Welcome to the 100th edition of GameSpotting, where we're a little bit behind on the Y2K compliance stuff.
This is it! Triple digits, baby! It's really hard to believe that we've been doing this feature for over two years now. Some of the faces may be different from when we started, and those of us who stuck around have gotten older, but one thing hasn't changed: We can still talk about games until the damn wheels fall off. To commemorate this momentous occasion, all of the editors have pitched in this week, be it in video format or in a regular column. You've got a lot of GameSpotting to get through here, so remember to pace yourself and drink plenty of water, and if you start getting a brain cramp, head directly to our forums for quick relief.
Alex Navarro/Assistant Editor
"You have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, some companies may just be trying to milk that M rating."
Bethany Massimilla/Community Manager
"There is not one single good reason that a girl being subjected to the latest Mary Kate and Ashley Olson game couldn't also be playing a game like Klonoa or Harvest Moon or Zelda."
Tim Tracy/Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
"It brings back so many memories, but at the same time, it sounds fresh and new."
Brad Shoemaker/Associate Editor
"It's been over two years since the very first GameSpotting was dragged screaming into the light of the world, and there have been a whole lot of changes."
Sam Parker/Editor, Official Assets
"I sure hope that clearer heads will prevail and PC gaming can take new steps toward improving ease-of-use, not balkanizing the platform for business reasons."
Andrew Park/Senior Editor
"Could that be why enthusiasts don't like them?"
Tyler Winegarner/Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
"The Six-Dollar Burger really falls fairly short of being a true restaurant-style and restaurant-quality burger, although it is not without its merits."
Justin Calvert/Associate Editor
"I really don't enjoy being at a disadvantage in a game just because I've gone to the trouble of downloading a map for it that I'm not yet familiar with."
Dave Toole/Senior Producer
"One of these days something is bound to happen that is going to shock everyone, and this whole power struggle of who is the biggest force in the industry will start all over again."
Ricardo Torres/Senior Associate Editor
"I was so convinced that this would be one of the next big features in consoles that I actually made sure the TV I bought had VGA inputs on it."
"Although interactivity is one of the most unique features of a video game, it's also somewhat of a liability."
Chris "Thugcore" B./GuestSpotter
"The words "TEAM KILLER" blazed a fiery red at the bottom of my screen as I waited my 30 seconds to leap muzzle-first back into the fray."
Loading Screens Haunt My Dreams
Barnaby Van Gamenstein/GuestSpotter
If you're reading our thoughts on video games, then you probably think about video games a lot, too. So why not exorcise those demons by putting them down on paper? Read our GuestSpotting FAQ, and submit your column accordingly.
Rich Gallup/Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
Rich Gallup hosts the pilot episode of GameSpot's new game show, Button Mashing!
Greg Kasavin/Executive Editor
Witness the sentimental, never-before-told story of the founding fathers of this long-running feature.
Ryan Davis/Associate Producer
A day in the life at GameSpot, as told by a fan fiction author.
Jeff Gerstmann/Senior Editor
Syllables are the name of the game in Jeff's latest failed public television pilot.
Ryan Mac Donald/Executive Producer, GameSpot Live
The GameSpot Action Squad foils terror in this teaser trailer for Counter-Strike: The Movie.
Bob Colayco/Associate Editor, Game Guides
Bob ventures out into the dangerous Richmond night to bring you this episode of Cribs.
Craig Beers/Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
Craig Beers discusses the friendly environment of the GameSpot office.
| Alex Navarro|
Dollar Sign, Percent Sign, Ampersand, Pound Sign, Exclamation Point, Exclamation Point, Exclamation Point...
Remember back in the good old days, when conversations between video game characters were provided entirely by text windows at the bottom of the screen? Remember how on the rare occasion the script called for the character to utter a profanity, it was represented by nonsensical symbols strung together to shield you from the sheer shock of seeing a dirty word? Well, those days are long gone. Maybe you haven't noticed, but games went and got real, real dirty a while back, and now any time you pick up even a Teen-rated game, you're likely to hear some light swearing from even the cutest and cuddliest of characters. "So what?" you ask, "I don't care. A few dirty words aren't going to bother me." That's fair. Dirty words don't bother me either, and, in fact, I kind of revel in the whole concept, considering I have a mouth like a prison-hardened sailor. But think for a second about this newfound abundance of cursing in games. Think about how when you were a kid, if you heard/read a single bad word in an NES game, you'd probably have flipped out and called every friend you had, frantically trying to explain the insanity of what you had seen. Maybe now this isn't such a foreign concept, but in the early days of gaming, it would have been unheard of for the "F" word to find its way into a video game. What does it all mean? It means games went and grew up on us, and somewhere along the way, they picked up a nasty swearing habit.
But really, that's not news to anyone. Everyone who should know is aware at this point that games are more mature--and really, so are most gamers. Have you ever looked at the statistic for what the age of the average gamer is? I'll give you a hint: It isn't the same as when you were a kid. Anyway, what really struck me recently, and, in turn, inspired me to write this, was really how much some games have begun to absolutely hammer the swear card home. Light cursing is one thing, but some recent titles have been laying down the adult dialogue in ways that would make David Mamet blush. The first game that immediately comes to mind that went crazy with the swearing was Ubisoft's Deathrow. That game was about as filthy mouthed as you could imagine, yet since then, the envelope has only been getting pushed further and further by a slew of different companies. Max Payne 2, Roadkill, The Getaway, and, of course, the ever-popular Grand Theft Auto games have really gone buck wild with the bad language, and though most of these did you the service of including a great game along with the healthy dose of cursing, you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, some companies may just be trying to milk that M rating.
