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Malik (6/2/09)

I think it's fine when game console developers try to do something new. I mean it is hit and miss, but there are some cool new ideas that wouldn't exist if not for some creativity and taking some major risks. Rumble, analogue sticks, the idea of downloadable games, and a shit ton of other ideas only exist because of creative leaps of faith.

So, I think it's also safe to say that it feels like creativity must be pretty much tapped out in consoles when every damned developer wants to do motion sensing. We first had, in the mainstream, the Wii. This was a gamble, which is still not too clearly defined as hit or miss. I mean the Wii has done well, but most games that force the motion issue are simply shovel-ware. Then the PS3 had it's basic motion sensing. Like the Wii, it is both hit (Flower) and miss (nearly everything else).

Is it any surprise that Microsoft is joining them in the motion capture world? The big difference this time is that Microsoft is going the route of nearly certain doom; expensive add-on peripheral that is not going to be utilized by nearly enough titles. In other words, a lot like the PS3 controller, except the PS3 controller still does the important basic function of controlling any game it comes into contact with (with exceptions of unique titles, like rhythm games). Also, didn't Microsoft already do the camera thing before, for XBox Live games, but more or less failed to get in to a majority of homes? Also, didn't Sony do this and not look back after failing with the Eye-Toy? Maybe I'm just old, but I could swear I'm living a re-run right now.

If new technology is going to be brought along, I'd love to see something that's actually "new". It seems that the modern console developers are stuck in a game of just trying to imitate each other instead of innovating anything important. I mean Microsoft is getting what? Metal Gear Solid (which is already on the PS3), downloadable games (also already on the PS3), and a motion sensing device for controlling games (already on the PS3 in basic form and Wii in a more advanced form). That's the big Microsoft press conference for this year...they are seeing Sony and Nintendo as threats and want to imitate them to seem awesome? Wow.

If Microsoft wants to make a big announcement, I have some ideas of where they can go.

They can go the route of reason by announcing hard drive price drops to accommodate these downloadable games. I mean I can put a new laptop HDD in my PS3 for a fraction of the cost of a smaller and outdated 360 HDD. Even the Wii will now use SD cards as storage, which are far cheaper per GB than the damned 360 HDD.

They can announce some sort of portable...but that would be pretty useless with the DS owning that market and the PSP picking up the few people who want multimedia with their portable game consoles. Still, it could offer something unique, like a handheld with a full controller (dual analogue sticks and two shoulder buttons on each side) to be the new "hardcore" portable since Sony seems unwilling to solve the PSP controller deficiency.

Actually, maybe Microsoft should just do the simple thing; focus on games. The 360 is getting up there in age, which means it is definitely late in the game to add a new peripheral (like that Natal camera) with a large price (I've heard speculation of up to around $200 for the thing in the Seattle Times). This means it's the time to make a final push in the direction all successful game consoles have done when presented with 3 or more years of life; to win over people by just having fun with good games and in good quantities. The PS2 stopped all add on bullshit around this time in it's life (after it had an unsuccessful motion capture camera; the Eye-Toy, and a failed HDD idea), the Playstation was also all about games by this point in it's life.

Actually, in reality, these E3 console maker press conferences are basically bullshit in many ways. Yes, we can see some amazing announcements. However, these only come once every four to five years...when a new console is on the horizon. Otherwise, it's just each console maker trying to look like the best while offering nothing that will not either be shown on the floor of the expo (like the games, being shown by the game's publisher or developer) or will end up being a sad flight of fancy (like a new motion sensing camera).

Still, an announcement of a universal case that would allow for a laptop HDD to be fit into a 360 would be an announcement I'd be happy to hear. I think it would be the only announcement from Microsoft that would make me happy right now. The only reason I'm still using a 20GB 360 HDD, which is full, is because I'm not willing to be price gouged by Microsoft for a more reasonable sized HDD.


Malik (6/2/09)

For another post for today, I wanted to just touch upon the Nintendo press conference. Sorry, that's the closest I can find to a link to any big single page. Everything seems split up into separate pages (at least for text web sites) and I'm too damned lazy to place a ton of hyperlinks in my posts today.

Yes, it was a lame showing for Nintendo. I mean it featured only things that could be announced as easily with presentations and demos at the usual E3 booths. There will be some new games, like a new Super Mario Galaxy, a Wii version of New Super Mario Bros, and Golden Sun 3 (DS). However, all I am really seeing here is that there will be sequels and rehashed oldies.

