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Archive for April, 2010

Wallet Abuse Wednesday 4-28-10. Super Street Fighter IV, Record of Agrest War, Joe Arpaio’s Bloody Revenge

Posted by nfinit on April 28, 2010

This has been a bit of a slow week for gaming news– the community is still reeling from the revelation that Roger Ebert hates puppies, baseball and Halo Wars, meanwhile the rush of personnel leaving Infinity Ward is starting to resemble that bit in Cloverfield where the sewer rats were racing ahead of the horrible parasites that had began to infest New York City’s public transportation infrastructure.

There is some interesting videogame news that’s set to come about next week, in that the Supreme Court will rule on if state agencies are capable of shielding minors from videogame sales despite the videogame industry adopting a rating system that’s every bit as enforceable and valid as the same rating standard the movie industry uses to keep Best Buy employees from selling copies of the Nina Heartley’s Guide to Better Oral Sex DVD to schoolchildren.  Usually.  But that’s next week, and also boring in that we’ve all pretty much conceded the idea that there’s no way the blue hairs that make up the bulk of the SCOTUS will get this right.
So I’m forced to search abroad for a theme to link today’s games, and in doing so I noticed that all of this week’s games are published in Japan– in fact, only one game wasn’t outright developed in Japan as well, the lone holdout being Namco’s Dead to Rights: Retribution.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to your non-gaming related news this week, Arizona has essentially made being not-American illegal, to the point that Arizona citizens can sue their police department if the populace decides it’s law enforcement officers aren’t doing enough to clear non-Americans off Arizona’s fair streets.  All of which could be very bad news if you happen to find yourself at Gamestop buying one of this week’s selection of games and are asked for your papers!  A sequence of hilarious events that leads us to this week’s theme:


sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat

The more Joe Aparios you get, the more likely you’ll be asked for your papers and then immediately escorted to Sonora, Mexico!

Dead to Rights:  Retribution
Publisher:  Namco
Developer:  Volatile Games
Platform:  Playstation 3, Xbox 360

I had no clue there were already four Dead To Rights games floating about, I was under the impression the only Dead To Rights game to exit was the 2002 Xbox 1 title developed by Namco itself.

Namco clearly expected bigger things to come about from it’s Dead to Rights franchise, so perhaps it’s little surprise that Namco decided to reboot the franchise entirely in handing it over to Volatile Games and hoping a non-native developer could lend the series some Western-developed credibility.

Dead To Rights has always had one interesting facet to it’s otherwise standard third person duck-and-cover gameplay– that being the presence of a dog companion, sort of like if Snake Eyes somehow wound up a police detective instead of a ninja spec-ops commando
okay so nothing like Snake Eyes at all, but that’s not the point.  The point is, bloodthirsty wolf companions kick ass, and I’d rather play the game Volatile Games seemed much interested in developing, that being Batman Arkham Asylum: Demented Unstoppable Malamute Edition.


sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat
Although published by Namco (and featuring an Asian-American main character) Dead To Rights isn’t terribly likely to get you thrown across the state border– Keep in mind, Dead To Rights features decidedly Western-friendly gameplay mechanics and was actually developed by white dudes.
Harvest Moon:  Hero of Leaf Valley
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Natsume

Platform: PSP

Gamestop’s upcoming release schedule has said Hero of Leaf Valley was coming out every week so far this month, and by all accounts (namely,  Natsume’s truck driver has finally sobered up enough to be trusted to leave the warehouse without killing anyone.
In terms of gameplay I’m not sure what makes Hero of Leaf Valley different from the twenty-nine other Harvest Moon titles, but this time around we at least have something that resembles a plot– Namely that your character (the previously mentioned Hero of Leaf Valley) has been tasked to defend your town (the previously mentioned Leaf Valley) from a takeover by an amusement park company (not previously mentioned).  By, you know… growing crops
So I guess this is what Civil Disobedience looks like in Japan?  Commercial agriculture?
Also if you’ve just been told that your town is under immediate threat of being plowed under by a predatory corporation and a theme park being placed upon its site,  isn’t farming a little too far of a long-term plan?  The only way I see this working out well for the residents of Leaf Valley is if it turns out your character us dabbling in genetic engineering and created a mutant breed of man-eating plant, with the game playing like a Japanese version of Plants vs Zombies, only in this case instead of fighting off the hungry dead you’re using bloodthirsty plants to fend off dirty carnie workers.
…which, in retrospect would make this the best Harvest Moon videogame ever.

sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat

You probably imagined this game rating higher on the “arrested for spurious reasons and then immediately dumped over the US/Mexican border” scale, but we have to keep in mind that while any game that heavily features dating sim elements is pretty gosh-darned Japanese, the prevalence of Farmville almost totally negates the weirdness inherent in browsing in search of the correct vegetable combination in which to present to your prospective wife.  As such, Hero of Leaf Valley is probably safe to purchase, just don’t let yourself get caught playing your PSP in public.

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Cavia, Inc
Platforms:  Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Here’s everything you need to know about Nier
This is your main character:
Nier Picture
(Unless you’re in Japan, where this is your main character)
Nier Picture
Who is wandering a nightmarish trying to save his daughter from a horrible disease (unless you’re in Japan, where this is instead your sister)

This chick is a has a penis:

And apparently you’re being manipulated by an evil sentient flying book:

Which is all to say it’s decidedly not your typical squeenix JRPG.  Indeed, it’s actually an action RPG developed by Cavia, the fine folks who brought you the Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles games, the Stand Alone Complex games and.. erm. Bullet Witch. So they can’t all be winners, but if you remember the Drakengard games for the PS2, these are the same developers.  Nier is itself the spiritual successor to the Drakengard series, taking place after the events of the “E” ending for Drakengard 2.  Only with less dragons and more abandoned cities.

