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So I Gotta Know: Why Doesn't SCEA Care About the Vita?

Welcome, one and all, to the wonderful, magical world of solo debatery and madness, that which is known as "So I Gotta Know!" Today's episode asks...why doesn't Sony's American branch seem to care about the success of the Vita?     Despite being possibly the most powerful gaming handheld to date, the Vita has had a rough time in North America. It launched with a fair number of games, both digital and physical, but very few of these games were enticing enough for the average gamer to jump on the system right away, leaving it mostly to the early adopters. To be fair, though, the 3DS had a pretty rocky start as well, so that's just how things go when you launch a new system people aren't too sure about. However, where the 3DS has since picked up steam and become a strong seller for Nintendo, Sony's Vita is still back at the starting line, waiting for someone to give it a push out on to the field.   So what's the problem? Well, part of it is the software library - even now, a year after the Vita launched, there's still very few "killer apps" that make the Vita worth owning. Many of the games released for the system have been ports or remakes of older games, which are great for Vita owners, but not so great at convincing non-owners that it's worth buying. Not only that, but looking at the release calendar for 2013 looks pretty grim - as of this writing, there are maybe 7 titles confirmed to be coming to Vita this year. How is that even possible? It's clear that Sony has a good relationship with developers, or at least enough money to bribe them, by looking at the numerous PS3 games that have exclusive content not found in other versions. So why can't Sony get developers on board for the Vita? da ba dee da ba die...   Numbers. It all comes down to numbers...there's just not enough Vita owners out there to make developing for the system profitable. Developers aren't going to put time and effort into making a game for a system that relatively few people have compared to the PS3. This presents a conundrum, however, because if developers aren't making games for the Vita, no one's going to buy a Vita, leading to a vicious circle where nothing changes. It's clear that Sony needs to make some changes to their plans for the Vita in order to get more systems in players' hands, and yet, they seem to be content to just sail along and hope everything works out for the best. It's this disinterest from the company that's supposed to be promoting this device that really makes consumers and developers alike wary of the Vita, and it's going to hurt Sony in the longrun. So how can they turn things around if no one's making games for their system?   Games like these, perhaps.   Price. As seen in the brief GamesRadar article linked there, when Sony's Japanese branch dropped the price on the Vita, sales made a huge jump. Recent rumblings also suggest the release of Soul Sacrifice in that region have played a big part in moving units as well. If SCEA was to follow suit with a price drop, we'd see a surge of Vita sales in North America. From there, developers would have a revitalized interest in providing quality games for the growing Vita audience, and things would certainly start to look up for the system. And yet, it's almost as if SCEA is completely ignoring what their other branches are doing. Not only that, but they're ignoring what Nintendo did as well - Nintendo saw a surge of 3DS sales after their price cut. While it's true that reports suggest many stores have lowered the price on the 3G Vita by $100 (Sony has lowered it in their stores by $50, which you might notice makes it the same price as the Wi-Fi model), those same reports also suggest Sony may be discontinuing the 3G model, which will leave only the $250 Wi-Fi model unless Sony releases a new one.   But unless Sony releases a newer, and more importantly, cheaper model of the Vita, nothing is going to change, yet Sony doesn't seem to mind. Rather than give people a reason to get excited about the Vita again, rather than guarantee some sales by dropping the price, rather than even try to find some way to make the Vita attractive even at it's current price point, SCEA is doing practically nothing to help the system succeed. If they're not going to cut the price, then it would certainly help to run a marketing campaign to at least make it look like they care about the Vita. But it would seem that no matter what people say, no matter what suggestions they make to help the Vita's audience grow, these words fall on deaf ears. And why? Why doesn't Sony step up their game and push the Vita? Why don't they remind developers of their successes with the PS3 and get them back on board? Why don't they do anything just to make it look like they're trying?   Oh, right.   Yes, it seems with the PS4's launch looming on the horizon, Sony has all but forgotten the PS3 and Vita and begun looking towards the future. While Sony did mention that some, or perhaps all, PS4 games would be playable on Vita, what good will that do if they don't start convincing people to buy the Vita? It seems Sony can't manage more than one console at a time, and so they've devoted all their resources to making sure people know the PS4 is coming and hyping it up. By focusing on the PS4, however, they're essentially killing the Vita outright - if they're working to bring developers on board for the PS4, who's developing for the Vita? If they're trying to convince consumers that the PS4's price is fair, who's going to change their mind about the Vita's? And finally, if Sony is making a marketing push to get the PS4's name out there and known across the gamerscape (I just made that up right now) who's going to tell people that the Vita still exists? Certainly not Sony, because they just don't seem to care about it anymore.

