Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rebooting the series: Megaman

Hey TSG! While this blog seems pretty quiet, I figured I'd drop in since I finally found some free time. I plan on documenting my experiences at Blizzard (for those who don't know, I got an internship with them this summer) when I find the time. For now, I just wanted to share with you a mini-article I wrote for a challenge.

Specifically, gamecareerguide has issued a challenging question for anyone wanting to take it: How would you reboot a series of your choice? Check out the link for the details. I figured I would share my idea - let me know what you think!

Series that needs a reboot: Megaman

Why? - Let's face it - the Megaman series has dilluded through the years into basic iterations on itself with little to no innovation. The series needs something new and fresh to attract more people than just die-hard Megaman fans.

How? - Take the basic mechanics of Megaman and apply modern game design ideas to it, with some innovations as well.

Proposal - The new Megaman is same as the old at face value - you still play as the Blue Bomber and he platforms through 2D levels with his Mega-Buster and gets upgrades along the way. Everything else is evolution from there:

-Megaman is extremely modular. In the beginning he can only move, jump and shoot. EVERYTHING else is an upgrade. His dashes, double jumps, weapons, health expansions, and so forth are all found as upgrades throughout the game. Similar to the mechanics of the Battle Network series, he collects upgrade chips to install onto his armor. Some will be story-based, some randomly dropped by enemies, some hidden away in alcoves. His armor systems have a memory limit which constrins how many upgrades he can have, though his armor will expand its memory at several points in the story. Players switch in and out abilities at specified upgrade stations.

-New abilities. The upgrade system allows for some cool new abilities as well. Hover boots, jetpacks, invisibility - there is tons of room for imagination here.

-Weapons and abilities all share a common energy supply, which replaces the concept of an energy bar per weapon. This can also be expanded, like health.

-Open world. Think Super Metroid. Lots of room for exploration, hiding upgrades, and having multiple paths to choose in the game. Combine with the upgrade system to have an intriguing "Maybe I can get to there with these abilities" approach that increases replay value. This allows there to be harder levels (to satisfy the Megaman hardcores) and more casual levels.

-Varied missions - It's not just a level with a boss in a garage at the end anymore. While some areas will have bosses, others will have objectives like searching for an object, defending a point, and running through an area fast. Not everything will be required, so again the developer can make tough challenges optional but with enticing rewards.

-Co-op - Why hasn't this been in a Megaman game yet? At any time outside of a mission a second player can join. His Megaman will have all maneuverability upgrades so he can keep up with the other player, but will have limited weapon selection. With a second player the game will automatically scale up enemies and bosses and unlock co-op based missions. Co-op will focus more on enemy blasting than platforming; as LittleBigPlanet has shown, extreme platforming and co-op can cause camera issues.

I think these changes will appeal to both new and old. Hope you like it! I encourage you to enter it as well if you have a cool idea.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Top 52: Legend of Zelda (#24)

Whew. School is over so now I can finally get back to writing consistently. Junior year in NYU really at up a lot of time. I'm sorry for abandoning you, my faithful readers. Anywho, I'm continuing the Top 52 segment, with a classic that released before I was even born: the original Legend of Zelda for the NES.


Title: Legend of Zelda
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 08/22/87
Genre: Action-Adventure
My Ranking: #24
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I remember holding this golden cart in my hands when I was about four years old and my brother explaining to me that Zelda is the princess and that the main character's name is Link. I was then confused as to why the game was called The Legend of Zelda but I immediately didn't care once I actually started playing.



The NES Zelda for the first game I played that enabled me to wonder around and choose my own destination. Being four years old at the time, I was a bit overwhelmed but, I enjoyed going to different areas and whacking monsters with a brown 8-bit object that was supposed to resemble a sword. I was also fond of placing bombs and watching walls and enemies go poof.

I only really appreciated this game when I was older however. Hints as to where the next dungeon is were often cleverly cryptic and you would only be able to beat the game if you used all of the tools available to you. The game forced you to be on point with every item you got, from the boomerang, to bomb, to arrows. You also needed to have a strong ability in reading maps, trying to guess where the developers would hide a key or item.


Zelda, in 1987, was ahead of its time. Gone were the linear gameplay elements and replaced with a action-adventure, puzzle, RPG game. Even today it's hard to properly define what kind of game Zelda games are as they break the molds of traditional genre. It's also interesting to note that the Legend of Zelda was the first game game that allowed you to save your progress.

The Legend of Zelda, unlike other installments in the series, is really damn hard. Hearts are hard to come by and if you don't know where your going in a dungeon--which is always the case--chances are you are going to die. Bosses were challenging not only because you had to figure out the best way to beat them but also because if they hit you, you could lose multiple hearts.


Hundreds of games owe their success to the gameplay elements pioneered in the Legend of Zelda. Any open world environment game like Grand Theft Auto III, or the new Prince of Persia, have Zelda to thank for their gameplay style. If you haven't played this game, play in on Nintendo's VC; you won't be disappointed.

-------------------------------------
My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)
#27 --- Katamari Damacy (PS2)*
#26 --- Mario Kart 64 (N64)
#25 --- Tetris DS (DS)*
#24 --- Legend of Zelda (NES)

*- Denotes highest ranked game for that console

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Escapist: Review of Mirror's Edge

Okay, so no one has updated in forever. However, I just found this on a recommendation from a friend and felt it necessary to share.

