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Malik (7/10/06)  

Let's start the week with some random thoughts...

First off, I am growing weary of YouTube. I like the whole revolution of Google Video and YouTube and how these two places will now let pretty much anyone who wants to post a video to do so. These types of sites are always a good source of unintentional comedy of epic proportions...that is, they are until you show up on these sites. I won't link to any of these videos, but let's just say that I've kept my real life persona well off of the Internet, and for once it's the real me, and not just "Malik", geeking out hardcore style (both far it's only two...involve me playing D&D and arguing the basics of life's most important "do elves have kings?") all the possible embarrassing glory...never trust a man with a digital camera...damn you Bastich! :P

Secondly, I needed a new game to fill the void of Suikoden V. I couldn't find a game to really fill that void, so I instead opted for my first serious (serious means I actually have not quit in disgust after less than one level) journey into the world of Tomb Raider with Tomb Raider Legends. So far, I can easily see myself being done with this game with only a few days of playing, but that only makes me happier that I am borrowing this game instead of having purchased it.

I usually avoided Tomb Raider since 3D games have always been a fear of mine. I don't fear the concept, but the application of 3D technology in games have almost always fallen short (with a few important Mario and Zelda). Well, I think it's good that I kept out of the Tomb Raider series until now. Legends does a great job of blending enjoyable and serviceable visuals with the genre. Plus, from the little I've played of previous Tomb Raider games, I can easily see that Eidos/Crystal Dynamics has worked out the control issues.

It's not to say that the controls are perfect. In fact, the controls work, but they are still a good source of complaints. I have no problem playing the game, but I know that I would not continually play a game with this engine for more than a few days without feeling frustrated and annoyed. This is especially true of the motorcycle stage near the start of the game. Nothing like trying to control a motorcycle at high speeds and constantly nicking walls that should be easily avoided in any other motorcycle involved game.

At least, considering the genre, the plot is actually pretty interesting. It is quite cliché in many aspects, but it is cliché in all the right ways to keep one wanting to play a little more.

Then again, all plots have become at least a little cliché in the gaming world. Whenever I see a review of an RPG, in particular, in which the reviewer bashes the plot for being a lot like something we've seen before, I can't help but laugh. If the only types of games that were allowed to be made were ones with original plots, and sports games (which don't rely on plots), we would live in a much different gaming world. We would only see one or two RPGs each year (games like Disgaea and Shin Megami Tensei), no more FPS titles, very few platformers (Psychonauts would've been the most recent one made), and some puzzle games.

In fact, it's time for these types of thoughts to come to a close. We have seen almost everything, and that's why we must look for new applications of what we already know.

For example, Suikoden V uses the same old plot; an evil senator overthrows the royal family, and you, as the price, must try to win back the kingdom as your sister, the next queen, is used as a puppet leader. We have seen this before. However, the smaller details are not the same that were used in the past with this plot. Each of the 108 characters that join you, not to mention the numerous people who don't join you, each has a unique plot all their own. Well, not "unique", but unique to the overall plot. There are gladiators fighting for their freedom, demi-humans struggling for their unique lifestyles to persist, archeologists trying to take advantage of the protagonist to unveil new ruins of historical significance, and about 50 other subplots. In the end, it's a new and refreshing story that has a hundred elements we've seen before...just never all together in this shape.

We cannot reclaim plots that have been used to death, but game designers can reclaim them as original by treating a few elements differently enough to make it seem less tired and worn down. In fact, to any person who complains that a game (usually an RPG) uses a cliché plot, I dare you to name ten game plots from the past year that have been truly original.

Anyway, I'm kind of rambling right now. I'm worn down. I spent most of yesterday turning a pile of parts and a couple of PC cases (with a quick run to an electronics store) into a great backup computer so Velveeta and I can start playing some co-op Neverwinter Nights and Civilization 4. That wasn't so bad...but the running to an electronics store was. Nothing like trying to find a cheap DVD drive (which should be easy) when all of the local stores are trying to push DVD burners. At my third store, I finally found a simple DVD drive...and then when I wanted a clerk to run a price check (of course there wasn't a price on the thing), I had to deal with a long sales pitch about how it wouldn't be a good drive since I NEEDED (according to the clerk) a DVD burner. Blah.

At least I can now finally play some LAN Civ 4 and NWN with it was probably all worth it.


