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Tekken 5 won't be online

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As mentioned in today's preview, Tekken 5 for the PS2 will not be online. Why? Namco missed this same opportunity with the home console versions of Soul Calibur 2, which were, in and of themselves, solid games that could've been something really special with full-on multiplayer support over PS2 broadband or Xbox Live. Namco has suggested that during the development of the home version of Tekken 5, the team was faced with a decision at some point: include all the features they had originally designed, or put in online play and cut other features. I have to say, at the very least, I respectfully disagree with the decision. In fact, I don't think it should've been a decision, at all.

While I'm sure the home version of Tekken 5 will have some neat single-player modes (Namco is known for putting interesting stuff into its home fighting game ports, like Tekken 3's Tekken ball and Tekken force mode, and the original Soul Calibur's weapon master mode), and I'm sure they'll be great, I honestly believe that online play would've paved the way for much, much, much more longevity for the game over time. And speaking of paving the way, we've already seen successful online console fighters like Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, and Dead or Alive: Ultimate, which will soon be joined by the domestic Xbox release of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection--a game that apparently already enjoys a strong online following in Japan.








Examples of successful online console fighting games.

I don't doubt the technical skill or artistic vision of any of Namco's team in the least--I think very highly of the company that has produced so many high-quality fighting games (and non-fighting games), which is why I find Tekken 5's lack of online play so perplexing. Yes, Namco missed the boat with Soul Calibur 2, which, two years ago, seemed a bit more understandable given that online console games hadn't completely established themselves. But now, in the wake of so many successful online console fighters? I just don't see why the opportunity was passed up a second time around.

I'll still pick up my own copy of Tekken 5, but I doubt I'll be playing it as long as I might've been. If Tekken 5 had been online-enabled, a bare-bones "arcade mode" and maybe a training mode would've been more than enough offline content, as far as I'm concerned.

Reading: "FUN"-damental?

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This may or may not be a terribly significant topic for discussion, but over the break, I logged in more than a little time with Nintendo's Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (a game that might be better known now as the award-winning Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door). I also spent some more time with World of Warcraft over the break (probably just like many of you did). Both are games that have received praise for their personality and charm (and in the case of World of Warcraft, for their consistent ability to tie into the Warcraft lore, and to make this lore interesting even for casual users). I have to say, I find this more than a little strange. No, not because of who made the games. Because of how they convey that personality: through written word.

About five years ago, one of my personal all-time favorite games was released with relatively little fanfare...Planescape: Torment. The game was written by then Black Isle designer/writer Chris Avellone (who also crafted the story for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords). That game had what I considered to be an incredible amount of character, even though very few of your character's actions were actually represented onscreen. Instead, you read page after page of dialogue and descriptions, skillfully written in a way that posed as many questions as it answered (which was fitting for a story about a mysterious man who has been alive longer than anyone can remember, including himself). People I've talked to have had different opinions on the game, though at least a few have confided to me that they felt there was simply too much writing to read in that game (and "if they wanted to read, they'd get a book," and so on).

Why, then, do new games like World of Warcraft (which relies heavily on written content for its quests--which are the meat of the game) and Paper Mario (which relies entirely on written dialogue to characterize its memorable cast) actually work? That is, why is it people are now actually bothering to read all this stuff in these text-heavy games, let alone enjoying themselves while doing it? I'll say this right now--it's not an indictment of the writing in Planescape: Torment, which as far as I'm concerned, continues to be one of the best-written games of all time. After games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and EverQuest II, both of which had huge amounts of spoken dialogue, it seemed like role-playing games that relied on lots of silent written text were slowly going to be phased out, yet some of the most important and enjoyable games of 2004 went right back to the drawing board. Or, writing board.

Why would you think text-heavy games work in this day and age? Or do they?

