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It’s 2011; No One Has Killed Halo Yet

June 3, 2011 4 comments

Whoa… that’s alot of pitchforks and torches. I do realize that the title of this article is a bit pretentious, however I do have some objective FACTS and EVIDENCE to back up this bold statement. Simmer down any urges to punch me in the face and hear me out for a few moments.

Today’s FPS games are a dime a dozen and first-person shooters are easily the most popular genre of them all. How much can developers really change the experience of looking down the barrel of a gun and blasting away at anything that moves? How did we wind up with all these different games where the core action is the same? Run/Strafe. Move reticle. Aim. Trigger. Reload. Rinse and repeat. Developers have to break up that core action by always giving the player something new to do that supplements the base shooting.

Ever since Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie always possessed an internal mantra of taking “30 seconds of fun” and stretching it across an entire game. In retrospect, Bungie never relied too heavily on scripted events. They would craft sprawling sandboxes, give the player the tools to have fun, and let the artificial intelligence breathe. Granted, players will navigate through the same environments upon replay like in other games, but the battles unfold differently thanks to the dynamic AI. Most other games are just military-themed shooting galleries with the same terrorist popping out of the same cave and/or bunker.

A screenshot from Call of Honor: Contemporary Conflict 5 Operation: Terrorism Shits It's Pants

You might be thinking, “Whoa this guy has a hard on for Bungie”, but the truth is that first-person shooters (see: Call of duty) are banking the entirety of their excitement on “set-piece” moments. I love my Call of Duty games as much as the next gamer, but recently I’ve discovered (after the release of Black Ops) that replaying the single-player campaign in a Call of Duty title doesn’t maintain the same “wow” factor it did the first time around. These scripted moments are very intense and exciting when they pop your cherry, but coming back to reclaim the White House from Russian soldiers or marching up that hill to kill some more VC is a ride we’ve all been on the first time around. It’s like chewing gum, the flavor is amazing when it’s there but after awhile, you’re just kind of chewing it for the sake of chewing.

This moment was shocking the first time around... but do I really wanna play this part again?

Bungie’s design philosophy allows players to control their experience. Do I want to take this Warhog and tear up this extraterrestrial countryside? Or do I want to nab a Banshee and scope things out from the sky? Or should we take the tank because it’s a fuckin tank? Halo has always given players options to tackle objectives how they see fit and replaying it warrants new experiences. You may state, “Hey Call of Duty has vehicles too” but those moments, may as well be on a rollercoaster. The snowmobile opening in MW2 and the takeover of a Russian Hind in Black Ops will always play out in the same way and the destination will always be the same. At some point the programmer is going to say, “The ride’s over, get off”. A vehicle section in Halo gets me to think, “How long is this vehicle going to last me before the Covenant blows it up with one of theirs?” My point is that If your approach in a Halo game doesn’t work, there’s always another option. In other shooters, you have to act out your role. Why haven’t developers escaped this need to hold my hand to show me something cool? Give me some freedom.

You decide the approach here

When you think about it the Halo formula has never changed since Halo:CE. Bungie gave birth to the then-dreaded, now-lauded two-weapon inventory, dedicated grenade button, and weapon-specific melee. Every installment (with the exception of Halo Wars, duh) never moved away from any of these basics. Halo games have always played like Halo games, you’ll come to an area, unload, circle-strafe, and grenade Covenant (and Flood) to death. This type of gameplay may sound uninteresting to some people, but no one has been able to replicate this to any measure of success. To be objective; how many shooters are you playing now that involve you pulling left trigger to auto-aim somebody and pull right trigger to kill them? Pretty much every major shooter like Battlefiend BC, Borderlands, Call of Duty, Killzone and more recently, Crysis 2 (only to name a few). They may not all be the same type of game but they all PLAY THE SAME. I’m terrified if this control-scheme is going to be the new gold-standard. Yes, the Halo controls and the formula that comes included is about a decade old, but it still works, it’s still fun, and no other game plays quite like it. Who do you think made Y (Triangle) “Switch Weapon”, X (Square) “Reload”, and A (X) “Jump”?

Quick-scoping? No. Just no...

Lets shift our focus over to what is now a strong selling point to most gamers: multiplayer. A proper multiplayer suite was a pipe-dream for most console gamers and developers until Bungie put their foot down. Halo:CE featured co-op play throughout it’s entire campaign via splitscreen, 4-player splitscreen deathmatch, and 16 players via system link. Pretty lackluster by today’s standards undoubtedly, but why are shooters these days still struggling to create a cooperative splitscreen experience? There are too many great games out there where I think to myself, “This would be cool if it had splitscreen.” The Halo franchise was great for getting people to play together.

"I brought some friends... and a few rides.