Venom

Venom

 

Review: Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse got a pretty bad rap from game critics, but they just did what they were paid to do - they reviewed it based on its merits as a game. However, that's not (entirely) what I'm here to do today. I've noticed that many reviewers of the game had varying knowledge of the show, but not many of them actually claimed to like the show - heck, I saw one review where the reviewer admitted to not even liking the show. So I decided it was high time a die-hard fan of the show reviewed the game. This is that review. *cue that "dun dun" sound from Law & Order* Developer: Heavy Iron Studios Publisher: Activision Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC Release Date: November 20, 2012 ESRB: M   This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game   Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is a third-person shooter based on the Family Guy television show, specifically, the episode "Road to the Multiverse." In that episode, Brian, the Griffin family dog, and Stewie, the baby of the family, travel into parallel universes that show Quahog, Rhode Island - the setting of the show - in various states such as a scientifically advanced utopia and a world run by dogs. Back to the Multiverse runs with that theme by setting each level in an alternate universe, many of which are based on other episodes and gags from Family Guy that have nothing to do with "Road to the Multiverse." So does the game get the Family Guy humor right, or does it fall flat on its ass-neck?   The story of the game begins with Bertram, Stewie's evil half-brother who was killed in the episode "The Big Bang Theory," returning to swear vengeance on Stewie - it turns out that this Bertram is from an alternate universe, and is amassing an army from other universes to destroy the universe in which Stewie, Brian, and the other Griffins reside. Stewie and Brian leap into action, with Stewie grabbing guns from his secret bunker in his room and grabbing his multiverse remote to chase Bertram through the multiverse and stop him from exacting revenge.     While the premise is interesting, the universes visited in the game aren't really all that inspired, compared to the universes featured in the Road to... episode. There's a world ruled by frat boys and sorority girls, then a world ruled by Amish, a world where everyone is evil, a world ruled by alien chickens, a world ruled by...well, you get the idea. While having one constant theme to the universe isn't a bad idea in itself, it's the choice of themes that drags the game down, because none of them are really that interesting. Stewie explains the basics of what's happening in each universe when he and Brian arrive, but you wouldn't really have to be all that sharp to figure out that a level teeming with pirates is a pirate universe. The one saving grace of each universe is all the call-outs and winks to episodes of the series - for instance, in a level where handicapped people have all the power, there's a Wheelies Cereal ad from "Ready, Willing, and Disabled" and the Big Pete's House of Munch restaurant from "No Meals on Wheels." You'll also find appearances from other characters in the show, who are usually dressed to suit the theme of the level. You might find Herbert patiently waiting for school to let out in the Amish world, or find Quagmire tied to a bed in the evil universe. These nods and cameos really help to let you know that you're in the Family Guy world, and often provide some humor that other parts of the game are lacking.   Many characters from the show make appearances, regardless of whether they fit the level's theme.   By lacking, I mean the dialogue - most of it isn't all that funny. I certainly chuckled a few times, but overall the jokes really fall flat. Thankfully, all dialogue is recorded by the voice actors from the show, so at least it's done right even when it's not done funny. The worst part about the dialogue is that very little of it was recorded specifically for the game. The cutscene dialogue is mostly new, but the words uttered by various characters (including Brian and Stewie) throughout the level are mostly lifted directly from the show. What's worse, much of the voice work is repeated throughout each level, where a few canned lines play each time a character picks up ammo or health, resulting in a lot of repetition that gets old fast. It's certainly funny to hear a line the first time and remember which episode it's from, but not so funny after you've heard it a hundred times over the course of the fairly brief, 10 level campaign. I'm not sure how long it took me to complete the game since it doesn't keep track of playtime, but I can safely say it wasn't more than 6-7 hours, and that was only because I scoured