Monday, December 18, 2006

Frets On Fire: keyboard update (Apple vs. Logitech)

So I've played Frets On Fire quite a lot more. It is so good. I have some issues with performance., though. It could be either the framework (I think it's Python-based) or maybe my dual-core rig. It's not game-spoiling by any means, but weird, as the game appears light-weight. Sometimes it skips frames in-game, and quite often the menus stutter and crawl.

My initial recommendation of my Apple keyboard for FOF is hereby withdrawn. I've noticed it's no good for gaming: the feel is very nice in typing, but it's too soft for gaming, where you often need to hold keys down for extended periods. My old, flat Logitech proved a better match, as it has only a little space on top of the function keys you need for playing, it's light and it has a soft, yet precise digital feel.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ticket To Ride: Europe edition, Pirates

We've been looking for a boardgame and have heard plenty of good things about Ticket To Ride. Eventually we got the Europe edition, because the map looked a lot more interesting than in the original US edition.

We've only played it together once, but came away impressed by the simple, rich rules. The components are also first-class.

What really impressed me was their online version. You get a code with the boardgame which allows you to play the game's online version for an unlimited time. It's a simple Java conversion of the original, with lacklustre graphics and token sounds. However, it's a joy to play and works very well as an online multiplayer game. They've done this with a couple of their games, but Ticket To Ride is the only with a sizeable player base.

It made me think they should make a good-looking version of the online game and sell it separately.

Related to this, Sony Online Entertainment is releasing a separate online version of the popular Pirates collectable... cardboard ship... game ("constructible strategy game", they call it), today. They're giving all their launch-day profits to Child's Play. This is the first time I'm applauding Sony for something in quite some time.

Speaking of Child's Play, the gamer community has donated over half a million dollars so far, this season alone. That's really something.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Next generation sales

So all of the next-gen consoles are upon us. Well, unless you live in Europe, that is, but regardless, I found the NexGen Wars site ( interesting. They claim that the sales data is up to date - I'm not at all sure about it. The "how many people prefer which console" data isn't at all interesting as the site is obviously targeted at the nerdcore. But if the sales data is anywhere close to the truth, it'll be interesting to follow how the market develops, instead of forming your opinion based on separate claims made by the console manufacturers over the next year.

Not surprisingly, the 360 is leading the pack with its year-long headstart (over 7M sold), but the Wii has really gotten off to a running start (over 1M sold), leading Nintendo to speculate that it may well surpass its financial projections for the year. Sony's 400K doesn't sound like much, but of course they did "launch" well before they had the stock to support it. I haven't been following the news that closely, but it seems that Sony is really getting beaten in the massmarket reviews, while Wii is welcomed everywhere.

I'm still fearing that Nintendo goes all Gamecube with Wii, though. Launching a fine console and supporting it with good releases are two different things.

Personally, I'm entrenched in the "wait and see" camp regarding the Playstation 3. It needs quality titles and a lower pricepoint to become desirable. Lacking a PS2, I'm willing to shell out a bit more for the third-gen Playstation, but so far I've heard nothing good. The Wii I'm ready to buy the minute there's a couple of quality titles for it.

Roleplaying for the masses

I've been reading the Finnish tabletop roleplaying scene's thoughts on making a low-threshold game meant to attract new people to the hobby. This has resonated with my own thoughts on roleplaying. I do believe there should be a low-threshold game, however, I'm on a completely different track to the majority of people discussing this.

The common idea seems to be a rules-light game based on a popular stereotype (generic fantasy). Why bother? If all you want is vanilla D&D, there is already vanilla D&D. You'll never get into it unless you're into rules, so the very high threshold to entry should work merely to deter those not cut out for it anyway.

A better take I've seen is taking a pop-culture icon and turning that into an easily digested game. Say, Lost. Or Alias. Then the game should be found in places where non-gamers tend to shop. The less there is to study about the game's framework, the better.

What I haven't seen discussed is breaking the ages-old roleplaying methods down a bit. Boardgames are living a new renaissance right now. The practice of playing a roleplaying game could be moved more towards that - use a board, a theme everyone gets without explaining it and have goals for everyone. This could be good because a boardgame doesn't have the gamemaster vs. players setup, and everyone is working together to gave fun - there is no gamemaster doing all the work.

It probably shouldn't be marketed as a roleplaying game, though, if mass market appeal is sought.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

On disability (Nintendo Wii)

I am a healthy person. Regardless, I can't play Burnout for more than around half an hour at a time: I can't keep gas (RT) and nitro (A) down all the time without my right hand aching. I have often wondered how much my life would change if I was no longer able to hold a joypad or use a keyboard and mouse. (It's pretty scary, actually: people break their hands all the time.)

Everyone is not as lucky as I am. I find the people's dickheadedness in this post's comments section astonishing. The guy is just saying that it would be nice if there were consistent options to adjust the Wiimote's sensitivity to accommodate people who can't move their hands that well, and people are crying "cheat!" and "tough luck, disabled guy, live with it!". This being the internet, many are drawing ridiculous parallels like "well, the guy with no hands can't play either, next we'll have to help him!".

I've ranted about usability issues before. Microsoft has pushed the developers into conforming to their standards on the usage of the 360 joypad's buttons, on respecting customized soundtracks and incorporating Live. They even have a setting for console-specific "preferred controls" to avoid having to set your invert, gearbox and viewpoint preferences in every FPS and driving game you play.

Is it possible that they haven't even thought about demanding customizable controls while at it? What about all the people who prefer "southpaw" layout, with movement on the right stick? Like many left-handers? There are no technical reasons to limit the user's customization of controls, yet it's extremely rare to see that an option.

I imagine there are a lot of people with minor hand problems, like missing fingers, aching joints and whatever, who could be helped just by giving them the option of, say, using RB instead of A for the majority of gameplay.

Even very common disabilities like hard of hearing and colorblindness are usually not taken into account. This could be remedied with simple rules on user interface design. I understand that these options can be the last thing to finetune before shipping and thus being very barebones, but we're talking about the overall quality of not just the one game, but the industry. If accessibility (to a sensible point...) was taken into account in the planning and design stage, these would be non-issues.

Since developers don't seem to take this up and publishers won't make them to, some industry entity should take up the accessibility flag. There's a lot of cheap, good PR on the offer, if you need an incentive beyond being as good as you can be.

I find this especially depressing because playing videogames can be one of the few ways a disabled or bed-ridden person can communicate with her peers on an equal level. To limit their options for no good reason is a shame.

Update: A couple of links to complement the post. First, there's One Switch, which is a campaign for greater accessibility in games. Then it appears that the International Game Developers' Association, or IGDA, has already taken accessibility into account in a special interest group's blog.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Happy birthday Xbox

The Xbox is five years as of today. It really doesn't seem like so many years. Allow me to recall some Xbox moments in my life.

The Xbox party. I went to this Microsoft-sponsored Xbox party, given out by the Pelit magazine. Our crew were all readers of said magazine. It was a hoot, and I think I decided that I needed an Xbox at the event.

Dead Or Alive 3. I could not believe how good DOA3 looked. It still ranks among the top cats, mind. Instalment 4 doesn't have nearly the same impact.

Completing Halo for the first time. I've done it quite a few times since. I lost count, but I imagine I've been through something like five times since. Also, playing Halo in co-op is a unique experience.

Hooking up on Live. I only did this with the 360 this year, but it was a revelation, nonetheless. How easy can you make online gaming?

Losing myself in Morrowind. The Xbox certainly saw many PC ports, which was nice since I couldn't afford a gaming PC. The PC crew may boast about their mod-support all they like, they can't take away my dozens of experiences with Morrowind on TV. Although the bugs did grate.

Listening to my music while carving up a mountain in Amped 2. Customizable playlists are a big thing to me and it's great they've only made them better with the 360. I was so into Amped 2 for some time that whenever I got a new record, I ripped it to the Xbox and listened to it on board.

Kung Fu Chaos. Kung Fu Chaos was the very first item on my Xbox "want" list and I finally got it a month or so ago. It's very good indeed and feels like a fitting goodbye to the console.