What do I mean? Well, think about how the ratings system is set up. E-rated games are as easygoing and pleasant as you're going to get these days. Teen-rated games can contain some violence and a little bit of potty mouth. M-rated games? The sky's practically the limit. Let's say you're making a game that's definitely heavy on the violence--heavy to the point that you don't have a prayer of getting that ever-marketable Teen rating. Obviously, this is going to limit your audience, so you're going to want to try to make your game as appealing to that M-rated audience as possible. What does that M-rated audience usually react well to besides your typical smattering of violence? Hey, how about bad words! Everybody loves the "F" word, right? Just look at all those Kevin Smith movies that do so well with the kids these days! So we'll just stick that "F" word in there a few dozen times during cutscenes, and people will hail our title for having "gritty dialogue!" Money in the bank, Jerry!
OK, OK, maybe I'm going a little overboard here. But you can't deny that the lovely M rating could easily be a cause for more foul content, just as much as it is intended to be a deterrent for it. It also stands to reason that another cause for this whole thing could relate to the fact that swearing, on the whole, is just becoming more and more accepted in society in general. Think about the golden days of cinema, and how Clark Gable's utterance of the word "damn" in Gone With the Wind appalled many people in the late 1930s. Now, think about the show South Park, a basic cable show, and how in one episode it was able to get away with using the "S" word 162 times. Recently, the powers in charge of deeming what is appropriate language on the TV even stated that the "F" word is permissible (within specific guidelines). Movies, TV, music--all of it has gotten a lot raunchier, so logically, it only makes sense that video games would follow suit.
Whether you abhor cursing in any form, or throw down the "F" bomb more frequently than an Andrew Dice Clay album, you simply cannot deny that video games have become yet another medium for the concept of cursing, and that won't be changing anytime soon. Companies like Midway and Rockstar have embraced foul language to the fullest extent, and it should only be a matter of time before other companies follow suit with their M-rated rosters. As I've said before, I don't have a problem with it. They are, after all, just words, and if you can't handle a little harshly toned verbiage, then really, you've got no $&%#ing business playing mature games in the first place.
| Bethany Massimilla|
What's a Girl to Play?
The last, greatest frontier of gaming may be that elusive and potentially lucrative female demographic--all those girls and young ladies and women of various ages and buying power. Games for Women is a rich market just waiting to be tapped, and there's no better time to put development funds and energies into creating titles that the fairer sex will appreciate and enjoy. In the face of such grand efforts, and on behalf of my gender, I would like to make the following request: "Please knock it off."
This is no scheme on my part to artificially limit the number of women in the gaming industry in an attempt to cultivate the image of being some kind of curious novelty; on the contrary, I have only the most noble of intentions. I love games to an almost ridiculous degree, and there's nothing I want more than to expose absolutely everyone and anyone, young and old, male and female, to really great games. This is the very reason that I feel it's a mistake to concentrate on gender as a factor that has any relevance when determining what type of game you're going to make and what you're going to put in it.
While working at an Electronics Boutique, I was once talking with a sales representative about some upcoming titles. As she sorted through her promotional materials, she turned to a page on the newest Barbie game, and grinned at my lopsided smile and somewhat pained expression. "I know what you're thinking," she said, "but these games move lots of numbers." I got curious, and then she went on to say, "People buy them up, because there's just no games out there for young girls." No offense to the rep involved, as she was a great person, but I happen to think that's a completely broken statement. There is not one single good reason that a girl being subjected to the latest Mary Kate and Ashley Olson game couldn't also be playing a game like Klonoa or Harvest Moon or Zelda. The problem with the current state of the industry is not that women and girls are left stranded on a virtual island with The Sims and Bejeweled and no other options available to them. The problem is that there's a near bewildering array of titles and genres available, and it's rare that any of them are properly introduced and marketed to women of varying ages and interests who have the potential to enjoy them.
I strongly believe that there's a game out there for every person that will get them into gaming, and by "into gaming," I don't mean buying one game and its 40 billion expansions. Plenty of fantasy fans often find a safe haven with role-playing games, many folks relish the detail and depth of strategies and simulations, lots of people love the mental engagement of a puzzle-rich adventure, tons of individuals enjoy action-packed shooters, huge numbers like platformers, which require exact control--and none of those groups is specific to gender. Not one of those gamer types or mixture of types is restricted only to men or only to women, and so games by their very nature can't suffer those same restrictions. While it would be hard for the industry to get in front of the family TV or computer and encourage girls to play certain games, there's certainly a lot more that could be done in terms of advertising (aimed at both adults and children) and in terms of outreach. Gaming events for girls? Game tournaments with all-female participants? Start them up, or promote them more heavily; get the public image of gaming away from the young male who plays first-person shooters all day and get the word out. It would likely be cheaper than spending money to research "what girls want."
And what do girls want? Games that are already here. It's time to push past the notion that the female demographic needs to be wooed with anything other than games that are already great in their own right. It doesn't have to be a clone of The Sims; all The Sims proves is that there are a great number of women who would be willing to give the right game a shot. The challenge is making them aware of the diverse world of gaming that's already right under their noses.
| Tim Tracy|
Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
Chip Off the Old Block
Given the fact that I work for GameSpot, it should come as no great surprise that gaming means a great deal to me, and the fact that I've been able to parlay that into gainful employment is something that I'll always be grateful for having the chance to do. The fact that the work my colleagues and I produce means so much to the people who read our site is one of the most fulfilling feelings I've ever had. (This is beginning to sound like a "Dear John" letter, but trust me, I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me, in fact.)
While games are great and all, it should probably come as no surprise that there are things outside of video games that the editors of GameSpot enjoy. Ryan Mac Donald is an avid hunter, Tyler loves to ride motorcycles, and Jeff Gerstmann is a master builder of Gundams, to name a few. Myself, I've always had a lifelong love of music, with a wide-ranging taste that rivals my taste in games. It all started when I was but a few years old when my mother taught me how to lay a needle down on her Beatles albums.