There’s every chance Nier is going to be terrible, but at least its going to look really cool while being terrible and probably confusing enough that you won’t really notice how bad a game it is until it’s all over and you’re left wondering if you should be angry at what just happened.
Sort of like the finale to Battlestar Galatica.

sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat
Yes, Cavia has gone out of the way to produce both American and Japanese friendly versions of the same exact game, but that doesn’t do anything for the fact that this chick:
50245__468x_nier-gestalt-oshiri.jpg picture by bigredcoat
Is basically a Futa perv’s dream woman…man…whatever.

Record of Agarest War
Publisher:  Aksys
Developer:  Compile Heart
Platforms:  Playstation Network; Xbox 360

There are signs that a game publisher has been tricked into picking up the rights to a title that isn’t as much a videogame as it is softcore pornography.  These signs include, but are not limited to:

1:  A 90 second long trailer featuring eight seconds of gameplay footage
2:  The Same trailer instead spends 1 minute 22 seconds focusing on pixilated boobs
3:  The game is packed in with a hump pillow.
What if I told you that Record of Agarest War forced Aksys to do all three?

Breast-flavored Record of Agarest War gets release date photo

I don’t want to come off as a prude– I mean, I’m not really in a position to insult the quality of animated porn– but if Aksys is expecting their marketing of Record of Agarest War to be anything but a tremendous embarrassment to  the company they’re ignoring two things:
1: Hentai is free
2: Any weeaboo depraved enough to drop sixty bucks on this package would rather spend that same money on a Bible Black cast off figure, coat said figure in some sort of horrible goo, immediately uploading pictures of it this onto 4chan.
The existence of the brick-and-mortar edition of Agarest War brings up another troubling concept– Unless you want to spend the next week downloading a 10gb file off of Playstation Network for your PS3, there’s no other way to buy Agarest War.  The Really Naughty Limited Edition is the standard edition of the game!

sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Let’s be reasonable here– if you buy Record of Agarest War retail, you’re basically buying a grab bag of items from the very worst parts of J-List.  Joe isn’t even going to bother dumping you across the border, he’s going to load you onto a trebuchet built in the University of Phoenix Stadium parking lot and pile in enough rocks into the counter weight to assure you’ll land somewhere south of Nogales.

Super Street Fighter IV

Publisher:  Capcom

Developer:  Dimps
Platforms:  Playstation 3, Xbox 360

I still don’t understand the logic in selling this game as physical media instead of DLC, but at least we’re getting 10 new fighters with SSFIV, which is more than many fighting games feature at all.  That said, we had original Street Fighter IV last year, what amounts to an expansion pack this year, and one year from now we’re getting Marvel vs Street Fighter 3– Capcom is totally going to Madden the hell out of the Street Fighter revival, and that’s before you get to stuff like Tatsunoku vs Capcom and the iPhone ports.  At this point I’m convinced Capcom is intent on killing the 2d fighter market for a second time, and we’re never ever ever going to see a new Darkstalker’s game because of it.
But I want to be positive here, and as such we should keep in mind that this is the absolute best, most widely available version of Street Fighter to exist in any form, and will probably remain the premiere 1v1 non-VS fighter for a long while– At forty bucks that’s not bad at all.   And really, everything I’ve said about SSFIV’s questionable justification for being sold on disc is forgiven if Capcom has somehow figured out a way to keep 90% of all online fights from somehow involving Ken/Ryu/Akuma/Sagat.

sheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoatsheriff-joe-arpaio.jpg picture by bigredcoat
Not only are you buying a foreign-produced game sold by foreigners and based around a thoroughly foreigner-centric game genre (Unlike, say, a good solid American genre that’d put the food on the tables of good solid American game programmers, such as Gears of War or Golden Tee Golf) you’ve got a game based around the concept of the World Warrior– and if there’s anything that scares the bejesus out of Apario and his ilk, it’s the prospect of dirty swarthy non-whites non-Americans taking away prize money from American street fighters.  With a roster that includes both known varieties of Indian (both Dhalsim -and- T. Hawk), suspiciously over-oiled Moorish folk, at least two dozen people hailing from Southeast Asia, an ancient demon of martial arts-derived vengeance, an dictator and a full-fledged Luchadore, Super Street Fighter 4 is a virtual smorgasbord of dusky folk looking to make a better life for themselves.


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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 4-21-10: Monster Hunter Tri

Posted by nfinit on April 20, 2010

I’d like to be able to tell all you good readers that I invested a lot of time producing the best possible Wallet Abuse this week– usually I spend a good chunk of my Sundays doing nothing but writing content for Bigredcoat– but in honest truth, I’ve not.   Ad this is because I broke down last week and bought Assassin’s Creed 2 (only thirty dollars brand new!) and my only real regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.

Assassin’s Creed 2 stimulates a very specific nerve bundle in my cerebral cortex that causes me great pleasure whenever a game allows me to fuck around for hours at a time without making any real progress in the game whatsoever.  The game gives you so much inane shit to do while putzing around Renaissance-era Italy that taking part in the actual storyline seems gauche; and you almost certainly wouldn’t do so unless it were a necessary component to unlock more cities in which to wander about and act like a dickhead to the locals.  I can do this for hours a time, and I’ve quite literally done so– I’ve invested roughly fifteen hours into Assassin’s Creed 2 so far and I’ve not even seen most of Venice left. I know there are at least three of six Assassin’s Tombs left to uncover, so if we go by this baseline I’m probably halfway through the game and I’m confident that if I wanted to I could spend an additional fifteen hours just going back and exploring the parts of the game I’ve already unlocked.

