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Malik (7/24/06)  

I've started to get into Animal Crossing DS, after ignoring the game ever since it came out. I skipped out on playing at all since I played through the GCN version and "beat" the game (by paying off everything and having an uber-house). However, while I've been playing Heroes of Might and Magic 3 with Velveeta, she'd play Animal Crossing during my turn. She ended up asking me to take care of some activities while she did her Heroes turn, and I started to get addicted to catching bugs and fish and digging up items. It felt like I never even left the Animal Crossing world.

I doubt that I'll start my own character in her town, since it's just too much of a time suck. I used to play up to 12 hours a day (I was unemployed back then) in the GCN game, and I just can't afford to do that anymore. However, I'm fine with helping Velveeta catch some critters and pull some weeds while she plays Heroes.

The game that I am willing to kill some time with, on the other hand, is Saint's Row. I guess I should say the "Saint's Row Demo". Gamestop is finally giving the demo out with per-orders, and since I had about $25 in Gamestop credit, I figured it was time to use it. Normally, I'd prefer to wait on pre-orders and buy a game at a place like Fry's (with it's always cheaper than the competition prices), but credit is credit.

The Saint's Row demo is pretty good. I've heard this is supposed to be the E3 demo, which means that I'm playing something that could be an entirely different animal than the actual game. Assuming that the game only gets better as the development time continues (which is not always with Star Wars Galaxy), the final game should be nothing short of amazing.

For the record, there's been some online arguments from two camps that either call the game a GTA clone or call the other side GTA fanboys. Well, it's very safe to say this is a GTA clone...or actually, since GTA is considered a genre defining game, it's another game in that exact sub-genre. Either way you look at it, SR is really shaping up to be a solid game for GTA fans (if you like this game and you claim to dislike GTA, then you're full of shit). The only real difference in the two franchises (can we all accept that SR2 cannot be too far away?) is the aiming mechanics. While GTA offers you the ability to auto-aim with a click of a shoulder button, SR has free aiming for all weapons and no auto-aim. With many GTA clones, this would've been a very bad thing, however SR is pulling this off rather nicely in the demo.

The only time this aiming mechanic is not all that solid is while driving. It is really a pain in the ass to be controlling a car with the left analogue, aiming with the right analogue, pulling the trigger with the right trigger, and controlling the gas or brakes with the A or X buttons. This is just a little too difficult to handle with a normal level of finger dexterity. You can control about three parts of this at a time with any comfort and skill...the fourth control just ruins the mood. Hopefully, in the final game, this has been addressed a little.

Besides that little issue, the game is nothing short of solid. The demo offers incredible draw distances (unlike GTA), really nice visuals, better memory of surroundings (cars don't disappear when you turn around...or even when you go a mile away...unlike GTA), there's an inventory management feature (which has both good and bad points over GTA), and the ability to carry items (drugs and food) with you and then use them when needed (unlike GTA).

The inventory access button opens a small menu that allows you to select your weapon without cycling through them all. The only issue with this is that your character will stop being able to move when you switch weapons...which can lead to you taking some extra damage or being busted by the cops. However, this is usually far better than the weapon cycling you have to do in a GTA game.

Despite the usual fate of GTA clones (Driv3r, The Getaway, Mercenaries, etc.), I see good things next month when Saint's Row is released. This may be the first GTA clone that gets the concept down correctly. I think the best way that Volition has handled this is by simply remaining pretty true to the source material. This is not a game that tries to redefine the genre, but rather uses the genre to it's fullest, while tweaking to concept with things like manual aim and inventory management.

Well, I would write more, but it's hot as f#@%. I hate the heat and I can't think in it. Today is the fourth day in a row of blistering heat with insanely high humidity. It's like being in Manilla (according to one of my friends whose spent a fair amount of time over in the Philippines)...or if feeling like spending the summer in a bog or marsh. I honestly have to work extra hard to allow myself to think. For that reason, I'm out of here to sit in front of a fan and contemplate the joys of owning a window AC unit...hmmmmm...AC....


Malik (7/25/06)  

I really wish XBox Live would stop this one trend that keeps happening. It has happened many times and it will keep happening. Namely, I would really like to see an end to demos of long established games showing up on Live. This time, we now see DoA4 finding it's way onto the Marketplace in demo format.

Considering how many new games are in the works, and considering how many games have not made their way to the Arcade (after 2/3 of a year, the Arcade still feels more like the arcade of a movie theater than an actual arcade), it's time we see some new demos, and not just content that is rehashing what everyone already knows. Afterall, let's face reality...if you wanted DoA4, since it's been out since December, you would already have it. A demo will not change how you feel.

Why not use the Marketplace in a more logical way? For example, let's just get the Saint's Row demo out already (instead of waiting for next Tuesday) on the Marketplace. Maybe we can see a Dead Rising demo by now. Maybe we could have demos of recent games or games that are due out in the next few months. Maybe we can see things making sense. However, that would go against what seems to be the primary purpose of give old info and to give old demos while charging for things as weak and pointless as themes and gamer pics.

