Nick's Gaming Blog

8 Gaming Tidbits Week of 2-15-2010

Sooo…A couple days back I began looking for news pieces to cover in my Multi-Award-Winning Series (see: self-induced pats on the back) “8 Gaming Tidbits.”  But I wasn’t happy with most of what I read and put the list on hold until the 8 tidbits I had accumulated were satisfactory enough.  Then, of course, the server went down last weekend for the better part of two days, and I spent the weekend in Chicago.  I assure you, only the latter was planned.  Needless to say, the first event or two on this list are slightly dated now, but are noteworthy nonetheless.

Oh, and some of you were probably peruse over this list, and come up with some general comment along the lines of “Hey, there’s no mention of the iPad.”

Okay.

Let’s talk about that now for a brief moment.  Look, it’s a tablet-esque device that happens to have capabilities resembling those of a computer.  It’s an oversized iPhone.  Why, why, WHY did we think this thing was going to be a gaming-friendly device in any capacity?  If any of you honestly thought this was going to be a paradigm shift to the gaming world as we currently know it…well…all I can suppose is that you had little/no idea just what the iPad was going to be.  It’s not powerful enough to provide a graphically-fueled gaming experience…nor does it offer a fundamentally-altered gaming experience, like the Wii.  Provided that you were hoping you could play your iPhone games on a slightly larger screen you’ll be happy.  Otherwise, like me, you never thought this thing would be viable anyway.  Point made?  Good.  On to the points.

#1–Wanna Make A Million Playing Video Games?–Here’s how you’re going to do it: pitch a perfect game in MLB 2K10 on the PS3 or Xbox 360, record the event in its entirety, submit it and whatnot, and you’re set.  No, really.  The people at 2K are so confident that this is more of a difficult feat than it ever was that they’re putting the money where their mouth is. That is, assuming that a corporate entity can be anthropomorphized.  As a marketing ploy, it sounds genius, well, somewhat.

MLB2K10, where you play as...this guy. He's from Tampa Bay, and is presumably (in order to be on the cover) good at baseball. That's as far as I feel like researching this. Wait, it says"Evan Longoria" at the bottom. That must be him.

My only concern is that those with a genuine shot are those that religiously play the series already…and were going to purchase the game unconditionally.  Aaaand, anyone that realizes this that doesn’t already play the game probably isn’t going to pick it up.  Unlike so many other types of video games, someone who is a “natural” generally tends to have some problems with sports games, as they (if realistically depicting a sporting league) require a certain amount of knowledge about the players/league/tactics employed.  That’s how I’ve managed to win at Madden for so long.

I will say this though, for those of us that perhaps buy our sports games every other year or such, as we feel it’s wasteful to turn it into an annual process, those people probably will be encouraged to pick it up.  Video game marketing and PR people are amazing…let’s leave it at that.

#2 How Mountain Dew and the Fallout Franchise Share A Poor Taste In Naming Products–Hey, remember Fallout Extreme?  You don’t?  Well, that’s because it was only in development for a couple months back in 2000.  Apparently it was a first and third-person tactical game meant for consoles and, interestingly enough, was squad-based gameplay.  Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to say about the game, aside from that fact that you were in charge of a revolutionary group called “The Cause” in the Pacific Northwest.  Those that truly have a hankerin’ for more info would be wise to peruse the abovementioned link at your leisure…or work.

This logo is one of the few released documents from Fallout Extreme. PLEASE note the oversized "X" in EXTREME.

So brief, Nick?  Well, I think this point really illustrates two things.  First, it’s always amazing to find out what titles only take a step or two in the development process before faltering for one reason or another.  Secondly, getting a chance to look at an otherwise solid franchise’s moves toward “franchise-whoredom” is equally interesting.  From the looks of this title, as well as Black Isle’s plans for an MMO, Fallout could well have become something very different from that which we know today.

Oh…you want the real reason why I picked it?  Fine.  I find the American obsession with the word “Xtreme/Extreme/X-treme” which took place around the tail end of the 90s, and into the early 00′s, to be vastly comical.  It was all over books, TV, energy drinks, and apparently, video games.

Any time that anyone asks how I still manage to have faith in humanity, I reply that, despite our differences, we banded together to eliminate the heinous word “Xtreme” from the human vernacular…and that’s proof enough for me.