I will be playing on my Xbox for a good time to come, but I can't see myself buying very many new games. There are still some titles I want to check out, like Otogi 2, but my heart is very much in the next-gen playground already.

It's also fitting that the five-year old has finally learned how to talk. has an article up on this, check it out.

Update: Eurogamer has put together a pretty cool list of quality Xbox titles you probably missed. Handy shopping list if you're picking one up now that they're as cheap as a Gamecube.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sponsored post: Review Me

This is a sponsored post about the Review Me service. It's not like I need the $15 USD I'm getting for this or that it's even adequate money for the sign-up effort and writing the post; I'm doing this simply because I think this is a great idea. I came upon this via

The problem is that old-fashioned mass marketing or even targeted marketing like Google AdWords is just not cutting it for some products. To get that community interest you need to engage people. Review Me features products which need community exposure but don't work well with mass marketing. They pay bloggers to discuss their products: it's essentially a global media agency for reaching bloggers.

Of course I'm thinking here that videogames could work very well in this context. I know I can rely on Penny Arcade's coverage of the games they play. Even at the risk of sounding much more influential than I am (and I really have no illusions: I've got a total of 2'000 visitors), it's the old ethos of reaching the opinion leaders.

Take the online RPGs I discussed earlier today. You can use banner ads to reach potential customers for Eve Online and D&D Stormreach, since they have popular imagery and USPs you can throw at the audience. But what about the real niche games, like A Tale In The Desert? Games which are too out there to be explained in a single sentence? You can't tell about them if people don't talk about them. Review Me might be just the thing to help get the word out there about these more obscure games without excessive PR efforts.

So there you have it, a way to get bloggers to discuss your product (or site, or service, or...). The only requirements for the sponsored reviews are to write 200+ words (this post is 444 words) and be clear about the fact that it's a paid-for post. There's no need to be positive about the reviewed thing.

As a blogger, I feel good about this. The products it's good for are the kind of stuff I'd likely write about anyway, and since the advertiser hand-picks the sites they want to feature in, the content I'm proposed should fit my line well. Since writing a post is a relatively big effort anyway, I don't think this is "easy money" - it's a bonus, sure, and if you've got a popular site, you can make $50 USD per review.

Now, this is all theoretical. I don't think I'll see many propositions from the Review Me advertisers, but I just want to be clear that I wouldn't categorically say no to them.

Update 15/11/06: We broke the 50 visitor threshold yesterday. Nice, that.

Massively Multiplayer (EVE, Stormreach, World Of Warcraft, CCP + White Wolf)

I've been intrigued by the massively multiplayer games for a long time. I've played some Anarchy Online and tried free demos of a couple of others, but haven't really gotten into any of them, mostly due to the grind of the games being such a bore: the games don't properly start until you've invested dozens of hours and made friends with other players.

These games are commonly called massively multiplayer online something-or-other, usually roleplaying games. The "massively" is just needless gloating, and "multiplayer" says the same as "online", really. If it's an RPG, I like to stubbornly call them net-RPGs or something of the sort, as I feel just stupid saying "MMORPG" aloud. Don't you? If it's not an RPG, can't we just say it's an online game? Or a net-game?

There is one game in which the "massively" part rings true, which is one of the reasons I'm itching to try it out. Eve Online's players truly are all in the same world, running it in unison. It's a grand social and economical experiment, hailed by some as the ultimate game and by others as the, well, ultimate bore. There's been a lot of cool stuff done in Eve, like the way the economy actually works and the way the players have set up the world's allegiancies on their own, without GM intervention. We intend to check out EVE with my wife in the Christmas holidays.

Then there's World Of Warcraft. It's massive in the sense that everyone and their cats have played the game and there's a truly massive amount of players at it at any given time, regardless of how many separate servers they inhabit. The games has one thing going for it: it's visually so pleasing that I find it hard to resist jumping in whenever I see it running on-screen. We had already decided against ever trying it out, wary of some of our friends' regret over the time they'd put into it, but last weekend the fever hit again.

I really don't want to spend all my spare time on a (single) game. However, there's nothing wrong in playing something for a while. There's another online RPG I'd really like to check out, Dungeons & Dragons Stormreach, but I always thought that I shouldn't touch it as I wouldn't have the time it required, anyway. But so what if I only played for a couple of months, as with other games? If the game can't offer proper gameplay during the opening moments, it's probably not worth my time anyway.

As I had pondered about these things and settled on rying out at least the free demos of these games, the news hit that CCP, the company behind EVE, had agreed on a merger with White Wolf, the company behind my beloved Vampire tabletop RPG. Something good is bound to emerge from this union.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


With Microsoft's outright weird decision to bundle the 360 with a 20GB hard drive (with a mere 12GB free for use!), this Datel product may soon become a common item among the gamer hardcore. I know I'm tempted. It isn't strictly necessary yet, but with TV and movie downloads on the horizon, an easy solution to the storage problem is needed.

There are also relatively straightforward guides to exchanging the 360's HD to a bigger capacity one, but those would all void my warranty.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Previews (Warhammer, PC FPS titles)

PC back catalogue

With a gaming PC in the house after a long hiatus, I've naturally seeked out demos of interesting PC titles I've missed over the years. Some initial impressions, then:

Far Cry: highly interesting. Runs super-smooth with high settings and looks lovely. The sense of freedom is something I haven't previously experienced in a shooter title and it really feels like you can approach situations any way you care. I was initially lured by the bright, tropical graphics, but the gameplay feels like a winner, too.

I played the demo through obsessively, delighted at how challenging it was. As a sidenote, I remain a fan of the checkpoint system. I don't want to break my immersion with quicksaves - which often leads me to forgetting to save my progress if the game doesn't have a checkpoint system. Checkpoints also split the game into bite-size chunks. This demands further play.

FEAR: FEAR is perhaps the PC title I was most looking forward to, but I'm a little disappointed. The controls feel as off as they did with the 360 version (a Monolith mainstay, unfortunately) and the graphics stutter more than they do on the Xbox. I remain intrigued by the premise, so I'll likely look more into it, but with diminished expectations. It could be I'd be better off with the 360 version, which runs smoother.

Half-Life 2: that's correct, I haven't played Half-Life 2 yet, though the original game is among the best games I've ever played. I intend to, especially after playing the demo. The game still looks good and runs super-smooth.

Gameplay feels more like, well, playing than running and gunning in the classic FPS sense. With limited ammunition and the environment-manipulating gravity gun, you're left thinking of other ways to solve the problem of staying alive. The aesthetic design is so cool, too.

Warhammer: Mark Of Chaos

I only briefly treid the demo of the new Warhammer real-time strategy title. It felt a lot like actual, miniatures-based Warhammer, which is only a good thing. I'm not sure, but it looked like they were even playing by the "real" rules. Units are counted in models, not "men", and that kind of thing. There is an option customize some unit colors, although it would be awesome to be able to actually "paint" the models.

I was worried they'd go the popular Warcraft way of candy colors and high fantasy, but it seems they've kept the premise down low and gritty. My other fear was that they'd go all Warcraft on the gameplay, too, with base-building and whatnot, but this seems unfounded. You pick forces, set them up and go at it.

This is very much the way I envisioned a computer-Warhammer back as a kid when playing around with the models. Only that with a computer game, you can field a thousand-strong army and it'll only cost you the 50€ for the game.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Child's Play 2006

Penny Arcade is again organizing Child's Play, the gamer charity for children's hospitals. I'm going to participate with my wife. It would be great to have you along.

We haven't participated in earlier years because it's been a US thing, but now that there's an Egyptian children's hospital to donate to, we really have no choice but to chip in. We've been to Egypt a couple of times, since my wife studies Egyptology. The last time we visited an orphanage for handicapped children in Luxor, and the people and their need has stuck with us.

You can buy toys (including videogames) or donate cash via PayPal. It's a great Christmas gift not only for children, but for the gamer community: there really is no better PR for the often criticized and ridiculed gamers than this campaign.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tech survival +1

I'm writing this on my new computer. It is the first I've built myself, right from choosing parts to assembling the thing. It's not quite done yet, there's a bunch of cables hanging from the case which need to find their counterparts on the motherboard, but it works and I've got everything installed with just one day of tinkering.

