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October 2010

Sony Launches New PlayStation Rewards Program

Playstation RewardsSony is looking to go the extra mile when it comes to rewarding its most loyal PlayStation customers by launching a new rewards program aimed at offering freebies and goodies to those who spend a lot of time and money on PlayStation-related activities.  Playing games, exploring PlayStation Home, buying items from the PlayStation Store, joining PlayStation Plus, posting on the official PlayStation forums, and other such things will all add up to free PS3 avatars, dynamic themes, contest entries, and other unannounced incentives.  Here's some of the official announcement from the PlayStation Blog:

In its initial launch tomorrow (Oct. 28th), PlayStation Rewards will be an invitation-only beta to all eligible PlayStation Plus and Gamer Advisory Panel (GAP) members. We’re kicking things off as a beta so that we can get feedback from our most loyal fans in order to make it the best possible rewards program it can be. It’s also worth noting that during the beta phase, the program will be focused on PlayStation 3 owners, but we hope to include PSP users as well not too far down the road. Oh, and one more thing: PlayStation Rewards will be free – there is no fee to join!

The more you play and participate, the more progress you’ll make through our three reward tiers — “Select,” “Pro,” and “Legendary.” As your status increases, so do the rewards. And if you want to check out your current status level, simply go to your private profile page and look at the reward progress meter.  That’s just the start and our plan is to continually grow and improve the reward offering as the program itself evolves. Your feedback in this beta period will help make the program even better!!  If you’re a GAP member or PlayStation Plus subscriber in the U.S., who is opted-in to marketing as of October 24th, be sure to look for your invitation and sign-up for PlayStation Rewards.

So, basically, Sony is turning the gaming experience into a real-life level grind.  Whether or not that appeals to you probably depends on how much time you put into your PS3 (and, later, PSP).  There will always be whining from malcontents who believe they deserve free stuff for nothing, but on the whole I hope that this turns out to be a good thing for both Sony and PlayStation fans alike.  I know that I'm looking forward to checking it out if I'm invited to join.  It's free and it offers free stuff back in return.  What's not to like?

Celebrate The Tenth Anniversary Of The Sony PlayStation 2

Sony PlayStation 2The Nintendo Entertainment System isn't the only piece of top-selling hardware to celebrate an anniversary this month.  Sony's long-lived PlayStation 2 has passed the decade mark as well.  It's certainly showing some longevity, as not only can you still buy a new PS2, there are a major glut of older games still readily available for it (and a few new titles if you shop around and your expectations are low).  1UP's Retro Gaming Blog can't let the moment pass without exploring the ten greatest things about the PS2, and while some of those reasons are technical in nature (5.1 surround sound built into the console, PS1 compatibility, etc.), I'll skip down to the end of the list to share this much more important entry with you:

1. It Marked the End of Gaming's Classic Era

The PS2 is perhaps most remarkable for the way it sat astride two very different eras of gaming. This divide has nothing to do with the bit count of consoles and everything to do with methodologies. You see, the PS2 brought the classic age of gaming -- the one defined by the likes of Nintendo and Sega -- to its close, while ushering in the modern era embodied by HD consoles. The classic development approach employed by the predominantly Japanese companies that ruled the console market reached their acme on PS2, resulting in classic masterpieces like Metal Gear Solid 3, Final Fantasy XII, and Monster Hunter. Yet those processes don't mesh well with the PS3 and Xbox 360 and modern gaming PCs, which is probably why so much the old guard seems more comfortable working on the PS2-like PSP and Wii. The lower cost of development for PS2 games also gave us the aforementioned artsy games like Ico, and weird little experiments like Mister Mosquito, crazy vanity projects like Unlimited Saga, and a host of other games developed in a world without focus groups. As the PS2 began to fade away in 2005, so too did a 20-year legacy of games for games' sake, supplanted by a new age of conservative design and development by committee.

The business certainly does seem different these days, doesn't it?  On a more personal note, I'm having a hard time getting into the tenth anniversary spirit.  I only bought a PS2 four years ago, so to me all of those great titles like Ratchet & Clank and Grand Theft Auto III are still in somewhat semi-recent memory.  While the games themselves feel dated compared to the PS3 experience, they don't seem that old to me.  It's all a matter of perception.  Meanwhile, now that the PS2 is ten years old, does that officially make it a retro machine from a bygone era?  The NES anniversary already left me feeling old, and now this PS2 milestone isn't helping.

