Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Capcom's DEAD RISING deserves a 10!

I just finished the 72 hour mode of Dead Rising for the first time. I must say that I am blown away by this game. Contrary to what most reviews say, I think the save system in this game is sheer genius. It just makes the game more challenging and even the decision on whether or not to save your game becomes a factor in gameplay (since you only have one slot).


Plot of game: Zombies in a mall. It just works.

If you read numerous reviews online, they always bring up the save system as a major problem in the game, and thus, most of the reviews gave this game an 8/10 or so. I highly disagree. This is a triple-A title, people. This is one of those games that ushers in the next generation of gaming. It introduces a lot of new concepts in gaming which will likely be imitated by future titles.


Anything and everything is a weapon....

Have you ever watched a zombie film? While zombie films are almost always questioned for their lack of story depth, Dead Rising, while similar to a zombie film, has loads of character substance. Now that sounds ridiculous at first glance, but hear me out. The best part about the characters in the game is that they are well portrayed. The cutscenes in the game feel like they're out of a film, and at some point you end up caring about what happens to the major characters. In one key scene I even found myself cheering on one of the characters who ends up in a gunfight with another character. Ultimately this scene ends with one character getting trapped in a room full of zombies by the antagonist. While on paper, the scene sounds like there's nothing spectacular about it, the execution of that scene (accentuated by Capcom's extremely beautiful real-time graphics) is just excellent. The acting of the game characters is excellent. They almost feel like real people (in fact, i think they did use real people for motion capture. The credits at the end highlight how they had 'actors' and motion capture technology). Bravo, Capcom.

Isn't there an award giving body out there for works like this? It's MACHINMA, and it's the best MACHINMA I've ever watched. Emotionally stirring, highly visceral, and just downright effective. Normally I'd never find myself cheering on the inclusion of a lot of cutscenes in a game---but DEAD RISING just nails it. The cutscenes are a great reward to the player for each little sidequest and case investigation that they do. What used to be Capcom's worst strength in games (storyline) is now their best, and that can be seen in Dead Rising.


If there were an Oscar for video game acting, Dead Rising would win by a landslide.

And that's just me gushing about the cutscenes. I'll spend the rest of my time with the in-game action.

They weren't kidding when they said "anything and everything is a weapon". Dead Rising lets you use most things that you can find in the mall as a weapon to defend yourself with. And what really sets the action apart is your actual interaction with zombies. The zombies in the game are no joke, they are out to kill you and you have to move really quickly if you want to survive. There are literally HUNDREDS of zombies is each area of the game, and in one key moment you're surrounded by thousands of them at the basement of the mall. That's got to be my most favorite moment of the game. What's cool about that one is that the time limit really gives you that feeling of desparation.....in that basement scene you have to do something to save the mall, but a riot is about to break out among the survivors in the safehouse (the survivors you just rescued). When you look at how many zombies are under the mall, you will start feeling the pressure. I haven't seen a game like this before, where there are literally thousands of enemies blocking your path. I felt desperation in that part of the game, to the point that when a group of zombies attacks my character, I would literally shout at the screen in frustration (perhaps this is accentuated by the fact that you can't simply save in this spot and start over!!!) because I was running out of time and I had to accomplish the goal. Factor in the fact that there's another lunatic down there trying to stop you from accomplishing your goal and there you have it. Now that's a winning game design moment right there. I haven't played a game in a long time that gets me THAT emotional about the story or the characters. Heck, I haven't played an RPG that has made me feel that emotional in years.


Yes, this moment is in the game.


The animation work on the characters, the zombies---everything in Dead Rising, is above and beyond everything else I've played on the Xbox 360 so far. Even the simple action of hacking zombies to pieces is well executed and convincing on screen. Very rare slowdown moments occur, but I hardly even remember them at all--they weren't that jarring to gameplay. Also I admire the amount of detail that Capcom's developers put into this title. Now who's to say that Japanese developers are incapable of putting detail in their games? And what I liked about the detail in Dead Rising is that there is ENOUGH of it. It's never too much to slow down the screen, but it's never too little that it looks like a previous generation title.


The clown community won't be too happy with how they're portrayed in this one.

So I can't imagine in my mind why the hell did this game get an 8 with most sites? Are they on CRACK or something???! Here we are with a game that we've NEVER seen implemented at this scale with THIS level of quality ---and it deserves a fucking 8?!!? What the heck!? Have game review sites literally lost touch with their audience??? People, this is the best ACTION game I've ever played, in YEARS. It's only potentially rivaled right now by two upcoming games, Lost Planet and Gears of War---but Dead Rising delivers something that those games *probably* never will, and that's just sheer visceral mayhem at an EPIC scale.

The common complaint is with the save system---but I admire CAPCOM for having the BALLS to do this kind of save system. It introduces one thing that most games of this caliber lack---CONSEQUENCES FOR YOUR ACTIONS. It makes the game branch out in different directions depending on how you play. Now THAT IS NEXT GEN, PEOPLE. If Capcom continues in this direction when it comes to game design, they're in for even more Triple A games in the future. I completely disagree with everyone who says the save system in this game is 'broken'. It's a game design that introduces consequences and challenge to the title that is unseen in most other titles which just let you 'continue' and beat the game in a day. This is the type of game that just begs to be played again and again, because you want to see and experience everything it has to offer.

That is something that has never been delivered by other action/sandbox titles. The game even has several endings, and when it ends....oh, I just can't spoil it! But what happens, just ROCKS.

Dead Rising is a truly next-generation title that has never been done right in the past. I'd say it even rivals, no, SURPASSES Capcom's other Zombie series, Resident Evil---in sheer viscerality, non-stop action and quality of story and characters. In summary, these are why I think Dead Rising deserves a 10:

1. Delivers on its promises of next-generation action and violence.
2. Beautiful graphics with enough detail to keep the framerate rock solid (reportedly the framerate is 30 FPS, but I can't see it---it's so smooth that I mistake it to be 60 FPS).
3. Amazing realistic work on the characters, and somehow Capcom made realistic characters NOT LOOK BORING/GENERIC!
4. Amazing 'character acting' that deserves some kind of MACHINMA award. They even have convincing facial expressions and gestures which can get you emotionally involved at some point. Somehow this makes you forget the fact that the story is quite simple (and has been done before)---isn't that what counts? It's a fresh take on a story that has been told time and again in many other games...it's just well crafted and well-executed.
5. Brilliant save system and time-based quest system, which really makes you feel that 'desperation' which you'd probably have if you were really in this kind of situation (stuck in a mall with zombies!)
6. Beautiful animation work...fighting zombies and killing off hundreds of them has never been more satisfying. It will be hard to top this, people. Especially in the 'basement' scene. Now that just ROCKS.

Can Capcom top themselves when they get Biohazard 5 out the door in a year or two? Dead Rising just raised that bar way, way up. I find myself looking forward more to the sequel to Dead Rising than to the next Resident Evil. It's just the right way to do a zombie game. Congratulations to Capcom, you guys deserve that 500K sales in two weeks that you got for this game. Heck, you deserve even more. Dead Rising defines next-generation ultra-violent action; it just set the standard. I bet the developers of Capcom's Resident Evil series are going to be looking at this one and saying..."How can we possibly top THAT game?!"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Importance of Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon IS Microsoft’s biggest ace in Japan for this year. This could also be their last chance of proving themselves in that market and to the rest of the world who is stuck in the 80's thinking Japan is the center of the gaming universe.


As a JRPG fan, I found this game to be awesome! This is the first time in a long time that I actually felt excited to play a JRPG. I’m 26 and a part of me feels that I’ve seen every single JRPG and encountered every clich├ęd, anime sugarcoated JRPG plot. But Blue Dragon gives me that feeling that I’m up for something new.

It doesn't matter how good Blue Dragon may be nor how cheap Blue Dragon bundle from Japan, a part of me is not that optimistic that it will sell truckloads in the first week. It will sell truckloads in Japan eventually...but not in the first week.



Unfortunately, for us, the immature gaming industry/journalism considers the success of the game within the first few days of sale. It’s not a marathon to the end (which is better representation on of reality) but more of a 500 meter dash. I’ve taken several courses on Japanese studies and quite frankly, I am confused as to how the Japanese think but for us who are actually HOPING it sells well in Japan, I suggest we set our hopes low.