I believe I said some awful, boneheaded, dismissive things regarding Assassin’s Creed 2 when it first came out last Holiday season, and I’d like to go on record that I was a complete ass for not buying this game when it was sixty bucks and people were actually talking about the stupid thing.  While I’m not sure I’d say it’s game of the year over Dragon Age: Origins, it’s definitely in my top three of 2009 and may well be the best sandbox game I’ve ever played.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t have a theme for you all today.  I was originally going to do some grandiose thing revolving around Shaggy 2 Dope’s hostile reaction toward electromagnetism, but it’s been done to death by now and anyway all the best stuff regarding the incident is at the Encyclopedia Dramatica page that I probably shouldn’t link to because ED is full of awful, awful hentai.
Then I was thinking maybe I’d do something regarding the community’s latest spat of blind, hilarious outrage in regards to Roger Ebert’s views on the validity of gaming-as-art.  But then I realized that 1:  it’s nine thirty on Tuesday and that’d be entirely too much work and 2:  anyone reading this is smart enough to realize that asking Roger Ebert’s opinion on gaming culture is about as logical as skimming through the New York Times Book Review and trying to figure out if they also think Caprica sucks wind– Of course Ebert doesn’t get games-as-art, he’s an expert on a wholly different medium.  Ebert understands Heavy Rain about as well as Sarah Palin understands competent governance.  It’s just not his field of expertise.

But that’s fine, because there’s only three games out this week anyway, two of them (All-Star Karate, Dementium 2) are curiosities at best, and the only game worth talking about is a thoroughly hardcore 3rd party Wii-exclusive title with an actual marketing budget and– well wait, that’s worth talking about in and of itself, I suppose.

All Star Karate
Publisher:  THQ
Developer:  THQ
Platforms:  Wii
It’s a motion-controlled waggle fighting game.  Great.  Fantastic.  If you want your offspring to fully absorb your disdain for their meager achievements in life, by all means purchase this for them instead of Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.

Here’s what I want to know– This is a motion-controlled “karate sim”– does this mean that you can strap a wiimote to your foot to register kicks?  And if not, why?  People would buy a Wiimote footie, right?  Also, as with most things in life, Sega Did It First:
Dementium II
Publisher:  South Peak Interactive
Developer:  Renegade Kid
Platforms:  Nintendo DS
So apparently the Dementium games are survival horror for the DS– it’s good someone is intent on doing this sort of thing for Nintendo’s portable, as it would appear that Konami is intent on killing Silent Hill in America and Capcom hasn’t had anything to do with Resident Evil DS since 2006.

You can’t fault developer Renegade Kid for a lack of ambition– these are the same guys who managed to cram a full, original sci-fi sixty-frame-per-second FPS shooter into the DS hardware in Moon, and the original Dementium effort is generally well-regarded.  Plus, you have to like a studio that’s willing to treat the DS as a grown up gaming console, even if it’s a grown up gaming console circa 1997.  Also we can now officially welcome the flashlight genre to the DS:

Monster Hunter Tri

Publisher:  Capcom

Developer:  Capcom Production Studio 1

Platform:  Wii

If you ask a Nintendo fan why hardcore 3rd party games don’t typically sell well on the Wii, three things usually come up:

1:  The game in question is usually a dumbed-down version of a full-scale PS360 title that the parent company felt the need to convert into a lightgun game or some other obviously inferior version of the “full” product (See:  Dead Space:  Extraction; Dead Rising: Chop ’til you Drop; EA’s ongoing policy of openly insulting Wii owners with its Wii Madden games)

2:  An abject refusal to spend any effort and/or money advertising said game (Most notable being Silent Hill: Shattered Memories; in itself a fantastic game that Konami  refused to promote out of open contempt for the development team)

3:  These games tend not to be part of larger franchises.  You don’t get Final Fantasy 13 on the Wii, for instance– you get a stunted, obviously inferior Final Fantasy instead, like Crystal Bearers, stuff that is part of the original franchise in name only.

Monster Hunter Tri breaks all these issues– One, it’s obviously a hardcore game and not a stunted PS360 port with a layer of waggle interactivity.  Secondly, Capcom is spending an absolutely stupid amount of money advertising MH Tri–there’s a very good chance you’ve already seen a burly Scottish Highlander trying to offload a truck full of dragon burgers on national television; although Capcom has been rather aggressive on the national television campaign as of late, even Tatsunoku vs Capcom received a tv ad.  And finally, Tri is, as you may have surmised, the third title in a wildly successful (in Japan, anyway) series that will be sold exclusively on the Wii.

All of which will be wonderful to sort through once Monster Hunter Tri is decimated by Mario Kart Wii in the NPDs for April.  But nevermind all that– the most interesting thing about Monster Hunter Tri is that it may well have  brought about only the second decent controller Nintendo has ever produced.  Behold the Classic Controller Pro:

Which is what happens when you take the original Wii Classic Controller and make some nominal attempt to bring it up to speed with the ergonomic advancements first pioneered by the Playstation 1 controller.  That said, the Pro is still regressive as a Tea Party bake sale (really, Nintendo?  2010 and we’re still rocking four digital shoulder buttons?) but for the stuff you’d want to do on the Wii (read:  Play Virtual Console games) it’s Perfectly Acceptable and is light years beyond the bastard child of the SNES game pad and Dual Shock that was the original Classic.


DEAD TO RIGHTS RETRIBUTION is probably as awful and forgettable as the first game (this is the part where you remember that Dead to Rights was at one point A Thing) but it has a dog that bites your enemies in the crotch until they die from it, so that’s okay by me.

Squeenix continues its valiant struggle against irrelevancy with hermaphrodites in boy shorts and NIER


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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 4-14-10: Splinter Cell Conviction, Final Fight Double Impact Guy vs Poison vs Raptor

Posted by nfinit on April 13, 2010

I’m not going to lie.  My dream job of the moment (having graduated from astronaut to Ferrari test driver to Monica Bellucci’s leotard) is to make a living writing for a professional games magazine/website/whatever.  And it’s not to make money doing what I love doing, it’s not to meet industry luminaries, it’s not even for the free games– it’s because of the swag.  Well that and the ability to legally stalk Brad Shoemaker.  But mainly because of the swag.

Why do I bring this up?  Because this happened last week:

What’s that, you say?  Why it’s one of the several dozen Final Fight Double Impact press kits distributed to gaming sites all over our fine nation!
And what’s in it?

