8 Gaming Tidbits…Week of 1-11-2010
It’s a new year, and in lieu of that, I’ve managed to keep my resolution (at least this one, specifically) of continuing to provide installments in each of my series’. Granted, some of you might feel that I set the bar too low on said resolution, but allow me to note that it was not as easy as the one above it on my “to-do” list. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty easy to read all of the works in George W Bush’s Presidential Library when all of them turn out to be Goodnight Moon.
So with that pseudo accomplishment out of the way, it was time to move onto the “big leagues”…provided that your understanding of said baseball analogy translates to “another ’8 Gaming Tidbits’ article.” But let’s cut through the proverbial dung, and get down to business…to defeat…the Huns?
1. The New PS3 Bundle Goes Moonwalking–Over the years we’ve seen some pretty briliant bundling efforts (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2), quite a few no-brainers (Super Mario All-Stars, Halo 3), but there’s also been a fair share of downright odd couplings (why PURE and Lego Batman continue to be sold with the Xbox 360 is beyond me). This week, the PS3 (though, to be fair, it’s only PS3 purchasers in Japan) got one of the latter.
Now, if you happen to live in Japan and think to yourself on an incessant basis, “The only thing that would convince me to buy a PS3 would be if it was coupled with the Blu-ray of the Michael Jackson film This is It” then I have good news for you. January 27th all you crotch-grabbin’, Mr. Potato Head nose loving weirdos will be able to get your fix. Those expecting a conventional PS3 should take heed though, as several bugs have already been reported with the device. For example, product testers reported that the machine only “turns on” when a male under the age of 12 is playing it. It also shuts down if you don’t play the Home Alone movies at least once every month. (Oh, and for those who don’t know, and I’m serious, Michael Jackson and Macaulay Culkin were “buds”, look no further.
All in all, it’s a dumb idea. Regardless of what anyone tells you, you’re still paying (though it might be a slightly reduced cost) for the film. That being said, if you’re buying the sytem for the Blu-ray player, you’d be better off buying a dedicated Blu-ray (simply put, that means its only about doing one thing, and doing it well…namely, playing Blu-rays) for a decent amount cheaper. If you’re buying it for the console, and not just in it for the Blu-ray, you should at least get some games thrown in for good measure (especially because you’ll likely see the games discounted more than the Blu-ray). Aaaand…if you’re buying it just for the film, you clearly already have a Blu-ray player, aren’t interested in the PS3′s game capabilities, and have no conception of how money and/or a consumer driven economy works. It’s a lose/lose/lose scenario. But again, remember, so far it’s only in Japan, and logic is therefore irrelevant, null, and void.
I mean, let’s think about this people. What sort of odd individual do you have to be to buy this?
You call up your friends, “Hey, I just got a PS3, wanna come over?”
“Sure, what games do you have for it,” they reply.
“Soooooo…what are we going to do with the PS3,” they ask, quite reasonably.
“Well, I was hoping we could watch the movie This is It, which came with it.”
“Isn’t that, that Michael Jackson film?”
“Yeah…and bring your kids, too.”
2.The Fallout Franchise Visits Sin City–To say Fallout 3 was a success (both commercially and critically) would be to make one of the greatest understatements of all time, and the add-ons that followed it are a model by which all future DLC should be gauged. So, with all of this hard work accomplished, on the seventh day Bethesda Softworks said it was “good” and rested handed the reins over to Obsidian Entertainment and said “We’re tired, make a derivative sequel.” Or something like that. Now, to be fair, Obsidian Entertainment is more than up to task when it comes to developing sequels to already existing IPs. Remember Neverwinter Nights 2 or Knights of the Old Republic 2? “Oh, those great Bioware games,” you’re probably thinking. Well…Bioware developed the original title for each of the respective franchises, but then handed the sequel-spawning efforts over to Obsidian Entertainment. To be fair, Obsidian Entertainment is busy wrapping up their first non-sequel title, Alpha Protocol, which is set to launch near the end of March 2010, but they’ve also gone back to their follow-up ways, working on Fallout: New Vegas…which has been given a very, very rough launch date of June 2010.