Billy Joel Rock Band 3 DLC Revealed

Billy JoelFollowing up on the recent news that several of Billy Joel's classic songs would be made available as downloadable content for the new Rock Band 3 for Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii comes a list of the actual tracks coming up for release on December 14.  If you'll remember my wish list that included both familiar hits and obscure album cuts, it would seem that I'm getting most of what I want.  Here's the list of upcoming tracks:

  • "Big Shot"
  • "Captain Jack" 
  • "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" 
  • "Movin' Out"
  • "Only the Good Die Young"
  • "Piano Man"
  • "Pressure"
  • "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" 
  • "The Entertainer"
  • "The Stranger"

Thinking in terms of the piano part, those are all solid choices.  As someone who has been playing Billy Joel songs on an actual piano for most of his life, I can say that there's a decent range of difficulty in those tracks.  "Piano Man" is probably the easiest on the list with its basic limerick style of composition (even Joel himself admits to that), while "Pressure" is bound to make someone's fingers fall off.  There are still two songs left unannounced, while a second pack of songs is supposely due next year as well.  I can't wait to get hold of these tracks.  Billy Joel, Elton John, and Huey Lewis are three of my favorite musicians, and now Rock Band 3 will feature all of them.  I think this game is destined to stay in my PS3 gaming rotation for quite some time.

The Underwhelming Fate Of Dragon Warrior

Dragon WarriorOK, so, over in Japan they have this neat franchise for the Nintendo Famicom called Dragon Quest.  North America's gonna love it, so let's localize the first installment of the series (so what if it's already dated by contemporary technology standards?), spruce it up a little bit, change the name to Dragon Warrior, and print a heck of a lot of copies in preparation for the massive sales we're going to see.  Sound good?  Great.  Let's do it.  There's no way that this could not go perfectly to plan.  Unless, of course, North America doesn't quite take to the game.  Then we'd have to unload the surplus copies with magazine subscriptions.  Then someday in the future GameSpite can chronicle the sad state of affairs.

Dragon Quest had proven to be a genuine phenomenon in the land of its birth. By and large, successful Famicom games had translated into NES hits with nary a snag, so there was little reason to think the success of this role-playing game wouldn’t carry across the Pacific as well. It even had a few built-in bonuses! Americans already loved RPGs, whereas Dragon Quest had been instrumental in introducing the genre to Japan. To sweeten the deal, Nintendo and Enix worked together to tweak the American version of the game, improving its graphics and streamlining the interface to fall more into line with its sequels, already available in Japan.

And yet, Dragon Quest was hardly the runaway success Nintendo was hoping for. The company clearly had high expectations for the game, taking it in beneath the umbrella of a first-party release while promoting it heavily in Nintendo Power. The game was heavily modified to improve on the weaknesses of the rather rough original release of the game; a battery back-up replaced Japan’s arcane passwords, and the game’s English script was the most involved localization work yet seen on NES, patching a rudimentary classical English style into what had been workmanlike Japanese text. Certainly the game was no flop, but Nintendo definitely overestimated its appeal... not to mention the proper quantity to manufacture. Though not quite a debacle of E.T. for VCS proportions, Nintendo eventually ended up giving away copies of the game -- presumably tens of thousands -- with new subscriptions to Nintendo Power. Certainly a better fate for those carts than forming a fascinating new stratum of the New Mexico bedrock, but quite the ignominious end for what should have been the next big thing.

Knowing what we do now, the original Dragon Quest probably wasn't the best way to introduce North American audiences to the franchise.  I think enough time has passed now that it's not fair to blame the continued mainstream disinterest in the series on that subpar brand launch twenty years ago.  Maybe, for whatever reason, the Dragon Quest world just doesn't appeal to American audiences.  I know that it's never done much for me.  Like everyone else eligible at the time, I received my free copy of Dragon Warrior via Nintendo Power.  I did my best to get into it, but I hit the wall when the difficulty spiked and gave up in frustration after several weeks of making zero progress.  While I have revisited other games from that era that I could not complete at an early age, I've never had a need to return to Dragon Warrior.  But hey, it was free.

