Sunday, May 31, 2009

On The Eve Of E3

Here we are. E3 week is almost upon us.

Will this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo be a return to form after a few years of downsized boredom? We'll know in a matter of 24 hours or so.

Will Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo announce anything in their much-anticipated press conferences that will truly amaze and surprise? I certainly hope so, but the jaded side of me doubts it.

I'll be on the show floor each day of the expo with eyes-wide and hands-on the latest and greatest. I'll report back on my favorites, as well as mention any disappointments and stand-out surprises. Please stay tuned...

Remember: Games is good eats! So, pass the gravy and press Start!

-David 'Two Hammers' Moore

E3: The Bitch Is Back!

E3: The Bitch Is Back!

E3 can be summed up in lots of ways, but to me it will always be the biggest, baddest video gaming show on the planet; one I count the days to read about online, day-in, day-out start to finish; one I always dream of one day being able to attend in person, in all of its over-the-top, hyped up glory.

This year I will get my wish and from what we are all being told it will be a great “first year” to see the premier trade show the video game industry has bestowed. Back will be the glitz and glamour, the hype and the hoopla of E3’s gone by. And I can’t wait. Tuesday I will be walking through the hallowed halls of not only the Los Angeles Convention Center but the halls of gaming greatness. These halls, like me are four decades in the making. You see, the gaming industry and I have a lot in common. We are after all, the same age. Like the video gaming industry, I too have had my ups and downs, my proponents and my doubters, my believers and skeptics. We have grown older, but not necessarily wiser. We make mistakes and try and learn from them. We are greedy and sometimes this negatively affects those around us. We push ourselves in new directions; directions that not all agree upon. We have goals and aspirations. We are inventive and constantly evolving and pushing the envelope of our existence.

I love this industry. Our relationship can be compared to the great loves of the silver screen; Bogey and Bacall, Peter Parker and Mary Jane, Leo and Kate. And, I hope this industry continues to love me back. All I ask is for some great games and hardware that continue to revolutionize the industry. And we all know that as the industry grows it gets harder and harder to impress because “we’ve seen it all before”. Well, prove us wrong. Show us something we haven’t seen before. New hardware, new play mechanics, new story lines, new heroes, new franchises, new something. This is what keeps us coming back for more. Have faith in us and introduce games and hardware that are new and original. Please don’t keep barging up age-old IP because you don’t trust us to follow you in new directions. Bring us the next gaming blockbuster and we will gladly pay for it. Engage us, entertain us and most importantly, move us. I want to grow old with you because you can always make me feel young again.

E3 is the window on the industry. I want to open this window on Tuesday and see what the industry has to offer me in the coming year. Will it live up to my expectations? Will it sour me with rehashes of what has been or will it surprise me with what will be? Who knows? But I can guarantee you that on Tuesday, I will feel like a kid in a candy store. Walking the halls of gaming greatness with thrill and wonder. I have been in love with video games for as long as I can remember and won’t ever think of life without gaming. It’s in my blood, plain and simple. Let’s see what E3 and the industry have to offer and watch in amazement together as we are blown away by its excess and spectacle. The Bitch Truly is Back!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Thoughts About Resident Evil 5

This past week I had the pleasure of being able to play through Resident Evil 5. Though I enjoyed it, I found it to be significantly lacking in terms of the originality and excitement of its predecessor.

I had mixed feelings going into the game, knowing that longtime series mastermind Shinji Mikami had long since left Capcom. Without him pulling the strings that he pulled so masterfully on Resident Evil 4, the 5th game just came across as a solid, average adventure game.

The graphics were top notch to be sure. However, my favorite Resident Evil games are when you're going it solo. RE5 sticks you with a partner, and you've got to manange he or she (depending on if you play as Chris or Sheva) throughout the whole game. While RE4 mixed up the gameplay by having you escort another character through danger infested zones, RE5 was pretty much a straight, linear experience, broken up by some on-rails shooting sequences.

The enemies were pulled right out of RE4, and given a fresh coat of paint. While they looked pretty cool, I'd seen it all before, and knew what to expect. Aside from a bat-like creature that tore itself from its host's body, there were literally no new enemies. The "ganados" were back, the dogs were back, the chainsaw maniac was back, etc....yawn.

I clearly remember reading previews for the game back in the early days of the 360 and PS3, with the development team boasting all about how it was going to use light and shadow to scare players, but I failed to see this, or any such creativity in the final build. It's almost as if the suits seemed to clamp down, telling the developers to give gamers more of the same action as in RE4, just with a multiplayer component.

I highly recommend the game, but RE4 is still the best game in the series. Considering that Chris and Wesker seem to finally settle their longstanding feud in this fifth installment, perhaps the franchise will undergo a significant reboot for RE6.

We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Matrix Online is shutting down. The real news in this story, of course, is that Matrix Online was even still running in the first place. Back in 2004 when this game went beta, all eyes were on the MMO universe. There were titanic titles just coming out or on the horizon in those days: World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, and Guild Wars. And now, 5 years later, World of Warcraft is cultural behemoth rewriting the rules for community size and revenue stream while leaving all other in its sizeable shadow.

And yet the MMO field draws more competition every year. Matrix Online is not the first major title to be shut down, face serious contraction, or generally under perform expectations. It won't be the last. Still, studio after studio are foaming at the mouth to dive into the MMO space. Persistent, subscription based worlds are a dime a dozen these days, and no good businessman charges headlong into a packed and highly competitive marketplace. Unless that businessman runs a gaming company, of course. There are other ways to drive revenue, however. The Sims, for instance, gets plenty of mileage out of regular, lower priced micro-expansions. Thats a model that could work for RPGs too, I think. The Half Life Episodes already trend in that direction. Under such a model, the game could continue to live on for decades giving it the chance to become one of those landmark titles, such as Doom, Civilization, or Halo.