I know, I know. That’s barely a year and a half after Fallout 3 launched, and not even a year after the last of Fallout 3′s DLC was published. Keep in mind, however, that as Brad Nicholson wisely notes in this article from Destructoid, this date is only found on GameStop’s website, and PlayAsia, so it’s likely only there to milk the greatest amount of pre-orders possible. Still, a release date, is a release date, and the truth remains that if all goes well, Official Xbox Magazine will have a “reveal” on the game in their issue set to hit stands February 11.
Of course, there’s still the obligatory question of just what, if anything, do we know about Fallout: New Vegas at this point and time. Honest answer: Not much. One of the head designers, Chris Avellone, was one of the lead designers on Fallout 2 as well as Project VanBuren, Black Isle Software’s attempt at Fallout 3, before the franchise was sold to Bethesda. Umm…beyond that, we know that it’ll use the engine of Fallout 3, that it is not Fallout 4 (that’s something Bethesda will be helming itself) and will provide minor adjustments to the current game, such as rebalancing weapon statistics. That’s about it.
What do you guys think? Is this something you guys really need? Or want? Personally, because I waited for the GOTY 2-disc set to get my hands on the expansion content, I’m not in a position to demand more Fallout goodness, or at least, not five/six months from now. One should also take Bethesda Softworks record into account; throughout all of the Elder Scrolls games, they’ve never (to my knowledge of such) handed over any of the games to another studio (at least in terms of development). However, they’ve also never really had to juggle two serious franchises in the past. But…Todd Howard (head honcho at Bethesda Softworks) has also made it quite clear that we shouldn’t expect another Elder Scrolls game any time in the near future. So, we’ve got Bethesda passing off the next Fallout game, and saying we shouldn’t expect the next Elder Scrolls for a bit…so what the hell are they working on? *Checks Wikipedia* Well, they appear to not be working on anything. I’ll get back to you on that one.
3. Ex-Gamespot Executive Editor Kasavin Helms Spec Ops: The Line–Some of you might remember Greg Kasavin as one of the “old guard” of Gamestop, he joined in 1996, and left around early 2007. When sifting through all the reviews that Gamespot would produce, I’d always take the time to read his, even if I had no intention of purchasing, or even playing the game in question. There was a sense of professionalism and gravity to his criticism that few, especially when he joined the industry, displayed. Interestingly, Kasavin was hired by Electronic Arts to be an Associate Producer on Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, and would go on to continue his role for Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. Aside from having me ponder just how prevalent this “critic to developer/advisor” transition is (I certainly haven’t heard of any other ones, at least not this “big”) it’s worth noting that Kasavin is now working on a title that I’m interested in. Now, that’s not a jab at you RTS fans, I think a lot of your genre’s games look theoretically interesting. I just suck at RTS, that’s all.
So, just what is Spec Ops: The Line? Well, to be frank, the premiere trailer shown at the VGAs would have you believe it’s Gears of War meets the “Dust Bowl,” a cover-based shooter housed quite literally, in a “sandbox” environment. I’m absolutely in love with the very dark tone the game establishes; some bodies dangle from lampposts, others decay under the corrosion of the sand, before being buried by it, etc… The storyline is, boiled down to its essence, not the most original thing we’ve ever encountered; you’re Captain Martin Walker, leader of a Delta Force team that’s been tasked with retrieving a colonel left behind in post-apocalyptic Dubai during the evacuation of said “rich people’s playground.”
Yes, I mean the “buildings shaped like failed LEGO models” and “designer islands” Dubai. You also might know it as the “recently bailed out” Dubai. That place. Apparently the sandstorms get so bad that the rich leave town, and, as par usual, there’s a den’s worth of bandits just waiting to inhabit the dune-front property. The catch is that the Colonel (whose name is Konrad, for those who like their allusions to Heart of Darkness to be frighteningly blatant), like a fat child at a waterpark, doesn’t want to go home, and already killed his first set of chaperones.
Of course, the question comes up; just what will set this apart from your generic third-person military shooter that utilizes cover-based mechanics, and the Unreal 3 Engine? You mean, aside from the fact that, with Kasavin on board, they’ll likely avoid the tropes and archetypes that a derivative “nobody’ll remember this in a year” title would consist of? (Seriously, Kasavin, don’t let me down, I’m sticking my neck out for you here). Well, the dynamic sand engine should be interesting: you can use it to build bridges, create avalanches, etc…if allows for ingenuity and isn’t gimmicky, I’m game. Then there’s the “tough moral decisions” that you’ll have to make. I know, we’ve all heard this one before. Remember the “tough moral decision” of deciding between Ashley and Kaiden in Mass Effect? Again, I think that Kasavin (not to mention the lengthy amount of time the game has spent in development) should allow for at least a potential of such occurring. Finally, and while almost everyone seems to be saying it these days, they’ve got Nolan North as Nathan Drake Walker. The sand I really can’t do justice, so, to remedy that I’ve placed the trailer below for your viewing enjoyment…PS, I think Destructoid does ads with their videos, so I apologize for that).
