Monthly Archives: June 2011

Usually a bit less than meets the eye

Despite some reservations, I actually liked the first Transformers movie. It was loud and dumb, but it was the good kind of dumb. Summer dumb. The kind of dumb that the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick was, which is what made it the best of those movies as well. The second movie, obviously, not so good. Actually, kind of aggressively bad.

There’s a trend we see in the video game industry, in which developers promise they know what was wrong with the previous franchise game, and they fixed it in this one. They’re not lying, per se, but it’s pretty normal to be skeptical about these statements. It’s just so rote at this point.

We see the trend less in movies, since it’s less franchise-driven (but becoming more so). So hearing Michael Bay say that the script for T2 was rushed and he recognizes that it was a stupid mess, that was actually kind of heartening. The reviews, though, aren’t coming in terribly positive. I half-wonder if this is people reacting to the big dumb spectacle that’s kind of fun (T1), or the big and much dumber spectacle that insults the viewer (T2). I suppose I’ll see for myself soon.

I probably won’t be updating this blog for a little while, but I shall return in about a week! Just FYI.

  • As upset as I was by Sony’s handling of the PSN hack, I didn’t (and still don’t) want anyone to lose their job or be a sacrificial lamb. So even though I doubt Stringer will actually walk due to it, hearing that a shareholder called him out is sad.
  • I’ll probably skip Kenshi. I feel like if I wait a while, there’ll be a PS+ discount.
  • Half-Minute Hero on the PSP was really good, so I’ll have to check out the Xbox 360 version coming tomorrow.
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The complexities of the SCOTUS case

So as expected, the Supreme Court released its ruling on the California bill today. And as slightly less expected, they ruled in the EMA’s favor. I thought the ruling was fairly obvious, but I was still a bit afraid that the Justices wouldn’t understand games enough to see the clear truth: they’re a medium worthy of protection like any other.

The really funny bit, though, has been seeing arguments from the ruling’s detractors. Leeland Yee and Common Sense Media make it sound as if this law was the only thing standing between a grade-schooler and Mortal Kombat. Put in this context, the SCOTUS decision makes no sense. It sounds like the Justices just hate kids.

But this context also circumvents all the actual legal points. You’ll notice that Yee didn’t mention the Miller Test or obscenity law or precedent. That’s because all of those are damaging to his case. All of those are the reasons he lost. It’s intentionally reframing and simplifying the issue to make it “do you want to protect children or are you a terrible person?”

A lot of outlets pointed out how Alito laid a roadmap to redraft the law. I’m not terribly afraid of it, though. A major factor in his summary was that all media has to be treated equally, and there is no way California is going to draft a law to restrict Hollywood. Without that, it will fail strict scrutiny for the same reasons.

  • This year’s Summer of Arcade games seem really strong. I’m kind of tempted by the offer for free Crimson Alliance. If I would buy each of the other games regardless, getting Fruit Ninja for a free copy means I save five bucks on it. But I’ll have to try out the demos for each one to see if I want to blow that kind of money in July.
  • The only Dual Pack I’d be interested in, I’ve already played both of. It’s kind of a weird move. After the Greatest Hits and Favorites line, they’re releasing a new kind of budget title. I doubt there will be market confusion, but it seems like these could be consolidated somehow.

Dear Internet circa 1995: What were you thinking?

After watching The Princess Bride to honor the late, great Peter Falk tonight, I was browsing Reddit and saw a reminder of ICQ. Remember ICQ? It was a messaging program that brought together all your other messaging programs into one semi-coherent mess of contacts.

And the name sounded like “I SEEK YOU” — get it?!

That led me to wonder about the doomed fate of other mainstays from the mid-to-late 1990s. I actually had a Web site back then through GeoCities, because everyone had a Web site through GeoCities. It was mostly random thoughts on movies and video games, so… sort of like this blog, actually. But with frames. I never used animated gifs. Even as a kid I could tell that was tacky.

Apparently Yahoo shut down GeoCities in 2009, roughly 12 years after everyone forgot it existed. Way to hang on there, guys. A few archives backed up the pages before armageddon, including the Wayback Machine and Reocities. I don’t actually remember my site URL; I’m fairly certain it was in Area51. To be honest, even if I did I probably wouldn’t share it. It really was quite awful. On the bright side, it wasn’t as awful as some of the sites I randomly scrolled through a few minutes ago on Reocities. Just… yipes.