Back To The Future Pre-orders Begin; First Concept Art Of Young Doc Brown Revealed

Young Doc Brown The third part of the Back to the Future: The Game mini-documentary produced by Telltale Games has been released, and this installment gives a look at the concept art for a younger version of Doc Brown that players will presumably meet during the course of the adventure (among other interesting things).  Moreover, pre-orders for the five episodes that make up the complete game have begun ($24.95, plus it comes with a free copy of Puzzle Agent and $1 from each pre-order will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research) with releases planned for the PC and Mac in December with the Sony PlayStation 3 and Apple iPad coming soon after.  I know that's a lot of information to take in all at once without seeing it rapidly dashed out on a chalkboard in the middle of the night, so let's move on to that third installment of the documentary.

Now I know you've noticed there's been a lot of Back to the Future talk here on PTB since this game was announced, and if you were around last year when Ghostbusters: The Video Game was in the works and remember the glut of discussion about that game then you're probably assuming that there's a lot more BTTF coverage to come.  You're right.  Back to the Future is one of my two favorite film franchises of all time, so you'd better believe that there's a long way to go before I stop talking about it.  Make yourself comfortable, fasten your seatbelt, and prepare yourself for temporal displacement!

Power Button - Episode 25: Pull Your Jungles Out!

Power ButtonA funny thing happened on the way to recording this episode of Power Button (our twenty-fifth, by the way; let's hear it for the quarter mark on the way to one hundred): Kombo collapsed and left us suddenly engaged with other matters.  Surely you've already been over to The Big Pixels by now, but in this week's show we introduce the project made up of some of your favorite former Kombo writers.  As it also turns out, things became very busy for a while shortly after we recorded this episode, and it took a bit for the post-production to happen, so the next segment of this episode digs into the then-fresh details behind the upcoming Nintendo 3DS launch and the then-newly announced Panasonic Jungle handheld system.  Basically, we took our optimism and pointed it at a groundbreaking product and then took our lingering confusion and bile and aimed it at a product that will probably arrive dead on arrival.  Surely you can figure out which is which.  So, yes, this would all have been a bit more timely a few weeks ago, but sometimes reality interferes with recording and production schedules.  What can ya do?  Well, you can listen anyways. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow on Twitter at @PressTheButtons or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button - Episode 25: Pull Your Jungles Out!

Weekly Poll: Jam With The Band

Weekly Poll for 10-18-2010An overwhelming majority of you out there still own a Nintendo Entertainment System.  You have no idea how pleased I am to hear that the classics live on.  I still have mine, of course.  It's connected to my modern HDTV through the old RF connection and is ready to go at a moment's notice.  Nintendo's Virtual Console and a variety of re-releases and compilations mean that it doesn't see as much action as it used to back in the day, but I still take a big screen surround sound run through Mega Man 2 or one of the Super Mario Bros. titles every now and then just for the heck of it.  I'm amazed at how well the hardware has held up.  I've never had to replace a part or have it repaired.  Modern hardware wishes it could last as long as a well-kept Nintendo Entertainment System. 

Looking ahead, Rock Band 3 arrives this week from Electronic Arts and Harmonix for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii.  Are you interested in picking it up?  Has the piano keyboard controlled drawn you in?  Are you chomping at the bit for a chance to play along with Huey Lewis and the News?  Does the Billy Joel downloadable track library excite you?  Or are you passing on this one altogether?  Let's hear your thoughts.

PSP2 Coming Later, But PSPgo Price Drop Begins Now

Insert your own revised PSP concept image hereWith Nintendo preparing to unleash its 3DS handheld system and Apple going strong in the iPhone and iPad department, perception is that Sony needs to step up its game with a new PlayStation Portable in the near future if it wants to remain competitive.  While rumblings of a PSP2 have been around for quite a while, there's a new rumor going around today worth noting.  As Kotaku reports, the PSP2 is quite real and, unfortunately, running quite hot.  The device supposedly includes a trackpad-like touch panel, high definition screen (well, as HD as one gets on a handheld), and so much horsepower inside that it drains the battery in a snap and overheats.  Hopefully all of this can be worked out in time for the supposed launch in late 2011.