4. The Independent Gaming Festival Proves That “Indie” Means More Than Expressing Existentialism With 8-Bit Graphics–Yeah, five minute-long, NES-looking, Neitzsche-quotin’ titles…I’m talkin’ ’bout you. After Braid, there’s really no excuse for not presenting an independent game, regardless of the grandness of the idea behind it, without some sense of artistic integrity as well. Thankfully, the 12th annual Independent Gaming Festival, which will be announcing its winners on January 18th, embraces this suggestion of mine. They’ve already listed those up for key awards and it includes the like of Owlboy, Super Meat Boy, Today I Die, and Trauma amongst others.
Those curious about the competition in general would be wise to take a gander at this link, too. “Indie” has thankfully evolved from an excuse to mask a lack of polish/production values to something that simply says, “We don’t have large-scale publisher/distributor supporting our efforts.” Well, at least sometimes…it used to be most of the time, though.
While we’ve bemoaned the fact that “digital distribution” (for those who don’t know what this is, simply put, it’s downloading your games online, instead of buying them at a store) will eliminate the resale market (which also has its respective share of pluses and minuses), it also means that people like those at the Independent Gaming Festival stand a chance at getting their product out. Some, like Owlboy and Super Meat Boy, have already signed distribution contracts with the likes of Steam and the Xbox Live Marketplace.
What’s the main “point” of this point, you ask? Is there not some hidden ulterior agenda buried underneath this seemingly responsible reporting? Well…it’s me…so…of course. If you read my site extensively (re: You have no life and/or are Nick White) you’ll notice that I’ve already plugged Super Meat Boy. However, since Owlboy caught my eye a couple months back, I’ve been waiting for the right occasion (re: excuse) to bring it up. It looks like Braid meets The Legend of Zelda’s Wind Waker aesthetic, and embraces a vertical platforming design, the likes of which have not been seen since…umm…I dunno. You tell me. It looks like the title I would have loved to play as a seven or eight year old, were my motor skills not so shoddy at the time that I’d rather have been asked to paint the Sistine Chapel than tie my shoes. Fuck you laces.
Anyway, I’ve also taken the “massive trouble” to include a link to the website of the developers of said title, D-Pad Studio, as well as provide you with a gameplay trailer of the game to follow. I’m hoping that there will be co-op for the part where Otus (do I really have to call Owlboy that?) flies, and the guy he’s latched onto with his talons shoots. I think that’d be fun. Unless, of course, you’re the guy that happens to have the talons sunk into his shoulders.
5. Darksiders…Had…The Week of Its Life, Never Felt This Way Before, Did Not Involve Patrick Swayze–On January 5th, thanks to the efforts of Darksiders and Bayonetta, the year 2010 started on a high note for gaming. While the latter of the two titles has met nearly universal critical praise (though the Xbox 360 reviews of such, overall, have managed a good 7-8% higher than its ported brother on the PS3) and not much else, the brooding post-apocalyptic slashfest featuring the Horsemen of the Apocalypse that is Darksiders has had a bit of a…well, eventful week. Upon launch, the title was receiving quite high marks, but in the several days that followed, Darksiders ended up making news on topics outside of, well, simply being a quality title.
First, we got the news that the Xbox 360 version of the game happened to have some “screen tearing” issues, which I can say I observed first-hand when viewing the game at a friend’s house. Usually I dispel these things as minor visual “issues” that never really become evident until they’re pointed out to you, much like that pretty lady/old hag picture. But this is a bit more evident than that. Good news? It’s not “the end of the world” (bad pun, I know) for Xbox 360 owners, as a patch is on the way. This was followed by an announcement by the fun-lovin’ United Arab Emirates (UAE) that the distribution and sale of Darksiders would be banned within their states. The justification? It happens to “contradict with the UAE’s customs and traditions.” What a surprise. Then again, I can somewhat see how a religiously conservative state might not appreciate a game that plays “loose and fast” with the Book of Revelation, and the “End of Days” in general.