every part of every level looking for collectibles and shout-outs to the show. If you just blow through the game, it might take 4 hours at most. The game's music isn't too bad, and it sounds like music that was composed specifically for the show, even on the occasions where it wasn't. Where the game really shines is the graphics, because the game essentially looks like a 3D version of the show. The graphics are cartoonish and all the characters look like they should, which is a great touch that brings the game closer to the source material. It also helps that the game opens with the show's intro, though it would have been cooler if it was rendered in 3D and not a direct video. The game also runs at a smooth 60 FPS framerate, and it almost never bogs down regardless of on-screen action.   The game certainly looks the part.   So how does it play? Back to the Multiverse is a pretty standard third-person shooter, which is an odd fit for a Family Guy game, but it's at least more entertaining than the mish-mash of gameplay styles from the 2006 Family Guy game. You play as Brian or Stewie and can switch out between them, unless you're playing co-op, which is local only - no online here. Each character has a set of weapons that they gradually unlock over the course of the game, and their weapons are different enough from each other to make both characters useful in certain situations. There are also a handful of powerups to use, such as one that summons Ernie the Giant Chicken to attack your enemies, or dropping a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Man to distract enemies. Unlike most third-person shooters of this generation, this isn't a cover-based shooter, and there's no regenerating health - the enemies will sometimes take cover behind objects, but for the most part, they stand in the open to fire at you or run right up to you to hit you with melee attacks, which you can ward off with your own clumsy swinging of Stewie's golf club or Brian's whiskey bottle. That is, the enemies do these things when their programming actually works - oftentimes enemies would simply stand and stare at me, even when I was right in front of them, as if waiting to be put out of their misery from this fairly mediocre experience. The gunplay works, the melee doesn't work quite as well but still does its job, and the AI gets better later in the game for some reason, but taken as a whole, this game just doesn't have anything unique to offer. Really, it doesn't have much to offer at all - there are some neat unlockables, like costumes from various episodes of the show, as well as multiplayer characters, but it's not likely that you'll want to take the time to unlock everything the game has to offer anyway.   Aside from the campaign, there's a multiplayer mode that I didn't get to try, because it's all local-only. There's the regulation deathmatch mode, a horde mode, something called Infiltration, and in a shout-out to an older episode, a mode called Catch the Greased-Up Deaf Guy. In multiplayer, you can play as various characters including and besides Stewie or Brian, many of which have to be unlocked from the in-game store with money collected during the campaign. The game also has a challenge mode, where you're dropped into one of the campaign maps and given some objective to complete, such as defeating a certain number of enemies or rescuing a number of NPCs. The challenges have 3 difficulty levels and can be played solo or co-op, but there's really not much reason to play them outside of a few unlocks and possibly boredom.   All in all, Back to the Multiverse is a fairly solid game aside from some enemy AI issues, just one low on content and with nothing unique to set it apart from the myriad of other shooters out there. As a game, it works, but isn't going to wow anyone. As a Family Guy game, it's got plenty of references and nods to the show, and at least some of the humor is there, but in the end you're still playing a fairly bland shooter that just happens to feature characters and themes from a popular show. Die-hard fans may get a kick out of some parts of the game, but definitely shouldn't pay the asking price of admission - just give it a rental if you want to get in on the fan service, or if you've ever wondered what a particularly long episode of Family Guy with lots of violence and no cutaways would be like.   Score: 6.0 out of 10   Closing comment: A middling score for a middling shooter. There's a little something here for fans, but only if you're willing to play through a standard shooter with spotty AI and aren't concerned about not being able to play multiplayer online. Maybe if you have friends who also like Family Guy to play co-op and multiplayer with you, you could try to get the game cheap, but otherwise, just stick to a rental.

