Monday, May 23, 2005

StarCraft Ghost LIVES!

Now that Nova's adventures are seemingly back on track, I'll have to talk about her outfit at length on the costume blog. Dress up coolness aside, Ghost is one of those titles I have prayed would survive and turn out great. We'll see about the great part, but at least it's kicking around.

This week is going to be some craziness, so my long current gen vs. next gen rant will have to wait a bit. The basic gist is, I'm all about next generation, but even I think the shift is happening too soon. We're seeing some fantastic software right now and most of it got lost at the recent E3.
I also have a half-finished guide for prospective HDTV buyers out there. Watch for it!Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

E3 2005 showdown

The flood of news and images shooting out of E3 is as massive as usual. So what’s the scorecard so far? I’m feeling like the winner out of the three major pre-show press conferences was Sony by far. Microsoft had a great showing too, but the lack of killer 360 launch apps hurts them. Other than Dead or Alive 4, every game MS showed that had any real punch (Ghost Recon 3, Elder Scrolls, Gears of War, Madden 2006, NBA 2K6) will land on the PlayStation 3 the following spring. Of course there are those RPGs from former Square visionary Sakaguchi-san along with a handful of other exclusives fromJapanese developers that could be X-factors.

The only thing that could scare consumers away from PlayStation 3 is the price, with estimates ranging from $299 – $799 depending on who you ask. A report out of Japan says it’s definitely under $500, which would still be a whopper to the average user. I’m thinking anything under $500 is a steal considering some stand alone Blu-Ray movie players will go for that much. Then again, I have a HDTV and am one of those consumers itching for HD movies and games.

Nintendo’s Revolution console is still a big mystery, but I think it will have a better chance than the GameCube. The GBA Micro is a neat idea. Need to see it in action to decide if the small screen will bother me. Shockingly (or not so much depending on how much you know me), I’m psyched about Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix. Sure the new Zelda is cool too, but I really want to avoid details about it and just enjoy it fully when it comes out.

Man, still three more full show days to go. Insane. Posted by Hello

Monday, May 16, 2005

PlayStation 3 debut?

The latest buzz is that the PlayStation 3 could be more of a factor at this year’s E3 than previosuly thought. We’ll all know for sure by 3PM pacific standard time when Sony’s Pre-E3 media briefing gets underway. The Sony’s briefings are fairly mundane; some powerpoint presentations, a few videos of games, and a guest or two. Very little in the way of surprises, but there were two notable exceptions. One was the 2002 conference, which was a constant stream of celebrities and sports figures. The highlight was a golf match between Cedric the Entertainer (who was live on stage) and Tiger Woods (live via satellite). The other one was 2003 when 1/5 of the audience left early to get good seats at the Nintendo press conference and missed the biggest surprise Sony has every pulled at one of these things. I sat there in shock when Ken Kutaragi held up the UMD disc and an early prototype of the PSP.

Today’s briefing has that 2003 potential.

Anyone who has asked me for game purchase recommendations for the Xbox can attest that I hold Ninja Gaiden in the highest regard. Still, even I was a bit skeptical of a slightly remixed version that included the Xbox Live Hurricane packs. Well, this snazzy Ninja Gaiden Black interview feature on 1up has totally changed my mind. Team Ninja head Tomonobu Itagaki is always entertaining and never afraid to speak his mind about other popular games as the choice quote below demonstrates:

1UP: What do you think of the Dynasty Warriors series?

Itagaki: As a real man, I find no feeling of achievement in beating up millions of defenseless enemies. As for my opinion as a gamer, my free time is too valuable to spend it hacking away at an endless stream of dumb-as-a-brick opponents.

Priceless. I’m most excited about random enemy combinations and placements in Hard difficulty and up. My skills are a match for the Very Hard setting, but the Master Ninja difficulty of the last Hurricane pack was just overwhelming. New cut scenes are also a nice bonus. An easier setting (Ninja Dog) means I can recommend Black to a whole host of friends who were totally defeated by the original. The article says the game will be offered at a discount price, but what is that exactly? Obviously $19.99 would be wicked fresh, but I might cough up $29.99 or perhaps $34.99 on a good day. Check out the sweet hi-res video trailer too. All for free! I have to say 1up’s coverage in general has been very exciting the last few months and their E3 plans looks to be as competitive as the pay sites.

