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Month: May 2009

My E3 Prediction: People Will Complain

I don’t know with absolute certainty if any of the predictions being made for this year’s E3 will come true, but there is one thing I am absolutely sure of: no matter what gets announced, people will complain about it.

My reaction: Pretty cool! Everyone else's: This is gonna suck hard.
My reaction: Pretty cool!
Everyone else's: This is gonna suck hard.

Yesterday, Square Enix put out a press release containing their E3 2009 lineup, which included the new announcements of NIER and Front Mission Evolved. This latter title is the latest entry in a series which I am a huge fan of. However, unlike the majority of Front Missions, Evolved is not a strategy RPG, and on top of that, is being developed by a western studio. Seeing as how few Front Mission games make it out of Japan in the first place, and Evolved is evidently being developed for a global audience, I’m very much interested in and curious about this new entry, however different it is; as long as that familiar Front Mission world is present and the game itself is enjoyable, I’ll be happy. Others were not so enthused.

Truth is, even before this announcement, I had been planning this post, because I know if there’s one thing hardcore gamers like to do, it’s complain, and E3 is the Griping Epicenter of the Gaming Universe. Nintendo fans in particular will be the ones to watch this year, as by all accounts, Ninty’s E3 2008 press conference was generally underwhelming. Although there are many, many sane Nintendo fans, the gripers are notorious for their constant insistence that a new Mario and/or Zelda should be shown whenever possible. Given the small hints dropped in the past about new Wii installments for both of these franchises, many people see the official announcements of these games as being inevitable for this E3. If they don’t happen, people will complain, and loudly, but even if they do, somebody somewhere will find something to whine about. The new Mario will seem too much like a retread, or it’ll be too different, like the much reviled Super Mario Sunshine. Same goes for the new Zelda. Other Nintendo games that are rumored to be unveiled at E3—especially Wii Fit Plus and Pikmin 3—aren’t safe from fanboy complaints either. Smaller Nintendo franchises like Another Code/Trace Memory, Kirby, and the like whose new Wii and/or DS installments were confirmed long ago will probably be ignored by everyone save for their own fanbases (who, more often than not, are just happy that Nintendo remembers they exist) in favor of the big guns. I won’t even touch the Kid Icarus fans…

This situation isn’t unique to Nintendo, as we’ll see variations on it on the Sony and Microsoft sides, but in the case of those two companies, I think there will be proportionally more griping over hardware and services rather than software. The PSP Go and 360 motion camera dongle, among others, are strong contenders for unveiling at the Sony and Microsoft press conferences, and as such, are also big targets for fanboy whining. Certain highly-anticipated Sony games, namely Heavy Rain and “Project Trico”, will undoubtedly be generally well-received if they are shown in some form at E3, but as for Uncharted 2, God of War III, and others, well, somebody will probably complain about something. If Halo 3: ODST is shown at Microsoft’s press conference, cue the hardcores complaining not so much about the game as Halo fanboys.

The Big Three aren’t the only ones who will be targets of fanboy grumblings. Companies ranging from EA to Ubisoft, Capcom to, yes, Square Enix, will be complained about wide and far. Whining about many of the games that have previously been announced and will be seen at E3 has been going on for some time already, anyway, but new game announcements will see their share of complaints as well, as we’ve already seen with Front Mission Evolved. Even small niche companies aren’t completely safe from fanboy griping, though they’re considerably safer than the bigger publishers.

A good E3 is always full of surprises and memorable moments (giant enemy crabs, anyone?), and I hope this year’s will be no different. However, I could do with less pissing and moaning from the peanut gallery. Chances are, when the games people gripe about now are finally released, if they have enough hype and/or good press behind them, they will be bought and played by many anyway. Some of those early complaints may even be moot. Either way, come next week, I guarantee you that somebody somewhere is going to be complaining about the video games shown at E3.

It’s E3 Predictions Time!

…and the internet goes crazy with speculation as to what will appear at the LA Convention Center, and most importantly, the console manufacturers’ press conferences.

The logo that drives the fanboys wild.
The logo that drives the fanboys wild.
Last year, Joystiq took this annual guessing game and made something fun out of it: Bingo cards. There were cards for each of the Big Three, as well as ones for PC and MMO predictions. Unfortunately, none of them resulted in a “bingo”.

