Previous month:
October 2009
Next month:
December 2009

November 2009

Weekly Poll: Snecessities

Weekly Poll for 11-2-2009Nintendo's recently announced DSi XL isn't winning many fans right out of the gate, but there does seem to be enough interest in the product to make it worthwhile for Nintendo to produce.  As for me, I'm going to need more information about it before I put down my $220, but considering that I haven't been swayed into buying a standard DSi yet, I think I may be a hard sell for the XL version.  The larger size is nice, but I'm not sure that it's my tipping point.  I'll be watching further developments though.

Moving on, maybe it's an anomaly, but I've noticed several people online saying the word "sness" when referring to Nintendo's 16-bit Super NES console as opposed to spelling out the acronym letters S-N-E-S like I am everyone that I know have always done.  How do you pronounce the term?  S-N-E-S, sness, or something else entirely?  Let's hear your thoughts (no matter how wrong they may be!).

Fly Me To The Insomniac Moon

Insomniac MoonIf you go out of your way to collect every last wayward Zoni scattered throughout the latest adventure from Insomniac Games, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time for the Sony PlayStation 3, you'll eventually be able to unlock a final destination to explore: the Insomniac Moon, a 3D recreation of the Insomniac offices in the form of a museum that serves as a tribute to and exhibit of all kinds of interesting objects, enemies, levels, and basic design features that did not actually make it into the main game.  It's an interactive cutting room floor of sorts that grants a unique access to the a traditionally ignored aspect of game design, and it's something that I have wanted to see in a major release for years.  Forget your mere smattering of concept art here.  The Insomniac Moon is the future of unlockable end-game bonuses.

Continue reading "Fly Me To The Insomniac Moon" »

Kombo Breaker - Episode 50: We Celebrate 50 Episodes With John Davison (Gamepro), Jeff And Dan (Totally Rad Show), And James Stevenson (Insomniac Games)

Kombo BreakerThis week on Kombo Breaker we're celebrating our fiftieth episode which means that we're pulling out all the stops.  First we check in with John Davison to discuss how he plans to relaunch the GamePro magazine and website brand early next year and how gaming journalism as a whole is evolving to meet the needs of the community, plus ancient composite reviewer Scary Larry is invoked.  Then gaming meets film with Jeff Cannata and Dan Trachtenberg of the Totally Rad Show as we discuss why movies that become games and games that become movies both, as a whole, need work.  Finally, we talk with James Stevenson of Insomniac Games about Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time.  We cover the return of everyone's favorite Lombax, the amount of work that goes into writing and recording dialog for the twisted Dr. Nefarious, the origin of Clank's time-based puzzles, the greatness of the Insomniac Moon, and weapons that were left on the cutting room floor.  Set aside a few hours for this episode.  We're running into overtime here.  Download this week's mammoth episode directly from Kombo or subscribe via iTunes.

Proposed "Wii 2" Splits Opinions

WiiThe gaming community just can't stop anticipating a new updated iteration of Nintendo's successful Wii, and Kombo's Brain Langlois is the latest editorialist to take a whack at the hypothetical console of tomorrow.  There's a general wish list of upgrades that most people in the core community seem to want in a new Wii.  High definition visuals are highly requested among the core gaming crowd even if Ma and Pa Casual are still perfectly happy with their 27" Zenith TV from 1996 or that cute little 22" flat screen that Wal-Mart had on sale a few years ago.  Increased storage space is another issue that needs attention, plus there's the comparatively underwhelming online capabilities that need to be addressed.  Essentially, the core crowd wants the next Wii to become more like the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, but with Mario and friends toplining the available adventures over Nathan Drake and Master Chief.  While I do believe the next Nintendo console — whenever it comes and whatever it's called — will improve on some of the Wii's shortcomings, I would not expect to see the company reverse ideology and push costly technology to the limit.  Here's some of Brian's take on the matter:

So, what will Nintendo's new Wii be like? Chances are it will be very similar to the Wii in basic functionality. Motion controls are here to stay, and will probably get even better and more responsive. A graphical upgrade is certainly called for, and HD compatibility is an absolute must. I think we'll be seeing some pretty stuff from Nintendo. The list goes on, better online structure, more internal storage, etc. All that is pretty much a given, but never underestimate Nintendo's ability to throw us a curve ball. They're going to do something different, something to once again stand out from the crowd. I think that the controllers, while still motion based, are going to be pretty different, with more features and possibly fewer buttons.