I do enjoy many kinds of music, but aside from owning one or two soundtracks, video game music has never been that interesting to me. I can certainly enjoy the music while I'm playing the game, but it normally doesn't go past that. However, just a couple of weeks ago, I came across a Web site devoted to "chip music," which, in a nutshell, is electronic music created with old-school video game and computer hardware. Through reverse engineering, clever programming, and just plain geekiness, people all over the world are coaxing incredible sounds out of Game Boys, Amigas, Atari STs, and 8-bit Nintendos. It certainly sounds like a strange concept, and it truly is. But there's something about this music that really grabs me, and I'm still trying to put my finger on it.
To give an example of how this music is made, one approach is to use a homebrewed cartridge for the Game Boy named "Little Sound DJ"--while Nintendo would probably take issue with its very existence, this clever piece of software turns your average everyday Game Boy into a full-fledged sequencer capable of faithfully reproducing the same sounds you've heard so many times before. This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. If there has ever been a console or computer that has ever made any sort of sound, I'd be willing to bet that there's somebody out there tinkering with it so they can make music out of it.
At its heart, chip music is truly grassroots, truly underground. It's music that anyone who grew up playing video games can appreciate, as it brings back so many memories, but at the same time, it sounds fresh and new. Listen to a few tracks, and you'll instantly be taken on a trip down memory lane--not because the melodies are similar to the games you played so many years ago, but because the raw sounds that made those songs are still there, just rearranged to make something brand new. Another aspect that pulls me in is how the community of artists who make this music certainly aren't in it for the money. They're just out there to relive the same memories we all share, and to that end, you'll find more than enough music to keep you going for a good long while just by doing a Google search and a little bit of poking around. Give it a shot. I think you'll find this stuff pretty interesting.
| Brad Shoemaker|
GameSpotting: A Look Back
In honor of GameSpotting's very lengthy and impressive run (100 episodes to date, and counting), I want to use this week's column as a sort of GameSpotting retrospective. There are a lot of elements that go into bringing an edition of GameSpotting to the site, perhaps more than you guys on the outside realize, and so maybe after reading this column you'll be a little more familiar with the nuts and bolts that make this crazy thing work. And for those of you who say that since I've been here for only one-third of all the GameSpottings published and therefore am not qualified to provide commentary on the feature, I give you only this answer: Shut up. On with the show!
An Everyday Life With Games
Thus, GameSpotting began. The title of the very first episode is also a pretty good description of what the column is all about. We all live, breathe, and play games on a daily basis, and as productive human beings with mostly functional brains, we naturally have a lot of thoughts on games and game-related topics. Notice how back then, everybody contributed a column weekly. That schedule obviously proved a little too demanding, so these days we have a revolving cast every week based mostly on a volunteer basis. It's a malicious kind of fun to volunteer people who are out of the office for the next week's edition, so we do that whenever possible.
Some of GameSpotting's less avid readers may not be aware that we maintain a full archive of every episode, so you can go back and see what was on, say, Ryan Davis' mind during the week of February 22, 2002 (looks like it was SimGolf). It's kind of cool to go back to conspicuous dates in recent history and see how game industry events, or even world events, influenced what we had to say back then. You'll find that the tone of the feature got decidedly more somber after September 11, 2001, for instance. And of course, situated around every major trade show are several columns from the people who went, describing what it was like at E3, TGS, or ECTS.
It's been over two years since the very first GameSpotting was dragged screaming into the light of the world, and there have been a whole lot of changes. Despite having hit the unthinkably high number of 100, I think the column is still going strong, and it has developed into a feature that our readers really seem to look forward to. Baby's all growed up now.
When GameSpotting first started, the header image wasn't that big a deal, although I definitely think patterning the first one after the look of the TrainSpotting poster was a stroke of brilliance. As column after column was posted week after week, the original header started getting a little stale, so we started using a new header with every new edition. It wasn't until around GameSpotting 72. Alive, though, that the GameSpotting header image really started taking the title, and sometimes the number, into account. These days, as we put the feature together over the course of the week, we all wait eagerly to see what kind of image our design department cranks out based on the title and topics we provide. GameSpotting header images have featured everything from Darth Vader to Prince, and, of course, the editors show up in there too.
The headers are mostly the brainchildren of our illustrious designer Collin Oguro, although our other two illustrious designers, James Cheung and Katie Bush, have definitely contributed their share, too. Some of my recent favorites include:
82. Vacation We're absent from this one since we didn't do any work for it. The sunglasses on Tidus and Tommy Vercetti are a nice touch.
81. Kuribo's Shoe I'm sure everyone involved relished the opportunity to appear in Super Mario Bros. 3. Plus, hey, it's Kuribo's shoe. You can't argue with that.
89. InstaGib This is easily the most violent, and therefore the best, GameSpotting header ever created. It even generated a little bit of feedback on that very subject.
Not surprisingly, this has turned into one of the most demanded features on our forums. Every week at least a couple of people post messages imploring us to make another video version of GameSpotting. It all started in GameSpotting 59. Live, the first-ever live edition (like you couldn't figure that out from the title). In this first one, you can kind of see everybody just starting to get their feet wet with the whole thing. Jeff's "Cribbing" was a pretty cool idea in light of that dumb MTV show, and of course the next episode, 2 Live, brought us the first installment of the popular "Cooking With Tim" series. The video format definitely lets us do things that we can't pull off with just text and pictures.
The longer we've done GameSpotting Live, the more elaborate and amusing they've gotten. If I had to pick favorites, I'd say these two are tied for the best GameSpotting Lives of all time: Rich's "The Making of Let's GameSpot" from 85. Live and in Color and "The Alex Navarro Story" from 78. 4-Play. Then again, as I write this I haven't seen the video pieces that will show up in this very episode, so maybe those will all be better. If anything, they ought to at least quiet you forum goons who have been screaming for a GameSpotting Live for so long now.