Joystiq is playing bingo again this year, with predictions ranging from the likely to the wacky. I’ll be playing along again, though this time around, I’ve marked the ones I think will be mentioned at each of the companies’ press conferences ahead of time. The cards have been desaturated for clarity; the red pucks mark my “very likely” choices and the orange ones are the “well, maybe this’ll happen” pics.

My Microsoft picks. First off, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: the second GTA IV DLC pack had been announced not long after Joystiq’s bingo card went up. It’ll probably be mentioned in the press conference, so that’s a shoo-in. A Halo 3: ODST release date and a Mass Effect 2 demo both seem well within the realm of possibility; as for Alan Wake, I think we might hear something about it, but not necessarily release info. New bundles and the oft-speculated motion capture thingie are both damn near sure things, and clan support for the 360 is a bit of “wouldn’t it be awesome?” that I’d very much like to subscribe to and believe MS would go for.

My Sony picks. The three most likely picks for me here are an official “Project Trico” (the next Team Ico game) reveal, more on God of War III, and the highly rumored PSP GO. PS3 Greatest Hits and bundles in place of any price cut also sound like strong possibilities. I think Heavy Rain will be present, though there won’t be a “heavy focus” on it. PS3 doing a Blockbuster rental service smacks of too bold of the kind of “me too” move for which they’ve been criticized for in the past, and runs counter to their Blu-ray strategy. As for a release date for Gran Turismo 5… well, if Final Fantasy XIII could wrap up, so could GT5, I guess. I predict that we’ll see some new GT5 footage at the press conference, but a release date will remain way up in the air.

My Nintendo picks. Nintendo is the company I follow most closely, as the Wii and DS are my de facto consoles of choice this gen. Their press conference last year was underwhelming, but I think they learned from it, which is why I believe that although we’ll be seeing Reggie and Cammy antics, there’ll be less of the latter. As with PS3 Greatest Hits, we’re about due for a Player’s Choice line for Wii, though one must also consider that there isn’t such a line for the DS yet. Game Boy VC games and VC for DSi are both things the fanbase has been clamoring for for months, and although Nintendo doesn’t have the best track record with their obscenely demanding fans, these two things seem very likely to me. The transferable VC games less so, if only due to controller compatibility issues. A new Mario has been briefly mentioned by Shigeru Miyamoto before, but I’m largely playing semantics here, as a North American release date for Mario & Luigi RPG 3 is due any day now (I, for one, am very much looking forward to said announcement, as I enjoy the Mario RPGs much more than the main series these days). A new Wii Zelda seems less likely considering the Spirit Tracks announcement at GDC.

Here’s some announcements—both likely ones and longshots—I would personally love to hear at this year’s E3, besides a Mario & Luigi RPG 3 North American release date: Sly Cooper 4 (even though I don’t have a PS3!), Sigma Harmonics localization, Valkyria Chronicles 360 port, StarCraft II release date (more likely to happen at BlizzCon or some other Blizzard event), Game Center CX licensed for DVD release (more likely to happen at one of the summer anime cons), Game Boy and Game Boy Color on Virtual Console (I really want this too!), and lots more PS1 games on PSN. There’s probably some others I can’t think of at the moment; at any rate, this year’s E3, as it is every year, is sure to have its share of surprises.

ETA (3:04 PM, EST): Wow, that was quick. That’s a shoe-in for a press conference mention. Also, it looks like the PS3 Slim rumor (which I’ve had my doubts about) is getting stronger by the minute.

Crafting a True Startopia

The image from Startopia's loading screen. Note the "GB" sticker.

I’m in an empty space station again, just me and my handy AI, the one with the British accent and dry sense of humor (or is that humour?) to match. No clients this time, no pressure to cater to the specific whims of an alien race, it’s just me and a couple of other upstart administrators competing for the public’s cash on our own terms.

The competition gets snarky at times.
The competition gets snarky at times.

The basics have been provided and are awaiting me in crates: a port, an energy collector, a berth, and so on, along with a few of the cheapest, barest-bones Scuzzers available. I open some crates, lay down the guidelines for the Scuzzers of where I want things to go, and they get to building. As the structures go up, the first few guests arrive, and the computer tells me some crucial, basic problems I must deal with as soon as possible.

Your visitors are hungry.
Your visitors are tired.
Your visitors are lovesick.

