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Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Should Nintendo’s Wii plans target core gamers?

Posted by Fred on June 19, 2008

Joystiq says that Nintendo promises ‘core’ gamers will be happy with its upcoming announcements at E3. While new games are always welcome, this Wii owner certainly hopes they don’t expend too much effort competing for so-called core gamers. What would a core gamer strategy result in? yet another port of Grand Theft Auto or a slew of first-person shooters or a Halo knockoff? If Nintendo tries to compete for the hardcore gamer market, it will lose big-time. There are a lot of great things about the Wii, but it’s not a 360 or a PS3. Nintendo needs to focus on what differentiates its console from the other two. Here’s some of what I’d like to see:

  • Quality entries from some of the core franchises as yet unrepresented. Starfox would be great, or a good RPG.
  • Sports games other than Wii Sports that make appropriate use of the Wii controls. Madden 08 was adequate, but the baseball games are lacking. Not everything has to be accomplished by a gesture.
  • Accessible storage for downloaded games, but not a HDD. Eventually, the Wii’s motion controls will no longer be a differentiator, but the Wii will continue to compete on price. A $100 storage accessory would be a Really Bad Idea. Enabling use of the SD slot would be a good idea, as would allowing use of third-party USB drives.
  • More downloadable content. Not downloadable games per se, as they seem to be headed in the right direction there, but Nintendo hasn’t really done much with DLC. I don’t understand generally why the console MLB games don’t update stats frequently as the season progresses. It would certainly make things more fun.

In the end, of course, none of this matters that much. The Wii is a cash cow, and will continue to be so for the indefinite future.


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Friday Fun: Wellgames

Posted by Fred on May 30, 2008

There’s nothing particularly novel about Flash-based casual games on the web, and there’s nothing particularly novel about online multi-player games. Wellgames does a good job putting the two together, creating fun casual games that you play against total strangers without seeming like Facebook surgically grafted onto the PopCap site. I’ll grant that I’m a misanthrope, but I’d much rather play a game against someone I don’t know than chat with them. Wellgames gives you the former but doesn’t try to force the latter (the way Yahoo and MSN and Shockwave do). Here are two games I like:

Clusterz is a variation on your standard Match 3 game. Shoot a colored ball at some other colored balls and make a match to remove the cluster. Fail to make a group of at least three and a whole bunch more appear, which can sometimes actually work to your advantage. If the balls reach the bottom of the screen, you lose. Get rid of all the balls and you win. This is one game improved by being multiplayer – you’re racing against an opponent and can see how much they’ve cleared on your screen. If you win, you get bonus points based on how many points they had at the time.

Patchworkz plays like a combination Tangram and jigsaw puzzle. Six pieces appear in a tray at the bottom of the screen and you have to figure out where they go in the picture at the top. You get points based on how fast you finish the puzzle. The pictures are pretty in an abstract sort of way. There are a large number of levels, but be aware that between level 60 and level 80, the game gets much harder, as there are hundred of tiny pieces to place (zoom in to at least 150% or get a migraine). After level 81, it gets easier again. This is one that isn’t improved much by being multiplayer – Shockwave has a single-player version.

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Stargate Worlds accepting beta applicants

Posted by Fred on May 1, 2008


FireSky Entertainment, a subsidiary of Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment that bills itself as a producer of SNAP games (Social Networks at Play), is now accepting applications for its closed beta of Stargate Worlds.  Stargate Worlds, scheduled to launch in Fall 2008, is a MMO online game set in the universe of sci-fi series Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis.  The screenshots certainly look interesting, and I duly put my name in the hat even though I’ve never really gotten into the whole MMO scene.

SG-1 has never broken through to the mainstream the way the Trek series did or the way Battlestar Galactica has, but it’s been on the air since 1997, making it the longest-running US science fiction series (Doctor Who, which ran from 1963-1989 and again from 2005 to present, is the overall winner in that category by far). It’s also one of a handful of shows that were derived from movies but transcended their source material. Stargate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and M*A*S*H are all better on the small screen than they were in long form (sorry Kurt Russell and Kristy Swanson, but Richard Dean Anderson and Sarah Michelle Gellar have you beat).  I love science fiction, but I just never got into Stargate in any of its various forms (SG-1, Atlantis, or the straight to video Ark of Truth and Continuum). The new Terminator series, Firefly, The 4400, BSG and the various Star Trek spinoffs (except for Enterprise, which sucked), yes.  Stargate? Not so much.  The game does look pretty cool, but I’d still prefer one set in the worlds of Admiral Adama or Mal Reynolds.

[via Game | Life]

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NCAA Football 09 Is Coming For Wii!

