Embarrassing GamesMags Monthly

September 30, 2008

That’s pretty much how I feel about all the current US videogame print publications. They’re being consistently embarrassed by the two major mags issued out of the UK every month.

You can read some of Edge’s content on the web at http://www.edge-online.com. It’s nice to have it available there, but frankly it’s just not the same as it is on the printed page. When you take their text and remove it from the brilliant layout of their magazine, it loses some of its magical appeal. It doesn’t have the little insets and the pictures don’t pop the way they do in the mag.

Every issue of Edge as well as games™ magazine is an event for me each month. I cannot wait for that day I walk into Barnes & Noble each month and find the new issue on the rack. I rarely crack the cover while I’m there. No point. I’m going to read each of them nearly cover to cover, and often articles will get pored over multiple times. The information is relevant, smartly written and obviously crafted with precision and care. I so rarely feel this way when I open the pages of US magazines. US mags talk a good game every month, about how awesome they are at providing us with scoops and tough reviews, but I find that to be all lip service. I guess if you say it enough times, most people will think it’s true? I’m in the minority that’s not buying it.

US mags are also overflowing with sarcasm, grumpiness and a general snottiness that immediately turns me off. No one’s ever excited to play the games. Rather, they can’t seem to wait to tear them down. The one shining exception is Play. But Play sometimes flips entirely in the other direction, giving way too much credit to some developers and games where it’s pretty much unanimously undeserved. What Play does get right much of the time is the interviews. They’ve nailed those more times than I can count and that keeps me reading. As another example of how sarcasm and snottiness has invaded, pick up any recent issue of Nintendo Power, a mag that used to be overwhelmingly positive is now just as grumpy as all the others. The only place it also stands above is in the ready access to Japanese developers and the internals of Nintendo itself where they succeed in spite of themselves.

I know I’ve brought this up in the blog before, but it bears repeating multiple times. You need to find time to read Edge and games™ each month. If you have to pick just one (at $8.99 and $9.99 an issue respectively), then I’d actually recommend games™ as the sole choice because it’s even better at what Edge does than Edge itself is lately, and the Retro section is wonderfully crafted. This month’s has a feature on Segata Sanshiro. Segata Sanshiro! How many of you even know who that is? Yet it’s an awesome story of a marketing campaign Sega ran in the Saturn era that you’re just not going to find anywhere else, and I guarantee you’ll be entertained while reading it. Here’s the man himself to pique your interest…

A lot of what these UK mags are doing is similar to some of the articles that ran in the pages of Computer Games Magazine some years ago though even CGM was often prone to being a little too cynical and sarcastic like much of the US games press. Computer Gaming World aka Games for Windows The Official Magazine also had some nice features that fit the bill. Those two mags are now history though, so maybe that about says it all for the US game magazine industry? It’s only in foreign countries that people are willing to pay for the kind of content Edge and games™ are producing each month. Fortunately, Barnes & Noble keeps on importing them so I can partake, and you should too.

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A Mega… Man

September 23, 2008

It’s 1989 again and I’m in love.

Like a breath of fresh air after being trapped in a coal mine for days, Mega Man 9 was able to be inhaled on Monday, September 22, 2008 via Nintendo’s Wii Ware. For a measly ten bucks, I downloaded this release of what is essentially a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System game. Its design is an exercise in technological restraint that has produced scintillating results as far as I’m concerned. Is it hard? Absolutely. Is it harder than any Mega Man before it? Not even close.

A Mega Man
A Mega Man

Before I talk about gameplay, it must be noted that the synthesized soundtrack is easily on par with its predecessors, and gives me renewed appreciation for the awesome power of 8-bit music to set a mood that is completely lost on so many game composers today. I sat and listened to the title screen music for way longer than is healthy, because it has a cadence that builds excitement for the game to come. Once I started on my way through Magma Man’s level, every second of the soundtrack became something to savor. Who knows if we’ll ever get anything so deliciously 8-bit again?

Next to the soundtrack, gameplay had to be of the same stellar caliber to keep me enthralled. It’s right up there with the greats in the series. Tight control of precise shooting and hair-raising jumps punctuate your run through each screen on your way to the puzzlerific boss encounters. As with all Mega Man games, there must be a “best order” to approach these robot titans, and the first one I conquered was Galaxy Man. His black hole gun has served me well since, though I haven’t taken down a second target yet.