Malik (7/11/06)  

Akifumi Kaneko has some words about the Wild Arms series, and they make me wonder. Mainly they make me wonder if the series can be saved after it's brutal treatment in the last year. We've seen a remake of the first Wild Arms game, in which the original game was re-written. While this isn't a bad thing, the game was touched up a bit more than really needed and it left a game that just didn't live up to what the first game really did for the series.

There's also how the 4th Wild Arms game handled a lot of aspects of the RPG genre, and how Kaneko pulled a complete Final Fantasy with the game (that would be my way of saying someone did innovation a little too hard and killed an otherwise promising game) with the strategic grid based combat. I also won't mention how giving everyone guns/arms in WA3 felt strange and anti-Wild Arms.

Hopefully Vth Vanguard can restore the wonders of the earlier Wild Arms games. With how the first games in the series brought a nice fresh flavor to the RPG genre (especially with the wild west flavors), I would love to see the series come back from the dead in a way that few other game franchises have been able to. It's time for a new Wild Arms that shows that a traditional RPG (the type that the best Wild Arms games did so well) can still live in the current console world. Hell...Suikoden has been doing it for about the same amount of time, so Wild Arms could easily do the same...assuming Kaneko's idea of handing over the game's development can work in all of our favor.

Another interesting read I found was Gamespot's Q&A session with Chuck Klosterman of Esquire magazine. The basic concept of this article is that Mr. Klosterman has equated the modern gaming culture to the 60's rock movement (as in it's one of the few artistic outlets with easy access to the youth) and that game journalism is not what it could be and that's best seen by how non-gamers don't read about games.

As for the youth culture found in gaming...well, I have to say, despite how Klosterman uses a few too many overly convoluted word choices (we seems to be bent on using the most complicated words possible...perhaps to sound smarter than he is or just to sound impressive or something), he makes a good point. In fact, one of the key reasons gaming might be considered so easy to demonize by the mainstream is that it's an art form (and that it is) that has a very unique audience that makes up the mainstream aspects of it. It's new, different, and very hard to understand from the outsider's perspective (just like music was becoming in the 1960's).

However, his other point of how there's no journalistic outlet that allows non-gamers into the geek world is not so on the ball. In fact, it's not so much that there's no real outlet for game news to non-gamers. It's rather that many non-gamers would rather ignore gaming for what it is. Afterall, these non-gamers have Jack Thompson, the FCC, and dozens of censorship fanatical groups that make headlines too readily in the mainstream news outlets. Non-gamers just don't "need" access to real game news from a non-game journal/publication. They simply don't need something that could make games look attractive and interesting when they are constantly fed that games are the source of all juvenile crime and psychological issues.

That's exactly why we could never hope to see serious news about games from outlets like CNN, Fox News (both of whom bash gaming with underhanded favoritism towards specific companies, like Sony and Microsoft), or the other major news sources. Afterall, news outlets care about one thing more than anything else, and that's ratings. If many non-gamers are not interested in games, then they will not read/watch a news story on games, and thus some space or time that could've gotten ratings would be wasted if a game friendly article was introduced.

Enough of that philosophical blah-blah-ing. I've been playing a fair amount of Tomb Raider Legend, and I have to say that this game has completely changed my mind about the entire franchise. This is the first tomb Raider game I've seen that has me constantly wanting to play more. Right now, as I type, I'm thinking of playing and where I could've missed some hidden bonuses. In fact, there's only one complaint I have, so far, with this game...and that's an age-old complaint about 3D games in general; platform jumping puzzles on 3D games have always sucked, and they're no different in this game. I spent about 10 attempts last night making the most simple of jumps and watched as Lara Croft kept deciding that instead of jumping to an easy to reach platform that she would rather jump down the building she was one...and fall about 15 stories to the ground her death...over and over...

Before I go for now, I just want to update that the Suikoden V review is in the works and is coming along nicely. Expect it in the next couple of days.


Malik (7/12/06)  

First off, before there's a chance for me dawdle anymore and be any more lazy, I have finished the Suikoden V review. Enjoy.

On to other, last week I spent some time sorta pondering the future for Nintendo and Sony. Both sides of this soon-to-be-next-gen fight had some things being said about them that were either way out of line, or the company had it's head up it's ass. I thought that maybe things could at least make some sense on the final side of this trilogy of console makers (with Microsoft being the obvious final side). After all, they had already released the 360 and had nothing else to offer besides content...right?

