Welcome to Calendar Man where I tell you about the week’s upcoming releases as well as point out deals to help keep your cold, hard cash where it belongs, namely in your wallet.
Ah May, what a glorious month! My birthday is in May, as is my mom’s birthday and my son’s adoption day. Coincidentally, those last two are the same day, although they weren’t planned to be. Navigating a foreign adoption is tricky enough without asking the courts to do things on a particular date. May is also home to Mother’s Day, so if you haven’t already, put a card or gift in the mail for mom. With so many holidays in our house at such close proximity to each other, May is also a spectacular month for desserts. Just in time for swimsuit season!
Enough calendar blathering. Let’s talk games.
Thor: God of Thunder releases this week and if the folks on my achievement hunting boards are to believed, it’s pretty terrible. Shocking! I may be reviewing it for GameShark, depending on review copy availability and as much as I like the extra cash, if review copies end up not being a possibility, I’m not sure I’ll weep too much for the son of Odin. Still, if you’re up for it, it’s coming out for every console out there.
If you draw a venn diagram that includes one set of racing fans and one set of fans of the apocalypse and you find yourself a member of the intersection of these sets, Motorstorm Apocalypse may be the game for you. I remember the original Motorstorm endlessly looping on the PS3 demo unit that was set up at the Circuit City right down the road from where I work. Oh Circuit City, with your perennial inability to stock anything new on release day, it’s no surprise you went belly up.
The History Channel continues it’s line of historical video games with History Great Battles Midieval, an RTS set during the Hundred Years War. You can play as either the British or the French. I’m assuming those were the big players. It would be silly if the History Channel got the historical aspects of the game incorrect and threw in some saucy Korean troops for good measure.
Finally, the new Mount and Blade expansion, With Fire and Sword comes out on Tuesday, available at fine, digital retailers everywhere. Bill has been playing a preview build and is terrible at it. Maybe you can do better. Here’s a hint, pikes and horses do not mix.
I’ll get to the store specific deals in a minute, but basically everyone and their mother now has Portal 2 on sale. Kmart started it by dropping the price to $35. Amazon matched it, and then Best Buy did too (sort of). The $40 price at Best Buy is unadvertised, but you can see it online. So, bottom line is that if you bought Portal 2 when it launched, I’d see if you can get a retroactive price match. Also, buying games at launch is now becoming more and more financially unsound.
Toys R Us – Save $20 on either CoD:BLOPS or Mortal Kombat. Get $50 gift card and $20 PSN card with purchase of PS3 or get $50 gift card and 1600 pt card with purchase of Xbox 360.
Target – Free $50 gift card with purchase of Xbox 360 Kinect bundle. Free $10 gift card with purchase of Michael Jackson the Experience (any platform)
Best Buy – Free $50 gift card with purchase of Xbox 360 Kinect bundle. Free $30 gift card with purchase of any two Call of Duty titles. Get two of the following Kinect games for $60: MJ: The Experience, Kinect Sports, Zumba Fitness, Biggest Loser, Motion Sports, Your Shape, Yoostar 2.
Kmart – Portal 2 for $34.99.
GameStop – I usually don’t mention GameStop here, but they have Portal 2 for $40 for 360 and PS3 and $30 for PC.
Steam – Steam has all of the Mount & Blade games on sale including the Complete pack which includes Mount & Blade, Warband and With Fire & Sword for 20 bucks. Check out al of the deals on the specials page.
For years, I was pigeonholed as a reviewer of “sports” games.
This started in the late 1990s when I was hired, specifically, as the Sports Editor for Computer Games Strategy Plus magazine, which later was called Computer Games magazine, which was later called “Nothing” because The Globe.com was full of imbeciles who ran their company into the ground thus liquidating the magazine, which was one of the best in the business. At least I thought so.
But that’s another story.
Can you even fathom that, though? There was a time when a game magazine, a PC only magazine, had room for a sports editor. Today that sounds insane. In playing every sports game, from arcade games like Madden to hardcore text sims, I became known as a sports guy which was fine because I knew sports as well as anyone reviewing games at that time so it was a natural fit.
This became a problem when the magazine was forced to close and I was left hitting the freelance circuit and getting assignments that weren’t sports related was a challenge.
“Hey there’s a new edition of Sports Game X; send that to Abner.”
