Thursday, August 27, 2009

dissidia final fantasy

I have played a Final Fantasy game here and there and was never drawn into it but there is no denying that it is one of the most popular and lasting video game franchises out there and arguably has one of the most loyal fan bases when it comes to buying new franchise titles upon release. So of course it is no wonder that Square Enix's latest release Dissidia Final Fantasy, a fighting game featuring only Final Fantasy characters from across the franchise's history, is proving to be a popular seller to FF fans. Whether it will sell to anyone not already engrossed in the franchise is another story, but hey, there's also a limited edition silver PSP bundle! Dissidia Final Fantasy is getting solidly good reviews and is just one of many big fighter-game releases over the next year.

cursed mountain is out

I haven't had all that much time lately to spend playing video games (horrors, I know!) but one that I really am anxious to try out for sure is Cursed Mountain, which came out on the Nintendo Wii this week. Cursed Mountain is a survival horror game that follows a mountaineer searching for his brother who disappeared on his way to a monastery in the mountains. The animation looks gorgeous for a Wii game and the M-for-mature rating makes me want to support it just to get more games like it into development. There are only a few reviews up so far and the game seems to be scoring around a 7 out of 10 for the most part. From what I have read it sounds like the game suffers from the typical Wii issues of wacky motion controls that sometimes feel tacked on, but otherwise the game seems like a really interesting adventure title. I love games with well-developed stories and plot progressions and it seems like Cursed Mountain is a winner there. Anyone out there tried this one yet?

console price drops abound

Hot on the heels of Sony's announcement of the new PS3 Slim model priced at $299 with a 120 GB hard drive, Microsoft has made its official announcement regarding its own video game console price drops this month. The $299 Pro system, equipped with a 60 GB hard drive, will be dropped to $249 and subsequently phased out while the $399 120 GB Elite system will be reduced to $299. The no-frills Arcade system will remain at $199. Also, there are no plans for a competing Xbox 360 Slim model in response to Sony's slimmer console, according to Aaron Greenberg, the Director of Product Marketing for Xbox 360 and XBLA. So, if you've ever considered taking the plunge into console ownership, now might be the time since for $299 you can have your pick of the 360 or PS3, both with a monster 120 GB drive.

Microsoft confirms price cut, denies "Xbox 360 Slim" rumors

the 3 types of game store customers

I've got to preface the article I'm going to post here by saying that I really do enjoy my job selling video games at the retail level to customers - it isn't my life's aspiration but I'm pretty sure I've got time to work on that. Interacting with appreciative customers and helping people find the stuff they're looking for and make smart buying decisions is actually quite rewarding. Still, I have to say I completely and totally agree with the three types of customers outlined in this article. I would add a fourth column of "doesn't mess up your day" because really, there are plenty of them. Maybe I just get lucky in that I'm a pleasant, polite female and people don't usually mess with me too badly. But I have for sure seen my share of the following three types of shoppers and dealing with them truly is one of the greater challenges of video game retail work. The article I'm linking may be old but it is in no way outdated - I'm lucky to deal with mostly confused and bizarre and less angry but they show up in every store and sometimes it does make you wonder how these people get through life on a daily basis. Anyway, here are Something Awful's three types of GameStop shoppers:

The Confused
"By order of the We Hate Retail Employees Organization, these people are never allowed to directly answer questions like "Any idea what you're looking for?" or "Would you please stop drooling all over the carpet?" Instead they must stagger around the store with the precision and grace of a pregnant hippopotamus while leaving a trail of knocked-over display boxes, misplaced games and crying employees in their wake."
The Angry
"Under no circumstances should you attempt to combat his insane ramblings with logic, because doing so carries a significant risk of making the Angry Customer level up and evolve into his upgraded form, the dreaded Really Really Fucking Angry Customer."
The Bizarre
"These can range from people who stare at your nametag and then proceed to call you by the wrong name, to people who make some very specific and strange requests when looking for games. 'Hello, do you carry any games where you grow larger with food upgrades from three-legged Eskimo fairies while speeding backwards through Atlantis on a giant piece of cheese?'"
Something Awful: Working at GameStop

