Monthly Archives: April 2011

Outland is everything great about games

I picked up Outland on Xbox Live Arcade this week, and I’m really digging it. It’s like they combined Super Metroid, Prince of Persia, Symphony of the Night, and Ikaruga into one game (with a distinct art style to boot). I’m probably about halfway through it, but it’s just fantastic.

That 1UP feature I finished up last night went live today: The Top Shooters of 2011 That Aren’t Call of Duty. Check it out.

  • Ruh roh. I pressed Garnett on writing that editorial PSA yesterday, because I’m still fairly convinced that my credit card was compromised as a result of the PSN hacks, and I wanted to remind people to be safe. I figure when we’ve got a bullhorn and can do some good, we should. Now the FBI and Homeland Security is apparently involved too, so I was probably right.
  • I hit this news in record time, because it was so exciting. Portal 2? Free DLC? Holy tramapoline.
  • Fallout: New Vegas patch meant to fix bugs creates a new bug. Hilarious.

Waking up with the iPhone

I love my iPhone, but the alarm is so loud and jarring that I think it gave me a headache this morning. It followed me around all day, so I found a new alarm. It lets me set a random song from my playlist, which is exactly what I was looking for. I just don’t get why that functionality isn’t built in to start with. I mean, it seems obvious, doesn’t it?

I just got finished writing about 1500 words for one story, and revising another, so it’s pretty late. I’m just going to make mention of a few things and then get out of here.

  • Unpleasant Horse: Got it, enjoyed it, don’t know how much I’ll play. It’s a fun little time-waster and I like that PopCap can play around with different stuff.
  • Called it.
  • I convinced Garnett to let me run this little PSA. I’m not trying to grind an axe at Sony, though I am still pretty convinced this is related. I just thought it was important to remind people to be careful.
  • Dang, Kinect. I know that number is for the whole E&D division, but Kinect was a large driver there.
  • Oh good. It wasn’t Michael Vick. Really close though. Uncomfortably so.

Sony, credit cards, and full disclosure

Yesterday I felt pretty confident that the risks of identity/credit fraud following the Sony fiasco were fairly minimal. Today I’m eating a bit of crow. My credit card was definitely used for some nefarious purposes, and I mentioned it in to my boss, who mentioned it on Twitter, which got me a bunch of new followers and a few snarky replies.

Some people claimed I was jumping to conclusions. Other people said I should be mad at the hackers, not Sony. And I can’t say their answers were unfair; Twitter can only communicate in short bursts, so you lose some nuance and detail when expressing opinions. So let me get right to it here.

Back to the beginning.

At Shacknews, we all join a collective chat room while we’re on the clock, and we pass around our stories publicly so they can be checked by other writers while we work on other things. It’s a nice communal feeling. I had just polished off my last story (about the class action suit) and put it in the chat for a check, and then I went to flip through my RSS reader while I waited. I stumbled upon this Ars Technica story. It’s all second-hand, but I want to point out one particular bit:

“About two or three days ago, my bank notified me that I had gotten my own [credit card information] stolen, the one I use for my PSN account, and with it a ticket was purchased through a German airline for nearly $600,” she told Ars. “They are still looking into the fraud charge meaning that right now I have a negative $500 in my account, with no good chance that I’ll be getting that back any time soon.”

This prompted me to check my bank account, which I had been doing pretty regularly since this story broke. I wasn’t especially worried, but I wanted to keep an eye on things. Immediately I noticed my account was about $1,500 lower than it should’ve been. It was thanks to three identical transactions. For a little over $500, at a Giant Food, in Germany.

(A helpful tweet informed me that there are no Giant Foods in Germany, but I doubt it was actually at the grocery store. If I had to venture an uneducated guess, this was a sly method to get the actual money, rather than actually getting $500 worth of German groceries. I don’t think the victim above really had her card used for an airline ticket either.)

Now I’m all for benefit of the doubt, and I don’t want to jump to conclusions. But seeing a reader report that her PSN-associated credit card was charged in Germany for somewhere in the $500 range, and then finding that the exact same thing happened to me? That would be one hell of a coincidence.

