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March 2008

Outside Is Overrated

Pikmin Lots of anti-gaming folks have been telling us to put down our controllers and memory cards for a while and look into something called "outside".  While the meaning of this directive has been a mystery for far too long, a discussion over at MetaFilter finally figured it all out.  Someone by the name of aeschenkarnos has been able to track down a copy of this Outside game and explain just what it's all about.

Traditionally Outside receives extremely high ratings by those who like to see others play it, and these people are in many cases comfortably ensconced Inside themselves. Outside was released many years ago, it was in fact the first massively multiplayer game, and yet it has always managed to avoid the double-edged Retro tag. In its favor, continual user updates have kept Outside current; there are always new things to see and do Outside. Participants are permitted, to some extent, to modify their own areas of Outside, which is a large part of the fun of the game. However it seems that in the end one is modifying Outside largely for the sake of it, and having done it, there is a distinct feeling of "now what?"

In terms of the traditional target age content metrics,
Outside is remarkably high in sex, violence and challenges to traditional values, despite the strong child-focused marketing it receives. Many would go so far as to say that for a child to develop the ability to cope with Outside is essential, as long as the harm incurred is not too debilitating. Children injured playing Outside are usually comforted by parents, and soon encouraged to go Outside again; this leads to the conclusion that somehow Outside has escaped any and all of the usual moralizing that surrounds the video gaming industry. One might say that Outside gets a free pass from the Jack Thompsons of this world.

That aside, how does
Outside actually rate? The physics system is note-perfect (often at the expense of playability), the graphics are beyond comparison, the rendering of objects is absolutely beautiful at any distance, and the player's ability to interact with objects is really limited only by other players' tolerance. The real fundamental problem with the game is that there is nothing to do.

I've tried Outside and while I can see the appeal, it can leave me wanting more.  There's far too much level-grinding and a lack of fantastic power-ups.  Taking damage actually causes physical pain for some bizarre reason.  Too many of the other players tend to be complete jerks, too.  I cannot fault the length of the game, however.  Do things right and there's enough content in Outside to last a lifetime.  It's not always the most exciting or rewarding content, but it's there.

UPDATE 4/7/2008: It's Patch Day!  Outside was updated to version 4562365148.1516 this morning.

Weekly Poll: Best Buttons

Weekly Poll for 3-24-2008Ah, the used game market cranks along.  With the occasional exception I've basically topped out my library of older video games.  I have this theory that just about anything truly worth playing will come back around again in another format in the future, so even though an actual Chrono Trigger game pak may be unreasonably expensive today, we'll see the game again someday in a more affordable format (some may argue we already have, as it's available for the Sony PlayStation, too).

Shifting back to modern gaming, now that the current generation of consoles is well underway, let's talk controllers.  This generation has brought us some interesting new control methods.  Nintendo's Wii remote comes to mind right away, but there's also Sony's SixAxis controller and upcoming DualShock 3 with it's motion control shtick.  Microsoft is largely staying the course with its Xbox 360 controller.  Which of this generation's primary controllers is your favorite?  Cast your vote and leave some comments.   

Dead Ports Tell No Tales

PS/2 connectors As progress marches on we tend to dump older accessories for trendier and more reliable gizmos.  One of the downsides to purchasing a new computer is unpacking the unit from the box and discovering that it lacks ports for some of your suddenly-outdated peripherals.  CNET's Crave has a look at some obsolete ports, some of which are game-centric.

If you've ever used a keyboard or a mouse, we'll wager at some point you've dealt with PS/2 connections. The PS/2 itself took over from the delightful DIN socket, which had previously been the port of choice for keyboards. The best thing about PS/2 was its relative compactness.

PS/2 does present a slight problem, namely, how do you plug the keyboard into the keyboard socket and the mouse into the mouse socket? Of course, we hear you shout, "they're color coded" -- but what use is color when you're groveling around underneath a desk at 8:30 at night trying desperately to make the mouse point and the keyboard type?

Sadly, PS/2 was yet another victim of USB, which doesn't care what you plug into it, the electrical slut.

I have been stung by the pain of obsolete ports all too often.  When I bought my current computer last year I had to come to terms with the fact that my wireless keyboard, mouse, and printer would not work with the new computer because it lacks PS/2 and parallel ports.  On the other hand, with PS/2 on the way out we can finally be done with confusing the classic keyboard port for the Sony PlayStation 2 in casual conversation.  "What do you mean that your new computer doesn't have a PlayStation port?" 