I am happy to see that Golden Sun 3 is coming since the first two GS games were quite solid. Plus, maybe with a new DS take on the game, it could be more accessible than GS2 was (which would be hard to play without playing the first GS to completion and without remembering everything about said game that came out a couple years before the sequel). In other words, the new game needs to be a fresh start and not something that has requirements to fully enjoy. Unless a new game in a series comes out within months of it's predecessor, then there should never be a continuing plot that offers no real background of what happened in the last installment.

As for a Wii version of New Super Mario Bros...I'm not excited. I played NSMB when it first came to the DS. After breezing through the game and feeling like I paid way too much ($40) for a game that was just a rehash of the original SMB, I quickly sold the game. It was fun for a few hours, but it was not that long and offered nothing new, beyond the big and little mushrooms. However, is it really worthy of a full price game when it's about the nostalgia effect? I mean Bionic Commando Rearmed is not going for $60. Why? Because it is not a new game, just a new coat of paint on an oldie. I don't care if that new coat of paint is four player modes, new visuals, or a new power-up or two. If the game is old and is actually marketed for nostalgia geeks, than the publisher must do the right thing with the pricing. Mega Man 9 is a discounted game at something like $10. Capcom, who is actually pretty bad about price gouging (look at the price of Resident Evil on the PSN store, or the paid DLC to make RE5 into a full game with all it's features) was smart enough to know that nostalgia can only go so far without a price that shows some courtesy to the gamers (who supply their profits) who are expected to buy said title.

I mean there is nothing that feels new from Nintendo. A new Super Mario Galaxy is going to be one of the few times Nintendo seems like they will keep a 3D Mario game in the same general atmosphere as a previous entry. Metroid Prime is being released another time. New Super Mario Bros is coming to the Wii. Another Wii Fit game. It's all the same old shit with a new (and not too impressive at that) coat of paint. No new franchises, no new twists on long running games, no new...well, nothing new.

The only real news about Nintendo I am even finding worthy of note for today is that Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is available today (well, as of yesterday) on the Wii (Wii Ware). However, that isn't part of the big press conference. It's just news outside the scope of this whole E3 spectacle.

My only concern with this, as of now (I haven't tried out the game yet), is that it's episodic content. I am all for a steady stream of RPGs, but I'm also all for having money. It seems that in many cases, episodic games tend to get more expensive than what they would be if they were just released as a single product. There are exceptions, like the Half-Life 2 episodes (which are big and satisfying), but there are too many cases that don't justify the concept. What I mean by this is how the length of game just doesn't live up to the cost per episode in the long run when compared to a single game on a disk that encompasses all the same content.

Oh well...I'll know if I'm talking out of my ass on this stuff when I download the first episode.


Malik (6/2/09)

For a final additional post for today, since I'm on a roll (and need to freakin' stop already); a few thoughts on Sony.

First off, I'm glad to see that the damned PSP Go rumors can be put to rest. I'm sick and tired of the rumors following this thing in the "will they/won't they" category. However, I'd like to say that I'm still not impressed enough with the PSP to consider buying one again. I don't mean like how the DSi or DS Lite are not impressive enough to "buy again" by adding it to the same house that holds my DS. I mean I once had a PSP and sold the damned thing since it was about as fun as a brick. It couldn't handle any homebrew without too much hassle (with all the firmware downgrades and retrogrades) and the game library sucked. Yes, it did get LocoRoco after I sold my PSP, but that just isn't enough. In fact, the PSP is the only gaming device I've sold since the 1990's (when I was too young to have a job and my Game Gear had to go to get me money for a Playstation). It's also the only game system I ever plan to have gotten rid of for good (I still want to find another Game Gear just for Defenders of Oasis).

However, I am glad enough to see that Sony is learning a little bit on this newest PSP version. I mean the 16GB of built in flash memory, while retaining a memory card slot. This is the one thing Sony is constantly impressing me with; memory. The PS3 has large HDDs out of the box (larger than what Microsoft and Nintendo both offered at the start) and can take a laptop HDD to keep upgrades hassle free. The PSP Go goes one step further by offering as much memory built in (flash) as the 360 offers on a $100 HDD (after you account for the 20GB HDD only giving 13GB of usable storage). With how each of the big three is offering various forms of downloadable content and full game downloads, it's amazing that only Sony seems to understand the consequence of this practice; gamers will need the room to save these large files and programs. While any system will allow for a gamer to delete old data and then even download again for free (with a few stupid exceptions), this is not a fun practice and limits the appeal of DLC and downloadable games.