Thankfully, the speed increase does seem worth it. Of course I've ran some old 3D Mark benchmarks to see the delicious 100+ FPS scores, and I also intend to test-drive some old games which used to be too much for my old rig (Update: Half-Life 2, FEAR, Unreal Tournament 2003 all run well. Great!). I'm doing something wrong, though: one guy on the 3D Mark 05 benchmark has an identical system to mine, yet he's scored over double the points.

Anyway, I'm just glad I've got it all together. There was a brief feeling of desperation when I couldn't get the graphics card to display anything, but apart from that, it's been remarkably trouble-free. (Update: Simply unplugging and replugging the GPU did the trick.)

And what games am I anxious to try out, apart from the great Frets On Fire? There's at least Dawn Of War, FEAR, Far Cry and just to see how the rig handles it, good ol' Doom 3. And some indie stuff I couldn't handle previously.

So far there's just one let-down: it makes a lot of noise. I'm real happy that I chose slightly less noisy components, but it could be that a couple of low-noise fans and a proper power supply would be in order. At least the hum is stable and low in frequency.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Frets On Fire, new computer

One of my reasons for finally getting around to upgrading my computer (see below) was that even indie games are too heavy for my old setup. Luckily this latest gem I came across does work, and it's sweet indeed! Frets On Fire is a simple clone of the hugely successful Guitar Hero series on the consoles. Holding your keyboard like a guitar feels great one you're past the "I can't believe I'm doing this" stage. At least my Apple keyboard works great this way.

New computer

Might as well mention what I ordered and why, since this is the kind of information I looked for in the net for weeks before figuring out what I need. We wanted a rig to last us for the next three or four years in mostly light home use, with forays into graphical applications (Photoshop, InDesign mostly) and gaming. Some care was taken into keeping it upgradeable.

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ boxed, 2.2GHz, 1MB(2x512) Cache. We settled on a dual-core because it felt like with Vista right around the corner, now would be a good time. Our heaviest resource loads are graphics applications, which could really benefit from better multitasking. I simply picked a dual-core processor in the mid-range price, landing at 215€.

Motherboard: Abit AN9 32X AM2 nF590-SLI. We needed an AMD M2 socket for the processor and the price difference between the recent nForce 590 and ageing nForce 4 chipsets wasn't huge. This one cost 180€. Reviews suggested that this board or one of its variants was a good choice for a powerful, upgradeable setup. I wanted the AM2 socket for future-proofing, too; it seems like socket 939 is phased out byt the time we'd need a new processor. It could be I went overboard with the motherboard and it doesn't help with the next upgrade after all, but I like knowing that the base of the rig isn't shaky. I went for SLI because I wasn't going to buy a high-end graphics processing unit, but I wanted the option to boost GPU power cost-effectively. Oh, and the mobo is passively cooled.

GPU: Club 3D GeForce 7600GS 256MB Silent, PCI-E. The choice in GPU was basically between the GeForce 7600GS and GT. The 7600GT is currently the mass market choice in the around 150€ range. GT is only slightly more expensive and considerably more powerful than the GS, but I really wanted a passively cooled GPU. The GS should be enough for our needs and since it's SLI-capable, I can always just plug in another similar card to boost the power to something approaching the levels of mid to high -end cards (I think). You can get a passively cooled 7600GT, too, but delivery would take several weeks and they cost over 200€, compared to the 120€ for the GS.

Case: HyperCell2 6211L-CA with a 400W power source, at 70€. I did think about purchasing a separate power source as my old computer has an Antec power source which alone cost 70€, but we settled on a cheap case which looked good.

Memory: Kingston 1024MB (1GB) 533MHz DDR2, PC2-4200, CL4, for 130€. we were tempted by 2 GB, but 1GB felt adequate for now. It can always be added to later.

I won't bore anyone with the DVD toaster and hard drive details, especially since I don't really understand anything about them. I do expect the SATAII HD to feel lightning-fast compared to the IDE (PATA) drive I currently use. Well, as far as "triple-speed" equals "lightning-fast", anyway... I also think we'll get a major reduction in noise, since the thing will only have a processor and power source fan. Well, it may be that we need a case fan, too, but I'm only adding one if necessary.

Expect massive complaining once I get to assembling the thing and find out that nothing fits.

Update (9 November 2006): Some clarifications!

The motherboard is not passively cooled. It just has a heatsink in addition to two small fans. I was distracted by the "Silent OTES Heatpipe" designation. I ended up getting an Abit AN9 32X Fatal1ty AM2 nF590-SLI for the motherboard. It's basically the same board, I can't tell of any major differences between the two.

The case does have one case-fan to begin with.

I also picked up another GPU, as the one I wanted initally wasn't readily available. I got an Asus GF7600GS 512MB PCIE, which is basically the same unit, except with more memory. I'm slightly mystified by the card's performance in tests, as it routinely rates lower than the 256MB variant. Oh well, runs well enough.

The SATA2 hard drive is sure fast, and silent. Actually the more silent HD and optical drive are maybe a bigger thing than more silent fans would be.

I'm thinking about overclocking, too, since the Athlon 64 X2 4200+ AM2 should go up to 2,9 GHZ with ease, with just air-cooling. I don't want to risk my new hardware, though, so we'll see. If performance becomes an issue.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Taking down Las Vegas (Rainbow Six Vegas)

The same night I checked out the very promising Tony Hawk's Project 8, I got to get a taste of the Rainbow Six Vegas demo. I've been a fan of the Tom Clancy's series since Rogue Spear on the PC, and especially the original Ghost Recon I played far too much of.

Put simply and based on the demo, R6 Vegas is the game I always imagined when playing Rogue Spear back in 1999. It looks so good, the animation puts you right in the midst of things, the effects (especially being wounded) are great. The action feels believable and played on the "realistic" setting, there's quite enough of a challenge. After the disappointing but popular Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, I was cautious about this, but I'm a convert. (In case you're wondering, I'm not going to touch Lockdownafter the reviews it got.)

I imagine that this will be a Live hit, too, but the single-player experience feels a very worthwhile effort on its own.

It's a little hard to put your finger on any single facet of the game to explain why it leaves you breathless. The excellent cover mechanic and animation are important, the instantly spot-on controls are certainly a part of it. Ragdolls are done well and you can even collect enemy weapons, always a pet gripe of the series' fans. Facial animation is a big thing, as are the excellent weapons.

Based on demo versions, this is probably the game Ubi was hoping Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter would've been, if it had more time to polish.

Goddamn! (Tony Hawk's Project 8)

If there was something I felt fairly certain about in the videogaming world, it was that I really was not going to buy another Tony Hawk's title. Underground, in my opinion, was just boring, and its predecessor Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 really had everything I wanted.

Until Tony Hawk's Project 8's demo rolled out in Xbox Live. Skating never felt this good. Sports never felt this good. Indeed, I daresay videogames have very rarely felt this good. I noticed I was breathless after I figured out how to Nail The Tricks.

The new instalment is "next-gen"; it looks a lot better than last-gen skating titles did, but that's not a lot said about a Tony Hawk's title, which never looked that good. The physics are a lot better, but nothing exceptional. Animation, if anything, is truly good. They say the gameworld (naturally, a city) is entirely seamless, which sounds promising. It feels a lot more realistic, with less over the top air.

The new thing is the Nail The Trick mode, which is initiated during any aerial, including your most basic ollie (tap A), by clicking both control sticks. This zooms the view into your feet and deck and engages a very slow motion effect. In Nail The Trick, the sticks no longer control your spin or speed - instead, they directly control your feet, one for each stick. Then you kick the deck to make it spin and time it correctly to land with your deck upright. Naturally, you can combine half-spins and using both feet, kicking the deck into another direction in mid-spin. Everything is directed and animated to perfection.

You use Nail The Trick all the time and it feels sublime. The most basic leap down a curb feels so right when you add a perfectly executed simple spin to it. I couldn't stop doing the basic tricks.