A re-elect Mike Haggar shirt, a can of Poison Hair Color spray (suitable for all three sexes!) and this pimp-ass motherfucker right here:
The Final Fight Remix soundtrack ON CASSETTE TAPE.
Fine, whatever.  I’ll just make my own Mike Haggar shirt on Cafe Press.  With hookers.  And booze.  More importantly, Final Fight Double Impact itself is released this week, and judging from this week’s brick-and-mortar game releases  Double Impact is by far the most important thing happening this week.  And not just because Final Fight and Magic Sword are fantastic games representing the creme de la creme of sixteen bit arcade action, but also because we’re finally going to see a definitive version of Final Fight , a title that’s seen a shocking lack of love from Capcom considering its historical impact to the company.  Previously the best possible home Final Fight to be had legally was found in Capcom Classics Collection Volume 1 back in 2005.  But that was a long while ago, and it has two things going against it that the Double Impact won’t suffer from–one, Double Impact is not beset by Backbone Entertainment’s foul taint, and secondly Double Impact will finally give Final Fight the sort of historical and critical attention the game absolutely deserves.

So, on to this weeks games and the flimsy theme tying all three together:  In honor of the best possible version of Final Fight we’ll likely ever see, I’ll explore each game and which previous home port of Final Fight they most closely resemble.

Grand Theft Auto:  Episodes from Liberty City
Publisher:   Rockstar Games
Developer:  Rockstar North
Platform:  Playstation 3
There’s this fascinating subplot running underneath Episodes From Liberty City where Microsoft spent an undisclosed amount of money to acquire exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV content for the Xbox 360– this content eventually, after many delays, transformed into The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.  Then it was revealed that Microsoft only paid for exclusive timed content for GTA IV– Meaning that Microsoft managed to fund development for content that would eventually find its way to the PlayStation 3.
Okay, so that wasn’t entirely “fascinating”, but I think it’s neat and shows that Microsoft has no clue how important actual, honest-to-god “exclusive” content is to building a brand and why it’s becoming harder and harder to justify owning a 360 over a PlayStation 3 unless for some perverse reason you’re just really into playing games developed in England.
Anyway, if you happen to own a Playstation 3 and GTA IV– and quite a few of you do– it’s worth owning this pack for The Lost and the Damned alone, as it’s arguably better than GTA IV itself despite being only a third as long.  I mean, it’s basically Sons of Anarchy, the videogame.

Final Fight CD! (Sega CD)

While the PS3 version of Episodes is largely identical to the 360 disc, it’s still something of Sega’s version of Final Fight vs the SNES Final Fight in that Episodes from Liberty City PS3 doesn’t add much to the 360 version aside from delay, cost, and load times.
Not that that’s being entirely fair to the Sega CD version of Final Fight.  Final Fight CD was the first attempt at an arcade port to include 2player co-op and all three original player characters and all the original arcades stages– But it also added an enormous amount of sprite flicker, which depending on your point of view might make for a worse version of Final Fight vs the SNES if all you’re interested in is the single player game.  But at least Sega put Poison– poor, confused Poison— back into the game after Capcom briefly transformed her from a post-op transsexual into a full post-op transsexual by converting her to “Billy” in the SNES game.
The best part about Final Fight CD was that once it was released Sega fans such as myself could stop pretending that Sega’s Streets of Rage series was the superior franchise, much like Sony fans will soon be able to admit to liking Waggle.

Blood Bowl
Publisher:  South Peak Interactive
Developer:  Cyanide Games
Platform:  PSP
Anyone who may be enticed by the prospects of a portable version of Game Workshop’s improbable-yet-brilliant mashup of 40k meets American Football might want to step back a bit and quite literally judge this game by its cover.  Namely, this:
untitled-31.jpg picture by bigredcoat
Don’t recognize the name?  There’s  good reason, SouthPeak as done little to differentiate themselves based entirely on publishing quality games– if anything they’ve proven a remarkable ability to take a brilliant concept– say, Velvet Assassin, which could have been little more than Splinter Cell Starring Violette Szabo –and fuck it up entirely.
untitled-32.jpg picture by bigredcoat

But hey, Stealth is Hard.  Blood Bowl is simple– most of the game mechanics are already there, provided by the source material and proven over years of solid gameplay.  So maybe Blood Bowl doesn’t suck, I mean making a game that combine Final Fantasy Tactics with Mutant League has to be as easy to get right as God of War With Boobs, right?

untitled-33.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Okay to be perfectly fair SouthPeak doesn’t actually develop these games, they just have amazingly poor judgement as to what games publish.  Still, the SouthPeak logo on a box i of indicative of the quality of the game you’ll find within.  Blood Bowl itself is developed  By Cyanide Studios, and they have some experience with creating Blood Bowl games– In fact they once created a game so similar to Blood Bowl that the studio was sued by Games Workshop, somehow with this very game (or rather, series of games, it’s been out on the 360, DS and PC for nearly a year) the end result.  So surely a studio that has experience creating Blood Bowl-like games to the point that they were sued into making a Blood Bowl game ought to get Blood Bowl right, right?
untitled-35.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Scary part about this whole incredible mess?  Cyanide has somehow tricked George RR Martin into signing over the game development rights for A Song of Ice and Fire.  Weep for the future, my friends.



Okay yes so I’m cheating and there’s no way Final Fight for the ZX Spectrum should have been attempted.  But I hold that Blood Bowl the videogame should also not been attempted.  So there.
(Actually the Speccy version of Final Fight might be surprisingly decent– Retro Gamer seemed to like it, but I’m not sure if they’ve ever seen a Spectrum game they’ve not been in love with.)
Splinter Cell:  Conviction
Publisher:  Ubisoft
Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal
Platform:  Xbox 360
I have a certain amount of trepidation regarding Conviction.  Sure I loved the first Splinter Cell game, and I believe Chaos Theory was one of the finest games ever crafted, but for whatever reason I hated Double Agent and Pandora Tomorrow.  Complicating matters is Conviction’s troubling development history;  good things usually don’t come of a game that’s been withdrawn and delayed as many times as Conviction.
Luckily for you good readers I have recently renounced my status as a second-class Xbox 360 owner and now subscribe to Live Gold, and a demo for Conviction is available on the service.