My heart broke a bit when Battlefield: Bad Company didn’t feature any splitscreen support through it’s campaign. Everyone and their mothers were begging for it in Killzone 2 (we eventually got it in Killzone 3). I don’t want to pass off, let me give another controller to someone else so we can kick some ass together and enjoy the story. Props to the team at Gearbox for giving us splitscreen play in Borderlands, a game that could’ve easily shipped without it, was made more enjoyable when you have someone to loot with. As much as I want to commend Treyarch for implementing a cooperative campaign in World at War, they subsequently removed a splitscreen campaign in Black Ops. It’s like they were thinking, “Boy that was fun, lets get rid of it.” What!? Halo never REMOVED any cooperative elements from their games.You want splitscreen coop throughout the entire campaign? Bank on Halo. Campaign co-op online? H… a… l… o…

It's good to kill together

You want splitscreen competitive? Guess what? Yup. Since Halo 2 (that’s on the first Xbox yuh…) you can jump online with up to 4 buddies on the same couch. It’s a wonder as to why developers can’t implement 4-player splitscreen online. I’m aware that Black Ops has pulled this off, but it’s still limited to just two players on a single console. Although, I’m not completely heartless, splitscreen Black Ops is balling. My wish is that more games/developers follow this model if their goal is to get people to play online more. There is nothing quite like teaming up with people in the same room and coming out on top. It’s a high-five bromance-a-palooza that not too many other multiplayer games can replicate. Halo’s base shooting may not have the depth other shooters possess in the online arena, but the franchise has always presented a wealth of campaign, cooperative, and competitive features that is still unparalleled to this day.

Wanna grab a few beers after this? Better yet, lets grab a few beers now

For those who like to see the stats that match the glory, Bungie has included a wide-array of stat tracking ranging from weapons used/favored, killzones on particular maps, and proficiency in each gametype. All of which can be viewed thoroughly (for free) at Bungie.net. Each individual player’s stats are persistent across all Halo titles that were released on the 360. So if you want to see the mountain of numbers that prove how great you are, Bungie has you covered. It’s also on the house.

Statistical stats and such...

Halo has always been a social shooter. But perhaps what’s more telling is the footprint it still leaves on other games in the same genre. Sure, it’s a game about space marines, pious aliens, and intergalactic undead; but it is THEE game about space marines, pious aliens, and intergalactic undead. Remember, at it’s inception Halo was an RTS that was developed in the mid-90’s on the Mac. Halo put Microsoft in the console race and shaped the brand to what we know it as today. Halo 2’s online features catapulted Xbox Live and made PC gamers blush, right about the same time the first Killzone fell flat on it’s face. Halo 3, ODST, and Reach carried the torch by allowing players blast their way across the sprawling campaigns in splitscreen co-op or in 4 player squads online. Xbox gamers with a thirst for competition can jump online with three other buddies on the same console. There’s nothing more fun than gathering your own rag-tag team of couch potatoes and unleashing a teabagging epidemic upon the next unsuspecting matchmaking party.

Best. Pistol. Evar.

This is not an attempt to say that the Halo series is the best ever. Far from it. It’s just to say that the Halo formula is often imitated, but never perfected. It’s style of gameplay and features from the last generation are still fairly non-existent; even in the current generation. People looking for a sweeping sci-fi saga will find it here. Halo is meant to be enjoyed together. Be it split-screen on the couch or online. Halo is the kind of first-person shooter that other shooters can only hope to be. I’m sick of scripted moments, watching the same explosion, and being funneled into another shooting gallery. I know haters are gonna hate, but if I have to pull left trigger and then right trigger to kill someone in a game one more time, I’m never buying another damn shooter again.

Face it, no one has killed Halo yet.

Why Gaming is Still Stuck in the 90’s: The Female Image in Games

May 14, 2011 3 comments

All too often I find myself enjoying a game only to get jolted into reminding myself, “Yup, this is a videogame.” Not necessarily because of bad graphics or a poor story, it’s because the portrayals of females is more offensive than not. Listen, I enjoy a pair of knockers as much as the next guy; but when it’s in a game because a developer said, “BECAUSE BOOBS!” doesn’t mean there should be a place for it.

"There's all these heavily armed ninjas chasing me you gotta... nevermind... I'll find someone else..."

Games are becoming increasingly more immersive, their purpose is to remove you from your boring life for a few moments so you can be empowered in another. Story-telling and graphics help to significantly sell the experience. But, every once in a good while your experience is rudely interrupted by a pair of gozungas. You’re probably thinking, “But Chris, I like sex appeal in videogames don’t you?” Sex appeal is fine in video games as they’re more “mature” now than ever. However, if a developer is trying to sell me on an empowered female character, she shouldn’t be wearing a cheerleader outfit with her rack hanging out; I won’t be able to take her seriously. Imagine yourself playing a game and you’re unraveling the finer mysteries as to why the world is ending. At some point (in pretty much every game) you’ll set out with a goal in mind to stop certain catastrophe, when all of a sudden a porno-esque female librarian/secretary “briefs” you on a mission. This particular scenario isn’t from any particular game, but we’ve all been there; playing a game and a pornstar comes out of left field to shove a “set” in our faces.

Lady Gaga kills demons too... and then unnecessarily turns into a recurring character...