A superb review of the game Mirror's Edge for all to see. Basically encapsulates every feeling I had about the game, but does it in a way that is fifty bagillion times funnier than I ever could.



The website's other similar "Zero Punctuation" game reviews are highly recommended.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The St. Dead Space Massacre

I hate Valentine’s Day. I mean I really hate it. I’ve only had one good one in my entire life. The rest have been mainly depressing and unpleasant as I get to look on as the happy couples around me get all love-y and there’s not a damned thing on TV that doesn’t involve love in some way. So I decided to vent all of that pent up anger and hostility. I’ve also meant to write a review of Dead Space but up until now I couldn’t really express how it made me feel. You've been warned.

Dead Space sucks. It’s a pathetic rip off of other horror games and not a very good one at that. Everything they did in Dead Space has been done before and has been done better by the games that did it. They took everything of value from System Shock 2, Resident Evil 4, and Doom 3, and then ditched any attempt at real creativity. They stole the setting straight out of Doom 3. The only difference was that Dead Space at least got the damned flashlight thing right. The combat’s straight out of Resident Evil 4 but not as smooth or user friendly, and you actually have less inventory space. Finally, the attempt at horror is a sad imitation of the work of art that System Shock 2 was. It’s like comparing H.P. Lovecraft to Dean Koontz. And frankly, the story and suspense is terribly predictable.

The suspense is completely ruined by badly timed music and poor game design. In a lot of suspenseful games, the designers will use the music as a way to build up tension and to scare the player. The music might rise suddenly as you open a door to reveal only emptiness beyond it, further building the suspense. In Dead Space the music track misses these subtle tricks completely. It sounds like they stripped the soundtrack from another game and didn’t change it up. The music doesn’t really feel attached to the events in the game unless you count cut scenes. You might find yourself wandering down a well lit hall when the music suddenly bursts forth in an aggressive series of notes. However nothing else in the game builds to this and nothing jumps out so all it really does is numb you to any successful use the music might be put to.

Similarly, the level design is piss poor. To move about the ship, the mutant zombies you’re fighting use the…wait for it…air vents. This would make some sense except there are 2 types of air vents. Vents with their covers intact, and vents with broken covers. The monsters will burst forth from the covered vents EVERY GOD DAMNED TIME, and never emerge from the empty vents. You can enter a room and instantly predict where every monster is about to emerge from and be 100% correct. Now the monsters you fight in Dead Space are zombies, but their weird parasite infested space zombies so head shots don’t work, so you have to cut off their limbs. Luckily the ship’s just packed to the brim with odd laser cutting guns that don’t seem to have any real use outside of dismembering space zombies. Now this might make you think that aiming these cutting lasers is really important as you have to slice off every one of the zombies’ limbs to take them down. Well if so then you have far too much faith in these developers. No, you can pretty much just point the guns at the monsters and fire until they fall to the ground. Aiming does damn near nothing. Another big aspect of the game is that the corpses of the crew laying about the ship might rise from the dead at any moment, and damn is this ship covered in corpses. However this too is thrown together with idiotic abandon. Normal corpses look like…well, corpses really, and the zombies look like multi-legged insect people zombies. Well say you walk down a hall and see two normal corpses. Well, to be careful you cut off their limbs and move on. If you come back later you will actually see a new corpse lying between the 2 old ones, but the fact that it’s a zombie isn’t even hidden as there are long scythe legs sticking up in the air. So the surprise is ruined and you can blow them away from a distance every time. In fact, as you play this game (assuming you ignore my advice and waste you money) if at any point you think “you know, I bet a monster would pop out here”, then guess what, a god damned monster’s about to pop out of there.


Even the god damned plot is ripped off of System Shock 2. There’re some parasites found on an alien planet and there’s an attempt by a group on the ship to take them back to Earth to infect it. Same damned plot, right down to the “twist” at the end. The only difference is that Shodan did it with more style. And if you are unlucky enough to have given the damned PC port a chance, then I pity your sad ass. Think back to the ungodly heinous PC ports of console games from the late 90s. Well this one is worse. The controls are crap and there’s no way for you to fix them. On the PC the HUD is torture and the graphics are crap. I have a PC that can run Left4Dead at very high quality graphics with no lagging, same for Bioshock and Fallout 3. I loaded up a borrowed copy of Dead Space for the PC and the graphics were crap. The anti-aliasing was broken, the bloom was hyperactive, and the motion blur was just off. And I’m not the only person to experience these problems. However, EA’s response to these problems was pretty much “Fuck You, you should have bought the console version.” Well, not literally, but clean it up PR-wise and that was their message.

So here’s my recommendation. Don’t buy this game. Don’t even rent it unless you can get your hands on a copy cheap. Hell, if you somehow know any of the people involved in its design, walk up to them and crack em upside the head with a bat. A good solid bat, none of this aluminum crap*. Instead go play System Shock 2. It’s a PC game, but it’s old and will run on practically any system that’s around these days. It’ll scare the shit out of you (Bioshock is the “pg-13” game by the same developers, while SS2 was as “R”) and you will be better for it. Then again Halo’s somehow become one of the “greatest games of all time” and if that trend in gamer taste continues you can all expect to see me one of these days, perched up in a clock tower with a high-powered hunting rifle and a CD player running J-Pop in a continuous loop. You’ve been warned.