Remember “WebRings”? Yeah. This is the Internet’s deep cuts.

  • I’m sure something will come of the various lawsuits against Sony, but parts of this one seem a little obvious. Sony worked harder on protecting its own corporate secrets? Scandal!
  • Seems about time for another PS3 price drop. I’m going to call this rumor “believable” at the least.
  • I wrote a pretty detailed breakdown of the video game SCOTUS case back at 1UP, and it’s one of my prouder accomplishments for that site. I like to think I’m pretty well-versed on the topic as a result, so with the decision pending and likely on Monday, a summary/refresh seemed in order.

Double Fine getting finer by the minute

I have a soft spot for Tim Schafer, but his games have been a bit hit or miss. Psychonauts was a great game with some brilliant ideas, but mechanical issues kept it from being a really impeccable platformer. Brutal Legend was similarly ambitious, but tried to be a jack of all trades. It ended up being a jack of only a few trades, and a 7 of Clubs or 8 of Diamonds in other departments.

Since Double Fine switched its focus to these smaller, downloadable titles, it’s really been firing on all cylinders. Each is a little nugget of creativity injected into an existing game design. Costume Quest was a fun, adorable RPG; Stacking was a nice take on old-school adventure games. Now Trenched has been released, and it may be my favorite.

That’s probably not surprising, since it’s also the deepest of the games. While their other mini-projects have been linear (but lovable) experiences, Trenched is a fully-fledged mech action game with a layer of tower defense and some of that signature humor and charm. I’m really enjoying swapping out pieces for each mission and going back to old missions with my new gear.

Speaking of smart twists on tower defense, Toy Soldiers: Cold War is definitely a game I’ll have to look into. I reviewed the original for 1UP and I dug it. Bastion is getting a lot of attention too. Most of the time, each of the Summer of Arcade games is worth paying attention to. I’ve never bought the whole set, but I usually pick up at least a couple.

  • Smash Bros isn’t really in development yet, which isn’t too surprising given Sakurai’s other projects. What is surprising is how Iwata made it sound like there were more details to share, but the game isn’t even really in the planning stages yet. It may have just been poorly-phrased, but that’s the sort of thing that gets fans’ blood up.
  • Activision is sort of perceived as the gaming boogeyman, and they haven’t done a lot to discourage that reputation. Interviews like this are interesting, if nothing else than to see the business logic behind some unpopular decisions.
  • Like at least one commenter, I also wondered if this Skyrim pre-order bonus was supposed to be a cloth map. I did like reminiscing about classic PC games and their outrageous instruction manuals, though.

Pixar’s winning, losing idea

I love Pixar movies. I think that they’re genuinely the best animation anyone has to offer. I would’ve given How to Train Your Dragon the Oscar last year instead of Toy Story 3 — which felt a bit like a Lifetime Achievement Award — but other than that they deserve the mountains of praise and award trophies they’ve earned.

However, I wasn’t a big fan of the original Cars. It just flat-out bored me, with its simplistic message and various car puns. I was confused by the announcement of Cars 2, until I found out that the original made some amazing cash for the company. For the first time in years, I plan on skipping this summer’s Pixar flick.

So far it has a 50% on Rottentomatoes, already the lowest-rated Pixar movie to date. Most of the time RT is artificially high before a movie comes out, so it might even drop more. Heck, even the reviews marked positive are damning with faint praise:

At least Cars 2 looks as expertly sleek and sturdy as audiences have come to expect from the standard-setting animation company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Lisa Schwarzbaum

Cars 2 narrowly avoids becoming Pixar’s first truly bad movie, but it’s definitely the studio’s worst movie. Joshua Tyler
Yes, “Cars 2″ is better than “Cars.”
Roger Moore

Youch. That last one is harsh. At any rate, its negative reviews are a black spot on the company’s otherwise almost impeccable track record. But I doubt they care. Because with merchandising, this movie is going to make roughly a brazillion dollars.