If Microsoft wants to truly establish Live as the be-all-end-all online console service, before Wii and PS3 both take stabs at this, they could try to offer gamers some cutting edge downloads and services, and not just keep giving old news.

To change gears...A tiny bit of news is not out about Vice City Stories. This is really the smallest amount of information possible. We may see a couple of returning people from the first time through Vice City...but not much else has been seen about the plot or setting. However, the part I find funny is that the game is still pegged to have a $50 price tag at launch.

Considering how there are now rumors about the possible demise of the PSP, it may be time to win over gamers instead of trying to maximize profits. Ironically enough, that would probably help maximize profits in the long run.

The PSP has had one of the weakest launches so far of any handheld that made it into price gaming real estate (shelves at all major game stores and all major department stores). In fact, with how slow the PSP has been to find good games, I'll still be more than happy to say it's in it's launch window. Until the PSP is made into more than some sick experiment by Sony to test the portable waters, I don't think any of us can call this an established console.

When the PSP was launched, it was touted as the portable version of the PS2. We were shown glorious looking images of Gran Turismo, an amazing game code named Death Jr., and so much dazzling artwork that it made the world take notice. However, after more than 18 months of existence (in Japan...about 15 in the US), the console is still lacking in every department.

The PSP has seen Death Jr. turn into one grand example of how bad camera angles and controls can butcher the hype machine. There has yet to be a single fun to play RPG that has not been a simple port of a well established RPG from the Playstation (and Popolocrois even failed in it's porting). In fact, the only thing the PSP has is racing titles...and those are only so good compared to other racing games on other consoles. In fact, while I may have given up on the PSP (I sold mine in February), I still would like to see Sony turn things around.

The first thing they would need to do, however, is to either lower prices on the games, or they would need to offer some truly amazing games. GTA:LCS was a $50 game that was called garbage less than a year later when it was released for $20 on the PS2. In fact, many stores would sell it as low as $13, and it would still be ignored. GTA:VCS will not change that. The price of games, accessories, and the system itself are way too much to justify for such a lackluster library of half-assed games. It's time for Sony to find a real audience (besides Sony fanboys...the only people who could love the PSP as it stands)....and fast.


Malik (7/26/06)  

Once again, more rumors of the existence of a 360 Assassin's Creed are floating around. This time, a supposed preview of AC on the 360 is now online.

I have to agree with what has been said a thousand times before by a thousand different people...AC, along with many other currently so-called exclusive PS3 games will probably not remain that way for long. Rockstar was not just hitting the bong when they decided that GTAIV should be on the 360 at the same exact launch time as the PS3.

When you have the past leader of consoles (PS2) evolving into something in a completely different price range (the $600 PS3), it will not take long for exclusive barriers to be torn asunder. After all, the whole point of a game publisher's existence is to make money by selling games. If the game is sold on a console that has a shaky looking future (like the expensive as f#@% PS3), then it means something quite simple...either sign a contract to remain exclusive to Sony and make some extra money, or sell the game on as many consoles as you think will be able to sell the game and turn up the profits. The second choice is the obvious advantage for a game like Assassin's Creed, which should be a great match for the 360 demographic.

If this game remains a Sony exclusive, I would be incredibly surprised. In fact, I would expect, in the long run, for only a few major names to remain exclusive to Sony in the next generation. We'll probably see Metal Gear and Final Fantasy (the numbered ones...not the spin-offs) remaining PS3 exclusive...but few others. Most of all, the less established hype engines (read: hyped games that don't belong to a franchise) will only have a strong fighting chance if they go multi-platform.

To change gears, there's something that's been getting a bit more publicity than it deserves that I really feel I have to address...but not in too many words. I'm talking about the undergraduate thesis from Robert Parungao of the U of British Columbia. Also, if you plan to follow that link, it doesn't lead to the thesis, but an interview about it.

Two things I'd like to point out about this type of "research"...

I am a scientist in my day job ("Batman's a scientist"). It is a job about research on a few too many levels (read: it's so anal that it leaves me often times with severe headaches and frustration). I can tell you, in all subjects I've encountered, be it physical science, theology, philosophy, sociology, ethics, or any other, if I was to present a thesis on a broad subject (such as generalizations of trends in a media format) with using only four non-randomly picked examples, I would easily be able to prove any point...I would also have failed whatever class it was for, or had been warned that if I do it again I'd lose my job.