The MMO graveyard will continue to grow, at least for now I'm afraid. Perhaps one day sanity will return and interesting new franchises and worlds will be given a fair shot at success by not chucking them into the meat grinder of subscription gaming. Hopefully some smart developer will look for new ways to fund his studio, a way that doesn't include server shut-down dates and titles that just quit working. Like novels, games should never come with an expiration date.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Itagaki is still here

Yesterday Tomonobu Itagaki, the eccentric but brilliant genius behind the recent Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games, was in the news. A year later after his lawsuit-riddled departure from former employer Tecmo, it seems that Itagaki is returning to gaming along with several of his old TEAM NINJA crew. No word yet on what exactly Itagaki and friends are going to be up to.

Whatever Itagaki's up to, it is good to see him back. Sure, he's eccentric, and to some daft. He has a mouth and attitude that can rankle observers and obviously the victims of his criticisms. And he has perhaps the most unhealthy hatred for the Tekken fighting game series that I've ever seen (Top 5 Hated Games? All Tekken. Though that hasn't stopped the internets from digging up old Spanish gaming mags from more than ten years ago that allege otherwise about Itagaki's tastes).

But one thing's for sure, the perpetually-sunglassed Itagaki was never unafraid to shake the status quo and challenge the medium, and in an industry that sure loves safe and tepid (think McShooters, armies of focus groups, and the ESRB's whopping twenty-five AO ratings in all its history.), he did just that. Whereas most designers happily toss challenge and creative risk out the window in appeasement to casuals, Itagaki reveled in it, raising Ninja Gaiden's skill bar to a Zen-like grace that does feel very good when you DO finally have it down. Wheras the insular Japanese sector suffers too often from rigidity and oppressive introspection, Itagaki takes it head-on, using episodes like his being the first Japanese developer ever to visit Game Informer, thirteen years after the magazine launched, to decry what he feels is behind the Japanese gaming scene's stagnation and waning influence.

And like many of his games themselves, it's a complicated thing with Itagaki's positions. To some, the dismissal of TEAM NINJA's efforts for Ninja Gaiden Sigma seems needlessly imperious and haughty. To others, he's rightfully upset that Sigma does little for the original five year-old Ninja Gaiden release, of whose quality and details Itagaki had slaved over, other than bring it to the PS3 and provide some underwhelming extra content. Perhaps its both; aggressive boasting and a passion for evolution and quality, all in one, which, now that I think about it, sound quintessentially gamer.

One thing about Itagaki we can all agree, though: he is a quote factory. Hell, even the latest 1UP interview has a few winners in there. And so here are some of the best, for your reading pleasure. Some prescient. Some absurd. A lot of them Tekken hate. But all Itagaki.

On the difficulty of Ninja Gaiden (Xbox): "...gamers who think that Ninja Gaiden is too hard are losers - there are always winners and losers - just fight your best fight!"

On quick-time events: "I've never played a good game where the developers put a big icon of the button you're supposed to press onscreen."

When pressed for new announcements for then-in-development Ninja Gaiden II: "I’d like to show everybody some of the new stuff that we’ve been working on in the near future. The only problem with that is that when the other developers see what we’re doing, they’re going to lose all of their motivation to create any game in the same genre, because there’s no way they can beat it."

On the developers of Namco's Tekken 5: "First they put in all of these half-finished 'features', then they take them right out again...I don't know if it's because they're impatient, or because they lack the ability, but no matter the reason those guys are a pretty weird bunch."

On whether he's looking forward to Tekken 6, coming this year: "It sucks. I don't know what you're talking about."

On how he'd improve Tekken 4: [Erm...too many to list, just read the article. The man sure hates his Tekken.]

On his "favorite thing" about the Tekken series: "The only good thing about Tekken is the title--it's short." [Yep. Hates his Tekken.]

On Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball's appeal as a Wii release: "Part of the appeal of the DOA series is wanting to touch and knowing you can, so..."

On Xbox 360 vs. PS3: "I think Xbox 360 is the best game console on the earth...PS3 has too complicated of architecture."

On Koei's flagship series, Dynasty Warriors: "Unfortunately, I have absolutely no interest in the Dynasty Warrior franchise. In fact, I prefer that old American TV show, Dynasty. I used to watch it when I was a student."

On whether or not he has any hard feelings toward Tecmo: "I believe I created a certain era in Tecmo's history, and I hold pride in that fact. So, if I were to speak negatively of Tecmo, it would be the same as me disrespecting myself."

On which character from the Dead or Alive series best represents him: "There is no one character in DOA that represents me, or what I believe in….I just make games. However, some of the script reflects my attitude, basically my aggression, which can be seen in the character's fortitude and challenge. For example, Kasumi often says 'you can never defeat me!", or Lei Fang will say "no matter how many times you try, you still can't defeat me.', or Helena will say "whatever you do can't affect me" - these reflect my attitude as a producer. "

And finally, on swine flu: "I would be surprised if the virus had the guts to get in my way. In terms of floating particles, I'm more annoyed by the dust that gets on my Digital SLR imager."

Rumor mill: PS very P

Rampant speculation this morning that the long rumored, eagerly sought, and extremely predictable UMD-less PSP is coming soon to a massive trade show near you. This is a move that will surprise exactly no one. UMD died as a movie distribution format when Sony got the brilliant idea to make people pay for a movie twice if they wanted to watch it on their PSP. A version of the device that removes such essentially useless hardware is about as logical as an umbrella store in Seattle. With the advent of oodles of digital distribution systems for movies online, I don't think UMD will be all that badly missed by purchasers of the new and improved smaller PSP-Go.

No doubt you will also see reference to a newer, thinner, PS3 that could be making an appearance sometime in the next year. While it will not be seen at E3, so far as we know, hopefully it will have an impact there. The fabled thin-PS3, it is thought, will remain under lock and key until current supplies of the PS3 evaporate. How can Sony make that happen? Maybe... lower the price? While reasonable when compared to the price of production, the PS3 eats far too many Presidential portraits when compared to its current generation console brethren. Given the fairly impressive array of PS3 titles due out in the near future, this is a shame. Lower prices should equal greater market penetration, recession not withstanding. Hopefully with a rumored slimmed down PS3 on the way, the chunkier original will finally get that price break.