*Please don’t actually commit assault based off of what I’ve said. Because if you do, then my ass’ll get sued or thrown in jail for suggesting it, and then I’ll have to come for you. And I’ll be piiiiiiiiiiised like you wouldn’t believe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flashy Friday: Squares 2

In Flashy Friday segments, normally I just give the picture of the featured game, a brief description and then a link to go play it. This time Flashy Friday is a bit longer since I have a particularly cool story about this one.
--------------------------------------------------------


I remember playing Squares 2 a couple of years ago after stumbling upon it at ebaumsworld (remember that crazy site?). It was a simple flash game really. You control a black square via the mouse and your job is to collect other black squares and avoid red ones. The squares shoot from all sides of the screen so the game gets pretty intense with all the squares zipping back and forth. In addition, as you pick up black squares you get bigger in size, making it easier to pick up black squares and making yourself a pretty big target for red ones. There are also power-ups and power-downs you can collect, ranging from brief invincibility, to making your square even more gigantic.

Squares 2 wasn't easy by any means though. You need to have really quick reaction time in order to keep raising your score. On top of all this, Squares 2 has a pretty sick beat going on in the background that fits perfectly with all of the moving squares. The music is incredibly addictive and the coolest effect is when you get the slow motion power-up, causing the music to fade so only the percussion is audible, and then have the music come back in full when the slow motion wears off. Needless to say, I liked this game, and I know a lot of other gamers who have.


Fast forward to two days ago. I'm sitting at a table at one of PLAY's weekly game night meetings. This tall dude with a fro is sitting next to me with an Yngwie Malmsteen shirt on and I'm listening to Steve Vai on my headphones. He hears the music, asks me who it is, and we begin exchanging progressive metal artists that we both enjoy. (We both agreed that Yngwie is overrated).

We eventually ended up talking about out majors/concentration, and I tell him I'm in video game production. After hearing this, he tells me that he just started selling this flash game for iPhone, a flash game he made a long time ago. He needed some help marketing it, and I told him to get on various forums, get in touch with a couple of contacts I have, post the game on newgrounds, addictinggames, and kongregate, etc. All the meanwhile I realize we haven't even properly introduced ourselves or that I haven't even seen the game yet.

He tells me his name is Gavin Shapiro, and as I typed his name into facebook, my long-term memory twitched. Where the hell have I seen this name before? I think nothing of it and I ask him what the name of his game was. He says "you've probably never heard of it, but it called Squares 2."


I had this moment of sudden realization, kinda like the moment Edward Norton had in Fight Club when he finds out who Tyler Durden REALLY is. I had what some people would call a moment of clarity.

So I had a little geek out moment when I found out this guy made this game. I ended up telling this information to everyone in games club, and I'm pretty sure I made Gavin a little embarrassed. Little did he know that he was a mini-celebrity since a lot of people have played his flash game and really enjoyed it. So this blog entry is part normal flashy friday and a bit of a shout-out to Gavin.

Click here to play Squares 2 right now.

And if you happen to have an iPhone, look for Squares 2 in the app store. The game is only $0.99 and you'll be able to compare your scores on a global leaderboard. Not only will you enjoy the game, but the money will go to Gavin for developing this awesome flash game.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Presidential Flash Games

If you check out the politics tag on Will and Beyond, you'll see that I have Obama fever.  How can I work that into a post here on Table Salt Games?  How about some Obama flash games.  Kongregate links are given whenever possible.  Be forewarned that none of these are as good as you'd find on Flashy Friday.

The Good:

Campaign: General Election: Fun strategy game where you have to win over all of the regions of the US using your candidate and staff.  Staffmembers include the Spinmeister, Fundraiser, and the Operative.  Slinging mud and launching negative campaign ads are two examples of fun attacks you have.

The Mediocre:

Polimon: Politics + Pokemon = Polimon.  Walk around the country activating states while you run into random battles with evangelists, political conservatives, etc.

Super Obama World: A Super Mario World knockoff.  Instead of mushrooms making you grow big, slices of pie (huh?) make you wear sunglasses.  Don't collect coins, but rather American flags.  Levels such as "The Real America" and "I Can See Russia from my House!".  Unfortunately, I got to the end of one of the levels, and nothing happened...

Race for the White House: Very easy.  At some point in the beginning I ran past McCain and never saw him again.  Collect money, avoid campaign road blocks, and don't kill birds unless you want to lose the green vote.

The Bad:

Hilary vs. Obama: Do like clicking a lot?  As long as you don't expect anything other than clicking, this could be the game for you!

Obama vs. Joe the Plumber: Punch with M, block with B.  Yeah, that's it.  As tired as I was of hearing about Joe the Plumber, this still isn't very satisfying.

American Chess 2008: Are all of these games just bad attempts at fighting games, 'Obama vs. [insert opponent's name here]'?

Barack Obama Race for the White House: Not a fighting game, but still.  Looking for a bad Puzzle Bobble knockoff?  Here you go.

