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April 2006

Stupid Annoyance #5371

Elec Man, Bomb Man, and Guts Man I don't watch the video game channel G4 often, but while channel surfing this afternoon I came across an episode of Cheat devoted to nothing but classic games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  I can't resist retro-themed TV, so I paused and watched a little.  Eventually the tips focused on the original Mega Man, and the host of the show managed to trigger one of my gaming pet peeves: she called main characters by the wrong names.

For some reason I'm very particular about referring to gaming characters by their proper names.  For instance, the host shared some tips on how to beat Bomberman.  The problem is that Bomberman isn't in Mega Man, but Bomb Man is.  Likewise, there is no Gut Man, but there is a Guts Man.  I've never heard of Electrical Man, but I've met Elec Man.  The host nailed the names of all kinds of minor The Legend of Zelda enemies, but she completely blew the names of the Robot Masters.  Someone at G4 should double check the script next time.  Gamers can be an obsessive bunch.


What's The Point Of Televised Games?

Major League GamingEither video games are growing up on the world's gone strange.  I can't decide.  I say this because the USA Network has a deal with Major League Gaming to televise the entire pro circuit of, well, people playing video games.  Basically we're all expected to tune in and watch other people play video games.  Maybe I don't get the whole "new media" angle of this, but what is the fun in watching people I don't know play games?  There's a lot of money tied up this this venture though.  That could explain it.

Major League Gaming in February received $10 million in venture capital funding to help it build a mass-market business to complement the $25 billion global video-game business.  The company operates a seven-city pro tour and championship, exclusively manages a roster of the world's top video gamers and produces online and broadcast-quality programming.

This works for MLG because the company and its pro players scoop up all kinds of profits and minor fame.  This works for the USA Network because it gets to sell lucrative advertising space during the televised games.  This works for game publishers because their products get some exposure on the program.  So tell me, why does this work for us viewers?  Why do we want to watch people play games when we could just play those same games ourselves (and have a lot more fun than just watching other people play)?

On a related note, I love the file photo Reuters is using in their coverage of this story.  They've taken a picture of someone holding a Sony PlayStation Portable.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think that USA intends to air the televised games by pointing a camera at a PSP.


Remembering Sega's SVP Chip

Virtua Racing Back in the days of the great 16-bit console wars it seemed that everything innovative that Nintendo developed Sega would copy in a bizarro world sort of way (and vice-versa).  Nintendo had Donkey Kong Country's rendered visuals, so Sega countered with Vectorman's rendered visuals.  Nintendo released the Super Scope lightgun, so Sega followed up with the Menacer lightgun.  Nintendo's Mario Paint?  Meet Sega's Art Alive.  The list goes on and on, but one item is often forgotten.  After Nintendo's Star Fox took the stage in 1993 when its new Super FX chip that allowed for plenty of polygons on the Super NES, Sega considered using a custom chip of its own to bring polygon action to the Sega Genesis.  The result of those considerations was the SVP chip.  Sega-16 takes a look back at the SVP's short lifetime and wonders what the industry would be like today had Sega gone with the SVP chip instead of the maligned 32X.

This powerful little microprocessor had its debut and finale in a single game: Virtua Racing. Clocking in at an daunting $100, [the game] was the most expensive mass-produced domestic cartridge in history. What made it so expensive was the new chip it featured, known as the SVP (Sega Virtua Processor, not Super Virtual Play, as some erroneously believe) chip, which gave the game the extra muscle it needed to push polygons. It was born during a time of great innovation at Sega, innovation that would ironically eventually lead to the company's fall from grace.

Sega dropped the SVP chip after Virtua Racing, thereby canceling Genesis versions of Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter.  In the end the company decided that it was more cost effective to sell an add-on to the Genesis that was a one time purchase (the 32X) instead of packing expensive chips into each individual cartridge.  We never had the chance to see the SVP grow and stand on its own merits, but I will say this: Virtua Racing is much more fun and much more fluid than Nintendo's Super FX racer, Stunt Race FX.