“Whoa hot chicks in videogames are awesome!!! What’s your beef?!” My “beef” is that promiscuity can often times TAKE AWAY from a female character instead of adding to them. I don’t know what it’s like for a female gamer to play some of these games. I can’t speak for all of them, but I can’t imagine feeling “okay” with some of the female depictions that are out there.

WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!?!?!

This isn’t something that has recently surfaced in the industry; it’s been around since the dawn of gaming. I don’t want to remind everyone of Custer’s Revenge on the Atari 2600. Even during the NES era with the Battletoad’s Dark Queen; while she may be “tame” by today’s standards, keep in mind that 5 year olds (including me), were getting our hands on these games. Double Dragon 2’s Marion was also another one from the NES era that needed to pull up her blouse in front of the kids. Perhaps what sparked the fire was the PS1 era’s Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. Gameplay-wise the series got increasingly poorer, but her bust size kept increasing along with her sales. No other female videogame character has received as much notoriety as Lara Croft in the 90’s.

Blame her. She won't care.

I’m not here to rain on everyone’s parade saying, “No more boobs” in games. Let’s not forget that the gaming industry is growing up and developers are targeting adults now more than ever. The God of War series is known for it’s sex minigames and female characters that never fail to be topless. Bayonetta is just oozing (no pun, no pun goddamnit!) with sex appeal in EVERYTHING she does in the game. I can’t state that these are the only exceptions, but they’re M-rated and perhaps the developers want to push the envelope a bit, but they can do so respectfully. I’m sure there are female gamers out there whom enjoy these titles, but I can’t imagine myself playing a game where I control a man that gets naked-er as I’m vanquishing foes. Fighting games are infamous for their cast of female fighters. Most fighting games don’t exactly support a strong story for the characters to grow in, so the extent of their “character” boils down to their movesets and how “cool” they look. Soul Calibur is a beloved fighting franchise with a strong roster. However, EVERY female character in that game is… just look at the screenshot below, it tells all….

YOU'RE A NINJA?! HOW AM I SUPPOSE TO TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY?! HOW DO I EVEN FIGHT YOU?!

I’m sure character designers and artists are thinking, “How do we give her more personality?” Most will increase the polygon count in the chest and buttocks region and call it a day. Creating a believable and rich female character avoids that completely. Bonnie from Red Dead Redemption is a tough gal that doesn’t take crap from nobody. She doesn’t look like a dominatrix armed to the teeth. She’s a an appropriately-dressed western girl that has her head on straight. Her blue-collar attitude is what makes me interested in her character; not her bra size.

Being a blockbuster series; Uncharted could’ve easily fallen into the pitfall of having a female protagonist that “dresses for success”. However, Elena Fisher finds herself at the opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a woman that is guided by her career and supports the main character you play as. She doesn’t carry a whip, she carries a camera. She doesn’t rock a school-girl outfit, she wears jeans and a half-tucked shirt. Elena has a way of motivating the player through her dialogue and the energy she projects, not by unbuttoning her blouse. These are only a few of the female characters that are exactly what they are – female characters; not sex goddesses.

She looks nice, but she's got a vicious hook and can handle a piece.

The videogame industry can do a better job of depicting females in games. There are developers out there who understand that an overly-revealing character can be annoying or distracting for all the wrong reasons. It still seems like most game makers are still targeting males, they need to be mindful that women also play videogames. As a male gamer, an army of under-dressed virtual woman would not make me change my mind as to whether or not a game sucks. A bad game is a bad game. Undoubtedly, there are other gamers like me, male and female, who are sick of “characters” that are no more than virtual strippers. If I’m laying down $60 + tax for a video game, I’m paying for the experience and the potential fun, not a shameful peep show. If I want that, I’ll find it at the bar on the Touch Master, not on my home consoles.

Editorial: Why “Call of Duty” Will (or at least should) Come To An End

April 26, 2011 4 comments

In this day and age, everyone and their mother knows what “Call of Duty” is. The T.V. spots, the online ads, and just the overall popularity of the series has made this one of the top grossing video game series to date, joining the ranks of other big shots like Mario, Pokemon, and Grand Theft Auto. Black Ops, the latest title in the series, is the number one selling video game of all time (and it didn’t even take it that long to get there). So obviously this series is huge. Enormous. A titan among the video game industry. There are reasons why these series get popular, stay popular, and continue to produce game after game after game: people enjoy them, and Call of Duty is no different. I am here to rain on everyones parade and explain to you why Call of Duty will, or at least should, come to an end.

The title that started it all

Now don’t get me wrong, I own the majority of the Call of Duty games for the home consoles and have at least played the ones I don’t own a fair amount. They are addictive and hard to put down; I do not deny this. I have probably put around 60 days worth of time into Modern Warfare‘s online mode alone. This, however, does not make Call of Duty and more special to me than the other games in my collection like Bioshock or Dead Space. I have put an ample amount of time into all of them as well and love them a lot more than I do Call of Duty. That doesn’t matter though, that is my personal preference. I can see past the smoke and mirrors and flashing lights that Activision is throwing our way and I have come to the realization that Call of Duty may very well be doomed to the same fate as True Crime, Tony Hawk (Tony claims they’ll still make games, but come on, lets be serious, no one likes those games), and the music titan itself, Guitar Hero.

