Dear Netflix, I Can’t Support Thee Anymore

September 19th, 2011

Dear Netflix, I love you.  You are the light of my movie life.  As I watch an incredibly corny and bad movie via Instant Netflix, I am reminded at how wonderful you truly are.  You were there for me when I was bored so many nights.  You came to me when I was sick or lazy. You gave me the best deals and the best service that I can recall in the past five years.  No other company has made me feel welcome to call the support line and resolve my issues when I have problem.  Nor has any company resolved my issues as fast as you have.

I’ve listened to the explanations of why you needed to make the 28 day release day window deal with the studio’s in the favor of better streaming rights (which hasn’t happened).  And I stuck with you through that saying it was still worth it.  I stayed with you when you removed the DVD search option from Instant applications on the Xbox 360 and the Roku.  I listened to you say that you needed to separate the streaming from the DVD rentals and charge for streaming.  Again, there is still no better service for the convenience that you provide.  I’ve stayed with you during every outage, not complaining because I know it’s a service that is bandwidth heavy and I made excuses for you when you were attacked by every major ISP and even stood by Level 3 because those nasty cable companies were at it again.

I was a little miffed when you raised the price of your plans last year, and I was even more miffed this time, but I thought to myself, is there any better service out there?  I couldn’t find it, so I stuck with you and even defended you to my friends. You service delivered nothing but the best convenience in the industry.  Find a movie, and either put it in your DVD queue or stream it instantly.

Now, though, you are going to force me to check TWO websites to see the movie that I want.  Why?  I’ve rated 1,951 movies on www.netflix.com.  Will those carry over to the new site?  How will I tell the wife that we now have two sites to go to?  I just want one, count them, ONE site for all my movie needs.  Two sites will just make me think about where my money will be going.  Please, I beg of you, do not make me think this over.

If you do force this new site down my through, please at least link them so I don’t have to rate one movie on two different sites.  This decision is just ludicrous.

Ps. I love the decision to offer games, but am I going to have pay extra for that?

My Perception of EPIC Games

February 25th, 2011

By JediChric
I am having trouble with understanding Epic Game Studio’s these days.  This perception goes back quite a ways.  Those that know me best, know that my first every experience with multi-player gaming was with the original Gears of War.  At that time, the developers were not known to me and I would buy just about any game that looked halfway decent.  This was a mistake in the end because I ended up buying a lot of games that were CRAP.  As time went on, though, I continued to play Gears.  And one thing stood out, Gears of War was developed really well.

It was about six months after that, when I first started to notice things like the developer and paid attention to which developers made the best games.  Blizzard, Valve, Bungie and Epic were all really high on that list.  They made quality games.  They put time, and effort into really making a game, not only fun, but re-playable.  Since then, Blizzard got bought by Activision, and Bungie divorced from Microsoft, but their projects are still top quality.  Just last year Bungie release their final (we think) Halo game titled Halo: Reach.  That game has to one of the only games that I have ever played every day for two straight months.  It was to me (and a lot of others) what I have come to expect from Bungie, a AAA title.

So, when Epic released Bulletstorm, I was a little shocked.  It was not only the way they released it, with giving players that pre-ordered it 25,000 XP, but what they released.  First, there is no versus mode.  Okay, not a big thing, and looking at the fact that versus would be tricky with the leash, I could understand not including it.  The other reason it isn’t a big deal is that I don’t like versus as much as I like Horde, Firefight and Anarchy modes of games.  To me, working cooperatively is way more fun than working against.  Second thing that bugged me was the selling of 25,000 XP points.  Yes, you can’t use those XP points for any competitive advantage in Anarchy or Echo mode (that I know of) but we didn’t know that a month or two ago when we first heard about the Epic Edition.  Third, WHAT WAS UP WITH THE Online Pass?  I have NEVER, EVER used an online pass play an Epic title before, so why include one know?

Then it dawned on me.  EA was publishing this game, and this wasn’t a console exclusive like Gears is to the Xbox 360.  No, this was platform agnostic and since it was an EA game, they require that you enter an Online Pass.  We’ve talked about this before on our show, so I am pretty familiar with them.  And finally, the most aggravating thing that I have with Bulletstorm: DLC was announce THE DAY Bulletstorm was released.  To me that is like the developer/publisher saying, I want X more dollars from you for something that we decided NOT to include on the disc.  EA has done that for YEARS.  Does anyone remember the Battlefield: Bad Company fiasco?

So, here I am thinking Epic has turned to the Dark Side (I already assumed EA had).  They are trying to milk the little man, screw us out of game modes, and make people who didn’t buy the game new spend an extra $10 for an online pass.

And then, two days after Bulletstorm is released, I read about how Epic released the UDK (Unreal Development Kit) and will only charge $100 up front and charge royalties for $50,000 or more in sales.  That is a AWESOME thing to do.  That helps indie game developers tremendously because it allows them to develop, and only pay if it is successful.  Then I read about how Gears of War 3 will be released with dedicated servers (perhaps the most sought after multi-player experience).  If Epic turned to the Dark Side, why is this happening?