But that's merely wishful thinking at this point. The PlayStation very-Portable is on its way to E3. Now, if only Sony would give away free samples...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Invasion of the PS3BOTs

When the Cell processor was first discussed, Sony seemed to anticipate the PS3 hooking up and sharing processing power with everything from your Cell equipped TV to your Cell equipped phone to your Cell equipped refrigerator. Now, I haven't seen any refrigerators marketing themselves as gaming accessories lately, but if some March rumors could be believed, it is may only be a matter of time before your PS3 interfaces with your fridge much more directly.

According to patents, Sony may be working on a robot for the PS3. Thats right, a seeing, driving, game playing robot in your very own living room doing something or other for the enhancement of your console entertainment. The patents seem to say the robot will be moving about the room you game in, somehow interacting with you and the room in a way that adds an element to a particular game. That is an interesting concept, to be sure, but it seems a touch limited for something as inherently cool as a gaming robot. Lets add a couple basic hands to this bad boy and give ourselves the ultimate gaming accessory. Need a fresh drink? Surely the 'bot can grab a couple of cans out of the chill chest. Pizza man arrives in the middle of a fight? No worries, the 'bot can handle it. The possibilities here are endless.

Granted, the possibilities are so endless that it is doubtful the default programming could handle them all. A good scripting language takes care of that problem. Really, all Sony needs to do for this to to become the best gaming accessory since the d-pad is to either add hands or make the robot chassis modular so that additional hardware could be added later. Then, either publish the programming language or open up the 'bot's operating system and the potential for global dominance would be in place. Not literally, of course.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A word from our sponsors

We've come a long way from McKids and Cool Spot, and we've got much further to go apparently: according to an industry analyst group, in five years from now, advertising in videogames will have reached $1 billion. The downturn that the in-game advertising sector has been suffering from non-withstanding, the analysts claim "we have only just begun to explore that potential".

Advertising in gaming in general already does a pretty good gig of sapping the credibility from at least the mainstream section of the art form; last I checked, the Oscars, however goofy they may be at times, do not at least have to suffer the ignominy of the Best Independent Game Fueled By Mountain Dew Award. But in addition to general shamelessness, the industry is also plagued with runaway costs. A billion bucks could go a long way towards helping, but that kind of money brings a lot of concessions, or "potential", to the admen, including perhaps even some creative control. So while we joke that in five years we'll start seeing Final Fantasy characters using Preparation H to soothe wounds from Firaga Spells, or The Annoying Hispanic Guy From Killzone 2 suddenly stopping to talk about how tasty Red Bull is during a firefight, it might not be all that funny five years from now.

This old French PS2 commercial however? Now that's always funny. IN THE FREAKING HEAD.

Team Fortress 2: PC Hot! Xbox Not!

TEAM FORTRESS 2 PC servers were positively hopping with activity this holiday weekend. Most maps were at or near capacity thanks to Memorial Day, a free play promotion via Steam and the launch of the long-awaited Spy and Sniper updates.

And on Xbox 360 this weekend?...Crickets. Nada. A big, fat, empty Orange Box of inactivity. C'mon Valve and Microsoft. Let's get out the paddles and shock the console version of TEAM FORTRESS 2 back to life! Once a thick update drops for 360 - glorious frag-tivity will bloom once again. I, for one, can't wait. "Sentry going up!"

-David 'Two Hammers' Moore

Nightmare: Redneck Blizzard

There are some things I just do not want to contemplate. Some things are just too... jarring... to be considered. Imagine a Veggietales script written by Stephen King. Or a movie version of Wheel of Time starring Elmo as Rand. Head hurt yet? Better grab some pain killers; this next one could be painful.

Last month, Blizzard Entertainment purchased the trademark rights for the Redneck Rampage series. Remember those games? Couple of random Arkansas hillbillies chasing aliens through trailer parks to rescue their pig? And of course you're familiar with Blizzard, the Midas-like studio that produces nothing but best selling, standard setting titles... at the pace of about one ever three years or so. Blizzard owns the rights to Redneck Rampage?

Now I'm not saying that Blizzard could not make a fantastic game to continue that series. Just the opposite. I'm frightened they would make a fantastic game. Consider this: Diablo 2 is still high on the sales charts ten years after it came out. And no, thats not a result of Diablo 3. Diablo 2 never left the upper altitude of the sales charts. Nor has Starcraft. So imagine now it is the year 2025. Imagine seeing a headline "Blizzard's Redneck Rampage Still Tops Sales, Now Ten Years Old." Gamers by and large already suffer from rampant stereotyping. We are all basement dwellers, all play World of Warcraft, all use Grand Theft Auto to train for lives of crime, and do other assorted unlikely things to grant Jack Thompson a purpose in life. I do not think a fantastically successful Redneck Rampage would help that situation much.

On the other hand, Blizzard and Activision are now one. It could be that Activision is the one that wants Redneck Rampage. Maybe there's a 'Guitar Hero: Truckers and Aliens' in the works? I hope so. I'm not saying that I wouldn't enjoy a Blizzard built game centered on pickup trucks, shotguns, and pig swiping Martians. I would probably love it. I'm just saying the possibility is one of those things I do not want to contemplate.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Midway Through

Right before the weekend hit, Warner Bros., of big fat media conglom fame, and who these days is determined to get in on the videogame chuck wagon (heh :-) ), had made a big fat bid for Midway of about $33 million. Midway's history of financial woes have recently had a smell of Wall Street about it, odious enough even for that industry's regulars; the company's original owner sold Midway for a song to a mystery investor last year, only for its bondholders to discover that is may have all been a conspiracy by both parties to bankrupt Midway for profit. WB, for its part, stands to handily dispense of $7.8 mil Midway owes it for Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, while the guys who actually made the game in the first place will probably not get the bonuses they were promised from Midway.

What is most interesting (and kinda depressing) about Midway's current predicament is that it can be traced to just how much the industry has changed over the years. Mortal Kombat came about when an offer to create a movie-licensed game for Universal Soldier fell through, and yes, that would be the 1992 Jean Claude Van Damme cheesefest (Hollywood opted instead for pasting the IP onto Turrican 2, the result of which is Van Damme fighting giant killer bees, and later on, a house-sized Dolph Lundgren. The movie may have been ridiculous, but at least it can claim it wasn't THAT ridiculous). From these humble roots, this "quick project", as Ed Boon once referred to it, came to be a massive franchise and Capcom's biggest competitor in the heyday of the arcade fighter.

