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Malik (2/20/06)  

As I was saying last week, I actually have little emotion towards most game systems. If the PS3 does great, I'll be happy. However, that same sentiment goes for nearly everything. I want the 360 to do far better this generation than the XBox did in the last 5 years. I also want the Revolution to kick some major ass. I can say the same about the DS...which may have started slowly, but is now an impressive little thing with some true must-have games (like Mario Kart DS, Animal Crossing DS, not to mention future games like the next Super Mario). 

Also, like I said last week, the PSP is my one exception. Or I should say, it's my one current exception, since Gizmondo, Zodiak, and N-Gage all were special exceptions. I guess one could say, I just want to see those who know what they are doing doing what they know how to do. I like Sony on my TV, but not on my handheld. I like to see Tiger when I look back at my childhood, but not with a new handheld. I like to see Nokia written only on my phone (and not even there anymore, thanks to Motorola). I like my PDAs, if I ever got one, to be a PDA and not a game system. 

So, with so much bad feeling towards these certain companies, I decided to no longer speak out of both sides of my mouth. The PSP has no good games, no must-have titles, no future/planned titles that look impressive enough to justify having this $250 abomination, and it just doesn't live up to the GP2X in other areas. So, I have done what I have never previously done before...I sold off a game system. My PSP is now nothing more to me than a good way to get store credit for all of the March games I've been wanting. 

I now can say my PSP did only one good thing for secured me a copy of Burnout Revenge (360), Oblivion, and Shadow Hearts 3, along with getting me an actual copy of Grandia 3. So long PSP...and hopefully our paths may never cross again. 

On more news/word of Sony and their failures and potential failures, there is some new estimates on the PS3 via the "gurus" at Merrill Lynch. According to their report, the PS3 may be delayed until mid-end 2006 in Japan, with a potential late start of Spring 2007 for the States. However, the problems won't end there. In theory, according to Merrill Lynch, the cost of a PS3 should level out around $900. Assuming Sony takes the usual console launch loss of $100-$200 per console sold, this could still equal a good $700+ price point. 

Without a doubt, the word for all of this would be "wow". While it's interesting to see Sony trying to give so much stuff in such a small (if you consider the estimated size of a small desktop PC to be "small") package, this may be a sign of why Nintendo could be considered smart in their approach of making a "game system" instead of the "entertainment supercomputer" of Sony. 

While it goes without saying that Sony will sell PS3s, no matter the launch date or price, the actual market share could face some serious setbacks with a much prolonged release and a steep price. Also, all of this is purely speculation by industry analysts...which means it has as much credibility as if any other non-Sony person said the same shit. However, considering the lack of news from Sony, the fact is pretty strong that a Spring 2006 launch would be very unlikely. If Sony cannot even show off working game demos by now, then history would say they are a good half year from full scale production.

While I did just say I got Grandia 3, I haven't tried it out yet. Last night I was determined to finish Ape Escape 3. Well, after playing for about 4 hours last night, I'm probably as finished as I'll ever be since the game contained one final problem before I quit. I was able to get all of the required monkeys to capture Specter (the final boss) twice...which is as many time as the game requires you to capture him. Unfortunately, I missed a monkey on the final normal level on my first time through, and it's an area that will not re-open for my second (or any future) attempts. Considering this game is all about re-entering levels to capture missed monkeys, I think this is a good testament to the game as a whole... 

Ape Escape 3 is a fun game. It is a blast to play through, assuming you can put up with a bad camera. It looks great (except when the camera is stuck in a monkey's head or a wall), and the audio is fun and light hearted. The plot is a blast to play through, despite how thin and shallow it is (some, including myself, would actual say this is a selling point for a game that's this laid-back). However, each element just feels a slight bit rushed. Instead of "catching all the monkeys", the programmers forgot one or two, so to speak, and left the world a fun, but still not quite completed feeling game. 

I'll try to punch up a review of this game later this week, and get it posted before the 7th (when Burnout Revenge and Shadow Hearts 3 both arrive). 


Malik (2/21/06)  

Another day, another bit of news about something being delayed, canceled, or another company suffering. This time it's Zelda: Twilight Princess getting the bad news. The game that was supposed to, originally, be out in time for the 2005 holiday season is now looking more like it'll be available in time to compete with Revolution sales. Awesome. This brings Nintendo's list of the most hyped games for a single console to be delayed horribly to 2 of their three systems. While the GBA doesn't have any massively hyped and delayed games, the GCN and DS (Metroid Prime: Hunters) now both have the same plague. 

