Calendar Man – Week of 3/7

No High Scores

Welcome to Calendar Man where I outline all of the games you can spend your hard earned cash on. This week’s new releases are led by the sequel to a popular, action packed romp through blood and mayhem. That’s right, Yoostar 2 is out! What? Dragon what? Age? Never heard of it. On with the games!

New Releases
I’m kidding! Of course I’ve heard of Dragon Age 2, and if you’ve been reading this site at all, so have you as Todd took the demo out behind the woodshed. Personally, I thought it was alright, but I play it on casual, as an action-RPG which works pretty well. If you’re looking at this as a deep, tactical RPG, I think the camera is going to have different plans for you. The game is doing the day-one-DLC thing, so if you buy it brand new, you get some DLC with a whiny prince or something.

As I have made painfully clear over the past week, Pokemon Black & White is now available. Honestly, by now I think even I’m sick of Pokemon.

I alluded to this in the opening paragraph, but Yoostar 2 is actually a game that’s out this week for both the PS3 and the 360. Both systems require a camera so that you can pretend to be in popular movies such as 300. I’ll give 5 bucks to anyone that gets this game and then films themselves kicking their significant other through the coffee table while screaming “this is Spaaaaartaaa! On second thought, that sounds like a bad idea. Please don’t do that.

When I was a kid, I used to love watching $10,000 pyramid. I always wanted to be on that show. Dick Clark seemed awesome. If, like me, you want the opportunity to get in a huge fight with your spouse because neither one of you can figure out the other one’s clues, then

http://www.amazon.com/1-000-Pyramid-Nintendo-Wii/dp/B004HCYVNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1299368781&sr=1-1

target = "new">$1,000,000 Pyramid for the Wii is for you. By the way, that’s a tremendous bargain as $10,000 adjusted for inflation from 1973, when the show first aired, is just under $50,000.

For all you baseball fans out there, you’re in heaven this week as both MLB ’11 The Show 11 and MLB 2K11 are out this week. I have no idea which is better as I wouldn’t know a good baseball game if it bit me on the ass. I’m sure either Todd or Bill will chime in at some point this week to tell you where to spend your baseball dollars. For all of you PSP owner, there’s a version of The Show for you too.

I’d say it’s just in time for Easter, but Easter is over a month away and maybe you don’t celebrate Easter. I like Easter because I usually get a DS game or a book or something because I don’t eat Easter candy. My wife on the other hand, makes out like a candy bandit. Still, those Reese’s Eggs are to die for. What? Oh, right, Petz Bunnyz Bunch drops this week. You can raise rabbits, or rabbitz or whatever.

Atlus’s Phantom Brave series makes it’s PSP debut with Phantom Brave: Heroes of the Hermuda Triangle. This is the same game that was released on the PS2, albeit with some new content so you may have already played it if you’re a JRPG fanatic.

For Sims fans, Barnacle Bay the pirate themed expansion drops with all new areas and items. How do you say “Arrrrrrr” in Simlish?

I know this has nothing to do with games, however if you were to draw a Venn diagram of people who play games and people who watch The Walking Dead, there would be a significant overlap. The first season comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday.

I know this also doesn’t have anything to do with games, but Lupe Fiasco finally has a new record out. Yay! I loved “Food and Liquor” to death but wasn’t as moved by his later stuff. Here’s hoping Lasers is good. The first two singles I’ve heard off it are promising so I’m hopeful.

Deals
Toys R Us – Buy one DS game, get one at 50% off. Not a bad deal if you’re looking to pick up both Pokemon Black and Pokemon White.

Target – Free Pokemon art folio with purchase of Pokemon White or Pokemon Black, ten bucks off of MLB apparel with a purchase of MLB ’11 The Show. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Best Buy – Save 15 bucks if you buy MLB ’11 The Show and either LittleBigPlanet 2 or Gran Turismo 5, free Amulet of Ashes in-game item with a purchase of Dragon Age 2, free $5 gift card if you buy Pokemon Black or Pokemon White.