(That’s a 1 followed by zeros equal to the current population of Brazil, for those who don’t read Jeremy Parish regularly.)

And hey, if that finances their next few brilliant projects, I’m all for it. Just don’t tap the well for Cars 3 anytime soon.

  • Retail vs Steam. Round 2. FIGHT!
  • I haven’t been getting the New Vegas DLC as much as I bit on Fallout 3’s, but I’ll probably grab it eventually. Still, I love that they released one screenshot. Of robo-scorpions.
  • Sometimes interviews are just interesting for the sake of being interesting, not because they have any huge scoops. I think this is one such example.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I finished the first dungeon in Zelda last night, which earned me the cutscene that explains the origin of the world — at least according to Hylian religious folk, I guess. It was such a nice bit of storytelling that tapped so well into the idea of a “Legend” that it makes me miss that style. The more recent Zelda games seem like they’re trying too hard to tell a story, while these earlier titles just existed in their elegant simplicity.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved some of the story moments in Wind Waker. Even Twilight Princess had some nice plot beats. But neither of them had that quaint “legendary” feeling of Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time.

  • It seems like this LulzSec arrest was sort of a non-issue in terms of importance to the group, but it will be interesting to see what comes of it in terms of other investigation material. Personally, I’d like them to stop, if nothing else so I don’t have to keep checking if any of my passwords need changing.
  • Completely unsurprising news is completely unsurprising. We don’t know how much Gearbox paid for the Duke rights, but they sure didn’t do it to put out a mediocre game and call it a day. Here’s hoping their reboot brings some of their trademark humor to the character.
  • And another MMO goes free-to-play. I actually expected more fan reaction from this, but Shack (which is a PC stronghold) is pretty quiet on it.
  • Iwata didn’t reveal much hard news here, but it’s an interesting interview regardless — particularly in the bits about how the Wii U was conceptualized, and how letting developers in on the system caused the leaks. Nintendo is a notably secretive company, and playing close to the vest may have cost it launch support in the past. But when you share, this is what happens. Kind of a catch-22.

Ocarina of Time 3D impressions

I haven’t had much time with the remastered OOT; I paused about midway through the Deku Tree and now, and I’ll probably be chipping away at it slowly before bed, as I tend to do with portable games. I will say that the first dungeon is kind of dull, as I remember, but the visual overhaul is pretty gorgeous on the whole. I especially like the look for young Link; he’s adorable.

I’m not playing with the 3D on, though. I’ll probably switch it on for cutscenes, but I just prefer without for a game that doesn’t really seem to need it. It’s also super-bizarre to have both the 3D effect and accelerometer controls, because it requires you to move the system around — which screws up the view. It seems like you’d have to select one or the other. I’m not really using the 3D, but I’m barely using the accelerometer aiming either. It’s better for broad movements while the thumb-stick is better for fine-tuning.

  • This Kinect in Halo Anniversary news alarmed people more than I expected, but I probably should’ve seen it coming. Gamers have a tendency to freak out over molehills. Microsoft issued a clarification that it’s purely optional, which I (and all reasonable people, I’d wager) kind of assumed to begin with.
  • I hadn’t heard of Dyad, but it looks interesting. We tried to get our own comment from the developer to have a unique spin on it, but I haven’t seen many other sites referencing our information.
  • The plot thickens! As it will continue to thicken, for the next year or so.
  • It’s was always pretty clear that Battlefield 3 would get a slight downgrade on consoles, but seeing it on Jimmy Fallon, it looked just fine to me.

Amazon’s kryptonite

I tend to prefer Amazon for my game purchases — usually for movies, CDs, and books as well. They’re usually cheaper than other places, I get free shipping thanks to Amazon Prime, I usually rack up free store credit, I get release date delivery, and I’ve never once missed out on a pre-order bonus because some teenager that works there ganked it.

Yes, I’m looking at you GameStop.

But its one weakness, the one problem that is just insurmountable, is that it’s an online retailer. Even with release date delivery, this renders Sunday releases moot. No one delivers on Sundays. Usually this isn’t a problem, but Nintendo releases everything on Sundays. And until we get rid of blue laws, that’s how things will apparently remain.

