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Malik (3/31/08)

First the PC was dead as a gaming machine, then it survived. Then it died. Then it survived. Then it died. Then you see a pattern in this. I sure do.

Constantly a certain media is considered to be on life support. However, any time it's a machine dedicated to (or capable of) gaming it doesn't live up to expectations...or is that "die" up to expectations? Why? It's rather simple...

Gaming is a way of life for millions upon millions of people. Gaming will never die. So, is it any surprise that consoles are now being labeled in this same way. That is to say that at least one person sees gaming dedicated consoles on death row.

It won't happen. It will not be true for the simple reason of why PC gaming won't die; gamers exist in large numbers. Yes, consoles will eternally change, and some will see then as evolving (I see things like the 360 and PS3 more as a de-evolution), but then a certain company known as Nintendo will remain. This is a company that brought back gaming after the collapse of the early 1980's. This is a company that shunned technology (like HD and media functions) in order to bring a pure gaming experience with the Wii. Plus, what happened when the Wii was the sole dedicated gaming machine of this generation? It sold quicker and more strongly than any console that came before.

So, if you're someone quick to jump on any bit of bad news and take it as gospel, I have one thing to remind you about. Gaming is not dead, it will not die, and even machines only 75% dedicated to gaming will be the limit of console evolution/de-evolution. As long as you enjoy gaming, and as long as your friends and family feel the same, you can be assured that gaming is alive. As long as new smash hit genres come about, like the home rhythm rocking/music genre, the motion captured genres of the Wii, and as long as the staples of football are still obsessed over...well, gaming machines have too much at stake and too much profit to make to be dismissed as another dead technology.

To shift gears, I see the end of one thing...Guitar Hero. When there's rumors of a flood of Def Leppard on GH4 and news on what horribly one dimensional crap is coming to GH:Aerosmith, I see the franchise in deep trouble. Activision went the wrong way with Neversoft developing new titles, and surprisingly they went the EA path while EA has taken Rock Band (via Harmonix) in what appears to be completely against old EA ideals.

That is to say that the GH franchise is being milked as a cash cow while Rock Band is being kept whole and in a great place. While GH is being forced on the world, RB is being kept calm and cool and will ultimately keep bringing in new fans as long as Harmonix controls the game and keeps it from becoming an EA cash cow (like what is seen in Madden).

Speaking of Rock Band, the new DLC for tomorrow is Still Alive (that song from Portal). In other words, it's the song that many expected for April Fool's Day. The biggest news of this is that the song is free. However, that is all for the DLC tomorrow. One song.

I guess after getting two six packs in recent weeks (including the massive workout that was Boston's first album...minus one song), it's not a big problem to get only one song. However, after delaying the announcement last Friday, I would have expected a bit more. The last time an announcement was delayed, we saw a pack of three $0.99 songs (the SXSW Pack). I was hoping for more than just the minimum of expectations. I'm especially feeling this way since I'm willing to guess that next week will see another part of the OXM March list...of which I couldn't be less excited.

At least we're still on the "above" side of the three songs per week average. Two weeks of six, one week of five, a week of one, and the rest being three (not counting opening week of a shit ton) still averages to good returns.


Malik (3/31/08)


Still Alive is on the Marketplace (at least in the Rock Shop in Rock Band).  I was about to quit playing some solo for the night when I stumbled upon a song listed for 0 MP.  It would happen to be Still Alive.

I can't help but wonder one thing; it's probably not the case, but could this be part of an April Fool's type of thing?  I have never before seen Rock Band get a DLC on a Monday, so could there be a different pack coming tomorrow to throw us all for a loop.  Like I said, that's unlikely.  It's far more likely that this came out early due to the XBox Live maintenance shut down happening later on (tomorrow morning) and that Still Alive was released, along with possibly anything else scheduled for tomorrow, early to save on headaches for the Live team.

Anyway, I played the song on expert guitar and it's not too hard.  In fact, this song feels more like practice for hand shifting than anything else.  I mean I got a 5-star on a sight read of it, and I was preparing to quit Rock Band for the night because I was just not feeling the groove (I am tired and playing like shit).  I wouldn't call this song fun, or creative in the guitar chart, but at least it's free.  I know I'd be pissed off to pay for this...but free isn't too bad.