And on a completely unrelated note, here's a inexplicably fun Monopoly knock-off.

Godspeed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Flashy Friday: 99 Bricks

This game came out a while ago on Kongregate but since I've been talking about Tetris recently, I figured I should put this game up as the Flashy Friday game as it's an interesting variant on Tetris.


Instead of focusing on making lines, 99 bricks is focused on making towers. The bricks you have are identical to tetraminoes but, gravity will affect the pieces. So as you build your tower you'll begin to realize that it is swaying, and suddenly leaving a thin column on the right of left sides for a line piece isn't a good strategy.

This game is very addictive and the challenges on Kongregate are just mean. Building a tower with a height of 600 is crazy hard as is, and using all 99 bricks in one tower is also insane. It's not impossible though; my friend Angela did manage to achieve both of those goals. And she STILL holds it over my head as one of her gaming achievements over me.

*sigh*

Click here to play 99 bricks right now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amazing Tetris Videos

Most of the easter eggs I put in my posts are in my Top 52 segment. I didn't put any in the Tetris DS (#25) post because there are just too many great Tetris videos out there. So instead I'm just going to compile them here for you all to enjoy.

Note: If know of any other awesome Tetris videos, please tell me and I'll update this post with the video.

The Original Human TETRIS Performance by Guillaume Reymond


Human Tetris (2:05 is hilarious)


Stupid Tetris


Mega64: Tetris


Tetris Ninjas


Tetris: The Movie


Little Big Planet Tetris Completed Version


Tetris Japanese Player (my favorite, if you get bored watch from 4:00 on: your mind will get blown)


Tetris is awesome.

Top 52: Tetris DS (#25)

I love Tetris. I knew Tetris had to be on my list and the DS version is the best one out yet. In fact, Tetris DS is the highest rated DS game on my Top 52. Read on to find out why.


Title: Tetris DS
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 03/20/06
Genre: Puzzle
My Ranking: #25
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Tetris is more than a game. Tetris has become so popular that it has become a cultural phenomenon. One man has been jailed for not turning off his game of Tetris on a flight in England. Tetris has been studied for it's effects on the brain. Some people even have suffered from the Tetris effect, where they either see delusions of blocks falling in their eyes, of look at everyday objects and cannot help but picturing how they form together to make lines.

I've never had delusions of Tetris blocks, but I still organize items into lines in my mind, mostly because of Tetris DS. I've played Tetris for the NES and of course for the Game Boy, but I believe that Tetris DS is the best iteration of the series.



The first thing you'll notice in Tetris DS is that there are classic NES characters running around on the top screen. When you complete lines, Mario will advance in Super Mario Bros., or maybe you'll see Link stabbing Octoroks, or possibly even the Balloon Fight guys flying around hitting balloons. The NES animations are a nice touch to the Tetris game, as both Tetris and the NES characters are nostalgic.

Tetris DS had everything that I think Tetris should have. Tetris DS has the hold feature, where you can store on piece on the side and swap it out for another. Tetris DS also has the "easy spin" feature, where the Tetrominoes don't automatically stick to the pieces upon touching them, allowing you to spin pieces to place them properly. Tetris DS also has six playing modes, most of which are good, and the game also has online play.



Tetris DS has the marathon mode where you can just play forever, and I've maxed out the lines completed counter at 999 multiple times. Within marathon mode though, they also have versus CPU and the CPU character on the highest level is pretty hard so that stays enjoyable. Seriously, if you make one mistake against a level 5 CPU, you lose. I like that. Tetris should appeal to the insane.

Tetris DS also had mission mode, where you have to complete different tasks in an allotted time. Tasks include easy tasks like "clear four lines at once" or ones that require a bit preparation like "clear 2 lines with [insert tetromino here]." All of this action happens with NES Link in the background and the timer is ten heart containers slowly draining if you don't complete the task.

One other mode I'll highlight is one that Lima really enjoyed. This mode was called Touch and required you to use the stylus. To start, tons of tetrominoes would be placed randomly together, forming a large tower. At the top of the tower would be a bunch of caged balloons. The goal is to use the stylus to turn the blocks, form lines that would disappear and then have the balloons reach the floor. I don't know why Lima enjoyed this mode so much, but at least it was creative, I think.


For all of Nintendo's problems with Wi-Fi, their online play for Tetris DS was awesome. I still find games very quickly and all of the games are really intense. When you complete a line, you send grey blocks to your opponent from the bottom up. However, the blocks you send are lined up perfectly, so if it's open, you'll give your opponent a free Tetris that he'll send back to you, and then you'll send back it back to him, and so forth. It's addictive and you need to be stupid fast.

I still play Tetris DS and I still play it online. Whenever I'm having a bad day, I still put this game on and watch lines (and my problems) disappear. I've always been a Tetris lover, and there's no question that Tetris DS is the best I've seen in classic Tetris iterations. Multiple modes, quirky but fitting NES graphics, and reliable and competitive online play. Tetris DS is one DS game I'll be playing for years to come.
-------------------------------------
My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)
#27 --- Katamari Damacy (PS2)*
#26 --- Mario Kart 64 (N64)
#25 --- Tetris DS (DS)*

*- Denotes highest ranked game for that console

Monday, January 12, 2009

Scrabulous, is that you?