Kmart – Buy Pokemon White or Black and get the other version at 50% off (this was announced at Kmartgamer.com so it’s not in the circular), buy either of the Pokemon Black/White DSi bundles and get any other Pokemon game free, free copy of MLB ’11 The Show with the purchase of a PS3, You Don’t Know Jack for the Wii is on sale for $19.99

Sunday Time Waster: Allowing for Failure

banner 2

Failure is, as we all know, part of life. In every aspect of our lives we eventually screw up, hit the wrong button, misplace homework, fail to plan for a meeting at work, forget to pick your kid up from school and she calls you, angry as an abandoned 10-year old is prone to be, because dad was writing a news story. You know—life…

In most games, however, failure is not an option. If you don’t beat that boss, make that jump, or conquer that territory you see what is essentially the game over screen and you reload your saved game or are transported back to the last checkpoint. I was reminded of this as I was finishing the Dawn of War II: Retribution Imperial Guard campaign. In Retribution, the campaign has a linear main story path with optional side missions. So while you’re tracking down the big bad guy you might make a left turn at Albuquerque and take out some Eldar or raid an Ork base to grab some extra supplies. Fair enough.

But what if you lose a battle?

Strategy games use various tactics to deal with this, but in Retribution, your heroes succumb to “emergency extraction” and you are brought back to the main star map screen. While it’s nice that you keep any XP gained from the failed mission, nothing else really changes.

I hate that.

We learn from our mistakes, right? Well, usually. I think we’re supposed to, although it takes some longer than others. We take our defeats and screw-ups and apply them to our next situation, whatever that may be. More importantly, situations change. There are, usually, consequences for failure.

banner 2

It’s perhaps a touch unfair to single our Retribution because after all this is an expansion to an already established game and you can’t expect a complete restructuring in such a release, but how cool would it be if your failed mission actually cost you something other than time?

There have been games to try this in some form or another. The classic PC strategy game Rise of Nations tried this via its “Risk” style of map, and today the Total War series does a fine job as well because it’s so open ended, but the one that sticks in my mind is Panzer General, the old DOS PC game from yesteryear. I loved that game to death despite its flippant treatment of realism; it was a great, great game.

In the campaign you played a German army officer in charge of planning the attacks on the Allies. There was a campaign mission structure sure, but if you lost a mission it wasn’t always game over. If you failed to take Paris in time, well, you lose your chance at trying Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of England). If you fail to take another objective the game would simply move on.

There were certainly missions where if you lost in was curtains – as you heard the click of the SS Officer’s gun as he showed you his displeasure by “relieving you” of your duties, but losing wasn’t always a death knell.

In fact, you can see exactly what I mean by checking out this campaign tree FAQ at IGN. How cool is that? Look at all of those various results from winning big, winning by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked. I miss that so much in today’s designs.

In some genres I suppose that’s ok. I’m not a huge platform gamer like Danielle, Brandon and even Mike but I know part of that hook is trying to beat a tough level even if it takes 100 tries to do it. That’s part of the attraction and honestly why I don’t play a lot of them. I’ve been known to break a controller back in my “younger” days. Stupid Donkey Kong.

This is in part why I love sports and sports games. You can fail. In fact you are going to fail and you don’t get to press the reset button or reload a saved game. Two on, two outs, bottom of the 9th and you have to get a hit to win the game – this is it. Full count. This ONE pitch is going to decide the game and it’s totally up to you, as you impersonate a real MLB hitter, to bring it home for the good guys.

The possibility to truly fail by swinging and missing like Mighty Casey is absolutely part of the design. Failure is most assuredly an option—and if you do fail, most importantly, the game goes on. Add a game to the loss column and try again. You can apply these pressure situations in any sports game – football, basketball, soccer, golf, whatever. It’s what makes watching sports interesting and what makes the games playable—that real chance to lose and for there to be consequences when you do it.

Going back to Retribution, how cool would it be if you were tasked to take out an Eldar Teleport Gate, and failed the mission, that the Eldar did …”something” as a result? You could even get dressed down by the Inquisitor for being such a screw-up. “As a result of your incompetence the Eldar Avatar is now awake and we’re in serious trouble.”

Whoops.

Ok I think in that case I might just reload the game.

Anyway there was something else I was supposed to do today.

Ah yes! Contest winner!

First off, I want to thank each and every user who signed up before the contest and for taking part in the discussions in the comment sections of our posts. Having a sense of community is important to us, as we don’t want this to just be a blog where we post stories and you guys talk to each other while we stand on the sideline, perched atop our thrones of omnipotence. I hope newly registered users will also jump in.

