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Malik (10/29/07)

Last week I didn't do too much in the way of posts. I did have things to discuss or complain about, but I just had a full plate of things to do and I was on vacation. Those two things together equaled one solo post.

Also, before I go any farther, I just want to say that my usual Monday subject is not at hand this week. In other words, with it being a bye week for Seattle, I don't have anything to say about the Seahawks. Well, I don't have anything to say besides the fact that I really hope that this two week stretch of recovery time will be enough for Branch, Hackett, and Alexander to all get back into their normal healthy game states.

I spent a good amount of time last week with the newest Tony Hawk (TH Proving Grounds) on the 360. I felt the need to play a good nostalgic skating game, and THPG looked like a good option. At least it looked that way before I got into the game and realized that the goals and objectives were so not interesting to play through.

On the bright side, there are hidden arcade machines on THPG that allow you to play some of the areas of the game as if they were from THPS1-3. In other words, you have the two minute timer, the letters to spell out SKATE and COMBO, special requirements (anger 5 construction workers, etc), and the three tiered scoring goal (low score for armature, medium for pro, and high for sick).

In the end, however, I'd have to call THPG a solid rental. Unlike some games that are good rentals but also not a poor purchase, I think THPG is a bad purchase. This game is meant to be enjoyed for only about three days and then it's old news. At least those three days are a lot of fun...but after that, the game easily will over stay it's welcome with poor objectives, a very tacked on plot, and too much forced hip urban culture.

Most of all, the average objective in the game will always feel like a training mission. By the time you've gone through all of the training, you'll actually be done with the actual game. There is nothing more to the game, at least in one player, than an overly glorified tutorial.

I did also get another Neversoft title this weekend. You should be able to guess which one since Neversoft has a whole two new games right now.

Anyway, I have been enjoying Guitar Hero 3. In terms of the contents of the game, there is a lot to digest. I know that Rock Band will probably make me forget all about the GH family of games, but I still think the next month will be awesome because of GH3.

The tracks included in the game are amazing. It looks like more work was put into this track list than any previous GH game. You have music ranging from the 1960's up through the last year or two. You have genres from classic rock up to the speed metal that can only be called Dragonforce. Even the tiers will usually have a bit of a theme to them (like one being mainly British inspired when you play in London, and when you get sent to play in hell you have Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, and the duel of Devil Went Down to Georgia).

However, I cannot say the game is without it's faults. For one thing, the game has a co-op career mode. That's not a problem. In fact, that's an awesome thing. The problem is that certain encore songs cannot be played/unlocked outside of co-op career. This means that, even after I have laid medium (I'm not good with the orange button) to rest, I still don't have access to Sabotage, or a few other songs. Also, there is a song that I cannot find on co-op free play that is on the solo career mode. This breaking up of what songs can be played by how many people only drops the joy that is GH3.

The other problem is something I've bitched and moaned about since the news of GH3 was first starting to trickle into the media; battle mode. I will never play this mode on my own accord, but you have to face three battles in order to clear the single player career mode. These are simply not fun and they take away from enjoying the game on a single adrenaline pumping play through.

The worst part of the battles is that they will only end if you finish the "song" (more of a jam session) by making the computer controlled player lose. If you get to the end of the song, you automatically lose, and if you fail...well, then you obviously fail. The only way to make the AI mess up on a song is if you through attack power ups at them. The bad part is that they can throw them back at you as they earn the power ups through star passages.

The other lame part is that, at least from my one day of playing and what I've seen thus far, that you cannot play Devil Went Down to Georgia outside of the duel with Lou (the devil's name in GH3). I really just want to go into a guitar groove by laying down this song on my own. I don't want to have to leave some material behind to be a part of only the battle game. I don't know how this song, or other duels for that matter, play out in co-op career, but I'll start to find out soon as I struggle to get Velveta to play a song or two with me each several nights.

Also, the new controller packed in with the GH3 bundle is nice. There are some problems with bad contacts, since the neck is able to be removed. However, if the contacts are all set, then the action on this newest guitar control is awesome. It's fast on the fingers, the whammy bar works (unlike the GH2 360 controller), and the tilt sensor is the best I've seen on a GH controller. Plus, since it's wireless, I feel a lot more ready to get into the action and not to worry about rocking too hard and yanking out and cables.

Also, the face plate removes easily enough. I'm not the type of person who uses the words "mod" and "console" together except when speaking of this doesn't mean much to me. But the artistic people out there can enjoy redesigning the face plate without ever worrying about taking apart the guitar controller. At least it shows that Red Octane does understand who their audience is.