(via Slashdot)

Don't Make Me Choose!

Petey's cages I still have the Super Smash Bros. Brawl fever.  I've scored 100% on The Subspace Emissary adventure, unlocked all of the hidden characters, and am working on clearing out the other modes and collecting a bunch of trophies.  It's an amazing game with an astounding attention to detail and enough replay value to carry us until the inevitable next Smash Bros. title.  There is one aspect of the game on which I'd like to hear your thoughts.  The beginning of The Subspace Emissary adventure puts players in a difficult position.  Petey Piranha imprisons both Princess Peach and Princess Zelda in cages and challenges Kirby to a brawl.  Players must choose which princess to rescue.  Only one can be saved.  The other is turned into a lifeless trophy and spirited away.  My question to you: which princess do you save?

There are different ways to approach the problem.  One could rescue the princess with the better Smash Bros. brawling skills.  Zelda has powerful magic and her Sheik alter-ego, after all.  It's hard to compare that to Peach's turnip-tossing skills and floaty jump.  Then there's the emotional appeal to consider (which, ultimately, is what swayed me to save one over the other).  I've spent the past twenty years saving both of these women from horrible fates.  Saving the princess is what I do.  Rescuing royalty is ingrained into the collective gaming consciousness.  Peach was the first princess I rescued so long ago at the end of Super Mario Bros., so I can't just ignore her pleas for help.  Besides, Zelda has the powerful magic, remember?  Ultimately I think she can take care of herself on this one.  I made my choice and saved Peach from trophication.  I just hope that Zelda can forgive me.

Sonic Goes Savage In Unleashed

Savage Sonic Sega is certainly persistent.  The company is trying a Sonic the Hedgehog 3D console game again, this time with the newly announced Sonic Unleashed.  The early screenshots certainly look like a visually engaging game and some of the early video even teases a little 2D sidescrolling, but then I saw the concept art and read this blurb over at Kombo:

The game will feature 12 stages that can be traversed by Tails, Knuckles, and Sonic, who now appears to have the ability to transform in a werewolf as seen in the game's concept art.

A werewolf?  Are we really going to do this, Sega?  Is this the direction you want to go?  I'll keep an open mind on this for now.  I didn't think the whole Wolf Link thing would work in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and that worked out well enough in the end.  I do have one suggestion, however.  I've seen Internet folks calling this Wolf Sonic character a "werehog" which is cute, but let's take that to the next level.  Sonic collects the Chaos Emeralds and becomes Super Sonic, right?  So let's call this new beastly form Savage Sonic.  Tell your friends and start working it into the lexicon. 

Weekly Poll: Retro Raider

Weekly Poll for 3-17-2008Like many of you, I've stuck with the Nintendo GameCube controller for my Super Smash Bros. Brawl needs, although I really should try the other methods just to have working knowledge of how they all work.  I'll probably find myself saying something similar about Mario Kart Wii next month.  I've also come to realize that if/when the original Super Smash Bros. lands on the Virtual Console, the GameCube controller should work perfectly with it.

Speaking of older games, my co-worker said something that surprised me today.  He's deep into the Sony PlayStation 3 version of The Orange Box (Half-Life 2, Portal, et al) and now wants to reach back and pick up the original Half-Life for the PS2.  Despite owning a PS3 model capable of full backwards compatibility, I've never heard him talk about playing older games on his modern console until now.  I know that really good games transcend the age of their base hardware, but it seems like the standard procedure for most people is to retire older consoles when the successor comes along, either trading in the older products for store credit or boxing everything up and storing it in a closet.  So here's the question for this week: do you buy games for older consoles?  I'm talking about actual cartridges or discs here, not digital downloads from Virtual Console or Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade.  Are you still adding to your Super NES library?  Tracking down Sega Saturn games from eBay?  Reveling in the days of cheap PS2 titles?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Miistery Science Theater 3000

Mystery Science Theater 3000 shadowrama Hey everybody, sing along with me!

In the not too distant future
Some fan of MST
Created something really neat
For the Nintendo Wii

Input the codes that you find below
To see character Miis from my favorite show
Line 'em all up in your Mii Parade
So what if the show's been off the air for almost a decade?

Character Mii Role Call!