Something comparable can be found in Amped 2's style meters, which encourage balletic, slow arcs, timed to perfection with your landing. Those felt very good, too, but Project 8 finally tops the sensation. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Phantasy Star Universe beta, Lumines Live outrage

Phantasy Star Universe

So I played one night in the PSU beta on Live. I loved the character creation. I made a chick robot. I like the setting a lot - it's so unpretentious: you have a dedicated shopping mall/lobby, you select a mission and get to it. The unplausible yet aesthetically pleasing mix of fantasy and science fiction appeals to me.

The graphics are lame. They do the job and the design is very good, but you really do expect more on a next-gen console. The visuals are basically Dreamcast era graphics moving smoothly and somewhat smoothed over with anti-aliasing. Textures are poor and the models have nothing going for them... but on the whole, it's a pleasing sight.

Based on that one evening's play, I'm not going to pay the separate online fee Sega is asking for the privilege. There isn't enough variety of stuff to do and for me, the social elements wouldn't be enough, since I definitely wouldn't be hanging online every day.

Lumines Live

Lumines finally came on Live. It caused an uproar. First there was the price of 1200 points (around 14€) and then it turned out that the so-called full game is anything but. There are mere samples of most game modes, with only the time attack and online versus modes completely unlocked for your 1200 points. I could stomach that, if the basic "challenge" mode featured more than seven skins (levels), which is really pushing it. They're going to release a lot more skins for a further 600 points, with individual game mode packs coming later, too.

I can see what they're trying to accomplish here (besides money), and I applaud it. However, the decision to ask for a record-breaking 1200 points for the demo version ("Base") is an unwelcome move. I'd buy the bits and pieces happily if the base pack was a lot cheaper or indeed free.

The game does seem worth of 14€, I really like the demo, but they should never have called it a "full game". Obviously Live Marketplace is a still evolving thing, but incidents like this don't really help people's willingness to indulge in micropayments. And, well, 14€ isn't exactly "micro" in any fashion.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Profit, weird dream, Burnout Revenge


This article sheds light on the retailer side of things on the console war front. I was surprised to see how little the retailer makes on the sale of a single console. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but certainly more than $15 for an Xbox 360.


I had a weird videogame dream last night. There was an article on Eurogamer or Joystiq (both of which I follow daily) that an Insert Credit (which I read irregularly) forumite from Finland (where I live) had declared a competition to come up with four-letter words used as combat phrases in a JRPG. You know, like "ATTK", "PASS" and so on. Can't say what was significant about that. No, I haven't been thinking about JRPG combat phrases lately. Weird. I remember my dreams very rarely.

Burnout Revenge

I got Burnout Revenge for Xbox yesterday. Based on a single sit-down with the game, it's cool enough. None of that darkness I witnessed in the 360 demo, which I dare to guess is an issue with 360 games being designed for HD displays, which are most of the time (back-lit) LCD, not CRT.

The game is entirely in Finnish, which is hilarious. The voice-over doesn't much impress, but otherwise it really brings another level of absurdity to it all. As to why I chose the Xbox version over the 360 version, well, you can't say no to 10€.

It's weird how fast I've become accustomed to the 360 being online all the time. I was so let down that I didn't get to see global leaderboards after a race in Burnout Revenge. And I got no Live achievements for my time investment, what's up with that?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Online fees (Phantasy Star Online)

I'm completely happy with paying for Xbox Live Gold. Around 7€ per month is not much and I get a lot for that money.

However, paying for the service makes me extremely wary of paying more for individual games. I was super excited about Phantasy Star Universe, but I find it highly unlikely that I'd pay the further (around) 7€ they're asking. I do understand that online RPGs require money to operate, but publishers (Microsoft included) should understand that the consumer view of things is that they're already paying for the online experience.

In the case of PSU, I'm quite skeptical about the publisher's need for the money, in any case. It's a very simple game. I don't have a clue as to how the load is spread between Microsoft's infrastructure and Sega's (the publisher in this case) - for all I know, they could be just asking for more money for the sake of it. It's not like PSU requires ongoing development, new storylines or whatnot - it's a social dungeon bash.

I predict that the game doesn't sell very well and the community ends up being too small to really sustain itself. I do hope all the best for the game and I'm not saying I'd be immune to its lures despite the additional cost, but the threshold for taking part has suddenly gone way up. Let's just say that without the additional "GUARDIANS License" monthly fee, I'd likely pick this up without a second thought.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Introducing: The inner nerd

We've talked about it for years, and finally I got a domain with my wife. It's called per our shared Live Gamertag. There isn't a whole lot in there yet, and I don't know what I'm going to do with the space, either. But it's there. A friend helped us settle in, I'm not at all sure whether I'm tech-savvy enough to do it all on my own. We chose Dreamhost.

This notification is merely to let you know what the new link in the sidebar is. I'm actually pretty enthusiastic about this, just to know that I have a technological playground when I need one. There have been many times in the past when I've wished I had one, and now I do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Online leaderboards (feat. Doom), 3D platformers (feat. Sonic), Defcon


I purchased the 360 version of classic Doom at 800 MS points (roughly 9€). It's a no-frills conversion, exactly what I wanted - no tricks done to the original graphics or sounds, all four episodes, controls work very well. It's a great game. I have one thing to complain about: the map is utterly worthless on a non-HDTV. Really, you need to take the massmarket (like all of Europe) into account when designing your game views.

A couple of things came up during playing the first episode through in one sitting.

First and foremost are the online leaderboards, viewable per level. All games need this feature. It plays straight to my competitive spirit. It feels so good to be the best player among your friends and to, say, finally break the global top-1000.

Leaderboards are what keeps me playing Geometry Wars, too. It bugs me that I'm sitting right on the average level (according to I need to break that half a million to get above the crowd!

Then there are Doom's controls. As per the original version, there is no Y-axis; you don't aim up and down. The character automatically targets monsters above and below you, provided that they line up with your gun. I'd really like to see a modern shooter do the same. Sure it needs some clever level design (Doom's essentially flat), but it would keep things much more free-flowing and immediate.

I recall the makers of the original Unreal Tournament's Xbox version attempting something in this vain, via level design. I don't know how that worked out, though.

I didn't buy Doom merely because I loved it as a kid. I imagined that it would be a great game, period. And it is. If anything, provided you can look past the low-res graphics, it's even better today. It absolutely wipes the floor with so many modern shooters, despite being released in 1993. The lighting is very effective, the level design is engaging, the overall aesthetic design hasn't aged at all.

Oh, and like reviewer Kristan Reed on Eurogamer put it, this game features bodies which do not disappear. Thirteen years ago. Get with the times, shooter designers.

Sonic: The Hedgehog next-gen

I've said it before and this latest offering only enforces my position: platform games should never have made the jump to 3D presentation. It doesn't work! I tried and tried and tried and simply could not hit the lines of rings with any confidence. The automatically aimed spinning attack does work, but as usual, the camera is worthless (you wouldn't believe how slowly it spins).

There's been a single instance of 3D platforming working well - Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time - but even that one stellar example of the genre had some problems with the camera.

So in a nutshell: kill 3D platformers, kpls.

Allegedly the original Sega Megadrive/Genesis Sonic is coming to XBLA in the near future. That's an almost guaranteed sale right there and I imagine it will work much better than this entirely competent, but by its nature, awkward offering.


I've liked Introversion ever since I found Uplink, the awesome hacker game they released in 2001. Their latest release Defcon has generated a lot of hype. The game was released a few days ago and the demo is now out, too, go get it.

I had trouble imagining how the game would play out in practice, but having played through the tutorial, it's all clear now. I've yet to try a full-fledged game, but it's pretty safe to say at this point that it's a sure sale for me (PC hardware permitting, my home machine's ancient). At 14€ for a brand new game, I really can't complain. Although I might go for the boxed copy, which is priced a little higher, but even that's a ridiculous 21€! And it feels good to know that you're paying straight to the developers themselves.