Nintendo has proven that comparatively underwhelming technology can be wildly profitable, but what we need to consider is if the expanded market that has come to gaming this generation can be persuaded to continue onward.  In the end, I think that is Nintendo's big challenge for the next generation of hardware.  How does the company convince everyone who loves Wii Sports and Wii Fit to take another $250 step forward for Wii Super Sports and Wii Mega Fit that requires a new console when the current Wii — the one connected to that 27" Zenith — still works just fine, is still fun. and is long since paid off?  We can spin ideas for massive hard drives, advanced visual processors, and a ridiculously improved Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection from now until the end of time, but if the newly expanded market decides that it's perfectly happy playing the existing Wii Sports Resort and its kin for a few years more, where does Nintendo turn then?

Here's the trick: Nintendo has smart people at the helm.  Not only will the company wring every last bit of potential out of the existing Wii (both in terms of sales and technical capability), but I bet that we won't see the next Nintendo console until the company feels that the market is ready for an upgrade.  Forcing an updated Wii on a market that is not hungry for it would be a major misstep, and I believe that Nintendo would see such a thing coming and not deliberately make that error.  The Wii's successor will come, but not because the core crowd wants to play a large online multiplayer DLC campaign for Super Mario Galaxy 2 on a visually striking 3D 1080p television.

PTB Celebrates Anniversary Of Invention Of Time Travel

Back to the Future Where were you on November 5, 1955?  That was the day that "Doc" Emmett L. Brown slipped on the toilet while hanging a picture in the bathroom, hit his head on the sink, and had a vision, a picture in his head, of the flux capacitor which is, of course, what makes time travel possible.  Yes, it's an important anniversary in the fictional history of science as the Internet takes a day to remember the best time travel film trilogy ever made, Back to the Future.  We're talking about a franchise that is near and dear to me (right up there with Ghostbusters), and considering that I've written about the films and their role in the world of video games, it's only proper to take a look back on this day at some of my favorite DeLorean-related PTB articles.

Back in the Nintendo Entertainment System era, pitiful game publisher LJN put out Back to the Future II and III, a single NES game pak that contained a single game loosely based on the events of the second and third films in the trilogy.  It's an abysmal game, but I keep coming back to it year after year even though I never make any progress in it.  Here's a look back at why it's such a compellingly terrible game.  Not all Back to the Future games are lost opportunities though.  The trilogy was big in Japan back in the day, giving rise to Super Back to the Future II for the Super Famicom, a decent entry in the gaming part of the franchise that was covered here in an installment of The Forgotten.  Meanwhile, back in North America, Mr. Eastwood had another piece of pie.

Surprisingly enough, the absolute best Back to the Future video games aren't actually officially licensed Back to the Future products.  The fans that love this franchise are growing impatient waiting for an absolute definitive game starring Marty McFly and Doc Brown, and they're doing something about it.  The best recent example has to be the inclusion of the iconic DeLorean DMC-12 under the guise of the Jansen 88 Special in Burnout Paradise as part of the Legendary Cars add-on pack (just be sure to listen to the appropriate music when cruising through Paradise City).  On the modding side of things, there's an addition to the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that changes the game's locale to the setting of the films, Hill Valley, and adds a time traveling hover-converted DeLorean to boot.

Up next, November 12 marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the great Hill Valley lightning storm, but you're on your own to commemorate that.

REO Speedwagon Game Writes Its Own Press Blurbs

REO SpeedwagonLots of snarky folks in the gaming community are pointing and laughing at the announcement of an adventure game based on and around the music of REO Speedwagon, but you won't be hearing any of that condescension from me.  I grew up listening to their greatest 1980s power ballads and still enjoy dropping "Can't Fight This Feeling" into my music playlist from time to time.  What I am going to cackle about is the fact that when this game comes out, the press blurbs that the publisher will slap on the front of the box to help sell the product will pretty much write themselves.  No reviewer will be able to resist cribbing lyrics from the band's catalog.  Consider these examples:

"Like a candle in the window on a cold, dark winter's night!" - Game Explorer

"I just wanna keep on playin' you!" - Next Iteration

"Ooh, it's such a good find!" - Pro Gamer

"Time for you to buy!" -

"Take it on the fun!" -

"You can take this game to bed with you and hold onto it at night!" - Digital Gaming Quarterly

I also have similar blurbs prepared in case Huey Lewis and the News ever get their own game, too.

