Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Movies to follow game model?

In article in the paper yesterday, Robert Iger, CEO-elect of Disney said he is investigating the feasabilty of releasing rental DVDs day-and-date with the theatrical debut. The critics quoted in the piece cast serious doubts on that outcome and I have to agree with them. They simply say that theater owners would be too angry for that to happen. Hogwash. I say it’s because movie studios would not make enough from pure rental DVDs even if they went back to the $99 priced-for-rental-only VHS tape model.

What I can see happening is movies following a videogames pricing structure. So perhaps the first week is theater exclusive, second week the $50 DVD (almost always bare bones), few months later that same DVD is $20, few months or maybe a year later the deluxe multi-disk special edition DVD comes out. As long as the early DVDs set you back $40+, theater owners will still get some sort of reprieve. Still, this would certainly signal the death of kids movies at the cinema as most every parent would be willing to pay a premium to avoid transporting the young’ns and getting raked on popcorn.

I know, you’re thinking folks would be dumb to pay $50 for a bare bones movie. All I can say to that is, people are paying $20-30 for bare bones movies on UMD. A frackin UMD! Just like in games, there is a core market that wants first run theater movies NOW for the same reason the core gamer want the latest games first. I certainly would have shelled out fifty bones for any of the LOTR movies when they hit theaters. My average would probably be one or two such DVDs a year, putting me in the casual movie consumer category. The core would average one a month or more depending on the crop of movies that year.

It’s kind of scary to think about actually.

Weekend gaming
Headed to Best Buy to pick up Advance Wars DS and Namco Museum PSP and walked away with Meteos. Wars was out of stock and Museum was $40! I feel more comfortable paying thirty. No hurry on either of those anyway as I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. Oh, and as if you haven’t already heard this a thousand times, Meteos rocks the house.

Random game beat alert! I finished Nightshade this past weekend. More thoughts on that here.

PSP 2.00 Update
I finally got around to updating my PSP and was a web surfing fool soon after. I was telling Phil about it and he went nuts with the wallpaper action. My favorite is the Vader above. You can find more in his post.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Now it officially exists in my mind

I get so excited when companies release official pics of retail console packaging. The $399 box looks nice, and loaded too, with all those included accessories. It’s pretty interesting checking out the rather slow flow of solid information on 360 games. By solid I mean, hands on reports of the games running on full strength kits. Namco’s Frame City Killer could turn out to be fun, but I thought it looked extremely underwhelming during its E3 debut. Some new screens that just came out indicate the game is still as underachieving as ever, but certain pics like this shot below look pretty nice.
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Raising Pikachu
I’ve always wanted to call a pet Pikachu without cursing an actual living thing with that moniker. My Shetland Sheepdog Pikachu is three days old in Nintendogs time and has learned three tricks so far. I’ve been able to test out Bark mode in the office and received a nice record from Craig. Good times.

I finally beat hard mode in Ouendan last night and was fairly spent. I did have just enough energy to test out Cheer Girls mode, aka super hard difficulty, and it was totally insane. It’ll definitely take a while to get through that one. Hopefully, I’ll have time to pick up Advance Wars DS and Namco Museum PSP this weekend.

I definitely want a GameBoy Micro after fondling one that had come into the office. It’s so much smaller than I thought and very comfortable. Good D-pad, bright sharp screen, and all-around adorable. Even so, I’m sticking to my earlier plan of not buying it right away. The price has to come down, and it’s ridiculous that the black frame Micro comes with a silver faceplate (vice versa for the silver frame one). Not surprisingly, the tiny built-in speakers are pretty terrible.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Nintendogs not yet home

CompUSA has an ad listing Nintendogs at $24.99 thanks to $5 “instant savings”. The weird thing is, the sale is only applicable to two versions, Lab and Chihuahua, but not Daschund & Friends. Are they predicting the Daschund version is the most desireable or maybe it's a limited quantity item? Very random. The bad news is the game was not yet in stock at lunch time today. I wish game releases were more exact like DVDs. Those movie discs are almost always in the retailer’s hands before being set free Tuesday morning. Games hit shelves any old day of the week and sometimes weekends. Ridiculous.

Sweet finale
Finales are always a mixed bag and rarely attain the same quality level of regular episodes, so it’s a great relief to report that the series finale of Six Feet Under was just about perfect. It was very emotional and…well, I don’t want throw out any spoilers. It’s sad that the show is gone, but it went out in style.