The only complaint I've had with this controller is that it uses a different shaped battery compartment than the 360 wireless controller from Microsoft. This means that you can only use a rechargeable battery pack if you buy the special Red Octane one. Still, it's only a minor loss when you consider the cheapness of rechargeable AA batteries at a store like Fry's.

I still need to work my skill up to take on hard, and GH3 does encourage this in the forced career battles (since one power-up that can hit you is to bump the difficulty up one notch). Considering I've gotten five stars on most medium songs (Raining Blood and the Muse song are both kicking my ass and I can only score a low 4 or a high 3 star ranking), hard seems like a good way to go. Either that or I should try to master medium as much as possible by trying to beat Dragonforce's Through the Fire and Flames on medium. It really feels like a song on hard on medium, it looks like expert on hard, and it will make a grown man cry on expert...cry before you're head explodes!

Also, for those looking for this song, you have to beat the game's career mode, then you will get the end credits. During the credits, you'll play TTFAF without any score keeping (think practice mode, but without speed controls). If you play through to the end of the song, you can then buy it in the shop in the game and rock it out. I think this is the first goal of any GH find TTFAF. The second goal is to beat the song on any difficulty without your eyes or head exploding.


Malik (10/30/07)

According to Microsoft, IPTV will not be included in the next 360 firmware update. More than that, the technology will not be available until a service provider, instead of the console developer, says it's ready to install it. That's all well and good, but I would like for Microsoft to focus on some more important aspects of the 360, and to aim them towards the fall update.

In particular, I want my 360 to not tell me shit when I'm playing a game. At least I'd like the ability to turn off all notifications of any sort. Nothing can ruin a nice combo in Guitar Hero 3 like getting a damned pop up telling me one of my friends is online...or that I just unlocked an achievement...or that a friend is no longer doesn't even matter how many "or" situations I can come up with. I just want my 360 to shut the hell up already. If I'm in the dashboard, then it can do whatever it damned well pleases. However, if I'm playing a game, the dashboard should be entirely out of the equation unless I tell it otherwise.

Also, why not throw in an update of some sort to clean up the mess that is the Marketplace? The layout was changed before when it became to cluttered to stand, but another round of cleaning is in order. Maybe something help sort by first letter or even the first five letters of the product you want. Maybe something to let you search for a keyword. Maybe something that will properly place items in the Marketplace into their appropriate categories. More than anything, a new organization system that keeps all themes and gamer pics out of the game download section. I have no intention of dropping any money on a new dashboard theme (as I hinted at above, the dashboard does not matter to me one damned bit outside of navigating to the games I want...and maybe cleaning up some HDD space) or some gamer pic that means nothing to me.

What? Is it so wrong that I don't want to spend any money at all on buying the latest pack of Madden gamer pics and having my screen name represented by an NFL team logo? I don't think so. I couldn't care less about achievements. If I did, then I'd play GH3 without a guitar controller in the system to get that stupid "Get a Guitar Already" achievement (or whatever it's called). I have not gotten this and I don't aim to.

I want my 360 to play games and to allow me access to important downloads related to real gaming. Game trailers and interviews with developers on new titles? That's cool. Demos and updates? Once again, that is cool. Additional content (preferably free)? Definitely cool as long as it's not the expensive GH2 song packs or the horse armor from Oblivion.

Also, since I've had some good relations and all of that, let's throw out a mention to our friends across the pond. Maybe Microsoft needs to finally give Europe some Marketplace love from the next update. In fact, maybe it's time for all Marketplaces to be made equal. Instead of asking for people to get the free downloads by being sneaky (making a fake foreign screen name), we could all have some equal access to the free and universal items. What I mean by this is the game demos and videos from other regions. Movie and TV content may be tricky, but I'm sure, as the owner of the console being developed for, Microsoft could pull a little sway in asking for region universal demos and trailers for games.

Especially this applies for free content to unlock material locked on the game disk, like how hard, impossible, and new game+ modes were locked on Blue Dragon when it launched in the US...but it was on the Hong Kong Marketplace. Blue Dragon was unbearably easy on the standard game, and unless someone was wanting to make a Hong Kong screen name, they were forced to skip these more suitable modes...despite them being on the game disk.