Oooh, less than four and a half hours till the Sony conference. Fingers crossed. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 13, 2005

Xbox 360 specials needed HD broadcast

The net is buzzing with reaction to last night’s Xbox 360 teaser special on MTV. The majority seem to be “under whelmed” to put it mildly. I have to admit to being in that camp too, but that’s my view of the special, not exactly of the 360 itself. Microsoft did themselves a huge disservice having this first look at their new machine broadcast only in standard definition. Had they partnered with a network that simulcasts in SD and HD, they could have excited the consumers who can make or break the console’s launch—current HDTV owners. Showing the games in standard definition takes away one of the big advantages of the 360.

Let’s face it, getting the masses to buy HDTV is still going to be a slow road despite what some sales figures would lead you to believe. Most of the additional sets are going to houses that want more than just one HDTV, not new homes joining the HD revolution. I know, I know…the Microsoft and Samsung alliance are going to unleash a huge HD adoption campaign so they need to get the word out to non-HDTV owners. I get it. I really do.

It’s just that some of the games looked indistinguishable from the current Xbox, but…wait, I don’t really want to judge it from that angle yet. That half-hour was just a teaser aimed at a specific audience. The full 360 assault aimed at eager early adopters like myself is just days away, but I can’t help feel like last night dampened my spirits a bit. I mean, the show was very slick, had the production values of a major event, but…even I felt the performance by the Killers had more punch than the actual 360.

I taped it so I’ll go back and sort through the game bits again. And who was the genius that decided it should run at 9:30PM, right in the middle of America’s #1 watched show CSI? What, the MTV audience doesn’t watch CSI? Demo numbers show they do.

On a unrelated note, last nights season finale of Project Greenlight was awesome. Lots of things I related to on a creative level. Who knew making even a very small budget movie is a minor miracle? Since I’m talking up TV, this last Amazing Race had perhaps the most thrilling ending ever. The classiest and best reality show on TV hands down. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Let's Xbox 360 tonight

Quick reminder, tonight is the MTV Xbox special at 9:30PM pacific time.

In a related note, leaked screens of Dead or Alive 4 started circulating this morning. You can find them in this forum. There's still some debate whether DOA4 is for the Xbox 360 or standard Xbox. Perhaps we'll find out tonight. I'm insanely busy today so I'll look into things tomorrow. The only thing I'm fairly sure about is that the mysterious masked character above is Lisa from DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball.

(UPDATE: Apparently they are for the Xbox 360. I think seeing the game in action will be more impressive than these still shots would leave you to believe. 720p images when viewed on a HDTV vs viewing them via video/screenshot on a computer screen are very different things.)
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

E3 and poker

I don’t have any stats on this, but poker sets like the one pictured above were probably the most received and given gift this past holiday season. Hell, it probably replaced flowers for Mother’s Day too. We’ve seen a handful of hastily produced Texas Hold’em games hit store shelves, but E3 should flop hundreds more. Normally, all this hoopla would sicken me, but I’ve long been bitten by the poker bug.

I still watch more poker on TV than I feel comfortable admitting and play at least once a week. No online poker for me although I might be tempted by a well-executed Xbox Live supported title. It’s more likely something for the PSP would scratch the itch, especially one that gives you useful tips. I realize how idiotic I’ll look yelling “I’m going all in!” at the PSP in public places.

I doubt the fervor will diminish anytime soon, especially with the 2005 World Series of Poker starting June 2nd. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bulletproof PSP

Ever since I picked up Logitech’s snazzy Playgear case for the PSP, I’ve felt a quiet comfort knowing that nothing can accidentally crack the screen while I’m sleeping or otherwise preoccupied. I do wish it had some extra inner padding for greater “drop shock” absorption. The odd thumbpad placed on the PSP is an item I bought in Japan many moons ago to cover the D-Pad of the original PlayStation controller. Maybe I have sensitive thumbs, but the Sony four-button/D-pad always bothered me over extended play periods. With the intense pressing Ridge Racer PSP requires, I had to break out old faithful so I could once again play in comfort. The problem is that the Logitech case won’t close properly with the thumbpad attached. Hopefully I can find a more compact solution the next time I go to Japan.

So E3 is right around the corner and another trip soon after that. To prepare for such jetsetting, I had to do some hard thinking since traveling light is preferable. If I take the PSP, I’ll need to buy an extra power source of some kind for sure (the second trip involves a 10+ hour flight). Maybe I should just pack the DS or GBA SP? I’ve been meaning to start Fire Emblem and the release of the sequel is a good excuse to get to it.