After the arcade market began shrinking in the 00's, Midway, in the same year SNK went bankrupt, closed their arcade unit and moved into consoles. And ever since, like much of the console industry, they've been plagued with the usual Horsemen of the Consopaclypse: Unaccountable Management (former Playboy CEO David F. Zucker posted non-stop losses in the scores of millions during his Midway tenure before finally sauntering away with a golden parachute), Impossible Demands (Harvey Smith, creative director of the rushed-to-market-via-bullwhip Blacksite: Area 51, summed up the experience as thus: "so fucked up"), Good Original IPs Getting Lost Amongst The Flood Of Sequels (Ever heard of the criminally-overlooked Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy? Perhaps not.) and Outrageous Costs That Only Get Worse and Worse (Cyrus Lum, a Midway dev, warned in 2006 that costs for a single title were approaching $15 mill to $25 mil, and profits would come in only after the third sequel. The next year, we learned that John Woo's Stranglehold cost more than $30 million smackers to make. Wonder what the guy thinks of Grand Theft Auto 4 costing $100 million a mere two years later).

What will become of Midway now is anyone's guess, as it's not just WB that's interested in the company, let alone the videogame industry itself (if anything, the current slump will probably wind up reinforcing the status quo). But taking in where Midway used to be, to where it is now, all I can say is a paraphrase from Bartleby, the Scrivener: "Ah Midway! Ah progess!"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sword of the Berserk - A Look Back

One of my early assignments at was to review an obscure little title for the SEGA Dreamcast called "Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage." The game came out back in 2000, and at the time, it was essentially a game that was intended for a Japanese audience only. I say that because, "BERSERK," the Japanese manga series on which the game was based, was not available in the US until 2003. The events depicted in the game are supposed to take place between volumes 22 and 23 of the manga series, which didn't hit US shelves until 2006 or 2007. I had no clue what was going on with the story when I was asked to review it, and no doubt the same held true for anyone else who bought it.

No doubt a suit at EIDOS Interactive, back in the early days of the Dreamcast, wanted to cash in on the early popularity of the console (this was before the PS2 debuted). Finding a graphically beautiful action title ready-made by Yuke's (the Japanese developer) in "Sword of the Berserk," EIDOS licensed the game and published it for a quick buck. I found the game to be pretty good from a production standpoint, the game play not so much. It wasn't that I found the hacking and slashing to be awful, it's just that the extent of the game play ended there and got repetitive.

Now, in 2009, I've managed to read a lot of the BERSERK stories. I appreciate the game a lot more, now that I know who the characters are, why they act the way they do, and their unique back stories. In fact, I don't think I'm the only one who's gone back to revisit the game since the manga was translated into English. It's enjoyed a bit of a revival of sorts within the secondhand Dreamcast marketplace. The series can best be described as a medieval horror-fantasy mixed with elements of Clive Barker's "Hellraiser," so anyone who likes comics and can handle disturbing subject matter should give it a shot.

The manga deals with the trials and tribulations of a lone swordsman, Guts, who is on a quest to deliver payback to a group of demons responsible for the loss of his left arm, one of his eyes, and the sanity of his beloved, Casca. "Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage," is actually about a side adventure Guts experiences while on his travels. He discovers Mandragora plants that kill and disfigure those who foolishly uproot them from the ground. The atmosphere is chilling, disturbing and fans of Resident Evil games might find much to like.

There's also a sequel, "Berserk: Millenium Falcon," that was developed by Yuke's for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, which is graphically even more impressive. Sadly, the sequel never saw release in the United States and sells between $30 and $100 within the import collecting world! If you're looking for a new Dreamcast game with an interesting story, check out "Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage," it's really not that bad of a game.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Here we go now: let's grab a look at some news stories for the weekend.

First up, can you guess Square Enix's best-selling title for 2008? Something with FINAL FANTASY in the title right? Nope. Sorry. Squeenix's top tomato for last year was DRAGON QUEST V for the Nintendo DS. In fact, DQVDS was the company's only game to sell over one million units. Money is a bit tight these days at SQUARE ENIX (both sales and profits are down), but just you wait - FINAL FANTASY XIII hits Japan "Winter 2009" and the US in 2010. The coffers will soon be overflowing once again.

Codemaster's upcoming racing title, FUEL is laying claim to being the "Biggest console game of all time". Developer, Asobo has created the "largest playable area" in a console game to date and certified it via the famed Guinness World Records. How big is "Biggest"? 5, 560 square miles. Vroom vroom! Beep beep!

Lastly, what may end up being the biggest game of 2009 releases on Tuesday, June 2nd. THE SIMS 3 promises "over a million unique Sims", an "ever-changing neighborhood", new "Evil" traits, and "robust online features". Perhaps best of all, your Sims don't have to pee quite so often. Whew! That's a relief.

S'all for now. Go play games!

-David 'Two Hammers' Moore

Fun with Flu

In many games, you take on the roll of a hero, fearlessly sacrificing yourself for some esoteric cause you are never really clear about. Lost princesses? Please. Surely we can find a more worthy cause for our dedicated virtual labors. Looking over recent headlines, I see the swine flu is still topic of stress and concern. Surely there is some way to pseudo-combat this nefarious disease with flashing colored pixels?

Behold! Meet Swinefighter! A browser based flash game, it is chock full of floating pig heads to be popped by the creepy looking guy with an oversized syringe. As a result of my extensive play testing, I can report this game should not be attempted with a track pad. Go mouse or go home. Really.

Ok, so maybe you'd prefer a slightly higher budget title? Well, if you happen to have a high level World of Warcraft character with disease fighting powers, head on over to the Borean Tundra in Northrend. There are some undead porkers there spreading this disease to all comers. And being infected with this variant can really slow you down. Now, before you grab torches and pitchforks and march on Blizzard for shamelessly mocking this global tragedy, relax. Blizzard had this in the game over a year before the recent outbreak. Does Nostradamus work for Blizzard? We'll save that one for a future post.

