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December 2006

November 2006

Kubbur On The Run

Kubbur We've seen all kinds of animal heroes come and go in video games over the years.  There's been hedgehogs, bats, bobcats, possums, foxes, and many other one-shot forgotten characters.  But do you know what gaming needs more of?  Heroic hamsters.  Up until today there have been a disturbing void of hamster gaming heroes, but now we have Kubbur The Hamster to fight our demons.

I'm reminded of the pet hamster I had when I was a kid.  He was a brown teddy-bear hamster by the name of Mario (of course), and true to his name he loved to climb through those hamster Habitrail pipes my parents had set up for him.  Years went by and Mario died of old age while going down a pipe.  My parents found the body and appreciated the ironic end for poor Mario, as I found them giggling over the corpse.  I was hurt by that at the time, but with the wisdom of age I too have come to see the dark humor in the situation.

(via NeoGAF)

GBA Lives On For One More Year

Diddy Kong plays Game BoyIf you've been dragging your feet on picking up Game Boy Advance goodies new at retail then you'd better get a move on.  Nintendo believes the portable game system has one more holiday season left in it, and then presumably the GBA moves on to greener pastures. 

"We think that Game Boy Advance certainly has at least one more holiday season left in it. For us, it continues to be a great stepping stone for five-, six-, seven-year-old consumers to have their first great handheld gaming experience and then transition right into DS," Fils-Aime told the Reuters Media Summit in New York.

Now that the Nintendo DS has taken Nintendo's portable gaming talent to a whole new level, the GBA itself looks a bit paltry in comparison (especially since the DS can play most every GBA game flawlessly).  To be honest, I'm surprised the GBA hasn't been retired already, but I suppose the company wants to milk the system and its library for all its worth before moving on.  There isn't really anything of compelling interest in development for the GBA aside from an RPG or two.  I predict the final year of the GBA's life will be spent with a lot of kiddie-targeted quickie cash-in titles based on popular cartoons.  What a sad end to such an entertaining little gadget.

Trek Writer Guides Legacy

United Federation of PlanetsHere's a step in the right direction: game developer Bethesda Softworks has turned to an actual talented Star Trek writer to craft the storyline behind the upcoming Star Trek: Legacy for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC.  Dorothy "D.C." Fontana came up with the Legacy plot, and in an article at GameDaily she discusses a little about what makes next generation (as in new consoles, not Captain Picard) Trek games so intriguing.

"Game technology grows more and more innovative, more and more able to match the look of film and high-definition TV," Fontana said. "With the quality visuals now available, it puts the game experience on par with watching a movie or TV episode with the added benefit of being interactive."

"As video games proliferate more and more, more writers may become interested in being involved," Fontana said. " Pac-Man was an amusing game, but it had no story. Today, the games have to have more going on in them -- story, character, crisis or conflict, goals. Because of that, I believe writers will begin to see the possibilities in this form of storytelling."

As I've said, the problem I have with past Star Trek games is that publishers pay through the nose to get the Trek license and then proceed to put together a game that uses new aliens, new characters, and just about anything else that isn't from the actual series.  The way I see it, if these companies are spending all that money to be able to play in the Star Trek world, then they should use the familiar characters and alien races that the fans have come to know.  Give us the Vulcans, the Romulans, the Borg, the Klingons, the Ferengi... anyone with a history in the franchise.  Conjure up the new "ultimate threat" that has no place in the Trek world and, on the whole, the game just won't work.  Hopefully Fontana had that in mind when working on the Legacy storyline.

Weekly Poll: Give A Little Bit

Weekly Poll for 11-20-06 Ah, good, some of your are buying Nintendo Wiis.  My world continues to make sense.  In hindsight, however, I should have asked who tried to buy a console but could not due to limited stock, and then of course those of you outside of North America and Japan are still waiting for the consoles to launch.  Remind me to do a better job asking this question when the next generation of consoles launches in 2011.