Then, it got me thinking.  Maybe Bulletstorm is the abnormal one.  Think about it.  Bulletstorm, one of Epic’s only multi-platform game releases, comes out and has all these other things that we aren’t used to.  What if Bulletstorm was just a pet project of a smaller developer that got bought up and Epic wanted to go with EA to bring it to all consoles.  They would then HAVE to go in with either EA or Activision (or THQ) to get it everywhere.  And I think that is what happened.

I would like to talk with Cliff Bleszinski (affectionately known as CliffyB) or Mark Rein on this (there is an open invitation if they wish to talk), so I have to go with my gut and say that Bulletstorm, while fun and exciting really was just a pet project that never really got finished.  Could we see a versus mode in Bulletstorm?

My other fear is that while this is one of the most entertaining games that I have played in a very long time, I don’t see it as having a long shelf life with the current game modes.  Not as many of my friends picked this up as I was hoping, and there is no true versus mode.  Anarchy is WONDERFUL, but there are only slots for four people.  And that just won’t fly when Call of Duty Black Ops is still out there.

As I mentioned before, DLC is on its way, but how much re-play will it have.  The DLC is only for Echo’s and Anarchy, so for me, it’s a bit of a letdown. This is one of those rare games where I have enjoyed the Campaign (probably the most enjoyable campaign since the original Gears) more than the multiplayer.

Should I blame EPIC for the issues I have with this game?  Probably. But overall it is a really well made game.  The game mechanics are fun, and the campaign is keeping me interested.  But I still have to say that the multiplayer options for Bulletstorm are not what we have come to expect from EPIC.  This title has tarnished their image in my book a little, but I still consider them a top developer in the industry.

Revenge of the Nanny State

November 22nd, 2010

by CyberKnight

Five years ago, “The Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California bill AB1179 into law, making it a criminal offense to sell a “violent” video game — defined as one that allows a player to kill, maim, or sexually assault a human being — to a minor.  Shortly thereafter, the law — like similar laws in other states — was struck down as being an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.  Instead of accepting this oft-repeated decision, California decided to waste more of their nonexistent budget appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

This should make you Mad as Hell for a number of reasons.  The proven First Amendment is only one of these.  It singles out video games for violence as a medium that needs to be “controlled”.  It attempts to take the decision of parents of how to raise their own kids (no matter how good or bad it is) out of their hands.

Contrary to a very popular belief, there is no law preventing the sale of “mature-rated” (except, maybe, sexually-explicit, a.k.a. “porn”) content to minors.  It’s certainly not true when it comes to books or graphic novels.  It’s not true when it comes to music.  It’s not even true when it comes to movies, no matter what the ticket counter clerk might say — the Motion Picture Association of America ratings are generally followed by theaters, with the understanding that theaters that cooperate may find themselves with easier access to new releases.  Wikipedia source  And, a law criminalizing certain video game sales can have far more disasterous repercussions, such as retailers opting not to carry such games for fear of criminal sanctions when a mistake is made, or even paving the way for a new “sin tax” on this “dangerous” medium.

On November 2nd, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments from both sides in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association.  A full transcript is available here.

The Supreme Court justices listened to both sides, interrupting and challenging them frequently.  Fortunately, some of the comments made by the justices during the arguments given by Zackery Morazzini (arguing for the law) show some common sense:

Justice Scalia: Some of the Grimm’s fairy tales are quite grim, to tell you the truth.  Are they okay?  Are you going to ban them, too?

Justice Scalia (in response to the argument that video game violence is not an “established norm”, like cartoons or fairy tales): That same argument could have been made when movies first came out.  They could have said, oh, we’ve had violence in Grimm’s fairy tales, but we’ve never had it live on the screen.

Justice Sotomayor (in response to the argument that this new law specifically does not target fairy tales): How is that any different than what we said we don’t do in the First Amendment field in [another court case], where we said we don’t look at a category of speech and decide that some of it has low value?

Justice Scalia (in response to the argument that a jury could judge individual games for whether they are covered by the “too violent” rule): I’m not concerned about the jury judging. I’m concerned about the producer of the games who has to know what he has to do in order to comply with the law.

Mr. Morazzini’s response to this latest is rather telling of the “we don’t care, just do it” attitude of those siding for the nanny state:

Mr. Morazzini: Justice Scalia, I am convinced that the video game industry will know what to do.

He says they rate their games on the basis of violence all the time.  Except that’s the ESRB doing the rating, and developers have already had issues not knowing how a game will be rated.  He then goes on to admit that this new law will affect “some, but not all” games that are already rated ‘M’ — so obviously he does not believe the existing ratings are effective enough.  Yet in the debate, he is unable to positively identify what the covered content would be.  Is it ‘M’ but ok to sell, or not?

Justice Ginsburg: …does California have any kind of an advisory opinion, an office that will view these videos and say, yes, this belongs in this … deviant violence, and this one is just violent but not deviant?

Mr. Morazzini: Not that I’m aware of, Justice Ginsburg.

Justice Scalia: You should consider creating such a one.  You might call it the California office of censorship.

Burn!

Not that they were necessarily easier to the other side.  Paul Smith, on behalf of the EMA, had to field his own questions.  The majority of them, though, are exemplified by this:

Justice Breyer: …why isn’t it common sense to say a State has the right to say, parent, if you want that for your 13-year-old, you go buy it yourself, which I think is what they are saying.

