Crazy Kids

December 30, 2007

Last Tuesday my boys got a veritable cornucopia of new gaming to dive into. Over the last two days, I woke up to find them playing Metal Arms: A Glitch in the System and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 on the Gamecube. /me shakes head.

I asked what was up and it turns out that they just happened to have all the tools to play them, where we didn’t quite have everything needed for all the Wii titles. I’d been slowly adding the nunchuk controllers to the Wii remotes to add up to four remotes and four nunchuks, but the nunchuk purchasing fell behind and we only had two of them. Three boys… two nunchuks… hence they decided not to play Mario vs. Sonic, Mario Strikers Charged or even Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 until they could all play together.

Remotes + Nunchuks definitely makes the Wii a pricey proposition. It’s probably the single biggest expense beyond the console if you have a full family that plays. We’ve got to invest $240 in controllers to go with the $250 system. It’s somewhat justified by the technology inside, and actually one of the more ingenious parts of Nintendo’s marketing of the system. The controllers are the high tech part of the Wii, and one way they reduced the initial cost of the system is by transferring that larger expense out of the Wii console and into something you can add on in the quantity that you need. It certainly puts Wii pricing into the “Next Generation” level of systems. (By comparison, it’s only $50 per controller for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. That’s still pricey in my opinion.)

After discovering this little issue today, my wife asked the boys if they wanted to combine some of their saved money from allowance to get a nunchuk. There was a short period of deliberation and then it was off to Target for one more nunchuk. Dad’s going to have to buy the fourth one sometime soon I think. Fortunately, we’re using rechargeable batteries to save on that expense.

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On a totally unrelated note, it’s the end of 2007! I doubt I’ll be updating tomorrow, but I do plan to update every day starting January 1, 2008. I don’t think I’ll be contributing to any end of year magazine lists anywhere this year. So right here at The Long Shot starting on Tuesday I’ll be posting a game a day counting down from ten to one in my top ten games of 2007.


Christmas Shoot Fest

December 28, 2007

If you follow the industry at all, it’s no secret that this has been the year of the first-person shooter. The list is long and features some great entries into both off and online play, but fans of multiplayer have been the biggest winners.

As noted in my Christmas loot post, I received Enemy Territory: Quake Wars as one of my gifts and I’ve dumped a whole lot of time into it already. It’s actually right next to Team Fortress 2 among the best games I’ve played this year. The game is so much deeper than any other multiplayer online game I’ve played other than the original Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. As Tom Chick sometimes notes about real-time strategy games that appeal to the hardest of the hardcore in their particular genre, Quake Wars is the genre wonk’s first-person shooter.

In the span of one map you’ll shift from defense roles to attack roles and everything in between. Sometimes you’re playing a variation of capture the flag while at others you’re in what amounts to deathmatch on a massive scale. It’s an impressive conglomeration of play styles that requires you to always be on your toes and paying attention to the current objective.

I think it does help to have a soft spot for Quake 2 or 4’s Strogg. When you play their side, a little bit of Quake history goes a long way. I was in heaven when I was able to equip myself with a hyperblaster, but everyone might not be as excited about that as me. Still, if you have any interest in the Quake universe, this is a superb game that I think any fan of the teamplay online first-person shooter needs to play. It takes a game or two to grasp all that’s going on, but once you do, you’ll find your mind racing with tactical possibilities while still enjoying some of the best point and shoot gameplay around.

Oh yeah, the vehicles are a hell of a lot of fun, too.

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Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2007

For those of you who look for the sleigh and reindeer every year, I hope you had a Merry Christmas day.

There was much excitement here at the Long residence as the kids tore through about ten packages each. Top gifts were an electric guitar for my youngest son, Super Mario Galaxy and an MP3 player for my oldest, and Mars Mission Legos and the Flytech Dragonfly for the middle boy.

I have to admit that the Dragonfly is a pretty amazing bit of inexpensive technology. We took it outside and were pretty much stunned at how well it worked. My wife was even a little creeped out by how closely it replicated a real bug! Hopefully we can keep it intact long enough to get some good use out of it. It seems a little bit fragile.