So there you have it--a way-too-brief look at just a few of the things that make GameSpotting what it is. With a few brief exceptions, like some of Greg's recent columns, which have resembled things like forum posts and mock game reviews, we've pretty much stuck to the same format week in and week out. But who knows what the future will bring? You might just see things getting shaken up in future episodes. Until then, keep on reading.
| Sam Parker|
Editor, Official Assets
Getting Progress Right
It's a fact that PC games aren't as easy to use as they should be. The installation process, the variable system requirements, and the frequency of bugs in retail releases all contribute to the issue and can make it a real pain to be a PC gamer. Many take the technical challenges for granted and are used to regularly updating their system with the latest drivers and know where to turn if things don't work. Will such pitfalls always be the price for keeping the platform relatively flexible and open? Making positive progress really comes down to moving in the right direction, but who has PC gaming's best interests in mind? Microsoft, Nvidia, and ATI all have parts to play, but none is the perfect steward.
One critical difference between a Windows PC and game consoles is that the PC doesn't have a steward controlling the platform. With the consoles, you see Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo taking active roles in promoting game development, marketing their systems, and using the game approval process in ways unheard of with the PC. The first parties have a clear vested interest in the proliferation of the hardware because more consoles translates into more games sold, which in turn means more revenue in the form of royalty payments. In contrast, PC companies care about games because it's one of the only types of software right now that's driving people to seriously upgrade their hardware. That is, the console model is to sell hardware in order to reap profits on games, whereas PC companies look to games to increase hardware sales (or the accompanying copies of Windows, in Microsoft's case).
Microsoft, Nvidia, and ATI are just a few of the major companies looking to hold onto gaming's rising star to increase revenue. Gaming has even gotten some buzz among general PC industry watchers, as companies like Dell, Gateway, and HP have launched (or plan to launch) pricey gaming PCs, a growing trend that tends to bring in high profit margins. But since modern games and 3D graphics are so intertwined, it's the companies that deal directly with advancing graphics standards that have the most impact on issues ranging from the development of new visual effects to game compatibility.
Of the three, Microsoft has the money and position to make the biggest difference in the direction of PC gaming. In fact, there's already an initiative in the division in charge of the DirectX standard to add many gaming-centric features to Longhorn, the next major OS due out in late 2005 or 2006. Since that's a long way off, the company has announced a new marketing program to promote Windows XP as a mature gaming platform. Anyone who remembers the days of DOS games knows what a pain it was to manually tweak memory management settings just to get games to run, something Windows 95 did away with, at least as developers started to develop for it over time. PC progress is never as cut and dried as looking at console generations.
But Microsoft has to work with other major players, and competition between ATI and Nvidia has gotten fierce enough to drive up the stakes for cooperation on standards. Standards wars are fought all the time. Not long ago a discussion of DirectX and OpenGL could take the tone of a political catfight, but more recently all debates seem to focus on DirectX 9 support. Valve's discussion of early Half-Life 2 benchmark results last month (before news of the hack surfaced) proved that some developers are willing to take sides. Even if it's not as obscure a "science" as phrenology, it's not easy to select or interpret benchmarks, even for the limited goal of buying a card for a specific game. Some gamers even seemed to come away from the events thinking that Half-Life 2 would run at truly subpar levels on new Nvidia hardware, even on cards that retail for $150 and up. Valve hasn't released the benchmark as scheduled, so we can't run our own tests, but I have some trust in the fact that the game is designed to be fully compatible with DX 8.0, DX 8.1, and DX 9, which means that all recent cards will be able to run the game, at least at lower resolutions.
But the tragedy is that when marketing dollars enter the picture, DirectX compatibility doesn't mean everything. Think back to 3dfx's heyday. At one point, 3dfx's Glide standard was the only thing going, when 3D hardware acceleration was new and games like MechWarrior 2, Descent, and Quake were rereleased or updated to smooth out textures and generally make 3D games prettier. But even in cases where one of the dozens of types of non-3dfx hardware was supported, there was usually a 3dfx logo right on the front of the box. 3dfx even secured deals with retailers to create separate sections for 3dfx-compatible games. Even with Nvidia's "The Way It's Meant to Be Played" and ATI's "Get in the Game" logo programs, I thought hardware-specific games were a thing of the past. Then I booted up the demo for Bridge It.
Bridge It is the latest in Chronic Logic's series of Pontifex bridge-building games (now called Bridge Construction Set) and offers the same sort of addictive, puzzle-like engineering challenges combined with slick 3D graphics, based on Auran's Jet engine. The Jet engine is DirectX and OpenGL compatible, but the game simply will not run unless you have an Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti or GeForce FX graphics card installed. Why? As the Auran Web site says, "Bridge It is the culmination of an Nvidia-Auran marketing partnership that aims to constantly push the limit of today's hardware." Essentially, the explanation is that the game is a showcase for effects possible with the GeForce FX cards--yet many of these same effects get turned off if you run the game on a GeForce 4 Ti card.
The spin on the fact that Nvidia's marketing dollars prompted ATI cards (and even high-end GeForce3 cards) to be locked out was just as surprising as having the game reject a Radeon 9700 Pro in the first place. Is it a good thing to have games that only work on some types of PC hardware? One Nvidia insider seemed to think so, pointing to the fact that there's no consumer outcry over the fact that a PS2 game won't work on an Xbox. I have an Nvidia-equipped system at home I could play Bridge It on, but I can't imagine wanting to have multiple systems built up to be sure to be able to run every PC game that comes out. Consoles cost one or two hundred dollars and stack nicely on top of one another, something I can't say for PCs. I sure hope that clearer heads will prevail and PC gaming can take new steps toward improving ease-of-use, not balkanizing the platform for business reasons.
| Andrew Park|
Demystifying The Sims and Animal Crossing: The Difference Between Casual and Hardcore?
Though The Sims is one of the most popular games of all time, you wouldn't know it by talking to any so-called "hardcore" game fans, most of whom seem to dislike the game. Both The Sims and Animal Crossing for the GameCube are open-ended games that can and do appeal to just about anyone for many different reasons. Could that be why enthusiasts don't like them?