Tragedy in Southeast Asia and Africa

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By now, you've already heard about Sunday's earthquake and tsunami that devastated the shorelines of Southeast Asia and Africa and ushered in a wave of disease in their wake. Both the tidal waves and their accompanying epidemics of measles, cholera, and other water-borne afflictions have not only destroyed the homes and villages that gave structure (at least in a material sense) to the lives of the area's residents, but they have also, as of Wednesday, December 29 2004, been responsible for upwards of 76,000 deaths and counting. American president George W. Bush addressed the nation earlier today and said of the death toll, "you can't even conceive of [how many people that is]." Despite what I or any others might think of the president or his oratory skills, I personally found Mr. Bush's phrasing to be more or less spot-on. One human being has the potential to touch the lives of anyone around him or her. With the loss of so many lives, how much of this potential was lost? Each of these people had families and friends--people close to them. Even if you don't consider the potential that was lost in the lives that each of these people could have led, how many friends and family will be affected by this thing at the end? It's unfathomable.

It almost goes without saying that I, who was not only not present in the area at the time, and do not have any immediate family who was present, am incredibly fortunate. I would imagine that most of you would likewise be counting your blessings if you haven't already. Yet there actually are things that those of us, even a world away, can do to help.

First and foremost, if you haven't already, I would strongly urge you to consider making an online donation to the American Red Cross' International Response Fund. (And yes, I've already made a donation myself) You can also call 1-800-HELP-NOW to make a donation over the phone in English, or 1-800-257-7575 to do so in Spanish. The donations will be used to purchase medicine and water purification tablets, along with food and other supplies. (Apparently, the organization can't accept large donations of material goods like clothing or food because of the resources that would be required to sort, store, and transport them.) If you live outside of the US and would prefer to send a donation elsewhere, please consider making a contribution to an agency such as UNICEF or Medecins Sans Frontieres. By all appearances, monetary contributions seem to be best in all cases for logistical reasons. For more information on the tsunami and what you can do to help, please visit Google's tsunami relief center or contact your local news station. Thanks.

There's no way I'm putting either of those things in my pocket

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The Sony PlayStation Portable is finally available in Japan, and I recently had a chance to briefly sit down with the hardware and try out Ridge Racers. The unit seems to have great audio capabilities and it definitely has an absolutely huge screen (you can get more hands-on details from our recent Ask GameSpot! story). It's also retailing for a surprising price of about $185 US (though its official US price has not yet been confirmed for its stateside release next year). In the meantime, Nintendo has already launched its new DS handheld unit, which retails for about $150 alone, though there are apparently bundle packs available that include many launch games like Super Mario 64 DS and Asphalt: Urban GT, among others that you can find more information on at our Nintendo DS launch center.

Believe it or not, I actually have great respect for handheld games, especially those that took advantage of the once-dominant Game Boy Advance hardware to try to re-create the classic 2D games of old. One of my favorite games this year on any platform is Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, which plays great, has an interesting character development system, and even has a remarkably good story with plenty of twists and turns. But I played Astro Boy in the same way I'll be playing DS and PSP games--at home, probably with the handheld hardware actually plugged into an AC adaptor rather than using batteries.

There's no way I'm putting either of those things in my pocket.

I had the same problem with my Game Boy Advance, if you can believe that. I own two GBA units, an arctic white unit I imported from Japan on launch day, and a limited edition GBA I pre-ordered (also from Japan) bundled with a game. I paid a premium price for both, and like many of you, I was less than happy when I found that Nintendo released "limited edition" GBAs with rare color schemes shortly after I had kicked down $90+ for my own hardware (and then later released the SP for another premium price).

I admit I tried traveling with my GBA a bit at first, but was very uncomfortable with how easily the screen stood to get scratched (I hadn't ordered a pricey carrying case or other peripherals), as well as how poorly protected retail GBA games come in box (in that tiny, flimsy plastic bag). Games were too easy to lose on a plane, the expensive hardware too easy to damage. I also didn't care to worry about battery life either (my last handheld of choice was the NeoGeo Pocket Color, which had incredible battery life), so I kicked down the money for an external light and AC adaptor and did most of my GBA playing at home.