So after a hard day of blowing up pig heads followed by a rough evening cleansing this evil illness off yourself and turning its carriers into zombie-bacon, you are bound to be exhausted. And nothing helps you go to sleep at night like a stuffed and fuzzy plush friend. Better yet, how about some stuffed and fuzzy plush diseases! Awesome! Thinkgeek has you covered. Mono, plague, mad cow disease, and others join the flu in this adorable lineup. Just remember to hide them before the CDC visits. You know... just in case.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And The Band Played On

Much as I like the music game genre and whatnot,I have this unshakable feeling the genre is rapidly gathering unto "bubble" status: too many games, too fast, all watering each other down. I have fond memories of good times had with Guitar Hero, of office time-wasting with Rock Band, and I would rather the genre not suffer a fate the likes of Crocs: blistering hot one minute, falling into possible bankrupcy the next. Ya can't blame 'em; the Guitar Hero series alone has earned some $2 bil for Activision, whose CEO once claimed Guitar Hero: Aerosmith made more money for the band than any of their own albums (considering how fast the music industry is lining up for licenses, he's probably right). But I wonder if these guys have ever heard that one about the goose that layed those golden eggs (or the other one about the writing on the wall).

So that having been said, let's look at the tsunami of music game product coming at us this year, ranking their "bubble factor".

Guitar Hero
Already hot of the NA release of Guitar Hero: Metallica and a Guitar Hero arcade release, we have Guitar Hero: Van Halen in Q42009, Guitar Hero 5 in QA2009 as well, an update for their portable Guitar Hero franchise and comically enough, the series' very own anthology, entitled Guitar Hero: Smash Hits.

Yes, that is a lot of Guitar Hero; a Complete....Global...Satuartion that would make Wesker from Resident Evil 5 crap those black worms out of his butt in awe. And enough to create backlash even within the business, such as the creator of PaRappa the Rapper fuming recently on the issue.
Bubble Factor: 9

DJ Hero
But Activision is not done yet for this year; in fact, while they're at it, they are diving into the brave new world of turntables. DJ Hero promises to give us a new peripheral, an actual Guitar Hero-ized turntable, mixer and all. In addition to hitting the, uh, "notes" (beats?), you'll need to fade and mix the tracks in properly.

On the one hand, with the right tracks, artists, and gameplay, this could be good. I'd be excited for stuff from Daft Punk and especially DJ Qbert, a guy skilled enough to take the insanity-inducing "Gonna Take You For A Ride" character select song from Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and make it work. On the other hand, if this thing succeeds, then we'll have even MORE sequels, expansions, and me-too's to look forward to, and sure enough, DJ Hero already has competition (and allegations of dirty pool) from Scratch: The Ultimate DJ , as well as none other than "The World's Best DJ" throwing his, uh, turntable into the ring.
Bubble Factor: 4

Rock Band

The perennial number 2 to Guitar Hero soldiers on through 2009 with a few releases. We have a PSP release called Rock Band: Unplugged in June, The Beatles: Rock Band in September (as a Beatles fan, I shall tear that proverbial shit up, if I may confess) , and in what most be the most cynical, bubble-popping, shark-jumping release of them all: Lego Rock Band. My fiance, Melissa, recently made an apt comparison between the Lego-ification of videogame IPs and the Heartless of Kingdom Hearts fame: cute, adorable, and clearly eager to arise from cold black shadow to assimilate all they find.

Activision, for its part, is not content to let Rock Band wallow in second place, and is ready to siege them (and us) with Band Hero, a Rock Band clone with a more family-friendly theme. The circle is not complete enough; where's Lego Band Hero?
Bubble Factor: LEGO

Rolling Stone: Drum King
Oy vey. Originally a Wii release named We Rock: Drum King, the magazine clearly decided it shall not miss the chuck wagon (hah!) and worked in a little branding magic for the North America release at the end of this month. Rolling Stone has been something of a in-jokey kick-around in the news media industry for a while now and this is certainly not helping.

As to whether or not the license helps, all I can say is, last I read a Rolling Stone issue was to check out an article about slimy Senator Don Young and his habit of waving walrus penis bones at those who disagree with him.

Bubble Factor: Something about walrus penises (peni?)

Guitar Praise

If you are hoping for Jesus to save you at this point, don't count on him here, for this one in fact IS endorsed by Jesus. Yes, Guitar Praise is a Christian-themed spin on Guitar Hero.
Those of you ready to pile on the snark, however, should know that Guitar Praise has actually won quite a bit of legitimate acclaim as well as performed fairly well in sales. The quibble it usually gets is that it's actually a PC game and is normally confined to it, as the consoles have been avoiding this one, and the tech to get it on the boob tube is not simple.

That's not enough to stop the gravy train, let alone the will of Jesus. And so Guitar Praise will have its first expansion pack this year, and on this subject I've but one word for you: STRYPER. Nuff said.
Bubble Factor: 0 (Dude, it's Jesus.)

Might as well end it with a Stryper pic. That always works.

Konami Kountdown: Version 2

The countdown at Kojima Production's site ended into a....nother countdown?? This time, the scenery is wetter, rainier, and the countdown much flippin' longer, and along with the "5" silhouette we've seen eariler, you can now make out an "E" and a "3" (or backwards "E") . Other than that nothin' really new, and no new information up on Konami's site or Kojima's as of yet. I'll be sure to update if there is something going on.

If you are DYING to see what the countdown looked like when it ended, you can download my CamStudio recording

OnLive Skipping E3

Word comes out this morning that OnLive will not be attending E3. This is extremely disappointing. Even though I will not be at E3 in person (sadly), I was really looking forward to seeing this service displayed to the press. There are still a number or questions about OnLive, namely how they will manage to keep latency low enough to make games, particularly competitive online games, playable.

For those who missed it from prior trade shows, OnLive is a service that will stream modern PC and console games to your computer (OS X or Vista) via a browser plugin, or to your TV via a small box. The games will actually be running on OnLive servers. Only the visuals will be streamed to your screen. If you think of it as playing on an XBox with several miles of cable connecting your controller to the console and the console to the TV, you have the basic idea.