As a result, I have played every version of Madden, Fifa, every baseball game, every golf game and 2K sports game, nearly every game with a ball in it from 1998 to 2010. I took a break this year from golf. Thanks Brandon. And I didn’t even play 2K’s baseball game. That hasn’t happened in years. To say I’m burnt out on sports games is a mild understatement.
This video says it all, actually. Take it away Robert.
And I do keep coming back. I can’t quit.
So, let’s talk football. I’m going to get all football lingo-y in this post so if football doesn’t interest you, you may want to go mow the lawn. It’s nice outside today.
As I type this the NFL Draft just concluded. The Browns, the team I have followed passionately since Red Right 88 (Google it), drafted two defensive linemen with their first two picks. This got me thinking how silly it is to pick such players in a game like Madden – or recruit great offensive or defensive linemen in EA’s NCAA game.
One of my yearly criticisms with sports games, football games specifically, is that in order to be a top flight simulation, which today is all the rage because years ago asking for a simulation was like asking for a cheeseburger at a Chinese restaurant, you have to first master the fundamentals. It’s just common sense. You can’t run before you can walk.
The Madden franchise has done decent job improving over the years, going from a sports franchise that I absolutely despised to one that I genuinely look forward to playing each fall, warts and all.
A few days ago, EA Sports released some of the new design features for Madden 12. Let’s take a look – but I’m gong to skip the presentation stuff and the online stuff and even the franchise stuff – anything that doesn’t directly relate to gameplay.
• All-New Collision System: Now maintain full control of players up to the point of impact — from tackling to blocking — providing the most authentic collisions in franchise history. This new system uses a player’s momentum and over 100 new tackle animations, including 40 gang tackles, to provide more impactful hits, stolen tackles, and consecutive hit tackling.
• Advanced Defensive AI: Over 100 defensive A.I. enhancements resulting in the smartest Madden defense ever. Players in zone and man coverage will properly recognize and react to plays, including the ability to break out of assignments when appropriate, resulting in a defensive team that truly works together.
• Custom Playbooks: The #1 most requested feature by fans in recent years, allows you to build the ultimate game plan by modifying an existing playbook or creating your own by selecting up to 400 offensive or defensive plays from 75 different playbooks. Integrate your custom playbook into a game plan for use with the improved GameFlow system, which executes an authentic, situational game plan for you.
• Dynamic Player Performance is an all-new feature that creates unprecedented realism as a player’s skills and confidence will rise and fall based on his performance throughout a game or in Franchise mode, just like the real NFL. No two players will play the same in Madden NFL 12, and more details will be revealed at the E3 Expo on June 6.
Some of that stuff sounds pretty darn cool. The last one scares me because if you over do that it can lead to both balance issues and “silly as hell” issues if a guy loses confidence and all of a sudden turns into a player who can’t walk without hurting himself. All of these sound good on paper. Who doesn’t like more animations, better collision detection (a serious Madden/NCAA issue for years) and custom playbooks? The AI bit I have to take with a grain of salt as we’ve heard AI talk for over a decade and if you follow this series you should put on your best Missouri Boat Ride face and tell EA Sports – show me.
But I want to get back to the fundamentals and if you’re a football fan what is the phrase you hear at least 10 times a year?
Well, aside from “…and the Browns lose again.”
Football is won and lost in the trenches.
I’m waiting for that to be the slogan of a football game one year. Of course a marketer might have a heart attack because I don’t know how sexy that sounds for the back of a game case.
“Madden 2015: This Year We Focused on Offensive Guards and Tackles!”
That won’t work.
However, it’s like when your favorite team uses a top 5 pick to draft a Left Tackle. You KNOW it’s the smart thing to do that will hopefully anchor your line for a decade but it’s hard to get really excited about it.
In order for today’s football games, be it Madden, NCAA, Backbreaker, whatever, to take the next step into being a more realistic adaptation of the sport, it’s time to seriously address the interaction between the offensive and defensive lines. I know it’s not sexy. I know it’s not a slick feature bullet point, but like the cliché says – it all starts up front.
Right now you can see the difference between a really poor and an All Pro quality lineman in a game like Madden. Technically speaking, Joe Thomas holds blocks better than John St. Clair. But that’s not what I’m talking about. We need to see a few gameplay wrinkles thrown in as well as coaching and game planning options for this to really work as it should.
It’s time that we started to see linemen get to the “second level” in videogames. This is one of the things that separate the run of the mill interior lineman from the elite. Getting to the second level basically means attacking a player on the line of scrimmage and then moving to the land of the linebacker and engaging them on the same play. You never see that in a videogame, and if you do it’s by accident.
