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Original title was better

gamer_posterGAMER is a high-concept action thriller set in a near future when gaming and entertainment have evolved into a terrifying new hybrid. Humans control other humans in mass-scale, multi-player online games: people play people…for keeps. Mind-control technology is widespread, and at the heart of the controversial games is its creator, reclusive billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). His latest brainchild, the first-person shooter game “Slayers,” allows millions to act out their most savage fantasies online in front of a global audience, using real prisoners as avatars with whom they fight to the death.

(from IMdB)

The film’s original title? Citizen Game. (As a bunch of my better-informed friends have pointed out.)

I’m glad the studio came to their senses. Lionsgate realized that they could not possibly compete for branding mindshare with me, seeing that I have all this international reach and exposure.

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Lipstick on a pigskin

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I just don’t know about those guys over at Nintendo anymore. I think they’re drunk on cash money. Like Activision, they seem desperate to shovel ever-increasing numbers of silly plastic peripherals at us. As if every game could be Rock Band.

It supports my theory that I’ve long held, which is that the Wii was largely an accidental success, and now they have no idea where to go next. They just know they want to wring out this “alternative controller” thing for all it’s worth.

On a financial level, you can hardly blame them. But as a player, things like the Vitality Sensor, or a football with a Wiimote crammed into it, are at the very least uninteresting, and at worst borderline insulting. I mean, take a look at that diagram above and tell me how that would work. At all.

[links > Joystiq, Engadget]

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A long, long way from a d-pad

The biggest “controller” I’ve ever bought:

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Some players buy high-end racing wheels. Some buy elaborate mice-and-keyboard combos adorned with lasers and LEDs. Some buy gifts from Popbox to give an exceptional gift to their loved ones. I am the kind who buys absurd Rock Band peripherals.

I have had my eye on these for a while now (a year, actually) and last night I stumbled across a desperate retailer who was willing to take a bath on the price, so that he could rid himself of the ridiculously large box taking up his precious shelf space. And now I have a ridiculously large set of drums taking up my precious apartment space. I’m not divorced yet though, so clearly this was the right decision.

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A year later, Sony Home finds a purpose

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Other than disturbing line-dancing. And quincying.

This caught my eye whilst skimming the PlayStation Blog RSS:

I got three words to start us off: Universal. Game. Launching. That’s right – you can now launch into any PlayStation 3 game directly from Home. Titles that fully support game launching (like Street Fighter IVResistance 2MotorStorm, and Far Cry 2) will be identified by separate icons that appear over an avatar’s head and will have varying degrees of additional multiplayer functionality built in. Simplified game launching will take you from Home to the start menu of your favorite games with ease. Never again will you have to sign out of Home to play with (or against) your friends. Simply insert the disc of your choice while in Home and follow the on screen directions and you’ll be good to go.

This was the only truly useful purpose that I ever saw in Home. But it’s a big one.

Let me back up a little bit. I’ve always been kind of a proponent of the Home project, even when it was obviously failing to incite much enthusiasm amongst the traditional “hardcore”. I liked – and still like – the idea of a virtual 3D lobby for gathering players together around a specific game. That last bit is the key that Home has been missing since it launched publicly 8 months ago. The Game Launching capability actually offers me something functional that I did not have before: I can go to a given game space and, gasp, actually play with other fans of that game. This is much better than a flat list of Friends in the XMB*, in the sense that the space itself serves as a kind of honeypot for players interested in that particular experience. Sure, you could just connect to any multiplayer game and go from there, but lobbies give you a chance to chitchat and discuss what to play, strategize – whatever you like – beforehand, as a mobile party, above the game. The “simplified” bit in the verbage above sounds to me like Sony’s answer to those games who choose not to support Game Launching fully. And that’s fine with me. Even the simple fact of making Home re-entrant, to move into and out of a game with Home as a wrapper, is a big improvement.

Home has not had an actual functional point so far, because they released it without Game Launching in a ready state. Over these last few months Sony has dabbled with support for Warhawk, MotorStorm and Street Fighter IV. That’s great if you like those games, but we’re missing a big chunk of the catalog, to say the least. Players need to know that they can count on Game Launching for whatever multiplayer game they have in mind, by entering into Home. I was actually shocked that they launched without this capability, even in “beta”.

(I hasten to add – the fact that Home has not had any really useful function beyond glorified chat has not hindered its microtransactions. Players have spent gobs of money in Home on virtual items. This continues to baffle me. But then again, people by GamerPics on Live too, and I don’t get that either. Paying for a GIF? Really? At least a Home item get you some, I dunno, geometry. And clearly MS has followed suit with their avatar items.)

The other reason I had some early faith in Home was the free nature of it. This isn’t a product or game that Sony is selling; it’s a free service that serves as a “value-add” (in disgusting marketing speak) to PS3 owners. By keeping it free, Sony buys themselves a lot of time on this to get it right because, who cares? It’s free. If it sucks now, maybe I’ll check it again in a month or two. Or not at all, until I hear someone else say they want to go try something in there. They get… not infinite retries, but certainly more than one, because the buy-in is practically zero.

I think Home has a long, long way to go, but the progress is undeniable. So with that I look forward in the fall to visiting the Wipeout garage, discussing barrel-roll strategies on Anulpha Pass with qualified pilots, and maybe fly a few laps with them. And hey, maybe I’ll actually get some use out of the Citizen Game clubhouse I plunked down $5 for.