I put a freeze on my account and a new card is being sent. I also changed all my passwords, and went through the hassle of making sure that my automatic bill payments are going through a different card for the time being. Once the transaction goes through, I can get the fraud department involved at my bank, and get my money back. Everything should work out, and I’m fortunate enough to have a little money in reserve so this doesn’t make me broke and destitute in the meantime.

I’m not upset with Sony because they were hacked. It happens, I understand that. My sarcastic “thanks Sony!” was over their reluctance to tell anyone what happened. If you’re a multinational corporation, you don’t pull your service, costing yourself and business partners hundreds of thousands of dollars, unless you absolutely have to. That’s the nuclear option. The last resort. Sony would never have taken such a drastic step if it didn’t know that this level of consumer theft was at least a possibility. And since it was a possibility, even if it was only a possibility, they should’ve told us.

I believe them when they say they didn’t know that user data was stolen until Monday. I just think they’re choosing their words carefully. They may not have known until then, but they had to have feared the worst. So the delay in informing customers was crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, and wasting valuable time when their customers could have been canceling their credit cards and stopping the fraud.

Now the latest from Sony is that credit cards were encrypted. Frankly, I don’t know enough about encryption or credit fraud to say what this means, and I’m not going to pretend to. I can only speak from what I know. What I know is that the card associated with my PSN account was the subject of fraud, in the precise same way that an Ars Technica reader’s PSN-associated card was the subject of fraud. How could that happen to encrypted cards? Don’t know.

Hackers hack. That’s what they do. If a rabid dog bites my wife’s arm and she dies because the EMTs didn’t take care of the wound, I’m going to be pretty upset with the EMTs for screwing up their job. I put a certain level of trust in the EMTs. I have no faith or trust in the rabid dog, so there’s no faith to be broken.

Onto happier subjects. One of my 1UP features went up today: When Gamers Give Back. It was kind of inspired by the Japanese charities that popped up. I wanted to do something related to that spirit but that wasn’t directly tied to it. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, though perhaps I should’ve waited for a little closer to the holiday season when more of those charities would be active.

  • What a boring couple of weeks for XBLM. Though I did try Outland today and it’s gorgeous, so I guess that buys them some goodwill.
  • My inkling is that this Xbox deal is the reason Telltale pushed back Jurassic Park. I have absolutely no proof, of course.
  • This story reads like a Senate hearing. What did you know and when?
  • And the class-action suit story, which I referenced above.

Oh, Sony, Sony, Sony…

What was a minor inconvenience became a full on debacle today as Sony finally — finally — admitted that user data had been compromised. This doesn’t even come remotely as a surprise. An international company doesn’t pull down its service for a week, for any kind of minor emergency. (No, this wasn’t because some people were ganking free games several weeks ago.)

It was pretty clear that something major went down, so hearing that user data was compromised didn’t surprise me. And for all the sound and fury about potential credit card or identity fraud, I’m not too concerned about it. I changed a few passwords and put up a credit alert to be on the safe side, but my bank has pretty good fraud protection that I’ve experienced first-hand before. Hopefully I don’t eat those words later.

The problem here is how badly Sony dropped the ball. This was an absolute Masters’ Class in how not to handle a delicate situation. First off, if you have any inkling that user data could be compromised, if you even suspect it is possible, you say that immediately. It doesn’t matter if you’re proven wrong later. It doesn’t matter if everyone’s data is fine. You say it, straight-up, the moment you believe it. And if you suspect it strongly enough to pull the plug on your entire network, it’s clearly not something you were still figuring out until today.

If Sony had come out on Thursday and said, “We have reason to believe that some user data has been compromised. This could include x, y, and z. Please take the proper precautions. Sony is investigating the matter and working to secure the PlayStation Network.” Instead, they sat on their hands and ended up looking like the villains.  Now they’ve sacrificed user trust and created a huge stir unnecessarily.

It only does bafflingly stupid PR decisions.