The COD series has changed so much from its roots in the passing years. Probably the majority of the changes were with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. New war, new time period, new weapons, completely revamped online system, and so much more. From there the changes just get more and more drastic from the original three. If you don’t recall, Call of Duty 1, 2, and 3 were all set during WWII, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare switched things to present times, Call of Duty: World at War went back to WWII, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came back to modern times again, and finally Call of Duty: Black Ops went for the Vietnam War. In the beginning Call of Duty was a fast paced shooter for its time and had a strong level of complexity for its time, but as time has gone on the complexity has increased to a point where I believe it to be too convoluted for its own good. I have barely even played Black Ops (amidst rave reviews from all of my friends) because, among other reasons, I didn’t care to learn all the new features that had been added. Especially not all the new “Zombies” features. Back when “Zombies” was initially released with World at War, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I played that original zombies level countless times with my friends, just resetting it every time we finally lost. I like “Zombies” back then. It was simple: start off with the basics, buy weapons off the wall, take a gamble with the mystery box, and just board up and defend all the entry ways so the zombies didn’t get you. I don’t even have that much fun playing the “Zombies” mode on Black Ops. The funky weapons, the different juices, the electricity and teleporters, the different forms of zombies. Sure, I’m all for innovation, but too much too much. I can’t handle playing it because it’s just too much to worry about. The Call of Duty series has become so wrapped up in being a twitch shooter that it’s lost almost all sense of realism and pacing for me.

Zombies mode

This plays over into the online matchmaking. I CAN NOT stand the Call of Duty online community. It is a bunch of slanderous words and 12-year-olds. I know other games suffer from this syndrome as well (…coughcoughHALO) but it still doesn’t make it right. Nine times out of ten I find myself in an argument with some internet tough guy because the fact that he can hide behind the anonymity of a Gamertag automatically means that he can spout all the homophobic, racist, and sexist remarks he wants. It ruins the fun for me. If I’m not playing in a private chat room with my friends, I don’t use a headset anymore. I can’t stand listening to the garbage that comes through Xbox Live. And this kind of defeats the purpose of the communication aspect of the game, seeing as you’re supposed to use the headset to communicate with your teammates to work together and win the game. Although it’s not like you could actually for a good strategy and play it out. Call of Duty has become so fast-paced and so twitchy that almost any strategy you want to employ wouldn’t work because of the speed of the game.

Back to the complexity. The online modes suffer from this as well. I really liked Modern Warfare‘s online mode. There was enough there to keep me busy (like working towards the golden guns), but not too much to make it seem laden down with unnecessary crap. As time has gone on the additions have just kept coming and coming. Some of them I praise, like host migration. No more rage quitters ruining my kill streak fun. Most though, not so much. Modern Warfare 2, and especially Black Ops have become so burdened with extra garbage in their online modes that I find I have too much stuff to take care of. Modern Warfare 2 was about the max I could stand in terms of complexity. The leveling up on each weapon to unlock new upgrades and attachments, the leveling up of your perks, all the challenges, the kill streaks, camouflages; it all seemed like so much, but I managed (I was severely disappointed in the removal of golden weapons). Black Ops, however, introduces a whole new money-based upgrade system which I really just can’t stand. Just another number I have to watch.

Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer

Why such a big hatred to the complexity? It’s not because I can’t necessarily handle it, because I can. I play many complicated games that require a lot of time and effort. It’s because of two reasons: (1) Im not compelled to learn all the new features, and (2) it detracts from the single player. Call of Duty got to it’s high position in the video game world because of it’s single player campaign. That was the original reason why all the critics raved and why everyone originally fell in love with it. Over time, however, the focus has switched from the single player to the multiplayer. Of course this is where the majority of your time is going to be spent now, but that doesn’t mean they need to neglect the single player. Now, from what I hear, Black Ops‘ campaign is amazing, and I’ve been meaning to play it. This was refreshing to hear since lately the reviews for game shave been saying there was not enough time spent of the story or it’s too short. I still worry though, I love a good story.

Another small little reason why I believe Call of Duty is doomed to fail is that they are running out of wars. WWII is definitely overplayed, and I am starting to get sick of modern shooters as well. If they don’t switch to a new time zone after Modern Warfare 3 is released, I think they’re going to be in a lot of trouble. With every other major war shooter series out there now switching to the modern era, the market is overflowing with sand and turbans. The Vietnam War was a good play on Treyarchs part; there just aren’t that many wars to make games out of. Anything earlier than WWII would just be boring in my opinion, with such low tech they had back then (and plus WWI was 99% trench warfare, which doesn’t exactly pan out for a fun video game). The Vietnam War is a fresh, new face for the video game industry and I see that sticking around for a while, but it won’t take long for the market to get tired of that war as well. The market wouldn’t be getting tired of these wars so fast if they would pace out the games a little  more, but I’ll talk about that later.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