Know that feeling of running into an old friend on the street, and having him call out your name You see the face, but you don't recognize it immediately.  Then it hits you, friend!  But wait, some things have changed.  As you see one thing different him, you start to notice others...

This fits well with my relationship with Scrabulous.  You may remember that my first post here was mourning the loss of my good friend.  I moved on, made other friends, and now I find that Scrabulous has risen from the dead.  Zombie Scrabulous?  Enough with these ridiculous analogies, on to some content.

Apparently, about 3 months ago, Lexulous.com was born, and used the old Scrabulous data.  It was until 2009 when it was reborn on Facebook, and we got a message from Rajat and Jayant that they had returned.  I was amazed; all of my old games were still saved, and active.

I made my first move, and was filled with joy.  A few plays later, I noticed something strange.  The Z is worth 12 points???  As any serious Scrabble player can tell you, the Z is only worth 10 points.    Maybe this was just in the new game I started.  No, they went back and updated all of the tiles on the old games too.  Did they update the scores?  Maybe, but there's no way to really tell.  Here's a list of the updated tiles, with their Scrabble values in parentheses:1

B:4 (3)
C:4 (3)
F:5 (4)
H:5 (4)
K:6 (5)
M:4 (3)
P:4 (3)
Q: 12 (10)
T: 2 (1)
V: 5 (4)
W: 5 (4)
Y: 5 (4)
Z: 12 (10)

Sure, there's a different name2, and a slightly different scoring system, but will I still play the game?  Of course.  I can't turn my back on a game I love, even if it's a slightly deformed version of it.

Has anyone else noticed any other changes?  Also, challenge me to a game.

[1]: This is going off memory, so something might be wrong.  But don't tell me if it is, I don't want to feel ashamed.
[2]: Today we debated whether or not it's a good name.  I think it's fine (derived from lexicon, but still keeping the some resemblance to Scrabulous), but other people thought it sounded like ass (their words, not mine).  Your thoughts?

Godspeed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cairo's Game Valley

As most of my readers know, I've been in Cairo for 2 weeks. I leave for New York tomorrow, so writing on this blog will be a bit less sporatic soon.

Egypt isn't really a video gaming place but, my roommate did show me a video game store in Cairo called Game Valley. Click on their games tab and you'll notice that they don't show their Wii games, which they had in their store when I visited. Part of the reason why they probably don't show them is because their merchandise is clearly pirated.


First off, all of the Wii games were 80 L.E., which in American money, would work out to be about $14.50. You could argue that since the cost of living is less in Cairo, games would cost less. However, if the extremely low price wasn't a giveaway, then one of their "Wii" games is clearly pirated. They were selling a single Wii disc that had the "Wii" games of Star Fox Adventures, Beyond Good and Evil, and the Zelda promotional disc that had four Zelda games on it. I say these were Wii games because they had the Wii logo plastered on them for the box art. However, anyone who plays games knows that these games came out for the Gamecube, NOT the Wii.

Regardless, if the Wii was region-free, I was going to buy a whole bunch of games and sell them back in the States and make a pretty penny. However, all of these games were the PAL versions, so they wouldn't work on a United States Wii system unforunately.


Oddly enough, this store also had no Xbox360 games whatsoever. They had a crapton of PS2 games and Game Boy Advance games, but the Xbox360 was nowhere to be seen. They also had PS3 games but they were selling them at 675 L.E. a pop, which works out to be about $120 per game. Who could afford games at that insane price? And why was is so inflated compared to the Wii? I know Blu-ray is a more expensive disc but an over $80 difference? Makes no sense to me.

I can't wait to get back to the States though. The new Prince of Persia and Resistance 2 are calling me. That, and I miss my family and my girlfriend. They are kinda important too.

Top 52: Mario Kart 64 (#26)

Having 4-players at once is pretty standard now but, the N64 was the first popular console to have four controller slots. Part of the reason why Mario Kart 64 was so successful was because it was the first really awesome game to be played with more than two people, and therefore really good to play at parties.


Title: Mario Kart 64
Console: Nintendo 64
Release Date: 02/10/97
Genre: Racing
My Ranking: #26
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Following up on their success from Super Mario Kart for the SNES, Nintendo brought the Mario Kart series to 3D on the Nintendo 64. Sporting sixteen strange courses, a litany of items, and 4-player support, Mario Kart 64 become the ultimate muliplayer fantasy racing game. Why are Mario characters racing in Go-Karts through Bowser's castle and Moo Moo farm? No one knows really, but what I do know is that this game is insanely fun to play, even now.

Everyone knows how Mario Kart works. You do laps on a track and you can pick up items and shoot them at people. However, what makes Mario Kart 64 so great is that the game feels balanced. The person in last place gets better items than the person in first and therefore has an easier chance to catch-up. Sure, this may cause a rubber-band effect from time to time (meaning the person in last quickly bounces to first, and so on) but, in my experience with the game, the better driver/player wins the majority of the time.


Since Mario Kart 64 is balanced, the game works excellently for hardcore players like myself. It's a ton of fun to race against someone who is really good, while each of you are cutting corners and constantly getting boosts from power slides. However, even for non-hardcore players, Mario Kart 64 is an amazing game.