It almost feels to me more like the olden days of the NES with how many hyped titles are being delayed to the point that no one gives a shit anymore when the game is finally released. True, Zelda will always be hot, but the overly delayed MP: Hunters is now generating the same level of buzz as the Robin Hood NES game did when it was finally released (a few years too late) versus the hype it generated when it was supposedly ready for release. 

I did finally get to playing Grandia 3 last night. There's a lot I could say about this game. There's some bad things, and some good thing. In the end, however, the clearest and most definite thing I could say is this; it is a new Grandia title. It's heart pumps out Grandia style blood, it's brain things of Grandia thoughts, and it's body still has the same sleek Grandia shape. It is Grandia. 

The other thing I could say easily is that it's obvious that Square Enix did publish this game. Besides the obvious fact that their name pops up a few dozen times more than the developer's name (Game Arts), the music in the beginning of the game speaks volumes about the publisher. Any of the English sung music (which would be all music so far that features singing) is so obviously a Square Enix song. Some would say this isn't a bad thing, but I can say that a song more fitting of Kingdom Hearts doesn't set the mood too well in a Grandia game. It's like how Death Cab for Cutie and Less Than Jake both can be placed in the same musical genre...however, there is a definite time and place for each (unless you're like me and feel that Death Cab is like an auditory castration of my musical senses). 

Luckily, unlike certain recent sequels (Wild Arms, I'm looking your way), the most important fact is that Grandia 3 has the same wonderful combat system that Grandia 1 and 2 had. There is no unexplainable changes for the sake of "being innovative". The combat initiative wheel is still here, the ability to select a "cancel move" (in which you stop a prepared enemy attack by hitting with a strong blow as they prepare to attack) is back, and the blending of special moves and magic is back. The battles, in the end, are still one of the best features of the game. 

That's not to say that the rest of the game is not great. While some would say that the plot gets bad half way through the game, I wouldn't know. I'm only about 2.5 hours in. However, the entire game definitely has a very polished feel to it. Combat is simply the icing on top of this fun cupcake. 

The game even has some things for those who like to pick apart any RPG that's not their precious FF. In other words, if you're one who likes to say, "there aren't enough cut-scenes," then you're in for a treat. So far, in less than 3 hours, I've encountered a good half dozen cut-scenes. Even better, if you a fan of beating RPGs without giving a shit about the plot (I don't even understand how you can exist as such a paradox), there's an option to allow you to skip any cut-scene. However, for those, like me, who crave a good plot in an RPG, they make a brief warning that the plot may become confusing if such a feature is used. 

This game is also the only RPG I can think of that has a somewhat serious tone to it and includes the protagonist's mother as one of the party members. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. It simply is. However, it is a nice random fact. 

Until Shadow Hearts 3 hits the market (around a week into March), I know this game will give me plenty of good times. While many people would disagree, I hope this game is as short as it's rumored to be so I won't have to have two great franchises (Grandia and Shadow Hearts) fighting for my love at the same time. It's just not fair to the games, or my RPG loving heart. 

Also, as a last bit of random subject changing for the day, I have some advice. If you, or someone you know, is in the market for an MP3 player, you may want to be careful of the enTempo Spirit 20. If you remember, this is the MP3 player I picked up about a year ago. Well, after using it for a couple hours each day, about 5 days a week, for about a year, the thing is officially dead. Not only that, but it didn't die without warning. First off, the voice record feature was no end to my frustrations (if you had normal headphones attached, and you jiggled the connection, it would take it as a sign to randomly record dead air until you rapidly removed and re-attached the headphones...then it would have to take about a minute to save the dead air time, with no option to cancel), but then the thing would randomly crash. If it did so, then it would usually re-catalogue every song on the a rate of about 2-3 songs a second. 20 GB can hold a lot of songs, and these crashes can lead to a lot of issues. 

Eventually these crashes became more frequent. On top of that, with the voice record problems, you could not use a car adapter for it without every bump on the road setting off the voice record mode. Then, yesterday, it decided to make clicking noises (which any person who's had HDD problems would recognize as a very bad thing) and display a big frowning face instead of starting up. That's when I finally gave it a proper a dumpster. On the bright side, I can now be everything I hate...trendy. iPod here I come. 