I also have to apologize for the piracy thread. Not that I posted it as I think it was interesting but I get the sense that I sort of ran into the movie theater, yelled fire, then bolted. Sorry about that. Thanks to everyone for keeping all of the discussions lively yet civil. I know as we grow, assuming we do, that we’re going to eventually attract forum/comment trolls but so far we have all been amazed at the discussions because they’ve been, well, discussions. Knowing our writing team as well as I do, I know that we’re going to eventually piss people off but so far so good.

Finally, the contest. Yes, this was a ploy to get more of you to register and it appears to have worked! Woo hoo dirty tricks! We will run more of these contests from time to time as I tend to get a lot of extra game copies and when I do we’ll fire up another contest and no – it will not always be PC stuff. I get plenty of console extras as well.

As for the winner, I can appreciate some of you buttering me up with your public allegiance to Ohio State – a deft tactic indeed. Sadly, it has no bearing on who wins. Brandon also had nothing to do with determining the winner. I just posted that so he’d panic a little. Mission accomplished. The method I used in determining the winner was to look at the posts, remove the double posts, the posts from people who said “I’m not entering” and the extra comments (Todd!!) and then get a final number total of contest entries and use the random number generator at Random.org to determine the post number of the winner.

And now, the winner of the brand new shrink-wrapped copy of Dawn of War II Retribution is…

Setzer_777

I’ll be in touch today and will get your shiny new copy out the door ASAP. Congrats to Setzer and thanks to everyone who entered!

Is Xenonauts a Modern X-COM Sequel?

This is why I love you guys. I completely missed this game back when it was revealed in the spring of 2010. In my story about a turn-based strategy game called Fray, a NHS reader pointed me to Xenonauts, a game that looks like a true “spiritual” successor to X-COM.

A quick tour of the website reveals that

Gabe Newell and Steam Guard

Catching up a little on yesterday’s news, on Friday according to a story on Joystiq, Valve top dog, big man, numero uno honcho, head cheese Gabe Newell issued a challenge to anyone who thinks they can crack the code, so to speak, of Valve’s new Steam Guard security system. Steam Guard allows users to link management of their account to a specific PC. Attempts to modify or change account settings by any other PC won’t be possible without the user’s approval, according to Valve.

He did so by giving out his Steam account password, which he offers in the above video. I have no idea if it’s technically possible to hack your way around Steam Guard, but I do know that if it IS possible, someone’s going to figure out how.

Update: It’s worth noting that a full implementation of Steam Guard requires a hardware component as well (specific iterations of Intel Core processors and equivalent motherboards). That’s what makes it so difficult (impossible?) to crack, as I understand it. —Todd

More Info on Call of Juarez: The Cartel

Ubisoft released some additional info for Call of Juarez: The Cartel, including news on its co-op play. (In that it has co-op play.)
In fact, this press release hit my Inbox on Thursday and I missed it when I posted the video. One astute NHS reader said about the trailer, “give us a protagonist that’s a little more Benicio Del Toro from Traffic and a little less Kenny Rogers in a bullet proof vest.”

I couldn’t agree more, but Kenny puts asses in the seats.

Anyway, PR time…

SAN FRANCISCO – March 3, 2011 – Today Ubisoft announced product details for Call of Juarez®: The Cartel, set to launch Summer 2011. As the third game in the award-winning Call of Juarez series, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is being developed by Techland® for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the Sony PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Windows PC.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel keeps the unique themes of the Wild West intact while taking gamers on an action-packed adventure set in present day. As with past Call of Juarez games, Call of Juarez: The Cartel is from inception to execution, a Western shooter.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel has a deep and gritty storyline that begins with a fictional drug cartel bombing a U.S. law enforcement agency, devastating the building and killing hundreds of people. The attack is a surprise, leading the U.S. to believe that cartel members had somehow infiltrated federal agencies. In a last-ditch effort, the U.S. puts together a special task force to hunt down and stop the drug cartel. The task force consists of:
- Kim Evans, a gang-affiliated street kid-turned-FBI agent
- Eddie Guerra, a DEA agent with a chronic gambling habit
- Ben McCall, a brutal LAPD detective and descendant of Ray McCall from the original Call of Juarez

As the task force trio searches for the head of the cartel, they’re confronted with a variety of challenges that take them on a journey from Los Angeles, California, through Arizona and New Mexico to Juarez, Mexico. To complicate things further, Kim, Eddie and Ben each have their own personal challenges and demons* to face, which makes for a complex and high-adrenaline gaming experience driven by a rich storyline evident throughout the Call of Juarez franchise.