The holiday season is very nearly upon us (depending on your community's level of decoration madness and around the clock Christmas music on the radio) and that means it's time to start thinking about what makes this time of year so important: gifts.  Gaming gifts are usually about the "gimme gimme gimme", but how many of you out there are giving the gift of games this year?  Who's putting a Wii under the tree?  Are you giving a new Xbox instead of the traditional fuzzy socks?  What about leaving a game by the menorah for your señora? Cast your vote, leave some comments, and buy some goodies

Custom Music Is Excite-ing

Excite TruckWhenever a puzzle in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has me stumped I walk away for a bit and switch games over to Excite Truck, another Wii launch title from Nintendo.  It's a fun racer and a great distraction that doesn't require much concentration to play, and it's certainly enjoyable to tilt the Wii remote to steer the truck around the track.  One part of the Excite Truck experience that has disappointed me is the generic rock guitar soundtrack.  That music has got to go.  Luckily the developers saw my dissatisfaction coming and made it possible to load one's own custom music into the game.  It's all done with the magic of the Wii's SD card slot.  This kind of thing has been done before on other consoles, but this is my first exposure to the world of custom game music.

All I have to do is copy MP3s from my computer on to the card and then slide that card into the Wii.  Before each race I can choose to switch the default in-game music off and instead select a song from the SD card to play instead.  The chosen song will then loop during the race, and the game even remembers which songs are assigned to which tracks, meaning that when I return to the game later it retains my musical selections (so long as those songs are still on the SD card, of course).

It's important to choose the right music for Excite Truck racing.  My library of power ballads just won't do.  Instead I've found myself speeding along to songs from other games.  Suddenly Excite Truck becomes an even better game when it's teamed with the sounds of F-Zero GX and Super Smash Bros. Melee.  Here's a sample of my in-game playlist, cheesy '80s tunes and all:

  • "Big Blue" - F-Zero GX (great for tracks with large ponds)
  • "F-Zero" - Super Smash Bros. Melee (a racing classic remixed)
  • "Yoshi's Island" - Super Smash Bros. Melee (surprisingly appropriate)
  • "Bullet Station, Act 2" - Sonic Heroes (something good came out of that game after all)
  • "Rainbow Road" - F-Zero X Expansion Kit (Rockin'!)
  • "I Can't Drive 55" - Sammy Hagar (it had to be done)
  • "Unbelievable" - EMF (this song has been tainted by those stupid commercials for crumbled cheese sweepings)
  • "Theme from Mission: Impossible" - U2, Mission: Impossible [1996] soundtrack (I dare you not to grin like a fool while racing to this one)
  • "Eye of the Tiger" - Survivor (if you have to ask, you'll never know)

Zelda: Twilight Princess Is Awesome, Part 1

Link I've spent nearly a week now adventuring my way through Hyrule almost nonstop in Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Nintendo Wii and I have to agree with most everyone else who has played the game that this Zelda adventure tops the previous titles and may well be remembered as one of the best video games of all time.  This game is firing on all cylinders.  It is more than amazing.  It is awesome.  I'll be sharing my thoughts on the game as I progress through it, but be aware that my words may well contain spoilers.  I'll mark them clearly, of course.  To get things started here are a few non-spoiling thoughts:

  • The controls are very well done.  I was a little concerned about Nintendo's plans to shove Wii motions into what was, at the time, solely a GameCube game, but it works.  Swinging the remote like a sword hasn't grown old, nor has shoving the nunchuck attachment to act as a shield.  I actually feel closer to the gameworld as a result, surprisingly.
  • Aiming certain weapons and items with the Wii remote's onscreen pointer is much easier than using the control stick to aim a targeting reticule.  No more lining up tricky shots in the heat of battle.  I just have to draw, say, the bow, point where I want to shoot an arrow, and then press the B button to shoot.  I'm becoming adept at taking out enemies from great distances with this method.
  • The Wii remote's internal speaker is a bit on the tinny side in terms of sound, but I do like it.  Strike the sword against a metal gate, for example, and the remote itself clangs.  Sometimes character "dialog" turns up from the speaker, such as laughter or sobbing.  The familiar "you've found a secret" musical tone from the Zelda series comes from the remote instead of the television, however, and I think the lower sound quality takes something away from the classic cue.
  • There are callbacks to elements from just about every other Zelda game.  Without being too specific, so far I've heard an orchestrated version of the "Hyrule Castle" theme from A Link to the Past, spoken to a character who tells me that he's keeping a secret from the other townspeople and that "it's a secret to everybody", and been to a few places that are intended to be the same location from Ocarina of Time right down to the location of hidden rupees.
  • Speaking of callbacks, I've come across a few puzzles in the dungeons that call to mind similar puzzles from past Zelda games.  In most cases I recognized the setup and thought "Aha!  I know how to solve this!" only to find that the solution is totally different this time around and, in some cases, trying the solution to the original puzzle results in a penalty of some kind (loss of hearts, etc.).