Unfortunately, the Scuzzers can only work so fast, and as new visitors are wont to do when they enter a bare bones space station, they head for the third and highest level, the Biodeck. In the meantime, I begin unlocking gates, terraforming the Biodeck, and hiring employees, while the only peep I hear regarding my competition is usually in the form of them crowing about their technological advances. In the midst of all this, I get a call from Arona Daal.

Arona is a notorious wheeler dealer in this part of the galaxy, specializing in nothing, overcharging on everything, and always with the smooth sales pitch. I buy a few things from him, against my better judgement, but the one thing I’m after the most is a Star Dock. It’s expensive, but it will enable merchants other than Arona to drop by, merchants who can offer me much better prices for many of the same items. Still, every once in awhile, Arona will have something that I would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere (like that most bizarre of alien amusements, the Oroflex), so I humor his sales pitch and take a quick look at his wares whenever he stops by.

Oh noes Skrashers D:
Oh noes Skrashers D:

My wing of the station is coming along nicely, despite a vermin problem that resulted in infected visitors, and then, Skrashers. There’s also the undercover agents and assorted other criminal scum, shooting up the place, planting bombs, and generally making station management a bit more of a hassle than it already is. I go into damage control mode when these sorts of disruptions happen, which more often than not results in me hiring more Kasvagorian security agents and stocking up on Security Scuzzers. There’s also the matter of the Grey doctor who I didn’t actually hire, hanging out in the sick bay as though he was just one of the employees. I’m not quite sure how to handle him, especially since his resume leaves much to be desired, but make sure that my sick bay is well-staffed and the docs that do work for me know what they’re doing.

The other managers don’t bother me… much. They probably sent those spies over, but have no real proof that they did. Ultimately, all their efforts are futile as I meet the terms of our competition first and they leave for parts unknown. I continue building up my wing of the station, adding more entertainments for the guests on the Pleasure Deck, hiring and promoting employees, and just generally making sure everything’s in order and everyone’s happy. It’s a good job.

Special Stage: New copies of Startopia, which runs on Windows 95B/98/Me/XP (not entirely sure about Vista), can be found for less than $20 these days. It’s a great deal for this criminally overlooked space station simulator.

A couple of Startopia links worth checking out:
• RTSC’s Startopia pages – Part fansite, but mostly strategy guide, this is an indispensable Startopia resource.
• Postmortem: Startopia – A look at the game’s production process, with analysis of what went right, and what went wrong.

Today’s Odds & Ends

I typically save episodes of Listen UP for when I need to kill time, and sometimes wind up with a backlog. This wasn’t the case this time around, as I only had last Friday’s episode to catch up on while doing laundry today. I was particularly intrigued by the bit about EA Sports Active, which is out this week. Wii Fit has not stuck with me at all, and I still slip from my regular DDR routine from time to time. This sounds like it’s worth a look.

Speaking of 1UP, I visited the site today and skimmed through their recent feature titled, “101 Free Games 2009”. The presence of the wacky fan-made RPG Barkley, Shut Up & Jam: Gaiden, which I played earlier this year, surprised me, but I’m not complaining. This unholy marriage of JRPG and NBA is short but sweet, and fairly competent for what it is. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Today’s announcement of Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Wii was another pleasant surprise. I haven’t played any of the Metroid Prime series—or any Metroid games, for that matter—and had always heard good things about them. This is getting a place on my “want” list. Which reminds me, I also have to get the New Play Control version of Pikmin…

The Final Word on Okami

I beat Okami late Monday morning. I failed to write down the total completion time when the final stats were tallied, but by taking the timestamp from my New Game Plus file and adding on whatever time passed between that and my previous save file, I was able to come up with a good estimate: 50:10:43. Those fifty hours ten minutes and change took me over six months to compile, and my fellow okamibloggers have pretty much given up on the game (I know this is the case with namatamiku; not sure about CloudANDTidus). Despite its pretty graphics and atypical setting, there was something about Okami that seemed not to click with us, and it’s not the type of thing that can’t be explained either.