According to the Rumor Control section of Gamespot, this assumption would be wrong. Basically, someone out there at XBox Scene had seen some images of multiple 360 motherboards with HDMI outputs.

When the next generation of DVD technology starts to become mainstream, Microsoft is planning to include an add-on HD-DVD drive as an accessory for the 360. They are also counting on making a Blu-ray add-on if the HD-DVD technology fails (at least that's what Microsoft has said in the past). The one important factor in this type of technology is that Blu-ray movies will look like shit without DVI or HDMI outputs if the movie is made with HDCP compliance technology imbedded on the disk (for the unknowing, HDCP movies played without a HDMI or DVI cable to hook up the player will actually run at half of their actual definition to "prevent copying of movies").

So, with Microsoft having a probably new release of 360s in the future, that will include the HDMI outputs, I have one simple thought...this will basically, in a sense, be Microsoft flipping off all early adopters of the 360. Those of us who have a 360 now, sans HDMI, will be left with no real means to play HDCP compliant films on the 360. Or at least we'll have no way to play them at their proper resolution.

While I am not one to worry about my game system having more features than the ability to play games, there is still a metaphorical slap in the face from Microsoft on this score if it comes to fruition. Basically, all late adopters will be rewarded with more potential functionality, while the early adopters will literally be left with only two rather weak options;

An early adopter can go ahead and try to pawn off their first edition 360 on some sucker. Then you simply have to buy a new 360. Basically, it's the Nintendo portable strategy. You just have to keep buying a system multiple times. I guess that's not too bad...if you are of the school that think that Microsoft is out to rip you off (it would be confirmation, in a sense, of your opinions) or if you think the PS3 is going to be sold for a reasonable asking price (making you rather f#@%-tarded).

The other option is what I'll probably do in this case. I'll sit down, bitch about it, and keep a small level of animosity in my heart for Microsoft. I'll also probably try to avoid any future Microsoft game systems for the first year or so as they figure out the difference between what they will include in the system at launch and what they will include with the system at the end of it's life cycle.

At least there is some good news (that's more than just rumors) from Microsoft. Each Wednesday for the next few months, Microsoft aims to have new Live Arcade releases. Considering no new Arcade games have come along for a good long season, it's about freakin' time. Microsoft has really become lax in getting done what they were supposedly claiming they would get done when the 360 launched...that is, they are finally looking to add a constant flow of new content.

For those who have been drooling over the thought of it since it was mentioned at CES (maybe it was the of those shows early in the calendar year), Street Fighter II is finally getting a street date. It will be $10 on August 2nd. I still don't see the big deal about getting SFII for that large of a price on the 360 when I can get it cheaper for just about any system I own with a quick stop at eBay...but it's coming at long last.

Also, to wrap things up for today, a little closure. Sony has pulled their PSP ads from the Netherlands. You know which ads...the ones being boycotted by the NAACP, to name one group. While I don't think a racist message was Sony's intention, you do have to admit that their advertising partners seem to be very out of touch with reality, and some common sense boundaries really should not be crossed...even if in ignorance.


Malik (7/13/06)  

There's been a bit of rumors floating around about the upcoming Microsoft portable device. The rumors have gone in every direction; from what types of entertainment we'll get from this thing to what the name will be (Argo and Zune being the most widely used ones). However, while rumors fly around, it's amazing to see some common sense not prevailing.

Zune is supposed to hit the market in the next half year. Supposedly, Microsoft will try to unveil it in time for the holiday season, which makes perfect sense. However, the part that doesn't make sense is the rumors some people shared of the thing being a portable game device.

There is only one gaming machine that has hit the market within a half year of being announced, even in rumors. There is one game system that had so little attention prior to it's release...just one. That would be the Sega Saturn (which literally launched with no one even knowing it came out). If you remember, the Saturn was an a huge success, and a great part of it's crash-n-burn approach was that there wasn't enough information flying around on all ends of the gossip spectrum.

