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Archive for January, 2007

Long tail, sort changed.

Posted by nfinit on January 26, 2007

There is nothing that has me more excited about the next hardware generation than the possibilities of downloading full, licensed games over the internet. Not only will digital distribution allow small-time publishers to circumvent the entire soul-crushing publishing system currently in place, it will one day ensure I’ll never have to listen to another Gamestop register biscuit beg me to trade in all my material wealth in exchange for a pre-order of Madden ’08. All three systems have a digital download service in place, and with PC services such as Steam and Gametap, soon we’ll never have any real need to waddle into the daylight again.

My current console of choice for next-gen content is the Xbox 360, and it’s online distribution system is the most cohesive and well-conceptualized of them all, Xbox Live Arcade. Live Arcade updates Wednesday, and we’re allowed exactly one (1) game per week to show itself.

Now, one (1) game per week doesn’t sound especially exciting, but there’s some quality stuff coming down the pipe, from freshly-minted indy developers proving themselves to the world to established big guns like EA to classic arcade and console games of yore. Just a sample of what we’ve been told to look forward to:

(Space Giraffe has me interested the most of these. It’s basically Jeff Minter’s return to Tempest 2000, only this time on Red Bull and crack, which was itself the original arcade Tempest on LSD and crystal meth. it’s the sort of game Tyler Durden would have played, if he weren’t too busy plotting the destruction of consumerism while making soap out of fat women.)

So with visions of Alucard Tepes swinging the Crissaegrim through Lord Dracula’s black, immortal heart, I booted my 360 Wednesday morning to discover…

… Well, nothing. I think there may have been updated content to already existing 360 games, and a demo that as a Silver subscriber I won’t have access to in a week, but as far as an actual game— Nada.

It’s frustrating on many different levels– as a consumer, I want to give Microsoft my money in exchange for goods and services, goods and services Microsoft seems disinterested in providing. The new stuff like Space Giraffe and Castle Crashers aside– Symphony of the Night has been finished for ten years. I know, I had the buy the damned thing twice for my original Playstation. It’s not like Konami is going to be able to add online deathmatch to a Castlevania, and any changes to the arts would be nothing less than an outright insult– So what’s the holdup? Why can’t I get this game? Metal Slug is the same way, as is Streets of Rage or Alien Hominid. These are all finished games. We’re only allowed one a week– why not push through something, especially if there’s no need for graphical gloss or online features?

A person might conclude that Microsoft is worried about the supply drying up, that they want to space out their titles so that there’s a constant flow of titles every week– but this Wednesday’s disappointment was no isolated occurrence. Here’s what we’ve had since Christmas:

*12-27: New Rally X. Yes Microsoft, that’s why I bought this $400 chunk of silicon and white plastic, so I could play the early 80’s Namco arcade titles that I always ignore whenever I buy the comp discs only to play Xevious instead. Fucking brilliant. By the way, where the hell is Xevious? I’d actually play Xevious.

*1-3: Zilch. I believe there were some map updates to Gears of War that week. Note that Gears of War is quite demonstrably not Symphony of the Night.

*1-10: Ms Pac-Man. Again with the moldy Namco arcade titles. What’s worse, Ms Pac-Man was the very first title ever released on the original Xbox Live Arcade service, back on the XB1. One might conclude that the purpose of XBLA is for Namco to sell their comp discs piecemeal, charging more money per game. One might also note that New Rally-X is essentially Ms Pac-Man, with cars. One might also note that neither Ms Pac-Man nor New Rally-X are Symphony of the Night.

*1-17: Heavy Weapon. Now this may appear interesting on the surface, a side-scrolling, top-down shooter in the style of Moon Patrol, you might be tricked into thinking this was a daring, indy-developed title put to Live by a group of garage developers intent on sticking it to The Man with thier in-your-face ideas and Mister Enfuego, their wacky mascot lemur. Nope, it’s a Pop-Cap title, released in 2005 and available for free for the past two years. Popcap. You know. The guys who made Alchemy. You know the only game of Popcap’s that I’ve ever wanted to play? Alchemy. You know the one Popcap game I can’t find on Live Arcade? Alchemy.

*1-24: New levels for Lumnies Live! Which, you know. No one ever bought because Lumnies (previously appearing on the PSP) was broken up and sold by piece by piece over Live Arcade instead of as one solid block. So I guess in a way what Microsoft was selling, in lieu of Symphony of the Night, was failure. Failure and broken promises. Like a firefighter who accidentally kills little Suzy’s kitten instead of saving her. Only the fireman is Microsoft. And the kitten is Symphony of the Night. And I am little Suzy.

So the problem here isn’t the fear of drying up the supply pipe– that pipe is as dry and sandy as Ann Coulter’s reproductive organs. Save for compatibility testing over new hardware, many of these games are already finished, and if they were made available, they could sell systems. It costs practically nothing to put data on a hard disc drive, and will cost no more to keep it on the severs five years than it will four an a half years. Right now though, that data isn’t making Microsoft any money or selling any systems– the Long Tail only works if the data is available.