By now, you've at least heard of The Sims, the remarkable game that lets you create a virtual family of computer-controlled characters called "sims." Though it isn't the first game to have this sort of premise (1985's Little Computer People was), it's groundbreaking in that it's (mostly) nonviolent, very open-ended, and has the unusual (and unnerving) tendency to model real life with its tiny, gibberish-speaking characters. And by now, you've hopefully heard of (and played) Animal Crossing for the GameCube, a 2002 game that lets you play as a villager in a small town filled with animal neighbors who have regular schedules and hobbies and who celebrate holidays based on your GameCube's internal clock and calendar. I would gladly recommend both of these colorful, clever, and highly enjoyable games to anyone who doesn't know much about games (but would like to start playing).
What's remarkable about both of these games, and perhaps why they're so appealing to casual players and beginners, is that neither game pressures you to complete specific goals within time or point limits--but they do offer lots of very real and very interesting objectives with real rewards, if you care to attempt them. That is to say, many fans of The Sims enjoy creating sims with differing personalities, placing them in an enclosed room, and just waiting for them to get at each other's throats.
But you can also, if you care to, attempt to increase your sims' skills through practice, advance in a career path, earn a certain amount of money, build and design a certain house (with expensive themed furniture), or forge a good (or bad) relationship with every other sim in the neighborhood. Similarly, in Animal Crossing, you're not really forced to do anything, but after chatting with your neighbors, you'll quickly learn about plenty of goals: paying off your house; collecting bugs, fossils, and fish for the local museum; collecting rare items including emulated 8-bit NES games; and achieving a perfect town rating by carefully monitoring how many trees you have in each acre and getting rid of all weeds. What's so remarkable about each game is that though they're both very different games, they each offer plenty of very real and very attainable objectives that yield very visible and tangible rewards--yet there's no pressure to really attempt any of them if you don't want to bother with them. So, whether or not you attempt to complete this or that objective doesn't depend on what the game forces you to do (lest you lose outright), but, rather, on what you yourself feel like doing.
Some disdainful enthusiasts will claim that casual players enjoy Animal Crossing because of its cutesy, childish characters and The Sims for its sissified interior-decoration aspects and both games because of how relatively accessible they are. But I actually believe that those games' open-ended nature is what really makes them attractive and is what keeps people playing. (It doesn't hurt that both games are extremely funny, and also very easy to learn, either.) Ask fans of the popular team-based first-person shooter Battlefield 1942 why they like that game so much, and you may get a detailed response about the vehicles, flight modeling, huge maps, and control-point strategies. Ask fans of The Sims or Animal Crossing why they like their favorite game, and they may simply reply, "because there are so many things to do."
I've stated previously that I believe games like these are important for the game industry not just because they're good, but because they can act as "gateway" games that get new players interested in other games. To be perfectly honest, I think this is actually one of the main reasons why enthusiasts don't like them. Much like "underground" music and films, games are "cool" to some fans because not everyone enjoys them or even knows about them. (For examples of this kind of elitism, just check an Internet forum, like this one or this one--but for your own sake, don't ask whether other people have heard about the Half-Life 2 delay or whether people think Dead or Alive 3 is a good fighting game.) Do hardcore fans of games dislike The Sims and Animal Crossing because they feel threatened that a beginner might start playing other games and begin to encroach upon their territory? Or are they, like so many beginners who are considering getting a new game PC or a new console, afraid that if they play such games...they might actually like them?
| Tyler Winegarner|
Associate Producer, GameSpot Live
I (H)ate the Six-Dollar Burger
For whatever reason, people like to make fun of the wealthy and the things that they choose to spend their money on, for so often it seems they are really just spending more money on the same thing. Moreover, for an entirely unrelated reason, the hamburger has become a staple, or at least an immovable cornerstone in our food economy. They can be found in just about any kind of restaurant, and countless varieties of them have appeared as spin-offs from the original form. The pinnacle of these is what is sweepingly generalized as the "restaurant-style" burger, often larger, made with higher-quality ingredients, and usually served with a few stylings that make it representative of the restaurant in question. They will often carry some inflated price tag, usually starting at about six dollars and continuing on upward, depending on the restaurant.
For a while now, however, the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain has brought into question the price of these restaurant-style burgers and has taken on the challenge of deconstructing the mystique of the restaurant-style burger to bring down the price of this inflated fast-food item and bring it to the common man. Enter the Six-Dollar Burger. Sarcastically titled, the Six-Dollar Burger pokes fun at lofty, restaurant-style burgers by being a comparable product, but priced at $3.95. The truth of the matter is, the Six-Dollar Burger really falls fairly short of being a true restaurant-style and restaurant-quality burger, although it is not without its merits.
By its presentation alone it is clear that the restaurant is trying to draw a distinction between the quality of the Six-Dollar Burger and its other menu offerings. Rummaging through a to-go bag, I found that, instead of the paper-wrapped, soft, dense lump usually associated with the core component of a value meal, this burger is actually in a clamshell box--something the fast-food industry has not seen in wide usage since the mid-'80s. Beneath the lid you find the burger itself, half-covered in a paper wrapper much like the ones used by In-N-Out burger or any restaurant that wants to capture that 1950s malt-shop look and feel. It is a considerably larger burger than most, so it'll take you some time to work through this one. The burger itself consists of a bun, the patty of beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. The ingredients don't seem to be of any noticeably higher quality than what goes into any of their other meals, although efforts have been made to make the beef look more like it is a hand-formed and cooked patty, rather than something that has been frozen and mass-produced, though that is exactly what it is. Take a bite of the burger, and the illusion that it's something truly fancy immediately falls away. There's nothing special about the Six-Dollar Burger. The only thing that sets it apart from any other burgers on the menu is the pickles. Carl's Jr. uses what are often called "bread and butter" chips, which walk a line between dill and sweet pickles and aren't used in most burgers in any restaurant, probably because they're just not very popular. The condiments are bland, the vegetables are poorly picked, and the meat just doesn't seem freshly cooked, merely freshly reheated. A true restaurant-style burger should have a satisfying texture and sound to it as you bite through each layer, but the Six-Dollar Burger disappoints on this front as well--all the flavors just sort of mingle together, feeling tired and stale.