Realistically speaking, its more than just Microsoft at stake if Blue Dragon doesn’t sell truckloads on the first week. The careers of Hironobu Sakaguchi and his staff are also at stake here. This is the comeback title of Sakaguchi. Japan is a society that looks down on failure. Failure in the Japanese society taints your honor as a person and to some extent the rest of the people you interact with. Sakaguchi has failed once, but his previous achievements saved him from being completely disregarded. He cannot appear to be a failure again.

From what we’ve seen on Blue Dragon, its awesome but the bottom line will all be about sales on the first week. Nobody cares about sales on week 2 or the following weeks. Nobody respects sleeper titles in the gaming industry...its just the first week or bust.



I hope that Microsoft has enough foresight to know this. I hope that rather on focusing particularly in Japan, Microsoft releases this game to the one market that can pad its sales...the WHOLE OF ASIA! For their sakes and Sakaguchi’s reputation, do not focus the launch of Blue Dragon in Japan alone but offer the rest of the world!

Unlike Japan, the rest of Asia isn’t stuck in the Playstation rot. It’s a near guarantee that the Asian XBOX 360 market will support the sales of Blue Dragon. The Asian market doesn’t need fancy voice acting or whatever. All we need is are subtitles translated to English or Chinese/Mandarin. That’s all.

My suggestion points to a bigger scenario for Microsoft and that is shifting focus away from Japan in particular but to the rest of Asia. As many are well aware, in the gaming industry there are only 3 major regions, North America, Europe and Japan. I understand the importance of the first 2 continents but Japan is just one country...and in there is a BIG grey area that the gaming industry ignores which is the rest of ASIA and AUSTRALIA.

I hope Microsoft has a strategic launch for Blue Dragon that extends outside Japan. The rest of the world will buy Blue Dragon even if its devoid of an action figure, a poster, a picture book, a t-shirt and the rest of the freebies Microsoft puts in to make the hard headed Japanese try something new.

We, the rest of the world, will buy Blue Dragon for what it is...a great promising game.





Friday, August 25, 2006

Quake 4 - Review

I finally finished quake 4 today at Lieutenant level. I never played the default difficulty setting; I played the difficulty setting that was one setting higher straight away, because I've played a lot of shooters and wanted a bit of challenge.

In the end, I came off very impressed. The single player campaign is just nonstop FPS action. ID Software/Raven really delivers an impressive shooter experience for the Xbox 360. I also like how the game ends...the final battle is pretty epic and when you finish it, you get this nice feeling of satisfaction and reward.

While the ending is the usual 'short ending' that most games have, IMO I thought the ending was pretty satisfying. It finishes the story while at the same time leaving everything a bit open-ended:


SPOILER WARNING!







At the end of the game you get all the nice congratulations from all the other soldiers; however, there is a slight hint that, since you yourself are a Strogg, essentially, the Strogg have not yet been defeated, since as long as you exist, the Strogg can still return....Nicely done!







END SPOILER!


Positive comments on Quake 4:
--> As I said, this game is all about the action. Great variety of enemies, great level design....it never gets dull. There are a few scares here and there, but this is definitely not Doom 3.
--> The AI of your allies is superb. They don't get stuck, they don't get lost, they know how to fight and generally get the job done! A surprise, considering most ally AI is pretty stupid in other games.
--> The AI of the monsters at Lieutenant level is pretty good....they're not overpowered at this difficulty level, and at the same time they provide a good enough challenge to keep you on your toes
--> Storytelling and cutscenes throughout the game were a surprise. There is even a level or two where you basically just interact with the other soldiers, which gives the game a bit of character of its own.
--> For the most part, the graphics in the game are beautiful. Note that I played this on a VGA monitor, and this really helped me appreciate all of the details in the graphics and design.

Negative comments on Quake 4
-->The framerate. There are sections in the game where the framerate goes down. The truth is, it doesn't go down enough to affect your aim, so while it is true that sometimes the game enters the sub 15 FPS level....the game is playable. And there are only a few short segments where the framerate takes a hit. The framerate problem is ignorable.
--> Bugs. Two major ones but note that they don't totally destroy the game. I made a thread before about a potentially console killing bug in the game. Also, I found another bug where theres a ladder in the game that you can't climb out of. The ladder leads to a secret area that isn't required for you to beat a certain level, so if ever you find it and get stuck, simply reload an earlier save and dont climb down that ladder.

Overall:
Other than those concerns about the bugs and the framerate, the game is just solid. I still recommend the game because the pacing and the nonstop action is just right. Oh, and the boss fights in the game JUST KICK SO MUCH ASS!!!! The cyborg design is superb, and I recall having a good experience with one or two of the vehicle levels (the mech and the tank levels).

The positives largely outweigh the negatives unless you're a perfectionist with your games. If you have a powerful PC, I'd recommend the PC version a lot more since that one is getting more love from ID Software in the form of patches. But, if you have a 360 and can't afford a good PC, the 360 provides a good platform to play this game on. This game is a great buy for fans of the FPS genre. I give the game an 8/10.

Note: Get this game if you play on an HD set or a VGA Monitor. SDTV doesn't do justice to the graphics in this game.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In-game? Real-time? The sad truth is, nobody cares....

Every other day there's a thread on here about how the 360 is going to win the console war. And thus far, while the 360 is enjoying very good sales, it's difficult to say that the machine has truly hit the mainstream. Like most people on this board, I would want the Xbox 360 to succeed, but the reason why it has yet to really take off isn't because of the power of the machine compared to its main rival, the Playstation 3. It also isn't because of the lack of support from Japanese developers. It's simply because the games need better characters.

The other day, I read this article from next-gen.biz, and one part caught my eye:

http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3659&Itemid=2

John Carmack Details id's New Direction

id software's John Carmack stated at QuakeCon 2006 that his company is going in new directions, which involves putting content before graphics, creating new IP and refining the development process.

John Carmack can stand and deliver a keynote address that lasts two-and-a-half hours, and still keep people interested. At QuakeCon 2006, which took place earlier this month, he gave such a talk. He spoke with fluency about upcoming parallel-processing units, and he held his audience spell-bound.

Early in the speech, Carmack covered the simpler elements: that Nvidia is sponsoring one of his rockets (he's a serious rocket-builder); that id’s next game will be “visually breathtaking”; and that Carmack has no concourse with the Wii. “id Software has not historically had close ties with Nintendo," he said.

But the subtext of Carmack’s speech reveals that id Software, the quintessential PC developer and pioneer of the first-person shooter genre, is shifting. Graphics aren’t as important, and the design takes precedent.


I find reading the article ironic, considering right now I'm playing Quake 4 and I kinda understand where Carmack is going with his speech. "We've put too much demons and aliens in our games...", essentially.

This goes back to the age-old question: What makes a good game anyway? Sure there's a lot of argument about this and the debate shifts between gameplay and graphics. The other day I invited a friend of mine who is really invested in his Playstation 2. He enjoyed playing on my Xbox 360, but for some reason he didn't seem completely invested in the experience. The funny thing is, every time the much fandangled 'in-game, real time, utterly amazing graphics sequence' pops up in any game (be it Oblivion, Dead or Alive 4, or Dead Rising), the games overall just didn't win his complete attention. While he came off very impressed with the 360, he still didn't feel like buying one because there weren't enough games that caught his interest. "Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, etc...isn't coming out on the 360, is it?" To which I replied, yup, they aren't.

And there's the rub: every Xbox fan thinks that the Xbox needs Japan to succeed. Now we all know that Japanese developers will never, ever, ever really support the Xbox 360 (with Capcom being the only exception, apparently); and even if they did give support to the 360, it's always cautious support, with the odd new franchise here and there which usually lacks that 'mainstream appeal'

But did you ever wonder, why do Japanese made games succeed so much with mainstream console gamers? It isn't because they have the MADE IN JAPAN sticker on them. There are a lot of Japanese entertainment products out there, but they don't all succeed, and they don't all reach that 'mainstream appeal'. I think the better question Xbox gamers should ask themselves is, why do some Japanese games succeed, and why do some fail to succeed?

Why does this work?