But the game isn’t trying to accurately depict some pre-conceived notion of the apocalypse, down to some nth degree. It’s constructing its own legend, while borrowing from the eschatological (events concerning the End Times) beliefs of several traditions. But I’m pretty certain that nobody at whatever media screening/watchdog group the UAE utilizes really cares. And, apparently, neither do the storekeepers that are going to sell the game there anyway (This point is also covered in the above-noted hyperlink). As my mother often says (and she actually does, mind you, say this) “If someone really wants to do something, they’re going to find a way to make it happen.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Oh…almost forgot. Following all of this, the developers at Vigil Games (they’re the ones behind Darksiders) had to defend the fact that their game wasn’t going to have a multiplayer element or any DLC. Look, I’m biased, and an active defender of the “Single Player Campaign” mode. But anyone that thinks the first Bioshock needed multiplayer can go stick a Big Daddy’s over-sized drill in their nether-regions…and the same goes for Dead Space…even though the Big Daddy reference clearly doesn’t work for Dead Space. Plus, come on, it’s their first game and it’s doing well, let’s not get greedy. Bottom line is that games like this (such as The Legend of Zelda, amongst other games it draws from) don’t work well in a multiplayer capacity. Nobody ever finished Ocarina of Time and then bemoaned the fact that they couldn’t go “head to head” with their friend in it. Vigil Games, take a well-deserved break…once that patch comes out.
6. Party Like a Rockstar, Work Like An Indentured Servant–Remember a couple years back when word got out (and by “word” I mean something we all assumed) that EA was “slavedrivin’” its workers, and had to go to court for not paying overtime? Most of us, including myself, brushed this off as a “huge-ass corporation” shindig and talked ourselves into refusing the notion that people that made such fun products for a living could possibly not have fun constructing such. And while lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice (is this true? I don’t know how science works.) corporate shenanigans do tend to repeat themselves. On that note, there have been reports and accounts over the past couple days that Rockstar Games (or R*, if you like to go by Prince-esque names) isn’t going to make Forbes’ “Best Places To Work” list this year. According to an article published on Gamasutra (by way of Destructoid), the wives of Rockstar San Diego employees “ain’t gonna take it, no they’re not gonna take it, no they’re not gonna take it…any”—well, you get the idea. Not to belittle the scenario, but it’s your typical “overworked and underpaid” narrative, involving “break time” that never materialized, Holiday vacations shortened, serious stress-related health concerns becoming an issue…etc.
And, if this is proven to be true (as I can only assume that it is) this sucks. Employees that are capable of producing such quality content as the Midnight Club and Read Dead Revolver franchises (R* San Diego isn’t responsible for Grand Theft Auto) totally deserve to work in an environment that encourages and applauds their efforts. As the letter suggests, there will be moments of “crunch time” and that’s understandable. But if you don’t follow this up with some R&R, you’re going to have problems. Of course, some will say that this is something that “goes with the territory” of creating video games. I’d like those people to explain how Insomniac Games, well known for producing the Ratchet and Clank and Resistance franchises has won eight “Best Workplace” awards since 2005. They put out 2-3 huge AAA titles a year, have roughly 200 employees, and don’t have to resort to questionable practices. We’ll just have to wait and see how this whole thing plays out.
7. Gamestop’s Holiday Sales Fall Flat…Still Accepting Organs for In-Store Credit–Just like when The Empire ran out of money to finish the second Death Star (that is why it never got finished, right?) Gamestop has sent out a press release bemoaning their recent financial shortcomings, and, just like The Empire, I’m not so certain that I really feel that bad for them. Apparently competitive pricing by businesses like Wal-Mart and console price cuts, along with shortages of Nintendo Wiis and The New Super Mario Bros were to blame. What did all of this result in? Gamestop more or less netting the same amount of money that they made over the nine-week Holiday period last year. Taking the economy into context, when most of your money is people’s dispensible income, and you still put up the same sales as the year before, complaining would be the last thing I’d be up to. I know companies that would offer up their employees in sacrificial cult rituals to emulate last year’s sales figures. More or less, it’s like being robbed, only to have the robber send you a note complaining about how they didn’t manage to steal as much as they wanted.