Just as important is the idea of the game planning double team. When Lawrence Taylor emerged as the most fearsome pass rusher in the history of the NFL, coaches had to gameplan around #56. They had to know, on each play, where he lined up. Do you feel like you ever have to do that in a videogame? What about an All Pro defensive tackle that “demands a double team”?
How do you do that?
There are defensive linemen in the NFL and in college that if you do not double team them on nearly every play they will absolutely destroy the interior of your line and yet I have no idea if you can even do that in a videogame or, what is more worrisome, if you really need to. Most linemen in today’s game are there to take up space, clog up the line of scrimmage and make the occasional play if you manage to run into them.
When is the last time in a game of Madden that you truly feared the opposing defensive end?
I want to see linemen matter. I want to see a great lineman leading the charge on a screen or a power sweep and a poor one failing to do it.
I want to see an All Pro defensive end abuse a poorly rated right tackle.
I want to have to gameplan around great defensive players. Instruct the line to double team them and not just “keep a back in to block” but literally have the center and guard double team the nose tackle in a 3-4 if he’s a beast.
I want to see a great defensive line create a realistic pass rush without having to blitz a linebacker and a great offensive line give a QB time to throw.
I want to feel like taking that #1 rated Left Tackle in the first round in the Madden Draft is not just a wasted pick.
Until the line play becomes more of a focal point, we’re left playing games that are not unlike football—but a crucial element remains missing.
Sorry for the sports centric post this week. Blame the NFL Draft. Next week we’ll talk about the vital role of Special Teams!
Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry consistently takes apart the graphical aspects of games to a point where I think the writers aren’t actual humans but instead are beings of pure electricity, able to inhabit video cards and processors and see what happens at a quantum level. They’re like Kingdom Come’s Flash, just with video cards. In their latest article they take a look at the processing upgrade given to the iPad 2 and what it means for the iPad as a gaming platform. It’s an interesting read and as someone who is just weeks away from their own iPad 2, I’m looking forward to what the system can do.
Hooray! It’s like Zen Studios heard me crying out in solitude for a Fantastic Four table! I’m very excited- I love the Fantastic Four and I think they’re woefully underappreciated. Can’t wait to see Galactus, Doom, Skrulls, and whatever else they bring in from the books. I’m seeing special modes for each of the characters. Rock ball for Ben Grimm, fireball for Johnny Storm, invisible ball for Sue, and Reed…I dunno, some kind of stretchy ball? May 17th it goes live and will be directly downloadable in your PBFX2 browser, 240 MS points. It’s also coming to the PS3 standalone Marvel Pinball.
But that’s not the only pinball news today. Zen is also running a tournament on their new Mars table (PBFX2 only) from today through May 13. Instructions and prizes below:
1st Place –4,000 MS Points, Choice of Mars Attacks!, Martian Chronicles, or Total Recall Special Edition, codes to future games from ZEN Studios
2nd & 3rd Place –1600 MS Points, choice of Mars Attacks!, Martian Chronicles, or Total Recall Special Edition, codes to future games from ZEN Studios
To participate in the tournament, select the tournament icons in the Pinball FX2 menu bars. Choose Mars, and your score will automatically register upon game completion.
I participated in one of these a while back, I’m nowhere near as good as some of these people. RIDICULOUS scores. Anyway, here’s your chance to win that Mars Attacks! DVD you’ve always wanted.
I want you to know from the outset, this is a Very Serious Post (sort of). I’m sure the picture of a kitten with a stuffed animal does not imply seriousness, but I assure you, that kitten is quite sincere. Wake him at your peril. More to the point, there’s no way I’m putting a picture of a spider on this blog. Ever. If I ever see one here I’ll go in and delete it. Period. So when I say the following, I’m not screwing around…
ENOUGH WITH THE GODDAM SPIDERS ALREADY!
Hugs and kisses,
If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m one of many poor sods out there who have fallen pray to the world’s most common phobia: Arachnophobia. It’s not merely a fear of spiders. Oh no. It’s a fear of creatures with eight legs, bulbous bodies, multitudes of eyes, and poison soaked fangs. They will drop down from above when you least expect it. Hide in your shoes, sheets, and clothes. Oh and there’s the whole sticky web thing where they entrap and devour creatures without mercy or hope for escape.