The only good thing I can honestly say about this song is that it will be fun to listen to my Friday band's regular singer singing like this.


Malik (4/1/08)

After playing some on Still Alive last night, I came to a few conclusions. For one, I tried out bass and drums on this song and I have to say that it still feels more like a practice song than a real song. So, I'm glad that it was free.

The bass is incredibly easy (why is it tier 2 on bass?). It has a couple of rapid notes in a row from time to time. That is to say that it has two quick notes followed by a lot of slow paced notes, and some very slow hold notes. If you need a song to get the "perfect bass up-strum only" achievement (groove technician or something like that), then this is easier than Learn to Fly (my best bass song before this one). Also, it's far easier to get gold stars than on bass for Learn to Fly (which required perfect overdrive usage). To make it even easier, you don't start playing bass until over a minute has passed on the song...and it's only a few minutes long as it is.

The drums were not all that hard, either. I'm talking about hard difficulty drums when I wasn't feeling the drum vibe. I probably would have struggled with Say It Ain't So on hard drums last night, and Still Alive was still pretty damned easy. Some double bass and some unusual timings between verses, but nothing challenging at all.

The other thing I realized is how damned slow scores update on the leader boards now that the update is here (as of a few weeks ago). I scored well enough to be the highest on the bass leader boards (a few thousand above the listed number one), and I still wasn't listed two hours later. It's sad since I wanted to be number one on something for a short time.

The last thing I realized, as I scanned the leader boards, is that some people are really amazing with their band logos. One of the best examples is near the top with "Feed the Geeks". Now that is a cool looking logo for what the logo creator lets you do. In the spirit of that awesomeness, I started on the logo for my side group with Velveta. Our band is the Ghost Cowboys, and we were logo-less. That changed last night and will be improved upon after posting this today.


P.S.  Since it seems like a requirement; I'm on fire or something.  April Fools! that I put that bullshit to rest, I just wish the rest of the internet would follow suit.

Malik (4/2/08)

Not too much going on for me right now. I'm starting to feel sick, which is natural since I've been hanging out with people who seem to be stuck in a nasty cycle of colds. Tempt fate enough and it will come to get you.

Last night I played some more Rock Band. I did some solo stuff (just killing time on expert guitar), but mainly looked at BWT.

I finished work on the logo for the band I have with Velveta (Ghost Cowboys). I don't know if the logo is good as a logo, but it looks like a good self titled album cover. Unfortunately, I went a little too detailed, but I also ran out of options once the 24 maximum number of layers was achieved. It would have been easier if there were some more layer options, like being able to stretch/rescale a layer to slightly larger sizes, but I took what I could get.

Most importantly, I finally got to see the Ghost Cowboys get an audio guy. Now we need the body guards, and then after we get a PR team, we'll be good for the Hall of Fame. I don't need this for myself, since I have been in the hall and all of that with two other bands. However, it's nice to get this with all of my major bands.

I also want to get a bit better so Velveta can finally play more on hard. Of course there are advantages to her playing on medium. For one, she can guard me when we play one of the dreaded mystery sets that brings in a song that doesn't blend well with my skills. Especially, as we did last night, when Little Sister or Bang a Gong come up. For some reason, I just can do the alternating chords of either of these songs...or of course when the solo comes for a tier 9 songs, like Highway Star (one of only three core songs that still decimates me on solo play).

On a different note, I like the new idea from the theory. They have a downloadable widget to quickly look up a game rating. It's a great idea since I'm fully behind more parents having better access to ratings on games before they go out and buy GTA4 for 12 year old little Billy. However, the sad fact remains that no one will use this as it is intended to be used.

The rating widget is designed to make finding ratings easier, but it really cannot be easier than looking at the box on the shelf. The rating for a game is not exactly hidden from view. It's big, clear, and on the front of all game boxes. So, if a parent will not check these , why would they check a widget...or even go through the hassle of downloading it?

It is a great idea to make ratings easier to find, but it simply will not work when they are already so damned easy to find. If it's being ignored now, then it sure isn't going to be found with something even more complex. It's like checking the Wii Weather Channel for if it's rainy or sunny in your area when you have a window or door to the outside right next to you. If you're too damned lazy to check the weather by peeking out a window, then you're definitely not going to check the more technical way (like the Weather Channel).