(*I think adding demons would absolutely boost sales, FWIW. Sort of a Lovecraft interlude.)

Key features include:
- Three player online co-op with Kim Evans, Eddie Guerra and Ben McCall
- Gamers can play the entire campaign with each of the three characters; each character has his/her own unique story and ending
- Huge selection of weapons including pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, anti-air weapons and more
- Wide variety of maps and missions including punitive raids, witness protection, undercover missions, and car chases

Additional information will be revealed soon, including details about multiplayer and a twist on the three-player co-op storyline.

Bulletstorm in Review

No High Scores
If Wolfenstein 3D and Doom are Elvis and the Beatles then that makes Halo and Call of Duty Van Halen and the Village People. Carrying the metaphor further, this positions People Can Fly/Epic Games’ Bulletstorm as the Sex Pistols.

Similar to how Malcolm McLaren’s miscreant boy band put some of the snot and attitude back into rock n’ roll, the game is a return to rawer, simpler shooter impulses without pretense or adornment. Fun and mayhem rule the day instead of gritty “realism” or pretentious storylines and the game is completely unashamed of what it is or what it sets out to do. Of course, neither “Never Mind the Bollocks” nor Bulletstorm are without creative precedent. The record owes an ample debt of gratitude to the Stooges and the New York Dolls, the game pays tribute to everything from Id’s genre-defining titles to Platinum Games recent exercises in excess (notably MadWorld) and on through to Epic’s own Gears of War franchise. Yet like a good rock band, it never feels overtly derivative or redundant and it has plenty of fresh notes to bring to the screen of its own accord. The game is a post-modern example of the first-person shooter, and for once it’s refreshing to play a game that returns us to the youthful, shameless pleasures of the first generation of this genre. There’s more Duke Nukem in this game than Bioshock.

The player controls Grayson Hunt, a space-pirate pastiche of Captain Ahab and Marcus Fenix that looks a little bit like a beefed-out Trent Reznor. As the game begins, he’s drunk and winds up wrecking his ship along with a capital ship on a Stygia. The setting is unique and compelling. Stygia is in ruins from the start, but it is made clear through suggestion and narrative hints that it was once a sort of Bacchanalian pleasure planet, and most of the game takes place amongst the ruins of its posh resorts. Lush greens, vivid blues, and warm oranges inform the color palette of the frequently stunning graphics generated by the updated Unreal Engine 3.

Most of Grayson’s crew is killed in the opening scene and his buddy Ishi has half of his head replaced with angry robot parts in a botched field surgery at the crash site. The remainder of the game finds them sparring verbally with the emasculating female survivor Trishkala and trying to catch up with the R. Lee Ermy-esque General Sarrano and find a way off the planet. The story is rather stronger than I expected, and plentiful dialogue (full of cavalier but never quite offensive profanity) gives the characters an unanticipated presence. Grayson’s quest for revenge against his former employers turns into a redemptive journey, and along the way there are some interesting points of darkness explored among the jokes and genuinely funny banter. I particularly liked one bit where Sarrano points out all of the bodies of regular folks that Grayson’s actions have precipitated. Unfortunately, the climax is somewhat unsatisfactory and feels rushed but the fact remains that the game is definitely several cuts above the usual fare in FPS writing.

Of course, you don’t necessarily come to a game called Bulletstorm looking for excellence in storytelling. Despite the quality of writing and scenario design, you came here to shoot at things. Fortunately, the core shooter mechanics are rock-solid. Enemy AI is serviceable, but it’s of the “kill that guy at all costs” variety. There is no cover, but there is a Vanquish-like sliding move. There are ten weapons and all are wildly different. All feature two firing modes, and although there are the standard assault rifle/shotgun models there are also guns that fire grenade bolos and drills. One of the game’s defining moments for me was when I fired a shot with the sniper round and I was able to steer the bullet, effectively chasing the target as he dived for cover. Obviously, this game is not gunning for realism.

