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Malik (3/1/10)

When Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick spoke at DICE 2010 a couple weeks ago, it was funny how he said, "Now all my life I've seen myself as flying an X-wing with the Rebellion. Then, one day I woke up and I'm on the Death Star." That is just so damned appropriate considering the latest move by Activision in the "dark side" of gaming. If you haven't been a subscriber to The Silver Lining newsletter, you may not have seen this one yet.

For those who don't know what The Silver Lining (TSL) is, then you are missing out on one of my personal favorite bits of gaming history. If you don't know King's Quest, then I just feel sad for you.

If you don't feel like reading through a couple Wikipedia articles (which are some well written bits of gaming glory and history), then let me explain...

King's Quest came along in the glory days of PC adventure games. It was one of the backbone franchises of the once mighty Sierra company. Along with Leisure Suit Larry (a series that was, at one time, great), Space Quest, Police Quest and Adventure Quest (later renamed, due to copyright issues, to Quest for Glory), these were the staple of PC gaming in the pre-Windows age. The games started as a combination of using the arrow keys (back before the modern WASD layout) and typing in text to interact with the world. Over time, they became point-and-click adventure games. The basic layout was to simply play out a, usually, fun and creative story, with a few puzzles to make the world feel more interactive. The games were never much of a challenge, beyond solving some basic simple puzzles. Once you knew a solution, you were done with a given scene or event. It was rare that time meant anything (you weren't pressured to hurry in decision making), and you simply had to use some wits or a sense of humor to progress a classic fairytale feeling plot.

Eventually, KQ changed. When adventure games started to move away from puzzles and towards a realm of action and combat, KQ8 came along. This game went against the previous genre for KQ 1-7 and was focused on combat and mild action, while forcing use of a 3D accelerator card (which, in the early 3D days of PC gaming, meant some horrible 3D visuals and annoying camera issues). The worlds were pretty devoid of life, and the game felt more akin to a sloppy and boring Tomb Raider than the classic fantasy-filled adventure titles that started the franchise. Instead of a world filled with life and vibrant images (KQ6 still ranks up there as one of my favorite game settings just for the creativity and contrasts presented), KQ8 was stale and dull.

After KQ8 came along, and bombed, the series disappeared. Of course, being a Sierra game, the original studio was folded into one company after another. No word of a future game was heard, and many of the loyal fans wanted one final KQ title to not only wrap up the franchise (to bring closure), but to also return the series to it's true roots in point-and-click story telling. When no game came along, Phoenix came along.

These were a group of KQ fans who just wanted to make a game, for free, that would conclude the series they so loved. Thus, King's Quest: The Silver Lining, was started as a bit of a homebrew project. At first they worked under what was assumed, by some, to be fair use of the KQ universe. There was always an understanding that these people would quit this project immediately if told to by the KQ copyright owners. Eventually it was Vivendi who owned the KQ rights and they told Phoenix to cease and desist. That was fair, and it was their right to do so. However, by this time, the followers of Kings Quest: The Silver Lining were feeling emotionally invested. After some discussions, and probably numerous letters from potential fans, Vivendi agreed to let the project continue...but without the "King's Quest" name. So, the project was now The Silver Lining.

Part of the agreement said that the game could not use the KQ name. That was fine. With the fan support and with the cult following, those who would feel like they needed another KQ game would still know where to look. Also, the game could never be sold, only given away. That was fine since this seemed, to my understanding, to be a labor of love...not an effort meant to generate income. Lastly, the game would have to pass a Vivendi review when the game was ready for release. That also seemed, to me, to be very fair.

From the perspective of a geek, this was amazing. On one hand, a sequel, and a conclusion, to one of my favorite franchises would come into being after the copyright owner had abandoned it. Also, this was the opposite of what I always thought to be true with capitalism; a company was allowing fan appreciation to rule supreme instead of just thinking about profit margins. Plus this was a great example of doing something for the sake of doing something and not just making something for the sake of money.

Of course, there could be good benefits for Vivendi. I mean if TSL was well received, it could revive interest in KQ. In other words, this could test the waters on the question of if KQ should remain dead and buried. Worst case scenario, Vivendi could always sell an anthology of KQ games, updated for smoother running on modern PCs, and make a few quick bucks that way, with little money going into programming or advertising.

The work went slow on TSL. I mean the people behind this were not making money on the project, so they obviously had some more important details to keep them busy (like working jobs to make money or attending school or whatever they were up to). Still, as time passed, a few demos of sorts came into being. While not feeling the most polished, they were interesting and exciting for KQ fans. It looked like the conclusion to the KQ story would finally be told. It wasn't too long ago that the final release of the first part of TSL went off to Vivendi to be reviewed.

Now Vivendi is no longer the same company they once were. Vivendi has gone through some different business changes as of late. Most recently, Vivendi became part of the Actision family (technically Activision Blizzard, but it's Activision at heart). This means TSL went to Activision for review. Well, like how Kotick said, he now works on the Death Star. Activision, naturally, fitting the role of the Evil Empire, didn't just turn down TSL...they revoked the agreement to let Phoenix make a KQ themed game. So, that ends the story of TSL, and probably the story of King's Quest. Instead of going out on a high point, or even going out in a blaze of failure while trying to wow over nostalgia fans, KQ is just gone.

