Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Halo 3 to Feature 4-Player Online Co-Op

It's funny how the gravity of an announcement can be altered by previous knowledge or expectation. Take for example, the iPhone. There were so many rumors and news stories floating around speculating on its debut that when it finally was announced, the fanfare made less of an impact. True, the hype still grew, but I was less blown away than I would've if it had been a total secret.

On the other hand, hype can have a huge impact on expectations. But, if your expectations are low, the treat of good news can often be blown out of proportions. About two weeks ago, Bungie announced that Halo 3 would not release with online coop. Since games like Gears of War and Crackdown already showcased online cooperative play, gamers have come to expect it this gen. Like most I shrugged this off as an acceptable sacrifice for an early Fall release. Then, when the announcement came that Halo 3 would feature not 2, but 4-player online co-op play, my brain had trouble fathoming the news. I'm sure the dev team was still busy working on this feature and it just happened to pan out, but because of the timing, it just sounded that much better to my ears.

On the flip side of things, expectations can be a nuisance to live up to. It's hard for any developer to justify removing features from a product. When you have something and then it gets taken away, your defensive tendency is to complain, shout and moan. Add something great that people weren't expecting and it's smiles all around.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Comic-Con 2007

Wow, this past Saturday was my first Comic-Con and I gotta say, it was pretty awesome. Last year I went to the Anime Expo (AX) in Anaheim, which is kinda similar, but Comic-Con was a way better experience IMO. For one thing, they had a lot more content and events that I was personally interested in. I'm only really into a few anime series', so this seemed like a better fit for me. There were plenty of manga and anime vendor booths, but there were also some live game demos on the show floor and many sci-fi and fantasy TV shows and movies prominently featured. The panel events were what actually won me over though and I think I had the most fun attending those.

Can you see him?

Like the Anime Expo, there were a fair amount of people participating in cosplay, but it did seem a bit less common at Comic-Con. Early in the morning, Van and I spotted Waldo in the Simpsons line. Then you had your obligatory handful of Star Wars costumes. A good number of various Naruto characters. Video game characters of Final Fantasy type. Superheroes and villains. Basically anything anime, sci-fi or fantasy, and everything else in between. But on the whole, it just felt like less people were geeked out in full garb, and considering the E3-sized crowd at the San Deigo Convention Center, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

This happy guy is from a peaceful game called Alien Hominid

The Q&A panels were pretty cool. At the Simpsons one, Matt Groening, and various writers, producers, and animators fielded fan questions like "What was your favorite Homer injury?" and "What's your favorite episode you wrote?" Several questions were aimed directly at the man himself, Matt Groening, but most everyone on the panel got in a witty comment here and there. We got to see an exclusive clip that was deleted from the movie, where Homer rides in a truck filled w/ sausages, but mostly the event consisted of fans have fangasms and then asking random questions.

One of my main gripes I had about Comic-Con was the insane schedule planned for Saturday (actually, someone mentioned that it was basically like this all weekend). Late Friday, I printed out the schedule for Saturday off of the official website. It was 12 pages long, with loads of overlapping events. Factor in hour+ wait times for more popular shows and you get an idea for how chaotic it became. Naturally, the Heroes panel was less than an hour after the Simpsons one. So even when we left early, we had zero to no chance of getting in there, when people had been waiting since 9:30am.

"Don't forget to bring a towel!"

The Futurama panel was by far the most entertaining hour of the day. It was held in the same 4,000+ person auditorium as the Heroes panel, so I just barely got in. The cool part of it was that four of the major voice actors were there, along with Matt Groening and David X. Cohen. They started it out with the announcement of the 4 new DVD movies coming (the first one in Novemeber) and the move from Cartoon Network to Comedy Central. Then they showed us a 5 minute trailer of Bender's Big Score. Initially, everyone was given a nifty little Futurama comic book detailing what occurred between the final episode and the first upcoming movie, which the cast later acted out completely live on stage. Even the Q&A was interesting, with each actor detailing how they created the voice for each of their characters. You could tell that everyone was having a lot of fun with it and the crowd was really getting into it.