Super Street Fighter IV Goes Back To The Barrels, Cars

Street Fighter IIThe original versions of Capcom's Street Fighter II (back before words like "Turbo" and "Super" were grafted on to the title) contained bonus rounds to help break up the assumed monotony of throwing fireballs and spinning kicks around.  Most memorably, players were called upon to destroy a car using mighty attacks and special moves.  Elsewhere, a series of rolling barrels needed to be demolished with bare hands and fleet feet.  These diversions were dropped from the series in favor of more traditional combat, but now word has it that the barrels and car are coming back in next year's Super Street Fighter IV.  The return of the bonus rounds has to have its roots buried in a dose of nostalgia, because while the car demolition round was fun, did it or the barrels really add anything necessary to the Street Fighter experience?  And what about the similar brick wall bonus round from the Super NES version of the original arcade game?  Say, considering that the Street Fighter and Final Fight franchises came together in the Street Fighter Alpha series, is there any chance that we can bring the poor soul that owns the wrecked car back for an encore?  The poorly read "Oh, my car" dialog from the Super NES version of Final Fight is one of the highlights of Capcom's series of brawlers.

Sony Considering Mystery Science Theater 3000 Mechanic For PS3?

Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Laserblast (#706)The Sony PlayStation 3 has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment, but if a patent dug up by Siliconera is to be believed, then there are plans in the works to let you talk back at that entertainment.  In what has to be inspired by the beloved television sensation Mystery Science Theater 3000, Sony has interest in allowing players to watch media content and then fire back at that content through on-screen characters that sit at the bottom of the action with a complicated scheme that combines gaming with being a smartass.

This proposed program puts an overlay on top of a “media presentation” like a TV show or movie and allows players to interact with it while the presentation is playing. How? Here’s an example from the patent:

“For example, avatars displayed to a user, in response to user gestures in the real world, e.g. in response to manipulation of a game controller or other such expedient, may toss tomatoes that stick to the actor’s face or bounce off the actor’s face and roll along a table that appears in the movie or television show.”

Tomato tossing could be a scored mini-game. The patent explains players could get more points if you hit a star, for example. Overlays will act like virtual worlds with their own physics not related to the movie and tomato throwing avatars controlled by players.

While some of that idea is heavily inspired by MST3K, the level of physical interaction involved between movie and viewer/player goes beyond what Mike or Joel at the 'bots usually do during their movie-watching experiments.  If anything, I'm reminded more of one of MST creator Joel Hodgson's post-MST projects, Jollyfilter, in which wacky CGI-created elements were superimposed over and into an existing film.  Check out this sample clip of Jollyfilter in action (minus the soundtrack which the copyright police silenced a while back):

Whatever Sony has in mind with their patent, it seems to fall in between the level of interaction of MST spoken barbs and Jollyfilter antics.  Whether anything comes of it remains to be seen, but I know I'll be watching to see how the company can make this work with existing media content, technical limitations, and other science facts.

(via Kotaku)

You'd Better Get Kraken For EarthBound Screensaver

EarthBoundMicrosoft Windows comes with some particularly boring screensavers.  It's all 3D Pipes this and Mystify that.  Isn't it time for you to give your PC's screensavers list the gift of EarthBound?  Behold the magic of Kraken, a free Windows screensaver courtesy of that approximates the trippy battle backgrounds from Nintendo's RPG cult classic.

Basically, it’s a Windows screensaver that can display various battle animations from EarthBound. You can choose which animations to display in its configuration options, along with a few other tweaks like framerate and aspect ratio. Currently it only displays one animation at a time, but I might add a “cycle between animations” option if enough people are interested.

You can't go wrong with an EarthBound screensaver.  I've been enjoying it for about a week now, although the few people that I've shown it too all say that the motion of the warped colors makes them nauseous.  None of these people have ever played EarthBound though, so I really think that this is one of those things that only the right people will get.  So, in the end, I suppose you either get nauseous or you get Kraken. 

Heroes Invokes Crono And Marle

Heroes NBC's once-darling show Heroes has been suffering from story problems for a long time, but every now and then it can still pull something delightful out of its battered hat.  Consider the recent episode "Once Upon a Time in Texas" in which protagonist Hiro Nakamura makes the case that he needs to travel back in time to save his now-dead girlfriend from her fate by declaring that she is "the Marle to my Crono!".  How much of the dwindling Heroes audience do you think caught that reference to Square's classic RPG Chrono Trigger?  The gag even works on several levels considering that the game revolves around adventures through time travel, although in Hiro's case he is actually the Marle to girlfriend Charlie's Crono in that his desire to travel back in time to save her contrasts with Marle's mission to revive Crono by mucking around with history after his death.  Despite its narrative issues, Heroes has to be one of the very few shows* currently on television that can toss in a joke about a niche Super NES title from 1995 and get away with it, particularly when Hiro is the one who says it.

* Another show that could do it?  The Big Bang Theory.