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

bridging the online-offline gap

Seattle-based startup company Smith & Tinker has announced its plan to launch a line of interactive toys and computer games that will seek to bridge the gap between online and offline play, at least when it comes to 7-to-12-year-old boys. Apparently toy companies are freaked by the prospect that more and more kids are putting down actual toys in favor of video games at earlier and earlier ages, so of course bridging the gap between toys and online games has become a target goal in new product development. The Nanovor game system (which reads a lot like a Pokemon ripoff) features digital monster pets and accessories that game users can buy with Nanocash (surprise, you pay for it with real cash!). The game can be played online on a PC or with other players via handheld game machines that actually connect together so your Nanovor can fight with the Nanovor of others. Sounds a little like Cube World. I guess only time will tell if this kind of integrated toy offering will tempt kids who are currently completely addicted to solo-player and online video games.

Start-Up Plays Offline

professor layton & the diabolical box

This is a great week for game releases, mostly because today is the ship date for one of the year's most anticipated DS titles, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box! The long-awaited followup to the runaway/sleeper hit of 2008 Professor Layton and the Curious Village is actually the second title in a trilogy chronicling the adventures of Layton and his young apprentice Luke. The series sells like crazy in Europe and the third one is already topping Japanese sales charts. The original title was one of the first games I played after getting my DS and it remains one of my favorites, and one of a select group of games that I actually repurchased after trading in initially. The game is full of challenging brain-teasers (some easy, and some insanely hard) and is set against a beautiful Euro-themed village setting. I have been replaying the first game to remind myself of its plot and have found it immensely enjoyable to see the lovely animation style and listen to the adorable atmospheric soundtrack again. I have already paid off my copy of Diabolical Box and plan to pick it up tomorrow after what will most likely be a very long day of working both jobs from 9 am to 10 pm. But at least with this release I have something to look forward to taking home once my shift's over!

natal is cool but still questionable

At last month's game developer's conference Game Convention 2009 in Germany, the Microsoft team working on Project Natal for the Xbox 360 revealed a bit more on the topic of the innovative motion-camera-controlled game system first unveiled at this year's E3. Now IGN has brought the new information to its readers in a Project Natal Preview that highlights the promise of new and interesting gaming as well as the uncertainty of how much Natal will catch on. I have to agree with the cynics that are wondering when the real appeal of Natal as a gamer's gaming console will appear - "Ricochet" seems like a cool and fun Wii Sports-esque game that definitely exhibits the Natal's range, but I definitely doubt the application of this system into real games that people want to put a lot of time and effort into. The description of using imaginary wheels and pedals and pumping fists to control Burnout gameplay sounds just awful and I really don't know many gamers who want to continually make such crazy motions as opposed to sacking out on the couch with the convenience of a wireless analog-stick controller. Plus when it comes to driving games, you need only compare Mario Kart 64 (one of gaming's great masterpieces, in my opinion) with the Wii version to see the importance of a steering stick and tensile control.

I would love to hear from anyone who has first-handedly tried out Project Natal at this year's conferences about whether the control system is as mind-blowingly cool as most people seem to think, and whether the applications into "normal" games will expose Natal's weaknesses or strengthen its argument for new control schemes in gaming. Especially if you have photo evidence of yourself flailing around while playing Ricochet!

batman: arkham asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum hit store shelves today and thus far is getting some pretty awesome reviews. Game Informer gave it a 9.5 and called it their Game of the Month, and now IGN has rewarded it with a pretty amazing 9.3 "Outstanding". It sounds like despite the franchise having enormous shoes to fill with a video game, London-based developer Rocksteady Studios managed to do justice to the Caped Crusader and the many psycho villains inhabiting Arkham Asylum. Also, some of the voice acting is done by original actors from Batman: The Animated Series, including Mark Hamill as the Joker! The game apparently pushes the limits of its T-for-teen rating with scantily-clad bad girls and some colorful language, but good for them for keeping it under the dreaded M-rating that would mean teenagers couldn't go buy this game without parental permission. I definitely want to give this one a try sometime - it sounds like the styling of the setting and the characters is really atmospheric and spot-on for the mood they were trying to achieve. If you've got a PS3, you can even access the exclusive "play as the Joker" level, and preorders from GameStop include a Scarecrow challenge map level featuring some crazy skeleton enemies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

microsoft's mmorpg "advertars"