Since newer players tend to fall to the back of the pack, they get all of the cool items, like stars, golden mushrooms and blue shells. Since these items help propel them to the front without intense skill, newer players don't feel left out of the experience. It's especially rewarding to new players when they pick up a blue shell, use it, and hit the first-place player. The hardcore player who was in first will say something like "Oh @#$%," or something to that effect, and the new player will laugh and feel pride at effecting the outcome.



Somehow then, Mario Kart 64 is a game for hardcore gamers and casual gamers. It even works for non-gamers as well since they understand the basic premise: get to the finish line. And since the game is so colorful and there is tons of action happening with items, everyone will even enjoy the game on a purely visual level.

The game does have some faults though. The special shortcuts on Koopa Troopa Beach, Wario Stadium, and Rainbow Road cut so much of the track that if you do make them and someone else doesn't for a lap, there is no chance at the other player recovering. The track design wasn't as top notch as it could have been. Also, one glaring problem is that versus mode doesn't have music for the tracks, which makes the game feel a bit empty at times.



Still, Mario Kart 64 is the best racing game to play with a lot of people. The game moves relatively fast and you'll have a lot of people talking/swearing during gameplay. Course for course, F-Zero has better design (and better music) but Mario Kart 64 will give you one of the best multiplayer experiences in video gaming.
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My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)
#27 --- Katamari Damacy (PS2)*
#26 --- Mario Kart 64 (N64)

*- Denotes highest ranked game for that console

Flashy Friday: Interactive Buddy

Did you ever get the urge to punch/explode/set fire to somebody? If so, Interactive Buddy is for you. Interactive buddy is not really a game; it's more of an interactive program.


Your "buddy" is the round grey dude shown above. By clicking different abilities from the menu, you are able to click anywhere on the screen and use that ability. For example, to start off, I would suggest clicking on grenades from the item menu and spray those across the screen. Your buddy will be confused for a moment and then BOOM; he's bounced around the screen in a fiery blaze. It's cute, really.

The more damage you do to your buddy, the more money you get to buy more things to hurt him with. To get money quickly, use grenades first and then buy missiles for $100. Use the missiles and money will rack up very quickly. From there, enjoy buying new skins for your buddy, more modes and of course, more weapons.

Click here to play Interactive Buddy right now.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Top 52: Katamari Damacy (#27)

Katamari Damacy is by far the best game on the Playstation 2. If you have this system, you absolutely MUST own this game. Read on to find out why.


Title: Katamari Damacy
Console: Playstation 2
Release Date: 09/22/04
Genre: Puzzle Action?
My Ranking: #27
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With so many games that have come and gone it is rare to find a game that is as unique as Katamari Damacy. In Katamari Damacy, you control a little green prince who pushes a ball called a katamari. This ball is able to pick up anything that is smaller than itself and upon picking that object up it gets progressively bigger in size. Basically, you playing a a game that revovles around the snowball effect.



Why are you rolling up objects on planet Earth? Well, the American version of Katamari omits this knowledge but the Japanese version gives an awesome backstory. The King of all Cosmos apprently got REALLY drunk one night and destroyed all of the stars in the universe. In order to cover up his mistake, he sent his son, the Prince of all Cosmos, to Earth to roll up objects with his katamari. Upon recieveing those objects, the King of all Cosmos shoots the ball into space and turns it into a star. Yes, our stars are made of thumbtacks, cats, legos, and volcanos.

Aside from the water, EVERYTHING in Katamari Damacy can be picked up with your ball. A dog early on may be able to push you around but once you gain enough objects you'll be able to pick up him. A level may start out inside of a house but, if you are fast enough and pick up enough stuff, you'll be able to then roll up the entire house. The camera slowly pans out further and further as you pick up more objects and before you know it, you're picking up entire islands, clouds, and even rainbows.



As if the premise wasn't good enough, the cel-shaded graphics add even more to the gameplay. Katamari Damacy looks and feels like Japanese mangas on crack. The world is vibrant with bright colors and the sheer cuteness of the people as they wiggle when you pick them up in your ball will make you smile. I don't understand why people are necessary in a katamari to make a star, but the King of all Cosmos never seems to mind.

The music and sounds are also top notch. Sure, some of it is whacky J-Pop, but the Japanese jazz pieces will absolutely blow your mind. All of the songs fit perfectly with the cutesy birght environment and they are all insanely catchy. Upon hearing the main theme, there is no doubt that it will stick in your head for days. Also, nothing beats rolling over a cow and here it go moo. That's just awesome.


Katamari Damacy does have competitive multiplayer, but I never really enjoyed it. I wished they would have had some sort of cooperative mode where you each get a ball to control, but the game can be enjoyed with multiple people in single player mode. Your friends will scream out where they think you're supposed to go and there is so much stuff happening on the screen at once that you'll even enjoy sitting back and watching the madness ensue.

By no means is Katamari Damacy easy either. There is a timer for each level and if you do not get your ball big enough in the alloted time, the King will be very angry with you. You'll fail some levels if you haven't played it before, but by the end of the game you should be good enough to complete the final stage where you roll up just about everything in the world. In addition, in order to unlock all of the comets, you'll need to get your ball big enough in an even shorter time, and some of the comet times will keep you playing for hours.