Venom

Venom

 

So I Gotta Know: Why does Activision publish certain games?

Hello again everyone, and welcome to the second episode...entry...thing of "So I Gotta Know," where I ask question about the game industry to no one in particular and then fight with myself a bit over the answer. Today's episode asks...why does Activision even bother publishing some of the games they publish?       Some of you probably already know where this is going, and, yes, I am going to talk about how great Singularity was momentarily, but first a bit of elaboration on my question is necessary. Activision is a huge, well-known publisher of video games, and they're raking in the cash from their series of games like Call of Duty and Skylanders. And yet, besides those, they've also published some lesser-known games, like Blur and the aforementioned Singularity. So, clearly, they have the resources to publish all sorts of games, so why do they promote the popular games and leave the other games to die? Why do they put the time and effort forward to publish a game that they're not even going to bother telling anyone to buy? Why did they ever greenlight Singularity if they didn't want to sell it?   What Raven devs want to do to Activision execs. (probably)   Publishing a video game isn't free, and even if it was, it isn't easy. From the boring legal stuff like trademarks and licensing to (and this is a biggie) distribution, there's a lot involved in getting the game from the developer's computers to a packaged disc in the consumer's hand. For all the effort and money a publisher has to put forth, it makes sense that they'd want to see a good return on that game, so they're going to make sure people know about it. So why on earth would you go that far, and then not spend a dime on advertising? Apparently, that's just how Activision works, since they regularly put out games with virtually no marketing or promotion whatsoever. This has happened even with some of their recent licensed games like Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse and Wreck-It Ralph. Now, I can kinda see why you wouldn't think you'd need to promote a licensed game because there's already an established audience, but even as a Family Guy fan, I wasn't aware that Back to the Multiverse was out until I saw it was available for purchase on Amazon and Steam.   Wanted: Dead or alive. See Sheriff Bobby Kotick for reward.   So, going back to Singularity, which was a fantastic game (there it is) Activision essentially just threw it to the dogs when they released the game in June of 2010 with nary a sound to let people know that the game was out. When people finally did play it, they loved it, critics loved it, and things looked good, except for one small fact...no one outside a relatively small number of people even knew the game existed. Those who had heard of the game but hadn't played it had no idea what it was about, because there was nothing to tell them why they should be excited about the game. Even people like me who got excited at the prospect when the game was (barely) announced in 2008 were in the dark about it's existence until reviews started coming in, at which point they thought "oh, hey, Singularity reviews, it must be coming out soo-wait, what, it's already out? Why didn't anyone tell me??" And so, the game was a massive financial flop, and the team at Raven Software, who had a dream of making a unique FPS that set itself apart from the run of the mill shooters, is now relegated to helping with development on...wait for it...a run of the mill shooter that goes by the name of Call of Duty. You might have heard of it, seeing as Activision has casually advertised the series all over the freakin' place.   Subtlety. Grace. Nuance. This ad has none of these things.   But Raven Software was one of the lucky ones. Things didn't turn out so "well" for Bizarre Creations, developers of Blur. Bizarre had seen success with it's Project Gotham Racing series, which did fairly well because all the games were published by Microsoft Game Studios, who were able to hype it up as a Xbox exclusive racing series. Fast-forward a bit, after Bizarre was acquired by Activision, and they decided they wanted to make another racing game, this one with more focus on the arcade-style aspects of PGR and a bit of Mario Kart thrown in. Again, Blur was released with nary a mention of it's existence, and although the game didn't generate as much positive buzz as Singularity, people liked it well enough. Still, the game sold horribly because no one really knew what it was due to having zero marketing put behind it. Bizarre was then put to work on a James Bond game, and the Bond video game curse struck shortly afterwards when Bizarre was shuttered by Activision.   No jokes here. Just quiet discomfort.   So why does Activision do this? Why publish a game when they're just going to throw caution to the wind and hope for the best? Why does Activision even greenlight the development of a game when they have no intention of making the game succeed? I can only surmise that Activision executives are evil, soulless husks of bitter unlife who only care about money, but they have so much money that they decide it would be fun to throw some of it away on a developer's hopes and dreams. All Activision cares about is publishing their big-name games like Call of Duty, and yet they push these other, less-noteworthy releases out the door simply because they can. And above all, I think they do it because they want these developers - these developers like Raven and Bizarre, who have ideas different from those of the Activision heads - to spend their resources developing games they won't profit from, just to get rid of them so that Activision can continue to spoon-feed their billion-dollar babies like Treyarch while throwing the scraps to the developers who pump out licensed games for them. Clearly, there's no room in Activision for imagination and innovation, and they seem intent on keeping it that way.   I don't think I have to ask how most of you feel about Activision, so I'll ask you this instead - have you ever played Singularity? Blur? Wolfenstein? If you've played an Acti game that you feel like didn't get enough love from the publisher, or from the critics and community, feel free to talk about it in the comments! You might give me an idea for my next article, or you might just get caught up in me reminiscing about Singularity. Either way, it should be fun.

Venom

Venom

 

So I Gotta Know: What's the Rush?