Posted by Fred on February 15, 2008

ncaafb09 EA has announced their first NCAA football game for the Wii. We’ve been playing a lot of Madden NFL 08 on the Wii (strangely enough, the Browns offense with Charlie Frye at QB is really good, 2007 Patriots-before-the-Super Bowl good), so a college game would be welcome.  The NCAAA games have always been a bit of a mixed bag; EA gets the atmosphere of a college game to the T, but since they can’t license player names for college athlete, you get a lot of “TD; QB #10 pass to WR #9 for 13yds” instead of Taylor Tharp to Jeremy Childs.  Also, the time I played NCAA Football (which was, granted, more than 10 years ago), the triple option offenses were essentially unstoppable.  One presumes EA has addressed that.  Hopefully they’ve also addressed Madden 08’s propensity for face mask offenses.  They say they’ve kept the Family Play mode, which is good, and Madden’s Wiimote control scheme, which is more good than bad.


mascots Unlike NCAA Football 08, which featured a cover image of Boise State QB Jared Zabransky, NCAA Football 09 will feature a college mascot, and EA is having a contest to decide which one.  The last time someone did this, the Capital One Mascot Challenge, the winner was Akron’s Zippy the Kangaroo (did you know that Zippy is a she and has been around since 1953?).  I vote for Zippy this time, too, because (a) Akron needs some glory for a program most notable for Gerry Faust and Charlie Frye and (b) who doesn’t love kangaroos?

[via CrunchGear]

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Stupid Smart Toys and thinking about Cloudmakers

Posted by Fred on January 11, 2008


Go read Philipp Lenssen’s story Stupid Smart Toys. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, as Tyler and his mom stood before the rattling boxes in the kids’ store, Mom was feeling the widening generation gap (toys were sure different in her time!). A little plastic window in each box was offering a glance at how the model performed its abilities, live, for hours on end – it almost looked like there was a living being trapped inside. Just last week, Mom read about a campaign by the Artificial Intelligence Rights Group who battled against the selling of extra smart toys. Smartbot Inc. countered with the usual public statement that each bot was “limited by design” to only show “truly artificial” intelligence without signs of “real intelligence.” By limiting each model to just a single advanced capability, the company said, even “sparks of actual human intelligence” were prevented.In short, Smartbots didn’t have wants, needs, self-reflection or soul, the company argued. They were lower beings merely reacting to orders – the orders of kids. Stupid smart toys.

As I said in the comments to Philipp’s post, any story based on smart toys reminds me immediately of three things: the Brian Aldiss short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, the Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg movie A.I., which was based on Aldiss’ short story, and the alternate reality game created by Elan Lee and Sean Stewart to promote the movie (called The Beast both by the Puppetmasters who created the game and by the players who played it).

The movie was a bit disappointing, but the game was not.  Here’s Sean Stewart:

On the game, there was no time for serious or respectable either. The game was freaking pastiche Armageddon: It started from a Spielberg script inflected with Kubrick notions from a Brian Aldiss short story with echoes of Dune and Clockwork Orange, for God’s sake. Political tracts. Corporate boasting. Sex-kitten catalogues. Mysterious Oriental Gentlemen. Wistful midlife crises. Suicide notes. Gibsonian cyberpunk. I stole or hot-wired or tweaked up Shakespeare and John Donne and Tim O’Brien, Ovid and Iain Banks and Puccini and Bladerunner. I wrote every genre character ever invented, I think–bounty hunters and kept women and a bad guy made of nightmares, religious zealots and angry teenagers and streetwise hackers. Hookers with hearts of gold available on request from Belladerma SRL, in sizes petite to extra large, or (in one of the game’s creepiest phrases) cut to fit….

…I was talking to my friend Scott Baker, a very talented writer who was working on what would become our Viet Nam, the more than 200 pages of script for the mad virtual ghost, Eliza. “You know, Sean, I like your novels a lot,” he said, “…but you were born to do this.”

Maybe so. It was the most incredible, exhilarating experience of my professional career. It was street theater and a con game and a pennant drive rolled into one. As long as I have been writing, I have struggled under the feeling of trying to live up to the work of other writers–Tolkien or Austen or Banks or Dostoyevsky or some damn guy. The Beast was different. For one thing, I had team-mates this time (the same advantage Shakespeare had and don’t think he didn’t milk Burbage and those guys dry). And for once I felt like we were setting the bar.

Released in 2001 and officially solved on July 24, 2001 by the loose-knit group of players dubbed The Cloudmakers, the whole experience was incredible.  My one moment of glory in that game was a puzzle from May 23rd, 2001.