In other words, can’t the state do something, and why shouldn’t they if they can?

To see how utterly ridiculous this law is, though, consider this interchange:

Justice Sotomayor: Would a video game that portrayed a Vulcan as opposed to a human being, being maimed and tortured, would that be covered by the act?

Mr. Morazzini: No, it wouldn’t, Your Honor, because the act is only directed toward the range of options that are able to be inflicted on a human being.

Justice Sotomayor: So if the video producer says this is not a human being, it’s an android computer simulated person, then all they have to do is put a little artificial feature on the creature and they could sell the video game?

Mr. Morazzini: Under the act, yes…

Brilliant.

This is a case that gamers (not to mention lovers of the Constitution and the First Amendment) should watch closely.  After all, there’s a saying:  “As California goes, so goes the nation.”  If this law is upheld for California, you can expect other states to pass similar laws “for the children” — the first likely to be Michigan or Illinois, whose laws have already been struck down.  A decision is expected before the Supreme Court goes on recess in June of ’11.

Kinect Reveiw

November 5th, 2010

By JediChric

Kinect is the toy that Microsoft’s Xbox division is resting their future on. Yes, they have the Gears and Halo franchises, but Kinect is their shot at re-invigirating their Xbox sales. I bought into the system, and I purchased it on release day. Was it a good purchase? Was it worth the $150 price point? Was it as effective at capturing motion as it stated? In other words, was it as good as advertised? I will answer most of those questions below.

Setting Up Kinect

Kinect was rather easy to plug in, but after that, wow was setup a bear. Not a bad bear, but still, it was kind of an issue. First, when you turn on Kinect, there is an immediate detection and update that needed to be download. Once that was complete, and it was completed pretty quickly, the Kinect sensor went through a host of calibrations in order to determine if you have the right kind of atmosphere in order to play. All in all, it took around 20 minutes to setup everything. Not too shabby considering what this thing is supposed to do.

Next came the KinectID calibration. This was actually a fun thing to do (I’ll get to a cool part of KinectID in a little while). What KinectID is a link of your body and face to your Gamertag. I have to admit that it was pretty nifty and painless process. They basically ask you to move from one square on a grid to the next and make a pose. Once it has enough of them, then you are setup. I had three profiles to setup (me, my wife’s and my mom’s…more on that later as well). Overall, it took some time to get setup. But I think it was worth it.

Also, I should mention that it takes a lot of physical room, so if you have a small house, Kinect is not going to work as well for you. I am very fortunate to have a very large living room and was able to toy with it very well, but there were times when I wished I had an extra foot or two.

Games

I knew that this was going to cost me some serious coin when I showed my wife the demo of Skittles and the Kinectimals game and she LOVED it. Well, I had to get that game because you know the saying “A happy wife is a HAPPY WIFE.” So I got that game, and of course Kinect Adventures came with the sensor. But for my mom, I decided to get her Kinect Total Fitness. So after that monstrous setup, I decided to pop in a game and play. First up? You guessed it, some co-op action. Kinect Adventures. I pop in the disc, set everything up, begin to play and DISC UNREADABLE. WHAT!?!?!?!?

I was very worried that my disc drive was going bad (the issue is probably a bad disc, but I’ll see about that tonight when I trade it in for another copy of the game), so I tried to play Kinectimals, and success. We had no problem with that game at all. In fact, my mother, a person that on Tuesday referred to my Xbox as a “gaming machine” jumped in and started playing with Skittles. And she had a blast.

Now, here is where the cool thing about KinectID came in to play. When my wife was having problems using her hands to move things around, I asked her to sit on the couch so that I could show her how it was done. In Kinectimals, when there is a change in players, there is a flash on the screen that looks like a rock falling into a pond, and (get this) it logged me in automatically into Xbox Live. I didn’t press a thing. All together, Kinectimals looks great. There is very little lag in the motion sensor, and the game just has a polish too it that I haven’t seen in a game since Viva Piñata. At first, I thought Rare did this game, but I was wrong, but that does not take away from how well that game looks and plays.

I have to say that I was very surprised to see my mother take such an interest in Kinectimals. I know one of the biggest knocks on Kinect is that it is for the casual gaming market, but really, that is the biggest area that the Xbox needs help in. And I think Kinect might actually be that bridge that gets MS and the Xbox over that hump. Seeing my mother play catch with Skittles will be a memory that I have for a long time.

The Controller vs. The Sensor

There were a few bad things about Kinect that I am forced to tell you. One, the sensor isn’t perfect. When it says to get into a certain pose, you get in that pose, but your Avatar doesn’t always do it. Strange, but that doesn’t take away from the functionality.

In Kinectimals, there was a driving mini-game and although I thought I knew how to drive, it made me feel a little awkward. I was leaning at all sorts of odd angles to get it to work, and my hands just didn’t feel like there were in the right place.

If you have one hand directing the hand on the screen, and the second hand comes up reflexively, then it will throw off the hand/mouse pointer on the screen.

There is a slight delay in how Kinect senses you’re jumping or moving. Take walking for example. We may lift our leg to move forward, but our Avatar’s just kind of float in that direction. Very weird to see.