Having seen the DS in action, and being cognizant of its $150 price point, I'm almost positive I won't be traveling with mine. And now that I've seen the PSP in action, I can state with complete certainty that I definitely won't be traveling with that one either. The unit is surprisingly big, sleek, and very impressive, especially its huge, glassy screen that's easy to accidentally smudge up with fingerprints. Considering that it's also a multifunctional handheld console with additional non-game features like MP3 support and video playback, along with that huge screen, on some level, I see it as an expensive accident just waiting to happen.

Still Clutching at the Joystick. Again.

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More than two years ago, I wrote this column:

For those who might not like to read big long articles (more on that very point in a second), it was basically a column about how some people seemed to look only at game review scores, without even bothering to read the reviews. At the time, it seemed to me that, rather than actually reading an article designed to go with the score, these folks would seemingly fly off the handle in game forums, using nothing but a number as a basis for an angry rant.

In that column, I likened some of the more extreme folks to the unskilled opponents I used to play against at fighting games in the arcades. The guys would put in their money like everyone else, take hold of the joystick, then clutch it in a defensive stance and not move, which would generally let me walk right up to them and crush them. And with some of these guys, no matter how badly they'd get beaten, they kept doing the same thing over and over again. They were basically mistaken about what the game was or how it was played. You can't win at a fighting game by sitting still and hoping you win; similarly, you can't get a real sense of a game's review just by glancing at a number out of the corner of your eye (especially when you don't have a clear idea of the frame of reference on numerical scores), then turning on your heel and scrambling to the nearest message board to start ranting and raving, which is what some folks seemed to do.

Now it's over two years later, and GameSpot has an actual printed review policy which can be viewed at any time:

Essentially, there's a policy page that states plainly the criteria of GameSpot's reviews, complete with a "frequently asked questions" section that explains how review numbers work, how reviewers are chosen, and who is best served by reviews.

Maybe it's that some folks don't want to read the whole thing, or something, but even though it's all there in black and white, if anything, the situation seems worse.

Like it says here:
...reviewers are not chosen randomly, but rather through a process that takes into account such concerns as familiarity with the genre. Yet people still insist on asking about who's specifically reviewing what as though it matters (it doesn't, especially since our reviews are screened by multiple editors before posting--not just tossed up randomly whenever the reviewer finishes writing it and feels like putting it up). Asking this question over and over again is like repeatedly pushing the "coin return button" on an arcade cabinet in the hopes that it will somehow win you a fighting game match.

And like it says here: scores are not relative across platforms, so comparing the review scores of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas PS2 to the review score of Halo 2 Xbox is inaccurate, mistaken, and wrong. GameSpot's reviews simply don't work that way. As you can see if you read the above link, GameSpot reviews games relative to their platforms; comparing Xbox games to Xbox games, not to games on other platforms. Making this kind of erroneous comparison is kind of like trying to skillfully "play" an arcade game even though the machine isn't even on.

And like it says here:
....GameSpot's reviews are to help people, who are unsure about their purchase decisions, decide whether or not to buy a game. If you've already bought, played, and enjoyed the game, guess what: GameSpot's review of that game isn't even for you. No reviews of that game are (or at least, they shouldn't be). A review is an article that assesses a product's quality to let you know whether it's worth buying, before you buy.

To make this clear: If you look at reviews as ammunition in pointless forum arguments about whose favorite game is "better" by virtue of higher review scores (that is, if you're the kind of person who, for whatever reason, enjoys arguing that "my favorite game got a higher score than your favorite game, your game flopped"), GameSpot's reviews are not for you. If you look at reviews as a way to validate your purchase; to somehow make you feel better about yourself for buying a game, GameSpot's reviews are not for you.

Yet we still see angry posts about our reviews from readers who "loved this game, pre-ordered it, run a fansite, helped develop it, bought it before the reviews even came out, and really enjoy the game, so GameSpot's less-than-perfect-10 review score is infuriating!" If you've already bought the game and enjoy it for what it is, why are you reading reviews of it? Go play the game and enjoy it--that's what games are for. As I see it, people who make this same, misguided, non-applicable "argument" about GameSpot's reviews are the ones who come into an arcade and try to "play" the change/token machine that spits out quarters/coins/game tokens for use with arcade games when you put money into them.