Futurama voice talent (left to right): Katey Sagal, Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche

If the Futurama event was the most entertaining, then meeting the guys behind the Lost Podcast w/ Jay and Jack was my favorite experience on a more personal level. These were guys I'd listened to for almost 2 years, and now I got to participate in one their podcasts live. They led a Q&A session and we got to discuss some of the theories on Lost as well as what was just talked about at the Lost panel on Thursday. I was kinda bummed about how, at the last minute, Comic-Con switched days on me for the Lost panel, but for me this turned out even better, since the room was so much smaller and the sense of community was much more tangible.

Picture of me w/ Jay and Jack from the 'Lost podcast with Jay and Jack

We didn't stay too late, just until around 5, when the Joss Whedon panel was over. Even though I didn't really buy anything, I thought I got my money's worth out of going though. If anyone wants to go with me next year, lemme know. Overall, I had great experience. Thanks Van, for driving us down to SD. Hope you guys had as much fun as I did. And what story would be complete without a display of all my personally collected free crap. Some notables include some manga books, a giant spiderman magnet and a playing card with Obi-Wan Kenobi on it.. Freaking sweet!

Behold my Comic-Con swag

Friday, July 27, 2007

Comic-Con LOST Q&A Panel 2007

Direct from Day One of the 2007 Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. Below are videos of the entire Lost Q&A panel with executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Dharma Initiative Station 6 "Orchid" (the video quality isn't too great..)

So.. here's what we learned:
1. Both flashbacks and flashforwards will be used from now on. The announcement of the sixth season end-date enabled the writers to finally reveal this new "flashforward" device.
2. The scene with Jack and Kate at the end of season 3 does not represent the end of the show. We will see what life is like for the survivors off the island, possibly in flashforwards.
3. Micahel will be back this season. Where, when and how are still a mystery.
4. Ben's capture in season 2 will be definitively explained this season (and it wasn't his intention to get caught).
5. Jack and Claire's family relationship will be revealed.
6. Libby's story will be returned to soon, and she may also be involved in the Dharma Initiative.
7. Rousseau will get her flashback story in the next season or two, and it will be important.
8. The smoke monster is known as "Cerebrus" (one of its names), and as the lockdown map revealed, the CV markings represent "Cerebrus Vents".

Of these , I think I kind of knew about 6 of these already.. but, in any case, it was nice to get a few more definitive answers from Damon and Carlton. I think with the remaining 3-season, 16-episode story arc established, the show will become more focused and be better for it. Hats off to them for doing something completely unprecedented in television industry, with maybe the Harry Potter series being the only other medium to do something on a similar scale.

I'll be at Comic-Con tomorrow (Sat), so I'll probably check out the Heroes Panel. San Diego, here I come!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Absurdity: New Windows OS Ready in 3 Years

Looks like Microsoft is already readying up it's next killer OS. Maybe by the time Windows Vienna (or whatever it is they're calling the next Windows) comes out, I'll be ready to switch over to Vista. Seriously though, you don't wanna upgrade until at least the first service pack is released.

Generally speaking, there are rules you should follow when early adopting certain products. These rules are set in stone and are never up to interpretation. The first one is this: Never buy a new Apple product until the 2nd gen version comes out (iPod, iPhone, Macbook Pro, take your pick, it doesn't matter). You already know a better one is coming in less than a calendar year. Sure, you might seem like the cool guy among your friends, but when the "real" version comes out in nine months, with a respectable battery life and more features, you're gonna have to pony up the cash yet again. Why? Because Steve Jobs owns you and you love it.

The second rule is: Never upgrade to a new Windows OS until the service pack comes out. You don't want to be part of a statistic on zero-day exploits, because the network code hasn't been fully beta tested yet.. and by "beta test", I mean the first 18-months of a Windows release. You wouldn't wanna be the one to test out the food to see if it's poisoned. And trust me, Windows security is oozing with poison early on. Simple as that.

10 Changes Console Gaming Needs

10. Have more open-beta tests. If you've played the Halo 3 beta, or gotten into a Blizzard game beta, you know it's great to try out a game ahead of time. What's great about this is that it's also mutually beneficial, since extra play testing is always good for a game's development, especially if you're going to have a multiplayer aspect. I've read that some ppl would even pay for the opportunity to beta test big games, but I think that's going a little overboard. Of course, if a game really sucks, this could work against a game in its early development stages.. so I guess it depends on the game.