Final Fantasy XIII


Devil May Cry


Metal Gear Solid


The answer is simple: It's their characters. Usually characters in the more successful Japanese games have characters with interesting personalities which gamers can relate with. They're also put in interesting situations with other supporting characters, with villains that have interesting motivations for pursuing their evil plans (and sometimes they think that what they're doing is actually good/or sometimes their character makes them difficult to simply label them as good or evil).

Then it hit me. The Xbox 360 doesn't really need Japan to succeed at all....and you know why that is? The West already has a rich source of great storytelling, great characters, great villains and great settings, which go far beyond the usual space-marine-in-a-powersuit-with-a-big-fucking-gun:

Comic books.





Most successful Japanese games are based, or written like Japanese manga, which are essentially, Japanese comic books. If you think about it, western comic books have the same depth and breadth (in terms of interesting characters and settings) as their eastern counterparts. In some cases, western comic books are arguably much deeper in terms of storyline and character development than Japanese manga. (Note the word, arguably, ok...). My point is, why does Microsoft keep looking to the Far East to make the Xbox 360 succeed, when the best chance at success that they have is already right on their shores!?

My simple point: Get Marvel or DC or any of those creative minds in the comics world to create an original IP for the Xbox 360 Make the IP's storyline reside only on the Xbox 360 and nowhere else. Start from there, and you can eventually create a universe of unique characters and worlds that can rival and possibly surpass the characters in Japanese games.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Quake 4 - Extremely late impressions







I haven't finished the game yet, so I can't call this a review.....

Right now I'm playing Quake 4, a game I bought a few months ago but only now have gotten around to playing. Wow, it's actually pretty good. Once you get over the fact that the framerate dips really bad, the game is playable and it has this nice 'Half Life 2' style scripting going on (with characters talking and with a lot of nice 'cutscene-like' sequences). I like the storytelling that ID put into the game....looks like they're getting better at it. I'm sure the PC version has a much better framerate, so if you have a really powerful PC I'd recommend the game. But if you don't have a good PC but have a 360 instead, the 360 version isn't as bad as the reviews make it out to be. The framerate dips (thus far) don't seem to be messing up my aim, and there are lengthy segments of the game where the framerate is very smooth, even with many enemies onscreen.

If you like your games to use the entire color pallete of a rainbow, though, Quake 4 doesn't have that. It's a very dark game both in look and feel. No pastel colors in sight. So anime-fans need not apply. But for fans of heavy action, robots, cyborgs, and guns galore, this game delivers the goods! IMO compared to PDZ, this game feels like a better shooter for single player gamers. (To its credit, PDZ is a great cooperative FPS). And even if it has its framerate problems it does have some strong moments; it has some great, great GREAT cyborg design (some of the Strogg opposition looks amazing).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ninety Nine Nights - REVIEW


Ok, so I've played through all the characters in Ninety Nine Nights, and have a general idea of the game and its plot. While I haven't finished the quintessentially final mission in the game (Inphyy's Special Stage), I think I have played enough to form an opinion on it.

This game is a hack-and-slash genre game. Keep that in mind. For new gamers, I think it can be a fun experience, since it's relatively easy to learn and play. For gamers who are expecting the game to deliver something new or groundbreaking, it does deliver in one area, and that is in the sheer number of enemies that you face per level. You face literally thousands of enemies, and you have allies at your side to fight with you. While the A.I. isn't stellar, it really is the standard A.I. of most games of this type of genre. A.I. in these types of hack and slash games generally swarm your character and take a swing at you, but aren't that smart and don't really care if they will get hit. That's the idea, because the game's point is getting you to hit them all back. Your character can literally destroy all of them with the right combo attack.

The story in the game is very simple and straightforward. Don't expect a lot of twists and turns in it. If you were looking for story depth, you're in the wrong place, and you shouldn't pick up this game. But if you're looking for something to take out your daily frustrations on, N3 fits the bill quite nicely.

I'd give this game an 8/10. It gets a high score because of the presentation, particularly with the first three characters: Aspharr, Inphyy and Myifee. The rest just aren't as interesting. I'd recommend this game only if you're into hack-and-slash action. If you're expecting an RPG level experience with the story, this game isn't for you. If you're expecting Ninja Gaiden level of action gaming, the game isn't for you either, because combat is fairly straightforward and enemies have simplistic intelligence. If you want a fun romp that has decent longevity, this game fits the bill quite nicely. The Asian version in particular is a great buy since it's only 40 bucks. For gamers in Europe or the US, well, if you have the extra cash, the game is pretty good. If you can rent it, why not?

NOTE: One huge mistake made by the developer is not making Inphyy's Special Stage more obvious when it becomes available. Take note of this: Once you've finished Inphyy's regular campaign, save your game then DO NOT OVERWRITE THAT SAVE when you start on another character. Once you've finished all the characters, reload Inphyy's last save to find the real, last, secret level (called "Another World").

I can imagine a LOT of gamers did not find this 'special stage' at all, since the game doesn't even prompt you that you can access it. You also can't access it unless you reload your last Inphyy save. So remember, do not overwrite your gamesaves for N3....

NOTE 2: If you find the game too frustrating or the bosses too hard, learn to use the BLOCK button when the bosses hit you. The BLOCK button is the left trigger. Also, the 'STATUS' option in the PAUSE menu lets you equip items which should make your life easier.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Today's Game Reviews are Out of Touch

When a reviewer says that a game is 'too hard', he's probably a wimp who's pissed that he can't meet his review deadline because the game won't let him. When a game reviewer says that a game is 'too easy', they probably didn't get beyond the second level of a title, because some other titles have their attention more (case in point, Ridge Racer 6 and Ninety Nine Nights. I bet a lot of reviewers only tried those games in five minutes and decided they were bad.). Reviewers don't really look at games the same way as gamers do, at least not today in 2006. Back in the 90s game reviews were essential, because the number of crappy games and quick-cash-in attempts were insane. While the same holds true today, to some extent a crappy score on a review isn't only because a game is bad; sometimes it's the gamer who reviewed the game that sucks.

As I said earlier, game reviewers today rush through a game to be the first site with the 'world exclusive review'. See 1up's horrid review of KAMEO, which was more a review of RARE than a review of the game itself. Another possibility is the reviewers don't really spend time with a game. Ridge Racer 6 is a victim of this....you can only really enjoy the game online, and because the 360 was really new back then, no decent online play was to be had (because not enough gamers had the title). Reportedly Chrome Hounds is another victim of this.....a lot of online reports say that, online, the game is fantastic, and it lives up to the promise earlier made (and never delivered) by Mech Assault 2. Chrome Hounds received horrid reviews, because most game reviewers only considered the offline mode of the game. Online, the game offers a lot of options which really increase its longevity.

The last problem with game reviews, is simply that game reviewers do their thing because it's their job. They no longer play games to have fun. Sure a lot of them must have started out with all these ideals of changing the way the gaming industry works and having fun while doing it. But over time, I bet, these guys are so sick of the gaming hobby already, that they just do it to get by. They ask fellow game reviewers, what score are you going to give 'X' game, and more or less, by consensus, the scores end up nearly the same. So no one's jadedness is exposed (and no one gets fired).

So what is a gamer to do today, now that game reviews aren't really that reliable? I usually just depend on a few factors to decide whether or not a game is worth getting:

1. Developer reputation - the developer of a certain game has been very successful with past titles.

2. Game premise - the game is of a genre that I am interested in

3. Gamer feedback - Though this can be hit or miss, I find that reading feedback on game messageboards can be useful for more down-to-earth impressions of games.

4. Description/general idea of the gameplay - I usually get this from game previews (which, surprisingly, can be more objective than game reviews...)

So when you read the review for any game, remember that, there are always two sides to every story, inform yourself, get feedback from actual gamers and remember that games are supposed to be fun....

How do you like your games? Over-easy or hard-boiled?

The thing that bugs me about game reviews today is the subjective view on game difficulty. When is a game too easy, and when is it too difficult?

Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting for Xbox Live Arcade got a lot of flack recently because the difficulty of the single player mode at three stars is just too hard---according to some people on forums and on reviews. Some people think the A.I. plays cheesily (relying on instant throws and no-charge moves). I took to task recently and played SF II HF single player a bit more.