I wasn’t able to pilot Mario in Galaxy yet, but the game sure did look fantastic while watching my son play. I’m so glad that we waited until Christmas as it made the game that much more of an event. I kind of wish more gamers would have children so it would let them see just how much excitement one game can be when you wait for it like that. I’ll definitely be playing myself as time allows over the next month.

The electric guitar was a huge hit with my youngest, who doesn’t know how to play but sure does want to hammer on it. Hopefully Santa has turned him onto a lifelong interest in playing music.

As for me, it was a good year, as it almost always is. I’m pretty lucky in that I have family who like to get me the stuff I enjoy most. While I’ve complained a bit this year that I’ve already got too many games to play and didn’t need any more, receiving a bunch of them today certainly didn’t bother me a bit. I can finally get caught up on the late year PC releases. Under the tree I found Enemy Territory: Quake Wars along with a Razer Tarantula and Diamondback 3G. I think the keyboard allows me to macro an entire World of Warcraft raid into the push of a single button.

At my in-laws, I received Star Wars: Best of PC which is one of the best collections of PC games you can buy for one low price. It includes Knights of the Old Republic, Empire at War, Republic Commando, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Battlefront all in one box. It’s also got a Galaxies 15-day trial. All of these games are new to me on the PC, though I’ve dabbled in a couple on the consoles. They happened to come out when I was deep in reviews for the magazine so just never had time to play them. At $35-$40, this is one of the best values in PC gaming right now, and even better as a Christmas gift. That wasn’t all, though. I have Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and The Witcher from the in-laws too. I’m really looking forward to both of them.

The boys got some other games… Pokémon Emerald for middle boy Isaac because it’s the only way to get Rayquaza while Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Mario Strikers Charged, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 (DS), Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS), and Mario vs. Sonic at the Olympic Games rounded out the videogaming from Santa between all three of them. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot to entertain us here for the foreseeable future. I don’t plan on buying much in January, though I’ll probably take advantage of the sale on Steam this week to get the id Super Pack. That’s just way too much cool stuff for a very reasonable price.

I hope everyone else was as lucky as me, and if you’ve got Quake Wars or Call of Duty 4, I’ll certainly look for you online. I’ll play as often I can between building Lego kits, helping a little boy strum the guitar, and flying a dragonfly around the neighborhood. I’ll also update here a few times, too. All of these games will figure into my own little end of year roundup of the best games I played in 2007. That might take a little while to get to though. Wouldn’t want to be too hasty in making up that list!

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What do people do with the PSP?

December 21, 2007

They continue to sell a very large number of these things, but there are never any games that sell anywhere near what you’d expect from what seems to be a successful system.

I am truly baffled by this phenomenon. Never has a video game system sold so well while never landing games in the top ten regularly. So the question remains, what in the world do people do with their PSP?

Are people using it to watch movies? – Certainly not legitimately purchased ones. Sales of those stink.

Are people using it to listen to music? – Maybe… it would certainly be a good explanation since you’d never really see the purchases involved in doing so (if they even happen in the first place).

Are people using it to play games? – Some must be doing that, but what they’re buying is mostly unknown.

Are people using it to play “homebrew” and emulation? – This seems like the most logical explanation, but if they are that means people are way more tech savvy than we think they are. They’ve got to be messing with firmware, downloading the emulators, the ROMs, setting it all up and then finally using it to play games, old ones.

Even if the users are split amont all of the above, the sheer number of units sold seems to indicate a userbase large enough to create some hit game titles. They just never appear. So we have to conclude that a large segment of the ownership doesn’t spend any money on software for the system, ever.

Folks may not remember it now, but Hideo Kojima warned about this when creating the first Metal Gear products for PSP. He said Sony themselves didn’t really know what the device is, and that it didn’t seem to be focused on games. I made that same argument before it shipped, noting that a device that seems so broadly positioned isn’t going to be a good place for game developers. Sony marginalized games on the device to pump up all the other features. People disagreed with that, very forcefully, and yet here we are today looking at a PSP market that defines games as a marginalized market for that machine.

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More Defensive Gaming

December 20, 2007

“Casual” games makers never seem to hesitate to create clones of popular game types. Stephen Totilo of MTV loves Desktop Tower Defense, and now your mom can take on a challenge remarkably similar to that game of the year.

I came home tonight to find my wife playing Garden Defense on Real Arcade.

