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Calendar Man – Spring Break Edition

No High Scores

Well I hope your springtime religious holiday of choice was a good one, filling you with memories of family, food and quiet contemplation you can reflect on for the weeks to come as there ain’t nothing coming out this week.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Man vs. Wild comes out for all platforms. With an achievement like “Find all Five Andiperla Willinkis in Patagonia” it’s hard to imagine that this game will be anything but spectacular. Actually, it looks like a spectacular game for an easy 1000 points, so knowing me, I’ll rent it. Oh and Darkspore comes out, finally. Bill and Ashley will be thrilled to death. Go Darkspore, go!

Even the deals suck this week in that there aren’t any. Heck, I didn’t even get a Best Buy ad. My newspaper carrier must hate me. Me or Best Buy, it’s hard to tell which. The only decent deal I could find is that Kmart has Crysis 2 on sale for $40, same as Tiger Woods 12. They also have WWE All start for $50. So there you go. If you like a reality series game about a dude finding bugs in the jungle, or you want to wrestle, golf or shoot aliens in New York City, you’re all set. Those last one’s require you to have a K-Mart though, so good luck.

Maybe this is a good week to either take a week off of gaming, or clear out that backlog, or check out some older games that may have flown under your radar. I’d say go online with your new copies of Mortal Kombat or Portal 2, but that seems like it’s be somewhat insulting to PS3 owners. As a fellow PS3 owner, I feel for each and every one of you.

Me, I’m probably going to finish up Battle Slots, and then maybe watch the complete run of Deadwood on Blu-ray that I bought some months ago. Maybe I’ll clear out some of my TPB collection. Seven Soldiers of Victory is looking mighty appealing. Whatever you do, have fun with it. Soon LA Noire, Brink and Lego Pirates will be upon us and the gnashing wheel of commerce will spin up once again.

Wii 2 Officially A Thing, Playable at E3

No High Scores

Via a short statement, Nintendo confirmed today what everyone already knew, namely that the successor to the Wii is coming sometime in 2012. They also stated that the console will be playable at E3. At last year’s E3, the 3DS was playable and despite an extremely large showing of Kinect based titles, everyone was talking about the 3DS. Lines for it snaked around Nintendo’s booth as if they were giving away free Master Swords. Granted, Kinect ended up selling pretty well, so a lack of E3 buzz isn’t necessarily a good indicator of commercial failure.

My biggest question will be what, other than more processing power, the Wii 2 will have to get people to buy it in droves. The Wii succeeded because it appealed to people who traditionally don’t buy consoles. Nintendo eschewed processing power on purpose to get a console that cost less and was more appealing to the mass market. Making a new console that’s more powerful and more expensive seems like they’re going back to the audience they were trying for with the GameCube, and we all know how well that turned out.

If the rumors of the system’s guts are true and the IBM chips make it easier to port 360 titles over to the Wii 2 then that would certainly help with the third party support, however games are already expensive enough without having to put a third port in the development budget. It sounds like Nintendo is banking on the fact that people are itching for a new hi-def console and Sony and Microsoft won’t have one available for a couple of years. It could work, but not with the third party support Nintendo has right now. They have to figure out a better way of getting third party games on their system, games that aren’t just shovelware crap. The high price point of the Wii 2 should keep away a lot of the minigame and 20 buck crapware that was all over the Wii, but I still don’t see having the latest technological beast a guarantee of third party support. That’s just me though.

Hopefully GameShark will get a Nintendo booth tour at E3 like last year and one of us, preferably me, can get our hands on it. I dunno though. The idea of buying yet another Nintendo console that ends up collecting dust due to crappy third party support doesn’t exactly appeal to me, especially if it’s going to cost significantly more. I may have to play wait and see on this one.

Sunday Time Waster: Shelf Life

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When are you done with a game?

Assuming it’s a game you enjoy; one you have been waiting to play ever since the publisher told you how “rich”, “engaging” and “deep” it was going to be upon release. Does there come a time when you decide, “I’m done” or do you simply lose interest like a four year old in a toy store?

Ohh shiny!

Developers go to great lengths to ensure that you spend as much time as possible with a game, even when it doesn’t really deserve it. We’re all different when it comes to shelf life for our games, much of which depends on the game itself which is why putting a “value” tag on any piece of entertainment is really tough to do. Some games are like Twinkies—they’ll last seemingly forever; others more like fast wilting lettuce…

I have been the commissioner of an Out of the Park Baseball League for going on three years. I play that game almost every single day in some capacity. Some days it’s simply running a week of the season and uploading a game file so the other 29 owners in my league can check the week’s games. Other days I find an hour or two vanish right before my eyes as I start to really dig into the league data, looking for potential trade partners and juggling the lineup around like Casey Stengel. You can lose yourself in a game like OOTP, particularly when playing in a multiplayer league format.