9. Allow user-generated content. They have no problem covering their ass with the ESRB disclaimer: "Game Experience May Change During Online Play." Why not use this loop-hole disclaimer and then allow us to create maps, mods, player skins, etc? Console gaming has always been a closed system, compared to the PC. Hopefully Sony can do this w/ private areas in Home, user-made levels in Little Big Planet, and mods in Unreal Tournament 3 for the PS3. Letting a game build a community around itself is vital to the longevity of a game and its sales. If you're friend's really into a game, chances are you'll want to join him.

8. Ditch the "Save Point" mechanic. This has been a staple of console gaming, but I think it's about time for it to go the way of the dodo. Forcing players to use save points is a way for developers to create a artificial layer of difficulty. I also hate it when you have a limited number of save slots. Xbox360 profiles represent one way this is done right, since you see only the game saves associated w/ your gamertag. I guess I come from the PC school of saving, where you can save wherever and save often.

7. Get rid of the load times. This isn't just a console gaming problem, actually, but one that should still be addressed. I thought with the advent of the HDD and muti-core processors, load times would be a thing of the past. I could see the PS3 hard drive being used for a lot of caching.. although the core system (sans a HDD) will always hold the 360 back. Dynamic data streaming has certainly done wonders for open world games like GTA, but you still have that super long, unavoidable, initial load. When you think about games like Killzone 2 for PS3, which has 2GB of art resources, I guess the problem will always be there as textures get larger and environments get more detailed.

6. Acknowledge the fact that there are older gamers out there. Obviously I'm one of them and there are many more gamers like me. I can tolerate the kiddy stuff and movie tie-in games. I was a kid once. But the sterilization of more adult-oriented gaming by stores like Wal-mart, the ESRB, and government legislation has got to stop. If an Unrated DVD can stand on store shelves, why can't games have realistic violence and sexual themes? If developers want to make it andppl want to buy it, I don't see what the problem is. As it stands right now, games are heavily regulated, with no outlet for truly "mature" content. Remarkably, according to the ESA, the average gamer is age 33, but you wouldn't have guessed it by all the restrictions put on developers and publishers.

5. Work to make online a better experience. As of right now, there is no online system that has everything. Xbox Live is very well integrated across all games and friends, but it still lacks dedicated servers and it still costs $$. Sony's PSN service supports dedicated servers and more open content, but is still behind in it's overall structure and integration. They both have their flaws, but together they'd be brilliant. And imagine if there was cross-platform play between 360 and PS3 games. All those damn EA games are the same anyway. This way it'd make it easier to find servers with actual players on them. Really though, all I'd like is to be able to hop online and get into a game quickly and easily. Is that so hard?

4. Stop Nickel and Diming Gamers. Seems like we're on a very slippery slope, with the growing number of micro-transactions available to modern gamers. Map packs are very common now for console games, but unlike their PC counter-parts, these content updates are not free. More and more, it seems like games are being released unfinished, with that "extra" content being sold a month or two down the road. And simply choosing to boycott these micro-transactions doesn't do shit when idiots keep buying them up (just look to the Guitar Hero II song packs for an example of this).

3. Provide a more consistent release schedule. Everyone knows most big games are released around the holiday season (Sept - Dec). It doesn't have to be this way though. This summer has been somewhat of a drought. If only some of those games had come out a bit earlier, it would've given those games more breathing room to sell, and would've given us gamers more time to enjoy them. Instead, this holiday, I'm gonna have to balance all those incredible titles, and some of those gems will get lost in the shuffle. Having a more balanced software release schedule would also help push hardware numbers all year round. Why can't we have the "summer blockbuster" game like the movie industry??