The idea of garden gnomes blasting bugs out of my backyard is pretty appealing. Those guys have to get up and walk around when I’m not looking. They’re creepy.

 The design of Garden Defense hews closer to the original with set paths for the creeps to follow and a more focused design. I’m still not convinced the game is worth of being on anyone’s end of year list, but clearly its influence continues to spread.

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Game Magazines for Kids

December 19, 2007

Are there any left?

I spent the last month collecting nearly every major magazine to be found on the racks of Barnes & Noble and all newsstands in between. The list of mags included both domestic publications and those produced in the UK…

Edge
Electronic Gaming Monthly
PC Gamer
Games for Windows the Official Magazine
games™
Nintendo Power
Gamepro
Play

For the most part, not a single one of these magazines is truly appropriate for audiences of all ages.

Unless you’ve read through the About link up at the top of this page, you may not know that I spent a long time writing for GamerDad.com, both as a contibutor and then Editor In Chief. I really liked what we were doing there, but by the time I decided to hang it up, it became pretty clear that most people only gave lip service to the utility and the usefulness of the site. It’s a great thing to have around, but no one really cares. The industry is entirely focused on the, as one messageboard poster who works for a gaming TV network recently put it, “key 18 to 34 demographic”.

This attitude toward who’s important when it comes to making video games has basically claimed every major video and computer game publication too. There isn’t a single one available anymore that’s entirely suitable for children. I know what you’re thinking, “Dave’s got Gamepro and Nintendo Power on there, he’s cracked!” All I can say is go pick them up and tell me you don’t agree. Since those two are the most likely to be disputed, here’s some examples of how they’ve changed, and Nintendo Power really only changed when Nintendo sold it to Future by the way.

For about the last two years, Gamepro has steered their editorial toward M-rated games. These games dominate their covers. Metal Gear Solid, Call of Duty (4 is M-rated… a first for the series), Ninja Gaiden, Halo 3, Dead or Alive 4… these are just some of the titles that have been featured. Sure, every magazine probably ran one Super Mario Galaxy cover this year. How could they not? It’s easily one of the biggest games of 2007. But if it wasn’t Mario, would it have gotten even one cover? Gamepro used to be one of the magazines that was built around an appeal to kids. That appeal has changed as the kids who read it (and produced it!) ten or fifteen years ago grew up to become thirty-something kids.

Nintendo Power already seems to be moving away from its kid friendly approach just three issues into its Future run. Last month’s feature story was No More Heroes with a cover that looks kid-friendly for a game that’s already been shown to be packed with mature content. The feature story fortunately sort of covered up a super-bloody screenshot, but the overall message is clear with the new Nintendo Power, it’s no longer a Nintendo house magazine and it’s no longer playing by the old rules. This month the feature story is Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. That’s not the bloody Ninja Gaiden sequel coming to 360 and PS3 but it’s probably not the first game on every DS owners’ list right now either. It will be interesting to watch advertising in this magazine over the next year as well, and see how it changes. The letters section now has a snarky meanness typical of all the other publications, too.

As for the rest, they all usually contain scenes of graphic violence, gore and even dismemberment. Each one of them will usually have at least one screenshot on par with something you’d see in Fangoria. That’s despite Electronic Gaming Monthly coming from roots as a kid/teen-oriented mag, too.

So what’s the problem? I think part of it is writers like myself. We’ve been doing this for a long time now and are in our late twenties to late thirties. We may be the targets of some of the better selling games on the market today, but we’re also out of touch with what children would want to read about, namely the hot games on the Wii and before it the PlayStation 2. It may not be that guys of my age can’t write about games for children, it’s just that they don’t want to, much like many game developers no longer want to make their games so kids can play them.

What does that mean for gaming as a whole? I think it might have to change in spite of itself. The Wii’s sales show that someone out there isn’t really interested in the latest M-rated shootfest, and those someones seem to outnumber us. It’s only a matter of time before some magazine publisher wakes up and shifts their coverage to that market or creates a new magazine to serve it. The door is certainly open for someone to try since all the major mags seem to want to court that same “key 18-34 demographic”. I really hate that terminology.