Kinect is very accurate in broad movements, but when it comes to the smaller movements, it’s really hit or miss. Would I say that this is completed software and hardware? No, but it is a very large first step. And let’s face it, this is (as a podcast that I listen too pointed out) very much Generation 1 hardware and software. Give it a couple of years, and I would like to think that Kinect will be really, really worth it.

Summary

Was it a good purchase? Right now, yes. Seeing the joy on my wife’s face, is well worth the purchase. Having a bad disc come with the sensor isn’t good, but I’ll chalk that up to a bad disc and move forward. Was it worth the $150 price point? I think the $150 has always been very attractive. Some say it’s $99 with a $50 game, but I disagree. It’s a $150 piece of equipment with a free game. But well worth it right now. Was it as effective at capturing motion as it stated? Like I stated before, it is very accurate with big motions and gestures, but the smaller motions just confuse the software.

In other words, was it as good as advertised? This is where I have to say no. It’s been advertised as a Wii and Move killer (which is never a good thing to market a product as) and it is anything but. Gamers can play the Wii and Move in smaller spaces while sitting on the couch. But Kinect does deliver on the fun family games, which the Wii and PS3 have lacked in the past year or so.  And at least one game, Kinectimals is well done.

Come On Harmonix, Get Your Act Together!!!!

October 11th, 2010

By Ironwolf

I am a self proclaimed Rock Band homer.  Like many other wannabe musicians, I have been looking forward to Rock Band 3 since Rock Band 2 was released.  I am one of the gamers that scour’s the internet for any rumors, pictures, videos, and just about any nugget of information I can click my mouse on.   So all that said, what has me criticizing Harmonix so much?  Can you say: HARDWARE, HARDWARE, HARDWARE?

In case you are new to Rock Band series, Harmonix is setting the bar a little higher with their pending new release.  Some bands have piled on music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero saying they aren’t teaching you how to play a real instrument.  Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason, was quoted as saying “It irritates me having watched my kids do it – if they spent as much time practicing the guitar as learning how to press the buttons, they’d be damn good by now.”   So how do Rock Band creators Harmonix respond to statements like this?  Make real instrument.  Earlier this year, Harmonix revealed the addition of keyboards and real guitars to their lineup.  They also will allow you to use your own electronic drum kit and keyboard by purchasing their Midi Pro-adapter.

Okay so what makes this article worthy of MAHG?   Previously, it was announced that Rock Band 3 game would be bundled with a keyboard for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii systems.  Just a few days ago, it was announced that the Playstation 3 bundle would no longer be available.  Harmonix’s official statement was “You may have seen that retailers have taken down the Rock Band 3 keyboard/software bundle pre-orders for PlayStation 3. Unfortunately, this SKU will not be available in the U.S. (including Canada and Mexico) due to the agreement terms for the region.”  How is it possible that three weeks before release date, Harmonix realizes that they cannot offer a bundle that many retailers have already taken preorders?

My second issue with Harmonix is the release date for Midi Pro-adapter.   According to many online retailers, the midi pro adapter will not be released until 30 days after the game is available.  For part time musicians, like myself, who already has their own equipment, this is unacceptable.   I’m not about to spend another $80 just to own a keyboard that I will use for 30 days until the Midi Pro-adapter becomes available.   I’m not sure if this is a ploy to sell more keyboards, or just a hardware delay.  With just two weeks left until release of Rock Band 3 I will say it again, Harmonix you need to get your act together.

Gaming in the sux

October 8th, 2010

Gaming in the sux!

By AsphaltRanger

So the phrase pogey bait in the military is defined as non issued rations that you take to the field. When I was new to the military this started as beef jerky, drink mixes and gummy bears…don’t ask I didn’t know any better. This progressed to other things that you wouldn’t normally define as pokey bait like books and a gameboy, there I was in a track vehicle for 30 days with two robert jordan books and a final fantasy game for the gameboy. Next thing you know there we were in a insulated connex in Kosovo playing command and conquer red alert for hours between mission, we learned to make our network running cables between living areas to make this happen. We started hiding cables under the buildings so we didn’t get in trouble, to get the true gamer feel we started using handheld radios to talk trash while we played…those were the days.

Now when you deploy you pack all your gear in your bags and pack the spaces with xbox consoles, cables and games and what does fit get mailed out there. A lot of people out there will tell you that this takes us away from our mission or hinders us from focusing on the issues at hand on the other side of the wire. I beg to differ, my last few deployments I’ve operated as a flight medic and being able to fire up the xbox between missions was the only way to take your mind off the missions and helped you get a small feeling of home…minus the couch, beer and A/C. There is nothing funnier then getting your whole crew in a room solely deck out for rock band large speakers, projection TV on the wall mics, drums and wireless guitars…for the record I sux at singing but I can sing the hell out of war pigs. The amazing part of this whole thing was these items were donated by a college in boston and man we played the hell out of it then passed it off to the next unit.

So no $h!t there I was waist deep in spent .50cal ammo and empty raman noodle wrappers…well not really but because we were playing Call Of Duty Modern Warfare deployed it sure felt like it. I know what your thinking…why would you want to play that deployed? Well, first reason if you take a year off from gaming your going to get own’d by little timmy when you get home and secondly if we stopped playing games that involve warfare of any kind we’d be stuck with viva pinata and sonic. Now I’m not saying those are bad games, but when you finish a level on a game like C.O.D on hard with just a knife you are the king of battle. These games are a moral booster you could say, everyone in the platoon all gathers around grabs a controller and puts rank aside to see who the best is… when your behind the controller regardless of rank we’re all gamers inside.