What I encountered was (mostly) encouraging.  Conviction has perhaps the best GUI I’ve ever encountered in a videogame.  No longer are relevant plot points relegated to text descriptions buried in the options menu, these plot points are plastered into the game itself.  As the story progresses videos of targets, plot developments, characters and locations are displayed seamlessly onto the nearest available flat surface.  It’s like Bioshock’s audio entries in that the moment you see this stuff in action you know full well every game from this point out is going to copy this feature, and you’re going to welcome this new development.
Continuing this theme, you are no longer left guessing if the spot you want to duck behind will provide useful cover– Now when you are actively searching for cover all spots where you will be hidden from view are clearly marked– you don’t even have to risk manually creeping your way from hidey-hole to hidey-hole, a tap of the X button scoots you directly to that spot without risk of disturbing enemy patrols.  On the rare occasions where you absolutely need to interact with the enemy a handy prompt will pop up showing you when you are ready to break your foe’s neck, smash his head into a urinal, or wear him  as a meat-and-bone filled bulletproof vest.
I also fear that due to this streamlining Conviction may become something less of a stealth game and something more of an interactive toy in which you play around with the environment to trigger amusingly violent animations.  But it’s possible that many games are like this– including previous Splinter Cell games– and Conviction’s highly adaptive GUI just makes this more apparent.  But it sure felt like there was a lot of hand holding going on in the demo– which is probably the point, as it’s a demo and all, but there were parts where the next step was too obvious, or where there was simply to choice but to dispatch enemy guards, and it felt like any deviation from point a to point b to point c was immediately and severely punished.

But there’s an inherent problem to all this polish– Splinter Cell remains a very clumsy game.  It sort of has to be, it’s a stealth game and stealth games are even at their best can become an awkward, janky mess.  There’s just too many possible interactions for this game to operate as smoothly as Modern Warfare or Bad Company.
All of which feels like there was some sort of strain in the development team between those wanting to keep Conviction true to Splinter Cell and those who desired to open Splinter Cell to the mainstream audience.  And not to be Hardcore Video Games Guy, but I have to think that Splinter Cell is among the worst series possible to expect the mainstream to embrace– there’s just no way to get your average Modern Warfare gamer on board with the idea that the “move” analog stick shouldn’t be pressed into a breakneck sprint at all times.  Ubisoft already has access to a bevy of successful, mainstream-friendly Tom Clancy properties– Trying to turn Splinter Cell into the third person single-player equivalent of Rainbow Six is just going to damage one of the few standout hardcore 360 titles Ubisoft has left.

Also, people looking forward to Conviction’s promise of a grim, sophisticated tale of personal vengeance along the lines of Taken should be forewarned– less than 5 minutes into the demo  the game’s story took a 24-style turn to a grandiose conspiracy revolving around an EMP device and hints as to a sinister plan underway at the White House.
All this said, there’s not a whole lot of games left that do what Splinter Cell Conviction does.  We haven’t seen a new Thief game in roughly forever, Metal Gear Solid is less about stealth these days and more about Hideo Kojima’s insane action movie plots, and Assassin’s Creed isn’t so much a stealth game as it is about parkour and swordfighting.  So Conviction might not only wind up the best stealth game of the year, but barring some sort of Street Fighter IV-like revival of the genre, may very well be the best stealth game of this console generation.


untitled-36.jpg picture by bigredcoat

This week’s best brick-and-mortar game deserves no less than the most amazing thing I’ve seen so far this week.  This is Final Fight Guy, but with random brawler dudes from other games showing up in place of the regular enemies.  No really, you have to play this fucking thing.
untitled-39.jpg picture by bigredcoat
The first boss is Ken freaking Masters!  When I reached him he performed a hurricane kick that killed me instantly so I’m unsure if the programmer actually coded anything past the first level, but that first level will change your religion.  Keep in mind that I played this on Chrome and there’s at least an even chance that visiting this site will infect your PC with an NSA-grade virus that replaces all your icons with donkey porn, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to see Guy commanding one of the Golden Axe dinosaurs.
MONSTER HUNTER TRI makes a valiant effort to return the Wii to some sort of relevancy in North America shortly before Capcom inevitably takes the series to the PS360 and makes some actual money.
SHERLOCK HOMES VS JACK THE RIPPER means that I”m talking about Dreamcatcher games again!

It’s probably worth noting that Harvest Moon games anger an confuse me before we start talking about HARVEST MOON:  HERO OF LEAF VALLEY!

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Your Culture Sucks– Gaming Celebrity Part 3

Posted by nfinit on April 11, 2010

(Hey!  You’re reading part 3!  For Part 1, click here!  Or for part 2, click here instead!)
While I could sit here and bitch and moan about gaming culture and come off as Bitter Internet Dude, I would like to recognize that sometimes gaming culture gets it right and produces celebrities who are credits to the community and worthy of the media attention paid to them, even if it’s usually not nearly enough.
And honestly, I could begin and end this segment with Jerry Holkins’ and Mike Krahulik’s Penny Arcade media empire.  Whether it be their (usually) hilarious (although perhaps less so in the light of fatherhood and  World of Warcraft) webcomic or the one great gaming philanthropic institute known as Child’s Play, or the one great gathering of gaming culture itself– Penny Arcade Expo– Holkin and Krahulik have taken gaming culture by the scruff and have attempted to drag it kicking and screaming toward something resembling credibility, and for that they’ve earned every bit of popular culture recognition that’s been heaped upon them.
Not that Penny Arcade isn’t without its failures.  Their games publishing effort, Greenhouse Games, is largely redundant in the light of Steam, and it would appear that the Penny Arcade’s experiment in game design is sadly done for, but they get more things right than they do wrong, and what they get right they do exceptionally well, even if at some point during the Summer of 2008 Mike Krahluik lost his ability to draw noses.
Seriously, what happened there?
Going beyond Penny Arcade feels redundant, but at some point you have to accept that Penny Arcade revolves around characters called “Fruit Fucker” and Mike’s fascination with enormous flopping dongs.  So despite Mike and Jerry’s good work, it comes with a certain amount of baggage.  For gaming culture to have the same sort of mainstream credibility as literature or cinema or even comic books, we need celebs who aren’t quite as cock-centric as Penny Arcade.  Luckily, we have Johnathan Coulton on our side.