Bill Harris was recently featured on N’gai Croal’s blog talking about how reviews of Wii games often don’t really work coming from the specialist press because they’re comparing them to current blockbuster titles. I agree with that assessment and posted such on forums elsewhere long before his column appeared there. I saw it from the inside to a certain extent, and it’s even more obvious now being away from the writing for awhile. I pick up the latest game mag and most of the screenshots are varying shades of brown, black and red, usually where the red = blood. Clearly the gaming press isn’t going to be able to play Mario vs. Sonic at the Olympic Games and get the same kind of enjoyment as a kid who’s just excited over getting two of his favorite characters together in the same game. So if the gameplay in that title isn’t groundbreaking, but is solid and entertaining for the entire family, does it then deserve middling to bad reviews?

It’s pretty easy to compare today’s game magazines to the phenomenon Nintendo pointed to when releasing the Wii. You have multiple groups writing text that appeals to the exact same audience, one that’s aging and so specifically focused that it creates a red ocean of sharks fighting for a smaller and smaller group of eyes. Meanwhile, kids are left with pretty much nothing to turn to, and mom or dad lets them pick up a Gamepro or EGM, they will find a lot of writing that’s really not appropriate for them.

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November Numbers

December 13, 2007

The NPD sales figures are out. You can find them everywhere, with all gamers taking sides as they usually do at this time of the month.

Hardware
Nintendo DS — 1,530,000
Wii — 981,000
Xbox 360 — 770,000
PlayStation Portable — 567,000
PlayStation 2 — 496,000
PlayStation 3 — 466,000

Top Ten Software
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360) — 1,570,000
2. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) — 1,120,000
3. Assassin’s Creed (Xbox 360) — 980,000
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (PlayStation 2) — 967,000
5. Wii Play w/ Remote (Wii) — 564,000
6. Mass Effect (Xbox 360) — 473,000
7. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PlayStation 3) — 444,000
8. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Wii) — 426,000
9. Halo 3 (Xbox 360) — 387,000
10. Assassin’s Creed (PlayStation 3) — 377,000

The Game of the Month phenomenon continues to drive Xbox 360 game sales. It’s notable that Mass Effect sold only 1/3 as much as Call of Duty 4. I think that’s a sign of three releases tapping out the audience by the end of the month plus the lower interest in sci-fi role-playing. Shooting, killing, that’s right in the demographic. Talking a bunch between the shooting and killing… not so much.

I’m only half-serious with the above comment, but the one true takeaway from the list of 360 games is that if you’re not making something M-rated for the system, you probably ought to be. That’s a clear message coming out of these lists every month. The 360 is for “Mature” gamers. Microsoft’s constant talk about appealing to families and casual gamers is just that, talk. It’s never reflected in the sales of games.

I do think that’s a product of the Game of the Month phenomenon I noted above. When your users are holding one or two games up each month as the reason to play the system, and those games are always in the same genre, that’s going to drive your system into the hands of similarly inclined folks. It’s certainly good money for those third party publishers that can get it, but it’s definitely limiting the appeal of the system. Sony seems to be following that same “Mature” model too, thus limiting their sales even more than the high price and lack of appealing games for their system do that already.

This is one time we really need to see ALL the sales from the month in one big spreadsheet to see how many games are selling above 50 or 60k. Sales are so high at this time of year that there may be a very broad spread of titles selling well on any of these systems. It’s almost assured that’s the case with the Nintendo DS, although there are definitely a lot of DSes getting sold with pack-ins this year. That’s either Nintendogs, Brain Age 2 or Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for those who haven’t been looking at the DS in stores.

Finally, the big question is what are all those people doing with their PlayStation Portables? I know my PSP is in the drawer out in the dining room and I don’t have any idea when I used it last. But it keeps selling really well both here and abroad while game sales are never anywhere to be found. If you go to any of the major retailers, they have such small selections of PSP games for sale. It’s got to represent a huge amount of either a.) piracy or b.) MP3 playing or c.) uh… who knows? My guess is that “homebrew” aka piracy is what these things get used for the most. Sony must be making money on the hardware by now, so maybe they’re ok with that?

PlayStation 3… well, I think I summed up pretty well what they should’ve done in the post below this one. Those sales aren’t good, but they’re not so bad that Sony should just quit. Someone’s still buying them.

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