Malik (2/22/06)

So, there's been this nice trend lately. News seems to focus on companies trying to do everything they can do to look foolish. Sony is not looking clean with their lack of PSP games and the complete mystery of the PS3. Nintendo is looking less than brilliant with lack of support for anything not DS. Microsoft is still failing to even deliver a promised thing that should be simple, like the King Kong Marketplace demo. When you throw in the antics of Take Two, the layoffs of EA, and the other random shit, things are looking rather...weak. 

Why not call in the masters of foolishness? Yes. The Phantom maker. Infinium Labs opened their books to the public, at long last, and the results are less than surprising (and less than stellar). On one hand, they have lost over $60 million in the last three years. On the other hand, only about $3.5 million of that was on actual developmental costs. Most of the money lost has been to consultants, administrative expenses, salaries, and advertising. In fact, the largest chunk of money lost was on ads. 

The natural question arises; how do you spend so much on ads when you have NOTHING to advertise? If this could even begin to make sense, I think it would be a sign that the end is near...not the end of their development, but rather the end of days. There is no justification for this, and if you know anyone stupid enough to have invested in this monstrosity, I ask that you kick then in the junk once for me. 

At least some (good?) news is coming out of this. Infinium is putting the Phantom vaporware on hold. The amazing part of this is that similar products, without their lapboard design, are on the market already. These are not projects that have been in development for even nearly the same about of time. Gametap is out there. 

So, maybe the real solution is quite simple for them. Instead of trying to negotiate a way out of their lease, and instead of finding a new location to do business from, maybe they should lay off everyone and realize what the rest of us saw long ago; the end of Infinium. If you have no products, no developmental budget, and a huge overhead of advertising and consultants, it is a sign that your top heavy business plan is wrong. However, if you do this type of antics for over 3 years, it's a sign of another thing; you're doomed. 

At least, on the bright side, I can have more fun talking about the silly state of Infinium than I can joking about the PSP and the PS3. I say this since they both are doing all the wrong moves, but Infinium has no fanboys to make me feel pity for the average gamer. 

On the same sort of theme, the Euro Booster $10 download for Battlefield 2 is being delayed. There's a good reason, or two, for this. Mainly those reasons all relate to the number 1.20. The version 1.20 patch for Battlefield 2 is f@#%ed. When EA released this patch, they didn't count on the extra..."goodies". Nothing like a major problem in a major patch. Well, nothing except for a shit-ton of bugs (scroll near the bottom of the link). These bugs do everything from crashing a server when the Jeep TOW is used in certain maps (I guess if your team is losing, this is a good way to wuss out of a defeat), oil towers may shoot AA missiles (the video is awesome), and best of all is how some PCs will load a server up to about 58% or 59% before the PC will dump back to the desktop. I know this is just what I liked seeing when I has in a LAN party last Saturday and my friend's PC had to reinstall BF2 and then upgrade to 1.12 in order to play the game...only against PCs with 1.12. 

Anyway, I'm still getting my feet wet with Grandia 3. So far, so damned good. This is what the geek world needs more of; classic style RPGs. There is, simply put, little innovation coming from Game Arts, and it's the way it should be. The combat is the same Grandia 1, 2, blah, blah engine. The visuals are the same blend of simple looking characters with complex worlds. The audio...ok, the Square Enix inspired music in the American version sucks, but in game music is typically good. The plot is even reminiscent of a good old RPG. 

The only thing that could've used an update was the dialogue system. There is nothing like a classic RPG for lines like; 

"He rides a dragon" 

"A dragon?" 

"Yes, a dragon" 


"I am a captain" 

"You're a captain?" 

"Yes. I am a captain with a ship" 

It's a little funny for the first couple of times, but this technique sucks. Seriously, in what normal conversation would someone repeatedly ask the statement that was just said and not get his ass handed to him after the second time? I know if my friends said something like; 

"I was going to get some food." 

If I replied with; 

"You're getting some food?" 

I would be in a world of hurt. Maybe for a deeper statement that involves unknown terms, but not for something as freakin' simple as a dragon (which was in front of the character when he asked about the dragon), or being a ship's captain. 