Yeah, yeah The Cake is a Lie LoL.  But you can’t hold that against him, there’s no way he could have known the great collective derelict of gaming culture would latch onto a throwaway joke hidden in a Portal easter egg.  But his talent is undeniable.  Would he be as big of a success if he’d not based his act around geek culture?  Maybe not, but he at least seems genuine, even if he’s more a geek icon than a gaming icon.  Plus you have to respect anyone who’s smart enough to realize that keeping DRM on his own works is largely futile and has no problem giving away his discography for free.
Finally, I don’t know how fair it is to round her into the milieu of “gaming culture” when she’s obviously more of an overall “geek culture” figure, but Felicia Day has somehow managed to make the loves of hopeless World of Warcraft addicts seem interesting, so that has to count for something, and she’s turned The Guild into the nearest thing gaming has ever had to a legit television crossover.  She’s also a good example of a gamer who’s done something positive to promote gaming culture as a whole.


I didn’t go everything I wanted to here– I really should have touched on Peter Molyneux’s blatant media whoring, but truth be told I like most of his games even if he does spend more time explaining why the latest Fable feature list failed to materialize.  I also really wanted to mention John Carmack as a positive influence on gaming culture, but it was either him or Felicia Day, and only one of those two is a qualified vampire slayer.  And then there’s Ice-T and his singular ability to make being a hardcore gamer (seem) cool.
But what I hope hasn’t been lost here is that gaming culture and the media outlets that service it pay attention to the wrong people.  Why is Jessica Chobot more credible than Chris Kohler?  Why is Dennis Dyack given more press time than Ken Levine?  Why do we give as much credibility to Uwe Boll and his latest plundering of a respected gaming franchise as we do something that’s genuinely entertaining and has legitimate mainstream appeal, such as Felicia Day and The Guild?

Our culture comes off as loud and brash and boorish in large part because that is the face we have chosen to present to the world.  More importantly, it is painfully obvious that our media outlets rely upon this.  It’s easier to sell Jack Thompson’s newest isolated outrage than it is the good work Penny Arcade does for needy children.   We need to demand better.  Sadly I’m not sure if Kotaku and Joystiq and IGN are particularly interested in helping our cause,  Indeed, it’s readily apparent that they are complicit in shedding the wrong light on the wrong people.

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Your Culture Sucks– Gaming Celebrity Part 2

Posted by nfinit on April 7, 2010

(Hey! You’re reading Part 2!  Click here to read Part 1!)

Gaming is unique in that most of our celebrities hang on the periphery of the  industry, and usually have little to do with the actual production of games.

Traditionally, gaming culture has been portrayed as a pursuit for hormone-fueled manchildren, and far be it for us not to live down to these expectations.  sometimes all you need for celebrity status is a pair of boobs and a willingness to lick… things.

jessica-chobot-psp.jpg picture by bigredcoat

Now it’s entirely possible that Jessica Chobot is a talented writer and wholly deserving of her celebrity status, but it’s hard to deny that she’s blatantly used her sex appeal to her advantage.  After all, few people outside of the gaming intelligentsia know of Chris Kohler despite being widely regarded as the best journalist in the industry, mainly because he’s a big goofy looking dude who lacks a tendency to treat Sony gaming hardware as unsubtle phallic substitutes.  Along these same lines you wind up with Ubisoft‘s Frag Dolls, who are something of gaming’s equivalent of the Swedish Bikini Team, only without the silly 80’s camp and more implied Facebook stalking by creepy gamer dudes.

Gaming has a habit of making celebrities out of people who happen to be very good at playing games.  In some circles this makes good sense–  Phil Ivey is probably the most well-known poker player in the world, and with good reason; he’s the absolute best there is at what he does.  But poker, by it’s very design, is a competitive pursuit, and its foundations have existed as long as card games themselves.

But it’s hard to equate video gaming with poker.  Poker has built up a sexy, sophisticated romance about itself that extends beyond the game and into mainstream culture itself.  Video games?  Not so much.  Unlike poker, video gaming is largely a singular experience whose evolution is in a state of constant flux– After all, it’d be hard to go up to the creator of Texas Hold ’em and ask his opinions as to the state of card gaming.  That’s why people who’ve gained celebrity off the ability to play video games seem so strange to me.  Take Johnathan Wendel, for example.

You probably know him as “Fatal1ty“, which clearly translates to “Fat Al’s  #1 Taco Yard”, demonstrating Johnathan Wendel’s propensity for seeking corporate endorsement began quite early.

Somehow Johnathan Wendel’s ability at Quake 3 Arena has managed to manifest itself in corporate endorsements, mainstream media attention and an invitation from Time Magazine to opine on Shigeru Miyamoto.

No, really. And given an opportunity to educate a national audience as to why Miyamoto is important, he starts with this:

I vividly recall playing on my Nintendo from the age of 4, and to say the least, it changed my life forever. Video games became my life when, at 18, I set out to become a full-time professional video gamer. In the past seven years I have won 12 major championships playing five different games.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who’s probably single-handedly responsible for saving the video game industry after the Crash of ’84.  So naturally this little shit immediately starts talking about pw0ning n00bs at Quake.

Gaming celebrity based off one’s ability to play videogames is like earning street cred in literary circles for being the world’s best speed reader.  You wouldn‘t go up to a guy whose renowned for his ability to sit in a theater for six hours without needing to get up to take a piss and ask him for his opinion on There Will Be Blood; why are we asking Johnathan Wendel to give his diseased, narcissistic opinion on anything not directly related to Quake 3?