Joel Robinson
Joel Robinson

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

Dr. Clayton Forrester
Dr. Clayton Forrester

Trumpy (from experiment #303, Pod People)

Troy McGreggor and Zap Rowsdower (from experiment #910, The Final Sacrifice)

If you're wondering who has the time
To create neat things like these
Just be glad that someone out there
Has Mii-creating expertise

Thanks to PTB reader Guy Perfect for providing most of the images; Dr. Forrester image from MST3K forumite Eric

Essential Japanese RPGs (Or So They Say)

CronoI may not enjoy RPGs much as I as do, say, platformer games or action/adventure epics, but I consider myself a fan of the genre.  At least, I did until I read Gamasutra's latest feature article in which Kurt Kalata lays out the twenty most essential RPGs from Japan.  I started reading with enthusiasm, but as I flipped from page to page and scanned the titles being praised, I found myself thinking "Overrated, overrated, overrated... ooh, Chrono Trigger... overrated, overrated... yay, Earthbound!... overrated, overrated..."  So maybe I'm not as much of an RPG fan as I thought.  Still, you may get something more out of the list of games that includes such wonders as, well, Chrono Trigger and Earthbound.  Oh, and there's also Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Phantasy Star if you're into those sorts of things for some reason.  What, why are you looking at me like that?  It's unnerving.   

Street Fighter IV Arcade ID Cards Appear

Street Fighter IV cards One advantage of home console video games over their arcade cousins is that it's generally not possible to save one's progress on an arcade machine.  Consoles rely on hard drives, memory cards, and even trusty battery paks to record accomplishments, but arcades are usually limited to marking high scores.  Anyone who felt the sting of being told "We have to go now" by his or her mother just as the battle against M. Bison began knows this complaint well.  Capcom is looking to do something about this issue, it seems, as there are plans to offer some kind of special card alongside Street Fighter IV in the arcades.  Kombo has the details.

Capcom had hinted in the past at some sort card-based save system to allow players to record their progress in the arcade version of their newest king of fighters-- whoops, that's someone else. Anyway, they've announced an upcoming location test for the devices in question.

No one is quite sure what the cards (seen above) really do, exactly. But according to the ol' official Japanese blog, the tests will be at Osaka's High Tech Land Sega Avion from March 20th to March 23rd, barring the 21st as that's a holiday. It will mark the beginning of user registration and rankings, and the card may have a bar that allows users to view those rankings.

I'm reminded of F-Zero AX, the Sega/Nintendo co-production that not only recorded data to Nintendo GameCube memory cards for home use, but also the special license cards that saved information such as user ID, custom machine data, race data, and pilot points.  Here's hoping that Capcom's cards will be easier to find and use than their F-Zero counterparts.  What's the point of these neat arcade gimmicks if they're nearly impossible to find in the real world?

Nintendo Teases Big Game For E3; What, You Expected Something Different?

Question BlockYou've probably read by now that Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime has teased the media with a promise of a big game for the holiday season.  Apparently, all gamers will want this new game and we'll learn more about it at E3 later this year.  Lots of folks are jumping all over this revelation.  Speculation is already running wild over the identity of this new game.  Kombo has the details.

The ass-kicking, name-stealing president of Nintendo told [Geoff] Keighley that Nintendo will be announcing its line-up for the second half of 2008 at this year's E3, which takes place in July. More specifically, Reggie said that Nintendo's releases in the second half of '08 will be "maximizing all of our [Nintendo's] key franchises."

It gets better. "There's gonna be a big game for the holiday that the gamers will want," he said. "All I can tell you is what we announce during E3 is gonna be fantastic. The gamer is gonna be excited and the expanded audience is gonna be excited."

Frankly, I don't understand all of this early excitement.  We've seen Nintendo play this same card before.  Of course the company has plans for the holiday, and even if they didn't, they certainly wouldn't tell us.  What would you expect them to say at this point?  "Yeah, sorry, we got nothin' for the rest of the year.  And the games we do have coming up are terrible.  Nobody will like them.  At all.  Ever."  Here's my take on the 2008 Nintendo release schedule: the hardcore audience has Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the casuals have Wii Fit, and the two groups cross with Mario Kart Wii.  Those three titles will carry the Wii into the spring and through part of the summer.  Beyond that it's all bluster and hype until some new titles are officially announced and release dates are hammered out.  Settle in, folks.  We've waited a long time for Brawl and Kart.  Take the time to really explore and enjoy them.