Unfortunately gaming in the sux comes at a cost, if not taken care of your your console turns into a door wedge very quickly. Let’s be honest it doesn’t matter what part of the sand box you set up shop, its not the cleanest of environments. I’ve seen many consoles get destroyed from the sand and the heat, and when that happens there is no quick fix. Most of the time we just end up buying another console because guess what… console support doesn’t send boxes to ship down range. If your lucky you have someone in your unit thats a techie and can fix the problem themselves. This of course voids that warranty and makes getting it fixed even worse, bringing us back to the quick fix of just buying another one. I don’t like that solution either, although I’m sure they have no problem taking my money for another console. As a matter of fact while I type this I can see a voided still broken console here in my office that I tried to fix downrange…one more and I can have a pair of book ends. There are ways to prevent this or at least prolong it, keep your a/c going and lots and lots of caned air.

The last big hurdle you have to over come is your internet connection, or lack of internet. Most of us buy a satellite system prior to leaving the states, which isn’t cheap trust me. The issue with this is that the connection is very slow for basic websites, and because that kind of connection is limited on bandwidth you can kiss your multiplayer days goodbye. This doesn’t mean you cant connect you can its just going to be very slow and suck up all the bandwidth preventing your buddies trying to webcam and email home. I would do my downloading and updating during late night hours when no one else was up. When Call Of Duty Modern Combat came out one of us updated their console which required the rest of us to update, man that was a painful week and I’m sure it maxed out our download limit for weeks…but it was totally worth it to be able to own people on the multiplayer maps. On a side note for real entertainment watch a world of warcraft player trying to raid downrange, his latency was over 12k he was hit a button and wait 10 seconds to get a response from their severs…thats were I learned the phrase “internet rage” still was very entertaining to watch.

In the end gaming in the sux is not only possible but a way of life for those of us who enjoy firing up the console. Its relaxing and when you finally get downtime between mission turn it on it…reminds you of home. So get your favorite field chair, grab that controller and I’ll see you on the battlefield

– AsphaltRanger

PAX 2010: Impressions

September 21st, 2010

By Shap Attak

The Penny Arcade Expo, the biannual opportunity to fly your Geek flag loud and proud, just wrapped up its Prime incarnation over Labor Day weekend.  Taking place in Seattle, PAX Prime (and its counterpart PAX East in Boston) is a 3 day convention for gamers and the games they love.  There’s a huge exhibition show where fans can get a sneak peek at upcoming video games, gaming panels and discussions and a myriad of rooms set aside for every sort of game. Whether you’re a fan of video games, role-playing games, board games, card games and anything in-between, you’ll find plenty to see and do at PAX.

This year was my third visit to PAX and despite the even bigger crowd, it was my favorite one so far. Attendance was reported to be over 67,000 this year and it showed in the huge lines at the panels and wait times to try game demos in the exhibition hall.  Yet despite this, there is a pervasive feeling of community everywhere you go.  One of the great things about PAX is the gamers themselves.  You’ll be hard pressed to find an unsmiling face or hear a cross word (outside of the HALO multiplayer competition).  It’s amazing that with the sheer volume of people, everyone gets along peacefully.

Video games are the focus in the exhibition hall.  Developers and publishers of all sizes are there to show off new and upcoming video game releases.  Each year the booths get bigger and more audacious, and this year was no exception.  If nothing else it’s a great place to see giant flat screen TV technology at work.  I spent most of my time in the exhibition hall waiting in lines to try out games or just floating around and soaking up the sights.  The expected big name games were present on the show floor: Halo Reach, Portal 2 and Medal of Honor.  Since I’d already seen a lot of information about these games (and Halo was coming out 10 days later) I chose to bypass them in favor of smaller titles or ones that weren’t releasing until next year.  Here are the highlights, honorable mentions, surprises and disappointments from this year’s show floor:

Highlights:

BRINK: The big name games usually have the longest lines, but there were a few less well-known titles that grabbed a lot of attention at PAX this year. One of the longest lines was at the booth for BRINK, the stylish first-person shooter due out next spring.  At no time was the line less than 2 hours long, so I skipped the hands-on demo and just watched over the shoulders of more patient players. I came away very impressed by what I saw.  I absolutely love the art style, a mix of realistic and exaggerated cartoon style.  It has a unique look that will make BRINK stand out from the usual first person shooter.  We also got a peek at the incredible myriad of choices you’ll get when customizing your persistent multi-player character.  The most interesting tidbit: There are individual missions that each player can accomplish in versus games that let every player contribute to their team’s success and earn individual experience points.