Anyway, other than the main character having the sparkling wit of a toddler who can't get over asking "why?", this game is great so far. Anyone who felt let down by the recent drought of RPGs, this is the fix you so dearly need. 


Malik (2/23/06)

Leave it to the British to tackle a problem that just seems to get worse every year. I don't know why I said "leave it to the British", beyond them being the ones who tackled this problem when no one else did. 

The problem would be the state of game advertisements. Namely, the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided enough is enough with the Call of Duty ads that show some epic scene from a battle but don't actually show in game footage. In itself, I don't think the parts of the problem the ASA tackled are that important and required to be fixed. Seriously, if you thought the PS2 version of CoD: Big Red One would look like those ads while you're actually playing the game, you are just ignorant of what your consoles can do. 

In fact, the scenes shown in the CoD:BRO and CoD2 ads would simply not be possible on any least not for a few more years. In some ways, I guess one could call these ads deceptive. In reality, it's just a great marketing ploy. I've played and enjoyed a few CoD games, and I can tell you that there is no way to justify the game based on a short 30 second clip of actual game play. It just doesn't convey the epic feel of the game like these CGI scenes do. 

However, this may lead to a change in game ads, assuming people want to take the cheap and lazy route of making one ads for all English speaking countries, rather than create unique ads for the UK to match their deceptive ad standards. If this is so, then it means there's a good chance this may influence some publishers to actual send out ads that show game play. 

I have been gaming for the better part of my 26 years, and I can say without a doubt that game ads were better in the "good old days". They may have been far more pathetic in production values, but ads from the days of the NES and SNES would actually show about 100 times more in game footage than most current ads do. Especially bad is any Nintendo ad. While I may find a small chuckle from seeing a ninja getting schooled by another ninja and then the winner suggesting the loser play against "someone his own speed" (flashing an image of an out of shape ninja in the background), it still doesn't give me any real info on what an online game of Mario Kart DS looks like. When Nintendo throws in those quick 0.5 second clips that fill a whole 2 seconds of the ad, it still doesn't do anything for me. 

The worst offenders would have to be anyone who makes an ad that has any aim towards children. When you have something like the Kameo ad, with some random woman telling me how she's an Elvin princess, and then some short flashes of the game appear...I'm left wondering why I should give a f$#@. That, and I'm left wondering how the game could be advertised in such a lame manner (keeping in mind that I had played and finished Kameo long before I ever saw a TV ad for it). 

Personally, if I'm expected to buy some of the crap I see on TV, then at least humor me by showing me some of what I'm expected to buy and not just some out of proportion production piece. I don't think it's asking too much for some hint of how the actual games play out. 

Not much else going on today. I'm still trying to get as much play time with Grandia 3 as possible. I'm hoping to get this game knocked out before Shadow Hearts 3 arrives. So far, my impressions haven't changed much from my initial impressions. Combat is G3's strong point, plot is not the best, but it's tolerable, and the rest of the production values (audio and video) are great as long as someone isn't singing. 


Malik (2/24/06)

If you own a 360, you probably are waiting for Oblivion. It's not a given, but a good number of 360 owners (and those who still have one pre-ordered with nothing to show for their deposit) have seen this game as the must have launch title...too bad the launch period is over. Hopefully it's a sign of good things, since Bethesda still hasn't given an actual street date for the game, that there is some content on the Live Marketplace for Oblivion

While it's mainly fluff, like the themes and gamer icons, the trailer is always good fun. Yes...if you are wondering, it is the same trailer shown at E3 2005. However, since most of us never had the chance to see the trailer on the TV we'd game on (in other words, in HD on a non-monitor situation), it's worth another fun look. I just hope this means that the suspected release of about a month from now is solid. While Bethesda has been cranking out the PR for Oblivion recently through the Marketplace and via interviews, this is the one piece of info that is still greatly needed. 

Also, on the note of things lacking release dates, here's a nice little overview of the PS3, if you still care about the non-launch-date info. It's safe to say that Sony is definitely trying too hard when you see all the components in one list together. When you toss in XDR memory, the Cell processor, Blu-ray drives, support for seven controllers (still don't get this number...I would love an explanation for seven...why not eight? Why not four?), and all the other minor amenities, it's clear to see that Sony might be trying a little too hard to push the envelope on a device that will primarily be seen as a game machine. 