Yes, it is true that the A.I. in that game is hard. But I don't think it's unfair. For one thing I am of the firm belief that A.I. just can't be as smart as people can. A.I. just can't predict people that well. So I think that, to some extent, game A.I. has to cheat. Why? Because it just can't be as good as people can.

If you're playing SFII HF and you think the A.I. is cheating on you or reading your moves, think for a second of how you're playing. I found out through a bit more of play time with the game that the A.I. is very keen on countering jump attacks. The best way to fight A.I. in SFII is to stay on the ground. The A.I. doesn't seem to react that well to you if you stay grounded. If you're using one of the 'uppercut brothers', stay on the ground and pull off a series of fireballs and dragon punches, or straight high kicks. A straight jump up and high kick can also confuse the A.I. pretty well.

It doesn't make the A.I. any easier, but playing in a different way will clearly show you that the A.I. isn't cheating. It still is pretty dumb. Combined with a bit of strategic play, SFII HF single player is not impossible. Use the training mode to practice special moves. Try to recall how to properly execute a combo. And remember, you can't air block in this version of SFII HF.

Another game that got a lot of negative press lately is Ninety Nine Nights. Right now I'm playing the game, and I can see why some people could 'hate' this game. It's feels very old school, similar to games like Golden Axe or Streets of Rage, except that it has hundreds of bad guys on screen at once. Some argue that the gameplay is repetitive. To an extent it is, but isn't that the very nature of ground based melee combat? Ever watched a medieval age war film? The fighting doesn't go beyond the loud grunts and swings and clanks of sword and steel. The repetitiveness is the point of N3; to enjoy it, you have to methodically find a way to reduce the enemies numbers quickly and without getting yourself killed. That's where good choice of combos comes in....also, proper positioning is on the battlefield is key. The game isn't that simple; it only seems simple if you overanalyze the fact that combos take only a few clicks of two buttons. Once you're in the carnage of a big battle, you'll be thankful that controlling the game is that easy. A few nicks here and there from the pawn soldiers in the game can make all the difference in the world once faced with a difficult boss character.

Oh, and the boss fights are nice. They're very tough. When I started out with N3, I balked at the idea that I had a BLOCK button in the game.

Later on, with the boss fights, the BLOCK button became my new best friend :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Xbox Live Arcade, ROCKS!!!







Just got Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting yesterday from Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points. It rocks. It's an arcade perfect port, right down to the difficult A.I. I love it.

It's a great classic to have on the 360, and is fun to play whether offline or online. If you've played SF2 in the past, you know what to expect. This SF2 is a bit older, so a lot of the things that gamers are used to, like air-blocks and insta-combos, aren't in the game...it's as basic as it can get, and in a way, I feel that it's more strategic.

I have lots of respect now for the folks over at Capcom and their Xbox 360 support. Not only did they give the Xbox 360 an amazing port of SF2 HF, they're also sending over Dead Rising and Lost Planet. Capcom just improved their reputation in my book. In the past, they were seen as the 'king of the rehash'. But now, with their much improved online capable version of SF2 HF and their upcoming new franchise titles for the 360, these guys are surely going to be successful again in console gaming.

Great job Capcom on Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting! You've earned this old school fighting game fan's respect with the amazing, arcade perfect Xbox 360 version. A great, classic game to play on the side, along with the other next-gen titles on the Xbox 360.

Rating for SF2 HF: 9/10, Excellent game, Well worth it!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Enchant Arm: A great start for JRPGs in the XBOX 360!

I'll go straight to the point here.

Enchant Arms is a GOOD JRPG!

If Enchant Arms signals the dawn of the JRPGs in the XBOX platform, then we XBOX users have a lot to look forward to! This will be a long post, so bear with me but I'll try to put in as much info as I can for those people who are interested in getting the game. I'll also try my best not to put too much spoilers.

The strength of this game lies in its story (particularly in character interaction) and the battle system that From Software implemented. I'll divide this post into several parts, hopefully it will be coherent.

I played the Asian version of Enchant Arm published by Microsoft which is direct translation of the Japanese version of the game. The game has full English support with English subtitles and Japanese audio. THE ASIAN VERSION OF THIS GAME IS NOT REGION FREE. You guys outside Asia will have to wait for the version that will be released by Ubisoft this August 2006.


PLOT:

JRPGs have candy coated typical plots with anime cliched characters and Enchant Arm is no different from that. But despite that I found myself unable to put down the controller as the plot drew me in.

You play the role of Atsuma, a dumb bumbling student of Yokohama University, who is infamous for having a strange looking arm and having to hang around the most popular guys in school. Atsuma's closest friends are Touya and Makoto. Unlike the other two, which have their own specific fan clubs, Atsuma is disliked by most of the people in the University since he may be such a dumbass and a simpleton. But something happens wherein one of the legendary “Devil Golems” is released and life turns upside down for Atsuma and his friends. Throughout the game, you will meet 3 more characters that will influence Atsuma's story, as he comes to terms about what he is and what he can do about it.

The most refreshing thing about the plot of Enchant Arm is the fact that this game DOES NOT REVOLVE ON A LOVE STORY!!! Most JRPGs are focused on the love story between lead characters wherein other characters are just there for display but nothing ever happens to them and quite frankly I'm sick and tired of that. There are potential love interests in the game but that is not the focus. And if I'm not mistaken you can even choose your character focus which will have some effect with the credit sequence of the game.

Enchant Arms is a game about the friendship formed between the characters and its quite well done IMHO. You are not forced to sit through the trials and tribulations of superficial 'love'. Some of the best moments in the game is when the supporting cast utter some truly inspiring words in order to keep Atsuma strong.


I can go on and on about the plot but I won't since I don't want to risk giving spoilers. But as I fought the final boss of this game, there was a question in my mind regarding the motivations of the group. Much to my surprise, the screen turns black and Atsuma utters the same question I was thinking of and an answer is given! Genius!!! As if the developers actually read my mind!

There are 2 endings to Enchant Arm. The first one is a sad ending which is relatively easy to get. Now the happy ending will push your skills to the limit since the final bosses are quite hard.

One thing about this game is how one of the characters is gay, Makoto. While Makoto is not really the focus of the story, I assume that Ubisoft will tone down some of the gay elements to fit the western market...perhaps this is the reason why the game is taking much longer to localize compared to the Asian version published by Microsoft. I'm fine with Makoto, he adds life to the party!

The voice acting in this game is superb!!! The Japanese voice actors are awesome, specially the ones for Atsuma and Makoto! Much of the appeal of this game is due to the voice acting. Hopefully, Ubisoft got good voice actors for the western release, if not they should just keep the game with the Japanese voice actors and offer English subtitles.

The game is linear. So far I can only see 2 side quests which is to get the ultimate weapons of each character and to acquire the strongest golems for each elemental type. Although I think there is a certain path in the game (near the end) which will affect part of the credit sequence once you finish the game.



GRAPHICS:

There is no question about it, Enchant Arm is totally next gen when compared to the crop of JRPGs that exists in the Playstation and the Gamecube. I have played Final Fantasy 12 and I know how it looks like...I can honestly say that the graphics in Enchant Arm are top notch! While From Software, took a more simplistic with the graphics approach they managed to keep the framerate at a solid 60 FPS and the graphics are very sharp for a JRPG.

Let me explain what I mean about simplistic graphics. When you play a Final Fantasy game, the world is loaded with tons of nifty little squiggles, flashing lights and other pointless designs in towns. Towns in Enchant Arms, do not offer the same kind of graphic elements. It's simplistic and practical in its approach...almost like the towns that exists in Oblivion and other western RPGs. But that doesn't mean that it looks bad...in fact some of the towns and places in Enchant Arms are quite stunning to behold. The outdoor environments look downright amazing in some cases.

Character renders are also well done! Of course there are few glitches in the renders but sometimes they approximate CG quality IMHO. There are only 2 CG sequences in this game and quite frankly some of the real time sequences are far better than the CG ones.

I believe that this is the way JRPGs should go in the next generation. They should stop with the excessive CG because the technology right now can deliver realtime sequences that actually look good!!! IMHO, the realtime sequences in Enchant Arm are far better than the ones for Ninety Nine Nights.

I will post images, I've taken from the game so you guys can check out just how good the graphics are in this game. Please note that I just took this off my digital camera using a VGA monitor.