Finally, you wind up with a group of people who have made it their mission to harm gaming culture; yet for some reason we deem it necessary to give them the media attention they so desperately desire.

Jack Thompson is a prime example– Jack was disbarred nearly two years ago by the Florida Bar.  Despite randomly flaring up in the mainstream media he’s no longer a real legal threat.  Nevertheless you have media outlets such as Kotaku and Joystiq who cannot stop themselves from running features on Jack Thompson’s latest manic diatribe, and he remains a favorite of creatively bankrupt webcomic artists who can’t think of anything better to talk about.  Which is, of course, precisely what Jack wants– he feeds off outrage. Yes, at one point he was a real danger– even going so far as to be called upon to draft legislation.  But he’s a joke now, and it’d be far more damaging to his reputation if he were to fade into obscurity.
Uwe Boll is the other best example of this phenomenon, although after making a career out of systematically ruining videogame franchises and punching critics in the head, he’s sort of fallen out of relevancy.  This is probably due to changes in  Germany’s tax laws making it less lucrative to produce movies that are doomed to never make up their operating budget, but it’s a fair bet to say that the Joystiqs and Kotakus and IGNs of the world will be quick to pick up on his latest insane stunt whenever the urge for attention and/or production dollars spurs him forward again.


FRIDAY!  The people who get it right.

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Wallet Abuse Wednesday 4-7-10: Squishy Tank, Ununseptium, Game Room Sucks

Posted by nfinit on April 6, 2010

There was a huge new player announced on the gaming scene this week, something that looks to revolutionize not only the way we play games, but the way we think about games, and also possibly the way we think about playing games, as well as the way we game about thinking plays.

I speak of course of the discovery of ununseptium, the 117th atom to be discovered in the Periodic Table of Elements. Ununseptium hasn’t officially been named yet, and won’t be for some years to come, but it’s discovery and subsequent production will serve as a bridge between the most exotic currently known heavy elements with half-lives measured in milliseconds and the hypothesized “Island of Stability” wherein superheavy elements may be found with half-lives extending for millions of years.
In honor of this monumental achievement, I will rank this week’s list of games by their nearest appropriate Transuranium Element.

Squishy Tank
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Probably Also Natsume
Platform: Nintendo DS

When I first saw that this was bases on a Japanese tank mascot game I had high hopes that it was in some way ripping off Squeenix’s criminally underloved Rocket Slime Adventure. For a fleeting moment I believed that perhaps Squishy Tank was but the tip of an iceberg of cutesy tank combat sims just boiling beneath the Japanese import scene. After all, with Squishy Tank we’d have Rocket Slime and Tachikomas and that awesome little tank from Metal Slug– Surely Squishy tank would be the herald of a bold new future filled with mascot tanks cheerfully spraying the napalm of love into our hearts and other various flammable organs.

Nope, it’s just Bubble Breaker with powerups. Laaaaaaaaame.



Much like Squishy Tank, Ununquadium has proven to be a bust.  Although researchers have pinned hope on the 114th element’s high, wide fission barriers as a hedge against an impractically short half-life typical of the transuranium element family and thus a possible waypoint along the line to the Island of Stability, Ununquadium has thus far proven reluctant to manifest itself.  This is doubly frustrating, as our nation’s top scientific minds have long theorized that the mass production of ununquadium is all that’s holding humanity back from hoverboards, arc reactors and self-defogging car windshields.


SPLINTER CELL CONVICTION checks necks, immediately break… wait a sec?

That’s the list?

Yup, that’s the list.  And I didn’t even get to Darmstadtium!

So while I have this time I’d like to bitch and moan about Microsoft Game Room, or rather how badly Microsoft botched Game Room and why it’s probably already fucked and should be thrown into a lake and our points refunded so we can buy more Idolmaster avatar rewards Castle Crashers.

I want to love Game Room.  I honestly do.  Cheap, faithful arcade classics built inside a customizable arcade/trophy room that other Live members can come visit and issue challenges through?  That’s hitting a lot of very good things, things I hold dear to my heart in the same place as the Chaterham Super Seven and Cheers-Era Kirstie Alley.  The system would launch with thirty games– Thirty games!– with a promised seven games released each week thereafter.  Even if only a third of all games released for it were decent there would still be something worth picking up every single week.

Then Microsoft went and fucked all that up the very next week.  The seven games per week?  That’s not actually starting until sometime in late April.  For an entire month, no new games will appear in Game Room.  The reason for Game Room to exist– a constant stream of new, obscure, classic games– is broken out of the gate.

Add to this is that the first batch of thirty games had far too many 2600 and Intellivision games that were of questionable quality even when they were released.  Seriously, Outlaw?

No one wanted to play Outlaw back in 197whatever, and that was back when you had a choice between Outlaw, Pong, or sitting in a running car in a closed garage.

On the arcade side you wound up with far too much cruft like Batlantis (amazingly Konami took the idea of “bats” and “Atlantis” and managed to turn them into a mid 80’s Space Invaders ripoff) and Red Baron, which is neat as a historical oddity, but including it in the initial set of 30 games and asking us to pay as much money for it as Tempest isn’t just short-sighted, it’s downright insulting.

Not that there weren’t worthwhile games in this batch, but seeing as these games come from the early 80’s and late 70’s, few of them were ever designed to use a joystick.  Crystal Castles, for instance, is an undeniable classic, but it’s broken and unplayable on anything other than a trackball.  In fact, I’d say there are only two unquestioned classics in the first batch of games that aren’t completely broken via use by the 360 control pad– Tempest and Centipede– and Tempest feels clumsy with a pad instead of a paddle.

This is a problem that will plague Game Room through it’s entire existence, provided Microsoft intends to produce anything past this first batch of thirty games.  Yes, the emulation is spot on– you even get the ghostly afterglow from Red Baron’s early vector graphics– But due to that precise emulation anything that’s not directly controlled via joystick is going to feel awkward, if not rendered unplayable.  And then there’s the issue where there’s no game in the bloated and diseased 2600/Intellivision library that anyone in their right mind wants to pay three dollars to play in 2010.