Hello readers, and welcome to the first entry in what I hope will become a series, known as "So I Gotta Know." Basically, I'll pose questions to the game industry that have been bugging me and I just need to know the answer. However, since I'm not actually asking these questions to anyone in particular, I'll have to come up with my own answers, and maybe rant a little bit along the way. This first segment is about how many games these days don't let you stop and sight-see, and instead are constantly pushing you along from objective to objective.   His blue isn't going to blur itself, you know.   So what's the rush? Back in the era of 2D gaming, it made perfect sense for a game to keep you on the move. I mean, really, if you weren't moving forward, where were you going? Most 2D games didn't allow you to just roam around to your heart's content because that wasn't the point, unless it was an adventure game like The Legend of Zelda or something. So a little flashing arrow with the word "GO!" attached made sense because there was no reason to not keep going, especially because many older games had timers. As developers moved into the third dimension though, it made sense to stop pushing the player along because the developers wanted players to explore and see all the hard work they put into making a large 3D environment. So, for a time, the worst thing that would happen if you stopped moving for a while was that Mario would take a well-deserved nap.   Close your eyes and drift off into Subcon.   But now that everyone's used to seeing fancy, shiny graphics, developers have had to find other ways to keep your attention, and at some point many of them decided the best way to keep you engaged was to make sure you never stopped doing what they wanted you to do. This was accomplished by having some sort of on-screen indicator pop up every now and then to remind you of where to go or what to do, or, more annoyingly, have a secondary character remind you of what to do. Rather than let you rely on the objectives screen that every game with objectives has, or let you press a button to show your target marker on your own, some developers decided to make sure you always knew your mission. They decided that if you stopped moving towards your objective for more than a few seconds, you must be stuck and needed to be reminded of where to go. These developers might have crafted a large, semi-open world just begging to be explored, but don't expect to deviate from the path unless you have your mute button nearby or just like hearing "I'm over here!" a thousand times in a row.   I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE ALREADY   Constant on-screen reminders aren't THAT bad, but it's the characters that actually tell you, out loud, to get moving that are awful. One of the worst offenders I've recently played was Front Mission: Evolved. In that game, if you went off to explore and didn't do what the game wanted you to be doing, the other characters wouldn't just tell you what to do, they'd yell you what to do. If I decided to see what was down that other road, or off in that little cranny and I took more than a minute or so, I'd have one of the supporting characters yelling at me to go shoot this thing or go blow up that thing or oh my God there's a bomb that needs to be defused and why are you NOT DEFUSING IT!?!? I'm not sure that last one actually happened, but you get the idea - the game wasn't going to let me explore at my leisure because it wanted me to stay focused on shooting stuff and blowing up stuff, because that's what giant mechs are supposed to do.   Sometimes there's some overlap between the two.   So here's my theoretical answer: developers that do this don't want you to casually stroll through their game because they don't want you to stumble upon something they did wrong, and instead they want you to see everything (they think) they did right. Either that or the game is supposed to be a fast-paced action game, so they thought you wouldn't have any reason to dawdle and wanted to make sure you didn't find a reason. Maybe the game just doesn't have much to offer, and the devs don't want you to realize it. I honestly can't think of a legitimate-sounding reason why developers chose to make games that pester you along from objective to objective instead of letting you move at your own pace. Whatever the case, when I buy a game, I fully expect to be able to play that game however I desire, not however I'm being told to play it. At that point, it becomes less an entertainment product and more of an annoyance product, and people only pay money for those when they annoy other people.     So, that's my first incoherent ramble known as So I Gotta Know. What do you think about developers rushing you through games? Why do you think they do it? Do you even notice or care when a game does it?   But maybe you're not in the mood to answer questions, so here's something else - if you have a question about the game industry that's bugging you, ask it! If I find that I've asked the same question, I'll see about writing up a So I Gotta Know about it. If I haven't thought of it, well, that will just give me a reason to go ahead and greenlight my spinoff, So YOU Gotta Know.

Venom

Venom

 