All in again
So the ESPN broadcasts of the 2005 World Series of Poker is well underway. We’ve only seen “circuit” events so far (don’t ask me what that means), but tonight marks the first of the main “I get a real WSOP bracelet and not a circuit ring” events. I’ve watched a ton of televised poker, but the ESPN broadcasts and Bravo’s Celebrity Poker showdown are hands down my favorite.

The main reason is the quality of color commentary. The ESPN guys have the advantage of commentating over packaged segments and can add to the drama accordingly. Some may think that’s a cheat, but it just makes for good TV. Plus I’m a Norman Chad fan (I read his column whenever it runs in the Tribune). The Celebrity show has more commentating on-the-fly, which is a good showcase for the ad-lib talents of co-host Dave Foley. The other host, pro player Phil Gordon, is also great, dishing out helpful tips and critiques of every play.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I want the 399 one

So I get this phone call today from the EB where I reserved my Xbox 360. The clerk starts to tell me that “Microsoft made an announcement yesterday”, but before he utters another word I say “I want the 399 one”. He was taken slightly aback. That’s right buddy, I’m in “the know”, I was just about to call you guys anyway to tell you just that. I want the 360 that comes with what its supposed to come with. No 299 stripped down junk for the kid. Still, I was glad they were on top of things.

Well, I got my personal copy of Ouendan today and totally psyched. Unfortunately, it was totally nutty at work, so I still haven’t loaded it up as of this moment. Soon my precious, soon. I plan to concentrate on it all through the weekend since next week, it’ll all be about raising Nintendogs and waging Advance War. I’ll get Namco Museum for PSP if that actually hits stores next week. There is also another game coming out next week that I’m intrigued by, but it’s better you read about it over here.

Next month is looking pretty retro too, with Capcom Classics Collection, Tecmo Classics Arcade, and Midway Arcade Treasures 3. Even though the complete line-up has yet to be fully revealed, the Capcom Classics seems to be the pick of the litter. 22 games for $20 is too good to pass up. Especially since there's at least one Street Fighter included. I love Solomon’s key and would really like having the arcade version of the widescreen Tecmo bowl, but $30 for 10 games is a deal breaker. Midway Arcade may tempt me when it hits PSP later this year, but I’ll pass on the console versions.

I almost forgot, the GameBoy Micro ships next month too. In theory, I really want one. It’s super tiny and supposedly has an ultra sharp screen. If the screen looks as good as advertised, I’m in…when it drops in price a bit. $99 is pretty damn steep. For $30 more you can get a new DS.

UPDATE: Slight tweaks in text from last night, in case you saw it already.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!

So Craig was kind enough to let me borrow his copy of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for the Nintendo DS this past weekend since he had his hands full raising puppies. I had heard whispers of a cool music game from the folks behind Gitaroo Man for the PS2, but didn’t really pay much attention. It wasn’t until I saw some videos of the game in action that I had to get my hands on it.

There are people in varying degrees of distress (a sculptor who is in a creative slump, a violinist with stomach problems before a big concert, an office lady trying to get the attention of an attractive boss), and they call upon the male cheer squad to help them. You tap numbered circles with your stylus to the beat of the music, and, well, it’s easier to understand if you watch movies of it in action.

Watch them? Good. Nothing but pure hijinks. The music is great, the animated stories are easy to follow without knowledge of Japanese (although if you can read it, it’s damn funny), and the music tapping game play mechanic is among the best ever for the genre. As much fun as Gitaroo Man was, I never “loved” the way you played with the music. Ouendan totally nails it, and is another brilliant use of the touch screen.

You have four difficulty levels, two available from the start (easy, normal). You get hard mode by beating normal and the cheer girls super hard difficulty if you get past hard. There’s also a ton of unique multiplayer games I’m dying to check out.

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So does this have any chance of making it here? It’s true many of the stories rely on some knowledge of Japanese life, but that’s not really the barrier. The music is. It’s all licensed songs covering past and very recent hit songs. So, whoever brings it out here has quite a dilemma. Putting in American hits is out of the question. You’d have to redo the entire game to match the tunes. The only alternative is to keep the songs with Japanese lyrics intact and try to get clearance to use them in the US. Neither scenario seems likely.