My main inspiration for writing this editorial is all of the news circulating Activision, the loss of Guitar Hero, the news surrounding Infinity Ward, and the switching of developers for the Call of Duty series. Activision’s name has now become synonymous with evil in the world of video games. We’ve all seen the the things Bobby Kotick has said. They have a history of taking something great, milking it dry, and then throwing it to the side. This happened with Guitar Hero. What was something great was taken over, forced to pump out countless games every year, and then tossed to the side when people stopped buying plastic peripherals. This is exactly what is happening with Call of Duty. All of the above mentioned complaints may not be quite so bad if the games had more than one year between each new edition. I do not think that Call of Duty needs an annual release. They try to pack so much stuff into the games and then try to pack as many games into the market as they can. There is more than enough content in Modern Warfare 2 to hold me over for at least 2 years. The problem comes when Activision expanded the development community of the Call of Duty franchise. As of right now, there are FIVE developers working on the franchise. FIVE! They are as follows: Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Raven, Sledgehammer, and Beachhead. Let’s start off with Infinity Ward. The creators of the series. It’s good to know that at least the original guys are still behind the games…oh wait, scratch that. We all know what happened over a year ago. The giant fight between Activision and Infinity Ward. The epic battle that resulted in the loss of the two heads of Infinity Ward, Jason West and Vince Zampella. They were let go by Activision, which lead to lawsuits and a huge chunk of Infinity Ward’s staff quitting on the spot. West and Zampella were forced to open a brand new development studio: Respawn Studios. Well, there goes the original talent. But what remains of Infinity Ward is still here, working on the 2011 installment to the Call of Duty series.

Next is Treyarch. The other main Call of Duty developer. The ones who made Call of Duty 3, World at War, and Black Ops. I have never been a particular fan of Treyarch’s Call of Duty games, but they aren’t too bad. I much prefer Infinity Ward though. They’re still around and doing fine. No big deal. Now comes Raven. They  have been reportedly working on DLC for Black Ops. Why is this necessary? Why are you outsourcing Call of Duty to other developers. Infinity Ward and Treyarch know how it works and how everything is designed. Handing it off to another developer and just saying “Here, make us some DLC” is stupid. What sort of busy schedules do Infinity Ward and Treyarch have? Are they too busy trying to working on the next installment in the series that they can’t stop to support the one that’s already out? Here’s an idea: STOP MAKING COD ANNUALLY.

The C.O.D. Developers (minus Beachhead)

Now the one that makes me livid. Sledgehammer. This fourth developer is reportedly working on a whole new, completely separate Call of Duty game. But it’s not a shooter. It’s an action adventure game. What? Why is this even here? Remember that time I said Activision likes to milk popular property for all it’s worth? Yeah, that’s whats happening here. We do not need an action adventure Call of Duty game. It’s made to be a shooter and that’s the way it should be. Lastly, with all that extra money and space Activision had from getting rid of Guitar Hero, True Crime, Tony Hawk (and I didn’t even mention Activision dropping Bizarre Creations, the development studio that brought us Geometry Wars and Blur), they decided to open up a brand new studio to, guess what, focus on the Call of Duty franchise. What is this fifth developer doing? They are in charge of developing an online hub/waypoint/community for the franchise, a la Halo Waypoint. For the third time I ask, why is this necessary? Why can’t Infinity Ward or Treyarch take a break from making annual Call of Duty games and make this new community thing. It was not necessary to create a whole new studio for it (especially at the cost of losing Bizarre Creations).

Have I made my case? With all of these new studios opening up just for Call of Duty, Activision is going to find it hard not to have those development teams create their own Call of Duty games. Then the market will really be crowded. Just look at the other big blockbuster series. Halo had its time and it has come and gone. There were spin off games, like Halo Wars, and a giant online community with their own community hub. Bungie could easily have made more Halo games expanding on the rich world they created, but they decided against it. Enough was enough. Don’t saturate the market. Leave something to be desired, don’t stuff game after game down our throats until we get sick just by looking at them.

I could be wrong about all of this. Call of Duty could live on for a long time, thriving in our video game world. But I personally don’t see that happening. Halo was the game that people thought of when you mentioned video games. Now it’s Call of Duty. If the developers were fewer, the games fewer, and the had a different publisher paving the way, the future of Call of Duty may be a little brighter. But right now it’s pretty bleak.

UPDATE: Well the rumor pool is churning when it comes to the newest edition to the series: Modern Warfare 3. Some apparently “leaked” details suggest that the game is a direct sequel to Modern Warfare 2, features “Soap” MacTavish and John Price, will travel to locales such as Dubai, NYC, and Paris, and has been jointly developed by Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Raven Software.

UPDATE NUMBER 2: It has been recently announced that the fifth developer, Beachhead studios, which was the developer working on an online community, has come forward with their upcoming product. It is called Call of Duty Elite and is a paid online stat-tracking service, similar to what Bungie.net does for free.

The Mysterious “Project Cafe”

Soon after the launch of Nintendo’s next and best gadget known as the 3DS, you’d think that the spotlight would start to fade away from their domain and start to come back to Microsoft and Sony a little.