Now to go on a complete rant that breaks topic, I'll just say one more thing. Microsoft, as the owner of the console being developed for, needs to start demanding that all downloads for games (game content) are real content. No more of the bull shit that we've seen with games like Blue Dragon Katamari. I'm talking about how the other modes (of Blue Dragon) and the extra levels (of Katamari) are all on the game disks already. They were ready to go from days one. However, we not only had to wait for the content to be released (usually, in the case of BD in particular, when they are no longer relevant), but we had to pay for some of these and wait aimlessly for the others. Microsoft should demand that for a game to be licensed for their console that the developer and publisher have to furnish the entire game at the start. No more half assed and half finished games waiting for endless patches to make them run. Definitely no more "bonus content" that's already on the game disk. Full finished games from day one.


Malik (10/31/07)

I am in a hell of a bitchy mood today. Actually, I'm continuing a bitchy mood that started yesterday. Between some news regarding my future employment and when my next job will start, I am not too happy. When you throw in the fact that I-5 had a minor accident blocking one lane (out of about 5 or so) this morning which made me about 45 minutes behind schedule, the bad mood continues.

Why do I mention stuff like that? Because I am just clarifying that what I say is now beyond my control and is more a function of my annoyances and my pissed off mind set. Also, this (especially the being late to work today) will keep me from posting anything overly long.

I have now played some of the co-op career mode on Guitar Hero 3. I do like that co-op is now a career option, since it felt lacking from the previous GH games. However, it only makes me more annoyed as I unlock new songs that are only found in co-op career. I don't mean some minor songs that don't mean crap to the game. For example, the first co-op encore song, and this would be the first one lacking from the single player career mode, is nothing short of Sabotage (Beastie Boys). This is too damned fun of a song to play to have it forced out of a player's hands until they find someone to co-op with at home.

Co-op career cannot be performed via XBox Live. Co-op career is also a sad thing to attempt without having two guitar controllers (luckily I have two). It is just not that obtainable to the average gamer who just wants to rock out each and every song in the game. These co-op exclusive encores don't stop at tier one or even shortly after. Supposedly they run until the sixth tier, which means there are six songs that a single player would not be able to reach on their own...or without cheat codes...unless you want to play them in a battle or whatever over XBox Live (since all songs are unlocked over Live play).

The least that Neversoft could have done is to either allow these songs to be accessed in a single player game or to have co-op career be an option over Live. To keep co-op career limited is a shame when good songs would be placed on this mood exclusively.

In my case, I have been playing with Velveta, but with limited time. She works a lot and works a job that is not wrist friendly. Sadly GH games are also not wrist friendly. So, while I got to play every single player career song (not too mention Through the Fire and Flame and a few of the other unlockable "purchasable" songs) in one day on single player modes, I only faced the first two tiers (and only the minimum number of songs to force an encore) in two days of playing with Velveta. This means that I will not see the remaining bonus songs for another few days...maybe a week since the harder songs are more stressful on the worker who has an uncaring job that causes wrist damage.

At least I'm still having a good time on single player. I've put hard mode on hold, for now. I'm trying to get some more feel of these new songs before I go full on with hard mode career. I was actually able to get through almost two tiers of hard mode (three staring each song and playing through each one only once), but I think the best chance for me to improve right now is to learn the feel of the songs before I have to face one of the damned pointless boss battles...and get my ass handed to me when a difficulty up attack is thrown my way (bumping me into a temporary state of that dreaded "expert" mode).

In fact, I might even think about hard mode on a more forgiving GH2 before I try to get the GH3 action rolling. At least GH2 doesn't hit you with boss battles. I also wish that the GH games would have had a fifth difficulty. I feel like the scale between the levels is a bit broken, and that's why I've never felt motivated to move on to hard. The difference between medium and easy was mainly an additional finger, that is conveniently on most hands. There were more notes, but they were an easy to understand increase.

The change between hard and medium is not so slight and easy to get accustomed to. You have another note, without any real chance to get used to either stretching a finger or sliding your hand as you play. Then, especially on GH3, you have a hell of a lot more notes. It seems that GH3 has done the worst job of jumping the challenge between these two modes out of all three and a half GH games. If there was a more subtle shift in difficulty, I would probably be rocking out a hard career (at least until the first boss), but that just isn't the case. You need to pick up too many new ideas...shifting hands or stretching fingers, a shit ton more notes, and how alternate strumming (up and down) and hammer ons/pull offs are mandatory.

At least I can still go back to medium and enjoy rocking out on a challenging song (for me tiers 7 and 8 are nothing short of fun and challenge, but without frustration, on medium), sounding good, and feeling good.


Malik (11/2/07)

I was unsure of what to think of John Riccitiello, the current CEO of EA. Afterall, he was supposed to help in bringing a new age to EA. Creativity was supposed to be brought back into the picture, and with the acquisition of Bioware and Pandemic, I was still unsure of what all is in store for EA.