In the end, however, the Six-Dollar Burger isn't bad, considering what it is. While it is unsuccessful at truly duplicating the experience of a restaurant-style burger, it is a good fast-food burger in its own right, and considering its size, its value is still more than fair, for a four-dollar price tag. If you really have a hankering for a fancy burger, the Carl's Jr. Six-Dollar Burger isn't it, and you'd really just be better off spending the extra two dollars, being able to sit down and enjoy a nicer meal, and being able to pick how your burger is cooked. But if you don't mind bread-and-butter pickles, and you want a big fast-food burger, then the Six-Dollar Burger should treat you fairly.
[MEDIA - POSTED: 10/24/03]
[QuickTime 144.0 MB - MPEG 55.6 MB - APPROX: 8m 57s ]
| Justin Calvert|
Looking for a GameSpotting Heading?
Despite what most of you probably think, the fact that I work for GameSpot doesn't mean that I get all of the games I want to play sent to me for free. A lot of the games I devote my limited spare time to playing are those that I've made the effort to go into town and purchase, and, as I mentioned in a previous GameSpotting article, the fact that my spare time is so limited nowadays has made me extremely picky when it comes to deciding which games I'm going to make time for.
You might think that because I don't have as much time as I'd like to play games right now that I favor games that are relatively short, but in actual fact, the opposite is true. Games that I can complete in a weekend or even in a single sitting don't appeal to me nearly as much as those that I can really sink my teeth into and enjoy playing for weeks or even months. For this reason, I'm increasingly finding myself drawn to multiplayer games that, while having the potential to keep me entertained for months on end, don't necessarily require me to invest a great deal of time in a single sitting. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 are firm favorites for my friends and me at the moment, and when I'm home alone I invariably go online in search of a Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour skirmish.
Not all multiplayer games appeal to me, of course, and I think what most attracts me to Zero Hour (and sports games to a slightly lesser extent) is that I know I'll never play the same game twice. That said, I think that the one feature that the majority of games could benefit from, no matter what their genre, is the addition of a random map/level/circuit generator. I have no problem with losing at any game if the players I'm up against are clearly better than me, but I really don't enjoy being at a disadvantage in a game just because I've gone to the trouble of downloading a map for it that I'm not yet familiar with. A randomly created Generals map, for example, would ensure that players weren't able to capture oil refineries and the like until they'd successfully managed to locate them--and making the locations of enemy bases a little less obvious wouldn't hurt either. Another favorite online game of mine (still) is the original Half-Life, and, after who knows how many years of playing it, I've recently made a habit of joining games that are running maps I've never heard of before. Apart from adding a number of pretty poor map files to my collection, the result is that I often find myself at a disadvantage against players who know their way around.
Despite how brilliantly Team 17's Worms games have always made use of random maps, I realize that implementing a similar feature in games like Generals and Half-Life would be a little more difficult. So, for any developers reading this, I'd like to suggest that upcoming games, or perhaps even patches for those that I've mentioned, could incorporate a feature whereby even if the maps themselves aren't randomly generated, perhaps the locations of weapons, health packs, resources, oil refineries, and the like could be. Even if the random placement of these key items were restricted to a number of predetermined locations on a map, the fact that players would no longer be able to get them without first looking for them would, in my opinion, help to keep multiplayer games interesting and also place newbies at slightly less of a disadvantage. I refuse to believe that such a feature would be incredibly difficult to implement, and if you're worried that fans might not approve, why not include it as an option that can be switched on and off?
| Dave Toole|
This Industry and Expecting the Unexpected...
Can you believe it's already been well over two years since Sega completely dropped out of the hardware business in lieu of being a software-only developer? And it's already been two years since Microsoft released its first console, taking on all naysayers and doing better than most of them expected, at least in the US and Europe? Oh how things have changed.
It feels just like yesterday that the Dreamcast had a very successful launch, only to see that momentum evaporate once everyone turned their eyes to the PlayStation 2. I remember there being a good amount of hype for the system, especially after everyone saw its graphical capabilities. I personally forked over almost $600 just to be sure I was able to receive an import Dreamcast right around its launch in Japan. To this day, I have no regrets about doing so. I can always say I was one of the first people in the US to be able to play games such as Sonic Adventure, Virtua Fighter 3tb, and Sega Rally 2. Once the Dreamcast was released in the US with a strong advertising campaign and a good number of quality launch titles, many people thought the Dreamcast had a chance at success. But within months, the buzz for the PlayStation 2 began building up, the number of games to look forward to dwindled, and it ultimately fell flat on its face. Thus, Sega had to make the tough decision of pulling the plug on its hardware, permanently. This was a bittersweet day for Sega fans. We were all sad to see Sega exiting the hardware business, but we were glad to see Sega able to stay alive and focus on what it's most well-known as--a company that is able to develop innovative games.
Much like with the Dreamcast's failure, it doesn't seem too long ago that Microsoft officially announced it was entering the hardware business while saying it refused to be pushed around by the big Japanese corporations that have monopolized this industry for the past 15 years. A large portion of the video game community gave it little chance to succeed, and Microsoft has been out to prove them wrong. And in many ways, it has been successful to that end. The Xbox has surely struggled in Japan, probably doing worse in that territory than most expected. But in the US and Europe, it currently holds the number two position, which I don't think many people expected. It was tough for Microsoft to reach the status it has here in the States and in Europe, but with the GameCube's lack of games and downright horrible marketing campaigns, it's easy to see why Microsoft has overtaken Nintendo's console in the Western markets. Microsoft has done a decent job of planting itself into the industry, and as the next generation of systems come out, what new measures they take will be very crucial if they want to grow more.