2. Innovation, plain and simple. It seems like the most innovative products are coming from the downloadable games and handheld fronts. These games are usually much cheaper to make and take less time to develop, allowing the designers to take more risks and create truly unique experiences. I like to see this creativity trickle down into the $20 million games as well though. But it's hard when you've got developers like EA that pump out the same carbon-copy games every year. As it becomes harder for companies to turn a profit, less and less developers are looking to unproven game ideas. Sometimes, when you take a chance, the results are truly wonderful, spawning games like Guitar Hero, The Sims, Shadow of the Colossus, and Katamari Damacy.

1. Stop the casual game market trend. I might be alone on this one, but I feel like this is the most important item on this list. The game industry seems to be evolving, morphing to meet the needs of an expanding market. Take a look at this past month's NPD numbers and you'll see what type of game dominates the Top 20 list. Mini-game collection and mass market crap. Publishers are seeing the changing tide and they are responding with things like the EA Sports family mode. And as more PC games slide over to the consoles, in attempt to cash in and get some $$, they seem to be designed with less customizability and simpler game mechanics in mind. I mean, it's okay to make games more appealing to the mass market, but this can also be done without losing the hardcore audience. Blizzard is very good at this approach of making their games very accessible while still keeping them deep and rewarding to those that make the effort. Sadly, it feels like many developers are simply looking for ways to water down the game experience so that "Alpha Moms" and their kids will enjoy themselves.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Absurdity: Jesus to Kick Ass, in Action Figure Form

I stumbled upon this story and my thoughts immediately turned to how perfect these toys would be for little Rod and Todd Flanders. You know what would make this even more educational? If you could squeeze his hand to make him spout bible verses or something.

He could say things like "An eye for an eye" or "God hates fags!".. something to that effect. Maybe throw in a suggestive phrase or two, on important topics like abortion, capital punishment, or even the 'War on Terror'. You know, to start them on the 'right' path early. But you may have some trouble tracking these toys down at your local Wal-Mart.
Only about one-sixth of stores will carry the toys.
I have a hunch which states these might be in.. I'll give you a hint. They're probably the red ones.
The company targets parents who would rather their children play with the faith-based toys rather toys rather than other super hero action figures, the report said.
Well, it's about time kids were taught who the real "superheros" are in this world. Sure, the Transformers are great and all, but can do they have the ability to turn water into wine?? Let's see Spider-man pull off miracles like that. Yeah, that's what I thought. Those "super hero toys" are more like dolls compared to the mighty Jesus action figure. Thanks to Wal-Mart, we can praise the lord, and everyday low prices!

Maybe this will help bring back the kick-ass faith-based video game movement. Be on the lookout for religious gems like these that graced the NES and SNES..

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blizzard's Other Project?


"Our global headcount is 2,700," said Pearce, "And most of that is customer service for World of Warcraft! In terms of development staff it's probably around 350. World of Warcraft is about 135 people, 40 for Starcraft II, 40 for team 3, our cinematics team is about 85 guys. Then there's sound and Q/A and that sort of thing."

3rd dev team?? What are they working on besides wow and sc2?? I bet we'll hear something at Blizzcon this august, cuz they didn't say jack this past week. Could sc ghost be vaporware no more? But maybe it's just another wow expansion. I doubt they'd make another diablo at the same time as starcraft.. I'd actually like to see them try something new though..

...Cuz whatever they make usually has a good art style and laser-honed gameplay. They're pretty much batting 1000, like the pixar of the video game industry. Time to take some risks.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

E3 Press Conference Reviews

I'm only grading their press events on their merits alone and not the consoles themselves, the health of the platforms, or their overall showings at E3 so far. I'll try to come back to each at the end of the week to take a look at the rest of the show. So let's start it off in the order they debuted.


The goal for them was to keep the buzz going of all the great stuff coming out this fall, and I think they did that pretty well. There was the constant reminder that Halo was coming, with a live processional, live action film teaser, and the single player footage at the end. Yes, we get it.. Master Chief owns all.

There were a few faux pas moments, like Peter Moore pausing the Rock Band game while playing or the hilarious unveiling of the new Halo 3 Special Edition Xbox360 to the sound of crickets. You almost expect something to go wrong at a Microsoft event.