#3 What You Didn’t Get in Bioshock–While the last tidbit touched on a game that never found itself on store shelves, this one discusses several features that were left out of an all-too well known title, Bioshock.  For example, were you aware that Irrational Games’ masterpiece originally planned to help you find your way around Rapture with a Navibot? (If you did know that, and you work for Irrational Games…hire me) Then, of course, they realized that having you stare at the ground during the entirety of your stay in said aquatic paradise wasn’t ideal, nor was attempting to figure out just how Navibot would handle the repeated beatings of Splicers…amongst other problems.

Dear Internet, please let this Etch-A-Sketch of Bioshock be real and not (as I fear most things "too good to be true" on the Internet are) Photoshopped. Seriously, this is crazy.

Another design aspect that was rejected was an emphasis on biomechanical technology; machines that overtly appeared to be mechanoid in nature, would actually be powered by mutated humans.  Weird, right?  Personally, I’m glad they stuck with the whole art-deco/steampunk aesthetic and cut off the majority of the “mad science” escapades at genetic splicing.  No need to get super weird.

The craziest idea, from a game design standpoint, was the conception that machines dispersed throughout the regions of Rapture would allow the player to alter the atmospheric pressure of the area.  Why?  To allow the player another way to take advantage of his…well…atmosphere, by exploiting enemies that had weaknesses exposed at one level or another.  However, this of course meant that the artists would have to render lighting and fog effects for each of the three levels–effectively tripling their work.

There's no point in me showing you more stock screenshots from Bioshock. So, instead, I went with this fan art. Great stuff.

It also meant that because pressure altered fog and lighting levels, it would be impossible to dictate the mood of certain areas (just as the transition away from fixed camera angles effectively removed a great amount of Resident Evil‘s scare factor).  From what the article suggests, this pressure system would have also had the QA Testers contemplating suicide.

Now, I haven’t played Bioshock 2 yet, and I can’t imagine that they were…but if anyone of you have played it and know whether or not any of these features (or variants on such) were implemented, I’d love to know.  Is it likely that any were?  Considering that they didn’t “make the cut” of the first title in the series, I’m doubtful.

#4 What’s That, You Want An Underwhelming Xbox 360 Bundling Effort?  Oh…Here You Are Then–So…Microsoft thinks that there are individuals that still haven’t purchased an Xbox 360 that remain on the fence enough to have waited this long.  Then again, if they were planning on buying a Playstation 3 originally, I can see how E3 ’09′s multi-platform announcement might have…complicated things.  The question arises, naturally, how does one “sweeten the pot” to get those indecisive folks to join the Dark Side…err…Microsoft?  Apparently you hand them your normal Xbox 360 bundle, carve Final Fantasy into the hard drive, promise some ambiguously detailed exclusive avatar items, and…because it’s Final Fantasy XIII and all, throw in an extra controller. Because…clearly…nothing improves the quality of a single-player game like an extra controller.

When the box is the only thing that really screams "Final Fantasy XIII" you know you're in a bit of trouble.

You could, like, put it on the shelf so that when friends come over you can inform them that, “Yeah…I could be playing with that controller…if I wanted to.  But I don’t.”  Then you could cross your leather-jacket laden arms, and light up a cigarette…as clear a sign of teenage rebellion as any I know.  Feel free to throw in any punkish-tropes from The Outsiders, if you feel obligated.

At 400 dollars, is it a deal?  Then again, if you’re some Final Fantasy crazy freak (and, don’t get upset fellows, we all have a game or two that we’re crazy about, myself included) does price really matter?  Let’s think about this, compared to the $299 Elite, you’re getting an extra controller ($50), the game itself ($60), and a hard drive that is roughly twice the size (costs $60 more than 120 GB drive).  That, my friends, is a deal…however, aren’t bundles supposed to be cheaper than the sum of their parts…thus providing the incentive to buy them as a bundle?  I dunno…I’m just rambling now.

Aaaaaaand....this is what Japan got, if you were up for buying a PS3. Even though I don't really love the "pink on white" look, it's still better than the abovementioned offering.

Now, one has to ask…has anything better been offered?  Well, if you live in Japan (or are “import-crazy”) and you happen to want a PS3, the answer is “Yes.” I think, ultimately, people would prefer to have the actual console appear differently with this sort of special edition, above and beyond any of the other trappings shown here.  Certainly the Xbox 360 has proven that it has taken the time to do such in the past, with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3 bundles readily coming to mind.  Something tells me people aren’t going to get all “hot and bothered” showing off their special edition hard drive…at the very least they could have thrown in one of those Final Fantasy Potion drinks renown for their sheer undrinkability.  Anybody makes fun of my Xbox 360 bundle, I threaten to “spike” their drink with Potion...problem solved.