I will admit that I have very little experience when it comes to online gaming and MMOs. I prefer my gaming to remain in my own controllable universe - the Sims, for example, would be far less enjoyable to me if I knew other people were controlling parts of my game experience. Still, I recognize the huge following of games like Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft. Not surprisingly, these games are often used as platforms for advertising that takes advantage of the in-game trade or finance systems and reaches outside the game's realm to generate revenue from its popularity. This article highlights a new presence in MMOs: "advertars" or corporate-created playable characters or NPCs that walk around in-game environments and promote products. Examples given include MP3 player promotion and buzz generation for upcoming movies by characters straight out of the films. I consider this potential just another reason to avoid MMOs altogether. It really doesn't bother me to see McDonald's or Audi (or even GameStop itself) logos here and there in realistic game environments - it's a cool way for game developers to get more budget for their projects - but when characters in a game start targeting online players in game environments to "talk" about products, I think that crosses the line into intrusion in my game experience. Maybe in free-to-play games I could see this working out but if you're already dropping a monthly subscription fee, you should not have to deal with random NPCs spouting crap about Microsoft products!

Going too far? Microsoft creates advertars for online games
*on a side note, this blog Set on Stun has a ton of great discussion about video game marketing, if it's a topic you're interested in reading more about.

pokemon ds remakes headed to US

The long-anticipated remakes of second-generation Pokemon games Gold and Silver now have a release window and are expected to arrive in the North American market sometime during spring of 2010. The new titles remade for the Nintendo DS are Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver; these new versions of the GameBoy Color games released nearly 10 years ago will feature updated graphics and sound as well as newly added touch controls. Gold and Silver introduced a ton of new monsters, pokemon breeding and a day-and-night system tied to real time. With these upcoming DS releases a whole new generation of Pokemon addicts will get to experience the original metallic Pokemon titles.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver headed to America this Spring

the road to rock band: beatles

The Beatles: Rock Band has been getting crazy press all over the place and I noticed in the newest Game Informer that they gave it an 8.75 - not too shabby! With limited edition replica instruments in a special edition bundle and fans worldwide getting psyched to rock out to Beatles songs, the launch of Harmonix's latest blockbuster is nearly here (It launches on September 9). While this game is sure to sell well and everyone behind it will be rolling around on piles of money by the end of the holiday season, apparently it wasn't the easiest process to get such a monumental game made and approved by everyone whose opinion counted. Not the least of which was Yoko Ono dictating her artistic vision on the poor game designers:
"She gave the designers hell," DeGooyer says. "She's an artist," Rigopulos adds, "so she was very concerned with the look of the game. She really held our feet to the fire." Ono made specific suggestions, like proposing that the game's final scene—the Beatles' infamous rooftop concert on the Apple Corps building in Knightsbridge—look windier.
How the Beatles Became a Video Game

mental health benefits of video games

Most gamers will tell you they've known this for years but a recent study has concluded that video games can help people with certain types of mental disorders like depression and stress. The research was done after it was brought to PopCap's attention that some of their hypnotic puzzle games like Bejeweled actually had the ability to get people to a "zen" state of mind during sleepless nights or bouts of depression. Apparently type A folks have trouble switching their brains off and the repetitive challenge of puzzle games actually serves to relax such brains. I am totally willing to believe this as nothing destresses me more than zoning out while rolling stuff up into a katamari... but I digress. This article also discusses the possible benefits of using video game simulations to teach soldiers in the military how to self-regulate their heartbeats and stay coherent under stressful circumstances. Cool stuff for sure!

Researchers Explore Mental Health Benefits of Video Games

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

xbox 360: epic fail!