I have spent literally hundreds of hours with the game over the years (OOTP 12 comes out next month) and I don’t see my time ending anytime soon; even if version 12 is a bust OOTP 11 has an almost limitless shelf life due to its career based nature. It’s a Twinkie.

As long as the people in the league want to keep going, we’ll keep going. We’re currently in the playoffs of our seventh season and our league has taken on a life of its own. We know the players, the history, and the rivalries. We have created our own sense of history. Owners come and go but the league just keeps churning right along. (NHS user Maceman is in our league and currently battling me in the NLCS…)

Out of the Park Baseball is a game I feel I know intimately. However I don’t think that’s too common in today’s climate of disposable entertainment. As much as I can’t understand the mainstream fascination with Call of Duty and Halo, there are a lot of people who have grown exceedingly intimate with those games, and I am quite sure many of them couldn’t possibly understand how I could spend so much time with a baseball game without player models and what is basically a really pretty spreadsheet.

I have people on my Xbox Live Friends List who every time I see online, they are playing Halo or CoD. The idea of playing anything else, any other shooter specifically, holds no interest or at the very least a passing one. Homefront? Crysis 2? Killzone? Eh, whatever. Those people are not putting down CoD or Halo anytime soon.

It’s much like World of WarCraft.

MMOs come and go and publishers try desperately to crack the Blizzard Shield where inside rests a pot of very large gold, but they all end up failing. Sure, many MMOs are still running—alive and kicking with minuscule user stats compared to WoW but that game has become a part of life for a lot of people. It, too, has limitless shelf life. Another Twinkie.

But let’s back away from those games for a second since they are the exception to the rule and get back to the main question at hand – when do you consider yourself “done” with a game? When was the last time you played a game to the point that you knew every crack, crevice, blemish and stretch mark?

The definition of being “done” with a game is different for everyone. For some, it’s when they see the credits roll. For others it’s not until they have uncovered every secret coin, completed every level and discovered everything there is inside the design. For others still, completing the game isn’t important as just enjoying it until it becomes boring and then moving on to the next thing. All of this has to do, I think, more with our own personalities than it does the game itself.

I’m not a completionist by nature. I don’t have a burning need to “finish” a game. Some, my wife for instance, would claim that personality trait extends beyond the digital space. If you listen to the podcast you know that I reached the end boss of the original Dead Space, got frustrated, and used the disc as an ornate coaster. I felt no burning desire to conquer it because the developer hated me. I played and enjoyed Darksiders but never finished it, either. Some games I’ll play through until I see the credits, others still I’ll play multiple times. Games like OOTP I’ll play for years.

Brandon, on the other hand, has Gamer ADD and has to find every trinket, locate every Riddler Question Mark and collect every orb or his brain revolts against him and won’t let him sleep. A friend of mine played through Dragon Age with every character class option and played through every single romance thread. That’s a level of intimacy with Dragon Age that very few people reach.

Demon’s Souls is doing this to me. Last night, after a day of boardgames with my wife, daughter, and one of our friends, I played Demon’s Souls without the assistance of the phantoms and hints due to PSN being “under maintenance”. After multiple tries, I finally, triumphantly, defeated the boss in the storm castle area. If you’ve played the game you know what I’m talking about – he of the giant tongue. It was a terribly tough fight until I figured out his weakness.

I sat if front of the television around midnight, smiling at the screen, palms sweaty (another common trait when playing this game) looking at the soul remains of the boss demon shining before me. I wanted to give someone a high five. My dog receive a vigorous ear scratching instead.

Supposedly, there’s only one more general area left. Although I know there are many, many things I haven’t seen or done in Demon’s Souls. There’s that damn red dragon on the first starter area. What’s that machine in the prison section? There’s more to uncover and I genuinely want to get to know this game as much as I can. I want to play with and against other people—and die. I will most assuredly do that. I want to try various classes and run through the game again with a fighter-type and not a mage. It’s rare when a game does that to me.

I see other players enshrined in some hall of heroes with stats that boggle the mind. How did they do that?

Digging deep into a game is normally a rare thing for people in my profession. Time normally doesn’t allow for it. We play, we finish, we write, we move on to the next thing. Demon’s Souls is an old game, and I have no reason to keep playing this, professionally speaking, other than to simply enjoy it and discover all of the things From Software packed into it.

It’s a neat feeling.

And one I wish happened more often. The game may not be a Twinkie, but it’s certainly passed the lettuce stage.

***

(Happy Easter everyone.)