The point I'm trying to make if you've read this far, and I suspect that some of the folks I've described above haven't, is that complaining about concerns like how cross-platform review scores stack up, or about how angry you get at a review score given to a game you've already bought and enjoyed, isn't just wrong, it's hopelessly misguided. It's like having a termite problem in the physical framework of your house and trying to deal with it by buying a cat that's extremely good at catching mice, despite the fact that there's a sign at the pet store, right there, that explains that termites need exterminators to be dealt with (then getting really mad when it doesn't work). It's like catching the flu and trying to cure yourself by getting a new pair of contact lenses, even though you're staring right at a sign that says that the flu can be treated only by bed rest and drinking fluids (then getting really mad when it doesn't work). Like before, these practices are as useful, and as worthwhile, as hanging onto a joystick on a dead arcade machine. Except that it's two years later and there's a sign now.

A Victim of its Own Success?

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This is the first of my online journal entries, used for GameSpot's GameSpotting columns. Please use the "comments" feature at the bottom of the page to let me know what you think. Thanks.


As I mentioned in the review of The Sims 2, it almost seemed, going in, like Maxis' remarkable success with The Sims series was working against the sequel. Here, you have the highly anticipated sequel to what is (stop me if you've heard this one before) reportedly the most successful computer game of all time. Months and months at the top spot of the bestseller list, then followed by its various retail expansion packs, still at the top of the list. And The Sims was a groundbreaking game whose highly innovative design and features were unlike pretty much anything else back in 2000. What's more, The Sims somehow managed to do something that hardly any other computer game had ever done until then: be as appealing to women as it was to men, if not more so. So there were so many incredibly high, maybe even unfairly high expectations for The Sims 2 that it was virtually impossible for this game, or any game, to meet every single one of them.

This column (or journal entry, or whatever you'd like to call it) isn't my insecure, defensive way of trying to "defend" the review, because I don't feel I have anything to defend, really. The point I'm trying to make is how highly anticipated sequels and follow-ups can sometimes seem like victims of their own success--The Sims 2 is only the latest example.

I have nothing but respect for all game development studios, and in this case, like with every other developer, I can't, and have never been able to, officially speak on behalf of EA Games' Maxis studio because I don't work for or represent Maxis, and never have. But I'm willing to bet that at a studio that could conceive of, and execute, a concept so ambitious and so creative as The Sims, there must have been at least one instance, one situation, where at least one member of the team wanted to do something radically different with The Sims 2. To take some fundamental feature of the original game, throw it out the window, and introduce a completely new system that worked in a completely different way, and was clearly brilliant, a stroke of genius. Except that it might have ended up alienating the many, many, many, many fans of the series who would angrily reject it because it was so different from what they knew and loved in their favorite game, despite how brilliant it was.

I'm also positive that The Sims 2 isn't the only sequel or follow-up for which this might have happened (though in the case of The Sims 2, this must have been an especially difficult task, because as far as I'm concerned, the first game hung its hat on just how distinctive and innovative it was). How can you add enough to a sequel so that it stands on its own merits, but doesn't end up being disappointing to fans who expect, to borrow an expression from a colleague who originally hails from the United Kingdom, "the moon on a stick?" Change the sequel too much, and fans may react negatively because the sequel no longer has what they liked about the first game. Don't change it enough, and you're guilty making a lazy, boring rehash.

I'm not going to give an answer to this question at this time--and part of the reason is that frankly, I don't think there is a single, easy, plug-and-chug answer that you can apply to any kind of sequel or follow-up on any platform. I'm not going to give an answer to that question for the specific case of The Sims 2 either (I've as much as done that in the review). I'm curious to hear what you have to say, though...and since I can, using the format of these journals, I'd like to ask you to post your answer to the question of how a highly anticipated sequel to a popular game can be successful, below. I'd like to ask that if you've played and enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) The Sims 2 specifically, please consider submitting a reader review instead (or even in addition). Thanks.