The arsenal also includes Grayson’s great big boot for melee and, of course, The Leash. The Leash is an energy lasso the player uses to yank enemies from behind cover and put them in a slow-motion stasis so that it’s easier to target certain body areas, kick them into a nasty mess of rebar, or into the mouth of a man-eating plant. Much like MadWorld, the player gets points for pulling off spectacularly homicidal combos (“skillshots and the more you perform one, the less points you’ll score. Newly discovered skillshots- and there’s 131 one of them across different weapon types, game areas, and situations- net the most points, and the points can in turn be spent to upgrade weapons and buy ammo.

The skillshots are a smart mechanic because it brings the modern gaming drive toward achievements and trophies directly into the gameplay, inviting experimentation and offering the player micro-goals throughout the game. It’s entirely possible to just blast through the game with just a couple of the weapons, but in doing so you’ll blow right past the fun. One major complaint about the skillshots is that they don’t always seem to register. It can be sort of frustrating to keep attempting the one where you have to shoot a guy in the balls and it never seems to register. It seems to be a hit detection issue.

As far as level design is concerned, the game is linear. Get over it. It’s modern design, so you’re not going to be free-roaming around a giant level looking for a key card. No, you can’t go anywhere you want and do whatever you want. There are set pieces and passageways between them. This is not a bad thing, because the game keeps focus and maintains both a distinct pace and a narrative velocity. Instead of picking flowers and wasting game time in checkpoint races, you get well-directed and way over-the-top rail shooter sequences including two that I thought were among the best I’ve ever seen. Instead of 50 hours of directionless ambling between side quest-dispensing NPCs, you get an eight hour campaign that rarely lets up in intensity. The game is also very focused on the single-player experience despite a rather fun “Anarchy” offering for online play that is basically a co-op horde mode with twenty waves that get ridiculously tough.

Echoes mode also extends the gameplay beyond the campaign. It breaks up key scenes in the game into small sequences and it becomes something of a score attack exercise. You’ll get graded across a number of metrics including the number of unique skillshots performed, total points accrued, and the time it took to complete the Echo. It’s a one to three star rating, so if you’re anything like I am about these kinds of gameplay modes then nothing less than three stars will ever be satisfactory. With full leaderboard support, this is where the game has some serious legs even without a lengthy single-player story or traditional multiplayer.

Before I close, it also bears mentioning that the game, just like with the Sex Pistols, isn’t nearly as vulgar or offensive as the press has made it out to be. There’s tons of dick jokes, but I never found them particularly egregious or off-putting- and I despise potty humor. The violence is greatly reduced in comparison to something like Dead Space 2, and even though you’re shooting guys in the ass with a super-powered four-barrel shotgun, it maintains an almost Road Runner-esque sense of absurd mischief instead of aggressive malice and the bountiful fun is never mean-spirited or nasty.

After playing so many dour, po-faced shooters with a pretentious air of self-importance, it’s refreshing to play game that says “screw it, you’re here to shoot the place up and raise hell so let’s go, boss”. And then it laughs with you the whole way, throwing everything from giant dinosaurs to baddies wielding outsized chainguns in your face.

A Slew of New Guild Wars 2 Videos

I was a fan of Guild Wars. I played the beejeebus out of that game when it first dropped, but like most MMOs, even this one which was a one time buy no monthly fee MMO, I eventually lost interest and moved on to the next …OH SHINY!!

Anyway, a lot of new character vids with developer dialogue for Guild Wars 2 have popped up from GDC. Worth a look if you’re looking forward to the release….

The Pie Eating Contest

No High Scores

A couple of weeks ago my wife came home from Target, very excited at some small, colored whiteboards she had seen there. My wife gets excited at strange things, something I am well versed in, having interrupted our TV viewing the other night to get her opinion on which version of Nintendogs+cats I should preorder. Golden Retriever won, by the way. She liked the whiteboards because they were brightly colored, they'd allow us to write notes for each other (I am a serial forgetter) and they'd cover up a telephone jack that has been unused since we moved in, six years ago. Me, I don't care what goes up in the kitchen and I like writing notes as much as the next guy, so two whiteboards were purchased by her and installed by me.