Gears of War 3: I was surprised to see Gears present at PAX and was delighted to get to play the appropriately named Beast Mode.  It’s a variation on Horde mode where you play as the Locust and try to finish off the COGs.  You can play as anything from a Ticker to a Mauler with some new creatures tossed in the mix as well.  There’s a point system involved where getting COG kills will earn you points that will allow you to unlock bigger and meaner Locust characters. While the controls all seem familiar, the already excellent Gears graphics engine looks like it got an upgrade.  I predict many hours of Beast mode will be played next spring.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: I got some hands-on time with the demo for the upcoming MMO from Bioware, and I was quite impressed.  The game is a story-driven MMO, and in typical Bioware form, your choices in conversations and actions will directly impact your character’s development.  I got details on the two factions (The Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire) and the unique classes that fulfill the typical MMO roles of tank, healer and dps.  You can create a Jedi, a Sith, a Bounty Hunter, a Smuggle or four others, with specializations available at higher levels.  It’s the first MMO I’ve seen that, if it has a smooth release, could actually give World of Warcraft some competition.

Honorable Mentions:

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood:  It looks to inject new life into the multiplayer experience with stealth-based versus games.  You pick a character and a load out of special weapons or abilities, and then you’re set loose in the city to track down and assassinate a target player.  The catch, you’re also being stalked by an opposing player. If you enjoyed the multiplayer in Splinter Cell games, watch for this one.

Torchlight 2: The upcoming sequel to fantastic and stylish dungeon crawling hit.  It adds the only thing that the first Torchlight was missing to make the perfect game: co-op play.  If you like Diablo, you should be on Steam right now downloading Torchlight and on the lookout for Torchlight 2 next spring.

Surprises:

The Xbox Kinect: I got to try out a few of the games and was instantly struck by how responsive and fun it was.  Kinect Sports (the seeming clone of Wii Sports) was a blast and I was amazed how it picked up on small nuances in position to make big differences in actions like the direction of a soccer kick or the spin on a bowling ball.

I also played Kinect Joy Ride which was fun but it feels strange to drive a car just holding your hands up in the air.  That said, it was also controlled well, using your whole body to make your car drift in turns or fire off your boosters.

I watched Dance Central in action, and while it to looks be the strongest launch title for the Kinect, I think I’ll save the dancing and gyrating for the privacy of my own home.

Duke Nukem Forever: That’s right, just when you thought the ultimate vapor-ware game was dead and gone, Gearbox (the studio behind Borderlands) has resurrected it for release in 2011.  I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s taking an “I’ll believe it when I play it” approach. I started to question whether anyone cared about Duke anymore, but the line that wrapped around the booth and across the exhibition hall was all the answer I needed.

Biggest Disappointment:

The lack of any major presence by Activision/Blizzard.  Goldeneye was on display at the Nintendo booth and Nvidia had two stations running World of Warcraft in 3D, but other than that, they were a no-show.  Surprising considering Call of Duty: Black Ops is coming in a few months as well as a new expansion for World of Warcraft.  I can almost excuse Blizzard since Blizzcon, their own Blizzard-only convention, is fast approaching, but I was hoping to get another peek at Diablo III.

PAX 2010 was a fantastic experience and I got hands on time with some great upcoming games.  It’s not only a place to see the great new games that are coming, but a place to connect with the gaming community at large and feel the camaraderie that comes when gamers from all over the country gather to just have fun and celebrate gaming.

Hands-On with Move

September 19th, 2010

by CyberKnight

While I was out shopping at our local Wal-Mart, I wandered by the electronics department and found, where earlier this week they had a set-up of local Halo Reach multiplayer for the launch, they now had a couple of PlayStation consoles with a demo of Sony’s new Move controller.

The demo disc allowed you to select from a variety of mini-games, which weren’t much more than tutorials of how to use the controller.  The games I played were archery and a gladiator duel.

Each game started out requesting calibration of the Move device.  It was an extremely simple procedure, asking me to hold the Move to my shoulder, waist, and belt buckle, pressing a button at each point.  It’s a little quicker than the Wii Motion Plus procedure of setting the controller down on a flat surface and waiting for a few seconds, but it’s still more than Kinect, which asks for no calibration whatsoever.

The controller is very well designed.  The rounded shape is very easy to hold, much more comfortable than the boxy Wii remote.  The buttons are very easy to press, and someone familiar with the layout will find them very intuitive.  (I’m not a PlayStation gamer, so I had to keep looking at the controller to remind myself where the triangle one was versus the square, etc.)

Both games I played also asked if I had one or two Move wands.  The demo unit only had one, so I could only test that.  It is, of course, a little more old-school than the Wii, which can automatically detect if the Nunchuk is connected, but it is nice that it did not require two controllers.  I assume the requirement will be dependent on software, so some games may choose to require another wand, a navigation controller, or a standard controller.

One thing I noticed right away when playing the archery game is the lack of jitter when compared with the similar game on the Wii.  The controller appears to track much more smoothly and doesn’t appear to turn every little muscle spasm and twitch into a large, jittery movement on the screen.  By contrast, tracking Move’s movements on screen didn’t require rapid eye movements to follow.

One of the things my wife noticed was that the on-screen cursor was initially hard to find.  The cursor matched the motion controller’s ball color, which was pink.  (The ball is supposed to be able to change colors, but over the course of my experience, it never did.)  The pink was very difficult to see against the background of the menus and everything else going on on-screen.  Once you knew what you were looking for, the cursor wasn’t too hard to find, but it still wasn’t the easiest thing to track.

The gladiator game would’ve been more fun with two controllers, since your player had one sword hand and one shield hand; but the game made do with one controller by letting you use a button to indicate when you were directing your shield hand instead of your sword.