Earlier, we had discovered that if you went to the website of Martin Swinton Designs and clicked on the moon at the top of the page, you’d get the password entry page for Martin’s diary. In the version archived on the Cloudmakers page, the password window says Alas, poor Yorick! — I knew him, Horatio; The answer, of course is “a fellow of infinite jest”. Go read Hamlet if you don’t understand why. The diary entry for that day included some pictures; click on the one with the paintbrushes, and you get another picture complete with the sound of water dripping from the brushes into the sink.

Nothing in that game was ever what it seemed, so the sound of the drips was of course a morse code message that translated to:

1304 1300 1 TLE SRY SRY 1TL53

I was, I believe, the first to post to the Cloudmakers group the translation and suggest that it was an Enigma-encoded message. Someone beat me to the post of the solution, however, which was “I’m so sorry. I don’t have a choice. He’s got my sister.” Not much to hang my hat on, but it’s all I got.

So why ramble on about a seven year old web game created to promote a largely-forgotten Haley Joel Osment movie? Some experiences are so engrossing and some creations so groundbreaking that they change how you view things forever.  Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was like that.  Blade Runner was like that.  So was Atlas Shrugged. I can’t read epic fantasy without thinking of Gandalf.  Anything dystopian reminds me of Decker. I have no idea if The Beast was the first ARG – Wikipedia suggests Dreadnot, originally published in 1996. But The Beast blew the doors off anything that came before it. It really was the “Citizen Kane of online entertainment,” as Internet Life called it.  It was creative, mind-numbingly deep, and incredibly engrossing.  The Puppetmasters changed the game on the fly – there was a whole subplot created from a 404 error because the designers didn’t get something finished on time, for example.

Because it was so groundbreaking, I haven’t tried anything since. Not Majestic or I Love Bees. Not even The Lost Experience. Some things just stick with you forever, and I’ll always be a Cloudmaker, wonder when I’ll be able to enroll at Bangalore World University or take my super-toy to the Electric Toyland Repair Shop (bringing us full-circle to Stupid Smart Toys).

Posted in Games, Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Were You a Wing Commander Dork?

Posted by Fred on January 10, 2008


Egad, Joel Johnson is a dork:

I used to love the Wing Commander series. I built an entire cockpit for myself out of a refrigerator box, wired up a few non-functional switches and placed the whole thing over my computer so I could play in darkness. I even taped a faux heads-up display to the clear face mask of my Photon helmet (a Laser Tag knock-off) and tore out the padding on the side to wire in headphones.


I loved Wing Commander, too. I never built my own cockpit, but I did splurge on a Thrustmaster FCS (similar to this one) just so I could play it.  That stick probably cost me about a third of what we spent on the last laptop.  But it made a huge difference (unless you had about 47 extra fingers to pound on the keyboard with).


Joel’s wrong about one thing, however.  He liked the Scimitar, but the Raptor was clearly better. It went faster, had more and better weapons and (most importantly to mediocre players like me) had thicker shields.

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Make Your Next Conference Call Fun with Dangerous Dave & Brutal Bob

Posted by Fred on January 7, 2008


Dangerous Dave & Brutal Bob. Because who doesn’t like riding bicycles off cliffs and whacking cyclists with baseball bats as they sail off the cliff. Is Bob hurting Dave or helping him by making his landing softer? Is there any element of skill involved? Why am I asking questions about such a ridiculous little time waster?

[via Download Squad]

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Amazon Customers Vote: a Wii for $79, Whee!

Posted by Fred on November 15, 2007


Amazon’s Customers Vote promotion is back. As the site itself says, “the products that get the most votes in each of six rounds will be offered at ridiculous winning prices, and the runners-up will also be sold at slightly smaller discounts. (But they’ll still be sweet deals.)” General categories include video game consoles, photo and video, toys, high-def DVD, and two categories that defy description (what do a flat-panel TV, stand mixer and robot vac have in common?). Here are the current vote leaders:

  1. Nintendo Wii for $79 (55%)
  2. Panasonic SD-1 High-Definition Camcorder for $299 (54%)
  3. Razor E100 Electric Scooter for $29 (65%)
  4. Toshiba HD-A35 1080p HD DVD Player for $149 (46%)
  5. HP Pavilion TX1305US 12.1″ Notebook PC for $299 (62%)
  6. Samsung LNT4661F 46″ 1080p LCD HDTV for $719 (65%)

I voted for all of those except the Panasonic SD-1. I’d rather have the Panasonic L1 7.5MP DSLR instead. As these things always do, the discussions page has degenerated into XBox 360 vs. PS3 fanboyism. Why are people such idiots?

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