Katamari was really a complete and unique game. Whenever we bring this to PLAY events, people always want to play it or watch someone else run through the levels. So if you are a PS2 owner, do yourself a favor and pick this game up as anyone can enjoy this game. It made be one of the best game purchases you have ever made.
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My Top 52:
#52 --- Star Fox 64 (N64)
#51 --- Kirby's Adventure (NES)
#50 --- Roller Coaster Tycoon (PC)
#49 --- Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
#48 --- Metroid Prime (GC)
#47 --- Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
#46 --- Bomberman 64 (N64)
#45 --- Guitar Hero II (PS2)
#44 --- Super Street Fighter II (GEN)
#43 --- Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
#42 --- Soul Calibur II (GC)
#41 --- Gears of War (Xbox 360)*
#40 --- Elite Beat Agents (DS)
#39 --- Call of Duty 4 (PS3)
#38 --- Super Metroid (SNES)
#37 --- The Orange Box (PS3)*
#36 --- Metal Gear Solid (PS)
#35 --- Doom (PC)
#34 --- Super Mario Kart (SNES)
#33 --- Mischief Makers (N64)
#32 --- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
#31 --- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
#30 --- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
#29 --- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GC)
#28 --- F-Zero (SNES)
#27 --- Katamari Damacy (PS2)*

*- Denotes highest ranked game for that console

A Football E-mail Conversation

The only unfortunate thing about being in Cairo is that I am missing a good chunk of the NFL playoffs. My roommate's family is awesome enough to have AFN, the military network, so if I wanted to, I could watch all of the games. However, Cairo is seven hours ahead of New York, so those 8 E.T. games start at 3AM here. Ouch.

For those people who have been watching the playoffs though, you must be sratching your heads at the improbable outcomes. Eagles beat the Vikings at Minnesota; the Cardinals pulled out a victory over the Falcons, and the Chargers (the supposed BEST team in the AFC according to ESPN even when they started out 3-5) beat Peyton Manning and the Colts. Seriously, this season makes no sense.


However, despite not being able to watch the games, my brother has been giving me e-mail updates... well more like rants. He also missed the Chargers game, since he had to go to a wedding. Here's how the conversation went down. My brother is hilarious when it comes to football.
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My Brother: Monday night:

"So, it turns out that all of our first round playoff picks were wrong, with the exception of the Ravens game! Eagles beat Vikings; Ravens beat Dolphins; Cardinals beat Falcons; and Chargers beat Colts.

So, next weekend, Giants play Eagles (ouch . . .); Panthers play Cardinals; Titans play Ravens; and Steelers play Chargers. Our conference & super bowl picks mostly remain (absent the Colts), but our wacky worst case scenario picks are all fucked. We could conceivably have an Eagles-Chargers super bowl for crying out loud."

My Response: Monday Morning:

"I've been keeping track of the scores here in Cairo. I think my brain exploded when I woke up to find out that the Cardinals and Chargers both won in the same day. I expected ONE upset though, not three with the Eagles also beating the Vikings.

I was really happy when the Cardinals beat the Falcons though. That win meant the Giants were guaranteed to play either the Cards or the Eagles, both of which will be an easy game. Now if the Cards somehow beat the Panthers, the NFC championship game will be LOL for the Giants.

The NFL playoffs is confusing. Single elimination blows."

My Brother's Response: Tuesday Morning:

"Yeah seriously on the brain explosion. I feel like this will be the weekend that the world rights itself again though. I think the Eagles game will be tougher than we think though, as the two teams know each other well. That said, an underreported aspect of the Eagles game was that Westbrook only had about 35 yards on the ground; his total yardage was overflated due to the ridiculous 72 yards he gained on a screen pass . . . A FUCKING SCREEN PASS. I mean look, if the Vikes aren't going to bother to contain a basic screen pass, the game's just not fair.

For the Ravens, I hope you got a chance to see some of the highlights. One in particular was a VICIOUS Bart Scott hit on Pennington a split-second after he released the ball in fear--Pennington was positively propelled backwards, as if he had been hit by a giant flat wall over his entire body rather than being tackled by another person. Reminded me of sci-fi movies where a guy gets hit by a concussion blast and his whole body flies straight backwards. Pennington crumpled to the floor like a broken man. And throws that led to those record 4 interceptions were epic. They were definitely the "bombs" we imagined, only they were bombed vertically instead of horizontally, and into double coverage at that.

Missed the Cards and Chargers' games for the most part. Ryan fell apart for the Falcons, and the Cards--for the first time all season--both ran the ball and stopped the run. The Chargers game was apparently the greatest game of the entire weekend, and I was at the fucking wedding for all of it. I got back to the hotel room in time to see Rivers being interviewed, and to hear the announcers do a recap--insane lead changes, great back and forth, and overtime--an overtime where the Colts defense just imploded in a way I haven't seen in a long time. Just retarded penalties (a crippling face mask, a holding call, a pass interference call, etc.) that let the Chargers march up the field.