This is why I'm expecting some minor parts to be removed prior to the actual launch. I would not be surprised to see the dual HD display outputs to be removed. Hell, if you know someone who plans to take advantage of this feature, laugh at them once for me. The seven controllers? I see it being downgraded just for the simple fact that seven is a pointless number, but seven sets of internal receivers will be needed in the box. If Sony is going to have a final cost per unit around $800, either they will take a beating in the profits, or they will risk alienating anyone with enough common sense to say there's a line between a good value and just paying too much for it. 

One other question I am left with regards (not the release date...I already have given up on this data) the Blu-ray. With the introduction of HDCP technology, how will the Blu-ray function? Is this drive, like all other proposed High Def DVD players (be them Blu-ray or HD-DVD), going to require HDCP on the display unit (TV) in order to run a video in full 1080? I mean this is Sony's selling point, in theory; the Blu-ray. How will people feel if they blast $700 (estimate) away on the PS3 and they learn that their 2 year old HD-TV just won't display Blu-ray movies to their fullest since their set is not HDCP compliant? 

Hell...I shouldn't even get started on HDCP. Personally, I find HDCP to be a huge scam, of sorts. Any TV without HDCP compliant connections will be forced to run high def movies in a lower resolution, and HDCP compliant TVs only started to really proliferate on store shelves a little over a year ago. Anyone who bought a great HD-TV a year or more ago may find themselves with a $2000 (or more) paper-weight when it comes to high definition videos. 

To put it in a simple way, pretend you bought a toaster. Now pretend there is standard white bread (analogue broadcast). You like to toast it, and it is pretty good. Now pretend you want a new type of bread (HD-signals) that is extra tasty. It will toast up nicely. However, it will only get warmed up, and not actually toasted, in your toaster because your toaster is not quite nice enough. So, you go out and buy a new toaster (HD-TV). That bread that you couldn't toast before is now toastable. It cost you a little extra for that new toaster, and you don't want to go through that big of a payment for something as simple as a toaster again. However, no someone has an ultra-bagel (Blu-ray/HD-DVD). With your new toaster, it will toast pretty well, but it will come out burnt on the edges. The only way to get around it is to buy another toaster that is in compliance (HDCP) with the ultra-bagel. Do you actually want to spend the money on another toaster, when the one you have is state of the art in all regard except for ultra-bagel compliance? Plus, what will you do with your other toasters? The oldest one is probably crap, but your other one is damned nice...but not many people need a second toaster. 

I personally am glad that my toaster is ultra-bagel compliant, but I feel especially sorry for (let's drop the metaphor now) those who don't keep up on technology. TV used to be really simple. It came down to two questions; color vs. black and white, and screen size. However, now you need to consider way too many factors; How many composite, component, DVI, HDMI, RF, and S-video inputs? Do you want a VGA input? Is it ok to be only 720p? What about a TV that's only 1080i, but doesn't handle 720i/p? What resolution does that TV have (not always as easy as looking up info online, since I know my 52" beast is listed with different schematics on every site I've been to, and it's a freakin' Mitsubishi)? Do you need a HD-tuner? Cable-card? How much TV do you watch each day? Is CRT, LDC, DLP, Plasma, or projection right for you? HDCP compliance? Do you trust, when you accept your ignorance, the advice of an electronics store sales person (never)? 

Somehow, in the last decade, TV went from something that was open for everyone, to being some sort of geeks-only club. This just isn't right. My coworkers are not the most tech-savvy of people. They know that when I say I have a 52" HD-TV, they should do the required "sweet!". However, when I toss out that it's DLP, that I have my PC hooked up via a DVI-I cable, that there's three types of DVI cables, or that I personally could use more than my 10 input channels, I get confused looks. It's not to say I'm being elitist in knowing this's rather that this is not the type of thing that everyone knows, yet TV should be simple enough for everyone to know. Any device that comes down to pushing a button, and that's all it takes to use, should not be a difficult to purchase item. You should have some freedom for the uber-geeks with better quality and all of that, but there should be some basic line of HD-TVs that have all that a non-geek would need. A liquor store has hooch for all, and a nice selection of quality alcohol (like Makers Mark versus most other bourbons) for the initiated. They all will do everything you expect of them (get you f@#$ed up), but there's more variety if you know what to look for. The same should be true of television. 


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