Yes, I know. Few people actually like spiders or would want one crawling on them. This is different. This is not dislike. This is irrational fear. This is me growing tense and uncomfortable just writing that last paragraph describing a spider’s nastier features. I don’t watch the Shelob scenes in Return of the King. My mom recently sent me an article clipping about all the sciency things being done with spiders. I didn’t read it until I cut out the picture of the spider on the first page. The only thing that gets me through a real life encounter is the fact that my rational mind knows 99% of spiders I encounter in the midwest aren’t A) poisonous to me or B) very big. My distinct size advantage does help mitigate the terror. Also, I don’t want my kids to see me scream and flee the room. I have a reputation as an authority figure to uphold. But even though I’ll walk up to a spider and smash it with a shoe, that doesn’t mean I’m not suppressing a panic attack as my mind fills with images of it leaping at me at the last possible second fangs glistening with… gyuh…
As you might imagine, as an RPG guy, this poses a bit of a problem for me because every frigg’n fantasy RPG developer on Earth seems to think spiders are a necessary part of the beastiary. Yes, I realize a spider won’t leap off a page or out of my computer screen. Again I point out phobias are not about rationality. It doesn’t matter what can actually happen. It only matters what my mind can imagine and I have a good goddam imagination. Now, back in the day this wasn’t the end of the world because computer graphics could only do so much to render a spider. Stilted polygons and muddled colors can only evoke so much. The fine details that fill my mind with dread were notably absent and even if they were relatively large relative to my onscreen avatar, I still had my real-life size advantage keeping the fear in check. With each passing generation of games, however, the playing field tilts further and further away from me.
Dragon Age 2? I’m not kidding when I say that were Casual mode not an option and were my party members not capable of fighting for themselves, I would have struggled to finish that game. Bioware loves them some spiders. The “little” ones made me uncomfortable, but I managed. The three or four ubers in the game? The ones that take up every last inch of my 22″ display? What the fuck* are you people thinking!?!?!? These fucking** things are FURRY for the love of Christ!
Were I an animator at Bioware and they asked me to design that model I’d have to quit. There is no way. And I know I’m not alone in this because there is forumthreadafterforumthread of people talking about how they’re struggling to play games with spiders of this magnitude. There’s even a DA2 mod that turns them into Mabari. Genius.
So as my anticipation grows for Skyrim and Witcher 2, two games that look to push some serious graphical detail, I can only stop and wonder just why they feel it necessary to use this unparalleled power for pure evil. I mean it: Evil.
Not the Diet Coke of Evil:
Actual doctoral honors in Evil:
Last month Rock, Paper, Shotgun threw up some Skyrim screenshots that included a battle scene with a spider that puts the abomination in DA2 to shame. How am I supposed to win that fight? Can I finish this game if I run from every last one of these things I see? And today I’m back on RPS and they’re talking about 12 things they like about their preview build of Witcher 2 and I read this:
Giant spiders, meanwhile, will keep showing up in droves unless you find a way to lure out and murder their queens.
Um. No. Not gonna happen. Not ever fucking*** going to happen.
Okay, I’ll admit there’s an element here that is a little tongue and cheek. And I don’t think my own personal phobia should be driving game design for multi-million dollar development projects. But here are the facts. Phobias, whatever their cause are real and do cause genuine terror. Given that Arachnophobia is the single most prevalent phobia in the world, at this point it borders on being irresponsible using the graphical horsepower of today’s machines to exacerbate that fear by rendering these nightmare visions into all but photo-realistic life. It’s time, guys, to retire the giant spider. It’s fantasy. Make up something else. Don’t do it for me. Do it because… well, actually, just doing it for me is reason enough in my book.
*Do you know the last time I dropped an F-bomb in a post on this site? Pretty sure this is my first. I’m not messing around here.
**No, seriously. Me dropping an F-bomb in a post means we’re at DefCon 1.
***I will burn the world to a cinder and all of you with it before I kite a spider queen.
Today the UPS and FedEx man delivered “Cool Stuff” to my doorstep. I get stuff like this sent here all the time. It’s the publsiher’s way of saying, “Love ya!”
Last month Activision sent a full-on pull over fleece Prototype 2 jacket.