SOUND:

The soundtrack of Enchant Arms is quite nice. They have a nice world environment theme going on. But perhaps my only gripe about this game is that some areas do not have a background music in them, particularly in dungeons.



BATTLE SYSTEM:

This section will be very long. But one of the things I enjoyed about this game is the battle system.

PARTY:

Enchant Arm has a mix of both human and golem characters. The primary difference between the two, other than their physiology, is that humans can learn skills while golems only have set skills. Both types of characters level up and gain SP points at the end of every battle. You can improve the character/golem attributes such as HP, EP, etc etc accordingly, compared to other JRPGs where the characters just level up and you can’t tweak them that much.

Each one of your characters have a certain element attribute. (Fire/Water, Earth/Wind, Dark/Light) Attacks from enemies that has direct opposite of your attribute will deal greater damage to you compared to attacks from other attributes. And so on and so forth.



GOLEMS:

Golem cores can be acquired in battle or by buying them. If you see a golem in the world just standing there, you can choose to fight that golem. If you win, you get that the core of that golem. To make golems come to life, you need to go to a shop and fuse the golem core. There are 3 types of materials needed to fuse the golem and the quantity needed may vary for each golem. You can actually get these materials in battle or just buy them at the shop

At any given moment, you can only carry 8 golems in your party. The rest is stored in the shop, where you can come back and exchange golems. Golems in the shop do not gain the SP / EXP benefits as those you carry in your party.

Enchant Arm has a good mix of Golem design. You have some mechanized golems, badass looking golems and super cute anime golems. Golems have different skills and attributes, its best that you can test them all out to see which golem fits your style.



ATTACKS/SKILLS:

All attacks and skills in Enchant Arm consume Ether Points (EP). There is no such thing as a simple punch/kick in this game and you cannot keep on attacking indefinitely since you will eventually run out of EP. This feature makes the game challenging since every move you make a consequence in your EP. Even not doing anything for that round will lessen your EP. This kind of system pushes the character to actively participate in the battle and not just press one button to continue.

Some skills are passive support skills, such as an immunity to poison, that affect only the selected character. You can get these skills in time as you level up or you can purchase them at the store. You can also buy offensive skills at a store. But all the skills that you get, you need to let your character “acquire” those skills which will consume some SP points. SP points are the same ones you use when you allocate character attributes.

Some attacks may do similar damage but may vary in EP consumption depending on whether or not you used an elemental attack or just an ordinary one.



BATTLE ROUNDS:

Like most JRPGs the battle system is turn based. You can only have 4 members in when you go to battle. You assign moves for each member and once you have completed the assignment you can approve the attack sequence and the battle round begins. Before the acknowledgement for the start of the round, you can still cancel or change the assigned move for all your 4 characters. Note that there is no particular order on who attacks first but you can give a sequence in order to link attacks that can do greater damage. Your battle party can consist of either humans or golems but you can never take out Atsuma from the party since he’s the main character.



BATTLE GRID:

You and your opponents are separated by two 4x3 grid areas. You cannot cross over to the opponents grid and neither can they cross over to yours. With some characters/golems there is a limit as to how far they can move in the grid. Certain attacks/spells also follow a particular grid pattern and coverage. Regardless of the pattern of your attack/spell, depending on your position in the grid, your attack may have a greater coverage.

You can see different perspectives of the battle grid by toggling on the X button. This will help you plan your attacks well.



ITEM USAGE:

In other JRPGs you can store HUGE quantities of any item. That doesn’t actually follow in Enchant Arms. In this game, you can only store 9 quantities of a given item at a time. When faced with long trips or difficult boss battles this becomes quite a challenge. It’s actually a welcome challenge since it makes the game more strategic.



FAST FORWARD:

One of the things I grew tired off in JRPGs is how battles get to be so drawn out not because it’s actually hard but because you have to sit through whole limit / summon sequences. The BEST (IMHO) feature of Enchant Arms when it comes to battle is its ability to fast forward these sequences by holding down the Y button. Now you don’t have to sit through the whole EX (or ultimate technique) sequence, you can fast forward it if you like. Fast forward merely speeds up the game movement, it doesn’t skip the whole sequence entirely. You can release the Y button anytime and the speed of the sequence returns back to normal.



AUTO ATTACKS:

In ANY JRPG, there will come a point wherein your characters become very powerful that all you need to do is keep on pushing one button and you will win the random battles. In time this gets very tedious and boring. Fear not! Since Enchant Arm has an option for “Auto Attacks”. The computer will set the attack sequence for that round and you don't have to do a thing. You can even hold Y to fast forward everything so you won't get bored. Since is this game is loaded with random battles, this is a welcome feature when you want to keep on exploring the world or you just want to level up.




PROBLEMS/CONS:

And the moment you have all been waiting for...what are the problems in this game. There are quite a few technical problems with Enchant Arms and I'll just list them. They are not severe problems and nothing that will hamper your enjoyment of the game but here they are:

  • V-Sync tearing (happens rarely but its there)
  • Some physics problems particularly with the hair and clothes movement overlapping with other polygons. This doesn't happen that much though.
  • Shadowing problems...there are moments where the lighting causes Atsuma's shadow to break away from himself. Once again, this doesn't happen often, in fact I've only seen it happen once in the game where I thought someone was following me and it turns out to be my shadow.
  • Game Save glitch. If you have multiple saves sometimes the “NEW” pointer will point in your older save rather than your latest one.
  • Subtitling Problem (At least in the Asian Version). Microsoft used very thin fonts for Enchant Arm which makes it very difficult to read if you're using an SDTV. In order for me to play Enchant Arm without suffering much eyestrain, I got myself a VGA monitor for instant HD fix. Hopefully Ubisoft will address this problem in the western release and have readable fonts for the game.
  • Achievement Bug. For the Asian version the last 3 achievements are unattainable even if you get both the sad and happy endings. Hopefully this will be fixed for the western release by Ubisoft.

VERDICT:

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!

This means a lot to me since I really have a hard time recommending games because my tastes are quite different and I don't want people to regret their decision based on my recommendation.

To those of us who are dying to play a JRPG for the XBOX platform, this is it folks!!! Enchant Arm is a good JRPG! I enjoyed my 40 hour journey in the world of Enchant Arm!

If you hate JRPGs and anime looking art then stay away from this game. If you can't stand playing JRPGs not made by Square Enix, I feel soooo very sorry for you. But if you're willing to see what Japan has to offer then get it!

Don't expect a demo to come to the marketplace! If you're on the fence about this game give it a rent. But if you love Japanese games and JRPGs in particular, then don't hesitate and GET THIS GAME!!!

From Software has delivered an excellent JRPG for the XBOX 360! And if this is the start of things to come...then we JRPG fans have a lot to look forward to!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More than Six Months since Launch: On Xbox 360 Game Regions

As the owner of a Japanese version Xbox 360, I've been watching the trend when it comes to game releases and availability of English text/voice and menus in NTSC-J games. For the most part, English support on Xbox 360 games is just excellent. In a nutshell, most NTSC-J games already have ENGLISH support in them so long as you set your console to ENGLISH.

I want to summarize this for gamers who are worried about the whole 'region locking' problem on the 360, which in my opinion really isn't a problem to begin with. Here are a few points to keep in mind if you're an English speaking person but can only buy an Asian version/Japanese version Xbox 360:

1. For Maximum compatibility with all NTSC-J releases (both from Asia and Japan), get the Japanese Xbox 360. If you want to have no issues with power/voltage, or essentially, if you don't want to fuss over buying a voltage converter (from 220V to 110V), get the Asian Xbox 360. It is true that the Asian Xbox 360 has compatibility issues with some Xbox 360 games from JAPAN, but the truth of the matter is, I only know of exactly TWO games where you will have a problem: Call of Duty 2 (US version) and Dynasty Warriors 5. That is all. It is easily solved by buying the asian version which can easily be found in stores and in Play-asia.

So essentially, you can't go wrong with either the Japanese or the Asian version of the 360.

2. I think most, if not all, of Ubi-Soft's games are region-free. The only known region-locked game from Ubi-Soft is KING KONG (US VERSION)

3. I am very, very confident that every single Asian Version Xbox 360 game will always have english voice/text/menus. (And Chinese, too.)