Although the game seemed simple enough, it did reveal what seems to be Move’s biggest weakness.  While it tracked slow, deliberate movements very accurately and smoothly, quick swipes, thrusts, and changes in direction seemed to be mis-tracked and lost way too often, especially compared to the Wii’s Motion Plus.  I have not experienced these kinds of issues with the sword game in Wii Sports Resort.

Microsoft’s Kinect device has been criticized for being a Wii clone, but from what I’ve seen, the Move is far more Wii-like than Kinect could ever pretend to be.  I will say that having a controller in my hand did give me a much more “real” connection to the game than I felt with Kinect.  While Sony will have you believe that the controller — and in particular, its buttons — are the most important part of gaming, the games Kinect has shown off so far have not and will not require buttons to be successful.

Will the Move be successful?  I commented before how I thought Sony’s strategy with the Move seemed to be more solid than Microsoft’s with the Kinect.  However, when I was picking up my copy of Halo Reach from my local GameStop, I talked to one of the employees there about the Move.  Despite being released that very week, they had a total of one pre-order for the Move device (and, based on that, they weren’t going to get many of the devices in stock).  I forget exactly how many Kinect pre-orders they had, but it was much more than one — and Kinect’s launch is still almost two months away.

Disc’s: Because We Are Not Quite There Yet

August 27th, 2010

By JediChric

It has finally been said, “To think everything will be downloaded in two years, three years or even ten years from now is taking it a little bit to the extreme,” and “We do business in parts of the world where network infrastructure isn’t as robust as one would hope,”.  I think this is refreshing talk.  Spark and I have been saying the exact thing for years, and so have various blogs around the world, but you’d never know that if you listened to the CEO of Activision or EA.  Hell, Major Nelson has a weekly update on the “Games on Demand” titles as they become available for said service.  Sony, for all it’s great idea’s, even tried to release a handled that had NO physical media slots and was completely powered by downloaded games. That device was the PSP GO and that system failed miserably (And if you ask Sony, they say it was a market test.  That was a pretty big and expensive market test.).

When I first read the above quotes, I was thinking This is refreshing. And for the life of me, I had to read the source of those comments three times prior to actually believing who said it.  It wasn’t me, it wasn’t Spark (we’ve said it before, but we’ve never been quoted by ArsTechnica about it) and it wasn’t some two bit analyst or gaming blog that was all about the big splash prediction.  It was no other than Kaz Hirai, the Group CEO of Sony, the makers of the PlayStation 3 and PSP Go (talked about above).  I couldn’t believe it.  But he is absolutely correct.

But that wasn’t the only thing he said.  He continued to say, “There’s always going to be requirement for a business of our size and scope to have a physical medium.” This is a complete reversal to what almost every other developer and publisher has been dreaming about.  The death of used games sales and trade ins is the current wet dream of at least a couple of developer houses.  But that is not what is so exciting about this shocking confession.  What is so exciting to me is that if we have at least one disc out there, I will continue to buy them.  Really, give me one, just one reason why digital distribution is better than physical media?  Some say that there is less clutter and you can get them on day one, and all I can say to that is blah, blah, and more blah.

First let’s examine today’s difference between physical and digital distribution.  Today’s physical disc prices go down over time.  That is a historic fact.  The reason, retailers want to get them off their shelves as soon as possible for the next item.  The other reason, no one (including me) wants to buy a Halo game for $60 three years after it came out.  Let’s not even focus on older games.

What about pricing of new titles?  Are the discs and digital copies going to be the same cost?  If I pay $60, I want that case, I want that art book that came with the special edition, and I want that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that my game will be good no matter what console I am playing on (unless I buy a used copy of a EA, Activision or THQ game {poke}).  You will not get those with a digital copy.  I absolutely refuse to pay $60 and all I get is a code to download something.  Now if they lowered the price to $40, I might consider it, but it would take one hell of a game and it would ONLY have to be on Games on Demand (no disc available).

How about trading in a digital game?  With digital distribution, there is no trade in and buyers remorse can set it.  I get buyers remorse and it is one of the worst feelings I get after buying something and not being able to trade it in or return it.  If I buy a game that completely blows, then I can trade it in towards the cost of a new game, and feel better about myself.  You can’t get that feeling at all with a digital game.

Let’s go back to Games on Demand for a minute.  Say you buy the Games on Demand version of Viva Pinata.  You play the game, but you need some space on your hard drive so you delete it, thinking that you will always be able to re-download it.  Then MS makes this announcement that they have to delete unsuccessful games from their servers to make room for the newer games.  They delete Viva Pinata.  So now, your purchase of Viva Pinata is GONE!  Extreme case, but MS has, in the past, deleted older Arcade games from their servers in the past.  With that disc, you will always have that game.

I think one other thing that Kaz failed to see as a problem.  Hard drive space.  But that is another post for another day.  Keep the disc’s coming, and as long as they produce them, I will be buying them!

Used gamers are pirates now?