Well, you’re wrong. Nintendo has brought the spotlight right back to them with “Project Cafe”

What is this mysterious project? It’s only just the codename for their next big home console.

“The Wii 2!?” you may ask. Yes, the Wii 2. Nintendo is ready to (hopefully) join the big boys in the true HD generation. Now, not much is known about this new console since Nintendo’s going to keep the details locked up until E3, however, there is one little tidbit of info. The controller for “Project Cafe” will mirror the Gamecube controller in terms of function, not form, it will have dual analog sticks, and the shocker: the controller will feature a 6 inch touch screen in the middle of it that you can use either as part of the game or to stream entire games to the controller.

I’m already hating this thing.

A bunch of people just threw down $250 for this bad boy and now you want us to buy another screen for our controllers? How many screens do we need?

Why on earth do I need a 6 inch screen in the center of my controller. If I want to play games on a small as screen, I’ll buy a DS/3DS, not a whole new home console. Adding this screen will make the controller so much heavier than it needs to be, and we all know that our hands get tired of holding a DS or PSP or whatever after a while. It’s going to be heavy. And this announcement is coming right after the release of the 3DS. Way to screw everyone over Nintendo. Release an expensive new handheld and then tell us the your new home console is going to feature a controller that can play full games on it. Granted, the 3DS and this controller thing have a lot of differences, but what other purpose would Nintendo have to put a screen into your controller and let you download games to it if they didn’t want you to use it as a handheld.

IGNs idea of what the "Project Cafes" controller will look like.

Now, according to IGN, the controller can stream games, not download them. So basically what your saying is that if we wanted to play games on just the controller, we couldn’t leave the range of the console? Now that is just dumb. Why would I want to stream games to my controller and play on a small screen on my couch when I can just play them on the big freaking TV that the console is connected to. If I want to play games on a small screen on my couch next to a big TV, I’ll just grab my DS and turn off the TV so I can at least conserve some energy while being stupid.

Another thing is that if it ends up being that you can download the games to your controller (and therefore leave the vacinity of your console), your controller is going to need a shit load of memory. And you know what that means? EXPENSIVE. If we think controllers are expensive now, just wait until they throw a 6 inch screen and memory into your controller. I could see the controllers running at $80+ per pair.

In general, I think this is the stupidest idea yet. My personal opinion would be that they just make a normal console and then somehow let you sync your DS/3DS to the console and let you use that as a controller….if you absolutely NEED a screen in your controller.

I think I can live without that. I guess we’ll just have to wait until E3 to see this new “Project Cafe”.

Life Culture Geek’s 3DS Unboxing/Impressions

March 29, 2011 1 comment

Let it be clear that this is simply an unboxing and a quick overview of my first impressions of the 3DS. This is NOT a system review. Quite frankly, when I see reviews for a gaming system it makes me feel a little dirty inside. I’ve seen a few members of the gaming press give out scores to handhelds and consoles and I feel like it’s undervaluing what the system is capable of. The system will make a name for itself once the games are released and the library is expanded. So here’s my impressions of the new 3DS.

Love at first sight?
As far as form-factor goes, the 3DS is just as glossy as every other piece of handheld tech out there. The “interior” also comes complete with the shiny finish that’s sure to gather some smears and fingerprints. The clamshell design isn’t a far departure from previous iterations of the DS, but if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. Hardcore and casual gamers have fallen in love with the dual-screen experience that only the DS provides. However, since the dual-screen gameplay is rooted deep within the 3DS’s DNA, it doesn’t really allow the system to be any smaller. That’s just the reality of it. The 3DS is still a small system, but gamers looking for something more compact than the DSLite or DSi may find themselves a little disappointed. But this shouldn’t stop any potential buyers to shy away from the 3DS altogether, it’s still compact enough that it will fit in most pockets. It’s not like Sega’s Game Gear or anything, but people who are use to DSLite or DSi’s occupying the pockets for some time may find their pants a little tighter (lolz). But there’s no denying it’s a sexy piece of hardware.

How bout that glowy thingy that lets me see games?
The top screen is 90mm in diameter and wider than the bottom screen’s 77 mm display. It’s a little strange to open up a DS to see two differently sized screens, but it’s all for the better. The top screen… wait for it… displays games in 3D!!! (insert dance music + fist pump) In all seriousness, the wide display is a great showcase for the system’s stereoscopic selling point. People wondering about the quality of the 3D should cast aside their worries. It’s legitimately good 3D that displays depth in an impressive manner. Not everything punches out at you, games will also allow you to see “into” them. I REALLY hate to say it but, “it has to be seen to be believed”. I wear corrective lenses and I have no issues enjoying the 3D with or without my glasses on. While some games even warned against playing it for long periods of time, I sank a couple straight hours into Super Street Fighter 4 3D without any strain on my eyes or a resulting headache. The bottom screen is basically the two-dimensional touch screen you’ve come to expect on other DS systems.