Malik (4/3/08)

Yesterday I decided to buy a game and place a pre-order. It isn't as much as I suddenly wanted some games as much as I had a nice little financial windfall that made me feel free enough to get some things taken care of that I've been wanting to take care of.

The pre-order, which doesn't really matter since it won't be in my hands for a few weeks, was for GTA4. That one was an easy enough of a decision. I'm a GTA addict, and that will become very clear at the end of the month when I'll probably talk about nothing beyond GTA4 and how much it has stolen my life away from me.

The game I bought was Professor Layton and The Curious Village for the DS. This is a game that has bugged me since I first learned some real details of it...from my mother of all people. I had heard that the game not only offered some difficult mental challenges (puzzles), but also that the production values definitely beat anything else on the DS. Both side of this were beyond true.

As for the puzzles, I am seeing it as a companion to Brain Age. Instead of Brain Age, which give the equivalent of a light aerobic workout for your brain, Professor Layton is like hitting the bench and trying to give you brain a quick rep of heavy lifting. Instead of solving a few quick puzzles, you'll spend some time rationalizing every aspect of some really detailed puzzles...with a few stupid pun style puzzles thrown in to even it out. So, while one puzzle will ask you to rearrange matches to change a picture into another by moving only x number of matches, the next puzzle will ask you something stupid to get you to not over-think solutions (for example: you must light three objects with a single match; which do you light first? The match is the solution, but it's so simple that it can be overlooked quick easily).

As for the production damn! The game as some animated cut scenes that look like they came straight from a PS2 (or maybe even a GCN) game. These also include voice acting that is clear and with some level of quality to them. I don't think there's any other DS game that boasts of these production values. Most of all, these are not rare occurrences. You get more cut scenes in this small little card than you get in all of Tales of Symphonia for the GCN.

The only remaining part of the game is the plot. The plot is interesting but it's also ignored most of the time since you'll be more obsessed with puzzle solving than the plot that unravels as you solve these challenges. However, one thing strikes me in particular about the plot.

As a minor spoiler, a murder takes place during the second chapter of the game (out of 10 chapters). This is the first murder to happen in the village that Professor Layton is investigating. I find that hard to believe. Why?

Everyone in town will ignore all requests for assistance until you solve a puzzle for them. If you want to ask where a cat went when it ran by, you'll have to solve a puzzle. In return for you investment of potentially tens of minutes, you'll be told a stupid answer like, "I didn't see where the cat went". I would imagine in this type of village that someone would have been killed by a tourist who was just looking for the restaurant.

"I'll show you where to find some food...but only after you solve this puzzle!"

Still, despite the silliness of this idea of a village that is filled with puzzle obsessed jerks, Layton is an awesome game for puzzle lovers. There's more variety than most puzzle games will give you, and there are plenty of levels of difficulty. If you're the type of person, like myself, who goes crazy every time new Picross DS puzzles are up for download, or loves the Brain Age style of DS games, then this game is a must have. There is so much to do and a lot of exploring to find hidden puzzles or coins (which let you purchase hints on the more frustrating of puzzles).

After four chapters, I can only think of one real downside to this game; it definitely is without replay value. Unlike Brain Age, which keeps you going with quick random-ish challenges, these puzzles are limited in size and easy to solve one you've done it once before. There is typically one answer per puzzle and it's quite easy to recall, when looking at a puzzle for a second time, what the solution is or at least how to find the solution quickly.


Malik (4/4/08)

I spent much of the last two days just going through Professor Layton. I am basically done with the game. Not counting the Weekly WiFi Puzzles (which are actually only unlocked via WiFi...not downloaded...which is rather lame), I have one puzzle left in the bonus section that I can select. After clearing this, I have the three Puzzle Master puzzles to accomplish.

In other words, I've beaten the game and am now just doing the completionist thing. So, it's safe to say that I can form a few conclusions.

First off, the visuals, animation, and voice acting is solid. Well, it would be solid if the game was on the PS2 or GCN. By being on the DS, these features are nothing short of amazing. This is, in my opinion, the most technologically advanced DS game, hands down. The best part comes when you've beaten the game and then can re-visit all previous movies in the game.

