Thursday, May 24, 2007

It's about time

It's been almost ten years, but it looks like we're finally getting a sequel to Starcraft. Blizzard announced Starcraft 2 to a huge crowd of giddy Koreans this past weekend. But let's be honest, it's not just the Korean gaming professionals that are excited; Starcraft is one of those games that everyone grooved on for years and is still totally playable today.

As always the cinematic is awesome but tells us nothing. There's a pretty long gameplay demo that gives us a taste of what's in store for the Protoss, but of course that only makes me hunger for more. So far it looks like Starcraft but prettier. But honestly, that's all I really need. Just give me an excuse to play the game that I secretly wish I was still playing anyway.

I've always preferred Starcraft to Warcraft, thematically. Something about that Starship Troopers meets Aliens vibe strikes a chord with me. True, Warcraft got more interesting when they brought in the undead, but there's always a part of me that wish I was rocking it Zerg style. Modernizing this franchise to make it relevant again is pretty darn exciting, and if there would have been an E3 this year, this would have been the biggest news from it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Comic Book Movies

Rotten Tomatoes posted a nice round up of comic book movies, worst to best. In light of my accusations of Superman sucking, it's interesting to see how all the big franchises stacked up. Here's the filtered list:

88 - Batman & Robin
81 - Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
71 - Superman III
54 - Batman Forever
39 - X-Men: The Last Stand
35 - Spider-Man 3
27 - Batman
24 - Batman - Mask of the Phantasm
23 - Batman Returns
19 - Superman II
17 - Superman Returns
16 - X-Men
9 - Superman: The Movie
8 - Batman Begins
5 - X2: X-Men United
4 - Spider-Man
1 - Spider-Man 2

All in all I'd have to say it's pretty accurate. The new Spider-Man isn't so hot, but the third X-Men was worse. Actually, there seems to be a strong pattern of the third movie sucking bad. But it doesn't have to be that way; it is possible for the third movie to be the best.

Superman is all over the place in the list, spanning pretty good to spectacularly bad. But Superman's top movie isn't as high as Spider-man, X-Men, or Batman's. Why? Because Superman sucks.

Need more proof? Take the average rankings:
  • Superman: 39.4
  • Batman: 37.3
  • X-Men: 20.0
  • Spider-Man: 13.3
It's official.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)

It's hard to really explain how much I love Guitar Hero II. But I don't really have to, because everyone else seems to as well (reviews: GameSpot, GameSpy, GameRankings). It's one of those games that anyone can play and have a blast. I played the first Guitar Hero for the PS2, which totally rocked, but the sequel's arrival on the Xbox 360 is a distinct upgrade. The graphics are totally better, although that's more a feature for the spectators, not the player. There's a cooperative mode where one player can play lead and the other can play rhythm or bass. There are more songs. As a 360 title there are achievements, which are well balanced. There are also leaderboards where you can size yourself up against your friends or the whole world (I'm currently ranked around 13,000). The gameplay itself is more of the same, but no one's complaining about that.

There's no doubt that Guitar Hero II is a great game. But its popularity opens it up to high scrutiny, and there's a lot of controversy around some of the features. Two of the most obvious additions for a 360 based Guitar Hero would be wireless controller and downloadable content. The lack of a wireless controller I've come to terms with, since real guitars aren't wireless. But there's been a ton of controversy around the pricing of the downloadable tracks. If you applied the pricing they're using to the 50 songs that came with the game it would cost over $100 to download them, yet the game with the guitar was only $90. You can debate how much one of these songs should cost, but no matter what number you arrive at it sure shouldn't be more than the current box price. I want downloadable content, I do. I bought the tracks that are available, as overpriced as they are. I will happily re-purchase all the tracks from the first Guitar Hero, because I see the value of having them instrumented for coop and whatnot. But I'd rather not get gouged in the process.

As I've mentioned before there's also some controversy over Guitar Hero II's unlockable content. I personally felt the pain of that the first time I tried to plop down on a different Xbox and play multiplayer. Your experience is pretty limited when you start out with only a fifth of the songs. And you can't unlock new songs via multiplayer - you have to go antisocial and unlock them in singleplayer first. There's supposedly an unlock all cheat code, but I could never get it to work. The best way I've found to handle this is to put your save game on a memory stick and carry that with you. But even then only one person gets credit for coop unlockables. Coop is an absolute blast, so it's a shame they didn't iron out more of the kinks.

The problems are minor in the grand scheme of things as they don't prevent the game from being fun. I guess it just gives the developer some stuff to smooth out in the software for Guitar Hero III. My only question with Guitar Hero is when can I get more of it? Are we going to get more downloadable tracks? What about the awesomeness that is Guitar Hero 80's? Is their strategy to sell yearly discs or to rock the downloadable content? It honestly doesn't matter to me, as long as I can get my fix. So far it seems my appetite for Guitar Hero is insatiable.

Friday, May 11, 2007

No Spore This Year

Unfortunately it's been reported that Spore isn't releasing this year. Which bums me out because I've really been looking forward to it. Oh well, the revolution will have to wait another year :(

If you don't know what Spore is, well, it's time you found out about it. Seeing it end to end for the first time can be a religious experience. But given that people might have various levels of interest, I'll give you some choices:
  • Original full presentation - The hour long GDC 2005 talk by Will Wright. If you're a geek like me, you'll appreciate the whole back story and all the commentary on procedural methodology.
  • Original demo - The half hour demo portion from the above 2005 presentation
  • Gameplay clips - Three minute reel from GDC 2007
  • Flash Movie - Only like a minute long, but does a surprisingly good job of summing up what the game is all about

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I'm a bit behind the times, because I only just got around to seeing An Inconvenient Truth. It's definitely a "must see." Not like "must see TV," more like "must see or we'll all die."