* put your swords down, obviously the flat list is superior in many ways.. but options are good.

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Joystiq says that this image is not concept art…

…and all I can say is, “holy shit.”

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PS3 Slim is a slim PS3

This design is extremely… safe. Workmanlike, almost.

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It is exactly what was expected, and exactly what is needed. I’m not thrilled with how it looks, but if its quieter and cheaper then its hard not to call it a winner.

Seems like it would basically disappear in a home theatre rack. Not really a bad thing.

So I guess this is the new “universal” PS3 logo?

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Motorstorm is actually a horrific experience when you think about it

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The thing I like about Motorstorm is that it combines two of my great loves in life: machine-based ultraviolence, and snuff films. It really is quite the death-dealing jamboree. Collected below the fold you’ll find a small sample of my favourite end-of-virtual-life moments. It all blends together into a sort of automotive hellscape, a Groundhog Day of collision and torment, fuelled by diesel and bags of money* and amphetamine, from which the only escape be the sweet kiss of stainless steel intersecting your ribcage, at a speed best expressed as an exponent.

(more…)

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This non-platform is monopolizing my commute

I’ve been an Apple-watcher (and user) for nigh on 16 years now, and one axiom has remained true, throughout all their machinations and reinventions: Apple is pretty bad at games.

First, let us merely mention the Pippin. I’ll let you Wiki that one. Suffice it to say that it is a stunning example of how not to launch a console.

Then there is the whole sordid history of games struggling mightily to stay on Apple’s platform out of sheer bloodymindedness. While their computers have always been favourites amongst Creators, they have not (until iMac era) been particularly popular amongst Players. Some of this is due to the alien operating system, some due to the alien processors (first 680×0 then later PPC.) These factors alongside some of Apple’s self-destructive streak conspired to make the job of porting games over to the Mac a fraught proposition. Both technically and financially. Sure you can get the occasional Sims game, and of course the one PC game to rule them all (WoW), but other than that, even now with bog-standard PC parts under the hood, it’s pretty much a desolate wasteland on the Mac for games. It always has been. Hell, Bungie was a celebrated Mac game dev for years (Myth! Marathon!) until they decided that they’d like to eat.

This is why I find it very interesting that Apple seems poised to flatten both Nintendo and Sony in the handheld gaming space, accidentally, with the iPhone.

The iPhone combines some of the best features of the DS and PSP: touch controls + power. The feature set that Apple settled on for the iPhone just happens to make it a hugely formidable competitor to either. (Naturally I include the iPod Touch in the iPhone platform). The touch controls work better than the DS: no stylus needed and multitouch capability. The presentation aspects are better than a PSP: higher-rez screen, gobs of RAM and CPU, advanced networking.

Add to this mix the fact that Apple also gets an automatic leg-up on the downloadable content scene. Of course the iPhone is 100% DLC. Further, there is no existing network of games retailer to piss off; that’s an obstacle that all 3 big players in the console space will need to negotiate for years to come. And even if they did need retail space for selling gaming hardware and software, I understand that Apple may even have a few stores kicking around in out-of-the-way places.

What Apple does not have is: any game publisher experience, any first party studios, or any previous success whatsoever in this area. They are completely reliant on their external developers, and those devs are completely reliant on Apple’s gated App Store. (Which is currently fending off attacks from torch-weding devs who had their apps rejected for opaque and spurious reasons).

There’s already been a lot of ink spilled over whether or not Apple will be “a player” in the console/mobile game space. That argument is over as far as I’m concerned; the rest is quibbling. It already is a huge games platform showing incredible growth. The argument over whether or not a “buttonless” device can really be a gaming device is also over. Clearly it can (and I’m sure the Project Natal people could elaborate more on that notion).

The things to watch for now are what happens with downloadable policy and pricing, and to see how Sony and particularly Nintendo react. We’ve already seen Sony switch tack to a downloadable focus with the PSP Go announcement. I have no idea how Nintendo will behave; the DSi and DSware seem like half-measures, and Nintendo’s squeaky-clean marketing campaign is cribbed entirely from… Apple. That leaves big N standing around with the vast bags of money they made with the DS and Wii but no clue as to how to build a modern download service, nor any notion of how to compete with a corporation that is even flashier, friendlier and flat-out cooler than they are.

(Maybe when I can write a blog post from a DS…)

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Can You Review a Game Without Words?

Arthur Geis of Rebel FM and Eat-Sleep-Game has created a video review for Red Faction: Guerilla… without any voice or text whatsoever. Go ahead and give it a watch: No, the A-Team theme isn’t in the game. It’ just perfect for this video. In many ways, this is just a fan trailer and it’s easy to criticize… but having spent some quality time with the game, I’ve got to say that this “video review” encapsulates every single thing I love about this game. Driving a truck through a building is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in a video game. I thought for a while that this game might only be worth a rental but it’s absolutely worth buying if you enjoy open world destruction. While the game doesn’t have a deep story and there’s nothing particularly novel about the mission structure, the ability to destroy every single building in the entire game is a real advancement for video games. Every object in the game has a material and a weight and it can be destroyed. When you take out supports for a building, you can hear the rest of it creak as it settles on the remaining supports until it falls apart entirely and crashes in on itself. It’s truly unique and I can’t wait until these features are commonplace.

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That gameplay demo footage you’ve heard of…

Can you say set pieces? This one snippet of footage has more tension than most games have in their entirety.

Naughty Dog? These guys are wizards.

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