I still don't know what to think of Riccitiello in that regard. What the future will hold for EA, under his reigns, is still to be determined.

However, I do like his forward thinking in terms of game prices. I don't know where his comments are coming from, since game pricing seems to be a debate that he is, as of now, only having with himself. However, thinking that $60 games does not work for consumers is a good idea.

The price of games are higher now, not counting inflation (since inflation seems less important in some prices to consumers), than last generation. Also, the amount of money that is in an average consumers entertainment budget is going down as consumers feel job income remaining stagnant for the last half decade (over 5 years, in fact), but inflation has pushed up prices of everything it food, gas, shelter, and other parts of basic needs, as well as other entertainment expenditures (movie tickets, in particular).

Of course, at the same time, the price of games have been higher in the past. I'm not talking of the digital disc age of gaming, but the cartridge days of the NES, Master System, SNES, and Genesis. I still remember Phantasy Star IV being released to a $100 price tag so many years ago. So, in reality, prices could be worse. Of course, many gamers were introduced to games during the PSX days and after. These were days that rarely saw a game retail for over $50, and that only makes the modern $60 look worse.

My one question is how Riccitiello aims to attack the issue of price. There are a few simple ideas that may work, but a lot of ideas that would be detrimental to the gaming world.

A good option would be to either look at lowering the price of games by $10 and bringing back PSX-PS2 era prices. This would mean, however, that only games with potential for higher sales would be considered important by publishers and developers, which could leave us with less creativity and more cases of a franchise or license being milked for all it's worth. Afterall, to make up for those $10 would require about 20% more sales of a game.

Another important option would be to look at where games could be streamlined to be less costly to develop. The obvious option in this is to cut some budget for visuals, which have been a high impact on modern game developmental costs. I honestly would not mind too much. Some games have used less impressive (on paper) of visuals to create some amazing environments and moods. Katamari is an excellent example of "poor" graphics making an awesome experience. Unfortunately, this could turn off some of the gamers who are more inclined to eye candy than to content.

Beyond those options, there are a lot of potentially bad ideas. The big one I can think of off the top of my head is that more games could be treated to downloadable and premium content. The base game would cost less, but the real game, in it's entirety, would cost upwards of $30 more (in theory you could tack on another $15 per month with online enabled games). This actually seems like the likely product of trying to "reduce" game prices.

It's been seen that players will usually shell out more money for extra content, even if it means paying for what's lacking in the original game, not what's additional and a bonus to the original content. For example, the way Hellgate: London is setup. You buy the game once, but if you want the real experience, then you pay for a premium service with a monthly cost. Everyone can play the game, but only those who pay more will get the full game as the developers intended. There's also Beautiful Katamari, which has a few levels on the game disk, but they can only be unlocked via a premium download. The original BK is shorter than it feels like it should be, but the content you pay for later will even that out...and bring the price from a budget $40 to whatever the final price will be when Namco-Bandai finally does release the content in the US.

There are even more could have more free PC games (free to download) that required monthly costs. Afterall, this method of monthly charges is a great tool for successful MMOs to make most of their profits. Do you think WoW made most of it's money from the original game and expansion pack purchases? No...the real money comes from the monthly charges of millions of people. Once monthly charges are involved, all that is honestly required is server maintenance. Blizzard does give more than just maintenance (patches, updates, etc), but a greedy or money hungry company could just supply the servers and let it ride out at that.

Of course there is a problem with this model. Not too many people will keep a subscription around if they are subscribed to something new. The average gamer will only have premium content and subscriptions to a limited number of games at a time, and a company like EA, which releases a large number of games per year, could end up cannibalizing an older game for their latest game.

I would love to see where Riccitiello actually is taking EA. I honestly don't get the point of his little blurb and why it was reported. It's not news...rather it's a external thought that doesn't bring any resolution or clarity to an issue and it's an issue that is not on the minds of most people. I would be like me randomly stating "I think scientific research needs to be handled in a new way" (that's a relevant comparison since I am a scientist). I didn't give any new ideas, and I didn't clarify what I thought...only that I am thinking.

Let's hope that Riccitiello is thinking and is planning to either do nothing ($60 games have worked for the last two years...and yes, I'd like them cheaper, but not at the cost of sanity or those damned micro-transactions) or at least nothing that actually costs more. I'd hate to see EA, once again, showing how cheap and greedy they can be. It's bad enough that is all that Madden serves to remind us of each year, as features are cut and sales go up.


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