As for the plot...well, it is cheesy in a way. There's a villain who looks evil and has no real purpose in the plot, but that may be cleared up in the upcoming sequel. There's a town obsessed with puzzles, and the whole reason for the world existing is pretty silly. However, at the same time it's a plot that does make a certain level of sense (except for the villain) and has a nice level of sentimentality to it.

The core game play, which is almost entirely made up of puzzles, is a lot of fun if you're the type who likes to think long and hard about things...especially if you also enjoy sometimes having puzzles that remind you to not over think on everything you have presented to you. The rest of the game is made up of trying to find the next puzzle to accomplish. It's not really a bad long as you like puzzle games. If you're on the fence about thinking games, then you should walk away.

The only real issues I found in the game that did not sit well with me were two almost minor things.

The first is that some puzzles have either multiple solutions or that the wording of the puzzle is not clear. This means that you'll either solve something and may not have it accepted (there's one puzzle with three solutions that only accepts one of the possible answers...and sadly I had to look up an answer after failing twice with what should have been correct answers). You'll also sometimes try to solve the puzzle in a different way than the words are meant to present it. In other words, it looks like the translation team may have used a Japanese to English dictionary a few too many times and didn't use an actual translator.

The other issue I found is more of the age of my DS showing. My DS, I am supposing, in it's old age (launch DS), will repeatedly act like a minor input is being applied to the touch screen. It's not enough to show any effects on any games, except on Layton. On this game, the text will constantly scroll and change as if I was button mashing during conversations. There is a solution, but it's a little annoying; I have to always keep my touch screen active by resting my stylus on the screen. Since advancing dialogue actually requires the removal of pressure from the screen (not just the application of pressure), I can then advance dialogue by lifting my stylus.

Like I said, that's an issue that's probably due to my DS having gone through too many games of Wario Ware (I did put in a few hundred hours on that game) and it's chisel mini-game. However, Professor Layton is the only game to have given me trouble, out of countless games being played on this very same DS.

Anyway, I'd call Layton a must buy for puzzle fans and a must skip for anyone else. If you're a Level 5 (the people who also did Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy) fan, you should rent it since it's a very different game than their other projects. Even if you enjoy their sense of style and humor, you'll still be facing a game that might not be for your playing style.

As for the big news that I look forward to each Friday; The Rock Band DLC announcement is pretty sad. Next Tuesday will be the OXM bonus songs (Sprode, Rock Rebellion, Shake) that came out on the February OXM bonus disk. Each one will be 80MP ($1) or 240MP ($3) for the pack. No discount on buying the pack...

I guess it's good for this to happen, since it means that those who missed these songs the first time around are not out of luck. I know I barely managed to get these songs from a friend's friend who had the disk. Plus, they're not bad songs. Sprode is awesome fun, and the other two are fun enough with some good guitar chord shifts going on.

On the other hand, the reason this is happening (no NEW songs) is bull shit. It's going on since the Sony PS3 store is down for several weeks. First off, f#@$ Sony. If they cannot get their store running right and need multiple weeks for maintenance or whatever, why should the other side suffer? I don't just say this as someone without a PS3. I say this as a gamer who loves all games (even those on bad the PS3...first console I ever "just didn't like").

Why not release the songs for the PS3 after their update is done? PS3 Rock Band people can get a huge influx of music at once, and 360 fans can still keep their new music game going. It seems only fair considering that Microsoft is doing things right. I'd sure feel the same if the shoe was on the other foot since I'd be happy to know what I could look forward to when the Sony bull shit was done.

This is the type of crap that makes me think of one major inequality; why does Europe still suffer? Why not block all Rock Band DLC until Europe gets the game? Wouldn't that be fair? Why not block all DLC until the PS2 and Wii can get it?

The 360 Marketplace and the Sony store are different systems. They run on different protocols and are independent. So, why does one have to be equal to the other? Especially I ask that since I know that 360 owners get the DLC for Rock Band a couple days before the Sony/PS3 RB fans get it. So, in simple, there's a time for it and a time to forget it...and now is a time to say, with pride, f#@$ equality! This isn't a discrimination thing, this is video games.

I just love, above all else, how I passed the PS3 by because it looked like it would only waste my time and money. However, while my money is not wasted, they are still wasting my time. I can't escape them even if I avoid them...sigh...and blah.


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