So, while a portable music (and maybe video) device could do quite well with little fanfare, a portable gaming machine will have too many problems. Most important of these issues is that no game developers will have time to properly develop any games for the damned Zune to be ready for the launch. It's hard enough, with over a year of notice, for a good launch lineup to be established. You give that time frame a major downsize and the launch lineup would simply not exist. There wouldn't just be a lack of good games...there would be a lack of bad ones too.

Common sense, if we listen to it, would tell us a few important things...the Zune will be primarily a multimedia device, it will be a case of "too little, too late" versus the iPod, and it will have games...but they won't matter, as the iPod has games too. I don't know a single person, however, who consistently uses their iPod's games for entertainment. I tried it once and got bored, so I use mine for it's true purpose (that would be music).

On a side note...Zune? iPod has the type of name that let's you know that it's both a Apple product (with that little "i" in the name) and the name is catchy since we all have heard the word "pod" before. Zune, on the other hand, just sounds like a game I'd play on the 360 Arcade (like Zuma). If Microsoft is really wanting to take on Apple in this fight, they are going to need some major PR (and quick), along with a name change to something that has the potential to be a household term. Zune just won't fill that needed role.

I'd love to post some more, but my life has become insanely busy lately (with 2 job interviews this week, and at least one more scheduled on the horizon, and a good chance of even more coming along...). Nothing like having to be a damned adult from time to time...sigh...


Malik (7/14/06)  

Is it any real surprise that UMD movies are finally being pulled from Target? I don't think so. Hell, I was probably the first (of a long line of people) to say that UMD movies were a bad idea. After all, we're talking about a lower resolution and lower overall quality (including less bonus features) movie being placed on a proprietary media that could only be read by one single device. We're also talking about something that is literally a pain to watch for the full duration of a movie, and something that was only given the absolute lowest quality movies (as in these were crap-tacular films...Hitch...Stealth...Gone in 60 Seconds...).

Also, with the PSP using Memory Stick Duo, it was not all that hard to use a PC to convert a DVD into a MPG-4 video, copy it to the Memory Stick and then watch it on the PSP. So why would someone need to bad a slightly more expensive version of a limited use movie on UMD when they could put absolutely any movie they wanted onto the Memory Stick Duo? There's absolutely no reason.

It comes as no surprise that Sony is ready to fight back in the wake of destruction done to their PR after the UMD fell. Namely, they are now planning to release a few select movies on Memory Duo sticks of 1 and 2 GB...for about the same price as the MSRP for these media sticks when blank. Of course, the movies will probably be hella lame (Hitch returns, along with The Grudge, S.W.A.T., and even XXX 2). Best of all (and this is from the perspective of someone loving the PSP for the unintentional humor that Sony is supplying us all with), the movies will be formatted to lower resolutions than the limited ability PSP is even capable of. Maybe that's a copy protection method to prevent people from sharing these movies (who would want a version of Hitch that looks like ass?...ok, who would want Hitch to begin with?).

Sony did this for obvious reasons; they told consumers to expect movies on their PSPs when they first announced the system, and they cannot afford to go back on their word now. So, this is a simple way to show that Sony cares...sort of...about keeping their word. In reality, this is another desperate move by Sony to try to justify the gameless wonder. Also, for the record, I still haven't seen anything on the PSP that would make it really worth the price of admission.

To round out the Sony side of stupidity...they're being sued...again. This time it's Agere that's suing them, and it's about 8 different patent infringements. This is not a surprise. After all, Sony stopped using the rumble feature in their controllers (starting with the PS3) because of a past case they lost against Immersion Corp. Sony is currently like the Nintendo of the late 1980's and early 1990's. In other words, they are a perfect target for lawsuits, since they have ran their business with a little too much of the "I don't give a f#@%" attitude that a giant mega corporation will often feel is their right to display.

In reality, I can see a future event coming through...Sony will lose on at least 6 of the 8 patent infringements, and the last two will either be in some sort of limbo/deadlock, or they will also go in Agere's favor. Sony has done it before, and they will keep infringing on patents and making inane mistakes until the day they drive themselves into the ground...then they will start playing nice. It's just like how Nintendo did after they shot themselves in the foot one too many times.

Well, the weekend is finally upon us. It's been a bit too chaotic for me this week. At least with a couple days of freedom, I will try to finish playing through Tomb Raider Legends and maybe find something else to play (probably I'll pick up where I left off on Xenogears about a month ago). So, good weekends to all, and I'm out of here.


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