The Next Duke Nukem Forever

So, everyone and their grandmother knows the story of Duke Nukem Forever by now. The game spent 12 years locked in development hell, where it became a legend whispered in hushed tones and broken promises. Delay after delay after delay, it was thought that The King would never take his throne, but then Gearbox stepped in to usher him to his seat of honor...which turned out to be more of an ugly metal folding chair than a seat fit for a king.   Hell, they probably spent a year alone on that intricately animated jump.   But I'm not here to talk about DNF. I mean, other than that first paragraph. I'm here to talk about the games that are starting to look like they'll take the same road as Duke and enter a protracted development cycle full of turmoil, missed release dates, and topped off with a nice "when it's done" when asked about the game's release. These are the candidates to become the next Duke Nukem Forever.     FINAL FANTASY VERSUS XIII Announced: 2006 Status: As of October, it's "still in development."   FFVXIII as it shall henceforth be known because I am not typing that out every time, has good reason to get RPG fans excited - it's basically the gritty reboot of the FF series. It's dark, angsty, and moody, and it doesn't care what you think. The setting is also worlds different from what we've come to expect of the series, being set in a futuristic environment, but, like, Earth futuristic. Then there's the gameplay, which looks like a more fast-paced, action-packed version of the Kingdom Hearts battle system. All this combined might be the kick in the pants the FF series needs to draw in a new crowd and get back some of those who were less than impressed with plain ol' FFXIII. But Squenix has been relatively quiet about the game, only mentioning it in little blurbs because they're annoyed that everyone's asking about it. Still, the fact that they've confirmed it's still in development as recently as last year is better than when they were saying nothing and everyone assumed it had been cancelled. It's also been rumored that this game has been turned into FF 15, which, knowing Square, would just add a few more years onto the development cycle while they redo the logo or something.   We be rollin'. Slowly.   Likelihood of being released: It's not looking good due to the sporadic updates. They say they're working on it, but not how hard, or how often, or how far along they already are, or anything, you know, indicative of the game ever coming out. Don't hold your breath.     THE LAST GUARDIAN Announced: 2007 or so Status: Fumito Ueda says he's still working on it...that's something, I guess.   Hoo boy, where to start with this one. Team Ico's next game has a lot of people feverishly anticipating its arrival, and for good reason - Team Ico has made a couple of fantastic games, and gamers are ready for more. Not only that, but The Last Guardian hearkens back to Ico with its theme of bonding and friendship, only instead of it being between a little beast boy and a...whatever Yorda is, it's the friendship of a little boy (not beastly this time) and a gigantic...furry thing. The furry thing in question has a lot of appeal with those big sad eyes that tug at your heartstrings, so gamers are ready to find out just how darn lovable he really is. Sadly, all we're getting is little teases here and there that the game is still coming out, with no concrete evidence that it even exists in any form at this point.   Sit, Trico! Good...fluffy...birdy...thingy.   Likelihood of being released: Well, Sony would be foolish to let this one slip away, but it's still going to take a while. You might have to buy a PS4 for this one. Or, who knows, maybe, along with The Last of Us, it'll be part of Sony's "The Last" games to send off the PS3 after the PS4's release. Or something.     BEYOND GOOD & EVIL 2 Announced: 2008 Status: Coming to next-gen systems. Probably.   There's really very little to say about BG&E2, because there really hasn't been much said about it. It was announced to much fanfare back in 2008, and fans of the original game have been wringing their hands in anticipation of getting to finally play the follow-up to such a stellar adventure. Since then though, the game hasn't been heard from very much. There's been a few mentions of it here and there, but nothing really concrete until last year when it was announced that the game was actively being developed for next-gen consoles. Unfortunately, unless they never started on a current-gen version of the game, that probably means they have to redo a whole bunch of stuff to get everything ready for it's big debut on the fancy new PS4, 720, and Wii U hardware (well, ok, maybe not so much on that last one.) Regardless of whether or not that's the case, the development of this game has been so quiet that it wouldn't be that surprising if it just went dark again for a few years.   They seem content to wait it out, at least.   Likelihood of being released: There's a good chance this will come out, sometime. It's just hard to say when, but fans of the series seem willing to wait. Either that or they've already forgotten about it.     HALF-LIFE 3/HL2: EPISODE 3 Announced: Never Status: ???   This one is a bit tricky. Whether you want to call it Half-Life 3 or Half Life 2: Episode 3, the one thing everyone can call it is non-existent. Valve has never officially announced either game, but that hasn't stopped people from scouring the internet, Steam, and real life for any and all clues that point to the release of this most elusive of video games. Sure, there's this thing:     Now with realistic crowbar action!   But it's not a Half-Life 3 screenshot. It's not a Half-Life 3 anything, necessarily. It's just some fantastic concept art. Honestly, it's hard to find any concrete information on what, exactly, that is at this point (it was posted a few years ago), but if you ask the average PC gamer, it's a bona-fide Half-Life 3 screenshot and that's enough for them. And why wouldn't it be? The Half-Life games are some of the best story-driven FPS games ever made, and fans are itching for more. But, like a bad friend, Valve has no intentions of scratching that itch. So it looks like you'll be waiting a long while yet for a game that, according to that picture, looks better than anything Crytek has ever done. Better start upgrading your PC in the meantime.   Likelihood of being released: Oh, it'll be released, eventually. It pretty much has to at this point, it's just a matter of when. It could be this year, or it could be 2025. Who knows? Only Valve does, and they're not telling.     HONORABLE MENTIONS   Agent - Announced (conceptually) in 2007, officially (with name) in 2009. Has been pretty much nothing said about the game since.   Prey 2 - Announced in 2011, which isn't that bad, but the development seems to be stalled. It's being polished to Bethesda's standards. Wait, why are you laughing?   So, sure, 6 years in development may not seem like much compared to DNF's 12, but they're halfway there - and if the developers continue to show the same amount of disinterest in releasing these games, they could go all the way, if not further. This is to say nothing of other HL3-esque games that haven't been confirmed but people think they're happening anyway - like Kingdom Hearts 3 or Shenmue 3 - which may not ever see the light of day, or even exist, but that hasn't stopped people from saying they're being made...ever so slowly. But let's just go ahead and agree on one thing - if any of these games end up taking 12 years to come out, they're probably not worth playing.