4. Games from SEGA are region free (Chrome Hounds, Condemned, and any other game in the future)

5. Electronic Arts is the only third-party publisher that is making a big fuss and putting region locking in their games. So go get Asian version titles when it comes to games from their studio.

6. Microsoft Games Studios' games are also largely region locked; but the good news is, no matter what version of MS Games Studio game that you buy, be confident that you'll always have the option for English Voice/Text/Menus in their titles! (besides, if you get Asian versions of MS games, they're way, WAY cheaper than their US counterpart)

7. After seeing Oblivion get released by 2K games for Asia, and after seeing Top Spin 2 get released for Asia, again by 2K games, I'm very confident that NBA 2k7 is coming out for the Asian/Japanese Xbox 360 via an Asian release.

Of course, know that these are just my opinions, and in the future I can be wrong....I admit to having no 'insiders' to give me information on this, my guesses on how game regions will be implemented in the future is largely based on what I've been observing for the past few months. And with Sony strongly advertising that their games will be region free for the PS3, I think the trend for video games is moving towards going region free for all game titles.

The truth is, by default, the Xbox 360 is not a region locked console....each console has a 'region' encoded to it, but game publishers can choose to ignore it completely. It isn't a requirement from Microsoft that region locks be placed in Xbox 360 games. I heard Major Nelson talk about this in an interview during an event in Australia a few months ago. They aren't forcing publishers to region lock their games, but they're giving them the option to, I guess, as a sign of respect for however game publishers want to plan out their logistics for distributing their titles. Some publishers want to be able to monitor their sales worldwide, and that's why they put region locks in the games. Others are a bit more progressive on the subject and don't bother with region locks at all, knowing how region-locks can actually stifle game sales (since potential buyers end up getting confused with the need to check game regions, etc.)

Of course there's the argument that 'some content is not acceptable in certain regions' and this is why there are region locks. One example is, in Germany, they can't have red blood in their video games, so the version of Call of Duty 2 that they sell over there doesn't have any red blood (oh, swastikas too aren't in the German version, I heard). I believe this argument, but along with that I also think that having regions is a control scheme for companies to keep watch on their game sales and it lets them properly monitor how their titles are doing in the marketplace (for instance, it helps them answer fundamental questions, like "which games sell well in 'x' region?" Something like that).

Now, back to Cyrodiil for me....

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ask Bethesda to raise the bar and they say, "HOW HIGH?"

It's now official. I simply can't look at RPGs the same way again.

Oblivion.

That's what happened to me.

I can't possibly imagine how those mad geniuses at Bethesda could have created this game. Oblivion is a game that you have *never* experienced before, an entire fantasy world, living and breathing right before you, and not totally depending on you for it to exist or to matter at all.

Oblivion. Play it, and you will understand.

Score for Oblivion: 12/10

Sunday, May 21, 2006

May 8 2006 will forever be remembered as the Xbox 360 Vindication Day

May 8 2006 will forever be remembered as the Xbox 360 Vindication Day. This is the day when Sony shocked the world by disappointing their fans, when it turned out that their very expensive game console was really no more powerful than the Xbox 360.

On May 8, 2006, it turned out that Xbox 360 gamers had a next-generation system after all. For an entire year, the gaming press and misinformed gamers berated the 360 for the lack of CG quality visuals; not realizing that such powerful technology can't really be stuffed into a sub-$500 box with only 512MB of RAM. Microsoft and their fans had to endure ridicule upon ridicule over the slightest jaggy or the slightest drop in framerate, all simply because the juggernaut that was the Playstation 3 was at hand. Ironic, then that it turned out that the Playstation 3 would have the same problems, and would be far worse off in many cases. A more expensive game machine being LESS POWERFUL, LESS COMPELLING, and LESS INNOVATIVE THAN THE COMPETITION? Unbelievable.

On May 8, 2006 the very limits of what the press has been arguing over for months and months---"What is next gen?"---finally gain realistic boundaries, and the dreams of many a Sony fanboy are shot down in one fell swoop.

Overnight, Sony's Playstation 3 turned from the ultimate gaming system ever fashioned by man, into a hodge podge of machinery meant to forward a company's agenda to spread a new media format. On this day, every media person that called the KILLZONE 2 TRAILER real-time had their credibility destroyed in a single instant.

May 8, 2006. We will never forget!

http://www.wii60.com

http://www.gameklip.com/v/719/

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gamers based in the Philippines: How to get in Xbox Live

NOTE: This article has recently been updated (as of August 12, 2006). Singapore no longer lets you input '00000' as your zip code. Please see below for alternate zip codes.

So you're a Filipino living in the Philippines with a brand-spanking new Xbox 360. You've heard about all the wonderful stories on Xbox Live. You happen to have a pretty good broadband connection. One day, you try out the Xbox Live sign-up options on your 360, and you find out to your dismay that your country is NOT listed. What do you do?

Now, you can probably enjoy your 360 without live at all, but I have to tell you: YOU ARE MISSING OUT. As Peter Moore said in the recent MS Press Conference: "Having your 360 connected to Xbox Live is as vital as having your computer connected to the Internet".

He is so damned right.

I've been playing on Xbox Live for almost a year now (both on my original Xbox and the Xbox 360). Essentially I found out all of this with a little bit of research, a little bit of curiosity, and a little bit of guts. I thought I'd share this information with those of you who want to get on Live but have always thought that Filipinos in the Philippines just can't do it, because we don't have official Microsoft support (and we probably never will, sadly).

So, how do you get on Xbox Live? The information I'll provide is mostly for the Xbox 360, though. Please note that you need a broadband connection to the Internet to get on Xbox Live.

GUIDE ON HOW TO GET ON XBOX LIVE FROM THE PHILIPPINES:

1. Sign up for Xbox Live either through your console or through the xbox.com site. Make a gamertag, and provide honest details about yourself. Oh, before you get to that part, xbox.com or your 360 will ask about your region. I highly recommend picking Singapore, since this is the country that's closest to the Philippines. You could also pick the United States if you want...but I feel more comfortable choosing a region that's nearest to my real location.

2. Fill out the various fields honestly. (Name, address, etc.). When you get to the part where you have to input the ZIP CODE:
a. If you picked the SINGAPORE region, enter '00000' (That's five zeros)*** NOTICE, THIS DOESNT WORK ANYMORE, please see the bottom of this article***
b. If you picked the UNITED STATES region, pick the state CALIFORNIA and enter the zip code '90210'.

3. After filling out the various fields honestly and successfully, your gamertag should be up and running in no time!

4. If you were filling out the details for your gamertag via your Xbox 360, you will get prompted if you want to get the free Xbox Live Silver account or if you want to subscribe for a Gold account. I recommend going with Xbox Live Silver first, to see if you can complete the process with no problems. Besides, Xbox live silver lets you have some presence on live, have a friends list, see the marketplace, etc. We'll discuss getting Xbox Live Gold later in this guide. Another benefit of choosing Xbox Live Silver first---you get a free month of XBOX LIVE GOLD! So you get to try it out first before you decide to go all out and subscribe to the service.

So there it is, a simple guide on how to get on Xbox Live even if you live in an unsupported region! Note that you get a free month of Xbox Live Gold when you first register. Note that:

1. You need Xbox Live Gold lets you play multiplayer against friends online.
2. Xbox Live Silver only gives you the basic features, like the friends list and the marketplace downloads

When your free month of Xbox Live expires, your account will revert back into an Xbox Live Silver account. You'd have to buy a subscription in order to continue enjoying the benefits of Xbox Live Gold.

A 1 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold is about $50.00. You only pay $50.00 ONCE A YEAR (it isn't monthly)...so buying a one year subscription is no different from buying a game.

Now, how do you buy a subscription?

1. You can buy a code through one of the online stores on the internet, or....
2. You can simply buy a subscription via your 360.

Either way, you'd need a credit card. VISA or MASTERCARD will do. The easiest method to get a subscription is to go to the Xbox Live Marketplace on your 360. There's a tab there for buying a one year subscription or a monthly subscription. Fill out the required details (again, be HONEST, please) and give correct billing information on your credit card. If there's a field for ZIP CODE or STATE, follow the instructions given above ('California, 90210' for a US account or '00000' for a Singapore account). If you provide correct details on your card number and billing address, you should have no problems and be able to purchase a Gold subscription.