It's also interesting how cool and distinctive Introversion's games look, despite the authors claiming that it's all "programmer art". Their soundscapes are thoughtful, too. I hear that Defcon sports "situation room ambient" consisting of cigarettes lighted, coughs and so on, which is really a magnificent idea. Can't be witness to that myself, yet, because I didn't have audio on the laptop I tried it on.

Update: Defcon runs just fine on my 900 MHZ/512 MB RAM home system. I've taken a beating from the computer twice, now. Well, at least it runs fine with only two players, that is.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Guitar Hero 360, the lack of a PS2 and Tenchu Senran, DS

All right, Guitar Hero II is coming to the 360. This is very cool, now there's no pressure to finally get that PS2 I still haven't bought. However, as you can see from the link, the proposed controller looks hideous. That cannot be the finalized product.


While I'm on the subject, let's see why I still have a craving for a PS2, despite not sating my hunger years ago. I'd like to say why I don't have one yet: because I'm cheap. I haven't been able to justify paying so much for one when the technology is so outdated and Sony are being so arrogant. I know I'll have to, eventually, but I've put it off for a long time, now.

I already have a PS2 game I really want to play: Atari's Transformers.

Then there's a bunch of games I think I need in my game library: Metal Gear Solid three, R-Type Final, Gradius V, Dragon Quest VIII, God Of War, the Devil May Cry series and the platform also has the best versions of the Dancing Stage series. There are a whole lot more, but these are among the titles I'm most looking forward to.


I went to the trouble of getting myself a Japanese Xbox Live account in order to download the demo of Tenchu Senran, published at Tokyo Game Show this week. I'm sorely disappointed. It looks like a mediocre Xbox game, albeit with a good draw distance and a solid framerate. The animation is shoddy, the controls are clunky and it's still constructed from the same blocks of scenery that made up the game way back in the original Tenchu on the Playstation.

I really liked the first and second installment of Tenchu on the PS, but I did expect the series to mature and evolve by now. If the only change is draw distance, I just can't get excited. I'll stay posted for reviews, though, because this is a game I really want to like. And the trailer (pop-up warning!) was so exciting!

However, the DS ("Dark Secret", heh) version is interesting, if only because it doesn't use the same age-old presentation of the series. Instead, it takes the old Metal Gear Solid top-down viewpoint, which might fit the series very well.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I am weak [Edit: And increasingly popular!]

I don't know how on Earth I'd missed this before, but Armored Core 4 is coming to the 360, too. Previously a Playstation exclusive, AC is pretty much the one true mecha videogame. I loved the series debut, even with its weird and difficult controls (yes, I get the irony).

The TGS06 trailer takes while to get going, but there is mecha goodness to the point that I'm exhausted. The series' mecha design has always been top-notch, save for maybe the weird hover and tracked models.

Even better is that the 360 version (it's also out on the PS3, naturally) is supposed to be all about online warfare, which suits me fine indeed. From is fast becoming a defining 360 devhouse for me.

Edit: On popularity

My post on Gundam: Operation Troy is my single most popular page. This is no surprise, as it is a relatively hot and upcoming game and I am currently on the first page of Google hits on it.

While this is not particularly newsworthy in itself, studying the page popularity rankings I also noticed that my visitor count has doubled over the last two months. At this rate, we'll hit the 2K mark in a little over a month.

I really am trying to provide useful and/or interesting commentary for your consuming, even though the focus is on my personal gaming experience. Feedback is always welcome.

On fearsome controls

While I understand that development time is limited and you have to make sacrifices, your game's controls simply cannot be at stake.

I've waited for FEAR's 360 demo with baited breath. Granted, I've only yet played it for fifteen minutes, but they have some polishing to do with the controls. There are two big problems.

One: you need to hold the left stick in to crouch. Never do this. It has to be a toggle: crouch/stand up. Even if it's intentional because they don't want you to move while crouched (I doubt), it's a pain.

Two: unless tweaking the sensitivity of the sticks alleviates the problem, the movement and aiming feel horribly off. I tried upping the sensitivity a lot, which didn't help at all. It feels to me like they've copied the PC original's control scheme directly - movement doesn't feel analogue, which it really has to be on a twin-stick setup, and aiming feels like you're using a mouse. Which doesn't work at all. You need to factor in a little auto-aim, you need to make the smallest movement of the stick to register, you need to fine-tune the acceleration until it's natural. I spent many a frustrating second trying to move my aim a head's or a limb's width to get a shot at a stationary target. I didn't have a hope landing shots without the use of the - incredibly nifty - slow-motion power.

Halo did the twin-stick console FPS control scheme so well that each and every FPS designer needs to study it. If you can't make it any better, just copy it. There have been examples of working alternatives; for instance, I never cringed at Battlefield 2's controls. You can look past spotty graphics, but if you don't feel like you're in control, you just can't enjoy the game.

All that said, I remain enthusiastic about the game. Maybe I can learn to live with the controls, but that's really the wrong way around.

Regardless of controls, there were also quite a few graphical glitches, but I'm willing to look past that to bask in the glory of the supremely satisfying bullet-trails, particle effects and chunks blown off the environment. We'll see how it all hangs together after a couple of play-throughs of the demo.

Edit: All right, taking the sensitivity down a lot helped with the aiming. The movement still feels clunky, but I believe I can live with it, now.

Come to think of it, I shouldn't be surprised. Monolith's games have always felt weird to control, all the way back from Shogo and No One Lives Forever. Regardless, those two titles are among my all-time favorite games, which just proves that a game is more than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Epic miniatures

I came across an almost pristine copy of Games Workshop's Space Marine (1st edition of the current Epic system). I hold the game dear. As a kid, I had a good-sized Blood Angels army. I remember being humiliated by a friend's Squat (aka space-dwarves. No, really!) army time and time again.

So yesterday I evaluated the contents of the box, assembled the cardboard buildings and washed the miniatures. I set aside two vehicles and four squads. The box holds twice as many Space Marines as it does Orks and Eldars, so I thought I'd paint two varieties of Space Marines.

My first instinct was to recreate my childhood army, but frankly, the all-red force is boring, and the Ork army will most likely sport black and red as their colors. Since I always wanted an Ultramarines force but was too much of a deviant to go for the obvious choice (they're featured on the box coverart), now it's time to indulge myself.

The other Space Marine army I always wanted is the Space Wolves. Their white and grey ought to be simple to reproduce.

With these two armies selected, I began experimenting with the paint schemes. The Ultramarines were easy; just simple blue with highlights. I believe they'll look all right with little effort.

Two Ultramarines squads. These guys are really small. The scale is 6 mm, so a trooper is about the height of a regular 25-30 mm miniature's foot! Also, I'm not sure what I'll do with the base. It's a street-grey, now, but I'm thinking of making it brown and maybe adding some texture with sand.

Space Wolves Land Raider with supporting troops. This is the same vehicle that's in the post's title image. It turned out fine. You can't see it from this angle, but the doors have been accented with white, sort of like UN vehicles, with a unique unit designation - in this case, "I". I was thinking of maybe painting the guns with the chapter colors, too, instead of the usual gunmetal and black.

Two squads of Space Wolves. These are the same guys as in the picture above, but they're here in proper focus. I had a lot of trouble getting the paint scheme right. Plain grey and white looked boring. The squad on the left is the result of three attempts at a plain grey or white base, black ink and light grey highlights. Not too convincing.

The squad on the right I'm pretty happy with. I went for a straight white coat, with a black helmet as an accent, washed with brown ink, shoulders cleaned and the whole squad highlighted with white. Now they look all grimy and seasoned, as they should! The bases haven't been cleaned yet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Helicopters attract attention in most Battlefield 2: Modern Combat games I've played.

On the one hand there is the chopper pilot with elite skills. He dominates the battlefield. There are counter-measures, but they require some patience to use. Last night our game on DeadlyPass was completely stalled by a pilot who knew his stuff. He flew low, never hovered, always struck with precise bursts, not giving you time to seek cover. I went against him in a chopper at one time. I don't think I scored a single hit before being blown out of the sky.

On the other hand there is the chopper pilot who manages to crash his aircraft during take-off. You see this a lot. Why don't these people play the single player campaign enough to learn the ropes? It walks you through this stuff. I had to try the first chopper mission in the single player campaign many times before getting it right, but I did learn how to handle a helo.