Throughout the entire presentation, their message was clear: we've got tons of big games coming. That was shown literally by the massive amount of live demos being played in front of the crowd. From Rock Band, to PGR 4, to Madden 08, to Call of Duty 4, to Gears of War PC, to Assassin's Creed, they let the games speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, there weren't any real surprises either. The Resident Evil 5 trailer was nice and the Call of Duty demo was interesting, but I never once thought, "OMG WTF?!? That's crazy!!"

Apparently, Microsoft is trying to do a better job breaking into the main stream market, with more Xbox Live video marketplace partnerships with companies like Disney. The upcoming Scene-It and Viva Pinata party games are also examples of this. But whatever, this crap doesn't really affect me, and I could care less.

Overall, they had an okay showing, but they could've shown us some more 2008 stuff like Alan Wake, Fable 2, Halo Wars, and maybe even tease us with a little Banjo Kazooie 3. Instead, they mostly banged the Halo-2007-drum and played it safe with stuff we already knew was coming. Grade: B-


Nintendo certainly spoke to their phenomenal numbers and with good reason. It was nice to see Reggie "taking names" Fils-Aime smiling so much, as he elaborated on page after page of Powerpoint slides with positive sales figures. Fair enough. With all the profits you're making, you deserve to celebrate a little. The user-generated fanvids were a bit annoying after a while, but still spoke to their core fanbase.

Next they showed off the new "Zapper" and "Steering Wheel" Wii controller attachments, with both Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and Mario Kart Wii. It sorta reminded me of all those horrid Cooking Mama and Wii Sports plastic shells and I wondered how Mario Kart Wii would handle with Wii controls. Then I was reminded of how I at first dismissed The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, with it's wii-motion sword slashing, but then warmed up to the idea. I guess when you love a series so much, you often see any drastic changes as negative.

Well, online is still kinda up in the air for Nintendo. So far only a few games will be out this fall that allow online play, but with cock-blocking friend codes, I don't think it'll be a big selling point.

They seemed to gloss over some DS stuff (again with the massive success), but besides the demo of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Brain Age 2, and the trailer of Ninja Gaiden DS, there wasn't much to see. I just don't understand the lack of games on a system that sells a fuck-ton of units every month. Where's New Super Mario Bros 2? Where's the Elite Beat Agents sequel? The currentDS lineup is not looking too hot.

They did make some much needed announcements, like proper release dates for Super Mario Galaxy (Nov 12th) and Super Smash Bros Brawl (Dec 3rd). And the footage of Mario Galaxy was pretty amazing (too bad Metroid looks the same). So I was hoping Shiggy would drop a bomb at the end of the show. A new franchise maybe? Something, anything to get me up and rooting for Mario and co.

So what did he unveil..? Wii Fit (ie: Fitness) was their big reveal. After some dance aerobics videos, yoga exercises, and soccer ball dodging, I was done with this event. Again, I'm not surprised something like this happened.. I'm only disappointed. Disappointed for all the hardcore Nintendo fans who are getting covered in an avalanche of non-games and mass market crap. I'm sure the "Alpha-Moms" will love it, and if so, congratulations on reaching your target audience. Good job leaving your loyal fans behind! Grade: C+


After Nintendo's event, I didn't know what to expect from Sony. They started it off with a quirky showing of Home and it was nice to see some of that system-wide integration coming together. Being able to meet up in Home, like an in-game lobby, and play anything you wanted was a pretty cool feature. The price drop mention was brief (as it was already leaked), but necessary.

They also finally revealed a revised design of the PSP (ppl are calling it "PSP Slim") and showed off several games coming out for the system. I think they're starting to understand that portables should not just play dumbed down versions of existing console games, but unique titles that are tailor made for on-the-go play. Echochrome looks interesting, and will even be available for download on PSN as well, which is nice. Chewbacca was probably the weirdest addition to the show, complete w/ his signature growl and special edition Star Wars Battlefront PSP.

Despite their current lack of exclusives, they managed to bring it up a notch with their acquisition of NCSoft (makers of Guild Wars and City of Heroes), as well as the PS3 timed exclusives of Haze and Unreal Tournament 3 for 2007. Unlike Microsoft, Sony didn't many live demos during their press conference (was Killzone 2 being played live?). What they did have were plenty of impressive videos of upcoming titles.