Since the whiteboards came into the house, they’ve become a curious place for each of us to practice our admittedly meager drawing skills. I have always been able to doodle, I think most people can, but it wasn’t until I had kids that I had to learn how to draw basic animal shapes. Dogs, cats, dinosaurs, pigs, all of these were added to my repertoire to satisfy the demands of my artistically hungry children. My kids are old enough now that they don’t want us drawing things for them any more, but with the whiteboards in place, our drawing careers have been rejuvenated.

When we first got the whiteboards, I drew a T-Rex with a spoon and a chef’s hat, gleefully reciting the day’s menu. Beef stroganoff if I remember correctly. Then, once Wednesday came around, along with our weekly trip to McDonalds, I drew what I considered to be an especially hilarious cartoon of Batman bringing a bag of fast food to Two-Face, much to Mr. Dent’s surprise and delight. My wife didn’t quite understand it and my kids didn’t recognize Batman. Philistines.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a game developed around the whiteboard. My wife, whom I love more than anything in this world but can’t draw to save her life, drew a dog approaching a set of stairs. Why she drew this, I have no idea, but there it was. Shortly after the grand masterpiece was unveiled I came home for lunch, co-workers in tow, so that we could play Marvel vs Capcom 3. As we left, one of my co-workers asked what the drawing was. My other co-worker explained that it was a dog going up some stairs. My wife, who is used to getting quizzical glances from the children when presented with her artwork, was absolutely elated. What was so blindingly obvious to her was also obvious to another person who wasn’t obligated through marriage to see in her drawings what she saw. She carried this recognition as a badge of honor, going so far as to challenge my ability to make a dog going up a stairs with such immediate recognizeability.

Not one to back down from a challenge I made not one, but two drawings. One was a dog sitting in one of those chair climbing seats used by the elderly. Facing the camera he looked happy, if slightly nonplussed at yet another trip up the stairs. The second was more complicated as it required a side view of a dog on a Stairmaster. I didn’t know how to draw a Stairmaster, and still don’t, but I faked it. I had to look at my real dog’s profile for reference shots, something she was clearly not comfortable with, possibly thinking I was going to stab her with the marker.

And so a game was born. My wife makes a small drawing and I elaborate on it. Which brings us to this drawing you saw at the top of the post, the pie eating contest. As my recent food column shows, we’re big on pie in my house and with pies on the mind my wife drew a pie eating contest. A pie eating contest is a difficult thing to riff on and it took me some time, but eventually a childhood spent reading Far Side cartoons reared up in my subconscious and the notion of a pie telling a ghost story about a pie eating contest was born.

Granted, it’s not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but the concept ended up exactly how I wanted it to, even if the delivery is suspect. The story teller looks downright malicious, rather than scary, and the detail of the pie eating contest is muddled, something I have since fixed, but for the most part, I’m happy with it. The contest participant all the way to the left, the one face down in the pie, was my wife’s idea, an absolutely brilliant take on the act of gorging ones self for material gain.

It’s funny how small, silly things can spark small, silly games, provided you don’t think of either the event or the game too small or too silly for your consideration. I can’t say we’ll do the drawing game forever, as things like these tend to wax and wane over the course of every day life, but for now, it’s yet another way to connect with the woman I love, and a way to flex a skill that obviously needs work. Connecting with other people while being creative at the same time are some of the best reasons to play games, and if a crudely drawn Batman joke comes out of it too, well, all the better.

Five Things I'm Looking Forward to In Dragon Age 2

No High Scores

Yes, I’m blatantly stealing a hallowed Tom Chick tradition by starting a post title with “5 things.” Please. Like he invented that. (I kid because I love.) The point is, after a couple of pretty critical posts of Dragon Age 2, and with its release right around the corner, I think it’s only fair to list a few things that I’m looking forward to about playing the game. Believe it or not, for all my bellyaching, those things do exist and I am looking forward to devoting every spare minute of the next week or two to playing it. With that said, away we go…

- It’s more Dragon Age. Yeah, that’s a flimsy one, but I needed to pad the list. I loved Origins. Loved it. Was it without flaw? Oh, no. There were flaws a plenty, but it brought back a gameplay style that doesn’t get much love anymore and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Some of that style may be lost this time around, but maybe that won’t matter. (If I say it enough, I might even believe it.)