The 3D won't kick your ass... Ken will.

What about the clackity clacks?
The 3DS has the typical assortment of “Nintendo buttons” that consist of L, R, Y, X, B, and A. Of course there’s the d-pad along with “Select” and “Start”. What’s new is the “Home” button that has been popularized on home consoles. It lets players suspend their game and open up a different program if they choose to. It’ll simply close out the existing game/program and launch the other one with relatively no trouble or lockup. This function itself makes the 3DS feel more like a modern handheld and sure beats restarting the entire unit just to reach the home menu. The analog “stick”/nub/disc sits above the d-pad and feels surprisingly good. There’s a little concave groove you can nestle your thumb into comfortably. It kind of feels like you’re rubbing your thumb on a smooth tablet of Pepto Bismol (weird analogy I know). The button real estate has changed a bit from the DS models of yesteryear. “Start” and “Select” now join the “Home” button right under the bottom touch screen. The power button is no longer a slider, but it’s own independent button that will allows you to put the system in sleep mode or power it off entirely. All the buttons along with the analog nub feel great and give satisfying feedback. They all feel “clicky” instead of “mushy”.

What’s under the hood?

Who thought zombies would look this good on a portable system?

A custom PICA200 processor is the source of the 3DS’s graphical horsepower. The hardware upgrade from the normal line of DS units is far from incremental. Just from playing SSF4, it’s very apparent that there’s more fight in this dog. With promising titles like Kid Icarus, Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D in the pipes, it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s a shame that those games aren’t readily available at launch, but they offer an exciting forecast of the games to come. In terms of audio, the 3DS has two speakers; one on each side of the top screen. Pretty standard, but people may notice it’s a tad quieter than previous DS models. No big deal, I’m splitting hairs purely for the sake of observation. There’s also a camera facing inward that takes pictures as well as two facing outward that takes 3D pictures. The cameras aren’t the greatest quality. They’re simply functional enough to let you mess around and add in your own 3D effects. Wifi functionality will let you go toe-to-toe online with people in your region and across the world. My online experiences thus far have been serviceable and my time online with SSF4 3D was comparable to that of the console versions.

Looking forward…

The 3DS’s power of appeal is undeniable. The thought of 3D gaming on a portable system sounds like a mad man’s design, but Nintendo has nudged (pushed?) the gaming industry forward into the age of 3D gaming. The mass market appeal of glasses-free 3D will keep gamers and non-gamers talking. Coupled with a chipset that is powerful enough to run some of the most stunning visuals ever seen on a handheld yet, the 3DS certainly has potential for innovation. While the launch lineup is lacking, there is still room to grow for Nintendo’s new handheld. The new e-shop coming in roughly a month promises to bring classic Gameboy and Gameboy Color games. However, Nintendo’s track record for steadily releasing classic content has been largely shaky. Hopefully they can make amends and really turn it around with the 3DS. Hopefully…

Ocarina of Time may not be new, but it'll show a new generation of gamers the magic it showed me

Hopefully with some innovation and a little faith in the hardware, developers can come up with some creative new experiences to appease the nomadic gamer.

Check out Life Culture Geek’s unboxing of the 3DS below!
NOTE: In the video I did say that the 3DS doesn’t have a mic. I’m very mistaken as it DOES have a microphone. I apologize for the misinformation. I ended up trading in Ninja Gaiden for nothing 😦


PSA: How Gamers Can Aid Relief Efforts in Japan

While the country slept, Japan was struck with a 9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami further devastated the country’s coast. The unfathomable devastation has left millions without shelter, warm clothes, food, and clean water. Relief efforts are currently underway to help get the nation back on it’s legs. Many philanthropic entities are raising money and sending whatever aid they can to ease Japan’s recovery. While we may be on the other side of the globe, here are several ways that gamers across the world can use our beloved past time to help our fellow man.

Facebook – People can join groups to stay informed on the relief efforts in Japan. These groups will often have links to charitable foundations that will take donations over your Facebook account. Facebook members who are addicted to Farmville and Car Town can purchase in-game items in which the proceeds go to charitable foundations in Japan. Farmville players will get special crops that are exclusive to those that donate and Car Town players will get a limited-edition Red Cross ambulance for their contributions. Buy virtual cars and plots of land + do good = Win.

Playstation Network – PSN users can donate money straight from their virtual wallet in $2, $5, $10, $25, $50 increments. Those who donate will receive the exclusive theme pictured below.

Fiesta Online – Those who are into the cult MMORPG Fiesta Online can make a donation of $5 and receive an exclusive in-game pet. Apparently this pet has some “sweet stats”. I’m not too familiar with this game, but if you happen to be a community member of Fiesta Online be sure to pick up this “epic pet” for a good cause.

Nexon – Gamers who enjoy the free-to-play titles such as Combat Arms and Maple Story can purchase various in-game items in which 100% percent of proceeds from sales will go to humanitarian efforts in Japan. As far as I know, Nexon is not offering any exclusive content, but c’mon that $5 magical sword you’ve been eyeballing is bound to buy itself eventually. Plus, those five bucks can go a long way where it’s needed.