I found a good deal on an official replacement battery so that problem was quickly solved. I’ve been able to hold off on getting overly deep into the two PSP games I own, Ridge Racer and Luminees, so those should be enough to keep me busy. I may get one more just in case. Perhaps Metal Gear Acid or WipeOut Pure. Although it’s gotten bland reviews, Untold Legends might be more palatable on a long haul flight. I should probably just wait till I get back home and play Bard’s Tale to scratch my dungeon crawling fix.

I’ve attended every E3 show since the first and this will be only the second time I’m not jam packed with meetings and be mostly clueless about what’s going to be shown. It’s quite exciting since I’ll be able to walk the show floor and be totally surprised again. There is a slight chance alternate plans can change my schedule radically, but at this point I’m just looking at the solid things ahead.

As a HD geek, I’m psyched to see and play anything Xbox 360/2/Next. From the sound of things, it’ll be the only physical next generation item on the show floor. It’ll sure be interesting to see if Microsoft can keep current Xbox owners happy. I know several friends (non-hardcore gamers) who just bought the system with Halo 2 this past holiday. Backward compatibility or no, how do you not make them feel good about their support of the Xbox?

I have a gut feeling my current Xbox is on its last legs and will need to be replaced by year’s end so you can bet I would love backward compatibility. Then again, I’m not so attached to the majority of the Xbox titles I own that I would feel the need to buy another Xbox if the 360/2/Next is not backwards compatible. The games I would like to keep would be no good anyway on another system. My save files for Ninja Gaiden and DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball can’t be copied to another hard drive without some sort of hacking (thanks a ton Team Ninja!). I just need my current Xbox to last until I can find time to finish Bard’s Tale, Phantom Dust, Shenmue (!), and Kingdoms Under Fire (and probably its sequel too).

Jade Empire
Speaking of finishing Xbox games, finally my long delayed two cents on Jade Empire. It’s all spoiler free and bulleted for your convenience.

- Did I like the game? Yes, it’s as good as I thought it would be, but it didn’t blow me away as I had hoped. It certainly didn’t inspire me to make another food creation.

- I love that one play through doesn’t take 80 hours. My first time through was about 25-27 hours and that’s taking on as many side quests as possible. Definitely makes you want to try the game with different characters and test various paths.

- The new combat system is very cool, but there are lots of things that could be improved upon. In short, everything that deals with weapons is cool, but the hand-to-hand stuff feels and looks weak. A modified version of this combat system would totally rock with KOTOR. Oh mama, the lightsaber battles would be insane.

- The normal difficulty setting is very forgiving. I highly recommend switching to hard, even on your first play through.

- Portions of the game are extremely buggy. I ran into three bugs that required me to start back at a previous save point. Thank goodness I save a ton.

- The load times are ridiculous. I basically had a magazine handy or switched to picture-in-picture to watch TV whenever the frequent loads occurred.

- The story is just okay. There are many similarities to KOTOR, but that’s understandable given the restrictions under a “choose good path or evil” structure.

- At times, the game gave me Mulan flashbacks. It’s obvious great effort was taken to ensure aspects of Chinese culture were authentic as possible, but that can detract from expressing a new vision. Although Jade Empire takes place in a fictitious version of ancient China, I felt I had seen it all before. This comparison is not a knock. I happened to enjoy Mulan as a well done piece of entertainment. I just have this gut feeling that the main audience for Jade Empire are the people on the look out for something different. I do hope sales charts prove me wrong.

So there you have it. Now back to work. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I’m clockin ya, Versace shades watchin ya

I went to the eye doctor last week to get a new pair of glasses. My eyes are no worse than the last two examinations, but the doctor tweaked my prescription so I can see .003 percent better. I went through the usual battery of vision tests and got a complement that stuck in my mind. On a series of lights that tests peripheral vision, he remarked how quickly I answered. He said it was near instantaneous. It did feel just like a game where you need to react to what you see onscreen as quickly as you can.

Gaming can improve your reflexes, but does that mean it also trains your eyes to be better? I’ll have to poke around for some more concrete answers later.

That line above is in reference to my new glass frames. I actually was unaware that the glasses I chose were all fancy since the price wasn’t outrageous and the frames don’t have a gigantic V or spinning parts anywhere. It’s just a nice frame and mega cheap thanks to my wife’s health care plan. And no, that’s not it pictured above.

I was going to write something longer today, but that’ll have to wait till tomorrow. For now, check out this great post by the Awesomelord. Posted by Hello