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November 2007

Low Review Score Terminates GameSpot Editor?

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men This kind of thing just makes me shake my head.  There's this... well, I'll just let Chris Kohler of Game|Life explain it:

Numerous sources are reporting tonight that Jeff Gerstmann, a longtime editor at game enthusiast publication GameSpot, was let go from the site yesterday -- over, of all things, his review of the game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.

Sources say that when Eidos, the publisher of the game, saw Gerstmann's 6.0 review score, they threatened to pull all of their advertising from the site. GameSpot is currently bedecked in interactive banners from Kane & Lynch.

I've been reading about this issue both among the private circle of game journalists that hang out at our secret clubhouse and on the Internet at large and I have to say that I'm glad most people are behind Jeff on this one. In fact, what really makes me happy is that a lot of gamers know who Jeff is in the first place. All too often I hear my friends and general online folks talk about "the GameSpot review" or "the AMN review" of a certain game, as if the reviews are coming from the faceless corporation itself. I hardly ever hear the name behind the review mentioned (unless it's for a game that the rabid gamers feel should have been scored higher, but that's another soapbox for another day). I know Jeff will land on his feet in the end, but it's still a shame this had to happen.

I do find myself wondering how much flack GameSpot, its parent company CNET, and Eidos will take from the court of public opinion, however.  Advertisers should never have a say in editorial/review content.  Most of the marketing departments with which I've done business know and respect the line in the sand, as it were.  In fact, after I gave one game a particularly good review I actually received a follow-up e-mail from the PR firm handling the game asking if I had really truly liked it considering that most other reviews had been harsh.  Honest reviews keep everybody happy in the long run.  Pulling advertising over a review score may recoup a little money and throw some weight around right now, but will end up costing so much more later on down the line.

Killer Instinct Has Killer Character Design

Killer Instinct Gold Say what you will about the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats of the gaming world, but for some folks Nintendo/Rare's Killer Instinct series of brawlers from the Nintendo 64 era trump any honorable Japanese martial artist or four-armed Shokan prince.  The Killer cast was known for being quite unusual compared to the rosters of other fighting games, so it's only natural that would take a look back at awesome character designs from the series.

The Killer Instinct characters were very unique for their time. Especially how a lot of fighting games were borrowing heavily from the Street Fighter II model with their stereotypical ethnic based character set. Of course there were also plenty of 2D fighters with a cast full of ‘freaks’. But again these were somewhat stereotypical and never up to the quality of design as KI. The excellent digitized sprites and (in the arcade) 2.5D graphics put KI ahead in its class.

The only character design that didn't quite fit in with the rest of the cast in terms of rendered visuals is the notorious B. Orchid.  Limited rendering capabilities being what they were in the late 1990s, her chest always seemed to be comically out of proportion (particularly in early incarnations of the series).  Of course, without her infamous breasts we'd miss out on her finishing move where she unzips her costume and flashes her opponent, so I guess it all evens out in the end.

Read My Comic, Buy My Game

Mario Shampoo Way back in the days of old media it seemed like a good idea to advertise a new video game or game-related product with a special short comic strip instead of a traditional advertisement.  All kinds of games have used this gimmick over the years and Poison Mushroom has taken a look back at a few memorable favorites such as comic ads for Plok, Bonk's Adventure, Mario Bros., and the infamous Mario/Princess shampoo. 

No doubt many of you who read comics (or at least, those who actually go and buy comic books instead of just reading scans online) know that comic books and video game advertising have been intertwined for quite some time. To that end, some advertisers actually took that as a cue to turn their page or two of space into a short comic itself, to entice their targeted audience into giving these things a try.

I remember the Plok ad quite well, and I feel I must cleanse my soul as I once cleansed my hair by admitting that, yes, I had a bottle of the Mario shampoo as a kid.  As I recall, it was so-so on human hair, but my pet guinea pig was happy to be bathed with it.  This ends today's MattG Childhood Flashback.

Two And A Half Men Game Looms Closer

Two and a Half Men With the Writers Guild of America strike continuing on amidst word that negotiation talks have resumed, Variety has taken a look at how striking writers could potentially write stories and scripts for video games without crossing the picket line.

Virtually every videogame now has a writer who develops the narrative and writes the dialogue. Even in a plot-free game like Madden NFL, someone has to come up with the sportscasters' quips. In some cases, development studios have an inhouse writer or writers. The Halo games, for instance, have been written by staffers at Bungie Studios.

It seems to me that an influx of television writers into the gaming business will result in only one certainty: Two and a Half Men for the Sony PlayStation 3.  Gamers play as lady-lovin' Charlie Harper or his hopeless brother Alan as they try to sleep with as many women as possible while quipping and zinging their way through life.  There's even be a special collection of mini-games for Alan's son Jake to play on his Nintendo DS for the casual gamers out there.  PROTIP: Sleep with 100 women to unlock Charlie's stalker ex-girlfriend Rose as a playable character.  Get to it, Chuck Lorre!

Weekly Poll: Great Expectations

Weekly Poll for 11-19-2007There's a variety of thoughts on when a game ends, but I have to agree that most experiences end when the story comes to a finish.  I've found that the really great games go beyond that, however.  Games like Super Mario Galaxy finish the story about halfway through the initial play experience, but the fun and challenge will take you much further if you let it.