Wiring the levels to arrive at the boss with lots of energy for your arsenal as well as a full bar of health and some extra lives is difficult. Many gamers raised on PlayStation will be humbled. Those who played slow-paced PC games for most of their lives will be raising their voices in anger on message boards everywhere. “How can those fuckers expect me to play this? I can’t even get off the first screen? It’s no fun when I can’t just push a button and win!” To all of them, I raise a middle finger of my own in salute. Not all videogames are created equal and some of them should be fucking hard. Get over it. Or don’t buy it. I don’t care which. Just get off my goddamn lawn.

Those of us who enjoy a challenge, and who like to become more proficient at the skill of videogaming don’t get something like this very often. You find us still playing the fighting games, the shooters… no, not those shooters, these shooters…

Shooter
Shooter

 …and that other genre of game that used to dominate the eight and sixteen bit consoles, the action platform game, has been pretty thin of late. When these games are done right, they’re awesome exercises in timing, memorization, execution and skill. Then you finish it and realize there’s a whole other way to play that raises the challenge. Get through without continuing. Finish without a single death. Take on all the bosses and win with only the Mega Buster. It’s all there, and provides hours of pure gaming entertainment. Sure, there’s a story there, some flava if you will, but that’s just to help you separate Mega Man 9 from what came before when you’re making that first run through. After you’ve finished, you remember these games for their mechanics, for that time you beat the boss with one sliver of life left or figured out the pattern of Splash Woman on the first try and survived.

It’s what gaming used to be, not really what it’s become, and it makes me happy to have a chance to play something new in this “ancient” style. For today’s kids, it’s like walking down the street and being able to meet an Egyptian for the first time and have a nice first hand conversation with them about their period in time. I hope it starts a bit of a trend, though I know that’s just wishful thinking. I’m certainly going to enjoy every last second of it regardless of the future though, and I hope you now understand why.


Senior Moment

September 20, 2008

So apparently when I post here, people actually read and comment on the entries. Who knew?!

Thanks for dropping by here even though I’m about as regular as the very intermittent rain we’ve had for the last couple months here in PA. It’s dry out there. Thankfully it’s come after the growing season. Not that this is the Farmer’s Almanac or anything of the sort, but I thought it was noticeably wet this summer and crop growing was better than I recall it being for a few years now.

WTF am I on about? I honestly don’t know…

To add to the crazy, my wife’s having Senior Sunday here at the house tomorrow. No, I won’t have a bunch of old couples hanging out. It’s actually the seniors from her varsity girls field hockey team coming over for dinner (she’s the coach). This house is typically ruled by the testosterone of four boys ages 8 to 36 but tomorrow, we will be outnumbered by estrogen producers in our own home for the first time evar! I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this is one of those times. I have no idea what to expect from this event. More to follow…

Game related stuff? Oh yeah, that’s usually what people come for, isn’t it? How about for a change of pace there, I point you to articles and interviews worth reading?

First up is the superb Peter Moore interview at The Guardian. That’s just part one. Look for parts two through five on the site. He confirms a lot of things I was often saying Microsoft was up to during the last eight years. I like Moore because he’s a former SEGA guy and clearly has a common sense approach to his job. He’s also got personality, something this industry could use a lot more of at the top levels.

Second is The Making of NARC with lots of commentary from Eugene Jarvis, the game’s creator. First HD game? Check. Ultra violence? Check. Digitized characters because, “You needed armies of animators. And Japanese animators were just destroying us. I was wondering what other techniques we could use.” Absolutely. It’s well worth your time.

The other stuff I think you should read is found in print mags, so take your pennies and go get the latest issues of EDGE and games™ at Barnes & Noble. You can thank me for pointing you to a superb retro article on First-Person RPGs in games™ and the Funspot feature in EDGE. There’s a pile more but unfortunately I left the mags at work. Bummer.

Surprisingly, the Funspot article is also available online. Top notch! Also, if you like SEGA as much as I do, you will absolutely love reading about the making of Segagaga! That one is worth it even if you don’t much care for SEGA, because it shows how one guy with a lot of initiative and a great idea can make a really cool game. SGGG is like nothing you’ve ever played. Check out this bit…

Often it’s as if Sega is using your character’s voice as a vehicle to vent its frustrations with the very industry it helped define. One particular exchange illuminates and haunts in equal measure. “Games are nothing more than mere products!” exclaims a member of Sega’s management team. “You examine popular market trends, churn out nearly identical titles, and then you rake in the dough! Imitate our competitor’s top-sellers: that’s the golden rule! Throw away your emotions and become a mindless machine. This is how you make successful games.”