Fantasy Flight Games vs. Puffin Software

Can you copyright a game mechanic or a game system?

Fantasy Flight Games thinks so. For those unfamiliar with the tawdry world of boardgames–

Richard Borg created a game system called Commands and Colors. He has used this system with colored units, cards, and board sections to great success in games such as Commands & Colors: Ancients and its numerous expansions (which I own and love), Memoir ’44 (which I can’t stand), Battle Cry, a Civil War game which I never played, and the highly popular BattleLore and its numerous expansions which took the C&C idea and created a terribly boring and generic fantasy world around it. FFG acquired the rights to BattleLore and made a Game of Thrones version of it which was decent enough. Even Barnes sort of liked it.

C&C: Ancients remains the king of this genre, for my money. And it cost a hell of a lot of my money to buy all of the add ons.

So anyway, this iPad thing. It’s proving popular, eh? Well, a small outfit called Puffin Software took the C&C design idea, created a game called Viking Lords around it and slapped it up for sale for the iPad–which you can buy right now in the App Store. Puffin actually approached FFG about making a BLore game and FFG seemingly ignored them.

From what I can tell there is no use of anything specifically related to BattleLore or C&C outside of the game’s mechanics, which are clearly “borrowed” (read: stolen) from C&C. Colored units, card play which allows you to move units in a certain area, etc.

Fantasy Flight is none too pleased.

You can read about all of this here — as a user on Boardgamegeek interviewed Johannes Päivinen of Puffin Software and when asked about how some people are “upset” that Viking Lords uses what is essentially the C&C mechanics, Päivinen responds with: “Get over it.” He’s basically saying that you can’t copyright a game mechanic.

That apparently irked FFG’s Christian Petersen who then jumped in the thread waving legal documents.

I have no idea if FFG has a leg to stand on, but I’d like to find out. How many computer and console games do this? Borrowing or outright stealing a game mechanic is…well damn it’s just how we do things, isn’t it? Even boardgames — we see games released all the time that are clearly “inspired” by Game X and from what I can tell Viking Lords takes a design idea and builds its own unique game around it.

The end game, for me anyway, is that I’m now off to buy Viking Lords.

And — if FFG would wake up and smell the cash flow, the company would start cranking out iPad versions (and not just announce them only to see them vanish into development ether) of their games because people would buy them over a knock off any day.

Or they could spend money going to court.

And Now, Every Fatality in Mortal Kombat

On the off chance that your Saturday morning doesn’t have enough dismemberment, here is every fatality in Mortal Kombat. Send the kiddies away for this one as they’re pretty dang gruesome, even if they are terribly over the top.

Shadows of the Damned to feature The Damned


Pictured are two of punk rock’s elder statesmen, Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian. These guys along with Brian James and Rat Scabies started a band in London back in 1976, released the first 45 of the English era of punk rock (“New Rose”), and went on to record many great singles and records covering ground ranging from MC5-influenced stun-rock to psychedelic goth to more recent rockabilly-styled efforts. And now, according to a report over at Kotaku, these gentlemen are going to be contributing to Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack to the upcoming Goichi Suda/Shinji Mikami game Shadows of the Damned.

Now, I know this is the second NoHS news item about this game today, but indulge me. I’m very excited about this title, and I’m thrilled that the promises Suda and Mikami about it being a punk rock horror game are validated by bringing The Damned on board. Smash it up, yeah!

Retro game diary: learning from the Mario masters


Over at Gamasutra, expert blogger Radek Koncewicz has been writing a fantastic series on game design lessons garnered from Super Mario bros. 3. He takes well-remembered moments and elements in stages, commenting on all of the awesome little elements that make the game the perfect “how-to” guide for game developers.

Partially inspired by that, a close friend and I decided to embark upon a magical Mario tour, playing through Super Mario bros 2 and 3, and then whipping out New Super Mario bros. to see how it compared.

After the warm fuzzies of nostalgia wore off, I found myself analyzing all of the little moments and design decisions present in the levels, many of which Koncewicz mentions in his article. It was quite educational. In fact, I kept thinking about the old story about how Orson Welles learned to direct films. When asked how he prepared to helm Citizen Kane, he mentioned watching John Ford’s airtight Stagecoach 40 times. He even called it his “movie textbook”.

I think that’s how anyone on earth interested in making a platformer should approach things – Mario needs to be your videogame textbook. Play Mario 3 until your fingers bleed. Take notes. Learn all the lessons about the importance of feedback to the player, tight controls, effective signposting, and rewarding exploration. Then and only then, should you start thinking about making a new title.