Still, the PSP Go, since it's compatible with all PSP stuff, is a failure for me in two regards. The first being that I still don't see enough games or support for easy to use homebrew in the future. The second being how the PSP lacks dual analogues and four total should buttons.

As for the rest of the Sony stuff...

I wish something would be flat out said to make the PS3 Slim rumors go away. I also with all of these motion capture camera type devices (both from Sony and the Microsoft Natal) would go away. I just see a lot of hype being shoved on the gaming world for the next take on the same old failed "VR" styled ideas (like how the Virtual Boy, Eye-Toy, and most other "interactive space" controls have failed despite a lot of buzz and hype).

Anyway, I think after reading crap about all three press conferences, Sony wins the battle of these non-news buzzword filled events.


Malik (6/3/09)

Yesterday I downloaded Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. Well, I downloaded the required first episode and the Rydia episode, which is all that's available right now. The next batch of episodes comes out in about a month (with three to four new ones). Considering I've spent $11 so far (not counting tax), it's looking like it's worth my money.

The game, while being fun, does have a few issues with it. The first and most obvious is the fact that the encounter rate for random battles is insanely high. I mean it's up there with games like Beyond the Beyond (for those who remember this game). Literally the first step I took in the game, once I was on the world map, led to a fight. The first tutorial style dungeon was about the size of the Desert Cave (with the antlion) in the original FF4, but took about three times longer due to constant battles. I can't complain much since it's not like the game is brokenly hard in random battles, but it does take some patience to get into this game.

My other complaint right now would be that the plot and what happens makes no sense when compared to how FF4 ended. I don't mean that the plot itself is nonsense. I mean that it's well accepted that Cecil and company beat Zeromus/Zemus on the moon and save the world. It's also said in the description for various background plot and add-on/DLC descriptions that some characters have been training and continuing their battles since FF4 ended. With this in mind, why the hell is Cecil, Rosa, and Cid at level 15 when you first see them in your party? Was the game based around the original FF4 being a low level run? That's the only explanation I can think of, and it still doesn't explain Cid's low level (I think he joined you in several versions of FF4 at a higher initial level than 15). I mean Rosa is a wuss with about 300 HP, and no one is packing all of their awesome spells and skills from the start.

Still, I can forgive such issues. I mean this game does a great job of giving bonus material to a game that was one of my favorites in RPG history. You learn that Cecil and Rosa are happy in their ruling of Baron, they have a son (the protagonist of the first chapter), Edge has rebuilt Eblan, Rydia went back to the underground lair of summoned monsters (why did she and Edge not get together may be explained later), Kain is trying to rebuild his life, Yang is now the ruler of Fabul, Edward/Gilbert has rebuild Damcyan, and Palon and Porom are both becoming powerful mages. I mean the plot is explained and continued with a new threat emerging.

Best of all, the game feels and plays like FF4. The same style of visuals (although the Red Wing soldiers looked better in the original) is used...but with some unexplained usage of sprites more familiar to the FF6 world. This is nostalgic old school RPG gaming at it's greatest, and it's all new.

So far I'm about 3 hours into the first chapter of the game. I think I'll probably play this game a lot, which is sad. It's sad since I have only two episodes to play before I have to wait until the first week of July for more content. At least the Square Enix style of episodic content is cool. The first and last chapter are both $8 and required. The remaining eight (I think it's eight...might be seven) episodes in the middle are $3 and optional. I think your save data from the end of each episode gets entered into the start of the final chapter, but the middle $3 episodes are entirely optional. This is either a game that's $16 from start to finish, or around $40 if you want the full large experience. Definitely a good way of ensuring that you get what you pay for, but still giving you the option to chose if what you get is what you really want. It also makes for a good take on renting a DLC style game. If you don't like it after the first episode, then you're out only $8 instead of the full purchase price.


Malik (6/4/09)

Haven't Castlevania fans suffered enough on recent console outings?  I mean it's been a sad attempt at 3D after sad attempt at 3D ever since the N64 abomination.  Now, from what I can tell, Castlevania is going to be another sad 3D game, but with a definite touch (or is that complete rip off) of God of War.  I think E3 is just trying to make me sad this year.