Weekly Poll: Holy Grail

Weekly Poll for 4-10-2006 Most everyone is eagerly waiting for Nintendo to finally lay all their cards on the table and reveal absolutely everything about the Nintendo Revolution.  I'm with you all on that.  E3 is coming up fast and I can't wait to get my hands on that new controller.  I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and brag to you all that I've played the Revolution and you have not.  You can thank me later.

As for this week's poll, I always like to read about rare gaming items, be they prototype versions, development hardware, or just plain poorly distributed games of superior quality.  I own a few things I like to hold up and show off as "betcha never saw one of these before", but nothing particularly valuable.  What about you though?  Do you own anything collectible?  Share your collections and your stories after voting.


Nintendo Did Not Break Tetris DS

Tetris DS Tinker with a classic game and the fans get angry.  Take Nintendo's new Tetris DS, for instance.  Some people are upset that the game includes the controversial "infinite spin" technique allowing players to continue rotating tetrads even after the tetrad in question has touched down on the stack.  Then there are the equally griped-about issues of ghost pieces, the ability to hold a tetrad in reserve, extended preview windows, and hard drops.  "Nintendo has broken Tetris!", they cry.  Nintendo did no such thing.  These additions to the game have been around for a while and are mandated by Tetris's rights holder, The Tetris Company.

Infinite spin first appeared in Tetris Worlds, a multiconsole release for this generation's home consoles and the Game Boy Advance.  Then there's the extended preview windows that officially originated in The New Tetris and The Next Tetris.  Holding a tetrad for later is from The New Tetris, too.  Ghost pieces are nothing new either, and neither are hard drops.  The fact is that if you're angry over the "new" changes in Tetris DS, then your scorn lies with The Tetris Company.  Nintendo can only produce Tetris as mandated by The Tetris Company.  If the company wants Nintendo to include these additional features, then Nintendo has to comply if it wants to produce the game.  Angry fans should save their ire for the company that is responsible for changes to the traditional gameplay formula.


First Look At Family Guy Game

Family Guy Hey look, that Family Guy game is still in development for the Sony PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and the Microsoft Xbox.  1up.com has some new details about the gameplay and character cameos.  This calls for a sexy party!

In the game, you take control of Peter, Stewie, and Brian, each with unique objectives. As Stewie, you match wits against your equally diabolical brother Bertram as you vie to take over the world. Peter's quest is to stop Mr. Belvedere (ha!) from also trying to take over the world. And as Brian, you're tasked with escaping a prison, so you too can (what else?) take over the world. As the game progresses and stories overlap, you switch from character to character.

I want this game to work, but I've been burned by licensed games enough over the years to be wary.  Remember Bart vs. the Space Mutants?  Or Home Alone?  Or nearly any game based on a movie or TV show?  Series creator Seth MacFarlane is involved with the development, but I've never had much luck with games developed by High Voltage Software.  Here's hoping this is their breakout hit.  Otherwise, well... I guess it'll look nice on the shelf next to Simpsons Wrestling.


Assignment: Earthbound

EarthboundIf you still don't believe that Earthbound is one of the best RPG games ever created, then perhaps this week's Retronauts column at 1up.com can change your mind.  Jeremy Parish explains just what makes the Super NES so great while in the sidebar other fans of the game wax nostalgic on the game's high points.

Earthbound doesn't play entirely like a typical RPG, and seemingly delights in inverting gamers' expectations. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the final battle, which is won not by using the party's most powerful attacks -- which are reflected back at the group and instantly fatal -- but by standing down while one of the characters simply prays for victory. That showdown is only one tiny example of the game's willful bending of the medium's rules, though; throughout the game Ness and his friends are thrust into situations which can only be solved with twisted or even inverse logic. At times, Earthbound can feel like a spiritual descendant of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The weekend is quickly approaching and since it's a holiday weekend there won't be much of anything on television.  This is the perfect time to experience Earthbound.  You can probably finish the game this weekend provided you start right now and put aside pesky things like family and religion.  What could be more important than helping Ness and his friends defeat the alien threat and save Eagleland?