Contrast this with what Nintendo is serving up on their own distribution service, the Virtual Console. When we get New Rally-X they get ToeJam & Earl. We get Ms Pac-Man, they get R-Type 3, for chrissake. We get Lumnies levels, they get Zelda: Link to the Past! We get levels for Gears of War, they get… well, they get Urban Champion. Guess they can’t all be winners. But the point is, Nintendo is leveraging what they have rights to to sell systems. Next week they’re probably going to get Super Mario Brothers 3– while we Live users will be lucky if we receive a Kameo deck for online Uno.


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Now, if they sold this to Neverhood, that’d have been neat..

Posted by nfinit on January 23, 2007

Those of you keeping up with this sort of thing already know about Harmonix selling off the rights to the Guitar Hero franchise to Neversoft, and the possible implications. Those of you who don’t know about this already fall into two camps– one, those who don’t know what Guitar Hero is, and those of you who are fans of Guitar Hero are wondering who Neversoft if they need to go ahead and crack open a bottle of Royal Crown. For the former, I implore you to go find someone (preferably someone who knows what they are doing) playing Guitar Hero, It’s one of those games you really need to see played to tell if younullre a fan of it or not. Personally, I’m a big fan of it even though I’m utterly incompetent at playing it. For the latter– Neversoft are the guys who make Tony Hawk games. Well, now Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero.

If I knew anything about music, I’d feel compelled to make some pithy comparison about The Sex Pistols selling their back catalog to Green Day. Since I know nothing about music, instead I’ll make a lame comparison about The Sex Pistols selling their back catalog to Green Day.

Now I’m not going to say this is going to lead to something terrible, after all it’s not fair to judge Neversoft’s vision of Guitar Hero before they’ve even typed up any code, but reading the Game Daily Interview with Red Octane’s Dusty Welch, a Guitar Hero fan can’t help but be… well, scared for his life, really.

Internalizing development allows for more control of the creative elements of the game and, in this instance, provides for a much more robust and feature laden franchise. We believe that having the talented group at Neversoft, with their unprecedented string of market success with the billion dollar Tony Hawk franchise, develop the next Guitar Hero game will allow us to vastly enrich the consumer experience. We are excited to further the music and rhythm-based videogame genre, and Neversoft has the full experience, knowledge, and talent to do this.

Okay. Some buzz-speak, but he is management. Not too bad.

“We have tremendous respect for, and greatly appreciate, everything that Harmonix has done for the Guitar Hero franchise. Their vision has always aligned with ours from the start. In looking toward the future, we believe it was a natural and neutral decision for us to look at other opportunities. We look forward to partnering with Neversoft’s development team, and can’t wait to show our fans what we have in store for them.”

Wow, that’s… that’s a lot of buzz-speak. Guitar Hero fans are probably squirming in their seats right about now…

“Neversoft has a long-standing and trusted reputation for developing great games that appeal to our core target demographic, and we’re definitely excited they’re on board!”

Those of you remembering Tony Hawk’s Underground– which extensively incorporated Bam fucking Margera– are probably grinding their plastic fretboards between their teeth right now. Save your teeth, it’s about to get far, far worse.

“Neversoft’s talents and extensive experience working within the skateboarding and music culture are already adding tremendous value to Guitar Hero‘s core tenet of fulfilling the fantasy of becoming a rock star.”

The blurred vision you may be experiencing right now is a direct result of spending the past five minutes slamming your head into the nearest wall. For the sake of your long term memory, please don’t re-read the above.

Now, I’m not saying this automatically going to be a Bad Thing– after all, Neversoft could just keep pumping out Guitar Hero iterations the same way Capcom did Street Fighter II and the fans would be happy and we’d still be getting enjoyable games. And hey, it’s not like Neversoft is a bad publisher, the Tony Hawk stuff is (generally) well-received. Problem is, after hearing Dusty Welch use more buzz-speak than a meeting of Applebee’s middle management, you can’t help but imagine “stay the course” is the best possible outcome for Guitar Hero at this point. At this point you start to wonder if we’ll ever see 80’s Guitar Hero or Johnny Cash Guitar Hero, you start to seriously expect to see Creed Guitar Hero and Kidz Bop Guitar Hero and Kevin Federline Guitar Hero. At least Harmonix didn’t sell to EA, the thoughts of a Guitar Hero using EA Trax would be an act of sin so strong as to turn the rivers red with blood. In fact, it’d be an act so evil you sort of wonder why EA hasn’t already tried to build a GH clone.

I can’t blame Harmonix, though. You have to figure after two wildly successful iterations of of Guitar Hero (and a fully Live-connected Guitar Hero II for the 360 coming up) that they’ve done pretty much everything they ever wanted to with the game– sure, they can go around the next ten years making Guitar Hero sequels, but if you’re going to do that, why not sell the rights to someone else? These are developers, they’re artists, they have an innate need to create, they will want to see if they can do better than Guitar Hero. You sort of have to commend the ability to discard your gravy train in order to pursue the muse. Indeed, one can think of no less an attitude for a development studio dedicated to fusing music and games.

You just sort of hope the next game they try stays in the garage for a little bit longer.

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