Fun fact: I still won’t get a copy of Prototype 2 in time for a launch day review. But I get the jacket. And, truth be told the idea of being a billboard for a videogame…yeah, that’s unlikely. I’ll give the jacket to a nephew. “Here kid, knock yourself out and don’t play this game, it’s rated M. Your dad will kill me and I won’t be invited back to the reunion. On second thought…
Below is a picture of what showed today. I took the photo with my phone this afternoon after picking my daughter up from school. (Note the tiny hands in the upper part of the photo holding the poster…) This is a poster of Treyarch’s Black Ops Escalation Zombie mode: Call of the Dead. The logo even feels like dried blood. Must admit, this is better than a jacket.
“This is Treyarch’s tribute to the legendary George Romero, who truly defined the zombie genre and whose incredible work has been such an inspiration to our team,” says Dave Anthony, Call of Duty: Black Ops Director. “It was an absolute honor to work with such an amazing and talented cast whose passion and energy brought their characters instantly to life. Fans are going to love this.”
The poster is admittedly cool and Ashley wants to put it in her room.
This is a terrible idea. Like all of the free stuff that shows up, I’ll give it to someone. (I keep the cash. I kid! I kid!)
Hmm do I smell NHS contest?
The best part of this photo: my brand new copy of the recently reprinted and still in shrinkwrap ALIEN FRONTIERS!!!! Woo hoo!
Click for full size screenshot: http://www.nohighscores.com/wp-content/uploads/old-images/bill/act2.jpg
Live via press release, Valve has announced their intention to charge customers the bargain price of Zippo(TM) for the first DLC release for Portal 2, slated to come out later this summer. It’s said to include:
“Portal 2 DLC #1 will offer new test chambers for players, leaderboards, challenge mode for single and multiplayer modes, and more.”
They’re also happy to let you all know it’s got a 95 Metacritic rating right now. That should make Michael suitably irritated.
Days of Wonder has announced a new, standalone Small World game. It’s called Small World: Underground and in it designer Phillipe Keyaerts moves the genocidal action downstairs for some subterranean empire building and collapsing. It’s a full game that doesn’t need the original Small World or any of its expansions to play, but apparently you can combine it with any of the other elements from previous releases- cool!
The game will feature 15 all new races and 21 new powers. Dwarves, lizard men, mushroom people…you know the drill. There’s also a new mechanic whereby places of power or relics can be guarded by monsters, so expect a very light adventure game element.
I’m pretty psyched- Small World is a game I liked at first but didn’t grow to love until later, and now it’s one of our regular games. Add in all the expansions including the Tales and Wonders event cards and it’s a fun, fast game with TONS of bloodshed. It’s also a great iPad game.
Wow, I didn’t see this coming at all. This game has been in development for a long, long time. Originally developed by Perpetual Entertainment, the game was called DOA back in 2008 then a tiny outfit called Heatwave picked it up and boom — it’s almost done. In fact it should be ready for public consumption June 21.
The launch of Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising is only the beginning for our players,” said Anthony Castoro, Heatwave CEO and Co-Founder. “The development team will continue to build upon the game’s authentic Roman mythology experience by expanding the Ancestral Estates and introducing new content almost immediately. We would like to thank the thousands of Closed Beta Testers for their tireless work and candid feedback. Now that Gods & Heroes is Feature Complete, the team has turned its focus on polish and performance in support of our launch.
Players who pre-order Gods & Heroes will have access to the game a week early, beginning on June 14, 2011. In addition to early access, those that pre-order the game at retail or online will unlock the Tunic of the Gods bonus power early and receive an exclusive marble statue to decorate their in-game estate. Pre-orders are now available through major retailers and online at http://godsandheroes.com/pre-order-gods-heroes
On a personal note. Wow, that trailer.
But of course it has Romans, Gods, and people in sandals so I’ll likely check it out.
And here we have yet another old(er) set of games making their way to the 3DS, although no release date was announced.
Aksys Games, a publisher of interactive entertainment software, is pleased to officially announce that a compilation of the BIT.TRIP series is coming to the Nintendo 3DS system All six BIT.TRIP games (Bit.Trip Beat, Core, Void, Runner, Fate and Flux) are transformed into 3D, morphing into a single entity called BIT.TRIP SAGA. Experience the crushing difficulty* of the rhythmic galaxies and ride along the long journey with CommanderVideo as he completes his mission and returns…home.
More information about Aksys Games and the BIT.TRIP series can be found at www.aksysgames.com and www.gaijingames.com.
*I hear that’s not hyperbole. These are supposedly really damn hard.
(The above video is from the original, not the new game.)