The point is, it's difficult. The helicopter doesn't handle like the videogame vehicles you're used to. It takes some learning to make a clean strafe, let alone close maneuvers under fire. The battle chopper is a fearsome tool, but it really does take dedication to pilot one. And once you finally can execute a good gun-run, you know you're the shit. I've yet to experience that in an online game, but merely tagging along as a gunner feels very good.

I think it's brave of Dice to keep the helicopter handling tricky. It's much more satisfying when you know that most of the grunts couldn't follow your example. And it allows them to maintain the helicopter's power, since there are so few players who can really put it to use.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Treasure + 360 = RS3

I am not one to scream in all caps, but I couldn't contain myself after reading this rumor: Treasure might be working on a sequel to Ikaruga, also known as Radiant Silvergun 2... for the 360. Man, I've had a craving to plug in the Gamecube and play some Ikaruga after a summer-long break. Maybe it was a premonition.

Tokyo Game Show and X06

TGS & X06

I really do love Xbox Live. I like the ease of playing online games. I like the community system. I like to download demos and videos. I like the way it allows publishers to patch the games I've bought from them bugged.

Now I'm all excited about Live bringing the Tokyo Game Show and X06 to my home. No more relying on blogs and news sites to cover the press releases. No more waiting one to two months to get magazine coverage on the events. These events generate excitement on Live mainly because of their exclusivity: much of the content is for Live users only, only available through the 360 dashboard and only available for about a week.

Many new demos are expected. Personally I can't wait for FEAR. (Edit: Oh! And Gundam: Operation Troy! As I've said before.) There will also be new videos, video coverage of press events, interviews and whatnot. A great way to get ready for the coming game season!

Microsoft is yet again demonstraring that it understands the internet. This is refreshing when compared to recent events with some other monoliths of gaming.

Battlefield 2

In game journal type of things, I've played Battlefield 2 lots more. Now that I've seen some of the other maps (a total of five, I think, of the game's 16!), I understand why BridgeTooFar and Backstab are so popular. Still, I'm left wondering whether there are some more gems among the rest of the maps. I'm not convinced I'll ever find out, though, because it feels like a good four fifths of all games are played on these two maps.

There is just so much to do in BF. I love driving a tank and flying a chopper. And who wouldn't love being a gunner? And the feel of taking a flag together with a good crew is just priceless, especially if there's heavy opposition.

The game's totally worthless manual disgusts me, though. I still don't know what the "PPH" in my game stats means. (Edit: well okay, I googled it. Points Per Hour. Logical, really.)

There's also been one annoying problem: sometimes the game just won't display a friend or foe marker on some guy and when in doubt, I tend to blast away. I've killed three mates because of this. It sucks to be voted to be kicked from the server!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Battlefield Chaos

Kung Fu Chaos

I finally came across Kung Fu Chaos by Just Add Monsters (these days known as Ninja Theory). It was the first title on my Xbox want list back in 2003, actually, so it's about high time, too. Regardless of my high expectations, they were easily surpassed. The game is delicious.

You may not know KFC, since it came and went with little fanfare, despite generally positive reviews. It's a humorous beat 'em up where you face from one to a gang of opponents at a time, usually in scrolling environments. The game is set in the set of a cheap 70s kung fu flick. There is no plot; you act out fighting scenes, with the director yelling all the time. There is a bunch of minigames, too.

It's amazing how much top-notch presentation can add to the whole. From the moment the game boots up, you're feeling like you're watching a kung fu show. The interface is grainy and scratchy like cheap film, and you really can't help but smile when Kung Fu Fighting begins pouring out of the speakers.

Based on two sessions with the game, KFC is pure feel-good. Even when you're losing, it's funny, and there's an abundance of neat stuff, like the minigame where you have to throw a difficult princess at the other contestants to make them fall of the poles you're all standing on. So far the stages haven't repeated themselves at all. The basic gameplay is more varied than the old-school scrolling beat 'em ups this game is based on.

I don't even like the character design, but the game still holds a huge appeal. Catching falling stuntmen is great fun, there's no way around it!

Battlefield 2

Battlefield has always sounded like a lot of fun, and with the 360 and Live, I'm finally able to take a bite. I've now played around five hours of it on Live and a couple of hours of the singe player campaign.

It's a great game with a couple of really nagging things, more on which below. It's a shame there are only two online game modes - Conquest and Capture The Flag - but BF really seems to be built on Conquest, anyway.

The game looks good - I've been impressed by most of the maps. The physics don't feel right, which is a shame. Seeing a helicopter blown out of the sky is neat, but when the pieces tumble on the battlefield, making little sound and ricocheting all over the place with no weight to them really takes the edge off the experience. "Oh right, we're playing a game here." I also can't understand why tanks can't overrun small trees and fences. Surely it can't be that hard to implement?

For a Live-game, it' crucial that there are players on the servers. I haven't played in a game with fewer than 17 participants, with most up in the 20-24 category. There have been zero issues with lag. The game has been downscaled from the PC version, but the scale feels just right, at least with mostly full servers.

I like the way the armies speak their pre-recorded reports in their own languages. It's no roleplaying, but it does add to the overall feel a lot to hear Chinese in your headphones. On the whole, though, the audio becomes tiring due to the constant bass-overloaded explosions and shots. The music fits the bill rather well and gives some structure to the cacophony.

There is one thing I'm really irritated about. Electronic Arts has completely neglected us poor people with old-school, standard-definition TVs. BF2 uses tiny type and interface elements. which are nigh-invisible on my 32" SDTV. Thankfully there's an option to switch the interface colors to colorblind-friendly choices, which makes the essential data a little better visible.

Related to this is the fact that you can't adjust the game's brightness, contrast or gamma. This is a shame because I need to crank my TV's options quite a bit to make the game playable - it's very dark.

Also, I can't use my whole 4:3 ratio TV screen. The game forces itself to a wide-screen format, which does bug me.

Iä! Iä!

Along with Kung Fu Chaos, I also bought another secondhand game - Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth. I'm a fan of Lovecraft and especially the pen and paper roleplaying game on which this videogame is based - at least I think so, based on the game's logo.

Also, Konami is bringing a Marvel trading card game to the DS. This is the kind of shit I've been waiting for on the DS. Which begs the question of where's Pokémon, though?

Oh and speaking of Cthulhu, the Mythos collectable card game, based on the Cthulhu Mythos, is good fun. I haven't checked out the newer Cthulhu CCG, though.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Introducing: Life

I've set up a new blog, Post 1978, to cover my life. Yes, the kind of blog every kid has these days. I've been trying to avoid getting one, but after much deliberation, I've come to think that I might be able to better handle some issues through it. So it likely won't be a "dear diary" type of everyday journal, since I don't have time for that kind of thing, but a distillation of stuff that is affecting me.

This also means that the blog you're currently reading will be more strictly about gaming. Hooray! Being on topic must be a good thing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

New languages to be humiliated in

I finally hooked up my original Xbox to Live. This wasn't as easy as I'd hoped, since I had to use the Gamertag recovery function to get set up and I found zero instructions on how to do things from 360 to Xbox and not the other way around. (In the end it was all logical, I just felt like groping in the dark.) We'll see if I have to move the Gamertag back to the 360 once I'm done. If so, well, that sucks. However, I discovered something so good on the Live-enabled Xbox that I just might be willing to suffer the pain of the gamertag recovery again.

(Edit: no additional hassles once the ethernet cable flew back to the 360. Go Microsoft.)

The reason being that playing Dead Or Alive Ultimate online was even sweeter than I'd imagined. Playing in the "winner stays on" mode and watching the others fight it out before my turn was really damn near the best online experience I've ever had. It felt just like the arcade! I didn't win a single match (rounds, though), but I've never had so much fun getting my ass handed to me (I'm at C- rank currently.)

I got to play several Japanese guys. It felt really weird to hear realtime Japanese in-game. I don't have the slightest idea of what they were saying, but you know, the language of buttkicking is universal. I was rather surprised to discover that the only time we had trouble with lag (I was hosting) was when playing with Americans. There was some lag, yes, but I didn't find it a problem.