Oddly enough, Lair and Warhawk for absent from the show. Sony did show many others though, including: Heavenly Sword, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Infamous, and many great looking PSN games. The MGS4 trailer kicked ass, as everyone thought it would. Final Fantasy XIII was sadly absent, as was rumble, but we know it's coming (they'll probably show more at TGS).

As the conference winded down, we knew there was one more final announcement. That would be the Killzone 2 trailer. Since I had already seen this the night before, posted on some website, the footage was not quite as powerful, but the game did look great. Maybe not as good as the CGI-trailer from 2 years ago, but finally, the PS3 had something they could stack up next to Gears of War graphically.

Overall, I'd have to say Sony had the best conference, with nothing really to complain about. They had some decent surprises and a good showing of 2008 content as well as 2007 stuff coming soon. Nothing jaw dropping like in previous E3s, but even with the different format this year, Sony was able to do what they needed, and that was "sell this console". Grade: B+

But E3 is far from over, and there is still a lot to see. I hope more is shown of Fable 2, Mass Effect, Mario Galaxy, and GTA IV. For now, I can only wait, and prepare my wallet.. September is right around the corner and the games are coming.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Red Rings of Death Epilogue

I'm finally able to say I've got my Xbox360 back safe and sound, after my "Red Ring" ordeal. All in all, the whole process took nearly a month (including all shipping and support ). Initially, I held off the repair because the hardware had failed exactly midway into the Halo 3 beta at the end of May. I emailed support, tried troubleshooting it myself, surfed message boards and FAQs, and read up on several "towel exploits", until finally I conceded defeat and made the call to 1-800-4MY-XBOX. The polite man with the noticeable accent said he'd ship me my very own Xbox coffin.. I mean prepaid shipping box. It actually took over a week for that damn UPS shipping box to arrive.

I promptly sent it back, with my dead Xbox fit snuggly in place, rigorously following their directions to a T so that nothing would impede my repair. I made especially sure not to write "Xbox360 repair" on the outside of the box so as not to tip off sticky fingered UPS workers (Blockbuster and NetFlix should really find better ways to camouflage those envelopes).

Then, for two and a half weeks.. dead silence. No confirmation emails. No updates. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to borrow a fully functional 360 console from one of Thao's very generous coworkers (btw, thanks Derek!). For the most part, I was still able to satisfy my healthy gaming addiction with some Halo 3 beta, Halo 2 and Oblivion. It was just shocking the lack of feedback from a company so wired into the computer world.

After going through this ordeal, I've decided I'm definitely buying a 3rd-party cooling accessory, probably the Pelican Fan Stand. It's a shame that a $400 piece of electronics needs an accessory to keep it functioning properly. Seeing how widespread this problem has become, I think it's pretty obvious there's an inherent design flaw the the 360 hardware. Microsoft wanted to get to the next gen early with a decent head start, so they ditched the Xbox1 and brought out a system that could compete with the upcoming Playstation. They built their lead based on software and ultimately nabbed the hardcore audience. When compared to the PS3, it was a great bargain, as it had decent software with some great looking graphics. But maybe this was just a case of it being "too good to be true". There's a reason the PS3 costs $200-300 more. You can see that in the Xbox 360 Elite's whopping $479 price tag.

Update: I have some good news though. After using my reburbed 360 this past weekend, it did feel like the system ran a little cooler than before. From what I remember of my last system, it would get quite hot to the touch on the outside. Even with my new 3rd-party fan stand turned off, those new heatsinks seem to be doing their job. Well, let's just hope this is the last time I have to deal with this crap (*knocks on wood*).. In addition, the complimentary 1-month Xbox Live membership was a nice gesture, but an extended Halo 3 beta period would have been even nicer.

Also, I should note that I did have to call up Microsoft Support one last time, to reauthorize the DRM content on my Xbox360 HDD. This is because any content you buy is locked to the original Xbox360 hardware you bought it on, as well as your online Gamertag profile. So as long as you're signed into Xbox Live, you can access your DRM content on any system (yours, your friend's, etc). But if you're not signed into Live, all your content is locked if you're not using that original system. Take it from me, DRM sucks, and I've had the experience to prove it.