The new issue of Game Informer includes a feature article profiling the sales and durability numbers of the hardware consoles from the three major game companies. The magazine conducted a survey asking gamers to report incidents of hardware failure, quality of customer service received, and instances of repeat purchases of the same console. The results were not so good for Microsoft, whose Xbox 360 console is now in the spotlight for highest rate of failure, fewest customers satisfied with service, and most repeat purchases compared to the Sony PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. The report also indicated that on average a 360 took about a month turnaround to be repaired whereas the Sony and Nintendo consoles trended more towards a week. I have been lucky (knock on wood) to not have suffered a Red Ring of Death but have often theorized that this hardware failure is responsible for Microsoft's gleefully high hardware sales numbers, and this study seems to be implying the same thing. The 360 may have some good game titles going for it but its dependability and customer service are sorely lacking. Still, only 3.8% of respondents said a hardware failure would make them not buy another 360, so until Xbox gamers learn to value their hard-earned money and stop wasting it with Microsoft, the company really has little motivation to alter what has proved to be a crazy successful business model of shoddy manufacturing and guaranteed repeat purchases.

playstation 3 slim announced!

It's been grinding in the rumor mill for some time now but today the official announcement came that a PS3 Slim model will be hitting store shelves this September. For some reason Kmart was the first source ("accidentally") to announce the arrival of the $299 PS3 Slim and is listing it as a presale due ou September 1st. The new Playstation 3 SKU will come with a 120 GB hard drive; existing PS3 products will likely be seeing a companion price drop in the very near future as there will be little reason to buy the 80GB "bulky" version for the same price as this new slimline model. Personally I am happy to keep my backwards-compatible bigger machine but for anyone who hasn't invested in a Playstation 3 yet, this certainly makes it an easier prospect when it comes to finding physical space for it. The one we have is a beast!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the video game retail price debate

If you pay attention to gaming news you probably read last week when Activision CEO Bobby Kotick made a rather flip remark about wishing he could raise the prices of his company's blockbuster game releases even higher to get more reassurance that a game will make back the money spent on its development. The video game community has understandably reacted pretty negatively to these comments as they come in a time when Activision is already clearly making huge profits. Not to mention that the average American is finding it hard enough to drop $60 on a new game (see used game sales spikes for more proof of this). When Activision's DJ Hero and Tony Hawk: Ride launch they will both cost upwards of $120 as they are released with peripheral controller accessories, and Modern Warfare 2 will set UK players back around $75 USD when it comes out in November. I understand the troubles that game studios have when it comes to making money back - publishers pay for every game copy ever printed, not just the ones that sell - but still, with the rise of digital distribution and the looming juggernaut that is the used games market, now is for sure not the time to be alienating the loyal customer base that buys new products with price gauging.

Analysis: Kotick's 'Raise the Price' Comment and AAA Game Value
Publish Post

johnny cash's guitar hero debut

One of the next big music games due out this year is Guitar Hero 5, which launches in just a few weeks on September 1st, and this latest installment of the Guitar Hero series will feature Johnny Cash an a playable celebrity character! The game will also include Cash's song Ring of Fire as well as Man In Black, which will be an unlockable track to play. There are so many new music games coming out this year that it is tough to keep track of them all.

Guitar Hero 5: Johnny Cash's Video Game Debut

busy busy lately

It's been over a week since I posted anything here and I am setting out to break this bad habit I've fallen into. Things have been crazy busy for me between my two jobs and, well, it's summer and there are more fun places to spend time than in front of a computer writing a blog. Still, I am doing my best to find time to get some gaming in here and there. I have been playing quite a bit of Sims 3 lately and finally took the chance on setting up a Sim with the Evil trait. In fact, he is not only Evil but also Insane and Inappropriate! These traits really do make for some hilarious situations, like the friendly interaction options of "Talk About Conspiracies" (his brother is Neurotic so this is their favorite conversation topic) and "Speak Madness", which has become my go-to social interaction to use. In addition to the Sims I also managed to get a perfect score and a medal on the Crop Stomp level of Rhythm Heaven that has plagued me for a long time. It definitely helps sometimes to take some time off from a game and approach it again later. I've also been doing a fair amount of rocking out in Guitar Hero, which coincidentally has a prominent cameo in Orphan, the (very scary and disturbing) movie I saw last night.