We played through a fair chunk of Mario 2 before we actually tired of it. It was weird – when we were young, we played the snot out of that game. It’s also objectively a good deal easier than 3. But, try as we might, we just couldn’t get into the groove, and after a trip through a favorite stage (4-2, you know, with the whales!), we moved on to 3.

Did we ever. We spent just shy of 11 hours (across one night and one morning) digging through old, trippy Mario’s many treasures. This game is from 1990 – it’s ancient by gaming standards – and still insanely fun to play. Unlike today’s obsessive stat tracking and achievement whoring and constant leveling and tendency to “reward” players with little knickknacks along the way, this is old-school gameplay-first design. Finding secrets (and remembering where they are 21 years later) is genuinely exciting, and the wonderful variety of the various worlds and stages keeps things fun and fresh even though you need to play through certain stages twenty times.

Even this – the old-school challenge – contributes to the fun. We cackled at our many (many!) deaths, starting right up again each time. We passed the controller just like we did when we were seven.

Part of the reason we spent so much more time on 3 has to be its more forgiving continue system. We screwed up time and time again, but at least here we could start over from the same world, instead of getting knocked back to 1-1.

Of course, New Super Mario bros. Wii has an actual save system, along with 2009 era amenities. It was very cool to play the “retro-styled” modern game just after a hardcore session with the real deal. It’s far more chaotic – and not just because there’s more than one player on the screen. The feel is a bit more slippery, and there just seem to be more moving parts. Finally, and perhaps most sadly, the funkiness and quirkiness of the old school games have given way to the plastic-looking cuteness of the newer games.

Of course, we still couldn’t put it down.

Joan of Arc board game comes to IOS

Well, here’s a surprise.

There was a French board game from 1995 that I really liked called Montjoie (called Joan of Arc in the English edition). It was a slightly screwed up but really cool game of point-to-point conquest with cardplay set in the Hundred Years War. It had these great resin castles and towers, and cool Tarot-style cards. Nobody would ever play it with me, so it languished.

Then, back in 2008, AGEOD released a great PC version of the game. I reviewed it favorably for Gameshark, even going so far as to call it better than its printed predecessor. Last night while trolling the App Store for games for my new phone, I came across something called Joan of Arc. Lo and Behold, it’s Montjoie. It’s $5.99, so it’s on the high side, but it appears to be a 1:1 port of the PC version with most, if not all, features intact. I’ve just started messing around with but I feel confident that if you want a good IOS board game with cardplay elements, then this is going to be a winner. It looks good, plays good, and it’s based on a great version of a good game.

Update on PSN Service Outages

You likely already know, but The PlayStation Network is down and will continue to be down for a couple of days.

Here’s the latest from the PS Blog:

While we are investigating the cause of the Network outage, we wanted to alert you that it may be a full day or two before we’re able to get the service completely back up and running. Thank you very much for your patience while we work to resolve this matter. Please stay tuned to this space for more details, and we’ll update you again as soon as we can.

So that rules out Demon’s Souls…

More on Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

XSEED sent out a press release today with some more information on the PSN version of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.

PR snippets ahead:

This latest iteration of the long-standing Wizardry series – and the first available for Next-Gen consoles – will be exclusively available for download via PlayStation Network in spring 2011. Wizardry was one of the first games to feature gird-based dungeon-crawling, presented to players from a first-person perspective. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls takes this classic dungeon exploration and combat system and pairs it with beautifully hand-drawn graphics presented in striking high definition, creating a seamless blend of classic gameplay with modern-day visuals.

In Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, players choose a character from a selection of five unique races, including the level-headed and well-rounded Humans, the powerful Dwarves, the magical Elves, the spiritual Gnomes and the sprightly Porklu. And in keeping with RPG tradition, each race has its own unique starting attributes that reflect specific talents and skills. Strength, vitality, agility and luck all play a role in determining the outcome of combat, while intelligence and piety dictate a character’s skills with arcane and holy magic, respectively. While a Dwarf might have high strength and vitality from the start of the game, a Gnome will have low strength, but high piety. Still, any player desiring of a challenge may attempt to create a pious priest of a Dwarf, or a mighty warrior of a Gnome – Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls affords players complete control over their characters’ development, allowing them to custom-tailor their preferred play style to each race. On top of this, the game’s eight available classes allow for even further levels of character customization.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls also offers a male and a female option for each of its five races, giving players a total of ten choices of starting characters. Along with each of these characters comes a unique storyline, and whether it’s searching for the secrets behind a character’s past or questing for a holy artifact, hardcore RPG fans can look forward to the various tales as they delve deeper into the game’s dungeons with a six-member party in tow, battling over 120 different monsters along the way.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, developed by ACQUIRE and set to be published by XSEED Games, will be available for download via PlayStation Network this spring.