  • Sony’s day wasn’t all bad. They started out with this tablet announcement. It’s not exciting, but at least they’re supporting the PlayStation Suite a little bit.
  • I didn’t much like the Hydrophobia demo, but the idea of an integrated game feedback system is pretty cool. Especially for a game that already had vast improvement thanks to user feedback.
  • The times, they are a-changin.
  • This story was a little ridiculous. Dedicated servers for a console game is novel, especially if you’re letting users customize them; but when you base your entire sales strategy on being cheap, you shouldn’t offer an unnecessary feature that literally costs as much as the game itself. For a month.
  • I’ve been wondering about what would happen to games scheduled during this outage, so it’s good that Sony finally has said something — even if it’s secondhand.
  • I love this story. I also love how the juxtaposed Romero and Sara Michelle Gellar picture looks like a Buffy spin-off with her smartass grandpa.
  • Political posturing? Probably. But he’s also saying what I was thinking, so I’ll let it slide. Sony really should offer a couple of years of Equifax, at least if they want to avoid getting their pants sued off.

Slow day, busy week

It’s looking like another killer week, with 7 stories per day for Shack and a few freelance pieces I’m trying to finish up before the end of the month. I also got asked to do another piece for 1UP this week, so adding that to the pile doesn’t help.

Today in particular, though, was slow as molasses. If we had our full staff on at Shack there’s no way I’d have done 7 stories. There just wouldn’t be enough to go around. I’m assuming that most of the games industry took off for the day, since yesterday was easter.

The Sony outages are reaching epic proportions, where now people are pitching strange theories and Sony is well beyond getting out in front of it. The failure of their service is understandable, but the failure of their messaging is pretty heinous here. The fact that people had to wait five days to be told their credit cards may have been compromised is ridiculous. That’s the kind of stuff you address day one. Immediately.

Not one, but two of my pieces went up at 1UP today. The first was a pretty recent piece I submitted called 3DS Games We’ll (Probably) Never See. It looks like it got a good discussion started, but my favorite part might be that I got to bring up Elite Beat Agents. I’ve had this idea about a final stage featuring “Thriller” for a long time.

The other piece was what I call a Gaming Culture article, even though that series name isn’t used anymore. It’s on the game One Chance, which was a flash indie hit a little while ago. What’s funny is how the editor called it a “new game” in the dek (i.e. subhead). Maybe it was new-ish when he edited it? I don’t know. But it’s definitely not new now, and a lot of people are having a good laugh at that. Just to reiterate: I did not call it new.

  • I almost feel bad for Nintendo. I’m pretty certain they wanted the 3DS to be an E3 surprise, and now they probably wanted Project Cafe to be a surprise too. The surprises keep getting leaked, and Nintendo keeps confirming them like an annoyed parent who caught the kid looking in the closet.
  • The video editor in this week’s Nintendo downloadables sounds surprisingly robust. It’s actually kind of shocking.
  • I’m not sure whether I should think these Max Payne 3 shots are bullshot. Either way, that ain’t gameplay.
  • I didn’t get into the Infamous 2 beta, but it’s nice to hear that they’re extending it as Sony is down, down, down.

iPhone is so easy! (Some assembly required)

I got my iPhone today, and (this should come as no surprise) I’m pleased with the slick little device. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a seamless experience. The “cable broke” (which we assume means “the store is about to close and I don’t feel like dealing with it), so the salesman couldn’t transfer over our contacts. I’ve already manually transferred mine, and I still have to transfer my wife’s.

Worse yet, we couldn’t transfer photos from my wife’s old phone. For most of them this isn’t a problem, but she has a really nice picture of an owl she wanted to transfer over for her wallpaper, and the only method I know of is kind of a pain. Any solutions would be appreciated.

So while I wait for this update to be applied, blogging time. Today was a bit slow, which was good because I had a bunch of things to take care of before my parents got here.

  • I suppose the DS Lite is about due, but it’s still surprising that Nintendo didn’t drop to $99.99 before letting it die completely. I bet they’d squeeze at least a few extra sales out of that price point.
  • It was too much editorializing to say in the story, but I can say it here: this sounds like Capcom is holding our nostalgia ransom.
  • Damn, now I need to go back and finish episodes two and three.