#5 And You Thought Managing A Giant Amoral Underwater City Was Problematic–So, Bioshock 2, how you holding up these days?  Did you think after attaining critical success that something wasn’t going to go wrong?  Or was it possible that, upon completion of the title, you said, “Well, this only stands to piss of colorblind and/or PC widescreen-lovin’ gamers, send it off to the distributors.”

Someday...someday I'll get sick of these "raining and rust-coated" logos that Bioshock utilizes. Not anytime soon, though.

“But wait,” some of you are saying, “That was the problem with the first Bioshock…namely the only problem with it.”

And you’re right.

Well, here’s what happens when you massively copy over large amounts of code from the original title without vetting all of it…sometimes certain…unsightly things stick around. Like non-patched aspect ratios that are in no way widescreen.  Now is this a horrible, game-breaking flaw that causes the game to verge on near-unplayable status?  Not at all.  It’s just the sort of thing that, if you’re a presentation whore (as many PC people are) and laugh caustically when the 4:3 aspect ratio is mentioned, that you’ll find issue with.

Now, if you’re looking for something that could have you readily returning the title (if you’ve already bought it) or avoiding it outright, I have one of those as well.  Supposing that you’re colorblind, and you have an inkling that you might want to play Bioshock 2, well…don’t.  The hacking game isn’t going to be playable for you, at least, as it currently stands.

Admittedly, this sort of design flaw is something most don’t consider, even though red/green colorblindness can be found in roughly 10% of the male population.  Now, there’s no denying that video games, of all the audio/visual mediums, has had a difficult time adapting to the needs of those with impairments/disabilities, but at least keeping this in mind wouldn’t be such a bad idea, now would it?

This is what colorblind gamers see when hacking in Bioshock 2. Those oddly yellowish areas, to most gamers, are either red or green. Which is crucial, as green is "success" and red triggers an alarm.

Of course, the snarky side of me would point out that, given the whole genetic splicing bent and everything, it’s probably expected that anybody colorblind in Rapture would take care to remove such genetic defects.

But, again, that’s the snarky side of who I am.

#6 Obsidian Entertainment Eagerly Bites Off More Than It Can Chew–Remember Obsidian Entertainment?  You know, the “cookie-cutter” sequel spawing buddy of Bioware (KOTOR and Neverwinter Nights) and, as of late, Bethesda (Fallout)?  The ones that have now delayed Alpha Protocol 4 or 5 times?  Well, they’ve decided that when one’s plate is full, the best thing is to return to the metaphorical Old Country Buffet of game projects, and start another plate, much to the disgust and dismay of fellow diners (which, for this metaphorical example, would be you, the game’s consumer).

In Alpha Protocol, you'll run into this girl, a pistol-touting punk rock Eskimo. At least, that's how I see it.

That’s right, those currently developing Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol, are now assisting developer Red Eagle with a yet untitled game based on the Wheel of Time series. Beyond this, we don’t have much to work with, other than that no release dates have been set, nor have the finer details of this partnership been elaborated on.  Keeping that in mind, I’d still speculate that Obsidian’s role will be something significantly larger than just an adviser position.  When one considers that Red Eagle Games doesn’t have any titles under its belt, and that some larger developer isn’t “handing off” their engine/assets of a previous installment in the franchise, saying “Just make something like this” you have to think Obsidian will be quite involved in this.

Again, it’s just speculation.  However, I would like to point out that I still am concerned with studios taking on far too much work.  Even when one increases the size of one’s studio, it generally results in a “trainer” studio, and the “big boys” studio.  If you want a faint idea of why this is happening, I’d look to the mergers and corporate ownership that has manifested itself in the past couple years.  Take a look at Bioware post-EA merger.  Look at the push for Dragon Age to go to consoles, the mass amounts of DLC and expansions (many of which have had compatibility issues and patches galore), amongst other things.  Now, is it to say that this was not wanted by the fans?  Is the consumer “always right” even when they aren’t?  Well, had you told me that I’d be deprived of Dragon Age: Origins I likely would be pissed.

I'm torn between whether Edge of Reality simply needed more time...or if they were simply a so-so "porter" that Bioware shouldn't have gone with in the first place.