The list of vendors and publishers partnering with this company is impressive. Any company that can claim NVidia, Valve, Epic, Atari, EA and others as partners certainly seems to pass the credibility test. This system, if it works as promised at a competitive price, could have a greater effect on game distribution than Steam did. This is exactly the sort of technology that should be at E3. Even if they are only showing the same demos we have already seen, every new member of the press who gets hands on with this system will only build that much more anticipation for the eventual release. At the very least, I hope they will change their minds, book a hotel suite near the the convention center and let the skeptical press play a game or two on some off the shelf laptops through the OnLive system.

For those, like me, who cannot wait to see if this system can work as advertised, there are beta signups available on the OnLive site. Beta starts this summer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Swine Flu and E3

Going through today's gaming news, I came across a short blurb that said Square-Enix and Koei would not be sending its Japanese development teams to E3 due to swine flu fears. Apparently SONY and Nintendo aren't swayed and are sending full contingents of employees to work the show.

This seems a bit extreme to me. Living in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, I consider myself to be in the hotbed of "swine flu" but haven't heard about anyone I know who's contracted it.

I do know the Japanese tend to be a bit hysterical, especially when it comes to "foreign viruses," as evidenced by their usage of face masks. Of course, it takes a lot more than a face mask to prevent a person from becoming sick, so why bother?

I suppose this cuts down on the amount of news that will be available on new Dynasty Warriors titles, but one only has to go play through a couple of older installments in the series to know what the new one's going to be about. Koei has always seemed to have been a company that's been a one-trick-pony, milking its Dynasty Warriors franchise for all it's worth.

Regarding Square-Enix, I hope the absence of the Japanese developers won't detract from news about the next Final Fantasy.

Free the Duke!

Any children out there who dream of growing up and starting game development studios should keep the recent Take Two v. 3D Realms fracas away from their parents at all costs. I am not a lawyer. I am not going to attempt to discuss the legal end of this mess or try to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Instead, I'll just be hoping that this is simply another episode in the star-crossed saga that is Duke Nukem, and not a sign of deeper problems in the gaming industry.

But first of all, some background. If you haven't heard of or played Duke Nukem in the past, then run, don't walk, to Good Old Games and pick yourself up a copy. If you like bad jokes and blowing stuff up, this game is made for you.

Now, you no doubt notice that the most recent Duke title there is old no matter how you slice it. So... whats been happening in the meantime? Good question. In brief, Duke Nukem Forever. The Wikipedia article has a decent summary of the situation, certainly enough to start the investigation. And please, no need to get your eyes checked... that really does say Duke Nukem Forever has been in development since 1997. This game predates the euro, the professional career of Peyton Manning, and Jurassic Park 3.

Now recently, the story has taken another turn (for the worse). Lots of stuff has been written on this over the past few weeks, and I highly recommend you read some articles on the topic, including regarding the recent lawsuit. In brief, 3D Realms ran out of the funds needed to continue developing DNF and laid off the entire development team. The company apparently still exists and still holds the rights to develop the game, they just cannot afford to do so at this time. Take Two, the publisher, doesn't like that much and there is now a lawsuit between the parties on various issues pertaining to that dispute.

It is far too early to say how this will be resolved, if it will be resolved, or what the fate of the DNF project currently in development will be. In the meantime, this does serve as a bit of an eye opener into the interplay between developers and publishers. Developers understand that a game is a creative work on an epic scope. It is ready when it is ready and it really cannot be rushed. The best games tend to be the ones that were not forced out the door to meet deadlines, but the ones that were left to develop until the artists and programmers and creative folk who made the magic felt it was good enough to be released. Meanwhile, publishers need games on the store shelfs selling copies. The result is an industry where the publishers put increasing pressure on the developers to make it faster, make it cheaper, just get it to market and patch it later. We read of publishers forcing ridiculously short development times on their studios, of potentially good games failing in the market due to endless bugs, and of sad disasters like 3D Realms and the old Duke. Will it ever change? I hope so. For now, the best we can do is hope the Duke is soon freed and this episode is merely a case of misfortune and not a harbinger of things to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Hello all. Let's see what's newsy on this sunny Tuesday, shall we?

Bethesda, who have already released three PC and 360 add-ons for the fantastic FALLOUT 3 - have announced that two more DLC packs are still to come. 'Point Lookout' will be unveiled late next month and 'Mothership Zeta' is set for July.

I've already spent over 100 hours in FALLOUT 3's world - thanks to both "good" and "evil" play-throughs and add-on content. Looks like I'm not done yet with this deep and disheveled post-apocalyptic playground. Oh, and PS3 gamers will finally be getting in on the FALLOUT 3 expansion content too, beginning in June.

According to (via Blue's News) - "More Than Half of US Adults Play Video Games". We kind of knew that already didn't we? Still, it's nice to see research confirming what we suspected. Video Games are not just for kids and haven't been for ages. Gaming is part of our everyday life, as relevant as movies and literature. As important as eating right, brushing your teeth and excercising. Am I right, or what?! Stop looking at me like that. I thought you were my friends...

Capcom's BIONIC COMMANDO remake has been released for PC, PS3 and 360 and it looks like early reviews aren't so hot. 1-Up has given the game a "C+" and says the re-imagining of the NES classic is "
competent but uninspired". Ouch.

S'all for now. Go play games!

-David 'Two Hammers' Moore


We all know that video games can directly serve an educational purpose, often unforgettably so. Edutainment software has long abounded; The Oregon Trail long ago taught us that dysentry is a real bad way to go, as in "that's-some-awful-karma" bad (for my part, that game also learned me to ph33r any river that runs more than three feet deep. My bad, oxen!). Carmen Sandiego is still out there even today, determined to teach children geography and wordplay through crime in her latest, a (currently) French-only release last February. We've seen money hats and mascots co-opted into the educational spirit, with the results sometimes inspid, like Mario is Missing, and sometimes wonderfully inspired, like The Typing of the Dead (Making a zombie's head explode by typing "I SPARTACUS"? When's the sequel?) Many titles these days are directly marketed towards adults as altrustic "mind-training" devices, such as Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. In more forward-thinking educational facilties, such as in Britain or over in Indiana, videogames are starting to be implemented directly into the teaching method itself, something I've long wanted to see.