Of course this doesn't make much sense to me. Then again, many decisions by "big business" doesn't make sense to me. I mean if Activision allowed this to be made, they could always see if the world would welcome another KQ game and use this as free market research. They could release a new anthology of KQ for a low price and make almost 100% profit from each sale (not counting the price of DVD copying, boxes and manuals, and a quick dose of code to even out some issues with processor speed that exists in old pre-Windows 95 games). If Activision didn't want to try to make a profit from the "market research" Phoenix would have been providing, then they could even sell the KQ franchise to another company that would be willing to take this possible risk. I mean "Activision" and "risk" are two words that haven't gotten along too well in the last few years. If Activision let this project go to completion, the worst case for Activision would have been neither gaining nor losing any real money, beyond the amount spent on pay for the people in house who tested TSL.

I just find this situation sad. It's not like I'm personally losing anything, but the loss of the hyped up excitement I was going through is definitely not a great feeling. It's also like the world lost a bit of the fantasy that made these games so fun when I was much younger...the fantasy that said that a game could be made for free, not sold or used to make a profit, and just given out to bring satisfaction to a small audience of gamers who just wanted one more round in one of their classic game settings.


Malik (3/3/10)

If Microsoft learns anything from this generation of consoles, to implement into the next generation (whenever that happens), I hope it's to copy the PS3 style of hard drive system. While I like the thought of the 360 now having 250GB HDDs, I can't help but feel like Microsoft should be the company that allows actual PC HDDs in their console.

I bought a 120GB HDD for my 360 only a few months ago. I just couldn't get anymore DLC thanks to my Rock Band addiction. So, I had to shell out way too much money for too small of a new drive. On the other hand, if my PS3 HDD (which is filled with downloaded video files) ever was over-stuffed, I know I could easily go out and buy a reasonably priced larger drive and not feel like I was ripped off in the process.

Anyway, I don't have much to talk about right now. I've been playing a lot of Gyromancer. I love this game. It's not enough to get me to trust Square Enix for a major release. I'm not going to buy FFXIII unless I hear enough to change my mind on Square Enix. However, I now have some trust in the company that I once, long ago, worshipped as the RPG gods that they once were. It's also not enough to get me to trust Dragon Quest IX when it launches. Although that game has a better chance of wowing me, since DQ games have been more reliably fun and the cost of a DS game is a bit easier to swallow when/if a game ends up being crap.

My life, beyond Gyromancer, has become like living out a Harvest Moon game. I've become addicted to making the best garden setup possible. I don't know if this is me just acting out on my fantasies of summer being here already, or if it's a sign of the obvious; gaming is a bit lackluster right now. Probably a bit of both.


Malik (3/5/10)

Rock Band is drawing me back in a bit next week. I mean when you add in some more good old White Stripes (including Seven Nation Army and Fell In Love With A Girl) you have a good thing on your hands.

My one question is how authentic will Seven Nation Army be. I mean the song has no bass in it, despite the heavy constant bass riff (it's done with the all-so-fun Digitech Whammy Pedal on a guitar). Will this be the first non-album DLC to feature no part for one of the non-vocal parts? Otherwise, if the "bass" is charted to the bass in game, then this will be one hell of a lame guitar track. Anyway, this will be an interesting problem for Harmonix to tackle. Hopefully the don't drop the ball like they did with some past charting (piano to guitar or no full band playability for non-vocal songs).

I'm now done with Gyromancer. I finished the main game and the three DLC dungeons last night. All that's left is a few awards on the Challenge Room part of the DLC. Since the remaining awards are a pain in the ass (beat a level with less than 1% of your HP left or beat a level starting with 20% HP, for example), I am calling it quits here. I got every other award and all of the gyro codes (monsters to purchase). It's sad for the game to end, but it was one hell of a great game while it lasted...well worth the $15 for the game and ~$2.50 for the DLC.

Next week sees the release of FFXIII...which will be another Square Enix game I pass by for now. Assuming what I've read in some preliminary reviews is accurate, I'll never pick up the game. I mean the negatives are pretty damned obvious, and the more I read the more I'm reminded of Xenosaga Episode 2 (which was a game with a mediocre plot that never was fleshed out enough and a very annoying battle system...just like FFXIII sounds).

The main problem I'm reading is that the game is basically a tutorial for the first half of the game. At this part, you cannot change or select party members or party leaders, you have a very linear path (with some ultra-linear dungeons), and the game just drags on. The second half is supposed to be better, but I've had enough with games that drag on for 15 hours before getting good.

To make it worse, for me, the battle system sound less than fun (I like to control my entire party and not rely on AI), and the leveling system sounds like a nerfed form of the FFX sphere grid, which was my least favorite FF leveling system (even more than the FF8 draw/junction system).

The only part of the game that I can honestly say intrigues me is the setting. Unfortunately, that is not enough. You need a solid plot, good characters, and a fun game engine/system. Maybe I'm old and too damned nostalgic, but I want a return to the glory days of FF...when levels were levels, side quests and mini-games were present, and the game didn't rely on one dimensional character designs.

At least the more I read about it, the more I'm being attracted to Dragon Quest IX...even if it feels like a bastardization of the series when compared to how great DQ8 was.


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