Malik (6/5/09)

It has been too busy of a week to follow E3 too closely. While I caught the main points of the big three press conferences, I didn't exactly read much else. Well, except that bad trailer for Castlevania that I linked to last night. I'm sorry, but just because God of War is epic in many ways, and just because you get Patrick Stewart to do a voice, it doesn't mean you can make a good 3D take on a game that's never worked out as well in 3D as it has in 2D. I'm still waiting for some owners of older franchises (like Castlevania) to show a new 2D version of a classic on a non-handheld. This also goes for Metroid.

I've also been busy with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. This is just too much fun for me to put down. It's exactly what I've missed from modern RPGs that I've only seen in recent years via Blue Dragon (if you ignore the low difficulty) or Lost Odyssey. Of course, with Mist Walker more or less out of the gaming world, it's not like we'll see much else in the form of a classic style RPG in the current gaming era.

In fact, The After Years is one of the few games in the last five or more years that I've played that I honestly cannot say there is some sort of major-ish flaw with. The game is just perfect. From the visuals and audio being in line with FF4-6, the game play not being altered beyond adding new characters and locations, all the way to how the plot flows pretty naturally from the original FF4, this is just a damned good RPG. Plus, with the episode system and having some downloads optional, I just know I'll be left wanting more up until September (when the final chapter is released)...and not worried about the cost issue.

By the way, to shift gear, Tim Schafer has always been someone I could respect from the gaming world. I mean when Activision (who apparently is the new "EA of 2002") sued Double Fine (Schafer's company) and EA for some of the dumbest reasons, you can always count on Schafer being entertaining. As far as I can tell, the real point of this lawsuit seems to be more of a case of Activision, when they did their Vivendi Universal merge, dropping a game they counted on to be fluff, and then being upset when it's shown how much gamers are looking forward to this game. Maybe the next lawsuit will be against the new Ghostbusters game for how they dropped that one during the merger as well.

I never even noticed how Activision has taken the role of being the big jerks of gaming until just now. I mean the signs are there in how they are now milking any profitable franchise until the franchise dies from being spread too thin, how they appear to love the thought of shouting "get the lawyers!", down to how they have removed all traces of creativity from their catalogue of projects. If history repeats itself, I except that we'll not see an end to this "New EA" style of Activision until after some major shakeup within the company, including employees suing over working conditions to lost sales that require an executive leadership change to recover. If it goes like it did for EA, we'll have another few years of this "New EA". Until then, I feel for you if you want to see some quality (and not quantity) from Tony Hawk or Guitar Hero.

Of course, there are some problems with the current actual EA. So, it's not like Activision will have an idea future if they keep doing the imitation business style. By the way, no matter how you cut it, as a fan of the Divine Comedy, I still cannot ever feel interest in this dumb as shit sounding game. The closest to a homage to Dante's classic work that I can enjoy in a game format is the homage in FF4 (via the fiends' names).

Anyway, I don't have much else to say about E3 related this for E3 2009. In short, I think too much is being put into the idea of motion. Casual gamers went with Nintendo for the simple controls, but also for the family friendly titles. If motion is all you give without having the big happy and safe Nintendo logo to back it up, motion will just miss it's mark.

At least the one nice thing with motion being added to consoles is that it gives an economic incentive for longer lifespans for the current systems. With how much it cost to get my three consoles, I know I sure as hell would like to wait for 2012 at the earliest to start considering new options. I mean the current generation is still looking and playing nicely, with DLC and updates keeping them somewhat fresh.

I also think none of the games coming down the pipeline are really captivating my interest any more just because of E3 announcements. Everything I would have wanted still looks worthy of my money and everything I'd count on to be lame (like a new 3D Castlevania) still looks like it will just not be worth it. I still want Ghostbusters, a new Zelda (even if the only info known is to look towards 2010), and...well, not much else I can think of right now. I also still dread the idea of New Super Mario (no matter what system since the DS one felt so light on what it could have been), more Mario Galaxy, more 3D Metroid or 3D Castlevania, more online Square Enix crap that includes a numbering system for a franchise that just further gets mangled, or much else that seems to be getting the major press.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood (three days in a row of 90+F weather at a time when normal highs are around the mid-60's is enough to break a person's mind), or just too busy, but I'm just not feeling it. Innovation seems to be more and more removed each year and we're now stuck with too much of the same stuff with a new coat of paint and a new $60 price tag to follow.


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