Your reaction to it does hinge upon your love of imported hijinks though. I think the reason it appeals to me is that it feels like a game someone created just for you. Not literally in that there are all these references no one would get, but the general warm fuzzy feeling when you happen upon something so special you’re amazed it survived and got released to the public. Original games are alive and well, and increasingly this year, they seem to all be for the Nintendo DS.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Big month for portables

I’ve prepared my wallet for quite a handheld assault as Nintendogs, Advance Wars DS, and Namco Museum PSP see release this month. I also still need to pick up Meteos, Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones and Astro Boy for the GBA. I was thinking I should wait on Advance Wars DS and play AW: Black Hole Rising for the GBA first. Then I thought I may save Black Hole for the GameBoy Micro or just play it on the Gamecube GBA player later. Who knows. I’m also on the fence whether to pick up Jump Superstars. I got to play it earlier this week (ah the advantages to working in an office full of games again) and it was quite a blast.

Getting back to that Namco collection, it got me thinking I would really like a lot more retro anthologies released for the PSP. From what I’ve played of the Japanese Namco PSP collection, the emulation is flawless and the graphics are ultra crisp (the US version has 10 additonal games!). I’m tempted to pick up the PSP Midway Treasures 3, but there aren't a lot of classics I would still spend time with. WiFi Gauntlet and Mortal Kombat 1 -3 sounds like a good time…we’ll see. The game I really want to see make it to the PSP is Taito Memories. Volume One was recently released for the Japanese PlayStation 2 and it’s loaded with gems, plus a whole slew of titles I never played before. I played a bit of Phil’s copy and it totally rocks. I just can’t find it in me to play it on a home console, retro titles work better for me on the road for some reason.

Also shipping sometime this month is the Zen Vision portable media player. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best of its kind I’ve seen yet. I fondled one in the officer the other day and decided I need one.

EB has apparently leaked a list of Xbox 360 launch titles that seems semi-accurate. I’m actually surprised by how many titles I would consider buying. Top five potential purchases would be DOA 4 (okay this one is an absolute given), Elder Scrolls IV, NBA 2K6 or NBA Live, Madden, and Ghost Recon. Games on the bubble are Need for Speed, Ridge Racer (this one may become a must have, but I’ve seen nothing solid on it), Perfect Dark, Call of Duty 2, and FIFA soccer. I’m quite interested in many of the other 20+ games on the list, rentals I guess. If I end up buying more than three games with the system, it would be the most money I’ve ever spent on a system launch. The current record is still $400 for a Japanese launch Saturn with Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Fighter. With games expected to go for $59.99 a pop, grabbing the system and my top five would be like $700! That's before taxes. Then again, the 3DO cost almost that much with no games included. Apples to oranges I know, just trying to convince myself it's worth it.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ninety-Nine Nights and Aloha weekend

I’m almost finished my second time through Haunting Ground. It’s not often I beat a game more than once, but this one had me for some reason. Kingdoms Under Fire: The Crusaders is also getting some play, mostly because the sequel is coming out next month.

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As great as they are, it’s hard not to look toward the future at Phantagram’s next venture, Ninety-Nine Nights for the Xbox 360. The screenshot above would seem to indicate the game is somewhat similar to Kingdoms, but they are partnered up with Tetsuya’ Mizuguchi’s Q Entertainment. I can’t wait to see what fruit this pairing bears.

While we’re on the topic of Xbox, I’m starting to weigh any upcoming purchases with increasing suspicion. Is this game going to be one of the lucky few that are worthy of “becoming” backward compatible with the 360? Let’s see, definitely want Kingdoms Under Fire: Heroes, and the SNK triple crown of KOF 94 Rebout, Samurai Shodown V, and KOF Neowave. And, uh, er…um that’s about it I think. Ninja Gaiden Black is sort of on the bubble at this point.

With limited entertainment space, I want, no must make room. Switching to the slim PS2 helped a little bit, but the Xbox is sucking up some prime real estate. Ah, I guess I’ll just banish it to the bedroom. None are so good they must be played NOW, but there are reasons, very special reasons, why I feel I need to give them some time. The list include Bard’s Tale (will probably play soon actually), Breakdown (I like the demo), CSI, Futurama, Jet Set Radio Future (must play this dammit), Phantom Dust (Panzer Dragoon guys, offbeat pseudo card battling adventure? I’ll love it or not), Shenmue II, and Silent Hill 2 (one of my favorite games evar, so I really want to play the exclusive Maria bits).

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Lindsay hipped me to the annual Aloha Festival this past weekend at the Presidio in SF, so my wife and I checked it out. Traffic getting there was crazy and I totally forgot how cold the Presidio gets. Even though it was a near sweltering 85 degrees in Alameda, I swear it was around 55 degrees at the Presidio, chillier with the whipping wind. You can clearly see the grey fog blanketing the sky.

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We browsed the booths after getting some grub, but didn’t last long before escaping to the warm confines of Japan town mall. Oh well, it was a nice day anyway.