And I'm not even talking about Darren Sproles. If you could have told me that the Colts would contain LDT (fuckin' nickname), knock him out of the game, and still lose, I would have laughed at you. And if you would have told me that Darren My-Name-Makes-Me-Sound-A-Little-Bit-Like-I-Should-Have-Been-A-Character-On-The-Jetsons Sproles would have 328 combined yards and would be the difference-maker, I would have left the room and sought help for you.

This last bit worries me. Could mean that the mighty Kurt Warner could have a 450-yard passing game this weekend. Could mean that David Tyree makes a catch with his jockstrap this time. Could mean that Vince Young makes a miraculous return in Tennessee as a middle linebacker, and has 7 sacks. In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett after the Celtics won the NBA championship last year, "ANYTHING IS POSSIBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"."
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Yeah, we're like this all time. Especially when it somes to sports.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I actually review a type of damn dice.

For starters, yes, I am actually reviewing a type of die. Be in awe of my mighty geekitude! Though in light of certain discoveries, I feel no shame. I do wonder what the hell they were playing though.

Now there are times when my will is strong and I can be a very frugal and responsible man. However there are also times when I crumple like a pair of Kleenex underoos because of something shiny. This is one of those times.


I present*, the D-Total. Yep, a 24 sided die that does the job of at least 17 normal dice. Probably more if you play Hackmaster, one of the few games that actually calls for a D10,000,000. Now why did I buy this? Because it was cool and it was there.

This little baby was brought out at the 2008 GenCon by its developers, Lou Zocchi and Dr. A. F. Simkin. Zocchi is the same gentleman who brought us the 100 sided die, or Zocchihedron. Makes me pissed I missed the con last year and as a result I’m making arrangements to go to this year’s convention. So I’ve been hounding the Gamestation site since September waiting for this to go on sell. The moment it did I grabbed one and last time I checked there are only 3 left. So on with the review.

The die is big. Really big. Bigger than a ping pong ball. And it’s made of a lightweight but strong, bright white plastic. The lettering is a sharp black and is easily readable, and it appears to be etched into the plastic which means it probably won’t smudge anytime soon. The die has a total of 24 sides and it’s easy to read your results. Now the info on each side appears a bit complex at first, but after finding an explanation online it all made sense. Each side contains 4 shapes and a bunch of numbers. Each shape represents a common type of die and the shape corresponds to the shapes on that type of die.

For instance, when you look at a classic 6 sided die, it looks like a square. So on the D-Total, the square shape indicates the result for a d6. The same goes for a D4, D8, and D12. The other numbers/pips/roman numerals on the die represent other types of dices and from all of that you can come up with other die types. Want a D20? Just roll the die and if the result is a 21 to 24, reroll, for a D10, half that result, and so on. This sounds complex and it can be, but if you’ve gamed for any length of time you’ve figured out all sorts of short cuts like these that allow you to use one type of die for some other that you happen to be missing at the moment.

Cons:
This isn’t a solid die. The sucker’s hollow and it rolls a bit light as a result. It bounces too much and the roll has a hollow sound to it on a hard table, on paper, not really noticeable. Now I’ve rolled those giant 2 inch, solid dice before and I’ll admit they are too heavy and they make a hell of a lot of noise as they hit the table, but still a bit more weight on the D-Total would have been nice. Also the way they manufactured this die leaves a noticeable seam on it. This sucker was formed in 2 parts and then sealed with some sort of sonic device. On mine the seal is nice and strong, but there is a noticeable crack open where the seam meets on one side. It probably wont be a problem in the long run and this the first run of these they’ve made so there are bound to be a few bugs, but it does kinda hurt it aesthetically. I’m also afraid to try to fix it, because I might screw up the balance or break it in the process. It's also a bit pricy. At $26.99 it does cost more than a full set of normal dice. However that's still cheaper than a set of Zocchi dice, which are worth it as far as quality stands. But nothing says durable like metal.

Pros:
Its 17 bloody dice in 1. As a GM or gamer on the go it’s nice to only need one die and with this one you’ll be ready for any game you might happen across. And if you add it to your normal roster of dice, you’ll never be sort a die. Missing a D8 and don’t want to slow things down by digging around for one? Just grab the thing and roll. Also, because of its lightweight nature, it’s great for throwing. As a GM, sometimes you just want to pop a player upside the head with a die. But most of the time you risk injury as they are too small and will hurt too much, or they’re too heavy and you risk manslaughter. There is always the foam option, but then those suckers are a bit big and ungainly and you risk them seeing it coming.

Overall, I like it, and I'd recommend it. I can see myself using it a lot in my games and it’ll make my life as a GM a bit easier. Plus it looks cool and is bound to impress. I don’t like how it feels or sounds when it rolls and the seam along the edge is a bit of a turnoff. But on the other hand this is the first run of these dice they’ve done so far and I’m willing to bet that next time they will do better. Plus Zocchi is known for making some pretty fine quality dice and I’d own more if they weren’t so damned expensive. I’m still debating buying a copy of the glow-in-the-dark ones he sells.

Now let me leave you with a little bit of Zocchi at work. Enjoy ^_^






*That pic of the D-Total was borrowed from another review at Mataka.org. I wrote this at work and I forgot to bring the bloody thing with me. :p