Just a few last reminders...

1. In providing personal details, credit card information, etc., in signing up for Xbox Live...I can't state this enough:

PLEASE. BE. HONEST.

We are very VERY lucky that their system thus far allows us gamers from unsupported regions to get into Xbox Live.

That said, it's very very HIGHLY LIKELY that if they get a lot of garbage data from users originating from our country, that they will disallow all access from IP addresses originating from our country.

This CAN be done by Microsoft. All I'm saying is, if you're getting on Xbox Live, be honest so that they won't have a reason to start blocking our IPs from entering their network!

2. Do not attempt to log in to Xbox Live if you have a modified Xbox or Xbox 360. Do not play backup/pirated games on Xbox Live. This can get your gamertag and your 360 banned for life from the Xbox Live servers.

Support original software. Making games is very difficult. I should know, I'm a software developer myself; making sofware is no joke, and by supporting game companies you are helping them continue to make games now and in the future.

That said, good luck....if you have any questions, just post them in the comments section here, I'll try to help you any way I can.

********************************

UPDATE, AUGUST 12, 2006: If you really want to register in Singapore, try this postal code instead: 188504
Or you can try this one: 247729 (thanks to the official tourist's guide to singapore handbook for that one!)

Looks like they're on to us on Xbox Live. Let me stress once again the importance of HONESTY here. They haven't banned us yet, which is good. Don't put bogus addresses in the fields! Just put the bogus zip code, but for everything else, PLEASE BE HONEST SO THAT FILIPINOS WONT GET BANNED. Thank you.

I really wish that Microsoft would have official Xbox Live support in the Philippines....so we won't have to resort to this.


*****

UPDATE October 16, 2008:

If you want to make a USA Xbox Live account, you can use the zipcode "90210", State "California", and use the phone number "00000000000" (basically just type in as many zeroes as you can).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why "It's all about the games" is no longer a valid argument for the Playstation 3.

In my opinion, if you support Sony's Playstation 3, essentially you're telling them that it's alright to give huge promises to your customers and not keep them. It may be all about the games, true; but doesn't your trust (or lack thereof) in a company to deliver promised features also factor into your buying decisions? As consumers, if you get a Playstation 3, essentially you're letting them 'get away with' what they pulled last year. And no doubt, if Sony succeeds this generation, they will use these marketing tactics again.

Heck, if Sony succeeds this generation, most likely both Microsoft and Nintendo will follow their lead and start using the same deceptive practices as Sony just to win consumers...in the end, we encourage these big console makers to continue to lie to us if we let Sony win. The pressure to deliver 'real-time' results IMO makes these three companies work harder to deliver truly next-generation games and experiences.

Now it is true that companies do give big promises and sometimes end up compromising their initial vision, but in my humble opinion, the degree to which Sony did it is so incredible and so mind-boggling. People really thought we would start seeing CGI-quality games TODAY because of the Cell tech and Blu ray. Just totally unreal. As consumers are we supposed to let them get away with that just to get the latest sequel to some game franchise? If that's the case, then we've really fallen hostage to corporate greed; they know we can't escape anymore from their clutches, and they'll then solidify in their minds that lying to their consumers is the best way to succeed in the console business.

On that note, I admire how Microsoft has been trying to push for showing real-time graphics as opposed to CG. These kinds of 'arguments' didn't exist before, to the degree that we're seeing today, with the past generations of consoles---arguments over whether or not certain footage is CG or real time. Back then (maybe ten or so years ago), if the CG was great, that's great....heck I bought some games because they had great CG back then, and I don't even regret doing that---because at the time it was really a 'new' thing to see CG movies in games to introduce the story or to move the story along. But nowadays we are so used to seeing CG introductions and sequences that there has to be something more. Nowadays, notice how some game trailers have to put a disclaimer that says 'MADE ENTIRELY OF IN-GAME FOOTAGE', or something to that effect. That need to see 'real-time' imagery is Microsoft's unwitting influence/contribution to the console industry.

I think the question of 'What is Next-Gen' has already been answered by gamers: Next-generation gaming is all about delivering a great gaming experience entirely with real time three dimensional graphics. Now there's nothing that sounds quite profound in that statement, but consider this...every conversation that's been had about these new consoles always has that question in mind, "Is it real time? Is it footage? Am I always 'in the game'?". It's no different from back in the nineties when the question was always "Is the game in 3D or are they still using 2D sprites?". Graphics may not be the final deciding factor of the quality of a game, but the reality is that it is very difficult to go back to old style graphics, other than for the occasional five minute nostalgia run.

Original place where this opinion was posted:
Sony: The Truth Behind The Hype thread at Teamxbox.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sony Playstation 3 - WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

If you're a well informed gamer, by now you've seen all three conferences by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. To make this brief, Sony screwed up. Big time. The price of the Playstation 3 is incredible. Unprecedented. Of course it's been done before by other game companies but no console manufacturer has ever succeeded at the price point that they chose for the playstation 3. They're in deep trouble.

I'll repost soon when I find the time; for now, visit this message board thread HERE for interesting insight on Sony. Yes, it's mostly negative and against what occured during their conference, but it's the truth. You can do your own research and you will come up with the same conclusion.

I'll post further insights soon...

Friday, May 05, 2006

LET THE BS...uh E3... BEGIN!

Before anything else, let me get a few things straight. First, I'm looking forward to E3 2006 a lot and I enjoy the show. Second, I own multiple consoles but I'm currently favoring the XBOX 360. Now that I have that over with, let me present you the freshest marketing BS for the 2 consoles that will be debuting (hopefully) this year.

Nintendo Wii
http://wii.nintendo.com/

Introducing...Wii.
As is "we".
While the code-name
"Revolution" expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer.
Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else.
Wii will put people more in touch with their games..and each other. But you're

probably asking: what does the name mean?
Wii sounds like "we", which emphasizes this console is for everyone.
Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they
speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.
Wii has the distinctive "ii"
spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the
image of people gathering to play.
And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video
games that sets it a
part from the crowd.
So that's Wii. But now Nintendo needs you.

Because, its really not about you or me.
It's about Wii.

And together, Wii will change everything.

And there it is folks... It's no doubt that I am intrigued by the Nintendo console and if Nintendo played their cards right it could have a big impact in the gaming industry. But come on, Nintendo?! Why 'wii'?!? They got it right with “Revolution” since the controller itself is a step away from the default gaming controller for the last 10 or 20 years.

Nintendo got it right by saying this...”Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak.”. They got it right because worldwide, 'wii' is commonly associated with a bodily function!

Only in Japan is it normal to drink "Sweat"!

Now where am I going here... Any western marketer would have laughed at the thought of naming a console after urine. But that's not how it works in Japan... In fact in Japan, they have a popular softdrink called “Sweat”. But that's IN JAPAN, where the world seems to be upside down. (I've taken Japanese studies and I can tell you people who are more used to western culture that the world is indeed upside down in Japan!). In marketing, they say that most people only remember around 3 points in ANY presentation...looking at that long marketing blurb on why 'wii', I think Nintendo of America will have a harder time trying to explain themselves this time.

My fear with Nintendo, and Sony as well, came back with the announcement of the “wii”...that these guys do not care about global branding or global positioning...they only care about one market, Japan.

And if that's the case, then the global market is in trouble for the Japanese gaming market is slowly dwindling and being replaced by educational games (such as “Brain Age”) or by hentai games of all varieties. Nintendo's choice of naming the console after 'wii', which is nothing more but a translation of the Japanese translation of the noun “we”, shows that bias to the Japanese market which is not something that will bode well with worldwide gamers in time.

Seriously, Nintendo...wii???


Sony Playstation 3
http://www.us.playstation.com/PS3

Playststion 3 will change the nature of gaming and entertainment forever.
It's CELL technology is the digital soul and delivers powerhouse, supercomputer-like
processing power, unknown to today's machines.
Blu-Ray Disc ROM (BD-ROM) is the
graphical heart that will provide the entertainment content in full high-definition (HD) quality.
It's a console that screams digital carpe diem and will redefine reality as we know it.

Uh-oh...here come Sony's award winning deception tactics! While Nintendo’s statement was apologetic at best as to why they chose such a horrendous name; Sony’s marketing blurb is focuses on to main things the Cell Processor and the Blu-Ray Disk and why they are so cool.