And now from here on are the spoilers.  Today I'll be talking about game events up through the end of the second dungeon and I ask that if you comment you do not discuss any events from the game beyond this point. 

Continue reading "Zelda: Twilight Princess Is Awesome, Part 1" »

Secret Kode

The KodeSometimes it seems like video game music tribute cover bands are a dime a dozen, but one thing about such groups that has always bugged me is that for whatever reason most of the song covers have been "hardcored" up with plenty of thrash metal electric guitar madness.  Sometimes that works, but I don't want to hear a totally bitchin' screechy guitar solo in the middle of the orchestral theme from The Legend of Zelda.  It just doesn't work.  Now I've been pointed towards a tribute cover band by the name of The Kode that, from what I've heard so far, seems to keep the original spirit of the gaming songs intact for the most part.  The band has several tracks up for download covering a few classic Nintendo Entertainment System tunes.  Come for the Super Mario medley, stay for the Snake Man theme from Mega Man 3.

Infinite Mario Bros.

Mario holds a Koopa shell The worst thing about every classic Super Mario  game is that eventually the game has to end.  No matter how awesome each adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom may be, the cold fact remains that there are a finite number of available levels to explore, and eventually there isn't anything new to be found.  So what if Super Mario Bros. could go on forever with randomly generated levels?  Let's find out.  Markus Persson has put together a little Java game that includes randomly generated levels based on elements from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.

It's an interesting idea, but after playing a few levels I had to admit that something about it just didn't feel right in regard to the level layouts.  Turning level design over to a random level generator sucks all the personality out of the game.  As Metafilter poster monocyte put it so well, "This is like some weird Invasion of the Body Snatchers version of Mario; all of the basic elements are there but the randomization strips it of its essential nature and most, but not all, of its fun. There's an interesting paper in this for one of the game theory people, I'd bet."  Indeed.

PTB 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

Donkey Kong plays Santa ClausAs the weather turns cold and the turkey has been eaten it's time to focus on the yearly tradition of giving gifts to our loved ones and other hangers-on.  Why fight people in the malls on Black Friday?  Stay home and do your shopping on via the PTB 2006 Holiday Gift Guide.  I've put together a listing of my favorite video games, accessories, game-related DVDs, and even a few books that any gamer would love to find under the tree, near the menorah, presented with solemn respect, or otherwise wrapped in colorful paper.  Happy Holidays!

Wii Hackers Hard At Work

Wii Shop Channel It was bound to happen sooner than later: curious Wii owners with some technical ability are digging into the Wii to see how the Wii Shop Channel functions.  Not so surprisingly the whole Shop experience uses a modified version of the Opera web browser to access files on a web server somewhere out in Nintendo's domain.  Curious folks can use a web browser to peek at the channel from the comfort of one's own computer, but you'll be unable to buy anything (duh) or make use of the available files beyond simply looking at them.  But hey, hacking has to start somewhere.

As soon as I fired up the network connection, the Wii wanted to update itself. Packet sniffer got a ton of logs for System Update (16MB+). Then sniffed Wii News/Shop channels (browsing/etc). UPDATE: I've been sniffing everything from adding Wii Points, to downloading VC games, to redeeming Wii points with a used Wiicard. Lots of sniffer logs.

I'm betting Nintendo will find a way to keep curious people from poking around in Wii World where they don't belong.  It may be only a matter of time until someone cracks the Shop wide open via PC, allowing folks to acquire all sorts of things Nintendo would rather not make available in such a manner. 

(via Game|Life)