A larger PSP should not be that big of an issue for Sony — especially in a mobile environment with large tablets like the iPad. It also shows that Sony realizes it is no longer simply competing with Nintendo, but also Apple.

It is unclear whether this is the same handheld described by the Wall Street Journal. According to the paper, Sony is working on a device that mixes a game player, an e-book reader and a netbook computer.

In late September, there were also reports that the PSP2 hardware was in the hands of "numerous" developers.

Currently, the PSP2's hardware is not finalized, and Sony is having problems balancing battery, power and heat. There are apparently overheating issues, but Sony is, of course, aiming to have those issues corrected by the time the hardware is publicly shown.

Sony set the PSP2's goals (what Sony wants it to do), but is still tinkering with the portable's innards. The PSP2's tech specs are expected to change, meaning that things like chip size and processor size are variable.

While I'm still interested in whatever Sony has cooking up in the lab, I have to admit that my new iPhone is filling my handheld media needs.  I had been clinging to my old PSP-1000 unit for Netflix and quickie web browsing in addition to gaming, but now with the iPhone I have a smaller device that does both Netflix and web browsing so much better.  I've found a few games I like for the iPhone, but nothing as expansive or enjoyable as what the PSP library can offer.  Platformers play terribly for me on the iPhone (I need buttons and a control pad/stick!), but I've become attached to some neat point-and-slash puzzle games.  Basically, I don't need a PSP2 now as much as I did, say, two months ago.  I held out for as long as I could, but in the end I had to move on to newer technology that meets my needs.

Meanwhile, Sony's non-disc take on the original PlayStation Portable, the PSPgo, has picked up a reputation for being a solution to something that isn't a problem.  Priced at $249 in North America, it costs much more than a standard PSP, yet actually does less.  Sony seems to see which way the wind is blowing, as the company has cut the price of the digital distribution device.  That's good.  Starting now, the PSPgo is $199 in North America and a mere ¥16,800 in Japan.  Europe's price cut kicked in last week (€179).  That's still more expensive than the regular PSP, however, so that's not so good.  It's a step in the right direction though. 

Meet The New Marty McFly

Marty McFlyThe second installment of the Back To The Future: The Game mini-documentary produced by Telltale Games has been released just a day after the Doc Brown-intensive first part, and in this piece of the story we meet the new voice of Marty McFly.  While Michael J. Fox did license his likeness to be used in the game, he's unfortunately unavailable to reprise the actual character.  Enter amateur-turned-professional Marty impressionist, A.J. Locascio.   His performance blew away the Telltale team and even astonished Bob Gale and Christopher Lloyd.  You'll hear some of his audition in this part of the documentary (he performs Marty's lines from the first Back to the Future film explaining how Doc ended up with the bruise on his forehead) and it's a very good likeness.

The third installment of the series comes out next week.  It's entitled "Creating The Game", so maybe we'll finally see some of the game itself in action.  I love to hear about and see the casting and initial concepts unfold, but we're coming to the point where I absolutely must see some gameplay.  We've been teased for months and it's time for a little payoff.

First Story Details Revealed For Back To The Future Game

Doc BrownTelltale Games has produced a little mini-documentary about the making of the upcoming Back to the Future: The Game, and today's installment of the short series focuses on revealing a little bit of the game's storyline (it opens in 1986, post-Back to the Future III) and teases some of Doc Brown's role in the adventure.  It even includes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of Christopher Lloyd recording his part for the game synced up with Doc's in-development animated character model.  Take 1.8 minutes and watch the new information unfold.  I'm sorry, but Telltale didn't have time to film it to scale.

There's still not an announced release date for the game, but Spike TV is airing the premiere of the trailer on December 2 in the United States, so the actual release can't be too far off from that date, I'd imagine.  I have such incredibly high hopes for Back to the Future: The Game.  There have been other Back to the Future games over the years, but I think it's been established that they were all terrible (or, at best, not horrible).  No Back to the Future game has ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley the industry!  Hopefully, history's gonna change.