August 26th, 2010

by CyberKnight

One thing that makes us Mad as Hell around here is the war on used games.  Game publishers lately have been eyeing the money trading hands in the used game market, looking at the handsome earnings pulled down by GameStop in particular, and started asking, “How can we get our hands on some of that money?”  JediChric touched on this a bit on the last post, referring to EA’s “Online Pass” feature that requires each owner of any copy of their sports games to purchase a unique code in order to play the game online.

THQ is one of the combatants in this war.  They recently announced that upcoming game Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 would require an access code for online play, just like their earlier game UFC 2010.  The code, as before, will be included with new copies of the game, but gamers who purchased the game used would be required to purchase a unique code for $10.  In an interview with CVG, THQ’s creative director Cory Ledesma said, “I think we’re following suit with other publishers in having a strategy where we reward new game buyers with bonus content.”

If the fact that online multiplayer has changed from “included feature” to “bonus content” doesn’t make you Mad as Hell, maybe this will.  Responding to criticism, Ledesma went on to thumb his nose at used gamers:

“I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them.”

“That’s a little blunt but we hope it doesn’t disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated,” he continued.

Over at Penny Arcade, Jerry “Tycho” Holkins rose to his defense, saying (emphasis added):

If I am purchasing games in order to reward their creators, and to ensure that more of these ingenious contraptions are produced, I honestly can’t figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy. From the the perspective of a developer, they are almost certainly synonymous.

Unfortunately, Holkins couldn’t be more wrong.  I’m a software developer as well, so, using the same criterion he puts forth, my perspective is just as valid.  And here’s the naked truth:  What happened is you lost a customer, the person who decided they did not want to keep your product.  The first mistake is thinking the first customer was yours for life.  The second was the common, flawed assumption that the used game buyer was your customer to begin with.  The fact that a person buys your game used, or even pirates your game, does not mean that person would have bought the game new if the used/free opportunity had not been available.

Any marketing exec worth their title will tell you, too, that there’s even value to be had when your product gets around without money getting back to you.  Terms like “mind share” and “brand recognition” are real concepts in marketing and can — and quite often do — result in sales and real impacts to the bottom line.

I like to use as an example my own experience with Left 4 Dead.  Before it was released, there was a public “preview” (or “beta” or “demo” or whatever they call them now), which I decided to play.  Good for me, because without the demo, I would have avoided this game like a zombie infection, since I don’t usually go for survival horror games.  What I found was a very fun game, well worth the price of admission.  The demo, however, didn’t stay around long.  A friend of mine completely missed it, and thus missed his chance to try it out.

After seeing me play it online for a while, this friend of mine decided he wanted to try it out.  But, no demo was available, and he wasn’t so curious as to want to spend money renting the game.  So, I loaned him my copy of the game.  (That’s right, I didn’t even sell it to him; what percentage of that transaction should Valve be entitled to?)  He was able to play the full copy of the game, offline and online, free and clear.  Did that cheat Valve out of a sale?  They didn’t have a sale to begin with.  Not only that, but, after playing Left 4 Dead, he was more interested in getting his own copy of upcoming Left 4 Dead 2.  So, not only did this not cheat them out of a sale they didn’t have in the first place, but it won them a potential sale they didn’t have before.

Ars Technica weighed in on the debate, in their own way; their article not only highlights Penny Arcade’s post, but the comment that analogies to other industries (cars, books) that are often brought up are an automatic fail, because games don’t degrade with age or prior ownership.  The article, of course, completely ignores used CDs and DVDs, which have failed to kill the music and movie industries.  The argument is also wrong:  games do degrade with age.  Any parent who has had their young children scratch a game beyond payability will attest to this.  Anyone who has bought a used game, only to find it scratched to unplayability (either immediately, or at just that critical spot on the disc that loads before the final boss), will also confirm this.  So will anyone who has bought a used game that lacks a manual or proper case.  Also, as games age, their technology becomes outdated, so that it pales in comparison to newer games.  Additionally, the online multiplayer population for most games decreases over time, making it more difficult to find a quality online match.  I challenge anyone who thinks that “games don’t degrade with age” to argue that Perfect Dark Zero is worth the same $60 today as it was on release, and, once that person has paid their $60 to play (since the developers deserve it, right?), to find a quality online multiplayer match.

I shouldn’t close without a reminder that every attack that aims at the used game market has substantial collateral damage.  So even if you hate megacorporations like GameStop and want to see them hurt for whatever reason, remember that they’re simply operating on very fundamental concepts.  Those concepts are what are under attack, and when they go, not only will GameStop suffer, but you’ll suffer, too.  You’ll suffer when you want to sell your games outside of those megacorps, whether you do it on eBay, Craigslist, your own garage sale, or on the sidewalk.  You’ll feel it when you try to trade games with a friend, when no money changes hands.  You’ll realize it when you try to rent a game from GameFly or Blockbuster.  You’ll understand when your Xbox dies, you buy a replacement, and you’re unable to play online because the code was tied to the old console on a previous account and you can’t use the “License Transfer Tool” for another six months.  You’ll get the picture when you try to give the game to your family member to use on their own console in the same house.

Call it what it is.  It’s a money grab, plain and simple.  If developers are going to act like spoiled babies when citizens exercise their consumer rights to buy and resell product at what they think is a fair price, and try to “force” consumers to pay by taking away other rights and conveniences, then I really don’t have much sympathy for them as I take my gaming dollars elsewhere.