Anyway, the most damning thing for Game Room is that on April 14th, this thing will exist:

This is Final Fight: Double Impact.  It’s Final Fight, it’s arcade perfect, it features a remixed soundtrack and this neat arcade cabinet overlay to keep the screen resolution from looking weird in HD, and it’s not going to be in any way shape or form associated with Game Room.  Oh and it’s also going to feature Magic Sword because I mean,  why not include motherfucking Magic Sword

Same deal as above.  Arcade perfect, some graphical filters to make things look better in HD if you want to turn them on, and a remixed soundtrack.  All in one package, all with no Game Room integration whatsoever.

Beyond Game Room’s questionable games selection, beyond the uneven pricing that places Atari 2600 Millipede at the same value as arcade-perfct Centipede, beyond the infuriating lack of optimized 360 gamepad control, this is going to be Game Room’s biggest problem– convincing publishers that stuff like Final Fight Double Impact belongs on Game Room and not part of Capcom’s own piecemeal service.  I mean, what appeal does putzing around in my own virtual arcade with Football for the Intellivision have when Capcom wants to just sell me Final Fight on its own service?

All this is ignoring that Microsoft is going to have to convince publishers like Capcom that vast swaths of their retro library is no more valuable than Lunar Lander.  I’m not sure that’s ever going to work, and if Game Room is doomed to be limited to obscure western pre-Crash “classics”, I’m not sure what the point of the whole exercise is supposed to be.  And not to bring up the E-Word, but Mame is sitting right there.  Any computer capable of rendering this webpage is capable of emulating every game currently sold on Game Room.  If Microsoft can’t get Tempest and Magic Sword under the same roof, why aren’t I just loading ROMs off my hard drive instead?
NEXT WEEK~! (for realsies this time)

SPLINTER CELL CONVICTION is number one in my heart; in busting dude’s heads through urinals

I predict heavy flow with BLOOD BOWL oh god that was terrible

GTA 4:  EPISODES FROM LIBERTY CITY exposes that Microsoft has only a vague, sketchy understanding of the term “exclusive content”

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Your Culture Sucks– Gaming Celebrity

Posted by nfinit on April 5, 2010

Something that’s always fascinated me about gaming culture is how it compares and contrasts with cultures built around other forms of media, and how absurd the very concept of “gaming culture” seems to everyone involved.

This strikes me as odd.  Electronic gaming has been around long enough to be taken seriously as a legitimate form of entertainment, and not a simple frivolity for children or an obsession for manchildren who spend their free blogging about the newest injustice imposed upon them by Bioware–

–Okay, maybe I need to roll that back just a little.
What I’m trying to say is that the games industry has been around long enough that we shouldn’t feel obligated to defend being immersed within it.  If we mark the start of the gaming industry with 1971’s Computer Space, the gaming industry has existed for 39 years.  The average video gamer is only 30 years old– that means gaming’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, not to mention far older than our first memories of toddling up to a TV screen and wishing we could control all those lights and sounds.

If we use the first commercial videogame as the industry’s starting point, it’s fair to use 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang as the start of the commercial film industry.  By 1939 the film industry had already built up a respected culture about itself.

Hitchcock was directing classics such as The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Marx Brothers were in full swing, the Academy Awards were well established– Genuine art was being produced and its producers recognized for that art, yet thirtynine years after Nolan Bushnell cobbled together the first arcade machine few people even within gaming culture itself will seriously broach the subject of games as art.

More importantly though, by this time in the film industry there was a well-established and well-respected cinema culture.  Yet here in gaming, the term “gaming culture” brings up little more than Red Bull-fueled night long sessions of Modern Warfare and the constant repetition of the phrase “the cake is a lie”.
So I wanted to spend a few entries exploring gaming culture’s collective self-esteem issue, and perhaps also look at what we do right, and I want to start with what passes for celebrity among gaming intelligentsia.


Gaming celebrity is odd in that few gaming celebs have anything to do with making videogames.  Sure, you get people like Shigeru Miyamoto and Warren Spector and Will Wright, but they are rare, and they are the sort of people who earned celebrity status via reputation– they do nothing but make the very best games possible.  They are akin to Steven Spielberg and Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis– people who earned their celebrity for being very good at what they do, the sort of people who couldn’t avoid celebrity if they tried.
But gaming doesn’t wind up with a lot industry celebrities, and publishers would like to keep it that way.  When development teams can be dispersed at a whim, it’s easier to sell a game based on the reputation of the publisher’s own brand.  The most recent and public example of this would have to be Activision’s dissolution of Infinity Ward and subsequently carving the Modern Warfare license among a handful of unrelated developers.  Will mainstream gamers notice  if Jason West and Vince Zampella were divorced from Modern Warfare 3?  Probably not.

But within gaming celebrity you can go entirely the other direction and get industry-related folks who have managed to  gain a bit of celebrity, albeit not so much through the reputation of their games as much as their blatant media whoring.  Dennis Dyack, for instance, hasn’t made a decent original game since Eternal Darkness back in 2002 (and before that, Blood Omen for the PS1 all the way back in 1996), yet he manages to stay in the news via publically bellyaching about the injustices imposed by the Unreal 3 engine, the injustices imposed by the enthusiast press, and the injustices imposed by NeoGAF.

Personally, I’ve always wanted to look at the back of a game’s box and tell who’s made that particular game.  Not the studio or the publisher, as they’re constantly shifting personnel– I want the production lineage to be as transparent as looking at a movie poster and knowing the director, or looking at a book cover and knowing the writer.  I want to be able to explain to people why it’s important that Ken Levine had nothing to do with Bioshock 2, and to be able to point to the name “Hideki Kamiya” and explain why that name is worth buying the game for.

Wednesday!  Part 2, wherein I bitch at length about Johnathan Wendel.

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