff Cannata briefly talked about summer droughts and how it allows them to tackle their pile of shame. That’s exactly the reason why I love summer droughts. Like many gamers, I find it hard to keep up with new releases while pretending to maintain a real life, so I use this lull to catch up on all the unfinished games that hate me.
I’ll be honest, I never once thought to touch the OtherOS feature that was initially built into every Playstation 3. In that regard I’m a pretty boring gamer. I don’t tinker with my systems; I can hardly get myself to install new themes. I usually enjoy the console I get in as “pure” a form as possible. With that being said, some people love to tinker, and upgrade, and push their hardware in whatever means possible. When Sony updated the Playstation 3 to 3.21 and removed the OtherOS feature it started a commotion like nothing we’ve ever seen in this Industry. The subsequent events that followed were as dramatic as they’ve ever been in gaming. Hacker, George Hotz rooted the Playstation 3 to get the OtherOS feature back, Sony, in turn, sued him for it, soon after the Playstation Network itself was hacked, and then taken down, this left users with their data compromised and pundits bickering about who was truly to blame.
It’s called NUad or Natural User-Interface Advertising if you’re the long winded type. It’s being touted by Microsoft as the platform that will “change television as we know it forever”. I’m a bit more skeptical, but let’s get to the details first. Using the Kinect, Microsoft intends to change the passive viewing of advertisments into an interactive sport; you know, like trying to close a pop-up ad.
If you haven’t checked out EGMi on the iPad, you’re missing out on the future of digital magazines. Anyone familiar with the digital edition of Wired will feel right at home here. I’ve long thought of myself as a connoisseur of video game magazines and I love how interactive and fun the digital version is. Once you download the issue it (obviously) resides locally on your iPad which is a good thing for me since I travel underground to go to work. What makes EGMi so good is that, like Wired, its pages are interactive; from slide shows of the game in question to video trailers, and even audio clips pulled directly out of interviews. The overall design of the magazine suits the tablet well, and as much as I love the hard copy of EGM, I would not be entirely unhappy if the EGM magazine one day went digital only. At the very least it’s a viable last ditch effort if the magazine were to fail.
I miss being surprised at E3. Lately it’s like the video game industry has "kid sister" syndrome where they want to tell everyone everything, all the time. If it’s not platform makers posting the details of their press briefing hours beforehand, it’s producers talking throughout entire demos, telling us every bit of detail so we don’t–god forbid–gloss over how well textured each street lamp is. Can someone in this industry practice some discretion? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate demos and trailers, but some of these games risk being overexposed too early into their development cycle.
Oh Twitter, will you ever stop causing trouble? Every one's favorite platform for public humiliation is at it again. This time it comes from The Redner Group, the PR firm hired to pretend Duke Nukem Forever is still relevant. As if the story of Duke needed anymore color, Jim Redner who–as his name implies–runs the company, lashed out at reviewers on Twitter; claiming that reviews “went too far” and that they would be “reviewing who gets games next time”. Redner has since had a procedure done to remove the firmly planted foot from his mouth. Not only did 2K publicly dissolve their relationship with the firm, Redner himself then tweeted apologies to every known person on the planet. Redner ended the barrage of tweets with “this has ruined my business, I have to go” – presumably to play Duke Nukem Forever in a cardboard box for all of eternity.
Dead Space 2 is a lot like Bioshock and I am perfectly fine with that, actually I’m more than happy about the direction this franchise seems to be going in. Back when Dead Space 1 came out I was excited to play it, until about the time I began to play it. The game was competent enough, it looked great, sounded great, and moved really well. I just felt like something was missing. Maybe it was the fact that the rooms all looked alike or the story while interesting fell short. I felt like it never came together for me as a whole.
In the early 90's when America Online was the main gateway to get to the barren world wide web there wasn't much of a choice where your information came from. Some of us used word of mouth. Mortal Kombat's blood code spread through classrooms with flu like swiftness. The scoop about the newest game was a big game of telephone. We were born with the Konami code imprinted in our DNA. I grew up with a video game magazine in my hand. My first magazine was a quick store purchase of July 1994's Game Players.
We’ve all been there at one point in our gaming careers. A game company announces the incredibly high price for a hotly anticipated DLC and your heart drops. Your first reaction is to go to the nearest message board or your Twitter account and blast that company for their unfair prices. Surely some DLC coming out this soon after the game releases means they simply held this back just to be able to charge extra for it. In most cases there is no actual download, just a code to unlock the content on the disk; the game you already paid $60 for.