Had you told me that I would be the recipient of a “still being patched” port, that was only formally announced a little more than a year before the game came out, I’d demand a better port, even if it meant a delayed release for consoles.  Throw in EA’s demand that all/almost all of their games will come with DLC packaged with new copies in the coming year, and it’s not difficult to see the corporate handling of things.  Now, on the whole, I appreciate that the DLC keeps monies in the hands of the developer (and this is something that merits its own article entirely) but these codes have expiration dates.

For a concrete example, if you can’t afford/aren’t certain you want to buy Dragon Age: Origins at launch or nearabouts, you’ll have problems, come April 30th, 2010.  That’s when the code for the “The Stone Prisoner” expires.  More or less, if you wait five months to buy the game, you’ll be forced to pay fifteen dollars for the Shale content…even though you’re not buying used and still helping the developer.  If anything else, this expiration date dealio needs to end.

#7 Holy Free Software, Batman!!!–Perhaps its only fair that, after bandying several accusations regarding EA about, that I give the huge corporate monolith credit where credit is due. Specifically, those looking for some “free, albeit dated” games would do well to make a quick stop here. In preparation for the release of Command & Conquer 4 on March 16, EA is offering up free downloads of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (along with its expansion Firestorm), Command & Conquer: Red Alert, and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn.

Allow me to present box art so bad...it's...well, it's still bad. But I love it.

Personally, these titles don’t tend to get me all “hot and bothered,” though I haven’t really enjoyed an RTS since I turned on the cheats for Starcraft. Then again, if you want free games and/or have a love for overacted live action sequences in your video games (I know I DO), then this might be right up your alley.

Oh, and while on the “free games” note, allow me to point out a hidden little gem that hasn’t been advertised much; The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and The Elder Scrolls: Arena are also free, thanks to the benevolence of Bethesda, and can be downloaded at your convenience here. The former of the titles is quite interesting, in that much of Daggerfall’s terrain is randomly generated, and that the game’s world is vastly larger than that of Morrowind and Oblivion.  To be specific, Daggerfall is roughly 162,000 square kilometers, while Oblivion is 41 square kilometers, and Morrowind is one-hundredth the size of Daggerfall. Again, it’s impressive to consider that a game from 1996 is larger than its 2002 and 2006 counterparts, but as you might imagine, randomly generated content doesn’t quite “do it” for some people.

This is what ALL box art should resemble. Two words: Fuckin' Epic.

Nonetheless, it’s a viable option for those not into the RTS offerings posted in the paragraph above.  Let me also quickly note that I have played none of these games, so I cannot comment on the quality of them.

#8 Blatant Perfect Dark Plugging–There’s really no other way to put it.  Allow me to state that I absolutely love any opportunity that allows me to enjoy a title that I missed as a child.  Some, because convincing my mom that I needed to play games like Tomb Raider at the age of ten, clearly wasn’t going to work.  Others because I was too terrified at prospect of playing them, or because I lacked anything remotely resembling the requisite coordination said title demanded.  Throw in the fact that I more or less only owned a GameBoy, and wasn’t exactly bringing in the dough in my pre-teens…and it’s pretty easy to see how I missed out on games.

That alien is the luckiest alien in the world.

Perfect Dark had the unfortunate luck to be on a system I didn’t own (Nintendo 64) with a rating my parents didn’t approve of (M for Mature) in a genre that my uncoordinated self didn’t handle well (FPS).  So you can clearly see why I’m pumped about the remake.  Some of my attentive readers might note that I brought up the game several installments back, and that’s true…but I have some new info for all of you.  And what might that be?  Well, the fact that the Perfect Dark remake now has a honed-in release date, more or less. While we’ve been forced to work with a fairly unspecific “Winter release” place-holder since E3 ’09, I can proudly say that the title will debut in March, to the cost of ten dollars (or 800 MS points, if you like fictional currencies).  Personally, I was afraid the title might clock in at fifteen dollars (which is generally where I draw the line when it comes to Marketplace titles).

It is also now public knowledge that the game will retain all of the gameplay modes from the original, and allow for Xbox Live multiplayer, as well as local play.

The developer behind it, 4J Studios, is hoping to retain the level of quality found in their Marketplace remakes of the Banjo-Kazooie titles.  But, then again, one could probably release the original titles, untouched, and still roll around in a large pile of Benjamins.

Anyway, recap: Perfect Dark remake, due in March, costs ten dollars.  I’m excited.

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