Speaking of Super Mario Galaxy, now that it's out in most major markets (just a few more days, Australia!) the time has come to ask whether or not it's met your expectations.  Was it everything you hoped it to be?  Did it surprise you?  I feel like I'm asking the gaming version of Stephen Colbert's "great president or greatest president" question, but I'm curious on how you all feel the game stands now that it walks among us.

PTB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

Donkey Kong plays Santa ClausI hope you're not out there pounding pavement and tile at the local mall because when it comes to doing your holiday shopping I've found that the best shopping experience comes from ordering online.  As is PTB custom it's time for this year's holiday gift guide to make an appearance.  I've loaded up the guide with all kinds of great games for current and last generation systems plus there's even a few game-related books and DVDs.  Remember that every purchase made through the gift guide helps keep PTB spinning in orbit.  I should probably also mention that we've put together a gift guide over at AMN, too.  I wrote the descriptive text for ten of the games on the list.  Can you figure out which ones? 

Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games Review At AMN

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic GamesIf I had access to a time machine one of the places I'd visit would be my old middle school lunchroom circa 1994.  I'd take a copy of the new Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games for the Nintendo Wii with me and blow the minds of my past self and childhood friends with the idea that the two biggest rivals in the 16-bit console wars had come together in a single game.  I would not let my past self play it, however, as that would shatter the mystique behind the surprising combination.  That's right; my review of the sports mini-game collection is now available at AMN and I'm sorry to say that this officially licensed Olympic product isn't all that much fun.

What we have here is yet another collection of mini-games for the Wii, and that's really not so bad when the segments are done as well as Mario & Sonic pulls them off. Competing in an event is as simple as waving the Wii remote around really quickly or pressing the A button at the right moment. That's really all there is to it, however, and that leaves the gameplay feeling shallow when playing in the game's single-player mode. With friends, on the other hand, there's a definite competitive party aspect to the whole experience.

There's also a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the events themselves, meaning that before one can play an event there's the whole ceremonial aspect of one's chosen character entering the arena/stadium, optional clapping and cheering with the Wii remote and nunchuk, a review of the rules for those who need the refresher, and then finally the event can begin. Then the event ends in twenty or thirty seconds or so. Follow that up with the scoreboard and then awards screen where the winners pose and say something comical. That's a lot to go through just to jump over a few hurdles by flicking one's wrist for half a minute.

I wanted to like it, I wanted it to be great, and I wanted it to be worthy of the history it brings to the table, but it just wasn't meant to be.  It looks like we'll have to wait for the real clash of the titans in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Thanksgiving Roundtable At AMN

Feast With Thanksgiving here once again it's time for all of us at AMN to kick back for a few days with feasting and gaming.  What are AMN staffers playing this holiday weekend?  I certainly have my plans ready.

I continue on with Super Mario Galaxy as I reach for the last thirty or so stars I need to collect before snagging them all. Then I go on to the special secret replay incentive (if you know what I mean) and do it all over again. I probably should also play some of the things I'm scheduled to review, too, which means getting in some time with Sonic Rivals 2 for PSP and, eventually, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 for Wii. I'm also still swinging around with DK Jungle Climber for DS, although I'm reaching the end of that (or, at least, I think it's the end; the Internet hasn't spoiled me for this one yet).

How about all of you out there?  What's on your gaming agenda for the weekend (non-American Thanksgiving folks are welcome to reply, too)?

PlayStation Store Now Open To PS3less PSP Owners

Playstation Store Sony's on fire lately when it comes to cranking out non-game PlayStation stuff.  First there was the 2.0 firmware update for the PS3, then the 2.01 firmware update for the PS3 to fix some of the issues with the 2.0 firmware update, and now there's the PlayStation Network Downloader for PC users.  Up until now the only way to get purchased content from the PlayStation Store on to a PlayStation Portable was to use the PS3 to make the purchase.  Now with this new utility from Sony it's possible to purchase and download PS1 retro games on a Windows PC and transfer the games to the PSP.  Huzzah!

The PlayStation Network Downloader lets you purchase content like demos, movies, and PSOne games, and transfer it to your PSP via your PC. Very handy for PSP owners who haven't picked up a PS3 yet, certainly, but useful even if you do have one, as you'll be able to redownload the games to your PS3 (free of charge), should you want to. You'll also be able to purchase UMD titles like Wipeout Pure, but those will only be playable on the PSP and not the PS3.

Alright, let's get to it!  I can't wait to buy all of those great PS1 games like... hmm, let's check the catalog... don't like that one, don't like that one, already have that one in another format, not interested in that one... well, it's the thought that counts, right?

Wii MP3s Stay In The Picture (Mostly)

Kongs in concert Whew!  Stand down, everyone.  The worry and outrage over Nintendo stripping away MP3 playback capabilities from the Wii Photo Channel in favor of AAC playback isn't as bad as we thought.  Yes, the Photo Channel is getting tweaked, but custom MP3 soundtracks in Excite Truck remain intact.

[T]his update will not have an impact on Wii games which use MP3 music files. These Wii games will not be compatible with AAC files and will continue to use the MP3 file format.

What a relief!  I forget that sometimes Nintendo will answer questions with something besides "no comment" and "we do not comment on rumors and speculation".  Of course, the inevitable follow-up question has to be whether or not future games that use custom soundtracks will accept MP3s or will AAC be the format of the future?  I know, I know; pick, pick, pick.