“Well, you don’t have to shop at GameStop, if you feel that way,” one might say. And it’s a completely legitimate statement, were it not for the fact that GameStop has driven out “Mom and Pop” shops for the most part, and bought out much of the opposition, like they did with EB Games back in 2005. Around late October 2007 they opened their 5,000th store, which, put into perspective, is roughly about as many stores as Rite Aid had in operation at the time of the study. Those wanting competition have to travel to larger-scale communities that have Best Buys, or suffer with the “I have no idea what it is or when we’re getting it” stores like Wal-Mart or Meijer (at least around where I’m from). I could go into a huge rant about GameStop (and that’ll likely be the topic of one of my upcoming essays) but let’s leave it at this. Buying new games from GameStop is okay, with a caveat or two. Buying or selling used games at GameStop is not.
8. Video Games Apparently Make Kids Do The Dumbest Things–Video games have been blamed for a lot of things, most of the time unjustly, and occasionally, rightfully such. One can only be glad that, thanks to a little thing called chronological order, video games have not yet been blamed for Darfur, the Holocaust, the fall of the Roman Empire, AIDS, and Snuggies. But…I do have two stories that have attributed people’s lack of allegiance to the American legal system to video games. First off, a 14-year-old boy in Wasco, California recently held up two 13-year-olds with a BB gun (though, apparently it looked quite like the “real deal”) in order to procure their bicycles. And, as one would expect when things are stolen, the police gave chase, and one failed Taser attempt later, tackled him to the ground. Apparently he felt he was playing a “real life version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” I don’t know whether to be alarmed at the actions of today’s youth, or impressed by the fact that he specified just what Grand Theft Auto game he felt he was participating in, which most don’t. Moreso, I’d like to know why the hell the Taser didn’t work. Did I mention he also felt like he was on COPS? He did…and god willing, (and rules about minors tossed aside..and not those rules) we’ll get to see the tape of this someday.
“Nick, shouldn’t we take this seriously as a link between video games and violence amongst youth?” Look, I’ve already done the research and written a position paper for my “Contemporary Social Issues” Sociology class a while back, on this topic. It boils down to this: Kids are dumb. Some dumb kids already have “stuff,” but that doesn’t make them any smarter…and then you have dumb kids that don’t have “stuff.” And, naturally, being dumb, and lacking “stuff,” they’re going to attempt foolish acts to accomplish the acquisition of said “stuff.” Alright, I know it’s more complicated than that, I’m just joking around, but seriously, when you ask someone what doing something felt like, they’re naturally going to compare it to something relatable for the masses. If an audition goes bad, you might compare it to American Idol, if your neighborhood is gossipy, you might compare it to Desperate Housewives…and if you end up running from the police, you’re likely going to compare it to COPS or GTA (two media ventures where “running from cops” is a staple activity).
Our other “kids are dumb” story involves WoW, that game that psychologists estimate somewhere between 10-40% of its user base are clinically addicted to. I know, I know, there’s a new “someone from WoW did THIS” story every week. We’ve heard about WoW addiction clinics, or staged interventions (some even televised!) but this week’s tale involves cougars. And not the “I am an ancestor of the domesticated cat” variety. Let this be said, sex-starved Puberty-fueled teens should not be allowed anywhere near MMORPGS. Otherwise, like 16-year-old Andrew Kane of Barrie, Ontario, you’ll end up running away from home to meet 42-year-old married women from Texas at the local hotel. Or motel. Or Holiday Inn. Cost-wise though, Holiday Inn should have been ruled out first.
Of course, they met on WoW, professed a weird and twisted love for one another, and decided to meet in person. So…more or less, it sounds like the beginning of every “To Catch A Predator” episode. Despite not having the soothing voice of Chris Hansen to assist, when Lauri Price returned to Texas, the police kindly reminded her with a pair of handcuffs that despite 16 being the age of consent in Canada, it’s 17 in Texas (not that any of you needed to know that). And now, since I’ve been putting it off this long, allow me to answer the “big question.”: No, she was not “hot”… or “smokin”… or anything else that The Mask would say. Let’s recap: WoW is bad.
That’s all for this week, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to commit various acts of criminal conduct, and attribute them all to Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the DS. The way I see it, that game could use some attention.