Kiddie Cell Phone Includes Strip Poker Game

Kyocera Switch_Back Kids grow up so fast these days.  CNET has word that Kyocera has come up with a new model of cell phone to market to kids and teens called the Switch_Back for use on the Virgin Mobile service.  The unusual thing is that the kiddie phone comes preloaded with a strip poker game.  Cue the outraged parents in 5... 4... 3...

The most noteworthy feature about the phone is not its technical specs, but the fact that a phone being marketed to teens comes preloaded with a strip-poker game called "Sexy Poker." Titillating games are fine, but Virgin Mobile and Kyocera Wireless might want to question the wisdom of preloading a strip-poker game in a phone being marketed to kids.

I'm thinking that the game is included in order to spread word of mouth about the phone.  Any publicity is good publicity, right?  Would I be talking about this particular phone if it didn't have a strip poker game on it?  Most likely not.  The poker game gets the word out about this phone via that viral marketing everyone's so crazy about these days, and now teens and kids have an extra reason to ask parents to buy it: preloaded pixelated porn poker.  If you consider pixelated digital boobies to be pornography, of course.  Once again let's just be glad that kids can't get to the real porn from the comfort of their own computer chairs.  That would be a disaster!


Sega Is Not Back In The Console Business

Senator VreenakSee, now this is why I don't like April Fools Day on the Internet (also known as Internet Jackass Day).  A French gaming site posted a story a week or so ago proclaiming that Sega was getting back into the console business by developing a new portable gaming unit.  I'm not going to bother explaining the supposed details because the whole thing is fake.  Nobody noticed the original gag, so later when it was picked up by the English-speaking community it ran wild as supposed truth.

Lots of folks found the original report in French, but it seems few people found the follow-up story on the same website that announces it was all a prank.  I know we all want to believe in Sega's glorious return, but it's always important to check the validity of wild stories such as this one especially in the first few weeks of April.  Can't read French?  Here's the initial "announcement" and the admission of it being a prank translated into English via Google.


The Sweet Sounds Of Video Games Live

Video Games Live The times, they are a-changin'.  In the past people used to pack into concert halls to take in a little Beethoven or Mozart, but in the twenty-first century the people prefer the sweet sounds of the Green Hill Zone and the Mushroom Kingdom.  Video Games Live features live performances of classic video game music set against giant video screens that play clip reels of the game currently being performed.  AMN's Ray Almeda was invited to attend the show recently and he's put together a comprehensive look at what to expect once you plop down in your seat at the concert hall.

Look at some of the music featured, with several classics that you just won’t get anywhere else from another concert:

Mario™, Zelda®, Halo®, Metal Gear Solid®, Warcraft®, Myst®, Kingdom Hearts®, Castlevania®, Medal of Honor™, Sonic™, Final Fantasy®, Tron, Tomb Raider®, Advent Rising, Headhunter, Beyond Good & Evil™, Tom Clancy medley (Splinter Cell®, Ghost Recon™, Rainbow Six®), EverQuest® II and a special retro Classic Arcade Medley featuring over 20+ games from Pong® to Donkey Kong® including such classics as Dragon's Lair, Tetris, Frogger, Gauntlet, Space Invaders, Outrun & Robotron.
   

Video Games Live travels from place to place in order to spread the game music love.  I'd like to see the show sometime if it ever gets down to my corner of the world, but I fear I wouldn't recognize much of the music.  Sure, Super Mario and Legend of Zelda I know, but I haven't spent near enough time to pick out the tunes from Tomb Raider or Advent Rising.  That's the peculiar thing about game music.  Hearing songs from a beloved game always makes me smile and occasionally gives me goosebumps, but unfamiliar tunes inspire a "Hmm, I wonder what they're playing next" mentality.