Cadbury Eggs

Around this time every year I get to taste the sweet, sweet, extremely sweet, almost too sweet taste of Cadbury eggs. Apparently in their homeland of England, you can get these year round, but I kind of prefer the rarity. Would gingerbread be associated with Christmas if we could have some in March? Nay.

My Summer Blockbuster games feature went up on 1UP today. Some of the edits aren’t quite what I would’ve made, but I like how it turned out. The Harry Potter reveal just happened today, so I had to whip up a blurb about it. Hopefully it doesn’t show.

  • The PlayStation Network outages started out as a relatively small story, but when Seybold admitted it could last a couple of days it blew up into one of our bigger stories. What a terrible week for this to happen too. As I note in the story, this was the week for four big online PS3 experiences, three of which are PS3-exclusive.
  • This was my personal big story of the day: Mega Man Legends 3 Prototype, available in about a month. I got my start with Mega Man, I still have a lot of love for the series, and the Legends games are just so damn charming. The addition of Barrett scares me a little, as he looks like the character engineered to have 90s “tude.” Remember when they added Axl to Mega Man X? But the mechanics and art style look right, and I’m sure Volnutt will be playable in the final version at least, even if not the prototype. Also, calling it a “prototype” and inviting fan input is pretty cool of them, even if it ends up being more for show than actually part of the development process. A long-dormant game series like that needs to let the fans feel involved.
  • My favorite part of this Mario 3DS story might be how Miyamoto just basically came out and was like “yep, raccoon tail!” I mean, he’s not even bothering to pretend like it could be anything else. Also, the Galaxy team working on mechanics that mix that with Mario 64 and apparently old power-ups from Mario 3? Yes, please.
  • Valve doesn’t want to share Steam sales data. NPD must be fretting over this, because without Steam they’re going to be doomed to irrelevance within a couple of years. (Though they haven’t exactly been helping their case by slowly releasing less and less information to the press).

Overcomplication

I pointed this out on Twitter, but I’ll go into more detail here. I’m only a few hours into Portal 2, but already I’m noticing a recurring theme from the first game. Namely, I’m kind of stupid when it comes to Portal puzzles.

I have a tendency to overlook the obvious, easy solution. Instead, I come up with some ludicrously hard solution that would probably work, if only I were skilled enough to pull it off. Eventually I’ll think better of it and figure out, hey, they wouldn’t make the actual solution this hard to pull off.

For example, last night there was a wide chasm to cross and an angled wall to do so. I figured out that much (after a bit of futzing with a catwalk that I couldn’t reach, then found out once I reached it was completely unnecessary). The solution was to get up to a high point that was far up, then fire a portal to the ground, and fall into it to gain the necessary thrust.

Instead of seeing/noticing that high platform, I doubled back over one portal set to gain some thrust, launched myself towards a wall all the way on the other end of the room, tried to hit a second portal just as I hit that wall, and then fire an exit point into the angled wall. If I could have pulled this off, it would have been amazing. But after failing a dozen or so times, I figured that couldn’t possibly be it and looked around some more.

  • I think it’s funny how Boon was playing it coy like there was a huge library of Microsoft characters to choose from for inclusion in Mortal Kombat. C’mon man. We all know it was Marcus Fenix. Letting Master Chief shred some fools was never a serious consideration.
  • Sometimes news is so completely unsurprising that it hardly qualifies. But I guess yesterday deserved a follow-up.
  • Letting fans vote on a map is a cool idea, but I think the absolute thrashing in the vote helps show how sick people are of zombies, even with creative play mechanics.
  • Funny enough, just yesterday I was talking with Bryan about our bets for the E3 conferences this year. We mentioned that a new God of War game is pretty likely, and then this story comes around.

Portal Envy

Portal 2 was released today, to wide fanfare and critical acclaim. And once again, we were reminded that people on the internet are entitled, whiny kids. Despite being the highest rated game so far on Metacritic, the user reviews were not so kind, and nerd rage manifested itself as hyperbolic garbage.

Now, I’m not saying Portal 2 is perfect. I’m not even saying it’s great! I’ve only played an hour so far, and my (so far great) experience with the game can’t speak for the whole thing. That would be pretty presumptuous. Some of these complaints, though… c’mon, guys.