Venom

Venom

 

3 hours into Scribblenauts Unlimited, I'm still on the first level

Most levels in games don't take that long to complete. They certainly don't take 3 hours to get through. But I bought Scribblenauts Unlimited last night, and so far I've played it for over 3 hours and I'm still on the first level. Not that I can't finish the level, mind, and, in fact, I have completed it. However, there's quite a few reasons why I'm still on the first level.   This is one of them.   For the uninitiated, the Scribblenauts series allows players to type in nearly any object and have that object spawn in the game world. Super Scribblenauts added adjectives, broadening the spectrum, and Scribblenauts Unlimited wants to live up to it's name by giving you nearly unlimited freedom. The majority of the time, you're only limited by your imagination. Sure, sometimes the game doesn't recognize what you want, like earlier - I wanted to spawn one of those power saws, but I didn't know what they were called. I typed power saw and the game didn't recognize it, so I typed electric saw, and out popped an electrified hand saw, which admittedly was much cooler. Other times, you end up with things like this:         That's a spotted fawn according to the game. I was thinking Bambi, the game was thinking rare skin disorder. The other one is "white spotted fawn" which took the word "white" a smidge too far into monochrome territory. But you know what? I don't care. I'm having an absolute blast seeing what I can come up with, and it's that thirst for pushing the bounds of what the game is capable of that has kept me stuck in the first stage of the game. If you've ever played Garry's Mod, you have an idea of what to expect here - you spawn one thing, then another, then another until you have a mish-mash of things littered about the screen and nothing to do with them. That's when you decide to find ways to make them interactive, which, in Scribblenauts, means adding adjectives. Sure, you can spawn a potato, but why not spawn a sentient green dancing ninja potato instead? I can guarantee those would have taken over the timeslot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a heartbeat. But why stop there? Why not have an electrified zombie horse or a giant decapitated reindeer?   No, seriously, decapitated is an accepted adjective.   If you were to watch me play a game, you'd soon see that I like to find fun in things that the developers never intended, like trying to climb objects in the game world (and often getting stuck) or luring NPCs into deadly traps. With Scribblenauts, building your own experience is certainly intended and expected, but I think they actually expected people to, you know, play the levels too, and that is something I just can't bring myself to do just yet. Not when I can take on a massive gun-toting tyrannosaurus in an impenetrable mech instead.       Illustrated here for effect.   Quite simply, Scribblenauts Unlimited is the most fun I've had with a game in a long time since it allows me to just sort of kick back and go wild. But maybe I should go see what the rest of the game has to offer. Maybe I should see what the game hopes I'll think up as a solution to it's puzzles. Maybe I should save Maxwell's sister from being turned to stone. That seems kinda important.   ...Or maybe I should go check and make sure they get this brontosaurus out of the tree safely first. Yeah, after that, I'll get into the game. For sure this time. Definitely. Right after this.       Oh yeah, he'll be fine. They've got a ladder.   But just in case, I'd better summon a few helicopters and a purple flaming tornado.

Venom

Venom

 