Dead Or Alive 4 on the 360 is a no-brainer for me, now. Of course, it plays a lot differently than Ultimate, but I never was any good at Ultimate. I've played DOA3 lots, but it can be argued that it has a broken system due to far too easy countering. From my DOA3 experience, my favorite character by far is Hitomi.

There aren't too many things as pure as playing real humans one-on-one in a beat 'em up.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In-game advertising had an article on in-game advertising. It's a quick read on where we're at, now.

I know that most hardcore gamers react very negatively to in-game advertising. I can see the problem of advertising seeping into ever more facets of our lives, so I can't say that the critics are wrong, per se, but additional income is sorely needed to fund next-gen games. (Or so they say.)

It looks like the publishers want to do this right. Was anybody ever bothered by the ads in sports and car games, where they're placed on billboards, like in the real world they emulate? Probably not. The only thing that bothers me about the ads in, say, Burnout 3, was that they're static and look dated very quickly - apart from the Axe ads perhaps, which are timeless in a sad sort of way.

When advertising came into Anarchy Online, we could see what could go wrong. The first ad was an animated billboard for Alienware gaming PCs, which was absolutely spot on for the context. The next ad, for Mötley Crue's new album, was not integrated to the game world and thus it stuck out. I can imagine there being a Mötley Crue in the far future of the game world, but I have trouble with the "out now" slogans; stuff which breaks my suspension of disbelief and connects me with the day to day real life.

In sports and car titles, I actually like the presence of real-world brands. It brings an air of authenticity, as long as there's a believably large number of brands present. Need For Speed Underground gained lots of atmosphere due to every tuning part being a licenced product. Not just any neon, Streetglow neon!

If I'm going to be affected by advertising anyway, I'd like that advertising to be really targeted at me and those influences to come from stuff I actually like (games), instead of the mass market bombardment. Every banner I've ever clicked on has been on a fringe or community site, heavily targeted at that site's audience. Penny Arcade has stated that they only display ads on products they feel they want to endorse, which lends them immense weight - the stuff feels like genuine recommendations, not just blind advertising. The guys have even drawn many of the ads themselves to better integrate them into the PA experience.

I trust that the videogame publishers know they need to treat their end-user relationship delicately and that they'll handle their advertisers as carefully crafted partnerships.

There are some larger issues at hand, though. If in-game advertising becomes as big as I think it might, what about games which cannot incorporate real-world advertising in a natural manner?

How do you go about putting real-world brands into World Of Warcraft? Some have speculated about sponsor messages in loading screens, menu screens and the like, but I'm afraid that they would still detract from the user's enjoyment of the fantasy theme.

If in-game advertising becomes a commonplace, substantial part of a game's budget, what happens to games which can't benefit from it? Or are we destined to have fantasy worlds swamped by branding, drinking our mead at a fantasy-themed Starbucks and using Snap-On tools to fix our equipment?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Are videogames art?

End of discussion.

This is amazing on so many levels. Gentlemen, I salute you.

It is an exciting time to be into videogames. People are doing things that go far beyond the original intended use of the games. This video could be up in a museum and nobody would think twice about whether it's art or not.

(Yes, yes, of course the accepted answer to the question is "well, they can be".)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Canned entertainment and a shift in medium

Gamer videos

I've been wanting to post links to certain videos for some time now, but now I don't have to, since this list Eurogamer presented includes every cool one. Do check out Daigo's Street Fighter performance, the Ikaruga video and the Morrowind speedrun, at least.

Old school, welcome to the new school

Microsoft has really upped the stakes in the quest to firmly embed me in Live. Tycho's post in Penny Arcade pointed me to Microsoft's ploy to bring so-called "eurogames" (for European board games) to Live Arcade. I applaud this wholeheartedly. Sure, they might still blow the execution, but XBLA has been so strong that I allow myself to feel optimistic.

If this catches on, chances are we might see other games in the same venue... miniature battle games (Warhammer) and Pokémon come to mind. Let alone Magic: The Gathering.

There are lots of quality board games I'd love to play in Live (with friends, of course), if they can capture that livingroom feel. Most good games require quite a few like-minded players, and finding the time and matching the schedules in the real world is a pain.

On longevity

I told about switching to a Creative Zen Nano Plus recently for my portable music playing needs. Now, either my previous Philips player had some sort of manufacturing fault or this thing's battery life is impressive indeed. I've been using it for 24 days, usually on both commutes of the day, and my first battery died yesterday. Compared to the 1-2 batteries per five-day week I worked through with the Philips, this is very good.

I haven't encountered any bugs or lacking features yet. No wonder these things are becoming very common. (The same goes for the Sennheiser PX-100s, by the by.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The F games (FEAR, FlatOut 2)

Upcoming game I'm excited about

The F.E.A.R demo is on the coverdisc of OXM magazine right now. It's expected on Live in a couple of weeks. This is one of the very few games I've envied from the PC world, so it's great to finally get a chance to play it. Interesting article on the game's AI here.

Current game I'm excited about

I got Flatout 2 (Eurogamer review) for the Xbox some time ago. I have now played it about halfway through and I have to say that it rocks. There is much more content than in the original game (which I also liked) and everything is just better.

One thing they could work more on is difficulty. I play a lot of games, if not exclusively driving games, and I found the road rather rocky at around the halfway point. It isn't nearly as demanding as the original Flatout, though. The key differences are improved (more interesting and life-like) AI and a more forgiving handling model.

(Edit: I've now completed the game to above 90%, having finished all the race classes. My problems were due to sticking with rear-wheel drives, which can be very hard to control at high speeds. Changing to front-wheel-drives and four-wheel-drives solved my problems.)

The graphics are really good for a last-gen title, the previously overdone ragdoll effects have been toned down (increasing their punch), the minigames are plentiful and improved considerably, and there are lots more cars and tracks.

One huge change is the effect of physics. They're downplayed a lot. It's quite unlikely you'll lose a race due to a stray tire or a two-by-four, like in the predecessor. In exhange, there's thousands and thousands ( I recall 5'000 mentioned somewhere) of separate objects to be scattered across the track. I would like some weight added to them, though, just to get that danger aspect back.

Flatout 2 features the best tracks I've seen in a driving game. I have so many favorites it's hard to pick one, but for instance the military airplane graveyard in the desert is a blast. I haven't yet come across a dull track. I really like the way there are multiple routes to take and that the AI drivers know how to use them. Or the way that someone needs to clear a given shortcut of debris before it's beneficial to use.

The career model is rather good, really, even though it's been lamented in reviews. I liked the freedom to go to an upper class when I felt like it, simply by purchasing a car of that class. The upgrade system is also more involving than before - you need to make decisions on what attributes of the car to increase, possibly decreasing some others.

As it happens, just yesterday I got a chance to replay my old driving game favorite, Burnout 3, due to it becoming backwards compatible (BC) on the 360. Flatout 2 doesn't dull in comparison and indeed, the much more accurate driving model gives it a feel of depth and precision that's missing from Burnout. I'd venture that Burnout needs tons of content because it's so shallow. Insanely fast shallow, but still.

Now, if only Microsoft could get around to making Outrun 2 play on the 360, too. There's shallow gameplay married with perfect content. Outrun doesn't leave you feeling bloated like an obsessed session of Burnout does.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Holiday bliss

As the increase in my Gamerscore may indicate, yesterday I played Oblivion some nine to ten hours straight. It was good. I cleared the entire Arena quest in one sitting and got some mileage in the Fighters' guild. My 360 is happy.

I was pretty surprised to find the energy to install and begin playing the original Fallout in the evening on top of the day's unheard-of-in-many-years gaming stint. I've only played the sequel and Fallout Tactics previously, so it was rather exciting to embark on the original Vault-Dweller's journey. The interface was a little clumsy and the resolution is low (looks kinda muddy on my laptop), but otherwise it rocks a lot. The soundscape is excellent.