Specifically, the rage-kids were bitching about three things:

  1. The length. This is one I can’t speak to, since like I said, I haven’t finished it. Both Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun said the campaign is in the 7-8 hour range on the low end, maybe 10 hours if you look for easter eggs, with another 5 hour co-op campaign on top of it. This is not in any way short, and no where near the “4 hour campaign” that people were spamming on reviews. Of course, I think people should stop worrying so much about the length and more about the quality. If actually were 4 hours, and those 4 hours were fantastic, shut up and appreciate it for what it is.
  2. The store. Apparently on the PC version, you can buy some downloadable content. It’s all cosmetic stuff, paint jobs for your co-op robots and things. Rage kids, seriously, you need to get over this. Games come with day-one DLC. That’s how the world works now. It helps developers pad their costs with extra revenue. Most of the time this content was worked on while the game was being pressed, so it’s not anything removed from the game. And in this case, it’s totally optional crap, from a developer known for supporting their games with free updates. They’ve been supporting Team Fortress 2 for five years. I think you can deal with not buying some optional paintjobs.
  3. The ARG. It was too hard and didn’t let them play as early as they wanted to. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
Moving on! Stories.
  • Thupagangsta. Seriously, I had to make a point at the end of the fact that Telltale is developing eight games. The studio has about 140 people. Studios with 4 times that amount produce a game or two per year.
  • Sony discontinuing the PSP Go, if true, is completely unsurprising. I’m not even sure why they’d be so cagey about it. It wasn’t a sales success, we already know about the new handheld they have in the works, and downloadable titles are available on the regular PSP if you have a big enough memory stick. Just say flat-out that you’re letting your stock deplete while you focus your manufacturing plants on the NGP. No one would care. Heck, no one cares anyway, but at least you’d be open about it all.
  • My favorite part of this Sonic Generations trailer may be how Chubby Sonic looks like an old-school Disney character. He might as well be saying “Ooooh me, oh my!”
  • Can’t wait for W40KDoW2RTLS.

Source Code’s many plot holes

We watched Source Code this weekend, and it was a bit of likable summer movie fun before summer really hits. Nice performances, a great Scott Bakula cameo, and a premise that let it have a bit of a heart and a brain to it as well. So if asked flat-out, I’d say I recommend going to see it.

On the other hand, a few things stuck out… (spoilers follow; if you’re sensitive you may want to skip to the bullet points where I have my story tracking as usual)

Basically, the movie presents us with a resolution in two realities: in the first, the train did kill everyone on-board, but thanks to our protagonist they caught the guy; in the second, he stopped the terrorist altogether and went on living with his newfound girlfriend. It wraps up in a nice little package.

Except that this guy has just adopted the life of someone he basically knows nothing about. He’s a helicopter pilot, not a history teacher, so he won’t know a thing about his job. His new girlfriend has at least some history with him that he has to fudge. And possibly worst of all, he called his real father and claimed this new identity was in the same platoon with his son, leading to the inevitable awfulness when poor Papa Bakula does some research and finds out that this douche was never in the military at all, and never knew his son to boot. How the heck does he explain that away?

Perhaps more disturbingly, the movie makes the case that he’s creating alternate realities with each decision he makes. So somewhere there’s a reality where this guy beat the shit out of some vaguely Middle-Eastern guy and got killed on a train. Or one where he found the terrorist and got shot in a parking lot. Or one where he looks extremely suspicious by saying shit indicating that there would be a bomb moments before it actually exploded.

Still a good flick. Smart — in terms of philosophy, not plot holes — and enjoyable action fun.

  • Mega Man X is excellent, and if you haven’t played it you should. Though the Mega Man X Collection on PS2 is probably better bang for your buck, since it includes six games (plus Battle & Chase, which is awful but an interesting bit of trivia) for $20.
  • God help me, this Sonic Generations game actually looks kind of fun.
  • Those price drops started faster than expected. I have to think this is just adding more smoke to the ever-growing “new Nintendo console” fire.
  • This is an interesting move by the ESRB. I’m glad it will save them some work, and I doubt they’ll run into problems often, but you just know the first time there’s a ratings flub critics will use it to pounce.