All that being said, what's really great is when plain ol' videogames, the non-educational kind, the kind that is often painted as a frequent pariah of soul-sucking sloth and dysfunction by braying pundits and suspect studies (such as this recent one from Brigham Young University), are themselves co-opted by clever, inventive types for educational purposes, defying expectations and proving they too can have a place in teaching.

Such as: Mario Kart Wii teaching the dangers of DWT!! (or: driving-while-texting) Frankly, such a class would've perhaps saved the shopping cart me and my fiance were recently pushing around a Home Depot parking lot, where it was plowed by a DWT'er in a giganto white Suburban. Then again though, Mario Kart by itself already does of a good job of teaching drivers not to drive while distracted (i.e. keep your eye on the road, player, and not at the sight of Peach smashing her face into ground after you clipped her with a red shell).

Or: Second Life to teach geology because Kansas sux for geology!! Yep, two clever academics took advantage of a grant to create a virtual world in Second Life where students who live in a state that's 90% flat plains can learn geology effectively. The grant was a whopping $700,000; that's how clever those two academics were.

Or: Teacher uses Wii Weather Channel and Wii News Channel to teach current events and geography!! The guy managed to find a use for Wii Weather and Wii News. Nuff said.

We now close with the Rockapella-sung opening to the Carmen Sandiego TV show (with sing-along lyrics!).

Return of the Grue

Let's try something. Fire up your trusty copy of iTunes, wander over to the iTunes Store, pop into Applications and search for "RPG." Surprised? Well over 100 titles readily pop up. A quick scan of the titles reveal such intriguing buzz words as "knight", "vampire", "racing", and "pets." Now, dig deeper. Click on a few, look at the screen shots, read the descriptions. Admire the Doom-ish graphics on this one, the interesting color palette on that one, the nice text-based game over there. Wait... text based? As in, text based RPG? As in, "You are likely to be eaten by a grue" style text based RPG? Indeed. Go ahead, check your calender. I'll wait.

Welcome to brave new world of mobile gaming. The runaway success of the iPhone and iPod Touch has spawned a new wave that nineties favorite, the text based RPG. Now it is far to early to say if any of these titles will achieve the success and happy memory quota of such classics as ZZT, Zork, or Mines of Moria. Regardless, I love this trend. In the modern gaming market, there is no such thing as an outdated genre. For every game there is a gamer, and for every gamer a game, even gamers who do not yet know they are gamers. Just as many of the current generation of avid players got their start lighting torches with slash commands, it is certainly possible that a new wave of gamers are about to get their first fix by means of the enormous array of titles and options available on the iPhone and Andriod. That means there will be more game companies, more places for talented developers to ply their trade, and more creativity to capture our dollars.

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy either. That poor grue has probably been lonely all these long years, alone in those dark and abandoned dungeons. It is good to have him back in the spotlight where he belongs. Not literally, of course.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Countdown to (mebbe?) MGS5 this week

As some are probably aware, Kojima Productions, makers of the visionary, at-times wonderfully bat-shit surreal Metal Gear Solid series, has had, since sometime around last week, placed a curious teaser page on their site.

The webpage initially simply displayed an animated picture of violent storm clouds roiling over desolate plain. And that’s it. While perhaps by itself not enough for some to spank their La-li-lu-le-lo’s over, Joystiq had pointed out that the meta description for that page contains “MGS” and “Metal Gear”, and linked to this sleuth from GameTrailers, who had scanned a similar ad from a Japanese gaming mag (note the FoxHound logo in the lower right).

The news now is that, at some point over this weekend, the cryptic webpage had updated to now have some sort of Eon8-style countdown timer ticking down (heh, remember Eon8?). If my paltry math skills and Windows Calculator do not fail me (the former of which probably), I calculate that by Thursday, around 5:30 PM Pacific or so, just in time for Konami’s Manhattan Beach office to leave for margaritas, we’ll be getting some big news from Kojima Productions.

I’m also noting for the first time a flashing silhouette of the number “5” that periodically appears during the thunderclaps; hmmm indeed.

Home Versions That Outlived Their Arcade Originals

Something struck me as funny as I walked past the storefront of a local Electronics Boutique. You see, I happened to notice that Nintendo has begun an all-out marketing blitz for "Punch-Out!!" for the Wii. The tagline on the poster hanging up against the glass was, "Little Mac is back!" For those of you too young to remember, he was the hero of, "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" that was designed for the original Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1987. I found this funny, because here was an example of an instance where a home-version of a popular arcade game actually managed to outshine and outlast its far-superior original arcade incarnation.

The arcade version of "Punch-Out!!" was a clearly groundbreaking boxing game upon its release in 1984. After plunking a quarter into the game, players would take control of a green-haired boxer whose body was translucent (in order to allow the player to see the opposing boxer). Players would have to work their way up the ranks in order to take on Mr. Sandman, the champ. In 1987, when Nintendo decided to put out a home-version of the game, it was forced to change the game in order to meet the technological limitations of the home console's hardware. Instead of allowing the player to do battle in the ring as a full-sized boxer, the protagonist became a short midget named "Little Mac." On the surface, this whole idea seemed absurd. However, since the gameplay was just as fun as the arcade original, the game was a runaway hit. The fact that Mike Tyson, arguably the world's most famous boxer at the time, was in the game as the final boss, made the game even more successful. Clearly, to this day, when "Punch-Out!!" is mentioned, almost everyone thinks of Iron Mike and Little Mac as opposed to the arcade version and its almost-forgotten sequel "Super Punch-Out!!"

Ninja Gaiden was another arcade game that was quickly forgotten once its technologically-inferior home version was released. The original 1988 arcade game from TECMO was a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the tradition of Double Dragon. As a kid, I picked up the NES home version thinking that was what I was going to experience. To my dismay, what I got was a side-scrolling action game with inferior graphics. The more I played it however, I became clearly addicted - and the fact that the home version came complete with cool cinematics made it even more interesting. The home version was such a hit that three sequels were spawned, and the series hero, Ryu Hayabusa, became a gaming icon. He's since gone on to become the hero of Tomonobu Itagaki's "Ninja Gaiden" games for the XBOX and PS3, and it's safe to say that everybody (except for arcade historians and die-hards) don't remember the original arcade machine.