Going into the current generation, Nintendo was on a downward spiral in the console area after its brilliant idea of going with carts for the Nintendo 64 instead of using optical media. With the release of the GameCube, Nintendo's status stabilized for a while, but the downward spiral eventually continued as the system's library of games was noticeably lacking. Nintendo's own first-party games haven't even sold as well as many would expect. Luckily, Nintendo has had the Game Boy Advance to fall back on. For the most part, the GBA has helped Nintendo keep its head up, but things may soon change.
Sega, SNK, and Bandai have all released handheld machines in the past in the hopes of competing with Nintendo in the market, and all have dramatically failed. Nokia recently released the N-Gage and is attempting to market it as a handheld gaming machine, but if the first round of games available for the machine is any indication of what we can expect out of it, it's doomed. Tapwave is just about ready to release the Zodiac, the "first true mobile entertainment console," as it says, but without any noticeable marketing going on for the unit, how can it expect to succeed? Where Nintendo's problem really lies is with the PlayStation Portable (PSP), which was just announced this past May at E3 in a shocking ending to the SCEA press conference. Since the announcement of the PSP, the buzz has been building for it--developers already appear excited to develop for it, and gamers are ecstatic to see just how powerful it is and exactly what it will offer other than playing games. Many rumors are going around that the announcement of the PSP is forcing Nintendo to push up the unveiling of its next Game Boy, and many expect it to be unveiled next E3. We will have to wait and see if this turns out to be more than just smoke, though.
The industry has evolved greatly over the past few years, and it doesn't look like the evolution is going to stop anytime soon. You never know what a company may pull out of its hat. Right now, it's pretty clear that Sony is the dominant force in the industry, much like how Nintendo was a decade ago. But just as quickly as Nintendo lost its grasp on the industry, something could happen that could cause Sony to lose its hold. In the end, we can play all kinds of guessing games, but one of these days something is bound to happen that is going to shock everyone, and this whole power struggle of who is the biggest force in the industry will start all over again. A lot of dramatic changes have occurred over the past few years, and that's nothing compared to when you look at the past seven or eight years combined. So expect the unexpected, as it's only a matter of time before something crazy happens.
| Ricardo Torres|
Senior Associate Editor
So once upon a time there was a console called the Dreamcast that had one of the coolest peripherals on a modern console. No, it wasn't the Samba de Amigo maracas (those were the coolest peripherals ever). I'm talking about the VGA box, a slick little peripheral that let you display DC games on a PC monitor with an incredibly clean resolution that put S-video to shame. Personally I was thrilled at the idea of such a thing, especially after seeing games like Soul Calibur and Ikaruga smoking along before my eyes. I was so convinced that this would be one of the next big features in consoles that I actually made sure the TV I bought had VGA inputs on it. OK, so it didn't quite take off like I'd hoped, but I still maintain that not only is VGA a great idea for games to support, but it's a nice alternative to the financial groin kick of buying an HDTV and the required accessories. It's actually pretty disappointing to see that none of the current batch of consoles feature any kind of first-party VGA peripheral, given their graphical horsepower. Some third parties have tried to offer alternatives with accessories that let you display games on monitors, but, for the most part, those are usually upscan boxes that cook the signal and fake VGA, while others have been a hassle to use. But just when I was about to lose hope and bitterly resign myself to making do with S-video and component images out of my consoles, I stumbled onto the X2VGA High Definition VGA Pack.
Third-party accessory maker Neoya, based in China, has put together a tasty little unit that's basically a Swiss army knife. The unit lets you run Xbox games in 480p, 720p, and 1080i on a computer monitor (provided your monitor supports the resolutions). In addition, the slick box features digital audio output to make sure the crisp visuals are complemented by kick-ass sound. The box also features standard RCA outputs that you can use when you encounter the few games that the unit can't display on a monitor (there's a handful of them). One of the key features of the unit that makes it especially handy is the 480i "Easy View" feature, which basically lets you adjust settings on your Xbox dashboard while displaying on a monitor, which spares you the hassle of unplugging from the monitor and hooking up to a TV just to see the dashboard options.
As far as the display quality goes, this baby pumps out incredibly crisp visuals that are the next best thing to an HDTV. Colors and detail are very vivid and do a great job of showing off the graphics in games that don't offer high-end HD support, like Panzer Dragoon Orta. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic definitely pops out at you in VGA. Now while HDTV devotees may thumb their noses at using a VGA monitor, the fact of the matter is that a nice high-end HDTV is going to cost you a pretty penny, especially if you get a big one like we all know we need. A VGA box is much more affordable, since, if you're reading this, you clearly have access to a VGA monitor. The only real hitch to the box is that it won't display DVD movies on a monitor--blame the Xbox hardware, not the X2VGA--and that, at present, it's only available online at www.x2vga.com. Still, if you're longing for some eye-popping visuals from your Xbox and are stuck using a standard TV, you should check out the X2VGA. It's one cool little box.
| Brandon Cruz|
A Pragmatic Approach
Games have certainly come a long way since their genesis. The game industry has become a multibillion dollar giant that continues to pervade pop culture worldwide with little sign of slowing down. Games have even reached the point where they're being considered an art form. Many believe that games possess certain qualities that rival more established artistic mediums, such as fine art and film, and that they should reflect this by sporting more serious, emotive content accompanied by formal critiques and analyses. They feel that by doing this, games will truly be embraced by the mainstream and gain the appreciation that the film industry now enjoys. At face value, this makes sense. After all, with all the dramas that sweep the Oscars and make millions each year, heavier content in games is a surefire road to legitimacy, right? But it's really not that simple when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I'm not here to debate whether games are an art form or not. Instead, I want to take a look at the reality of the struggles that the game industry must overcome if it really wants the status and acceptance that the label of an artistic medium ultimately brings.