One major problem with Okami is how the story is paced. Certain events happen in such a way as to lead one to assume that the game is really and truly ending, but instead it keeps going, and in shorter, less satisfactory chunks; that these latter chunks differ from the main initial one in certain significant ways also feels problematic. It’s as if the whole of Okami is one tangent-riddled, dialogue-heavy game squashed together with its slightly more focused, but also even more haphazardly-paced, sequel. In the game’s second half, certain things are revisited for reasons that make very little sense in the grand scheme of the story, and are more tedious to deal with on top of that. The game doesn’t start to feel coherent again until the final few hours (which also includes one of the single best dungeons, in a game with several decent ones already), and even then, some bits of story come out of nowhere for the vaguest of reasons.

While the pacing is off, this isn’t helped by the fact that Okami can’t settle on an overall tone. While some characters and quests are quite entertaining and well thought out (Issun, the Sasa Sanctuary sequence, and certain canines come to mind), others waffle between the lighthearted and the serious, and some of these changes aren’t entirely convincing. I think part of this lies at fault with the game’s borderline whimsical audio-visual style, and I don’t mean the traditional Japanese elements, either. The characters’ broad animations, particularly the squashing and stretching of the heads used in lieu of lipsynch (as the human characters lack visible mouths), serve the story well in lighter moments, but when it comes to the heavier ones, they’re a detriment.

Let’s move on to the gameplay, which is pretty much the main reason why I play games to begin with. While I enjoyed certain quests, sidequests, boss battles, and what have you a good deal, this was a little disappointing too. Perhaps the biggest letdown of them all was how easy it was in certain respects, and how difficult it could be in others, especially in getting certain brush techniques to work the first time. Getting all the money you could ever need was a fairly simple affair, as was finding items for use in battle without having to buy them, and even then, I wasn’t compelled to use handy items like Exorcism Slips, Steel Soul Sake, and Inkfinity Stones in battle until the second half. Even the health-regenerating Holy Bones saw rather limited use during the first twenty hours or so. In my final stat wrapup for Okami, I found that I had ended up clearing the entire game without losing a single life.

All in all, Okami was okay. Not amazing, not fantastic, and definitely not engrossing or compelling, just okay. The graphics are beautiful, as is the music, and the setting is a refreshing break from those you tend to see in other action/adventure games, but it also contains an oddly-paced, tangent-filled story in an already sidequest-heavy world. A bit more polish and tightening up of the narrative structure, a slightly less forgiving overall difficulty, and a more subdued character animation style to make the serious bits feel more serious while keeping the whimsical ones whimsical would’ve gone a long way to making this okay game into one that is truly great.

Source image from Bits, Bytes, Pixels and Sprites.

Game Progress: Reaching for the End

Last night I beat Klonoa (or rather, the Wii remake of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile if you want to be pedantic). As is the case with other games in the series I’ve played, I managed to get a lot of the extra level goals, but not everything, especially since the last three Visions cranked up the difficulty a good deal. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with such narrow platforms as Klonoa, and the later Visions, and the next-to-last one in particular, had them in spades. Despite being spoiled for a mid-game plot point before I’d even bought the damn thing, I enjoyed it, though I think I prefer Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil, just a little bit more. It was my first Klonoa, which I think might explain my preference. Now I just have to get a cheap copy of Dream Champ Tournament…

Yeah, I'm still playing this damn thing.
Still plugging away at Okami as well. The story took a very odd turn about twenty hours in, and the pacing and gameplay structure since then makes it feel like I’m playing a different game altogether. I’m not sure if the changes made in this arc are an improvement—the chase bits are a little off-putting, actually—but considering that I’m now one brush short of the full set and have most of the world map explored, I think it’s safe to say I’m pretty close to wrapping this up. My overall opinion of Okami hasn’t changed much since I last wrote about it, and I don’t think it will. It’s very pretty and occasionally charming, but it’s also quite dull in bits and can’t settle on an overall tone.

Pokemon Ruby continues to be awesome. Right now I’m coming off another round of battles against Team Magma, and something very bad has happened. There’s still some stuff I have to take care of before challenging the trainers at the eighth gym, but hopefully my team can handle it. My regulars and alternates include Marshtomp, Mightyena, Absol, Tropius, Zangoose, Tentacruel, Swellow, and others.

Right now, I’m hoping to wrap up Okami sometime next week, and maybe beat Ruby as well. As for what I plan to play next, Secret of Mana definitely, and I’ll probably also delve into Rogue Galaxy, which is the game which has sat in my backlog the longest, IIRC.

Source image from Bits, Bytes, Pixels and Sprites.