Kind of interesting, when you think about it.

Game Shows on XBox?

In an interesting blend of old school television and current generation consoles, game shows appear to be on their way to the XBox via XBox Live. I'll not rehash the description here (a good review is up at arstechnica), I'll leave that to those who have actually played it. But I do have to wonder how well this will succeed. To me, the game show fan base and the XBox fanbase are two largely different groups of people. Sure, there is bound to be some overlap, but how many people can you imagine pausing a game a Fallout 3 to join in a scheduled game show? Ok, once or twice, of course. But somehow, I get the feeling I'm looking at the console equivalent of a chocolate covered potato chip. Just about anyone will try it once, but success is built on repeat customers. And I haven't seen bags of salty, chocolaty, fried potato goodness flying off the shelves. This strikes me as a similar niche product. Its a clever use of available technology, no doubt about that. But it seems to be a concept in need of an audience. Time will tell I suppose. Best of luck to any of you who participate.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chuckwagon News Roundup - Sun. 17.May.09

Hello folks, how are we doing on this fine, lazy Sunday afternoon? It's time for the first edition of:

May. 2009

EA's BATTLEFIELD HEROES isn't quite ready for prime time just yet - but, did you know that anyone can hop in and try out this fun, fast-paced, cartoony war game right now!? Head over to the official site and get in on the action. The game plays right in your browser and the download is quick and painless. If you want to crack National skulls along with me - look for "McGoo" of the Royal Army.

You probably saw this one coming a mile away - tickets for BlizzCon 2009, which went on sale just yesterday - have ALREADY sold out. Don't fret though, you still have a chance to grab some hands-on time with STARCRAFT II and DIABLO III when a new batch of BlizzCon tickets go on sale May 30th. Better be quick!

If you're reading this blog you're probably a fan of 80s games like MS PACMAN and JOUST. Did you know that you can pick up these titles and more for less than $3.00 at Amazon? 'Tis true! Kotaku says so. Keep in mind these are the Xbox Live versions of the classics, but most of them are faithful recreations. I have GALAGA and DIG DUG for the X360 and both are divine.

S'all for now. I gotta run - but I'll be back. Go play games!

-David 'Two Hammers' Moore

Friday, May 15, 2009

COD4 Observation

I noticed an interesting phenomenon playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare over the last year or so. It seems that when people in a hardcore deathmatch (hardcore because you are susceptible to being killed by friendly fire), they seem inclined to message you in the event of a mistake.

Let's say you accidentally kill a team member - something entirely possible in the midst of a heated firefight. You can be assured a quick message will soon hit your inbox with "WTF?" Let's say someone kills you. This situation rewards your inbox with, "sorry 'bout that" or something similar.

Can't we as gamers just assume that people make mistakes and not get so hostile or apologetic in the event of either taking place?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Avalanche Hits PC Charts

One thing I've noticed over the past couple of years is that, with the rise of powerful consoles, the PC game rack at my local Fry's Electronics has grown considerably smaller. This makes me a bit sad, as I recently upgraded my gaming rig with one of NVidia's most powerful cards.

The first thing I did when I got my PC was to finally see what Bioshock was all about, which, when run at maximum settings on a PC puts both the XBox 360 and PS3 versions to utter shame. Upon completing the game, I wanted another awesome PC title to try out, but the utter lack of variety on the shelf left me cold.

Crysis, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, Spore....all of these titles I'd already played. Apparently, the rest of the PC gamers out there are feeling the same thing, as I noticed that Blizzard Entertainment has swamped the PC sales charts with six products in the top 20! Besides being a testament to the excellence of Blizzard games, it also serves to show that there just haven't been any huge PC releases out in a while. To this end, I'm anxious to see what E3 is going to have in store.

What's incredible is that the Diablo 2 and Starcraft Battle Chests are still best-sellers. Both are amazing games, but I remember buying Starcraft more than a decade ago. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, seeing that the game is the unofficial pastime of the nation of Korea, but still....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gary Koltookian joins as head blog writer and editor

Let’s Get This Blog Started!

Greetings to all of you Chuckwagon users out there! My name’s Gary Koltookian, and I’ll be blogging this space on a regular basis with cool news, insights and miscellany pertaining to the exciting world of videogames. I’ve been told that the sky’s the limit with this blog, so expect my posts to be as random as ball drops in a lotto drawing! I’m hoping that by covering lots of topics, from classic gaming to console gaming, that each and every one of you will be entertained, enlightened and emboldened to participate with your thoughts and insights.

I’ve been a lifelong fan of gaming, someone who actually had the good fortune to work within the industry for a short while at companies such as GameSpy and Interplay Entertainment. Shiny Entertainment, creators of the Earthworm Jim series, took me on board as a freelancer when an instruction manual needed to be written for Sacrifice, its critically-acclaimed real-time strategy game released back in 2000. The manual got written, the higher-ups were impressed, and I was hired as a full-time writer within Interplay, Shiny’s parent company. For someone who grew up cutting his gaming teeth on games such as The Bard’s Tale and Wasteland, it was an out-of-body experience – especially when I got a chance to chat with company founder Brian Fargo.

I’ve attended E3 every year and this year will be no different. I’ll make sure to take lots of pictures and blog about some of the cooler things seen on the show floor. I always found it curious why E3 tried to downsize itself the last couple of years, and I’m glad to see the show return to its former self. Apparently there were concerns that nothing productive was being accomplished at the shows amidst all the chaos and spectacle, especially with all the money being spent on each booth setup. As much as the developers and studios didn’t want to admit it, E3 is really all about showing off, building hype and creating buzz (with booth babes, of course). What’s going to make this E3 interesting is to see how much the recession and down economy will have an impact on presentations and exhibits.

The word on the street is that gaming is largely recession-proof, providing a lot of entertainment value for the money as opposed to going to the movies, so we’ll just have to see. I’ll bring you those observations as well.

In the meantime, keep watching this space for updates!