Can the PS3 render the universe in 5 days, beating God by a whole day?!?

The Cell Technology is a new paradigm but hardly does it offer any advanced processing power that is unknown to today’s machines. If it did, then why then did Sony deviate from its original plan on having the Cell Processor render the graphics and just give that to Nvidia instead? The Cell, as cool as is it sounds, is not your miracle processor.

And here comes the worst part, according to the PS3 blurb Blu-Ray is the graphical heart of the PS3. Huh? Blu-Ray is nothing more but a storage device. It has nothing to do with image or graphics rendering.

That blurb is Sony’s marketing at its finest but it shows us one thing…that the focus of the PS3 is not with games, rather its pushing their newer technologies to the market hoping that with a popular device it will gain market acceptance and eventually have the biggest market share.

Where are the games Sony?


Microsoft XBOX 360

Microsoft’s time for hardware unveilings is over and by that merit alone, many gaming publications are already singing the failure of Microsoft XBOX 360 at E3 2006. But many people are underestimating Microsoft this year. IMHO, this is the best year for Microsoft to shine and steal the show.

We can assume that Sony will have Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, etc etc. We can assume that Nintendo will have Mario, Zelga, etc etc.

But what does Microsoft have?

Halo 3?

Master Chief can't just finish the fight alone...

Yes but it can't be all Master Chief right? Luckily, Microsoft seems to be aware of this and they also have something that their competitors are not really showing that much. The XBOX 360 has a slew of interesting new properties, some of which are exclusive major titles from well renowned development houses.

This year everyone will be looking at Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s supposedly ‘free’ online service. Microsoft threw the proverbial online gaming ball at Sony last E3 which Sony answered just earlier this year with their partnership with gaming media, IGN (*cough*cough*cough*). Apart from showing games, the real challenge now for Microsoft is for them to answer Sony’s ‘free’ online challenge and make sure that this time around ‘Velocity Girl’ will come out and play.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

E3 2006: The Changing of the Guard

It's E3 next week. Both Nintendo and Sony will be unveiling their new hardware and their games, so we will have a good idea of what their new consoles can really offer. Up to this point, all we've been hearing from those two sides are all promises. We are about to find out if they're going to deliver.

Next week there's going to be a LOT of knee jerk reactions to what will be shown at E3, much like last year. Hardcore gamers, most especially, are going to be very myopic about everything that will be shown. Conclusions will be drawn from early graphics, hardware will be judged from poor software...all of those things are going to happen next week. It's quite clear to me that the media is going to paint the picture that they're going to want you to see, and from what I've been seeing, they're more in favor of the old guard of the console industry---the continued leadership of Sony and Nintendo.

While I have a lot of respect for those two companies, I feel that they've fallen over the wayside as of late. Sony, for example, has relied heavily in the past to showing CG movies of what its Playstation 3 can accomplish. This week a lot of gamers got a HARSH reality check of what Playstation 3 graphics are going to look like.

PS3 Real-time, in-game graphics screenshots:

Full Auto 2: Battlelines
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3



Fatal Inertia
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3

Untold Legends Dark Kingdom
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3

From the above pictures you can see that PS3 games will have the same graphical flaws that the 360 has, and it will not be able to render the super-realistic graphics that Sony has been showing ever since E3 2005.

The surprise is, that PS3 graphics will look no better than Xbox 360 graphics, and that all that hype about the Cell processor and Blu-ray media is all marketing-speak. Both Sony and MS are in the same place, technology-wise; they're just approaching game technology from different angles. MS is going with the a 3 core system while Sony is going with a highly experimental and untested computing paradigm with their 7 SPE system. My opinion is that the Playstation 3's approach is not going to work. They may be offering new technology, but it will certainly be expensive both for Sony and for consumers. The blu-ray drive, in particular, is technology that is so new that it will be very difficult for them to price their PS3 at something close to $400.00. I'm betting it will be near 450-500 dollars, and I can't even begin to imagine how much it will cost on Ebay. Cell technology will also hinder Sony in some way...the manufacturing techniques for it will be very new, and is thus more liable to producing defective hardware.

I heard that the PS3 dev kits right now are just HUGE, and the developers have no clue how Sony plans on fitting all that hardware into the PS3 case that they showed last year. Even if they do get that hardware to fit that case, it will certainly generate a lot of heat, so Sony will face the same 'hardware defects' that MS has. [Off topic: Surprisingly, my own Japanese Xbox 360, basking in the tropical Philippine heat of the summer season, is surviving and hasn't crashed or died at all; and I bought this thing at launch!]

In a nutshell, the PS3 is going to face the following problems when they launch:
1. Games won't look that different from 360 games.
2. Console shortages and overpricing on auction sites.
3. Hardware problems and defects. This is a problem that happens with every new console.
4. Their competitor, the 360, will have more games at launch and will be more in supply at retail.
5. In Japan, they will be facing a popular, more inexpensive, and smaller console from Nintendo.

Now, while we're on the subject of Nintendo...they have a LOT going for them. They have a new control interface, a smaller console and most likely a more inexpensive price point that is friendlier to non gamers.

I see two major issues with Nintendo. One is the name that they chose for their console. Their console is now officially named The Nintendo Wii. Yes, you heard it right. The Wii. Now, I don't know who the genius is at Nintendo who came up with this name, but let me put it on the record, that Wii in the Philippines implies the same thing that it implies in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Wii is easily associated with urine, or 'wiiwii', or 'ihi' in the local parlance. From what I've read, in most other countries it implies nearly the same thing...because the term 'wiiwii' was probably derived from the sound you hear when someone is taking a piss. It's also the sound you make when you want a younger person to start urinating (for toilet training, some parents go 'wiwiwiwiwiwi' when their kid is at the toilet so that they can start peeing). The name is truly a horrendous choice.

Now, the argument is, "It's just a name, why bother?"

Well, for starters, the market Nintendo is targeting is the kids. And I can't imagine any kid walking to the playground to start talking about their Wii. They'd get laughed out of there and probably get scarred for life by the snickering and the bullies. Also, it's not like the Wii is going to be on the video game shelf all by itself. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 will be prominently displayed there. And I have a feeling that if you had a kid pick between those three, they won't pick the 'Wii' because it has a dorky, or filthy sounding name.

The story will be different in Japan, though. I have a feeling the Japanese Nintendo office was the one that picked the name---their culture there is very different. And by virtue of the size of the console and the novelty of the control scheme, it will outsell the Playstation 3.

Problem number 2 for Nintendo: Despite the fact that they are trying to win new markets for the Wii, the games that they will be publishing are really still aimed at their hardcore audience. I don't see that many new properties or franchises being produced for the Wii at all. Most of them are rehashes of established franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, which, while recognizable to gamers straight out of the 1980s like myself, don't really look like characters that today's kids can relate with. Also, they are clearly sticking with a specific demographic--the younger audience. I think that Nintendo should recognize that the market for video games has indeed changed, and that gamers of various age groups now know what video games are and want to play them. I think it's a missed opportunity that Nintendo is only making certain types of games that appeal to only a specific type of audience. They should broaden the types of games that are available for the Wii so that they can win various types of gamers.

As for Microsoft? Microsoft has faced a lot of things in the past year. They launched their hardware a year ahead of everyone else, so they risked looking like the weaker system. [like the dreamcast]. But this year, they stand to show everyone that they are poised to take the market leadership in the console space for years to come. They have the backing of many Western developers whose games have shown us what 'next-generation' really means. Their console is now easily available in stores worldwide, and their shortage problems have been solved by this point in time. And with the number of games that they're going to show at E3, it will be overwhelming for an Xbox 360 gamer to see what they have coming. Microsoft is in a position to change console gaming forever for the worldwide audience.

I'm not dismissing Sony and Nintendo completely; I'm just saying that they're going to have a hard time with their competition. MS is going for every demographic. They want the younger crowd, the girls and the non-gamers with Xbox Live Arcade and Viva Pinata. They want the hardcore 18-35 male with the FPS shooters, racers and sports games. They're distancing themselves from the FPS and are supporting titles like Too Human and Blue Dragon. They're definitely getting to where Sony and Nintendo are, and I'm sure that both Sony and Nintendo are feeling very uncomfortable.