It is easy to prove any point you want if you hand pick a small sampling of research material. If a thesis was to be worthy of note, it should not be so limited in scope and so open to bias. By picking just four games of my own choice, I could easily say all video games are excessively violent (Mortal Kombat, GTA3, God of War, Street Fighter II), sexist (DoA4, GTA:SA, God of War, Rumble Roses), racist (Mr. Parungao already did this), or whatever evil you want to chose. It's really that simply. However, are you really formulating something newsworthy, or are you instead doing the same type of job that Jack Thompson is well known for? By that, I mean how Mr. Thompson likes to pick out the best of the worst to highlight the evils of a whole media format.

Secondly, I think it's wrong to call a game racist to a certain ethnicity when the game serves as a politically incorrect outlet towards all races and groups. For example, in GTA (pick one of the 3D GTAs...any will do), no race is shown to be of outstanding quality. The Italians are all Mafia associates, Chinese are all triads, Japanese are all Yakuza, Irish are all drunks and stupid, African Americans are all gang bangers or corrupt cops, generic white guys are greedy and possibly cannibalistic swine, southerners are insane with power and desire to acquire everything through hired goons, Columbians are violent drug dealers, Cubans and Haitians are can go on all f$#@ing day. Let's face it, GTA is not a series that shows Asians in a bad light as much as it's a game that shows the worst of all people of all creeds, races, and social groups.

Some games may show some racist elements...but most of those games are quite old. On the other hand, many games use stereotypes, from both sides of both ponds (Asia, North America, and Europe). It's just how media handles things. Some companies do it on purpose to cause conversations and debates to begin, so do it to cause controversy to help sell games, some do it unintentionally, and some do it equally to all people just to show the existence of such an element of society. However, we shouldn't automatically judge all game developers as racist if we don't know the real meaning behind their intentions.

For example, look at the second episode of Chapelle's lost episodes. It might not be a game, but it still falls in the same demographic. I'm talking about the racial faeries. This sketch was not made to be blatantly racist, but instead to show some of the views people have and how they can fight against them. From a quick glance, that shit is incredibly racist...but when you take a calm and collected approach to it, it becomes clear what Chapelle and his writers were trying to do with that set of sketches.

Anyway, I just hope that such a small sampling of data for an accepted honors thesis is not an example of where our education system is going. If so, I'm afraid of the future of our continent's professional lifestyle. At least I know that my own chosen career path is safe...that type of research is the same sort that gets scientists black listed in the international science world (just look at the cloning fiasco of South Korea from 2005). If I did that type of shoddy research, I would be fired after a very harsh singular warning...and then I'd be out of the science world for good...but not by choice.


Malik (7/27/06)  

Before I get rolling today, a few things not quite geek...

First of all, I might not be posting tomorrow. It'll be a very busy day filled with job interviews and sleeping a little later. Toss in a nice dinner out with my folks, and tomorrow has all the makings of a very busy day...but busy in all the right ways.

Secondly, I just want to take a personal moment to say that it was four years ago today that I was blessed enough to make the vows of marriage. I have been with Velveeta for around seven and a half years, and have had her as a friend for even longer. Today is a special day for me since it represents so much. July 27th is the day that I got married. It's the day that I proved the geek stereotypes wrong (yes, you can be married to a geek who will not frown on your game playing, you D&D obsessions, your love of animation, or your desire to spend some time just geeking out about all that there is to take in). It's the day that I was truly blessed in more ways than I can count. So, Velveeta, here's to four great years...and to countless more in the future.

For the rest of you, I hope I didn't lose you quite yet...

First off for news/whatever, there are now rumors of Mercenaries 2 coming to more than just the PS3. In fact, as if this is any surprise, it's being assumed now that M2 will find it's way to the 360. Like I said yesterday, the only logical course for publishers in this new generation is to make most T or M rated big title games cross-platform. Namely, if a game is not hitting both the PS3 and the 360, it is a major miscalculation on the publisher's behalf. So, will Assassin's Creed, Mercenaries 2, and countless other at one time called exclusive titles remain exclusive? I'd say that 95% of the time, the exclusive single platform approach will be eroded.

If you've been wondering what the fate of Vic Ireland was after Working Designs went under, it's becoming clear. He will be back very soon, and he'll probably be doing the same general stuff...but under the Gaijinworks company name. If logic is any indication, I think Mr. Ireland will be back to bringing the US Japanese RPGs in almost no time. I just hope that this time he will not be delaying them to the point of insanity, like Working Designs did. I really do hold a special place in my heart for Working Designs (Lunar...f#@^ yeah!), but the ghost of their constant delays may be a returning member of Mr. Ireland's future projects...and if it is, I can't help but feel a little pessimism.

Galaga and Table Tennis are now downloads on the Live Marketplace. I don't think this really warrants much mention, but if you're bored waiting for a good 360 time killer (I know I am), this may be an easy way out. Sadly, while I haven't played the Arcade version of Galaga yet, I fear it will be the same as Frogger. In other words, why the f#@^ was Frogger so damned hard to see?! We're talking about a game that had a very fun port on the damned Commodore 64...which means 360 should not be a challenge...should it?


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