Capcom – Capcom has reduced the price of Street Fighter 4 on the App Store to 99¢. All the profits made from the purchase will go to aid those in Japan. If you’ve got an iTouch, iPhone, or iPad this is a small sum that will bring help to those in need. You’ve already blown a ton of money by getting an iPad anyway, what’s another 99¢ you Apple hipster you?

Bungie – Strange how a developer so renown for making games where you mercilessly blow aliens to bits is lending a helping hand. Jokes aside, the folks at Bungie Studios are people too and they’re sending out some pretty cool looking wristbands to those who donate $5. Here’s the link to the donation page:

http://www.bungiestore.com/Japan-Quake-Relief-Wristband-Adult/M/B004S8L9LY.htm

It comes in Covenant Blood Blue (or just blue)

GameStop – While gamers may cringe at the thought of Gamestop; they’re partnering with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to deliver much needed donations to The Land of the Rising Sun. A link for donations can be found here:

http://www.ifrc.org/

While these are only a handful of ways gamers can donate, non-gamers (or just about anybody) can of course still text REDCROSS at 90999 to donate $10 that will help efforts in Japan. The calamity that has befallen Japan has certainly saddened the nation. And that’s a severe understatement, but with the world’s collective effort and charity we can help our fellow man and participate in rebuilding a beautiful and humble country. Times are tough and some of us may not have the money to donate; but we can at the very least keep Japan in our prayers. I sincerely appreciate your time.

The Digital Exodus: Reasons Why We Game

Gaming as a past time has long since removed itself from “nerdom” status. I remembered when I was younger I never would’ve been as vocal about my gaming habits as I am now. Which is ironic right? How is it that this full-grown man is much more inclined to discuss his geeky passion for video games moreso than he would’ve in years past? To put it simply and ambiguously; video games have become something else.

When the game industry was in it’s infancy most games consisted of jumping gaps and running through a level until you’ve essentially crossed a finish line. The extent of story-telling in those early games was text, usually revolving around saving a princess or the world. While there is still some of that today, video games are doing a much better job of conveying a more human experience. The hardware available to developers today allow for uncanny levels of realism. Graphics and storytelling are now evoking emotion that is normally found in filmmaking or novels.

What is it about a video game character that makes them so compelling? Well, the character on-screen is dictated by the person at the controls. This control in concept NOT the actual controller, is the key to immersing players in every game. This character embodies the will of the player at the controls. Players can be the athlete they’ve always wanted to be, lead a life of heroics or villainy, or simply do whatever and go wherever they want. Gaming allows us to do things we’re not normally capable of doing and allows us to do it with ease. Empowerment is what separates gaming from movies and novels. It is very divisive tool in the gaming industry that elevates games beyond mere entertainment and allows it to become an experience.

Of course not all games are dramatic reality-bending excursions. Video games can be simply that; games. While there are people who may profess to never playing video games, they might not recognize that they’ve probably already done so without knowing it. Millions upon millions of people are addicted to Farmville and other Facebook games. Many people dive into a couple games of Tetris or Blackjack on their phones while waiting for the bus and your English professor likely plays Angry Birds while grading papers. Games are all around us and EVERYONE plays them. It is a means of entertainment that draws us away from the everyday and places us somewhere else – even if only for a bit.

Your mum enjoys this more than she'd like to admit

Since life is based on repetition it’s easy for us to become jaded. We all have school and/or work alongside a healthy dose of worries that reminds us we’re all mortal and fragile. To escape the tropes of life people may take small steps like reading a book or going outside to exercise. The supremely weary will go as far as to drastically change their surroundings with a vacation. All of that is fine, but the problem is that you’re still YOU. I don’t mean to sound disingenuous, there’s nothing wrong with being who you are (because everybody loves you); it’s just that you’re still stuck in reality. Our means of escapism is relegated to this pseudo-bubble that constantly reminds us that we’re Homo sapiens. Video games let us transcend that barrier and allows us to be genuinely enchanted in something. It’s no different than daydreaming, like when you’re constantly thinking about what it’s like to be a millionaire or if you could fly. Video games encourage us to explore distant worlds and shape things to how we see fit. It’s simultaneously wondrous and terrifying; which is why it’s so great.

Welcome to your other life...

If the world warrants American Idol and Jersey Shore as a means of entertainment, then let us geeks have our video games. If fans of the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter movies are showing up to midnight premiers dressed as their favorite characters and watching the movie in their Snuggies; let me chug my Red Bull while I wait in line for a next-gen system. If you want to go on Facebook and see who’s broken up, read your friends’ status updates, and play Farmville, so be it; gamers will be okay with “shootin’ the shit” while blasting away zombies. To each their own of course. We at LCG have an endless passion for all things digitized, pixelated, and polygonal. To call gaming “nerdy” or a “waste of time” is a severe understatement. With the same amount of effort, you can either take yourself on an unforgettable journey or you can sit there and watch drunk chicks from Jersey in between commercial breaks.

This is why we game.