Making matters worse, they seem to refuse to ship a day early. Instead of shipping on Saturday so I receive it Monday, they ship Monday so I receive it Tuesday. That makes it not just one day late, but two.

Such is the case with Ocarina of Time 3DS, releasing this weekend. I have my pre-order all ready, but I’m doubting they’ll ship it tomorrow. Just a hazard of that particular retailer, I suppose. It’s not even their fault — just the unfortunate side-effect of our arbitrary postal rules and Nintendo’s totally bizarre release schedule.

Oh well. I have Link to the Past to keep me occupied. I just better not miss out on my free soundtrack CD, that’s all I’m sayin’.

I don’t think I’m spilling a trade secret to say that Bryan created the Sad Duke Nukem Twitter account. I doubt it will last long — because I doubt Duke will be in the public eye for long — but it’s pretty funny and you should check it out. I contributed to one tweet. See if you can figure out which one.

One of my 1UP features went live today, and it’s one of my prouder features of late: Hitting Close to Home. I actually thought this one would cause some controversy, since it ends with a call for rational discussion and understanding people’s feelings. Most comments are pretty positive. Go fig.

  • Portal 2 DLC, you say? Well hot diggity–wait, what?
  • I was a little annoyed by this MK Season Pass news, until it was pointed out that the PS3 version got Kratos. It’s a fair enough trade, I guess, since the 360 got shafted on getting a free character. I do like this trend, though. First LA Noire and now MK. Giving discounts for buying advance is both smart business and benefits the savvy consumer. Win-win.
  • Like a few of the commenters, I got this e-mail warning me of the Sega Pass hacks, but I don’t remember ever having a Sega Pass. I suppose I must’ve signed up sometime, but it had to have been an old password so I’m not too concerned about it.
  • I could watch Ken Levine talk about dystopian politics all day long.

Night notes

I’m going to make this a bit of a quickie, since it’s late and I’m a bit tired.

  • I remember liking Mega Man 5 quite a bit, and Donkey Kong 94 (as it’s affectionately called) really is one of the best Game Boy titles I’ve ever played. I just feel like a sucker for buying it at $15, not knowing if I’d waited a month or two I could download it for $4.
  • Breaking: PC enthusiasts apparently hate GFWL.
  • I’d never enter a music video making contest, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this crazy idea.
  • It was kind of bizarre that a firmware update broke Ridge Racer, but at least now it’s fixed.
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In blackest night

I’ve been waiting with baited breath for the reviews to start coming in for Green Lantern. I’m not a comic nerd, but maybe sort of tertiary nerd. I tend to watch comic movies and I have some level of familiarity with them. I’ve thought Green Lantern looks pretty terrible for a while, and the lack of reviews for so long seemed to lend weight that it wasn’t going to do well against critics.

It sits at a 20%, and that’s a pretty damn black night. It’s not as if it’s easy to do a live-action version of a (let’s be honest) silly concept, but I was hoping this would be campy fun. I might still catch it on DVD, but I doubt I’ll hit the theater.

If you are looking for a movie to watch this weekend, see Super 8. It’s wonderful.

I popped in Child of Eden for a little bit, renting it from GameFly. It seems… short? I’m playing with a controller, since I don’t have Kinect, and it just feels like new Rez levels. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it seems like anyone paying the full retail price is donating to a developer that they love and appreciate. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Lord knows I’ve done it a few times with my own pet franchises.

  • So the Wii U won’t play DVDs, and I don’t really care. The PS3 is pretty much my dedicated DVD/BR device, and that’s when I even watch a disc. More often I just use Netflix.
  • There are rumors, and then there are things that you technically have to call rumors even though it’s completely believable and looks legit and there’s no reason to doubt it. This Black Ops DLC is the latter.
  • I’m not sure how I feel about $5 for one Mortal Kombat character; I’d really have preferred they batch Skarlet with Kenshi, and then Rain with this mysterious fourth character. $5 for that seems fair. Oh well. I set aside some cash for the first pack, so I’ll get it anyway. It’s already tied to my PSN account. Plus Skarlet’s story is nuts.
  • I haven’t followed Gunstringer very closely, but I liked Comic Jumper — for what it was, at least. The controls were pretty stiff, but the sense of humor was great.