It's often suggested that interactivity in games should be further honed, as it is a feature that, when combined with serious, compelling content, can give users an unequivocal and enlightening experience. Although interactivity is one of the most unique features of a video game, it's also somewhat of a liability. On the one hand, this interactive component can draw one into an imaginary universe in a way that few other mediums can genuinely achieve. However, this also means that it takes more time and effort for a person to get acclimated to the gameplay mechanics and control scheme that are necessary in order to experience a game's universe. Think about the last time you saw a movie or viewed an exhibition at an art gallery or a museum. There's really not much to these activities; you watch, take everything in, and then maybe analyze what you've seen later on. Now, think of the first time you played a platformer, or FPS, or RPG. These took a bit more effort, didn't they? Sure, the effort required to learn to play a video game isn't insurmountable, but it still limits their accessibility.
Then there's the economic issue. One of the most oft-cited reasons my non-gamer friends give for not being into games is that they just cost too much. Video games are simply more expensive than most artistic mediums. Yes, fine art often costs a fortune, and the equipment to view videos and DVDs, along with the actual videos and DVDs themselves, can also cost a pretty penny. However, as a more cost-effective alternative, you can go to a gallery or a movie theater to experience these mediums' latest and greatest offerings. Such an equivalent doesn't really exist in the world of video games--yes, there are arcades, LAN cafés, and demo kiosks, but these venues cater only to a somewhat limited selection of games. If you really want to experience the latest games, then you must own a $100-$200 video game console and be willing to shell out a good 30-50 bucks each for games. Add to that the cost of accessories (memory card, another controller, etc.) and you could initially be set back $300 to $400. And this is after the price cuts, during the twilight years of this console generation's cycle. No matter what your opinions are about games, you can't deny that they are a fairly pricey investment that a lot of non-gamers just aren't willing to make.
I think it's these problems that prevent more people from embracing games, not because they are "just for kids" or "not deep enough." Even if games built around more serious subject matter start to catch on, the industry still has these hurdles to clear if they really want to have a profound influence over the mainstream. Until video games are made more accessible to consumers in cost and in interface, I don't think that they'll gain any more acceptance than they already have, no matter how deep or visionary they become.
| Chris "Thugcore" B.|
Online Gaming Etiquette Tip #86: TK'ing Is Not Cool!
I'm a huge fan of first-person action shooters. The other day I downloaded Gathering's Vietcong multiplayer demo. I was excited to experience what some of my friends were all but crapping their pants about. "Dude, you gotta check this game out!" they screamed. "The environments are awesome! The visuals and audio content are spectacular! It made me feel like I was really in the jungles of 'Nam!" The previous evening I had downloaded Infinity Ward's Call of Duty single-player demo and was floored by its unprecedented immersion factor. "Top that," I thought to myself, as the VC installation completed.
Within moments I found myself running through waist-deep foliage, the chatter of machine-gun fire and grenade explosions surrounding me. Before I could figure out how to crouch behind a fallen tree for cover, I was tagged by a few rounds, then offered a third-person perspective of myself falling onto the ground in a bloody heap as a fellow teammate ran past me. The words "TEAM KILLER" blazed a fiery red at the bottom of my screen as I waited my 30 seconds to leap muzzle-first back into the fray. I respawned at the same location as before, and again was gunned down by the same player.
The words "TEAM KILLER" again burned their mark into my monitor, taunting me with their all-caps, 14-point bold print. After another 30 seconds I respawned, this time in a different location. I looked around and ran to what looked like a remote part of the map to avoid the inevitable. I mashed buttons until I figured out how to crouch, and found a temporary safe haven behind a large bush. As imaginary monkeys called out insults in their irritating yelp-language, I began reading what looked like a conversation between the server admin and some of the other players:
Huggles_The_Murderer (US): BAN! KICK! TK'ER!! KICKBAN!!! BANKICK!!!
PrOnTo_TaNgO (US): Looks like we've got another one ... kick him, Admin.
Admin (VC): How? What's going on? What day is it?! Where am I?! HELP MEEE!!!
TKer4Life (US): MWA HA HA HAAAAA!!
Chaos on the battlefield. A traitor in our midst. Players were upset, SCREAMING curse words only a drunken sailor, or my mother, would recognize. Others simply left the game in disgust. There I was, squatting in the bush like a frightened schoolgirl. Suddenly, shimmering white and almost holy words appeared at the top of my screen:
Vote: Do you want to kick TKer4Life out?
Please answer 'y' or 'n' using chat.
Here was my chance to fix this turkey's little red wagon! Again I began mashing buttons in a frantic attempt to locate the chat keys. Finally finding them, I cast my vote. Others submitted their votes too, and soon I was greeted with the following:
Server has kicked TKer4Life out.
TKer4Life has left the game.
Wooohooo!!! We did it!! Finally I could get back into the game's "awesome environments" and "spectacular visuals and audio content" without having to worry about that trigger-happy TK schmuck doing me in. Now how do I stand up again?
TKer4Life (US) has entered the game.
TKer4Life (US): I'M BACK!! MWA HA HA HAAAAA!!
If you are a serious gamer like me--a gamer that really gets into the strategy, communication, and sense of realism in a game--you know how frustrating a situation like this can become. I can understand how this type of behavior might be entertaining for some, but it often detracts from the overall gaming experience for many others. With that said, my Online Gamer Etiquette Tip for today is:
TIP #86: DO NOT TK. It is not cool and it won't make you any new friends to play Yu-Gi-Oh! with. You'll most likely just piss people off. People like me. If you want to TK, start your own server, advertise it as "TK'ERS PLAYHOUSE" or whatever, and TK other TK'ers until your TK'ing heart is content. Don't subject others to your lameness.