Code of Princess: First impressions

Code of Princess is an action RPG for the 3DS system developed by Agatsuma Entertainment and published by Atlus, and is considered a spiritual successor to the Sega Saturn game Guardian Heroes. I received the game today and played it for a while, and here's what I think so far.   The story starts out pretty standard RPG fare - men and monsters have lived separately in peace and never really bothered each other, until one day for some (as yet unexplained) reason the monsters decide to wage war against the humans. Cities are in panic, armies are falling, etc. etc...you've heard it all before. As monsters are attacking the kingdom of Deluxia, the king commands his daugher, the Princess Solange Blanchfluer De Lux, to take the legendary sword Deluxcalibur and escape the castle. As it turns out, monsters aren't the only problem - a group known as the Distron Army is out to find Deluxcalibur for their own purposes. Being an Atlus RPG, the story is told through still-portrait dialogue and text, most of which is voiced, but not all. The writing is good so far, and has the usual dash of humor you'd expect from an Atlus translation, like two characters named Emble and Semble who can't remember which one of them is which.The characters all have different personalities, and they're all fairly likeable, from the Princess herself to her first companion, a female thief named Ali, to the gloomy necromancer/zombie Zozo, who, despite being made of "spare" body parts, claims she is not a zombie.     All the characters you meet in the first hour or so, hero or villain, all have some defining feature that sets them apart from each other, and in some cases, sets them apart from most other typical RPG characters. As for the overall look and feel of the game, the graphics are nice, with large, detailed sprites and nicely drawn character portraits. The character designs so far are pretty typical of RPGs, but they're still nice to look at. The sound, meanwhile, took a backseat to the action most of the time. The voice-over work is done well for the most part, and the sound effects do their job, but the music doesn't really stand out. During dialogue and menus was the only time I really heard the music, in battles it may as well have not been there because it was subdued by my concentration on what was happening on screen.   So how does the game actually play? Well, at it's core, the game is a 2D beat 'em up with RPG elements. You choose your character, choose some equipment that affects your stats, and jump into arena-style battles against several opponents. I say arena style, but some of the levels are fairly open, but it's not the same type of beat 'em up as say, Final Fight where you travel through long levels. You perform attacks with A and B and can mix them up for combos, and L or R block incoming attacks. Pressing the Y button performs an attack that, if it connects, will lock you on to that opponent, and opponents you're locked on to take extra damage. Pressing X puts you in Burst mode, which is standard "overdrive" mode where your attacks do more damage, and sometimes your equipment gives Burst mode other effects such as healing.     Each stage has three "planes" that you can jump between, meaning you can jump to the foreground or background of the stage, or in the middle. The only real advantage to this is escaping enemy attacks, since enemies sometimes take a second to follow you, which gives a bit of breathing room, because there will often be a large number of enemies.   Sometimes this many, sometimes more than this many.   Which brings me to my one gripe about this game so far - the more action happening on the screen, the slower the game moves. There are framerate troubles abound, which really takes away from what would have benefited from being fast-paced experience. It's worse with the 3D slider turned up, but, fortunately, the 3D effect doesn't really add anything to the game, so you'd do better to play with the slider as low as possible. It's not enough to break the deal, mind, but it definitely hinders the overall experience somewhat.   Getting back to the topic at hand though, once you finish a brawl, your selected character is awarded XP points, and leveling up allows you to boost your characters stats - the usual stuff, HP, MP (used for special attacks, which are done via fighting game-style button combinations) defense and so on. You're also awarded new equipment, which changes your stats in various ways, or simply provides extra benefits like defense against fire or added effects to your Burst mode. If you spend a lot of time with one character and level him or her up constantly, then decide to switch, you may find your new chosen character isn't strong enough, and that's where free play mode comes in. It's pretty much what it sounds like - play any level you've already cleared, with any character. There are also multiplayer modes, versus and co-op, neither of which I've tried or probably will try.   All in all, Code of Princess is a fun game so far, one only hindered by some framerate issues that don't ruin the game, but certainly detract from it. But I've had a lot of fun with it so far, and I can see myself spending some quality time with it. If you've been on the fence about buying this game, I hope my impressions will help you reach a conclusion.

Venom

Venom

 

The LO-Elder Scrolls: Why I love Skyrim's bugs and glitches

Let's face it, bugs and glitches in games are often annoying, but we've come to expect them to the point that developers can get away with leaving tons of them unchecked and making themselves feel better by saying "eh, we'll patch it later." But not all glitches are created equal. Where most are a minor setback, just a fit of randomness tucked away in the game code, or falling through rocks in Oblivion, I get the feeling that Skyrim's bugs are it's sense of humor. I mean, sure, there are funny moments in the game itself, but nothing quite as funny as the unintentional stuff.   But to which one?   Wandering around Skyrim is great enough in itself. I played it on 360 for over 200 hours and I still never saw everything. I know because I've played for 40 hours on PC and found things I didn't know were there. Questing things. Non-player things. Things too hot for TV.   Nine months later, the house gave birth to a beautiful two bedroom, one bath dragon.   Here just over a year and seemingly umpteen patches later, Skyrim still has some oddities floating around just waiting to be discovered/exploited. Not that I'm complaining, or expected better - there's a lot of ground to cover. Skyrim is huge and full of stuff to see and do, and all that stuff is made up of code. Code can be programmed wrong, code can be delivered wrong within the software, or code can just decide it's had enough of this s**t and puke up the Trés Letrushes up there. But in an industry fully of grumpy space marines and stabby assassins, a little comic relief goes a long way, whether it's intentional or not.     For instance, this was most likely not intentional.     And, more often than not, it's the unintentional hilarity that's the funniest. It's not a joke you can see coming a mile away, so when it sneaks up and hits you like so many pies, you're left with something that will have you laughing too hard to curse the "lazy" developers. Skyrim delivers this type of entertainment in spades, and that's why I love it. Yeah, sure, it's a fun game, a deep RPG, blah blah technical merits but beyond all that, it's far and away one of the most entertaining games I've played, but often not for the reason it's supposed to be.     "Just hanging out. You?"   So the next time you boot up Skyrim and see a possessed cheese wedge, a tapdancing dragon skeleton, or a clone army outside of Whiterun, don't think of it as a mistake on the developer's part. Think of it as the game's way of making you smile before that bandit behind you puts an arrow through your knee.

Venom

Venom

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