The picture Gore paints is pretty grim, but it comes off as informational rather than sensational. The film works very well for raising awareness, but not so well as a call to action, leaving you with this "now what?" feeling. But that's probably a smart decision. By choosing to concentrate on presenting the non-debatable facts the film doesn't give people much room to question whether we have a serious problem on our hands. But what to do about is mostly left as an exercise for the reader.

The one firm call to action is to visit the web site, which in general focuses on small things you can do, not large lifestyle changes. That's cool, I guess, but that's kinda like trying to lose weight by switching to low fat cookies instead of, you know, diet and exercise. Now I'm not saying the solution has to be unnatural liposuction (Which I guess in this context would be what? Stop driving cars altogether? "Reducing" the world's population by half?). There has to be some achievable middle ground. But to think that we can fix this problem by switching to a different kind of light bulb is pretty naïve. We should do those little things, but they're not going to be enough.

The title of the film is perfect: there's a clear truth here and it is pretty damn inconvenient. The facts presented to us demand that we change. What worries me most is that I don't think people are naturally good at change or compromise... especially Americans. Our whole culture is founded on stubborn individualism. Our days of driving huge cars everywhere to eat heavily packaged fast food have to come to an end. And I don't trust the average American to let that go. Which I guess means we're all gonna die... which is also pretty darn inconvenient. Drat.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Tags, Feeds, Oh My!

If you're subscribed to my feed, you probably got a barrage of old posts this weekend. That's because I went over all my posts and did a sanity check on the tags. In particular I added the inverse of the "game" tag: "notgame". There are a number of people who have told me that they like the blog but can't make heads or tails of the gaming stuff. And as far as I can tell you can't get a link to posts without a particular tag, so I figured a special tag would have to do. From what I can tell you can't seem to get a feed on a filtered view of the blog, but I guess that's the price you pay. You'll just have to ping this page manually.

I also added a tags list in the sidebar to the right. It's kinda low tech; I'll have to do some research to figure out how to add a Flickr-style tag view.

Where to go from here?

I blogged before about how MMO's need achievements. And it sounds like the new Lord of the Rings MMORPG is delivering just that. It also helps that it's based in the very rich world of Middle Earth. So, I'm tempted…

But I don’t know if I have the energy to start another one of these games. I've been playing WoW for two years now, and for a large chunk of that time it was pretty much the only game I played. Which is not how I like to operate. I'd rather experience a variety of different stories than be entrenched in one ongoing epic. It took me awhile to break free from its grasp, and I don't want to fall back into bad habits again.

I'm at a turning point with WoW. When the expansion came out I set a goal for myself that I would delay the inevitable endgame grind as much as possible by staying focusing on seeing all the content. This weekend I completed one of the primary goals I set for myself: run all the (non-hardcore) instances. And I already finished off my single player questing goals weeks ago (the only quests left in my log are the group quests that are impossible to find groups for). I need to decide if I want to take a crack at Karazhan, but besides that I've reached the end of the content. I've essentially seen all there is to see without spending an absurd amount of time grinding to the next tier. And I'm not really interested in taking another character through the same old stuff again, which is how I handed the pre-Burning Crusade level cap.

My plan right now is to put my WoW account into hibernate and only pop in as they bring more content online. But new stuff comes along rarely, so it sounds like I won't be playing much WoW. The question I'm posed with now is do I hang up my MMO hat or do I pursue the next evolution that is Lord of the Rings Online?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Now Playing

GameSpy has a periodic article that they do called What We're Playing where all the staff weighs in on what games they're playing (aptly named, yes). I find it interesting because comparing all their lists can give you an idea of what games have broad and/or lasting value. But it's also nice because you get little two sentence impressions without the pressure of a full preview or review. And as I continue this blog I'm seeing the value in that from their end. I try to complete every game I come across and have something interesting to say, but sometimes the journey to get there is so long that it's worth throwing in offhand comments along the way.

Guitar Hero II (360): It's hard to say how much I love this game. Currently I'm working on 5-starring Hard and scraping by in Expert (currently in tier 6). Both of which are totally owning me, so I don't know if I'm gonna make it, but it's still fun anyway. Seriously, if you have a 360, get this game.

Command & Conquer 3 (PC): I'm towards the end of the GDI campaign. The game totally brings together the classic C&C setting with streamlined gameplay from Generals. However it does seem like I can always succeed by just turtling and then building the uber army (no unit caps FTW?).

Final Fantasy V Advance (GBA): Holy crap old school RPGs are long; I've been playing this one pretty solid during my commute for months. But at least the job system is interesting, making me feel like I'm not grinding the whole time. After killing lots of time getting uber job combos and all the legendary weapons I'm finally enroute to the final boss.

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (PC): I'm actually approaching my criteria for being "done" with the game. I've completed every soloable quest in Outland and most of the group quests, leaving me for a relatively small quest log. It's actually kinda annoying because there's no longer a point for me to play at any time other than in a group. The stuff coming in the next patch looks interesting, but outside of that I may end up putting this game down for awhile after a couple weekends more.

Twilight Princes (Wii): Haven't got back to this for a couple weeks because of other games. I've only finished the first dungeon so I've got a lot ahead of me. I'm not yet sold on the wiimote gestures for fighting but everything else seems pretty good.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS): In my commute time I've decided to put this on hold so that I can focus completely on finishing FFV. But I'm eager to return to it as that I had a good time with its predecessor.