Today we're off to Tallinn for three days; gaming is probably limited to Dweller on the phone.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Get a friend

My 360 friendlist is very short. Naturally I'm expecting all of my real-life friends to get 360s one day and then we can be one happy gaming family, but until then, it would be nice to have some more familiar faces to play with.

Along comes 360 FriendSpot. It helps you to hook up with people with similar 360 gaming habits as you. I found it via my 360's blog, so maybe it wasn't such a useless service after all.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Blogger Beta

I've switched to the new Blogger today. It is still in beta testing. If there's something wonky with the site, pay no mind to it, I trust that all issues will be dealt with.

So pointless

This is so pointless that I love it! gives my Xbox 360 its own blog. Not only can I check via Microsoft's official offering what my 360 is doing right now (say, from work), now I can also check out what it's thinking about.

We laughed very hard at the Lego Star Wars II trailer on Live and promptly decided that we need the original game. Sadly, it's all sold out at Play.

In other news from a galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader is an ass.

Update: We got the original Lego Star Wars for the Xbox used from the local EB Games. Based on a half an hour's play, it's cool, but a little slow and unpolished. The easygoing nature is very much appreciated, though, and it really does feel like playing with Lego! I especially like the way they gloss over the plot. Much like the Clone Wars animation series, this is Star Wars at its best - condensed so much you don't even cringe at the acting, the writing and the pacing.

It's my vacation, by the way. I've watched some telly (Miami Vice, Over There) and taken it so easy that I've been pestered by a headache all day. Maybe I'll play Oblivion all day tomorrow and not feel bad about it, since I don't have to work the next day.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Google Analytics data

I've been using Google Analytics for around half a year now. Here are some statistics - likely none of you are that interested in them, but since I gathered them for my own use anyway, here you go:

43% use Firefox, 38% Internet Explorer, 10% Safari, 5% Opera. I'm a Firefox user myself, but I have to say that Opera 9 is a sweet browser. I just might switch one day.

75% are Windows users, 22% Mac geeks and 2% on Linux. Nothing surprising here.

The vast majority use the relatively small resolution of 1024 x 768 (45%), but this is explained by the increasing numbers of laptops people have. The next most favored resolution is 1280 x 1024 with 18%. 1440 x 900 (never heard before!), 1152 x 864 (I've got that at home), 1280 x 800 and somewhat surprisingly 800 x 600 are neck and neck at around 6% each. If you're using 800 x 600 and you're on IE, do try one of the alternative browsers - they're much easier on screenspace.

68% use computers that speak English, 22% use Finnish operating systems and there are five more exotic languages in there, too. All told, 48% come from Finnish IPs, 22% from the US 6% from the UK, and the rest are a sub-5% bunch, with Hungary leading the pack. Go Hungarians!

A whopping 98% have Java enabled. This is somewhat more than I've come to expect. Flash version 8.0 is used by 73%, while the newest 9.0 is used by over 10% (I hadn't even heard of v9 yet!). Older ones drag behind at a combined 6%, while 2% don't have Flash at all (Luddites!).

The real surprises here are the number of dialup users (over 13%) and those on corporate LANs (over 5%). For instance, our company site's visitors have under one percent of corporate-cabled users.

What I find encouraging is that the vast majority of visitors take a look at two or more pages when they stop by. Also, 21% of you come back for another round!

28% use direct links, suggesting I've been bookmarked or stored in history folders, 24% come from organic Google searches and 11% from Kotaku and Blogger are also noteworthy sources of referrals. Random hits generate from,, non-Google organic searches and Edge Online.

So there you go, my distinctively north-American and Scandinavian audience. Your interest is much appreciated!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Gundam: Operation Troy

After the disappointing From title Chromehounds, my hopes are set on the 360's Gundam title, last known as Mobile Ops: One Year War. It's now apparently called Gundam: Operation Troy, and it's looking much better than previously. See for yourself over at Xboxyde (warning: annoying pop-ups ahead). I am especially enthusiastic about the first-person mecha piloting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lots of stuff

Regarding difficulty

I've been playing more Perfect Dark Zero and Oblivion. Both have proved to be challenging. PDZ's (default) Secret Agent difficulty has me retrying levels a lot, which I don't mind, but the stealth sections are beginning to grate. I like the multiplayer DarkOps, in which you play several rounds of a given gametype and get money to buy equipment with between rounds. Infection and Onslaught are my favorites. I'm wondering whether the map pack would be worth its price on the Marketplace.

I've got the collector's edition of PDZ. The bonus disc is utterly useless, but the tin can is sweet indeed.

In Oblivion, as I have levelled my character (I'm at level 11 12 13), trolls have cropped up everywhere and they're so much tougher than the wolves and the like I've had to deal with so far. Will o' wisps are also a pain - empty magicka on low-damage spells, run away to recharge, repeat around ten times... Of course you get better at casting spells while at it, but still.

I do like the way the new threats make you think and evolve. Last morning I had to retrieve some items from a burial complex. The faded wraiths patrolling the place are far too hard for me, so I took off my boots and sneaked through the grave barefoot (it's easier to sneak without shoes) and upon discovery, legging it. It was fun, and I improved my sneak skill by quite a few points.

Nevertheless, Oblivion is still very good. Only the conversation system has proved to be utterly pointless - once you figure it out, it's no more engaging than hammering away on the A button.

There's quite a bit of things to do in the game. I only realized today that you can apply poison to your weapons!

Speaking of hard games, I tried my trusty old Ninja Gaiden on the 360. It works just fine, but the Hurricane Packs proved way too hard for me; I can't even reach the first boss! I guess I have to complete the basic game again (fourth time) to pick up my skills for the new challenge.

Next gen rising

So far the biggest next-gen vibes I've got are coming from the recent demo of Dead Rising. It's simply... fun. I like everything we've been hearing about the game, the first reviews are very positive, it looks good, it plays great, it's an absolute laugh. Its looks aren't really anything you could not achieve on an Xbox, but there are hundreds (hundreds!) of zombies on-screen, all moving smoothly. Bodies and blood splatters don't disappear anywhere - indeed, your clothes get stained rather convincingly as you plow through the horde. I've played the demo quite a few times, looking for new weapons (bowling balls, gold clubs, cash registers...) and comedy opportunities (cream cakes). You can even spit at the undead. I really didn't expect a basically very simple "zombie game" to be this good.

Capcom looks like it's got its next-gen development in capable hands. In addition to Dead Rising, their Lost Planet is very promising. I trust that more stuff is on the way.

Random observations

As a geek pursuit, I like checking out what Google searches people are coming to my site from. Yesterday one guy was looking for whatever the King Tut mask is for in Animal Crossing Wild World. Nothing much, really, but it looks awesome!

I'm also getting back into tabletop gaming after a dry summer. Miniatures, too, especially Heavy Gear (check these out... I'm salivating here), but also Warhammer 40'000.

So they chose a director for the Halo movie. Interesting! That short movie he's done is quite something else. I'm getting more and more positive about the whole endeavour. The new comic book seems like it'd be worth the (little) money they're asking for it.

[Edit: so cool! In addition to the rather neat short movie above, the Halo director has also done this excellent Transformers-alike Citroën film, which would be first of the three car commercials I can recall from the top of my head.]

I got a new portable music player yesterday. The 512 MB Philips I had was not only lacking in storage capacity, it's bugged, unreliable and cumbersome to use. My wife's Creative Zen player seems like the right stuff, so I got a Creative Zen Nano Plus (white, 1 GB). I would've liked a black one instead, but what's with charging +5€ just for the color? I haven't used it much yet, but initial impressions are good.

Update: since someone's been Googling stuff on faded wraiths in Oblivion, I finally found something that works: an ehchanted sword which does fire damage (15 pts) on strike. Unfortunately, it runs out of charges pretty quickly, but you can follow up with damage-dealing spells to conserve charges. I cleared a ghost ship I've been trying some dozen times with this. These swords started dropping from looted enemies at around level 14. If only I had the strength to carry several!

Also, after some more use of the Zen Nano Plus, I can say it rocks. It's very well-designed and the battery life is impressive, compared to the pitiful one of my previous Philips machine.