“But I want to make totally innovative games that nobody has ever seen before,” your character pleads.

“Innovation? How foolish! Who will take responsibility if the game flops?”

“But if we do it your way, we’ll never attract new customers. Surely it’s worth giving a shot?”

“You know nothing about the business, boy! I’ll teach you the harsh reality of the corporate world!”

And where such commentary might so easily have sounded whiny and bitter coming from this company at this point in its history, the game’s execution is so off-the-wall crazy, light-hearted and inventive that it serves only to make its creator all the more sympathetic and its lessons all the more striking.

I know it’s cliché to say, but they really don’t make them like that anymore. Now that you guys have some good reading to partake of–the kind of stuff I get ridiculed for using as reference at Qt3 BTW–I’m going to go watch Rocky. Yeah, that’s right. That Rocky. I haven’t seen it in years and it’s been gnawing at me to see it again ever since I saw it was released on Blu-ray. I’ve already watched Speed Racer like three times since I got it on Thursday, also. That film is the most underappreciated soon to be cult classic of all time as far as I’m concerned. It’s just brilliant.


LittleBigFailure

September 14, 2008

Soccer season started and the company I work for is in bankruptcy right now. Hence… I’m kinda busy and don’t have a ton of time to play games.

That said, one of the biggest upcoming releases on PlayStation 3 is one I keep seeing certain segments of the hardcore touting as the next big thing, and every time I watch it in action I think about how no one will be able to play it competently enough to enjoy it.

I came upon LittleBigPlanet footage on the PlayStation Store today while browsing for new demos and game videos that were recently posted. I thought, “Hey, this Sackzilla thing is something the kids can watch (many game videos do not conform to Motion Picture Association of America standards for previews that can be viewed by all audiences), so why don’t I download that?” A few minutes later, I fire it up and watch some Sack Boys creating a bigger Sack Boy panted green and then dancing around the screen making faces.

Calvin – “What’s this game about, Dad? What do you do?”

Me – “You can’t tell from this video, can you?”

Calvin – “No, it just looks dumb.”

From the mouths of babes (Calvin’s ten years old for those that don’t know…).

This little exchange and a follow up encounter with Sucker Punch’s next game encapsulate everything that’s wrong with Sony’s machine. The Sucker Punch game? It’s called Infamous. What did Sucker Punch make before this? Three games that are among my sons’ favorites: the three Sly Cooper titles. I had downloaded that bit of video from E3 or the Leipzig Convention or somewhere like that and figure I can take a look at it, knowing that it’s a superhero game of sorts. That lasted all of ten seconds before there were blood curdling screams and the narrator talking about how “no one saw it coming”. I quickly stopped it and Isaac says, “What didn’t they see coming?” (He’s 8.)

Me – “I have on idea. But they never do see it coming, do they?”

It amazes me how completely out of touch Sony is with the audience that bought PlayStation 2. Here are three children sitting down with Pop to check out some games in the little bit of downtime we have on the weekend and one game I’m sure they’ll “get” has an absolutely awful trailer for it that’s clearly aimed at the technogeek “kewl d00d” gamer who frequents messageboards and knows everything there is to know about LittleBigPlanet and the other one shows that the developer of Sly Cooper doesn’t have the time to make games for the kids who bought the games that put them where they are now.

After all of that, just now I thought to myself that maybe I didn’t give LittleBigPlanet enough of a chance. Now I’ve seen other videos of it before, so I know what the gist of the whole thing is. But I go check out a video on YouTube from some gaming TV show and what do I see but a quick cut away after watching two people clearly failing multiple times to work in tandem to accomplish what seems like a simple in-game task. Now, consider that gamers today are way softer than they’ve ever been, seeing as how most games want to hand you the victory with the push of button A, and it’s easy to see that LittleBigPlanet is destined for failure amongst all but the hardest of the hardcore.

The bottom line here is that people really do suck at most videogames, and some of the loudest and most obnoxious among them HATE ACTION-PLATFORM GAMES. The only ones that enjoy them unconditionally anymore are dudes like me who still have all our l337 skillz from our youths still intact, and those youths currently developing their l337 skillz for later on down the road when they have kids of their own and get gaming blogs like this one. It’s nice that Media Molecule is filling that niche, and making their game even more nichey by focusing on those same dudes making levels for them, but it’s not going to set the world on fire. In fact, it might just be one more log on the roaring blaze that’s cooking PS3’s goose.

Ah well, Sony, like Nintendo before them, needed this lesson in becoming too big for their own britches.