- The characters. Bioware has yet to release a game (well, maybe Neverwinter) where I haven’t liked the core characters. I get attached to characters just as much as story since, after all, what’s the point in saving the world if there aren’t people worth saving? Minsc, Jaheira, Sten, Tali, Bastila, Morden, Shale, Imoen, Malak… the list goes on. They’re all characters I grew to love and I’m looking forward to adding a few more to the list. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a miniature giant space hamster. “Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes!”

- The unreliable narrator. This is a concept that, among games I’ve played, I have yet to see explored and it’s an interesting premise. Admittedly, I’m terrified Bioware is going to use it to be blatantly and shamefully juvenile and over the top, but done well? That could get interesting.

- A story a decade in the making. I forget the exact time line, but Bioware has already indicated the story takes place over about 10 years of in-game time. This is something I liked a lot about Fable 2 and something I’ve wanted to see more of in other RPGs. A lot of story threads need time to breath and develop to really work. When you’ve got an adventure that has to take place in some nebulous constraint of days or weeks it can break immersion or force good ideas to be left on the cutting room floor. Hopefully the extended time line lets Dragon Age 2 explore some new ground for storytelling.

- The new combat mechanics. Yes, I hate the lack of an overhead camera. Yes, I’m worried it’s not going to feel tactical enough. But, the completely redone class-based character skill sets also have potential to add some needed balance to the actual battles. There’s a fantastic comment in one of my previous DA2 posts from “Mengtzu” that uses the demo to explore how Bioware has actually improved a flawed combat model. I’m skeptical, but eager to be pleasantly surprised. This is the type of thing where I’d love to be proven wrong.

- I have never not liked a Bioware game. Even Neverwinter, for all its considerable flaws, had a lot going for it; the expansions were good and the community around it is fantastic. For all my skepticism over the direction this company seems to want to take its games -a direction clearly not aimed at me- there’s never been a Bioware game I haven’t been glad to have played and there’s no reason that has to change. So yay, Bioware! Nothing but love for you!

Also, don’t screw up.

Pre-Order Bonuses: Satan's Mistress

I have no idea if there’s an uproar, outrage or general disdain for the current practice that is being displayed by publishers and retailers in many of today’s releases but this LA Noire/Dragon Age 2 thing has really gotten under my skin this week…

I thought it bad enough when Dragon Age placed a DLC quest right in the damn game upon release, showing me this open quest in my camp that bugged the crap out of me every time I looked at it. I never gave in, though. Never did buy that quest and feel no shame to say so. Take that Bioware!

Of course EA/Bioware did the same thing to keep players from, gasp, buying a used copy of its game. It offered a bonus gift of the $7 DLC if you ordered a copy of the game by January-something. The “Exiled Prince” DLC for Dragon Age 2 adds a new party member who sounds cool as hell.

“Sworn to the priesthood as a boy, the noble archer Sebastian Vael is thrust back into the viper’s nest of princely politics when his family is brutally murdered, leaving him as the sole surviving heir. Choose to either avenge Sebastian’s murdered family and reclaim his title or direct his holy vengeance on your enemies in Kirkwall.”

Are you kidding me?

An arrow flinging killer priest and this guy isn’t in the base game? All I can say is — the guys and gals that you DO get as party members better be alcoholic werewolves or a jailers who’s into S&M because not playing as this Sebastian fellow unless I fork over $7 is crap.

This leads me to LA Noire, a game that I am all jacked up to play because I love this movie genre, even if I think Rockstar’s games are a touch overrated, but I’m not going to buy this game from GameStop. (In fairness I am likely not going to buy it at all as I should get a review copy but that’s not the damn point!)

The point is if you want to get in on the Naked City DLC, which has a nifty trailer tagged to it, you better go to GameStop to purchase it or — sorry, the murder/suicide of the pretty model shall go unsolved.

In the big picture it’s not vital that you shoot down bad guys with the Archer Priest or solve what looks to be an outside murder case in LA Noire, but where does this all end? Do you think publishers and retailers are going to stop with this sort of thing? Right now this is a business tactic to get more money and to verify pre-orders. But how slippery is this slope?

Can you see it now?

“Get an alternative ending if you buy from Wal-Mart”

or even worse…

“Pre-order from Store X and get an ending, period.”